The journey

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Just when I thought I may have tapped out my personal abilities in running, this past weekend surpassed those thoughts by a long shot.

The mid week leading up to race day went smoothly with only one large bout of ‘have I prepared myself well enough for this’ nerves. That was Wednesday & I nearly let it get the better of me. As soon as good friend & flatmate Cath & I left Christchurch & made the journey south, all was calm in the land of pre race thought.

Our drive down to Cromwell was another spectacular one. By the time we reached the Lindis Pass, the shadows were casting length down the endless mountains. I was home.
That evening the Northburn organizers put on an informative & entertaining talk with some top ultra runners as discussion panel. I got a lot out of that. Listening to top guys like Matty Abel, Grant Guise & Sage Canaday speak about their experiences & openly sharing training & racing information, made me remember why I love this sport so much. The ultra running community is like a family no matter where you see it. Even the runners out there that clean up every race, are just so approachable about their super human abilities.
I had a solid sleep Thursday night (probably because I was in my home bed at my parents house). I was glad of this – the days prior hadn’t been great.
Friday I didn’t tempt fate with a few km run as planned. My back had been behaving & I didn’t want to run the risk of aggravating it pre race. Cath & I headed to Queenstown to pick another friend & fellow 50k runner up from her lunchtime flight. Friday was a very good pre race day – very relaxed, weather was beautiful & excitement was building for Northburn 🙂
I was so happy to see Orlaith when we picked her up & we had much to discuss through the course of the day.
Race briefing later that afternoon was a very entertaining Terry Davis talk about just how much the course was going to hurt us! Looking around the race HQ I could see a variety of emotions on competitors & support crew’s faces. There were a number of runners there signed up for double or triple the distance of what I was doing. We had a clear weather forecast, but as all Northburners & I could see fear, excitement, amusement (when Terry said things like he wasn’t sorry for the spaniard plants on the mountain that poke you like needles!). This is all a part of what makes Northburn so great.
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Race day arrived soon enough after spending longer than anticipated on sorting last minute things for my race pack. Even Dad commented how heavy it was on race morning haha! Turns out I didn’t need alot of the food I packed either (story of my life). I love waking up to the early alarm, under the blanket of the day’s darkness on race day. Saturday was no different & I knew it was going to be a big day. I pumped some porridge in & before we knew it, we were headed to race HQ for 6am start. It was about 7deg, calm, ideal for a start in the dark. My parents & Cath arrived in the other vehicle after we’d been checked off & were doing final checks. Dad cracking his jokes (I think he sees my focus face & feels the need haha), Mum trying to hide her nerves & be cool for us & Cath looking excited for us & unsure what to expect. Time was flying pre race & before we knew it we were heading to the starting chute with the dance music pumping through the amp, brilliant stars in the pre dawn sky & our head torches glowing. Orlaith & I grasped each others hand & excitedly wished each other a great race & away we went. She bounded off & I didn’t expect to see her again, she is a machine of a runner 🙂

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I really enjoyed the pre dawn part of this 50k. We were climbing before long & everyone was spreading out. I realised a few km in, after the slight spread that my headtorch battery had indeed become close to running out. I may as well not have had it going! One of the pre race checks I hadn’t done, because I hadn’t used it for some time. Whoops! I had to make the most of draughting off other people’s light’s & using my natural night vision 😉 I was pleased when the sun came up as I didn’t have to worry about that for the rest of it. After 5k we went back past base & got to see our support crews & everyone yelling positively. After that it was time to do some serious climbing for 20k. This was very unrelenting but I felt quite good on the climb & just kept pushing forward. I had a few brief conversations with fellow runners on the way up, but we were all keeping focussed & conserving energy for the ascent.
Reaching the highest point was a good moment – I had my second water fill & didn’t spend anymore time stopped than I needed to. I was also feeling pretty focussed & clear headed. I’d kept on top of my nutrition. I had a Ceres Organics Raw bar, a Hammer Gel, a small boiled salted potato & one or two date rolls with peanut butter in them by the time I reached the top. I was burning up fuel & water faster than I could put it in.

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After reaching the summit, there was alot of downhill work to be done. A considerably long stretch of about 10-12km downhill on exposed farm track. Hard work on the quads & my right knee whinged later. Quite a bit of fun though. The heat of the day was really starting to set in as I reached the 39km mark (my number had not been radioed in a few km back, so at that point I didn’t know my parents & Cath were a bit unsure if I had DNF’d, injured, or what had gone on). After that aid station there is one nasty piece of climb. Here’s where the real test came. It was dry, hot, exposed & I was a bit tuckered out by this stage but still moving forward. I spent the last few km sulking because of how tired I felt, which is silly really. My head was still pretty clear, I just think the dehydration had hit me a little. Before I knew it though, a mere 8hrs24 or so minutes after starting (hahaha), I was rounding around the corner through the last of the vineyard & back to base. Lots of overwhelming emotion on the inside, plenty of sunshine & happy on the outside – I did it!!

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This ultra went far more positively than I could have imagined. I went into this challenge with a sound frame of mind & even though I hadn’t run at Northburn before, I knew what it was about & how hard it was going to be. All of the social sacrificing during training & pushing my own boundaries was worth it. During the race, my mind was concentrating on the race only. Any non relative thought I seemed to be able to push away, to retain focus.
Northburn is a very special event, one that Lisa, Terry, Tom & team can be proud of. I made some lovely new friends & am already planning how I will do next year – more than likely running the 50k again, but pacing for a distance on the final lap of the miler as well. My support crew, parents, Cath (travelling down there & back with me, thank you!), Sarah (surprising me at the finish line (amazing – I was so overwhelmed) and the kick arse messages pre & post run from those people that knew how much this race meant to me – I am very humbled by your words, hugs, smiles & thoughts.
Recovery is going well & I’m looking forward to the next exciting mission. What ultra running is teaching me is that there are essentially no limits if you train/rest well & move through the process with a positive mindset. All part of the journey. I’ve started the next one already 😉

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This is it..

The week of Northburn 50km has arrived! I’ve watched good friends tick off some epic races over the past couple of months. This week it’s my turn to hopefully do myself really proud 🙂

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I feel like I’ve made the taper work pretty well during the lead up. The only small down side I would see with this taper would be the fact of it arriving earlier than planned because I wanted to look after my back. I feel like I made the right call here & there is no real point in worrying about what might have been in late February training. My body & mind would rather be at the end of the scale of an early taper, than an overdone training run, with bad niggles. I’ve found it interesting over time, how those fears have diluted themselves naturally. More than likely a combination of experiencing crazy, unnecessary nerves within myself over time for races. I’ve come to realize that the only real barrier between enjoyment of a tough race & feeling like a basket case pre & during, was remembering why I love trail running & training for such events like Northburn.

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The past ten or so days have been balanced & my running although naturally reduced, feels strong. Last Saturday I discovered a new mountain – Mt Thomas – with good friend & training buddy Saskia. We hiked that day & it was refreshing do have a steep climb & breath in some mountain air. It felt like it had been forever since I had been to a mountain! That Sunday I spent a couple of hours running in the Port Hills in overcast, mild conditions & ended the weekend well.
The mid week was the usual balance of work & training.
Last night I tested out a new waterproof, lightweight Salomon jacket that had arrived in the mail on Friday. It fared well & I feel far more confident pre race with that jacket rather than the older Marmot. This piece of kit also rolls up super small so you are getting the most of your space in your pack. Most trail runners know the persistent problem of packing the compulsory gear in. This jacket solves some of those problems!

As the sleeps inevitability count down toward Saturday – I feel like a contented runner who is keen to mark this race off & be a part of what is always such a positive weekend in the phenomenal scenery of Central Otago. It’s time to continue to stack the zzzz’s (historically the night before a race is not the best sleep of my life 😉 ) in the next few nights & look forward to every aspect of what is the mighty Northburn.

End goal = completion, enjoyment, no injury & to want to continue running ultras! 😀

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The ‘T’ word.

Taper. Oh yes. Here once again. In that half enjoyable, half mentally challenging stage of gearing up for a big event. ‘Oh my god am I prepared enough??’, ‘Did I train enough?’, ‘How hard can I go in my taper?’. These questions duly asked in my head in previous times..but pre Northburn50 I have a blanket of calm that seems to have settled much like that low lying fog that sits over Lake Dunstan in the winter.

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Taper arrived earlier than perhaps planned due to my lower back dealing out some grief a couple of weeks back. I visited the chiropractor twice only, then soon saw that when I took some serious rest (reluctantly) over the course of a few days, the body responded well.
Since the beginning of last week, training has been a jumble of using the cross trainer doing some heavy uphill work instead of the impact of a run, RPM classes & core/leg work when my back tolerated it. Saturday morning before I flew to Dunedin for a family celebration, I had a strong couple of hours on the hill. I felt the reassurance three weeks out, that if I can relax & maintain, I might be in for a good day out at Northburn.
I haven’t been running as much as I would have liked in the past week, but this has had a few factors like other life things going on, awful weather (was confined to the cross trainier last night after this sever Canterbury storm hit) & feeling a little tired, affecting the cause.

20140305-134103.jpgI can’t quite put my finger on why I am not out of my head stressed, heading into a potentially very difficult 50km run on the 22nd. I can only put this down to having had a great spring & summer trooping around covering ground & largely staying away from injury. And perhaps the fact that I have covered this distance before & I would like to enjoy this race even when the going gets tough on the mountain. I know it will get tough. I like that.
The preparation of the mind is as essential as the physical training & I think this can often be forgotten. Up until the past twelve or so months, my nerves tended to get the better of me in the weeks leading up to a race. This in turn had me lose sight of what was important ie having a magical experience both on the trail & pre & post race. As time has progressed & I’ve experienced more, evidently without major mishap. The hard times on race day come & go. If it can be an embraced & accepted experience, mental strength for race day comes in leaps & bounds 😉

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Revolving reassurance

What a strange, strange week. Perhaps it’s the heat. Or the fact that my back started aggravating a little, about a week ago, which has consistently lay in my head. That could be the very essence of my uncertainty closing in on taper.

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Last Thursday after work I had a seamless run up the guts of Mt Vernon, beside Rapaki track. I mention seamless because the run felt strong at the time. When I reached the top, lungs heaving, legs lightly giving me the nod that we’d climbed, I did some more mileage along the bike/walk trail up the top. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I ran with my hand bottle, thinking I was giving my back a break in the lower kms with it. I think I might have been doing the opposite. The range of motion in my top half changes with it in my hand & this is the only event I can think of that would have affected it.

Fast forward to Thursday this week & I faced the facts (had been cross training the days following touching 40km on Sunday) & saw the chiropractor. Some adjustments made & soft tissue work, lots of technical explanation & then the second appointment was booked for Tuesday. I am concerned about doing the right thing here. My back is dealing me a rather confusing dull tightness, which isn’t around all the time. I ran on Friday evening, 10km & at an easy pace on the trail to test out the loading on my back. Yesterday I felt stiff on & off in my back & didn’t do any training. Today I am vastly torn. This was realistically the final weekend I’d be doing big kms before I started to take it down ahead of Northburn.

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It’s these times in our phases of training & life in general where you have to 100% back yourself in your decisions through uncertainty. I’ve had little to no issue with niggles & injury all the way through the summer season & Northburn lead up – so perhaps my body is sending this low level caution, to heed a less than comfortable experience on the mountain in a months time. I want to set out on the 22nd of March, strong & happy. Not tired, uncertain & concerned. I spent a good hour on the cross trainer tonight at 80% effort – climbing climbing climbing. It wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be & at least I feel like I have been following orders that way :-/

Last Sunday I was pleased to get 40km done though. I made an effort to get up early & beat the heat that has been relentless of late. I got about three hours in the low cloud up on the Port Hills before the sun started sucking the life out of me. I finished early in the afternoon, my Garmin watch stats later telling me I’d worked in nearly 1700m of ascent in that distance. No wonder I could feel every incline I hit!

Lastly, yesterday afternoon friend Sarah & I headed out near Oxford (about 40min drive from Christchurch) to cheer our other friend Saskia on, finishing her first ultra marathon at Bedrock50. It was a really hot day out there & we could hear everyone that came in say to the race director when she asked ‘how was it?’ – ‘It was really tough out there’ was the general consensus. It was fun to watch people coming in & completing a big challenge. Also just really invigorating to me around quite a few ultra runners in the same area, a month out from Northburn. Saskia came in, with a smile on her face & I felt such a rush of emotions for her. I’m really, really proud. Same with Sarah who last weekend had a great breakout Coast to Coast in the teams event. I had a positive weekend all round (even though it was sans long run) & being out at Bedrock was definitely the highlight.

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Crater Rim &…….sunburn

I couldn’t help myself this morning. I counted down the days on the calendar until its Northburn50 time. 39 sleeps to be exact. Exciting! I can’t believe I typed that before I’d type or think along the fear vein.

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My physical & mental state seem (for the most part) to be in good working order at the moment with the training. Working to a less rigid plan & mixing it up on a weekly basis has paid dividends. I have a wall planner in my room that I scribble a gym or run plan on. It is motivating to see it daily & work to it. When there are other life things going on, I don’t fancy being any more strict with this. February seems in the past couple of years, to be a particularly heavy month with life/work/training juggle. Approaching the beginning of March & a taper there’s always going to be a bit more heat on to get to that period of time & feel satisfied I’ll go to this 50km as prepared as I possibly can be.

Last weeks training was ok & reasonably non eventful. I had no rest day, I realised, every single time I hit an incline on Sunday’s run out at Crater Rim. I was feeling quite a bit of heat in my legs on the hills on the long run for the weekend that’s for sure. Monday I enjoyed having no training planned & fully resting.
I had a bit of company for the first 7 or so km of Sunday, my buddy Saskia & her new flatmate who is a keen runner. I got distracted talking to Saskia when I was sunscreening up & stupidly, didn’t apply to my chest & neck. Boy did I pay for that later on. 5 hours, no shade, sun out, middle of the day. Absolute fail. I’m not a fan of getting burned & am usually so diligent.
Aside from my sunscreen issue & the hills being quite the effort, it was a pretty solid run for me & I was happy to get it done. I could also see so much from moving around Crater Rim trail & at one point all the way out to Kaikoura peninsula – magic.

After the sunscreen debacle, it has refreshed my head as to what gear I’ll be sorting for race day. The importance of practising using all of these this is extremely high. There is no way I would buy a new pair of shoes or shorts & wear them to a race without being 100% confident I’d trialled them. It amazes me how many people do this – it scares the living daylights out of me.
Some of the little things can also be the difference between a DNF & finishing happily & comfortably. Anti-chafing methods immediately come to mind here. I’ve had 3B cream brought to my attention in the past few months. It seems to have more staying power than the trusty Vaseline. One thing I have learned about chaffing, is that it can be so random, that it pays to be prepared every single time you are going long. I don’t even run the risk anymore.
I need some low gaiters for Northburn also. I am aware of my old friend the spaniard plant & the fact that it will be predominant on the dry, high country mountain trail. I have had a few run ins with this plant & I don’t much fancy my ankles getting up close & personal with that or biddy bids. Don’t even get me started on biddy bids – how they manage to lodge themselves into socks & stay there is beyond me sometimes. Irritation factor – high. Amazing how little components like that wear you down during training or a race & it is so easy for it to catch you unawares & take you down. I intend to deplete the risk of both of these for next month & am practising it now.

Training is reasonably solid. My calf is slightly niggly on & off, but in the grand scheme of things, very good considering how I thought it may be behaving at this stage. Life is certainly easier working towards a physical goal when your body decides to tolerate it. Sleep continues to be vital.

I hear Mt Fyffe near Kaikoura calling me loudly to run it in the next few weeks. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I printed off the DOC information.

Life’s good when there’s a mountain run in it 😉

Pushing the training juggernaut forward

As I start this blog, I am gazing on & off at Mt Cook in all her glory, whilst I sit in the truck heading back toward Christchurch. I actually have the luxury of being a passenger for once so I can properly enjoy the scenery in between feeling ill in the windy parts of the road. That part of being a passenger, less than ideal.
It’s been an outstanding weekend. The main purpose of this one to Wanaka/Cromwell has been to attend Rippon Festival….but my busy runners mind had ulterior motives for the extra day off pre festival 😉

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The Pack track to Tuohys Saddle from Roaring Meg in between Cromwell & Queenstown I hadn’t managed to tick off whilst on holiday, so I made a plan to do it this last Friday. Amanda, a very grounded, lovely woman I met whilst struggling my way through my first Routeburn Classic, joined me. I was excited to see her as I hadn’t seen her since that day, nearly three years ago.
After a pretty good, if not slightly overheated, sleep at my parents on Thursday, I was up pretty sharp on Friday & excited to both catch up with Amanda & see a new & unknown trail to me. Dad had boiled me some potatoes from the garden the night before, whilst I was still travelling down, they’re still working a treat for me on long runs.

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We got to see some amazing country on this training run. I experienced all kinds of mountain happy whilst in the valley & climbing up to the saddle. A vast contrast to my state of mind in Goat Pass two weeks ago. The mileage on Friday was higher & there was plenty of climbing, I had the fuelling completely sorted & I was in good company. We saw a couple of mountain goats on the way in, over on the otherside of the river. Very exciting to see these little guys move at a ridiculously fast rate, down the rock & not tumble to their deaths. I hardly ever see deer or goats whilst I am on the mountain, probably the main reason being I am far too loud whilst approaching!

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When Amanda & I reached Tuohys Saddle, we were amazed at the sight that greeted us. No amount of photo taking does such an incredible vista justice. Being able to see Mt Aspiring peeking up again in the distance & the Mt Roy ridge line, pushed up a surge of euphoria that is difficult to explain. What is it about these stunning places that wows me so much? We had to enjoy five or so minutes at the saddle. After re grouping & re fuelling, we were headed 15km back to where we came from at the Roaring Meg. I had to reluctantly pull myself away from that sweet spot.

We moved through the downhill work pretty well. I loved the single track that wound round the side of the hill above the river. It was a sweltering day & as we descended back toward the vehicles, I could feel the heat radiating from the road in the last half hour or so of running. It was a great mission with Amanda & I’m so pleased she was able to come up there with me. I thought about the things I would be getting some practise time in for Northburn, on this particular run. The fuelling is working very well for me at the moment. I’ve dropped gels almost completely. They’re still in the arsenal, however only for very occasional use. The sugar tends to blast me too far over the edge & I also have trouble eating an entire one whilst one the move. Potatoes, banana, almond butter (those Pocketfuel Naturals are AMAZING!) & the occasional Crunchy Peanut Butter Clif bar are my nutritional weapons of choice. I’m still no good at eating on the move but I’m fighting the urge to stop & eat. It’s important I continue to put one foot in front of the other next month on course, so I need to keep up the practise. My other element to mirror the race practise, is weather. Especially extremes of heat, cold & wind. It’ll take more than some rain or wind to put me off getting out there to train. And when my head is down, face scrunched up into some serious weather, I remind myself it’ll help me on race day! The heat is probably my biggest weakness with weather so I am getting plenty of mileage done in less than pleasant temperatures both in Canterbury & Central Otago.

Training is moving along pretty well. Friday was definitely a run of note for me. Making the higher mileage & recovering well from it was important heading into February which is without a doubt, a big month on foot. Sunday morning as my sister slept the wine off after the festival, I ducked out in Wanaka to have a short blast around Mt Iron. It’s an old favourite from living in Wanaka a couple of years back. Monday morning RPM class was positive & inspiring as always & I am going to pore over some maps to make the most of Waitangi Day this week & perhaps escape somewhere. I really enjoyed my family time this weekend as well, especially as I rarely get time with my siblings. I said to Mum yesterday (motioning at Northburn from across the lake where we were throwing sticks for the dogs) ‘How many seasons do you think that will throw at me when I’m trying to run on it next month Mum?’. She gave me a wry grin & said ‘Probably all.’ She could be right. Good to practise in the elements, in preparation for any mountain curve balls that may be thrown 😉

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Goat Pass & ‘the wall’

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Many of us have experienced ‘the wall’. An oppressive, heavy, can’t go on feeling that sits on your back for an un-named amount of time. Often hard to climb over. I had a pretty good week of training last week, it being my first week back in Christchurch. But I did come across this feeling whilst I was in Goat Pass on Saturday.

We had an early start, leaving Christchurch at 6am to get to the Deception Valley, about two hours from Christchurch. I’d had a few nights in a row of less sleep than I would have liked so I fell into bed on the Friday night & had a reasonably deep sleep. Sarah & I took one car & Loz had driven from Wanaka to Flock Hill the night before & we met her there & dropped one car off. I couldn’t seem to get rid of the nagging anxiety about the river crossings. I know they can be unpredictable & Goat Pass is known for being just so. The group of 25 or so runners in a paid group heading out at the same time as us confirmed to me just how much uncertainty can surround this route.

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We had a very calm, cool morning to set out in & it was worth getting up early to drive in there. As well as a large paid group heading, an ambitious group of 3 were just ahead of us as well. I think I was the only person in there on Saturday that wasn’t training for the Coast to Coast! I can understand the need to want to cover the ground you are racing, during the training, especially when the terrain is of such a challenging nature.
I practised my rock hopping skills & did my best to be nimble from the outset on the dry parts of the riverbed. We were moving constantly for 6 hours apart from an approximately 7 minute stop at the hut to refuel. Before we’d reached the hut I’d managed to fall down heavily a couple of times & we’d had some gnarly river crossings. Waist deep, fast flowing, carefully pick your path then commit. I learned this the hard way on my second crossing when I hesitated crossing the strongest part of the current & was turned around facing downstream by the water. We just happened to be tailing the group & I had some people behind me that helped right me. I was so thankful for the assured, experienced male guide who saw the fear in my eyes & got me going again.

The girls were going great & I was pleased they were getting a great reccie run before they did the Coast to Coast. I found myself demoralised & sore from my falls & the river though. I seemed to be all over the place with my energy levels. By the time we’d reached the hut I was very quiet & needing respite. I more than likely hadn’t taken enough water on for what we were doing, even though I was drinking out of the rivers on my way through them. Hydration is a consistent issue for me because of my sweat rate & my mind honing in on whatever run I am doing which sidetracks me. It is easy for 30min to pass without a sip of water especially when your head is down watching where your feet are going. I need to keep working on this before Northburn as it will otherwise be my undoing on that course. Even though my energy levels were confusing in Goat Pass, I was happy with the fuelling I practised. I am less & less of a gel girl now & tend to try & put as much natural tucker into the tank for the longer goes. The boiled & salted potato gave me no issue & I could eat it whilst moving, easily.

I admit, that was a punishing 27km I was glad to finish. It’s hard to talk about, but in all honesty, the reality of the journey of training. I thanked the girls for being great as I was in the silent, personal hurt box for a time & just hung out at the back & got it done. I ensured a quality recovery, took all of Sunday off & it didn’t take long for me to dull the mental pain thoughts out that I had experienced in Goat Pass. Apart from bruises & scrapes, physically I was ok & mentally it doesn’t take me very long to semi forget the battles I had…..& want to go back & improve on that run. I will one day. I find it interesting how alot of us can do this with racing too – we tend to feel the fear & do it anyway. Then shortly after, think about what the next pushing your boundaries thing will be. All in all, I don’t expect every training run to be cut from the same, even cloth of perfection. I’ll tick last weekend’s big head battle to experience 😉

This week has started well with cross training at the gym in full swing & I’m busy planning whether I will stay close to home for Sunday’s long run or not. I’ve moved tonight’s run to tomorrow after work due to life things, so Mt Herbert I’m quite keen to perhaps do an up & back down in the Friday twilight. I’ve also been quite excited for friends doing their various pursuits in racing – there are some important people in my life pushing the envelope hard & I’m so proud of them like a mother hen! I just wish I could travel to all of these events. One day! 😉

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