super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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A run through the forest, now with 100% less injuries [Riverhead Rampage recap]

I took this photo while running, a pretty neat trick for me these days, considering I seemed to have lost my ability to stand up straight, let alone operate my phone camera while running. BUT THERE YOU HAVE IT.

I took this photo while running, a pretty neat trick for me these days, considering I seemed to have lost my ability to stand up straight, let alone operate my phone camera while running. BUT THERE YOU HAVE IT.

I totally expected my post about the Riverhead Rampage to be a whiny one (which is okay because I’m pretty prolific at whining so those posts practically write themselves).

I was ready to tell you another sad tale of how my crippled ankle couldn’t handle the uneven terrain and the roots and the rocks and all the damn nature and I’d ended up on the ground covered in dirt and tears, looking for my self-respect. And then you’d say something nice to me even though what you really think is “why doesn’t she just take a break to heal up?” and I’d pretend that I was totally going to take a break, even though I’d actually be halfway through typing my credit card details for another trail event on a different browser tab.

WELL. NOT THIS TIME.

The Riverhead Rampage – my fourth running event in four weeks – turned out to be a day of sweet trails, time with good friends and free craft beer so, basically, everything I love about trail running.

I had a feeling it was going to turn into another DNF (and a reason to throw another pity-party for one over here) but I was still pretty damn excited about this brand spanking new event right on my doorstep. It had the sweetest forest trails you can find this side of the galaxy and it was sponsored by the local brewery so included free craft beer (because why use only Strava when you can give your Untappd account a good workout too?). It was pretty much guaranteed to be the perfect day, especially for people with two functioning ankles.

Riverhead Forest and I were going through a bit of a thing. My last big ankle sprain (you know it’s bad when you have to order them chronologically in your head) had happened there, a couple of months before. Matt, the good guy behind the inaugural event, had offered to give a few of us nutters a sneak peek of the course one day after work. It sounded awesome – getting a bunch of friends together for a forest run at dusk, followed by some of the best beer you can find, brewed right there in Riverhead. Everyone was excited.

So, naturally, I ruined it.

Just 2km into that sneak peek into the new course, I had another one of my spectacular falls and sat there in the forest screaming for – oh, I don’t know – it felt like hours, it was probably a decent few minutes. Michael eloquently described my screams as sounding like “someone being attacked by a dog” and, while I’m aware of the fact that I’m no Adele, I’d like to point out that an ankle sprain isn’t the time to pass judgement on anyone’s artistic abilities.

The good news is that we’re all getting pretty used to my shit. Because I’m careful enough to surround myself with the best running buddies around (but not careful enough not to splatter myself on the ground every time I run, apparently), they all took turns to piggy-back me out of the forest (so, really, they all got their workout that day) and, instead of the hospital, this time we knew better and headed straight to the pub, do not pass go do not collect $200.

Fast forward a few weeks, a few races and a few dozen metres of tape and we were all toeing the start line for the event, inside the Riverhead School grounds. A week after the Hillary, and marking four events in four weekends, all I could think about was getting to another finish line. If I could do it without limping (much), that’d be a very welcome bonus.

I decided to be careful and take it really easy, knowing I’d be running past the exact spot where I’d fallen not very long ago (luckily, my spatial awareness on the trails is close to non-existent so, in the end, I didn’t even recognise the spot when I ran past it so trauma avoided).

The first few kilometres through the forest went by and I kept going, slowly and steadily, sometimes a little too slowly, sometimes a little less steadily. But, these days, a run without a fall is a victory in my books. I really just wanted to finish, regardless of how long it’d take. I already had my ticket for a free beer and my only goal that day was to cash it without having to limp to the counter.

And then something surprising happened: I ran pain-free. And for a few moments here and there, I even ran worry-free. Months of running on a sore ankle have got me used to constantly worrying about where I’m putting my feet with each step – it’s a mentally exhausting game that I don’t like playing (especially because I often lose). Not this time.

The long stretches of forestry road helped my confidence and I managed a good few happy kilometres of genuine worry-free running, a feeling I had started to forget about. The rocky terrain near the finish wasn’t enough to wipe the stupidly smug smile off my face – although it did slow me down to almost walking pace.

So there you go. I didn’t screw it up. I got to cross the finish line of one of the happiest runs I’ve had in a long time – with the peacefulness that I get from running on my own and the excitement of knowing my whole running family was out there on that course too. We put our free beer tickets to good use at Hallertau and sat around drinking in the sun, no piggy-backs or painkillers required.

(I did momentarily roll my ankle stepping out of the car near the brewery but this blog has had enough embarrassing episodes to last me a lifetime so I’m going to go ahead and skip that one.)

This was going to be a #beerselfie but the guy next to us noticed how useless we were being at it and offered to take our photo, meaning I can no longer claim the hashtag. THANKS A LOT RANDOM PERSON. (No, really, thanks. It's a cool photo and I suck at group selfies.)

Such good looking people. Such delicious free beer.

While the ankle isn’t 100% recovered and I still have this weird feeling of not having any balance standing on my own two feet, that finish line got me another giant step closer to where I need to be.

The day after the event, I got on a plane to Australia and have since parked my ass inside a campervan, touring the outback (having only run once in the last week and a half), occasionally raising my feet up onto the dashboard (that’s 1/4 of the whole RICE thing done right there) and even sometimes remembering to do the ankle exercises the physio recommended before I gave up seeing her due to my inability to take any of her advice.

Also, Riverhead and I are on good terms again. This running thing isn’t so bad after all.


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Knocking a little bit of the bastard off – a recap of the Hillary 16km

Credit: Allan Ure - Photos4Sale

Credit: Allan Ure – Photos4Sale

After getting cut off at Tarawera, I decided to attempt running a marathon the weekend after even though my ankle was still swollen and sore.

Stop rolling your eyes, I can explain.

The DUAL looked amazing and Tarawera entrants had been given a discount code for it. I’m a freelancer now and I’m in no position to turn down a good bargain. Plus, I thought there was a chance I could maybe perhaps who knows potentially be able to manage a marathon along paddocks, trails and rough scoria.

Nope.

A mere 12km into the marathon, I fell (again) and sprained my ankle (again) right near the top of Rangitoto (again). My “marathon” ended up turning into a 12km run (a pretty good run if I do say so myself) with a few hundred metres of hobbling to the closest aid station for a ride in an ambulance back to the start line (thank you Gary who stayed with me until I managed to get up from the ground and the awesome volunteers at the aid station who made sure I stayed comfortable while I waited to be taken back to the start). So that finish line on Motutapu was going to have to wait another year.

That brought the total of finish lines left uncrossed up to two in just two weekends – a less than ideal state of affairs for someone who, until recently, was pretty proud to claim to never have had a DNF. With the first ever Hillary event just a week after the Great Motutapu Disaster of 2014 and my registration for the 34km already paid for, I decided to ignore all the super smart people that kept telling me it was time for a break and, instead, compromised by downgrading my entry to the 16km event (from Bethells to Muriwai Beach) because, even though my ankle was back to being the size of a golf ball, I couldn’t bring myself to miss out on the first ever Hillary event.

The Hillary is a pretty special place. There’s probably no better way to pay tribute to the legacy of Sir Ed than running or hiking that trail (aside from maybe climbing Everest which I intend to do at a quarter past never going up those hills). The Waitakeres are also my local playground and where I do most of my training runs. I’ve done a lot of bitching and moaning along that trail, had some pretty massive meltdowns going up some of the hills and smiled and laughed my way along some of the downhills. As a trail runner, the Waitakeres are my home. Having so many people come from all over the place to run along those trails was like having some really honourable guests visiting your home. You want to be there to witness their jaws drop at the beauty of your backyard.

Also, I badly needed a finish line. As much as I can try to be rational about it and tell myself that it’s totally justified and that I shouldn’t even have started the marathon after the ultra with my busted ankle, the truth is that those two finish lines that I didn’t get to cross, in just two weeks, were a bit of a blow to my confidence.

Timing wasn’t perfect but someone has to keep Rocktape in business so I strapped the hell out of my ankle and made it to the start line at Bethells, where I got to catch up with a bunch of friends. The sun was out, I was in one of my favourite places and a mere 16km away from the finish line. It was going to be a good day.

Te Henga – the track that links Bethells to Muriwai – is a pretty technical piece of trail, far from ideal for a sprained ankle. I took my time along it, really focusing on each step. It was a hot day and I knew that going extra slow meant staying longer under that hot sun but I needed my ankle intact for the inaugural Riverhead Rampage the following weekend (so many cool events, so few healthy ankle ligaments).

I’d done the Te Henga track a few times before and knew that the steps up to Constable Road would be my absolute least favourite part – but I also knew that it is one of the most stunning pieces of trail in New Zealand (in the world, actually) and that no amount of ankle pain is enough to make you unhappy when faced with those views. I MEAN, LOOK AT THAT PHOTO. If you want to feel lucky about life, even when everything else looks a little shit, head to Te Henga. It cures everything.

In spite of the mental exhaustion of having to watch every single step along the trail and even though I had to downgrade to the shortest distance, I’m sure my decision to still run the Hillary event was the right one (hashtag things I don’t get to say very often). I had some pretty good moments along the trail and, even when I felt less than amazing, there was always something to be happy about. At one point, as I was stopped on the side of the trail wondering why I wasn’t home doing a sudoku or something a little less challenging, a trail runner I’d never met stopped and handed me a chocolate bar, saying I looked like I needed it. His act hasn’t shaken my belief that sharing chocolate is craziness but it was one of those gestures you only see happen on the trails. So how can I not love this thing, golf ball-sized ankles and all?

Slow step after slow step, I reached Muriwai Beach, where I realised I was finally going to cross the finish line I so desperately needed. It was all ok. I wasn’t a complete loser, just a runner with a sprained ankle, an incredible lack of self-control and a credit card statement with too many running events listed on it. BUT HOW COULD I NOT? I MEAN, LOOK AT THAT VIEW.

I crossed the finish line, got my little fridge magnet medal and Steve, who had to pull out of the 80km with an injured foot, was there to support the rest of our running family. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the sun cheering for everyone who came across the finish line and was stoked to be able to see some friends finish, including Glenn who ran the full Hillary after Tarawera and the full marathon at the Dual (you should read his Hillary report, but don’t believe the bit about someone trying to poison him with warm beer. I drank it and it was fine).

It took Shaun Collins and the Lactic Turkey Events team a good couple of years of hard work to get this event approved by the Auckland Council. The council finally allowed the event to happen this year on a trial basis and with stringent measures in place to prevent the spreading of Kauri Dieback.

Like everyone else in the trail running community, I hope this event becomes an annual one. It has the potential to become one of the most significant events in the trail running calendar in the country, showcasing some of the most spectacular pieces of trail in the world (tourism dollars, we like ‘em, am I right?). Not only did it have all measures in place to prevent Kauri Dieback from spreading, I’m pretty sure it actually raised a lot of awareness of the issue. Trail runners want Kauri Dieback gone as much as anyone else (I’ve never seen a trail runner run past a spray station in the Waitakeres without stopping to spray their shoes, regardless of how fast they’re going). The truth is that you’ll be hard pressed to find a community that loves and cares for the trails as much as this one so turning down a trail running event for fear of spreading Kauri Dieback is a bit of an oxymoron (emphasis on moron).


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Let me tell you about that time I ran an ultramarathon in a cyclone

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Credit: Allan Ure – Photos4Sale

Is this the most overdue ultramarathon recap in history? Potentially. Will it be worth the wait? Probably not. Should I stop asking questions and just get on with it? Definitely.

The truth is that I thought this was going to be really easy to write up. I planned this post in my head approximately 43,348 times in each training run. But I guess if I wanted an easy predictable topic to write about, choosing trail running was my first mistake.

Tarawera was nothing like I expected and, yet, it was everything I wanted.

Like some kind of really lame practical joke, a cyclone hit New Zealand during the weekend of the ultramarathon and forced a bunch of changes, meaning nothing went according to plan. The course had to be changed and the new distances became approximately 60 and 70km.

Just in case you have something better to do then read the rest of this, I’ll jump straight to the finish and tell you I didn’t actually get to cross the finish line, as Search and Rescue closed the course and a bunch of us got stopped at 53km. I cried my eyes out for a few minutes, standing there in the pouring rain after being told I couldn’t keep going – I’m one of those ugly criers and there were heaps of people around so that moment is probably not going to feature in my future best-selling autobiography.

By the time we got on the bus, however, I was over the disappointment. I realised I’d actually run an ultramarathon distance in a god damn cyclone, so dangerous that the course had to be closed. If that’s not something to be proud of, then all I’ve got going for me is that time I won the spelling competition in primary school and got a mechanical pencil for a prize.

The truth is that, for such a long run, this ultramarathon ended up having very little to do with running. I got a bunch of life lessons thrown at me in just a few hours, which is why it’s taken me so long to process it all.

In the months leading up to the event, the thought of having to run this ultra in the rain didn’t even cross my mind – now, all of a sudden, we’d be doing it in a cyclone. And my ankle was still sprained, swollen and hurting, forcing me to visit a physio the day before the race to strap the living hell out of it. And the rain. The damn pouring rain. Nothing about it seemed fair but, then again, Macklemore had won a Grammy earlier in the year so I already knew the world was full of injustices anyway.

It turned out that there was no point spending months worrying about what shoes to wear, how many gels to pack, where to place my drop bags, what songs to put on my playlist or any other of the 694 items on my Tarawera to do list. I ended up wearing brand new running shoes for my ultra (ask anyone who runs and they’ll tell you what a giant mistake that is) and not even that made a difference.

Credit: Marceau Photography

Credit: Marceau Photography

As we lined up at the start line at 6:30am, it was still pitch black in the forest. They say the only thing you have to fear is fear itself but I’d like to call bullshit on that because I was pretty freaking terrified about the prospect of an ultramarathon in a cyclone. Carlene used her ukulele to inject some adrenaline into everyone’s veins with the song that you’ll never be able to get out of your head, followed by a Maori chant coming from somewhere between the trees. You try to get through that without getting all goosebumpy and tell me how that works out for you. We all hugged and wished each other luck. That was it right there – the culmination of months and months of training, hours of running in the middle of nowhere, long group chats about what the hell we were getting ourselves into. Our group was all there, all ready (ish). The universe hadn’t looked so right since that time Vanilla Ice danced to Ice Ice Baby on the Dancing on Ice TV show. We counted down from 10 and, just like that, we were off into the forest.

I used my inhaler about 20 times in the first few kilometres but kept my pace nice and slow. I didn’t know how I was going to feel in the second half of the run and wanted to save as much energy as possible for that. Plus, I had a sprained over-mobile ankle to worry about and was focusing really hard on not splattering myself on the ground that early into the race.

Forsyth and Glenn, who helped me train for this damn thing, stayed with me from the start. I thought they’d take off and leave me behind at some point so was just trying to enjoy having their company while I had it. We chatted the first few kilometres away, going at the slowest pace any of them had ever run.

It wasn’t long before we got to the spot where we had to choose what new distance we’d be doing. F and I were both signed up for the original 60km, while G was meant to be doing 100km. The “short course” option (60km) meant a left turn, the “long course” option (now about 70km) meant a right turn. In hindsight, I know that turning left and running the 60km would have meant that I would have crossed the finish line (as I would have been out of the area Search and Rescue closed before they got there). So it might sound a little odd to tell you that making the “mistake” of turning right and going for the 70km option will stay as one of the proudest moments of my life.

I was given the option of doing something shorter and easier and decided to go for the option that scared me the most (I’d never run more than 42km so going for a 70km run during a cyclone felt like a pretty bold decision to me). My lack of hesitation seemed to surprise everyone, including Tim Day, course director and all round awesome dude who was marshalling the intersection. But it didn’t surprise any of them as much as it surprised me. Even now, knowing I could have finished the whole race if I’d chosen the short course, I’m still proud of my decision to attempt the 70km.

I kept expecting F and G to take off and run their own races but they continued to run along next to me. We caught up with a few other friends along the way, chatted along with some other runners, saw friendly faces at every aid station (Tarawera has some of the best volunteers you’ll ever find) and passed the time talking about random stuff I’ll never be able to remember again. Having them around meant I didn’t get in my own head so much and could focus on each step, making sure I didn’t let my ankle roll again. Every time my mind wandered (as it inevitably does when you’re running out in the bush for ages), I’d come back and notice they were still with me, chatting away like they had nowhere else to be. I kept telling them they should go ahead and run faster (which I totally didn’t mean because I actually wanted the company) and they kept refusing, saying I’d need help if anything happened to my ankle. And so they stayed, letting me set the slow pace, kilometre after kilometre after god damn kilometre, during the toughest run of my life.

Credit: Allan Ure - Photos4Sale

Credit: Allan Ure – Photos4Sale

They stuck with me through all the highs and lows. My highs were pretty high – thanks to industrial doses of Gu Roctane, and my lows were really low, mostly because I’m a giant wimp but also because, in my defense, I was running an ultra in a cyclone on a busted ankle. None of that seemed to matter to them. Every time I told them to go ahead without me, they told me to stop insisting on that. Next thing I knew, after a bunch of smiles and even a good dose of panicky tears, we’d done over a marathon. I kept focusing on my steps, trying to keep the ankle safe, and every time I looked to the side, F and G were still there too, sacrificing their ultramarathon time to make sure I was safe.

It doesn’t matter how many beers I buy these two in my lifetime, I’ll never be able to thank them enough for what they did that day (so I guess no point buying them any beers, right? Right).

By the time we hit the Western Okataina Walkway, the rain had started getting really heavy and I was feeling pretty – how shall I put it? – motivationally-impaired. I had a crying fit that I blame on exhaustion and panic over cut off times (because I’m the worst at maths and thought we were way behind even though we actually weren’t). At that point, when I felt like I was staring at life from the bottom of a gutter, G decided to go ahead for a bit, while F stayed with me and got acquainted with the worst version of myself.

We kept each other going along the undulating trail, managed some high fives and hugs to friends that were running back from the Okataina aid station, and helped each other through the highs and lows. I found some motivation at the end of a couple of packs of Gu Roctane (I’m telling you, that stuff is magical) and even managed to pass a few people along the way. The walkway was turning into a giant mud pool by then. We saw G again at the aid station, where we had to start a 4km out-and-back before being able to return the way we came, up the Western Okataina Walkway again. By then, the cut off times had been brought forward and kept getting shorter and shorter without us knowing because the weather was deteriorating fast (and so was the state of the trail).

We were told we had plenty of time to do the 4km so chucked down a quick drink and off we went. G was then told he had to leave the aid station so went on without us. We did our little loop, got the bracelet to prove we’d done it and, with what we thought was an hour to go, were then told by a marshall we had four minutes to return to the aid station. I know people like to say impossible is nothing but impossible is actually running 2km in 4 minutes so we ran as fast as we could but returned to the aid station to find a bus load people pulled out of the course by Search and Rescue, ourselves included.

I had my giant ugly cry about it (because it sucked, because it was pouring with rain, because I had plenty of energy left to keep going, but mostly because I cry about everything). As we started getting our stuff together to get on the bus, G re-appears, telling us he didn’t want to keep going on his own.

Now, seriously. Do you get why it’s taken me so long to write about it? THIS IS WHY. How do you explain this? How do you talk about the magnitude of what you experience when, in the middle of the ultramarathon (in a cyclone, on a busted ankle!), you discover that you are, in fact, the luckiest person you know, surrounded by the absolute best people in the world?

G had the all clear from the aid station to keep going and cross that finish line (and I know how important that finish line was to him). F could have beaten me by hours and yet they both gave up their finish lines to do the race with me.

I’d been pulled out of the course at 53km with about 17km (or a bit longer) to go. It was, for all intents and purposes, a pretty shit situation. But I’d run 53km in a cyclone with two of the best friends a crippled runner could ever ask for so what was there to be sad about?

Not much, really.

Trail running has given me more joy than I’ll ever be able to fit into a blog post (or a thousand) but nothing could have prepared me for what Tarawera would show me, both about myself and the people around me.

In the end, we got our finishers medals and a giant bear hug from Paul Charteris, only the coolest race director around. And while that medal is now potentially the first thing I’d save if my house caught fire, it’s only one of a million little things I treasure from that day.

There are many things we do in life that make us happier people, but it’s not often that we get the chance to do something that, more than just making us happy, helps define our identity. In fact, there haven’t been that many times in my life when that’s happened and they’ve all stayed as milestones for that reason. Running your first ultramarathon (like running your first marathon) is life-changing because it redefines your identity. On March 15, I became an ultramarathoner, part of one of the most special tribes in the world. And no matter what I do with myself in the future, I’ll always be one of them.

I set off that morning to do something I had no idea I could do. After hours of keeping my head down, minding my steps, swallowing my weight in energy gels and telling myself not to give up, I’d entered the class of people I admire the most. All of a sudden, all the limitations I thought I had got this giant question mark over them. If you can do something you think is impossible for you to do, what is there that you can’t do?

It’s been nearly a month and I’m still in that state of wonder about it. It still amazes me that I managed to run that far since I’ve been surviving on a diet of ice cream, chips and craft beer. But I ran 53km and got on that bus in the pouring rain knowing I could have kept going a lot further.

The only thing I don’t know is exactly how far I can go – and that’s a pretty sweet place to be.


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K2M or how I learned to stop worrying and love the roads

Okay, help me out. Pretend there’s a paragraph here where I give you a really good reason for not having written anything in over a month. Go on, don’t make this awkward. Will you believe me if I tell you it’s because I’ve been busy following my super strict ultramarathon training plan for Tarawera? Oh dear, I nearly typed that whole sentence with a straight face. Let’s not even try. Let’s just get over it, like some of you do with hills (I don’t, I just stand there at the bottom and cry. In fact, it’s not inaccurate to say that’s a big part of what I’ve been doing in the last month).

But, actually, there’s been other stuff. In between hours of sitting on my ass eating ice cream straight from the tub (or, as I like to call it, freelancing), December ended up being pretty kickass. I ran my 13th half marathon event for the year, entered a Santa Run, a Beer Mile (A BEER MILE, YOU GUYS! Running is a beautiful thing!), witnessed an amazing feat of endurance and finished my first ever trail marathon (FIST PUMP!). But these are all stories to bore you with another time. Before all that, right at the end of November, there was K2M. In the year I ran my first ever marathon (aren’t you proud of how long it’s been since I last mentioned it?), got my New Zealand residency, ate an unofficial world record number of cronuts, and did a bunch of other cool stuff I can’t remember now, K2M still manage to top it all.

It turns out that, in spite of my many, many, many talents (shut up), it is actually impossible for me to find the right words to adequately tell you how cool K2M was. This whole time, I’ve gone full 90s-teenager-in-the-same-room-as-Robbie-Williams and the only thing that comes out is “OMG SO AWESOME” which, really, doesn’t make for a very interesting blog post. But since I’ve just dipped into my savings to renew this domain for another year, I’m going to get over my little mental block and just tell you about how cool it was and add that, if you’re finalising your race calendar for this year, you need to get your shit together and sign up for K2M now. Yes, even you living outside New Zealand. Take a second mortgage and start looking at flights.

If you’d asked me a couple of months ago if running an overnight relay of over 300+km fitted within my definition of fun, I would have been all like “please stop emailing me while you’re drunk”. But now? Now I want to relay my way everywhere. Turns out I’d be doing fun all wrong before, without sleep deprivation or stinky vans or far too much running. Fun means cramming all your stuff into a van with five other runners for over 27h (less, if I’m not on your team, because I’m all about value for money and making sure I give other teams a fair chance) and running your way across part of the most beautiful country in the world, non-stop.

Let me take this opportunity to do some quality bragging, since I don’t get the chance to do that very often: our amazing team of six collectively ran over 300km in 27 hours and 25 minute, averaging around 50km each, from Papakura to Mount Maunganui (only one of the prettiest places in the world). It was the most fun I’d had since the last time I had a shitload of fun, whenever that was.

I know you’re probably wondering how the hell I managed to do that. I am too. It’s still one of life’s great mysteries, like Roswell, the pyramids or people who think Nicole Kidman is a talented actress. I guess we’ll figure all that out later. I just wanted to give you a bit of a general update now and will probably leave the details for other posts (because now that I’ve done one relay I’m obviously a relay expert).

I didn’t prepare much, as you might remember. The whole team just kind of came together because Kiwis are crazy and will agree to whatever you suggest to them, whether or not you’re holding a knife when you ask them. Other than getting people to agree (which took an average of 0.05 seconds per person x5), all I did was hire a van two days before the event and empty out the confectionery aisle at my local supermarket the evening before. That morning, we all got in the van, turned the radio on and “Eye of the Tiger” started playing. I’m not making this shit up. Then at midday we started some crazy, sleep-deprived 27 hours of running and driving and dancing in the middle of the road and hurting and laughing.

Here’s sort of how it worked: each of the six of us ran 3 legs of the relay, to individual totals of around 50km each. We decided to do it the way the website suggests it for teams of 6 (you can also do it as a team of 12, if you’re smart) and each ran 2 consecutive legs (which meant that we only passed our batton – which was actually a neat fluoro bracelet – at every second exchange point). Turns out, as the organiser told us in the middle of the night while we waited to use the toilets inside a church hall in the middle of nowhere, we could have run the legs in any order we wanted, as long as there was always one of us out there running. This would have been really handy information to have before the start of the relay, so we could have tricked Michael into running the whole thing (Michael was our super speedy machine who went on to run a Double Hillary the following weekend like it was no big deal).

Yeah, that fast.

Yeah, that fast.

But I’m glad we didn’t (and I guess so is Michael). Even with the Great Big Mac Incident of 2013 and even with the giant tantrum I threw in the middle of a field when I’d been awake for 24h and was told I was going to have to climb the stupid hill in front of me, running all those kilometres and sharing each of those sweaty milestones with that group of people turned that weekend into one of the best weekends of my life.

(Awwwww. I know.)

There’s a bunch of stuff that happens when you’re awake for that long in a small van with a group of people who are as crazy and as sleep deprived as you. It all starts super civilised, with questions about how work is going and Steve in the back of the van making us Japanese mayo and smoked salmon wraps. So super fancy. But then you fast-forward to 4am and I’m in the McDonald’s carpark in Matamata stripping down to my knickers in front of everyone to get ready for my next leg. This after having an impromptu party around midnight dancing to the Cake cover of “I will survive” in the middle of the road wearing our reflective gear. So, you know, stuff escalates pretty quickly.

The thing about K2M (and I guess, relays in general), is that it might involve a hell of a lot of running (300 ENTIRE KILOMETRES, MY GOOD LORDE!), but it’s actually very little about running.

I’d told myself that K2M would be my goodbye to road running for a while, since road running had left me injured for the biggest part of the year and, not only am I a bit bitter about these stupid injuries, I’m also training (lolz) for a trail ultramarathon. I was tired of my stupid road runs on my own. They were monotonous and repetitive and K2M was going to be the perfect way to end that. I’d gone through ITB problems, shin splints and a bunch of other stuff that the doctor kept saying was due to running on roads. I was finally going to follow his advice and move solely to nicer softer surfaces. But then K2M happened and I’m all in love with the road again. Roads have vans with friends inside them and those friends check on you and hand you water every few kilometres and make jokes when you’re tired and make you feel like, even though you might be doing something the vast majority of the world would call stupid, you’re really not alone and maybe the vast majority of the world should really go sit in the corner and rethink its attitude.

In the end, rather than being a break in my Tarawera training, K2M did wonders for my ability to think I can actually run this damn ultra. Between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning, I ran a total of 76km (because I’m an idiot and ran a half marathon on Sunday after driving back from K2M, but that’s a therapy session we’re going to leave for another time). If this isn’t a confidence boost in ultra training, then I’m all out of ideas.

Over 27h and 300km later, NO MURDERS!

Over 27h and 300km later, NO MURDERS!

And even if it hadn’t been for that, K2M gave me a really good bunch of good friends. Steve, Michael, Rob, Carl and Kirsty were just “people I knew from running” before this relay. Now they’re the people who put up with my shit day and night inside a van and were still happy to drive alongside me during each of my legs of the race, stopping every couple of kilometres to check if I was okay. Does that fit all the canonisation criteria? Because it should. I don’t even want to ask them how long it took for the nightmares to go away but I hope we’re cool now. I mean, we better be because we’ve already decided we’re going to do it all over again next year (with a bit more training, a bigger van and absolutely zero Big Macs). SO COME WITH US!

What I’m trying to say in this really confusing way is that it’s really hard to write a proper recap of all the crazy stuff that happens when you get yourself into something this massive. Can we just go with “OMG SO AWESOME”? No? Too late? Anyway. Add K2M to your 2014 events calendar, make it part of your new years resolution. And it better be the 1% of the list that you actually manage to achieve this year (I’m kidding. I trust you guys and I know 2014 will be epic. I don’t like to brag but I had TWO naps on the first day of the year alone so now it’s just a matter of pacing myself so I don’t get all my resolutions done within the first month).

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So yay for relays, for running friends, for rediscovering the love for road running, for breaking mental barriers, for thinking there’s no way you can do something (like, hmm, running 76km in 48h) but still going out and giving it a go anyway, for getting out of your comfort zone and discovering that that’s where all the fun is and that you’re actually a hell of a lot stronger than you think you are.

(Also, happy 2014! Go do awesome shit!)


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Waitakere Half Marathon recap

Here’s a little handy tip I picked up a few days ago: if you’re limping your way to the start line, you should probably not be running a half marathon.

But you know, #yolo and stuff.

The truth is that I had no good reason for never having done the Waitakere Half before, especially if you consider it starts about 15 minutes from home and registration is really well priced at $40 (important if, like me, you try to fit every running event into your budget even if it means 50c 2-minute noodles for dinner for 2 weeks).

(Did I mention I’m freelancing now?)

I didn’t want to wait another year before doing this one so decided to go ahead and register, ignoring the fact that I’m barely fit enough to run to the letterbox and back.  It’s pretty amazing how quickly my mind can go from “OH SURE, I can totally do this” as I get out of bed in the morning to standing near that start line wondering what in the name of Our Lady of Gaga I was thinking when I signed up.

To make matters worse, the morning had started with the realisation that I had bought the wrong M&Ms for the half (crunchy M&Ms, since when are crunchy M&Ms even a thing?).

How much worse could things get, really?

Well. A bit worse.

But at that moment by the start line, I couldn’t possibly have cared less about the pain. Or even the crunchy M&Ms.

(Seriously, though, like a cross between a regular M&M and a Malteser. Stop messing with my confectionery, confectionery manufacturers!)

There were hundreds of people on that track waiting to start and I was every bit as excited as they all were. And it started on a track! A track, you guys! That’s as close to the Olympics as I’m ever going to get. Not only that, it also finished in the same spot, with a full lap of the track, and the rest of the course included what looked like some pretty cute trail along the creek. The whole thing sounded like a neat bundle of awesome so the pain was going to have to wait until later because I wasn’t about to miss out on all that stuff.

But then we started running and my enthusiasm for the whole thing started to fade pretty quickly. That secret hope I had that things would magically just fix themselves disappeared and I quickly realised it wasn’t going to be the most fun I’d had on a Sunday morning. Not even 2km into the half and I was pulled over to the side trying to find a way to stretch the leg so it would stop hurting. From then on, I kept running and stopping, running and stopping, running and stopping, running and stopping, running and stopping, running and stopping, running and stopping. And if you think reading that repetition is annoying, try actually having to do it (no, don’t try, it’s stupid and painful and you shouldn’t try it).

At about kilometer 6, I decided that, since the half involved a second lap of the 10.5km course, I’d just turn into the stadium with the 11km runners and be done with it for the day. That sounded smart and responsible and totally like the right thing to do. So, obviously, when it came time to turn towards the finish line for the 11km run, I turned the other way and started the second lap for the half marathon.

The second lap wasn’t as scary as I had envisaged it (as in, I didn’t have to walk the entire damn thing). The downhills that are normally my BFFs were a killer and I actually found myself having to walk in segments where I’d normally try to pick up some speed (but you try pounding a sore shin down a concrete road and then tell me if that feels like a good time).

(Again, no, don’t try that. That’d be stupid. Stop listening to me.)

It wasn’t until around the 17km mark that I fully decided I was going to finish and not just call someone to come pick me up from the side of the road. I thought “whatever damage I’ll do to this leg today will have been done by now” (freelance writer, not freelance doctor. Keep that in mind.) and so I kept on running. Finishing with a lap of the track was actually pretty awesome, as far as reaching finish lines goes, and it was absolutely worth putting up with the stupid pain.

I didn’t break any course records (I know, weird) but I’m still happy I got out there and bagged another half. The weather was perfect for running, the course was great, the volunteers were super nice and I got to catch up with a really good bunch of people who are crazy enough to get up at stupid o’clock on Sunday for stuff like this. I’m definitely glad I didn’t wait until next year to do this one but I also can’t wait to do it again next year.

Now before you start rolling your eyes so much they disappear to the back of your head, let me tell you this: I came home determined to get smarter about this whole running thing.

No, really.

I went to the doctor the following day (more on that once I actually get off my ass and go do the x-ray he asked for) and didn’t even run at all this week. Instead, I rested. I took painkillers. I ate things that made me happy. I tried not to obsess about running. I obsessed about running. I took some more painkillers. I considered a run. Then I didn’t run. I ate some more chocolate instead and tried not to cry myself to sleep every night over a potential break from running.

So there you go, all responsible stuff. Which totally gives me a pass to go run the Panmure King of the Mountain tomorrow. Obviously.


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Arthur’s Half recap – That time another runner helped me across the finish line

Pre-race, when he didn't really know what he was in for yet (hence the smile).

Pre-race, when he didn’t really know what he was in for yet (hence the smile).

I’ve said here a few times that signing up for half marathons and then not training for them is a really bad idea. I know this because I’ve made that mistake a few times. Like, oh I don’t know, last weekend, for example.

I registered for the Arthur’s Half (one of the hilliest road half marathons I’ve ever run) a few weeks before, then proceeded to not run anything over 5k until race day. Remember you like me for my charming personality, not for my smart decisions.

Anyway. I’m going to keep this recap boringly chronological, even though all I really want to do is jump to the bit where I tell you that I actually finished, but I suppose you need to understand why finishing that half marathon was such a big deal.

I jumped out of bed at 6am on Saturday morning with the ease I only jump out of bed early for running events. I got to the event area just as the marathon runners – those legends! – were starting their race. The marathon included a few extra amazing people doing it, including trail-addict Malcolm Law, running his first ever road marathon, and a group of people who had run a full marathon over night and for whom this was the second marathon that day. I hadn’t even had breakfast and those people were on their second full marathon. Knowing this was happening out there made the event extra special and I didn’t even care that it was raining and I actually just wanted to go back to bed.

I picked up my registration pack and immediately spotted Mike Tennent sitting at one of the tables, getting ready for the run. After a few months of almost-but-not-really meeting up at running events and knowing each other from Facebook, we finally got to say a proper in-real-life hello. Now, keep Mike’s name in mind. It’s important. In the bathroom queue, of all places, I met Jenny (hi Jenny!) who said hello to me even though she reads SGG. A few of us, Mike and Jenny included, then hung out by the registration area, as it poured outside. Leon, who was going to start the run with me, arrived shortly after.

Before we get to the running bit, let me tell you a bit about Mike. I’d briefly mentioned him here before, when I celebrity-spotted him at the Huntly Half a few months ago. Mike is currently nearly halfway through an year long charity fundraising project that basically kicks ass. He is running 52 races (half marathons or longer) in 52 weeks to raise money for Hospice. Now doesn’t that just make you want to high five a pony? I mean, what an amazing thing to do. The Arthur’s Half was event #22 for him and, because he’s one of those stubborn hardcore runners, he’s been sporting an injury and running them anyway (sometimes two in the same weekend because that’s just the type of fabric of awesome he’s made of). Because of his injury, and because he was planning to run another half marathon the next day (which he did, in 1:45:18, while injured!), he decided to start with me so I could keep him at a slow pace (I knew my slowness would come in handy for someone one day).

Pre-asthma photobombing, when things were still looking promising.

Pre-asthma photobombing, when things were still looking promising.

Shortly after 8am, we were off. And shortly after that, I felt something was off. I was running along with Mike and Leon (who couldn’t resist the temptation to run faster and bagged himself another sub-2h that day, the crazy man) when, suddenly, it felt like, no matter how hard I tried to breathe, no oxygen was coming in.

Oh great.

That exercise-induced asthma I had discovered I had a couple of years ago – and which I’d only experienced less than a handful of times – was back. Bitch. My inhaler? Nowhere to be found, of course, because inhalers are for sensible runners who plan shit properly.

We were just over 3km into the run and my immediate thought was that I could not possibly go into a panic. But you know what happens when you think that you can’t go into a panic? You panic about the possibility of panic. LAYERS OF PANIC. So I tried to think about other stuff and focus on my breathing instead. Like, really focus. No, harder than that. Literally putting some thought into every time I inhaled and exhaled.

I took a few walking breaks and Mike dutifully slowed down to walking pace to keep me company. I kept trying to bring my breathing down to normal levels and it occasionally seemed to work but always temporarily. I can’t remember how many times I told Mike I couldn’t breathe – as if he couldn’t tell – and he kept giving me instructions to try to get my breathing back to normal. He also tried to tell me off for not having my inhaler but he didn’t get mad at me for longer than maybe 2 seconds (not that I could tell anyway). We kept going at this running/walking/running pace as I tried to regain control of my lungs. At times, it felt like things were going back to normal. Then shortly after, I’d sound like Darth Vader again. It rained on us a few times and the wind was throwing the rain sideways at us and Mike kept carefully placing himself to shield me from it. Throughout the entire thing, I kept telling him I was failing to bring my breathing back to normal and he kept calming me down. Over 17km of this and the man still hasn’t unfriended me on Facebook.

So you get it, right? It sucked. I couldn’t breathe for most of my half marathon and it freaking sucked. But the universe has this weird way of balancing things out and, in all that suckiness (if twerking is a word, suckiness can be a word too), there was Mike. And now all I have are amazing memories of that morning. I felt immensely guilty for forcing a guy who runs half marathons much faster than I ever will to stay so far behind and I told him a number of times that he should keep going and I’d catch up. He could see right through my bullshit, though, and kept reassuring me that he would not leave me behind. And he never did. Instead, that usually speedy runner spent two long hours and fourteen minutes running at the slowest pace of his life and trying to take my mind off my breathing by telling me about his life and getting me to tell him about mine.

Mike carried me through that entire course. There aren’t many things I know for a fact but I do know I would have given up if it hadn’t been for him. I’ve never pulled out of an event and you don’t have to know me that well to know how giving up would have absolutely crushed me. So I owe Mike for the fact that I’m not crushed right now. That I’ve got half marathon #14 under my belt, that I’m breathing ok again and that I can continue to say I’ve never pulled out of an event.

A couple of kilometres from the finish line and we're actually looking happy. I blame the rain for the look I'm sporting, not just the sweat. But mostly sweat. I should probably stop filling the internet with sweaty pictures of myself. One day.

A couple of kilometres from the finish line and we’re actually looking happy. I blame the rain for the look I’m sporting, not just the sweat. But mostly sweat. I should probably stop filling the internet with sweaty pictures of myself. One day. (Photo by Allan Ure, Photos4Sale)

That, right there, is what running is all about. Forget the rest. It’s just that, nothing else. Just that man on the course who could be competing against others (or against himself, trying to get a new personal best) but instead fought his competitive instinct and stayed with me the entire way, a runner he’d only met that very morning, just to make sure I was ok. Along the way, he greeted all other runners we saw, took photos, chatted away, kept checking on everyone’s little pains and niggles. In between trying not to suffocate, I kept wondering to myself whether I was going through the most painful or the best half marathon experience of my life.

The answer, of course, was obvious. It was both.

Please go and like Mike’s Facebook page as soon as you’re done here. If you can, donate to his amazing cause. He’s dedicating all weekends for a year to fundraising for Hospice and, at the same time, he’s being the kickass human being I’ve just described to you. If you can, please donate. You can pledge an amount for each of the events or just make a single donation. If you have problems with the form on his website, let me know and I’ll put you directly in touch with him (although chances are you’re smarter than me and can work it out).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I seem to have signed up for another last minute half marathon (this weekend) and I’ve got an inhaler to pack.


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Taupo gave me ALL the feelings!

YOU GUYS. It’s been a while. How are you? Tell me later, we need to talk about me now.

Here’s the deal: I went to Taupo a couple of weekends ago and ran a half marathon. I haven’t told you all about it yet because I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about it, rather than hitting caps lock and using all the swear words I know.

I wanted to run Taupo again because it had been my very first half marathon, two years ago, and since it was about to become number 13 too, it couldn’t have been that bad the first time. You see, there is some logic in all of this.

So I got on the road for four and a half hours on Saturday afternoon, ran the half on Sunday morning and got back to Auckland on Sunday afternoon. In between those two car trips, I had all the emotions.

On one hand, I ran a new personal best (2:02:31). On the other hand, I learned that, if you’re an idiot like me, a personal best isn’t the best result and can actually leave you pretty pissed off. But also happy, because you know, it’s still a personal best. But not the personal best you wanted, damn it. But yay, shiny new PB! But sucks, not the goal PB. You see the mess in my head? Do you get why I waited over a week to talk about this? So many feelings! So much to bitch about!

feel-all-the-feelings

It’s all my fault, really (as usual). I kind of set myself up for that disappointment. My knee still occasionally hurts, I knew from experience that the course wasn’t exactly a fast one and I am at the lowest point of my physical fitness since I started this whole running deal (courtesy of an injury, a fair bit of laziness and a giant bucket of stress lately). This is also the fourth half marathon I ran this year and that I’ve signed up for within two weeks of race day which, as I’ve mentioned before, isn’t exactly something I’d recommend.

None of those things are the real problem, though. I can live with being unfit and stressed – I can fix unfit and stressed. But I can’t fix stupid. Clearly.

This sort of stupidity, for example, involves telling everyone – and myself – that I’m just going to take it easy, while, at the same time, going onto an online pace calculator and writing down a goal time (1:58:59 please and thank you) to get an idea of how fast I’ll have to run to get a sub-2h. You know, just in case.

But dreams are free and all of that. The problem really only started being a problem when, that Sunday morning, while in the car on my way to the start line, I decided to get a pen out and write those goal times on my arm. If you asked me to pinpoint the precise second when things turned to shit, that would have been it. Writing those times on my arm meant a change of attitude. I was admitting to myself (and to whoever looked at my arm wondering what the hell that was) that I wasn’t running for fun but with a goal in mind. A goal I was obviously not prepared to reach.

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BUT YOU GUYS. I came close. So god damn close it ended up being my best half marathon time so far (only by one minute but I’ll take it). The fact that I came so close when I’m this unfit should be enough to make me happy. So why the hell was I so disappointed when I crossed that finish line?

I’ve given this a bit of thought over the last few days and there’s only one logical explanation: I’m an idiot.

The run itself actually went pretty well, for the most part. I ran my fastest 5km, my fastest 10km and my fastest 15km, all a few seconds faster than the times written on my arm. Then, at 18km, it all turned to crap. My ITB pain made an extraordinary appearance and forced me to slow all the way down to walking pace. I had a friend waiting for me at the finish line with a chocolate donut and not even trying to bribe myself with it made me keep going so that should give you an idea of how painful it was.

I walked a few hundred meters but kept my lifelong decision to never walk across a finish line so made sure to run that final bit. And then I stopped and, for the first time, I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. So I was both.

We're not talking about whatever it is that is going on with my shorts. Focus on the fact that I have a medal. And I'm not crying (except on the inside).

We’re not talking about whatever it is that is going on with my shorts. Focus on the fact that I have a medal. And I’m not crying (except on the inside).

The good news is that I’m now one minute closer to that sub-2h so all I have to do is actually get off my ass and train a bit and maybe try to aim for a half marathon that isn’t happening in just a couple of weeks. You know, the way smart people do things. I should probably try that.

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