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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Afterglow – race recap

There are runs that are serious. Where you want to get a good time and you’ve followed your training plan to get there. Then there are runs which are really designed for fun and frivolity. Afterglow is definitely one of those. The dress code? Fluoro running gear (the brighter the better), tutus, sparkly bits and pieces, something to light up the night. The venue? Along the gorgeous trails of the Surf Coast of Victoria, from Southside to Torquay.

So, we dressed accordingly and rocked up to the meeting point where we chatted, added our glowsticks, sorted out where our battery packs would go (because of course we all had fairy lights on our tutus!) and enjoyed the atmosphere.

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Soon enough, we jumped onto the bus (having managed to somehow time it completely wrongly so we weren’t on the one our friend was driving!) and were taken to our start point at Southside. The bus driver had to give us some persuading to actually get off the bus as the wind felt like it was coming straight from Antarctica. We huddled together and waited patiently for the other buses to arrive so that we could be briefed. The briefing was…well…brief. Ocean on your right, keep moving forward, head towards the lights. And then, finally, time to start.

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If you look closely, you can see the fluorescent runners making their way along Bells Beach

The first part was great – a gentle downhill wind through a beautiful trail, ultimately spilling us out onto the iconic sands of Bells Beach. These sands are of the soft and challenging variety so took a bit of time and then ended up taking longer as one of our friends dropped her keys so a search ensued. Keys rediscovered, we continued our trek back up the stairs at the other end of Bells.

From there, the track continues its general up and down, twisty path towards Torquay. We were all taking it easy – definitely here for a good time, not a fast time. There were some spectacular jumps, a few wardrobe malfunctions (running with fairy lit tutus was always going to have its problems) and lots of chatter.

As we ran into Torquay itself, we encountered some of the nightlife – some kids hanging out in the park and some drunk, beer gutted men yelling ‘encouragement’. I had enjoyed my run up to this point but was starting to lose interest once we were back in civilisation. The cruel part of this run is that they take you right next to the finish line, only to send you out onto the beach for a couple of kilometres. If I had lost interest before, this was the ‘enough’ point. In the darkness, the beach seemed to stretch on forever and it felt like my friend and I were the only people out there. I was so grateful for her company but at the same time, I wanted to be anywhere but there. We finally reached the wonderful volunteer marshall who directed us up the dune from hell (albeit fringed with pretty lights) back to the path.

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Glowing my way across the finish line

Once at the top, we were again engulfed in darkness and felt like we were miles from anywhere or anyone. We shuffled our way back towards the finish line. The beauty and treachery of the trails is that you might not really be far away but the twists, turns and scrub throw your sense of distance. We crested a hill and saw (and heard) the finish line. As a sign of how long it had taken, there were a couple of marshals ahead of us, coming off duty. I found a final burst of energy and sprinted for the line, crossing it with cheers from my ever patient husband and friends as my soundtrack.

So, the verdict? This is definitely a fun event – the volunteers are as zanily dressed as the runners and give such a happy vibe to the proceedings. The course is gorgeous but tougher than I’d given it credit for (despite having run it all previously in reverse). And the bling at the end is very funky. If you’re up for something different and want to end your year with a bang, this is the event for you 🙂 Just make sure you bring a crowd – it’s not an event to do on your own and, as with so many events this year, wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much fun without my fabulous running friends.

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Talking myself into my long run

I’m linking up with Patty, Erika and Marcia for Tuesdays on the run – today’s topic is my biggest run challenge. For me, that’s an easy one – my long runs.

As I reach the peak kilometre bit of my half marathon training, my long runs are getting up to 17km. I have never been particularly friends with long runs and, now that they’re stretching out to these distances, we’re definitely not getting along. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them once I’m out there – I certainly do. It’s just getting out there that is the problem. I tend to spend the days before plotting out appropriate courses and trying to positively visualise myself on the run. I then spend the night before getting things ready so I’ll have no excuses the next day. And yet, I spend the morning finding excuses.

I’m not really sure what puts me off. It’s not exactly the distance – I run those distances regularly in events and don’t have any issue with them. I think it’s the whole issue of motivating myself. When it’s an event, once I’ve made it to the start line, I have little choice but to keep going. Long runs aren’t quite as easy – there’s always the possibility in the back of my mind that I might stop.

So, knowing all of this, I can honestly say I was actually very excited to be heading out on Sunday for my long run. I’d chosen the trails around Yarra Bend Park and had mapped out a course which I’d only run part of so it had both familiarity and new experiences. The sun was shining, the scenery was beautiful and I really didn’t need to talk myself into it – I couldn’t wait to get started.

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The trails along the Yarra are simply gorgeous – ranging from wide footpaths to rocky single tracks and you always feel a long way from civilisation, even though you can hear the freeway from much of the trail. It is also easy to find loop tracks so you don’t have to retrace your footsteps. I can see this becoming a favourite for my long run Sundays – such a serene place and all within an hour’s drive.

 

Hoka One One trail event #5 – Night run @ Studley Park

I have thoroughly enjoyed running in the Hoka series of trail events this year and was really, really looking forward to the night run. Just to add to this, the weather forecast was for perfect running conditions (not always guaranteed in Spring).

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The Yarra River looking serene and beautiful at the end of a perfect Spring day

I trekked over to Melbourne quite early – I had some things to do on the way and assumed that, being a Friday night, traffic might be a bit of an issue. This was indeed true – traffic was a big issue. In the end, what should have been a 1 hour drive took just over 2 hours. Still, thanks to me leaving ridiculously early, I got there with time to spare and wandered the event village, soaking up the atmosphere and getting into my zen mood. I also bumped into a work friend who I haven’t seen for ages which was great. Half of my running friends arrived and we headed to the start line (the other half were still stuck in traffic and arrived a bit after the start).

We had to be quite creative about our start line selfies this time as night time had descended but we managed it then it was time for me to go. After we started, I wanted to get the road bit done as quickly as possible and just get onto the trail. And once I was on the trail, I absolutely loved it. I had wondered whether it would be a bit creepy or whether I’d feel unsafe (not from the bogeyman but more likely from tree roots!) but I didn’t feel either of those things. I just loved it. After about 3km, I caught up with a running friend and we ran together for the rest of it, over the bridge (shaky as ever!) and through the bushland circuit onto the single track very close to the river.

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Start line selfies, made slightly more complicated in the dark

The finish line actually crept up too soon for my liking – I found myself finishing and wishing I’d done the medium course instead. The atmosphere at the finish was great – the finish line literally delivered you to Studley Boathouse where the kiosk was awaiting with lots of energy replenishing goodies while we waited for our other friends to finish.

This event and this series gets a huge thumbs up from me – I loved each of the courses and found the whole thing to be really well organised. Most importantly, the events had a very friendly, welcoming and inclusive atmosphere which is probably what I’d worried most about at the start, being new to trail running and not particularly speedy. I needn’t have worried – great events, friendly volunteers and fellow runners and amazing locations. See you all again next year!

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Hoka One One Trail event #4 – Anglesea

After adding ‘run a trail event’ to my goals for this year, I’ve managed to not just run one but quite a few, thanks mostly to the Hoka series of trail events. Last weekend I ran #4 of the 5 event series at Anglesea. This was timed to occur the day after the Surf Coast Century event so it was a massive weekend for trail running and had an atmosphere to match. I was running this without the usual crowd of running buddies so it was a little different for me – not bad, just different. Start lines with friends are about shared chatter and excitement, motivational talk and lots of pictures. Start lines alone are about quiet contemplation, positive self talk and taking it all in. This particular start line was on the beach which added to the whole zen thing. Again, it’s funny to think how far I’ve come as beach running used to terrify me. Now it’s just a bit of a pain but nothing I can’t handle….slowly!

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Start lines don’t get much more picturesque than this

Warm up done, we were off and running along a bit of the beach before turning back past the start to then head up into the trees.

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The first part of the course looked familiar from the Surf Coast trail half which was good as I don’t know Anglesea in general and really couldn’t picture where I was. After running along the edge of the caravan park, the trail took us into the bushland and, after a short while, up a rather steep hill that started at the football ground. It certainly wasn’t as sharp and nasty as the hill at Silvan but was challenging enough and slowed me right down.

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Photo courtesy of Supersport Images

Once we were on the other side of it (and I had more oxygen to spare), I could give more attention to the scenery around me, especially as I was pretty much out there on my own. It was a real mix of very skinny single tracks and wide roads as well as some weaving amongst buildings at the local Scout camp. Very scenic.

Soon enough, I rejoined the main trail where the long, medium and short courses converged and was heading back along the Surf Coast walk. Back down onto the beach then along the soft sand and into the finish chute. Thanks to the location and it being part of a trail festival weekend, there were more people at the finish than usual which gave me the motivation needed to get myself over the line.

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Another great event in a fantastic location. What I’ve been loving about this series of runs is the variety of scenery and terrain that you run through – challenging enough for the experienced and fast mountain goats but also perfect for trail newbies like myself. One more event in the series to go which I am looking forward to immensely – the night run back at Studley Park later in September.

Old Beechy Rail Trail – adventure #2

I knew I needed to do a long run on the weekend and didn’t relish the thought of running over familiar ground. So husband and I headed off to Barongarook to explore another segment of the Old Beechy Rail Trail.

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I had opted to start from Barongarook as the previous section was on the road and not particularly fun for running. Husband dropped me at a dirt road just past Barongarook Hall and off I went, feeling a little bit nervous as I always do when I’m not 100% sure where I’m going. Regardless, the scenery was pretty, the weather was perfect and I was surrounded only by cows – what more could you ask for?

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After about a kilometre, I turned onto the trail and was treated to a stunning trail experience – lush Otways forest; a soft, gravel trail underfoot and sounds of birds and wildlife all around. Blissful. My only companions on the trail were 2 cyclists who passed me – other than that, it was me and the birds. Every now and then I’d hear some cars, tractors or motorbikes but very distantly and I felt like I was far away from everything.

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Travelling on this section, the trail goes steadily downhill although you don’t particularly notice when you’re running on it. Coming off this section of trail and passing Birnam, there is a very sharp but short incline as you head into another level of forest. Not particularly painful and the descent on the other side makes up for it – I seriously felt like I was flying down the hill and it was only the thought of injuring myself and having no one to help me that slowed me down.

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At Kawarren, I felt like I’d returned to civilisation as the rest of the trail runs within sight of the road (not to mention the fact that there are toilets there – luxury!). Just after this, I also ran into my husband who had parked at Gellibrand so we stuck together and headed back towards the car. 16km done – a great way to spend a Sunday.

So, the verdict? I’ve decided I’m well and truly hooked on trail running and madly in love with the Otways 🙂

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Hoka One One trail series – event #3 Silvan

It’s a busy time for running events and this weekend was no exception with both a parkrun launch and the third event in the Hoka One One trail series, this one at Silvan Reservoir.

I was really excited about this one which shows how far I’ve come – hills used to terrify me, now I relish the challenge. It was also another chance for a great weekend away with my husband and running friends so definitely something I was looking forward to.

Our accommodation was only about 15 minutes drive so it wasn’t too early a start; it was definitely rather chilly as we got out of the car at the top of the hill and headed down to the event village. The long, medium and short courses had much closer start times for this event which made things a lot better – not so much standing around waiting after we’d waved people off. I waved off friends in the long course then, 5 minutes later, the medium course and had time for a toilet stop before I headed off for the short course start 30 minutes later.

The short course at Silvan was simply gorgeous. We headed up a road as we left the start then turned onto some single tracks which wove through the bushland, fringed by tree ferns. The weather was absolutely perfect for running – cold but not ridiculously so and spots of blue sky here and there.

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One of many logs, trees and branches that needed to be negotiated

The short course runners were bunched up for a little while but soon spread out and I felt for a long time like I was running on my own which was wonderful. I felt no pressure to run a particular time or keep up with anyone – just wanted to be out there, enjoying it. There were 2 women close by who I played leapfrog with for most of the event and it was good to share a quick laugh then get back to it.

There were some undulations but nothing too terrible – some good downhill stretches complete with mud for me to test out my new trail shoes; I’m pleased to say they acquitted themselves perfectly. While others around me were very carefully weaving down the hills, I just went, confident that I wasn’t going to slip and slide my way to the bottom.

And then, after what seemed like rather a short time, we met the hill we’d all been waiting for. The hill from hell. I knew it would be bad but actually found myself laughing when I saw it as it was so much worse than bad. But not impossible. As I climbed it, it was funny to hear people’s reactions as they turned the corner and saw it for the first time – there were definitely a few expletives shared although talking pretty much stopped once they started up it. Breath could not be spared for such things. I had to stop multiple times although, again, was glad of my trail shoes as at least I wasn’t slipping and sliding my way on the clay surface. However I didn’t stop grinning. Yes, it was hard. Yes, I walked it and yes, I had to stop a lot. But I felt amazing when I got to the top and even better as I was enjoying the feeling of flying down the other side.

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A photo cannot possibly capture the pain of this but perhaps the body language of the others runners gives a better idea

The last part involved running along a creek then crossing over a road before heading back to the finish chute where my friends and husband were waiting. Overall, it was an absolutely stunning course and I was really happy with my run. It obviously wasn’t the fastest but that just meant I got to enjoy the scenery for that bit longer. Bring on event #4 at Anglesea!

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Lots of single track magic at Silvan