Tag Archives: motivation

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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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.

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.

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 🙂

Back to where it all began

Autumn Hagley Park

Scientific studies have shown that our brain has an ability to create ‘geotags’ for our memories – fusing together our memories about places and our memories about events.   This means that thinking about an event reminds us of the place where the event took place, or returning to a place will remind you of a particular event.  Being home for Christmas is a perfect example – when you fly home, specific memories and emotions surface, linked to previous times you have been home for the holidays. For me, I also have this experience when I run.  Running in a particular place for me can bring back memories – memories about what I was thinking when I ran the same route previously, memories about what was happening in my life at that time, or memories about the exact run that I completed – did I do it well, was I exhausted, ecstatic, slow, fast…you get the idea.

This weekend I experienced one of these moments…returning to a place and being reminded of a particular event.

The event I was reminded of? My first run.

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170 weeks ago I went for my first run ever.  170 weeks – that is three years, three months and five days.  Seems like a long time, but for most runners, it is a very short period of time.  Most runners have been running their entire life – not me.  I went for my first run 170 weeks ago.

Perhaps I am overstating things by saying this was my FIRST run ever – I mean I recall running down the street at age eight towards the ice cream man to make sure that I got there before he left, age nine chasing my little sister around Target and then running to my Mom to tell on her because we were having a fight and I even remember running up and down the court playing basketball through elementary school, middle school and part of high school.  However, in those three scenarios there was a reason behind the run – ice cream, getting my sister in trouble, or victory – something that motivated me to pick my feet up just a little bit faster and run.  There was some tangible reward at the end.

But, 170 weeks ago, on a sunny Monday evening in Christchurch I went for the first run in my life where there was not a tangible reward at the end.  I went for a run because I wanted to, not because I had to.  I went down to Hagley Park (I actually drove the 1km to the park because I didn’t know how long I would be able to last running and I didn’t want to run from home in one direction, then die, and have to make my way all the way home limping or having an asthma attack or feeling fatigued and overwhelmed…I decided that because Hagley Park is essentially a circle, if I failed early on, the car wouldn’t be far away).  I nervously got out of the car, walked over to the path, put my headphones on, pressed play, then started to walk.  After a few steps I started to pick it up and put one foot in front of the other faster and faster.  Before I knew it, I was ‘running’.

Forty minutes later I stopped.  I was alive.  I had survived.  I wasn’t injured, out of breathe or hating life.  I made it through and returned to the car in one piece.  That day I ran 7.1km non stop.  It felt great.  The next evening, Tuesday, I ran 4km. Wednesday I took the day off, but Thursday I ran 6.5km and Friday I did 7.5km.  I was hooked. I couldn’t believe the feeling I got from such a simple activity that I used to loathe. How had I never discovered this before?  And what’s more, how on earth could I think that I was incapable of running?

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Since then, Hagley Park has held a special place in my heart.  Running is such a huge part of my life and Hagley Park is where I discovered it.  Where I discovered that I could run, that I wanted to run, and that I loved to run. Christchurch itself is the city where I ran my first ‘race’, one month after that fateful Monday evening in Hagley Park.  It is also the city where I ran my first sub-1:45 half marathon (June 2013, 1:43:35).

Hagley Park itself is just such a beautiful place to run, especially in the autumn time, when the trees change color, the leaves fall to the ground and the air has a nice crisp chill to it – it is a truly magical feeling on a cold Christchurch morning to put on my running shoes, put on some music and jog down to Hagley to escape the world for an hour or two.

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The scenery itself inspires me to run – how could you not want to explore!

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While I have run in Hagley numerous times, this past weekend felt even more special because the Christchurch marathon had returned to the city for the first time in three years, and as I ran around Hagley, I was joined by marathoners completing the last 15 km of the marathon. I was inspired by them, and in awe of them, as well as partly jealous.  I cheered them on, but partly wishing that I too was completing a marathon in that beautiful city.  My fastest half marathon was in that exactly race, two years ago.  I entered again last year, but had IT band issues so couldn’t run it.  You will have noted from my comments above about when I first started running – I ran 7.1km, 4.5, 6.5 and 7.5 all in week 1 – I tend to overdo things, to overtrain, to overcommit, and therefore I tend to get injured.

This year, I thought I would be back into it again but I had made an executive decision not to enter any of the events this weekend (not even the 10km).  This was partly because I wanted to enjoy my visit (my first visit in a year) and if I enter a race, it affects what I eat and drink and my social life for the week prior.  I wanted to see friends, try new restaurants and bars and have a flexible schedule.

But the key reason was that this year, I want to make sure that I don’t overtrain, overcommit and overwork my body.  When I began running 170 weeks ago, I gave it 100%.  I didn’t do the recommended 10% increase in mileage per week, I didn’t do any complimentary strength work or stretching or yoga.  I didn’t know that there was a particular technique or form to running nor did I follow any particular training program.  I just ran.  I ran fast.  I ran hard. And I ran 25km in my first week.  Looking back, with all I know now, no wonder I tore my left meniscus a week after the 15km City 2 Surf.

So, for the first time since I started running, I have decided to focus on my running form and technique. I have learned from my mistakes and want to continue to create new memories running, geotagging my way around the world.  In particular, I want to transform and improve my form, get the functional strength I  need and work up my speed before I begin training for an event again. I want to kill my next event, smoke my previous PBs and feel that exhilaration of crossing the finish line 100% proud of myself.  I don’t want to run for 21km and then be disappointed, or feel pain in the last 5km, or wish I had completed more training in the lead up.  I also want to save my knees and preserve my body so that I can continue running for the next thirty to forty years.  In order to do that, I need to fix my flaws, understand my weaknesses and focus on improving my form so that when I enter my next race, I feel 110% prepared.  110% committed, focused and ready to just give it my all, physically and mentally.

Until then, as I hope these photos show, I am enjoying running again, remembering my roots and reminiscing on why I started running in the first place.  Stopping to take photos, to smell the roses, to take in the scenery and breathe the crisp fresh winter air.  Using this period to refocus, to learn from my mistakes and start training smart. Or, failing that, I hope that by taking this year off, my renewed sense of focus will at least give my body the running form, technique and strength that I will need when I (inevitably) fall back into my old habits of overtraining and overworking my body in the future.  Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself…

Panorama Hagley Park

Running – It’s all about Mind over Matter


If you are an avid runner, you begin to realize how much your mood affects your running.  How hard it can be to keep going when your brain says no.  How to shut off that little voice telling you that you can’t do it, and find the voice that says ‘you can’.  How a long day at the office can either invigorate you to push hard through your interval training, or can make you feel like giving up.  The fact that a fight with your partner can lead to you putting on your running shoes and going for a 15km run, in the cold and rain, just to listen to some music, pound the pavement and forget the world.  Or, how it can make you want to curl up in a ball and potentially interrupt your rhythm, making it difficult to imagine even going for a 5km jog.

Tonight, I had one of the most amazing runs I have done in a while.  Not because I ran extremely fast.  Nor was it because it was a beautiful warm day and I was out enjoying the sunshine.  In fact, it was a cold wintery night and I had just had an incredibly boring tedious day at the office.  The run was amazing for another reason – because for the first time in quite a while, I felt like I was winning.  From the second I started running right through till the end, I felt on top of the world, like I could do anything, and I would do anything.  It was the same feeling I experienced when I went for my first run.  And the feeling I held onto all through 2013 when I ran five half marathons and my first full marathon.  I went from high to high, race to race, constantly filled with euphoria about how amazing life was.  So tonight, it was an amazing and inspiring experience to have those same feelings and to once again remember why I started running in the first place.

And the odd thing is, I hadn’t thought I was missing this feeling.  I hadn’t been feeling the same level of euphoria when I ran, but I thought that was just because I was over the honeymoon period and was getting into a tough year of training, of working on my running technique and my running form, working on strengthening the right muscles and doing a lot of metabolic, high intensity interval training.  But tonight’s run made me realize, my shift in focus wasn’t the reason for the loss of euphoria.  Rather, I realized that I had become scared to run.

I have been scared to run fast and scared to run long distances.  Not because I am a newbie who has never run 5km in one go, I completed a total of 1000km in 2013 alone.  My fear of running stemmed from my fear of injury, a fear based on the numerous injuries and setbacks I suffered in 2014.  Knee pain, IT Band pain, TFL pain, tight glute med, tight calves, gosh you name it, I suffered through it.  Overuse.  Over training. My ITB and TFL pain kicked in at kilometer 29 of the Sydney Marathon and crushed my goal of a 3:45 marathon – a time that I was actually on track for.  After that marathon, and after all the pain I suffered through that year, I decided to get serious and take some time off to actually focus on my running form and strengthening the right muscles to make sure that all my muscles and joints worked in harmony and that I wouldn’t be prevented from reaching my goals in the future.

Unfortunately, this has meant I tiptoed around my running, stopping whenever I had any inkling of pain or strain, and stopped running distances.  I have focused on interval work and strength work, and to be honest I haven’t felt pain in my IT Band, TFL or glute med since the beginning of the year, but the fear of an injury and my preventative steps I took led to a fear of running itself.  Which, for a runner, is a scary thing to even admit to.  It’s hard.  There is this quote by Dean Karnazes, an amazing ultramarathoner, that features in numerous inspirational instagrams: “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up”.  I love this saying and have always strived to live by it – never give up, in running or any other part of my life.  But I was beginning to give up…to give into this fear, and struggling to find a way out of it.

Tonight, however, I found a way.  I powered through, determined that I could do it and shut out the part of my brain that said ‘stop it’s too hard’. That was why tonight’s run was so epic. Past sessions, I have chosen to give up when I know I could have (and should have) continued…should have continued by aiming for consistently faster interval times which I know I should be able to achieve, and by actually aiming to run a set distance on the weekend and not back out of it.  Tonight though, I gave it my all and I felt like I gave it my all.  We ran from Clyde Quay Wharf (the HealthFit gym), along Oriental Parade, up Maida Vale Road, then all the way up through Roseneath to Mt Victoria – a 222m elevation gain in total according to my Garmin.

Over time copyOur group split into two, the boys in front and the girls in the back.  From the start of the run, I was up ahead with Greig, and decided I wanted to keep up with the boys.  What’s more, I realized that I could keep up with the boys.  And that I would keep up with them.  And I did. We would run a portion and then jog back down to meet the girls, then run back up again.  It was tough, physically and mentally, and at several points I considered using my inhaler to give my lungs more room to breathe, but again, I felt I could do it and I would do it, and that I needed to do it by myself, to prove that I could.

Once we reached the top, it was exhilarating to know that I was mentally strong enough to not give up, to run the entire way, not stop, and to keep up with the boys.  If I’m going to beat them, I need to run with them. Show them what I’m made of.  The run down the other side into Newtown was a great recovery, though once we got to the bottom realized we had intervals to complete on our way back to town.  Generally, this is where many people would give up – say that their legs are tired and they can’t or won’t do it.  But we went for it, and I truly went for it.  I don’t think I felt tired at all the entire way back, because I was just so focused on winning.  On doing it.  And because I attacked the running session with a positive mindset instead of a negative one, at no point did I think ‘this is too hard’ or ‘I can’t do it’.  It was always positive.

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We did sprints back of 20 seconds, 40 seconds and 60 seconds, with a 60 second recovery jog in between each, then repeated the 20,40,60.  The funny thing was that the 60 second sprints seemed easier than the 20, because you relaxed into it, but ran just as fast. And my fastest pace back into town was 3:14 min/km, a pace that two years ago I never could have or would have imagined.  And my average pace the entire session was 5:26, again a speed that given the incline, the back and forths and the recovery jogs in between our intervals, I was incredibly pleased with.  Just shows how the power of positivity and good thoughts can lead to great results.  And how incredibly important it is to build mental strength and mental endurance, because at the end of the day your body can do anything you train it to do, it is up to you to decide how you train it, what you train it for and how far you are willing to go to reach your goals.

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