Becoming a Runner

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I was never sporty as a kid. Not even at all. I wished I was! I did well academically but sadly sucked in the sporting arena. Not for want of trying! I tried every sport I could think of in high school. I sucked at netball for 5 years despite my obvious height advantage… it seems that height alone does not a netballer make! Same goes for basketball as it turns out. I had a go at softball but that wasn’t for me either. Plus I hated the coach. Soccer was a sport I took up in Year 12 and was immediately shoved into goals (possibly due to my height and more likely due to my fairly obvious lack of skill and agility on the park) and had a spectacularly unsuccessful season there. Curiously though I did enjoy that and many years later did go back to soccer again (albeit not as a keeper!). Cricket I did enjoy despite being an equally shit batsman, bowler and fielder and the coach hating me because I may have been a little bit of a smart arse… mainly because most of the players in the team were my friends and I loved the game (and still do). Clearly though I was more cut out for watching sport than playing it.

PE classes were another chore. I clearly remember one day we had to do an aerobics class in the sports centre. With a few willing allies, I went to the bathroom only to climb out the window and never return. I don’t think the PE teacher noticed.

From the time I left school at 17 until after I got married at 24, I did very little in the way of organised physical activity.

There were a few hints that running might be in my future. At my first school sports day at the age of 5, I was leading a race (I believe it was one of those races where you have to put on clothes along the way… an ‘Early Morning Race’ or something? The memory is a bit hazy) by a long way. Clearly my competitive spirit hadn’t kicked in yet because when I realised how far ahead I was, I stopped and waited for everyone else to catch up!

In about Year 10 a few friends and I decided we might run the City to Bay (mentioned in my last blog post, for the uninitiated) so we went to the info session that the school put on. I can still remember the look on the PE teacher’s face when she saw the 4 of us rock up (“You mean YOU lot think you’re going to run the City to Bay?”) which made us all the more determined to prove her wrong. We trained after school in the hilly Eastern suburbs and all was looking good. Sadly I had to withdraw due to a knee injury but I believe the rest of my team completed the run and did quite well.

MANY years later, after I had started working out regularly at the gym, I thought I’d give this running caper another go. I think it was 2003. I planned to give the City to Bay another crack. This time I trained on my own, running laps around my block to avoid road crossings. The block was 1.1km and after 6 weeks I had got up to 2 full laps without stopping when disaster struck! I was in town buying my then-husband a 20kg dumbbell set for his birthday. I was carrying it back to the car and tripped, and with all the extra weight I was carrying out front I couldn’t stop myself falling (Warning: slightly graphic description ahead). Unfortunately for me I was wearing thongs (possibly part of the reason I tripped and also possibly not the best choice of footwear when carrying a 20kg dumbbell set, but let’s move on) and in the process of tripping also managed to rip one of my big toenails off… That was enough to derail my City to Bay plans (bear in mind at this stage it was only March and the race was 6 months away… shows you how committed I was…) and I didn’t try running again for nearly 10 years!

Until Saturday, November 10, 2012. I remember the date clearly because up until then it was my wedding anniversary. Now it is the anniversary of the day I made one of the BEST decisions of my life. I was hiking Mt Lofty (for those not familiar with Adelaide it is the highest peak in Adelaide but only about 400m high. Occasionally we get snow there in winter. It’s where EVERYONE in Adelaide seems to go on weekend mornings.) with my friend Sara and she mentioned that she and her partner Denis were doing a fun run. She was doing the 5k and wondered if I might like to join. Oh and it was 8 days away and I hadn’t run in nearly 10 years. What did I say? “Sure, why not!”

I thought I’d better see if I could ACTUALLY run 5k so the following Monday I did a gentle 2k run from my house. Later that week I managed 5k without stopping and I was good to go.

Sunday November 18 2012 was my first running event – the Henley Classic 5k. I was running in cross trainers… I thought they were pretty light until I invested in my first pair of running shoes!

Sara and I ran together for most of it until I decided to take off with about 500m (I think) to go. (I seem to make a habit of that!) I finished in 26:29 and I was stoked.

Immediately after the run, Sara and I vowed to run City to Bay (my third ‘attempt’) the following September (ie 10 months later) and we both did it!

I was hooked. I was a runner!

parkrun

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Having recently completed my second marathon, I now take you way back, not quite to where it all began, but to not long after that! It was late November 2012 and I had not long ago taken up running, and completed my first 5k event (more on that later!). I wanted to keep the momentum going, because I’d decided running could well be my thing! I was casually Googling “Adelaide running routes” trying to find a 5k course I could run on the coming Saturday. Something called “Torrens parkrun” came up. I was curious so I clicked on the link. The rest, as they say…

For the uninitiated – (firstly, where have you been?) parkrun (lower case ‘p’ ALWAYS) is a global movement, which started in the UK a little over 10 years ago, and reached Australia in 2011. In a nutshell, it is a FREE, WEEKLY, TIMED event that occurs around the world on a Saturday morning.  For more information, and to see if there is a parkrun near you, check out www.parkrun.com

All you have to do is register online, print out a personalised barcode (the parkrun motto is ‘Don’t forget your barcode” or #DFYB – without it you won’t get a recorded time) and come out and run! Later on the day you’ll get an email with your results, and each run/walk you do counts towards milestone T-shirts (I have my 50 and am only weeks away from earning my 100 club shirt!)

Anyway, I was suitably intrigued so I headed along for the 8am start (it wasn’t long before running at 8am on a Saturday was a habit and not something I even had to think twice about). There were 44 people there that day for the very first Torrens parkrun, some of whom are still regulars to this day! I ran my fastest 5k time to date, and then a week later took a second off my PB. (My current PB is 21:50, which has stood for 2 years – I don’t seem to be able to get close to it now!)

In my first year I was pretty much a fixture at Torrens parkrun, hence I was lucky enough to win the inaugural Torrens parkrun female points prize! It was my first trophy for running (other than finisher medals)! Since then I haven’t been there quite as regularly, but I still try to get there whenever I can. It is THE BEST way to start the weekend!

In the beginning it was a way to get myself motivated to keep running. Somewhere along the way it became a place to catch up with friends and the run was just a bonus! I have even managed to convince my mum to come along a few times (a work in progress… she has PB’d every time so far!) There are so many wonderful people I have met through parkrun that I now count among my closest friends.

I’ve done 6 different parkrun events now in 3 states. Whenever I am going to be away from home on a Saturday I always try to sneak in a parkrun – it doesn’t always happen but it’s a great way to meet new people in a new place! Even so, Torrens is still #thebestparkrunintheworld without question! (I MAY be biased)

And parkrun can indirectly take some of the credit for me becoming a marathoner. Not only did it keep the momentum going in the very early days, but the seed was first planted in at parkrun. I can’t remember exactly when but I think it was within the first few months. I was chatting to fellow parkrun regular Ros, having recently read about her Berlin Marathon experience in the SA Masters Athletics newsletter. I found out she had only completed her first marathon in her 60s! I decided then that I would, one day, run a marathon. I set myself a fairly conservative goal – to do it by the age of 40. (I was 36 at the time). In the end I got a bit excited and ended up doing my first marathon a little over a year later, at the age of 37.

And now for the advertising spiel (and no, they are not paying me to say this!).

parkrun truly is for everyone. Elite runners, new runners, fast runners, slow runners, walkers, kids, prams, dogs… really, if you have a parkrun nearby, there is no excuse for not giving it a go! (And if you don’t want to do any of the above you could always volunteer!)

I started writing this post earlier in the week. It seemed timely as I had recently been honoured to be asked to join the Torrens parkrun Run Director team (one time dubbed ‘Run Direction’) and I had little hesitation in saying yes. I look forward to giving back to a community that has given me so much.

There’s another reason why this post is so timely. Just 2 days ago, Brian Wyld, SA running legend, the Father of parkrun in SA, the man who brought parkrun to our state, sadly passed away after collapsing during a run. As I have said earlier, I owe parkrun a great deal so I owe Brian a lot too. Not only for bringing us parkrun but also for the role he played in my first City-Bay Fun Run (SA’s biggest running event, attracting around 40,000 participants). I had entered the 12km run (coincidentally I had been lucky enough to win a free entry through parkrun) and I was chatting to Brian at parkrun the day before the big event. He asked me if I had a sub-60 bib. I told him no, as I had not run it before (you need to have run sub-60 minutes the previous year to be eligible) and he told me to come and see him at the expo later that day and he’d sort me out. Sure enough he got me that sub-60 bib which got me into the second start group (behind only the elites), a huge advantage as I didn’t have to contend with ‘Sunday strollers’ getting in the way of my goal to run sub-60. And of course I now HAD to run sub-60, to repay Brian who knew I could do it! I finished in 57:32 (as I didn’t have a watch at the time, I didn’t really know how I was tracking until I saw the clock as I rounded the final corner. I screamed in delight and powered home!) I had done it! In the moment I forgot to look around and thank Brian but later watching my finish video I heard his voice calling my name at the finish line… he had seen me do it! I emailed him during the week and thanked him again… I don’t think I could have done it without his help!

RIP Brian. Thanks for everything. You leave behind a wonderful legacy.

Race Report – Barossa Marathon 24 May 2015

This is my first race report (one of many to come!), written 2 days after the Barossa Marathon. Hope you enjoy it!

This time last year I completed my first ever marathon in Liverpool UK. It was an amazing experience – there were 2307 finishers and I placed 562nd overall in a time of 3:42:56 – well beyond my expectations. (I had expected sub 4 hours, and HOPED for sub 3:45. I was stoked!) It was quite surreal because I was in my hotel getting ready for bed on the Saturday night, reading all about my friends and training buddies’ experiences at the Barossa Marathon, knowing that my big moment was yet to come! Although on the day I didn’t see anyone I knew cheering from the sidelines, I had met a group of runners the day before on a Beatles walking tour, who I met up with again before the start of the race. I also knew that a lot of friends back home were following my progress online, so I really did feel like I had friends there with me! And of course, as with all big races, the crowd lining the streets were more than happy to give me, a random stranger, a big cheer! (I did get quite a few comments on my stripey arm warmers… aka socks I had bought the previous day!) And I did get a SWEET medal that no-one else I know has!

Fast forward 12 months and I’m standing at the start line in Tanunda – this time among many familiar faces. This time, instead of the civilised 9am of last year, we started at the ‘ungodly’ hour of 7am (albeit with the backdrop of an incredible sunrise). I was so prepared this year. I had put in all the training. Well, I had also done that last year, but unlike last year, I started the 16 week programme with a lot more running under my belt, and with the knowledge that I had already completed one marathon and of course I could do it again. (Last year I started behind the eight ball without having even done one half marathon. This year I started having already completed not only one full marathon but 4 official halves, one unofficial half and countless training runs of over half marathon distance.) I have been fortunate too… other than a number of falls during training, only one of which was serious enough to stop me running for ANY length of time (that being 2 days), I have (touching wood as I write this) been remarkably injury-free. I wonder if it’s just luck or if it’s partly smart training… even though I love running and am often tempted to run more than I should, I hold myself back, keeping my ‘eyes on the prize’. If I’m a bit sore I’ll skip a run or just take it easy. Maybe it’s a physio thing? Anyway, whatever it is, I didn’t think I could have been better prepared for the 42.2km (or 26.2 miles as I ran last year in Liverpool) that lay ahead of me.

I had my kit sorted days before. The only difficult decision was which lululemon skirt to wear… the decision was eventually made to go with the black and white rather than the plain black, because the black skirt had been worn for the only race I’ve done that I would describe as ‘terrible’ – the 2015 Clare Half (nothing against the race, just the way I ran it!). I’d purchased a SWEET new pair of stripey socks to wear as arm warmers – a somewhat brisk 7am start made those a necessary part of my kit. I’d prepared drinks – bottled water and slightly watered down Gatorade (tried and tested in training – I wasn’t about to take any chances with a different brand of sports drink) and had them placed at the drink stations with bright pink tape around them to make them easy to spot. I also had a handful of emergency Lifesavers, some energy pills (nothing dodgy!) and a couple of Voltaren for ‘just in case’ (I had needed them last year around the halfway mark due to hip and knee niggles, and was taking no chances). I’d spent ages making up pace bands based on the same formula I’d used last year (I used an app called ‘FeelRace’ which works on the principle of starting slower and gradually increasing the pace throughout the race. No better feeling than passing people near the end that had passed you earlier!) I had 3 pace bands: one for 3:40 (sub 3:40 would qualify me for the prestigious Boston Marathon which would be amazing), 3:42 (which would be a PB) and 3:45 (although not a PB, still a respectable time if things didn’t go according to plan). The idea was that I’d aim for 3:40 initially, and if that became implausible I’d move on to 3:42, etc. If it all fell apart I’d just go by feel, the bare minimum of course being to finish and get my hands on a medal!

There was nothing left to do but run…

All was well at the start. I started running alongside a few of my training buddies but soon realised I was running way faster than my plan. Stick to the plan, I told myself. I’ll catch them eventually! I forced myself to slow down, as hard as that was! Along the way I ran with Neil for a few km (who had only entered at the last minute and wasn’t even sure he could run the whole distance – he did!) and also Chris who seems to run a marathon every few weeks so his goal was just to finish (he did, but not without injury problems). Eventually I caught up with Kay with whom I’d done quite a lot of my long runs, both this year and last (although this year I hadn’t run much with her, she was far too quick for me!) We ran together for quite a while, past the halfway mark. The 2 lap course did my head in a bit! I said to Kay, “OK that’s over, let’s run a half marathon now!” (It always helps to break a race into manageable chunks!). Everything was going according to plan. The drinks worked well, I had Gatorade just when I needed it, and more water than I could have possibly used. Bottles work for me better than cups, that way I can hang onto my drink for longer, potentially even until the next drink station. For some reason, just after 22km, I decided to ditch the plan altogether. Maybe it was the energy pills I’d downed just after the halfway point. Maybe it was the confidence that comes with having done it all before. Whatever it was, the plan was out the window and I was now running by feel. A scary and unfamiliar place to be! I left Kay behind (she didn’t end up finishing that far behind me, and she ran a PB, so I didn’t feel too guilty!) and just went for it. I was averaging 5:10 per km on my Garmin so I figured I’d just try to stick with that and maybe try to take it up a notch right at the end (no matter how crap a run I’ve had, I always try to do a sprint finish… looks great in the photos!). I was too scared to look at my overall time, lest I discover that my desired sub 3:40 was off the cards. No, I was going to run blind. Around this time my left hip started to niggle a bit so I quickly got out the Voltaren and downed them. Within a few km all was good again.

I thought I hit the dreaded ‘wall’ at 30km but that turned out to be just a speed bump. By about 34-35km I was feeling great and still maintaining my 5:10 pace. My only real drama was that 2 of my 5 Gatorade bottles went missing along the way (I was assured they were there pre-race!) so when I really felt I needed some sugar/electrolytes etc, they weren’t there! Thank f*** for my emergency Lifesavers… they really were a godsend!

I found the course in one way was a bit of a headf*** – 2 laps with multiple turnarounds – but it was mercifully flat and I LOVED passing other runners coming the other way (in all events – 5km, 10km, half and full marathon). It was so good to see so many friends running along the way and be able to give them encouragement. It was especially great to see my friends who were tackling their first half and full marathons. They were all looking strong and like they were having just the best time. Awesome!

The last 5km were a bit of a blur. I was constantly checking my watch, interested only in the ‘Average Pace’ which continued to hover around 5:10 (at one point it dropped to 5:11 but I had enough left at that stage to bring it back up to 5:10). The legs were really starting to hurt by then (which was not really surprising). My calves were the biggest issue… nothing that would stop me finishing, but even now, writing this 2 1/2 days later, they are still letting me know they’re not happy with me! The calf compression sleeves I wore definitely helped – whether placebo or actual science, I wouldn’t run more than 20km without them! I’d worn compression bandages on both knees as a precaution, but thankfully had no real knee issues during the race.

And now to the best bit… the finish! I guess it was just before 42km I heard the cheering and started to lift. The street was lined with people, many calling my name as they recognised my stripey arms! It was such a great feeling. It definitely made me run faster! I didn’t have time to soak up all the glory though because I had a race to finish, a PB to beat! I yelled at a couple of people who walked across my path as I approached the finish chute to “Get out of my way!!!”. They did. I hope they realised it was good-natured! I saw the finish line and I went for it! Through the timing gate, past the person with the paddle, stopped the Garmin, got my medal, and a big hug for Karen in the tiger suit she had borrowed from me the previous day! I looked at my watch and could hardly believe it… I had achieved my sub 3:40! 3:39:26 to be precise, a good 3 1/2 minutes better than a year ago! (The official results were better yet, 3:39:21). Overall, I finished 84th out of 245 finishers (13th out of 82 women) and 6th out of 19 in my age group. So that means 5 of the top 12 women were in the very tough 35-39 age group!

I’m still in recovery mode – I took Monday off (I was incredibly sore – I don’t remember being that sore last year!) and had a nice cruisy beach walk (including walking in the water for about 10 minutes) which I’m sure did me a lot of good, and this morning I managed an easy ‘jog’ with my regular Tuesday group and did a BodyBalance class this evening.

Now I’ve got the Gold Coast marathon coming up in less than 6 weeks, so I can’t take it easy for too long! I’m yet to decide how I’ll tackle that one but one thing is for sure, I won’t be trying for another PB. That took way too much out of me and 6 weeks is nowhere near enough time to get me back into PB shape!

Overall it was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget, thanks to all who made it possible and so memorable!

If you’re thinking about running a marathon, and you have the time to commit to training, stop thinking, and to plagiarise a popular sports brand, JUST DO IT!