Portland Winter Solstice run

If you’ve followed this blog for a while or know me well, you’ll know I’m not a fan of smaller runs. While many like them for the friendliness, I generally find them quite isolating as I’m often alone at the back of the pack and wonder why I would want to pay to, effectively, run on my own.

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So how did I end up heading to Portland for their Winter Solstice run? It started with my friend Vanessa. A few years ago, she took photos of the event, of bright Winter skies and people moving at their own pace, having a fun time. She sent me a couple of photos and suggested I add it to my calendar for the following year as she thought it was an event I’d like and was a great excuse for us to catch up in her home town after far too many years. The following year came around and I was tempted but something else got in the way then, last year, the chance for a catch up with Vanessa was lost forever as she died, far too young, from cancer. I couldn’t take back my previous choices or get back that time but I could definitely jump in and run this one for her so I signed up.

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We turned it into a weekend of running and started with Portland parkrun on Saturday which, as you can read about here, was incredibly friendly and set the tone well. It was lucky this had been such a good experience as the weather was not so welcoming. In fact, as I lay in my cabin and listened to the rain and hail on Saturday, I wondered whether I would actually be able to convince myself to get to the start line in the morning. Remembering that this ‘hard’ thing was something I got to choose, unlike what Vanessa had to endure, got me out of bed.

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We rugged up, got our kit ready and headed off to the starting area where the winds were out in force and the organisers quickly got us on board the bus to keep us warm. It was a short drive out to Cape Nelson Lighthouse where we were shepherded inside for a run briefing, the run director competing with the weather outside to be heard. We were given the great reminder that, while we might be prepared for some ‘extreme’ running weather, it was the volunteers we really needed to thank along the way as they were standing out in it without the chance we had to get warm.

And then it was time to start. 87 of us headed off along the road, grinning despite the weather which was at least a tailwind for us most of the way. There are certainly some undulations on the course but nothing terrible and, overall, it’s downhill as you head back into Portland. While the roads aren’t closed for the event, they’re wide and not busy so, as long as you’re alert to any traffic, you have a lot of space to enjoy. And enjoy it we did. We were sheltered from the worst of the wind by the high bushes which had gaps every now and then through which we could see the incredible coastline with vicious waves being whipped up.

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At various points, the weather threw itself at us with full force including some rain and hail but, now that we were out in it, it didn’t feel so bad and, besides, we had no choice but to keep running. The volunteers were all fabulous – so friendly and encouraging, despite the fact that we were at the back of the pack.

Before long, we had arrived on the outskirts of town and then were turning onto the canal path for our last stretch down to the waterfront. The time had gone so quickly as I’d been running with my friend up until this point but was struggling a bit to keep up so we split up for the last 2 kilometres. Running past the place where Vanessa’s memorial service was held and the hospital also had me a bit emotional so I was glad to be on my own to quietly remember and be thankful that I had her as a friend. I did some running and a lot of power walking and managed to overtake a couple of people in the last kilometre as I came up to the second of our day’s lighthouses. Then I ran past it and down to the finish line, where I was greeted warmly by my friends and by the ever friendly volunteers and organisers. Despite being one of the last to arrive, there was food and drink on offer and my medal placed around my neck. It’s the first medal I’ve had since Disney which I thought had cured me of my need for bling but I felt I really earned this one and was grateful to receive it.

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This was seriously one of the friendliest, most encouraging events I’ve been part of and I loved it, despite the weather. The course is fantastic and the volunteers were all wonderful, never once making me feel like I was holding them up or anything but welcome. I’m sorry it took so long to do this one but it’s definitely an event I’d do again.

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parkrun tourism @ portland

We were down in Portland last weekend for the Winter Solstice Run and were very happy to be able to make it a double run weekend with a visit to Portland parkrun.

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Like all of the country parkruns we’ve visited, this one was super friendly. One of the beautiful things about small parkruns is that they notice when you’re a visitor and we were spotted straight away! We were welcomed warmly and had the course explained to us before briefing. We then huddled together for the formalities (in the freezing cold morning) before gathering at the start line and heading out.

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The course follows the path around the lagoon including a boardwalk and, eventually, brings you back past the start to the turn around point. And then – back you go! While I thought it would be slightly disconcerting to pass the finish area twice, it wasn’t so bad and the scenery made up for it – very pretty and picturesque. The weather was very ordinary but the parkrun magic worked with us having only a sprinkling of rain during the actual event with it bucketing down not long after we finished.

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We then took their recommendation for a breakfast venue and headed to the Port of Call cafe. Taking a table in the window to enjoy the view (and laugh at the weather which was alternating hail and rain), we were again overwhelmed with the friendliness of this parkrun with multiple invitations to come up and join them at the group table. And their recommendation was spot on – breakfast was great and the coffee delicious. Exactly what we needed to warm us up.

In my quest to ‘tick off’ all the Victorian parkruns, there are those that are great but that I am happy to just do once, particularly when they’re a fair drive from home. Portland is not one of them and I would happily travel down to this one again for the welcome, the course and the all round hospitality shown. If there were parkrun awards, this would definitely be a top contender for the friendliest – well done to the event team, volunteers and all the parkrunners involved. See you again, but possibly when it’s a little bit warmer 🙂

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A conversation about safety. And respect.

This blog is one that’s been bubbling for a while as it’s something that I frequently have in my head, especially during the long nights of Winter. And then, last week in Melbourne, a woman was raped and murdered while walking home from work and it has pushed it to the front of my mind again.

It’s a terrible thing to happen and the fact it was somewhere so familiar and close to home made it all the more stirring. What made it infinitely worse was the reaction – police reminders to women about how to keep themselves safe and some media outlets reporting it as if she had any control over what had happened.

It’s not a new story. The message we’re told, either directly or indirectly, is that women shouldn’t be out alone at night. I have frequently been told by people that I shouldn’t run on my own at night and, if I do, I should make sure I don’t wear headphones and go only in ‘safe’ places. I’m not sure what constitutes a ‘safe’ place and people seem to have different definitions, depending on who I ask. Busy places or out of the way places or suburban neighbourhoods or out in the countryside.

I consider my biggest danger to be from cars reversing out of driveways or turning into roads and not seeing me and I do what I can to avoid such issues. I wear bright, reflective clothing and a headlamp. I am very mindful of driveways and when crossing roads and, while I do run with headphones in, the sound is low and my headphones allow some outside noise in so that I am more aware of vehicles around me. I am happy to share the responsibility for my safety with drivers in this way as we are both exactly that – responsible.

I refuse, however, to share responsibility for my safety with any man who chooses to attack women. Nothing I do or don’t do will make any difference or reduce those odds. Women are attacked during daylight and darkness – I can’t avoid both. They’re attacked while out in the community and in their homes – again, I can’t avoid both. They’re attacked by strangers as well as (more commonly) by people they know and love. Yet again, doesn’t give me many options. The only possible way to keep me safe is for those men so inclined to stop attacking women.

Through all of the conversations that happen when horrendous crimes like this occur, there’s often a defensiveness in that it’s not all men. And that’s true, it’s not. We’re really talking about a very, very small percentage of the population. However, even if other men (and women) aren’t perpetrators of violence, we all have a role to play in changing the dialogue as it’s this conversation that sets the foundation that those men build their warped ideas and actions on.

We need to be better at calling each other out on the things at the bottom of the pyramid, the day to day statements, jokes and off hand comments that build the wrong foundation. And this includes well intentioned but completely unhelpful safety advice. Don’t tell me not to run alone, or at night, or with headphones in. Each of those bits of advice, in small but meaningful ways, reinforce the idea that my actions are what control whether I’m shown respect or not. And that simply isn’t true.

Lisa Wilkinson of ‘The Project’ said it so much more eloquently than I have so please, watch this.

parkrun tourism @ Bairnsdale

My husband and I have recently celebrated 17 years of marriage and, indicative of how much we’ve changed over that time, our first consideration when choosing options for a weekend away was somewhere with a parkrun we hadn’t already done. Having not done any in Gippsland (and, to be honest, having never really been over that side of the state), we opted for Bairnsdale.

The course at Bairnsdale is very easy to find and with a perfect undercover area and toilets, along with ample parking. It’s an easy to follow out and back with the added bonus of permanent signage along the way (which always makes me jealous – would love that for the 2 parkruns which I call home).

We gathered for a brief briefing where celebrations were shared – it was a young man’s 100th run, a very impressive achievement from a junior parkrunner who had managed to clock up some tourist runs in that tally as well. And with the congratulations done, we set off.

The path is fairly narrow but wide enough for the turnout of runners and walkers and the grass at the start gives room for people to find their spot and spread out a bit. It is concrete most of the way but had a coating of autumnal leaves in certain spots which were lovely and soft to run on. The scenery is gorgeous – along the river and through a variety of areas including a section where the bats were snoozing in the trees overhead. The turnaround point is again clearly marked and there is a marshal at the boat ramp to offer encouragement and keep everyone safe. While there were some small inclines, it’s a mostly flat course and, on the day we were there, had a mix of speedy runners and walkers, along with quite a few families which is always lovely to see.

Having finished, we headed off for breakfast and chose the delicious Mr D cafe although it looked there were quite a few great options in town – country towns have certainly come a long way since I lived in one!

I can definitely recommend this parkrun not just as a place to visit but Bairnsdale as a place for a weekend away. We stayed at an apartment in Paynesville and visited some of the sites around which were even more beautiful on a Wintery weekend. It might have taken us a while to get here but I’m glad we visited. Thanks to the team at Bairnsdale parkrun for the warm welcome!

Run Forrest 2018 – race recap

I ran this event last year and had no intention of doing it again. Don’t get me wrong – I definitely enjoyed it but know that I’m not as fit as I was and definitely not as trail fit. Add to that a still dodgy ankle and I figured it was safer to sit it out. This is not a trail to be taken lightly.

And then fate intervened and I got an entry (ask my husband – it’s a funny story) so I had to run it. Thus it was that I found myself heading to Forrest with husband this morning.

One of my absolute favourite things about this one is the event village. It’s not what you might expect if you’re used to big events – there’s a couple of sponsors tents and a coffee cart but there’s also fires to stand around and hay bales to sit on. And it’s in an absolute fairy grotto on the edge of a gorgeous little country town. You just can’t beat it.

Thank goodness for the great atmosphere because, truth be told, I wasn’t feeling it. My sleep had been somewhat fractured, I was feeling queasy and just not really wanting to be there. We chatted to our friend, took advantage of the portaloos, dropped our bag under the baggage tent and headed for the start line. Somewhat reluctantly. Well, I was – husband was bouncing like Tigger, full of excitement.

It began. We started off with a loop around the outside of the event village and then back behind it to tackle the hill. I remembered this hill and it was just as unpleasant this year as it was last year. However this year brought the added difficulty of me not being as fit so it possibly felt harder. About halfway up, I was done – I didn’t want to be there anymore and seriously considered just walking back down to the event village and sitting by the fire to wait for my husband. It was such a large and prominent thought, I’m not sure what stopped me acting on it. Fear of failure? Sheer stubborn determination? Who knows? Whatever it was, I didn’t give in to it and kept going.

I turned off the hill and onto the path leading through the tree ferns – magical fairy forest time. By now, I was nearly last – I couldn’t see anyone behind me but suspected there were a few and felt a bit of a sting. Again, I wanted to give up. Another louder thought interrupted – “Why today? You’ve been last before. It’s been hard before. Why give up today?” and I think that kept me going. I can do hard things. Besides, this trail is absolutely stunning and there are much worse places to spend the morning.

So I got on with it. By now, I was trekking up to West Barwon Reservoir and decided I was hot so stopped to take off my thermal top and took a moment to enjoy the view. Then it was back to the trail and I did my best to throw myself down the hills. I’m finding this much harder since spraining my ankle – it’s 75% healed and mostly stable but I still have some pain, particularly under the pressure of downhill running so had to take it easier than I wanted to.

Before long, it was time to go back uphill to the single track loop between about 4km and 6km. I was very careful about foot placement but felt strong enough through here and found a couple of other runners who were about my speed who I adopted as pacers. My times in this section don’t reflect this strength and there is a simple reason for this – half marathon runners. Unfortunately the timing of me reaching this section coincided with the half marathon runners coming back down from Lake Elizabeth and, on a single track, there was no room for them to pass unless I stopped and stepped off the trail. Which I did many, many times. I was grateful that some of these runners thanked me and the other 10km runners for letting them through and was disappointed at those that didn’t – I understand how frustrating it must be to have slower runners blocking your path and having to wait for them to get out of your way but a small slice of manners goes a long way, especially when I’ve stopped in my event for you to continue in yours. Anyway, mini rant over. Let’s move on.

As we ran down through the mountain bike trails and back toward the village, I made sure I followed the path correctly this year then went up the hill for the final frolic through the ferns before the finish shute. By now, I was enjoying it and soaking up the surroundings, back in my usual long run mood. All thoughts of not finishing were gone and I was speedier than I had been for the rest of the run.

And then it was done. Not quite the 10km planned – I was a bit short at 9.5km but that’s normal for trail events, especially with the potential gps issues you have on the trail. We had a banana and coffee in the village before heading off to the Forrest Soupfest to partake of delicious soup and cider – perfect recovery foods.

Run Forrest is one of those special events that I feel very lucky to have in our backyard. It’s hard, much harder than you think it’s going to be with hills, rocks, tree roots, bridges and prickly things (which I picked out my leg afterwards). But it’s also stunning with views that belong in oil paintings and air so fresh you can feel it cleansing you from the inside out. I wasn’t that enamoured when I started but it worked it’s magic by the end and had me grinning as I leapt over tree roots and dodged low hanging branches. Just the tonic needed.