Perth Marathon runner Jo Penkin (55) is used to tackling challenges one step at a time. And her participation in this year’s Chevron City to Surf for Activ run will be no different.
Despite managing debilitating bouts of Multiple Sclerosis for the past 30 years, Jo hasn’t let the degenerative neurological condition curb her active lifestyle or love of marathon running. In fact, having MS has only fuelled Jo’s drive and contributes to her inspiring attitude on life.
While she now uses an aide to assist with muscle strength and movement, helping to lift her feet, race organisers have agreed to let Jo run her 10th 42km marathon in an innovative way.
Running a symbolic marathon, Jo will get a head start on the rest of the field, when she steps onto her Orbit treadmill starting mid July.
Jo will walk/run one kilometre every day on the treadmill, for 41 days, leading up to the City to Surf’s official start date in Perth on August 26.
On that day, she will start the last leg of her race at the 41 km mark of the course and complete the final one kilometre, crossing the finish line and collecting her race medal with the rest of the athletes.
While Jo regularly trains on an Orbit Fitness treadmill, we provided a new Orbit StarTrack Treadmill to boost Jo’s preparation and help her keep track during her 42 day marathon.
Jo’s Story – How it All Began
Former Londoner Jo has always had a passion for travel and adventure. In her younger years she was the skipper of a yacht and travelled the globe. It was one summer in the late 80s, while in Greece, she found she struggled to do simple activities such a tie her shoelaces.
Shortly after, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
“In 1990 I went to watch my then fiancé run the London marathon,” Jo said.
“The next day I left our flat, jogged 30 metres up the road and thought – I can do a marathon! I had never run in my life…and I had MS. Oh well!”
“After a month of running around the block, I got my first mile and started training for the next London marathon.
“I ran a total of nine marathons, five of which were the London marathon, two Poole marathons in Dorset, the Dublin marathon in Ireland and the Abingdon marathon in North Oxfordshire”.
Achieving the impossible
Living with MS in the early days seemed relatively manageable and Jo got married and had two children, enjoying her active lifestyle.
However, the disease can be unpredictable with symptoms occurring in isolated attacks or building up over time.
“Everything was going well until I had another attack of MS in 2013. This was different from anything I’d previously experienced. I’d had attacks before and always managed to fight my back to full health,” Jo said.
“But not this time. In fact, everything seemed to be in a downward spiral and I went into rehab.”
At that time, Jo’s dream of completing another marathon may have seemed impossible, but with the use of a leg stimulator meant she could walk again.
“When I got it, I realised I could walk. I started walking on my treadmill a few minutes a day and slowly upped it. I had a renewed confidence and haven’t stopped walking since,” Jo said.
“When you start running the one thing you don’t realise is how good it makes you feel when you start to achieve everything.
“What was one mile, became two, which became five miles. And that turned into a half marathon. It was all to do with the fact I had discovered a new love of my body.
“I didn’t think I could do this. But to anyone who starts to exercise regularly and sees the benefits, you start to realise it’s not as hard as you thought.
“I used to think every time I ran out the door I wouldn’t be able to go as far as last time, but I’d exceed it and I never stopped until I crossed the finish line”.
After her 2013 relapse, Jo found walking with a leg stimulator came with its own challenges. She struggled with knee movement and had to reconsider her training methods.
“I had to rethink the way I was training,” Jo said.
“I looked on the Internet and found exercises for strengthening the knee, so I started doing those. I went back to walking but cut it down to smaller amounts until my knee was under control.
“It’s a good idea to check in with a professional at some stage too. Set yourself some goals you know you can manage. I was trying to do too much too soon without the building blocks of the proper anatomy”.
You just need good equipment and a goal
Once she had her knee under control, Jo returned to the treadmill and a new training program.
“The first half of my training program became based on speed,” Jo said.
“For the second half, I put on YouTube and listened to my favourite Bob Marley tracks. So, first half is all about building up speed and strength and the second is about me enjoying the ride.
“For a few days you feel shite when you start exercising, but the muscles do come back. The machine (treadmill) has been pivotal.
“It’s hard to go out onto the street and walk, it’s hard to get motived to do that. But to get in your comfort zone on the treadmill is great!
“You can do it, too. You don’t have to have the flashy shoes or equipment. You just need good equipment that’s forgiving and doesn’t break down. That’s half of it.
“The other half is to set yourself a goal. My goal was extreme, but then I always had that extreme part of my personality. Set yourself a goal and get going”.
Crossing the Finish Line
Earlier this year, Jo set herself a new challenge and contacted the Activ Foundation to enter the City to Surf event. She readily admits competing in the event has become an obsession.
“I’ve got to the stage where nothing is going to stop me. If it does stop me, then at least I’ve given it a bloody good go,” she said.
The Chevron City to Surf for Activ is the oldest community fun run in WA and Activ is WA’s leading disability services provider, enabling people with disabilities to pursue the life they choose.
“They’ve been kind enough to allow me to run the marathon,” Jo said.
“My marathon, of course, is a symbolic one completed one kilometre and day at a time. As I have no balance, Orbit Fitness has kindly agreed to lend me a better treadmill.
“I already use an Orbit treadmill and they are great. However, this is a better model that will capture data, so I can accurately record my progress. Thank you Orbit!
“I am grateful to everyone who has helped make this journey possible…this has given me a real sense of hope, so wish me luck.”
Feeling inspired by Jos’ story? Run along side her via our Facebook page!
The Marathon kicks off on the July 16th, simply run/walk 1km a day for 42 days till August 26th and share your progress by tagging @orbitfitnessequipment in your social media posts.
If running isn't your style, Chevron City to Surf for Activ is aiming to raise $1million for charity this year, you can still get involved by sponsoring a runner, volunteering or cheering Jo and the other runners across the finish line on the day.