Tag Archives: challenge yourself

The 2017 Run that Changed Everything

Having run both Northburn (you don’t race it, you survive it!) and my first 100 mile race you would think those would be pivotal runs and that one of those would have been the most important run of my year. Or maybe the run where I broke my 5km personal best? Or my 10km best time? No. None of those were it.

The most important run of my year happened on July 24th. The kids and I had flown out to our new home in Wanaka just 7 days before. We had had a whirlwind week of travel, settling in to our unfurnished house, with nothing but the things we brought in our suitcases. My coach, Matt, had set me a “Welcome to Wanaka” run. It involved summiting  the quintessential Roy’s Peak and Matt warned me it would involve snow and possibly ice, warranting a quick trip to the local outdoor store for some microspikes.

I had just dropped all three kids off for their first day at their new schools. It was probably good that I had been so busy dealing with all their anxieties about the coming day as it left me very little time to worry about my own endeavours. This would be the first time I ever ran in snow, the first time on the Roy’s Peak track, first time using microspikes and first time doing a long training run whilst solo parenting here in New Zealand. If I had really thought about it I may have been overwhelmed and backed out of the run.

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Less than a third of the way up – clouds coming in

When I got the start of the trailhead, I rang the local DOC (Department of Conservation) office to check the conditions. Having never run in snow or alpine environments before, I was being cautious. The climb was amazing, the views breathtaking. As I climbed higher the temperature continued to drop and snow patches lay on the ground. The snow deepened and became ice across sections of the track, prompting me to try out my new gear and attaching my microspikes to my shoes. I stopped twice to take urgent phone calls from the kids schools, checking on details and making sure we had all we needed for the week ahead. My hubby called to make sure everything had gone ok. It was a less than perfect “run” but it was real and it was cold and it was something I never thought I could do. As I reached the deep snowline, I began post holing my way to the summit.

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Above the snow line but not in deep snow yet

Checking my map and telling myself I could do this. Plenty of people do this every day. The snow was wet and cold. My toes were frozen. The views off the back side of Roys were steep and testing my fear of heights, but my head was firmly set on making it to the summit. There is a sense of relief as well as accomplishment to reaching a summit. When I reached the top I stood alone and just gazed out at the clouds in amazement, there was no view to speak of. I was amazed at what I had just done, that I was there, living in Wanaka, and that I had just summited a real mountain, alone, in the snow. That I could do that. Me. The hippy mum from Northern NSW who liked to run in the bush.

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Views thanks to a momentary break in the clouds

The run down was no less epic. I ran (as opposed to hiked) through snow, I felt the childlike thrill of freezing cold air on my cheeks, wet and frozen toes and the heat of my breath and body making steam around me. Then it started to snow. Just small delicate flakes, lasting less than a few seconds on my skin, but snow nonetheless.

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On the way down, jacket off and pink cheeks despite the cold

I finished my run. Breathless and exhilarated. I cried, the tension and anxiety of doing so many new things in such a short space of time coming out as tears. I looked up at the mountain, the peak fleetingly visible here and there between the clouds, in awe that I had just been up there.

That run changed a lot of things. It showed me I could do these new and hard things without someone there to hold my hand, to lead me along, to show me the way. I could be my guide. It didn’t mean being reckless or dangerous. I could be methodical and thoughtful. Prepare myself and take my own lead. I could do the hard thing and I could do it alone if need be. It was on that run that I learnt how much I love the mountains, the real mountains. I thought I did, but being there in that truly alpine environment that is such a start and scary beauty made me feel like this is where I belonged and I knew I wanted to spend more time there. I found that there is something about the challenge and the tinge of fear of doing something new, something outside the comfort zone that I love, that I take strength and joy from. Sometimes the mountain allows you to reach her summit and sometimes she doesn’t. I have hiked and run up a number of mountains since then, both here in New Zealand and back in Australia. The views from some have been amazing, easily better than that first run up Roy’s. Some have been little more than a trig point at the top of an alpine grassland. A few I haven’t made it to the top of, despite my best efforts, due to my fears getting the best of me or my time being short. Each has been an experience that I took something away from. Each has made me grow.

That first run up Roy’s Peak though, that was the run that changed everything. Its when I began to understand who I truly was, what it was I was searching for and where it was I wanted to be.

“The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly” (John Muir) for I still have so much to learn….

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Don’t You Get Scared?

It’s a common question. When people find out where I run and that I do so alone there are usually a few standard responses, either “I wish I could do that” (you totally can), “Your husband lets you do that?” (Seriously? WTF? That’s a WHOLE other blog post) and “But, don’t you get scared?”.

The answer is yes, I do get scared. We all get scared, don’t we? There are things that create fear in our hearts and minds, but it’s a choice as to what we do about that fear. How much power we give the fear and how we listen to it.

I run alone and at the moment I try and run every long run somewhere new, in an effort to mimic what will happen on race day where I will be running on ‘new to me’ trails and needing to navigate along the way. This can be scary, there is a chance I will get lost, or hurt, but I can’t let that fear dictate my life. I am a planner and I mitigate the danger as much as I can. I have a planned route. I tell at least two people where I am planning to run, how long I should take and when to start worrying if they haven’t heard from me. On every mountain or long run I take a full pack of gear, I always have, whether it be here in New Zealand or back in the subtropical National Parks of NSW and South East Queensland. In my pack I have dry thermals, a raincoat, beanie, spare food, water, a bivvy sac (think sleeping bag made out of space blanket material), first aid and a headlamp.

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Planning for any situation helps mitigate the fear.

Knowing I have these things in place helps me manage the fear. I usually have more fear before a new run than during. I will stress about running in a new place or if I know the conditions aren’t going to be the best, but nine times out ten, once I am underway the fears drop away.

But this doesn’t mean I blatantly ignore that fear. A month ago during training I decided to take on a particular trail near Lake Hawea called the Breast Hill Track. It gets a bit scrambly up the top and anyone who knows me will know I have a fear of heights. It was a cold and windy day, there were showers forecast, but I thought I would give it a go. As I got to the start of the first short scramble the wind came up the face of the mountain and hit me. I sat and calmed myself, willing myself to keep going. Yes, I was scared. This willing myself forward, getting beaten back, trying to quell my fears went on for about a kilometre. Then I reached my point of “no more”. The fear was too great. The wind was too hard, the trail too slick and my heart could find no joy, no reason to continue. Why? Because I no longer felt safe. Not just scared but also not safe. So I listened and went home and found a different trail to finish my run on.

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Rain, wind and fear on Breast Hill

Running alone as a woman also brings a special fear, one that is instilled in us from a young age. That fear that we shouldn’t do something because of what other people might do to us. There is, unfortunately, a culture of telling women to adjust their activities to keep themselves safe from men who may be out to do them harm. There have been many posts written about this, many debates about victim blaming and putting the onus on victims instead of perpetrators. It is also one of the main reasons many women who find out I run alone tell me they don’t feel safe to do the same. In five years of running, predominantly alone, on trails I have only felt unsafe twice because of the people I met on the trail. The first, I believe, was unfounded fear. I was doing my first solo night run and toward the end of it, when I was tired and already stressed, I crossed paths a group of men in their early twenties who were bush walking. They did and said nothing that would warrant fear, but still I was scared and put as much distance between them and me as I could. The second time, is the one time I feel something could have happened, but I listened to my gut and took steps to make myself safe. As I came off the trail at Mt Barney, a young guy pulled up in his ute and hopped out and approached myself and a man I had been chatting to about sport watches as we had made the final descent to the carpark. As I set about doing my cool down at my car, thinking about my snack waiting for me on the front seat, they had a short conversation and the you guy called out to me a comment about me looking super fit and threw me a look. Alarm bells went off, so instead of getting my snack and sitting at the picnic table like usual I hopped in my car and drove down the road to a spot where I could eat in the car. Less than 5 min later the ute pulled up beside my car, so I packed up and left to drive to the nearest town. But I didn’t let that fear control me. I was out on the trails again the next day.

So yes, I do get scared and when I get scared I try and work out if that fear is a socially instilled fear (women should not run alone), a fear fed by a phobia (this is too high) or a fear stemming from something I need to listen to for my own safety. I get scared. Sometimes terrified. I will have tears running down my face. Then, I will stop, take a deep breath and try and look at the fear, where is it coming from? Do I really have something to fear? And what should I do about it? I try to keep a level head and make sure I’m not letting irrational fear or fear caused by the unknown or worst case scenario thinking, stop me from having the adventures and experiences that I crave, whilst being mindful that fear is useful tool and we feel it for a reason, to keep us safe.

 

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I won’t let fear stop me from experiencing things like this!

Are You Mad?

In January, I shared how I was going to start chasing points to get into the lottery for the UltraTrail Mont Blanc 100miler (UTMB) – you can read that post here: Big Scary Goals.

I had already accrued 5 points from my run at UltraTrail Australia 2016, but to gain entry to the lottery I required a further 10 points from a maximum of two more races by the end of 2017. After scouring through the racing calendar and working out what races were doable for me, I settled upon the Northburn 100km in March (5 points) and the Alpine Challenge100km in November (5 points).

About 4 weeks before I was due to run Northburn, which still to this minute has not had its point status confirmed, Alpine Challenge announced that their UTMB points had changed and you would now only qualify for 4 points when running the 100km. This kinda set a spanner in the works, along with Northburn not yet receiving its points status, I was a little worried my plans were going to be thwarted. I was already committed to running Northburn and truth be told, I was rather excited about taking on this tough course, so I put the thoughts of UTMB points aside and concentrated on completing Northburn. I figured, worst come to worst it would be good practice for the future, plus I was getting to run in New Zealand mountains, I was hardly about to start complaining.

At Northburn registration, Terry the RD, confirmed they would definitely have UTMB points and that it was just an administration issue which would be sorted in time for the lottery. You can read my full Northburn account here: One Good Day – Northburn 100k

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Northburn was amazing

About two weeks after running Northburn, I travelled up to the Gold Coast to speak to my coach, Matt from Judd Adventures, with the plan of discussing how Northburn went and then where I would go from here. I left home early that morning to light rain, the creeks were low and both hubby and I figured I would be back well before expected rain from Cyclone Debbie hit.

I had pretty much settled on sticking with the current plan (Alpine Challenge 100km in November) and then possibly doing Northburn 100mile the next year to get my required 15 points from 3 races, whilst applying for the CCC (UTMB’s little sister covering 100km) using my current points. As we sat talking, Matt surprised me and suggested that I do the miler at Alpine Challenge, worst case scenario I would DNF and still have the points to apply for the CCC regardless. I was a little stunned to be honest. At the same time though, the thought of doing that distance excited and ….. well….. terrified me. After chatting about Northburn, a bit more about UTMB points and future training we parted ways. I was excited to get home and share the news with my hubby, Sim, but mother nature had other plans.

I rang hubby to let him know I was on my way home and he told me that the creeks were rapidly rising and it was doubtful I would get home, he was about to leave to go get our kids from school and was unsure if he would make it back himself. He was in a panic and had to leave so I told him I would head to a friends and talk to him later.

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A wee bit stuck

So, I was stranded at a friends and I had this big exciting news to share. I told my friends Jill, Claire (who had lovingly given me a place to stay) and her partner Pat (who said he already knew that was going to happen) along my super support crew from Northburn, Sarah and Maz (who both confirmed I was crazy but that they were excited for me). I still hadn’t had a chance to tell hubby due to him having low battery power on his phone and communication being strictly crucial info only (he was also stranded at a friends house, closer to home). I also hadn’t done my usual “look what I’m doing next!!” on social media, mostly because the idea was and is still really terrifying. Then, when it became apparent that I was going to spend a second night at Pat and Claire’s I sent him a text telling him about moving up to miler distance. The convo was hilarious, mostly as he didn’t read the whole message the first time (a regular occurrence for Sim).

 

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So, now, a few days later, I am home, the clean up from Cyclone Debbie is in full swing, I am finally sharing what’s next and hubby has come around to the idea. He says he is excited for me, but thinks I’m crazy. And me? I am ridiculously excited (how unusual, right?) but I am also terrified out of my mind, to attempt to go for an extra 60km past what I have previously done. It is going to be such a long 2 days. I only have this life though and if nothing else I know its something I want to attempt, so why not now? Its just a little sooner than I thought it would be. I have all sorts of imposter syndrome and not good enough going on, but hey, as I said to Matt in my meeting, in for a penny, in for a pound. I may as well go the whole hog now and see what happens. If you never try, you never know.

Yes, I probably am mad, but in a good way. Right?