Tag Archives: New Zealand

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.

IMG_2350

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.

IMG_2351

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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Race Report: Tarawera 62.7km

On 6 February 2016, I completed the Tarawera Ultra Marathon.  It was my first ultra. I came out mostly unscathed, albeit muddy, drenched, tired, with two small blisters, minor chafing under my arms from the last hour of running in the rain and some scratches on my right ankle from nearly falling down a bank into the river.  But I was (somehow) full of smiles and laughs, having conquered 62.7km in tough conditions on a tough day.

It is two weeks later, and I am still somewhat speechless about the experience.  When I crossed the finish line, and even the day following, I was completely overwhelmed.  My thoughts were scattered, between “oh my gosh did I just do that” and “that was incredible” to “that was terrible why on earth did I sign up to this” and “thank god it is over”.  Over the following days, people would ask me how it went.  I changed from “it was tough” to “it went well” and then eventually to “really good”, “great” and “amazing”.  But at the same time, I struggle to find much more to say about it, because it was such a huge day, a huge experience and such a huge effort that I can’t truly put into words what it felt like and what it meant to me.

IMG_0904I know it happened, I know I did it.  I crossed that finish line – I have the medal to prove it.  But I’m still struggling to connect my memories with the detail from that day, the detail of each hour, each kilometer, what happened, how I felt, what the course looked like and what I experienced.  A lot of the day is a blur, where it merged into one, and I have little flashes of parts of the day.  Running an ultra puts your body and mind under such extreme stress, that of course you can’t have a perfect memory of what happened.

All I know is that it took me 9 hours, 33 minutes and 10 seconds to run the entire 62.7km.  This was longer than my goal (my secret personal goal was under eight hours, the goal I told people was between eight and nine).  But you know what?  I finished. That was the main goal – to complete the race, to make it across the finish line pain free, to survive.  To mentally and physically push through, and to prove to myself that I was capable of pushing my body to the brink, and that I was capable of testing my limits and joining the ultra community.  Of doing something I had never done before – a trail event, an ultra marathon, an event involving hills! Eating food while running, and enjoying beautiful New Zealand scenery along the way (professional photos that show off parts of the course can be found here).

TUM_2016_004520A lot of people didn’t finish – they either didn’t start or didn’t make it over the finish line.  There was a tropical storm to battle with that meant flights were delayed or cancelled.  The forecast in the week leading up to the race was wet – rain rain and more rain.  I kept hoping the rain would pass, but it was not to be.  I am more of a tropical person, who thrives running in the heat and sun.  So I was disappointed about the rain forecast.

The rain also meant that we were required to carry compulsory gear – seam sealed jackets…another worry of mine.  I had a jacket that I was 95% sure was seam sealed, but I didn’t want to be pulled out half way through the race because the volunteers didn’t agree with me.  My jacket was also a bit heavy, and I wanted to have as light of a pack as possible.  I had nightmares about my jacket and the fact that it might not be sufficient.  I even showered in it for 10 minutes to see whether it was truly seam sealed (and it appeared to be…the water didn’t penetrate through!).  But still…I didn’t want to risk it.  So I splashed out on a $300 Marmot running jacket at the expo the day before the race (I saved $100…totally justifiable).  A big spend, but it put my mind completely at ease.  Totally worth it, just for that mental element.

Me in my sweet new jacketAnd because it had rained the day before the race, and the morning of, this meant a LOT of mud.  I hadn’t trained in mud, and many people (including me) struggled with it.  I had trained in rain, in the wind, in the sunshine, in the dark, on trails, on road, flat and hilly…but I hadn’t combined rain, dark, trails and hills all in one.  It slowed me down in sections, I almost lost a shoe once or twice, and I had to take extra care when running over some of the flatter muddy parts.  Don’t get me wrong it was fun at times – it made it more of an adventure and also gave my mind something to focus on.  But it also meant that some downhill sections were dangerous, with people sliding and falling over. The course essentially became a slip and slide at points, and while I managed to stay upright the whole way through, there were a few near misses.  We also had the heat and humidity to battle against…like I said above, it was a tough day.

Tarawera course copyBefore I get any further I will clarify one thing, something I didn’t know or think about prior to training for an ultra: I did not run the entire 62.7km.  I was not ‘running’ for 9 1/2 hours.  I was at aid stations for portions of it.  And I did walk sections. Everyone walked sections.  It is a ‘run’ but that definitely doesn’t mean you are ‘running’ the entire time.

Also – no one told me there would be THAT MANY HILLS.  I knew there would be hills, but there were so many of them.  So many ups.  So many downs.  Just over 2,000 meters worth.  I think I was willfully ignorant of the course because had I known and understood what the course would involve, I never would have signed up.  Hills for days.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile of the course. A + 2,043 metre (6,702 ft) vertical gain and – 2,177 metre (7,142 ft) vertical loss.

In terms of my preparation, I went into the race feeling so much fitter, stronger and happier than I had ever been for another event.  I had trained really well.  I was thrilled with my training.  I had put so much effort and time into it and had really dedicated three months to training.  As part of this, I had built up a strong level of lower body strength.  I worked on my weaknesses.  I ran various different trails.  I had even run 55km a few weeks previously and had gotten my nutrition on track.  I had trialed a number of different foods to determine what worked and what didn’t.  I had logged hundreds of hours of training.  I had gone through some stressful moments where my work life, my personal life and the demands of training were all too much, but I came through the other end stronger and more determined.

I had previously experienced a dark moment during my 55km run where I stopped, sat down and cried, and didn’t think I could go on.  But I had survived that moment, and I thought my mind was as tough as it could ever be.  I had stuck to my training plan 95% – which I was incredibly proud of (no one sticks to a training plan 100%!).  I made myself do nearly everything Greig told me to do, even though I disliked some of the plyometric jumping exercises, I was forced to run on days where it was hot (and I would have preferred to be at the beach) or raining or when there was 100km/hour gale wind.  I was so prepared, and I went into the race with that mentality of “you can do this, your mind and body is ready.”

In a nutshell: It was a tough day, but an amazing day.  I had my dark moments, but not nearly as dark as I expected.  I realized that my mind isn’t as tough as I had expected – that nothing can properly prepare your mind for an ultra marathon.  But in saying that, I also had some amazing highs and great experiences.  While I was disappointed to have taken 9 hours 33 minutes to finish, I had to remind myself “You signed up.  You ran it.  You finished.  You are amazing – who cares about the time!”  It was also my first ultra marathon.  And my first off road event.  And really, to put my time into perspective, I was 19th woman out of 132 that finished.  I was 101 out of 322 men and women finishers.  The 19th woman last year finished in 8 hours 32.    So I feel pretty great about that.  I was in the top 30% of all participants, and the top 15% of women finishers.

IMG_0952So in light of that background, for those who are interested, here goes my attempt at recollecting that day:

The night before:  Race jitters.

After attending the race expo, registering, attending a race briefing (where the overall message was: be prepared for rain and bring compulsory gear), checking out the start line and taking it pretty easy otherwise, I realize that I need to wake up at 4am.  That meant that dinner needed to be eaten around 6pm, and ideally we would be asleep at 9pm.  I cook dinner around 6:30pm: a tofu, broccoli and mushroom stir fry, with quinoa, washing it down with lots of water and electrolyte drink.  Hydration hydration hydration.

I received text and facebook messages of good luck – I can’t thank everyone who messaged me enough.  It was so uplifting to go into the event knowing I had so much love and support around me.  It helped tremendously.  I also received a message from my Mom about my race number – it was the same as her birthday.  So that in itself made it a bit more special, as I felt like I was carrying a piece of her with me along the day.

IMG_0919I set out everything I need in the morning, having already packed and sent off a drop bag for the Okataina aid station (which had clean socks, a fresh buff, a change of shorts, singlet, underwear, extra gels, extra frooze balls, face wipes).  I didn’t want to forget anything so I write a list of what I planned to eat on the day, ensuring I had enough.  I give a spare pair of socks to Rob for the Blue Lake aid station (if needed) and pack a bag of clothes for after the race.  I make sure my watch is charged, my iPhone playlist is up to date and I foam roll and stretch.  Then at 9pm, Rob and I hopped into bed, I watch part of a TV episode to try and keep my mind calm, and I was asleep around 9:30pm.

2am:   I wake up, wide awake, only to find I am awake too early…time to go back to sleep.

4am:  The alarm goes off.

I wake up, don’t want to get out of bed, one because it is so damn early, two because I am nervous about what the day will bring.  I finally get up, shower, and get dressed.  I taped my big toes to prevent blisters, put on sunscreen (just in case) and also the bracelet my sister gave me for my birthday, which is my name in morse code, and a little keepsake reminding me of her, to help me through any dark times I may experience.  I have a cup of coffee, two pieces of Burgen toast with peanut butter (one with jam the other with banana) and some water.  I watch part of an episode of The Bachelor to try and keep my mind off the race and to help me eat.  I make a PB&J sandwich (no crust), pack a banana into my pack, double, triple and quadruple check that I have everything I need. Hugs, photos and positive words are shared by all in our house as us three girls get ready for the 6am start.

IMG_09235:20am: Rob drives us to the start line.  The traffic is crazy, it is raining, and there are so many people.  I’m nervous but excited.  Not scared.  Not worried.  Just apprehensive.  Rob gives me a huge hug and gives me positive, uplifting and motivational support before he leaves me at the start line.

5:40am: I weave through the crowd towards the front of the pack…trying to get my Garmin watch to connect to the satellites.  No luck (tip for next time – connect it at the house the night before, and the morning before, not 20 minutes before the race amongst 1000 other runners trying to do the same thing).

I stand there nervously, keeping my legs moving, feeling the rain falling down.  Paul Charteris gives a safety message, and words of encouragement for the day.  I love the feeling at the start of a race.  My first marathon, in Jacksonville Florida, it was pitch black, and we all sang the national anthem.  It sent shivers up my spine.  At Tarawera, there is a Maori performance of sorts, and a buzz that you can almost feel it running through your body.  I’m no longer nervous, I’m excited.  I can’t wait to run off into the forest ahead.

IMG_09916am: We start.

It only takes about 30 seconds to get over the start line – some races it takes much longer.  We head off in a pack, and before I know it our flat section starts to go uphill.  We climb through native bush, up and down, and experience mud for the first time in the race.  People’s spirits are high, there is laughing, joking, talking, people are going at full speed ahead (me included).  It is pitch black and our headlamps guide us.  My eyes surprisingly work well in the dark, probably because there are so many other headlamps around me.

After about 5.5km, I am forty (ish) minutes in, and my Garmin FINALLY connects and starts tracking my run.  We come out of the woods and throw our headlamps into a box.  We also see our first spectators – a group of people cheering us on.  I’m feeling good.

Hour 2:

We go back into the woods, and soon enough hit Blue Lake (about 10km in).  I’ve been running for about an hour and twenty minutes now.  There are more spectators, standing in the rain, with umbrellas and rain coats.  People cheering and saying “Go Jen”.  Rob is there too – so good to see a friendly face, even though at 10km, I don’t really need it.  Just nice to know he is there.  I then see the lake – man the lake looks huge.  I know it is only 5-6km around, but really, we have to run it all!

TUM_2016_007750We join up to well-formed walking tracks, which are slightly undulating, mostly narrow, and run the entire way around Blue Lake.  About 7/8 of the way around, we pop out at the road and there are volunteers checking our seam sealed jackets – Mine is in my bag, I have to stop and say “in the pack in the pack, that zipper!” hoping he doesn’t ask to take the entire jacket out and view it.  Luckily he pulls a portion out, and says I am good to go.  I keep running, reaching the Blue Lake aid station at 16.4km (which requires a few 100m running along the beach).

24901093855_4e47378093_oI grab a cup of water, I fill up one of my water bottles and grab a banana and a watermelon.  I then drop the banana and watermelon, so have to go back for more…I say hi to Rob (no real niceties here…it was “Hi, open this pocket, grab my SOS, don’t need socks, yes it’s wet, all going well.”  Poor thing) and kept running.  I am at two hours now. 

Hour 3 – Blue Lake to Millar Road (2:04 to 3:03):

This portion was a lot of road running… I begin to struggle mentally, knowing that I won’t see a familiar face until the very end, as Rob won’t be at any of the next aid stations.  That in itself is a blow that I have to get over.  It helps that there are people standing on the road and outside their houses cheering us on.  There are flat portions which are great, and I take this opportunity to push a bit harder.  I’m focused – the first 15km I was caught up by what was going on, now I focus internally to carry through and keep going.  I see a friendly face, Alan, and run up to him and say hello – we chat briefly, and it is nice to see someone I know.  He tells me to push on and not be held back by him, because my strength is the road (I remember to tell him later my strength isn’t road…it is flat, whether on road or off road!) but with those words I push off ahead, knowing how much off road running is to come.

TUM_2016_000893Millar Road aid station (22.8km) – three hours in:

I reach the Millar Road aid station.  It is manned by people dressed as Santa Clause – and it is such a party! I grab a cup of coke, deciding ‘why not’ and guzzle that down, just as a photographer is yelling “Jen Jen look here Jen!” (with me thinking “oh god please don’t take a photo of me eating or drinking coke!!!”.  However I look up and smile – laughing in the process.  It’s crazy how little things like that stick with you, and make your day.  Alan catches up as I am eating some watermelon and filling up my water.  We grab a photo with the photographer, and Alan sets off ahead of me.  I am soon after, running past Austin Powers before entering into the forest – I pass a sign that says 18 kilometers to go – mentally that sign and warning haunted me for the next portion, knowing how far there was to go with no one else around.

TUM_2016_000858Hours 3, 4 and 5 Millar Road to Okataina (aka the worst three hours ever where I decided I never wanted to run another hill in my life) (3:03 to 5:50):

We set off into the woods and the scenery and landscape is quite different in this section. It also changes at various points – we are in the woods, we are in the open, we are on mud, dirt, then a very light clay section – and there are two solid and gradual climbs.  In other words – I was in hell.  I set off good, running pretty strong, happy, focused, and I put my playlist on – cue “Midnight City” and “We Own the Sky” by M83.

This was a long slog.  I expected it to take me two hours – it took me just under three hours.  I tried to focus on all the hard work I had put in during training, telling my legs they were strong enough and could do it.  But they were tired, they knew how much there was still to go.  I passed a few people, a few people passed me…it was hard to keep going mentally and physically.  I had to force myself to stop looking at my watch because it was depressing how slow this section went.  However, I needed to keep tabs on it to make sure I was eating.  During this section, I had a gel, a banana, another gel, some frooze balls – I was beginning to feel sick, the gels were messing with my stomach.  The coke was also playing up, a bit too bubbly.  My shoulders hurt, my legs were tired.  I also missed people.  There were no supporters, no one cheering us on – it was getting hard.  I want to stop but know I can’t = I am in the middle of no where.  Even if I want to stop and pull out, I have to keep going to get out of the woods. I  have a brief moment where I want to cry, but I tell myself to pull it together.  While this feels difficult, it is nothing compared to the despair I felt in Makara MTB Park a month ago.  That helps.

At about five hours in, I see pale pink balloons hanging from the trees – that little moment is magical.  I look up.  I smile.  A feeling of happiness and joy floods into my heart and mind.  Just ahead are two people who had hiked 5km in from the next aid station, with a sign that says five km to go – they were cheering us all on, despite the rain.  I can’t explain how good it feels to see people – to know that this part is nearly over.

After that came the descent – we pretty quickly come down 450ish meters.  This was the hill I had been warned about – the one that ruins knees – the one I had been training to beat.  It is muddy, but it is also (finally) fun.  It is a symbol of that portion being over, with people, and an aid station, up ahead.  The trail itself reminds me of Wilton Otari Bush, and I hoon down.  So happy to go down hill – I speed past others taking it slowly, just wanting to get it over.  I feel great – no knee pain, no soreness, no tightness over those kms.

Okataina Aid Station: YES.  I was out of the woods!! To a HUGE crowd – the biggest and best aid station yet.

24807609041_1deda7726b_oMy knees hadn’t given in, my TFL and IT band hadn’t played up.  And there was food! I had salt and vinegar chips, watermelon, a banana, ginger beer.  I found my drop bag and sat down, wiping my face (best idea ever to include face wipes in my bag!) and changing my socks. Oh my gosh – fresh socks.  Magic.  Brought my mood up so much! And just to sit down! I was in heaven.  I took my camelback bladder out of my back, knowing I only have 9ish km between each aid station to go, so I can rely on my two water bottles.  I chatted to some other runners here, I was taking my time.  I then asked for a peanut butter sandwich, I grabbed this and set off.

Hours 6 and 7 (Okataina to Humphries Bay):

As I leave the aid station, people cheer “Go Jen” “You got this Jen” and “doing so well Jen”.  My legs feel great.  Better than they had felt all day. I am also very happy that I removed the camelback from my backpack – my bag feels lighter, I feel faster, and I feel more mobile.  I feel great….that is until I try to eat my peanut butter sandwich.   The volunteers used Pics peanut butter on white bread, instead of Fix & Fogg on wholemeal bread (what I had trained with).  And there was too much peanut butter in it.  I bite into it and chew…and chew…and chew…for a good five minutes until determining there was no way that I can stomach it….I can’t swallow it.  It was heart breaking – what do I do? Do I hold this sandwich for the next 10km? Do I throw it and litter? Do I keep trying? I drank more water to help wash it down with – to no avail.  I then freaked out – I need food, I need fuel, I need to eat this.  I decide in the end, to discard it – the peanut butter was dripping onto my hands, and I couldn’t digest that.  Bye bye sandwich.

Hours 6 and 7 I pass a lot of people.  I stop caring – we are all struggling, passing is no longer a win.

Hours 8 and 9 (Humphries Bay to Tarawera Outlet):

This section is beautiful.  I am running along a lake, through the forest – and some parts in the forest make me feel like I am in a fairy tale.  My right hip flexor starts to feel tight, so I stop to stretch it – someone stops to ask if I am ok – I am, just stretching.  I am also dying to pee – but the track is so narrow – there is a hill on my left and a lake on my right…no where to hide.  I keep going – my music helping my mind escape as much as possible.  I reach the Humphries Bay aid station at 49.2km – about 7 hours and 50 minutes into my run – this aid station is 70s galore! There is all the usual offerings, plus pizza.  I can’t think of anything worse! I told my friend Lauren I would have a bite of one, for her, but there are no vegetarian options.  I pass.  I eat a bit more solid food here than I had planned on doing, just because the gels are starting to make me feel ill, and starting to get too sweet for me.

24533326649_4a5004f899_oI set off knowing there is only 13km to go, and only one more climb.  It is nearly over.

I reach 55km and think “Yes! Home straight! This is the longest you have ever run – enjoy it!”  I get a bit teary.  It is overwhelming knowing that I am now running more than 55km, and also that I only have 7ish km to go.  I can’t explain that feeling.  Those emotions, and that feeling of achievement, helped me power the remaining 7km.

Hour 9:

I get to the Tarawera Outlet aid station at 57.3 – There are only 5km left, so I don’t bother stopping – I have enough water, I can do this, my mind is completely focused.  I run straight through the aid station, actually bumping into people and a volunteer yells out “Clear the way runner coming through” before giving me a high five.  My mind is completely focused now – I am going to finish this.  I know I should probably eat or have a gel, but I only have 30 minutes left (by my calculations) – I tell myself I have enough fuel to get through.  And I do.

From that point on, I run my heart out.  I give it everything.  It is mostly down hill, with a few short sharp uphills – I run straight up those and straight down.  I am doing 5 minute kms at some points.  I am on fire.  I think back to the 3km race pace run I did a few days previously – I now know why I did that – to help me smash out the last three km today.  I feel happy, positive, determined.  I feel like I am in a race against the clock.  And I want to win.

I pass so many people – yelling out “on your right” – they stop and let me go by, telling me good luck.  I am on cloud nine.  I then hit stairs – who on earth puts a set of 20 steps in the middle of the forest! Only to walk up, go across a bridge of 5m, and then have to come back down again.  And in the last few km of the race! WHAT IS THIS!!! I race up, but get stuck behind someone coming down.  I try my best to hold back and be polite, but in my head I’m thinking “hurry up hurry up hurry up MOVE MOVE MOVE”.  Soon we are down the bottom again and I’m off.  I look at my watch – only 1km to go.  You got this.

I pass the falls on my right – I think how beautiful it is, but I don’t have time to stop and take a photo, I have to finish.  I stop listening to my music, and I hear people.  I hear Tim speaking on the microphone.  I see a few pacers who have walked into the forest to meet their runners.  And I start seeing signs – 500m, 300m, 100m, 50m…I run.  I run hard and fast.

9:33:10: I come through the forest, past the finish line and into the crowd of people.

I can’t stop! I run right past Tim and the woman giving out medals, and have to be called back!!!! I turn around, and receive my medal.  Rob jumps over the fence and gives me a hug – I am so glad to see him.  Tim asks me how my day was.  I (believe) I tell him it was tough, but I enjoyed it.  And that I am really glad it is finished.  I am all smiles, I am so happy. I can’t believe I am living this moment – I am standing at the finish line of the 62.7km Tarawera Ultra, with a medal around my neck.  A finisher.  A happy, uninjured, strong finisher.

IMG_0937I can’t remember much from that moment – what I said, what I did.  I just remember being so incredibly grateful to Rob for being there, standing in the rain for two hours waiting for me.  Knowing he was at the finish line helped me run those last kms faster – I was dying for a big hug, and the faster I ran, the faster that happened.  I also remember feeling so grateful to everyone I ran with on that day, who put themselves out there, and tested their own limits.  And to my friends, family, colleagues and supporters – everyone who believed in me and put up with me.  And to the volunteers, the organizers, the supporters.

IMG_0953Thinking back to the info night that I attended mid-2015, Paul Charteris was right.  It is a tough day.  It is amazing in parts.  It sucks in others (he didn’t lie or sugar coat it).  But it also changes you.  It sticks with you.  And in many instances, it is life changing.  I learned so much about myself in the process.  Immediately after the race, I decided there was no way I was going to do it again.  But I’ve already decided I am returning for 2017, to complete the 62.7km once more.  Who knows, one day I may do the 100km.  But now I know what to expect, I know what the day entails, and I want to go back and take it on once more.

Exhaustion

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

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This is me winning on a Sunday morning in the sun 😀 😀

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

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

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

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

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

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SO MANY GELS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The day I ran 55.5km

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once you do this, you can do anything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Post run, post dip in the ocean, all smiles 🙂

Training for Ultra

It is now 10 weeks until Tarawera and my training is well underway…these past two weeks were my first ones fully into it…and oh my god it is exhausting! Fitting it in between work, socializing and sleeping…thank god I am only doing 60km, I can’t imagine how much more time I would have to commit if I was doing the 100km option!

I’ve had a few people ask me “So are you running like every day?” or “I see you at the gym way more than on the road”, so I thought I would set out what my training has been this past week…it has required a lot of 6am starts and many nights I get home after 8pm…I think I saw my flatmate once this entire week as a result!

Monday:

6pm: 20 minutes of core work followed by 4x500m sprints followed by stair work (the Vista steps, approximately 120 steps total…a series of single step repeats followed by double step ones)

7pm: Restorative yoga

Tuesday:

6:30am: Running specific strength (single leg squats, single leg calf raises (I am up to 18kgs on those!! I started with 6kg months ago!), lateral weighted lunges, 40-50kg deadlifts, hip abduction with band, side plank hip abductions, and a number of core exercises)

5:45pm: Metabolic (this week’s class involved sprints, jump squats (which killed me after Monday’s stair session!), burpees and 10 minutes of killer core work

6:15pm: Personal training with the amazing Mish, this week was some nice upper body work

Wednesday:

7:15am: Run technique

7pm: Restorative yoga

Thursday:

7am: 20 minutes of core/prehab work

1pm: 3x2km threshold repeats with 1.5km warm up and 1.5km warm down, totalling 9km (I managed 8:46, 8:45 and 9:03 for my 2kms so was very happy)

Friday:

6:30am: Running specific strength (a repeat of the above Tuesday morning circuit) + bench presses and push ups

Saturday:

12pm: 24km Skyline return – 12km running (90 minutes) and 12km steady walking back (110 minutes) – in 45km/hr gusts – it was SO exposed and windy!

And Sunday (tomorrow) is going to involve some chest/back/arm work at the gym plus foam rolling,  stretching and resting my little legs.

So yes…training has started to take over my life, and I feel like I am living at the gym.  However, my body is now used to waking up at 6am (It doesn’t want to, but it doesn’t complain as much as it did a few weeks ago) and I am starting to organize my meals a bit better, looking after my nutrition and ensure I am eating well.  Probably not eating enough though – this past week I have been SO much hungrier and in need of food.  Thursday afternoon after my 9km at lunchtime, I had lunch immediately after (a quinoa, avocado, smoked tofu, cucumber, tomato and hummus bowl) but within 2 hours I could hear my stomach rumbling!  So I have to start bringing more snacks to work and making sure I am getting enough protein in each meal to help my body recover.

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Saturday’s gorgeous run along the Skyline

But despite the exhaustion I am currently trying to overcome, I am LOVING the training.  I feel like I am getting so much stronger in my legs, working my way up to 3 sets of 12 18kg single leg calf raises.  And today’s run was SO beautiful.  It was warm (18 degrees) with the sun shining and not a cloud to be seen, and it was very windy (average 47 km/hr northerly gusts, and in some parts I had to stop running because the wind was actually pushing me over and making me trip over rocks etc).  But it was just so beautiful.  I had never done the Skyline before so was a bit nervous, trying out a new route, but it was really easy to follow.

The Wellington City Council has a great brochure with information about the route available online. But it says it takes 5 hours to walk one way, and it also made it seem much longer than 12km given you run from Johnsonville to Khandallah, Ngaio, Wilton and then Karori.  However with a bit of googling and checking other people’s blog posts, I found confirmation that it was only 12km, so I didn’t need to worry (the last thing I wanted to do was to run and find that it was like 20km, resulting in me being stranded at the other end!!)

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The Skyline run – I started at the northern end, ran south west to Karori, then turned around and back to Johnsonville

There were only one or two times where I thought ‘where do I go now?’ but that is part of the fun…exploring nature, adventuring and feeling like you are in the wild!  I started from the Johnsonville end at Carmichael Street, and ran all the way to Karori (by Karori Park/Makara Road).  That was 12km, and I then turned around and walked the 12km back…which was actually pretty tough! I think that running you get into a rhythm and it is easier to just keep going, walking I could feel my glutes and the ground a bit more and slowed down a few times.

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So beautiful – so blessed to live with this trail only 15 minutes drive away!

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Sheep!

But I just focused on the scenery and the stunning views on either side of me, and the fact that the faster I walked back, the faster I could have a glass of nice ice cold chocolate soy milk (bribery and mind games – they work like a charm!). The entire 24km had a 1,000 elevation gain, constantly going between 230m and 430m with numerous peaks to run up and down. Also burned approximately 1,400 calories – great given that I splurged a bit last night at our work team’s get away, having a second serving of dessert, and a few glasses of wine!

The elevation profile – cumulative 1,000m gain

I also got more experience in my trail running shoes (which I LOVE) and using my awesome Ultimate Direction women’s ultra vesta hydration pack, and also figured out that I enjoy eating bananas on long trail runs, but not frooze balls so much.  And afterwards, knowing that I did 24km in that weather when I could have easily said no, was so rewarding.  It gave me a big mental boost, making me think ‘you can actually do this’ – which I need to keep telling myself!

FullSizeRender(1).jpgBut I am now looking forward to my ‘rest’ day tomorrow – my one day off before starting another 6 days that look very similar to the above plan…except next Saturday’s run is going to be 36km around the bays…which again, will be an awesome challenge mentally and physically.  I haven’t done 36km in a long time, hopefully I survive!

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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.

Hagley Park Running - Legs

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.

Autumn leaves

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