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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The upside of running

The other day, I wrote a blog post about how running wasn’t all ‘sunshine and endorphins‘. While out on the trails, I was thinking about the flip side of that – all the wonderful things that running has brought to my life and I figured it was only fair that I give both sides of the coin an equal airing.

So, still on a post-run endorphin high, here is the list of why running is just so brilliant:

  • It’s free. Anyone who actually runs will tell you that this a complete myth – running shoes, running clothes, event fees, fancy watches, glow in the dark bits…the list goes on. But, at it’s heart (and particularly when you get started), it doesn’t take much to get you out the door and it is possible to run very cheaply. Just not me 🙂
  • Anyone can do it. Again, not strictly true but mostly. I’m certain that the majority of people who have ever said to me ‘Oh, I can’t run’ actually could if they wanted to. You may run slowly or awkwardly but most people can actually run. As John Bingham says, you don’t need a licence and there is no test to pass – just run.
  • It makes you feel good – inside and out. Running is obviously good for you physically (and, contrary to silly people spreading rumours, it does not ruin your knees) but it is also great for your mental health. In fact, this has much more to do with why I run than anything physical. There are few of my moods that can’t be helped by some time out on the trails. Shortly after starting, I get so caught up with the whole breathing/running/not falling over triad that I have no brain space to think of anything else. A few kilometres in when this is under control, I find a bit of a zen like state descends – I’m just running and very little else matters. I’ll still be aware of other things and might even be thinking of non-running things but through a mist that can only be described as happiness. Even on a bad run, I can’t maintain a bad mood for longer than the first few kilometres.
  • You become a superhero. Again, that’s not strictly true. But you do feel like one after you conquer some big, long worked for goal. Sure, I’ve set goals before and felt good achieving them but there’s something that feels truly epic about setting big running goals; goals that scare you. And when you achieve them, you feel like you could take on anything. Or at least should be allowed to wear a cape in celebration.
  • Resilience takes on a new meaning. Runners are a tough breed. Despite sporting painful injuries, many continue to push through while muttering ‘No need to worry, just a flesh wound’. One of my most effective mantras if I happen to get a blister in the middle of a half marathon is ‘It’s only a blister. Get on with it’. And few weather events will see a run being cancelled – a bit of wind or rain is nothing. After all, we’re not made of paper.
  • The world looks different. I wasn’t really expecting this one but it really is true. I have always travelled a fair bit but, since running, view places in a different way. City parks call out for me to put my running shoes on and go exploring. Tracks off into the forest similarly beckon. And, in running them, I feel like I get to see behind the curtain of a place, peeking into the best parts the locals get to see.
  • You’re in the club. Through running, I have found myself in conversations with people who I would have no other reason to ever have the opportunity to chat to and it’s wonderful. Runners just seem to be the best sort of people – welcoming, accepting, friendly, motivating. And the running extended family that I’m part of thanks mostly to my involvement in parkrun really are the most amazing people on the planet. A big call but true.

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parkrun tourism @ ararat

My alarm went off at 4.45 this morning and, while I didn’t spring out of bed (hard to do on the morning after the first week of a new term), I did get up with smile – time for the next wave of parkrun launches to begin. Today’s trek was taking us to Ararat – 2 hours drive and through all sorts of weather. Leaving home, it was pretty miserable and we were envisaging being dripping wet all morning then it turned to fog (coinciding with daylight arriving so we still couldn’t enjoy any views) then finally…..sunshine!

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Still a bit foggy as we gathered at the start

We timed it to perfection, arriving with ample time for a toilet and coffee stop before heading to the start. As at most launches, especially those from areas new to parkrun, there was the usual mix of tourists (most of whom know each other from attending all the other launches) and locals (looking slightly dazed by all the people in orange ‘uniforms’). Run Director, Pat welcomed everyone and delivered the briefing including the description of the 4 lap course. I ignored the 4 lap bit and tried to concentrate on the ‘where to go’ bit. Not knowing the park, I got lost in my mental directions so ignored those too, intending just to follow those in front.

The Territory Director took to the microphone to welcome Ararat parkrun to the Australian and global parkrun family and his words really struck a chord. Amidst all the busyness of organising a local parkrun, it can be easy to forget that you’re not just organising a small event for some locals, you’re joining a very big family; this event is one of over 200 run every weekend around Australia with hundreds also being run in 13 other countries around the world. Just take a moment to appreciate the enormity of that. Thanks. You may now continue reading 🙂

Formalities nearly done, we all gathered at the start line and listened to the Mayor do his speech and cut the ribbon. After one last minor task of redirecting some footballers from the oval across the road who were about to use the starting path for their warm up, we were off.

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A lake to run around…..4 times 🙂

The course sounds confusing and the map looks confusing (if you’re not from the area) but, once you’re running it, it’s not. We had helpful marshals exactly where you needed them, clear chalk markings and bollards or cones in appropriate spots. Easy. The track takes you through the very picturesque park, up and down a short, sharp hill, around the lake, around the back of the swimming pool, over a bridge and back to a turn around point near the start line. I hadn’t been looking forward to the course as I will inevitably be lapped on multi lap courses but I actually enjoyed this one. The laps were short enough to not go on forever and it made for a friendly atmosphere, seeing people several times. There was enough variety in the scenery and the surface, with some undulations here and there, that I had plenty to concentrate on. Running multiple laps also gave me the incentive I needed to run a bit faster – I was determined only to be lapped once by Geoff and not at all by Gary – goals I managed to happily complete 🙂

I was really happy with my run today – no pain at all in my calf and I just generally felt good, had energy and wasn’t exhausted. The finish ends after a short uphill section which did push me but I still finished with a smile and got my best time in 6 months.

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By now, the sun was out, the sky was blue and, with the post-parkrun cafe mere metres from the finish line, we were in and ordering breakfast in no time. We sat out under the trees, eating our delicious breakfasts and drinking our coffee, catching up on parkrun talk and planning the next few launches. An absolutely perfect way to start our Saturday. Even better, as we were sitting so close to the finish line, we were able to cheer the last parkrunners and the tailrunner over the line.

Well done to the team at Ararat and to all the locals who kicked off their weekend with 5km in such a beautiful setting. To those who might be just starting their parkrun journey, be warned; it is addictive and it is very possible it may change your life 🙂

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parkrun tourism @ ballarat

When I heard that it was Ballarat parkrun’s 100th run on Easter Saturday, I knew I had to go – it’s been on my list for a while, really isn’t that far away and you’ve got to love a good celebration. So husband and I were up early and on the road. I attended University in Ballarat so I know the typical Ballarat weather only too well – we were certainly greeted with blue skies (once we’d driven through the fog) but the temperature did steadily drop as we got nearer and I was grateful I’d remembered my jacket.

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Taking place in Victoria Park, Ballarat parkrun has all the required facilities – clean and plentiful toilets, ample parking and shelter from the weather (which I’m sure comes in handy!).

A reasonable crowd had gathered as we moved in for the briefing. It was lovely to hear the pride in the Run Director’s voice and justifiably so – it takes a lot of work to get a parkrun off the ground so is an achievement to have not only done that but to have sustained it and grown the community over 100 events.

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part of the parkrun coursbly so – it takes a lot to get a parkrun event off the ground and is an important and significant milestone to reach 100 events.

Briefing ended with a countdown to the start….I realised too late that we had been briefed at the start line where I should not have been standing so close to the front so had to get out of the way as the faster runners came past. Fortunately it’s a wide start and there’s lots of room for people to find their comfortable place and pace.

The path is a gravel track around Victoria Park and is a great surface to run on and ample width for all the comings and goings. From the start, we followed the track then turned left to a turnaround point before running back along an outer track and back over the start line for a second, longer loop.

I was cold and was feeling it in my breathing for the first couple of kilometres but had warmed up by the start of the second lap. It is certainly a scenic spot with trees all around and autumn twinges in the leaves and between the scenery and not being alone on the course (thanks to the out and back loops), the time and kilometres pass pretty quickly. The course markings and marshals are also great and I was thankful for them, particularly the section of the cones at about 4km as my clearly addled running brain had forgotten where I had to go.

I was welcomed over the finish line with cowbells and cheers and the finish line atmosphere was made even better by the crowd hanging out and having breakfast with a bbq kindly provided by volunteers as part of the 100th event celebrations.

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Anyone for a bbq breakfast?

Overall, I really enjoyed this parkrun which is no mean feat for a 2-lap course – great scenery, flat course, friendly community, varied runners/walkers/in betweens. With this one only being an hour away, I suspect we might be back sometime.

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The finish shute

Running – it’s not all sunshine and endorphins

Please don’t read the title of this blog post and worry that my love of running has left me. It has not. I had a wonderful run today along the Surf Coast trail, enjoying the perfect running weather and soaking in the incredible scenery.

However this wouldn’t be an accurate record of my running life if I didn’t acknowledge that running is not always delightful. Let me count the ways:

  • There are days when getting out of the door is almost impossible. Knowing how good I’ll feel about the world at the end of a run doesn’t make it any easier to get out of the door when I’m tired, grumpy or just lazy. Because I know that, in between me and those endorphins, there’s some hard work and I just can’t be bothered. It takes a massive mental kick up the butt to get me into my running gear and out the door some days, as my ever patient husband will attest to.
  • Chafing hurts. You would think, having been running for a while, I’d have figured out how to stop it happening but no. I managed some pretty spectacular chafing on today’s run in fact, despite wearing gear I have worn multiple times before and a generous amount of Body Glide.
  • Running is hard. Some days it feels like the trail is perpetually downhill and you’re flying. Other days, it’s up hill all the way. The first couple of kilometres of pretty much every run I do suck. I forget how to breathe or move my arms. I forget how I like my feet to land. And I feel generally slow and slothful. Thankfully, that feeling doesn’t last and is probably why I prefer longer distances – I’m warmed up after about 7km 🙂
  • The weather gods don’t take requests. I’m not a particularly fussy runner when it comes to weather. I’ll run in the rain and the cold. I’m not picky about running in the dark (any more). But I don’t really like running in the wind. And my absolute enemy is heat – I’d prefer to be up at the crack of dawn in Summer than swelter through anything over 20 degrees (which might not feel hot when you’re walking but it’s a different matter when you’re running). Regardless of what I prefer, my training plan says I have to run anyway.
  • However hard my body is working, my brain is working harder……and not in a good way. While the first couple of kilometres of a run are hard on my body, they’re probably harder on my mind. “I’m no good at this. I should just give up” says my not very helpful brain. “Everyone is watching me and they think I’m too fat/slow/unfit/stupid.” I have lots of mantras needed to chase away those thoughts but I’m always surprised how quickly they pop into my head nearly every time I run.
  • Being overtaken hurts. Being overtaken constantly hurts constantly. One of my frequent comments is that it’s taken me 3 years to run this slow. I think it’s more that it’s taken me 3 years to be ok with my pace. I run the speed I run, and that’s ok. Like everyone else though, I love getting PBs and seeing myself get faster. And, while I’m always happy for my friends, running buddies and complete strangers to get PBs and get stronger and faster, being a constant ‘back of the pack’ runner does sting. Not as much as it used to it, but still enough.

I’m sure there are more ways but I think you get the point – it isn’t all sunshine and endorphins. I’m pleased to say that the good heavily outweighs the challenges, otherwise I wouldn’t keep doing this. Eventually the endorphins do kick in, my positive thoughts return and I feel strong and happy. By the time I’d finished my 10.5km training run today, I felt like I could take on the world. Or at least tackle some serious holiday homework I’ve been putting off. Just had to get home and deal with that chafing first…

Run for the kids 2017 – race recap

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This was the weather forecast for today. Not radically unusual for Melbourne but not what you want to see when you had planned to go for a run with several thousand runners, today being the annual ‘Run for the kids‘ held to raise funds for Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital. Let me clarify – I’m not a fair weather runner. If anything, I’m more likely to stay home if the forecast is for hot weather but the idea of being caught in a thunderstorm on top of Bolte Bridge didn’t fill me with joy. I will be honest, blog reader – the thought of not going did enter my mind. And then, about half a second later, the thought evaporated. Of course I would run it. After all, humans are, luckily, waterproof and unlikely to be damaged by rain. So it was time to stop being a princess and get out there.

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The finish line. Only the minor issue of 14.6km to run to get there.

The organisation for this event is epic and inspiring – they just get it right. Plenty of toilets for everyone. A bag storage area which runs like a well oiled machine and which was prepared for whatever the weather brought. Not to mention the friendliest volunteers you’re likely to find anywhere. Rugged up in their wet weather gear, they each managed to smile and seem completely unfazed by anything.

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A blue sky background to the city – enough for us to pretend that we were in for a fine day

After hanging out a little bit, I was lucky enough to bump into some friends so the last 1/2 hour before the start zoomed by and soon enough, we were heading down to our colour zones. I was in orange and they were yellow so we snapped some pics and headed off to our respective areas.

While standing in the orange pen, surrounded by a lot of excitement and clearly a few nerves, I thought a lot about my first Run for the kids and how far I’d come since then. The rain had held off until this point but it started to lightly drizzle as we shuffled towards the start. No one complained nor did they even seem to notice. Everywhere you looked there were reminders that this run wasn’t about us, it was about the children who had been cared for at the Royal Children’s Hospital with many people sporting photos or names on their shirts of loved children they were running for. Running in the rain was nothing compared to the challenges some of these youngsters faced and that was very much in my mind as our wave headed off.

The run starts by heading over Swan St bridge and down towards the Domain tunnel and this is always a fun part. It’s vaguely downhill and everyone is in high spirits. Turning into the tunnel is a little tight but then everyone spreads out again when running through the tunnel. It’s both eerie and quite amazing – excited chatter and puffing and panting echo around and the stuffy atmosphere makes it feel a bit like you’ve been transported somewhere far away. It doesn’t last long as the gentle climb soon begins to deliver you back into the fresh air. Today, a light rain could clearly be seen to be falling at the mouth of the tunnel but I was glad of it – I was hot and in need of cooling down.

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The next section is running along the freeway – another strange experience as cars and trucks whizz by at either side and all the signs overhead remind you that you’re getting to run somewhere very different. The volunteers at the aid station just before the Bolte epitomised the spirit of volunteers on the course – so friendly, happy and helpful, regardless of being stuck out on a freeway in the rain for hours on end. I can’t speak highly enough of them.

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And so we began the climb onto the Bolte Bridge. The fact that, this year, I managed to run it is indicative of the training that has happened over the last 12 months. It wasn’t at all the obstacle I’d seen it as previously and I was soon at the top and took some time for the obligatory selfie opportunities.

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I made up for my selfie minutes by cruising down the other side of the Bolte, even briefly overtaking the inflatable tyrannosaurus I’d been following since the start. There were certainly some weird and wonderful costumes out there today. As well as the dinosaur, I saw a few superheroes and an elaborate minecraft costume plus the usual array of tutus. The rain didn’t appear to be holding anyone back and the atmosphere was as fun as ever.

The next section was running through the Docklands before tackling Collins Street hill – my least favourite part of the course. I ran/walked it but with a lot less effort than I had to expend previously. In fact, 11km in, I was still feeling great with nothing hurting and I felt like I could keep up the pace for the remainder. It also certainly helped to have pictures of children treated at the hospital on each of the kilometre markers – an important and poignant reminder of why we were running.

The run along Southbank is always a highlight as the central area is reserved for runners with Sunday morning breakfast diners and pedestrians watching and cheering from the sidelines. By now, the puddles were getting a bit bigger, my shoes were well and truly wet and I couldn’t really feel my feet but I was still having fun.

We turned up towards St Kilda Road, along the road and then, almost too soon, the finish line appeared. I wasn’t quite ready for it and almost wished it was a few kilometres longer. Almost 🙂 I knew I’d run well but was really, really pleased to see how well – 2nd best 10km time ever and a consistent pace much quicker than I’ve managed recently, maintained for nearly 15km. The grin I’d had all day got a little bigger.

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And so, Run for the kids is done for another year. Despite the very Melbourne-like weather, it was still just as fun as it had been in previous years. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly how this event manages to be so good – I think it’s a combination of the broad range of runners and walkers it attracts, the happy and generous spirit of the volunteers, the meticulous organisation and, most of all, the children who we were all out there running for. Thanks to all of that, I’m pretty sure I’ll be back there again next year 🙂

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flashback – my first event

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This photo was taken 8 years ago this week at my very first, out there in public running event – Run for the kids which takes place through the streets of Melbourne. And I thought that was a momentous enough anniversary to celebrate with a blog post.

I had trained (sporadically), prepared (kind of) and was a bundle of nerves the night before the big run (all 5.7km of it). My training had consisted mostly of short runs on the treadmill in my garage as I was far too embarrassed to run in public. I wonder now what I was actually embarrassed about but I’m sure it was a fairly lengthy list – my body, my outfit, my lack of fitness, lack of technique. All of it. So I shuffled through some runs on the treadmill while watching dvds. I didn’t talk to anyone about running but hovered on the periphery when other people did. I was interested but didn’t want to seem too interested in case they asked me something I couldn’t answer or which made them figure out I wasn’t a real runner. I wasn’t sure what made you a real runner at that stage but I knew I wasn’t one.

I don’t even remember what got me started on running in the first place. I’d lost a heap of weight (through changing my eating habits – exercise had always been a bit of a swear word for me) and I think I just wondered whether the new, smaller me could run without making an idiot of herself. And then, to hold myself accountable to this crazy idea, I signed up for an event and even fundraised. Nothing like the guilt of donations to make you drag yourself to the start line.

Ah, the start line. I was ridiculously nervous and must have gone to the toilet at least 5 times as evidence. And I was emotional. I remember tearing up behind my sunglasses as they counted down to the start. I was so happy to be there, scared of what was to come, excited about it at the same time – just a potent combination of every emotion you can think of.

And then we were off. I loved it, every step. I discovered, despite my nightmares which had indicated differently, that I wasn’t the largest, the slowest, the least fit, the one with the strangest running technique nor did anyone laugh at or ridicule me. In fact, I actually got some cheers and lots of support from runners and spectators. The smile in my picture was not for the cameras, it just leaked out of my face as I ran, a natural by-product of the day.

I don’t remember many things from the run itself other than that it felt like it finished pretty quickly. I do remember running down the finish shute feeling deliriously happy and amazingly strong, like I could run another lap and still live to tell the tale.

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Since that first event, it’s certainly been an epic journey. While I kept running after that for a while, it didn’t become a habit and I gave it up for a year or 2. What brought me back to it was thinking about how I felt that day – how proud, how strong and how grateful to be able to do this. Since that day, I’ve finished many events (shall have to go and count them – I’m curious now!) but that first one will always hold very special memories. And that is why Run for the kids is an event I keep coming back to, regardless of how many times I’ve done it. It’s where the new version of me was born and for that I am eternally grateful.