Never run in Bali after 8am…

Life has been so crazy and busy lately, some things in life have unfortunately taken a back seat. I tried my hardest to do everything at once and not compromise, but of course that isn’t how life works or how humans function. I like to think I’m no mortal human, and can do everything and anything, but that unfortunately isn’t the case.

I’ve been sick about three or four times this year. I never get sick. But that is my body telling me to slow down, stop working so hard, stop doing a hundred extra curriculars, stop running 60km a week, and sleep! I got sick quite recently, right before going on vacation, from again doing too much, trying to do everything without compromise. I had all the normal cold symptoms, plus foggy thinking (helpful at work right?). But no time for a sick day when I’m going on vacation and have a two page to do list to complete prior to departing for Bali.

The incredible thing was, once I reached Bali and slept a solid 10 hours, I had recovered. It was as if I had never been sick at all. Poster girl for perfect health. Fully rested.

The only negative part of my sleep in was that I had planned on going for a run on my first morning in Bali. Again, running had been an item that got cut when busy and sick, and I was excited about getting out and exploring and also getting the legs turning over again. But, by the time I got my act together it was 8:30am and 28 degrees. The sun was out in all its glory and not a cloud to be seen.

Still, i was determined. I am running. I will run and I will enjoy it and I will survive and it will be fun (she says with gritted teeth).

For the first 2km, that was the case. I ran from our villa down to Echo Beach. It was relatively quiet, and was nice to get a feel for the neighborhood. Villas, rice paddies, small shops…dogs and young kids, and the heat was present, but tolerable.


I made it down to Echo, and stopped to take a few photos. 



Stopping to take photos was a mistake. Within 30 seconds the heat had really hit me, I was sweating profusely, and wanted to stop. But no, I wasn’t going to give in. I turned around, turned down a side street to do a loop, and kept going. As I ran it got hotter and hotter, my legs wanted to move less and less, and I started to look less like a glamorous westerner effortlessly running in her cute lululemon gear in 28 degree heat on vacay putting all passerbyers to shame, and started to look like a deranged, dehydrated person dripping in her own sweat, a dumb westerner who thought 28 degrees was nothing, or someone who lost a bet and this was my punishment (or all three combined).


Luckily I found a road taking me back to Jl  Padang Linjong (our street) that was slightly in the shade, not too busy and which only motorbikes really used given its narrow width (though I did see one car!).


I cut my run short – I had no goal but thought 5km was just enough. I couldn’t bear to be out any longer. I got back to the villa and had never been so happy to see a swimming pool. In I went, running clothes, socks and all. I was in such a rush to cool down I even forgot to take the 40,000 or so rupiah out of my pocket that I had taken in the case of emergency. 

The water had never felt so good. And I had never felt so dumb. Don’t run after 8am on Indonesia Jen. What were you thinking? Unless you want a sure way to dehydration and heat stroke. Lucky for me I decided 5km was better than 10, and was easily able to return to the villa (I hadn’t gone too far). I still had a fresh coconut in the fridge, perfect to quench my thirst and help the body recover. And it was a wonderful start to the day, good to get my legs moving again, to run again,  even at a slower (5:17) pace than I would usually run 5km. But best not push myself too hard, that’s when the body rebels and says stop. A short run, a chance to explore the neighborhood by foot, and a opportunity to clear my head and start the day fresh 😊

Saturday running along the Southern Walkway

The Mount Victoria Lookout is a Wellington must do, whether you are a tourist or a local.  It is also a top tourist attraction, ranking 4 out of 209 attractions in Wellington on Trip Advisor.  It has stunning panoramic views of Wellington city, the harbor, and beyond.  Sitting at 196m above the city, it is also not a walk in the park.

I had a 2.5 hour trail run on the agenda today, which I was really looking forward to.  However, I was also battling a cold, issues with my asthma, and suffering from long days at work followed by rehearsal, and had taken Friday off work to try to recover from the cough that had started to develop.  So I didn’t want to push myself too hard on the trails, physically or mentally.  I decided to stay close to home, and not venture too far in case I did need to jump out early or turn around.  So the Southern Walkway was perfect – close to the city, 11km each way, with lots of rolling hills, a few steeper ups and downs, but nothing too difficult or technical.  There was also plenty of shade, perfect on a sunny winter day like today. Mount Victoria is the tallest part of the trail, with Mount Albert a close second, so the max elevation is only 196m.  However, you basically start from sea level, so today’s run resulted in a total 509m of elevation gain…and as you can see there were quite a few ups and downs!

Southern Walkway Elevation copyI started this morning from Oriental Parade, near Carlton Gore Road, which is as good as any access point to the Southern Walkway – straight up a big hill, tough going but effective.  However, even that much of a climb was hard on the poor, tired and sick lungs.  I had to take a short break to catch my breath, before setting off again, joining up with the trails in the Mount Victoria Reserve.  Every single time I have run through Mount Victoria, I always get lost.  I take a wrong turn, and end up going the wrong way up a mountain biking trail.  I was adamant that I would not make the same mistake this time.  I was going to check every single sign, every map I came across and find the RIGHT way up to the Mount Victoria Lookout.

IMG_2421Despite my efforts, I ended up on the same mountain biking track I always end up on, and running the wrong way.  Luckily, there were no bikes and no collisions.  But still, here I was again, running a non-running path, getting lost…I could not understand how on earth this could happen to me again! Once I got over my frustrations, I found myself at the car park for the Lookout, and decided that I deserved a break, to take in some of the view.  And what a view it was today…no clouds, you could see all around, 360 degree views.  There were so many people out, so many tourists, locals, families, couples.  And what was best – no one on Pokemon Go.

I love the Mount Victoria Lookout because while you get a beautiful view of the Wellington Harbor, you also get to see all the buildings, all the suburbs, and it puts the city into perspective.  You feel on top of the world, it is a very special feeling.

IMG_2408From Mount Victoria, I ran towards Newtown, up to Mt Alfred, and out to Kilbirnie.  The link between the Mount Victoria reserve and the rest of the Walkway can be a bit tricky to find, once you enter residential addresses, but just keep looking out for signs.  Through Melrose Park, you run past the baboon enclosure at the zoo, and up to Mount Albert.  This was the main goal for me, no matter how terrible I felt, I wanted to reach Mount Albert, the trig station on top of it and stop to savor the view.

IMG_2417Once you reach Melrose Park, it is a brief run uphill to Mount Albert, from the baboons, followed by a small run along the narrow path (pictured above) towards the trig station marking the top of the mountain (for those who don’t know what a trig station is…don’t worry.  I didn’t know until recently, and Mal Law was the one who enlightened me during the sunrise run for RunFest, where we ran to this very point!)

IMG_2416And once you reach the top…Wow.  Just wow.  So much beauty all around.

IMG_2420There was a lot of stopping along the way, not only because I wasn’t feeling great and needed to catch my breath much more than usual, but also to enjoy the beautiful scenery and take some photos.  While I ran for 1:36, I was out for 2:10. I ran 13km overall, because once I made it to Mount Albert (9km along the way) I turned around, and headed to Hataitai to pick up my car (we were heading to a Karma Keg in Petone that afternoon so needed the car).  That resulted in a shorter return of 4km instead of 9km (pictured below).

Sunday July 16 Run And again, while my lungs and my body felt tired due to my cold, my legs felt great.  It was a really awesome feeling, and has been a really great experience, the past few weeks just going for some ‘long’ runs and enjoying them, not feeling any pain, any soreness, and feeling 100% afterwards.  It shows that I can push myself more, I can run longer, I am simply choosing not to.  Because I know, soon, I will have no choice and will have to run longer.  Run three, four, five hours on a Saturday.  Push myself and test myself, keep to a time, a pace, and try to hold onto the fun and the joy of running.  So for now, I am setting out with a goal, trying to keep to it, but not worrying too much if I don’t.  What matters most is the experience, the time on my feet, and the smile on my face when I finish.  Oh, and the Instagram photos, of course.  FullSizeRender(2)

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Beautiful Wellington Skyline

When I was training for Tarawera, I ran along the Wellington Skyline almost every second weekend.

The ‘Skyline’ is a 12km stretch from Makara Hill to Johnsonville, so it is a semi-central Wellington trail run.   There are a number of access points, which you can run, bus or drive to, and the whole stretch is 12km in length.  It doesn’t start right in the city, but it is accessible enough without a car.  If you are after a long run, you can run one way and back, equaling 25km.  Otherwise you can drop out along the way, depending on how you go.  I find parts of the track from Karori to Mt Kaukau pretty tough, so if I am doing it both ways, I often start in Karori, run to Johnsonville and then back (meaning that I get the tougher parts out of the way before the 1/2 way turnaround point…then it is somewhat smoother sailing on the way back).  I have also started and ended through Khandallah, using Mount Kaukau as the access point.  It is about a 6km run from the city to the Mount Kaukau access point in Khandallah, which can be a tough warm up, but a speedy cool down as you run down hill and along the flat waterfront to finish:-)

What goes up must come down... Oh hello Mt Kaukau

What goes up must come down… Oh hello Mt Kaukau

The ‘skyline’ combines some single tracks, a number of farm roads with roaming cow and sheep, open grass areas and beautiful 360 degree views from one coast to another.  On one side of the ridge, you have vast views of rolling green hills, the sprawling wind farms along Makara Hill and on a good view, like the day I recently was up there, you have clear views of the South Island.  On the other, you can drop down into a number of different Wellington suburbs (Karori, Wadestown, Crofton Downs, Otari Wilton, Ngaio, Khandallah, Johnsonville), with a view of the harbor, the waterfront and Wellington central itself.

The Wellington City Council website has some good information on the walk itself and a nice map showing all the access points and the points of interest along the way.

Skyline map copy

Elevation profile from the Makara/Karori end of the skyline, to Mt Kaukau, down through Khandallah and back to the city, ending near Te Papa

No matter which direction you run, you will run uphill, downhill and on the flat.  And no matter where you start from, it will be uphill to begin with, to get up on the skyline.  From there, there are some steep hills, and other valley/peak combinations, but it is generally undulating.  It isn’t too technical, but of course you need to watch yourself, especially when the Wellington winds are blowing.  It is completely exposed to the elements, and you may find yourself hugging the hill at times or being lifted off your feet mid stride by a strong gust.  In this way, it completely redefines ‘windy wellington’, even on a beautiful sunny day like last Sunday where at most there was a light breeze along the waterfront.  Well, a light breeze by Wellington standards…

While I am not currently in super training mode, I have tried to get back into my longer weekend runs, to clear my head, listen to some podcasts and get a bit more active.  One of the best things about training for Tarawera was getting out and enjoying nature, exploring new places, and having a little bit of adventure.  So this past weekend I started in Karori, at the Makara entrance point, and ran all the way to Mount Kaukau.  From here, I dropped down into Khandallah and ran back into town.

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Looking towards Makara and the South Island

Overall, I was simply aiming for was time on my feet, to see how my endurance was and how the body felt.  I went out with an aim of 2 to 4 hours, depending on the weather, how I went and what else I wanted to do that day.  Because I started off a bit later than planned, I cut the run a bit shorter than I originally intended, to 2:10, but it was nice as I still made it back to time with enough time to shower, eat lunch and relax briefly before meeting a friend for coffee.

I ran a total of 21km, which I thought was a pretty good effort given the timing, with 516m elevation gain and 735m elevation loss (as I started up the hill in Karori, and ran back into the city, at sea level).  My max elevation was 425, at the top of Mount Kaukau.  I was out for just under two hours thirty minutes, and listened to some nice new NPR produced podcasts. I had no pain, no soreness or tiredness, and felt totally fine during the run, after the run and the next day, which meant I definitely could have pushed myself harder and probably could have run another 10 or 15 km easy.

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The views up here always take my breath away

While the skyline is a close and relatively dependable track to run, and is really well sign posted, it can be somewhat repetitive and tiresome if you run it often, like I used to.  There isn’t much room for exploring or going ‘off piste’, as there is private farm land around, and if you ran off the main track towards Makara, you may not be able to find your way out! There is also cattle around…which you have to keep an eye out when running listening to music (or in my case, podcasts).  My first introduction to the skyline resulted in me running away from a charging cow who was not happy with being surrounded by approximately 15 runners.  I learned my lesson there and am very wary of them now.

For those who have never explored it, it is well worth the hike, even if you simply do the hike up and down Mount Kaukau on a sunny day – the views are definitely worth it.  Though personally, unless I am simply after time on my feet on familiar ground, I plan to explore some different trails around Wellington over the coming Sundays, to try and keep things a little bit more interesting.

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10km? That’s nothing for you!

Sometimes there are downsides to sharing your running achievements, your aspirations, your goals.  When people know that you have run a half marathon, a marathon or an ultra, they base any other distance off that event.  “You ran a marathon and are now training for a 10km? What do you mean you haven’t trained, you just ran 42km you can run a 10km EASILY!”

The first thing going on in your head is “oh my god stop talking…it is sooooo different.”

People don’t do it out of spite or ill will.  But if you don’t run, if you haven’t trained for different events, it is difficult to grasp the concept that just because you ran a 60km or 100km event one weekend does not mean that is a normal occurrence for you.  That was the goal.  Now the event is complete, it won’t come around for a while.  It doesn’t help your training, confidence, or general happiness to hear “How many thousand kilometers did you run this morning?” when actually you slept in and didn’t do any exercise because you are no longer having to adhere to a regimented training plan.  And when you change from 100km to 10km races, it is a completely different ballgame.  Yes, you go into a 10km run without fear of whether or not your legs will hold for the entire 10 kilometers.  You know that they will.  But you want to run fast.  To do well.  To RUN a 10km race, not simply run 10km as if it was a warm up for the 100km option.

And this is one reason that for some people, it is difficult to bounce back after an event, why the post-race blues are a real thing.  People’s expectations are all around you.  No matter how hard you push them away, they nag at you, they find their way into your thought processes and affect your confidence.  Of course, when you are training, all you can do is talk about that, and you are proud when people ask how your training is going, what you did that day, giving you opportunities to show off.  So we should expect that to continue, for people to be interested and make conversation out of it.  For three or so months leading up to an event that was ALL you talked about.  Seriously, the only thing.  When asked your plans for the weekend, you say “Well I have a friend’s birthday party on Friday but because I have a 7 hour run on Saturday morning, I am going to have an early night on Friday and pop in for one, non-alcoholic, beverage.  I will then have a sports massage, go to yoga, the boy and I are having a date night on the couch (again, because I will likely be tired from my 7 hour run) and on Sunday just the vege market and chores, and a 45 minute recovery run.”

However, when that is no longer your life, when you have a break, your response is much different…and when people expect  you to go on a long run, to still be an ‘athlete’, it changes your perception about yourself.  You are no longer living up to the expectations of others.  And their expectations, the expectations of third parties, become your own expectations.  “Hell yeah I was a hard-core runner, I was an athlete, I was a machine. I wish I was like that…I wish I looked like that…I wish I could do that still.”

This is something I struggle with after every event, and post-Tarawera, it has been a long struggle.  I have tried to focus on other things apart from running, but the expectations still linger.  I’m currently lucky to run twice per week and gym twice per week, whereas when I was training, I was exercising about 10 to 12 times per week (running, gyming and yoga).  Part of that is life being busy, part of that is my attempt to focus on other aspects of life, other priorities that fell to the side when training took over.  Trying to have a more balanced life, see friends, spend time with family, travel, and not take life so seriously.  But still, the guilt and the sense of shame that I am not running as much, lingers.

But you know what…who cares.  Who cares about what others think. What their expectations are.  Be happy that people ask, that they care, that they are making conversation about one of your passions and hobbies.  That they actually listen and keep up to date with what you do.  And take pleasure in the fact that you did something amazing, you ran 5km, 10km, a marathon…you did that.  And you can do it again.  When you want.  When you choose to.  Don’t let others get you down, focus on you and what you want.  And learn to confidently say “Oh I didn’t go for a run this weekend, I’m having a break” or “I’m focusing on other things”.  And don’t be scared of starting again…of living up to your expectations and the standards you set previously.  It is a journey, it will always be, whether you have a break or keep going.  For me, I am jumping back on the train, slowly.  Slowly learning to deal with my own expectations and the pressure I put on myself to be the best.  Because at the end of the day, you only need to care about how you view yourself, what you think of yourself, not what anyone else thinks.

So, where is this rant going? That’s right…training for a 10km.  Yes.  I ran the 10km event in the Wellington Marathon a few weeks ago.  I had planned on training hard for it, to aim for a PB of 42 minutes.  My fasted 10km was in February 2014, the Round the Bays, and I completed it in 45:35.  It was tough but good.  I had completed my first marathon two months prior, had a few weeks off, and then did a few weeks of speed training to try to improve my speed for the event.  I wanted sub-45 minutes, so I was thrilled really.

This time, work and life took over.  In the three months leading up to the event, I ran probably a handful of times.  I hadn’t done much speed work at all, and most of my runs were longer trail runs on the weekend.  I got sick the two weeks before, and it was cold, so my asthma was acting up more than usual. And on the morning of the 10km, I didn’t want to do it.  I stood in the living room, looking out the window, and said to Rob “I don’t want to go. But I have to, because people will ask how I did, and I don’t want to say I didn’t do it.”  That was one reason I went.  But the main reason, the main way I convinced myself to go out the door, was I finally got to that point of thinking “Who cares.”  I decided to just treat it as any old run, put on some good music, go for a run, enjoy it, see who else is out there running and wave to them.  Don’t feel pressure, just go and do it for the love of it.  (Of course I had to set a small goal – just keep running, don’t stop, even if it hurts, slow down, don’t feel any shame).

IMG_2268And that is what I did.  It was glorious.  I ran with feeling, not according to my watch (which was good because my watch decided to stop working around 2km in, joining the 2nd and 3rd km as one, so my total distance ended up being 9.10 km instead of 10km, skewing my pace slightly!).  I looked at all the other runners around me, played mind games about keeping up with certain people, saw a number of friends out there running and waved to them and cheered them on.  I listened to some music, bopped along to the beats while running, and when I turned around at the half way point I thought ‘Game on.’  I finished with a negative split, I ran my heart out on the way home to the stadium.  I enjoyed it.  I ran with a smile on my face.  I didn’t care what the world thought of me, what my time would be, all I knew was that I was running in a sea of people and it felt wonderful.  I was alive.  I was flying.  And the best thing of all, I was back.  Jen Howes, running machine (in my mind at least) was back.

And a nice surprise – I finished in 48:07.  I was the 35th female finisher out of 638 (in the top 5%) and 140 out of 1,091 overall finishers (top 15%).  And 18 out of 135 in my age group (F20 to F39).  So I was slower than my PB, but I still ran a mean race.  And still finished in the top.

10km time copyKeep in mind split my watch played up during the first few km, so the first two km are actually 3…I didn’t run the 2nd km in 8:44…10km copyI probably wouldn’t have had that finish had I gone in with all the pressures I had been feeling.  But I tried to let it all go, I went back to basics, running because I wanted to, and I believe that is why I got that time.  I also know that I can do better, and 48 minutes without much training is epic.  If I put my mind to it, i can definitely get below 45 minutes, and who knows, 42, 41 or even 40 minutes one day.  But for now, I am happy knowing that mentally I overcame that roadblock.  That I went out there and just did it.  And hopefully, I can hold onto that feeling, and hold onto what it resulted in – a great time in the scheme of things, in the scheme of all other runners that went out there, that believes in themselves and truly pushed themselves.  I was part of that, and that is something truly special.

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Staying lean when training for an endurance event

One of my mini goals that I set, when I decided to run Tarawera, was to not gain weight while training. To stay lean (and to look lean).  To look and perform like an athlete. Other mini goals included (the most important one of) not getting injured and also to be a ‘better’ vegan, to recommit to cutting out dairy and eggs, and to also 100% commit to no meat.

I’m really happy to say that I achieved all of those mini goals. I worked really hard last year on my running technique, my lower body strength and transitioning from a heel striker to a fore foot runner.  I progressed gradually, listened to my body and have spent a lot of time with my foam roller and in the yoga studio.  As a result, I have not been injured or had to see a physiotherapist at all in the past year and a half.

I have also returned to veganism at home and 95% of the time while I am out – which in turn has helped with the first mini goal – to not gain weight/to lose fat and gain lean body mass – because it is so difficult to eat out and socialize as a vegan, I socialize less, drink less, snack less (I used to be so guilty of mindless nibbling at cheese plates!) and in turn that means less temptation, and more chance for cooking nutritious wholesome meals at home.

I also saw a nutritionist when I decided to run Tarawera – to talk about this goal of not gaining weight, of decreasing fat, increasing lean body mass, and ensuring a ate well given the hard work I was going to be doing. I saw Becky Jones at Food Savvy – she specializes in sports nutrition so understood my needs, my questions and was very vegetarian/vegan friendly.

Two great things came out of my nutritionist appointment:

  1. I learned to constantly consider how much protein I am getting each meal, and to ensure I eat enough.  I learned how much protein was in each serving of food, and found I actually was not eating enough! So every day, particularly after a run or hard workout, I made sure I ate enough protein.  This actually meant decreasing the vegetables, rice and pasta I was otherwise eating – I originally thought I would still be hungry after, but vegetarian forms of protein (chickpeas, lentils, tofu, quinoa) fill me up so much that since eating more protein, I feel fuller without feeling heavy or like I overate.
  2. I learned to think of food as nutrients.  As building blocks and a foundation for my training.  Everything I eat needs to have a purpose – candy, alcohol, chocolate – not only are those full of calories but they are empty calories – they don’t give you protein or good fat – they just add up without any benefit.  So I learned to think of my food as fuel, both to help me have enough energy and fuel to get through a workout, but also so that I was not consuming unnecessary and empty calories that would lead to fat gain, or fat retention.

After focusing on the above two, it became (relatively) easy to make sure I did not put on weight during training.  I also found the MyFitnessPal iPhone app to be incredibly helpful in ensuring my intake did not exceed my output – making sure I did not eat too much during or after a workout, that I was actually taking in more calories than I was burning in any day. MyFitnessPal, plus the above two lessons from Becky, and a strong focus on this mini goal – I was away!

Now, why this goal of mine?

To be honest, I’ve never been ‘fat’ or large, but like many people (men and women) I’ve never felt truly happy with my body. In high school and university, I was somewhat active, and was generally a size 10 (US 6). I’ve always been that, even after I started really getting into exercise and gyming lots, I always kind of stayed that size, and a similar weight. I would ‘lose weight’ (fat) when training intensely, but the minute I started training for a marathon I would seem to put it back on again. I was training more, so I was eating more.  I was putting all my energy into running, so I was doing less strength and resistance work, and not very much high intensity interval/metabolic work.  I always thought ‘I am running 30km today, surely I will go down a dress size this week’. But it never happened.

I also got injured during training, for both of my marathons, so of course I then exercised less (due to injury) and probably put my energy into eating instead.  I also was not thinking too much about getting sufficient protein, fats, carbs etc. I wasn’t thinking of food as building blocks, as fuel for my exercise.

I never thought I was fat or overweight or not happy, I just knew I was not loving my body, always wished I could tuck a bit in here and there, and I hated wearing jeans. Weird fact about me – I never wore jeans in university, or even my first year of working. I didn’t own a pair of dress pants/suit pants.  I owned several pairs of jeans – I don’t know why though.  I never weared them. I HATED them. Hated how I felt in them and how I looked in them. I just never felt thin enough. And post-Sydney marathon in 2014, looking at the photos of me before the race, during the race and after – I didn’t like how untoned I was.  In my mind, didn’t look like I actually was an athlete. I at least didn’t look like the athlete I saw in my head – my view of me wasn’t reality.  To me, I didn’t look like I was someone who could run 42.2 kilometers in a good time. I put so much work and effort into training for a marathon – why didn’t I look like it!!

Back to my mini goal – wanting to stay lean or become more lean while training for Tarawera – it honestly wasn’t about having a flat stomach or a small waist or getting down to55 or 58 kg. It was about looking like an athlete and feeling like an athlete. Performing well on the day and not carrying any unnecessary fat with me over the finish line. The number on the scales don’t matter, but the fat and lean body mass percentages do. The more fat you have and the less LBM, the less muscle you have to utilize to help propel you forward. The slower you are. The longer it will take to cross the finish line. Just because you have more fat on your body. I wanted to run as fast as possible and become as much of a machine as possible – so that meant trying to get rid of unnecessary fat and build more LBM – more muscles to make me stronger, faster and better.

Of course, I also wanted to look good in the post-run photos, to not be worrying afterwards about the angle I was standing, whether I need to hold my hand against my hip so my arms look more lean, to suck my stomach in…all those things play some part. I wanted to look like I worked out, like I gymed, like I could run 60km in a heartbeat.  I wanted my training to be reflected in my day to day life.

But really, at the heart of it, I just wanted to run the 60km the best I could. And push my body to see what it really could achieve. Could I get lean while training for an ultra marathon? Could I do that on a vegan diet? Could I do that while working a (sometimes crazy) full time job? Could I also get through the holiday season with self-control – watching my cake, candy and alcohol intake? All of it was a challenge.

And my results?

A challenge that I overcame. And won at. I went from a size 10 to a size 6-8 (US 2-4).  I went from 20% body fat to 12% in 14 months (10-15% is what many professional female long distance runners have…men will have below 10%).  And I own three pairs of jeans, three pairs of pants, and I love to wear them.  And honestly, besides the gains (or, losses really) in my body measurements and skin fold measurements, I felt so much happier and healthier mentally.  Happy, inside and  out.  Because while I am happy with my body, I am happy because I got there, I achieved it, I got there through hard work, through eating and living a healthy life, through improving and watching my nutrition, through sweat and tears – not starvation.  I feel strong, lean and like a real athlete.

How did I do it?

  • I cut back on alcohol – I had one or two at Friday night drinks, and one or two on the weekend.  I didn’t have any alcohol during the week and even over Christmas and New Years I refrained.  I offered to sober drive, and I made a lot of iced tea and drank sparkling water.  It was hard to start with, but after two months, I stopped really craving or wanting a drink.  Once a glass of wine after a long week no longer became my reward, I didn’t need it as much.
  • I also stopped going to Friday night drinks – so I could avoid the chips, the cheese and crackers, the other nibbles that I didn’t need and didn’t do my body or muscles any good.
  • I made sure I always had a good breakfast:
    • During the week = Oatmeal with 1/2 scoop of protein powder, soy milk and a banana
    • Pre-long run = Two pieces of Burgen toast, peanut butter and banana (or jam)
    • Sunday = I would no longer treat myself to a scone, to dumplings, to pancakes or brunch out – I started eating brunch/breakfast at home – a smoothie, eggs on toast (before I cut out eggs again), scrambled tofu, baked oatmeal
  • I made sure I didn’t over eat following a long run.  My go to meal post-run would be one of the following:
    • Scrambled tofu with mushrooms, avocado and toast
    • Green smoothie with protein powder added in
  • I kept up my resistance and strength work at the gym – two upper body/ab sessions per week, on top of my running program.
  • I tried to avoid processed carbs such as pasta, pizza, bread (except for Burgen bread, before or after a long run only), scones, muffins, croissants, cookies, cake, etc.
  • I kept an eye on the scales and how my clothes fit, how my muscles felt, how much energy I had.  I found that if I ‘fell off the wagon’ – I would feel worse the next day. So I just focused on the fact that every day was a training day, every day I needed to feel good.  And that it was three months – three months and then I could go back to eating and doing whatever I wanted…if I wanted to.

Before the run, I did semi deprive myself of food (processed foods, alcohol, snacks etc) but as a result, I no longer want the foods I used to crave.  I don’t feel bad about a beer, wine or piece of chocolate every so often, but I no longer binge or feel the need to.  I often have sparkling water instead of beer or wine.  I cook and eat delicious meals at home on a daily basis.  I have experimented with a range of different recipes and ingredients.  I’ve proved my old personal trainer wrong (he was adamant I would have to eat meat to get any muscle definition or to get ‘lean’).  I love how I look, how I feel and how my body moves and functions.  And I love feeling so strong and knowing that my sheer determination and willpower got me here.  Apart from this blog post, and several conversations with my PT, and with my partner, it has been a personal journey, an internal challenge, to learn to love myself and to feel happy in my own skin.  And to get to a point where not only do I love my body, but I do not have anxiety about losing it, about having a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine – I don’t freak out that doing so will undo all my hard work.  I have learned to let go a bit more – something I have always struggled with in the past.

And now that Tarawera is behind me, and my next goals are a wee way away, I am trying to keep it up.  It is of course a struggle now I am no longer doing 50+ km a week.  But it just means that I can focus on the gym, on healthy eating but also healthy living.  We went paddle boarding recently, something I wanted to do while training for Tarawera, but it was an ‘after Tarawera’ activity.  Seeing friends more often.  Having a piece of cake every so often.  Sleeping in and watching Game of Thrones.  Going on slower more social runs and not caring about time or distance.  Travelling, doing winery tours without any guilt.  I can’t say that I have found the perfect balance – finding that balance is always going to be a struggle for me.

I am an all or nothing kind of person – I struggle with balance.  If I have chocolate, I will eat an entire block, but if I focus too much on dieting or healthy eating, I become dangerously focused in that area too.  But do not fear, I am not about to go on a juice or smoothie diet, and am not about to eat lettuce and tomato and nothing else.  My nutritionist taught me better, and my experiences have proved better too.  It will always be a struggle, but that is part of the fun – who wants to be one shape or size or ability forever – we need change and strive for change in order to measure our success.  Whether it is to bench press a certain amount, perform one unassisted pull up, run 5km, 50km or fit into a sleek dress for an event – working towards and achieving that goal is part of the journey.  The sacrifices become worth it.  Or at least that is what we tell ourselves!

Aqua jogging dates

For runners, aqua jogging is often associated with injury. You are injured and unable to run, so you become confined to the pool, joining the elderly women wearing the blue buoyancy belts having a yarn with their friend.  However, aqua jogging can be, and is, hard work.  In 2014, when I was training for Sydney, I was required to do all my ‘running’ in the pool for about a month.  I initially despised it and eventually I only relented because I had no other choice.  I could not run more than 500 meters without pain.  So I had to swim.  And after a while, I took to it.  I had a friend who joined me on several occasions, and despite being in the water, not going very far, I found that I got my heart rate up and I worked up quite a sweat.  Dare I say it, I even enjoyed it.  But after my marathon and after three months of rest to recover, I was able to run again.  As a result, I didn’t set foot inside a swimming pool for some time.

However this past Saturday, I once again ventured into the pool to jog.  Not because I am injured.  But because I wanted to.  And gosh I forgot how hard work it was!

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Freyberg Pool – the building looks much nicer than this photo than it does in real life!

When I was instructed to aqua jog in 2014, I was very skeptical.  I was also nervous – what do I do!? My coach told me to treat it as the equivalent of a run – 60 minutes aqua jogging = 60 minutes running.  Just over a much shorter distance and with much less impact on the body.  Most pools have the flotation belts – and while you can use those, I never did.  If you don’t use the belt, you have to work so much harder to stay afloat and to push yourself forward.  You also are more likely to jog in a more natural manner, which is important if you are injured or have tight or tired muslces (such as a tight IT band).  It also forces you to drive your knees upwards, stay upright and use your arms to help propel yourself.  It is also much more tiring to jog without a belt – so it becomes more of a workout than a leisurely jog.

You can also do a range of different ‘workouts’ in the pool – focusing on differing levels of intensity, just as if you were running on the road or in the trails.  You can do intervals, where you do 2 minutes on, 1 minute off, or 30 seconds at 95%, 15 seconds rest.  Alternatively, you can do your ‘long run’ in the pool, jogging between one and three hours at a conversational pace (a pace where your heart rate and breathing is maintained at such a pace you can easily hold a conversation with a friend – ie. you aren’t out of breathe and you don’t get tired too soon).  I also did a mix – longer ‘intervals’ of a tempo type – Doing 30 minutes at 80%, then 10 minutes slow, and another 20 minutes at 80%.

And it sounds silly – aqua jogging being hard work – but it is.  You use your entire body, and you actually feel your arms.  After aqua jogging yesterday, I woke up this morning and my pecks and biceps hurt – they were sore! Not because I went to the gym and did weights, but from the action of using my arms pumping them back and forth for 60 minutes straight.  And while I was a bit skeptical even this time, before getting in the pool, I felt wonderful after.  Refreshed, energized and tired, but without any actual pain or fear of pain.  And while initially you feel silly being that person in the aqua jogging lane who is 50 years younger than anyone else, you get over that.  When done right, it is an extremely effective cross-training option. It is zero impact, and it  closely mimics the natural running form, so it provides an alternative workout that helps keep your running specific muscles active.

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And what a wonderful way to extend the concept of running to people who aren’t runners – or those who can’t run or can’t run for long distances.  And to socialize with friends you would not normally exercise with.  One of my friends hates running – yet loves aqua jogging.  The other friend that joined us yesterday can’t run very far due to back issues.  But 60 minutes in the pool – no issues at all.  In saying that, running out of the pool still offers something that running in the pool can’t – distance.  There is something about running a far distance that is extremely satisfying.  Spending 2 hours running in the pool, I’m lucky to reach 2 kilometers.  2 hours on the road, I would run about 20 to 25 kilometers.  So while I enjoyed Saturday, I am not going to be rushing back to the pool anytime soon.  In saying that, however, the mere act of aqua jogging for one hour really did help me mentally and physically get back into running itself. I’ve had such a long time off, it is scary getting back into it again.  I am sure I can run 60 minutes non stop, but what if I can’t? I don’t want to try in case it’s impossible.  But now, after 60 minutes in the pool, I’m ready to get back into it.  Ready to put on my running shoes and give it a go – push myself, explore, and see what happens.  Because what is the worst that could happen? I get tired, I stop, I rest.  I keep going.  It’s a process.  And I should love the act of running, and not put pressure on myself to be the best.  So that is what I need to remember – to just do it, just run, and just love it again.

If you haven’t aqua jogged before, I definitely recommend giving it a go. And structure it – don’t just jog aimlessly, challenge yourself. Jog at 90% intensity for 2 minutes, then stop or jog lightly for 20 seconds, and resume. Repeat four times and then have a longer rest. Or just go at an easy pace building up stamina – focus on moving your arms forward and backwards, and drive with your knee. Otherwise you end up kicking and it isn’t as efficient or helpful in staying afloat. This is a great website setting out the proper technique for aqua jogging and things to think about.  Think of 90 degree angles in your legs and arms, as if you are marching. It feels weird but it helps simulate ‘running’ and also helps maintain/improve technique. Most of all, it keeps your above the water!

Vegan tempeh and bean chili 

I rarely ever get sick – and when I do I am often in denial, trying to work through it and continue with work, training and other activities. It always seems as if I get sick during my busiest times as well – in December 2015 I got sick right before my birthday and around the time of a planned training run up Mt Climbie (not one for the faint hearted). Last week, I got sick during a very stressful and busy time at work, working to a court deadline to file evidence for a case. It was also the week I had planned to ‘get back into it’ – I had a training schedule sorted out, and was FINALLY going to get back into Monday night intervals and run group.

That didn’t quite go to plan. Instead I woke up with a terrible cough, a sore throat and a fuzzy brain. I went to work but by 4pm I knew that running was going to be one of the worst ideas ever. So I finished at 5, headed home and felt sorry for myself. I also spent that last hour at work day dreaming about what comforting meal I would cook for dinner, to work magic on my immune system and make everything better. I settled on chili – in NZ it is ‘chili con carne’, though mine is a vegetarian version so without the ‘carne’.


Growing up, chili was one of my favorite meals. Mom would make a huge amount of it at the start of the week, we would have it as is, on white rice or on a baked potato (just like at Wendy’s!). I have never been able to do it the same – not only because of the lack of ground beef, but I just never get the flavors the same. Part of that is probably due to my lack of patience – mom would let hers simmer for over an hour – I struggle to let it simmer for 20 minutes! But honestly that wait is worth it, giving the flavors time to truly develop and also giving it time so that the broth can thicken.

As a vegetarian, bean chili can be a bit boring – so I like to make it a bit more exciting and add a different texture by adding tempeh. Tempeh is an awesome source of protein, used mainly in Asian cuisines and stir fries (being of Indonesian origin), but I love using it as a mince substitute. There is only one brand in NZ – Tonzu – a local organic non-GMO company. Tempeh is fermented and less processed than tofu, and also packs much more fiber than tofu. It has a chewy texture that I love, and marinated in BBQ sauce then put on the grill it is much more of a crowd pleaser than tofu. But I’m getting side tracked…back to dinner.


Because I wasn’t well, left work at 5 and got home at about 5:10 (thanks to recently moving back to the city and living very close to work!) I managed to get onto dinner early enough that I had time for the chili to simmer for a full hour! And it was worth it – it ended up being less soupy and more suited for serving on rice, which was fine as we had cooked rice in any event.  But if you want it to remain soupy I would recommend adding some more water or stock to allow it to simmer without losing all the moisture.  I would generally use black beans in my chili, but we didn’t have any so used kidney beans instead. I love spice so often add more cumin than other people to their dishes and I also would add more chili to it than normal – but my other half can’t handle as much chili as me so I added Tabasco to my meal after we had plated up.  Again, adjust to your own preferences.  I love the flavor that liquid smoke adds to the chili, particularly as it is a vegan version that needs some extra oomph.  In NZ, you can buy it from most organic stores, or online.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 package of Tonzu tempeh (1 package = 250g/8 oz, so 125g/4 oz), finely chopped or crumbled (*see note below on crumbling/chopping)
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (we like our garlic!)
  • 1/2 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp chilli powder (I add more personally)
  • 3 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 can kidney or black beans (400g/15 oz)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/2 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp chilli powder (I add more personally)
  • 3 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp liquid smoke (to taste)
  • Handful of fresh cilantro/coriander – chopped
  • Rice or baked potato to serve, if want

Preparation:
In a large pot, cook the onion and garlic cloves over medium high heat until starting to brown (about 5 minutes).  Add the tempeh and continue to cook until the tempeh is also browned (another 10 to 15).  Lower the temperature to medium, add the spices, the bell pepper and the carrot and stir a bit more so that it becomes fragrant.  Add the beans, tomatoes and vegetable stock.  If you want it to be quite liquidy at the end, add more stock or water so you have about 1 1/2-2 inches of liquid on top.


Bring to a boil and then simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.  Add the liquid smoke, taste it and add more salt and pepper or any other spices necessary.  Partially cover and simmer for another 30 minutes.


This can cook for as long or short as you’d like. The longer it cooks, the more the flavors absorb, so add more cumin & chili powder to taste. Once done, add cilantro as garnish and serve! We had it with short grain brown rice, topped with cilantro – nice and simple. You can also top it with cheese, sour cream and chives and also on a baked potato.


Note: For the tempeh, I like to chop it finely rather than crumb it, because the NZ tempeh we get doesn’t crumb very nicely. I will slice it into smaller strips then chop into pieces about the size of an eraser at the end of a pencil. You don’t want them too small, but also not too big. See below!

Also – feel free to mix in different beans, add more tempeh, more beans, different veges (corn is a good addition to chili).  This made 3 to 4 servings for us – so if you are feeding more, definitely up the ingredients!

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