parkrun tourism @ Highlands

Having done quite a lot of the Victorian parkruns, I decided it was time to make a list of what I had left. Then I marked those less than 2 hours drive away. Unfortunately, that is a very, very short list. After another full on week at school and still a bit tired from last week's half marathon efforts, I chose the closest on the list (my NENDY) – Highlands parkrun.

I hadn't been avoiding this one but I will admit it wasn't a priority. I'd seen the map and knew it was in one of the new estates. Despite being 'masterplanned' (whatever that means), they always tend to look a bit the same and not exactly picturesque. On top of that, I knew it was a 3 lap course, something I'm not at all a fan of (mostly as I tend to get lapped!). However being only a little over an hour from home, it was definitely our parkrun of choice this morning so off we went.

I will admit to being pleasantly surprised when we arrived. Once you've escaped the freeway and the airport sprawl, you head out into a weird, in between place full of both shiny new estates and older, larger blocks that have clearly been there since Melbourne Airport was surrounded by paddocks. And it's actually quite pretty, in a 'new estate' kind of way. The lake that this course loops around is lovely, especially bathed in this morning's Winter sunshine.

We met the crew at the new meeting place by the playground and listened to the briefing. Today was my 44th different course so I've heard a lot of different run briefings but today's was one of the best – a great mix of all the information you needed, a few laughs and a good sense of fun. In fact, it was very evident from the moment that we arrived that this parkrun has a great vibe – a real sense of a friendly, supportive community getting out and enjoying their Saturday morning run or walk.

Briefing done, we headed to the start line and were off on our first lap around the lake. As always, it took probably the first kilometre for us all to find our spots and thin out a bit but it wasn't particularly crowded with the path wide enough to accommodate. The surface is a combination of concrete path and wooden boardwalks which are a nice distraction. The course is almost entirely flat with one little hill (Bill's hill) taking you back up to the main footpath before starting you off on your next lap.

I wasn't sure how I'd run today as I'd already done 15km earlier in the week but I finished the first lap feeling pretty good. More importantly, I could see my husband across the other side of the lake and was determined he wouldn't be lapping me! So I put in a bit of a burst of speed to finish off my second lap. Another sign of how friendly and accommodating this parkrun is were the volunteers who happily took extra tops off people as they heated up and threw them off after the first lap.

Before I knew it, I was finishing my third lap and headed towards the finish line and the friendly faces that greeted me there. Most the parkrunners were encouraged over the line by name – another sign of how much of a community this one is and the supportive environment they've created. It was also fantastic to see the diversity of runners and walkers who participated with a huge variety of paces, all being acknowledged and celebrated.

Even better, good coffee and a tasty breakfast is just across the car park and we made the most of this before heading home.

Well done to all at Highlands parkrun for the great community spirit you've created in this event – if this is your local, you're very lucky to have such a supportive running crew to help you reach your goals.

Run Melbourne half marathon – race recap

I'm home – installed on the couch with my medal still in sight so all that's left to do is tell you all about it.

Run Melbourne half marathon was on this morning, requiring us to have a ridiculously early wake up call at some time beginning with a 4. We headed off to Melbourne and were dropped near Federation Square then got ourselves ready to run.

As always, I started this one not knowing how I'd go. Training has gone well and I've done all the runs I was supposed to. I'm not sick. I'm not injured. No excuses. However you never actually know how you'll feel and how the run will play out until you're in it. (Or is that just me?)

I started this one in a very familiar way – with my amazing running friends. We hung out at the back of the start, letting all the faster ones go through. It was only as we snuck a look behind us as we walked to the start line that we realised exactly how far at the back we were – a mere handful of runners were behind us. "Good," I thought. "Less people to overtake me."

And so we began. I'd discovered a nifty trick to have both run/walk reminders and my kilometre pace screen so felt doubly in control of what was going on. Right on cue, it beeped at 2 minutes, telling me to walk. I used to find it hard to walk that early in an event but now I know better – if you follow Galloway and do it properly, it should let you be just as fast but not as fatigued. As long as you do it properly. So I walked. I had a momentary "hmmmm, I'm last and this is going to be a very quiet run" as there was no one else around but knew the course needed to stay open for the 10km runners and no one seemed to be hurrying me so I kept going at my pace. We ran along a bit of Southbank and headed along Spencer Street then up Collins Street (and the hill – actually not too bad) into the Docklands. So far, so good.

My friend and I chatted as we ran and were soon joined by another lady we'd met at the start line who asked if she could join us – absolutely. We introduced her to the world of Galloway intervals and continued on our merry way.

Coming back into Southbank, we were on track and feeling ok. I won't say 'feeling great' because, well, we were running a half marathon and were bound to be feeling tired. But tired was all – no injuries, no terrible soreness, no real issues. And keeping up with the intervals.

Running along towards the Domain was probably the only time I felt lonely out on the course – here was this wide stretch of road with no supporters, no cheer squads and few other runners to keep us company. Soon enough, we turned into the gardens for a loop and all of that was fixed – lots of other runners and an absolutely brilliant choir singing exactly the inspirational music we needed to hear. We took advantage of a bit of downhill and made up some time then did a u-turn and headed back up the hill, power walking it out.

Anderson Street hill was next – not my favourite uphill part but I do love that downhill and we definitely made the most of it. We also glimpsed our first person wearing a medal along here and it was a great reminder of the bling we would be getting for completing – all incentives were needed by this point as things were starting to ache a bit. We also had some smiles for a runner who came hurtling past us giving cheers (or possibly just grunts but we'll take it!).

Along the tan and around the corner and we saw the crew from Lalor parkrun who had, helpfully, written 'one parkrun to go' on the road – exactly what we needed to hear. We then ran alongside the 10km runners lining up to start although they were clearly nervous and in the zone as there wasn't much encouragement from them.

Running back along the river and over Swan Street Bridge, we were passed by the first 10km runners. I found the last few kilometres a challenge and power walked a lot of it with bits of running when walking hurt too much. The dreaded hill up to Flinders Street actually wasn't so bad (did someone flatten it a bit this year?!?) and, soon enough, we were running down the hill towards the turn into Birrarung Marr.

I was ridiculously pleased to see the finish line but also so happy to be crossing it with my great running friend, Jo and new running friend, Julie. And I was also absolutely over the moon to have beat my half marathon PB by over 2 minutes. (I had also managed to smash my 10km, 15km, 10mile and 20km PBs as well). My time, according to Strava was 2:49:33 – so proud of the work that has gone into training for this and feeling more positive than ever with the journey towards Disney.

The (mind) games runners play

Tomorrow I'm running a half marathon as part of Run Melbourne. So, naturally, the anxiety and general freaking out started about a week ago and will continue until I cross the start line in the morning. Have I trained enough? Will the weather be ok? I wonder how far I can push myself?

These are the pre-mind games I play before every event and I don't know that I'm getting any better at reigning it in. Despite knowing that I've done this distance 7 times before, I've still got nerves. I have to remember the advice I give to my Grade 4 students – nerves about something mean that it matters. That you care. They're not a bad thing and we shouldn't try to quell or fight them – just accept that they're there and they're giving you a message.

However I know that, once I start, I'll be fine. Crossing the start line means a whole lot of other mental games come into it to get me to the finish. Here are some of my favourite tricks to make 21km not seem like, well, 21km….

  • run/walk intervals – I generally run my long runs at 2/1 or 3/1 (eg, 2 minute run, 1 minute walk) as I've found Jeff Galloways' training and techniques to really help me, mentally and physically. That way, I only allow myself to think about the next 3 or 4 minutes, never more. I do not, under any circumstances, think about the whole distance or time that I will be running. Get through this 3 minutes and the rest will take care of itself.
  • run the kilometre you're in – If I'm not feeling as tied into doing set intervals, I change the screen on my Garmin to show the pace per kilometre and I focus on that. This is particularly useful if I'm aiming for a time goal. I know what pace I need to aim for and I track that in the kilometre I'm in but don't allow myself to think of the next kilometre or any that I've finished. Just this one. Make this one good and keep it within the pace I want but don't think of the future or the past.
  • break it down – Thinking about 21.1km when you start a half marathon is a very, very bad idea. It's a long way. If you run at my speed, you'll be out there for quite a long time. Neither of those things will particularly inspire you while standing on the start line so I try not to think of it in terms of total distance, rather I think of chunks. A few kilometres to the first aid station. A few kilometres to a bridge or other landmark. A few kilometres to the half way mark or a turnaround point. A few kilometres to another aid station. Before you know it, the kilometres have flown by and you're counting them down towards the finish line. I only allow myself to count down once it's less than 5km to go – that's a parkrun. I can do a parkrun, even if I'm tired, sore and over it.
  • think about someone else – This one started for me while doing my first 'Run for the kids' where the kilometre markers were pictures of children who were in the Royal Children's Hospital, fighting all sorts of illnesses and conditions. Thinking about them made it very hard to feel sorry for myself and my pseudo woes. I also think a lot about my heroes and the tenacity they demonstrate – Turia Pitt, Kelli Roberts and Kurt Fearnley being 3 that spring to mind. The combination of thinking of those who would want to run and can't and thinking of those who show what strength really looks like is a potent one and always make me hold my head a little higher and run a little stronger.

Whoever said that running is more mental than physical was completely right – for me, it is definitely that way. My runs that are hard are usually that way because of what is going on in my brain and not my body. Here's to me winning the mental battles tomorrow.

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.

parkrun tourism @ westerfolds

In my quest to complete all Victorian parkruns, I will admit that I have been cherry picking. And Westerfolds was not near the top of my list. Before the Westerfoldians attack me, let me explain. I had heard wonderful things about the scenery (gorgeous and full of trees and wildlife) and the people (friendly and welcoming) but I’d also heard about another aspect of the Westerfolds course which made me a little nervous – the hills. I hadn’t given them too much thought until I stumbled into discussions with people after completing Wilson Botanic course about which was harder – Wilson Botanic or Westerfolds. From then, it moved a little further down the list.

Deciding to embrace hills may not be the best strategy as I get back to form after time off with a calf tear but no one has ever accused me of being sensible when it comes to running. And so it was that hubby and I headed off to Westerfolds this morning to see exactly how bad this hill was.20170325_075202.jpg

We knew we were in the right spot not only due to the parkrun flags but due to the sunglass-requiring fluorescent wear sported by the Westerfoldians – definitely a bunch who like to stand out. Run Director Rachel gave a fabulous briefing – full of all the necessary bits but delivered in a fun way which seems to sum up the spirit of this popular parkun. Milestones were celebrated, visitors and first timers welcomed and then it was time to begin.

I found the first kilometre really hard and was racking my brain to figure out why. Tired? Possibly. Dehydrated? Most likely. Or just that I was actually running faster than I had for quite some time? Definitely! With the mystery solved, I settled into it and felt pretty good. Calf was behaving itself and the ‘undulations’ were not at all terrible. Yet.

The scenery is certainly gorgeous and I was lucky enough to spot a couple of kangaroos bounding away from the mad runners, off into the bush. The path is wide enough that I didn’t encounter any bottlenecks and there was plenty of room to move around people where needed.

Another really pleasing thing to see is the number of parents and children at this parkrun, adding to the friendly, non-competitive and inclusive vibe. There was a little boy ahead of me in his parkrun 50 shirt and it made me smile the whole way around, thinking what a great thing it was that his parents had done for him, encouraging his involvement in this at such a young age.

However all these pleasant thoughts and slightly manic smiles at the scenery didn’t last as the hill I had clearly not been looking forward to revealed itself. The fact that it doesn’t reveal itself at once but just keeps stretching and stretching tells you what sort of hill it is – not huge and not that steep but long enough to give you a good kicking. I put my head down and power walked up it.

The positive is that the downhill run towards the finish was much needed as I put my legs into automatic and cruised down the hill at a lovely pace. One final push up another incline and I crossed the finish, quite pleased to have made it under 40 minutes – slowly getting back some speed and not completely wrecked on a hilly course. I clearly was still feeling ok as I headed off to do a 2km cool down on some of the trails in the park – a great place to explore and one I’ll be coming back to.

So is it harder than Wilson Botanic? Hmmmm, not sure on that one. I feel like it’s a much smaller hill which goes on for longer. However the sting in the Wilson Botanic hill is not only that it’s very sharp but that you know it’s a 2 lap course so you’re going to have to do it all over again. Based on that, I think I’m giving the title to Wilson Botanic….for the moment. It is also entirely possible that I’m a bit fitter than I was when I ran that one – perhaps it’s time to go back and do it again?!

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.