How was your Saturday night?

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It’s safe to say that things have changed for me over the past few years.

Even 5 years ago I would regularly go out and have a big one on Saturday night. Often followed by a game of soccer the next morning. Sometimes it was OK, sometimes not so much!

That was before I found running.

Now, Saturday nights are, more often than not, quiet nights, with either a long run, a trail run or a race of some kind to prepare for the next day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still go out, but I will just have a few drinks, and not stay out till all hours of the morning. The time I get up on a Sunday now is the time I used to go to bed quite often after a big Saturday night.

It doesn’t work all the time. Last Valentine’s Day I went out and had quite a few ciders (it was a hot hot night) and had a horrible run the next day. (I wrote a blog post about it – https://randomthoughtsandracereports.wordpress.com/2015/07/19/theres-no-such-thing-as-a-bad-run-yeah-right/ )

After the Masters half marathon I may or may not have had a few too many red wines and then had to back up to pace the McLaren Vale Half the next day. That worked out OK but probably is not something I should repeat!

Last Saturday night I did pull an all-nighter but there was no alcohol consumed – I did drink my body weight in Coke and sports drink though. Somehow I have reached a point in my life where running around a 400m track ALL NIGHT is my idea of a good way to spend Saturday night!

This weekend just gone I was at another race, but not running this time. The day after the 100km race I texted Ben, the organiser of both the 100km race and the Yumigo Summer Trail Series. I hadn’t yet entered the Saturday night trail race, deciding to wait to see how I pulled up after the 100km. On Monday I was struggling with the expected muscle soreness and also a number of blisters that made it difficult to wear shoes. So I made the logical decision and told Ben I was available to volunteer at Saturday night’s event. Not only was it a sensible idea to give myself a rest, but it was time to give back.

I went for a slow 4km walk on Tuesday morning – that was the first time I’d put shoes on since the end of the 100km! I walked again on Wednesday night, this time a slightly faster 6km. By Thursday morning I was back running – a slower than normal 10km but still, running! I thought to myself, “I COULD have run this Saturday” but was happy with my decision to volunteer. I did a Mt Lofty hike on Friday and a leisurely run back down – this time wearing my trail shoes which are slightly bigger so therefore didn’t put as much pressure on my toes. That was relatively comfortable.

On Saturday morning I did my first Torrens parkrun for the year and managed a very respectable 22 minutes flat.

Saturday night I was volunteering at a drink station with Michelle, who had placed in the 50km run the previous week, and Tina, who I didn’t know. Michelle was originally meant to be running but hadn’t recovered as well as she’d hoped so had joined Tina and me on the aid station. It was Michelle’s idea to dress up – I told her what costumes I had and we decided to go with beer wenches. Given that we were going to be serving drinks, it seemed appropriate, and hopefully it would give the runners a bit of a laugh!

To get with the ‘beer wench’ theme I brought a couple of steins and some beer and cider. Michelle had some moscato and glasses for all three of us. We were all set!

The three of us were dropped at our aid station, seemingly in the middle of nowhere but accessible by 4WD. Everything was set up, all we had to do was pour cups of water and Coke, and get out the food (bananas, chips and lollies). Luckily it wasn’t too windy, as it had been when I’d volunteered at Yurrebilla – that day we couldn’t even have all the cups of drink ready to go, as they’d blow away!

It was a warm evening, so we were expecting to be busy. I’d brought my iPod and speaker, mostly to keep us entertained but also for the runners as they went past.

It was just over half an hour before the runners started coming through. They seemed amused at our appearance but not enjoying the heat so much. Apparently there were a few nasty little hills in the course too. The early runners didn’t stop – they were the fast guys! Some had their own hydration vests/belts to save them from having to stop.

After a while we decided to start handing out cups of water as people ran past. We got it down to a fine art – I didn’t see any cups dropped! Some people wanted cups of water poured over them and we happily obliged. I was actually surprised that more people didn’t go for the Coke on offer – although towards the end it seemed to be more in demand.

Over the course of the run we saw the short course runners twice and the long course four times. As the race went on people started to look more fatigued, although once the sun went down the temperature dropped, making conditions much more pleasant for the runners. (And the volunteers too – Michelle and I were both wearing wigs which were very hot and scratchy!)

There was some singing, of course. I do seem to recall singing ‘I Will Always Love You’ as one quite bewildered looking guy ran past! Like at the 100km race, I hope the singing provided some amusement and didn’t put people off! At least it might have made people run faster, to get away from us!

It was quite a surreal experience, being in the middle of nowhere, cranking out some tunes, having a sneaky moscato in between the rushes of runners, and enjoying some lovely scenery (the sunset was spectacular, and I won’t lie, there was some nice eye candy on view in the race too!). Probably not many people’s idea of a fun Saturday night, but I couldn’t imagine a place I’d rather be!

Although in the beginning I did have a little ‘run envy’ (runvy?), I think I had a much better time volunteering than I would have had I run. And I’m sure my legs and feet will thank me for it!

I will be out there running the next, and last, event of the Summer Trail Series, at Newland Head in March. I can’t promise there won’t be singing. You have been warned!

Race report – 100km track championships

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250 times around a 400m track. Brutal.

When I first heard about this event I was keen to enter. I’m not sure why, but it just appealed to me. 100km on a track, with a 12 hour cut off. I had only run 100km once before, in a trail ultra, in just over 14 hours. But on a dead flat track it should theoretically be easier. Faster, certainly.

There are so many pros to running an ultra, on a track, at night.

No possibility of getting lost.
No snakes.
No need to carry any food, drinks, mandatory gear.
No sunscreen, sunnies or hat required.
Never more than 400m from food, drinks and toilet.

My race week was quiet. I had two fairly challenging trail runs on Sunday and Tuesday. After Tuesday’s run, which involved a stupid amount of stairs, I decided I wasn’t going to run again until the big day. I did one easy walk on Thursday and that was it.

Food-wise I took 3 sandwiches (a combination of peanut butter and chocolate nut spread), a couple of nut bars, some almonds and some mashed sweet potato in a tube. And a big container of sports drink.

On the day I thought I’d better switch my meals around. As the race started at 8pm, and I was used to eating cereal (or a cereal-based smoothie) for breakfast before a run, I thought it would make sense to have breakfast for dinner! So I had smashed avo and chickpeas on toast for brekky, sweet potato vegan mac and cheese for lunch, and cereal for dinner. In between lunch and dinner I managed to sneak in a few hours sleep.

I went with my favourite long distance running skirt over Skins shorts, and on the top a singlet I’d worn for my first two marathons and my rainbow striped arm socks. I also threw into my bag some clean singlets, long sleeved tops, buff, fleece headband, rain jacket (just in case), extra shoes and socks. As it turned out, the top was not the best choice as it started to chafe after about 50k, and consequently I finished the race in a different top.

I arrived at the track about an hour before the start. There were 27 starters, with 12 in the 100km and the rest in the 50km. All runners started at the same time and had the same 12 hour cutoff. Conditions were perfect, with around 18 degrees at the start, and no wind. The previous night had seen torrential rain so we were incredibly lucky! (The temperature only dropped to 16 in the stadium overnight, making for the best possible running conditions)

We had access to the stadium toilets for the duration. Unfortunately, they were up a flight of stairs!

It was going to be a long night!

Running around in circles can be tedious. I’ve run a timed event on a 2.2km loop, but this was something else entirely. I thought the track would ve easier to run on than the gravel of the Uni Loop. At first it seemed easier but as time went on, I found it really harsh on my feet, especially my toes. I could feel blisters coming on but I didn’t want to take my shoes off – mainly because that would involve sitting down, and I thought getting up and getting going again would be a struggle!

I had expected the 250 lap thing would be the biggest barrier but as it turned out it was the track surface. Paul, the eventual winner of the 100k and with whom I ran a fair bit, changed shoes and socks after 50km and found that this helped a lot.

The progress times were written up on a whiteboard every hour by event organiser Ben. After 1 hour I was in 8th place overall, 2nd female, one lap behind the first girl, Rebecca. (Interestingly eventual winner Paul was one place behind me). Also in the event were Sheena, a last minute entrant, and 2 Karens – Karen C who had come from interstate, and Karen B who will be well known to anyone who is a regular reader of my blog! On the male side, the people I knew were Paul, Barry (who was doing the 100k as a training run for a 48 hour event in March), and David who was going for a very fast time – possibly sub 7:30! David lapped me pretty much every second lap but eventually withdrew – it wasn’t to be his night! Which then made for a very interesting race as he probably would have been a runaway winner.

It was great having the 50km runners out there too. Many of them were going super fast, including Alex (the eventual winner), Simon (who led for much of the race and ended up finishing second, not bad for a last minute entrant!) and on the women’s side Anna and Tina (who took out first and second place respectively) looked strong throughout.

There was also Michelle, who was the 3rd placed female but took first place for most entertaining runner! She was the one who started the singing (she had her iPod in) and not long after that I decided it was time to pull out my iPod too. I don’t normally like to run with music but in an event like this where there are no road crossings, no marshal instructions to follow, not to mention the monotony of running lap after lap, most of the 100k runners and a lot of the 50k runners had iPods.

To distract me from my feet and legs screaming at me, I started singing (pretty loudly, and hopefully in tune), much to the amusement of the spectators. I hope it wasn’t too off-putting for my fellow competitors!

The laps went by quickly at first. I was sitting on sub 10 hour pace until probably 65km (I haven’t uploaded my Garmin data yet due to tech issues) and it would have been amazing to be able to sustain that, but I knew it wasn’t realistic. I hoped/expected to finish between 10 and 11 hours.

The support tent was fantastic. Every time I passed, the volunteers gave great encouragement and were always willing to help me with anything I needed. Ziad, Chris, Katie, Vic and anyone else I may have forgotten, ably manned the support tent/food table and I can’t forget to mention Kieran who I think came to support Michelle but even after she left he stuck around right till the end and was my unexpected but much appreciated support crew – what a champ!

After 2 hours I had moved into 7th place and one lap ahead of Rebecca.

By 5 hours many of the 50k runners had finished including the top 3 men and top 2 women. I had just cracked 50k myself and moved into overall third place, one lap behind Barry and Stuart in equal first place. Somehow I had managed to open up a 13 lap lead over Rebecca, that’s around 5km. This gave me a little breathing space when it came to toilet breaks (I only had two – those stairs were a struggle – and managed to keep them to around 2 minutes which equates to 1 lap or less).

At 6 hours I had moved ahead of Barry into overall second behind Stuart. My lead over Rebecca was now 17 laps. Paul had moved into 4th place, one lap behind Barry and 2 behind me, and looking incredibly strong.

Around this time my left hip started playing up. Michelle, who had not long finished the 50k, offered me some Voltaren which I gratefully accepted and which seemed to help, although I still looked like a 90 year old during my walk breaks (interestingly I was a lot more comfortable while running than while walking – I just had to take more frequent breaks as the race went on!)

By 7 hours Paul had leapfrogged me into first place and that was where he stayed. My lead over Rebecca was now 22 laps, and a further 2 laps to Karen C in third position. I thought, surely neither of them can catch me now? Even if I end up walking most of it? Fortunately it didn’t come to that. I started with a 30min/5min run/walk strategy. After about 5.5 hours I went to 25/5 (it was easier to keep track, plus I was tiring). Later I tried 20/5 but quickly went to 15/5 and then 10/5. By the end I was doing 7/3 but still managing to maintain my position (obviously everyone, with the exception of Paul and possibly Barry, was struggling as much as, if not more than, me!). I was constantly checking my watch and counting down to the next walk break!

At the 8 hour mark Paul had opened up a 5 lap gap between himself and second placed Stuart, who was beginning to struggle and was walking more than he was running. Paul was looking unstoppable and regularly lapping me! I was still 3rd, 3 laps ahead of Barry and 25 ahead of Karen C who had moved ahead of Rebecca into second place.

Getting towards the pointy end, at 9 hours Barry had passed me into a strong second position, and I had passed Stuart so still sat in 3rd overall, with my lead over Karen maintained.

After 10 hours Paul was practically finished and Barry only a few laps behind. Hearing Paul and Barry’s finishes called by Ben over the PA gave me a lift, as I knew I wouldn’t be too far behind them!

My Garmin was well out, so I didn’t really know how long I had to go until Adam, the timing guy, started calling out numbers of laps. Once that number was into single figures I knew I was really nearly done! I was up to the 7/3 run/walk by then but once I got down to the last 3 laps I somehow managed to run the rest of the way. The best feeling was when Ben announced me over the PA as I started my last lap. I can quite safely say that was my fastest lap of the whole 250!

I finished strongly and was glad to see some friends who had come to see the finish, including Neil who made it just in time to see my last lap, and James who had come down for the last hour or so before going rowing. Mum had also come down and had seen my last 3 or 4 laps – I didn’t realise she was there until I’d finished and it was a nice surprise as I hadn’t expected her to come!

I finished in about 10 hours 43, just before 6:45am, in daylight! I then sat down, had some delicious vegan pizza, and Kieran helped me get my shoes off before first aid legend Susan came and taped up my epic blisters.

It was only just over an hour until the 8am cutoff, and I sat back and watched the rest of the runners struggle around the track. Stuart finished 4th overall (3rd male) and another guy John was the last to finish the 100km, with 4 minutes to spare! The only other 2 left by that stage were the two Karens who stuck it out to the end but didn’t quite make the 100km. Still – a fantastic effort to keep going for 12 hours, I’m not sure if I could have done that!

After the presentations Karen treated me to a guest pass at her gym where we had a very luxurious spa interspersed with quick dips in the cold plunge pool – perfect way to finish a very tough but very satisfying event!

Thanks as always to Ben and all the amazing volunteers, all the supporters who came down to watch, and last but not least all the legends who ran in the event!

Veganuary – the story so far!

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After 2 years of trying to eat plant-based MOST of the time (I estimate 85-90%) I decided to take the challenge to eat vegan for the entire month of January. As I write there is a week to go, and I can see one major challenge to come, but I thought this week I would write about some of the things I’ve learned so far.

1) Trying to eat vegan on the road is REALLY HARD unless you take your own food. Truck stops are not noted for their vegan options. Muesli bars and nuts are good portable road snacks. Fruit too, although you have to make sure you eat it all before you enter South Australia!

2) I sort of already knew this but wine and cider is not necessarily safe (in fact, more likely non-vegan than vegan). There is a very useful website called Barnivore which lists alcoholic beverages by veganosity. (I’m not certain ‘veganosity’ is an actual word but it’s a good one. ‘Veganity’ would also work). I now know a few ciders that I can safely drink – sadly not my absolute favourite but a couple that are readily available in Adelaide. I did manage to find a lovely vegan wine in Thredbo – naturally a South Australian one!

3) Balls are fantastic. I’m talking vegan energy balls. Quick to make, healthy (most of the ones I have made contain sugar only in the form of dates), portable and delicious. Dates are expensive though. It’s hard to find a cheap date!

4) Eating vegan at home is easy (I already knew that). Eating at other people’s places is a bit difficult – although my mum has catered to me admirably with a little help from the fantastic website One Green Planet (which is also the source of much of my inspiration) – follow them on Facebook and/or Instagram and prepare to have your mind blown! Eating with a group of people in a self-catering arrangement where you are the ‘only vegan in the village’ requires a bit of flexibility and creativity. And a couple of standbys such as canned chickpeas and peanut butter never go astray!

5) Eating at restaurants often needs a little advance preparation. For example, when dining out with the girls, I did a little research and picked an omni restaurant that has a vegan menu. Something for everyone. Simples! In Thredbo for our ‘official’ dinner I requested in advance a vegan meal and I was very happy with what they served up – it was clearly not just a token salad, or plate of roasted veggies, rather you could tell they had actually put some thought into it. On the other hand, rocking up to a restaurant and asking if they have any vegan options can be fraught – especially in a small town. (On one occasion in Thredbo I was told ‘no’. Not ‘I’ll check with the chef’, just ‘no’. Might be worth starting to carry a peanut butter sandwich in my handbag!)

6) You can pretty much make any omni dish you want into a vegan one. It might take more time and require some ingredients you can’t find in a supermarket, but it can be done if you want it badly enough! You can even get a vegan fried egg – not that I could imagine any vegan would want to eat anything that looks like (and presumably tastes like) a fried egg!

7) Forget about trying to get a vegan meal at a sporting event. Hot chips might be OK depending on what they’re cooked in, and if they’re cooked in the same vat as chicken nuggets etc. Plain crisps on the other hand, are generally safe (at least it’s easy to tell by reading the packet) but crisps do not a meal make.

8) As a rule you will tend to eat healthier – as you won’t go near most fast food, Bunnings BBQs and late night yiros/kebab joints. And it’s easier to control yourself at morning/afternoon teas at work if most of the delicious looking foods on the table are on the ‘no go’ list! Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘vegan = healthy’ though. My current favourite raw vegan chocolate tart is loaded with calories and sugar. But no animals were harmed in the making of it, so I will happily eat it in moderation.

My next big challenge will be the 100km track championships this coming Saturday night. An overnight race – I will certainly be requiring some food but I’m not yet sure what, how much, and when. If I can get through that on a vegan diet, I’m pretty sure I can get through anything! I guess you’ll be hearing all about THAT next week!

(If you’re interested in seeing my daily Veganuary posts, my Instagram username is @moon_unit_ultra)

Thredbo Fun and Fitness Week – Part 2

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Wednesday 13 January

This morning we had the Women from Snowy River and the Men from Snowy River fun runs. It was an interesting concept, segregating the genders, but I can see why they do it – it allows everyone to participate, so the men can marshal the women’s event and vice versa. The women went first so we were all there for a 9am start. It was a 3.8km run, the directions given by the MC at the start were all Greek to me, so I would have to rely on the marshals’ directions and/or following the person in front. It was what is known as a yacht handicap, where the winner is the person who finishes closest to their estimated finish time. The slower walkers started first at 9am, with the fastest runners starting last. The idea was that the slowest walkers would take around 40 minutes, and the timekeeper would count down from 40 minutes, and when he called out the time you thought you would run, you would start. I went for 19 minutes – I was toying with 19.5 minutes but when the MC said “Remember – you always run faster than you think you will”, I stuck with the original plan.

Of course, we all had to run sans watches – that made it really tricky!

The person who started immediately before me started on the 19.5 minute mark, so 30 seconds ahead of me. My first mission, when I started on my own, was to keep her in sight and eventually catch her, which I did. The course was undulating and on variable surfaces which made it especially challenging – the Pipeline track was particularly congested!

I’m not sure exactly what time I did but I estimate I was around 18 minutes, so 1 minute too fast. The winner finished SPOT ON her predicted time! I was a winner though because I brought home another bottle of wine for the lodge from the barrel draw, this time a lovely McLaren Vale GSM.

After the run we watched the start of the men’s race before heading back to the lodge. After lunch a group of us decided to head up Mt Kosciuszko. The final event of Thredbo Fun and Fitness Week (TFFW) would be the Kosciuszko Classic but that can potentially be cancelled if the weather is bad, so we decided to take advantage of the excellent weather and head up there in case this was our last chance. David, Karen, Daryl, Geoff and I headed up in the chairlift and started the approximately 13km hike to the summit and back. On the way up we saw the other 2 Davids from the lodge who had been to the summit already and were on their return journey.

The first part of the hike was a bit boring, on metal grid, until we reached Rawson’s Pass. This was exactly the same path we had hiked the previous day, and was hard going. From Rawson’s it was a not-too-bad trek up to the summit. It was sunny, a bit windy at times but never cold. I walked with David as the other 3 had raced ahead.

At the summit we patiently waited for our turns to sit on top of the marker that indicates the highest point in Australia. Then Karen and I decided to try doing a jumping photo – after about 10 minutes of attempts we got a few decent shots but decided our jumping game could use a little work. It was super windy up there!

On the way back down we saw Lorraine (who had done the summit the previous day with Sally) and Shelley, on their way up. We made it back to the chairlift in plenty of time (the last ride is at 5pm) and waited in a queue to get back down to Thredbo.

Wednesday night was the official dinner of the TFFW which most of us from the lodge were going to (after I had been assured of a vegan meal) so I showered and made myself presentable before heading down to the lounge where a few people were standing on the balcony talking to someone on the phone. Turned out Lorraine had dropped her phone off the chairlift and was out looking for it, and Mandy had gone up to help her look. To further complicate matters, it had started raining quite heavily. Eventually they realised that they weren’t going to find it in those conditions, and came back down to get ready for dinner. Lorraine was quite optimistic that it had survived the fall intact. Karen and I had already planned to give Crackenback another crack (pun intended) in the morning so offered to have a look for it while we were up there.

The dinner was fantastic – 2 lovely courses of vegan deliciousness and to top it off they had vegan wine on the menu! All in all a fabulous day – topped off by the Adelaide Strikers’ thrilling win later that night (without a TV in the lodge we had to resort to following the game via phone app, but it was exciting nonetheless!)

Thursday 14 January

We started the day with a repeat of the first day’s Crackenback climb. It was a bit more leisurely given that we spent a fair while looking for Lorraine’s phone, and miraculously Karen spotted it – no visible damage AND still with plenty of juice! Not bad after a fall from a chairlift and a night in the cold and rain! Good advert for the iPhone 6S!

We made it to the chairlift just in time, as the rain started to fall.

After a coffee, Karen and I showered and changed and headed to the ‘big smoke’ – Jindabyne – with Dave and Peter. We had a bit of a wander around the shops and stocked up on food at Woolies, and stopped off at the Wild Brumby distillery where I bought a bottle of freshly bottled gin.

The afternoon event was meant to be an aquathlon which David, Karen and I had both planned on entering (Karen and I had already wussed out due to the weather – persistent rain) but it was postponed until Friday. So we just hung out at the lodge for the rest of the day, drinking wine, doing jigsaws and cranking out some tunes.

Friday 15 January

Friday was a big day for our lodge. It was the ‘veterans’ fun run, originated by Eric and sponsored by our running club, SARRC. (I say ‘veterans’ because this means women 35 and over and men 40 and over, so I qualify, but I don’t see myself as a veteran!) Our lodge provided most of the marshals and a few of us ran too.

But before that it was the ‘final assault’ on Crackenback. Six of us, Karen, Geoff, David, Sally, Mandy and me, set out in possibly minus temperatures (it was supposedly -5 at the top station) to climb that hill one last time for the trip. This time, fortunately, we were able to push straight through without needing to stop until we reached the top. Others said they thought it was getting easier but I actually found the first climb (the race on the first day) the easiest!

After a quick photo-op at the top we piled into the chairlift for the extremely chilly ride back down to the bottom.

We then got ready for Eric’s run. It was still very cold, so we were all rugged up – the marshals with layer upon layer upon layer, and the runners with running gear underneath all of the layers! The marshals all looked very fetching in their grass skirts and leis – we runners all also ‘got lei’d’.

At the very last possible minute the runners stripped off their warm clothing and assembled at the start line.

It was around 3km we were told (actually 3.4) and the first half or so was TOUGH. Much of it was uphill (good practice for the following day’s Kosciuszko Classic) but the bit that really got me was the stairs – who puts stairs in a fun run?

(It seems that in Thredbo you can’t go anywhere without encountering stairs – not even the lodge! There was one particular set of stairs, which we used several times every day, on the walk from the chairlift back up to the lodge, which I dubbed the ‘Stairway to Hell’. No matter how tough a walk we had done, that particular staircase was always the hardest part of the walk!)

One girl passed me easily on the stairs and after that I walked most of the uphills – my legs were like jelly! However, we soon came to trail and downhills, and I was back in my comfort zone. I ran as fast as possible on the narrow trails because they looked quite ‘snakey’ even though realistically it was too cold for snakes. Towards the end I saw the girl who had passed me earlier and managed to pass her with a few hundred metres to go. I never knew a 3.4km run could be so hard! I don’t think Crackenback earlier in the morning had helped!

After the barrel draw we went down to the river, to Eric’s bench (dedicated with a plaque from SARRC, to Eric and his late wife May) for the traditional bubbles and nibbles. Everyone had a glass – even teetotaller Karen got into the ‘spirit’ with the smallest of servings. Mandy and I took our shoes off and stood in the river and WOW was it cold! That made my decision to skip the aquathlon VERY easy, even though Ryan, who had helped us out with the marshalling, tried to convince us that the water in the lake would be warm!

The ladies and Eric then went up to Eagles’ Nest for a light lunch. At one stage I had planned to do either a downhill Dead Horse Gap hike with Karen or and uphill Merritt’s hike with Mandy, but after the run and lunch I decided a nap was a better idea.

Given that we only had a few nights left, and wouldn’t be able to take our fresh fruit and veg back across the border into SA, it was time to get creative and try to use as much fresh produce as possible. I decided to make a big pot of soup – all the vegies and some curry paste were donated by Karen and Elizabeth, and I just had to buy coconut milk and stock. After a failed attempt to use the ancient Magimix to blend it (I later found out that Sally had had a stick blender with her) I tried to find a potato masher as my Plan B but eventually gave up and served it ‘as is’. And it was tasty – and it just so happened to be perfect soup weather too!

Saturday 16 January

The last day of TFFW – the big one. The Kosciuszko Classic. Approximately 20km all up but the race itself was around 5km. First we had to go up to the top of the chairlift – as it was a chilly morning again, a lot of us had extra layers on. Then we walked to Rawson’s where we utilised the facilities and peeled off our extra layers. Sunscreen was even needed – by that stage it had warmed up a bit and the sun was well and truly out. It was a perfect day for the Classic!

Some runners opted to start early – as it turned out, most of the runners from our lodge. From Rawson’s, it was an easy 3km downhill to the Snowy River – I jogged that part with Travis, a previous winner (and as it turned out, this year’s winner as well!)

At 11:00 on the dot we set out, back uphill to the highest point in Australia. It was ALL uphill. No nice little flat bits to break it up! 2 girls flew past me in the first few hundred metres (one girl was already ahead) and knowing that uphill is NOT my strength, a podium finish was out of the question. So I just kept running. Travis had warned me that the first km was the hardest so I had gone conservative, or so I thought – as it turned out that was my fastest km!

I followed Speedo Man much of the way. Speedo Man is well known at Thredbo for wearing Speedos in every event. Just Speedos. Usually with shoes although sometimes he goes barefoot. At Eric’s run he wore a T-shirt but still just Speedos on the bottom half. At Kosci he was down to just the Speedos and shoes. After about 4km I got sick of looking at that arse, and he was slowing down anyway (or I was speeding up – I suspect the former) so I passed him and then went back and forth with another guy with a ponytail on the final ascent up the mountain.

I ran the whole way, except a short part near the end where there was a metal grid. I walked carefully on this bit as the metal grate can do some serious damage if you fall on it. You know that ad on TV for the Nicer Dicer Plus? Well that was what I was thinking of and I didn’t really fancy diced knees and hands. The guy with the ponytail later said he thought I lost momentum when I walked that bit, which surprised me because I didn’t think I had any momentum! He eventually passed me and finished just ahead – Speedo Man just behind. My time was 30.06 so I will definitely be aiming to break 30 minutes next year!

After some celebrations at the top of Australia we made the long walk back to the chairlift via Rawson’s where we had left our gear. We had a quick coffee stop and then went to the presentation. We learned that for the first time ever, there were more female finishers than male! Out of 32 finishers, 11 were from our lodge and 8 of those were female!

After that it was back to the lodge for a cold beverage – if running 5km up a mountain isn’t a hard-earned thirst, I don’t know what is!

The rest of the day was pretty chilled – time to reflect on the week and start packing. Most of us were leaving early on Sunday except a few who were staying on for the Blues festival. The Blues festival always overlaps TFFW by a few days, and it’s pretty easy to tell the Blues people from the runners and the mountain bikers!

Thredbo – you have been WONDERFUL. Such a great week in an amazing place with some fabulous friends, old and new. I can see this becoming a regular event on my calendar!

I’m writing this on the long drive home and I’m keen to see how a week at altitude affects my running back at sea level!

Thredbo Fun and Fitness Week – Part 1

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This week I am in Thredbo for the Fun and Fitness Week (TFFW). It’s my first time here, and it’s such a fantastic place! Thredbo is known more as a winter ski destination but it has fantastic mountain biking and hiking/running trails which keep the people coming during the summer. It’s not a bad way to spend a week – running, hiking and various other activities by day, and drinking wine on the balcony or ‘chilling’ in the spa by night. The most difficult thing is trying to fit in all the activities and trying to choose between the different events/hikes on offer!

Saturday 9 January

Karen, Daryl, Geoff and I spent Friday night in Albury after driving all day from Adelaide. Our motel just happened to be across the road from the Albury/Wodonga parkrun – the only parkrun in Australia that crosses a state border. Of course we were going to run it!

About 300 other people had the same idea as us. The course follows the mighty Murray River, crossing the NSW/Victoria border into Wodonga and then back again. Other than a somewhat comical start, where 300 people converged from all angles just in time to run across a narrow footbridge, it was a lovely, scenic run. I’m surprised my Strava map for the first kilometre didn’t resemble an ECG readout!

Following the parkrun and a trip to the adjacent farmers market, we continued on our merry way to Thredbo. We arrived at the lodge around 1:30, giving us just enough time to unload the car, get our lift passes and make our way to the bottom of the chairlift for the Crackenback Challenge. For the uninitiated, this is a 1.8km run. Nice cruisy way to kick off the week, right? Oh, did I forget to mention the 600m elevation? And starting at 1500m altitude? The only word that could accurately describe it is BRUTAL. And there was not much running going on – well at least not by me! I followed fellow South Aussie David up the hill – I kept him in sight until almost the finish. He is like a mountain goat up hills and an absolute inspiration for someone easily old enough to be my father! At one point some smart arsed kid on the chairlift offered the guy behind me some Mountain Dew and then didn’t deliver. Now Saturday was a warm day and this guy didn’t have a drink on him, so it would have been appreciated. I turned around to him and asked him if he would like some Gatorade which he gratefully accepted. Later in the event there was a pretty high step to get up (the next day a few of us observed from the chairlift that there was a MUCH easier route, just a few metres to the side) and he was right behind me, so gave me a boost up. (I probably could have got up there on my own but at that point I wasn’t going to refuse assistance!) and when we eventually got to the ‘finish line’ he graciously let me cross first. It was a typically alpine way to start the week!

Sunday 10 January

The day started with a hike up Merritt’s Nature Track, finishing at the same place as Crackenback, but instead of 1.8km this walk was around 4km. So with the same elevation, it was a much less intense climb. It was still a challenging hike though, with so many stairs! A group of us decided to take the chairlift down, so we could get back in time for the ‘fun’ run in the village. (A few people opted to skip the run and descend via Dead Horse Gap instead.)

Thd ‘fun’ run was a 6km run consisting of 2 3km loops around the village. 6km is not a familiar distance for me, and after less than 24 hours at 1500m altitude, it was surprisingly challenging! There were a lot of young, serious looking runners wearing not very much and it was nice to be able to pass a few of them on lap 2 – I think they were shorter distance specialists but I’ll take it!

Monday 11 January

Today’s running event was the River Run – a 1 hour out-and-back fun run along a relatively new trail. It was quite a challenging course and apparently it was  carnage out there, with a number of people falling. The idea was that we turned around at 30 minutes, so everyone finished in around 1 hour. I didn’t quite make it under the hour as I found I had to walk a lot of the uphills on the way back. The suspension bridges were also interesting to run – I found that falling into step with the person in front was the best way to tackle these.

After the post-run barrel draw (a TFFW staple – today I was lucky enough to win a magnum of South Australian shiraz) we headed back to the lodge for a quick refuel before heading out for a Dead Horse Gap hike. We split into 2 groups – one hiking up and then back down via the chairlift, and the other taking the lift up and run/walking down. I opted for the former, along with Sue and Mandy. It was a challenging but stunning 10km hike – more stairs! We had a bite to eat at the Eagles Nest restaurant (highest restaurant in Australia) before making our way back to the lodge. I was ready for a nap but after a coffee I was ready to go again, and at that moment Karen announced they were going for a swim in a waterfall. I thought, “why not?” and off we went, along with Daryl, Geoff, David and Elizabeth. What was described as an easy 2km walk was more like 3, but we eventually reached the waterfall and quickly made our way down to the water’s edge. Karen suggested we leave our shoes on as it was quite rocky. That turned out to be a good suggestion as the rocks were slippery and some rather pointy. The water was cold at first but once we got in it was lovely and refreshing. The waterfall was at least as good as the spa (where we knew a number of our fellow lodge guests would have been at that moment) albeit about 30 degrees colder!

After a short dip we made our way back along the trail and that’s where the excitement happened. Walking with Karen, discussing the merits of bungee jumping, I froze. In front of us, pretty much taking up the entire width of the path, was a dirty big black snake! Expletives were uttered (my exact words were “F***, it’s a snake!”) and it didn’t seem to be bothered by that, continuing to doze obliviously! Eventually Geoff woke it up and it slithered back into the bushes, no doubt cursing us for disturbing his little siesta!

Tuesday 12 January

Given that the weather was good, and potentially looking a bit iffy later in the week, a group of us decided to do the 30km Range hike, a full day walk. We took the chairlift up together and hiked up to Rawson’s Retreat (a mostly uphill 4km or so, on steel grid and more steps!) where it was decision time. There were 2 ways we could go, the ‘traditional’ way and the reverse way. 6 of us went ‘traditional’ and the other 5, myself included, went the reverse route. I had had a chat to David the previous night (a different David – there are 3 Davids staying in the lodge) and he had suggested the reverse route would be the best way to go, so when Marg, Sally, Lorraine and Julie decided to go that way, I had no hesitation in joining them. (Plus, I hadn’t been able to keep up with the other group on the hike from the chairlift to Rawson’s, and I wanted to enjoy my walk rather than spend the whole time just trying to stay with the group.)

It was a lovely day, the scenery was just magic, the company was great and we stopped several times along the way to fuel up. We ended up taking about 6.5 hours, about 1 hour longer than the other group, which was just perfect pace for me. Sally and Lorraine ended up taking a 4km detour near the end to go to Mt Kosciuszko summit (the highest point in Australia) which looked amazing but I didn’t think I had it in me. I will get there at least once this week!

I spoke to Eric, 90-something years old, TFFW royalty, fellow South Australian and guest of our lodge, tonight after dinner. He said that when he was IN HIS 60s he completed the Range walk (at that time it was a timed event rather than just an informal hike) in 3.5 hours – amazing and inspiring, not that I have ANY desire to try to do it at that pace!

Stay tuned next week for a summary of the rest of the week!

Influencers…

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As it’s a bit of a quiet period in terms of racing/training, I thought this week I might try something different and reflect on a few people who had a big impact on my sporting (and personal) life in 2015. I’ve just picked out 6 because otherwise this would be an incredibly long post!

I’ll start with Karen. Karen has been mentioned before and probably has been the biggest influence on me (for better or worse!). She is a truly remarkable woman, ridiculously generous and selfless, a never-ending source of useful information, a great listener and giver of advice, and always up for crazy adventures and silly dress-ups!

When we first met I thought she was insane (and intimidating!) having just done 160km in the 24 hour event. History shows that I have now completed a 100+km ultra so now that doesn’t seem so crazy. But at the time – wow! She said that when we met she thought I was scary. Fair enough, I’d just shaved my head so I imagine I was quite a sight!

So in particular this year Karen’s influence has allowed me to (and this is just the tip of the iceberg):
– complete the 6 hour event 6 days after the Gold Coast Marathon (most people would have said that was nuts – for her part she went one better and did the 24 hour event 6 days after a 6 day desert race!)
– enter the 100km track race which is coming up at the end of this month – time will tell if that was a good idea!
– complete the Heysen 105 ultra – her advice and pre-race pep talk were invaluable.
– work on my swimming – encouraging me to enter an Aquathlon, and also letting me come to swim at her exclusive health club as a guest!
– get into cycling – my first ride with her was memorable for the fact that I fell off at 7.5km and wanted to quit, but she insisted that I keep going and made it all the way to Goolwa (25km – by far the furthest I’d ever ridden!). She then insisted that I needed to come for another ride 2 days later which was much more successful, with no ‘unscheduled dismountings’! Oh and she also gave me some cycling kit so I can at least sort of look like a cyclist!
– be a running diva (in a good way) – even if the running is not going so well it’s important to look good doing it, preferably in colour-coordinated lululemon gear! However, her influence will only go so far here – hair and makeup done before a 6am group run is a bridge too far for me…
– go to Thredbo for the Fun and Fitness week – that is coming up next week and promises to be a fantastic week away (and no doubt material for a future blog post!)

Then we have Natalie. Nat is one of the organisers of my Thursday running group, a staple of my weekly programme. During this year in particular she has been great at listening to my issues during runs and giving some great advice (not always taken I must admit) – I tell you, group runs are the BEST therapy and also FREE!

Nat is also an excellent cyclist and was the one who first got me onto a road bike and using cleats. She has shown great patience and has always been willing to fit me in for a lesson! Not to mention let me use her son’s VERY NICE bike and also shoes! I have had 3 lessons with Nat so far and while she was away this past week she very generously allowed me to borrow the bike. I went out for the two aforementioned 20+km rides with Karen and the stuff Nat taught me is starting to fall into place! Look out world – my first triathlon is getting closer!

Also part of the Thursday running family is James. He is not only one of the group leaders along with Nat, but also the social organiser of the group – always keen to arrange dinners and impromptu Sunday drinks. And let’s not forget the legendary post-run breakfasts in his backyard!

But James’s biggest influence on me this year was two seemingly small but extremely significant gestures. Firstly, the night before the 6 hour event, at one of our regular group dinners, he asked me if I would like him to bring me a coffee during the run (the forecast was for cold and wet) which I gratefully accepted. And when he arrived with it, about halfway through the 6 hours, my spirits lifted and so did my performance – that coffee was just magic! Then at Yurrebilla, which was on a warm day, he messaged Beck, who I was running with at the time, to ask us if we wanted him to bring us anything. To which I quickly responded, ‘Lemonade Icy-Pole!’ And OMG if that was not the best damn Icy-Pole I’ve ever tasted… and again gave me the lift I needed at the time. Maybe it was the caffeine in the coffee. No doubt it was at least partly the sugar in the Icy-Pole. Either way, the man that brought me said treats had a massive impact on how well both of those events went for me!

Next let’s talk about Beck. Beck and I have run together a lot in the past year, on roads and trails, and in training and in events. We seem to have very similar pace so it was great to run all of the Yurrebilla training runs, and most of the event itself, with her. We were also going to run Heysen together at least to start with (Beck was doing the 57km but we all started together) but that didn’t quite work out – she did end up finishing second in her event though – not too shabby! Yurrebilla we ran together until 38km, I don’t know how things would have gone had I not had Beck’s company for that first part, but I’m sure that it would not have been as enjoyable! As a fellow physio we always have plenty to talk about, and with all the time we’ve run together there’s been a fair bit of ‘running therapy’ thrown in as well!

Speaking of Heysen, one person who had a massive impact on my run that day was my buddy runner Kirsten. From the time I saw her just out of Checkpoint 4, to the time we crossed the finish line around 4 hours later, I had such a great time! (Hopefully she did too!) We had run together at times but never for a particularly long time. As a result we hadn’t really talked in depth before but by the end of Heysen there wasn’t much we didn’t know about each other! I really have no idea what my race would have been like without her help! Hopefully I can return the favour one day!

Last but not least I’d like to mention Barry, a local ultra-running LEGEND and one half of the Yurrebilla Race Director team with his lovely wife Bev. Not only did he direct the event that was the highlight of my running year, he was so encouraging and supportive to me and to all the other Yurrebilla newbies. One of the most memorable moments was between Checkpoints 2 and 3 at Heysen when we found ourselves running together (having also run together for a short while after Checkpoint 1). Barry said he was not surprised that we were running together as he saw us as quite similar athletically. That blew me away as he is such a great runner! He also said, when I mentioned that I had selected the 8:30 start group for this year’s Yurrebilla, that this was the right group for me as it is the elite group! Massive thanks to Barry for all his support and filling me with confidence!

So there you have it – six of the best from 2015!

Looking ahead to 2016!

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Last week I reflected on some of the highlights of 2015 and promised to reveal my goals for 2016 in this week’s episode!

2015 was quite a year! Full of ups and downs, but definitely more ups than downs! Some pretty good results, some pretty poor decisions on my part, some amazing experiences!

My No. 1 goal for 2016 is to complete the Ultra-Trail Australia 100km race in the Blue Mountains. It was my inspiration for entering the Heysen 105 in October, so I would be confident that I could complete a 100k. I entered the day that entries opened (good thing, because it sold out in under 48 hours), have just booked my flights in the last couple of weeks, and already I know of a whole lot of friends who are also going. It’s going to be a whole lot of fun and a massive challenge! It’s nice that all finishers are getting medals next year, unlike in the past when you got a belt buckle if you finished under 20 hours, and anything between that and the 28 hour cutoff got you a lousy sticker! I’d almost rather finish in 27.5 hours because there would be a massive crowd gathered for the presentations, and I’d get the best reception! I don’t really have a goal time in mind yet but plenty of time for that! A week in Thredbo in January for the ‘Fun and Fitness Week’ will be great training for running in the mountains!

Next, I want to qualify for the 2017 Boston Marathon. I have Gold Coast earmarked as my goal race for several reasons. It is known as a fast course. It is about 6 weeks after my 100k so the timing is good. I ran my PB there this year. I do also have some unfinished business there. Although it was ultimately a successful race for me, I didn’t enjoy it as much as my other 2 marathons… crossing the finish line the feeling was more relief than elation. And the trip ended on a sour note so… I need to go back!

Boston is kind of like a rite of passage for marathon runners – it is the world’s oldest annual marathon and one of the 6 annual ‘Major’ marathons (thanks, Wikipedia!). It would be an ideal way for me to celebrate my 40th birthday, and I already know other people who are hoping to qualify, plus it’s been way too long since my last trip to the States. So yeah, that is happening!

My first big event of 2016 will be the 100km state championships. 250 laps of a 400m athletic track. Sounds fun, right? I’m not quite sure if I’m prepared for this but I’ve entered, so I’ll give it a crack. I’m hoping to finish under 10 hours but I think that might be a bit ambitious. The cutoff time is 12 hours so anything under that will be good!

As many readers of my blog will know, I am planning to complete a triathlon next year. I’m currently aiming for April but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll aim for something towards the end of the year, in the 2016-2017 triathlon season. I’m thinking of a Tinman. I think that’s achievable. I don’t have any desire to do an Ironman although a 70.3 does have a nice ring to it. I just can’t see how I could fit Ironman training in around full time work. If I could quit my job (or at least significantly reduce my hours) and still afford to live, maybe I could. To me there are only 2 ways that could happen – a lottery win, and/or a rich husband! Both are equally likely I reckon!

I need to buy a bike. I WANT a Garmin Fenix 3 watch but I have decided (for once) to be sensible and buy a secondhand 310XT which will do the job nicely AND hopefully leave me with enough for a decent bike. I guess a bike is more important than a fancy watch! Cycling is new to me but after a few lessons I’m slowly getting the hang of cleats.

Swimming I am reasonably confident with, having been a fair swimmer in my youth. Yesterday I completed my first aquathlon (swim/run) including my first open water swim. Possibly a topic for a blog post in the near future! I’d like to work on ocean/lake swimming – swimming from one jetty to the next, and there is a big open water swimming event in February which I will most likely enter.

There are a few other ‘minor’ goals too. I’d love to break the 20 minute barrier for a 5k. I’m close – 20:24 is my best time. It will happen one day! I’d also love to do a sub-50 City-Bay 12k. Once again I am getting close!

I also want to run the Clare Half again – more unfinished business from 2015! I won’t aim for an overall PB like I (foolishly) did this year – Clare is a tough course and it’s difficult to run a PB there.

Running aside, but still related, I want to sort out my nutrition… I haven’t quite got it right yet and the somewhat inadequate diet combined with some crazy mileage resulted in weight loss that to a point was beneficial to my performance but went a bit past what I would consider healthy. Where I am now, I am pretty happy with. Some of my photos from earlier in the year look a tad unhealthy. I know eating disorders are very common among runners and other athletes and it’s easy to see how but I don’t think I was ever out of control… I know some people who look like they’ve gone too far…

And just because putting it out there means I’m more likely to do it, I want to try to get back into daily planking. I have gotten WAY too slack with that. Surely I can find 5 minutes a day? And yoga/Pilates/BodyBalance – I need to fit in one class a week – that’s not too hard is it?

I started 2015 hungover like most of the last 20 years. I will probably finish it sober – I’m hoping to finish in what I now believe to be the best way possible – a night trail run with awesome friends! I’ve gained so many new friends this year – many more than I’ve lost!

I really don’t know what 2016 will bring, but what I do know is, if 2015 is anything to go by, it will be quite a ride! (pun intended)

2015 in review

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Well we’re almost at the end of 2015 (scary as that is) so it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the year that has been!

So many highlights. A few lowlights but no need to talk about those!

I think if I had to choose one highlight for the year it would be the Yurrebilla Trail 56km ultramarathon. It was much anticipated and of all the events I ended up running this year, Yurrebilla was one of only three that had been on my radar at the start of the year. (For those playing at home, the others were Barossa Marathon and the City2Surf in Sydney which I had already entered back in December 2014)

My Yurrebilla race report: https://randomthoughtsandracereports.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/race-report-yurrebilla-56km-ultramarathon/?preview=true

Entries are open for 2016 already and I intend to enter before the end of this year. I anticipate that it will be a regular fixture on my calendar, whether it be as a runner or a volunteer.

There were so many other highlights and I’m just going to touch on them briefly. And I will no doubt miss some too!

Barossa Marathon was my favourite of the 3 marathons I’ve done so far. It wasn’t my best time – that came 6 weeks later at Gold Coast – but I think it had something to do with being in front of a ‘home’ crowd with so many familiar faces cheering us on, and also so many friends running in the various events, that made it so enjoyable. I won’t be running the Barossa Marathon next year (next week I’ll explain why) but I do plan to be there either as a volunteer or maybe running one of the shorter events. Probably volunteering though. My race report: https://randomthoughtsandracereports.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/race-report-barossa-marathon-24-may-2015/

Next highlight – the Yumigo! 6 hour event, just 6 days after the Gold Coast Marathon. As challenging as the weather conditions were, I actually enjoyed (almost) every minute and was surprised and delighted to end up with a podium finish. I plan to do the event again next year if I pull up OK after Gold Coast – either the 6 or the 12 hour, but probably the 6. Not quite ready for 24! My report for the 6 hour: https://randomthoughtsandracereports.wordpress.com/2015/07/12/47/

The City2Surf was another highlight, not just because it got me back to Sydney, a city I called home for a short time! The biggest fun run in the country, of course I had to do it at least once! Despite the mishap at the start I had a great run and cannot wait to do it again! Race report: https://randomthoughtsandracereports.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/race-report-city2surf-9-august-2015-3/

Being a pacer at both the Adelaide and McLaren Vale half marathons was such a fantastic experience. Being a volunteer and still getting to run, how good is that? My Adelaide report: https://randomthoughtsandracereports.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/your-pace-or-mine-pacing-the-adelaide-half-marathon-2/

I hadn’t planned to run City-Bay this year but managed to get a free entry so of course I decided to run it! I managed to get a new PB which will be VERY tough to beat. I think I actually enjoyed it this year and I may well be back next year! My report: https://randomthoughtsandracereports.wordpress.com/2015/09/20/race-report-2015-city-bay-fun-run-7/

The Masters Games was meant to be just a bit of fun but ended up also being quite lucrative (in the bling sense) as I walked away with 3 medals. More importantly I got a long-awaited half marathon PB (by nearly 5 minutes) which like my City-Bay PB will take some beating! My HM (and McLaren Vale HM) report is here: https://randomthoughtsandracereports.wordpress.com/2015/10/11/two-halves-make-a-whole-right/

If you told me this time last year I would run a 100km ultra this year I would have told you to lay off the mind-altering substances. But it turns out that hypothetical person was not so crazy as I did complete the Heysen 105km ultra back in October (and I still have the tan lines on my legs to prove it!) Despite a few things not going to plan (which you can read about in my report below) I LOVED it! Such a great day! https://randomthoughtsandracereports.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/race-report-heysen-105/

That just about sums it up – plus on the  non-competitive side, I managed to beat my 2-year-old 5km PB and am edging ever closer to breaking the elusive 20 minute barrier.

It really has been quite a year! Next week I’ll talk about my goals for 2016!

Race Report – Yumigo! Summer Trail Series Race 1 – Ansteys Hill

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I didn’t even know where Ansteys Hill was until last Wednesday night when I ran it with one of my semi-regular groups. I actually prefer NOT studying the course before running an event. (Except for Yurrebilla and Heysen where the training runs leave you with few or no surprises come race day!)

This was my first race since the Kuitpo Forest event in November. As regular readers (if there are any!) may recall, I had a pretty crap preparation for that event but ended up having a great run, so I joked that my pre-race prep from now on had to consist of copious quantities of wine, constant snacking and no actual dinner. Fortunately it didn’t come to that (although the aforementioned night WAS a great night), with my pre-race meal consisting of some pretty special pizzas thanks to running buddy Tory and her pizza chef extraordinaire husband Charlie.

My week had been up and down. I had been for a more successful swim on Monday (non-leaky goggles, yay!) and 2 relatively easy runs on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then on Thursday I got a bit carried away running with newcomer to our group, Peter. I blame him but it may have been me who set the pace. Either way I ran a lot faster than I have run in a long time. My left hip started complaining almost immediately the run was over. It is an occasional problem, usually in runs over 40km and when I run fast, and when I run up hills. Fortunately Sunday’s race would be ‘only’ 12.5km but it did involve hills and presumably would also involve running fast. I was a little concerned…

My Friday hill run was a struggle. Saturday’s parkrun I initially was going to ‘jog’ but after a slow first km (due to starting near the back) I quickly settled into a rhythm and ended up with a sub-25. Not as fast as recent weeks but comfortable. I then went for a good solid half hour swim and felt great after that.

Race day the niggle was still there but I wasn’t going to let it stop me. It was to be, after all, my last race for a good few weeks so there would be plenty of time to recover afterwards. Plus I could always substitute some runs for swims if I had to.

I got to the start line at 6:30am, an hour early, as car parking was limited. Despite a forecast top of 30 degrees C, it was cold when I got there! It was great to see so many people and so many familiar faces… trail running events in SA have really taken off this year!

This event was part 1 of a series of 4, one a month over the traditionally quiet summer months. It is run by Yumigo!’s Ben Hockings and once again he put on a wonderful event with a fantastic team of smiling volunteers. It was my first time running one of these events. I’d opted for the 12.5km long course because I think I tend to come good later in races, so the longer distance suits me better. Plus, both events were the same price so I’d get better value for money!

The race started with a hill. Hip not happy. Jane not happy.

But as I settled into my stride I loosened up. I didn’t feel the hip much after that. I did wish on numerous occasions that I had gone for the short course…

The short course started 5 minutes before the long course (I think because of the much larger than expected turnout!) That meant that, as we went along, we were passing short course runners. Now I am one who likes to know who my competition is, so I did ask a few people along the way, “Short or long?” This is completely acceptable in this situation but if I said it to a guy at the pub…

My biggest problem during the race, probably for the second half (I wasn’t looking at my watch) was a very sharp rock in my shoe, just under the heel. Every now and then I would manage to work it forward so it would be under my arch, but it kept finding its way back to my heel. On the downhills, which I otherwise enjoyed, I was running on my toes to take the pressure off my heel. Stopping to remove the rock was NOT an option!

Towards the end I could see a female runner in front of me. She had to be a long course runner. We had passed the finish line (which would have been my finish if I’d done the short course) and were on our additional loop. I was running with Leon and Neil at that stage and said “I can’t catch her, she looks too strong!”. They thought otherwise, and between them they expertly paced me to the point where I passed her. I managed to stay in front but was frequently looking over my shoulder to see if she was coming back at me. (I spoke to her after the race. Her name was Jenny and she finished not long after me. Turned out she wasn’t as strong as she looked – I need to stop psyching myself out!)

I knew a placing was out of the question – the top 3 were Lauren who is just a machine, Kazu who finished second at Yurrebilla and Bronwyn who finished third at Heysen and first at Kuitpo. In the end I was 5th female which I was pleased with. 4th in my age group though, ouch! Talk about being born at the wrong time!

At the end I saw Andy who I’d met at Kuitpo after following him for a long time on Instagram. He is about to move to the UK so it was great to run one last race with him before he leaves! I look forward to following his UK adventures via social media!

All in all it was another wonderful trail event – well done to Ben and his team – a perfect day!

I can highly recommend the Trail Series for runners of all abilities. I will definitely be doing more events in the series in the new year!

A few of my favourite things…

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It’s been a bit of a ‘meh’ running week for me. Maybe because it’s been hot, maybe because I’m still recovering from my epic swimming session on Monday, maybe because it’s the ‘off-season’, who knows? I did enter a 100km track event which takes place next month, so I do at least have a short-term goal to focus on!

I didn’t even run on Sunday morning. The trail group ran at 6am – much too early for me! I couldn’t even drag myself out to the SARRC end-of-year race, which I somehow managed to win last year! Saturday night I was out at Le Diner en Blanc, and had spent much of the previous few days preparing food for that.

Which got me thinking… even though it would mean 2 straight weeks NOT writing about running, why not dedicate this week’s blog to another of my great passions, FOOD!

Almost 3 years ago I made the New Year’s Resolution to quit eating meat – at least until my planned trip to the US 3 months later. I thought vego in the USA would be a bridge too far! Well as it turns out, that trip never happened, so I kind of just kept going! In 2014 I decided to try vegan – well that’s still a work in progress, but at least all the food I make for myself is plant-based.

In the past 2 years I have ‘discovered’ some fantastic ingredients and recipes, and found that you can eat really really well on a plant-based diet!

I’ll admit I have a few weaknesses. Especially in the current hot weather, I find it hard to say no to really good gelato!

Anyway, today I thought I’d share some of my favourite ingredients and what you can do with them!

CHICKPEAS
I think chickpeas would have to be top of the list. I eat them pretty much every day in some form. Half a can with a salad is great for protein. Smashed up with avocado and either some Himalayan salt (another new ‘discovery’ for me) or dukkah, is divine, and on a sandwich or toast is the quickest, easiest lunch you’ll ever make! Then of course you can use chickpeas in dips – you can’t go past a good hummus! I’ve never tried it but I’ve seen a few cookie recipes using chickpeas that I’m keen to try!

Speaking of sweet things, did you know that the canning water from a can of chickpeas can be used to make meringue? It turns out that the juice has very similar properties to egg white so can be used as an egg white replacer, including in meringue! I’ve made them several times – so light and airy! And so much fun to see the look on people’s faces when they try one and then you tell them what they’re made of!

Finally there is chickpea flour which can be used to make eggless quiches – super easy and surprisingly good! The texture is a little different but with the right seasoning they can be really tasty.

AVOCADO
Smashes up really well with chickpeas. I usually have half an avocado in a salad for lunch. Others use it as a spread, in smoothies, and of course guacamole. Sooo creamy and delicious… I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to decide I like it!

I still haven’t got around to trying it in a dessert (eg chocolate mousse) but I can now see how it would work. I have tried some incredible avocado gelato (not vegan – as I said I’m still a work in progress!)

COCONUT
I love coconut! It can be used in so many ways. There is the ubiquitous coconut water which is supposedly the best thing ever – for me, the jury is still out and I haven’t quite got my head around the flavour. I use coconut oil a fair bit – great for cooking, and AMAZING in raw desserts. Desiccated and shredded coconut (I’m still not sure exactly what the difference is) is great in cakes, cookies, energy balls and also in salads. Coconut chips are pretty tasty! Let’s not forget coconut milk and cream, used for desserts such as chocolate mousse, and also in curries and soups. Then there’s a slightly different type of coconut milk, the one that is used as a substitute for dairy milk. I’ve used it in smoothies and it has a definite coconut taste but seems to work really well!

CASHEWS
I love raw cashews but the main thing I use them for is cashew cream – the best! I use it in raw desserts – so easy to make and so creamy people will struggle to believe that there is no cream in it! I also throw a handful into my homemade rice milk to add a bit of creaminess.

CAULIFLOWER
Where do we start? Steamed cauliflower. Cauliflower curry. Cauli puree as a substitute for potato mash. Cauli ‘rice’ in ‘fried rice’ or ‘risotto’. One of my all time favourite soups – curried cauliflower. Cauliflower ‘steak’. So versatile. (I’ve written ‘cauliflower’ so many times I’m now looking at it, wondering if I’ve spelled it correctly!)

DATES
Who doesn’t love a hot date? Dates are a fantastic natural sweetener and binder, making them the ideal base for most vegan energy balls. I also use them with ground almonds to form the base for raw cheesecakes/tarts. You can also make caramel with them but I haven’t got around to trying that yet!

So there you have it. Just a few of my favourite versatile ingredients. Do you have any favourites?