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.

Dopey training – week 16

First week back of term is not really the ideal week for training to go up to another level but it is what it is and there’s not much I can do about it. So I just got on with what the training plan told me. Be ready for a long post – it was a loooooong training week.

On Tuesday, I set my alarm for 5.45am, got up and ran around my neighbourhood. I am not at all an early morning runner, as much as I’d like to be. The thing that got me up was knowing husband and I had movie tickets that night that would give me no chance to run after work so it was early or not at all. So early it was. I’m pleased to say I actually enjoyed it. Now that it’s getting light earlier, I didn’t need my head torch and was treated to the soft, welcoming colours of dawn as the neighbourhood woke up. And I got to bask in that ‘I’ve already done my run’ kind of feeling all day. Tick.

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Tuesday night, husband and I did go to the movies but not ordinary movies – it was the Run Nation Film Festival in Melbourne and we had won tickets thanks to a parkrun competition. I think it deserves a blog post of its own but, in summary, it was brilliant. The films chosen were a perfect mix and provided exactly the inspiration I needed this week.

Thursday afternoon ended up being a hill day as my friend and I headed out to the You Yangs for our regular trek up the Saddle. I’d been getting a bit paranoid about my leg which had been doing what it does – flare up for no reason when I have an event coming up. However it was perfectly ok after the hills so which reassured me that it was all in my head.

Saturday called for 11km which meant parkrun plus some extra. We were going to Bannockburn Bush parkrun launch so we went out early and ran the course (and a bit) before the others got there. It was actually really, really lovely. It’s a very peaceful place and the fog added to the atmosphere. We took it easy, aiming for a pace that would keep us a bit ahead of the balloon ladies and achieved this without a problem. Completing parkrun afterwards was also very low stress and I had no soreness at the end as we tucked into breakfast. I did take it easy for the rest of Saturday – not sore, just a bit tired and knew we had an early morning this morning.

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Today was our long run – 27km on the training plan which suited us as we’d signed up for the Melbourne half marathon. We arrived early, dropped off our bags and then set off on some laps around the MCG to add on some extra kilometres. I think the people arriving for their events thought we were possibly a little insane but it was actually quite enjoyable. We then joined everyone else at the start line and were off, leaving our Garmins running to track our longest long runs yet.

I ran with a friend for quite a while and really, really appreciated having her there – I am sure I wouldn’t have had as much ‘run’ in me without her. It’s funny how, even without pushing you or telling you you have to, having someone there makes you instantly more accountable. You don’t want to let them down. And so it was today which was exactly what I needed.

The first part of the run went off pretty well and the kilometres flew. It certainly helped that we were surrounded by people all buzzing with event excitement and had glorious blue skies. Albert Park lake, the site last year of wind and bugs, was stunning today and my regular check-ins with my body confirmed that nothing was hurting. The only thing that was starting to get to me was that I was tired but that’s to be expected – a big part of this training plan is learning to run on tired legs.

Once we were back on St Kilda Road and felt like we were on the home stretch, I found it harder to keep up the intervals and set my friend free – time to knuckle down and just get on with our own journeys. My mantra today was ‘This is hard, yes but not impossible’ and that was enough to keep me going.

Clearly the fatigue and endorphins combined to leave me prone to random tearing up – cheers on the course from a parent of one of my students (who was running the marathon) made me teary as did hearing the cheers in the final stretch. I took a big gulp and entered the MCG. Last year, I remember finding I had to dig deep to keep running as I had run a PB and had nothing left. This year was very different – I was certainly tired but my legs and lungs were still well and truly strong enough to get me there.

However crossing the line wasn’t enough – I still had another 1.5km to go to reach my training plan distance so I got my medal, headed up the steps and found another friend who kindly offered to collect and carry my bag and do a couple of laps of the MCG with me to finish. 27km – done.

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48.7km run this week – my biggest training week ever. Will see how I am tomorrow but, for tonight, I feel great.

Weekly summary:

Tuesday: 5.6km (47:12)

Thursday: 5km (51:30)

Saturday: 11.1km (1:46:15)

Sunday: 27km (4:08:56)

Dopey training – week 5

What a week! It was, officially, a tapering week before my half so I went into it knowing I didn't want to do too much. Just enough to follow the plan.

My Tuesday run moved to Wednesday as I had to swap my late night at work. For some reason, I was feeling full of beans and set out feeling like running….so I ran. And didn't stop. No intervals, no walk breaks, just running, which is something I almost never do. Before I knew it, I'd run the block and finished just over 5 km without feeling the need for a walk break. I'm still committed to the whole Galloway thing but it's nice to know that it's through choice, not because I have to. I think that was exactly what my running self esteem needed.

The second 45 minute run for the week was on Saturday…and was actually a walk. I was back at my home parkrun after ages away so I walked it with a friend, knowing I had the half marathon the next day. It was actually really good – a perfect Winter's morning, great company and no stress. Just what I needed.

And then the half marathon. A lot longer run than I needed to do but so much fun, especially with the added bonus of a bunch of PBs. Check out my blog post for more details of this one.

Weekly summary
Wednesday – 5.7km (45:11)
Saturday – 5km (53:17)
Sunday – 21.1km (2:49:46)

Run Melbourne half marathon – race recap

I'm home – installed on the couch with my medal still in sight so all that's left to do is tell you all about it.

Run Melbourne half marathon was on this morning, requiring us to have a ridiculously early wake up call at some time beginning with a 4. We headed off to Melbourne and were dropped near Federation Square then got ourselves ready to run.

As always, I started this one not knowing how I'd go. Training has gone well and I've done all the runs I was supposed to. I'm not sick. I'm not injured. No excuses. However you never actually know how you'll feel and how the run will play out until you're in it. (Or is that just me?)

I started this one in a very familiar way – with my amazing running friends. We hung out at the back of the start, letting all the faster ones go through. It was only as we snuck a look behind us as we walked to the start line that we realised exactly how far at the back we were – a mere handful of runners were behind us. "Good," I thought. "Less people to overtake me."

And so we began. I'd discovered a nifty trick to have both run/walk reminders and my kilometre pace screen so felt doubly in control of what was going on. Right on cue, it beeped at 2 minutes, telling me to walk. I used to find it hard to walk that early in an event but now I know better – if you follow Galloway and do it properly, it should let you be just as fast but not as fatigued. As long as you do it properly. So I walked. I had a momentary "hmmmm, I'm last and this is going to be a very quiet run" as there was no one else around but knew the course needed to stay open for the 10km runners and no one seemed to be hurrying me so I kept going at my pace. We ran along a bit of Southbank and headed along Spencer Street then up Collins Street (and the hill – actually not too bad) into the Docklands. So far, so good.

My friend and I chatted as we ran and were soon joined by another lady we'd met at the start line who asked if she could join us – absolutely. We introduced her to the world of Galloway intervals and continued on our merry way.

Coming back into Southbank, we were on track and feeling ok. I won't say 'feeling great' because, well, we were running a half marathon and were bound to be feeling tired. But tired was all – no injuries, no terrible soreness, no real issues. And keeping up with the intervals.

Running along towards the Domain was probably the only time I felt lonely out on the course – here was this wide stretch of road with no supporters, no cheer squads and few other runners to keep us company. Soon enough, we turned into the gardens for a loop and all of that was fixed – lots of other runners and an absolutely brilliant choir singing exactly the inspirational music we needed to hear. We took advantage of a bit of downhill and made up some time then did a u-turn and headed back up the hill, power walking it out.

Anderson Street hill was next – not my favourite uphill part but I do love that downhill and we definitely made the most of it. We also glimpsed our first person wearing a medal along here and it was a great reminder of the bling we would be getting for completing – all incentives were needed by this point as things were starting to ache a bit. We also had some smiles for a runner who came hurtling past us giving cheers (or possibly just grunts but we'll take it!).

Along the tan and around the corner and we saw the crew from Lalor parkrun who had, helpfully, written 'one parkrun to go' on the road – exactly what we needed to hear. We then ran alongside the 10km runners lining up to start although they were clearly nervous and in the zone as there wasn't much encouragement from them.

Running back along the river and over Swan Street Bridge, we were passed by the first 10km runners. I found the last few kilometres a challenge and power walked a lot of it with bits of running when walking hurt too much. The dreaded hill up to Flinders Street actually wasn't so bad (did someone flatten it a bit this year?!?) and, soon enough, we were running down the hill towards the turn into Birrarung Marr.

I was ridiculously pleased to see the finish line but also so happy to be crossing it with my great running friend, Jo and new running friend, Julie. And I was also absolutely over the moon to have beat my half marathon PB by over 2 minutes. (I had also managed to smash my 10km, 15km, 10mile and 20km PBs as well). My time, according to Strava was 2:49:33 – so proud of the work that has gone into training for this and feeling more positive than ever with the journey towards Disney.

The (mind) games runners play

Tomorrow I'm running a half marathon as part of Run Melbourne. So, naturally, the anxiety and general freaking out started about a week ago and will continue until I cross the start line in the morning. Have I trained enough? Will the weather be ok? I wonder how far I can push myself?

These are the pre-mind games I play before every event and I don't know that I'm getting any better at reigning it in. Despite knowing that I've done this distance 7 times before, I've still got nerves. I have to remember the advice I give to my Grade 4 students – nerves about something mean that it matters. That you care. They're not a bad thing and we shouldn't try to quell or fight them – just accept that they're there and they're giving you a message.

However I know that, once I start, I'll be fine. Crossing the start line means a whole lot of other mental games come into it to get me to the finish. Here are some of my favourite tricks to make 21km not seem like, well, 21km….

  • run/walk intervals – I generally run my long runs at 2/1 or 3/1 (eg, 2 minute run, 1 minute walk) as I've found Jeff Galloways' training and techniques to really help me, mentally and physically. That way, I only allow myself to think about the next 3 or 4 minutes, never more. I do not, under any circumstances, think about the whole distance or time that I will be running. Get through this 3 minutes and the rest will take care of itself.
  • run the kilometre you're in – If I'm not feeling as tied into doing set intervals, I change the screen on my Garmin to show the pace per kilometre and I focus on that. This is particularly useful if I'm aiming for a time goal. I know what pace I need to aim for and I track that in the kilometre I'm in but don't allow myself to think of the next kilometre or any that I've finished. Just this one. Make this one good and keep it within the pace I want but don't think of the future or the past.
  • break it down – Thinking about 21.1km when you start a half marathon is a very, very bad idea. It's a long way. If you run at my speed, you'll be out there for quite a long time. Neither of those things will particularly inspire you while standing on the start line so I try not to think of it in terms of total distance, rather I think of chunks. A few kilometres to the first aid station. A few kilometres to a bridge or other landmark. A few kilometres to the half way mark or a turnaround point. A few kilometres to another aid station. Before you know it, the kilometres have flown by and you're counting them down towards the finish line. I only allow myself to count down once it's less than 5km to go – that's a parkrun. I can do a parkrun, even if I'm tired, sore and over it.
  • think about someone else – This one started for me while doing my first 'Run for the kids' where the kilometre markers were pictures of children who were in the Royal Children's Hospital, fighting all sorts of illnesses and conditions. Thinking about them made it very hard to feel sorry for myself and my pseudo woes. I also think a lot about my heroes and the tenacity they demonstrate – Turia Pitt, Kelli Roberts and Kurt Fearnley being 3 that spring to mind. The combination of thinking of those who would want to run and can't and thinking of those who show what strength really looks like is a potent one and always make me hold my head a little higher and run a little stronger.

Whoever said that running is more mental than physical was completely right – for me, it is definitely that way. My runs that are hard are usually that way because of what is going on in my brain and not my body. Here's to me winning the mental battles tomorrow.

2017 Great Ocean Road half marathon – race recap

The Great Ocean Road running festival feels like the kind of event you only get to do once in a lifetime so I felt very, very lucky to be heading down on Friday night to complete my second event. As always, I wasn’t undertaking this alone but was part of the usual running crew, ensuring a fun weekend ahead.

My friends and I had booked a house in Skenes Creek which was a great place to relax and get ourselves mentally prepared for the task. On Saturday, we slept in (beyond parkrun time – eeeek!) and chatted before popping into Apollo Bay to shop for GOR merchandise, wander the event village and grab some lunch which we took back to eat on our balcony with amazing views of the ocean.

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Our balcony view – just gorgeous

We spent the afternoon with more relaxing and then headed into the Apollo Bay Brewhouse for dinner. They had put on a pasta selection for those running people requiring such things and I was grateful for it – running long distances is hard enough without messing with routines and, stereotypical as it is, eating pasta the night before is one of my rituals.

Back to our holiday home and time to get all our things ready for our early start in the morning then a relatively early night. My 5am wake up call wasn’t too harsh although I’m not sure I slept that well. I wasn’t exactly nervous – I knew the course and what to expect but, as always, felt pressure from within to do ‘well’, whatever that means. I’m always my harshest critic and the one most likely to inflict judgement.

This year, we were lucky enough to skip the buses as one of our fabulous support crew drove us to Kennett River which saved me from having to stave off travel sickness in the back of a bus driving through the dark on the Great Ocean Road. We arrived before the crowds and headed to the beach to savour the sunrise – definitely a highlight of this event. Today’s sunrise didn’t disappoint although the photos don’t do it justice.

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All the usual rituals then ensued – portaloo queuing (not too long actually), photo taking and, soon enough, heading to our starting positions. It seemed a lot busier this year than last and saw us start further back and amid thicker crowds. Neither of these things were a problem – it’s a large road with plenty of room and I knew we’d spread out easily after the start.

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The fabulous running trio about to start

So we started. I figured 23km was far enough to run so I walked until I got the start line then began my run. I hadn’t really decided on a game plan other than to a) try to beat my time from last year and b) enjoy myself. Run when I felt like it, walk when I felt like it, instead of sticking to set intervals. From the start line, you head very quickly uphill and, having fresh legs, I felt ok to run a bit. In fact, I felt great. I had my Garmin on the lap screen so just tracked my pace for that kilometre and ran enough to keep it below the pace I needed. This was a pretty easy strategy for the first couple of kilometres as there were plentiful downhills to bank some time.

Somewhere around the 5km mark I had a couple of things that ate into my time – koala spotting and the large hill taking you up to Cape Patton. I still managed a respectable pace, just inevitably a bit slower, especially as the view demanded some snapshots before moving on. If you’re running too fast to enjoy the scenery in this event, then you really are missing the best part.

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The view from Cape Patton

After Cape Patton, the hills are smaller and you begin to spend some time inland, running alongside farmland. You still have undulations along the course but nothing too draining and I was able to keep my pace within my target. My biggest challenge was that, while I had trained for this, much of my training was on trails which are much softer on the feet than road. The constant pounding was starting to take a toll – on the soles of my feet, on my joints and on my knees.

I was lucky enough to be running close to one of my friends – we kept catching each other up and it helped keep me motivated and happily distracted from the task. We were also pleasantly surprised by how many other runners were around us throughout – no doubt partly a result of record numbers but also related to us being quicker than last year. The runners around us were a great bunch and definitely added to the fun atmosphere – no one taking it too seriously but also clearly pushing themselves to achieve their own goals.

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As we ran through Skenes Creek, my friend showed her consistency and determination as she went on ahead while I was finding it hard to keep up the pace. So I put my head down and power walked it out. And when I say power walked, I mean power walked. I couldn’t slow down – the finish line was edging closer and I needed to get there.

This event is an ‘ultra half marathon’ (ie, a bit longer than a half marathon) so you actually cross over timing mats for an official half marathon distance 2km before the actual event finish. I crossed the half marathon mats having knocked 18 minutes off my time from 2016. I was elated. However it did nothing to make my body feel better which was telling me in no uncertain terms that it had had enough. That I managed to keep moving still astounds me – all I wanted to do was stop and sit. By now, there were crowds starting to gather along the route which was wonderful as it gave me motivation and encouragement.

Amidst the general ‘go’ and ‘you’re doing great’ there was one gentleman who could learn the art of what to say to someone who looks like they’re struggling. He decided advise was the best thing and told me ‘You’re doing well. Push up to a shuffle so you can finish strong.’ Had I been capable of speech at that point, I would have told him that this was finishing strong, because the act of finishing at all showed my strength in that moment.

The cow cheer squad were there again this year and were just as lovely – I don’t remember what one lady said but I appreciated it and thanked her, telling her I was doing my best. She put her hand on my shoulder and said ‘I know you are. You’re amazing’ which brought on the tears that I then had to work hard to hold back.

I continued my power walk until I finally saw the finish line as I knew it was the longest finish shute in history and would take everything I had. And possibly then some. According to Strava, it was about 300metres and I ran it proudly and as quick as I could. The finish shute is lined with people, many of which were cheering for me thanks to my name on my bib and the absence of other runners at that moment. Every step I wondered if I was capable of taking another and it was an extra strain as I was fighting back the tears. I’m normally pretty emotional when I run but this was another level – a combination of pain, exhaustion and elation. I crossed the line having knocked exactly 19 minutes off my time from last year.

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Finish line in sight, I just try to get it over with quickly

This event is nothing short of epic. Epic in the way it takes over Apollo Bay for the weekend, epic in the logistics which ensure smooth running and movement of 7000 athletes and epic in the views along the way. There really is something truly magical about getting to run on this road with no interruptions or distractions, surrounded by a diverse mix of athletes and supported by a township of locals and visitors. If you haven’t done it, add it to your list and make it a priority. It will hurt but is definitely an event you won’t regret.