Tag Archives: reflection

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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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 🙂

Three Months to Ultra

A few months ago I made a decision to do something that excites…and scares me.  After quietly contemplating the idea for a few weeks, doing a bit of research and speaking to a few people about it, I finally decided to take the plunge.  The decision? To enter the Tarawera Ultramarathon.

Yep, an ultra.  A distance longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.2 km (26.2 miles). In the Tarawera race, there are three options: 00km, 85km and 60km.  For my first, I decided to play it safe, and smart, and go for the 60km option.  Still crazy, still insanely long, and still rather scary.   

Even after taking the plunge, registering online, paying my entry and even posting an update on my Facebook about this insane goal,  my entry still didn’t feel 100% real. It still felt so far away, with so many opportunities to back out, so it hadn’t completely sunk in.  So of course, with a new goal, and a new hobby, I had to go shopping! I felt completely unprepared for what trail running was going to bring – what do I wear what do I eat what do I bring how do I do it!?!?  However, I soon stopped freaking out and purchased some ultra essentials:

  • An Ultimate Direction hydration pack – I bought the ‘Ultra Vesta‘ pack, designed by Jenny Jurek (wife of vegan ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek), designed specifically for running and for women, and it had numerous good reviews online
  • A really good running rain jacket – this decision took FOREVER to make, and I ended up going for the more stylish and perhaps less practical choice, being a Lululemon jacket…it still cost over $200…and to be honest was one of the best items of clothing I have ever bought!!!
  • Trail running shoes – yes, not hybrids, but complete trail shoes, shoes that should not be worn on the road.  Another $200 but a necessary investment – again after talking to numerous people, lots of online research and visiting stores, I purchased the Brooks Cascadia from my friend Anna at Shoe Clinic – they are so comfortable and stable and provide so much support to my feet, I love them!  They also have an awesome hot pink color underneath…

Shoes copyGosh who would have thought that running a trail ultra-marathon would be so expensive! The funny thing that even after spending about $500 on the above, it still didn’t sink in that ‘Ok you are running 60km, you are actually doing this.’ Because I wore my Lulu jacket running normally, I used my hydration pack while hiking in South Africa and my trail shoes I wore them in and got them muddy doing normal trail runs with the WoRM group.  However, things have now got very real.

The race is just three months away.  How did that happen! In three months today I will have finished a 60km race, I will be tired and aching and probably have a beer in my hand, being looked after by my supportive partner and other friends who are going to make the trip up that weekend.  I expect I will experience a range of emotions, not just after the run but also beforehand and during, and need to start training myself emotionally to harden up and thrive off pain and despair (how uplifting!).  But I also need to start doing some serious training.  Luckily, I have a three month training plan all set up, starting tomorrow.  It is a bit daunting, looking at what the next three months will bring.  The gym and the trails are going to be my new home, and I am going to have to explore some new trails and get used to training no matter what the weather.   But it is three months to ultra – this training plan and the lead up to the ultra is just what I needed for it to set in.  I am doing this – I am actually doing this.

And if at any point denial starts to set in, all I have to do is go to the 2016 Starters Page…where my name is listed.  How cool is that? A race where my name features on their website! You can scroll through and see who else has entered, what countries people are traveling from, and how many people have entered the various distances.  It makes me feel much less alone.

Tarawera starting list copy

Everything hurts…

It is very rare for me to be sore, achy and hurt all over.  But I am. You name it, it hurts.  It hurts to touch, to move, to stand, to sit. I now understand why people join a bootcamp or a gym and then end up hating life.  Exercise is meant to be fun! Enjoyable! Invigorating! But the pain…man it sucks.

As many of you will know, I recently returned from a 3 1/2 week vacation in Africa.  I went on safari, slept on a house boat, visited the beautiful Victoria Falls, partook in wine tasting at vineyards outside of Cape Town, and did very little exercise.  So, getting back into it has been difficult, both mentally and physically. Before my vacation, I had been working out at least 5 times a week and told myself “I will do small HIIT circuits in my room every day, make sure I keep up with my prehab exercises for my running, and go for a run or two when possible.”

In reality, I did no exercise whatsoever for the first 10 days (apart from some bush walks in Matusadona National Park with our guide Steve).  On day 11, back in Harare, I did a small HIIT circuit at 8am in my room.  I gave up half way through because it was already 30 degrees and I couldn’t make myself do any more burpees.  Defeated by burpees…not my usual MO.  Days 12 to 22 I did a few 5-15 minute ab circuits and went on two 8km runs (one when it was 32 degrees and in a wildlife reserve, without any water, leading to us stopping every 2km or so ‘to take a photo’ (aka catch our breathe and try not to die) and one 5km run…but I basically had 3 1/2 weeks off.

And it was glorious.  For once, day after day, I woke up not sore or tight or in need of a stretch.  I didn’t have to fit in a run or a weight session before work, or after.  My weekends, my days, my time, was all mine.  I ate and drank and felt no guilt about my workout that day.  I felt relaxed, refreshed and recharged. Who would have thought not exercising could be so nice!!

So when I got back to NZ this past weekend, I initially thought “Maybe I don’t get back into my old exercise routine, I liked a bit more spare time, maybe I lay off for a bit…”.  Even thog h it was a beautiful weekend and normal me would have been dying to get out in the sun and run around the bays. I thought ‘hmm going to the beach and drinking. A bar in the sun…much more fun than starting my running routine again!’

  
Then I remembered that I signed up for a 60km ultramarathon in Feburary 2016.  Fourteen weeks away.  So choosing not to exercise is not an option.  I have to get back into it…something that my body is currently hating me for.

So my past three days since ‘getting back into it’, my exercise schedule has looked like:

  • Monday 10am: 6km run along Oriental Parade and back via Maida Vail Road (elevation gain of 168m) on Monday morning;
  • Monday 12pm: Acro-yoga for 90 minutes on Monday afternoon;
  • Monday 6pm: Sleep…
  • Tuesday 5:45pm: Metabolic at HealthFit with Mish
    • 21-15-9-4 workout
      • 15kg sandbag hug squats
      • Burpees
      • GHD sit ups
    • Ab workouts – 30s on, 15s rest, 25s on, 15s rest, 20s on, 15s rest, 15s on, 15s rest, 10s on, 15s rest, 5s on
      • Running man
      • Bicycle
  • Tuesday 6:15pm: Personal training with Mish
    • First PT circuit (3 rounds)
      • 27.5kg static lunges (x15)
      • 4kg DB forward and reverse lunge (x12)
    • Second PT circuit (2 rounds)
      • 70kg leg press (x15)
      • 32kg cable woodchopper (x12 each side)
      • Swiss ball jack knife (x15)
  • Wednesday 6pm: Run group (twice up Mt Vic – 7.5km, 328m elevation gain – up to 136m and back down again, then repeated back up to 136m, and back down)
  • Wednesday 7pm: Restorative yoga

My Tuesday evenings are usually a good combination…Mish works me hard but it doesn’t affect me too much the next day.  But oh my god I woke up Wednesday morning hurting.  All Wednesday I was hurting.  Everywhere. My abs and legs. But also my vehat, my shoulders, my back. Those burgers annihilated me. And yet I still had run group to look forward to, which involved not one but two climbs up Mt Victoria.  Honestly I almost cancelled.  I thought ‘why am I doing this to myself?’ but also ‘how did I go from being a machine to useless in three weeks! This isn’t fair!’ But I knew that there was no point having a tantrum and that I had go to run group and show Greig that I was serious. I had to get back into it. Rip off the Band-Aid, just get back into it and give 110%.

I hoped that the run up Mt Vic would loosen my muscles, make me feel real confident and great and give me lots of positive energy.  What actually happened was that I spent those two kilometers thinking “It hurts it hurts it hurts. Why does it hurt oh my god I want to stop. Why can’t I walk? Maybe I can walk. No one will see me walk.  Maybe I walk for ten seconds. No you have to keep running. But ow it hurts I don’t want to. I give up I’m pulling out of the ultra. I thought running was meant to be fun!! I can do it I can do it. F!@# now it is raining too! Life sucks”. I turned around at the 2km mark to ensure I got two climbs in, and on my descent, things changed, I thought “Hey, no knee pain, that’s good.  The rain is starting to die down a bit. You know what, that wasn’t too bad.  It’s only 2km, I can do that again.  Come on you can do this. It’s nice running downhill. I can breathe again.”

Elevation 28 10 2015

Of course, leading to the second climb back up – and wow what a change mentally.  I knew it hurt. I knew it was hard to breathe. I knew it was raining and that it was hard work and it sucked. But all I could think was “Yeah I am doing this, come on one more time up, just 2km to go, just 1.9km, just 1km…” until I reached 400m away and sped up, reaching the 2km turnaround point feeling great.  Relieved.  And proud.  Sure, it wasn’t fun, it sucked, but I did it.  I could have said no, I could have gone home and given up and felt sorry for my poor aching body, but I did it.  7.5km up and down hills, done.

Route 28 10 2015

But it also gave me a really nice understanding of why people say they hate to run, that they hate to exercise, or how people really struggle with it or give up after one or two tries. And it also helped me understand that sometimes, the pain and the aches never feel worth it. I just have to focus on the fact that it will get better, my body will re-adjust, the aches and pains will lessen and I will get my running and gym mojo back soon enough.  Until then, I have a massage booked in for tomorrow afternoon for an alternative form of pain (needling and deep tissue massage…), and I think I will be taking it easy this weekend (with a trail run and light gentle weights!).

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.

Map 1 copy

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.

image1

Stepping up to a full marathon, 61 days and counting

Failure is a step to greatness

“Failure’s not an option.  It’s a step”

In my last post, I wrote about failure.  About going from feeling invincible to feeling defeated.  About not achieving a new personal best in my third half marathon this year.  The disappointment.  The frustration.

But then comes the realization that I can learn from my mistakes.  I can try harder.  I can use the failure as motivation and a push to do better.  Because really, that is what running is all about – overcoming whatever it is that’s holding you back – whether that barrier is physical or mental, running lets your mind wander and be free while your body works.

And really, the fact that I have run four half marathons this year, given I tore my meniscus in two places and had joint effusion in my left knee last year after my first 15km race (the Christchurch City 2 Surf), had Achilles tendinitis this year after the Wellington half, and was never a runner in the first place, is impressive.

half marathon

Not many people can say they have run four marathons in one year, let alone one.

However it hasn’t been easy.  Running is a solo sport.  But most of all it is a mind game.  It is a challenge to your will power, your self control, your belief in yourself and your ability.  That is why I am drawn to it – I am a competitive person, and competing against myself is the most addictive (and dangerous) sport of all.

When you do well, when you achieve a new personal best or run farther than you ever have, it is an amazing feeling.  Crossing the finish line at a race makes you feel invincible, like you have just taken on the world and can do anything.  But when you feel defeated, when you doubt yourself and doubt why you even ran in the first place, when your body hurts all over and you feel a true sense of disappointment, it takes a strong mind and a love of the sport to be able to overcome that sense of failure and do it all over again.

FeetAnd that is why I feel I can call myself a ‘runner’.  Because last Sunday, I ran my fourth half marathon.  It was hot, sunny, with no pace runners, no shade, no cloud, very few water stations and I was not in the best frame of mind.  At several points I wanted to give up, to stop, to get a taxi back to the start.  I even contemplated cheating. Or calling my trainer early on a Sunday morning to have him give me a pep talk.

But I didn’t.  I made myself persevere.  Because no one else would care if I didn’t finish.  If I stopped, I wouldn’t have let my family or friends down, I would have let myself down.  Because that half marathon was a test, to see if I could give it my all, have no energy left at the end, feel pain and completely waste myself.  So I finished, at the slow time of 1:48:03.  Sure, I was in the top 16% of female finishers, 17 out of 109. Top 35% of total finishers.  But for me, I felt defeated.  Devastated. What was the point of the pain and suffering, only to finish THAT slow.

But, as I said, running is more than exercise, it is an intense one-player mental challenge.  At the end of the day, I was able to pick myself up and turn my disappointment and devastation into something else.  Like the Nike quote above says, failure is just a step.  You have to fail in order to succeed.  If you don’t fail, how can you improve.  How can you truly achieve everything you are capable of and know true success. After Napier, I realized that I needed to feel failure to truly focus and commit myself to doing better, to analyze what I did wrong and know how to improve ad continue.

So, that afternoon, as I was lying in the sun, resting my weary body and disheartened self, I decided that I wanted to move on from half marathons. I realized that I was  getting frustrated and fixated at achieving a time of 1:40.  I wanted that 1:40 so bad I would do anything to get it.  I had planned on finishing the year with a half marathon in Jacksonville, Florida, but knew that if I did, I would either (a) achieve a new PB and seriously injure myself in the process, or (b) I would not achieve a new PB and that failure would probably make me never want to run again.

So, my solution?  Run the marathon instead.  The full 42.6km/26.2 miles.

Napier me

So, to the countdown.  61 days.  61 days to get my body and mind prepared.  Your body is able to run a half marathon, even on minimal training, your body can physiologically handle the stress.  A marathon is a whole different beast, that your body is not able to run without some serious commitment, physically and mentally.

So what does this new goal mean for me? Well…I ran the Napier half marathon last Sunday (2o October 2013).  A full 21.3km in one go.  Usually that would mean a full week of recovery, rest and very little exercise.  But now that I am training for a full, the Napier half was just an ordinary training run.  No different from any other Sunday to come.  So Monday (21 Oct) was rest, and Tuesday I was back into it.  This led to the below comparison on RunKeeper after my 24km run yesterday (Sunday 27 October) – the week leading up to and including the Napier half, and the training week following.

Running mileage

So what do the next 61 days (7 weeks) look like?

Mondays: Rest and yoga in the evening
Tuesday: Group personal training session (strength) in the morning and speed work/intervals in the evening
Wednesday: Long 13-19km tempo run – this will be the toughest part of the program.  I will have to learn to love the treadmill, whereas it is currently my mortal enemy.
Thursday: Personal training (strength) in the morning, maybe a 5km in the evening or at lunchtime
Friday: Rest
Saturday: 9km run on a set route with hill repeats
Sunday: My long run. Last Sunday was 21.3km.  Yesterday was 24km.  Next Sunday is 27.  Then 30.  Then 33…

MorningSo we will see what happens.  We will see how well I go with fitting it into my busy schedule.  The above photo was taken just after 5:45 in the morning on Wednesday – I didn’t have time to fit in my 9km run after work on Tuesday, so got up bright and early to fit it in before strength training at 6:30.

No doubt my friends and colleagues will get sick of me talking about my training and my nutrition.  My Instagram is going to get even more bombarded with running related shots and hashtags.  My Facebook statuses are going to get more narrow and focused on my runs and personal training.  I am going to read more and more about running and training techniques, how to overcome ‘the wall’ and various race day fueling tactics. And my diet is going to get even more controlled and set than it already is.  But you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I began the year with my first half marathon in New York City, through and around Central Park.  It seems fitting that I end the year back in the United States with my first full marathon, perhaps the first of many….