parkrun tourism @ mernda

I will confess – the first thing that happened when we heard that Mernda was launching its own parkrun was……to Google where Mernda was. There, I’ve said it. Mernda is not exactly a tourist mecca and wasn’t somewhere I’d ever had reason to go to before so it took a little bit of interweb assistance to figure out where it was and how to get there. As luck would have it, it’s a smidge over an hour away so not too early a morning – an absolute treat for a launch.

At the end of our drive, the parkrun location was very easy to locate and we managed to find a parking spot close by (after a quick pre-run toilet stop up the road  – note to visitors: no toilets on site). As is usual for a launch, there was quite a crowd and many of the regulars, including the dedicated Victorian statespeople, keeping up their titles.

We were welcomed by the Territory Director then given a briefing by Run Director, Amanda. Thankfully, proceedings were short as it was a typically chilly Melbourne morning and, having already ditched my jacket, I was having trouble feeling my hands.

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The start line is a short walk from the meeting point and you set off and run a lap around the lake. With so many people there for the launch, it was a little crowded but we soon spread out as we approached the first little hill near the first turnaround point. In this direction, you run along the edge of the suburban park and have views both of the lake and houses bordering the park. After the turnaround, you head back over a bridge (watch out for icy patches) then up another little hill and onto a nature trail before another turnaround amidst a housing estate. From there, you head back down…and do it all again.

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As much as I’m not a fan of multi lap courses, this one was actually enjoyable. The variety of surfaces, tracks and views were happy distractions and having out and back sections and laps meant that there were lots of friendly faces out there. For the most part, the track was wide enough to cater for all although, with so many attending the launch, I felt for those faster runners who had difficulty passing once they were lapping the rest of us as it got a bit tight in a few places. The course markings (chalk path markings and signs) were fantastic with no possibility of getting lost and the ample marshals on the course were very helpful and encouraging.

The final sprint is up a very short rise and over the finish line, perfectly situated next to the meeting point so you get lots of cheers as you cross the line.

A huge welcome to Victoria’s 50th parkrun (can you believe that?!?!) and congratulations to all the volunteers and event team at Mernda who made this one possible. Definitely a happy way to spend a Saturday morning 🙂

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Run Forrest 2017 – race recap

Every now and again, it’s good to do something that scares you a bit. To stretch yourself, revise what you believe you’re capable of and remind you that life is full of opportunities and rewards for those willing to embrace some risks. In short, being brave, not perfect (Thanks to Jade Hameister for this one – I’ve adopted it as a personal motto).

Run Forrest has been on my wishlist for a while but has always scared me. Even though this year I felt more ready to have a go than ever before, it still took me until last Thursday to sign up. I’m not exactly sure what I was scared of – hills? Trails? Not being able to finish? The unknown. As much as I love trail running, I tend to stick to familiar ones and get nervous when I strike out somewhere new, in case I come across something I can’t handle. Thus my nerves when I thought of this event.

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The morning didn’t start too well as the fog was very heavy on my drive over and just added to the nerves. I arrived safely, parked up and stopped for a toilet break then faced the next issue – how to find the event village. There had been some information on the website but I had expected perhaps some signs however couldn’t see anything obvious (I later saw arrows on the road but had obviously missed them going in). To get to the event village, you follow a little path on the edge of town and wind your way down to trail heaven. There I found a great little event village, complete with fires to warm ourselves as we waited and hay bales to rest on.

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Having managed to slot in another toilet break, I added my bag to bag drop then ambled to the start area. My nerves were still there but I just wanted to get this thing started and face whatever demons I found out on the trail.

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From the start line, we headed out, around and back past the same area before running behind the event village where we were confronted with the first hill. A significant hill. Some people around me could even be heard muttering ‘Silvan’ under their breath (refer to this blog post for that particularly gruesome hill). Having this so early in the event did make me falter a little – I’d already been nervous; was this the evidence I needed to prove that my nerves had been justified? Would it be too hard? I’m pleased to say those thoughts moved on pretty quickly – I’m not in love with hills but I’m much better friends with them than I ever used to be and I knew I just needed to put my head down and get on with it. So I powered on.

At the top of the hill, we moved onto a narrow trail through the beautiful bush with undulations but nothing unrunnable. I instantly felt better, stronger and happier – I could do this. Of course I could. I also noticed I wasn’t alone, with a fair bunch of runners both in front and behind me which made me feel better as well.

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The scenery we were running through was, simply, stunning. The Otway Ranges have long been a favourite place of mine, even before I took up running. I couldn’t help but feel very lucky to get to run through this today, in the most perfect running weather you could wish for (especially in a place well known for rain). As well as getting to run along narrow trails, there was also a tiny bit of road as we headed up to the West Barwon Reservoir, adding to the impressive views. A woman running nearby and I were chatting about our ludicrously large smiles which seemed permanently etched to our faces – despite the sore and hard parts of running, this was one of those runs that just made us smile.

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We headed back onto the trails, past the drink station and up through the turnaround loop for the 10km. This was definitely my sort of running – gentle ups and downs, soft (and slightly slippery) paths and blissful serenity all around. The faint sounds of the event village could be heard through the trees but not close enough to worry about the run being over yet – I was happy for this one to keep going for a while.

As we continued to weave through, we hit more of the technical mountain bike trails with banked corners and a sticky clay surface – both a bit of a hazard but easily dealt with by my fabulous trail shoes. Not sure I would have coped in road shoes for this event. I could have run on this stuff forever – I felt strong and more like a mountain goat than I have before on the trail, ably picking my way around tree roots. But it wasn’t to be as we emerged out of the trees and back on the final stretch before the finish.

I actually think I managed to take a bit of a wrong turn in the last section as I followed runners ahead but then found others converging with us on the path further up. This might have contributed to me pulling up a bit short on distance although I think that’s probably more to do with the general difficulties of measuring trail runs – very hard to work out the line when you’re dodging all sorts of natural obstacles.

There was one last uphill then a downhill jaunt through magical tree ferns – a perfect prelude to the finish line. As always, the finish chute seemed to go on for a long time although I wasn’t as ‘done’ as I normally am and ran it fairly strong. To see the run for yourself, check out my link on ‘Relive‘.

This event really is a one of a kind in many ways. The location, the scenery, the trail, the diversity of runners it attracts, the vibe of the event village – it all builds to a very special package.

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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.

 

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.

training. the stuff that happens in between events.

I haven’t blogged as much this year and I think that comes down to the fact that I’m not doing as many events. This is a conscious decision – I had an absolute ball last year but the cost, both financial and in time, of doing so many events was unsustainable so I’ve cut back to some key, bigger ones.

As a result, I don’t blog as much. But I am running, more than ever in fact. Before Melbourne half marathon last year, I set up and followed a training plan on ‘My Asics‘ and am currently doing the same in preparation for the Great Ocean Road half marathon. I’m running 3 times a week with distances between 7km and 17km. And, so far, I’ve stuck to the plan.

It’s interesting to think that part of the reason I ran so many events last year was also because I wasn’t sure I could do the long runs without the motivation of a crowd, a starter’s gun and some bling at the end. Then I discovered I could. It really is more of a mental thing than a physical one. If you can get yourself to the start of a long run, you’ll make it to the finish. The start is the hardest part – getting out the door, overcoming internal struggles and doubts, being mentally ready to run for a long time. Once I’ve hit start on my Garmin, not finishing is not an option.

And so, the training continues. I won’t blog about it much but know that it’s happening anyway. These are the hardest kilometres – the ones run in the dark, the wet, when I don’t feel like it, when I’m tired after a long day at work. They’re also the best ones – feeling myself getting a little bit stronger and little bit faster, knowing that they’re all building up to a big event, feeling mentally strong through making a commitment and sticking to it. And knowing that, without all of these kilometres, running the half marathon (or the marathon next year) won’t be possible. This is where the real work happens – those events are just my victory lap.

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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.