Remember why you started

I recently moved offices at work, albeit temporarily while a colleague is on maternity leave for the year.  This meant I got to upgrade from an internal office to an external one (YAY!) with a beautiful and very distracting view of the harbor.  In doing so, I had a big tidy up, and found a post it note that I had written to myself some months prior. Post it note

I  wrote this note the day after I attended the Tarawera info night on 17 June 2015.  One of the speakers, I believe it was the Tarawera founder, Paul Charteris, told us to think about that very question: Why do you run?

Why do I do this?

Because logically, why do we put ourselves through physical exercise, exert energy, put strain on our muscles and joints, take time away from our families, spend money on an event where we essentially pay to put ourselves through hell? Have I sold it?

Because really, there are so many reasons to run, that you forget about the above, about the pain, the hard times.  If you run, you don’t think of any of the obstacles or the terrible things that may come with running.There are so many reasons out there: stress release, getting out and enjoying nature, to explore new places, to get a tan, to look good, to exert built up energy, to collect medals and tshirts from events, so that you can eat cake, drink beer and not feel bad, because it is a chance to catch up with friends, for the competitive aspect – there are so many reasons, and all of those apply to me in one way or the other.

FullSizeRender(12)For me, there are so many reasons why I run.  But when I truly thought about it – why I have the urge to run, versus why I run when training for an event – it is the thrill, the achievement, the internal challenge and struggle against the little voice in your head saying no, and that great moment in life when you overcome that challenge, you surprise yourself and carry on.  That moment when you realize that two weeks, two months or two years ago, your body and your mind could not do what it just did.  Those moments, running faster, running further, overcoming a tough time or a dark  moment, running a familiar course with more ease than normal – that is what it is all about.

To me, running is empowering.  If you are in the zone mentally, with the right music to listen to, perfect weather, a beautiful day, and you are in the zone physically, where you feel good before, after and during your run, you can get to a point where you are on cloud nine, you smile, you laugh, you feel like you are a machine.  You feel powerful, inspiring, energized, and like you can do anything in the world.  I’ve had a number of these moments, where I am out running and feel unstoppable.  Like the world is my oyster and I can tackle whatever it throws me.

That is what was behind the post it note.  And that is what I tried to capture in so few words.  And funnily enough, it really helped me to actually formulate those reasons in writing.  To put it down on paper, to look at it and think ‘huh’.  It helped put running, my passions and goals in perspective, and because I wrote it down, that passion and reason for running has stayed with me throughout my training for Tarawera.  It helped me through the dark times, it helped me continue to believe in myself, it helped me go running when it was raining or when I was tired, because I had to.  I couldn’t give up – my post it note wouldn’t let me. 

And it is so fitting that I find it now, with four sleeps to go until Tarawera.  Essentially, that info night convinced me that I wanted to run an ultra marathon.  I wanted to do Tarawera, it belonged to me.  I wrote that note, and that made it even more concrete: I could do it. And now, half a year later, and after three months of intensive ultra-specific training (and 375km of running in those three months!) I am about to finally run that event.  And those words and the passion behind them have stuck with me so strongly.  Even more so this final week, excited and nervous, waiting impatiently for the big day to come round.

IMG_0782And recently, I have found new reasons to run, and to run the way I do.  To sacrifice parts of my personal life to work towards an ultra marathon, to make changes to my life in terms of diet, work, socializing, drinking, exercise – because I have discovered how powerful your own determination, your own goals and your own love to run can be to others.  Inspiring others through a simple act of just getting out there and running.  Doing what you always do, but for a bigger cause, on a larger scale.

My first marathon, I felt the pressure to run for others, not just for myself.  I was so scared and nervous the morning of the race that I became upset and worried that I couldn’t do it, I doubted myself and my abilities.  My Mom told me that I could pull out if I wanted to, or walk if it got too hard.  My response? “But others expect me to do it! To run it all! To do well!”  That is not the right response.  You can’t run for others.  You should never have external pressures on your performance.  Because running should be a passion, you should have internal reasons for doing it.  You may have an audience, and at times you may want to beat others or impress others.  But you should always be competing against yourself, not anyone else.

FullSizeRender(11)In saying that, your running can inspire others.  I have received such positive support from friends, family and colleagues during my training.  I have received messages from old friends that I haven’t spoken to in years, who have been following my blog posts and are “blown away” by what I am doing, wishing me luck.  I also have close friends who are now challenging themselves to do something they never would otherwise, like a half marathon.  So thank you to everyone for reading, for supporting me along the way, and for being part of my journey.  The love and support help so much, as do the messages of support, and the comments that I myself have inspired you.  It is overwhelming, and it helps make the struggle worth it.

And to those who do run, or have any form of passion – remember why you started it in the first place.  Get back to those roots, because you never know what that might lead to.

Last HIIT session before Tarawera

This past Wednesday’s HIIT session was not a fun one. It didn’t help that I wasn’t looking forward to it before I even began. It was raining, windy and stormy, you couldn’t see the hills there was so much cloud. I was tired and had gotten so used to doing my interval/speed sessions at lunch time, I didn’t feel like doing it after work! Especially not after consuming a glass of bubbles at a work function just before.

But rather than saying “It’s ok Jen just go home the weather sucks” I knew I had to say “No Jen…Tarawera is in 10 days, you can’t get complacent now, every bit counts, there is a purpose to this session and if you don’t do well on the day you will only have yourself to blame.”

So I made myself go. I guilt tripped myself.

Then Greig told us that we were doing 4x500m, with 60 seconds rest between each, followed up a run as hard as we could all the way to the top of Mount Victoria (the scenic route).  We could then cruise back down and finish with another 4x500m.

At that point I thought “I really should have gone home.”   But I couldn’t…I was there, others were there, he gave me a pat on the back and it began.

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The view of Mt Victoria from HealthFit on Wednesday night – no visibility whatsoever!

The dreaded 500m repeats – they were actually pretty great! I hadn’t run in three days, and while I had done lower body strength stuff, I had gone for a sports massage on Monday from Back To It with the Amazing Alice and she had made my legs feel incredibly refreshed and rejuvenated.  So Wednesday night my legs felt fresh and free, and the repeats were great! Funny how beforehand I was dreading them, but during them I was loving it! I probably didn’t push myself as hard as I could have…but each time running around the building I felt strong.  I also kept up with/got in front of Liz, who is an amazing runner, super speedy and great at 5km and 10km events, someone I usually keep up with to begin with then fall behind, so it was a really nice feeling to be coming ahead of her at the finish of each.  (To Liz’s credit she said she was on antibiotics…but my brain chose to ignore that on Wednesday).

My repeats ended up being 2:01, 1:50, 1:53 and 1:51 – 22 seconds per 100m, and times that I am pretty happy with given I was probably only pushing at 90%.

Looking back through my Garmin times, I did 500m repeats in August 2015, with times of 2:00, 1:54, 1:57, 1:56, 1:56, and in December 2015 (one month ago) my 500m repeats at the same spot were all between 1:57 and 2:03.  So Wednesday was great – comparatively I was flying, and it felt like it too!

But that wasn’t the end of it…our 500m repeats were over and to Mt Vic it was.  This was the bit I wasn’t looking forward to – Every time I have run up and down Mt Vic, I had calf pain, IT band pain, or needed to stop and walk portions because I didn’t feel fit enough.  But this time round, I ran the entire way.  It sucked.  I didn’t want to do it.  It was raining. I was hot. We were running essentially in the cloud.  I was thirsty.  But I thought “If you can’t do this Jen, there is no way you can do Tarawera.  Seriously, stop being a wuss!”

So I did it.  I made myself run the whole way.  Despite my brain saying “no”, “this is stupid” and “why are you doing this to me” I kept going.  And got to the top – ran to the top of Mt Vic to the lookout – to be greeted by no view whatsoever – just cloud.  But hey, I did it, as did the others.  It was great to get up there and have a rest, pat others on the back and say well done, before making our way back down the hill.  And it was a pretty solid run (Garmin data available here), average pace of 6:29 (I took it slower than normal coming down as I have had a tight IT band in the past few weeks).

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The Mount Victoria portion of Wednesday – 6.5km from HealthFit, to the lookout and back down. SO HUMID.

Lucky for me, that took us past 7pm, which meant that I was late for yoga and had no time to do another 4 500m repeats…I almost wish I had done one or two though to see how my legs were after the run up Mt Vic (an elevation gain of 207m).  I felt pretty happy after Mt Vic, because I didn’t walk, I didn’t have pain, and it reinforced in my mind that I can do this, I am ready and there has been purpose behind everything I have done to date.  Even tacking Mt Victoria on Wednesday night had a purpose – making sure I wasn’t getting too complacent with my ability, and to continue pushing myself mentally to get over the bad weather, get over my lack of drive and energy, and just push.

It also helped my Strava stats for January, bringing me to 139km for the month and a total elevation climb of 4,481 meters.  I have run more than 139km in a month before – when I was training for my first marathon in 2014.  Many people training for ultras will run MUCH more than 139km in a month, but remember it is my taper month, and I am also injury prone so spend more time in the gym and doing speed/strength work than just hitting the pavement.  But I don’t think I have EVER climbed 4,481 meters in a month – I used to avoid hills at all costs – hated them.  So that is epic.  That is three times the height of the Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago! Almost as high as Mont Blanc! Now that, in itself, doing that in training (!) makes me so happy and proud.

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The start of the taper

With every event, whether it is a 10km or a 100km race, there is always a peak in training, and there is always a taper.  Or at least, that is the idea.  For those who don’t speak run lingo (and many don’t), a ‘taper’ or ‘tapering’ is the reduction of exercise before a race or an event. And it is important.

When I first started running I didn’t appreciate the importance of the taper period, and I didn’t actually taper as I was meant to (sneaking in an unplanned run or gym session when I shouldn’t have!).  I would struggle to slow down and decrease my exercise, mainly because I was doing it so routinely up to that point, it felt weird to stop.  I also always had this fear in the back of my mind that by reducing running and increasing rest, I would somehow lose my fitness and lose my ability to run that long distance.

But I know now, that is not the case.  You actually do yourself more harm than good by carrying on and not resting – you increase your risk of injury, you continue increasing muscle fatigue and creating micro tears in your muscles.  In the lead up to a race, in the ‘taper’ period, your muscles need to start resting and recovering for the big day where you will be putting it all on the line and (in my view) going out at 110%.  It’s taken me time to learn that the taper is good, it is necessary, and it will help.  It won’t make me go backwards, it will only help me go further towards my goal – a PR, a new distance, or a great day out running an event.

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Love this quote – because the journey is just as important (if not more important) than the destination

However, tapering doesn’t mean just stopping and going cold turkey – it is a gradual decrease, to condition your body and allow it to receive an adequate level (and balance) of rest and exercise over that time. For the Tarawera ultra, my taper is three weeks.  This is the same as my marathon taper, but obviously the content of those two tapers is different.

 

Many running coaches believe that for a marathon or ultra, you should decrease to 80% of your normal training volume three weeks out, 60% two weeks out and then down to 30% the week before.  Three weeks and two weeks out, the training still ‘counts’ in the sense that you are still working on keeping your fitness and your ability up, but you are also aiming to reduce accumulated fatigue and allow you to feel fresh on race day.  I keep up my workouts and my long run, but slowly decrease the duration or mileage, and decrease the frequency.  I will add back in some speed training and lighten up on those weights at the gym, so that my muscles don’t feel as tight and fatigued for days following.

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Keeping up my plyometric work – damn hurdles

I am already one and a half weeks through my taper – it is 12 days till race day.  For me, my taper period looks like the following:

  • Change my long Saturday runs (24-55km) to a shorter run at race pace (so really pushing myself during the run) followed by a tough hike (to allow for a longer duration but less impact on the knees and body)
    • Last Saturday = 20km on-road run at race pace followed by a 2.5 hour hike (three weeks out)
    • Yesterday = 15km off-road run at race pace followed by a 3 hour hike (two weeks out)
    • This coming Saturday (one week out) = no long run
  • Getting back into intervals by eliminating my Wednesday lunch threshold run (I worked my way up: 2km, 4km, 6km, 8km, 12km and 14km) and replacing that with interval training:
    • 2 1/2 weeks ago = 8x800m with 90sec rest (three weeks out)
    • Last week = 8x400m with 90sec rest (two weeks out)
    • This coming Wednesday = 10x500m with 90sec rest (one week out)
    • Next Wednesday (three days before the event) = complete rest

I am still doing my lower body strength sessions and metabolic sessions, but starting to take it easy and decrease frequency and duration. And of course this entire tapering period occurred after my main peak, my 55km run. It is the fine tuning phase some would say. The time to rest, recover and begin to mentally visualize the finish line.

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Practicing my finish line pose – thoughts?

Mentally visualizing the finish line is the easy part for me – I haven’t actually seen the finish line in person but I have on the website and via Instagram.  Ever since my 55km run when I realized I was both physically and mentally prepared for the ultra, I’ve just been so ready to do it. To run Tarawera. Get it over and done with. Time won’t speed up fast enough! You work and train so hard to increase your fitness and physical ability to do an event, once you get there (which should always be prior to the event itself) it is so easy to think ‘can we just get this over with already!?’ That is me right now.  Just wanting to get it done.  Which is great in some ways – feeling mentally and physically prepared for an event (I’ve gone into some events not feeling at all ready but giving it a go regardless).

But it is also bad because it means on my long training runs I am completely unmotivated – I don’t want to run 21 or 15km or go for a 3 hour hike, I just want to run the event itself, the 60km race.  I want the rush of adrenaline from race day, I want the excitement and new terrain.  Because currently I am bored.  I am even bored of the music and the podcasts I am listening to.  But I know that the taper and the decrease in running serves a purpose, and I just have to get through it.  It will help my body be sufficiently fueled, hydrated, refreshed and rested for the big day.

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On my 2.5 hour hike two weeks ago trying out all my gear together

Part of the taper has been my time to wear and re-wear my race day clothing, my shoes, my socks, my hat, to ensure that everything fits well, there is minimal chafing and that I am going to be comfortable on the day.  I lost my Nike cap on my 55km run so I purchased a new one at Lulu, so I have been wearing that during every run to ensure I am comfortable with it and to see how hot I get when I do wear it (as I may not wear it on the day!).  I’ve also been wearing my Ultimate Direction Jenny ‘Ultra Vesta’ on all my long runs to ensure I am ok wearing it and that it works with stashing my food and gear – I have been putting SOS hydration powder into the two 500ml water bottles, which are on the front of the vest for easy access, and then plain water in my 1.5L bladder in the back.  The vest fits quite a bit of food, and has a nice spot for my iPhone in the front.  I can get two gels in my sports bra, two in the back of my shorts and then two sandwiches and some frooze balls into the backpack itself – it’s amazing what you can fit in it when you try!

I have been trying different foods on my long runs that will be available on the course – chips, pop corn, ginger beer, water melon, oranges, jelly beans.  Things I don’t usually consume on a run and never would normally, things that feel odd buying at the supermarket (so much junk!) but will be there on the day if I want them.  I want to make sure I have had them in my training to ensure they sit well with my stomach in case I do want to grab a piece of watermelon or a glass of ginger beer on the day.

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Grocery shopping the night before a taper Saturday run/hike

I have also been looking after my body a lot more than I usually do.  I am getting weekly sports massages.  Rolling out.  Stretching.  In the morning, in the evening.  Warming up more before my intervals and before a gym session.  Making sure I get enough protein in me to repair my muscles.

And I’ve been trying to learn to trust myself more during the taper period – trust my instincts and trust my body.  Know when a niggle is just a distraction or when it is something more serious.  Know that while it may be tough it is all worth it.  And that there is a purpose behind doing 8 rather than 5 400m intervals, why I am doing the plyometric work at the gym, why I have to do yoga during the week – because there is a purpose and I just have to trust it.

Because that is the most important thing at the end of the day, to trust in yourself, to trust in your goals and your ability, and to trust in the process.  If you don’t trust the process, you won’t have true unfettered faith and confidence in yourself on the big day, and you won’t know that “You got this”.  But (I think) I 100% trust myself right now.  I’m at a point where even if my legs are saying no, my mind is saying “you can do this, you have to do this, don’t ask questions just go.”  Which the entire process, but also this period right now, the tapering and the rest, the cabin fever but mindfulness that comes with it, has helped me achieve. The ability to breathe, to keep going, to live in the moment, to love myself, to run like I don’t know how to stop, and trust the process.

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Interval day and runner’s high – my 8x400m

My text conversation on a sunny (but windy) Wellington summer evening…yesterday Wednesday 20 January 2016 at 6:15pm:

Me:   “Just finished running, stretching in the sun.”

[Insert picture of one foot on top of a bent knee with Waitangi Park in the background]

Rob: “It’s windy! Must have been hard running in it!

Me:  It wasn’t too bad

         I’ve run in a lot worse.

         It was awesome actually. Awesome running session. So great. Oh just so good.

This was right my interval session yesterday, while I was lying on the ground, stretching and letting my heart rate slow down. The day prior, Tuesday, I wrote about the lows of running and the exhaustion of training. Less than 24 hours later, cue Wednesday and my interval session, and you’d think I was a completely different person from the above exchange, loving running and training and all that comes with it.

And honestly I felt like a completely different person writing that, because although I probably was (and am) still slightly exhausted, I did have a truly epic training session. One of those where even before you put on your running shoes you feel great, and when you start it feels good and you know you are going to have an amazing time out there and that by the end of the session you will be the definition of ‘amazing’.  Where it all goes right and you have a smile on your face the whole time. You push yourself mentally and physically but it is so rewarding. You finish strong and happy.  Afterwards, you are invigorated, energized, thrilled with what you achieved and even wanting more.  You have found that nice little sweet spot where you feel exhilarated.  Classic case of runner’s high.

For me, yesterday evening’s epic training session started with being a beautiful day, and while my legs were tired, my hamstrings were tight (I had been walking awkwardly around the office all day unable to move my legs normally) and I was feeling my glutes from that morning’s technique session (A skips, stride outs, B skips and the like), I was SO looking forward to getting out of the office and hitting the pavement, enjoying the beautiful sunshine and warmth on my skin.  I also was looking forward to getting into my new Lululemon running gear – I rewarded myself recently with one of their swiftly racerbacks in baby blue (I believe they call it heathered caspain blue) and running caps (in this gorgeous watercolor pink, white and blue pattern, again with an odd name).  That paired with my trusty lulu run speed shorts, I am like a walking (or rather, running) advertisement for the company.

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Kitted out in Lululemon and stretching it out pre-run

So what was my epic Wednesday training session?

This Wednesday’s entry in my training program required 8x400m intervals with 90 seconds of rest in between each.  In November, at the start of my training program for Tarawera, I was doing some interval work on a Wednesday, but with a 120 seconds of rest in between each.  That is quite a long time for me…90 seconds is what I am more used to training with, with 60 second resting being more of a challenge that I use when I am really pushing myself.  But today it said 90 seconds so I was more than happy to keep it with that – just enough time to catch my breath and get ready for the next set, but not too long that my breathing and heart rate is completely back to normal.

I chose to do my 400m repeats around Waitangi Park, because it has an almost perfect 400m track around it – it is more like 410 meters, but if you start at one of the lampposts near the Chaffers building, run towards Te Papa, turn left, then take the second sand track (the wider one by the skateboarding park) on the left, and run around back to the start, finishing one lamp post early, that is a (almost perfect) 400m loop.  Which is great because it means that regardless of the weather and what direction the wind is pointing, each 400m will be in the same conditions so you can test yourself and hold yourself to account.  Waitangi Park was also full of other people exercising – two gym/group fitness classes, one person doing yoga, some people playing soccer and then near the end of my intervals, the HealthFit Strength class was out in the park taking their session outside.  So I had to dodge some people once or twice, but otherwise it is a circuit that is familiar to me and that I am comfortable doing, and am happy running around.

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The 400m loop around Waitangi Park

My first interval I did at about 85 to 90%, as didn’t want to blow out too early, but wanted to set a minimum time that I had to beat each time.  The last time I did 400m intervals around Waitangi Park was in August 2015, and I was averaging 1:40 to 1:45 per 400m. And lately, when I have been doing interval sessions, I can struggle to complete it in a positive way – I have to purposefully convince myself to run each lap, telling myself ‘just one more’ in order to get through it.

This time, I KILLED my 400m intervals.  My warm up was 1:39, and with every single lap, I never strayed above that.  I didn’t enter the 1:40s at all, and even though my legs were tired and my hamstrings tight the entire time , I managed to push through it all and run strong every single lap.  And after a few, I knew I had it in the bag – I had a ridiculously large smile on my face the entire time and it felt like I had this new found strength and power in my legs with an ability to move faster than I’ve ever felt before.  My legs just did it.  And there was this natural flow on effect because of course, by achieving a great time each lap, my confidence was boosted and I then went into the next lap more positive than the one before.  By the end, I was ecstatic and felt like I could have done another 8!  It was just what I needed to help my preparation for Tarawera on a mental and emotional level.

My splits ended up being as follows:

  • 1:39 (warm up)
  • 1:35
  • 1:36
  • 1:39 (I ran 410 instead of 400 by mistake, so slightly longer time)
  • 1:34
  • 1:37
  • 1:35
  • 1:32 (YES!)
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Sunny Waitangi Park in downtown Wellington :)

Because I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to breaking down my training and analyzing my pace and the like (though really to become a faster runner you have to start analyzing your runs in more detail), I calculated that on average I ran 4:02 per km, which is 24 seconds per 100m.  My last round (1:32) was 23 seconds per round.  Early to mid last year, I was aiming for 26 seconds per 100m in my interval work, which is a pretty fast pace for many people, but would have ended up with 1:44 for each of those 400m laps and a pace of 4:20 per km.

When you look at those numbers, I’ve made quite a gain in being able to somewhat maintain 4:02 per km.  All while training for an ultra marathon which is meant to be about endurance rather than speed.  I know I have done and can do faster – April 2015 I was running 400m around Waitangi in 1:33 to 1:36…so I can get lower…after my ultra though! One goal at a time.  Right now my goal needs to be to have more sessions like yesterday, where everything works in perfect harmony.  I need to focus on obtaining and retaining that euphoric feeling where I feel like I can run forever – that will be the key to crushing Tarawera in 16 days time.

Exhaustion

I was originally going to write a post about how training for an ultra marathon has been invigorating and life changing, about how it has really helped me deal with work stress and other issues that pop up in everyday life, and about how the discipline and focus that comes with running applies to all areas of life.  Essentially, I was going to write about how I feel that I am winning at life – winning at work, winning at exercise, winning in my personal life and winning in self esteem.

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This is me winning on a Sunday morning in the sun :-D :D

However, that was before Sunday night’s unexpected emotional breakdown, where I was definitely in no winning state, and realized how utterly exhausted I was after bursting into tears for no reason at all.

Well, it wasn’t for no reason – I will admit, I was tired, I was hungry, and I was involved in a heated debate that I didn’t really want to be part of.  It was a Sunday evening and I had a week of work to ‘look forward to’, I hadn’t eaten in six hours and I had been socializing for several hours (outside, in the cold, and not drinking whilst others were) when all I really wanted to do was curl up on the couch and watch The Bachelor and fall asleep by 8pm.

Most people would have been fine in that situation – they would get by or they would even enjoy their evening and have fun.  They might have a drink, or two, or three, they would have a smile on their face and get involved in the debate or remove themselves from it and start up another conversation elsewhere.  But most people haven’t been training for an endurance event 6 days a week, with 6am starts most mornings and getting home after 8pm (to run, gym, yoga, stretch, foam roll etc) as well as working a full time job (40 hours per week, but more like 60-70 hours last week) and trying to keep their relationships (boyfriend, friends, family) alive.

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Finding time when I can for restorative yoga at home – legs up the wall

I am in the latter category…the category of crazy people who one minute is running on adrenaline and ‘runners high’ and the next is exhausted and can’t string words together.  I am the person who on Sunday couldn’t handle the totality of the situation – whether it was the lack of food, the tired mind, the tired body, or the stress I was feeling about needing to organise my week and make sure I had lunch planned the next day – I just lost it.  And afterwards, I realized why – I’m not that regular person just getting by.  I am an endurance athlete training for an endurance event.  All of my energy is going into that event.  My physical, mental and emotional energy is being drained daily and replenished by the love and support of those around me (as well as through gels, protein shakes, quinoa, bananas, peanut butter, smoked tofu, frooze balls and other edible goodies) and it is a finely tuned balance that is difficult and tiring to maintain.

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SO MANY GELS

A byproduct of this is that I require much more sleep than I ever used to, and a restless night really affects me.  Being awake past 10pm affects me more than it ever has. Not only do I get tired but I stress about being tired and how that will affect my performance the rest day and my training run on Saturday and what’s more, if that will affect my performance on the big day.

I also can’t make decisions in a rational way or in a hurry – on Saturday evening I popped into the grocery store to buy pumpkin and eggplant for dinner (in order for Rob and me to make a DELICIOUS recipe from Deliciously Ella –  I purchased her first cookbook and our goal is to cook one meal out of it every week and make our way through the entire cookbook, this week was her Coconut Thai Curry with Chickpeas…SO yum.  Sorry where was I…).  Oh yes in the grocery store.

Rob texted me the shopping list (pumpkin, eggplant) and said that he also wanted cookies…and popcorn.  So I then spent over five minutes in the cookie aisle agonizing over what cookies to buy because (1) Rob wanted cookies but (2) didn’t specify the kind of cookies he wanted and (3) I don’t buy cookies because (4) really I like homemade cookies and (5) I also didn’t know what type of cookies he felt like but (6) if I did buy cookies then even though I didn’t feel like cookies at the time I might want cookies later so (7) I had to think about what type of cookies I might want to eat as well even though (8) at that moment in time I didn’t want any cookies (this is the kind of thought process that went on in my head while standing in front of the Tim Tams…).  I ended up calling him and asking what he wanted because I didn’t want cookies and none of the cookies were on sale and so I asked him to decide because I couldn’t make a rational decision.  In the end we got Rolo chocolate and no cookies…

On top of this, I have become even more weird about my food than ever before, as I make a concerted effort to ensure I get sufficient levels of protein, natural carbs and good fats in me every day.  I log my food, I log my exercise, I log my socialising, I log my work.  My log is the fun police.  My clothes are too big due to the running and gyming and subsequent logging of controlled eating.  I stretch in my office, I have a foam roller at work and I wear compression clothes 80% of the time – even wearing compression calf sleeves underneath my work pants the Monday after a big weekend run.

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My 2016 planner which essentially contains my life. It is both color coded (green = exercise, pink = friends and Rob, blue = travel and public holidays) and detailed (it includes my kms, what exercises I perform at the gym, what I eat and what I drink).

Let’s just say, all of this, even taking out the running and gyming itself – it is exhausting.  Thank god I have a training schedule to keep to because if I had to decide on a day by day or even week by week basis what I was doing – I wouldn’t survive.  I barely get by as it is.  I mean, I have been too exhausted to even sit down and write a blog post – not emotionally exhausted but just the fact is I have no time, after working, running, eating, logging my eating, unpacking my gym bag, repacking my gym bag, prepping lunch for the next day, doing laundry, texting my boyfriend and messaging my Mom and sister every so often (but not often enough) and trying to see one friend per weekend if I can fit them in.

There is so little time left for anything else.  And obviously when I do fit in those other things…my mind can’t take it.  I can’t take five hours of socializing on a Sunday evening, My body has  had enough and is saying no, no friends, no drinks, no fun.  Not for the next 19 days at least, until the run is over.

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A carefully constructed, nutritious and delicious (and non-fun) dinner – smoked tofu, broccoli, peas, coriander, sunflower seeds, avocado and tahini lime dressing

I knew that cardio could negatively affect your immune system, and I have experienced that when training while sick, how weaker you are when you try to exercise, and how much slower you are at recovering after.  But I never expected it to be such an emotional rollercoaster, not while out of my running shoes at least.  Nor did I expect it to have such a big flow on effect into my personal life – but I guess part of that is because I am determined, stubborn and focused, I don’t do things at half speed, I go at things 110% – if I am training for a 60km race I am going to train the hardest I ever have and put everything into it.  Really it is my stubbornness and my drive that made me exhausted, and led to Sunday’s demise of ‘rational normal Jen’.

So I guess in the end…training for an endurance event like Tarawera really has taught me something that I can translate into every day life.  Yes it has taught me discipline and focus and has been an amazing outlet to let out some steam and a way to explore more of New Zealand’s beautiful scenery and nature, but it has also taught me to learn to say “no”.  To learn that I don’t have to say yes to every opportunity, to every person that wants to catch up or have a drink, to every piece of work that comes through the door, or to every extra curricular activity that comes my way.  To learn to look after myself, cherish myself and my one body, because it is the only one I have.  Learn that it is ok to be selfish, it is ok to put myself first, and that people will understand.

More than anything I need to keep my eye on the goal, the main goal, the one goal, and I need to change my mindset and learn to think in the following way: “Jen, you are in training mode.  You are training for an endurance event, an ultra marathon.  Live your life with that in mind.”  Because there are only 18 days to go, and once it is done, I can do whatever I want and live my life however I choose.

So world, I am giving you notice now, for the next 18 days, I am putting me first (so please don’t take offense!!).

The day I ran 55.5km

Two days ago, Saturday 9 January 2016, I ran 55.5 kilometers.  In one go.  On one day.  On my own.  It took 8 1/2 hours, and involved a mixture of on and off road running, and lots of up and down hills, but I did it.  I completed it. ME.

Physically, it was probably the toughest thing I have had to do in my life.  To be on my feet for 8.5 hours, climb mountains, eat and drink on the go, push through the annoyances of my socks falling down, the sun beating down, the wind trying to throw me off the Skyline, and having to continue to pick up one foot after another and keep going.  I had an average pace of 9:11.  I climbed a total elevation of 2,317m with a big climb of 435m between 0:40 and 1:20.  My last two kilometers on the flat were an average of 6:42 and 6:26, which meant I finished strong.

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Mentally, on the other hand, the run itself wasn’t that tough.  Even three hours in, knowing I had 4 1/2 hours to go, I didn’t feel any mental anguish or self-doubt, nor a feeling that I wanted to stop or couldn’t go on.  That’s the funny thing, once I started, I knew I could do it.  I kept thinking “You’ve got this”, not because I needed to reassure myself, but because I knew that to be a fact.  I was off on an adventure, to tackle something big, to achieve something many others would never and could never do. All of that helped fuel me mentally.

Convincing myself to go for the run, however, was the hardest thing I have mentally had to do.  To overcome the fear, the self doubt, the little voices in my head saying I couldn’t do it.  Mentally preparing myself for the 8 1/2 hours I was going to be out there for – and the big questions of “What if I can’t do it? What if I give up? If it hurts too much? What if I want to…or have to stop? Why am I doing this?”.  I also worried about whether it was a good idea to do such a big run in the lead up to a 62km race – I had heard a lot about splitting a long run over two consecutive days, to help prevent injury.  And that you should only ever do 80% of distance in the lead up to an event.  Weren’t those smarter strategies?

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I spoke to Greig (who set up my training plan, has provided me with all my strength work and has so much amazing knowledge and experience with running (short distances and ultras too) that he is an inspiration to learn from) about whether 8 1/2 hours on one day was a good idea, and whether I could do it, or if I could split it into two days. His answer was simple (and I paraphrase):

Are you running the race on consecutive days?  No. You are doing it on one day. You can do this. Stop doubting yourself. Simulate race day. 

Once you do this, you can do anything.

With those words of (strong) encouragement, I knew I couldn’t back down, there was no way out and I had to hold myself accountable.  But still, even once I convinced myself that it was a good idea to run for 8 1/2 hours, I had to get over the self doubt and fear of that amount of time and the distance (and hills).

So how did I mentally convince myself I could do it?

As well as discussing it with Greig, I spoke to my partner Rob about it numerous times (who of course offered endless support) and discussed it with two other runners in Wellington who have both completed the Tarawera Ultra – I had coffee with Emma the day before and chatted with Alan in the days leading up via Facebook.  I personally think both Emma and Alan are amazing runners, their knowledge, advice and experience has been so helpful and forthcoming, and (little do they know but) they have both been part of my inspiration to run Tarawera and to believe in myself and my ability – so thank you.

I mapped out my potential route (see here), I wrote out a fuel plan, I looked up how much water, sodium and calories to take in while running, I baked some energy bars to take with me, I even picked out a Lululemon singlet to reward myself with once it was done.  I checked the weather about 15 times a day in the lead up and I made sure I got a lot of rest the night before.

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My gear for the day – 8 gels, 4 packets of SOS hydration, two PB&J sandwiches, 2 muesli bars, sliced orange and a banana, plus the 2L of water (1L plain, 1L with electrolytes) in my pack.

Then, Saturday morning, I woke up at 5am, ate breakfast, prepared my bag, my food, and set out at 6:30am. Going to sleep the night before scared me, waking up in the morning and getting out of bed was a hurdle in itself.  Even the first few steps I took outside my apartment, to begin the run, the self-doubt continued to be present.  It was only once I ran about 500m down the road, I saw the beautiful sun rising over the harbor, the blue skies, and I pressed play on my Sydney Marathon playlist (cue M83 “My Tears are Becoming a Sea”) did it all disappear, and did I start running with conviction and confidence.  With a smile on my face, knowing that whatever the day had for me, I could take it.

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Thirty minutes in, how could you not be inspired with this view!?

The plan was simple – run from home, along Old Hutt Road, to Khandallah, up to the top of Mt Kaukau, along the Skyline to Karori, join up with Makara Mountain Biking Park and run to the top of Makara Peak, down some trails and then fill up my water before heading to Wrights Hill. Turn around at 4.25 hours and go home – if I wasn’t quite there yet, then continue from Wrights Hill along the Sanctuary (by Zealandia) towards Red Rocks, and go as far as I could until I hit 4.25 hours).

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The intended route – in and out from home to Wrights Hill

And it wasn’t 8 1/2 hours of 100% running – my training plan said “Run: Walk (25:5) x 8.5 hours”.  I stuck to this for the first two hours, which meant that I ran up the hill from Old Hutt Road to Khandallah (a mini mental and physical victory in itself), I ran up the trails to Mt Kaukau, and I ran down hills in Makara.  Towards the end I also ran down Mt Kaukau and down from Khandallah to town (approximately a 324m loss in elevation) which was a good way to test my knees, especially 7 1/2 hours in.  I ate every 30-45 minutes (starting from 60 minutes – only water/SOS in the first 60 minutes), with a pattern of gel-food-gel-food, with my food being a mixture of fruit (orange and banana), peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and homemade ‘Glo bars’ from Oh She Glows (a site with AMAZING plant based recipes).

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However, things don’t always go to plan. I reached Makara at about 2:45, and I thought “I’ve really got this, I just have to make it to the bottom, spend some time refilling my water and then I can actually make it to Wrights Hill!”.  However…I made two mistakes.  I didn’t take a photo of the trail map, and I went down the only trails I knew – which were one way trails (going up), so when I reached the bottom of one trail, there was no sign telling me where to go next.  I then took a wrong turn…and went on a crazy big loop in the middle of no where.  I was out of water, I was tired, I needed to eat but needed to drink more.  I lost my hat.  It was hot. I didn’t want to go on.  My run that was going so well was falling apart.  And what was worse – I didn’t know how to escape, how to get out, if I could.  My phone didn’t have signal, there were no other people, no houses, no streets.  I was in complete and total despair.

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My mistake in Makara where I took the largest (and most unnecessary) detour in the world.  I should have gone directly SE from Makara Hill, not SW and completely off track, away from the car park, Karori Park and the Skyline

So what did I do? I sat down, and cried.  I cried my heart out.  I swore. I even thought about having a small sip of water from the river I was that desperate.  I had a million thoughts going on in my head, and started to feel sorry for myself.  Sorry for my poor tired body, my thirsty mouth, my fuel-hungry brain, and realized that my emotional toughness just wasn’t there.  Mentally and physically I was succeeding, but my emotions were totally taking over.

So I walked – the only way I could make myself keep going in that heat, and with the lack of water and lack of any direction, was to tell myself to keep going.  A lot of Makara is walking, and stopping, and crying, so it took me quite some time to get out.  But I finally found my way back to the place I took a wrong turn (ironically it was called the “Missing Loop” trail) and found my way to a map, with a couple on mountain bikes.  The girl gave me some of her water (and I am still so thankful to her for that, it helped pull me out of the dark emotional hole I was falling into) and the guy told me to follow the 4WD road, which would lead me to the main road, and then to Karori Park.  I did – and I soon escaped.  I got to Karori Park, slowly, with small steps, and little energy, but as soon as I saw houses I felt so elated and so happy – I was back on track.

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The damn track that was the cause of my (near) demise!

I used the bathroom, washed my face, refilled my water bottles, drank a bottle of SOS and filled it up again and then ate a sandwich, and set off again, slow but steady, disheartened but refreshed, reinvigorated, with a refocused sense of purpose.

Once I set off again, I knew that I needed that dark moment in Makara.  I needed to feel emotional, partially helpless and sorry for myself.  There may be moments like that on race day, and it’s better to experience it now for the first time and pick myself up, than experience it for the first time on the day.  It definitely made me stronger, and I was so proud that I was able to push through it.  It made the run more meaningful, particularly when running down Mt Kaukau and Cashmere Ave/Onslow Road down to the flat.

And once I finished, so many emotions.  I was running along the waterfront, and had just run over the bridge between Frank Kitts Park and the Te Papa…and my watch hit 8:30.  I stopped.  I firstly felt relieved.  Relieved, happy, elated.  And then above all – I felt astonishment and disbelief for the fact that I had just completed that seemingly impossible run. I had a HUGE smile on my face, and all I wanted to do was go to Oriental Parade and jump in the ocean.  It was the kind of happiness that I want to last forever.

I texted Rob to let him know I was done, and within 2 minutes I had someone run up behind me and give me a huge hug! He had come down to surprise me, and bring me a towel for after I had jumped in the ocean.  I had never been so happy to see him before in my life.  I gave him the biggest hug in the world, and cried.  Happy tears.  Winning tears.  Tears of thanks and gratitude.  I felt so thankful to him for being there, supporting me, and to all other around me who have supported me in small and large ways, even if they don’t know it.  And thankful that not only did I overcome the little voices in my head telling me I couldn’t do it, but I had new voices in my head saying “You got this.”

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Post run, post dip in the ocean, all smiles :-)

The Art of Bribery and Running

Running can be a bit of a game.  A game that involves bribery and making promises to yourself.  It is an art really, the art of inventing new ways to reward yourself for running that extra km or running up those 200 steps ONE LAST TIME.  It is also about having a ritual of reward, such as treating yourself to a large piece of cake after each half marathon – it can be the little things that get you through.

Lately, running has been ALL about bribery for me.  A few weeks ago I had to do a 35km run around the bays – my reward was a banana smoothie at the end at Maranui.  The last 5km all I could think about was that smoothie…but also the thought of a chocolate milkshake as well…smoothie or milkshake, milkshake or smoothie? Both!

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That is how I got through the last 5km.

Last Monday was similar – the plan was 10 repeats up the top of Majoribanks Street (a super steep hill in Wellington).  It was about 20 degrees out, 6:30pm, and all I wanted was to be on the beach.  But Rob and I pushed through, mainly because at around about the 5th repeat I decided that we would be having fish and chips for dinner as a reward. We completed 11 repeats followed by a few repeats of nearby stairs (single run and double runs up it).

Unfortunately it was a public holiday, so no fish and chip shops were open (I tried five!). But we ended up with Ekim burgers, fries and beer, which we enjoyed on the water front watching the sun set around 8:30pm. TOTALLY worth it.

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And again, part of signing up to Tarawera was the promise of new shoes!

Even on a gorgeous day like today (sunshine, not a cloud to be seen, and a high of 21 with no wind, meaning that I could walk down Lambton Quay at lunchtime in a scandalous singlet and shorts and be warm) it is bribery that gets me off the couch and hitting the road at 6:30 to do my dreaded 8x500m repeats with a 90 second rest.

Part of me wants to get out and enjoy the sun, go for a run and get out amongst everyone.  Then I realize that my ‘run’ is actually a training session where I will be pushing myself, feeling tired, short of breath, potentially in pain, and wanting it to be over.

But today, I actually loved it. Not because I promised myself cake, chocolate or new Lululemon items, but because I was out running and being active, totally killing it (if I can be modest) on such a stunning day.

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I ran around Clyde Quay (it is just over 500m to run around the building) eight times, starting at Mojo Poneke each time.  The place was buzzing with people eating and drinking and soaking up the sunshine.  Each time I finished my repeat, and would slowly walk around to Poneke and watch the time count down, setting myself up for the next round, I noticed more and more people look at me, notice me back for more, and talking about my efforts.

I took it as admiration, good on me for running on this glorious day, pushing hard and running super fast, coming back for more and not giving up until the very last one.  In reality, they were probably thinking ‘What the hell is that girl doing running around this building?”, “She’s back again, seriously!” and “man that is the last thing I would want to be doing right now” whilst holding their glass of rose and lounging about with platters of food in front of them.  But I took it as admiration, as appreciation for my efforts. And that is what fueled me today – knowing that people were there, watching me, waiting for me to give up and stop.  So I didn’t.  I had an average pace of 3:58 min/km, with my best time being 1:45 and my worst being 2:00 even.  Times I am super happy with, especially as I was only at 2:00 once and even on the very last one finished with 1:56.

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But even so, it wasn’t easy. You do it in steps, sometimes it is about saying to yourself ‘I can run another 30 seconds, don’t stop yet’ and then repeating that over and over again.  Today it was: “Get to half way, do 4.”  Then “Ok you’ve done 4, that was easy, get to 6.  After 6 you can give up.”  I got to 6 and mentally pushed myself to do 7.  Once I did 7, I couldn’t end on an odd number, and such an ugly odd number at that, so I had to do 8, for my sanity.  But I only got to 8 because I pushed myself to do 4, to do 6, to do 7.  Baby steps.

And can I say, I came away feeling inspired and reinvigorated.  It’s crazy how much having other people around can make a difference to your training – another reason why running with peers, even if you are faster or slower than them, will help, because you automatically push yourself harder.  We have this internal fear of being judged – if I had done my intervals slowly or not appeared ‘hard core’ people might have held negative views about me. For all I know they held negative views of me, thinking “What a show off”.  But in my mind, I was proving how awesome I was, and they were on par with that, appreciating my awesomeness.

Weirdly, it helped me feel a bit more at peace with myself, with running and with Wellington in general.  Wellington (on a good day) is one of the most inspiring cities in the world (to me), and today’s session made me grateful to live in such a city, to be able to get out and enjoy such a city, and to inspire others (yes I truly believe that my 8x500m repeats totally inspired at least one person at Poneke to get up early tomorrow morning and work out…).  It also helped me feel back on track with my training, and OK with the next month of training hard.

I just need to find a few more things before this Saturday to bribe myself  to complete this Saturday’s 8.5 hour run/walk.  Ideas?