As Ali pushed on towards the finish line of the 2018 Tarawera 87km ultramarathon after 17h of running, sloshing through the ankle deep mud and sweat dripping from her brow, she couldn’t help but laugh at herself. Just three months before, she was perched on a shiny pair of stage heels in a gloriously glittery bikini. The hair that was now plastered against her skull from rain and sweat had then been impeccably blow-dried and lacquered to the last follicle. Her paled, muddy skin, had been a delectable shade of glossy tanned gold to complement her look at the Australian Muscle Physique body-building competition. And Ali loved both of the versions of herself that these two sports brought out in her, equally extreme in their own ways.
It is safe to say that on the broad and wonderful spectrum that is fitness, body-building and endurance running stand firm on either side of it, and advocates for both respective sports would likely not profess one being conducive to the other. But this isn’t to say that with a little hard work and lots of passion, that one can embrace both disciplines to a competitive level, as Ali demonstrates with her stellar can-do attitude.
As a mother of two and working as a scientific researcher, Ali expertly juggles the superhero demands of her personal and professional life on top of her athletic commitments. It was as a new mother in 2003, that Ali first joined a gym and hired a personal trainer to help her get back into shape and in turn got her first taste of the bodybuilding world. She felt so inspired by the beautiful, statuesque women throwing down the iron seemingly effortlessly. She wanted to experience it for herself, seeking out the discipline and structure that bodybuilding offered. She wanted to see how far she could push herself, to test what her body was capable. She wanted to feel the thrill of stepping on stage after 16 weeks of strict dieting and specific weightlifting to perfectly sculpt her body, another reason why she chooses to compete in Physique, which is a muscle-focused category. “I don’t want to pose,” laughs Ali, “I want to flex!”
Both sports bring Ali something very different; she readily admits that bodybuilding is an incredibly subjective discipline. Being subjected to judgement solely based on aesthetic criteria, she finds that the sport nurtures a highly competitive and individualistic community of people. She says “at the end of the day, I can step on stage and have one judge love my physique and the other hate it. It’s completely subjective. But I don’t compete for feedback, I compete for my self satisfaction and the thrill of seeing my hard work pay off at the end of prep. It’s an incredibly empowering process, and I want to show women that you can train hard, have big muscles and learn to love your body for what it’s capable of.”
Throughout her life, Ali’s interest in running has come and go, before she got a taste of trail- running and was quickly adopted into the warm and supportive community that thrives in Victoria. Living at the foot of the Dandenong Ranges, Ali regularly slips out to hit the trails for a few hours, relishing the inner peace and silence that nature brings her. She further enjoys the facet of trail running that supports everybody and every body. She explains that “in trail-running, people are celebrated for getting out there and giving it their best, regardless of what they look like. It’s all about the process, not the result. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of.” She also loves how running has allowed her to travel extensively with her family, discovering new areas of the country they would never have visited otherwise.
As much as she loves both sports, Ali realises that their training demands are very different, and splits her year in 6 month increments to give them the time they deserve, and allocating the time for her body to heal, highly conscious of the strain running puts on her body, and the metabolic pressure that extreme dieting can have on the endocrine system. And to the incredulity of her body-building entourage, Ali’s balanced approach to training and flexibility in achieving her goals (as well as a healthy relationship with her body image) allows her to comfortably complete several ultra-marathons and a couple of body-building shows every year.
Ali’s message is a simple one. Before finding her feet in the sports she loves, she was pouring from an empty cup. Dedicating her everything to her family, without taking proper care of herself. Today, Ali and her husband Jamie have made fitness an essential part of their family life, both for their physical and mental health. “When something gives you the chance to work on yourself in that way, gives you personal time and allows you to press pause and by extension, make you a better parent, partner and person, you have to make time for it.”