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!

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.

41766688_825156521026146_3791082136560205824_n

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.

41743978_825156497692815_8833914276583309312_n

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.

41746986_825156547692810_6451445168158539776_n

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!!!).

41719215_10155795515927083_4323856341249556480_n

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.

20180901_074845.jpg

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.

20180901_082750.jpg

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 🙂

parkrun tourism @ cobram

As my husband and I are working our way through the Victorian parkruns, we jumped at the chance to use up some school/uni holiday time driving to far away places and scheduled a visit to Cobram parkrun for their 2nd birthday. I jumped on Airbnb and booked a great little find just outside of town. As it turned out, it was an even better find than we thought as, on arrival, we met owner and fellow parkrun enthusiast Neeska. Definitely something to list on accommodation websites – parkrun friendly!

IMG_20180706_174859_901.jpg

The serene sunset from our cabin, accompanied by a chorus of cows.

The weather warnings were all well south of us and, despite my home event being cancelled, we enjoyed blue skies and speckles of sunshine in Cobram, albeit with a crisp note in the air. The start area was very easy to find, especially with the various tutu wearing people gathering for the birthday celebrations. We delivered our required celebratory cupcakes (or at least those that had lasted the journey intact and uneaten) and chatted to fellow adventurers who had travelled up for the event.

20180707_073654.jpg

A very picturesque view from the start line

And then it was time to start. The course is a beautiful trail, running along the river and through the bush. The surface is a mixture of gravel, solid ground and dirt but nothing too bad as long as you keep an eye out for anything trying to trip you up. There are some very minor ups and downs but, again, nothing too taxing. It’s well signposted and with ample marshals to ensure you don’t get lost, at least in a physical sense.

20180707_082014.jpg

For me, today, it was definitely a run to be lost in my own thoughts. Last weekend, my Mum died and, as you can imagine, it’s been a challenging week. The only way I can think of describing it is like the world became a little wobbly on its axis – things are exactly the same and yet they aren’t and random thoughts throughout the week have made me either laugh hysterically or cry, in equal measure. Today’s run, along the beautiful Murray River, was just the tonic I needed and made me smile, as hard as it was. Mum never got to do a parkrun but we had talked about it quite a bit and, had she been able to, she would have liked this one although she would have sworn it had mountains on it and not vague undulations.

IMG_20180707_090645_914.jpg

By the end of the run, I felt like the world and its axis had moved a little closer to where they needed to be. In a condolence message sent earlier in the week, a friend had said she hoped Mum would visit me on the trails and I think she probably did today. I was glad I’d not let the wobbly world keep me at home and was also happy to be surrounded by supportive, friendly and encouraging people of the parkrun family but not anyone who knew her and would want to talk about her. Today, she was just in my thoughts and I was grateful for that time with her.

Once it was done, we feasted on cupcakes and chatted until the tailwalker arrived then took the required birthday group photo before heading off for a delicious breakfast, just over the border in New South Wales. Here we were shown again how friendly and welcoming the Cobram parkrun crowd is and breakfast extended almost until lunchtime. It seems to be the way with all country parkruns in particular – such a strong sense of community and always welcoming to those from out of town.

Happy birthday to the event team and parkrunners at Cobram and thanks for the hospitality this morning. We’ll definitely be back, hopefully when the weather’s a little warmer!

20180707_090315.jpg

Mmmmmmmm!

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.

20180617_092831.jpg

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.

20180617_094232.jpg

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.

20180617_101113.jpg

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.

20180617_113925.jpg

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.

IMG_20180617_192629_578.jpg

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.

received_10155538569933461.jpeg

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.

20180616_075010.jpg

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.

20180616_083346.jpg

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.

20180616_083358.jpg

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 🙂

20180616_084657.jpg

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!