parkrun tourism @ mount beauty

There are many people who love parkrun. People who happily spend their Saturday mornings running, walking or volunteering at their local event. And then there’s a whole other level of parkrun craziness – people who are willing to undertake an 800km round trip to attend the launch of a new event. 8 hours of driving to run 5km. Yep, that’s us.

We headed to Mount Beauty last night, arriving late however being able to get up at 7am actually felt like a sleep in for a Saturday so this morning wasn’t too much of  a strain. We easily found our parkrun venue with flags up and people milling about, as well as the familiar apricot of the parkrun tourist ‘uniform’ as it has come to be known. We weren’t the only ones to have travelled silly distances and it was great to catch up with the usual launch crowd who I’m so pleased to now call friends.

The location of this parkrun, at the Mount Beauty pondage, is stunning, surrounded by picture perfect mountains which are reflected in the water. This was matched this morning with perfect Autumnal weather complete with blue skies and only clouds of the fluffy white variety.

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We were welcomed by the Territory Director and co-Event Director who kept the briefing short and had us at the start line perfectly on time. As expected due to its geographical location, the crowds were a little smaller than other launches we’ve attended however it was great to see the support from locals, most of which had never attended a parkrun before. That’s one of my favourite things about attending launches – being there to welcome a new batch of initiates to the parkrun family, especially those for whom the whole concept is new.

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And, with no further ado, we were off. The course is flat and when I say flat, I mean ‘as a pancake’. It is also ridiculously easy to follow – it is an out and back course which heads around the pondage to a turn around point very near to the start line….where you then turn around and run back the other way. Before we started, I wondered how interesting I’d find the course as you can pretty much see it all from the start line. As you run, however, you get different perspectives and see different things so it kept me happily distracted. The views as you run are breathtaking, a bit like running alongside a movie set and the light fog wisping around the scene added extra dramatic touches (as if it needed any). The surface is concrete which isn’t my favourite but the sides of the path are more forgiving so I veered to them whenever possible.

I was running pretty well today and the 5km seemed to fly by. Heading back into my last kilometre, my husband had run out to join me which was lovely and probably accounted for my slightly increased speed at the end. I was really happy to cross the line in my 2nd quickest 5km time ever. My husband had also reached his goal – his first sub-30 minute 5km so it was smiles all around.

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We breakfasted at a lovely little cafe in town, Seasons, who were very accommodating (as we were moving tables around to fit everyone in) and served up quick and tasty breakfasts all round.

A big well done to the event team at Mount Beauty for getting their local parkrun up and running (pun intended) and for a very successful launch. I’m absolutely sure this one will be a favourite amongst roving parkrunners – that combination of stunning views and the feeling of adventure in trekking away from population centres will be a hard one to resist 🙂

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2017 Great Ocean Road half marathon – race recap

The Great Ocean Road running festival feels like the kind of event you only get to do once in a lifetime so I felt very, very lucky to be heading down on Friday night to complete my second event. As always, I wasn’t undertaking this alone but was part of the usual running crew, ensuring a fun weekend ahead.

My friends and I had booked a house in Skenes Creek which was a great place to relax and get ourselves mentally prepared for the task. On Saturday, we slept in (beyond parkrun time – eeeek!) and chatted before popping into Apollo Bay to shop for GOR merchandise, wander the event village and grab some lunch which we took back to eat on our balcony with amazing views of the ocean.

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Our balcony view – just gorgeous

We spent the afternoon with more relaxing and then headed into the Apollo Bay Brewhouse for dinner. They had put on a pasta selection for those running people requiring such things and I was grateful for it – running long distances is hard enough without messing with routines and, stereotypical as it is, eating pasta the night before is one of my rituals.

Back to our holiday home and time to get all our things ready for our early start in the morning then a relatively early night. My 5am wake up call wasn’t too harsh although I’m not sure I slept that well. I wasn’t exactly nervous – I knew the course and what to expect but, as always, felt pressure from within to do ‘well’, whatever that means. I’m always my harshest critic and the one most likely to inflict judgement.

This year, we were lucky enough to skip the buses as one of our fabulous support crew drove us to Kennett River which saved me from having to stave off travel sickness in the back of a bus driving through the dark on the Great Ocean Road. We arrived before the crowds and headed to the beach to savour the sunrise – definitely a highlight of this event. Today’s sunrise didn’t disappoint although the photos don’t do it justice.

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All the usual rituals then ensued – portaloo queuing (not too long actually), photo taking and, soon enough, heading to our starting positions. It seemed a lot busier this year than last and saw us start further back and amid thicker crowds. Neither of these things were a problem – it’s a large road with plenty of room and I knew we’d spread out easily after the start.

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The fabulous running trio about to start

So we started. I figured 23km was far enough to run so I walked until I got the start line then began my run. I hadn’t really decided on a game plan other than to a) try to beat my time from last year and b) enjoy myself. Run when I felt like it, walk when I felt like it, instead of sticking to set intervals. From the start line, you head very quickly uphill and, having fresh legs, I felt ok to run a bit. In fact, I felt great. I had my Garmin on the lap screen so just tracked my pace for that kilometre and ran enough to keep it below the pace I needed. This was a pretty easy strategy for the first couple of kilometres as there were plentiful downhills to bank some time.

Somewhere around the 5km mark I had a couple of things that ate into my time – koala spotting and the large hill taking you up to Cape Patton. I still managed a respectable pace, just inevitably a bit slower, especially as the view demanded some snapshots before moving on. If you’re running too fast to enjoy the scenery in this event, then you really are missing the best part.

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The view from Cape Patton

After Cape Patton, the hills are smaller and you begin to spend some time inland, running alongside farmland. You still have undulations along the course but nothing too draining and I was able to keep my pace within my target. My biggest challenge was that, while I had trained for this, much of my training was on trails which are much softer on the feet than road. The constant pounding was starting to take a toll – on the soles of my feet, on my joints and on my knees.

I was lucky enough to be running close to one of my friends – we kept catching each other up and it helped keep me motivated and happily distracted from the task. We were also pleasantly surprised by how many other runners were around us throughout – no doubt partly a result of record numbers but also related to us being quicker than last year. The runners around us were a great bunch and definitely added to the fun atmosphere – no one taking it too seriously but also clearly pushing themselves to achieve their own goals.

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As we ran through Skenes Creek, my friend showed her consistency and determination as she went on ahead while I was finding it hard to keep up the pace. So I put my head down and power walked it out. And when I say power walked, I mean power walked. I couldn’t slow down – the finish line was edging closer and I needed to get there.

This event is an ‘ultra half marathon’ (ie, a bit longer than a half marathon) so you actually cross over timing mats for an official half marathon distance 2km before the actual event finish. I crossed the half marathon mats having knocked 18 minutes off my time from 2016. I was elated. However it did nothing to make my body feel better which was telling me in no uncertain terms that it had had enough. That I managed to keep moving still astounds me – all I wanted to do was stop and sit. By now, there were crowds starting to gather along the route which was wonderful as it gave me motivation and encouragement.

Amidst the general ‘go’ and ‘you’re doing great’ there was one gentleman who could learn the art of what to say to someone who looks like they’re struggling. He decided advise was the best thing and told me ‘You’re doing well. Push up to a shuffle so you can finish strong.’ Had I been capable of speech at that point, I would have told him that this was finishing strong, because the act of finishing at all showed my strength in that moment.

The cow cheer squad were there again this year and were just as lovely – I don’t remember what one lady said but I appreciated it and thanked her, telling her I was doing my best. She put her hand on my shoulder and said ‘I know you are. You’re amazing’ which brought on the tears that I then had to work hard to hold back.

I continued my power walk until I finally saw the finish line as I knew it was the longest finish shute in history and would take everything I had. And possibly then some. According to Strava, it was about 300metres and I ran it proudly and as quick as I could. The finish shute is lined with people, many of which were cheering for me thanks to my name on my bib and the absence of other runners at that moment. Every step I wondered if I was capable of taking another and it was an extra strain as I was fighting back the tears. I’m normally pretty emotional when I run but this was another level – a combination of pain, exhaustion and elation. I crossed the line having knocked exactly 19 minutes off my time from last year.

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Finish line in sight, I just try to get it over with quickly

This event is nothing short of epic. Epic in the way it takes over Apollo Bay for the weekend, epic in the logistics which ensure smooth running and movement of 7000 athletes and epic in the views along the way. There really is something truly magical about getting to run on this road with no interruptions or distractions, surrounded by a diverse mix of athletes and supported by a township of locals and visitors. If you haven’t done it, add it to your list and make it a priority. It will hurt but is definitely an event you won’t regret.

 

Ambassador of awesomeness for all

I recently was fortunate enough to become an ambassador for a wonderful brand of exercise gear, RunFaster. Clearly, as you would expect of the ambassador role, I do get something out it and, in exchange for saying lovely things about them, get discounted gear. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I’m pretty open about saying both good (and bad) things about brands that I’ve encountered so I think it’s important that I’m transparent about this new role.

Saying lovely things about this brand isn’t hard and it was no happy accident that I stumbled upon them and their exceptionally eye catching running tights. As a runner whose bodily dimensions don’t fit the stereotypical image of an athlete, finding funky gear hasn’t always been easy and I’ve had to do some searching. Lots of searching. Apparently, people of my shape and size aren’t welcome in many of the high street sports retailers or at least that’s how I feel when there are no clothes in their ranges that will fit me…other than socks. I am welcome to buy funky socks from them. Er, thanks.

What drew me to RunFaster is that their clothes are gorgeous and available in a wider range of sizes which acknowledge that women of all shapes and bodily dimensions enjoy exercise and want to look good and feel good while doing it. That seems like a little thing but it really isn’t. Not being able to find clothes that fit and make you feel fantastic can be enough to put women off exercising, particularly if you’re starting out and already feel self conscious. Seeing only images in the media and in retail encounters of women who look nothing like you can be enough to make you feel you don’t belong in this ‘healthy’ club and should head back to the couch. When I saw RunFaster’s social media accounts with pictures of a beautiful array of women enjoying healthy lifestyles, I knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of as it aligned so well with my story and my beliefs.

So I might get some ambassador perks for which I am very grateful but I’m more excited to be able to be associated with a brand that is putting out such a positive image about health and wellbeing for all. And I’m more than willing to share the love – if you have been thus inspired to try out some of their amazing gear for yourself (especially if you’ve visited their website and seen the new patterns just out!), use the discount code GL10 at checkout to get 10% off. You’re welcome 🙂

Ambassador promo graphic - Gillian

parkrun tourism @ timboon

When I first heard that Timboon was getting a parkrun, my first reaction was ‘Yay!’ followed very quickly by ‘ice cream!!!!!’. It should come as no secret that Timboon is famous for its delicious chilly foodstuff and, even if the scenery hadn’t been a big enough drawcard, the ice cream would have got us there.

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The start/finish line

After a couple of hours drive, we arrived to a very chilly Timboon but an incredibly warm welcome from the parkrun volunteers, locals and tourists gathered for the launch. It was great to see how much this event is clearly supported by and part of the community with the Lions Club cranking up a bacon and egg breakfast, councillors in attendance and local businesses coming on board to participate then open up early to cater for those who’d come along to the launch. We were all welcomed by the Event and Territory Directors with a show of many, many hands demonstrating how big a boost the visitors had made to the local population for the day. Our Run Director then gave us a synopsis of the course, sticking to the positive – an out and back course which is downhill all the way to the turn around point.

And, with that, we were off.

The course is simply stunning. From the start line, you head out on the rail trail and down the blissfully promised gentle downhill run on a soft trail, lightly dusted with leaves to cushion your feet even further. While it was certainly cold, rays of sunlight were streaming between the trees and making everything look like it belonged in a fairytale. The trail is wide enough to easily pass, even when runners started to come back the other way.

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The beautiful rail trail

I was running intervals and feeling strong and speedy, despite not being able to feel my fingers thanks to the morning chill. The marshals at the turnaround point were all smiles and full of encouragement which it turned out I needed as the return journey is, obviously, uphill and took a little bit of getting used to. It’s not a terrible hill, more of a vague incline and I adjusted soon enough with the finish line sneaking up pretty quickly. It was wonderful to see people of all speeds out there on the course with a great collection of parkwalkers smiling and chatting as they completed their 5km.

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Views from the trail

Your choices for post parkrun sustenance are plentiful – the Timboon railway shed is right there and was where we chose to start. Walking in is an aromatic delight – the whisky distilled on site smells delicious then, walking further in, we were greeted with freshly baked smells of scones and muffins. After our coffee and muffins (still warm from the oven), we headed off for our dessert (or second breakfast) – Timboon ice cream. I’m usually a fan of the white chocolate and raspberry but opted today for whisky cream and maple and cinnamon – both absolutely delicious.

I am aware that my next statement is a pretty big call, particularly having visited 39 different courses but this course is definitely my favourite so far. Timboon has the perfect mix – a stunning trail, good facilities and wonderful post-parkrun options. My only regret? That we couldn’t stay longer today. However it’s only a small regret – just another reason to make sure we come back.

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Sometimes runs are amazing. Sometimes you’re just grateful that they’re over.

Today, my training plan told me it was time for my last long run before the Great Ocean Road half marathon in 2 weeks time. ‘Last’ implies I’ve done at least one other but I didn’t end up doing last weekend’s other longest run because I had a cold and didn’t feel like putting my body through it. My previous longest run was Run for the kids and that was a while ago. So it was definitely not optional today.

I got up relatively early, packed my stuff with a smile and headed to Melbourne. I’d mapped out a course and knew what needed to be done. I could feel the ‘but I’d really rather not do this’ feelings coming on as I approached my car park but just ignored them, got my stuff and headed out.

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The first kilometre sucked. I felt like I had never actually done this before and didn’t know how to run. I couldn’t get the strap right on my hydration pack. My shoes felt weird. I’d forgotten my sunglasses and was squinting constantly. I know, none of those are huge but they just added to the feeling of not wanting to be there.

Luckily for me, I know myself quite well. When I planned this route, it was with with full knowledge of my moods and tendency to want to give up when things get hard. There was no backup plan. I’d taken a myki card with me…..but there really wasn’t any convenient public transport anywhere near me, at least until I hit about the 15th kilometre, by which time it would be too late. ‘Suck it up princess and just run’ was my mantra for quite a lot of the run.

I’m pleased to say it wasn’t all as dispiriting as it sounds. The weather was absolutely perfect – crisp and with a hint of rain on the wind, that perfect Autumn weather that Melbourne does so well. Most of the scenery was interesting and diverting enough to help me forget the fact I was running a long way. And I’d set intervals on my watch so only had to think about the next 3 minutes, not even looking at how far I’d run or how long it was taking.

Probably the worst bit of the course was through the industrial guts of Port Melbourne – kind of ruggedly interesting in its own way but not exactly picturesque. Pounding the concrete was beginning to hurt my feet and I was longing for my beloved trails. There were people around which helped including a couple of speed walking men and a guy practising his skiing technique so it wasn’t all dull. I even got a ‘great job – keep going’ from a couple out for a stroll.

The last few kilometres were a lot more walk than run, partly because of Sunday market crowds along Southbank and St Kilda Road and partly because I was tired and over it. Whatever. I’m well past beating myself up over my times and I knew today was about completing the distance and time on legs. My legs were not particularly happy about that and would have appreciated far less time but they’ll get over it.

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With a smile on my face and various aches and pains making their presence known, I swung back into Albert Park with 17km done – my furthest ever long run completed by myself. Despite not particularly enjoying it, I’m proud of that. I know I can complete further distances with cheering crowds, the promise of bling at the end and the incentive of finishing before they deflate the arch but it’s a whole different proposition to go out and run that far on your own, just because some computer generated training plan tells you you should.

20170507_115342I’m celebrating with an afternoon of sitting smugly on the couch. Bring on the taper!

running because you need to

A while ago, I wrote on one of my social media updates that my soul had told me where to run that day. It was a little bit of a throw away line but, after writing it, I realised it really was true. My training plan tells me how far I have to run and my brain (with its ingrained need to follow rules) makes me follow that. My soul tells me where. Sometimes it needs to be close to other humans and is satisfied with my neighbourhood. Sometimes I need the familiarity of my home parkrun course where my brain is free to think of whatever it needs to because my feet know where to go. Sometimes I need to run beside the ocean. If I listen hard enough, I know where I need to run.

Yesterday I needed the You Yangs. Last week my friend, Vanessa, passed away at the age of 42 after a 4 month gutsy battle with cancer and yesterday I was travelling to her memorial service. I knew I had to fit in a run somewhere amongst that but really didn’t feel much like it when faced with an emotional day and a long drive. And then I thought about running out in the natural environment and knew that it was the right thing to do – a run Vanessa would have approved of and which I needed to make peace with exactly how unfair and awful it was.

Needless to say, it was an emotional 10km. I was glad to be out there on my own as anyone who came across me would have thought I’d lost my mind. I’d remember some funny story and start laughing maniacally. Or a song would come on from our college days and I’d start singing it at the top of my voice. Then the tears would flow and I’d have to manage the whole running while ugly crying thing. It was one of those runs.

I’m not generally a religious person but it’s hard not to feel the spirituality of running somewhere as beautiful as this. At one point, a kangaroo bounded across the track in front of me and I thought of Vanessa, how much she loved animals and nature and wondered if it was a sign. When the kangaroo stopped at the edge of the trail and just looked at me, completely still until I had run past, I knew it was. In whatever way, she was out there with me on the trail yesterday and I was grateful to have known her and to have been able to spend the time yesterday morning remembering and honouring who she was and what she brought to the world. I was grateful to have running as my medium to do that and that I’d listened to my soul when it told me where I needed to be.

So this one’s for you Vanessa. The world is a much better place for having had you in it.

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Here’s to the real runners

What is a runner? What is the difference between a runner and a ‘real runner’ (which seems, even when said verbally, to always be in inverted commas)? I was left to ponder this again after the weekend with the topic being raised at two events.

Firstly, I attended the Ararat parkrun (great event, read the blog!) where I was fortunate enough to run with a whole range of runners of different experience levels and varying speeds. One fabulous lady who was clearly giving it her all made a comment, after my words of encouragement, that she wasn’t a ‘real runner’. My reply – of course you are, you’re running, aren’t you? What’s not real about that?

And then, in the wake of the London marathon, I was reading Facebook comments on their page as people prepare for the ballot to open for next year’s event. And that phrase came up again, in an exceptionally dispiriting context – people commenting that only ‘real runners’ should be given places to run in the marathon, as opposed to those who might dare to complete the marathon in something less than a ‘reasonable’ time. The implication was that these somehow fake runners shouldn’t be taking up a place that a real runner might want.

So, 2 comments about ‘real runners’, made in two very different contexts yet very closely linked. Thankfully, in my experience, attitudes like those seen commenting on London marathon participation are in the minority however are still hurtful and damaging. It doesn’t matter how proud you are of your achievements or how supportive your friends are – hearing those comments about your speed not being fast enough or you taking the place of some genetically gifted person who ‘clearly’ worked harder than you did hurts and erodes your self confidence.

It took me a long time to see myself as a real runner (no inverted commas needed). Early on, I encountered some comments about my speed or about the fact that I have walk breaks and they took a while to get over. Slowly, I realised that most of these comments were not coming from runners, they were coming from people who didn’t actually get anything about running and, therefore, weren’t qualified to make me feel bad about what I did or how I did it. Since I made the switch to viewing myself as a runner, I either haven’t heard further comments directed my way or they have slipped off my aerodynamic form as I bolt past 🙂 If you run, you’re a runner – it’s that simple. As John Bingham says, there’s no licence and no test and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing it for a few weeks or most of your life. Note that I made the switch to how I viewed myself – nothing about my speed or form or frequency of training changed. I just realised that I ran therefore was a runner.

So, to the runner I met at Ararat – you’re a runner and don’t ever doubt it. You pushed it to your limit on Saturday and should be proud of what you did. Disregard anyone’s negative comments if they didn’t also get up for an 8am start on a Saturday morning and push it their hardest.

To those who think I shouldn’t be putting my name in the London Marathon ballot for next year because, if I were lucky enough to get a slot, there’s a very real chance I would take more than what you consider a ‘reasonable time’ – I’m sorry you feel that way. Mostly because I’m sorry you haven’t had the experience of hanging out with runners of all speeds, shapes, sizes and running styles. If you had, you’d realise that we’re actually very similar, speed aside – we both train hard, we both have doubts, we both push ourselves to our personal limits, we both would dearly like to go faster, we both worry about injuries and we both experience an amazing sense of pride when we achieve a long sought after goal. So, if I’m lucky enough to get to be out on that course next year, I’ll be thinking of you and hoping you’ve been able to experience the better side of running and not just the narrow vision you have today.

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