The looniness of the long distance runner – book review

The title of this book, The looniness of the long distance runner, really appealed to me and the subtitle (‘An unfit Londer’s attempt to run the New York marathon’) just underscored that. As much as I love reading about elite athletes and what they do, I love even more reading stories of everyday athletes who turn up to events with no intention of placing in them. Hence why this book seemed right for me.

I will confess to being slightly disappointed when, a few chapters in, I realised that the author is actually one of those significantly faster people I see at events. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against fast people and am pleased to have running friends of all speeds, running styles and clothing preferences. It just changed the perspective of the book somewhat – listening to him complain about struggling and missing frequent training sessions (yet still achieving better and better times) rankled.

However I persevered. There are quite a few laughs in this book and he has a self deprecating, witty writing style which makes it an easy read. The content is a mixture of his journey towards the New York marathon, some history of the event and tips for beginning runners.

Interspersed with this are various comments about slow runners, old runners, uncoordinated runners and, basically, how it is his goal to ensure he beats them all and doesn’t come last at an event. As, apparently, that is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a runner. And there I have been, worrying about nuclear war all of these years. I have been last in an event or two and can confirm for those who are concerned – you don’t spontaneously combust. But I digress.

If my review seems a little undecided, that’s because it is. I really did enjoy this book, particularly the first time I read it. Going back and reading it again, I probably was casting a more critical eye on it and just found some of the things pushing beyond funny and into mean. I know that wasn’t the intent, it’s just not an attitude I’ve seen too much in the running world so wasn’t expecting to see it here, even for the sake of getting a laugh. I’m pleased to say that in the running world I inhabit, last place is celebrated as much as first and times are compared to previous times rather than anyone else’s.

Check out the other reviews on Goodreads and, if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

parkrun tourism @ Phillip Island

I got a wonderful Christmas present this year – Christmas falls on a Sunday which turns it into a 2 parkrun weekend! Not one to turn down the opportunity for some touristing, my husband and I set our alarm ridiculously early (4.30am – ouch!) and set off for Phillip Island.

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Phillip Island parkrun is actually on Churchill Island, a beautiful little detour off the main road as you come into Phillip Island. Driving up, I already knew I was going to enjoy it – the scenery is gorgeous, the temperature wasn’t bad (for Summer!) and, as we arrived, a Farmers’ market was just setting up, providing ample diversion while we waited.

We all gathered at the steps of the cafe for the briefing and it was great to see the event team had Christmas-ed themselves for the occasion. There were a few other tourists and a small but dedicated crew of locals. Briefing done, we were taken down to the start area by the water and I was glad we’d got there early enough to catch the briefing as I wouldn’t have known where they’d all disappeared to without it!

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Mingling at the start

And off we went! The run director had warned of undulations and there were a few – no great hills but, on a warm morning, the first one I encountered was enough to steal some of my energy. The gravel course meanders around the coastline of the island so you’re never far from beautiful views and a pleasant breeze kept finding its way to me through the trees. There was also enough shade throughout to keep the worst of the sun away.

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Too pretty not to stop and take a few photos

I slowed down a lot this morning as the early start and the heat was really sapping my energy but I also used it as an opportunity to take in the gorgeous views and take a few pictures – too pretty not to! We’d been warned not to miss the turn around point (if you get to the cattle grid, you’ve gone too far) but it was pretty easy to spot and I was soon on my way back.

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One little elf running late for Santa duties….photo courtesy of parkrun volunteer 🙂

The uphill section at the start makes a brilliant finish – a wide, downhill stretch all the way to the finish line. And, not only was I greeted by a friendly reception, I even got a Christmas cookie, care of the thoughtful barcode scanning volunteer.

We then followed up with a wander around the fabulous Farmers’ market and great coffee at the cafe while soaking up the sunshine. Another great parkrun community and venue – one of the friendliest and most welcoming crowds I’ve seen and a scenic and interesting course. Definitely worth the early start and the drive to get there and a perfect way to spend Christmas Eve. parkrun #75 – done!

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The view looking back from the turnaround point

 

2016 – what a year

This year has been just amazing in lots of ways but, most of all, in my running life. I’ve run more events than I thought I could, ticked some ‘dream’ events off and pushed myself further than I thought I was capable. I’ve embraced the trails, got to grips with half marathons and made friends with the long run (mostly).

Some highlights (although there really are too many to choose from)…

  • my first trail half marathon – a huge test of my persistence and resilience. And there is no doubt I wouldn’t have got through it without my running buddy, Jill and support crew, Grant.
  • Cadbury half marathon weekend – the whole weekend was perfection.
  • PBs. I truly don’t care how fast I run but it was lovely to have some unexpected PBs throughout the year for my 5km, 10km and 21.1km times.
  • my longest long run. It used to be such a stretch to get myself out the door to run 3km so the idea that I would willingly run 16km alone is both amazing and ludicrous. That I actually enjoyed it is even more incredible.
  • City2Surf. Another epic bucket list event which I truly didn’t think I’d ever do. And it was as amazing as expected.
  • Great Ocean Road half marathon. To be allowed to run on such an iconic road with that scenery was almost a spiritual experience. I actually tear up a bit just thinking about it. Although that could also be memories of the last few kilometres. Either way – amazing.
  • Hitting my 50 parkrun milestone. It took me months after signing up just to attend my first so I’m very proud to have made it to 50. My 50 shirt is my favourite running shirt by far.

This year, I have finally felt that I am a runner. Which is really silly as I’ve been running for a few years now. I’m not that much faster (although I am getting there!) and my running style is no more refined than it was (I am learning not to cringe at my finish line videos). But I think I’ve proven, to myself mostly, that I tick all the boxes required – I train regularly, I enter and finish a huge range of events and I push myself beyond what I think I can do. I run therefore I am a runner. Even when I walk. Weird, I know but that’s how it is.

There is one common thread running through all of my favourite running bits for this year and that is no coincidence. I know I talk about them a lot, but I really do owe a lot of it to my running friends. The events we’ve done together have created so many happy memories for me – weekends that I didn’t want to end and runs where I couldn’t stop grinning. There were certainly a couple of times when, without them, I might have sat down on the trail and cried (funny how it’s always trails that seem to do that to me!). But even in those times when they weren’t actually, physically with me, they were in my head, encouraging me and believing I could do it. Those positive, supportive voices, real and imagined, were what I needed to counteract my own negative talk and I wouldn’t have achieved all I have without them. So thanks. Which is a completely inadequate word to express how I really feel but it will have to do.

Bring on 2017…

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parkrun tourism @ Mullum Mullum

Launches are always special and a wonderful thing to be part of. Watching a parkrun community ‘go public’ after a long and arduous journey behind the scenes to get it off the ground is inspiring and there is always a sense of nervous anticipation on the day. This morning’s launch at Mullum Mullum certainly had that spark but was extra special as it was the 200th event launch in Australia. Just ponder that for a minute. 200 different events have been started in 200 different communities. 200 sets of event teams who have negotiated with councils, sourced money and volunteered countless hours to get those events off the ground. And thousands of runners and walkers have benefited – physically and mentally. Wow. Just wow.20161217_070648-01.jpeg

So it was in this mindframe that I stood and listened to the briefing at Mullum Mullum. Starting with an acknowledgement of the aboriginal custodians of the land we were running on, the briefing was the best I’ve heard – no mean feat for something that needs to impart so many technical bits and pieces. Necessary information imparted with humour added in, the buzz of the event team was very apparent.

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Briefing over and time to begin, we all moved along to the start line, a heaving mass with 333 runners and walkers all ready to go. And go we did. The start was, predictably, a bit congested but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm at all. The scenery in the first half is gorgeous, with trees as far as you can see and only a tiny glimpse of the freeway and civilisation beyond.  The course is truly ‘undulating’ – a bit like a rollercoaster actually with constant ups or downs and no flats in between. None of them are terrifyingly steep (although the downhill after the first turn around point made me wish I had my trail shoes on!) and the downhills somewhat make up for the short but tiring uphills.

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At about halfway, we passed back by the start/finish and set out on the urban loop of the course – under some freeway overpasses and around a pylon. It doesn’t sound particularly scenic but was actually quite an interesting contrast – there is certainly a little bit of something for everyone on this course and absolutely no chance of being bored.

Finally the finish line reappeared and I collected my token and made my way to the scanners. Kudos to the volunteer team who coped brilliantly with the large crowd – everything from start to finish seemed to go very smoothly and was a credit to those involved.

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The talk afterwards was of the slightly short course (most likely due to inconsistent gps data) and whether it was the toughest in Victoria. Jury is still out on that one – I think Wilson Botanic was harder but I took a lot of this one at a leisurely pace so probably can’t compare them. And then, as always, the talk turned to post-parkrun coffee and breakfast.

And if I started this post with wandering and slightly evangelical prose, it is only fitting that I end it the same way – feeling grateful for and slightly in awe of the fabulous bunch of running friends who have been drawn together from all corners. One of the things I most look forward to at launches and when travelling around is catching up with this group and I feel very lucky to have stumbled upon them.

An all round good morning. Well done again to the amazing team at Mullum Mullum and may all your parkruns be merry. Especially next weekend’s.

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parkrun tourism @ You Yangs

It feels odd calling this one ‘tourism’ as it is, technically, my closest parkrun. I had run the trial and volunteered at the launch but kept intending to get back and actually run it officially…..I just hadn’t. The fact that it is less than a 10 minute drive was very appealing, particularly after a late night at the Santa run so I rocked up there on Saturday morning, feeling a little bit yawny but grateful for the sleep in.

When you look on the parkrun page, it might seem a bit confusing to find but the team put up great signage and you will have no trouble finding it once you’re in the You Yangs park. The course is amongst the trees in a mountain bike section of the park with ample parking. It is a small parkrun, still building its core of regulars but is friendly and welcoming to all, which is great as it has attracted various tourists keen to experience the unique setting.

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Briefing done, we were very quickly underway and off on the gentle climb up the first kilometre – looks like a very, very small incline but it seems to hurt for a long time. It is a parkrun where you have to keep your wits about you as there are quite a few mountain bike crossings (all signed) where you must give way to any bikes out on the course (although there were none when I was there).

The surface is gravel and very easy on the feet – a nice change after a few weeks of running on concrete. Also a pleasant change is being out in the bush – such a serene and tranquil setting for a parkrun.

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As I headed back towards the finish, I was pleasantly surprised to find my time was ok, despite feeling tired. We followed up with some breakfast at a local cafe which was absolutely delicious and a bit of a hidden delight.

In fact, that sums up this parkrun – it really is a ‘must do’ for the location and scenery as well as the chance to spot wildlife. It reminded me how lucky I am to have this in my backyard (almost literally – I can see the You Yangs while hanging out the washing) and that I should run out here more regularly. So, if you haven’t already, make a date with You Yangs parkrun. Soon. I might see you there 🙂

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Santa fun run – a jolly good time

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I’ve ticked off so many ‘I always wanted to do that’ events this year and was lucky enough to add another one before the end of the year. The Santa fun run is held in locations across Australia by the Variety Club. On Friday night, I met up with my Christmas clad costumed friends in the Alexandra Gardens for Melbourne’s turn.

It’s a very, very informal event, something that will be obvious to you from the registration process but actually just makes it all the more fun. Before the start, we were entertained by Christmas carols from the choir then watched Santa send off the kids for the first event followed by the 10km runners.

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Soon enough, it was our turn and Santa sent us on our way. The informality had obviously caught up with us – I had to be reminded to turn on my Garmin after we’d started. It was a mad dash across the grass and down to the river path as we self seeded into appropriate positions for our relative speeds. This is such a family friendly event with lots of walkers, pram pushers and little ones joining in the fun.

My running buddies were both wearing tutus with bells on which made it an even better experience, listening to their ‘music’ as we ran along. We were lucky to have perfect running weather and such a great location – Melbourne and Yarra was looking gorgeous.

20161209_201356.jpgThe volunteer marshals on course were great with no chance of getting lost even though it’s not a formally marked off course. We crossed the Yarra and headed back towards the city, grabbing water on the way. Once we had run back through Birrarung Marr, I loved that we were running amongst the Friday night crowds and got lots of cheers and smiles from those out enjoying the Summer evening. We then ran along the river and across the bridge at Southbank, again dodging the crowds before running along the promenade at Southbank, much to the amusement of the diners.

And, almost a little too soon, we were back under the bridge and turning into the gardens for the finish. I wouldn’t have wanted to do the 10km (which was 2 laps of the same course) but really did enjoy every moment of the run and would have liked to be out there a bit longer. Instead, we continued our festivities by heading out to dinner, still appropriately attired in our Christmas gear.

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This was a seriously fun event from start to finish and I think it definitely needs to be added to my list of ‘must do’ events from now on.