Monster Blog

My blog is always in the back of my mind. Unfortunately, despite being a classic DINK (double income no kids), I still find it difficult to find time to write, which is a shame because A LOT has happened this year worthy of blogging about! So I’m going to do a mighty big ‘Monster’ post to cover ALL of it so I’m up to date and can get back into blogging without having all the things I haven’t written about weighing on my mind!

The Triathlon

I competed in my very first triathlon in March. Now, let’s not get carried away, it was not a 12 hour iron man by any stretch. It was an enticer length women’s triathlon designed to, well, entice the ladies into trying a triathlon. It worked. I was so intimidated by the idea of a triathlon, especially the swim and the transitions (i.e. going from swim to bike and bike to run) that I wouldn’t have gotten up the nerve for anything bigger. To be honest, the idea of mixed gender triathlon intimidates me, which is super lame…in any case it was the perfect mix of circumstance to get me out there.

I was number 1 because of my last name. Not because I was super keen or seeded. Just to let to 20 people who asked/assumed that know...

I was number 1 because of my last name. Not because I was super keen or seeded. Just to let the 20 people who asked/assumed that know…

For anyone considering doing a tri, here are my top tips

–         Do it with a friend! I was so nervous at the start, getting my stuff set up and trying not to feel completely out of place but my good friend Tania helped me keep calm. We also had great fun training together and shared tips we’d found online (including using bright towels to find where our bikes were ‘racked’).

–         Practice your transitions (no brainer)…more than once. I thought I had my transitions sorted, had practiced a swim to ride and a ride to run. But my transition times were terrible on the day. I underestimated the importance of transitions for my time which was out by about 5 minutes on what I had wanted to do. I know it was my transitions which let me down. My husband who was there watching said I dawdled on the bike to run and stopped to do up my shoelace. I guess I used the transitions as a rest to recover from the leg before, but really they should be done briskly and running just as hard as you would in the run leg.

–         Don’t be scared of the swim! I was and it was unfounded. If you are worried about the swim just hang back a bit on your first one to start and do at least twice as long as the length in practice sessions (depends how far you are going! Ours was only 300 m but our training swims were 1 km). I jumped straight in with everyone despite fear of being hit in the face by an errant foot and didn’t get hit once. My strangest experience was coming up for a breath, facing the right, looking straight at someone less than six inches away who was coming up for a breath facing left! Awkward .

–         Pace yourself on the swim. I went out HARD (nervous energy no doubt) and the leg to the first buoy was super easy, to the second felt like I was dying and the final two were strong. So maybe don’t go out too hard for the swim. Don’t panic about being the last, I did and felt really self-conscious and like I would be the last out of the water. As long as you have done some swim training beforehand, you won’t be last in an enticer (I recommend doing an enticer!) and if you need to catch your breath for a second or around the buoys, just do breaststroke! It’s not the end of the world!

–         Think through what you are wearing and the order you will need to change. I wore leggings for the ride/run which – after the swim – were very difficult to get on in a hurry. That was a mistake – nothing tight!!

–         Get a support team! Every time I passed my cheer squad I got a huge boost and they always made me smile yelling funny things out or just cheering.

All in all, I felt like it was a real accomplishment. Yes, it was only a tiny portion of the full Olympic distance tri (which I watched my brother-in-law compete in the next day, very inspiring!) but the challenge, fear and exhaustion all combined with adrenaline, strength and sense of achievement for us both to decide that next year, we’re going to do the next one up. Like big girls 🙂

To the Snow Fields – In Summer…

Well, not quite summer, but in early Autumn (March) hubby and I decided to load up the mountain bikes for a road trip…to the snow fields! During summer, they open up Thredbo – one of our favourite slopes in the winter, for riding.

On the way, we stopped in Canberra, which is a mountain bike mecca. So many places to choose from for riding! We decided on Stromlo which is a mountain bike park which makes Glenrock (my local) look pretty average (and it is not, Glenrock is massively sweet as bro). It was well maintained, the trails are well thought out and overall just sooooo much fun! I even tried a see-saw for the first time (and did it successfully once).

Our second ride at Stromlo was on the morning we had to get to Thredbo by the afternoon for our mountain bike induction. We chose a loop we thought would be doable in the time we had but ended up slightly stressed out as it took a bit longer than expected! Probably because of the truly monstrous climb which was involved – I almost died and had to have several breaks. In the end the trail was super fun and we were sad to leave but excited to get to Thredbo and do some full on downhill riding.

I’m not a downhill rider, luckily in the last season Thredbo put in what was referred to as a ‘flow-trail’ which was challenging but not out of the ream for an intermediate rider – probably not for full on beginners though. In order to get our passes, we had to do a mountain bike induction which basically involved some instruction on getting on the chair-lift with our bikes (which was surprisingly easy). We also had to do a quick test with our guide to show we had basic MTB skills, just going down a hill with a few turns which we passed easily. He said it was surprising how many people with zero bike skills wanted to try the trail and without some skills, its just plain dangerous. He then showed us down the flow trail to shows us the features and also point out where it crosses with the DH trail for hubby.

Thredbo on bikes!

Thredbo on bikes!

It was super fun but also a real challenge and kind of scary in places. We did the induction in the afternoon and were all set to go for a full day the next day. It was a good idea as the induction takes up a couple of hours and you still have to pay for a full-day pass afterwards if you want to keep going. I ended up doing the trail seven times and it took about 20 minutes each time. By the 4th or 5th, I was feeling it. In fact it HURT and not where you might expect. Of course my hands hurt from gripping the brakes just to stay in control (in fact when we took my bike to be serviced, they said I’d worn out my brake pads! Yep, that’s embarrassing). My forearms hurt the worst and every bump felt like torture. The first half was the worst, very bumpy, but the second half was smooth and super fun and by the bottom I thought ‘that wasn’t so bad, I could do another!’.

It was weird being at ‘the snow’, as well call it, when there was no snow. It was a ghost town. MTB riding on actual mountains has not really picked up in Australia to the same extent as in Canada (i.e Whistler). I think though that they need more trails before that will happen. Yes it was fun, but the same run over and over starts to lose its excitement and if we wanted to stay more than a day or two there needs to be more variety. All in all I think I enjoyed Stromlo the most, although I learnt a lot from my downhill riding. There is a downhill flow track on Stromlo we did once on the way to the snow and once on the way back. On the way back, I beat my first time by about 2 minutes, which I attribute to the confidence boost I got in Thredbo.

The Colo(u)r Run

A friend of mine asked me way back in February if I wanted to join her on the Color Run. I was hesitant. Firstly, in Australia we spell it with a u, i.e. Colour. Secondly, it is a purely for profit event with ‘runners’ able to contribute to charity at their will but no donations from the organisers. Thirdly, it is a total gimmick where people run in tutus and the majority do not even run it with people stopping to dance around in coloured powders like idiots. I mean, come on I am a runner, not some half-arsed walk/runner who needs a gimmick to want to run…

Um.

Yes, I own two tutus...

Yes, I own two tutus…

Yeah it was awesome. Soooo much fun with some great friends who were totally into it and we basically had fun dodging around people, not caring about getting dirty, or looking like idiots in our tutus, smoothing coloured powder on ourselves and each other and leaping around/pretending to be horses (it was around a race track) when we should have been running. Yes, a lot of people just sauntered the whole thing. Yes, we stopped to dance around like ‘smurfs (blue)’ or ‘oompa loompas (orange)’ at each of the colour stations. No, charity did not benefit. But do you know what? Even though I like to run for a cause, sometimes I just want to have some fun and am prepared to pay money to someone else to sort out the details.

And they damn well sorted it.

It was so well organized, no crowding or too much waiting which, for an event where over 10,000 people joined in (pretty much all of Newcastle was there it seemed), is saying something. The after party was good fun with music and hyped up DJs and everyone going nuts with their little finishing packets of powder, exploding everywhere.

It has actually gotten me excited about running again, I enjoyed it so much. I did parkrun the day before in preparation, knowing I wasn’t going to push on the event day, and did NOT enjoy my run. But after doing the colour run… I really wanted to go back and do a parkrun! Weird eh? I’m actually pretty keen to sign up for another event soon to keep my current running motivation going. I was reading through my old City2Surf posts and thinking about how defeated I felt afterwards compared to how I felt after the Color run…no contest really. After City2Surf I wanted to vomit. After the Colour run I wanted to party.

So let’s party, feet, let’s party.

 In Summary…

I actually have about 2 or 3 other things to talk about (commuting to work by bike, loving on MTB riding a bit more, swimming during winter, RAW challenge) but this is more monster than I had intended and I have some other shit to do. So I will leave you with some Mantras I’ve been using lately:

No-one is thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves…just like you

Why should they overtake you? You are strong, fast and ride all the time. You ARE the fastest

I LIKE going to the gym. It isn’t a chore, it’s a privilege!

Happy travels!

Back in the Saddle

Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet and do what you are putting off or dreading. Fear is an interesting thing and I always think about an experiment involving spiders which I came across a few years back. Basically, people scared of spiders experience a spike of fear and adrenaline when they first see a spider. This initial feeling of fear is the most intense and does not increase past this point the longer they are looking at the spider.

Running was my spider until this morning. You see, I haven’t been running this year since I have been focused on the thrilling sport of mountain bike riding (and let’s face it, I just didn’t feel like running). Although I want to keep up my riding, it is also time to get back in the running saddle (the horse analogy would really be more appropriate to bike riding I suppose…). I have been putting it off and making excuses since my last parkrun 8 weeks ago!

My time was not the best. In fact it is my third slowest ever (for parkrun). But you know what, I ran the whole thing. I went. I ran 5 km. I set my alarm, got up and went out for a run. I almost bailed several times: when I set my alarm the night before, when my alarm went off (the first, second AND third time), after I got dressed and once I was in the car were ALL breaking points where I asked myself how much I really wanted to go (the answer was an unconvincing: “lots?”).

But I am so, so happy I went. Now I KNOW I can still run 5 km and it isn’t horrible. I didn’t die, in fact I felt pretty good after which means I could have gone faster. My initial fear has spiked. I faced it and now I can move on to enjoying running again. This first time is the hardest it is going to be; it all gets easier from here. Which is just as well because….

I’m doing a TRIATHLON! That’s right, a friend and I have signed up for a triathlon! Impressive, no? Um, no not really. It is an enticer tri-athlon for women to encourage involvement in the sport (brilliant idea) – and it worked on us! The distances are as follows:

SWIM = 300 m (cake. My friend Tania and I swim that easy in our weekly sessions)

RIDE = 10 km (too easy. I ride 10 km routinely and often through the bush, so on the flat it will be a cinch)

RUN = 3 km (puh, not even a parkrun!)

However…put them all together and I don’t know how it will all work out. Especially since it is in less than a month and I have only just started running again… I have no idea how long it will take, I don’t know how I will feel after each leg or where I will sit in the scheme of the other entrants. But I am going to do it and I will be training as hard as I can over the next few weeks in a last ditch attempt to not completely embarrass myself!

To get motivated, I dug through my old Womens Health mags and did some creative (for me) cutting and pasting. I called the book my ‘find your motivation’ picture book. I think it worked. I definitely feel like going for a run when I look at the running page and I am always keen to go riding so that one works a little too well (screw work lets got for a MTB ride!!).

Cutting and pasting is not just for kindergarten...

Cutting and pasting is not just for kindergarten…

I found it useful anyway. Weight loss is such a small part of why I ride, run and sign up for events like triathlons – but it can easily become the focus. So why am I running? Because I like to run, I like how I feel while running and after a run. I like how it makes me feel physically – strong and powerful. I like the effect fitness has on my daily life, enjoying the natural world and the city I live in.

YOLO right?

Queen of the Mountain

I LOVE Mountain bike riding. Since investing in my kick-ass bike in September (a Specialized Camber Comp 29er, dubbed ‘The Saint’) I have been tearing it up (kind of) in any and every MTB park I can find. I have been LOVING. Every. Sweet. Second.

My Camber, also named 'The Saint' (it is the St Kilda football team colours, you're welcome dad)

My Camber, also named ‘The Saint’ (it is the St Kilda football team colours, you’re welcome dad)

MTB riding and Snowboarding

How to explain the thrill of MTB riding? If you snowboard, it is very similar, I think, to boarding in several ways.

  • Being a beginner is HARD – there is a steep learning curve with both
  • Some runs are better than others
  • You finish each run on a high
  • You have to pick your line carefully when going down a trail, some lines are better than others and some are easier than others
  • Doing jumps starts off as something scary and accidental and ends up being a thrilling part you try to incorporate into every run.
  • You often fall off, or ‘bail’ as I like to say. Risk of major injuries is high and you are likely to come away – even on a good day – with a few scrapes and bruises.
  • ADRENALINE. Hello friend.

The similarities end on the ascent which, in snowboarding, is a relaxing glide to the summit. In MTB riding…it requires somewhat more effort.

Fitspo

MTB riding gets you FIT. Depending on the type of trails you ride, the fitness involved can vary but is always at a high level because the focus changes. Cross Country is fast and flowing, all mountain has fast and slow bits (ascents normally are slow) but also should flow on a good run. Downhill is another kettle of fish and one I have not had any inclination to try. This is the type where you need a full face helmet, body armour and people tend to cracks bones with astonishing ease. My husband has a downhill bike and all the gear and I always worry about him. He showed me the downhill track when we did some all mountain riding at Ourimbah and it scared the bejeezus out of me.

You won't see this little fat duck on that berm track...

You won’t see this little fat duck on that berm track…

For a beginner, fitness is something I struggled and still struggle with. It is very different to running fitness and uses different muscles with pressure in many different places over the body. Sometimes, the climb is so hard it can make the descent not seem worth the slog. Certainly gets the heart rate up. Mostly I think though that effort is fairly even across the ride. You can catch your breath on a downhill section, but muscles still need to be braced and can even end in cramps on descents. On a particularly steep descent I tend to grip the handle-bars a wee bit too hard and end up with sore hands and wrists. Generally my thighs ache by the bottom from being braced in ‘attack’ position and using my body as suspension – depending on the length of the segment.

Nature and its Charms

The beauty of the Australian bush is hard to describe. One of the places I ride (Glenrock) is particularly stunning as it also has ocean views and wild, ‘untamed’ bush vistas. Sometimes you will be riding through close bush and then sweep down into a gully across a creek and over a small bridge, or through a path strewn with old and beautifully patterned rocks.

Part way through a track I have dubbed 'Fern Gully' in Jesmond

Part way through a track I have dubbed ‘Fern Gully’ in Jesmond

The trail head at Awaba

The trail head at Awaba

Glenrock after a fire went through.

Glenrock after a fire went through.

Most MTB parks are situated in state forests and, although you do tend to make quite a bit of noise, the wild life is still there. I have seen a goanna, frilled neck lizard and a wallaby on my rides. My husband has seen an echidna and even stopped once to shoo one off the trail.

Nature also has somewhat of a downside – I often shudder as I shoot through a spider web or have an adrenaline spike when I see a snake-like stick on the trail…I have started to carry pressure bandages and often GPS track my ride in the case of a snake bite – but fear is not going to stop me from riding.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

There are a myriad of MTB parks in the vicinity of the Newcastle area, the best of which is Glenrock as it is close by and very beautiful. The trails there are All Mountain, meaning a blend of up and down hill as well as some cross-country type trails thrown in. In organized and well maintained parks, generally the trails are named, just like in snowboarding (another similarity). I like the name of the track Seuss land – but it is a horrible up hill climb. Another soul destroying ascent is called ‘Snakes and Ladders’ while the randomly named ‘Kenny’s’ and ‘BJ’s’ are two of my favourite. Other excellent MTB parks less than 2 hours’ drive away include Taree, Ourimbah and Awabah – all of which I have had a crack at.

Another area to ride is Jesmond, it is not a state forest so Melvin can come along for the ride. The down side is that the tracks aren’t maintained and can be covered in sticks or washed out from the rain – it’s a bit touch and go. Jesmond is also pretty much a one hill pony, big climb up followed by a descent and repeat. So I find it to be more exhausting than Glenrock or other MTB parks which have a bit more cross country riding (which tends to be flatter to encourage speed).

I also like the idea of a MTB holiday, similar to a snow trip but instead of loading up the boards we load up the bikes. I would love to ride in Canada, the Rockies would be spectacular and Tasmania also has amazing MTB riding. It really opens up a whole new world of exploration and is a special way to see the world and appreciate its beauty I think.

Boys and Their Toys

Those of you who know me may also know I get a bit of a thrill from doing things generally considered to be more the dominion of men. Engineering and snowboarding are two prime examples. MTB riding is also very much in this category. If fact you only need to look at stats on Strava (the App) to see where the majority lies (although this could also suggest Strava is mostly used by men, but I don’t think that is the case). When you ‘Strava’ a ride, your progress is tracked via GPS. When you complete a pre-determined segment, your time taken to complete this segment is logged and compared with other riders. Anyone can create a segment and a single loop can be made up of several overlapping segments. When you are first in a segment, you are named ‘King or Queen of the Mountain’. I am Queen of the Mountain in a few tracks no other women have Strava’d (winner!) which is awesome, but also sad that more women aren’t getting out there. Here is an example of a ride I Stava’d.

Unfortunately men do tend to dominate in this arena, their times are considerably and consistently faster than women on Strava. I’m not sure why, although I have heard it said that men and women assess risks differently, which is why guys tend to proliferate in extreme sports. I suppose in general that may be true, but I don’t see why it would make men better MTB riders since the best riders are always in control and risk plays a role only when there is the chance to lose control…I would think.

I can say however that I don’t think the men of MTB riding are DOMINANT necessarily; in fact every single person (man or woman) I have come across in the bush has been incredibly friendly and even supportive. I had a somewhat embarrassing moment of making it to the top of a particularly steep incline and shouting out ‘Wohoo! I did it!!’ to Hubby, who was in front of me, when a guy rode past a said ‘Great Work!.’ Perhaps the support stops once you pass the beginner/intermediate level since right now I am not challenging anyone (literally no one) with my speed. In any case, it is nothing like surfing from what I have seen. The culture is much more inclusive and less territorial – where I have been riding.

The Lone Wolf

One of the things I love about MTB riding is how in the moment it makes you feel. You can’t be distracted or thinking about anything else, only the trail and the response of your body. It is incredibly cathartic to go out for a ride by myself. Sometimes I don’t even see anyone (depends when I go). It can make men feel like, even though I know I’m in the middle of suburbia, I am out in the wilderness.

The Lone Saint

The Lone Saint

I also love going riding with my husband. I used to feel guilty for making him come with me as I am far, far slower (he has been riding since he was a kid). Luckily, recently he told me he likes to go with me for the breaks he gets (needless to say, I basically don’t get breaks when we go together)! I also like taking my dog, Melvin along for the ride. I can’t take him to Glenrock (it is a state forest, no dogs allowed) but he can come to Jesmond with me and he LOVES it, possibly even more than I do. He races ahead, tongue lolling and gets really excited when he sees me putting my bike in the car.

I have done one ride with a group and enjoyed it as well, but it can be difficult to find people to ride with at your level. It’s all very well going out for a ride with my husband and slowing him down, but going out for a ride with someone else who wants to go faster…might be uncomfortable. I am pushing myself though and improving, maybe one day soon I’ll be ready for a faster group ride.

You can expect many more posts on this topic, it really is an amazing sport and I am slowly but surely being consumed by it entirely. I am trying not to forgo runs in place of rides all the time, but it is certainly happening more frequently. What can I say other than….they see me rollin’. They hatin’.

I run…to leave the old me behind

On Sunday I participated in ‘Run Newcastle,’ a new event which has come to town (there seem to be more and more each year which is great). I hadn’t put much thought into it, certainly hadn’t been training, but my sister said she was doing it and I should too.  So, last-minute decision, I was in!

The night before I was looking through my race pack and the bib had something a little bit different on it: A space asking WHY I was taking part. It really made me stop and think. Why WAS I doing it? I wasn’t training for it, trying to lose weight or get fit, I wasn’t trying to raise money or set a good example (although I do like to think I am setting a good example for my darling niece and other little treasures in my life). So why? To support my sister whose idea it was? Partly, but there is more to it. I realised I wanted to do it because quite simply I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing it only a few short years ago. I trained for months for my first 5 km, this race I signed up only the week before on a whim. I have changed, and I think it is important to reflect on that.

Good question...

Good question…

I think it may be the best fun run I have done. It wasn’t too long, I wasn’t stressing about it beforehand and…. I bloody well smashed it! It actually had a few quite large hills, but I had gone in with a game plan: walk the hills. City2Surf (shudder) I ‘ran’ up the hills, but my pace was so slow I was basically walking. This time, I walked FAST. I power walked with geeky arms swinging up the hill for the steepest parts and then ran again.

Here’s the kicker, I still did the run in only just over a 6 minute kilometer (39 min 20 for 6.5 km, they were a little misleading calling it a 6 km run as it was actually more!)! That’s only just over 5 km in 30 minutes timing which is incredible since the last parkrun I did (also 5 km) was 32 minutes. Even more incredible that today I did another 6 km run, no hills or walking, and my pace was much slower at 6 min 30 seconds per km! Why was Sunday so good? How did I perform so well? I think it was just a combination of great weather, good lead up, pumping atmosphere, walking the hills (GENIUS method, I truly am converted) and really pushing myself down the hills to an astonishing (for me) pace (my max pace recorded was 4:06 min/km! Say WHAAA???).

We also got the nicest event tee I've gotten! Win win!

We also got the nicest event tee I’ve gotten! Win win!

I felt so pumped afterwards (can you see me finishing with a winners double hand pump at the finish line?)  and was super proud of my sister who did an incredible 5 minute 40 second timing (finishing in 36 minutes 30 sec). Her ‘why I run Newcastle’ reason was to set a good example for her baby girl Cate and I know Cate will one day appreciate the achievements of her incredible super-mummy, I know I do. After the race I just stared at my splits (1 km splits that is) shaking my head at the pace. I’m not sure I could do it again, it just seems so unlike me…I have hardly been doing any running lately (barefoot testing be damned) and instead all my efforts have mainly been devoted to MTB riding. In fact I am obsessed with getting out on the trail and no doubt some of my running success was due to the improved fitness from riding so much.

I also missed posting about the Fernleigh15 which was a 15 km fun run along a track in Newcastle called, surprise surprise, the Fernleigh Track. Another event I signed up to from inspiration by my sister and, once again, hadn’t given a lot of thought to. It was pretty fun although very bloody long (15 km in 1 hr 46 min 15 seconds average pace 7 min/km – we walked a bit of it) but my sister and I did it together which was lovely. We walked parts (no way I could have run the whole thing without training for it).

I like to give a thumbs up when I pass a camera, such a loser...

I like to give a thumbs up when I pass a camera, such a loser…

All in all I liked it so much better than the City2Surf and think I will make it the focus of my training as next years big run…and just be a spectator at next years City2Surf!

In the end it has reminded me that running can be fun. I don’t need to make it the focus of my life, but I will be incorporating it more than I have been lately. And leaving my old self well and truly behind…

Barefoot Beginnings

In the name of science, I have started running barefoot. Well, almost barefoot. I am taking part in a year-long running trial, one of the largest and most comprehensive internationally. I was ‘randomly’ allocated to trial the Vibram  FiveFinger Seeya, one of 11 possible shoes representing different degrees of support. And I was dreading it. Not only for their stupid appearance but for the inevitable pain of learning to run in a different way. Barefoot running forces you to run with a toe first strike (if you land heel first it is very painful). Toe-striking engages different muscles compared to heel-striking, especially in the foot, ankle and calve.

So. What are they like? Well, I actually kind of love the look of them, which surprised me. The colours are complimentary and subtle and I think they make my feet look…kind of dainty in a way. I have big feet, not huge but proportionate to my height which I would say is maybe a bit above average. Anyway, I also have wide feet and low arches. Not pretty feet. But in the FiverFinger, they look kind of cute. Having said that, the first time my sister saw me in them for a run she burst out laughing. Maybe they look more like clown shoes than I thought…

The Vibram FiveFinger Seeya

The Vibram FiveFinger Seeya

They feel very, very close to toe-socks. Very flexible and with only a small amount of plastic to protect the foot from the road. It took me about 10 minutes to put them on the first time, I just couldn’t get my damn toes in each of their allocated pockets. Frustration! Now they slide on easy, I think its because I just relax my foot and put them on like a normal shoe whereas the first time I was stretching them out to try and separate them. Now they are a quicker option to shoes and socks. They are very comfortable to walk around in and hug the foot gently.

Barefoot

It feels strange to run in them. I can feel the road and anything on the footpath through the shoe and avoid rocks carefully.  Today I got a rock stuck between the toes as I was running and had to stop to pick it out. The first time I tried them I only did maybe 1 km in them before changing into my other shoes. No problems I thought, that didn’t hurt at all! The next day my calves ached. The second time I thought I would run a bit further and pushed it it 2.5 km. By the end my calves and shins were hurting. When I changed into my normal shoes to finish the run I couldn’t keep going more than another 2 km or so because of the pain. But the worst part? The blisters. Every time I wore them they rubbed the top and side of my foot near the strap and are pretty painful (you can see the blisters in the top pic). Last week I did a couple of longer runs in them (>3 km) and the blisters were super painful with blisters starting on the bottom of my big toes. My calves were still hurting after every run and now my ankles were starting to hurt. This is despite realising that actually, I am a toe striker naturally so the transitions shouldn’t be overly painful. In my normal shoes I land maybe a little flat footed but certainly towards the ball.

Give up! I was advised. Why are you pushing it? I was asked. I started to ask myself the same thing.

But recently, it has started to click. I did 3.4 km in them this afternoon followed by a nice yoga session. I still had blisters (on the bottom of my big toes, pretty painful) but my ankles and calves felt fine for the run, bit sore afterwards but not a lot. The hills I did actually felt pretty good too. I have mentioned before that I struggle with hills and I suspect it has to do with my technique as I get a sore back after a lot of hill running.

In the end, I made a commitment to test the shoes (in the name of science) and I’m going to keep at it. I think I can see the light though, it is starting to get easier and I think they will be nice and cool for summer running. I’ll be doing my first 5 km in no time…

Struck down in my prime

By a little ole cold. Damn it! I’ve been saying all winter that I (touch wood) haven’t had my yearly cold yet. You know the one, it strikes when you aren’t expecting, early or late in the season. When it starts off you just feel a little tired, then achy, then yep – nose starts running like a tap and head feels full of cotton wool.  Mouth feels dry and no amount of water helps. I had something similar at the start of winter but I babied it and it went away. So, right when I want to be getting back into training (for what….nothing YET…), and adding in some new activities and getting pumped up for spring and summer, here comes this little bruiser.

I had last week off after you-know-what (I’m not going to talk about it anymore, I promise!) and went for my first run since (you know) on Saturday morning. Back to parkrun for a lovely morning with friends and family. I even got a little cheer squad when I finished up with my sister, niece, bff and her hubby and little girl and another good friend who does park run waiting for me at the finish. I was happy with my time of 31 minutes since I got there late and had to make my way through the crowd to get any sort of pace going.

Being cheered on at the finish line of my weekly parkrun

Being cheered on at the finish line of my weekly parkrun

But the rest of the day I felt blerk and realised pretty quick it wasn’t from the run, it was a cold. Since I am heading to the Snowy Mountains this weekend (yep, again – I luuurve snowboarding!) I CANNOT afford to be sick! This cold is going to fade into nothing if I have anything to do with (and actually I’m pretty sure I don’t really). What I can do, I will be doing. This includes:

  • Drinking copious amounts of fluids
  • Taking vitamins every day
  • NO STRENUOUS EXERTION
  • No walking in the early morning chill (sorry Melvin)
  • Healthy, nutritious eating with lots of fruits and veggies as well as dairy (I know, blerk with a cold but have read that yogurt especially is excellent for colds).

It will give me time, I suppose, to decide on a new work-out plan. I haven’t been to the gym much lately since I’ve been so focused on running but I miss my weights sessions and mixed cardio/spin. I also have plans. Big plans. I need to keep this fitness caper interesting or I am going to pack it in. My plans mainly revolve around:

  • Swimming! Yes I will be getting my hair wet (sigh. Maybe I should just chop it all off…) and doing some lap swimming at my gym, local pool and probably even in the ocean baths (when it gets warmer that is…). When I was younger i LOVED swimming laps but haven’t done it for many years. Should be fun?!
  • MTB Riding. As part of my ‘no hot chips’ reward system (it has now been over 8 months since a SINGLE hot chip has passed my lips) I can now choose myself a spiffo new mountain bike! I want to get back into riding and figure out if it will actually be worthwhile first… but am looking forward to getting the adrenaline pumping. Hubby is way faster than me and I need to build up some skills. We are going to map out a circuit for me to do and to work on by myself improving my time before I decide which (if any) new bike I would like.
  • Cross-Fit. I now have access to a gym who do cross fit sessions and want to take advantage of it. Although I am pretty well petrified of doing it, I am planning on going along with a friend to try it out. People become hooked on it and it seems like a fun group thing to do so I want to give that a shot. That one is definitely waiting until I’m a bit fitter…
  • Surfing? I used to surf (well, I tried it out for one summer) and never got any good at it or gained any confidence. I think it didn’t help that I was overweight and unfit at the time so felt judged and whale-like whenever I paddled out. I still have my board (nick-named ‘Shark-Bait’, not very well omened I suppose considering the Great White Shark nursery located off Newcastle) and maybe once I get a bit of fitness swimming it will be a better fit for me. We live in a beach-side town after all and I do love snowboarding, similar surely??
  • Barefoot running. I am starting to build up my barefoot running distances (I swear I will be doing a post on this, just want to log a few more kms first) and am aiming to run parkrun in my five-fingers by the end of the year. Yep, we’ll see how that goes!
  • Training for a half-marathon AND/OR ‘enticer’ length triathlon. Haven’t decided 100% yet if I will do both. But if I love swimming like I used to then the tri is a must and there are lots of great events in Newcastle I can do to give it a go. Not totally set on the half-marathon but if I can find a FLAT course I might do it…
  • Yoga. Still. I like being a yogi and stretching out my muscles, imagining them getting long and lean (I said imagine, I realise that’s not how it works…). I would like to increase my flexibility and mindfulness.

I have the luxury of time at the moment with nothing booked in (except the snow, again lol), but once I’m better I am going to come out guns blazing! No more one-trick pony for me, my fitness is going to be DIVERSE and FUN! Yay, looking forward to warmer weather and making the most out of long days of sunshine.

City2Surf and other mountains (real and metaphorical)

City2Surf dawned bright and clear. An unseasonably warm winters day (25 plus degrees Celsius). I woke early, sculled my iced coffee and a banana and proceeded to drink as much water as my bladder would hold. We got dressed, pinned on our race-bibs and (after several nervous toilet stops) headed out from our hotel after watching the first wave of runners and pushers (elite wheelchair) leave on the TV coverage. The first person finished long before we started.

City2Surf is staged in sections because there are way too many people to all go at once (>85,000 registered participants). Even so it was estimated that there were upwards of 20,000 people in our group alone. The elite runners are off at 8.00am followed by another stage of seeded runners (runners who have a qualifying time) and three unseeded sections named ‘blue’ group, ‘yellow’ group and, back-of-the-pack, ‘orange’ group. Orange group is the only group you are allowed prams and is also where people who want to walk or dress up in costume tend to go (not all though apparently, as we found out).

Hubby and I were in yellow and lined up after checking in on my brother-in law and my niece who were running (or being pushed) from the front of back of the pack. What felt like only a short time later (we gave up trying to find my sister who was also in our start group – the wave of humanity prevented that!) we were off!!

Pumped up at the start line.

Pumped up at the start line.

Kind-of, it took us 10 minutes after the starters gun to get to the start where our timing chips would activate. But after that we were off! Except for dodging the many, many people who were walking (really? already??) or just jogging super slow. The first kilometer was slooow, considering it was downhill and we were fresh, winding our way through people who had decided to start towards the front and walk anyway (REALLY? slightly frustrating but never mind, they are entitled to walk…). We picked up in the second and third kilometer and I was feeling good for the first 5-6 km. It was pretty tough still, but I wasn’t yet fighting my brain with the urge to stop. I even enjoyed looking at the crazy costumes and did the YMCA symbols along with everyone else as we ran past a road-side party and high-fived some smurfs and a Mickey Mouse. Hubby informed me we were over a minute ahead of what we needed to make sub 90. Great, I says, so lets just slow down to minimum pace for a bit so I could gather myself for heartbreak hill.

Heartbreak hill didn’t break me. I wanted to stop and BADLY after about a minute on the steep gradient. But I reassured myself saying ‘never mind, you will make this time back on the downhill’. My pace had slowed to almost a walk. In fact in retrospect perhaps I should have walked for a bit, it might have given me a bit more energy for what was to come. 8th kilometer in the hill was still going. Not broken yet, my sub 90 minutes is still possible. 9th kilometer a small break and then another hill. And another. And another. As my goal slowly slipped away I realised I hadn’t prepared nearly enough. I wrote a post last week about how I couldn’t make it up Bar Beach hill without stopping. A single hill. Perhaps that should have been a sign that I wasn’t as well prepared as I have should have been.

I think at one point I actually swore out loud in frustration “are you f$%#@ing kidding me, is that another f$#@%king hill?!?”. Once I had done it I immediately remembered yelling out EXACTLY the same thing last year. I really should have known what to expect… but seriously, it is just one hill after another. The whole course is either up or down hill and the down hill sections feel pretty damn short. I felt like I was battling a mountain. The urge to stop was almost unbearable. My brain was screaming at me ‘stop running you fool!!’. And I still had another 4 km to go. Every climb I would tell myself that this was it, the last hill then its down hill to Bondi. Oh, except for the next effing hill, and the next.

Sub-90 was out the window. Next goal, beat last years time. Beyond that…just run the whole damn thing. At the 11 km mark, it didn’t seem possible. There was a particularly steep rise at this mark that almost stopped me…but I kept going. 12 km, finally, I can see Bondi and its down hill from here!! I put everything I could into that downhill section and it is my fastest time of the race. Finally, the last kilometer, soon you will be able to stop and the pain will be over. No more City2Surf and you never ever have to do it again if you don’t want. All downhill from here, all downhill from…IS THAT ANOTHER F%$#@ING HILL?!

Yep, the last km is slightly uphill and at that point – when my feet were on fire, my head was pounding, breath gasping, legs tingling, the sun beating down with full intensity – I just couldn’t do another hill. I would have cried if I had any liquid left. I wanted to stop MORE THAN EVER. But it was the last km. No way was I stopping.

It felt like the longest kilometer I have ever run, and I ran the last 200 m at one of my fastest paces of the race. I can still vividly remember feeling like my feet were burning . I could see the finish line. Keep moving feet, shut the hell up brain we are NOT stopping in sight of the finish line! At the end the guy on the mic was saying ‘hands in the air guys! you’ve done it!’. So I did. Then I stopped running and waited for the relief to flood through me.

And waited.

I felt faint, light headed and nauseous. Where was the relief?? The ability to breathe? I was bent over, sucking in air and I felt worse than when I was running. Sitting down for awhile helped. Its weird though because my face wasn’t even red like it normally gets, it was white (hubby said).

Feeling like death warmed up WAY too much

Feeling like death warmed up WAY too much

My hands and feet were tingling. As soon as I tried to get up I could barely walk and hubby flagged down some first aid. I sat in the tent and had my pulse taken and vitals checked. After some gatorade and very nice, obviously young graduates fussed over me I started to feel a bit more human. Nothing wrong with me of course, I just needed some time to recover my senses. But I felt like I was hung over the whole day.

I also felt like I had failed.

I pushed my body as hard as it could possibly be pushed (its inability to move afterwards is proof of that) and my mind had triumphed over my (obviously reasonable) instincts to stop to the point where I nearly made myself very sick. And it wasn’t enough. I didn’t make sub-90 minutes. Hell, I didn’t even make my time from last year (this year was 96 min 30 s, last year was 95 min 45 s).

But I did run it. All of it. I did push myself. I pushed more than I would have thought I could. I pushed through all my mental barriers, I pushed my body harder than it had ever been pushed before from sheer mental determination.

So, what can I learn from this? Give up? Accept failure and give up running (which I definitely contemplated around the 12 km mark)?

Don’t give up, you never know who you might be inspiring

Precisely. Here are my take-away messages:

1.  I didn’t train enough. No way did I do enough hill training. Instead of running Bar Beach hill once or twice total, I should have run it everyday. I should have run up and down Bar Beach hill 5-6 times in a training session. Hills are clearly my weak point, I ran 15km no worries in preparation on a flat course with pretty much no pain and felt great the next day so it is not a distance thing, it is a hill specific hatred (the pain is still fresh…). I also peaked too early in my training and used the snow as an excuse to slack off. Just because I set myself a goal didn’t mean I was going to reach it without preparation. It’s the 6 P’s: Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

2. I am not naturally athletic (I’ve spoken abut this before) and I have only been running for 18 months. My base fitness is hard-won, changeable and depends heavily on the extent of training I have done. Mentally I am pretty strong (I feel as though I have proven that to myself), physically…I need time and work.

3. If a goal is easy, it isn’t worth fighting for. For someone who has not played sport or exercised with any intensity my whole life until 18 months ago, I set myself a pretty darn lofty goal. I didn’t make it this year. Maybe I won’t next year. Maybe never, but should I stop fighting for it? No way.

I was hard and I hated maybe 50% of it. But I will do it again, if just to prove to myself that I can.

It didn’t break me, and one day I will be stronger.

p.s. this post is dedicated to my husband for putting up with my ‘running rage’ which occurs when he runs with me and suggests I run a bit faster. Thanks for running with me and supporting me in my madness xo