Four Vines Running Festival half marathon – race recap

Those who follow this blog may recall that, ages ago, I signed up for a marathon. It was going to be this delightful event in country Victoria and I was planning on seeing how I went with ‘just’ a marathon (as opposed to a Dopey challenge). About 2/3 into my marathon training, I realised I really didn’t have it in me (just yet) and pulled back to the half.

Husband and I rocked up to the start line this morning, bright and early and with absolutely perfect running weather greeting us – blue skies and crisp air. Being the first time this event had run, as well as being out of the way for most participants, it was a smaller crowd gathering at the start. The start line for most of the events, including the half marathon, was at Tahbilk Winery, just outside of Nagambie and what an incredibly scenic start to the day. We wandered around, took some photos amidst the vines, took advantage of the portaloos (with no queues!) and got ready.

Husband waved me off (he was running the 10km later in the morning) as the small crowd set off on the half. I had known this would be a smaller event and had fully expected to be last as is usually the case. What I hadn’t expected was how inclusive this event was – they had thought of everything and had a tail runner for the half. So my headphones came out and I chatted to 2 delightful runners who happily hung out with me at the back.

The course headed out along a track and then onto the road where it spent quite a bit of time. While it wasn’t a closed road, there was minimal traffic and the cars that did come through were slow, careful and, usually, full of people willing and ready to cheer us on our way. The road was also canopied with trees which was very welcome as the sun was rising and making its presence felt.

Soon we caught up to another runner who joined our merry band and my 30/30 intervals as we headed off to our second winery of the morning – Michelton Wines. We had a brief bit of confusion about which entrance to go in but, once we’d worked it out, we were rewarded with some loops through the vines and more beautiful scenery.

And then we were on our way back along the road where we caught up with another runner to add to our group. We had a final few kilometres to run back in Tahbilk amongst more vines – probably the hardest part of the course for me as I resorted to a power walk and tried to ignore my blisters.

The last stretch felt like forever but it wasn’t that long before the finish line crept up and I ran across it, being rewarded with my medal and a wine. Husband and I then sat around, soaking up the beautiful weather, the entertainment and a beverage while resting our legs before reluctantly bidding farewell for our drive home. I wish I was one of those people who has a really long weekend this weekend but sadly not. 🙁

Absolutely loved this event – it far exceeded my expectations. It’s hard to know how an event will go on its first run but Four Vines just got everything right – enough aid stations, really friendly volunteers, great facilities, perfect event village and vibe and even friendly competitors who all cheered each other on, regardless of distance or pace. And, sealing it for me was the fabulous group of women I got to run with this morning – such an encouraging and supportive tribe who made the time and kilometres fly. Thanks to them and to Four Vines, we’ll definitely be back!

Barossa Brave half marathon – race recap

I didn’t seek out this little half marathon, it found me. After our Dopey challenge, I’d been looking for an event to stretch me and had found a marathon in the beautiful Barossa Valley. Even better, we found cheap flights from our local airport and locked it all in. And then the company that was organising the marathon cancelled the event. I have a lot to say about that but, rather than go into details, I have just learnt not to trust that they’re going to actually run events that they allow you to register for so won’t be bothering with their offerings in other places.

However all was not lost – the fabulous organiser of South Australia’s ‘Coastal fun runs’ stepped in and organised a smaller, charity event in its place and I signed up for that instead.

And so it was that I found myself meeting a bunch of other eager runners at Bethany Reserve in the Barossa Valley on Saturday morning. The distances on offer were a marathon, half marathon, 14km and 7km and I’d opted for the half. There were about 100 runners in the event and it had such a warm, friendly, local vibe to it. Even the huntsman who joined me in the toilet pre-departure seemed friendly and welcoming. Possibly a little too welcoming.

We all gathered at the start line, had a group picture taken and set off. The course was a 7km loop running out from the reserve, along a vineyard and a road before taking us on a creek crossing (dry but fun) and then out along an out and back arm which had a bit of an incline. And then it was time for the main event – the hill in the middle of the loop which rewarded us for the climb with spectacular views over the Barossa. And then it was down the hill, along the out and back arm again and back to the reserve…..to do it all again.

I had known from the start that this was going to be tough because of the hills but the pressure had been taken away by the very generous cut off time allowed. So I was measuring this one by how much enjoyment I could get out of it – a smile PB, not a time one. It wasn’t hard to achieve – what a glorious course on a glorious day with a glorious crowd. The hills were challenging as were the surfaces – longish grass and rutted dirt on some bits, rocks and cow pats hidden in grass on others and the always fun dry creek bed to navigate. The views were ample distraction – vineyards and farmland wherever you looked and the odd cow to say hello to. We even had gates to go through (others climbed the stiles but there was no way my legs would sign up for that so I got used to opening and closing gates). The weather was perfect – crisp and a little cloudy at the start while we warmed up then brilliant blue sky and sunshine by the last lap to bring it home. Magnificent.

Due to the loop and the out and back sections, we also all got to know each and there were lots and lots of smiles, high fives and encouragement from those completing all distances. Whenever I found it hard going, I remembered that, while I was doing the big hill 3 times, the marathoners had to do it 6 times and I couldn’t fathom how much my glutes would be screaming if that were me. So I smiled as I plodded my way up.

Husband had dropped me off then gone to parkrun and made it back in time for me to start my final lap. I definitely was plodding up the hill on that one but was still doing it with a smile – so grateful to be there and was as mentally strong as ever. My physical fitness might not quite have been keeping up with what I wanted but my mind was strong – there was no point where I felt like giving up or that it was too hard. Husband joined me for the last bit and I managed to run across the finish line to lots of applause from the crowd who were enjoying their post run wines.

What an event! Well organised, contributing to charities, a beautiful course with enough challenge to keep us amused and a great crowd of volunteers and fellow runners. Besides, any event where you’re standing at the finish with your medal and a glass of wine has to be a good thing.

My Polar Dream – book review

I first came across Jade Hameister‘s story at the National Young Leaders’ Day in Melbourne last year. On a day full of inspirational speakers, she stood out and captivated both the young people and adults in the audience. At the age of 14, she became the youngest person to ski to the North Pole from outside 89 degrees. At 15, she was standing on a stage in front of a few thousand people, recounting her adventures, filling us in on her future plans and sending a very clear message – young people and, specifically, young women can achieve great things. In particular, her #bravenotperfect message struck a chord with the 4 school captains I was with and it was something we talked about and took back to our classroom.

Later that year, her adventures continued with a trek across Greenland and, earlier this year, with a trek to the South Pole, allowing her to claim the ‘polar hat trick’ and become the youngest person to do so (amongst many other ‘firsts’).

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do not go gentle into that goodnight

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Having followed her journey via Instagram, I was keen to read the book of her adventures, released recently.

My Polar Dream‘ is a very easy read but definitely not lightweight, especially when you pause to consider the enormity of Jade’s achievements and what it took for her to get there. She is very lucky to have had supportive parents and the means to undertake such treks but neither of those factors lessen what she accomplished. To train for and complete such lofty goals (while also getting on with the business of being a teenager) tells a lot about her character and mental strength.

The book takes you through the 3 journeys and gives you insights into her days on the ice with nothing off limits. There’s discussion about her difficulties with finding appropriate places and conditions to go to the toilet and how it felt to be sharing time and a tent with Dad – probably not something I could have done for that long at that age. Jade also ensures she tells it how it was – not all sunshine and butterflies. It was hard, as if that word could possible describe the enormity of exactly how challenging it was. There were tears and parts where less resilient people would have given up but she is made of much tougher stuff and focused on achieving her goal.

Most of all, Jade’s personality and character really shine through. She is such a positive role model for other young women in an era where there is so much superficiality and focus on how people look on the outside, rather than who they are on the inside. The story of how she handled some internet trolls is particularly telling.

My Polar Dream‘ is definitely worth a read, whether you ever intend to embark on a polar trek of your own or not. And Jade’s TEDx talk is also worth watching and sharing for its powerful message – “What if the focus shifted from how we appear to the possibilities of what we can do?

parkrun tourism @ echuca moama

Our quest to (eventually) run all the parkruns in Victoria is now into the most challenging phase. Victoria may not look on a map to be a very big state but it still takes a lot of hours of driving to reach much of it and all of those far away places are the ones I still have left to do.

And that is why we were up at 4am on a recent Saturday morning so that we could be on our way to Echuca, 3 hours away. I am a morning person but 4am doesn’t count as it’s still night so it was a challenge getting up. The two things making it slightly easier – 1) I love Echuca and 2) the weather forecast was far better up there than it was at home.

We arrived at about 7.30am and easily found where we needed to be. After a 3 hour drive, we were grateful that there was a clean toilet block next to the start area and ample parking. The weather was windy and a little chilly but definitely warmer and drier than we’d been expecting down south.

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The gorgeous Campaspe River, taken from the starting area

Briefing was short and sweet and then we were off. The course is along a path beside the Campaspe River – very easy to follow and wide enough for parkrunners and the other users out enjoying the morning. It’s a scenic course – houses on one side and bushland and river views on the other. It is also pretty much flat – there are a couple of slight inclines but nothing to really slow you down.

Being an out and back, there’s lots of opportunities for smiles and encouragement and this was definitely not in short supply with the friendly crowd cheering one another on. This was much needed as the wind was getting up a bit on the return and the finish line was a welcome sight.

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Feel like a quick workout in the middle of your run? No problem!

With our run finished, we enjoyed our smug Saturday morning eating at Beechworth Bakery (so hard to choose where to eat with so many great places on offer in town!) then wandering the Port of Echuca and checking out the Murray River. This parkrun is an absolute must for anyone looking for an enjoyable weekend away – Echuca has always been on my list of favourite Victorian places and makes me smile each time we visit.

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Beechworth Bakery – mmmmmmm

Thanks to the event team at Echuca Moama parkrun and particularly the volunteers who dug in on that windy morning – I suspect this is one we’ll visit again (possibly just because of the lure of a delicious breakfast!!!).

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parkrun tourism @ jells

I have an apology to make to Jells parkrun – I’ve been pushing you down the list. I had heard a rumour that there were hills and, while I might grimace while saying “Hills are my friends! Hills make me stronger!”, it’s a complicated relationship. When people say ‘hills’ and ‘parkrun’, I picture hills like those at Wilson Botanic or Westerfolds and my calves start to ache.

However the time had come. The thought of ‘only’ having to drive a little over an hour to tick off a new parkrun was too good of a draw card and as for the hills? I just had to pack my charm and hope I could make friends with these ones too.

Jells parkrun is very easy to find – not far off the main roads leading through and out that side of the Melbourne sprawl. Once you arrive, the facilities are great – ample parking and bathrooms that are so much nicer than what I’ve learnt to expect from suburban parks (with real toilet paper!) as well as a playground in case you want to amuse yourself before briefing.

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The briefing was friendly, welcoming and brief – all good qualities to have! Very soon we were gathered around the starting area and setting off. Up a hill. Now is probably a good time to discuss these so that I can reassure any of you who had heard the rumours I had – it’s really not that hilly. Yes, it has hills but I would call them more undulations and the upside is that for every up there is a down. The first downhill stretch is absolute bliss and I found myself gliding down it happily, soaking up the blue skies of this gorgeous Spring morning.

The rest of the course has some flat bits, some inclines and another short downhill before the gentle climb back up to the finish….so you can do it all again on your second lap! I’m normally not a fan at all of multi lap courses but this was great – I felt like the first lap had gone too quickly and I was grateful to have another chance to go around again. And I enjoyed the looong downhill just as much the second time.

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Another particularly wonderful thing about this parkrun is the variety of people it attracts – runners, walkers and run/walkers of all speeds. I’m often out on course on what feels like my own (although I’ve obviously in front of the tail walker) but there were people around me the whole time today and it was great.

And then it was done as I ran the last up and down hill bit to the finish.

There are some parkruns I’ve visited and enjoyed but probably wouldn’t choose to go back to – this is definitely not one of them. Jells was great. Not sure if it was just the right combination of weather, people and how I’m feeling but this morning was fabulous and I loved every minute, up or down hill and would happily come back and visit again. These hills and I are definitely friends 🙂

City2Surf – race recap

2 years ago today, I ran my first City2Surf in Sydney which was absolutely incredible. I remember thinking at the time that it was probably going to be a one off and I was just grateful to have been able to do it.

And then my husband became a runner too and decided he wanted to give it a go, opening the door for me to have another turn.

Running an event for the second time always makes me somewhat nervous. The first time, you have nothing to compare it to so the experience is unique and whatever time you get is great. The second time? There are pressures. Will it be as good? Will I beat my time? These were definitely the thoughts swimming in my head as we gathered in our hotel lobby and walked the short distance to our blue start corral at City2Surf on Sunday.

My self talk was all positive and realistic. I’m not as fit as I was 2 years ago and have had some big gaps in training so, in the spirit of meeting myself where I am at (rather than where I wished I was), I was aiming for a PB of smiles rather than time. Since Disney, I’ve struggled a little with the whole ‘love of running’ thing – I’ve seen it fleetingly but not consistently and I want it back. City2Surf was about reclaiming it. Because really, if you can’t have fun at this event, give up running. The crowds, the atmosphere, the entertainment, the views – all of it combine to the perfect blend.

Actually, before we hit start on this thing, let’s talk about crowds. If you don’t like them, don’t do this event. They advertise crowds of 80,000 and, even though they’re spread quite well into separately timed corrals, it still equates to a lot of people on the course at all times. They’re also a very varied bunch with elite runners, first event runners, costumed athletes and ‘enjoying the sunshine and a chat’ walkers. Not all of them start in the corral best suited to their speed so there is some dodging and lots of patience required. And I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

So it was time to start. I kissed goodbye to the speedy husband and set off at my own pace. I ran a comfortable pace and wanted to keep at that but was pleasantly surprised that I was keeping up with many of those around me. The spectators in this event are great and added to the smiles and, before I knew it, the first kilometre had ticked by.

I vaguely remembered the course from last time so didn’t quite have the same allure of the unknown but instead some comfort of mild familiarity. The police band at Rose Bay Police Station, the views of the harbour at different points, the undulations along the way and then Heartbreak Hill (which, again, was not heartbreaking). All kilometres flew by and my grin seemed to just get bigger and become more embedded. I was loving it. All of it. The scenery, the people and, most importantly, the running. I ran the bits I wanted to at the speeds that made me happy then walked the bits I didn’t feel like running (mostly the uphill bits).

And then there were the crowds. I’m not a huge lover of crowds but these were different, despite the frequent ducking and weaving and the odd accidental elbow. I felt like I got some of the Disney magic back – these were my people. People who moved at all sorts of speeds in all sorts of ways and without judgement. There were people around me the whole time, from start line to finish chute and that created the supportive atmosphere that did so much to keep my spirits high. An event where I felt I belonged.

Coming back down the hill towards Bondi, I saw that I had 3km to go and looked at my watch, curious about how I was doing in numbers. Even in long run fog, I could see that there was a chance of a course PB if I kept up my current pace. This was way beyond what I had hoped out of the day and pushed me along. At the bottom of the hill, the course loops past the finish to an out and back and, for the last kilometre, I ignored my watch and ran my heart out. As I crossed the finish, I stopped my watch and looked – a 2 minute PB. Not only did I love every step of it but I’d also managed to run it faster than before. Yes, I cried. It’s becoming something of a theme but they were such happy tears. I made my way to our meet up point in a smiley, happy cloud and floated on it for the rest of the day.

To City2Surf and all that ran her, a hearty thank you. Who knows how long it will stay but my ‘run happy’ is definitely back 😁

marathon training – week 3

Back to real life this week and familiar places to run. Along with the time and tiredness constraints that real life tends to bring.

Tuesday was another treadmill run – not only did I have further Glee episodes to keep me company, I also wanted to try out the indoor run function on my watch. Turns out it was fairly close to the distance the treadmill said (a little under but I can live with that) and gave me speed and heart rate data. It’s not going to make me a treadmill convert – I can tolerate it for short runs when I have to but it’s definitely harder.

Thursday was one of those days that, despite everything going against me, I ran anyway. It had been a massive day at work including a meeting at the end and my headache told me I had forgotten to include time with my water bottle in the day. But my training plan said run so I ran. It was a neighbourhood meander, complete with headlamp as the sun was going down and it included a lap of the wetlands in the dark. It was great.

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Saturday’s parkrun was a volunteering one as I was Run Director at You Yangs so I headed into town for a waterfront run to make up for it afterwards. Again, perfect run. I kept it ‘easy’ pace and just enjoyed it. So much so that I decided to try for my favourite sprint around the boardwalk at the end. This has been a consistent over the last few years – throwing a fast lap around it at the end of waterfront runs as a benchmark to measure how I’m tracking. And, on Saturday, I ran a PB. I only knocked 2 seconds off my time but that was a time that was set quite a while ago so it’s great to know that I’m getting back to where I was.

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Today’s long run was not perfect and it took a lot of effort to get out of the door. I woke up feeling like I might be succumbing to the germs my students have been sharing this week so I took a bit longer to get ready but ended up dressed, out the door and off to the Bellarine Rail Trail. I loved being outdoors and in the sunshine and was grateful for that, just had to suck it up and get through the running bits which weren’t great. I was thankful that the required pace on my training plan was super easy.

It’s been an interesting week of fabulous running and hard running and that’s why this blog is a handy record for me of both. It can be hard, when the ‘I don’t want to’ hits to remember the good runs so this is here to remind me. Bring on week 4 🙂

Weekly summary – 25.4km (3hr 48min):
Tuesday – 4.32km (40:05)
Thursday – 6.4km (55:49)
Saturday – 4.61km (40:01)
Sunday – 10.01km (1:32:41)