Friday, December 11, 2015

My longest ever run!

Today I finished our week of trail runs with my longest ever run at just over 24 km.
It was tough but fun and so satisfying to finish it.
We ran from Stoney Creek to Kuranda which is the main part of the Cairns to Kuranda Trail race that we run each year.

We parked at Stoney Creek, ran up the hill and along the track to the small town of Kuranda where we'd planned to have a coffee and cake in a nice cafe there, but unfortunately we were too early and it wasn't open. So a pie and Freddo Frog Chocolate from the supermarket had to suffice. We had a nice 20 minute break eating those down by the river, then ran back the way we'd come.

It's a clear, nice wide track.

With plenty of ups and downs!

It was SO nice to have a swim in the creek at the end to cool off and help our muscles recover.
A great run that we will do again sometime - but not for a while!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Green Arrow Trail - Cairns

Today's trail run was to try out the new Green Arrow track in Cairns. We've had the Red and the Blue Arrows for years now, but just in the past few months the Green has been added.  
This new track runs one way from the Blue Arrow track out into a residential area, so we parked in the car park at the end of the track and ran in a loop - first through the houses to the start of the Red Arrow, then up the Red, onto the Blue and finally joined onto the new Green Arrow track at the top of the hill.

The tracks are all well signposted and the new Green track is very clear!

The way we did it meant we went downhill on that section virtually all the way, which is always a nice way to finish a run!

There is an open flat grassy area on the track from where you have a 360 view around Cairns and the surrounding hills.

All in all it was a lovely run, 10 km all together.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How I've progressed from running 500m to 16km

As the top of my blog says, when I started out running, 6 years ago, I struggled to keep running for 500 m. Two days ago I went for my long weekend run of 16 km! Then yesterday I was chatting to a friend and she asked how I've got to the stage that I can run for 16 km and this made me reflect on how my running has progressed over the past 6 years.

What I did as a kid
I was never much of a runner as a kid. I did gymnastics for 7 years and considered myself pretty fit and strong. I did occasionally go for runs, but never anything more than around 3 km, and even those weren't very often.  Our family was generally very active when I was growing up. Weekends and holidays were often spent walking and hiking in the countryside. I also walked everywhere just day to day - to school, the shops, the beach, everyday was a walk somewhere.
So as you can see growing up I had a good base of fitness which I believe has stood me in good stead in the following years.

Post baby lack of fitness
After having our two daughters, I hadn't done much exercise at all. After our second child, I drove everywhere, rarely walked and did little or no exercise. I had put on weight and was about 20 kg heavier than I should be. I slowly got back into exercise starting out with a book from the library with, I think it was an 8 minute daily workout. I did video workouts at home and got on our exercise bike while the kids slept in the evenings.

Why and how I started running
When my husband and I first moved to Cairns, we heard about the annual Pyramid Race 

(a race up a local mountain shaped like a Pyramid). Having both enjoyed hiking in the mountains we decided we'd like to one day take the on the challenge of this race and settled on the 50th anniversary which was in 2009.
So when 2009 came about I started running - that's when I found it a struggle to run the 500 m to the local shop!
I slowly built it up with walking and jogging until I could do the 3 km run necessary for the Pyramid Race.

Since the Pyramid Race is a 3 km run to the base of the mountain, go up and down the mountain (922 m), then run  3 km back, we decided we just needed to be able to run 3 km in one go as we knew we could climb the mountain OK.  We did do a couple of practice climbs of the mountain before race day too.

So race day came and off we went. We had lots of friends came to watch us attempt this crazy race after years of inactivity! It was extremely tough - we hadn't realised how hard it would be to climb the mountain AFTER running 3 km there, and then to run 3 km back after the mountain was impossible - we barely managed to walk. Our wonderful friends and supporters waited over 3 hours at the finish line to cheer us home. 

We had come last, but we finished! What an achievement.

Beyond the first race
After completing my first Pyramid Race, I wanted more. What a feeling to finish and a sense of achievement. I knew I needed to do more to get fitter and healthier and was enjoying my short runs. So I continued running and continued to run the Pyramid Race each year, getting a little faster each time. From 3 hours 15 mins the first year, to 2 hours 45 mins the next year, then 2 hours 36 mins.
Slowly I was getting fitter but after a few years of just generally getting fit, I started to want to try other races and to go faster.

Training Plan
At the beginning of 2013 I decided to see what I could really do and get a time for a particular distance.  
There was a 5 km run in June on the flat that I entered and downloaded a free 5km training plan from the internet. I ran my own marked out 5 km run at the start and timed this, then followed the plan and was pleased to have improve my time by the end of it. So I did the plan once again in the build up to the official 5km race, when I went out and ran a full minute faster than my goal - 22 mins 58 seconds! 

That race changed a lot for me. I realised what I was capable of and wanted to know what else I could push my body to do.

I think that was the point that I decided to go from just running when I felt like it, to actually having a training programme with goals and times I wanted to achieve.

Consistency - or lack of!
So for the past couple of years I've tried various running plans - some I've planned myself, others downloaded from the internet for free. I've also done more DVD workout programmes which I've found to be great cross-training to complement my running.

I've had periods when I've been super keen and working out twice a day, and other times when I've been less motivated and have done very little, but overall have felt I've gained a lot in my fitness.

Back to square one
At the beginning of this year (2015), we had a family holiday travelling in Asia for a month. During this time I did no exercise and didn't eat particularly healthily. When we came back to Cairns, I couldn't believe how much fitness I'd lost and how hard it was to get back into it. Running was a real struggle and I felt like I'd lost all the fitness I'd built up over the past few years.
Of course it wasn't quite that bad - but it certainly felt bad enough to know that I won't willingly go for a month with no exercise again!
Maybe it's my age catching up with me; recovery takes longer, and I have to be more aware of what I eat and the exercise I do now than I did when I was in my 20s!

This year I've built my fitness back up to my best adult levels yet. I've done it through general fitness DVDs (Insanity), runs on the flat and trail runs and walks. My races this year have all been good - with personal best times and even another trail running medal - to add to my first one ever last year!

This is the first year I've started consistently running longer distances - that's with an eye to my goal of going under 2 hours for a half marathon run I'm doing in 3 weeks time. I'm almost at the end of a half marathon training programme and each long run I do, I'm still amazed that I can run that far! 

I much prefer being fit and able to run these distances to the inactive and far less healthy person I was a few years ago.
I'm now looking forward to seeing what else I can push my body to do.  The big goal being the Great Wall of China Marathon for my 50th birthday! 

So it may have taken me 6 years, but I've gone from struggling with a 500 m run to being able to go out for a 16 km run. I've built this up  slowly through time and perseverance. Anyone can do it - no matter what your starting point. I've read so many inspirational stories of what people can achieve, that it makes me want to do more and more and see just what I am capable of achieving.
Next year I'll be setting bigger and better goals, and working on keeping my training consistent; after all, I've only got seven and a half years to build up to that Marathon!!

Friday, October 9, 2015

My First Bliss Balls

After watching recent documentaries about sugar on TV, I took a look at my own sugar consumption and, yes, I eat too much. I have always had a sweet tooth, and I know I eat too many sugary and sweet snacks.

So I've decided to try and reduce the amount of sugar I eat.  Working from home, the temptation of chocolate biscuits, cakes and chocolate is always within easy reach. I love to bake and we always have sweet treats in the house.  I don't want to stop baking or eating yummy sweet treats altogether, but cutting back seems a sensible thing to do.

For the first couple of days after I decided to do this, I had a dull, constant headache and was fighting the urge to grab chocolate at lots of times during the day.  The headaches have now mostly gone four days later, but the cravings are still there.

So today I decided to take a friend's advice and try making some Bliss Balls.

Now until this friend suggested them, I'd never even heard of Bliss Balls. They are a high protein, low carb snack which aim to fill you up and satisfy sugary cravings, thanks to the dates in them. 

I Googled and went with this recipe to try out.
I needed 2 cups dessicated coconut, 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon coconut cream, 12 dates and 1/2 tsp cinammon.

The recipe said to put everything in the processor..

Looks yummy so far!  Then blend until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Then I had to scoop handfuls of the mixture up and squeeze and shape into balls.

I made 12 balls (the recipe said 10, so mine must be a little small!)

Then, the recipe said to microwave the balls for 1 minute.  This happened...

When I tried to pick them up, they just disintegrated!
I left them to cool a little and tried unsuccessfully to squeeze them back together again.  In the end, I added a couple more tablespoons of coconut cream and squished them back into balls. If I make these again, I would add the extra coconut cream and not bother with the microwave!

I did taste test them too. One before the extra cream and one afterwards. Both yummy!!
The rest have gone in the fridge.

I'm not convinced that these snacks are really any better in terms of sugar than having a chocolate biscuit from the fridge.  I had 2 Bliss Balls, which would have 2 dates in (Since there were 12 dates in total and I made 12 balls).  This is about 32g sugar rather than the 10g that's in one chocolate biscuit! 

However - the dates also contain other nutrients and fibre, that the chocolate biscuits don't, and from what I read, dried fruit is better at curbing hunger than refined sugar.  
I shall give these a try anyway - and there are plenty of Bliss Ball recipes out there to experiment with. 
Do you have any Bliss Ball recipes you can recommend?
Or any other tips or hints that can be used to curb those sugar cravings?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

How do I motivate myself?

A friend asked me the other day, how I motivate myself to go for a run when all I want to do is sit on the couch!  I'd just posted on Facebook that I was good at motivating myself to do things, but not so good at stopping myself from ..well, eating ! 

It made me realise that if I could understand how I motivate myself to run, I should then be able to apply the same principles to being a bit more controlled with my eating habits!

I brainstormed the key things that I think help me in my motivation to exercise - looked at why they are important, and how I can transfer this to better eating habits!

A Clear Purpose / Goal

With my exercise and running, I have races that I've entered and times that I have achieved in the past. I want to improve on those times and my placements in the races too. These are measurable goals - running a particular distance in a particular time.  I also know I feel and look better when I'm exercising more. My muscles and tummy are more toned and I am slimmer.  I have photos of myself at two points in my life on my pinboard. One is from when I was 26 years old and travelling. I was about 60kg and fit. The other photo is from when I was 31 years old, just after having our first baby. I was  80kg and not fit at all!  I look at and think about these pictures when I need motivation of what I want to look like and what I don't want to look like!

My purpose and goal in healthy eating is to lose weight and feel healthier. Although I'm not overweight, I am at the upper end of my 'ideal weight' scale, and have a stubborn 7kg to lose to get down to what I'd like to be again - 60kg.  I'd then fit into all of my clothes (those I've kept but not been able to wear for years), I know I would run faster, with 7kg less to carry, and I would feel so much better in myself.  Having exercised a lot over the past couple of years and lost a little weight, I know it's not the answer to losing weight. I recently read this interesting article which explains how important what you eat rather than your exercise is in terms of losing weight. It also points out that although when you exercise you burn lots of calories, it is a relatively small amount compared to what you burn just living day to day.  It's what I'm eating that needs to change. I'm already happy and good with the exercise!  I just need to remember this and focus on my goals when I'm thinking about eating - not just when I'm motivating myself to exercise!

Have a Plan / Progamme

With my exercise, I found that my gains were much greater when I followed a fixed plan or programme.  I used to just run when I felt like it and how far and fast I went just depended on my mood.  As you can guess, sometimes I really didn't feel like I didn't!  So what kind of programmes or plans? 

I have downloaded free running training programmes from the internet, and also followed the Insanity and Asylum video exercise programmes. I find it helps when I have my workouts mapped out for me each day. I can check them off on my calendar and plan in advance how to fit them into my daily schedule.  The first few days are usually the hardest - both physically and mentally, but once I'm into the swing of it, and can see all those days ticked off, it's easier to keep going!

So with eating - how can I use this to help?  I don't want to plan out what I eat each day. But I can have some planned healthy snacks or meals in my head (or in the fridge) that I can turn to when the hunger pangs hit - rather than the too convenient chocolate biscuits, chocolate milk, chips and cookies!  I've started drinking fizzed water with ice cubes and slices of lemon in it - this looks nice, tastes good and fills me up a little.  I have also started to have non-sugary snacks made up in the fridge, this week I had homemade hommus with carrot sticks; and next I want to try making some Bliss balls that a friend recommended to me. I found a whole heap of recipes here to try!

Visual Progress and Momentum

To be able to see some kind of progress is a huge motivator. Whether it's a faster running time, feeling stronger in a particular workout, or just noticing clothes being a little looser; any noticeable difference helps keep motivation up and spurs me on to do more. I now keep a calendar diary of all my exercise.

 Seeing all the days fill up with runs, cycles and other workouts makes me feel good about what I've done and want to keep on filling that calendar up.  I feel guilty when I see too many blank days and find that motivates me to get up and go!

So with my eating, this should work just the same. The longer I can stick at sensible snacks, portion size and avoiding too much sugar, the more I should start to notice a difference on the scales, with my clothes fitting better and hopefully feeling healthier.  I just have to get through the initial few days and weeks for a noticeable change and so build up that momentum.

Pain and Pleasure

I like to listen to Anthony Robbins motivation CDs.  He speaks about how we are all motivated by what gives us pleasure and what causes us pain. I agree with this completely, and that it's just a matter of choosing what to focus on.

In terms of exercising, this means that when I don't feel like going for a run, I try to focus on how I'll feel after my run, rather than how I feel now.  I know I always feel better after exercising - more awake, happier in myself and satisfied that I actually did it!  When I feel like I don't have time to run. I try to focus on how much more productive I will be once I've been.  

I have also worked hard on getting up early in the mornings (which I have disliked most of my life) and running then. It has taken a long time (maybe a year) but I now enjoy getting up early, and to run first things sets me up for the day - and I don't have the pain of motivating myself to run later in the day, but I do have the pleasure of knowing I've already done my workout before a lot of people are even out of bed!

So how does this apply to food?  Pleasure is definitely a big motivator for me to eat all those lovely tasty cakes, cookies and chocolates.  It's easy to focus on that instant pleasure.  But I need to instead try to focus on the longer term pleasure of the weight loss and healthy feeling that I will have by avoiding too many 'bad' foods.  I think I really need to work on what I'm focussing on - and think ahead more to how I will feel later, rather than instant gratification resulting in guilt and pain later on!

In summary!

I think the answer for motivating myself to NOT eat sugary snacks, have smaller portions and generally eat better is my focus. I have to focus on how I will feel and look later - rather than just the here and now of what I do and don't want to eat.  This is what I have done in terms of motivating myself to exercise lots and regularly, so now I will be trying to apply the same principal to my eating habits; changing them for the long term for a fitter and healthier me!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Pyramid Race 2015 - from last to 2nd in 6 years!

Yesterday was my 6th year of running The Great Pyramid Race here in Cairns, Australia. 
I had a great race day, everything seemed to go well and despite feeling like I really haven't trained for the race this year I finished in my best ever time of 2 hours 9 mins and finished 2nd placed veteran female!

It was such a great feeling and amazing to see how far I've come since my first Pyramid Race in 2009 when it took me 3 hours and 15 mins and I finished last place in the Open Female category. 

In my 6 years of doing this race I've learnt a lot. I've trained hard and gone in knowing I had a chance to do really well, but stuffed up my hydration completely and cramped badly halfway through the race. I've let my mind get the better of me and given up mentally halfway through the race. But this year I really feel like I've learnt how I should run the Pyramid Race.

I went into the race this year with no expectations having done very little training.  

The run to the mountain
I knew from experience that the 3km flat run to the base can be my undoing, so I consciously took it easy and felt good at the base - warmed up and ready to go in just under 17 minutes. 

The climb up
The climb itself (922m) takes me about an hour. I knew my steady pace and stuck to it. If I needed to pass people to stick to this pace I did, but I also didn't worry about people passing me. I made it to the top at the 1 hour and 21 mins mark, so a little more than an hour of uphill, but I was pretty pleased with that and still felt good.

The run down
I now really enjoy this part of the race. The turn around at the top is a great mental feeling and once the uphill is over, my breathing becomes easier. The downhill is about speed with control and enjoying it.  I loved the downhill this year and came down in my fastest ever time of 31 minutes.

The run back 
The 3km run back after climbing the mountain is quite simply a mental challenge. My legs were so tired, but I knew my time was very good and I knew I could run all the way back - albeit slowly. 

 With a jelly snake from my watching daughters to set me on my way, I slowly jogged back. Pretty soon into this final run I felt my legs wanting to cramp, but wasn't going to let that happen and the last 12 mins of the race was spent chanting in my head, 
"you will not cramp, you will not cramp"!
With the finish line in sight, I was really hurting and just wanted to finish, but when I heard my girls shouting for me I managed to put on a bit of a sprint for the line. Although judging by the photos, my feet were barely making it off the ground, so I don't think it was much of a sprint!

So this year I feel like I finally learned how to run The Pyramid Race and I feel really positive and encouraged about my coming years of trail running. To see how far I've come in 6 years of persistence, training (which I've got better at over time in terms of consistency) and learning about race hydration and nutrition; gives me real hope and an excitement about what I could achieve in years to come!

I'm fired up to start training properly again and also to lose some weight.  This is something I talk about lots, start dong and lose 2 or 3 kilos and feel really good, then stop. I think I'm mentally ready now to stick to it beyond the initial couple of kilos, with the incentive of some really great times in my running.

I'm just about to start a 12 week training plan for a half marathon race I'm entered in in November, and there are a couple of trail runs in those 12 weeks too which will be fun.

I'm feeling focused, motivated and ready to take action to become a better and faster runner!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Eat & Run - A Book Review

I recently finished reading this book about ultramarathon runner Scott Jurek.

This man was at the top of ultramarathon running in the States for a long time, and his book tells of his journey to the top and how he got there.

He writes about the kind of training he did over the years, and also a lot about his diet and nutrition. Each chapter even has a recipe at the end. I tried the the vegetarian chilli recipe on P.70 which was very tasty!

I enjoyed the style of the book and hearing Scott's tales of endurance - the things he pushed through and overcame. I find it inspiring and motivating to read about what other people push through to achieve their goals. It often makes my own doubts and stumbling blocks fade away as I realise how small and silly they are in the scale of things.  It's also amazing to realise what the human body is capable of!

Scott became a vegan and is very much an advocate for a plant based diet, proving how nourishing and adequate it can be - it certainly provided him with enough fuel and nutrition to achieve some amazing physical results.

Although I won't be going vegan (I was vegetarian for a few years when I was younger) I'm happy to try to include some vegetarian meals into my meal plans, and as I mentioned before there are some good recipes in the book.

Towards the end of the book, I felt that things really slowed down. Scott went through a phase when he wasn't motivated and although he climbed back out of that, the book didn't finish with the same inspiration and motivation it had started with. It kind of felt flat at the end.

It wasn't as good as the previous book I read - Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes; but I did enjoy reading this book and would recommend it to those interested in running, ultramarathons and the amazing abilities of the human body!

Disclosure - the links in this post take you to The Book Depository where I would receive a small commission if you buy your books there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ultramarathon Man - a book review

I just finished reading this book and I want to pick it up and read it all over again!  Dean Karnazes is one amazing runner. In this book he describes how he got started in ultramarathon running, his progression in the sport over the years and ultimately reflects on why he does it.  Reading the details of, among other things his first ever 100 mile run is not for the squeamish. He chronicles in detail how his body and mind broke down the more he pushed them. But despite reading about toe nails dropping off, going temporarily blind and falling asleep while running and subsequently narrowly missing being run over by a truck; I found the book inspiring and it made me want to run more!

Ok so maybe I don't want to run quite as much as Dean Karnazes, but it made me want to get out more and live life, use my body to it's full potential and not waste another moment.

Dean is an engaging writer, using just enough background description to set the scenes, humour as he talks about the tough parts and sincerity in his emotions and feelings. 
The pace of the book is comfortable and I found myself not wanting to put it down. Perhaps the fact that he wrote the book while running (using a digital recorder) makes it feel like he is just having a chat telling you his story.

My favourite words

I found the book packed full of great words of wisdom to motivate, my favourite being:

"Pain is the body's way of ridding itself of weakness" 

I think I liked this as it helped me understand how he managed to push through all those painful times as his body adapted to running such long distances. He certainly experienced far more pain than I experience on any of my runs - and so this is something I shall tell myself in the future, hopefully helping to push myself more!

Throughout the book I liked Dean's honesty about both the good and the bad parts of his runs. The times when he felt he'd failed, and the times when he wanted to just be at home sitting on the couch, beer in hand, channel surfing on the TV!
  Reading about the feats he has accomplished kind of makes you feel like he's superhuman, but to know he too has days when he doesn't feel like training and has the same struggles and doubts as the rest of us helps you to relate to his journey, even though the scale of it is so much bigger than most of us will ever achieve.

The follow up to this book is Run, which I actually read last year and also loved. Again, I think I'd like to re-read this book again, for more inspiring stories. The style of both books make them as much a motivational read as a story, and you can never have too much motivation!

I would definitely recommend this book to others.
It is a truly amazing story of endurance, self belief and inspiration.
And yes, it does make me want to run an day!

Disclosure: The link to this book takes you to Book Depository where I am an affiliate. I do get a commission for books purchased through this link, but all opinions expressed are my own. I  myself purchased this book through Book Depository last year - this is where I buy all my books!