Tag Archives: training

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.

IMG_7732.JPG

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.

IMG_7742.JPG

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.

IMG_7792.JPG

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.

IMG_7802.JPG

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….

IMG_7889.JPG

Advertisements

What do you eat?

I’ve been asked by a few people what it is I eat, both in my races and in every day life. This question always kinda makes me baulk for a few reasons. The first is that my relationship with food hasn’t always been a healthy one, there were many years where I binged on food as an emotional replacement, as a reward and I also restricted food as punishment. The other is that I find the discussions around athletes and food confusing to say the least. We are bombarded with so many things we should eat, things we need more of, less of, shouldn’t eat etc. I’ll be the first to admit I listen intently to what my running idols eat, but thankfully, my relationship with food has changed to the point where I feel comfortable with how I do things and the most that will happen is I will find a new way to eat something and not go into a full blown overhaul of my everyday diet and racing nutrition in the hope of yielding better results. That was something I tried in the past. It just doesn’t work.

So, where to start. Both my everyday and race nutrition have been a long, slow evolution which is still always changing. What works for a while doesn’t necessarily hold forever. I am also always reading and learning and will try new things, some stick and become the norm, others are thrown to the side after a few weeks, some I read and just think “nup, not even going to go there!”.

Everyday Food

My everyday diet now is what I would call pretty normal. I eat a lot of different stuff, mostly unprocessed. I was vegetarian for a good ten years of my life but before I had kids I started eating meat again. When I first started running, in the throes of trying to lose weight and get “healthy” I went low-fat and then went low-carb in the extreme sense but both were unsustainable for me. I have learnt a lot about different carbohydrates, different fats, sugars, vitamins and minerals but I am also aware that I have barely scratched the surface and most of you reading this will know just as much as me, if not more. I do tend to err on the side of low-carb which makes some of my meals a bit different to what the rest of the family is eating. For example if we are having spaghetti bolognaise instead of pasta I will have a bowl of baby spinach, capsicum, mushrooms and whatever else takes my fancy, with cheese and bolognaise sauce. Similarly for curry, I have salad with curry over the top. If its a big training week I might add 1/4cup of pasta or rice to the mix, but I don’t have any hard or fast rules. Our family meal plan is pretty stock standard. Breakfasts tend to be eggs of some form, with veg and occasionally toast or my other go to is yoghurt with fruit and granola. Lunches are leftovers, soups or salads, although the occasional cheese toasty will creep in in winter (cheese toasties are a weakness of mine). Dinner is meat and salad/veg, curry, stir-fry, ‘pasta’, burgers and all the usual fare that you make because you know at least 2 of the 3 children will eat it!

Race Day Fuelling

My race nutrition has also been a learning process. In the depths of my low-fat/low-carb time I did races where I only used honey and dates for fuel and had water with coconut water, lime juice and salt added to it in my hydration pack. I know now that this probably what contributed to some pretty epic lows out there on the trail which saw me death marching as a blubbering mess. I have tried gels, I have a real problem with even swallowing them without gagging so gave up on those pretty quick. There have been various electrolyte drinks and food combinations. I have done calorie challenges to try and work out just how much I can stomach on the run, that was possibly one of the grossest things I have ever done. I have also had epic fails of nutrition and body management which has seen me on the side of the trail hurling my guts up quite spectacularly numerous times (you can read my UTA report involving that if thats something you want to hear about!).

IMG_0622.JPG

My sports hydration of choice

My current nutrition is all about variety. I use TrailBrew (a hydration, electrolyte and energy drink) in bottles in the front of my pack so I can monitor my intake and make sure I am getting enough calories. I have water in my hydration bladder as well, so I can drink to thirst. I also eat a lot of different solid foods. My strategy is to eat and drink small amounts every ten minutes, throughout the entire race or training run. On any training run that is 3hrs or longer I do this, to practise and to make sure my body is on board with the way I am doing things and the foods I am eating. I have a lot of different options because what is palatable 2hrs into a race may not be at 20 or 30hrs in. So what do I eat? For my recent race at Alpine Challenge I had about 5 different flavours of Clif Bar (Choc Almond Fudge is my favourite) but by half way through my race they tasted like sand and I was struggling to swallow them, despite rotating through my other options as well. I found the same thing happened at Northburn, so now they are relegated to early on in the race nutrition, yet another evolution. As a side note, I was so over them that the next morning after my race I practically through my leftover (unopened) Clif Bars at my pacer, Kirsten, as I didn’t even want to look at them. The rest of my race food is made up into ziploc bags of food portioned for an hours worth of calories, usually divided into 6 pieces to have over an hour – the less thinking I have to do about what I’m needing to take in out there the better!

IMG_0625.JPG

Nutrition for 100 miles for me

For Alpine Challenge those bags had apple slices (added to the mix after having an apple from an aid station high up on Cromwell Station during Northburn), fresh pineapple pieces (I stole that idea from my friend Liv), potato chips (the food that settled my stomach at UTA), Vegimite and butter on white bread with no crusts (I crave salt in latter stages of the race), Vegimite, avocado and lime juice wraps (its a weird combo but it works!), Snickers (they really satisfy!), Mars Bars (they help you work, rest and play) and M&M’s. I tend to leave the chocolates for the latter stages of the races, they give me something to look forward to food wise and they are great for when I really need a sugar hit. I also carry jelly beans, in case I need a real quick sugar boost but can’t bare to eat chocolate (it has happened!). I will also use bits and pieces of aid station food and on the really long races my crew has food for me that isn’t portable. I have had mouthfuls of noodles, clear chicken soup (salty and delicious!), fruit and nut chocolate, coffee (I love coffee!), bananas and oranges. Unfortunately I can no longer stomach watermelon during races after a few gross incidents.

 

Prerace food

The only other food related thing I wanted to share was my prerace food. Mostly it isn’t that different to what I do every other week. I don’t carb load at all. I figure if what I ate through training worked, why would I change that in the lead up to my race? After all, the purpose of practising my nutrition in my long runs is to mimic race day and that includes my prerace nutrition as well.

The only big change I make is that 3-4 weeks before a really long race I take caffeine completely out of my diet. I run all of my morning runs fasted anyway, but I miss my post run coffee during that time! It also means no chocolate for a few weeks, but I do enjoy them on race day then. The reason I drop caffeine is, partly because its a prerace habit, partly because it means I sleep better (I have a very low caffeine tolerance) and partly because it means I can enjoy a good hit in the race when I really need it. I try and wait until I am in the last quarter of a race and then I will have some chocolate covered coffee beans or a strong coffee, (the one I had at 102km in at Alpine, with double cream was DIVINE!!!) and it gives me a good kick to get me going in the harder stages of the race.

As for my prerace meal? It’s really simple and boring. Roast chicken, with roasted veg of all types and some salad on the side. It’s nourishing, it’s comforting and it gives me everything I need. I also mimic this in training, having a similar meal the night before my longer training runs.

Post race? Ahhhh. The amazing and tasty cheese toasty. I seriously dream about them before race day as I love them and try not to have them that often. Washed down with a couple of cold chocolate milks. It really is simple and delicious. There is also the celebratory meal, once I’ve slept! It usually involves steak and oysters, usually bought by my ever supportive parents, although I do wonder if its just an excuse for my dad to have oysters…..

IMG_0675.JPG

Typical post race celebration meal

So that’s my training life on a plate. Like I said, this is what works for ME right now. It is always changing, I am always trying new stuff. I think people can get a bit evangelical about what they eat and try and ‘convert’ people to certain rules and diets. Likewise, in the pursuit of getting better we can like to think that if we eat the same way as someone we can get faster, go further, climb higher. In my experience it’s all a big experiment, it’s just as well I love food and am happy to try new things.

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

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 10.46.46 am.png

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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 10.48.27 am.png

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).

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 10.49.26 am.png

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?

Upping the Ante

When I started my journey in the world of running I was somewhere in the vicinity of 90kg. I’m not really sure how much I weighed as we didn’t own a set of scales.

When I realised I couldn’t even run the 200m to our property gate without stopping for fear of dying I knew I had to do something. On the recommendation of some friends I joined Michelle Bridges “12 Week Body Transformation”. With the combination of a very low calorie diet and a high intensity program of cardio and weights I quickly lost weight, a lot of weight. Unfortunately though I was of little use to anyone after most sessions as I suffered from severe exhaustion as a result of so few calories and a body adjusting to, what seemed at times, the punishment of exercise. I also took the increased activity as an excuse to reward myself with alcohol. My youngest had now weaned, my partner worked away all week and I was depriving myself of the thing that I used to deal with my emotions – food, so alcohol took its place and then some.

Not the healthiest existence, but from the outside it looked like I was getting on top of my weight and moving more, so what did that matter.

Once the 12WBT finished, I was left to my own devices. The alcoholism stayed, but I at least realised that the way I was eating was not sustainable. The biggest blessing was that over the course of the 12 weeks I had discovered that I loved running.

Without the money to continue with the Michelle Bridges plan, I turned to friends who knew about nutrition and running. My running progressed and I began to run farther and discovered trail running and races. My nutrition jumped around, I did strict paleo, Low Carb/High Fat and then settled on a cobbled together diet from what I read in books, internet articles and various sporting websites.

At my lowest weight, some 30kg lighter than when I started, I was faster than I have ever been but I don’t think I was truly healthy. I looked gaunt, I was slow to recover after big days and my drinking was now pushing over into my daily life.

Events were an excuse to drink as much as my body could handle, I would fast to increase the impact of the alcohol and I would think nothing of planning a 30min drive with the kids just to pick up a bottle of wine and vodka. Its not something I’m proud of, but it is my story.

Around this time I started a dialogue with some close friends. I knew my drinking was unhealthy but didn’t know how I could unravel myself from it. It was also around this time I found my coach. The regular routine of running was a comfort. The drinking however, continued. It took me over a year of attempts to get alcohol out of my life. In that time I learned that I cannot moderate myself with alcohol and I also learned how much good friends can help you and be there for you, when you need them.

During the process of eliminating alcohol from my life, I used food and drink (milo) as a substitute. I figured these substitutes were a lesser evil than alcohol. At the end of the Coastal High 50 in 2015 a friend made a comment about me drinking chocolate milk while everyone else wandered the field with beer in hand. My reply “Yep, thats how I roll!”.

 photo FE69F011-77E8-4625-9A03-E8B28D5E034B.jpeg

Mmmmm – chocolate milk!

Of course, like everything, chocolate milk is great in moderation, something I don’t seem to do well. So I again jumped back into the world of online diets, downloading programs that would work for awhile but didn’t seem all that sustainable. By now I had a good basic knowledge of food, nutrition and fuelling, but felt I was missing key elements. I trained for and ran my first 100k and another 50k. Meanwhile my weight slowly increased, I tried to remember that fuelling my body was important and that starving myself for the sake of decreasing my weight would likely be detrimental, but in the back of my mind I wanted to be better and fitter and more and I knew my nutrition played a part.

After my last 50k, I spent most of my recovery time trying to work out where I was going wrong. Why was I gaining weight? I was also reading a lot on running (as you do) and there is that whole thing of the less you have to carry the faster you get, to a point. As anyone who follows me knows, I’ll take any increase in speed I can get.

So, I talked through my thoughts with my hubby. He was, of course, worried about me going back to my previous unhealthy weight and also about the toll it would take on my training, as I had just started training for my second 100k race. He suggested a nutritionist or dietician might help, something I had talked about before. My thought processes about getting professional help for my diet were sadly similar to what I went through with getting a coach. It seemed somewhat indulgent, plus isn’t that something only elite athletes need and do? I sat with the idea for awhile and after another few weeks of no shift in weight and feeling like I was doing everything I possibly could to improve my performance, I approached my running coach for his thoughts and also contacted my strength coach to see if he could help. We decided it couldn’t hurt.

A few weeks later I saw a dietician recommended by my strength coach. I prepared myself to be told that I had to completely change what I was doing to get results. I also felt really nervous, it feels like this is the last little thing I can do to influence my running. It probably seems silly to those looking in that I go to such lengths, particularly when I’m nowhere near the front of the pack. It really is hard to explain why I do expend so much energy on trail and ultra running. Maybe its just that it brings me such joy, I feel driven and compelled to do everything I can to be the best I can be, even if that ends up being mediocre.

So, it turns out I was mostly on the money with my nutrition. Working with how I eat everyday, the dietician moved around a few elements to aid recovery, reduced some key foods and increased others to give me the balance she feels I need. I left feeling excited that I could do what I need without becoming unhealthy again but also nervous.

Its scary when you feel like you’re truly putting everything you can into it when you toe the line, but I figure I only get this life so I may as well live it the best that I can. So, I am upping the ante. I am taking on Northburn 100k in 7 weeks and I hope to be the absolute best athlete I can be by the time it rolls around. I am ridiculously excited, as always, and very nervous, but feel I am truly covering all the bases that I can think of this time round and thats the best I can do.

It is the Community as much as the Running

I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Trail Runner Nation, last week and it got me thinking about my own journey of running and what has kept me going. Yes, I love running in the bush for hours on end, I love feeling strong within my body and challenged by what is without, but it is the community that keeps me engaged in the sport as a whole.

It seems a little strange, I guess, that a sport that sees me running for hours and hours, mostly alone, has such a strong community feel. This past year I feel like I have been blessed to experience this community from every possible facet. In my head I have tried to categorize these experiences, but the easiest way to share the highlights of my community is chronologically, throughout the year. These are, by no means, the only times community were part of my sport. On training runs and races and even outside in everyday life, in fact almost everyday I will be touched by our awesome community in one way or another. Things like sharing a photo on social media, asking a trailfriend for advice about a problem you’ve had, or sharing directions to a waterfall with a fellow runner. I have even had short little messages just asking if I was ok when I hadn’t popped up on strava for a few days. It all counts.

In February of this year I went to my first overseas race, the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon. I was travelling with a group of runners, but being from the bush I only knew a few of the group, mostly from a handful of races and social media. There is an inclusiveness with most trailrunners. We were all here to run the same race so yeah, come along to the pub and have some lunch, hey where do you want to go for dinner, want to grab a coffee in the morning? Even out on the course there were cheers of encouragement from people I barely knew and many good friends were made, in a trip that barely lasted 5 days. Even now we seek out each other at events to say hi and catch up on our lives in between.

In May I took on my biggest solo challenge to date at UltraTrail Australia. My community of trail friends rallied before the race had even started. Friends volunteered to keep me company on long training runs, into the night and through holidays when they could have spent time with other family and friends. There were messages back and forth of encouragement from friends around the globe. I borrowed gear from a dear friend who had never actually met me but with whom I chatted to regularly via social media. During the race, a woman I have come to think of as my big trail sister, rang me the moment she knew I was struggling, to offer me support and help me work through the problem. We have met in real life less than a handful of times, but barely a week goes by that we don’t chat. There were hugs, high fives and shouts from people I knew and some that I didn’t, offering support, help and encouragement. Not to mention the messages of support that popped up on my facebook each time I made it through a checkpoint, unbeknownst to me at the time. Then there was the finish. I still get teary whenever I talk about it. To hear the cheers of my trail friends as I crossed the line at 6am, after each of them had run their own races in the hours before, is something I will never ever forget.

In July I was honored to be on the other side of an event as support crew in the gruelling 96km Kokoda Challenge. I have completed the challenge myself and know how important support crew is. This was my second time crewing at this particular event. There is a special kind of energy when crewing for a long event for a team. There are long pauses of waiting, not sure of what may be happening out on the trails, then frenetic energy of heading to the checkpoint, setting up, the bustle of dealing with your team as quickly as possible while doing everything you can for them and then its pack up and wait to go to the next meet point. We had a team of 4 support people, so we got to know each other pretty well over our 30+hrs together, plus we met and chatted with other support teams and there was the cheering on and offering of assistance to other groups as they passed through each checkpoint. Standing at the finish line waiting for our team was one of the longest waits I have experienced and holding my dear friend Sarah moments after she finally completed Kokoda on her third attempt rivals the feelings I felt crossing my own finishline at UTA.

In September I was once again able to “give back” a little to my community as I volunteered at a local ultra. I say give back, but my experience probably gave me more than I gave to the participants. As course marshall at the main creek crossing at the Wild Earth Coastal High 50, I got to see many members of the community pushing their limits and enjoying the trails. It gave me a great perspective of my own experience in races. I was lucky enough to share the experience with my youngest son and he probably said it best when he said he loved volunteering because “helping people and making them smile made him feel good inside”. He was handing out the red frogs so got lots of smiles!

Community has been able to expand to not just those physically present in the moment of our events and training thanks to technology. In September I was able to cheer my big trail sister on from a far as she ran her first 100miler in the Glasshouse Mountains and a few weeks ago I watched many friends compete in races of various distances at Blackall. Through tracking, text messages and phone calls my community was brought together, through triumphs and tribulations we shared our experiences. Thanks to Instagram, Facebook and Strava, I can now share my often solo and remote running with friends, both near and far. I don’t feel alone in my running.

This past weekend I raced what is likely my final event for the year, I also celebrated my birthday. I arrived at the race to be greeted by familiar faces, smiles, hugs and surprises. After the race there were more hugs, I was joined by friends (both from the trail community and life in general) to wander a favourite trail and share food. I am forever grateful for finding my community, my tribe in trail runners. Every time I run they are with me, in my heart and in my head. They are the impetus to continue when the going gets tough, they are there when things go wrong and they celebrate the triumphs with me, most of all. If you are part of my trail community thank you for making this thing called trailrunning so special and such an important part of my life, and if you aren’t yet a part of my community I’d love you to join me.

You can follow me here on my blog or over at:

Instagram

Strava

Perspective and comments from random strangers

On Monday I headed out to the bush for my usual long run. Arriving at my start point, a campground at the local national park, just on sunrise. I was surprised to see just one camper set up, being a long weekend I had expected a full house, but I didn’t pay it much thought being more focused on warming up and heading off before it got too hot.

Beautiful morning for a run

Being my long run I hadn’t set myself an easy task. I am currently training to take part in The NorthFace 50km event in the Blue Mountains, so typically my long runs involve elevation and plenty of it. As well as about 800m of elevation (both down and then back up again) and 2/3 of the run being on awesome single track, what I didn’t know at the time, was that I was running on a sprained ankle.

Even the bridges are single track only

I love running in this particular forest. It is where I first started trail running. I kind of feel like I’ve grown with the forest a little. Each time I come back there are changes, creeks running that haven’t previously, huge trees across the path, fungi on particular steps.

Colourful fruits on the tracks

There are also familiar markers, the creek crossing before the steep ascent, the gnarled root at the top of a flight of stairs, the strangler fig that always catches the light in the most beautiful way, no matter what time of day. I have had beautiful runs here, I have had amazingly fast runs and I’ve also had runs where I have broken down and sobbed with only the trees to hear me. It is a space that is very dear to me.

A shaft of light that makes you stop and appreciate your surrounds

Monday’s run was what I think of as a good solid run. I wasn’t breaking any speed records but I was going nice and steady. I was doing a route I have done before but had changed it to first descend into the valley and then after some “undulations”, as my coach calls them, I would ascend back to the top of the mountain. This is because in TNF50 the second half of the race is all pretty much ascent.

About three quarters in it got tough, the ankle which I had, unbeknownst to me, sprained 5 days earlier began to hurt. I was also hitting the steepest part of my ascent and my heart rate was meaning I was hiking more than running (I am currently doing low heart rate training, something I will no doubt discuss in the future). Whenever I have to hike for prolonged periods head games start, so by the time I got to the top of the mountain it was hard both physically and mentally. I was feeling pretty down on myself as I ran into the clearing signalling the campground where I had started.

I looked up to see my truck and saw that the lone camper had woken and was watching me as I ran across the grass. I forced a smile and gave a hello. He shook his head, smiling and exclaimed “well isn’t that something?!?”. I laughed, a little wary, not sure what he meant and wandered over to the truck starting my warm down as he asked “so did you run all the way to the bottom and back up again?” I answered yes, but bit my tongue before the “slowly” bit came out, knowing he didn’t need or want to know. “Wow….. You must do this a lot then?” For some reason that question floored me for a moment. I answered yes, but in my mind he had struck a chord. He reiterated “that really is something” and we bantered some more about our reasons for being in the bush and the trails I’d just been on as I warmed down, then I said goodbye as I left, done for the day.

I think I forget sometimes that a lot of people don’t do this kind of stuff. Heading out into the bush, alone, for a 3hr run is astonishing to some people. I am surrounded by people who either do that sort of thing every week or who support me so unabashedly that it normalises it. Those words from that random dude, taken aback by this woman charging out of the bush after running down the mountain and then back up again made me feel like maybe I’m doing ok. I’m no Anna Frost, Rory Bosio or Deb Nicholl but I’m out there doing it and I whole heartedly love it.

As for the sprained ankle? Well, its given me some perspective as well and made me realise just what it is about running. It’s got nothing to do with how fast I go..

I love it here