Friday, December 28, 2012


Have had a beautiful Christmas holiday week with the family in Queenstown.  It was so magical to be amongst the amazing mountains, baking in the scorching sunshine, and basking in the majesty of Central Otago.  Most of all, catching up with my sisters and parents after not seeing them all for a year was the best part of the trip.  We had a stunning Christmas day, complete with a festive feast of duck and roast vegetables, french pastries, champagne and antipasto.  I love excellent food!

Arriving in Queenstown after living in desperately flat farmed country side, was almost overwhelming.  I love feeling dwarfed by the mountains, their golden slopes towering out of the lake.  Being amongst the mountains that I grew up in, makes me feel really alive.

Invigorated and inspired by the fab landscape, I set out for my first run the morning after we arrived.  The blistering heat of the day before had been replaced overnight by moody cloud and drizzling rain, perfect conditions for me.  I woke early and started out before the sun had risen, and in the ethereal grey of dawn, I felt like the only person awake - I had the whole of Queenstown to myself.  My run took me all the way into Frankton and back, the return journey following the lakeside trail (19km return).  It was along this route that I discovered a map of the Queenstown trails.

I had heard about the trails when they officially opened earlier this year.  Over 100km of trails have been linked and mapped between Queenstown, Arrowtown, Lake Hayes, Gibston Valley and around the Wakatipu Basin.  I thought that running from Queenstown to Arrowtown would be picturesque and challenging, so the next day I bought some energy gels and chews (I had been meaning to try these for some time, and got a copy of the map to carry).  The shop assistant in R&R Sport was super helpful and recommended the route that he thought would make the most enjoyable and scenic run, he told me that he thought that the total distance would be equal to a half marathon.

Trail along Kawarau River at Sunrise
Bright and early the following morning, I set out.  Camelbak filled, and gels in my hip pockets, I was ready to run.  The first part of the trail followed Frankton arm, and then cut through Frankton township before heading to the historic Shotover bridge.  Parts of the trail in this area were dubiously marked, and I got lost a couple of times before meeting up with the trail just before the river crossing.  Marker arrows ambiguously pointing at junctions of three intersecting paths (rather than clearly marking the trail to take), and intersections with no markings at all made following the trail a bit challenging, as the trail progressed however, the markings became more frequent and clear.  I crossed the river over the Historic bridge before the sun crept over the peaks of the Remarkables, and then followed the trail around beside the Kawarau river.  The trail was well groomed and very comfortable to run on, and my early start ensured that the air remained cool well into the first two hours of running.

I had my first Gu energy chew after about an hour and then every half hour or so after that.  I didn't carry a watch to time the intervals between eating, but aimed to refuel before my energy levels lagged. Having never tried the gels or chews before I didn't know what to expect.  The chews were really tasty, easy to chew and swallow, and provided enough energy and caffeine to keep my mind alert and sharp, and my legs going.  I hydrated with mouthfuls of water, and never felt too "sloshy" or water logged on the run.

The trail followed the river bed for several km before climbing out of the river valley.  The uphill sections of the trail were a comfortable gradient, but rose quite high without reprieve.  I felt very proud to be able to maintain my pace over the steeper sections, it seems that my trail and hill work at home is having some positive effects on my fitness.  Through out the run, I kept looking down at my legs and thinking, "gosh, I am still going at quite a pace, I am doing quite well!" (I am in no doubt that the Gu could be thanked for maintaining my energy).  At one point a group of cyclists panted past holding their thumbs up for me as the went by me (head down, pushing ever upwards).  Reaching the summit of the last big climb was great, although the heat of the day was well on the rise.  I ran on across the golden paddocks of farm land, with amazing views of the mountains around me.

At the Arrow Junction, the signpost informed me that I had completed 20km and still had 8.8km to go.  I felt amazing.  I had run nearly the distance of a half marathon, but had so much more energy to keep going.  I had not flagged once on my run so far, and was pleased to keep going, knowing that I was going to set a new distance record for myself.  I walked along the road for a few hundred meters, taking the opportunity to admire the view, soak up the sunshine, suck on my bite-valve and slurp down my gel.  The energy gel went down really easily, sickly sweet and sticky, it reminded me of eating sweetened condensed milk as a child (similar consistency).  I had selected berry flavored gels and chews, and while I preferred the flavor and consistency of the chews, the gel gave me a bigger energy hit.  I will definitely use gels and chews for running fuel from now on, they make the run so much more rewarding and enjoyable.

The final part of the trail followed the Arrow River, and was in heavy use.  After crossing a couple of bridges, plunging into welcome river-bank shade, and with only a couple of km (or so) to go, I started to get a bit tired.  I gobbled down a couple more chews, and pushed myself to continue running.  It felt really good to keep the effort up, and push right through to the end of the trail in Arrowtown.  I completed the 28.8km in just over three and a half hours.

I met up with the family and we traveled over to Wanaka for lunch and to do some tramping in the Matukituki Valley.  The day continued to get hotter and hotter, and I drank liters, but walking after all that running stopped my legs from getting stiff, and I had no soreness the next day.

On Christmas day, and with only one more full day to go, I decided that i wanted to run to Arrowtown again, but this time take the shorter trail that circled Lake Hayes.  Being Christmas, no shops that sold energy gels were open, so I thought that I would try and use wine gums and an energy substitute.  Another early start, and I nearly didn't go for the run, my calves were a bit sore, and the weather was humid and hotter than it had been for the precious run.  I persevered however, and after a few km my legs warmed up and the pain subsided.  The wine gums were no substitute for GU however, and although I am sure that they were better than eating nothing at all, they didn't keep me bouncing along.  The route itself, although shorter, was steeper and less picturesque.  I enjoyed the challenge of the steeper climbs, but felt a lot more tired and slower (also a product of taking on another long run so close to the last one).  It was probably a bit soon to run again, but I wanted to make the most of running in such a beautiful place.

I dragged myself into Arrowtown over three hours after I started (over a distance closer to 25km).  Again the signage on the trail confused me, with distance markers contradicting each other along the way.  I passed a sign reading 4.6km to Arrowtown, ran 500m down the road (closer to Arrowtown) and passed a second sign reading 5.7km to Arrowtown.  Overall, the reduced levels of energy and the residual tiredness made this run feel harder and less enjoyable than the first.  However, completing nearly 75km in such a short space of time is pretty good I think, and all that running has inspired me for future training - its amazing to think that six months ago, the idea of running a half marathon seemed impossible, and that after my half marathon, the 32km of the Routeburn Classic seemed as though it was going to be difficult to achieve.  I can see that continuing training, and lots of hill work will make running the Routeburn classic more achievable than I ever thought possible.  It is amazing what can be achieved.

Things I have learned from my long, holiday trail runs:

  • Carrying water is essential and fantastic
  • Drink before a hill and then once breath has been recovered after a climb - trying to drink while panting is hard and unpleasant
  • Energy Gels are amazing and worth while carrying and eating
  • Wine-gums are not energy gel substitutes 
  • Rest between long distance runs should never be skimped on
  • My Camelbak is perfect for running, those hip-belt pockets are so useful
  • Stretching and short periods of walking during a run are the best methods of keeping my legs limber and pain-free
  • Running in inspiring landscapes is captivating and addictive
  • The support of family, friends and strangers is uplifting and motivating
  • Keeping the legs and arms moving when exhausted leads to longer distances and better times
  • The Skins shorts and Mizuno trail shoes are perfect for me (if they are ever on sale, buy two!)
  • If I work hard and push myself I can achieve things I never thought possible

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Birthday yesterday.  I received so many fantastic running related  gifts - a subscription to runners world (including some Brooks socks), Skins shorts, my early gifted Mizunos, inspirational messages from friends and some wonderful books to enjoy reading during my down time and on rest days.  I gifted myself a fast 12km run in all my new gear, and it was lovely to be spirited along in all the gifts I have been given by my wonderful family and friends.

Eric Murray
I heard a really inspirational interview on National Radio this week with Rowing Olympic Medalist Eric Murray.  Murray discussed his Lydiardesque training regime, attributing his and Hamish Bond's success to working ridiculously hard in training.  Murray spoke of gaining confidence in racing because he knew that the distances and times required for winning would be less challenging that the rigor's and slog of training.  

Murray's words and training philosophy resonated with me, and made me realize that working harder in training would improve my race day results (this sounds like a no brainer, but the idea of completing really hard and challenging training sessions improving my performance of race day really appealed).

I think that with the calf pain I have been coping with, I have become a bit lazy with my running in the last few weeks.  I have been running reasonable distance, but mostly very slowly (12km without getting out of breath, and barely breaking a sweat), so this week I have begun to push myself a bit harder.  I have been running more trail and hill sessions (which are so much fun, and help me to really feel the burn), and pushed myself quite hard on my birthday 12km, finishing in 50min.  It is more satisfying to push harder, and quite motivating to know that I am going out to do a training session that will "hurt".  I am also doing more core strengthening work, walking and lots of stretching.  The extra work seems to be helping.

I suppose the old adage "no pain, no gain" is somewhat true.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

3 Bridges

First official half marathon today, and it was awesome.  There was a huge turnout for the Wanganui 3 Bridges Marathon (3/4, 1/2, 10km and 5km), and the course was beautifully laid out along the banks of the Wanganui River, crossing all three bridges.

I had left leaving home to the last minute, so enjoyed a vaguely frantic drive to Wanganui, wondering if I would make in on time for the 8:45am registration cut off.  I was lucky enough to make it, and find a handy parking space with 15 min to spare.  There was a massive que of last minute competitors (being unable to register online was probably to blame!), and I was glad not to be the only runner puffing up to the sign-up desk before the race started.  After registering I raced back up to the car, to change my shoes and jettison my excess gear, before running back to the start line to catch the last 30 sec of pre-race briefing: "...please abide by these instructions and rules as they are important for participant safety, now everyone have a great race, and you have 15 sec till start".  The upside to all the rushing about was that I was well warmed up by the time I crossed the finish line.

There were probably 200 (maybe more) runners entering the half marathon, making this by far the biggest field I have entered so far.  The niggly calf pain has been ailing me again recently, so I was planning to take the race pretty easy with a goal of completing the 21.1km.  I was hoping for a time around the 2hours 30min mark.  A couple of days ago I went for a short run and gave my hamstrings a good stretch half way through, to my surprise this alleviated the calf pain a lot, so I made sure that all of my legs were well stretched before the start (the whole length of my legs, rather than me having a collection of legs).

Despite my prayers for refreshing rain, the sun was shining (not that I am complaining about that), and the pack soon thinned out as we wended our way along the trail.  I took the first 5 or 6km very easy, but half way through the first lap felt energetic and was magically lacking any leg pain, so I sped up for the next 6km and powered through the half way point feeling strong and fast.  The second loop of the course was, as I expected more challenging, and my knees and hips started to feel twingy. At my final crossing of the third bridge, and with about 4km to go, my energy had run out, and although my body didn't feel too tired, my legs felt sluggish and heavy.  I had to keep a constant and very positive internal monologue to the finish "come on body, you are doing so well", "keep going legs, you are doing awesome", which really helped, and somehow kept all the right limbs  working, and me, moving forward.  I suspect that my high energy fast mid-race run probably didn't help my energy levels towards the end of the race.

I crossed the finish line in 2 hours 26 min, a time I was really happy with, although I must have looked pretty rough, because one of the officials kept asking me if I was alright.

I really enjoyed this race, it was so fulfilling to complete the distance, and the course was lovely (it reminded me of running in Hagley park, which I really miss after leaving Christchurch).  The other competitors and spectators were supportive and encouraging, one woman I saw several times, she moved around the course to shout support to all runners and cheered me on "go bright and shiny girl, go!".  Other amusing sites included a group of lithe young inline skating racers speeding around a circular track (much in the form of ice-skating sprinters) in Lycra body suits and streamlined helmets, and a very fast male competitor running shirtless with an impressive tattoo of a V8 engine on his back with the drive belt running down to his legs - steam-punk and poetic all at once.

Showers at the finishing line were an excellent idea (you didn't have to pass through them as you crossed the finish line, or anything like that, but this was the first race where they were provided, and despite the flooded floor and plethora of nude runners, they were deliciously refreshing).

The day concluded with the prize giving, with special mention and awards given to the numerous competitors who had completed 100 or more marathons, one man was celebrating his 501st marathon, and others were recognized for completing their 250th and 200th marathon runs.  The members of the 100 club were mostly rich in years, and I found it rather inspirational to see that there are many more years of running to be enjoyed.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Things I love about running:

Rain - refreshing and rejuvenating, keeps me cool, the thrill of being chased along by squalls

Music - my ipod brings the motivation, and the sound track to my dramatic running experience, contains masterpieces from Antonio Vivaldi to Jay-Z, my current favorites include: Monsters and Men, Rudimentals, Swedish House Mafia

Oscar - my faithful and tireless running companion, enjoys running in the rain less than I do, always on the hunt for road-kill or rubbish to carry proudly along as he runs circles around me

Hills - exhausting and rewarding, the more I do the more powerful I feel, always culminates in a dose of glorious downhill to rest legs and recover the lungs

Racing - the pre-race nerves, the thrill of lining up before the start, the training and the anticipation, pushing myself harder to run the best that I can

Endorphins - I always feel so good (mind. body and spirit) every time I run

Shoes - wicked colour, comfort and grip, makes me smile when I am watching my feet

Runners World - magaziney goodness, inspiration, nutrition, advice

Trails - trees, rocks, views, more challenging and with more variation than the tar-seal