And now for something completely different…

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Last week was a 56km ultramarathon. This week attention turned to the 15th Australian Masters Games – ‘Australia’s greatest multi-sport festival for 30+ year olds’ (according to the cover of the Games guide!)

I had entered the Games just before the earlybird cut-off. At the time I had entered just two events, the track 5000m and the half marathon. I was later convinced to enter the City Mile by multiple Masters gold medallist Ros.

My mum, a recent convert to parkrun, had entered one event, the 5000m walk, which was the first event on the track on Saturday. She had won gold, 2 laps ahead of the second placegetter! The pressure was on…

Monday morning rolled around and it was going to be a hot one, with a forecast top of 36 degrees. Fortunately the 5000m had been rescheduled from the middle of the day to 9am, the first track event of the day. I had never run on a track before so didn’t really know what to expect.

I was up early and had my breakfast shake before heading to the stadium. I was there well ahead of my event so that gave me time to chat to some other competitors, many of whom had travelled from interstate. I realised then that I had probably missed an opportunity because most of the people I spoke to had entered multiple events. There was the steeplechase (supposedly a lot of fun), cross country, and of course the shorter track events like the 800m and 1500m. I would have had no idea how to race those last 2 distances, but at only $15 per event, you get best value for money by entering lots of events. Also, being in one of the younger age groups, there seems to be less competition. The 40s and 50s look to be the most popular age groups.

I looked over and saw Lisa, who is in my age group and seems to win everything. I wasn’t holding out much hope… she said she was sore after the steeplechase but I told her she’d have to be REALLY sore for me to have a chance of beating her!

It was about 28 degrees as we lined up to start the race. I had set the lap distance on my Garmin to 400m and we would be running 12.5 laps of the track.

I was close to the inside lane, where we would all eventually be running, to avoid running further than we needed to.

The starting gun went and we were off! I started well, with my first 3 laps being 1:32, 1:36 and 1:34. I passed 2km (5 laps) in 7:57. If I could have sustained that pace I would have run 5000m under 20 minutes for the first time EVER!

No matter what distance I’m running, I don’t like getting ‘stuck’ behind anyone. So I did overtake a few people early on so I could settle into a rhythm and not run slower than a comfortable pace. I soon found myself in 4th position overall (I’m not sure exactly how many runners were in the race), behind Lisa and 2 runners from the 45-49 age group, Frina and Sarah. They were all a long way in front of me.

The field included one runner from the youngest age group, 30-34, and two runners in the 80-84 age group. Over the course of the 12.5 laps I passed both of the 80+ ladies several times, offering encouragement all the way. In my job I do get a very skewed view of ageing and it’s quite inspirational to see 80+ athletes out there competing -I sincerely hope I can still compete at that age! (I even saw a man in the 90-94 age group – I don’t know what event he was in but I had to look twice at his bib to be sure of his age – he looked at least 20 years younger than he was!)

Unfortunately (and not really surprisingly) I wasn’t able to sustain that pace. Possibly I should have started a bit slower, and the heat may have been a factor, but my pace gradually slowed over the remaining laps.

I knew I was still in 4th overall… not that that mattered. In Masters Games it’s all about age groups. Everyone runs together but you only compete against those in your age group. Therefore, the 80+ year old who finished the race in just under an hour (to HUGE applause from all the crowd and the rest of the 5000m runners who had long since finished) still walked away with a silver medal.

I had no hope of catching Lisa, or even 3rd placed Sarah. I couldn’t actually see any of them anymore.

I had a rough idea how far I had to go, although I was trying not to check my watch too often. It wasn’t until almost halfway that I noticed the lap counter at the finish line – 7 laps. At the time I didn’t know if it was 7 gone or 7 to go. The next time around it showed 6. That answered my question!

I got to the finish line as the bell rang and the counter showed one lap to go. I was ecstatic… Lisa would be finishing momentarily and hadn’t lapped me! But I miscalculated – the ‘one lap to go’ was for her, not me. I still had two laps. And not 100m after I started my penultimate lap, she lapped me!

After cursing myself briefly I regrouped and set out to finish strongly, hold my position and avoid getting lapped by Frina or Sarah!

I heard the track announcer call Lisa across the line. Predictably, I was running for ‘so-so silver’!

I passed the start line for the last time. 200m to go. I couldn’t see the runners behind me and dared not turn around. I put my head down and focused on a strong finish.

My last 100m or so was at 2:55 min/km pace. I wasn’t letting anyone get past me! I hadn’t realised that the finish was off to the side of the main track but the marshal guided me in the right direction.

My Garmin time was 21:07. That was well outside my 5km PB but I was happy enough. It was hot, it was my first time on a track and I was just over a week post ultra. And I would have a SWEET silver medal to show for it!

It was a long wait till the medal ceremony as we had to wait for the rest of the runners to finish. Eventually the time came and I stood up on the dais next to Lisa. In the other age groups all the medallists got up on the 1st place position together for a photo op. Lisa started to tell me to get up and then thought better of it… even down in the 2nd place position I was still taller!

I really enjoyed today, it’s a great event to be involved in and I highly recommend it to anyone who is eligible (ie anyone who is 30 or over!) It’s fun and friendly, and there’s heaps of social activities too.

I’ve got 2 events left, the City Mile on Friday night and the half marathon on Saturday… stay tuned to my blog for my report next week!

Race Report – Yurrebilla 56km Ultramarathon

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I’ve talked about Yurrebilla 56km ultramarathon before but for the uninitiated I’ll bring you up to speed. It is a 56km course through Adelaide’s hills, from Belair to Athelstone, where you’re never more than 12km from the Adelaide CBD. (There are places on the course where you can be running through beautiful bushland, feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere,  then look to the side and see the buildings of the CBD… a stark contrast!) Each year more and more people take up the challenge, with over 400 people lining up this year. It is a wave start, with waves starting at 6am, 7am, 8am and 8:30am (the last group is the ‘racing’ group – only people who enter this group can be considered for a placing). All groups have a 5:30pm cut-off, the idea being that the people who expect to take longer to complete the course will start earlier, to give them the most time.

I decided to enter this year’s event after volunteering last year and having just the BEST time! Despite having a fairly busy programme of events this year, Yurrebilla was always at the forefront, being the one event that I knew 12 months ago that I would be running this year.

I did all 3 of the training runs which covered the entire course. I did a number of other trail runs too including a new event at Belair National Park (where I was lucky enough to win a random prize draw for a pair of trail shoes!), several night runs, several 24k Cleland loops, plus 2 of the training runs for the Heysen 105k later in the year. So despite most of my training runs being on roads, I felt like I had enough time out on the trails to be ready for Yurrebilla Ultra Marathon (YUM for short – legendary for the fantastic food provided at the aid stations – its motto could well be ‘come for the food, stay for the run!’

I had paid for my entry 6 months earlier, having won a silent auction as part of a fundraiser for fellow runner Emma. I didn’t actually enter until much later but once I had forked out the cash I was pretty much committed! I decided to enter the 7am wave – 6am was way too early for me, given I would need to get up 2 hours earlier than that to eat breakfast and get myself to Athelstone to be on a 6am bus – plus there was the small matter of a very poorly scheduled but unmissable Sebastian Bach gig on the Saturday night… ’twas going to be a late night followed by an early morning! 8am was doable (and tempting) but I thought I might get caught up running with the faster runners and burn myself out early. Plus if everything was to fall apart, I would regret not giving myself the extra hour to finish. (Later in the week I was offered a lift to the start at Belair by regular trail and road running buddy Beck which I had no hesitation in accepting – I would still need to get up to eat at 5 but at least I would have time to be sure I had everything ready, rather than having to rush around too much!)

Having run City-Bay the previous weekend (a greater contrast you could not imagine), I planned a relatively easy training week in the lead-up to YUM. Tuesday was my fast run for the week – it was a bit of a struggle after pushing myself to the limit at City-Bay! I also felt a bit of left hamstring soreness during the run but nothing that I thought would impair me at YUM. Thursday was an easier paced run and Friday I opted for a brisk walk rather than a run. Saturday morning parkrun was a light ‘jogette’ with Beck and her daughter with more focus on socialising. By Saturday the hamstring soreness was gone and I was feeling fresh and ready and raring to go!

The most important decision was what to wear! The forecast was for a maximum of 24 degrees. Normally in an event, I’m done by the time the maximum temperature hits. On this occasion I would be out there until mid afternoon so most likely would be running in 24 degrees. That’s not hot,  but it’s warmer than I’ve been used to.

I had most of my outfit worked out weeks ago. On the bottom half it would be the black lululemon skirt (black as opposed to my otherwise identical white one, because dirt!) with one zip pocket plus 2 side pockets for snacks. Under that, Skins compression shorts, which I wear for all long runs and would also be good for my hamstring. On the legs,  blue Compressport calf sleeves to match my blue Salomon Speedcross 3 trail shoes – shoes nicely broken in with over 100km of trail running. The socks were black Nike – black again because DIRT! I also planned to tape my arches for blister prevention –  I did feel the beginnings of a blister there during City-Bay.

On the top I was tossing up between 2 tops (both lulu, naturally!). One was blue and one was cream – both coordinated nicely with the rest of the outfit and both had been tested on longish trail runs with the trusty Ultimate Direction Jenny backpack. In the end I decided to go with both – wear one and carry the other in case I needed a wardrobe change midway. To top it all off I had my rainbow striped arm socks and light running gloves ready in anticipation of a chilly start. I also had my white 2XU white hat… white not the most practical colour for a trail run but that particular hat had seen me run a marathon PB and good runs at City2Surf and City-Bay, so of course superstitious me had to go with it!

In the bag I had a compression bandage in case of snake bite, a few band-aids, baby wipes and ziploc bags I was really hoping not to need, and a small handheld torch for Echo Tunnel… that tunnel scares the crap out of me!

Given the buffet on offer at the aid stations I didn’t plan to carry much food. I had 2 nut bars cut in thirds, some Lifesavers and almonds, and a packet of plain potato chips. In addition I had a small bottle of Gatorade and one of water, which I planned to top up at the drink stops.

Most importantly of all I had left a nice bottle of Jansz sparkling wine and an icy cold can of Coke with MC extraordinaire Karen, to have there for me at the finish. I was sure that as I ran the tricky last few kilometres, that sweet nectar would be at the forefront of my mind…

I painted my toenails. I’m not sure why I did that. I never paint my toenails. I have runner’s toenails.  I guess I was anticipating that there wouldn’t be much left to paint after YUM, so I thought I’d do it while I still could!

Despite saying all along that I just wanted to finish and enjoy the day, I did have a goal of finishing in under 7.5 hours (people had said ‘double marathon time’ was a good guide – which for me was 7.25 – 7.5 hours. I wrote down the estimated times I expected to be at each drink stop. My parents wanted to come see me at the 3rd drink stop near their place so I needed to give them a rough estimate of when I’d be there. Missing the cut-off time was not a concern.

Race day came and along with it the 5am alarm. My ears were still ringing andy voice a little hoarse from the EXTREMELY loud and EXTREMELY awesome concert the previous night. I mixed up and downed my breakfast shake (Weet-bix, muesli, rice milk and a little cacao powder) and got dressed. It felt weird putting sunscreen on at 5:30am but at least that would get me through the first few hours of the race. I got to the start at Belair Railway Station in plenty of time to enjoy the atmosphere and have a quick toilet stop. (The bus, as it turned out, was a bit late and got there not long before the 7am start!) There was a guy playing some kind of unidentified string instrument… nice and laid back for a Sunday morning!

It was a tad on the cool side so I had my arm socks on but not cold enough to need gloves. I had my XS Energy drink – normally I have that before a race when I want to run fast, on this occasion it was purely to counteract the sleep deprivation!

After a briefing from Event Director Barry McBride, at 7am we were off! I had planned to run with Beck, Kate and Alison but at the start Kate and Alison were a bit behind us (having arrived on the bus) so Beck and I did our own thing,  expecting that the other two would catch up.

Knowing that there was 56km to go, we tried not to set out too quickly but it was hard! The first few kms were just over 6 minutes… that was hardly sustainable over 56km but the terrain was downhill and maybe just a little uphill. The plan was that we would run the downhills, flats and gentle uphills, and walk the steep uphills.

The first hurdle was Echo Tunnel… I had my torch in hand and managed to get through unscathed… the organisers had even lit it with little candles (I think battery operated) which was a nice touch! Still, it was a relief to be out of there… weirdly that is my least favourite part of the whole course!

Before we knew it we were at the first drink stop at Sheoak Rd. I had safely tucked my predicted times into my backpack and didn’t look at them again, but looking back at it now, at 7 hour pace we were predicted to be there at 7:37 – we were 3 minutes ahead of this. It was a quick stop as we really didn’t need anything by this stage. The volunteers were all in onesies… I imagine by the time the last runners came through that stop they would have been getting a bit warm! (I had already removed my sleeves by this stage.)

Next came my FAVOURITE part of the course – the switchbacks at the top of Brownhill Creek Road! It’s so much fun flying down there, with aeroplane arms, and it’s early in the course so people are still relatively fresh! I later heard that there are often snakes there, and it was perfect snake weather yesterday.  VERY glad I didn’t know that at the time.

Running down Brownhill Creek Road it got a bit chilly – it always seems a good few degrees cooler here. It’s a great place to go for a run on a hot day! I almost contemplated putting the sleeves back on but I knew it would warm up soon enough…

Drink station 2 was at McElligott’s Quarry, around the 10km mark, around 7 minutes ahead of 7 hour pace. I was aware of the risk of dehydration especially since I knew I hadn’t drunk nearly enough the day before. I wasn’t thirsty but had a cup of the event sports drink – Nippy’s True Grit (lemon-lime flavour). I’d only tried it once before and quite liked it.

Stop 3 was Kavel’s Lookout where I was expecting to see my parents. I’d told them to expect me between 8:56 and 9:12. We got there at 8:52 – luckily they were a bit early! Here I had my first food since breakfast – a delicious vegan brownie! I also reapplied my sunscreen with some help from Mum to get the tricky bits on the back of the shoulders. (One advantage of wearing a backpack is that it covers that part of your back that’s really difficult to reach to apply sunscreen!)  Beck left me at that point while I chatted to Mum and Dad a bit more, I told her I’d catch up.

I left Kavel’s and sprinted (well, relatively speaking) up Mt Barker Road to catch Beck. It’s a relatively easy (by easy I mean runnable!) climb but quite tedious and long. I could see Beck’s pink top from a mile away and slowly but surely caught up with her. We shared the path with Sunday cyclists who were all very courteous. Some of them looked like they were doing it pretty tough… I was definitely glad to be on foot and not on 2 wheels!

Pretty early on after the start I thought I needed another toilet stop… I thought it was just psychological and tried to put it out of my mind. I did NOT want to have to resort to a bush wee! (We did see one girl emerging from the bushes early on). I knew there were actual proper toilets at Cleland and we were nearly there, and I also knew there was coffee there, and PIZZA! So we carried on up the road and into Cleland, and before too long we reached the aid station. First stop though was the toilet – there was no queue and we did not want to be wasting time standing in a queue at this point! That taken care of, it was time to hit the buffet!

Now in hindsight I could say we lingered way too long here. At the time I was all about enjoying the experience, and I don’t regret anything, but if time was an issue, this stop was the killer! After being ahead of 7 hour pace for the first 3 stops, we left Cleland at 9:48, 15 minutes behind 7 hour pace, and 4 minutes behind 7.5 hour pace. But having said that, if we’d rushed through that stop, who knows if I would have had the energy to do what I did from there on?

So at Cleland there was a coffee van. Beck and I both went for a short black – I didn’t want to linger over a long black, plus it was getting warm so I didn’t really feel like a hot drink. It was pretty good too! There was also freshly made pizza – I couldn’t bring myself to have any of that but it looked and smelled amazing. What I did have though was some boiled potatoes dipped in salt… OMG so good, who knew? I also had some vegan fruit cake which was also delicious! I can’t remember what else was there but there were plenty of options, definitely something for everyone!  It was a bit overwhelming actually… like a Vegas buffet! Like at all the stations there were familiar faces volunteering here including Sally and Victoria. Sally had run her first marathon earlier this year and people had been trying to talk her into running Yurrebilla (exactly like what happened to me last year!) I encouraged her to volunteer if she didn’t want to be talked into running, and I was glad to see her out there. I have a feeling she’ll be running it next year…

Eventually we left Cleland, and for the first time since the start we saw Kate and Alison. They were behind us and we were walking up a hill… I think they were suggesting we were a bit soft for walking! All in good fun though… we ran together for a short time. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, both of them like me were ultra virgins. Also around this point we ran with local running identity Chris (aka Chicken – of The Running Company – best running store EVER) and his wife Megan.

Somewhere between the Pillbox and Coach Road stops we were passed by a guy with a white bib, an 8:30 starter. I looked at my watch, it was 10:26 so we were nearly 3.5 hours in and he had started 2 hours ago. That turned out to be race ambassador and eventual winner David Byrne (in a new race record time – 4 hours 20-something minutes for 56km – bloody amazing!)

As we got close to 28km I wished I’d brought my old iPhone with me… given 28km was the halfway mark I thought it would have been appropriate to play Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ at that point. (I almost always mentally sing the chorus at the halfway point of a race). What to do… the only thing I could do was sing it! 28km also happily was the location of a drink station, at Coach Road. Here we met up with a large contingent from the 6am start group, including fellow virgins Ali and Libby (and many more). So I burst into song… “Oh – we’re halfway there…” and a few people joined in. I did struggle to hit the high notes!

After we left that stop Beck and I did a few more songs to the amusement of those around us (OK it was mostly me) – ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ and ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ were belted out with great gusto!

The next challenging section was the climb out of Horsnell Gully. I decided (to the probable horror of those around me) to ‘treat’ everyone to a rendition of Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Climb’. Running up a hill, while singing, is a bit tricky, I discovered! Once again the high notes were a bit beyond me. The distraction was good though because the next time I looked at my watch we’d passed the 30km barrier!

At some point before the next stop at Woods Hill, Beck spotted a koala in a nearby tree… well she HEARD it, and eventually saw it! It was really close to the road and quite low down, I’d already passed it but turned around and ran back to see it. It really seemed to be cheering us on!

The next (and as far as I know only other) proper toilet stop on the course was at Norton Summit, however as we approached, both Beck and I decided we didn’t need to go and could make it to the finish.  That was possibly an indicator that we weren’t hydrated enough – I didn’t end up going again until the post-race dinner!

At the aid station at Morialta Cottage, around 37km, we were greeted by James and his family driving by with supplies for us! James is a regular running buddy and had earlier messaged Beck to see if she (and I) needed anything. I had requested a lemonade ice block. I have not had one of those in YEARS but wow, it was sooo good! (James was also the one who had brought me hot coffee during the 6 hour event a few months back – once again he had brought me EXACTLY what I needed!)

Beck and I walked for a bit and ate our ice blocks. Not long after this (I think it was 38km – 18km from the finish) Beck said she needed to walk for a bit as her heart was racing a bit. After making sure she was definitely OK and had a phone in case she got into trouble, and promising to wait for her at the finish before cracking open the bubbly, I left her and went off on my own.

It was a bit weird running on my own after running with Beck for so long, but I quickly settled into my rhythm. 40km came and went without an issue – I NEVER felt that fresh at 40km in a marathon! Of course I was running a lot slower here,  and stopping regularly,  and eating. I was glad to have my snacks on board as there were times in between stations where I needed a little sustenance. I don’t do gels. Never have and don’t ever plan to. In road races I stick with sports drinks and in trail runs it’s actual real food.

The only really tough section for me was between the 42.2km and 45km marks.  There was a small station at Deepview (42.2km) with our lovely cocktail waitresses in fishnets and sexy cocktail frocks, serving drinks on silver platters. We had Sally, Sonja, Deb and Harry. Yes, Harry is a man and yes he was wearing a rather fetching strapless number. (And enjoying it way too much I might add!) In hindsight I should really have had a Coke here. I don’t often drink Coke and I didn’t want to start drinking it too early – so I resisted. But that sugar hit may have made the next section a little easier.

I don’t know why but the next 3 or so km seemed like an eternity. I was on my own for most of it, and I didn’t see any trail markers for what seemed like ages, so I was worried that I may have missed a turn somewhere! I knew there was a drink stop soon so I finished my bottle of sports drink, planning to top up at the next stop, at Moores Track. My spirits lifted when I saw the CFS truck and the fireys at the drink station! I clearly hadn’t studied the competitor’s manual enough though because the 45km stop only had water and Coke! Again in hindsight I definitely should have had a Coke here because the next stop was not for another 5km, at Quarry Track, at the bottom of Black Hill.

Luckily my Lifesavers saved me and got me through to the last drink stop. There I was ably assisted by Diane and got my bottles topped up, and had a quick bite to eat. I also saw husband and wife Brian and Shannon who had been planning to do Yurrebilla together before Shannon rolled her ankle a few weeks ago. Brian ran it on his own instead with Shannon supporting him, but sadly he too rolled his ankle around Cleland and had to pull out. This couple clearly does everything together! I said it was the universe telling them that they were MEANT to do Yurrebilla together – next year guys!

I was happy with my time at that point. With 6km to go I was at 6 hours 19 minutes. Still 70 minutes inside my goal time of 7 hours 30. If I couldn’t do the last 6km (even including the brutal climb up Black Hill) in 70 minutes something was seriously wrong! I thought 7:15 looked like a better goal.

Black Hill is nasty but didn’t scare me. I started to feel the niggle in my left hip that normally comes much earlier in long runs. I had Voltaren on board but that would have required me to take off my backpack to get it, and I didn’t want to do that. Besides, anti-inflammatories + dehydration + heat is a bad combination!  So I pressed on and it soon went away.

Looking at my Strava times for the 3km of the Black Hill ascent I averaged about 10 minutes per km which was not too bad… I even managed one more little bit of singing, this time a version of ‘Running Up That Hill’ – I’d changed the lyrics to ‘Walking Up Black Hill’! I did walk pretty much all of it – it’s hardly runnable at the best of times, let alone after 50km!

Once I had completed that climb there was about 3.5km to go and it was just after 1:45 (6 hours 45 after I started). 7:15 was a no-brainer – I could almost get close to 7 hours! (Without the extended Cleland stop it could definitely have been sub-7!)

I LOVED that last section. All downhill,  a few tricky sections especially right near the end but just so enjoyable. I managed to pass a few people along this section too! 55km showed on my watch when I passed the awesome bell-ringers – they told me 1.5km to go, so obviously my watch was a little out, but still… 1.5km was nothing!

I remembered what race ambassador Tymeka Warburton had said at a ‘newbies’ dinner earlier in the year. Enjoy the finish. Don’t run, walk. Soak it all in. I was flying for the last km until a guy told me ‘200m to go’. Once I heard the crowd and saw the finish line I slowed down. I didn’t walk but I jogged. I heard MC Karen call me over the line, stopped my watch, got ‘badgered’, got my sweet sweet bling and hugged a few people (sorry I can’t remember who – it was a bit overwhelming!) I was pleasantly surprised to see Mum there – I hadn’t expected her to be at the finish! Luckily she was early because I was well ahead of where I had thought I’d be – my time was 7:06:48. I was STOKED.

It was just after 2:00. The next few hours were so enjoyable, watching people finish and catching up with friends everywhere I turned – runners, volunteers and spectators. It was such a perfect day to be out in the sunshine with friends. Beck finished under 8 hours as she’d hoped, and as soon as I saw her I cracked open the bubbles and poured us both a glass. Then I had a celebratory drink with Mum before wandering around with the bottle and a couple of glasses,  offering it to anyone that would take it! (I wasn’t driving, but even though it was Jansz I didn’t particularly want to drink the rest of the bottle myself!)

Later after Mum left I had a few more drinks with Mandy, Sue, Leanne, Lorraine et al who had several more bottles in their esky!

I had an AMAZING vegan pie floater from ‘Give Peas A Chance’. I had never had a pie floater before in my life! Soooo good.

I stayed till after the 5:30pm cutoff – tradition states that Yurrebilla is not over until the last person finishes. The last person across the line, with 2 minutes to spare, was MC Karen’s husband Daryl. I think there were 440 registered, and exactly 400 finishers. All 6 of the Yurrebilla Legends (those who have done all 9 events) finished.

Then it was on to the dinner – me still in my race gear (sans shoes and socks – I had changed into sandals earlier and was happy to see I still had all my toenails!) and wearing my medal. I put on my race singlet – superstition states that it is bad luck to wear an event singlet before finishing said event. I could legitimately wear it now.

I wolfed down 2 serves of vegetarian pasta and a couple of rolls. The tiredness was really sinking in by then. Once the presentations to the placegetters and the speeches were over, I eventually got home and showered, and spent the rest of the night catching up with Facebook posts from friends. It was nearly midnight before I got to bed – still wearing my medal!

A few people told me I had potential to do even better.  Graham told me I should consider getting some 1:1 coaching and I might really scare myself how fast I could go! Justin told me at dinner “OK you’ve had your fun now… time to stop just running and start RACING!” By that he meant no lingering at drink stops,  no singing, definitely no selfies! We’ll see… let’s see what hext year brings!

It was just the BEST day. And a perfect weekend – my Hawks winning their way into another AFL Grand Final, and finally seeing Sebastian Bach live (AND getting a retweet from him on Twitter – gobsmacked!)

Thankyou SO VERY much to everyone that made it possible!

Now I just have to wait 52 weeks for my chance to do it all again!

If you’re thinking about it – stop thinking and put it in your calendar for 2016 RIGHT NOW!

Race report – 2015 City-Bay Fun Run

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City-Bay. It is an iconic SA event that literally stops a city… closing Anzac Highway is kind of a big deal! Many of the runners I run with regularly (and I’m talking about people who regularly compete in road races) don’t like City-Bay because it’s just too big – it’s too hard to get through the crowd. It is an event that many new runners (myself included, when I first got started) aspire to. It’s got something for everyone – 3km, 6km and the Main Event  (and by far the most popular), the 12km. There are walkers, joggers, runners, pram pushers, superheroes, and of course the crazy fast elite runners.

I wrote in an earlier blog post about my journey to my first City-Bay, starting in high school in 1991 or 1992, and culminating in my debut in 2013. This year was my third consecutive City-Bay. My previous efforts were 57:32 in 2013 (I wanted to get under 60 minutes, mainly so I could get to my soccer game in time!) and 55:57 in 2014 (also followed by a soccer game, although that year I did at least get to chill at the finish line at Glenelg for a short while before making my way to the game).

I didn’t really enjoy my run in 2014. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself to get a PB. The first one was great because I just soaked up the atmosphere, it was a novelty, having never been in such a big event before.

As a result, I hadn’t intended to run City-Bay this year. I did run the inaugural Bay-City in April and really enjoyed that – the much lower crowd numbers made it a lot easier to move! It wasn’t until after I started to find my speed after the Barossa Marathon in May that I started seriously considering running City-Bay again.

Next Sunday I’m running Yurrebilla 56km Ultra. I’m not sure if City-Bay was the ideal taper run… but what can you do? (I also missed a training run for the Heysen 105km Ultra to run City-Bay, but with so many running events in Adelaide/SA these days, clashes are unavoidable. Besides, there’s no medal for a training run!)

In the week leading up to race day I changed my training slightly – I still did my regular Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning runs, but instead of Thursday being my ‘fast’ run, I did my ‘fast’ run on Tuesday and took it relatively easy for the rest of the week. Regular ‘dresser-up’ Karen had announced she was going to wear a crazy costume to parkrun on Saturday so I quickly decided to join in – crazy costume does not equal fast run (for me anyway). Perfect way to ‘taper’! (For the record I went with a Catwoman outfit that, as it turned out, was not so easy to run in!)

It wasn’t until Saturday that I had my race outfit sorted – the top I really wanted to wear was the one I had worn for City2Surf but I couldn’t find it anywhere! I went for really bright colours and pretty much ALL of them!

My race eve preparation consisted on wine tasting in the Adelaide Hills. Highly recommended! This was followed by a pre-race dinner of roasted vegies and rice, courtesy of friend Kieron, and the cider that seems to be a common feature of the pre-race meal!

On race morning I was up early, at 5:15, and left home at 5:45. All my gear was ready (I was tossing up between blue and purple Compressport calf sleeves, but couldn’t find the purple ones so that made for an easy decision!) I had, a few days earlier, had the genius idea (I probably wasn’t the first person to have this idea) to put my cereal and milk into my Nutribullet the night before and make it into a smoothie that I could drink in the car on the way there. I made a slight error in judgement the first time I tried this,  putting chia seeds into the mix which of course thickened overnight and consequently the next day I needed a spoon to eat it! This time I threw the chia seeds in just as I was about to drink it. It looked incredibly unappetising but actually tasted pretty good!

It was really weird driving down Anzac Highway towards Glenelg, seeing all the kilometre markers coming towards me at a rate of knots. I was sure that they wouldn’t seem so close together next time I saw them…

I managed to get a park quite close to the tram stop (and away from the road closures so I could make a reasonably quick getaway) and onto the first tram of the day. I wanted to get into the city in plenty of time for a toilet stop (or 2), and a decent warm-up before getting into the sub-60 starters ‘cage’ well before the 8am start.

It was a tad chilly down at Glenelg and I had failed to bring any warm clothing for the start – I didn’t have a throw away top and Maree had collected my drop bag the night before to put on the truck to go to the finish line (thanks Maree!)

By the time I got into town at around 6:50 it was a little less chilly and after my warmup of about 2.5km along the Torrens, I had well and truly defrosted and the sun was out. Warmup and toilet stops completed, I was in the cage well before 7:30. The time went quickly because I very soon spotted regular running buddy Beck, and after that, everywhere I turned there was someone I knew!

Before we knew it the countdown was on, 8am struck and we were off!

In the beginning I was running with a lot of familiar faces – John, Matt, Matt, Tom, and Graham. Most of those are regular parkrunners so people I run with very regularly! The day before at parkrun, Graham had told me he was aiming for 54 minutes. I was aiming for 54 myself – that would have been a PB by around 2 minutes, and a nice round number of 4:30 minutes per km. So I decided to try to stay with Graham for as long as I could.

In the weeks leading up to the event, a number of people had told me that my expressed goal of 54 minutes was too conservative. Various people had told me to aim for closer to 50. One regular running buddy, Dean, had even mentioned 48 minutes! That is 4 minute kms! I haven’t even hit that mark over 5km yet so I thought that was a tad ambitious! (He later denied having said that!)

I had set the pace alert on my watch for 4:00-4:30. That meant that if I ran faster than 4 minutes per km (yeah, right!) or slower than 4:30, my watch would vibrate to let me know. 4:30 was the average pace I needed for my 54 minute goal so as long as I stayed under that pace for the most part, I would get my goal time.

As those who have run City-Bay would know, the start can be a little congested. So it is important, if you are running for a time, to get a clear run. Hence the advantage of the sub-60 cage – chances are you wouldn’t see too many people walking in this group (elite walkers aside, who were of no concern as they’d be WELL ahead of me!) and so it would be easier to get a good solid start.

I didn’t really have a strategy in mind (other than staying under 4:30 pace). The first little bit of City-Bay is uphill (not steep but just slightly uphill) and then it’s all a very slight downhill gradient from there. I was happy to get through the first kilometre in 4:21 – well inside my goal pace.

Very early on (just on the edge of the city) I almost lost an earring! Miraculously I managed to catch it and re-install it without having to stop! After that, things went pretty smoothly until around 7km. 7-8km is the point where I have previously hit the ‘wall’ in City-Bay (if such a thing exists in a 12k!).

My mouth was getting a bit dry (possible dehydration from all the wine the previous day, plus it was pretty warm out there) so I decided for the first and only time in the race to get a drink. I managed to grab a cup on the run, have a sip and ditch the cup without breaking stride (my attempt to slam dunk the cup into the bin, however, was an epic fail). I don’t think it was the drink stop that did it but I definitely felt my pace slow, if only by a little bit.

I did what I had to do to keep my mind occupied. There was the now traditional ‘only a parkrun to go’ self-talk with 5k left. I managed to get a few high fives in with the kids on the side of Anzac Highway while I was still relatively fresh. I tried to thank as many of the marshals and drink station volunteers as I could while still being able to breathe. I mentally sang Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ at the 6km mark. (Music is a massive motivator for me. There were bands along the way playing all sorts of stuff – not all of it was my cup of tea but it was all a welcome distraction. At one point the radio was blasting out ‘When It’s Love’ by Van Halen and that definitely lifted me –  nothing like a bit of Van Halen to get you going, even if it is from the Sammy Hagar era!)

I was averaging 4:15 pace up until about 7km. I didn’t have the brain power to do the calculations but even so I could tell that a PB was almost a certainty, and I should be able to do sub-54 very comfortably, barring disaster in the last 5km.

Despite slowing a little in kms 7-11 (I averaged about 4:20 for those 4km – still well inside my goal pace) my overall average pace only dropped to 4:16. I knew my time was going to be well beyond my expectations. In the process I had managed to break my 10km PB by nearly 2 minutes (set at City2Surf last month, no doubt much of that was running downhill!) Even if I ran 5 minute kms for the last 2 km, I was still going to run well under 54 minutes.

As a result the last 2km was really enjoyable. I got really excited once we hit Jetty Road, yelling out to everyone within earshot (which was most of the population of Glenelg given the volume of my voice) that they were awesome – volunteers, spectators and runners alike! When I turned the corner and saw the finish line I let out a scream (as is now traditional,  it would seem!) and I heard a few people calling out my name as I crossed the finish line. The time on my watch was 51:26, average pace 4:16. I was ecstatic! (I won’t find out my official time until I get the paper today but I would be surprised if it is very different to that, as I started my watch right on the start line and I’m pretty sure I stopped it right on the finish.)

It was nice to be able to chill at Glenelg for a few hours post race, and I was pleasantly surprised when I found out the SARRC BBQ had vegetarian sausages – thanks Leanne! It was great to catch up with so many running buddies from my various groups, most had had good runs, but unfortunately a few had not – I know what that’s like! It was a perfect day to relax in the sunshine – it was a bit warm out on the course for a lot of people but I must admit I didn’t notice the heat – much like at Gold Coast.

So that’s City-Bay done and dusted for another year, and another piece of bling for my ever growing collection! Thanks to race director Joe Stevens and his team of fantastic volunteers for putting on another great event – I plan to be back again next year and I might even push for a sub-50 – who knew?

Running is mostly mental… or maybe that’s just me!

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Just a short and sweet post this week as I have 2 big weeks coming up and 2 race reports to write!

Running is 90% mental. Or 83%. I forget the actual percentage but I read it on the Interwebs so it must be true.

I think when you’re talking about shorter distances (and by ‘shorter’ I mean 5k, 10k, 12k – no disrespect to those distances!) the mental side is less prominent. 5k for example I would say is 99% physical. When I’ve struggled in a 5k it’s usually because I didn’t get enough sleep, went out too fast in the beginning,  or failed to warm up. Or a combination of all three.

Once you start to hit the longer distances, it’s not your legs or lungs that tend to give up… it’s your brain. The same part of your brain, I assume, that when the trainer says ‘just one more rep’ 10 damn times, always manages to keep going.

I’ve blogged before about my 2015 Clare Half Marathon experience. Sure, I paced it all wrong BUT my body was well and truly capable of finishing the race, albeit not in as good a time as I would have liked. It was my brain that wanted to quit.

In my marathon training, I never ran more than 36k. I think that’s pretty common in training programmes but I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the dreaded ‘wall’ normally strikes at that point in the race. You start doubting yourself, asking yourself “What the hell was I thinking?” and (in the case of a first marathon) “Can I actually run 42.2km? I’ve never done it before!” And yet somehow you do it. The body may not know how to run 42.2k but the mind sure as hell does.

I have a few ultras in my near future… I may have mentioned that before. 56k in 2 weeks and 105k in 6 weeks. I have run all of the 56k course (albeit in 3 stages) and by the time the 105 hits, I will have covered MOST of that course too (missing only the 3rd of 5 training runs, next weekend when I run my 3rd City-Bay Fun Run – about as far removed from an ultra training run as you can get!).

I have run over 56k before – admittedly that was lap after lap of a fairly flat city track. But still… the distance holds no fear for me. I’m actually REALLY looking forward to it.

105k is another story altogether! Yesterday was training run 2 of 5. Training run 1, 4 weeks ago, was a less demanding section of the course, and I averaged 5:45 minutes per km. Yesterday was just over 7. The scenery was truly breathtaking. There was a lot more walking than last time, some tricky sections and a lot of ducking under overgrown branches. And we ran alongside a barbed wire fence for a lot of it, so that wasn’t going to do us much good if we needed some way to steady ourselves!

As we ran up the road to Checkpoint 2 (or what will be Checkpoint 2 in 5 weeks time), I definitely had some doubts. 105k is a Very. Long. Way! I was buggered after 18k, how was I going to do 105???

Plenty of people have done it before me. I absolutely have the physical ability to do it. It’s the mental side of the game, if anything, that will let me down!

I find distraction is a really good way to shut up that annoying little voice in my head that tries to tell me “You can’t!” Running with other people – particularly those that are a little fitter and faster, and have the ability to talk without you needing to contribute much to the conversation – is a good way to distract yourself from the various body parts telling you it’s time to give the game away. Running on beautiful trails can definitely be a good distraction but within reason – it’s not a great idea to let yourself get distracted on technical single track, particularly on the edge of a cliff! (STOP and admire the view, by all means. THEN keep running!) Then you have music/audiobooks etc which can be a great distraction if you’re running on your own – just make sure you can hear what’s going on around you!

How do YOU overcome mental barriers? I’m interested to hear!

Food for thought…

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I must start this post with a disclaimer.  This is not advice, this is just what works for me!

I touched on diet and nutrition in last week’s post but I thought this week I would focus a bit more on pre,  during and post run nutrition. Again, this is just what I do and it seems to work for me (although I’m sure it could do with some improvement). One thing I’ve learned from running with a wide variety of people over the last few years is that everyone is very different and has their own things that work for them.

So I guess the best place to start is at the beginning – the ‘pre’.

I don’t really think too much about what I eat the night before a run, unless it is a marathon (and possibly before an ultra – I’ll let you know about that in a few weeks after I’ve done one!). I do find that when I do an early morning Pump class at the gym and I haven’t had much protein in my dinner, I do tend to struggle lifting the weights, but I don’t seem to have the same problem when it comes to early runs.

Pre-marathon it’s definitely pizza and cider… that has worked for me 3 times now and I have no intention of changing. I am sure this is at least 90% superstition but still… to change it now would be to tempt fate! (I did have the same meal before a particularly awful half marathon but I am certain it wasn’t my pre-race dinner that brought me undone that day!)

Breakfast is easy. It’s always pretty much the same. Before an early morning run it’s a nut bar. (Some people might say I am a nut bar, getting up that early to run!) I used to do the same before a parkrun but lately I’ve been getting up earlier and having a full breakfast – I think that’s certainly part of the reason why my times have improved lately but I think that’s a bit controversial,  and doesn’t work for everyone.

Breakfast is normally 2 hours pre-run (and always at least 2 hours if it’s a race) but I did test that theory once on a Sunday long run day when I had been out late the night before and couldn’t face getting up at 5:30 to eat breakfast! I gave myself an extra half hour sleep-in and had no issues as a result of having eaten 90 minutes pre-run.

The idea of NOT eating breakfast before a long run has been tested too… EPIC fail that was. I would absolutely sacrifice a few hours sleep to get that meal in… I did it this very weekend as a matter of fact. Got home at 2 and up at 6 to eat breakfast. I definitely struggled on that run but nowhere near as much as I would have,  had I slept another hour and not eaten. The one exception I would make to that is the Fanatics Christmas Day half marathon, which starts at 6am on Christmas Day. There is approximately zero chance of me getting up at 4am (or even 4:30) on Christmas Day for a social run. I did get up at 4am for the Gold Coast half last year but that was an actual race. With bling and all. And NOT on Christmas Day. Completely different!

My breakfast normally consists of cereal (I am partial to 2 Weetbix, a serve of muesli and a sprinkling of chia seeds) with rice milk. When I have travelled for events I have always taken my race-day cereal with me!
Prior to a race I will also have an XS Energy drink (sort of in the same vein as Red Bull but without the sugar – I find it doesn’t cause the massive spike and then crash that Red Bull has when I’ve tried it) about half an hour before the start. I do also sometimes have one before a parkrun when I want to go hard.

Now for the ‘during’. This depends if it is a race, road run or trail run. Last year I fuelled entirely on Werther’s Original hard candies for all road runs including my marathon. From memory I think I had 6 during the marathon… that was all I consumed other than water,  Voltaren (I only took 2 – late in the piece) and Rhodiola energy supplements (taken at about the halfway mark).

This year I have moved towards sports drinks. I started with orange Gatorade as I just happened to have some in the fridge,  and that seemed to work well. I now use the powder as it’s more economical, and also I don’t make it quite as strong as the bottled stuff. I’m using lemon-lime now and prefer that to the orange.

In my 2 marathons this year I have fuelled with said Gatorade and also musk Life Savers as a backup. No gels for me – I’ve never tried them and don’t particularly want to!

When it comes to trail runs, particularly those over 2 hours,  I use real food. Along with the aforementioned Gatorade and Life Savers, I like to bring a handful of raw almonds, a white bread sandwich with some kind of nut spread (natural peanut butter or my personal favourite, Mayver’s chocolate spread) and a nut bar cut into bite sized portions. So far the longest trail run I’ve done was 35km and that was more than enough food to get me through. I am also partial to Sesame Snaps which are compact and neatly portion-controlled as well as giving a nice little energy boost.

The ‘post’ varies a lot. Firstly I have started having a protein drink after every run, as I was finding it hard to get enough protein in a plant-based diet. After a Sunday long run I have a habit of getting a potato and lentil pie from the local bakery. After the Gold Coast marathon I had a curry and the next morning my legs felt great… so I guess now I’m going to have to have curry after every marathon! (I also had curry after the 6 hour event). After a long hard run it’s not so much a question of ‘what to eat?’, but more ‘how much?’

So there you have it. It’s not for everyone,  but it works for me!

I feel the need…

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As you probably know by now, I love to run. I love running with friends, hitting the trails, catching up for coffee afterwards, taking random selfies. But most of all, I like to run FAST.

When I first started running, I wasn’t too worried about pace. My main concern was lasting the distance, which seems funny now! My first 5k race was run in 26:29 and I was stoked with that. That was almost 3 years ago now… how time flies!

I’ve since run well over 100 5km runs. Some of these have been races (I have placed in a couple, with one first and one third place) but the vast majority have been parkruns (I did my 100th parkrun back in June). My parkrun PB now is 20:24 – over 6 minutes faster than my first 5k race!

I first broke 22 minutes back in May 2013 – I am a stats nerd so I have to point out here that this was one year (to the day) before I ran my first marathon. It would be over 2 years before I would break 22 minutes again. I was convinced it was a fluke – maybe the course was measured slightly short that day, maybe there was a stopwatch error. I didn’t have a GPS watch back then so all I could go by was the time on the website.  I was sure that there was some kind of mistake and I couldn’t see how I would ever break that PB.

In 2014 I was mostly running 23-25 minutes. I only broke 23 minutes twice at parkrun that year. From 9 May this year, I have done 13 parkruns, and other than two of those running with my Mum who is a newbie (and somewhat reluctant) runner, I have run under 23 minutes every time.

My elusive PB finally came, after 750 days (I told you, I am a stats nerd) on 13 June. This was 3 weeks after the Barossa Marathon and 3 weeks before the Gold Coast Marathon. I took 9 seconds off my PB and then the following week proved it was no fluke by breaking it again, this time by only one second. (It’s not smart to smash a PB. It’s smarter to break it by just a few seconds, so you give yourself a chance to get another one… it’s a great feeling to beat a PB, whether by 1 second or 1 minute!)

In my first parkrun after the Gold Coast Marathon and the 6 hour event in consecutive weekends, I took another 17 seconds off my PB. I remember I held back in the last 500m as I wanted to give myself a chance of bettering it next time!

All up, I’ve done 5 PBs in my last 9 parkruns, including one at Victor Harbor parkrun. My last PB was 2 Saturdays ago – 20:24. This was my first EVER time under 21 minutes and nearly a minute faster than my previous PB! The Saturday just gone, I came within 4 seconds of equalling it.

So why am I spouting all these figures? Not to brag… (OK maybe just a little bit –  I am pretty happy with those numbers!)

After 2 years between PBs, why am I now able to run so much faster?

Speed training is something I have dabbled in, but never really committed to. Any day of the week, some mornings and some evenings, there are speed training sessions happening. I already do 5 regular runs a week and don’t want to drop any of them,  and thus have found it hard to fit in a speed session. I’ve tried sessions with various clubs – SARRC, Adelaide Harriers and Adelaide Running Crew. Monday nights with the Harriers was probably the one that fit best into my routine but once I started doing Sunday long runs, I felt that I needed Mondays to be a non-running day. So, since January, I haven’t done any speed sessions as such.

parkrun is my speed session now. 5km, going as fast as I can, from go to whoa. Not your ‘traditional’ speed session that includes short intervals and recoveries, but it seems to be working for me. I usually manage to take it up a notch at the end… even if I feel like I’m giving it my all, somehow seeing the finish line gives me an extra kick!

I almost always eat a full breakfast (cereal with rice milk) before parkrun, and sometimes I will have a sugar free energy drink half an hour before. I had been doing these things for a while though, long before I found my speed.

The only change I have made to my preparation in more recent times is the warmup. Previously I would never bother warming up – I would use the first km as my warmup. Starting in the middle of the pack (and we’re talking 200-300 people here), it would normally take me 500m (at least) to hit my stride. Now, I will do a 2km warmup about half an hour beforehand, and force my way to the front of the pack at the start. All of my PBs this year have been preceded by a warmup. I still don’t warm up for longer distances eg half or full marathon, as I feel there is ample time for that in the first few km. In a 5k though, I have realised that to do a really good time you have to be at the front of the pack and hit the ground running!

My weekday morning runs have been getting faster too. In recent weeks I have had a few runs at well under 5 min/km pace… some closer to 4:30. Previously I’d be happy with 5:15 – 5:30 pace.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that this year I have run PBs over a range of distances – 5km, 10km, 14km and 42.2km. I came agonisingly close to a 21.1km PB at the Greenbelt Half… I only missed out by 10 seconds. City-Bay (12km) is coming up in a few weeks and I am confident of a new PB there too.

Probably since about May (just before the Barossa Marathon) I have started paying a bit more attention to my diet. I follow a mostly plant-based diet and I thought it could use a bit of tweaking, particularly in preparation for running an ultramarathon later in the year,  so I planned to see a sports dietitian for some advice. In preparation I started using MyFitnessPal to record my diet, so I could show that to the dietitian to see how I could improve. I actually haven’t made it to a dietitian yet but I have discovered a few things.

Protein seemed to be lacking quite a bit, despite having quite a lot of nuts and legumes in my diet. I started using a vegan protein supplement after exercise, and that seems to have helped a lot.

Calorie intake was an eye-opener. Most days I would consume less (often a LOT less) than I was burning… especially on Sunday long run days. I take the ‘calories burned’ figure with a pinch of salt because it is based on body weight, distance run and possibly heart rate – it is not an exact science.

Take the 6 hour event for example. That day I consumed 3870 calories (almost twice what I should have on a non-exercising day) but I burned 3860… leaving a deficit of close to 2000 calories!

Obviously that sort of pattern is not sustainable, but it’s easy to see how, with training for 2 marathons in 6 weeks, with minimal break (I ‘took it easy’ for the weeks before and after each marathon but I didn’t feel like I needed a break from running altogether, like I did for 3 weeks after my first marathon), followed by a 6 hour run the week after, I found myself about 8 or 9kg lighter than I was at the start of the year.

Another thing that I am absolutely convinced has contributed to that, is the fact that I have been drinking a LOT less this year, since I made the decision to take a break from soccer. I would almost always have a cider or 2 after training and games, and also when I wasn’t doing long runs on Sunday mornings I would often go out and have a few too many on Saturday nights! Now, I still go out, but (mostly) only have one or two drinks. No more wasted Sundays for me! Instead of a few drinks after soccer I now have coffee after a run… MUCH healthier!

I’m also making a concerted effort to eat less crap… I still enjoy sweet treats (my weakness!) but rather than eat say half a block of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate, I can satisfy my desire for chocolate with a few squares of good quality dark chocolate. If I’m going to eat cake, I’d rather pay a bit more for a cake from a good bakery (or better yet, bake it myself, and then I get the added bonus of licking the bowl!) than get a cheap supermarket cake whose ingredient list is as long as your arm and contains more ‘numbers’ than actual food ingredients! I love to cook and bake and try out new recipes, rather than buy processed foods.

How did we get here? We were talking about speed and now I’m analysing my diet!

It is a fact that if you’re carrying less weight, running at the same speed will feel easier,  and running with the same effort will cause you to run faster. Up to a point… clearly there is a tipping point.  I have not reached that point (nor do I intend to!) I don’t want to be ‘That Person’ who is so obsessed with diet and exercise that they won’t go out with people for dinner because they can’t control every last thing they put in their mouth. Or ‘That Person’ who will forego a social activity because it clashes with a scheduled run. (If you’re interested in reading about someone who did become ‘That Person’ I recommend reading the book ‘Fit Not Healthy’ by Vanessa Alford)

All things in moderation!

“Your pace or mine?” – pacing the Adelaide Half Marathon

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Yesterday I had the honour and privilege of being a pacer in the half marathon at the Adelaide Running Festival. It was a no-brainer for me really. I had decided early on in the year that I was not going to enter any of the events, having committed to the Barossa Marathon, and my later decision to enter the Gold Coast Marathon confirmed my decision. 2 marathons in one year was plenty for me! Besides, my focus after Gold Coast was always going to be trail and ultra training. So very early in the piece I had emailed Michael, the event director, and offered my services as a volunteer. I didn’t care what role I did, I just wanted to be involved in some way.

Some time later, I received an email from SARRC seeking pacers for the marathon and the half. I definitely didn’t have another road marathon in me, I was completely unprepared for that, but I could always manage another half! As volunteer roles go, this is a pretty good one as you also get to run!

For those unfamiliar with the concept,  a pacer is someone who runs at a set pace, with the aim of finishing just inside a specified time. The idea is that those runners who want to run around that time, can follow or run with the pacer,  then they don’t have to concentrate on their pace, they can just ‘sit back and relax’ while the pacer does all the work! The pacer is usually carrying brightly coloured balloons to make themselves visible, and often wearing a wacky outfit.  Yeah…  I could do that!

When I had had my shit run at Clare earlier in the year, and had seen how much my friend Sarah had enjoyed pacing her friend in her first half (in a MUCH slower time than me), I thought “There’s something in this pacing caper… I should really try it one day”

So, with little hesitation, I put my hand up to pace 2:15, well within my capabilities (all my halves have been in the 1:40s). I was quickly talked out of this. I didn’t do the sums at the time, but 2:15 is an average pace of 6:23 per km. In contrast, my best half marathon for this year was an average pace of 4:53. Although it should theoretically be easy to run at a much slower pace than my best, it really isn’t! The easiest pace is your natural pace. Anything much faster or slower than this is an effort. I’d be exerting more effort than those who I was pacing! So I quickly changed to the 2:00 pacer which is average 5:38 per km. MUCH more comfortable for me!

At the moment I think I could probably beat my PB if I were to race a half marathon. I have managed to do PBs over every distance I’ve raced this year (12k PB came during the 14k City2Surf but I’m confident of an official 12k PB at City-Bay this year) except for that elusive half marathon! The good and the bad of pacing is that a PB is off the table. Good because it takes all the pressure off me. Bad because I could get frustrated knowing that I could run so much faster. But when pacing you have to have this mindset: “Today is not about me. It is about helping all these people to achieve their goals. My goal today is to get as many people across the line under 2 hours, as I can.”

Being a pacer is a big responsibility! You don’t want to let anyone down. Run too fast early and you could lose people, and they may not have the capacity to catch you again. Run too SLOW and you might miss the target time.

I heard a story last week about a pacer that clearly put himself first. He was a 3 hour pacer in a high-profile marathon. During the race he realised he was on track for a PB and he ditched his balloons (and in turn the people who were relying on him) and went and did his own thing! Needless to say those who were running with him were NOT happy! I don’t know if he got his precious PB but hopefully karma stepped in and he didn’t!

I’d never paced before, other than 30 minutes (6 minute kms) at parkrun when I still wanted to run but I was saving myself for a race the next day. I didn’t really know how to go about it, so I asked my knowledgeable Facebook friends for some advice. The general consensus was that I needed to talk and give constant encouragement to my ‘posse’. A constant pace was important,  something that had never been one of my strong points!

One of the things I decided to do to get my pacing right was to go out for a few runs at 5:38 pace. In the week leading up to the event I did 3 5k runs at race pace. In all of them I ended up averaging 5:35 which was not too bad. In fact in one of my regular runs that week I also averaged the same pace so that seemed to be my ‘comfortable’ pace! The later 5k runs were more consistent pace too, not so much up and down, so I was confident I could run at that pace on race day. My Garmin has a ‘pace alert’ setting and I had it set for 5:30-5:45 (15 seconds was the minimum ‘window’ you could set) so if I ran outside that range it would alert me.

Next item on the agenda was race kit. Well actually that was the first thing I had worked out. It’s useful for a pacer to wear an eye-catching outfit (as well as the coloured helium balloons) to be easily visible. It didn’t hurt that I also don’t mind getting dressed up and making a bit of a fool of myself! So I thought I’d go in my Snow White outfit (sans wig – I couldn’t see myself running 21.1km in a scratchy wig!) and yellow balloons. The socks I would wear were white football socks, which were NOT my standard Nike anti-blister socks, so I taped my feet in the blister-prone arch regions. On race eve I debated whether on not to wear a hat… I had never raced without one but it might look a bit weird with my Snow White headband on top of a hat! Decisions, decisions! (In the end, no hat won the day and I was glad of that because it looks much better in the photos. Always think of the photos!)

It had already been a fantastic running weekend. Friday night I had been to a function at SARRC with race ambassadors (and LEGENDS) Steve Moneghetti and Pat Carroll. Saturday those two had come and run Torrens parkrun with 300-odd others and I had managed a new PB – first time under 21 minutes for 5k! Given that I was going to have to run within myself on Sunday I thought a hard hit-out on Saturday wouldn’t hurt!

The alarm went off at 5:45am on Sunday and I was raring to go. All my kit and breakfast had been prepared the night before so it didn’t take too long for me to be ready and out the door.  The plan was to get there in time to see the start of the marathon at 7, the half starting 50 minutes later. Unfortunately the road closures which were supposed to start at 7, were already in place, so the subsequent detour cost me some time and I had a blonde moment or 2 trying to get out of the Adelaide Oval carpark! I didn’t get to wish everyone good luck for the race but I did get there just in time to see the start.

It was a bit cold but I didn’t have a matching jacket to go with my Snow White outfit so I decided to do an early bag drop and then went to get my yellow helium pacer balloon. Initially we were going to tie it to the bow at the back of my skirt but quickly realised that would result in those following me potentially having to look at my Skins-covered arse for the duration, so we quickly changed to the shoulder strap!

After posing for a few photos and wishing a few friends well (some of whom didn’t want to see me during the race… I didn’t take offence, that just meant they wouldn’t be doing as well as they’d hoped), and a quick media interview (promo for next year’s event, look out for that one!) it was time to head to the start line. It was ideal running weather, a bit chilly to begin with but the chill soon wore off and the sun was very warmly (pun intended) welcomed!

I had planned to start my watch as I crossed the start line but Min-Qi who was standing next to me said I should go with gun time, to account for people who were starting way behind me (there were over 1000 runners in the race). I hadn’t considered that – a lesson for next time! I didn’t quite start my watch on gun time but not long after.

The start was a bit slow due to the congestion, which was to be expected. I wasn’t too concerned – there were plenty of kms to make up the time. It was actually probably for the best because I do have a tendency to start too fast (I had warned my posse that this might happen and not to be alarmed as I would slow down as soon as I realised).

I was on my own pretty early on as a few of the girls I run with regularly who were in my posse (Sally, Victoria, Ali and Libby) had taken off… happily they all made it in under the 2 hour mark even without my help!

It took about 8km to reach my goal pace of 5:35 per km, due to the slow start, gun time vs net time confusion, and also the fact that I didn’t want to increase the pace too quickly.

I really enjoyed the run. I quickly got over having people recoil in horror at seeing me go past them… I kind of felt like the Grim Reaper! I quickly reassured them all that I was running UNDER 2:00 pace so they didn’t need to worry,  they just needed to keep me in sight. Not hard to do, given my outfit!

I didn’t have anyone running with me the whole way but people came and went. It didn’t really matter whether they were with me, just behind me or just in front – what mattered was that they knew I was there, and that they were ‘there or thereabouts’ when it came to pace.

Because I was running a bit slower than usual, I was able to enjoy the scenery and some of the more eye-catching cheerleaders (Tracey, Nikki and Michelle in their bright wigs, Hoa and Rula with their cowbells near the end, and the 2 ‘mad cows’ in their onesies with their motivational signs in the Botanic Gardens, to name just a few!).

Like Barossa, there were a few points where we got to see some of the marathoners – one particularly memorable moment was when a marathoner dressed in full Spiderman suit was high-fiving people along War Memorial Drive… I find it hard to imagine running a full marathon in such an outfit!

I didn’t stop at any of the drink stations and I didn’t have any nutrition with me, but running well within myself I never really felt I needed it. I just wanted to concentrate on holding a steady pace, and I didn’t want to lose momentum.

Towards the end I was running behind a girl (Sarah I think her name was) who was struggling a bit and she had a friend running with her for a while. It was near Jolley’s Boathouse. It was around that point that I saw the sign that said ‘Marathon half way’. I said to her, “It could be worse… you could be running the marathon!”

I thought I was comfortably inside 2 hours (I was looking at somewhere between 1:58 and 1:59) but as I ran past the girls with their cowbells, near the Festival Theatre, well inside the final km, I heard the MC (Pat Carroll) from the other side of the river, saying something about nearly being at the 2 hour mark for the half! CRAP! Had I miscalculated? Surely not! I quickly yelled out to anyone who was in earshot “Right! Gotta go!” or words to that effect, and took off. I also said “This is the best bit! Enjoy it! Remember it!”

As I ran onto the very picturesque Riverbank Footbridge I started yelling, screaming and cheering. I was proper running now. I remembered having run the ‘trial run’ the week before last year’s Marathon, and when I had reached this point, for a split second I wished I was running it for real, so I could experience this amazing finish.

I don’t know if there is any video of the finish line but if there is I’d love to see/hear it… the way I was carrying on you’d think I’d won the thing! It was a mixture of excitement and relief… according to the clock it was about 1:59:30 and according to the official (provisional) results it was 1:58:16 (based on the time I crossed the start line). I had done my job and it was so great to see so many people get under that magical 2 hour mark. I also got a pretty sweet piece of bling to show for it!

I hung around the finish line for a while to see the presentations, watch some friends finish their marathons, and chat to some of the people who had been running with or around me. It was starting to get a bit chilly by then and a bunch of running friends were going to the pub for a celebratory beverage, so after a few last minute photos I headed back to the car, satisfied with my day.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank SARRC and each and every one of the volunteers who made this such a fantastic event. Nearly 500 runners in the marathon and over 1000 in the half, not to mention the shorter events – it really was a huge undertaking and they did a stellar job. Certainly it seemed that SARRC had some contacts upstairs because the weather was just perfect, but weather aside it was a magnificent event, despite the hiccup with the half marathon medals. Everyone will get their medals eventually.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I’m actually considering offering my services for the McLaren Vale half in October… initially I wasn’t going to run that one as I’m racing the Masters Games half the day before… but I’ll put my hand up if they want me!

Would I recommend pacing to anyone else? HELL YEAH! I had the BEST time. Yes, it’s a big responsibility but the payoff is well worth it!

Very superstitious…

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Runners, and athletes in general, are known for being supertitious. Whether it’s replicating whatever we did before a particularly successful performance,  or on the flipside, avoiding anything we did before or during a crap one, I’m sure everyone has at least one little ‘thing’!

I have a few myself, but I also asked some of my Facebook friends to share some of theirs!

Dave – “I have a post parkrun traditional breakfast of eggs Benedict, but only if I get a PB.”

Ruth – “Never wear the event tshirt to the event.”

Rachel – “My husband has the same undies for every cricket game…..although they hardly looks like jocks now…more like rags! He also always put his left shoe on first.”

Tina – “Never run in the event top until you’ve completed the event. I always put my left sock on first, then right sock, left shoe then right shoe.”

Rob – “Cut bandaid in half the night before coz I can never find the scissors in the dark? Why half a bandaid…? Coz using two seems a tad excessive for manly nipples.”

Sputnik – “I always wear my undies UNDER my shorts instead of over the top. Except this one time when it was really early and i got dressed in the dark.
Early on, I used to only ever run in TWO pairs of socks. One super thin pair, with a regular pair over the top. That was an actual thing. I have no idea why.
Like many other, I almost never wear an event Tee also. But only because they are almost always universally shit. I am superstitious against silhouettes of runners.”

Karen – “I always wear new socks to any  race over 10km. They have to be brand new, never washed and never worn before. I use Thorlo for trails and 2XU for roads and they have never let me down. Nice undies a must and a visit to essential beauty for a big ultra. Tis all about being dressed for the emergency dept. just in case”

Sonya – “Ditto the underwear (when worn) and I try my best to wear all garments the conventional way out…it’s a getting dressed early in the morning and mostly in the dark thing. Oh, and never wear anything new on race day. That’s bad shit.”

Tania – “Just of late I’ve soaked in a bath before a run and never drink alcohol the night before”

So what about me? It started when I used to play soccer. In my first season, when my team was winless, I used to eat my regular breakfast of Weetbix and milk before a game. Then one day, after a particularly heavy night involving tequila and not remembering a lot other than getting kicked out of a pub, I couldn’t face breakfast before leaving the house for my game. On the way there I thought ‘I have to eat SOMETHING’, and like a beacon in a thick fog, there were the Golden Arches! Bacon and Egg McMuffin it was. And lo and behold not only did I have my best game for the season, WE WON! As it turned out it was our only win for the season, and I credited it all to that Bacon and Egg McMuffin. For the next 3 seasons,  I had to have one before every game. We didn’t win them all of course, and I didn’t play well every week,  but the tradition stuck until I went vego at the end of 2012. In 2013 I made my own pre-game scrambled egg muffin (much cheaper… and healthier) and in 2014 when I started to try the vegan pathway, I went back to cereal and non-dairy milk.

And now to running. Once I was tossing up between 2 skirts for a race, and I discounted one because I had had a particularly shit race last time I’d worn it (not that the skirt was in any way responsible… and the one I chose was identical,  just a different colour!)

I do like new socks for a big race but I always run in them once, and only once, before the big day. I agree with others who say never try something new in a race.

I am attached to shoes. I have 2 pairs that I will probably never run in again but I can’t bring myself to get rid of them because of what they have done. One is my first pair of Brooks which got me through my first marathon. The other is the pair that not only took me to a then-PB at the Barossa Marathon but also my first ‘ultra’ – 60km in the Adelaide 6 hour.

Marathon eve dinner is always pizza and cider. Like the Bacon and Egg McMuffin tradition, it began before my first marathon in Liverpool. I had tried this particular pizza (Pizza Express, from memory) one night the previous week in London, and loved it. (It was actually a vegan pizza but that is not essential… my pre-Gold Coast Marathon pizza was cheesy as, and I got a PB there!) I had a great run, better than expected, in Liverpool, so pizza and cider became my meal of choice!

That is all I can think of for now, but I’m sure over the years there will be more!

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!