Race Report – City2Surf 9 August 2015

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A brief intro for those unfamiliar with this event (stats thanks to Wikipedia)

City2Surf is a 14km road race/fun run held each year in Sydney. It is the biggest fun run in the world with around 80 000 entrants.

Legendary Australian distance runner Steve Moneghetti holds the course record with 40:03. The women’s record is 45:08 minutes, held by Susie Power. (I wasn’t intending to give either of those records a shake!)

It is a staggered start, essential given the huge field! Firstly come the elite and preferred runners, then the red bibs (sub-70 minutes), then the green bibs (sub-90) followed by charity fundraisers, the open entry group, and finally back-of-the-pack joggers, walkers and pram pushers.

The race starts in Sydney CBD and passes through the eastern suburbs of East Sydney, Kings Cross, Rushcutters Bay, Double Bay, Rose Bay, Vaucluse and Dover Heights before finishing at the iconic Bondi Beach. The most difficult part of the course is the notorious “Heartbreak Hill” at around the 6km mark, a 2 km long hill from Rose Bay to Vaucluse.

I’m not sure when running City2Surf first entered my mind, but it just seemed like the thing to do! My previous ‘biggest’ event had been Adelaide’s City-Bay, with around half the overall number of participants, but in City-Bay they are split between 3km, 6km and 12km (the majority of people do the 12), whereas in City2Surf all 80 000-odd are running the 14km.

I’ve done City-Bay twice. The first one I kind of enjoyed but the crowd made it hard to get into a good rhythm, especially early on. Then I’d get into a zone and suddenly the person in front of me would stop or slow to a walk, forcing me to alter my pace. I wanted to run sub-60 minutes – I was lucky enough to get into the sub-60 starting group which gave me a huge advantage in this regard. I managed sub-60 (without a watch, so I was really only running by feel). The following year I had a watch and managed to take a minute and a half off the previous year’s time, but I really didn’t enjoy it. That MAY have had something to do with the fact that I had to dash off straight away and play a full game of soccer! Also because I don’t enjoy running in a big crowd and having to do a lot of dodging and weaving.

I’ve done 3 marathons – 2 with several thousand participants and 1 with a few hundred. The few hundred was at Barossa and that was by far my favourite marathon experience. Not only because it seemed like I knew half the field and many of the spectators, but because of the smaller numbers.

So why on earth would I enter an event with 80 000 participants?

I spoke to a number of people in the weeks leading up to the event and they all said I would LOVE it. Just the whole party atmosphere, with live bands and DJs throughout the course. Lots of people dressed up in wacky costumes (note to self: don’t get beaten by someone in a gorilla suit!). It’s just an iconic event. Something I had to do at least once on my life!

Initially when I entered I was going by myself. It was sort of a spur of the moment decision, made in late December. I firstly confirmed that I would be able to get a red bib (sub-70) and then entered and booked my flights. However over the few months leading up to the event I discovered that a number of running friends had also entered! Most of these friends were making the trip over from Adelaide but one, Rob, was a Sydney local and a veteran of several C2S events. I hadn’t actually met him in person but we had connected via Facebook – we had a number of mutual friends, who had assured me he was not an axe murderer or a stalker before I accepted his friend request. He was also coming to Adelaide later in the year to run Yurrebilla 56km Ultra, and we would be in the same start group there, so it would be nice to meet before then! Another regular running buddy, Maree, was also running her first C2S and the three of us arranged to meet up early Sunday morning outside the hostel where Maree and I were staying, which was conveniently located within walking distance of the start line.

Having recently travelled for the Gold Coast Marathon, my race gear packing game was strong. I packed ALL my race gear into my carry-on bag, which caused minor issues at Adelaide Airport when it was slightly overweight and I ended up having to transfer my handbag into my checked baggage… no way was I letting any of my race gear out of my sight! I also cut it a bit fine getting to the airport in time – I made it to the bag drop with about 2 minutes to spare before they closed the flight! (Possibly because I had a slightly TOO relaxed coffee catch-up after my morning run… I was so excited by the prospect of not having to dash off to work that I underestimated the amount of time it would take to do my last minute packing and drive to the airport!)

I had my usual throwaway jacket ($3 from Savers – winning!) and I’d also packed a long sleeved top and change of singlet to leave at the finish line. Rob, Maree and I planned to run back to the city (a MUCH more leisurely run mind you!) so I’d also packed my small hydration vest (to carry gear and my finisher medal) and handheld bottle. City2Surf has very strict regulations about what you can leave at the bag drop – everything has to fit into the provided clear plastic bag. I had Maree’s and my gear, with the plan to drop it off at the expo on Friday to save messing around on Sunday.

Here is just some of the advice I was given pre-race:
-There is a LONG way to go after Heartbreak Hill.
-FLY down the downhill.
-When you think you’re nearly at the top of Heartbreak Hill, think again!
-When you see the finish line, there’s still a fair way to go!
-Go to the Beach Road Hotel afterwards… it’s “like Christmas Day for runners” (rehydration is very important,  after all!)
-ENJOY IT!

I wasn’t too phased by Heartbreak Hill as I had regular hills training in my programme. I had been assured that Heartbreak Hill was not anywhere near as bad as many of the hills we run on Fridays (including Heatherbank Tce which we ran the very day that I flew out!)

Friday night was an Adelaide reunion of sorts, catching up with fellow Adelaidians Mel and Steve, and former Adelaidian Sam (now a Sydney local) for dinner, cocktails and dancing! Saturday Sam and I hit the DFO for some retail therapy…  I gave the credit card a good workout at lululemon in particular! Saturday afternoon I met up with Maree at the hostel, and we headed out for a pre-race pizza at the very popular Macchiato. We shared the pizza in the sense that I ate the WHOLE THING! We went for a quick reconnaissance mission to the start line (7 minute walk from the hostel) before heading back to the room to get all our gear ready for the morning.

The hostel was pretty good… relatively quiet despite its proximity to the notorious George St. Rob met us there at 6:30am on race day and we walked in the somewhat chilly conditions to the Red start line (all 3 of us had Red bibs). It took a while for Maree to be let into the Red start area as she had 3 layers on over her bib! We got close to the front of the Red area, so we were just behind the elites and preferred start group. A lot of Rob’s running mates joined us, and I was surprised to see fellow Torrens parkrunner Min-Qi waving to me from the side!

With about 15 minutes to go before the 7:55am start, the throwing of jumpers commenced! Most people had brought jumpers that they were happy to throw away (and/or had purchased specifically for the occasion) and by the time we started the ground was thick with them! They would later be collected and donated to charity. Maree and I were a little horrified that one of Rob’s friends was ditching a lululemon jacket… I guessed that this one might not make it to the charity store!

The national anthem was sung, and it was go time!

The start was a bit of a blur. And definitely the worst possible start for me, getting pushed to the ground (I assume accidentally although I don’t think he apologised) by a guy who was obviously feeling threatened by my blistering pace! (I had no idea what had happened, I went through the entire race convinced that I must have tripped over the timing mat at the start – it wasn’t until I met up with Maree at the finish that she set me straight!) Both knees and one hand bleeding, thankfully Maree was there to help me up and I was off! Take 2!

The first little bit was,  as you would expect, quite congested, as we headed up towards the big Coke sign that marks the infamous Kings Cross, and into a short tunnel. (I had heard that a lot of the males used this tunnel as a urinal, and had been warned to hold my breath, however fortunately this was not an issue!)

I passed several aid stations which had first aid supplies on hand. I looked down at my bloody knees and hand and momentarily contemplated a brief pit stop but thought better of it. The bleeding had stopped and any dressings the first aiders might put on, would undoubtedly impede my movement. Every now and then I’d look down and see the blood but for the most part I put it out of my mind.

It’s hard to put into words how much I enjoyed the race! Every last minute of it! The atmosphere was electric, the cheering from the sidelines was constant and the weather was pretty damn perfect!

I only managed to get to one drink station during the race but that turned out to be enough. I wasn’t prepared for the drink stations when they appeared and I was totally in the wrong spot to get to them without having to stop and walk – something I was not prepared to do! Maybe in future I will consider carrying a handheld bottle like I did in the Gold Coast Marathon.

Then it was onto Heartbreak Hill. I was totally prepared so when I passed the 6km mark I knew it was close.

I didn’t find it that hard… I put that down to my regular hill training! People had told me I’d probably pass people going up the hill and they were right – a LOT of people were walking by then. When I saw my official results it turned out that I averaged 5:04 minutes per km for the 1.6km climb which I thought was pretty good! The view from what I would have thought was the top if I didn’t know better, was simply magnificent and I was SO tempted to stop and take a photo.  I guess that gives you a bit of an indication of my mindset – wouldn’t stop for a drink,  wouldn’t stop for a Band-Aid, but seriously considered stopping for a photo!

I didn’t stop, though. I was on a roll and I didn’t want to lose momentum.

One thing that really annoyed me, and does in every race,  is people with headphones. At one point I needed to pass between 2 people who were both wearing headphones! I was a bit cautious after my earlier fall, I NEEDED to get past them but given that they couldn’t hear me call out, I had to be very careful. Fortunately there were no further mishaps!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When it comes to road races, LEAVE THE HEADPHONES AT HOME, people! Enjoy the atmosphere… with headphones in you could be running anywhere! Be in the moment!

After Heartbreak Hill there were more undulations until the last few km which were all downhill. Some of those little uphills felt tougher than HBH!

Somewhere in the second half of the race I spotted Rob up ahead. In a race where I knew only a handful of people out of a huge field,  it was exciting to see a familiar face (well, a familiar back at that point!). I gave him a cheer, intending to run with him for a bit but I was on a roll so I just kept going.

I had gone into the race with a niggle in my left patellar tendon,  which had appeared on Tuesday. I had strapped it for my Friday run and it had felt OK other than on the steep descents. I had strapped it again on race day, this time a bit more firmly and with an extra strip of tape.

I’m happy to say I did not feel any discomfort in the tendon during the race or since! And I did fly down the downhills! Maybe the fall fixed it!

Kilometre 13 was an absolute blast… according to Strava I did it in 3:47. All downhill of course… I set a number of Strava PRs on the downhills that will be very tough to beat… I just love running fast and naturally downhills allow you to run a lot faster than normal!

The last kilometre felt LONG. I think that’s pretty normal… the closer you get to the end, the further it seems. I didn’t allow myself to look to my left where I would have seen the finish line… it was eyes straight ahead all the way.

I’m pretty sure I screamed with delight when I saw the finish line. As I like to do, I put on an extra burst of speed and flew past people as I approached the finish line at beautiful Bondi, and glory! I forget exactly what the clock said but my watch said 1:03:53 – a shade under 64 minutes – well beyond my goal of sub-70!

Rob wasn’t far behind me… less than a minute I think! Maree was also delighted to finish not far behind us in just under 70 minutes.

My first port of call was the medical tent to get patched up. Unfortunately my little spill had put paid to our plans to run back to the city from Bondi – once I had the dressings on, there was no way I was going to be able to run!

It took a while for us all to meet up afterwards… Rob and I were in communication via phone but Maree had left hers at the hostel so we couldn’t contact her. She did message a couple of times via other people’s Facebooks, and at one point messaged that she was at the ‘Lost Children’ area… ironically neither Rob nor I were able to find her there!

Note to self and potential future C2S-ers… the gear collection area is probably the best place to arrange to meet people! (Definitely NOT the ‘Lost Children’ area!)

Once we’d met up and collected our gear, we went to the Hotel Bondi, which was teeming with runners, for a celebratory drink before walking back to Bondi Junction to get the train back to town. Maree and I farewelled Rob and headed off for a shower followed by a well-earned recovery lunch (more pizza!)

If anyone is considering giving C2S a go, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough! C2S was initially a ‘bucket list’ item for me, but right now I am pretty sure I’ll be back to do it all again next year! Who’s with me?

Embracing ‘stupid o’clock’

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I was going to call it ‘arse o’clock’ but thought maybe I shouldn’t put that in the TITLE of the post…

I am a morning runner – almost exclusively. Occasionally I go out for a trot (I am forbidden from using the word ‘jog’) or walk with one of the evening groups but the vast majority of my runs (certainly the regular ones) are in the mornings.

Non-runners (mostly colleagues) often ask me how I can possibly get up and do a 10-12km run before work – especially at this time of year when a large part of the run is under cover of darkness.

There is no easy answer to that. Well, actually, yes there is. I’ll plagiarise the Nike slogan again. I “Just Do It”!

I was never really a morning person. I rarely woke up before my alarm (unless one of my cats decided to start sniffing my face). The only thing that would get me up before sunrise was a sporting event on TV or a red-eye flight.

When I first started running, my schedule consisted of parkrun on a Saturday (8am – reasonably civilised although not so much after a big Friday night!) plus a run with the Nike Run Club in the city on a Tuesday or Thursday evening. The Nike group was really good – with options of 5, 7 or 10km depending on how energetic I felt and what I had to do afterwards!

However, getting into the city, finding a park and getting to the Nike store for a 6pm start was a challenge. Admittedly I think the group is aimed at city workers and students, who are already in town. For them, it would be ideal. For me, not so much.

Probably the main thing that turned me into a morning runner, is the fact that there is ALWAYS something you would rather be doing (or NEED to be doing) on a weekday evening. There might be dinners, movies, shows (ESPECIALLY during summer and Mad March) or sometimes just leaving work a bit later than planned. None of these are generally the case in the mornings. As far as I can see, there is only one reason for not getting up for a run in the morning, and that is the desire to stay in bed (I won’t go into any further details on that – use your imagination)!

I managed to make the Nike runs a regular thing for a period of time (just long enough to get my free T-shirt!) until one week I couldn’t make it to either run and I decided to give one of the SARRC (South Australian Road Runners Club) morning runs a crack.

My first SARRC run was a Friday morning run at Burnside. I remember it clearly because it was the Friday after the 2013 Barossa Marathon. It was the Sunnyside Road run – which will mean nothing to many people but regular Burnside group runners will know it well. (All of my running groups have a selection of runs – traditionally we don’t get told which run we’re doing until we are about to start.)

I tried to stick with the fast group at the start, running uphill along Glynburn Road (later finding out that was the ‘warm-up’ hill – the ‘proper’ hill was yet to come!). I ended up walking a lot after that (I had never run hills before!) but fortunately one of the runners, Phillipa, was taking it easy as part of her recovery from the marathon, so she ran/walked with me. Otherwise I would have got totally lost!

Phillipa told me that I should try running with the group on a Tuesday morning, where most of the runs were flat. I turned up the following week only to find that the chosen run that day was one of the two Tuesday hilly runs! However I got through it, actually managing to run the whole way and running 12km for the first time – my goal that year was to run the City-Bay so it was nice to have made it to the 12km distance!

Tuesday and Friday mornings quickly became part of my routine, and the 5:15/5:20 (yes there is a 5:20 in the morning now!) alarm gradually became less and less dreaded. I met more people each week and started going to the traditional post-run coffee which quickly became a highlight. Over time I added a Thursday morning run to my weekly schedule, and combined with Monday and Wednesday morning gym sessions, I was getting up early almost every day.

Sunday morning long runs became part of the schedule when I started training seriously for my first marathon. That was probably the most challenging of all for me because I was used to going out on Saturday nights. It was definitely worth curtailing my Saturday night activities though, because I couldn’t imagine wanting to go for a long run later on Sunday, on my own.

Right there is another reason why mornings are so much better for me – all the runs I do are very social. I’ve referred to that in a previous post and it is very important to me.

Another reason I can think of for embracing ‘arse o’clock’ is particularly relevant in the summer – it is so much cooler in the early morning, before and soon after sunrise, than it would be later in the day! (That, of course, is a curse in the winter!)

Friday mornings in particular, when we run trails in the summer, have the added bonus of AMAZING views, spectacular sunrises and often wildlife sightings (I’ve seen kangaroos, koalas and even the occasional deer!). Many of the trails we run are inaccessible by any means other than foot. That means, to see the view, you have to damn well EARN it!

Not long ago, and possibly mentioned in a previous blog post, I did my first training run for the Yurrebilla 56km ultramarathon. It was about a 17-18km run, and that week I was supposed to do around 30km as part of my Gold Coast Marathon training plan. So I decided to do an out and back run, making it around 35km (the ‘official’ run was one way, requiring carpooling). I had 2 choices – start at 8am with the main group, stop at the ‘finish’ for refreshments,  then run all the way back, or, start at 5:45am from the ‘finish’ in the dark, meet the group at the ‘start’, and finish with the main group. I decided on the latter and boy was I glad when I got to the finish – I was all done by 10:30 and had the rest of the day! And the early part of the run, in the dark, by the light of my headlamp, was So. Much. Fun!

Here’s another example. This weekend was Victor Harbor parkrun’s first anniversary.  Anniversaries are always marked by amazing cake and a great atmosphere! So I got up at 5:30 and drove one and a half hours to run a 5k. Then after cake and coffee, drove one and a half hours back. TOTALLY worth it though because this week was one of the rare times it rained on my usual parkrun at Torrens. At Victor we had no rain, OK a little headwind, and did I mention CAKE?

If I don’t have you convinced already that it IS worth getting out of bed to go for a run in the morning, think of this: imagine how energetic and virtuous you will feel for the rest of the day? One of my most favourite things is running on a cold winter’s morning in shorts and singlet, past people sitting at the bus stop all rugged up in jackets and beanies, looking incredulously as if thinking ‘How is she out in this weather dressed like that?’ I’m not cold. Well maybe at first, but it doesn’t take long to warm up. And somehow I think it helps me stay warm for the rest of the day.

You should at least try it once… give it a few weeks and you’ll be hooked!

Running Up That Hill

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Hills. As a runner, you either love them or you hate them. Or you have a love-hate relationship like I do.

My first introduction to hills came before I started running. I think I’ve mentioned it before in a previous post, but there is a little thing that we in Adelaide like to call Mt Lofty (or “Lofty” for short). It’s kind of an ironic name because it’s not actually that high (727 metres above sea level to be exact – thanks Wikipedia) but it is the highest point in Adelaide. The hike/run/crawl from Waterfall Gully to the summit is extremely popular (475m elevation from bottom to top, approx. 3.5km walking/running distance). So much so, that on weekends the track can be likened to Rundle Mall (for non-Adelaide people, Rundle Mall is the major shopping precinct in Adelaide’s CBD) and parking at the bottom can be an absolute nightmare.

So anyway, many years before I took up running, I used to do the Waterfall Gully to Mt Lofty climb semi-regularly – usually with a group of friends. I never found it particularly easy and I rarely ran any of it – I think from memory my best time for the climb was just under 40 minutes. I got to the point where I could go the whole way without stopping or using the very temptingly positioned trees for support. There was always a sense of achievement in reaching the top, and on the occasions where we stopped at the café before commencing the leisurely descent, the iced chocolate tasted particularly good! I always marvelled at the people who tackled the climb dressed in street clothes (clearly they must have been tourists who had NO idea what they were in for!) and also the crazies who did it with weighted backpacks. And of course those who did the climb/descent multiple times in one go! At the top, I always felt like I’d earned the spectacular panoramic views over Adelaide and felt seriously ripped off when dense fog robbed me of said views!

Other than Lofty, I hadn’t had much experience with hills. Certainly not RUNNING up them.

That all changed when I joined the SARRC (South Australian Road Runners Club) Friday morning group. I have mentioned this previously but this was my first experience of running up hills. I went out like a bull at a gate, trying to run at ‘flat run’ pace, and I was spent by the time I reached the top of the ‘warm-up’ hill! I then went out the following Tuesday to the group run which was normally a flat course, but naturally I picked a week where we did one of the few hilly runs! That day, though, I managed to run the whole way, almost 12km, including the uphills.

Over the weeks, months and years I grew to despise the hills less and less. Even now, I don’t feel like I have ‘conquered’ hills, but they don’t fill me with quite the same sense of dread as they did in the beginning! When we hit the daylight saving months, the Friday hill runs move onto the beautiful trails, and the views are truly magnificent. Rarely does a Friday morning trail run go by without a group selfie being posted on Facebook – we feel the need to share the joy with the world!

I feel like I’m getting stronger. Hill running builds up leg muscles including calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes, coincidentally also the muscles used for sprinting. As I’m finding the uphills easier, at the same time I’m also finding my short, flat runs are getting faster.

Still, there are things I like and things I don’t like so much about hills.

I love the sense of accomplishment that comes from having reached the top of a particularly nasty ascent, and the knowledge that ‘it’s all downhill from here’ (for runners, that’s actually a GOOD thing!). As mentioned earlier, the views often make the climb worth it. The muscle soreness that often follows in the following few days, is a reminder that I have worked hard! The downhill that usually follows the hard uphill slog, is a joy and a chance to run FAST and feel the wind in my hair!

Then there are the things I don’t like so much, such as running downhill on trails. I am still a relative newbie when it comes to trail running, and running downhill on a steep trail (especially a gravel one) is a completely different kettle of fish to running down a bitumen road. I have learned to run in a zigzag rather than trying to run straight downhill. Previously I would walk, very cautiously, but I find the zigzag running is easier and safer. I am always amazed to watch experienced trail runners flying down the hills – hopefully I will be as adept as them one day! There are also days when running up hills just seems too damn hard – I like to run fast (relatively speaking – I am no Usain Bolt, that’s for sure) and running up hills makes that very difficult!

One particularly important lesson about hills, especially over long distances, is sometimes you just have to walk. Other than the real elite runners, everyone walks sometimes! It’s better to walk the really tough uphills than try to keep running, because otherwise you will struggle to get to the end. The added benefit of walking up hills is it gives you the perfect opportunity to get some food in. When I say ‘food’ I’m not talking about gels (something I have yet to try and hope I never have to!), I’m talking about actual, real food. Stuff you actually have to chew and tastes good! I personally like nut bars and nut butter sandwiches on white bread – never have those things tasted so good as when I’m walking up a steep hill!

It is definitely getting easier, which is a really good thing because I have my first trail ultra coming up, Yurrebilla 56km, in September. That involves a few little hills! 1865m of ascent and 2060m of descent, to be precise! I have completed the first two of the three training runs that take in the entire course, and have managed to get through them at reasonable pace, so I’m hoping to complete the 56km in under 8 hours. The final section includes a particularly nasty little ‘surprise’ at around 50km – a little speed bump known as ‘Black Hill’. I’ve run up Black Hill a few times (not running all the way – there has definitely been some walking!) but never after having already run 50km, so I’m fully expecting that it will be particularly brutal come race day!

My next big ‘hill’ challenge after that is The North Face 100km in the Blue Mountains, hopefully in May 2016. This will be not so much a hill run as a mountain run – and I am fully aware that this is a completely different beast! 4200m of elevation, eek!

I’ve written before about running solo vs running in a group. Last Sunday decided to go for an impromptu solo afternoon run, because I’d volunteered at an event in the morning and it seemed like a beautiful day. I planned to do about a 2 hour run.

I thought I might head towards the aforementioned Mt Lofty, and turn around at around 70 minutes (given that the first half would be uphill and the second half downhill). The beauty of that was that I could tackle the climb without having to battle for a parking space!

I ran all the way up to Waterfall Gully. Waterfall Gully Road is somewhat hazardous, a narrow road with no footpaths in places, and cars and cyclists go down there pretty fast! So, while I ran the whole way up, I did stop and move to the side every time I saw a car coming. Then I got to see the falls at Waterfall Gully – the first time I’d seen them in a long time (our Friday morning group runs up to the falls semi-regularly but as it’s normally dark when we get there, we only hear them, we don’t see them!) and commenced the climb towards the summit.

I ran/walked it and I think it took me about 40 minutes from bottom to top. When I reached the 70 minute mark I was about 1km from the summit so I thought it would be silly to turn around now and I had nowhere I needed to be, so I pressed on. The view of the city was a little bit hazy but still I felt that sense of achievement, pausing for the obligatory selfie before running pretty much the whole way down. On the descent down Waterfall Gully Road it started raining but I didn’t care. (In hindsight some gloves or long sleeves might have been a good idea – unlocking the front door and untying my shoelaces were challenging given how cold my hands were by then! I really need to invest in a good waterproof running jacket!)

I guess this is a bit of an indication of how my attitude to hills has changed. 2 years ago, if I’d even contemplated going for a solo run, I probably would have driven to the beach to get as flat a run as possible! Instead I headed for the hills… I probably would have hit the trails but I am still quite wary of going out on trails on my own without anyone knowing where I’m going. You can be pretty sure, on the Waterfall Gully to Mt Lofty trail, you’ll never be alone!

Actually, come to think of it, I really quite like hills!

Today’s blog post is dedicated to my good friend Kieron who is off to India this weekend to run an ultra. There are a few hills in this ultra. You may have heard of them – some little hills known as the Himalayas. Now I may like hills now but that’s just insane! If you want to know more check out http://kieronultrarunner.com/

I think I’ll end this post as every good blog post should end, with a Miley Cyrus lyric – no-one says it better than Miley!

There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
There’s always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side

It’s the climb

There’s more to running than just running…

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All of my posts so far have been about running. This one is a little different – it is about NOT running, but volunteering instead.

Most (probably ALL) of the running events in which I have participated, rely heavily on volunteers to be able to run (pun intended). From the free parkruns to the large-scale events like Gold Coast Marathon, without volunteers they would not exist.

Often people who are injured, or who have just completed a big event, or are tapering, will volunteer at events where they can’t,  or don’t want to, run. Volunteering is fun though, and you should definitely consider doing it, even if you are capable of running the event!

When talking about my experience with volunteering, I have to start with parkrun, as this is where I first experienced volunteering at ‘events’. parkrun is run entirely by volunteers,  and volunteering is an integral part of parkrun ‘culture’. All regular parkrunners are requested to volunteer 3 times a year (some do many more times than this!)

There are a number of different volunteer roles at parkrun – some larger events have more volunteer roles but at my home parkrun (Torrens – #bestparkrunintheworld) we try to keep it ‘lean’. We have a run director (which rotates each week – I am fortunate enough to be part of this awesome team), timekeeper (I did this role once… EPIC FAIL… NEVER AGAIN!), finish tokens (making sure all the finishers take their tokens in the correct finishing order), photographer (my favourite role even though I am no professional – everyone who does this role puts their own spin on it and it’s great to see the variety of photos that come from the different photographers), tail runner (or walker – this person stays at the back so we know when everyone has finished and we can pack up) and finally barcode scanner (which I did a few times before the wonderful Merrilyn took over the role and made it her own!)

I’m not going to say the free coffee that all our vollies get is an incentive, but it’s certainly appreciated!

I’ve also volunteered at a few SARRC events over the years. This year (yesterday in fact) and last year I volunteered at Hills to Henley,  a 30km (with several shorter options) run along the Torrens Linear Park from the hills to the beach. Last year I was a marshal at the 5km turnaround point – an easy job, and one that was finished early so I got to go to the finish line and see a lot of the 30km runners finish, before dashing off to play soccer that afternoon. So far that is my only experience of marshaling,  and I certainly have an increased appreciation of their role since then. I always try to thank marshals as I pass them when I’m running in events. I found it a little frustrating at times, because a lot of people didn’t hear me tell them to turn around – surprise surprise, because they had their headphones in.

(Soapbox alert – I think headphones should be banned from all running events – well certainly those that involve running on roads – it’s just dangerous! I can see a place for them in ultras when people are out there, on their own, for a LOOONG time. But in a 5k – leave them at home, people!)

For yesterday’s event, I was assigned to ‘man’ a drink station about halfway along the 30k route. The morning threatened to be cold (and started out that way) so I rugged up with thermals, tiger onesie and hand warmers in the pockets. I was ably supported by Reg and Ray from one of the local Lions Clubs, as we offered drinks to all the 30k runners as they passed. I lost count of the number of times I said ‘Endura here… water there’ (Endura being the sports drink on offer). It was great to see all the runners go past, from the eventual podium finishers to the back-of-the-pack-ers. I was a teeny bit jealous of them getting to run on what seemed to be a glorious day (as it turned out there was a nasty headwind near the end, and it was significantly colder at the beach than at my station!), so after I finished my duties I laced up my runners and went out for a long run of my own!

I have also volunteered at Yurrebilla Ultra Marathon last year, which served two purposes for me personally – one so I couldn’t get talked into running it, and two to get a feel for the event to see if it was something I might like to do in future. I loved it – I was on the finish line drink station and despite the challenges of the windy, hot conditions, I decided then and there that I would run it in 2015. (Just this week, I have finally registered!)

I also volunteered at a Yumigo! trail event earlier this year – again I was on the finish line drink station. I didn’t run that day because I had a problem toenail which I was threatening to remove with pliers (fortunately I managed to resolve the problem in a far less extreme way). I also got to meet a whole lot of new people that day… some trail runners don’t tend to do a lot of road events so it was a whole new community of people to meet!

It wasn’t so much ‘volunteering’ at the Adelaide Running Festival last year, but I still think it’s worth mentioning here. I’d had a big night planned the night before, and I had to play soccer that day, so I hadn’t entered any events and I didn’t want to volunteer (in case I decided I needed to sleep in!). I did, however, want to cheer on a bunch of friends, including Jim and Brandy who were both doing their first marathons. So I decided to stand at the 36km mark in the marathon (where support is always needed), dressed in my tiger onesie (because my location just happened to be near the Zoo!) holding up a sign that said ‘RUN LIKE SOMEONE JUST CALLED YOU A JOGGER!’ and cheered for everyone who ran past (the half marathoners once and the marathoners twice), saving the biggest cheers for my friends! A lot of them didn’t even realise it was me, as I hadn’t told anyone what I was going to be wearing! I had a fantastic time and it was awesome to have random strangers come up to me later at the finish line and tell me that my support had given them a boost – mission accomplished!

My next volunteering gig is at the Adelaide Running Festival. I volunteered ages ago, knowing I wasn’t going to run it this year. Then the call went out for pacers, and I thought, what better volunteer gig could there be? So I quickly put my hand up to be the 2 hour pacer for the half marathon. I can’t wait,  I’m hoping to have a big crew running with me, and to get as many of them as possible to their sub-2 hour goal. On a personal note, I’m really looking forward to finishing with a run over the Riverbank Footbridge to the Adelaide Oval plaza, but I really hope I take a lot of people there with me!

‘There’s no such thing as a bad run’ – yeah, right!

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Lately ‘everything’s coming up Milhouse’ with my running. I’ve done PBs for marathons and 5k, my first ultra (with a surprise podium finish!) and generally just having the time of my life!

With no more big events on the horizon for a few more weeks, it’s time to focus on when it all goes wrong…

This year I can think of two clear examples of getting it very, very, wrong.

The first was a training run to which I may have alluded in a previous post. It was the day after Valentine’s Day, quite early in the Barossa Marathon 16 week programme. It was a hot, hot day – from memory it reached 36 degrees during the run, which was finished by 10:30am, so you can only imagine what the maximum temperature must have been.

I had been out the night before, celebrating Valentine’s Day in the only way I know how – having a few too many ciders with 2 of my favourite (non-runner) girlfriends! It wasn’t a super-late night but the thought of getting up at 5:30am the next day for a pre-run breakfast was horrifying to me, so I set my alarm for the latest possible time to allow me to get to the meeting point in time. (A later, solo run was not an option,  not only due to the anticipated heat, but also because later that day I was going to the much-hyped India v Pakistan World Cup cricket match.)

I hadn’t rehydrated enough. I’d taken a bottle of water to bed but, true to form, I’d fallen asleep straight away and not drunk a drop.

I made it to the start, 1.5 litres of water in my backpack (I usually carried 1L but due to the heat I thought I needed more). If I’d eaten anything it was just a nut bar – my usual pre-run fuel during the week but grossly inadequate for a run of about 23km.

So it’s hardly surprising that I had a crap run.

I wasn’t the only one. A few of my running buddies turned back early due to the heat. Our coach Chris told us it wasn’t worth smashing ourselves so early in the programme – there were plenty of weeks to go, and one abbreviated long run wouldn’t do any harm. However, I was determined to finish.

My average pace was 7:12 per km. There was a LOT of walking.

So what went wrong? Where do I start? Too many drinks the night before with inadequate rehydration. No breakfast. Not enough sleep. Carrying extra weight in my backpack (although the extra water WAS needed so I’m not sure if I could have done anything about that). The heat (the only factor I couldn’t control!)

On the plus side, there was a sense of accomplishment from having completed the run. And I took comfort from the knowledge that I was unlikely to have a worse run than this!

The other crap run that immediately springs to mind is the 2015 Clare Half Marathon, my first half of the year.

My preparation was good. I’d driven up the day before and stayed in nearby Auburn. I’d ventured into Clare to get a pizza that night (my favoured pre-race meal) and enjoyed it back at my motel with a cider or 2. I had all my gear prepared, and was up in plenty of time to eat breakfast, pack up all my gear, check out of the motel and get to the start line in plenty of time.

It was a beautiful morning. Clare can be chilly but I decided, on the way to the start line, to leave my arm warmers in the car – it was sunny and kind of warmish! I’d had my pre-race energy drink and toilet stop. I was ready and raring to go.

So what went wrong here, you ask? Well there were two things, but the biggest factor was pacing.

In most of my previous halves I have employed a ‘negative split’ pacing strategy. This means running the first half slower than the second, conserving energy for the back half. It has always served me well.

This time, for the first time, I had made a pace band. This was a strip of paper, laminated and made into a wristband, that listed the time I needed to run each km. I had opted for the negative split again. The only problem was that I had decided to try to run a half marathon PB.

My PB had been set at last year’s Greenbelt Half. Greenbelt is considered a fast course, being a net downhill point-to-point course, with a few undulations but nothing too nasty. Clare, on the other hand, is an out-and-back course, uphill on the ‘out’ and supposedly downhill on the ‘back’. I had successfully ‘negative-split’ this event last year so thought, why not try it again?

The problem was, my first 11km needed to be run at 5:00 min/km pace. Uphill. I made it to 11km in just under 55 minutes alright, but then I was spent. Not only did I not have the energy left to up my pace, I barely had the energy left to finish the race! (I had also neglected to bring any nutrition – that was my second mistake – I won’t go into that now, I think that’s a blog post in itself!)

The last 10km was not fun. There was a LOT of walking. (Somehow, an out-and-back course that was uphill on the way out, appeared to be uphill on the way back too!)

So far, other than the 6 hour event last weekend, that is the ONLY road race in which I’ve walked at all. I did have thoughts of quitting but I thought of the medal… I wasn’t coming all this way to walk away without any bling!

I did finish, eventually. Surprisingly it wasn’t my slowest ever competitive half, but it was close. And all because I got a bit ambitious!

I went for the PB again at Greenbelt just a few weeks later.  I used the same pace band. It didn’t quite come off for me that time either, but I only missed the PB by 10 seconds and overall had a fantastic run.

I WILL get that PB sooner or later, but probably not at Clare! And I WILL go back and run Clare again next year – unfinished business and all that!

Running round in circles

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Last week I told the story of my experience at the Gold Coast Marathon. This weekend could not have been more of a contrast. On Saturday I ran in the Yumigo! Adelaide 6/12/24 hour event.

For the uninitiated, this is an endurance event held at Adelaide’s Uni Loop, a 2.2km gravel running track around the North Adelaide parklands. There are 3 events – 6, 12 and 24 hours. The idea is to cover as much distance as possible in the allocated time, running lap after lap. After lap.

I had had previous experience with a 6 hour event back in March – a social, non-competitive fundraising event to raise money for running friend Emma to fund her trip to Italy for the World 24 Hour Championships. I took it relatively easy, initially planning to run 30km (just slightly more than my long run was scheduled to be that day), then 42.2, then 45, then eventually getting to 46.9 thanks to Denis pushing me for one final lap before time was up! I had plenty of rests and I knew I had plenty of room to improve. From that day on, I had the Yumigo! event firmly in my sights.

Fast-forward to July. Having just come off a marathon, I had opted for the 6 hour event as the ‘sensible’ option. I had entered on the Monday, having wanted to see how I recovered from Gold Coast before committing. I hadn’t seen the weather forecast which was a good thing. I later found out that the forecast was for a cold weekend with rain, hail and thunderstorms (and possible snow on Mt Lofty). I probably would have given it a miss had I known, but having entered, I had to go through with it!

The week was a combination of recovery and tapering. I did 2 runs during the week, and 2 walks with my running groups.

A few days beforehand, I studied the event manual, and on race eve I collected my race bibs and timing chip from the start line. It was also an opportunity to see where I had to go, to make sure I allowed enough time to get there in the morning. I also got a few last minute helpful pieces of advice from ultra veterans and fellow 6 hour entrants Kym and Graham. (As an aside, Graham was the first person to tell me about this event, a few years ago. I told him I thought it sounded incredibly boring. And yet here I was, about to run it!)

My pre-event dinner was a carb-laden risotto with a group of running friends. It was a shame I had to leave at 9:30 while they were all still going but I had to be up in 7 hours and I still wasn’t packed.

With rainy weather forecast, I needed plenty of clothes. I packed at least 2 of everything… shorts, socks, shoes, calf compression sleeves, 3 long sleeved tops and towels, as well as a hat (to keep the rain and hail out of my eyes), rain jacket and a tracksuit and sandals to put on afterwards.

Given the likely requirement for clothing changes, I had opted to pin my bibs (front and back) to a Spibelt instead of to my clothing – this would mean I didn’t have to re-pin my bib even if I had to change my top and/or shorts.

The morning of the run I got up at 4:30, ate my usual breakfast and finished getting ready. Food-wise I didn’t need much… the event supplied plenty of food and drinks… but I took a few bits and pieces that have served me well in the past. I had a chocolate spread sandwich, Gatorade, almonds and Lifesavers.

I arrived at the start at around 5:40. Already the street parking was filling up, and I had to park further away than I’d hoped… something I would regret later in the day when I had to walk back to the car! Still, I made it to the start line in plenty of time, dropping my bag off in one of the tents and deciding at the last minute to go without the gloves and rain jacket… something I would soon come to regret…

We started at 6am sharp. My first goal was 42.2km… that would mean 2 marathons inside a week… I wasn’t sure if and when I’d ever get the chance to do that again! That was very doable… so I set myself a second goal of 50km… which would be my first time reaching that distance. Then, I could call myself an ultramarathoner!

It was cold, and the rain soon started, and hail not long after that. Fortunately the hail was only short-lived… this was my first ever time running in hail, and I was very thankful for the hat!

I had opted not to do the portaloo stop before the start… my experience in marathons has been that I always go before I start, but still always feel like I need to go again just before the start of the event. In my 3 marathons and however many halves, so far I have never needed to stop. That suggests to me that it’s all mental, and/or that I don’t drink enough! However, on this occasion I still needed to go about half an hour in, having already received one soaking from above. Given that it was a 6 hour event, I knew I’d have to stop at least once so I thought now was the time.

I don’t want to venture into ‘too much information’ territory but suffice to say cold numb hands and soaking wet Skins shorts does not make for a quick pit stop! I think it took me a minute just to lock the door and probably about 5 minutes altogether! I definitely should have put the gloves on before the start, but it was too late now. I pushed on…

The 6 and 12 hour runners started together, so we spent our full 6 hours running with the 12 hour runners. We had bibs front and back, mostly with names on them, which was a great touch as it meant we could give encouragement as we ran with/past others on the course. It was great to chat with fellow runners, discussing previous experiences in similar events, what our goals were for the day, etc etc! It was especially great to get encouragement from race ambassador Wayne Calvert who was running the 12 hour. He ended up finishing second in that event, so he was obviously going at quite a pace, but he still found time to encourage those around him which was awesome!

Regular running buddy Sarah came and ran with me briefly. She asked me if I had a ‘run/walk’ strategy. I replied “Yes… I’m going to keep running until I can’t run anymore. Then I’ll walk”.

I did walk at times. Mostly when I was eating. My nutrition consisted of sandwiches (my own chocolate spread one, and peanut butter ones supplied at the food tent – never before has peanut butter on white bread tasted so good!) and delicious brownies made by the legendary Maurice. Oh and a packet of chips early on, that I couldn’t open myself because my hands were so cold! Hydration-wise I didn’t drink a lot of water but I did finish my 1.5L bottle of Gatorade before leaving the course.

The turning point for me undoubtedly came when James arrived with a piping hot long black for me. He had offered the previous day to come down with a coffee for me, but given the weather conditions I would not have blamed him for not coming. But he did, probably around the halfway mark, and boy was I glad to see him! (OK maybe it was the coffee I was glad to see more so than James. Sorry James!)

He and fellow running buddy Dean walked with me around the track as I sipped that beautiful, beautiful hot beverage. Not only did the caffeine give me a huge boost but the hot cup helped warm up my cold hands. By the time I’d finished it, my energy level had skyrocketed and I quickly slipped back into my running rhythm again. From then on I felt amazing! I swore he must have spiked it with something!

Despite my bag full of clothing, I really could have used more. I changed tops just before the halfway point, with just one long-sleeved top left (to put on at the end). Not 10 minutes later, the heavens opened again, so I was stuck in wet clothing for the duration.

A lot of people I spoke to including Kathleen and Clodia had the goal of running a marathon in the 6 hours. It is a really great way for someone to run a first marathon… very safe, well supported, facilities every 2.2km, and a guaranteed medal even if you don’t complete the full distance. It was great to see both of them achieve their goals!

I’m not sure exactly when I reached the marathon distance but according to Strava it was a touch over 4 hours. From then I knew the 50km was definitely on. Given the weather, I planned to stop and walk after that, or possibly even stop altogether if it was really raining heavily. In fact I could have walked from that point and still made 50km. But I was running strongly… still hanging around the 5:55 minutes per km mark, so kept going.

In my previous marathons I have had left hip soreness around the halfway point. I did feel that again during the 6 hour (probably about 2 hours in) but had forgotten to pack the Voltaren, and I didn’t want to try any different drugs, and it wasn’t impeding me too much, so I pressed on, and eventually it went away!

That was the only real ‘injury’ concern I had, although one of my toenails had become a bit inflamed during Gold Coast, and I really started to notice it in the last few hours. I was dreading taking my shoes and socks off, because I was fully expecting to see either blood or detached toenails, but was pleased to see neither!

50km came just before 5 hours. My pace hadn’t dropped, so at that point the goalposts shifted and I was going for 60km!

I really enjoyed the last few hours. The 24 hour super crazies started when we had 2 hours to go, so I got to see regular running friends Karen, Tory, Jonathan, Emma, Barry, Michael and Marc start their event, and also met a lot of new people including Sean who was over from Tasmania, and Tracey who had recently done 20 laps of the Snakepit! (The Snakepit is a torture chamber of sorts near the beach in Adelaide’s west – a 500m sand track including some nasty little hills. I’d managed 11 laps that day… 20 was unthinkable!)

I managed to hold my pace in the final hour and crack the 60km mark. My Garmin showed 62km but my official distance was just over 60. Still, I wasn’t complaining… it was WELL beyond what I expected! I went like a maniac in the last 15 minutes… my Garmin showed a couple of sub-5 minute kms right near the end!

Looking at the photos, I’m smiling in ALL of them. And they are not fake smiles like the ones in some of my marathon photos. I was genuinely enjoying myself! And that is another point of contrast (along with the weather) between this event and Gold Coast. Despite it being a fantastic event in perfect weather conditions, and despite getting a PB, my run at Gold Coast was the least enjoyable of my 3 marathons. At the 6 hour, despite the weather and the potential monotony of running the same 2.2km loop 27 TIMES, I had a ball from start to finish!

Regular running buddy Gary, who had covered about 1km more than me despite being troubled by leg cramps late in the event, told me I might be in contention for a podium finish! I was shocked… I never would have expected that! After a tense wait while the final distances were added up, I ended up finishing 2nd female out of 30, and 12th overall out of 55 starters. I was particularly happy to find that along with a sweet trophy to go with my finisher medal, I got a magnum of shiraz thanks to the sponsor Fox Creek Wines! The first place finisher, Marlize, was a few km ahead of me, and I couldn’t see where I could have found any extra kms to knock her out of first place, so I was over the moon with my runner-up finish.

After the presentation I was lucky enough to be treated to a guest pass at a city health club, from Shannon, who had also completed her first 6 hour. Shannon had told me, when I had told her I was aiming for 50km, that I would get closer to 56km! Little did I know that she was right! Along with a few other fellow 6 hour finishers we enjoyed a lovely hot spa and not-so-lovely cold plunge pool… such a relief after the 6 hour slog in the cold and rain!

After dinner in town with Gary and other running friends (curry… my new go-to post-event meal after recovering so well from Gold Coast), we headed back to the Uni Loop to watch the 24 hour runners for a while. We didn’t last long… it was cold, wet and windy. Mega respect to those runners. And the volunteers/pit crews. I’m convinced that their jobs are WAY harder than running!

After a decent night’s sleep (despite the disappointment of Australia’s capitulation in the first Ashes Test) I headed back to the Uni Loop to see the 24 hour runners finish. It was still cold and wet… I was again VERY happy to have ‘only’ run the 6 hour! At the presentation, some of the runners were struggling to walk the 10 or so metres to receive their medals, and some had the medals delivered to them. Again… what a huge effort from those people in such difficult conditions!

I think maybe I might like to do the 24 hour one day. Just once, to say I’ve done it. I won’t be looking to set any records like the remarkable Lee Piantadosi who covered over 200km to take out first female (and first place overall). I’d like to do it in a team, I can’t imagine doing it on my own! And I think I’d need to sleep, at least for a few hours, unlike many of the higher placed finishers.

Thanks to Ben Hockings for putting on this fabulous event… I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to set themselves a challenge! I will definitely be back next year… the only question is, which distance?

Lion or tiger?

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Running in groups, or running alone? Many people have very clear views on this. They either prefer to run in packs, like lions, or solitary, like tigers. There’s no right or wrong of course… it all depends on what works best for you. (Much like the early morning vs afternoon/evening debate)

Up until recently, I was firmly in the ‘lion’ camp. Why else would I want to get out of bed at arse o’clock when it’s 2 degrees outside with the possibility of rain thrown into the bargain? Or on a Sunday morning on a stinking hot summer day after a night out drinking with the girls and only a couple of hours sleep?

I love running in a group. I regularly run with 3 weekday morning groups, plus my parkrun on Saturdays with 250+ of my closest friends, and on Sundays it could be any of: a long road run, a trail run or a race (all, again, as part of a group). Some mornings I really look forward to the run itself, sometimes it is the ‘therapy’ that comes from chatting with fellow runners along the way (NEVER underestimate the power of a little ‘run therapy’), and to be honest sometimes it’s just the thought of the coffee afterwards that gets me out of bed! I did once make the mistake of turning up for coffee without running… my fellow runners gave me so much (good-natured) grief for that, I decided never to do that again!

Running CAN be boring… but if you’re running with a group that can take your mind off the monotony. There’s generally a range of paces in the groups which means that everyone should be able to find someone to run with. Sometimes I run in the middle of the pack, sometimes I just feel like an easy ‘jogette’ (eg in the post-marathon week) and sometimes, somehow, I find myself running with ‘the fast guys’ (admittedly only when they are tapering, injured or recovering,  but still…). In any case I always have good company.

The traditional post-run coffee is a way that all of us get to catch up,  regardless of pace. It’s a big part of the whole experience and I’m always disappointed when work commitments mean I have to dash off straight after the run. Fortunately my work is flexible and for the most part I can make my own appointments and therefore make it to coffee!

The thought of doing a long run on my own filled me with dread, particularly in the early days. I did my first 30k on my own last year, only because my soccer team had a pub crawl scheduled on the Saturday night and I wanted to be able to enjoy it without having thoughts of the next day’s (probably hungover) long run popping into my head. So I drove to Paradise on the Saturday morning, with the intention of running 15k along the river and then back again. It wasn’t an enjoyable run but it was broken up a bit when a friend from one of my running groups, Gary, happened to be running on the same track and ran with me for 4k. That was a godsend… although he is a fast runner… I certainly couldn’t have sustained 30k at that pace, but it was great to have some company if only for a short time.

The rest of my long runs happened on Sundays, even when I had to dash off to play soccer straight afterwards. I just hated the idea of running on my own!

Recently,  though, things have changed. I have had a few positive experiences running on my own that have made me realise it’s not so bad!

Solo running lets you run at ‘your’ pace, rather than that of those around you. I thought that running solo would make me run slower, but actually the last time I ran on my own, I ran faster than expected!

It also allows you to concentrate on things like breathing and cadence/stride length, which is hard to do when distracted by conversation. Sometimes I’ll use my iPod (volume low enough to hear the sounds of the outside world) and other times I’ll be mentally composing my next blog post.

And sometimes it’s just great to have some time to yourself especially when life gets a bit chaotic! This year, 1 week out from the Barossa Marathon,  I ran a lovely 20k in Katoomba. It was not easy… lots of elevation, but such amazing scenery on the trail. No music for me that day… just a small pocket of serenity on what was a crazy weekend!

I’ve done solo runs at other times when away on holidays either alone or with non-runners… in Sydney (how can you possibly have a bad run when Sydney Harbour is the backdrop?), Queenstown NZ (Wow. Just wow!), and also in London and Liverpool in the lead-up to my first marathon (the London runs were SLOW mostly due to having to stop every 30 seconds to take a photo!). The novelty of running in a new place and being able to combine a run with a little sightseeing made these runs most enjoyable.

More recently I slept in on a Sunday after a late night out… the 5.30 alarm was quickly silenced and I somehow managed to turn off the 6am one without waking up. I knew, when I saw sunlight when I woke up about an hour later, that I had missed my group run. So I got up and had breakfast while trying to plan out a suitable loop from home – one that was long enough that I wouldn’t have to repeat it too many times,  and short enough that I wouldn’t need to carry too much fuel… just a hand held bottle (which I could refill when passing by home) and a pocketful of Lifesavers. As it turned out my loop was the perfect length – 3 loops made 26k which was the same distance as the group run. It was a cold morning so going out a little later meant the sun was out and it was maybe a few degrees warmer. Pace was good… comparable to recent long runs despite the nasty little Greenhill Road hill (Feathers Hotel to Hallett Rd if that means anything to you!) being part of the loop, hence by the third ascent my legs were starting to complain! I actually enjoyed this run, I did run with music this time and I certainly think that helped. It’s good to know that if I do need to do a long run on my own in future, it’s nothing to be dreaded!

So I guess that settles it. I am a liger!

Race Report – Gold Coast Marathon 5 July 2015

image I’m writing this sitting on the plane heading back home to wintry Adelaide from the sunny Gold Coast. 6 weeks ago I had just completed the Barossa Marathon, my second marathon EVER, in PB time and I was in Struggletown. I wondered why, and how, I was going to run another marathon in 6 weeks time.

I went out for 2 slow runs during that week and by Saturday I was back to normal… managing a reasonably fast parkrun that day. In the following weeks, I started running better than ever. It seemed to be less of an effort, and I often surprised myself with the pace I was running… it was a lot faster than it felt.

Things were looking promising, even my long runs were done at a good pace. I even managed to get in a few Sunday trail runs which were a nice change of pace (I did have to hold myself back a bit on the trail runs… the last thing I wanted was to fall over and injure myself so close to a big race).

In marathon week I did a couple of easy paced morning runs on Tuesday and Wednesday, before departing on Thursday morning. After being picked up at the airport by former Adelaidean, now Gold Coast local, Vanessa, I got my first sight of the beach over coffee and cake at one of the many surf clubs along the Coast. After lunch it was time to get down to business… to registration and the Expo.

The apartment where I was staying was conveniently located within walking distance of the Convention Centre. Registration done, it was time to check out the Expo. The way it is laid out, all participants have to walk past every stand (and there were a LOT of stalls) to get out. Great exposure for the companies with stands there! My credit card managed to get off relatively lightly with an $80 purchase from Skins just as the expo was about to close for the day. Back again the following day, I spent $60 at Rockwear. I think anyone that was there would agree that I was very restrained… it was all quite overwhelming and very tempting!

Later on Friday afternoon it was off to Main Beach for an informal parkrun. That was an enjoyable, casual paced 5k trot along a lovely, varied course. Australian running royalty, Robert de Castella, was there, along with the current crop of runners from the Indigenous Marathon Project, who would be running the half marathon as part of their training for the New York Marathon. The parkrun was followed by a few drinks at the local surf club (why can’t every parkrun end like that? Never mind the fact that they are normally held on Saturday mornings!)

Saturday was a running-free day… no running, no expo. I had my traditional pre-marathon dinner of pizza and cider, and then it was back to the apartment to get the gear ready for the following day. I opted for the same outfit that had served me well at Barossa, minus the arm warmers (hardly needed here!) and with blue calf sleeves instead of pink. Oh, and a new hat compliments of the Garmin stand at the expo – I only wore it in the race because it was identical to the one I had worn at Barossa, only with a Garmin logo printed on it. NEVER try something for the first time in a race, not even something as small and seemingly insignificant as a hat. I had new shoes too… identical to my previous ones, and nicely broken in with 42km of mainly parkruns (including 2 PBs – they were fast shoes!)

Race day came.  I got up at 5am and had my usual breakfast… Weetbix, muesli and chia with rice milk. Dressed and armed with my (not-so) secret weapons – a handheld bottle of Gatorade, Lifesavers, energy drink, energy pills and Voltaren, I put on my 5 pace bands (my 3 from Barossa plus 2 I had picked up at the Expo) – ranging from 3:30 (dreaming) to 3:45 (realistic) and it was off on the tram to the start line!

I started in Group B, behind the 3:45 pacer. Previously I had always gone for a negative split so I always knew I’d pass the pacer eventually. I had seen Clive, with whom I had done a lot of my Sunday runs, on the walk to the start, but I didn’t see any of the other Adelaide people I knew were there. I’d seen the finish chute and the ‘250m to go’ sign… how good a feeling would it be when I saw that sign again later in the morning? I was hoping for 3:30 but that was a big jump from my previous 3:39 so I never really expected it. It’s always worth setting an ambitious goal as long as you don’t beat yourself up too much if you don’t achieve it! A PB would be nice though…

My mojo had disappeared and I felt quite flat in the leadup and at the start line. But I’d come this far so there was no way I wasn’t going to give it 110%! There were so many people (5276 finishers, and presumably more than that at the start) that the first km was a bit slow for my liking!

I had chosen, right from the start, to ignore ALL FIVE of the pace bands I had put on. So they really served no purpose other than to give me some interesting looking tan lines! My first 5km was completed in 5:06 min/km average pace. WAY faster than planned! (My next 2 5km splits were both identical at 5:08. Very consistent. I wasn’t used to this!)

I’m not sure exactly what point in the race, I spotted ahead of me a blue Running Domain singlet. At last! A familiar face! (Running Domain is the group with which I have done my Sunday long runs this year) I quickly caught up to Amanda and we ran together for close to 20km. We hadn’t actually run together before and only really chatted via Facebook so it was nice to run with someone new! Amanda was going for 3:45 which would be a PB. Pace-wise we were well ahead of where we needed to be.

We ran with a couple of guys for a while, Luke and Adam, who were hoping for sub 4 hours so they were quite confident when they heard what times we were aiming for! I left Amanda just after the halfway point (I like to call it the ‘Bon Jovi moment’ – we’re halfway there!) and really just tried to hold on from that point! My left hip had started to niggle around the 18km mark so I’d had 2 Voltaren and after about half an hour it didn’t bother me again.

Hydration was a new experience… my 2 previous marathons were run with bottled water, whereas as a non-elite runner in such a big event, today I had to make do with the cups of water supplied at the drink stations. I didn’t want to change my sports drink so I brought my own Gatorade, and being a warmer climate than I was used to, I thought I’d get too hot if I wore my hydration vest. It took me a while to get used to drinking out of cups. I’d already perfected the technique of grabbing them on the run, but I usually ended up wearing more of the water than I drank. Paper cups are definitely easier than plastic and after about the 3rd drink station I’d got my technique sorted… bending the cup to make a sort of funnel. I didn’t stop at all the stations…  I didn’t want to OVER hydrate and I also didn’t want to have to make a portaloo stop! There was plenty of time for hydrating AFTER the race!

I rationed my Gatorade, ensuring I would have some left at the end. If I needed a boost I’d have a Lifesaver… sugar I know, not ideal but it works for me!

I was trying to hold a consistent pace, something I’d never done before over this distance. Early on I was averaging 5:06 minute kms, and over time it slowly increased to 5:07, then 5:08. I really wanted to keep it under 5:10 as that would mean a new PB.

I had been warned by Amanda (who had run this event last year) that the 30km mark was nasty… a bit of a hill, and going past the finish line with still over 12km to go. She was right! And then I knew that I had to run about 6km more before the turnaround after which I would technically be on the home stretch. That was the longest 6km I think I’ve ever run! I thought a 2 lap course like Barossa would mess with my head but I think this was worse!

At one point (I think with around 5km to go) I thought “If I hear one more person say ‘You’re nearly there!’, I am going to punch them!” Luckily for that person, I was too far away and too buggered by then! With 12km to go, I tried to tell myself, ‘That’s just City to Bay… that’s nothing!’ It didn’t work. 12km after having run 30km is still a bloody long way!

Even with 5km to go, ‘Just a parkrun to go’ wasn’t cutting it! (At about the 2km mark, someone had held a sign that said ‘Only 8 parkruns to go!’ Cheeky bugger!) Happily, as I was waiting to see the 36km marker, I was surprised to see the 37km marker instead… I’d somehow missed the 36km! (Probably because I was running a lot with my head down at this point. This was a bit dangerous as a lot of people were walking along the left hand side of the road by now, and I could easily have taken one of them out!) 36km is a psychological barrier as that is the longest distance we do in our long runs. I was so glad to be 1km ahead of where I thought I was… normally it’s the other way round!

My pace was hanging around 5:07/5:08. It was a struggle but I’d come this far… I wasn’t going to stop now! Surprisingly the heat, which I had been warned about, wasn’t a big issue for me… I actually didn’t really notice it!

I got to the 40km mark and for the first time I saw the elapsed time (on my Garmin I had only allowed myself to look at my average pace, not the overall time). It was around 3 hours 30 minutes. With very tired legs, I couldn’t see myself completing the remaining 2.2km in well under 10 minutes… the PB wasn’t going to happen today! I was tempted to walk (I hadn’t walked at all up to this point) and did drop my head a bit, but within a minute or so it dawned on me… that was gun time! I’d crossed the start line over 2 minutes after gun time… the PB was still on!

I pushed on… I really was ‘nearly there’ by now!

The last km was a blur. I really felt like I was dreaming, it didn’t feel real! I was still sitting on 5:09 pace so I was confident of my PB. Then there was that magical ‘250m to go’ sign! I crossed the finish line and stopped my Garmin… mission accomplished! My watch showed 3:38:44 (my official net time would be 1 second faster) – a new PB by over 30 seconds!

I lay down by a tree for a while… big mistake! Both calves felt like rocks when I got up, so I went to the physio tent where I iced them for a while, then a quick walk in the water and some lunch.

Later in the day I went for a dip in the ocean near the apartment – not as cold as I expected! That was followed by a drink and curry with some fellow Adelaideans.

This morning my legs were a bit stiff when I got up but they quickly loosened up. I went for a fairly brisk 5km walk along the Esplanade with no issues… stark contrast to my last marathon! (Must have been the curry – that will have to be my post-race dinner of choice from now on!)

Overall I was quite satisfied with my run yesterday despite ignoring my plan… there’s still plenty of room for improvement!

What’s next on the agenda? This coming Saturday I plan to do a 6 hour event, running around a 2.2km loop. Sounds crazy? No. There is also a 12hr and a 24hr event. I am one of the sensible ones!

No more marathons for me this year. Well, maybe the Great Barrier Reef in November. Apart from that… no more marathons!

2 marathons in 6 weeks… what was I thinking?

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At the time of publishing, I am less than 1 week out from my second marathon in 6 weeks. A tad ambitious given that my first 2 marathons were 1 year apart!

5 days after Barossa Marathon, I thought I would be looking at just finishing the Gold Coast Marathon and getting some more sweet bling for my growing collection.

I ran the Gold Coast half last year, 6 weeks after my first marathon. The race was sort of an afterthought… I wanted to have something to look forward to after my overseas trip in May/June, and wanted to visit friends who had recently moved to the Gold Coast. It would be silly NOT to go on marathon weekend, wouldn’t it? And if I’m there, I might as well enter the half…

I went in underprepared, having had a full 3 weeks off running after the marathon and I had not run anything more than 12km in the 3 weeks immediately before the half. Not only had I spent 3 weeks not running, but also at the same time I was eating and drinking my way across Ireland. To top it off, I fell 5 days before the Gold Coast half, at the end of a training run, and banged up my left knee and shin.

Everything went well on the day. The half started in the dark at 6am (meaning a 4am alarm to get my brekky in, and a 5am taxi ride). The atmosphere was incredible and I managed to get a few high fives in towards the finish (I have a ‘thing’ where I have to high five at least 1 kid in every race otherwise it doesn’t count). Surprisingly I was less than 30 seconds away from a new half marathon PB… very happy with that! It’s a fast, flat course and the heat was not a factor as I was done by 7:45 and well amd truly brunching before any of my friends who were running the marathon had finished. It was getting pretty warm by then! Before that though, I got to watch from the grandstand as the first 3 placegetters finished the marathon, including the winner in a new record time for marathons run in Australia, which was an added bonus! Oh and let’s not forget the bling… it was a sweet medal, but then I saw one from the marathon which was twice the size, and I decided I needed one of those! One day I would run the Gold Coast Marathon, one day…

So what on earth made me decide it was a good idea to run 2 marathons in 6 weeks?
To answer that I need to go back 6 months or so. Around Christmas time last year, I went on a group ‘trail’ run which happened to be on the beach. I’m not accustomed to sand running and I seem to remember not enjoying it a great deal! It was an ‘out and back’, from Grange jetty to Largs jetty and back. I walked most of the way back.

On the way out, taking my mind somewhat off how much I was hating running on sand, I was running with an interesting guy who seemed to be pretty accustomed to running on sand (I soon found out he had done a desert ultramarathon) and also the whole ‘talking while running’ thing, something that at the time was not my strong point.  I seem to remember not contributing a lot to the conversation other than the occasional “uh huh” or similar. I think it was that day or soon after that he told me about the ultramarathon he was planning to do in the Himalayas in August… up and down mountains. If you want to know more check out his website:
http://kieronultrarunner.com/
and blog:
https://kieronultrarunner.wordpress.com/

How does this relate to a flat flat road marathon in Queensland in July? I’m getting there.

We have run together many times since then. Trails, roads, short, long, day, night, you name it. And over time I have been able to contribute more to the conversation than the occasional grunt… a sign of my improved fitness (if I could get a word in, that is!). My times improved and running began to feel easier.

Let’s get back briefly to that mountain ultra. What better preparation for a hard ultra in the Himalayas,  than a fast, flat road marathon a month or so before?  No, I’m not joking. He wanted to run a sub-3-hour marathon (something well beyond my reach even now) and Gold Coast is known for being the fastest in Australia. Naturally, being easily influenced (and it happens a LOT in running circles), I was more than happy to go along for the ride. Even though at the time I was building up to my second marathon about a year after the first. We entered just before the earlybird cutoff date and it was on!

I had to tweak my training. Did I continue to follow the training programme for Barossa and use Gold Coast as an ‘add-on’, having a short break after Barossa and doing a few 28-30k runs in between? Or did I shift my focus to Gold Coast and treat Barossa as a training run? In the end I decided to go with the former and I’m happy with that decision. I got my PB and if all goes well I’ll have another one in a week.

Right now I feel totally ready. I am running better than ever. I bounced back quickly after Barossa, running a reasonably fast parkrun the following Saturday with no evidence of any soreness. Since then I have run 2 parkrun PBs in consecutive weeks (after going more than 2 years between PBs) and doing my long runs at a good pace. The benchmark I aim for in my long runs is to complete the half marathon distance in under 2 hours – I’ve been hitting that mark very regularly lately.

I can’t explain why things seem to have fallen into place for me now but whatever it is, I hope it continues! I think my diet definitely could use some work – I’m sure I’m not getting enough protein, mostly due to the fact that I follow a mostly vegan/vegetarian diet. I plan to do something about that after the marathon… I certainly don’t plan to make any dramatic changes beforehand!

I don’t really have a plan yet. I am quietly confident of a PB (something I wouldn’t have even contemplated 5 weeks ago!) but haven’t quite got my pacing strategy worked out. I haven’t even got my race day outfit sorted yet but it won’t be too different from Barossa… it’s too late to test out any new kit now and be sure that it won’t cause me issues on the day! (I probably won’t be needing arm warmers this time!) I have a couple of pace bands (the same ones I used at Barossa) but not sure yet if I’ll use them. I have visions of chasing down the 3:30 pacer but that might be a bit out of reach…

All I can say now is… bring it on!

“Ultramarathon? Me? No, never. Well, maybe one day…”

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2 years ago, if you mentioned the word ‘ultramarathon’ to me, I would have been picturing the old Melbourne to Sydney races from the ’80s, with the likes of Yiannis Kouros and Cliffy Young. I can safely say even now that I would NEVER  attempt something like that… that’s just plain MAD!

Of course, I know now that there are many different types of ultras which vary greatly in terms of both distance and terrain. Basically anything over the standard 42.2km marathon distance is considered an ultra.

Which brings me neatly to Yurrebilla.

Yurrebilla Ultra Marathon (YUM for short) is a 56km run from Belair Railway Station to Ambers Gully at Athelstone, taking in some stunning trails along the way. Being in the middle of Adelaide suburbia it’s easily accessible and very well supported, so it’s not necessary to carry a lot of gear. It started in 2007 when a small group of runners decided to see if it would be possible to run the entire Yurrebilla Trail (an existing trail). And YUM was born! YUM is actually an apt acronym because Yurrebilla is known as ‘The Gourmet Ultra’ due to the amazing spread at the checkpoints and at the finish. I will freely admit that when I first decided I was going to run YUM, it was the food that got me! In what other run would you get to eat PIZZA along the way?

I had first heard of this event 2 years ago when my friend Denis was running it (after having completed his first 2 marathons in the 2 months prior. I thought he was mad!). I had good intentions of going to watch him but celebrated Hawthorn’s Grand Final win a little bit too hard the previous day, so unfortunately I didn’t quite get there…

Fast forward to 2014. Early in the year, I was training for my first marathon. I happened to meet a few crazy chicks (I’m talking to you, Hoa and Rula!) who tried to convince me to enter YUM that year. I was adamant that I wasn’t ready for an ultra despite their best efforts to convince me otherwise. Apart from not feeling prepared for such a daunting challenge, I was also trying to maintain my soccer ‘career’ at the same time as my marathon training. I realised very early in the soccer season that running 30k in the morning then dashing off to play soccer was not sustainable and in fact pretty risky… I was lucky not to have any injuries. Often we would only have the bare 11 players so there was no option of sitting on the bench, and as a midfielder there wasn’t a whole lot of down time. I therefore made the decision not to play until after my marathon. As the soccer season ended 2 weeks before YUM, if I were to commit to the second half of the season I wouldn’t get to do the required training for YUM. To avoid getting talked into it, I quickly put my hand up to volunteer at YUM.

So the marathon came and went, the soccer season ended and it was YUM time! As it again fell the day after the AFL Grand Final, (and as it turned out the mighty Hawks featured again) I had requested an afternoon job at YUM. I was allocated to the finish line. As per YUM tradition I decided to dress up. I went with the Snow White costume I’d recently worn to a Disney-themed 21st. That night had been bitterly cold. This day couldn’t have been a greater contrast. Unusually hot for September, and windy as, I was glad I’d stuck to my guns and not been talked into running!
From the time I arrived earlier than planned at 10am, to the time the first finishers started to come through (the first in a gobsmacking 4 1/2 hours!), most of our efforts were concentrated on stopping marquees, flags and cups from blowing away! (I was so glad I had worn my Skins shorts under my verging-on-indecent length dress… otherwise modesty would have been out the window! Thanks to fellow dresser-upper and MC extraordinaire Karen for the wardrobe tip!)

I spent most of the day on Coke duty… if I had a dollar for every runner that said, when I offered them Coke, “I never drink Coke… but YES PLEASE!!!”… well let’s just say I would have had a nice little pay packet that day!  I had to be the bad guy on several occasions and tell people they couldn’t get any Coke for their kids… that was for runners only, and even so, we still ran out for a while… you should have seen the disappointment on the runners’ faces when that happened! There was also LOADS of food which I did enjoy (there was WAY too much and we ended up having to throw a lot away) and, fortunately, given the weather conditions, no shortage of water.

I got to see a lot of my friends finish, and for some it was their very first ultra. I couldn’t get over how happy Tania and David were to join the ultra club… for months afterwards, you couldn’t mention Yurrebilla to Tania without a massive smile lighting up her face!

I stayed until the end – YUM is not over until the last person finishes – and then helped pack up before going to the traditional post-YUM buffet dinner.

It was such a fantastic experience and I knew right then that I just HAD to run YUM in 2015.

This year I’m taking every opportunity and taking in all the advice I can get, to ensure my best Yurrebilla experience. When it comes to trail and ultra running, I am a sponge! I am lucky to have a lot of very experienced trail and ultra runners around me who are more than happy to offer words of wisdom… it’s a fantastic community! I went to a dinner recently with a small group of YUM virgins (and some not so virginal!) with race ambassador Tymeka Warburton who gave some really helpful advice including a lot about nutrition (probably one of my weakest areas). What really stuck in my mind was what she said about slowing down in the finishing chute and just taking it all in, and actually remembering it! For someone who has a tendency to break into a full sprint when the finish line comes into sight, that will be a big change for me, but I know I will do it! I get chills just thinking about that moment!

I’ve recently also completed the first of 3 big training runs, which combined, make up the entire course. Once I’ve done all 3, there will be no surprises on the day! (I’m yet to decide if that is a good or bad thing!) Beck, Grace and I (plus a whole lot of faster runners we didn’t see much after the start), set off just before 6am to complete the ‘back and out’ of just under 36km. It was such a great morning, the weather was perfect, great company and the surroundings were stunning! I can’t wait for the next run… it will be hard to resist doing another ‘back and out’!

And now for the unsolicited plug. If you’re thinking about running YUM and don’t feel you’re ready to tackle it this year, I strongly recommend that you either go support someone you know who is running it (I’m happy to accept any support I can get!) or put your hand up to volunteer. It’s an amazing experience and trust me, if you’ve got any inclination to run it, after experiencing the atmosphere, you will be hanging out for next year’s event!