Category Archives: Events

Riaza Trail Challenge – mountain running

I like to do things that scare me. And mountain running definitely falls into that category. While we’re in Spain, I wanted to join a race, and while reading Trail Run magazine I came across the Riaza Trail Challenge. It looked absolutely terrifying. I love running trails which also means running a lot of hills, but ‘mountain running’ just sounded so difficult.

So, I signed up, toying with the idea of doing the 40km, but eventually caving in a little to my fears (thankfully) and signed up for the 20km race.

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Elevation profile for the 20km race.

We booked some accommodation for the weekend, and I set to training. My training was spot on. I was already in good shape, so I set to upping my distance. We’re also travelling and doing a lot of walking in general, so I knew I could easily manage 20km. It was the elevation that was going to be the problem. I had run this sort of elevation before, but not at this altitude, and I hadn’t been training for hills until I signed up. We were staying in a lot of places that didn’t have a hill to be found, so I made sure I included some stairs on each run. In the last week before the race, we stayed in Asturias, which is full of mountains and hills, so I found as many big ones as I could during that week. Unfortunately, something upset my stomach that week too, so my running took a bit of a dive. It still wasn’t good by race day, but I was determined to complete the race, so pushed on, making sure I stayed well hydrated.

We arrived in Riaza on Friday afternoon, and had to wait to check in to our accommodation, so headed into the centre of town to pick up my bib and t-shirt.

On the way, we could see the mountain that I would be running. It looked high. So high. Scarily high. You couldn’t see the very top because it was covered with with a cloud cap, but even then, it looked high. I was now really, really nervous. It wasn’t the distance that made me nervous, only the height. I felt strong in my body, and I knew I could do it. I just knew I’d need to fight my mind the whole way up.

Later that day the cloud cap cleared and we could see the mountain more clearly. Since I knew my body could cope, why was I scared? The more I thought about it rationally, the more I realised that I had done everything I could to prepare and I was going to be able to make it. My goal: to make the 3 hours 30 mins cut off time.

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Preparation

Race morning I felt great. I got up early, did some stretching, ate some toast with peanut butter and banana and headed off to the start line to watch the 40km & the 60km start. Unfortunately I missed it by 5 minutes, but getting there early gave me a chance to soak up the atmosphere and get excited. There’s a real energy around the start of a running event, and it is one of the main reasons I do it. I love solitary running in the wilderness, but running at an event gets the adrenaline pumping like nothing else. I couldn’t believe I was really going to do a mountain run. In Spain!

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20 mins until start time

My husband and kids arrived to see me off at the start line, and I could see my kids were worried. They told me they didn’t want me to get lost on the mountain, and that they were worried I’d come face to face with a bear or a wolf. We assured them that bears and wolves don’t live in these mountains and I gave them a kiss thinking ‘I don’t really want to get lost either’. I had the GPS map with me. I’d be okay.

As the race started, the excitement was palpable as competitors were shouting, cheering and dancing. So much more exuberant than the start of a race in Australia. This continued for the first two kms of the race where people would randomly cheer, or clap. It made it so exciting.

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Everyone lined up in the chute ready for the start

I was armed with a very specific plan of which inclines I was going to walk, and estimates of times at each kilometre. It all went out the window at the very start of the race. Another lesson in the values of plans, but the also the value of being able to abandon them. I had anticipated running the first two kilometres to give me a good starting pace, but there were so many people on the single trail, that it was bottlenecked. Everyone had to walk, and walk at a very slow pace and the trees were so close there was no overtaking to be done. I found this frustrating, but the random cheering and clapping kept me feeling good.

I powered up the first 5 kilometres. I felt really good. I ran where I could and walked with a strong pace where I needed to. I chatted in Spanish to a lady in front of me who was doing the 11km. She told me I was crazy to go as high as the 20km. I felt she was right.

At the 5km drink stop I was right on my target pace, but was already feeling the burn in my legs, and I knew this was the steepest part coming up.

Letting some people pass me, I slowed down. I was feeling the shallower breaths required by the altitude (I was already higher in altitude than I’d ever been before). I took each step carefully and slowly. I am glad I took this approach as it got me to the 7km mark with good spirits. I paused for some breaths on the way up. Each time I did, I knew it would slow my pace down, but I knew there was still a lot of steep climbing to go. I started hearing that voice in my head, ‘you can’t do this’, ‘you’re already exhausted, don’t keep going’, ‘just stop and rest awhile’. I listened to it, and said to myself ‘you can do this’, ‘you’ve done harder things before’, ‘you did everything you could to prepare’ and ‘one step at a time’. I repeated all of these like mantras and slowly made my way up. I had to constantly battle the demons in my mind. As the incline got steeper and the air got thinner, I had more of these mental demons come and face me. I started feeling like this was the hardest thing I had ever done, couldn’t understand why I had signed up, and that mountain running really wasn’t my thing. People overtook me. I kept climbing. The tree line ended and the large rocks appeared. I kept climbing. The air chilled and I kept climbing.

At the first peak, the views opened up and I started to feel truly alive. I stopped to take a couple of pictures. What’s the point of climbing a mountain if you don’t stop to appreciate it for a moment?

The air up there was fresh and clear, the views were spectacular, and I felt like nothing could stop me now. The final ascent was exhilarating and the burn in my legs and the huffing and puffing couldn’t affect me anymore. They were just a part of being, and no longer caused any doubts in my mind.

Finally, right at the top, there was a man, all rugged up agains the wind and the cold. In my limited Spanish, I understood him to say ‘You made it to the top, well done. All you have to do now is go down!’ I thanked him profusely. A quick look at my watch showed that I wouldn’t make the cut off time. I would have to run the last 10kms faster than I had ever run 10kms before. And I was already tired. Knowing that I would miss the cut off time released me from needing to keep a certain pace, however I didn’t want to be there all day, so I started running.

The first part of the descent was a steep technical trail, very rocky, and covered with loose shale. I took it slowly. I wasn’t so hooked up on pace that I needed to injure myself. I picked my way amongst the shale and when the track widened up a little, and the shale was less, I started to pick up the pace. I kept a really fast pace and reduced my average pace so far from 14 min/km to 11min/km. I felt good.

However around the 16km mark I hit a wall. I was feeling really tired. I walked some flat sections and tried to recuperate, and kept eating my snacks at regular intervals. I ran/walked a few kms, keeping a 10min/km pace but feeling really done in. The trail followed a fast flowing river, and even though I was tired, I was able to enjoy its beauty.

Soon, I started being overtaken by the 40km and 60km lead runners. They were all looking strong. I was impressed. They shouted ‘vamos’ – ‘let’s go’ and ‘venga’ – ‘come on’ if any of them saw me walking and it really got me going. I ran the last two kilometres feeling mentally strong (but physically worn out) and I really think it was due to the encouragement from these people who had run so much further (and harder) than me.

As I turned into the village, someone yelled to me ‘ya lo has hecho!’- ‘you have already done it’, and they were the best words I could have heard. With a renewed burst, I sprinted towards the finish line, and my kids joined me in the last few metres to cross with me holding my hands.

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Drinking a beer, looking at the mountain

I didn’t make the cut off time of 3:30, but made it in 3:47, and was really happy. It was the hardest thing I have ever done (let’s leave childbirth out of this) and I was so proud of how I managed it mentally and physically. I’m always telling my kids that bravery is when you are scared of something but do it anyway. I was the definition of brave that day.

Watching the rest of the runners come in while drinking a beer in the sun,I thought to myself, that’s it. I don’t need to do a mountain race again. Good. Tick. Done.

Two days later we went for a walk to the base of the mountain. It doesn’t look so big, I thought, I’d like to do that again.

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A few days later

Cleland Trail Running Championship 24.66km

A 25km trail run. As I signed up, I said to my husband, ‘this is crazy, why do I want to do this?’. I had never run further than 21.6km and the elevation gain on this run was going to be over 700m. This was scary.

Even after training hard with a lot of hours on the trails, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do this run. Self-doubt is a powerful force. Standing at the starting line, I still wasn’t sure.

I’m a slow runner, I don’t ever claim to be fast, and it’s not why I run. As I’ve said before time and again, I run because I love it. My favourite places to run are trails, but all my long trail runs have been excruciatingly slow. To that end, I set myself the goal of finishing this event before the cut off time of 3 hours 40 minutes. This would be challenging for me. The first 10km was mostly downhill but the last 15km was a steady climb, with the most brutal part, dubbed ‘Doug’s Hill’ just after the 20km mark.

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Cleland Trail Running Championship 24.66km course

As I stood on the starting line, I was full of self-doubt, but I knew that if I kept to my race plan, I would be able to finish. Whether that would be within the cut-off time was another question.

My plan was to run 75% and walk 25% even in the early stages, so that I left some energy in the tank for the gruelling climb at the end. As I started off, it was so tempting to throw the plan out the window. Having everyone around me running full pelt at the start made me think I should keep up, but I continually said to myself ‘run your own race, stick to the plan’. This proved very useful in the later stages… but more of that later.

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Approximately 4km in on the Wine Shanty Track. Photo courtesy of Michael Slagter.

My gorgeous family turned up at four out of the five drink stations to cheer me on. This gave me an incredible boost, and I cannot thank them enough. I first met them 5km in at Greenhill Road, where they were cheering and waving ‘go mummy’! Nothing beats that.

The first 10km were fairly plain sailing. You would hope so, being downhill. I had also been working on my downhill technique during training, so I could move at a fairly good speed. I covered the first 10km in 71 minutes even with my walking breaks.

Down at Waterfall Gully, a few of us stopped to help someone who had fallen down. She wasn’t in a good way, but thankfully had someone with her to help her out. As we continued on, a few of us commented how glad we were that it wasn’t us.

As the ascent of Mt Osmond started, the sun started beating down a little harder, but I enjoyed the view of the city, sky and ocean. It was on the long climb up to Eagle on the Hill that I started to be glad of my run/walk plan. I felt strong walking up the steeper sections and managed to pass a number of people who seemed to be hitting a wall.

At the 20km mark, it was my turn to take a tumble. I landed well, thankfully, but my elbow was bleeding. I took a moment to wash it out with water, then started the climb up Doug’s Hill.

This was by far the hardest part of the day: a steep climb, requiring hands and feet to get up. Many people were stopping half way up (I also took a moment), and as you turned a corner, it just got steeper. I passed a few people on the way up, and we all acknowledged to each other how hard this was, and that we believed we could make it.

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Close to the finish line. Photo courtesy of Michael Slatger.

One thing I can say for trail runners is that they are always there for you when you need it.

Doug’s Hill had slowed my time down incredibly, so I knew I had to keep my pace up from there to the finish line.
There was another 4km to go, so I tried to ignore my bleeding (and hurting) elbow and kept up with my run/walk for the rest of the race.

As I came down the home stretch, my daughter and son ran the last few metres with me across the finish line. No better way to finish.

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Coming across the finish line with my daughter & son. Photo courtesy of Michael Slatger.

Official time: 3 hours 38 mins 08 seconds. 2 minutes under my goal time!

I’m very happy with my time, but most of all I’m feel a great sense of accomplishment. I looked up at the hills this morning on my way into work, and thought, ‘Yep, I did that.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first Half Marathon

Giving my daughter a high-five at the start line. Photograph courtesy of Jillian Dunn.

I’m feeling an immense sense of achievement this week, as last Sunday I ran my first Half Marathon at the Northern Argus Clare Valley Half Marathon.

Preparation:

My preparation for the race was exactly as I had planned. I had been eating well, didn’t drink alcohol the week before the race. I ran 19.1km in my training so knew I could do the distance. My biggest concern was that my shoes were going to hold out, as I’d developed a hole in one of them and it looked like it could blowout any minute.

Race Day:

My goal for this run was to get across the finish line. My secondary goal was to run the 21.1km in less than 2 hours 45 mins. For the first 10km, I felt amazing. Strong, fit, and in my mind was completely clear. I was enjoying the running. The course follows the Clare Valley Riesling Trail. It’s a steady climb until just before the turn around point, where there’s a downhill (which of course turns into a climb straight after the turnaround.

The course is an up and back course along the Clare Valley Riesling Trail.
The course is an up and back course along the Clare Valley Riesling Trail.
Struggling but still trying to smile. Photograph courtesy of Jillian Dunn.

After the turnaround, I was still feeling good. It was a bit of a struggle to get up that hill, but I did it, and was happy when I made it to the top. Unfortunately at the next drink station, I accidentally picked up a sports drink instead of water. That was a big mistake. A few kms up the track my stomach was turning over and over, and I felt like I was going to be sick. I couldn’t even contemplate taking my next bit of energy bar that I was due to eat. I couldn’t even contemplate the water in my water bottle. I don’t drink sports drinks, and it was something different that my stomach wasn’t used to.

I pushed on, even though I was feeling so ill and made it to the finish line in 2:30:12! I was so happy with my time. I really struggled for the last 5km, but had enough in me to sprint the last few metres into the finish line. I really couldn’t have done this race without my fantastic support team! My parents, husband and kids were there to cheer me on at every road crossing. It was always a big boost to see them standing there waving and cheering. Also, a big thank you to all the strangers along the course with witty signs. 

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I did it! Photograph courtesy of Jillian Dunn
1km running team. Photograph courtesy of Jillian Dunn.

One of the great things about this event is the 1km kids run. Both my kids were proud as punch at finishing their own race!

Gear:

Shoes: Asics Gel-Phoenix 5

(no blowout thankfully, but my treat for finishing is to buy myself some new shoes!)

Socks: cheap Bonds sports socks

Clothing: Lorna Jane crop top & running singlet, K-mart running shorts

Water bottle: Nathan Handheld SpeedDraw Plus

Nutrition:

Water

Sports drink (I accidentally picked up the wrong cup. BIG MISTAKE!)

My favourite energy bars

My daughter’s first race

After last year’s City to Bay run, my 6 year old daughter asked if she could do it with me next time. So this year we entered the 3km together. There was a small part of me that wished that I was running the longer distance, but I really wanted to foster her desire to give it a shot.

We did a 2km run together each weekend for 4 weeks in the lead up, most of which involved leaping, hurdling or doing something other than running. But that was fine, she was enjoying being out there and running (well, sort of).

At the start line
Waiting at the start line…

She was very excited at the start line. We talked a lot about making sure we drank enough water beforehand, and not going out too fast. I was a bit worried she would sprint the first few hundred metres and then not make it to the finish line. I also told her that she could walk whenever she felt the need.

Before the race, we watched the 12km runners coming past and she loved pointing out all the people that had dressed up. Eventually we lined up for the 3km start, and we were off!

She started at a good steady pace, and kept saying ‘Mummy, this is SO much fun’. We walked through the water station, but she was keen to keep running.

At the 2km mark, I told her that she could pick up the pace a little if she wanted. And she stepped it up a notch. I wasn’t sure if she could hold that pace, but she held on strong to the final straight, which was about 400m from the end. At that point I said, ‘if you want, you can run as fast as you want to the finish’. She sprinted and I really had to push to keep up with her. She sprinted all the way to the finish line, and ended up running the 3km in 24 mins.

It’s hard to see in the picture below, but she finished with a very large grin on her face…as did I! I couldn’t have been prouder. She gave it her all with determination, good humour and she’s keen for more. She’s asked to do the 6km next year, and her brother (4 years old) has asked to do the 3km, so we’ll see how we go.

Crossing the finish line
Crossing the finish line in perfect sync

I was never into sport of any kind as a child, and I love that I can share my new-found love of running with them. Hopefully it is something they will take with them throughout their lives.

What I learned from my 10km race.

So, I recently completed a 10km race with a goal to finish under 60 minutes. I trained hard and was in a really good position to be able to make it.

On race day I felt confident, and strong. In the first 4km, I followed a guy who was keeping a very steady 6 min/km pace so I thought I’d follow him for a while. My plan was to run 6 min/km pace until the 8km mark, where I’d try to pick it up a bit.

At the 4km mark, the pacer started to walk, so I overtook and fell into a steady pace that felt good for me, but now I was checking my clock every few minutes to see how my pace was going. I was a slave to my watch and my splits, and I started seeing the splits get longer and longer, until I was running at a 6:20 min/km pace.

The last few kilometres were uphill with a strong salty headwind, making the going tough. I started to realise that my goal for sub 60 was slipping away. I picked up but was feeling exhausted and unable to keep up the pace.

This is the point at which my mind started to play tricks on me. I started questioning why I started running in the first place, thought that maybe I should give up running and find another way to stay fit, and worse of all, started to think that I should pull out of the race (at the 8km mark!).

The problem was, I wasn’t having fun. I decided to stop looking at my watch, and just run as well as I could for the next two kms. My pace picked up and I ended up running the 10kms in 61 minutes, only 1 minute off my goal!

After the race, I realised that I had run a personal best time for that distance, however I was still in a bit of a funk. I didn’t enjoy my runs for the next week.

Only after running a nice long 10 km run in the Adelaide hills a week later, I remembered why I run. I don’t run for pace, I don’t run to win.

I run because I love the feeling of being outdoors, I love to explore new places, I love the momentum, I love feeling like I can achieve something I never thought possible and I love that runners’ high that I get at the end.

I had forgotten to have fun that day, and that’s why it was so hard. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop participating in events, but I’ve realised that I’m not going to set myself time goals, as they get in the way of the fun.

From now on, I run races because I love to run.

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2014 Summit to Sea 18.6km

Today’s event was the 2014 Summit to Sea social run organised by the South Australian Road Runners’ Club.

The map and elevation profile can be seen below.

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This is the furthest I have run, and my right knee had been a bit stiff this week, so approached the race with caution, and a few nerves. The first 5km were great, I ran at the back of the pack trying to maintain a pace that I’m comfortable with, partly to keep some energy for later, but partly to see how my knee was going to cope. 20140105-201521.jpg

The next 5km I was feeling good, and started overtaking a few people who had slowed to a walk. By this point the scenery had moved into a narrow gully with a creek. The trail was narrow but exciting, and it kept a smile on my face. There were many creek crossings that slowed my pace a little, but it was fun leaping over the creek, and onto rocks.

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At the 12.5km, there was an intense climb that tested my resolve. Although I had been feeling great up to that point, I felt like I wasn’t ever going to reach the top, and my legs were burning in every muscle. I refused to lose my gait, and powered to the top with a strong walk. On the way down the other side, I felt amazing, and picked up the pace in enjoyment. The thought of dipping my feet in the sea at the other end was keeping me going.

As I turned the corner at the 16km mark, my cheer squad re-energised me, although at this point, we were heading directly into an intense headwind that made it difficult to keep moving. I walked to regain my energy, but then managed to finish by running (very slowly!) the last kilometre, where my kids and husband cheered and celebrated with high 5s. It was lovely to see everyone smiling at the end, including myself. Having a dip in the ocean, despite the choppy conditions, finished it off well.

Stats

Total time: 2 hours 35 mins 07 secs

Average pace: 8 mins 19 secs per km ( a minute slower than my usual pace, but not bad considering the extra distance)

Calories burnt: 1459 kcal

Weather conditions

Temperature: 18 – 20 deg celsius

Wind speed: up to 24km/h

Wind gusts: up to 35 km/h

Nutrition

2 hours before start: 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter

1 hour in: 50g raisins

Immediately after: 1 orange & two homemade energy bars

Grazed for the rest of the day.

Gear

Bag & hydration: Osprey Mira 26 Women’s Hydration Pack

Shoes: Asics GT 2000

Socks: cheap Bonds socks from the supermarket (no blisters!)

Cap: old work one I’ve had for 12 years

Clothing: Lorna Jane 3/4 pants, sleeveless running top & bra.

 

Events & races

2017

Riaza Trail Challenge (Spain) – 20 km 3:47:17. Goal: to finish before the cut off time (3:30:00). Goal missed, but was very happy with the achievement of a first mountain run. See post here.

2016

Cleland Trail Running Championships – 24.66 km 3:38:08. Goal: to finish before the cut off time (3:40:00). Goal achieved. See post here.

Bay-City – 4.5km 31:58 mins. Goal: to run with my daughter who was raising money for charity. She raised over $800 for The Smith Family. Very proud.

Dolphin Run – 10km 1:05:46. Goal was to run at a steady pace and finish strong. Goal achieved. Placed 29/40 in gender category. Happy with that. Moving up the pack. See post here.

2015

Kuitpo Forest Trail Run – 21.6km 2:45:26 Goal: to finish (especially after some recent health issues). Goal achieved. Really happy with my time for a trail run.

McLaren Vale – 10km – 1:04:00 Goal: I was treating this as a trial run for the Kuitpo run.

Mt Crawford Challenge – 12.5km 1:26:01 Goal: under 7 min/km pace. Goal achieved (6:53 min/km).

Clare Valley Half Marathon – 21.1 km 2:30:12. Goal: to finish. Was hoping to finish under 2:45:00 so was really happy with the result! See post here.

2014

City to Bay – 3km 24 mins. Goal: to run my 6yo daughter’s first race with her. Goal exceeded! She loved it, and it felt amazing to cross the finish line with her. See post here.

Dolphin Run – 10km 1:01:00. Goal was sub 60. Missed by 1 min.

Summit to Sea – 18.6km 2:35:00. Goal was to finish. Goal achieved.

2013

City to Bay – 12km 1:22:00. Goal was to run start to finish, no walking. Goal achieved.

Planning

– 2017 – Ultra….?