Reflections from a Year of Uncertainty

Gold Coast Marathon

Gold Coast Marathon

Toeing the line with Commonwealth Games and Olympic champions; standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of Kenya’s top marathon runners. This was an experience I didn’t think would ever happen. Yet here I was in 2015, starting in the elite filed in the Gold Coast marathon. The wall of runners in front of me was dominated by some big names in distance running and I was standing in their shadow, about to set off on my own 42.2km journey. I thought back to 2013, running into the MCG at the finish of the Melbourne marathon, covering the distance in a new PB of 3:08. Throughout 2014, I continued on the path of PBs, the road of podium finishes and eventually, first place wins. The year finished on the same wining streak with a massive 12 minute PB marathon time of 2:56. Suddenly, I was up near to the pointy-end of the running tribe and I wasn’t quite sure what to do or how I managed to get there.

Gold Coast Marathon

Gold Coast Marathon

Chasing PBs
When I stated running marathons in 2010, it was enough to simply finish. I never saw it as a race against others; it was a run against the clock and myself. Nobody else mattered. The marathon was a bucket-list distance and something that I didn’t expect to continue to improve on. But as the years went by and I traded in the white runners for fluro racing flats and the cotton tights for lycra shorts, I continued to chip away at the time. My goals started to shift and somewhere along the line, the reason why I ran got lost amongst the fluro, the lycra and new expectations.

Enter 2015 and five years after I finished my very first marathon. Suddenly the smooth road of PBs had stopped and in its place was a mountain of struggle, personal pain and a nagging foot injury. Where a half marathon at sub 4min/km seemed almost effortless the previous year, my legs now felt like they were wading through a road of thick, sticky treacle. A half marathon PB of 82:40 in 2014 slowed into 86 minutes by April the following year. I entered into a vortex of meaningless races that I cared little about, obsessed with trying to chase a PB, to redeem myself of the disappointment and frustration born out of the result from the previous race.

Canberra Half Marathon, April 2015. Second place but in a world of pain.

Canberra Half Marathon, April 2015. Second place but in a world of pain.

Gold Coast Marathon (July 2015)
And so I decided that my big ‘A’ race of 2015 was to be the Gold Coast Marathon. After 12 weeks of consistent training, I felt confident of chasing down a PB. Going out at 4:05/km, I felt good and stepped up the pace at around the 15km mark. I think I lasted another few km before the pain train caught up with me – earlier than usual – and I unwillingly hopped on board. My time was 2:56:50 and I finished 11th female; a respectable time and place by most standards, yet not finishing in the top 10 and unable to obtain that PB time (short by just 51 seconds), I felt like I had failed. Finishing a marathon as the 11th female certainly wasn’t in my reality a couple of years before but now it felt as though it was no longer good enough.   As my times got slower, the legs and heart became heavier and the clarity that running once brought turned into a cloud of uncertain expectations.  Suddenly, the purity of running was lost. Instead of feeling alive, strong and free, I felt week with disappointment and trapped by frustration.

Melbourne Marathon (October 2015)
Yet still I pushed on and continued the battle to try to win a new PB. The Melbourne marathon was supposed to be the race to redeem myself of an ‘average’ year of ‘average’ races; to prove something (yet I have no idea what that something was supposed to be and who I was supposed to be proving it to). It was only during the final 4-week block of training that the passion and love of running started to come back. My mind became slightly more focused, the legs a little lighter and pace a little quicker. Although deep inside I knew I hadn’t prepared enough for a PB, I sill forced myself to chase an unachievable expectation and with that, I allowed self-doubt to dictate the race.   Ignoring an on-going foot injury, I went out strong and dug deep, holding my own for about 32km before that pain train came to scoop me up. You know the feeling; the once springy legs become tight and dull and the quick, light steps become slow and heavy. Then self-doubt enters your mind and spreads through like poisonous venom sending you to a cold, dark and lonely place. Or something like that.

I felt my PB slipping away from me but somehow held on to finish in 2:58:52. I was shattered. It was almost 3 minutes slower than my PB, set on the same course last year. As the hot, salty tears started to roll down my face, I realised that despite my self-doubt I’ve had all year, I still managed to finish in under 3 hours. Twelve months ago, I would have been doing cartwheels about that, not standing there weeping like a baby.

It’s at that very moment – when the thin line that separates us from giving up or digging deep – we realise this is the reason we run.   It’s not just the challenge to get a new PB or a higher placing. It’s about being able to dig deep and move forward when things get tough, despite the physical hurt and emotional torment. It’s about finding strength within yourself to get over the line.

sun run

Looking Ahead
As you develop as a runner your goals begin to change and certain expectations get put on you. For me, 2015 was a struggle to find balance; to continue to challenge my body and test it’s strength but learning to leave behind unrealistic expectations. Finishing off the year with a mountain race and a new adventure in the Kepler Challenge made me realise that as I enter into a new running year, I need to let self-doubt give way to the empowerment that running brings and to chase the adventure, not just the PB!





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Kepler Challenge 2015


It was 3am; I’d been tossing and turning in bed for most of the night, legs twitching, back aching and head pounding. I’d been slipping in and out of sleep, dreaming of falling over the edge of a mountain and then waking up just before I hit the ground. Each time I rolled over, I’d wake up with a new pain searing through my legs. It was my body’s way of reminding me that I had just ran the Kepler Challenge; my second ultra and the most scenic race of my life.

Six Months Earlier
I singed up for the Kepler Challenge earlier this year, it was a race that I high up on my bucket list. Held in the small Apline village of  Te Anau in New Zealand, the course takes runners along the 58km Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.  After spending most of this year targeting the marathon, I was really excited about getting my feet stuck into some trail running again. Unfortnatley, an on-going battle with plantar fasciitis became a lot worse after the Melbourne Marathon in October and my training for kepler hadn’t been as consistent as I’d have liked.

Course Profile

Course Profile

Flash forward a few months and I found myself on the start line, feeling slightly unprepared but really excited to be running with some of the great names in trail and ultra running, including male course record holder Martin Dent, David, Byrne, Ruby Muir and Beth Cardelli. The depth of field was strong and this year, female course record holder Zelah Morrall was also back to defend her title (5:23:34 which was set in 2003). The air was charged with anticipation and adrenaline.

Kepler Track

Kepler Track

Start – Brod Bay (5.6km)
The first 5.6km section of the race takes runners onto some singletrack, trough lush forest and under a canopy of dense trees. This is a fast, fairly flat section of trail, which meanders around the shores of Lake Te Anau. I was surprised how fast the pace was being set for the first 2km and saw Beth Cardelli, Zelah Morrall and Ruby Muir speed off at lightning pace. Unsurprisingly, this was the last time that I saw Ruby and Zelah but as most runner’s started to get into a good position on the trail, the pace settled down slightly and I caught up with Beth for a fairly comfortable run to the first checkpoint at Brod Bay.

Brod Bay

Brod Bay

Brod Bay – Luxmore Hut (8.2km)
Just after Brod Bay and for the next 8km, the track starts up a steep 800m climb towards Luxmore Hut. Earlier in the year, I had hiked this section with my parents so I knew that it was a pretty steep climb and although runnable, there was still a long way to go in this race, so I decided on a walk/run strategy and watched as Beth slithered off up the hill, making it look easy! I then started a battle with Jean Beaumont, who I recognised as one of the top ten finishers from Tarawera 100k back in February. Jean ran the whole way up the hill but I managed to catch her along certain sections and we enjoyed a game of cat and mouse for the next few kilometres.

The trail eventually becomes more rocky and exposed and finally, the climb brings you out into the open wilderness with spectacular views of Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains. I continued the game of chase with Jean for a while longer and we both reached Luxmore Hut together, coming in as 5th and 6th female. I usually like to hold back and pick up places towards the latter part of a race but I still felt really good and decided to try to stay on Jean for the next surge past Luxmore Hut; big mistake. My race plan was to stop at Luxmore to catch my breath, grab a gel and put on my wet weather gear, but the adrenaline got the better of me and I pushed forward, ignoring the signs that it was getting colder and the light drizzle was turning into heavy rain. Soon after Luxmore Hut, my training partner Danny ran past and checked if I was OK, warning me that I should put my rain jacket on, but determination and ignorance masked any kind of sensibility and I continued to climb; sans jacket.

aerial shot

Luxmore Hut – Hanging Valley Shelter (8.5km)
The more I climbed, the colder I became and battling against the icy rain, the legs were struggling to find their rhythm. I saw Jean disappear up the hill and I eventually stopped and made a few attempts to put on my jacket.  It was tough to get going again but I decided to continue more conservatively along this next section as we still had about 400m of climbing to do against the bitter rain and a howling wind which was threatening to blow me off the side of the mountain.  It was also along this section — towards Hanging Valley shelter — that the course takes you along the ridge line, with a sheer drop either side of the trail.  The views from here are mind-blowing, with the mountains raising like giants from the blue lake, 1,400m below. The mist danced off rainbows which appeared over the mountain peaks; it was like something from a fairy tale.   Appearing from the side of the mountain, a chopper flew within inches over our heads as we ran along the ridge and lifted the adrenaline up with it. It was incredible to experience the views and the wildness and to share this with other runners.  Despite the cold and forgetting that I was in a race, I was enjoying myself and was in no hurry to get down from the ridge.


Hanging Valley Shelter – Iris Burn (6km)
Quite a few girls seemed passed me along this section and by now I wasn’t sure what my position was but thought I was well outside of the top ten. My plan had always been to play to my strengths, which was to run the downhill hard and the final half of the race at a reasonably fast pace.  The descent from the mountain towards Iris Burn Hut is a series of lots of twists and turns down some extremely steep switchbacks.  These were a lot of fun but it took me a while to find a decent pace; going down here too hard meant I would fall off the edge before I could make the turn.  I managed to pass one girl on here and was surprised to learn that I was coming eighth by the time I got to Iris Burn Hut. But I knew I wasn’t really feeling it, the legs already felt dull and heavy, not what you need to run a fast, undulating 30km.

Iris Burn – Motorau Hut, Via Rocky Point (16.2km)
After taking some time at Iris Burn to take off the wet weather gear and for a much needed stop at the little girls room, I set off again towards Rocky Point aid station.  Although this section looks to be all downhill on the course profile, there were quite a few short, pinchy hills which I struggled with but happy that I could go hard on the downhill sections.  I felt good about my overall pace and even happier to pass another girl before Rocky Point and quite a few of the guys who had earlier flew past me up the mountain.

Kepler running

Wary of the girl who I had just past, I didn’t hang around for too long at the aid station. I can’t remember too much between Rocky Point and Motorau Hut but I didn’t feel great.  I’d been sipping on Tailwind and eating gels and chews for my nutrition but couldn’t stand the sweetness anymore. It was the first time during the race that I felt like I wanted to stop and it was actually a relief when I got to a hill and allowed myself to walk.  I didn’t expect this to happen so early on in the race.

Motorau Hut – Rainbow Reach (6km)
In seventh place but feeling a bit flat, I decided to take my time when I got to Motorau Hut and assess the situation.  My foot felt good and my nutrition had been going to plan.  I knew that the only thing preventing me from really being in this race was lack of preparation.  There wasn’t much I could do about that now, so I decided to hold on to a top ten position if I could and failing that, I was just going to enjoy the experience. And what other race can you get a freshly baked scone — still warm from the oven — other than in the Kepler Challenge?  The plainness of the scone and saltiness from the the butter was like eating a gourmet meal after five hours of gels and tailwind.

I felt a lot better after leaving Motorau and the next 5 km went pretty quick but each climb really hurt now and I knew I didn’t have too much left in me.  It was shattering to then watch a girl fly past me just as we were coming into the last checkpoint at Rainbow Reach, 10km from the finish.  Her pace was quick and light and she still looked fresh.  She was like a prancing deer and I was like a tired old elephant.  I knew I didn’t have enough in me to put any pressure on her and watched hopelessly as she put in the distance between us.

Final Stretch (10km)
After leaving rainbow Reach, the trail continues to hug a lake and you begin to finally feel like you’re on the home stretch.  I dug in as deep as I could, thankful that my foot still felt good.  Running along the soft valley floor was like running on a giant sponge cake, which helped my heavy elephant plod.  Eventually, I reached the “2km to go” sign and could hear the crowd and the voice over the tannoy, welcoming in the finishers.  With a renewed energy, I picked up the pace and even managed to pick off a couple more guys towards the final stretch.  Coming out from the forest and seeing the finish was a welcomed sight I crossed the line in 6:53:57 and as the eighth female.  However I knew that I wanted to come back and run this race again next year.  Partly because I think I have a lot more to give on the course and partly because the experience is well worth a repeat.

kepler start

My focus for this year was predominly on road racing and the marathon.  My training had been geared towards flat, speedy sessions and my body had suffered from relentless pounding on the pavements.  To finish the year doing something different was an amazing experience but one where I think I have more to give.  Kepler woke up my trail legs and I look forward to seeing what 2016 will bring.

Strava Profile

Strava Profile

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Demi Tour du Mont Blanc


Mid-way through 2014, I was drawn towards the idea of a 170km race through the French, Italian and Swiss Alps, set against the stunning backdrop of the Mont Blanc massif.  The race was the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc (UTMB); the jewel in the ultra running crown. However, qualifying for the race is almost as tough as winning a golden ticket into Wonker’s Chocolate Factory.  I was relatively new to trail running and the only ultra I had under my belt was the 45km Six Foot Track in Sydney’s Blue Mountains (a sprint by most ultra running standards).  With no hope of qualifying anytime soon, I decided to create my own UTMB, following the popular Trail du Mont Blanc (TMB) hiking track that most people cover over 10 days; I decided I could comfortably run it in 5 stages during the start of the European Summer, carrying my own supplies and spending each night in a mountain hut or in a valley.  The lure of trail running and the opportunity to discover the French, Swiss and Italian Alps saw myself another runner Ian, board a hellish overnight train from Paris to Chamonix, where we travelled to Les Houches and what would be the start of a 5 day, independent running traverse of the Mont Blanc Massif.


Les Houches, the start of the Tour du Mont Blanc

Day 1: Les Houches – Le Pontet (22km, 1,167m)
Setting off on a cold and wet morning from Les Houches, the pack was filled with the bare essentials; 1l of water, a sleeping bag, dry clothes, snacks, toothbrush, toothpaste, thermals and basic first aid, yet it felt like I was dragging a heavy bag of rocks up the mountain with me.  It took a while to find my trail running legs as I ascended up the long, steep 5km climb to the Col de Voza.

Lesson one; running around a mountain unsupported for five days means your bag will be heavy.

Once we reached the Col, the route became a steady, slightly undulating trail; peppered with some fun, open downhill sections where you could really stretch the legs. Despite the European drizzle, the thick fog which enveloped the valley cleared at times and gave way to some spectacular views.  Cowbells became a regular sound from the cattle that roamed the land through the valleys.

En route to Les Contamines

En route to Les Contamines

Making good time, we reached the commune of Les Contamines-Montjoie, a cute little town with a church square and row of boulangeries and cafes that were dwarfed by the giant, snow-capped backdrop of the Mont Blanc ranges.  Excited at the prospect of staying in this friendly little French commune for the night and to grab a hot shower and glass of wine, we stepped into the Information Centre to ask for directions to our pre-booked mountain hut.  My French isn’t great but I could still understand when the lady said, “ascenter le grand montagna“.  I roughly, and correctly translated this into “It’s a (stupid) long way, up the (crazy stupid) big hill”.

Lesson number two; never underestimate how long it will take to climb a mountain to reach a hut when the weather is against you.

Uncertain that we would make it before nightfall, the lady took pity and went out of her way to re-arrange accommodation in a gite (French holiday home) in Le Pontet at the edge of town, which was only a few kilometers away.  The gite was set beside a lake, which was shrouded by low cloud and surrounded by lush forest. After a slow, hilly 17km start, a hot shower and glass of red lulled me to sleep, full of anticipation for what lay ahead for the rest of this epic Alpine journey.


Le Pontet in Les Contamines, night 1

Day Two: Le Pontet – Refuge des Mottets (24km, 1,865m)
The next day saw us wake to more drizzle and spirits were further dampened by an old, niggling ankle injury that had been slowly chipping away at Ian and was now starting to get more serious.  But this was the start of an amazing 170km running journey through the French, Swiss and Italian Alps.  We were both crazy enough to start this journey and after just 24 hours, I wasn’t going to throw the towel in just yet.

We left the warm comfort of our gite at Le Pontet and started the steady climb up towards the Col de la Croix. The climb was steep and drizzle turned into rain, visibility was lost to a cloud of mist and the more we climbed, the more the legs burned.  But pain gave way to determination. A quick look at the GPS told me that we were now at 2,000m; we had covered 1,000m of elevation in 10km!  Unfortunately, the unseasonably bad weather meant any views were blanketed by the thick fog, making the trail look eerie by the time we reached 2,400m at the col.  Underfoot was a mixture of scree and rocks and the only thing I could make out was Refuge de la Croix du Bohomme; it was like warm beacon standing high in the distance, offering a safe haven against the cold and exposed land.  We put our wet runners and soggy socks by the fire to dry and enjoyed a warm bowl of soup and steaming mug of hot chocolate, grateful for the brief respite from the cold and wet day outside.

At 2,000m heading towards the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme

At 2,000m heading towards the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme

Back out in the rain, it took a while for the legs to get moving again.  There wasn’t too much running however, as the steep descent towards Chalets de la Raja was like a thick, muddy water slide.  Torn between treading carefully or making the most of some fast switchbacks, I chose the latter.  Of course, it was just a matter of time before I stacked it. Sat there in a boggy marsh of mud and rain, I decided there was no point in trying to keep clean and dry now.  Despite the mud and the steepness of the trail, it was amazing to see the chalets below us appear through the mist, which looked like a toy houses with toy cars and toy people. Once past the chalets, we continued onwards to a final steep descent, which brought us to the small valley of Les Chapieux.

Unfortunately, the steepness of the descent disagreed with Ian’s ankle, which by now was looking about twice the size of what it should be.  This was the first time that there were serious considerations about being able to complete the full circuit.  However, we continued on past Les Chapieux and up a fairly boring, winding stretch of road towards Refuge des Mottets.  This was a former dairy farm which had been converted into a charming chalet and next to it, a small paddock with a couple of horses.  By now, the rain had stopped and blue sky had broken through the cloud.  The fire had recently been lit in the drying room, so with wet jackets and socks strung up, it was time to settle into the small dining hall with a mug of France’s finest vin chaud and a four-course meal.  If this wasn’t surreal enough, dinner came complete with a concertina performance, put on by one of the chalet women.  It was like I had come through the fog and into a dream.  I was surrounded by mountains at 1,800m, completely lost to the wilderness,  yet I also slicing into a creamy brie and sipping on a smooth, velvety red.  This was civilisation in the wild.

Mottets 1

Refuge des Mottets

Day Three: Refuge des Motetts – Courmayeur (16km, 1,209m)
The thing about being in the mountains is that the weather can change so quickly.  What was a summer’s evening became a winter’s morning overnight and we woke on day three to a blanket of snow.

Day Three

Refuge des Mottets is dwarfed by the Col de la Seigne, the boarder between France and Italy, which stands at 2,480m. The start of the 600m ascent to the col is directly behind an old Cowshed-turned-dormintory building.  There was a lot of commotion amongst the hikers that were on a guided tour of the TMB, as you could barley see the trail which was now covered in thick snow.  Another 600m at the top and it would be a near impossible to traverse across  into the Italian village of Courmayeur.  The lure of crossing into Italy on foot was too great an appeal for me, so at the very least I decided we should give it a go.


The start of the snowy ascent to Col de la Seigne

The majority of the Summer hikers had chosen to have their tour bus pick them up and take them around to Courmayeur by road, so the steady climb towards the col was devoid of the ‘click-clicking’ of their sticks and clatter of their boots. The thick covering of snow absorbed any other sound and there became a calm deafness which descended the surrounding mountains, save for the crunch of snow underfoot.  This was supposed to be one of the best parts of the TMB with the guided notes promising that;

‘Arrival at the col is an eye-opener.  Standing at the borders of France and Italy views in all directions are magnificent‘.

However, the heavy snowfall masked any of these magnificent views but the stillness of the trail made the initial climb magical and other-worldly.

River crossing

River crossing

But as we rounded each corner and climbed higher, the snow became thicker and visibility started toying with me, like a magician playing tricks on his audience.  What looked like a large mountain hut in the distance with the promise of a warm fire and hot tea, turned out to be a corner of a small, insignificant rock, which was mostly covered in the thick snow.  The eyes started burning and I could only see pure white ahead and behind.  It was impossible to make out any of the trail which was covered in snow and whiteness hid any other would-be waymarkers.  With no way of knowing where the trail was or the direction of the col and with each footfall becoming wasit-deep, continuing forward looked like it was now out of the question.  Our tracks were being covered up by the snow as quickly as we were making them, so trying to back-track was even less promising.

Lesson number three; listen to those who are on a tour bus.

As panic and snow-blindness started to set in, a few of the hikers who had decided to attempt the climb started to come up behind us.  More appropriately dressed in their thick-soled waterproof boots and gaiters and with their sensible walking sticks — which I had previously ridiculed — they urged us to continue forwards with them.  It was like the blind leading the blind but strength in numbers made more sense, and so we each followed the other, completely lost on the mountain pass.

Snow Blind

Snow Blind

Luckily, one of the hikers had a compass and the other had a reasonably good knowledge of the trail and somehow we managed to locate the col ahead of us.  This marked the boarder crossing between France and Italy, usually an opportunity to pause for photos and  take in the views. The guide notes said;

Given calm settled weather, Col de la Seigne is not an easy place to leave‘.

But with the icy wind and numb hands and toes, frostbite became a genuine concern and so I half-slid, half-ran down from the col as quickly as the deep powder would allow a very slow pair of very frozen legs.

Val Veni, below col de la Seigne

Val Veni, below col de la Seigne

Once down from the col and a bit more sheltered, I could really start to appreciate the mountains which dwarfed me from all directions. It was a strange feeling of being so small and insignificant in the world, yet completely alive and free at the same time.  The snow fell on Val Veni, more gently than at the col, like a dusting of icing sugar on a Christmas cake. Finally, we reached Rifugio Elisabetta where we stopped for warmth and the best mug of rich, Italian hot chocolate that I’ve ever tasted! I would re-write the guide notes to say, ‘given wild, snowy weather, Rifugio Elisabetta is not an easy place to leave‘.

Despite the dry change of clothes and warm belly of hot chocolate, it was still bitter outside and we had another 18km to go before we reached the Italian valley of Courmayeur.  The conditions at col de la Seigne had added on a good couple of hours to the journey.  Leaving Rigugio Elisabetta, we continued the descent towards the valley floor and past the milky blue Lac Combal.  We had to resort to the ‘bad weather’ route to get into Courmayeur and most of the running was now on road.  Ian’s ankle had become a lot worse and things weren’t looking good.  As we were winding down the narrow road, a car which had zipped past us, came to a stop and in very broken English, the Italian driver — a little old lady with the kindest of smiles — offered us a lift.  There was still another 10km to Courmayeur and this offer was more than welcomed, although I couldn’t quite hide the disappointment that I felt as I knew the dream of completing the full circuit of the TMB was now out of reach.  I had only just began my love affair with this trail and her mountains, yet I knew it was already over.



And so we reached Courmayeur by car, a small town in the Aosta valley of Italy.  It’s very quaint and very Italian, with narrow winding roads and secret alleyways surrounding the Church Square, leading to gelato stores and pizzerias.  This would be our final stop on the TMB running journey, but we agreed that we would still complete the section from Courmayeur to the infamous Refuge Bonnati, named after Italian climber Walter Bonatti who was most notable for the first solo climb of the North Face of the Matterhorn.

Day Four: Courmayeur – Refuge Bonatti (13km, 2,025m)
It was the final stage and the most stunning section so far.  The snowy skies had cleared and the sun shone over the valley, it’s yellow rays kissing the peaks of the mountains.  The climb to the Refuge Bertone is an extremely steep series of endless zig-zags but the views at the top are spectacular; Courmayeur shrinks into miniature Leggo-town 700m below.  After Refuge Bertone, it becomes a more undulating and fast stretch of trail and this was the first time since day one that I felt I could open up the legs and let them free on the earth.  The trail is a balcony which runs adjacent to the Grande Jorasses, with the rock face offering an imposing but majestic backdrop.  I really enjoyed this section of trail and it was with disappointment that I reached Refuge Bonatti and the end of the run.  I desperately wanted to continue this journey, to explore the Swiss Alps and more of these impressive mountain giants.  Although the TMB journey had come to an early end, a fire had been lit in my heart and this was just the start of my love for running in the mountains.  I’m already excited to come back here, to play in and discover the secrets of the Alps.

Grande Jorasses

Grande Jorasses

Check out the whole route on Strava

Map and Course Profile

Map and Course Profile

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Central Coast Half Marathon

I always follow the same routine the night before a race, and the night before the Central Coast Half marathon was no exception; pin race number on shirt, eat a large pasta dinner, check kit about ten times, alarm set for stupid O’clock in the morning, check kit again.

Friends (non-running friends) think I’m crazy; why would anyone willingly sacrifice a few glasses of wine on a Saturday night and swap a lazy Sunday sleep-in for a middle-of-the-night wake up call, just to go and run 21.1km?  But you all know that it’s worth it once you’ve crossed that finish line, checked off another race and maybe even nailed yourself a new PB.

Central Coast Half

Flat, Fast and Scenic
Held at The Entrance—a small coastal town about 100km North of Sydney—the Central Coast Half Marathon certainly doesn’t have the large crowd support that you find in big city events.  What it lacks in atmosphere however, it makes up for with its scenic out-and-back route.  A flat and fast course, it offers runners a good chance to get a new PB and, with only 700 entrants the course spreads out pretty evenly within the first few hundred meters.

I have to be honest, I don’t usually like out-and-back routes. They’re pretty boring and repetitive and make that second half all the more painstakingly difficult–as if it wasn’t hard enough knowing that you still have another 10km ahead of you before you can drown yourself in a gallon of water.

Maybe it was running through the forest and along the water’s edge, but I didn’t seem to realise I was running the same part of the route twice, and it was good camaraderie amongst competitors running on the other side shouting their support.

Central coast half

Course Profile

Chasing a PB
Aside from hoping to nail a new PB (under 1:39) and possibly even trying for 90 minutes, I didn’t really have much of a plan for this race.  For marathons, I’m a big fan of running negative splits.  I did think about splitting the race pace between 10km and meticulously calculating what pace I would need to ensure a new PB, but that meant working out percentages, factoring in the heat and other potential likely variables that would have required the use of my brain.  I decided to throw all caution and calculations to the wind and just run!

Bloody Blisters and Blazing Heat
Possibly not the smartest move.  I ran a solid first half, averaging around 4:15/km–on target for getting 1:29. Then my brain soon caught up with my body and decided to let it know that it is not a machine but is in fact suffering from chafing, blisters and bloody hell, did I not yet mention how hot it was?!

The most disappointing part of this half marathon is that it is held at the same time as the 10km race, so when you reach the final 5km of the run you are held up with some of the mid-pack 10km runners.  It didn’t help that the water hose at the final drink station was facing towards the 10km runners (at their 3km mark) and away from the half marathon runners (at our 18km mark).  It was kind of like teasing the half marathoner’s with ‘here’s what you could have had’, and just made the heat even more unbearable.

Aside from the congestion at the end and the water hose facing the wrong set of runners, the event is pretty good as far as small community races go.  If you’re looking for a new PB and live relatively close to the area, it’s worth the effort.

Final verdict
Although I didn’t manage to make my 90 minute goal, I did manage a new PB and made it in 1:35.  Finishing up as the 9th female and 4th finisher in my age category, the run was definitely worth my 4:30am wake-up call, and the beer at the end was certainly worth the Saturday night sacrifice.

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From Tarmac to Trail

For almost two decades I’ve thought of myself as a pretty decent runner.  I’m certainly no Paula Radcliff or Joan Benoit Samuelson, but I always thought I’m pretty OK.  During high school I usually came in the top 3 for the 1500m.  Even throughout my drunken university days I ran a strong 10km in the college Harriers.  Throughout my mid-twenties I really found my niche with half marathon and marathon running; my legs can keep ticking over for miles as long as I pace myself properly.  Then I discovered trail running.  Whole different ball game.

Otford to Bundeena, 12 km in

Running out of Excuses
Over the last couple of years, I have thought about running trails but usually managed to talk myself out of it.  I don’t have a car so I can’t get to the location; I dislike having to commute to start a run; it’s not safe for a girl to run on an isolated path by herself; it’s too hilly/too hot/too cold/all of the above.  Did I mention that I don’t have a car?  But when a friend suggested we go for a trail run through Sydney’s Royal National Park—which was the same trail that forms the annual Coastal Classic race that I had talked myself out of entering for the last two years—I found that the excuses had run out.

For the last two decades I’ve run on roads, at times up reasonably steep hills and occasionally on grass.  Never have I battled steep stairs, undulating rocky paths, thick ferns and miles of soft sand.  Until last week.

Armed with a camelback filled with 2L of water, 2 bananas, a muesli bar and a few GU Gels, I set off on my very first trail run; 27km from Otford to Bundeena.

Dropping a spare clothes bag at a local cafe in Bundeena, we promised the owner that we would be back in about 3 and a half hours for a large burger and milkshake.  We told her we were running from Otford to Bundeena; her unbelieving smirk suggested that she either thought we were crazy, didn’t think we would actually make it back, or both.  I knew I was crazy.  Did I think I’d make it back?  I was already wishing I’d had my phone on speed dial to the SES.  Just in case.

Burning Hamstrings, Beautiful Views
The thing that has always drawn me into running this particular trail is the pure uninterrupted beauty that surrounds it.  Hugging the NSW coastline, the run takes you across some of Sydney’s most scenic and remote beaches, through a canopy of lush forests, across limestone and up to some spectacular panoramic views of aqua blue sea and golden sand.

The thing that has always stopped me from running this route has been the steep ascent to get to the panoramic views, the burning hamstrings as you run cross the remote soft golden sand, the strong probability of rolling your ankle as your feet pound the unstable surface of the limestone and the battle through the thick, spiky, overgrown ferns of the lush forests.

Something Special
The pain, sweat and burn aside, trail running unlocked a sense of discovery and adventure that I don’t get from running on a road.  Each twist and turn produced a new, undiscovered sight; whether it was a recently filled river, a blanket of untouched sand, remote beach huts peppered throughout the headland or a lazy lizard soaking up the sun. That meditative, trance-like feeling you get from long distance running is heightened from the silence of cars and a path that is devoid of traffic lights and pedestrians.  Of course, there were a few ‘pedestrians’, taking a hike along the same route, but their calls of ‘good on you’ and ‘fair play to you’, gave me the feeling that I was doing something pretty special and unique.

Finish Line in Bundeena

The Reward
I can’t say that this is the best run I have ever done, or to some extent even the most scenic (the Great Ocean Road Half Marathon comes pretty close); to do so would mean that I ran without stopping or that I felt like my legs were flying through the air.
In fact, this is the first run I have done in a long time where I have had to stop.  For me, stopping during a run would usually be as crazy as pushing a bike instead of riding it; what’s the point?  But as I metnioned earlier, trail running is a whole different ball game.

First I was stopping just to take a gel.  Then, from about 10km in,  I was stopping each time I reached the top of a hill.  At about the 20 km mark, I could barely even walk to the top of a hill. Finally, with only 3km to go before we reached Bundeena and my mouthwatering juicy burger and ice-cold milkshake reward, I stopped with severe muscle cramp in my right quad.  This led to a 1km ‘half walk/half dragging my right leg behind me’ technique.  Never a good thing.

The one thing I will say however, is that this was the most challenging yet most rewarding run that I have done to date, and I can’t wait to take to the trail again.  And yes that burger and milkshake at the end tasted pretty damn good!

Course Profile

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Blackmores Sydney Marathon 2012

Blackmore’s Sydney Marathon – Sydney, Australia
Race Date – 16/09/2012
Goal Time – 3:45
Finish Time – 3:38 (PB)

Course Profile: Mostly flat with a few inclines, particularly during the final 10km.  Quite a few loops during the middle part of the run.
Temperature: Sunny, average 21°c
Pre-event organisation: excellent, although race kits were not mailed out so participants could only collect their kit at the event expo in the CBD
On the day organisation: Excellent – course was clearly marked out , KM markers clearly visible, plenty of aid stations and volunteers.  Baggage collection was a good 1km walk from the finish line which was quite poor.
Drink Stations: Excellent – plenty of Gatorade, GU gels and water provided

The Sydney Marathon promises to be ‘one of the world’s most scenic marathon courses, taking in some of Sydney’s most spectacular and historic landmarks’.  With a course that starts  across the iconic Harbor Bridge and finishes at the steps of the infamous Opera House, it doesn’t fail to deliver.

0km – 10km
The race starts at Milsons Point, just under the Sydney Harbor Bridge with expansive views overlooking the CBD; from the office skyscrapers to the sails of the Opera House,  which seem to glean menacingly back in the early morning sun, almost knowing that you have to endure 42.2 km before you reach that finish point.

The first 2km of the course takes runners up and over the Harbor Bridge, which forms the highlight of the race.  With all eight motor vehicle lanes closed, the only traffic across the bridge on the morning of the marathon belongs to the runners.

My marathon plan was to run in negative splits; the first 14km at roughly 5:35 min/km, with second 14km at 5:15 min/km and the final leg at 4:50 min/km.  It was a battle to fight the adrenalin which was making me want to stretch out my legs and sprint across the bridge during those first few kilometers.

It was almost demoralising seeing hundreds of other runners race past you, especially when some where coming from the group behind.  Still, it allowed me to soak up the atmosphere and take a moment to enjoy the unique opportunity to run over the Harbor Bridge with 3,000 other runners.

Coming off the bridge, the race loops around to take runners over Circular Quay, with fantastic views of Sydney Harbor.

Coming into the city and toward Hyde Park, the early support from the thickening crowds is momentarily appreciated before the 1okm mark takes you towards Moore Park via Oxford Street, Sydney’s infamous nightlife strip.

Lined with bars and nightclubs, the few spectators along this part of the course were mostly made up of punters from the night before, drunkenly cheering runners on and sometimes attempting to join in.

10km – 21km
The scenic route around Moore Park and Centennial Park can help to forgive the lack of crowd support during this stretch of the race.  It was throughout this part of the run that I started to increase my pace slightly.  Still feeling pretty fresh, it was hard not to surge that little bit more, especially as I saw the 3:45 pace marker group pass me on one of the many loops that this part of the race throws at you.

Crossing the half-way point at 1:53, I knew that if I stuck to the negative splits, I was more than on target to catching the pace marker and making my goal time.

21km – 30km
I knew from the 2010 Sydney Marathon that I may start to hit the wall from the 28km point, especially with the lack of crowd support and the never-ending loops around Centennial Park.

Luckily, my race plan pulled off and it was at about the 28km mark—just as I came into the final loop that leads runners out of the park—that I caught up with the pace marker group.  I held back with them for the first few minutes, before deciding to push past them.  The feeling of leaving the group behind gave me the strength I was going to need during that last 10km.

Half way

30km – 40km
The worst part of the Sydney Marathon route is those final 10km when the course takes you so close to the finish line, only to loop back away from it, taking you in the opposite direction. You can hear the crowd shouting and see the other, faster runners making their way to the finish line.  You can see the finish line barley 100 meters away.

Having ran this marathon a couple of years before, I was familiar with the demoralising feeling this part of the course creates.  To mentally prepare, during my long training runs I always made sure I had to run past my house for another 5km before I finished the run.  Did help much on the day?  Well, I still felt like throwing Gatorade over the runners who were coming up to the finish line, so probably not.

Moving away from the finish line and out towards Pyrmont felt like entering the ‘end of the world’.  All of the things you don’t want in a marathon is served up to you on a 10km platter during this part of the course; limited crowd support, an uphill route, boring views and more loops (damn you faster runners on the other side!)

It was during this part of the race where I began to see people really hit the wall.  One guy who was running in front of me suddenly stopped dead in his tracks as if there was literally a huge solid wall in front of him.  ‘Only another few kilometers to go, we’re almost there!’ I tried to shout back in encouragement.  He looked up, muttered something (I think it was something about being chicked, but I couldn’t be too sure), and he started moving again, in a half hobble/half dragging fashion, but at least he was moving.  And so was I.  In fact, I think I started flying.

The final 100m

40km – finish
The final few kilometers of the race brings runners under the Harbor Bridge and into view of the Opera House.  The iconic sails became like magnets, pulling me closer to them.  My legs took on a life of their own as I started to surge past other runners. I checked my Garmin; 4:38 min/km… 4:35 min/km… 4:24 min/km.

As I raced through the final 200m with the crowds cheering on, I let my legs loose into a full sprint (well, as much of a sprint as I could manage after 42km), and felt myself surge across the finish line.  3hrs, 38 minutes.

It took a while for the adrenalin to subside and for me to get any feeling back into my legs, but until I did, I felt like I could have run another 42km.  I’d say this is a good and a bad thing.  The negative splits helped me to pace myself and crack my goal time.  But I sometimes feel as though I should have believed in myself to pace for a 3:35 time.

Maybe next time……

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