2016 Gold Coast Half Marathon champion Cassie Fien on mixing her Defence Force career with competitive running. By Cindy MacDonald.


Great strides: Cassie Fien, 31, marathon runner

I’m a physical training instructor at the security and fire school at RAAF Base Amberley. I spend a long time at work – 12 hours most days – so I can fit in my training. As a distance runner you’ve got to run twice a day most days. I train on the treadmill a lot because it means I can be contactable. I’ve answered work phone calls a number of times on the treadmill. People go, “Are you running?” And I’m, like, “Yep.” People are kind of used to it now.

A lot of the time the guys who come here look at my stature and think, “Oh, it’s cool, we’re going to have an easy session.” A couple of times – just to shake them up – I’ve actually taken them for a run. There’s a group of male-dominated trainees that we take for our Airfield Defence Guard, and this one day I thought, “These guys need to be put through their paces.” I said, “Righto, we’re doing a session, boys, but you should be able to keep up with me because I’ve already run 15 kays this morning.” They were like, “Sweet, we’ve got this.” And I took them down to the track and just kept putting on the pace every lap and they dropped like flies. After we finished I jogged them back to where they started and one said, “Ah, excuse me, Sarge, but with all due respect, you’re insane.”

In mid-2012 I was deployed to Afghanistan for just under seven months at the Tarin Kowt base. That was an experience I’d never change and it was amazing to be part of. If you are in the RAAF, you sign up to do your bit to protect this free and beautiful country we live in. I was in Afghanistan when the London Olympics were on. I was yelling at the TV because reception was dropping in and out and I wanted to watch my good mate Jess Trengove and the other Aussie girls. 

The Berlin Marathon last September was shocking. I’d just missed out on the Rio Olympics – I was the fourth-fastest woman and they only select three – so I wanted something else to focus on. From the get-go I knew it was going to be a long, wicked day. Coming up the straight I was starting to get dizzy and I didn’t know if I was going to get to the line just a few hundred metres away. When I crossed it I passed out and next thing the paramedics were wheeling me to the medical recovery tent. To this day I’m not quite sure what happened. But that’s what the marathon is, I guess – you have your good days and your bad days. Having said that, I actually finished eighth.

My personal best time is 2:33:01, just shy of the 2:32s. My dream is to get into the 2:20s. I think it’s in there somewhere, it’s just a matter of finding that good balance of training and having the time to commit to it. As distance runners we can’t really just focus on sport, like, say, [well-paid] footy players.  

I’ve always doubted my abilities and to get so close to Rio but yet so far – being the reserve – was torture but it made me realise, “Why not, why can’t I be one of them [an Olympian]?” I’m also going to try for the 10,000 metres for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. I’m a Queensland girl and to be in a home Games would be the most incredible experience. I’m going to take a couple of months off work before my next marathon to just focus on being an athlete. If I do make it, that’s brilliant. And if I don’t, I just want to know I did everything I could.

I’ve been very fortunate to have won the 2015 and 2016 City to Surf. For me the shorter distances are sometimes a little bit harder because with a marathon the race doesn’t really start until 20 or 30 kays in. Whereas with the shorter ones, from the get-go the pace is hot. I’m running the Sydney Harbour 10k on July 9 and also the Gold Coast half marathon this weekend, which has a red-hot field.

When you hit the wall in a marathon, even if someone offered you $1 million to sprint 50 metres, your body wouldn’t let you. Your head starts to play games with you, too. It happened to me in the New York City Marathon, my first marathon in 2015, and, at one stage, I thought death was a better option. I didn’t think I’d ever run another marathon, to be quite honest. Now I’ve done six marathons – three of them world majors – and I just love the challenge. It actually makes me a stronger person. To have that overriding mental power to just keep going when things crop up where I think, “I can’t do it.” I now know I am capable because of going through that in a marathon. 

My dad was killed while cycling home from work back in ’99. At the time he had just started to coach me. We had a really strong friendship – I was Daddy’s little girl. When he was taken, to struggle through that and to keep going was super difficult. I guess that’s why I’ve been self-coached for a long time, because I felt like we were still doing it together, in a sense. That’s why my running is so special to me – I want to get out of it as much as I can and hopefully make Dad proud. 

Before Rio I definitely pinned my sense of achievement on making an Olympic or Commonwealth Games team. But for Rio I was eight minutes under qualifying time, and still missed out because in Australia at this time marathon running is really strong for females, which is brilliant. Now I realise that if I can put my hand on my heart and say I literally did everything in my power to be the best runner I could be, then that’s my sense of achievement. That’s all I can do, right? Whatever else comes is just a bonus.


This week’s highlights…

NRL: Sydney Roosters v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

Saturday, 3pm (AEST), Central Coast Stadium, Gosford, NSW

Athletics: Gold Coast Half Marathon and Marathon

Sunday, 6am and 7.20am (AEST), Southport, Queensland

Table tennis: Australian Open

Sunday to Friday, Gold Coast Sports & Leisure Centre

AFL: Hawthorn v Collingwood

Sunday, 3.20pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

Cricket: ICC Women’s World Cup – Australia v New Zealand

Sunday, 7.30pm (AEST), Bristol County Ground, England

Tennis: Wimbledon

Monday until July 16, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 1, 2017 as "Great strides".

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Cindy MacDonald is The Saturday Paper’s deputy editor.

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