Doing a double

The rules of running a good marathon are pretty clear. Train consistently for a long period of time, gradually increasing your intensity and distance before tapering off for the final two or three weeks. Don’t try anything new on marathon day.

Yesterday I ran the Dunedin marathon, my 20-somethingth marathon – I really have no idea how many I have done.

I was blase about the whole thing, treating it more as a supported training run preparing me for a bigger goal, back to back marathon distances I am running in February as part of the High 50 Challenge, a fundraiser for the Mental Health Foundation.

The final three weeks leading up to yesterday, normally the taper, I ate crap and logged weekly distance of 100k, 100k, and 80k. My final run was a 15k beach rub at tempo pace on Wednesday.

Oh and a hilly 10k road race in which I logged a PB on Saturday.

What??

This was my plan. To run the two events back-to-back but not worry about the time. I wore my Garmin but taped the screen. I could hear the kilometres tick over but not see the time. If I looked I would see average pace but my plan was to run by feel.

Governor’s Bay to Lyttelton is a handicapped race. I was setting off 21 minutes after the slowest and 10 minutes ahead of the young gun men. I felt good and probably ran at an intensity of about 70%. I couldn’t believe it when the results were published and I was 10seconds faster than last year. For some reason I consistently set my 10k PB on this challenging hilly course.

My running buddy and I “iced” our legs in the sea for a few minutes, donned compression tights and drove back through the tunnel to pick up another runner. Then it was a five hour drive to Dunedin.

We arrived at our motel, blobbed a bit and walked into the city centre to a nice Italian for a pasta feed. This place had gluten free pasta as an option with all dishes. It was delicious.

We all piled into the one bed in the lounge to watch the All Blacks just beat the Spring Boks and then it was bed time. I had an early start having to be away from the motel by 6:30. Mike and Rodger were only running the half.

It seemed a long night. I don’t sleep well before or after a marathon.

After the usual breakfast of toast, peanut butter and banana plus two cups of coffee Rodger drove me to the start. His achilles was playing up, tweaked the previous day. He didn’t think he would be a starter. It was a stunning morning. Cloudy with the rising sun lighting the cloud and glassy sea. The harbour drive was picturesque. I was looking forward to a scenic run and quite relaxed about the journey ahead.

We kept driving. It was a long way. Finally we found a parked car or two and a row of portaloos. This was the start. Quite an understatement really. Rodger abandoned me. The cloud had dropped. The sun has vanished and it was drizzling. What view!

I made friends with a man and his mum who had ab empty back seat. Three buses arrived and disgorged the other runners. People had a lot of clothes. I had left my gloves in the motel, had not thought about a thermal layer or arm warmers, but did had a sexy black plastic bag to keep me dry-ish.

But eventually it was time to line up. I took my plastic bag off and joined the other 194 people. A man said go and we were off.

I still had tape on my watch. I was to run again by feel. Obviously i was feeling good going through the first 2k in just on 10minutes. Someone was calling time. We settled into a rhythm. I was with a group of about six. I tucked in behind them. It was drizzling quite steadily but there was no wind to speak of and my hands soon warmed up.

At 5k time was called again, 24 minutes something. I still felt good. I stayed with my bunch. We were running in our own zones. Everyone was quiet, you barely heard breathing except for a stocky young man who was lumbering along. I had met his friend in the toilet queue and knew they were uni students in their final year and this was their first marathon.

We had a few hills. At 10k I took my first gu. My time was 49 minutes something. And we hit the head wind. The dizzle changed to light rain. It got hard. Our group was still running together. We heard that our uni student was called Bruno as he had supporters on the course.

We were also picking off other runners. One by one reeling them in and cruising past.

It is a long way up that harbour. The wind was relentless. I felt ok but wondered how long I could keep a sub-5 minute pace. Soon it was just Bruno and me running together. I have to admit that I photo bombed most of the photos his supporters took of him!

Half way and time was called again 1:44:06. I had my second gu at 20k. At 26k we finally turned around the head of the harbour. Having the wind at our back was a huge boost.

At 28k we joined up with the half marathon runners. Psychologically this is inspiring as we passed so many. Round some industrial areas and then along a cycle-walkway up the other side of the harbour. My third and final gu was at 30k.

I was tired now. But the end was in sight, literally and figuratively. Every so often I caught a glimpse of the cranes at Port Chalmers, my destination.

I dropped Bruno here. He did really well for a first marathon, finally finishing 5minutes behind me.

I knew I had a final hill to climb. It never seemed to come. And there it was. Short, sharp and steep. I put my head down and just got over it!

Less than 2k to go. One final rise. Someone sprinted past me – it was the first person to pass me since about the 5k mark. I had nothing left. Down the hill round the corner and where the hell is the finish line.

Another person sprinted past. Whatever. I could see the line. I crossed it. 3:28:38. One minute off a PB. I was spent.

Another soak of the legs in the sea. A shower. Compression tights and lunch – mince on toast and a pint of cider!

We spent the afternoon at the Sports Museum and then went to prize giving. I was fourth woman overall. Third in the masters category and first over 50.

I won a massive bag of chocolate (it is the Cadbury Dunedin Marathon), a bag of sports gear/clothing and a cheque for $200. Best. Haul. Ever.

Then another five hour trip home.

It was a great weekend. I can’t believe I pulled off two awesome back to back runs. I am tired today. My feet ache – racing flats do that. But I am not very stiff at all. The soaking in cold sea and compression tights does make a difference. My club buddies did well too. Iain, Mike and Dave all finished the half. Rodger was a DNS with his achilles and Dave’s son Liam pulled out at about 18k. It is fun to spend a weekend with likeminded people.

Next up is the Greta Valley relay this weekend. It doesn’t stop.

PS I am running in the High-50 challenge to raise money and awareness for the Mental Health Foundation. Please support me by donating here.

Sick of being sick

Day 25 of feeling unwell. Almost a month. Of snot. And phlegm. And coughing. And spluttering. Of a husky voice, and for six days no voice.

Three and a half weeks of feeling just off. Tired. Blah. Headachy.

And I am sick of it.

Most years I escape the general bugs and flus which go around. I am unlucky if I get more than one cold, and I usually throw it off without too much trouble. This year though it lingers. Each day I wake and it is just the same.

I had earmarked today as being the day I would feel better, the day I would begin my build-up back to full fitness. I would go back to the gym for my weight sessions, go back to yoga. Next week I would get back into the pool.

But I woke up feeling tired, coughing, and really unmotivated.

The day is dawning and it looks grey. Dull and grey. A lot like I feel.

At least I am still able to run. I did take a full seven days off and have not done any speedwork in all of August. But I did race on Saturday and it went well. It was not a PB but it was no slouch of a time either. I had had that event in mind all year for a crack at going under 20 minutes for 5k. I didn’t even try for it, just happy to run ahead of the competition to take out Canterbury Road Champion (50 years plus) for Canterbury.

Back to today. I will concentrate on home based jobs. Hopefully the sun will come out. I am meeting my running buddy just after lunch for two hours on the hills. It will be conversational pace.

Like I said, at least I can still run!

Dirty girls

I like it rough. I like it dirty.

And that is why I like cross-country running.

Yesterday’s race was muddy. I had run on the course a few weeks ago and it was wet. I ran again on Wednesday, doing a quick lap in spikes. It was muddy.

And then it rained. For two days straight.

I took my 6mm spikes out and replaced them with longer 9mm ones. A good move.

Yesterday morning I woke up feeling queasy. I actually think it was nerves. Twice now this has happened before a championship race. I had my horse trough sized bowl of porridge, with natural yoghurt and sliced banana on top. And I pottered around. I went to Merivale Mall which was hosting a food tasting market. So many things to try and buy. I had none. Discipline is knowing what you want more than what you want now. I wanted a good race.

Start time was 2:05. Andrew dropped me off just after 1pm and I trudged across the park to our tent. Underneath my puffer jacket, my club fleece, my club dryfit, my merino and my thermal. Beneath the trackpants and running tights there was a lean mean running machine. I kept some of the outerlayers on and did my warm up routine. I ran the course working out the best lines for harer ground. Going wide was the better option as the inside corners were churned mud. The juniors race first.

I did have a momentary panic when using a portaloo and it lurched violently. I thought I was over earthquake stress, but at that moment if I hadn’t just been, I would have crapped myself. I thought there had been a massive earthquake and I was going to die, trapped in a portaloo, drowned in yucky stuff. But no, it was just off its rocker. Freaked me out big time.

It was cold but not as cold as was predicted. There were intermittent rain showers which were better than the snow flurries predicted. And it was time to strip down and check. Singlet. Number. Timing chip. Shoes laced extra tight.

Start time. A big crowd as every woman from 15 years up was running together. Under 20s were running 2 laps of 2k, senior women 4 laps and us oldies were running 6k.

And we were off. I was in the middle of the pack. The first 150m is downhill and I passed a lot of people. I tried to remember not to go out too fast as three laps could be tough. Across the bridge and the first uphill slog. It doesn’t look much but it is deceivingly tough. This year because of the wet conditions the start finish area had moved. This uphill is usually our finishing straight. It was very soft and very wet. I ploughed through and passed a few more. I could see easily I was in third position for masters women. It was where I expected to be. Just hold that spot. Round the bend and downhill for a bit. Use these straights to keep strong but recover. The long two part uphill is coming. Andrew called out “Go Robyn”. Lots of people were calling out to me. Telling me I looked strong. I felt good. I felt strong.

The next uphill. Again sodden and soft. Quite muddy. I picked off a few more runners. Younger girls. A sharp s bend and then the real hill. Thick thick mud. I kept to the left and dug in. This is a strength of mine. I am strong in these conditions. I passed another couple. Round the corner and down hill. Keeping it strong but easy. Across a gravel path and then we weaved through the flax bushes. The choice was slippery mud or slippery mud. It was 100 m of a muddy path. It could all turn belly-up here. I was through. Across the water course, round the corner, the second water course, round the corner and first lap done.

We set off again. I am feeling good. Just keep going. I see Fiona ahead of me. Fiona is five foot nothing of pure running machine. But lately she hasn’t been running as well as previously. I have been hot on her tail a lot recently. I passed her at about 2.5ks. I felt like apologising. She said go girl.

I attacked that second hill again. There were a couple of blue and orange singlets ahead of me. Our junior girls. Again I don’t like to pass them. I think it must be demoralising to be passed by someone older than your mum!

But I did. Sorry, girls. I am having a great day.

Second lap done. Everyone is really cheering me. Giving me good advice. Telling me I was looking strong. Looking awesome. I felt it too.

That last hill though. It was tough. I try not to look behind me in a race but I do use the corners to see who is where. Fiona was coming back. Could I hold her? I dug a little deeper even though my kegs were a bit tired. Less than 1k to go. I glanced back as I crested the hill and rounded the bend. She was about 80m back. I had this. I flew.

Across the line. Second masters woman (over 35) and first over 50. A nice visit to the top of the podium. I am beginning to like the view from up there.

But I felt good. I have a training plan. I have an eating plan. I had a race plan. And they all came together.

My legs were caked mud from top of my socks to bottom of my shorts. It took some scrubbing to get them clean. I imagine my shoes and race gear will take some scrubbing too.

Now it is Sunday. My medals are hung. My day of glory gone. Back to the training plan, and even though it is dark, cold and I hear rain, the plan says 25k.

So be off.

I-runner

Tonight (Wednesday) I committed to a race, the Winter Warm Up. A 10k hilly trail run in the limestone hills of North Canterbury. Sponsored by Waipara Springs Winery

For me it is a race with a difference. I am going to subdue my competitive nature and support Mike instead. Mike is blind. I met him a couple of months ago through Achilles International. In Achilles there is no political correctness. Mike suffers from a congenital condition. He can see light and shapes well enough to run unleashed but his peripheral vision is non existent. He also struggles with depth and perception, unable to judge distant or speed of other people.

We run well together. My brain gets very tired as I struggle with my left and right. I can’t use the fall-back of pointing in the direction I mean. Mike gets very tired as during winter he can only run during the weekends. It is too dark before and after work for someone with limited sight.

The weather forecast is foul. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is someone like Mike gets to run in an event just like so many other people.

It is Sunday afternoon now. We ran this morning. It could not have been a better morning for it. The frost was hard and heavy but it morphed into a brilliantly sunny day with no wind. That is the thing about weather – it just does what it does regardless of what the forecasters predict!

A group of six congregated at the Foundation for the Blind and we car pooled from there. I love driving through Canterbury with the snowy alps outlining the western horizon. We live in a special place.

Wrapped up warm in layers of hats and gloves and puffer jackets we joined the many other runners and walkers registering, and queuing for the toilets. My feet were frozen solid but as the sun slowly rose the frost was melting. I made the brave choice to discard my thermal long sleeve, beanie and gloves for the actual run.

It was time for us to go. Mike had decided we did not need to be attached. He was a little anxious about running with a large group of people so we set off at the back. We agreed he was to set the pace, I would run to his left, unless it got tricky in which case he would pop in behind me and follow.

Our plan worked brilliantly except when Mike was diligently following me to allow faster runners to pass on the first uphill. I forgot to mention the fence had a top strand of barbed wire. He jokes about gashing open his arm and haemorrhaging profusely but in actuality he snagged his tee shirt.

We walked most of the uphills and quite a few of the alongs. About 3k from the end I pointed out some distance shiny reflections which he could just see. That was the finish. I also said there were a group of women wearing matching fluro tops calling themselves the cupcakes. We were not going to be beaten by them.

With a bit of final motivation and the threat of a cupcake closing in on us we crossed the finish line in 1:13.

Mike, you’re a bloody legend.

It was fun. Mike will be sore and stiff tomorrow. There were some good uphills. The course description said three and there were three decent sized hills, but another half dozen or so smaller or sharper ascents. Each of those was followed by a matching descent which kills the quads if you are not used to it. The scenery was stunning with long vistas of farmland dotted with sheep, pitted with limestone quarries, traversed by a freight train. Blue sky. Snowy hills and mountains. If we could have seen the coast my day would be perfect.

The race pack included a lovely lunch put on by the Amberley Rugby Club – hamburgers, sausages, hot soup and baked spuds. Sitting in the sun with a group of people celebrating their achievements, eating scrummy hot food. What a way to spend a Sunday.

Thanks to Barb Millar, from Events with a Purpose who allowed me (and Donna who guided Petronella with Fletcher the guide dog on the 10k) to run for free. Awesome event. Awesome day. Might have to come back and tackle the 20k next year. Mike, you have been warned!

(Unfortunately I am having trouble linking websites today. So no links to Events with Purpose, Waipara Springs Winery, or the Winter Warm-up Run.)

A sight to behold

This morning I was treated to an awesome natural wow. It is one I get to enjoy many times a year but it still amazes me everytime I see it.

The Southern Alps, covered with a fresh dump of winter snow, as seen from the top of the Port Hills.

I run most Sundays up there, for about 90mins. It is usually an easy 15k of conversation, the hardest part being keeping the conversation going as we keep an even pace up and down the undulations.

The Alps which reach a height of more than 3000m lie 70 west of Christchurch. Most days I catch glimpses of their majestic glory. But to see such a wide panorama from the many vantage points on the Port Hills. Wow!

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Picture credit

Cover picture credit

A Great Kiwi Road Trip

“Deviating from a plan brings opportunities unforeseen.”

I am sure that someone famous must have said that or something like it. Otherwise feel free to quote me!

Andrew and I are on a bit of a road trip. Destination Queenstown via a race I had in Cust. For those unfamiliar with New Zealand’s geography this involved us driving north west from Christchurch to Cust then heading South via the Inland Scenic Route which runs along the base of the Southern Alps.

We stopped in Geraldine to buy some food for dinner. We were spending the night en route, somewhere unbeknownst to me. While looking for the supermarket Andrew mentioned he would like to go to the Barker’s shop. The Barker family are an institution in this area, famous for their fruit products. As a child we always stopped at their farm shop as we travelled south for our annual skiing/skating holiday.

The current shop was amazing. Barkers products and their new product line, Anathoths. I wanted it all. We were the only customers. It was a dark damp Saturday evening, just before closing. Andrew and I were discussing what to buy, tossing comments back and forth across the shop.

I noticed a man. He was listening to us. As we were discussing whether Robbie would like Anathoth’s Lemon Curd as a present, the man came over.

“You must try it. It is the best.” Well, of course he would say that. He was the current owner, Michael Barker.

We spent the next 45 minutes tasting his products. He asked our opinions on marketing. Told us the stories behind his new products. How Anathoth’s is made with ingredients his grandmother would have used. That is their mission statement. Barker’s is to make the best product available. Andrew ended up going back to the car to get homemade Quince Jelly. Michael was impressed with the depth and clarity of colour but said it was a little overcooked.

It was a wonderful and unexpected delight. We left feeling enriched, and with a massive box of purchases. One I am keen to try is is unsweetened blackcurrant juice concentrate which he says adds pro-oxidants to the body which when taken two hours before vigorous exercise promotes recovery. Mmmm like the sound of that!

Straight to the supermarket to buy some cheeses and crackers. I found a local cheese, Talbot Forest Geraldine Aged, a strong cheddar which teamed well with the Spiced Apricot Chutney.

We ended up staying the night in Fairlie at a new accommodation place called The Musterer’s. Very luxurious and very well set up. I especially like the wood heated hot tub. The perfect way to soak tired muscles after a hard hilly muddy race.

Andrew is getting good at organising wee treats away. He might be a keeper after all. Soon it will be light enough for me to go for a run. As I said yesterday if we stayed the night in Fairlie I was definitely going to have a Denheath Custard Square for morning tea, I had better go for a long run. I can see my typical athlete’s diet being abandoned for the next four days.

Marathon number 20 – I think

I woke this morning at 3am. A little cold. Needing to pee. And wondering which snorer I would smother first – the husband or the cat. I chose to read my book instead, and let them live for another night.

By 6am I was up starting my pre-race routine of two strong cups of coffee, two bits of gluten free toast with peanut butter and squished banana. And hopefully enough visits to the toilet to empty all systems.

Just after 7am I woke the snorer who could drive and he took me to my friend’s house, within walking distance of the start/finish line of the Christchurch Marathon.

It was -2 degrees.

We went for a short warm-up then wearing just our race clothes we walked to the start. I was running in my usual club singlet and shorts. I had a kiddie’s polyprop on as a top layer and some mismatched mittens and a throwaway beanie.

I met a number of people I knew before the start. It was not long before we were called to the start line. We found other runners from our club and lined up with them. It was cold. But the air was still, the sky clear and the sun was shining brightly. Another brilliant winter’s day in Christchurch.

The pre-race briefing warned us that there was ice on the route. I realised systems weren’t quite as empty as I had hoped. Too late. We were off.

I have to admit I felt uncomfortable and looked for any tree or something I could dive behind, but with the full marathon, half-marathon and 10k all starting together there were a lot of spectators.

My club members had all agreed we would run our own race. So even though I was with them I did not feel tempted to talk.

1k down. We turn onto McLeans Island Road and there is the brilliant vista of snow clad mountains in the distance. The sight of three turquoise portaloos was even better. Dammit! They are all occupied. I waste about 2minutes here but the relief is worth it.

My club mates have gone ahead. I run my own race. Pace is a little faster but I feel relaxed. I tossed my polyprop at the start and I am starting to feel warm.

4k done. I start to see the first 10k runners heading back.

5k and the 10k turnaround. This is always run by our club. High fives. A few slaps on the back. And encouragement. I drop my hat and gloves. First water stop and my water is frozen.

We set off around the back of the airport and turn up a side street which is lined with trees.

Ice! Very slippery. I choose to run on the grass. It is harder underfoot but I am faster because I am not scared of arsing over.

8k and the half marathoners peel off to run their loop. More people I know. Vic and I were having a slightly risque email exchange yesterday which ended with him called me a tease and me calling him a cock. As I ran past him, he grinned. “Tease.” Right back at you with “cock”.

On towards Yaldhurst Road, more ice. Robbie’s old hockey club are on drinks here. More people I know. Down Pound Road and there is my brother in law out the front of his lifestyle block with Ugly, his pet sheep.

Ryans Road and here is Sam Wreford, the eventual winner, miles ahead of second place. We turn around up here and so I was counting my place. I had me sitting at fourth woman in my age group, give or take a place. (I missed one person coming in fifth). I also saw Rodger and Guy from my club who were also running the full.

I was feeling good and starting to pass a few people. In fact from here I was not passed by another woman.

The ks are ticking over quickly. I went through 21k in 1:44 which was pretty much on target for 3:30.

I signed up for Christchurch the night before I ran Rotorua. I had to do it then to get the cheaper rate. But my plan was if I ran well at Rotorua then I would just run, with no goal, Christchurch. In honesty though I was hoping to do under 3:30.

A race official car drives past. One of my club mates is driving it and has a loud hailer. Nothing like being told at full volume with your full name being used to hurry up.

We loop around a bit and had to back up Icy Road. It had not thawed out at all. The race car is back giving me a breakdown of where my teammates are. Sam runs past again on his way to the finish.

Back down to Yaldhurst Road, past Malcolm and Ugly. He tells me to run fast or he will set the sheep onto me. All I can think is roast lamb!!

Back past Vic who promises me a kiss at the end. I am still waiting! We head out to do our loop and from the turnaround can see who is ahead. I am still passing people. Those poor buggers who are walking, or stopping to grip their legs as cramp takes hold.

Past Vic for the final time. He has his camera out and I run at it making silly faces. I may live to regret that. Back down Icy Road for the third and final time. This time around the drink station the frozen spilled water is treacherous. It becomes too much for me, all this changing pace. I suddenly get very tired and sore. It is 8k to go. I can see the airport and hear the finish. I want to be there.

I keep running. The first runners pass me since 15k, a quartet of men. I catch one up further on, but I am spent. My pace drops from 4:50ish to 5:10. I push it. It hurts. My quads are tight. My feet burn. My butt and hamstrings are tormenting me.

I count down the ks.

We round the back of the airport by the nor’west runway and then head back onto McLeans Island Road. I see Rodger. He is only 500m ahead. I dig deeper. There is not much there.

I pass a friend walking her first half marathon. Well done, you!

3k to go.

We turn into the actual airport. Apparently this was a bit thrill seeking attraction. I couldn’t care less. 2k to go

I am not gaining on Rodger. I can’t.

I bump into my pal with the loud hailer. And another club mate. “Come on, Robyn. Go faster. You can catch Rodger.” I stopped. Turned around. Stuck my hands firmly on my waist and yelled, “FUCK OFF.”

Everyone laughed. And from the two comedians I could hear “DQ. Offensive behaviour. Disrespect for officials.” Idiots!

Last bend. Finish. I couldn’t sprint. I think it was the slowest 500m I have ever run.

I crossed. 3:31:03. Got my medal. Met Rodger. I wanted to puke. Lie down. Stand up. Walk around. Die. Puke. I felt awful. And sore. And stiff.

We staggered back to Rodger’s house where we were reconvening. I had a shower. And coffee. Eventually some toast and a banana.

After 90 minutes it was time to go back to the prize giving. I was surprised to find I had only come fifth. Oh well. It was all I had today. A little disappointed.

It is not yet five hours since I crossed the line. I have to get up and cook dessert for dinner guests tonight. Luckily they are members of my club. I am sure they won’t care that I am entertaining them in compression tights, ug boots, a bright orange polarfleece and a blue and orange striped beanie. Yes, I will be wearing my medal!

PS This is rough and unedited.