Looking back and looking forward

I swear the end of the year has snuck up on me this time around and I really can’t believe it’s already the end of December. Strava reminded me with their annual funky video that it was time to reflect on my running so here it is!

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I snuck over the 1000km mark in my running which I was happy about – less than last year but still feels like a lofty enough amount and something I wouldn’t have dreamed of a few years ago.

It has been quite an interesting year of running and one in which I’ve certainly encountered struggles. Completing the Dopey challenge in January with my first marathon was both an incredible way to kick off the year and a difficult one. After that, all goals seemed lacking and I found motivation hard to come by. I convinced myself to ‘just keep running’ and hoped my mojo would return which it did yet it really ebbed and flowed all year.

I had a couple of setbacks which were tough at the time (including 6 weeks out with a sprained ankle) but which made me appreciate being able to run when I was able to. The hardest things to push through have been the mental barriers – quite a challenge that running helps me keep my brain and moods balanced and yet is also sometimes the cause of the imbalance in the first place. I started then gave up training for my second marathon, deciding I just wasn’t ready to give it the time and energy it deserved. Yet.

Losing my Mum halfway through the year coloured everything including my running in both hard and wonderful ways. I’ve learnt that grief just does its thing and takes over when it wants to, sometimes leaving me unable to get out the door to run. And then other times, I wanted to run because I knew Mum would have liked that. It was funny that she was never a runner and it wasn’t something that played any role in her life but it had become something we talked a lot about in the last few years so I connect her with it and I know she was proud of what I’d achieved.

This all seems a bit flat but there are many things I’m hugely proud of this year – here are my highlights:

  • Completing the Dopey challenge and my first marathon. Seriously nothing has ever (and probably will ever) compare to that. I still get goosebumps thinking about it and it’s the thing that gets me through all tough things ever since – if I can run a marathon, I can do anything.
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  • Finishing the Surf Coast Trail half marathon. It was the second time I’d attempted this beast but did it on my own this time, fighting both the demons in my head and those in my body as I left my stomach contents on the trail. Several times. So many reasons to give up and yet I just kept going. I can do hard things.
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  • City2Surf. My second go at this event too but just as much fun as the first, if not more so. I loved having my husband there to share the weekend and a PB topped it off delightfully.
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  • Barossa Brave half marathon. Every now and then, I like to do something that scares me, just to see if I can. And this scared me with its big hill in the middle and the thought of doing 3 loops of it. Without my usual running buddies. I loved absolutely every minute and smiled so much my face hurt.
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  • Portland Winter Solstice Run. This was another one where I proved to myself that I can do hard things. I could have stayed in bed and listened to the wind and rain but instead I sucked it up and ran in all that the weather could throw at us. And loved it.
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  • My running friends. I spend so much time running alone but, whether they’re with me in person or in spirit, they’re always there and always offering encouragement and understanding without judgment. When I am lucky enough to run with them in person, the kilometres fly and we solve the problems of the world. I wouldn’t have been able to complete Dopey without them and cannot stress enough what a better place my world is for having them in it. Some are in this picture but I extend this to my wider running family, some of which I only catch up with occassionally at far off parkuns but who still have a significant impact. As do those I’ve only met online in the two running groups that are a big part of my running life – their constant encouragement and advice boost me up.
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So that’s my year. 1001.8km. 1 marathon and 4 half marathons. 34 parkruns plus another 8 as a volunteer. 11 more medals to add to my bling collection. And a whole lot of new and precious memories to add to the store. On reflection, I’m feeling very blessed and grateful for what the year has brought, despite any hardships. It all balances out in the end and the dips really do make you appreciate the heights. Looking forward to what 2019 will bring!

Post marathon – lessons & what next

The marathon is done, the holiday is over and I’m home. I feel very fortunate to have had some down time between the running and the returning to real life – sitting by the pool in Mexico and wandering the streets of Hong Kong gave me time to digest and ruminate on the adventure and the experience.

Lessons learnt along the way…

  • Running is 1% physical and 99% mental. I already knew this but had it clearly articulated again every day of the Dopey challenge. I adored the first 3 events – they were fun from getting out of bed to returning home again and I wouldn’t take back a minute of them. And I think partly that’s because I already knew I could do them – the distances were well within my comfort zone. The marathon? Not so much. I didn’t hate it but it was a struggle from the start. And all of that was mental. Physically, I was fine (besides leg niggles) but I was pushing back ‘You won’t be able to finish this’ thoughts all the way through. Luckily….
  • I’m stubborn. Once I start something, I’ll do whatever I have to to get it finished and nothing in life has shown me that more than this event. When my blister popped and sent pain shooting through my foot with every step, I muttered ‘It’s only a blister. Get over it. At least you have feet.’ then actually found myself grinning at my ability to say that to myself. I saw people flooding in to the medical stations to tend to various bits and pieces but wouldn’t let myself do that either. I was convinced that, if I stopped, I wouldn’t go again so the only option was to keep moving.
  • You’re so much stronger when you’re with your people. There were 2 prongs to this. I travelled to the US with my husband and 5 wonderful friends and was so grateful for their friendship and support. Running with Jill in the first 3 events was a big part of what made them so epic. And in the marathon, knowing the others were out there, and knowing my husband was at the finish line, kept me going as well as the thought of stories we’d share afterwards. Often it is that – nothing specific that anyone says or does, just knowing they’re there and they get it. I’ve said before that I might run ‘alone’ but always have my running friends in my head and that was definitely true of the marathon.

    The second prong of this is choosing an event where I was with my kind of runners for the whole time. I’ve run events before where I’ve been pretty much left in the dust on the start line and then spend the whole time on my own and it is no fun at all. I love running alone but not when I’m paying for it. Disney was amazing. I never had any moments on my own and was constantly surrounded by runners who were a range of shapes and sizes but all my speed and many of them running intervals. It was an eye opening and immensely positive experience for me.

  • The journey is the best part. This one surprised me a bit. I’ve always enjoyed running events – the hype, the start line frenzy, the little distractions along the way and the bling at the end. However what I’ve enjoyed most about this experience is the training. The consistency and predictable nature of my weekday runs. Having a training plan and being accountable to it and myself. Getting lost in my own head and the world around me on my long runs. Pushing myself outside my comfort zone with every long run I did but knowing, somehow, that I would be strong enough to do it. I think what upset me most about my injury was not getting to finish the training rather than the fear of not getting to do the event.

So, what next?

Before this, I swore I would never do another marathon. And, in the moments after finishing, I probably said the same thing. Now? I don’t know. It would have to be the right one, where the only pressure I felt was from myself and not the cut off times. But it’s not out of the question. I know I need a bit of a rest but I also know I need routine and miss my long runs. 2018 is not going to be the year for setting any more big goals – ticking off such a huge one in the first few days of the year sets you up well. However I suspect it will be a year of pushing myself anyway, because I can and because I enjoy it. And, ultimately, that’s what running should be about anyway.

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Disney World marathon (Dopey – part 4)

It’s taken me a few days to get to this post as post-marathon celebrations took over and the holiday got in the way of the blog writing. Apologies!

Marathon day started very similarly to the previous four although the nerves and excitement were clearly evident. We were up a bit earlier as we’d decided that, to give ourselves the best possible chance, we all wanted to be in the front of our respective corrals and that it was worth the extra 15 minutes of sleep we’d miss. I will admit to being thankful that it was the last time my alarm would go off at something starting with a 2. While the early starts hadn’t been as hard as I thought they might, it had meant us completely building our days around what time we were going to bed (6pm) and I was looking forward to getting back to a degree of holiday normality.

Regardless, we were up and in the car by 3.15am and, thanks to staying close by and Disney efficiency, were parked, unloaded and at the event village by 4am. We pretty much went straight through to the corral walkout and joined the crowds, stopping for a quick toilet stop on the way (with almost no queues). And so we all found ourselves very close to the front of our corrals. Our little crowd in Corral G set out our cardboard, sat down and got comfortable. The temperature was a relative balmy 6 degrees so our well planned blankets and space blankets were definitely enough to keep us warm and we were thankful for some time off our feet, especially as we still had 2 hours to go until we started.

You would think, after hearing the routine for 4 days in a row, that I would be a bit blasé about it all but the American national anthem (sung so beautifully) actually brought tears to my eyes. They would be the first of many. This was a big day, a really big day. I have dreamed about running at Disney pretty much since I took up running yet never ever thought I’d be able to run a marathon. And, standing there that morning, I still wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to. I just knew that I wanted to try and had done all I could to make it happen.

The fireworks went off for the elites then, wave by wave, the other corrals were let go and it was our turn. Our early start had been worth it – we’d made it into the first wave of our corral (just – the tape was behind us!) which gave us a few extra minutes space. And we were off.

Based on the experience of the previous days, I’d decided to stick to running 1 minute per kilometre with brisk walking for the rest, as long I stayed under the required pace. I was still quite unsure of how my leg would hold out and didn’t want to push it, only to find it couldn’t cope. And I do walk quite fast. So that’s what I did. The kilometres heading towards Magic Kingdom went pretty quickly and, before long, I was headed through the parking ticket booths. At this stage, I was running with Jill-ish – we were doing our own intervals which ended up being at pretty much the same pace so kept catching up with each other. So good to see a friendly face on the course, especially as I was finding those first kilometres challenging, knowing how long the road ahead was.

However, I was looking forward to running through Magic Kingdom (again) and that kept me going. I messaged my husband (very hard with frozen fingers) as I was coming into the transportation center to let him know I was nearly there as he was waiting there to see us. Running down Main Street USA was just as good the second time and I teared up…again! These are the moments that make this run just so special. When I came through the castle, I was searching for my husband and saw him at the bottom so took the time to stop to say hi and give him a kiss. It was exactly the boost I needed and put an extra spring in my step for the rest of the park.

Then we were back out on to the roads and on our way to Animal Kingdom. The roads felt loooong. There was an out and back section where I got my hopes up that I might see my friends and I stuck to the inside lane to give me the best opportunity to scan the crowds as I ran but had no luck. This, combined with the blisters that started somewhere around this time, brought my mood down and it just became about getting it done.

It seemed to take a very, very long time to reach Animal Kingdom and, while I was glad to have a break from the open roads, I wasn’t feeling the Disney magic and just kept pushing through. There were animals on the side of the road as we entered, including a llama and a goat and the distraction of different scenery including the Everest ride – my mood perked up a little and I reminded myself that this was supposed to be an experience to be enjoyed and not endured. The good old “you don’t have to do this, you get to do this” mantra entered my head and brought a smile – as much as my feet were hurting, I was lucky and didn’t want to be anywhere else.

Out of Animal Kingdom and back onto the roads, this time towards ESPN. Having read lots of blogs on the topic, it seemed to be an area people either loved or hated so I was trying to keep an open mind to see how I would feel. I know, heading towards it, frustration was the word that sprung to mind – as you run towards ESPN, you pass runners coming out and the 35km flag which stings when you’re still somewhere in the late 20s. Despite my now very painful blistered foot, I did actually enjoy ESPN. Running on some different surfaces with something different to see was a great change and I didn’t mind that it was going around in circles.

My mood dropped again when I realised, coming out of ESPN, that no one else was going in – I was closer to the back than I had thought. Again, it became a ‘getting it done’ exercise. The kilometres from ESPN to Hollywood Studios were my hardest – physically and mentally. I felt like the blister on my foot extended under all of my toes on the ball of my foot (a reality check after the event confirmed this) so it was pain with every step. And, mentally, I was now worried about having got this far and being caught by the balloon ladies and the sweepers. I powered on. The fact I still had crowds around me was a positive and I tried to draw on their energy as many of them clearly were still enjoying it although a few looked in the same pain I felt.

Eventually, Hollywood Studios appeared and my mood started to lift. The park was full of people who lined the route and cheered – couldn’t help but smile and teared up (again!) at their encouragement. Coming out of Hollywood Studios, I knew it wasn’t far to the last sweep point and, through the car park, it appeared – the last of the parade buses, waiting to take those who couldn’t keep up with the pace. The driver smiled at us and said ‘This is your last chance to get on the bus. No? Then you better keep going for the finish line – YOU GOT THIS!’ and, at that, my face broke and I cried the ugly tears that had been waiting just under the veneer. I was still fighting back the sobs as I powered along the boardwalk and another runner said to me ‘It’s ok – we all feel the same way’ which just made me cry more. For the first time, I actually believed I was going to finish this.

I pulled myself together, stood up taller and resolved to enjoy every moment remaining. We entered the now very familiar Epcot and this time it was full of people, all cheering and smiling and watching us. Nearly finished marathoners were also popping off the course in droves to buy turkey legs and celebratory drinks to carry them to the finish line. I felt my injured calf pull and was reminded that, until I crossed the finish line, this wasn’t done so I slowed it down to do all I could to get there.

I paused one last time at Spaceship Earth for a picture and took a moment just to stand and breath and take it in – I was here, at Disney, running a marathon. Seriously. So lucky to get to actually live a dream I’d had for so long. And then it was time to get it finished.

Rounding the corner, the finish line was there, as was my husband, and I crossed my fingers that my leg would hold out and I ran for the finish line. I don’t think any finish line has ever felt so painful and yet so sweet. I collected my marathon medal and then proudly presented myself to the challenge tent to get the next 2 before moving on to rejoin my friends.

I suspect this won’t be the only post I write about marathon running but it’s well and truly long enough and says all it needs to about the day. A magical day, yes, but harder in so many ways than I envisaged. You learn so much about yourself and what you’re capable of when you do hard things and I still aren’t sure how I pushed through some of those kilometres. But I did. I am a marathoner.

Disney half marathon race recap (Dopey – part 3)

So it should have felt like Groundhog Day again this morning but it actually didn’t. I set my alarm a smidge earlier – half marathon distance is not to be taken lightly and felt like it needed more preparation than a 10km. More Body Glide. More tape. More Clif Shots. Just more.

We left about 3.30pm and things were already different as we had to take a slightly different route due to road closures. Somehow, it all worked out and we found where we were going, ending up at the same runner drop off as yesterday. But everything from there was also different. The crowds were much, much larger, with approximately 25,000 people expected to participate. We could see them streaming from the buses into the event village and then joined them in the toilet queues (which we hadn’t had to queue for on the previous days). We then had to ask for directions to the corrals as they too were in a different place and were much further away – about a 1km walk.

Once we hit the corral, we found our spots and sat on our cardboard (a great idea one of our group had the day before). While we didn’t get to do that for long, it really helped to not be on our feet for as long as we were yesterday. All the usual bits happened – a video about the charity being supported, the American national anthem and Disney characters out to rev up the runners. We joined in by giving a rendition of the Australian national anthem for those around us. And then the shuffle to the start line started.

Today was different. The fireworks were better and as good for our wave as they were for the first. Before we knew it, we were off and running – Jill and I sticking together again. I didn’t really know what to expect of the day (as has been the case all the way along!) however we started off as normal, running 2 minutes per kilometre to keep us under pace. We started on the roads outside the park again, heading towards the Magic Kingdom. There were enough sights to keep us amused including a giant Mickey hot air balloon and a school band as well as various characters. And there’s something quite magical in itself about running on roads around Disney in the dark. Like we were the special people.

However our excitement really kicked up a notch as we approached the Magic Kingdom and ran through the entrance gates – I don’t remember what was said but I’m sure there were squeals of delight involved and ‘wow, we’re really here’ comments. Once through the gates, it still takes a fair bit of running to get into the park but the closer we got, the more people there were which was very encouraging. And then we were inside and the pixie dust was definitely in the air. As we ran up Main Street USA and towards the castle, I will happily admit to fighting back the tears. It was one of those moments that are just so overwhelmingly amazing that you can’t take it all in.

After that, we ran through another few areas of the park before exiting back on to the highway and back towards Epcot. We then came across another fantastic distraction – the pacer group. These wonderful runners, affiliated with Jeff Galloway’s running method, were the 3:30 group from our corral and were running at 15/30 pace. So we joined them. Neither of us have ever run intervals that short before so we weren’t sure how we would go but we actually really, really enjoyed it. It was just enough running to keep us under pace with enough walking not to strain anything. We stayed with them for quite a while and then ended up in front of them, however still following the run/walk bits when they shouted them. In fact, so efficient were we that we caught up with the 3:15 group (from a later corral) and tried to keep up with them for a while but found it hard to duck and weave through the crowd to keep their pace. So we did our own thing as we worked our way towards the finish.

Back into Epcot, we ran only a short loop this time, still including photo time with Spaceship Earth and then the finish line was there and we were smiling for the cameras again.

I didn’t think it was possible to have as much fun as we did yesterday but we really did. Probably my favourite thing ever was that I truly felt I belonged and was around my people. People surrounded us wherever we were and were running and walking at all sorts of paces, many of them doing intervals. All without judgement or comment. It was great. I didn’t complain at any of the bottlenecks on the course as I was actually so grateful to be somewhere towards the back and still be surrounded by people. All adding to the atmosphere.

So tomorrow. All I can do is get to the start line and do my best from there. Again, I have no idea what that will look like or result in but I shall try.

Disney 10km race recap (Dopey – part 2)

It felt a little like ‘Groundhog day’ this morning. Alarm went off at 2:50am, got up and showered, ate toast, took our group picture and loaded into the car to head to Disney. All very much the same as the day before. Except that we were a little bit more tired and a little bit wiser about what lay ahead.

Gary dropped us off so there was no waiting in the warmth of the car this time; instead we headed for the nearest heater and huddled as close as we could. While the temperature was a smidge better than yesterday, the slight wind added an unwelcome chill. We were slightly better prepared with our space blankets from the previous day (thanks Disney) on top of our cheap Walmart blankets (bought at the bargain price of $2.50 each).

At somewhere not long after 4.30am, we moved off towards the corrals, had a final toilet stop and then joined our respective crowds. The time went even quicker for us this morning as we made some friends – a great family from Kentucky completing their 4th Dopey challenge. Before we knew it, the time had ticked by and we were moving off to the start line. I was reluctant again to ditch the layers but it had to be done and then it was our turn to start.

The first part of the 10km course takes you out on to the roads for an out and back section which I was worried might be boring and long. I was wrong. There were enough distractions (in the form of screens, characters and a water station) to keep us amused as well as the people watching opportunities – so many fascinating costumes going past. Like yesterday, it was quite crowded and walkers spilled into all sections although, on the whole, people were very tolerant of each and the need to give each other room.

Jill and I were again running together and I actually tried a little bit of running this time which felt good and was much needed – power walking was beginning to stress my muscles and I needed to give them a break. Odd to think of running as a break from walking but that’s what it was! We also had no music with us and didn’t need it – our chatter, the various bits of entertainment and the general atmosphere was enough.

After about 5km, we headed back towards Epcot and then ran a different route to yesterday through the park, including the Boardwalk area. And it was so much fun. Ridiculous amounts. We could not stop smiling and would find ourselves getting carried away and running, even though we’d promised ourselves that we would walk and conserve our energy. We had stops for selfies and had a lot of marvelling at the surroundings – knowing how lucky we were to be able to run this morning in such a location. Feeling incredibly grateful.

Almost too soon, it was over with the finish line in sight. We crossed it with huge grins and felt great – another run done. And my leg is still behaving itself. It had 1 very minor twinge today but was fine once it (and the rest of me) was warmed up. Next up – 21.1km. See you in the morning (again!!).

Disney 5km race recap (Dopey – part 1)

And so it begins. I have never (and will probably never again) had an event with a build up as huge as this one. It was a relief to be on our way to Epcot this morning to get it started.

My alarm went off at 2.50am and we were out the door at 3.30am, having showered, breakfasted and done our best to prepare for the cold. Our drive to Epcot was very easy and parking was fine – we got a spot not too far away from the start and sat in the car until 4am, making the most of the warmth. Once we were out, we tried to keep moving – yes, it really was cold, approx -2 C so a lot colder than we were expecting. We visited the restrooms (I know – so American of me!) and took some photos and then it wasn’t long before we were headed to our respective corrals.

I was in E with 3 of the others so had company which was great – we danced and sang to the music and generally soaked it all in. We watched the first couple of corrals file off towards the start line and then saw the fireworks to signify their send off. Before long, we too were being shepherded towards the start, seeing our own fireworks and were off.

Finally running at Disney World. Well, walking. I had decided early on not to push anything too hard, especially as I haven’t run at all in 5 weeks. However, swept along by the crowd, I ended up walking a very fast first kilometre. The first part of the course takes you onto roads around the park and I used this time to people watch – so many interesting costumes and excited faces. In fact, just so many people around in general.

After that, we were running into Epcot and my friend, Jill, caught me so we ran together, taking in the beautiful sights and uplifting Disney tunes. We spied a few characters on course but weren’t willing to join the lines so smiled and sped on by. We really didn’t need photos with characters – we were happy enough with taking in the scenery and all the glittery prettiness that is Epcot.

In what felt like an incredibly short time, we were zooming back past Spaceship Earth and towards the finish line which we crossed with big smiles. And this is where the logistics of Disney really kicked in – we were perfectly funnelled through to get our finish medals, snack box, banana, Powerade, water and heat blanket before heading to the photo stops for a picture with our medals.

It’s definitely a relief to have the first event done. I’m exhausted and not sure how I’ll get through the rest but am pleased to say that, so far, my leg feels great. I did run across the finish line as a bit of a test and it passed with flying colours. Next up – 10km. See you in the morning!

Dopey training – week 27

Training is done. Not that I’ve been following the training plan for a few weeks now, thanks to my ‘niggles’ but it’s officially done.

Briefly – it’s been a week of a few power walks and lots of high step count days in between.

We visited Green Lake in Seattle to stretch our legs and I pushed my walking as hard as I could, managing to stay ahead of balloon lady pace, despite feeling cold and mildly unfit. I knew that cutting these last few weeks wouldn’t kill my fitness completely but it has taken a bit of a dent, however it was either that or rule myself out completely with injury.

On Saturday, parkrunday, we were in San Francisco so headed for Crissy Field. This walk was hard. Cold, again, and just felt slow and alone. All of the ‘I’m not good enough’ thoughts were surfacing as I could feel my calf pull and I just wanted to be able to run like I could see all of those ahead of me doing. I tried a few steps of running but felt familiar pains so went back to walking and called on all my positive mantras just to finish. The pain wasn’t as bad as it had been a few weeks earlier and I was still keeping up a good walking pace. And the scenery made me smile. Crossing the line, I was consoling myself that at least I can finish the 5km at Disney, if nothing else.

I’ll extend this training week to Monday as, being New Year’s Day, it was an extra parkrunday and by this time, we were in Florida so went to Clermont Waterfront. The weather was awful but I actually had a fantastic walk. Who knows what had changed in the 2 days since my previous one? I didn’t look at my watch, didn’t care what pace I did and just enjoyed it. The 5km still felt long, making me wonder how the other events would feel but I saw that as a positive – 2 days before, I had been sure I wouldn’t be doing any other events. In the end, I finished only just over balloon lady pace but feeling much more positive than on my previous 2 walks.

So training really is done. I have no idea what the next few days will bring. I have no idea whether my leg, my lungs or my mind are capable of finishing any or all of the events. Let alone finish them, I don’t know whether I’m going to start them all. Each day will be its own decision point and I can’t commit to any more than that. What I do know is that I did the training. I skipped a small number of runs through illness or injury but did all the others, despite long days at work, cold, heat, being tired or just not wanting to. If the training plan said run, I ran. And I couldn’t be prouder of that. Whether or not I bring home all the bling I hoped for, I have achieved something beyond what I thought I could and the journey has shown me what I’m capable of, physically and mentally. Those who told me marathon training was life changing were right and I’m so glad to have done it.

Summary:

Thursday – 5km (49:12)
Saturday – 4.9km (47:36)
Monday – 5km (51:09)