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Riaza Trail Challenge – mountain running

I like to do things that scare me. And mountain running definitely falls into that category. While we’re in Spain, I wanted to join a race, and while reading Trail Run magazine I came across the Riaza Trail Challenge. It looked absolutely terrifying. I love running trails which also means running a lot of hills, but ‘mountain running’ just sounded so difficult.

So, I signed up, toying with the idea of doing the 40km, but eventually caving in a little to my fears (thankfully) and signed up for the 20km race.

Elevation profile for the 20km race.

We booked some accommodation for the weekend, and I set to training. My training was spot on. I was already in good shape, so I set to upping my distance. We’re also travelling and doing a lot of walking in general, so I knew I could easily manage 20km. It was the elevation that was going to be the problem. I had run this sort of elevation before, but not at this altitude, and I hadn’t been training for hills until I signed up. We were staying in a lot of places that didn’t have a hill to be found, so I made sure I included some stairs on each run. In the last week before the race, we stayed in Asturias, which is full of mountains and hills, so I found as many big ones as I could during that week. Unfortunately, something upset my stomach that week too, so my running took a bit of a dive. It still wasn’t good by race day, but I was determined to complete the race, so pushed on, making sure I stayed well hydrated.

We arrived in Riaza on Friday afternoon, and had to wait to check in to our accommodation, so headed into the centre of town to pick up my bib and t-shirt.

On the way, we could see the mountain that I would be running. It looked high. So high. Scarily high. You couldn’t see the very top because it was covered with with a cloud cap, but even then, it looked high. I was now really, really nervous. It wasn’t the distance that made me nervous, only the height. I felt strong in my body, and I knew I could do it. I just knew I’d need to fight my mind the whole way up.

Later that day the cloud cap cleared and we could see the mountain more clearly. Since I knew my body could cope, why was I scared? The more I thought about it rationally, the more I realised that I had done everything I could to prepare and I was going to be able to make it. My goal: to make the 3 hours 30 mins cut off time.


Race morning I felt great. I got up early, did some stretching, ate some toast with peanut butter and banana and headed off to the start line to watch the 40km & the 60km start. Unfortunately I missed it by 5 minutes, but getting there early gave me a chance to soak up the atmosphere and get excited. There’s a real energy around the start of a running event, and it is one of the main reasons I do it. I love solitary running in the wilderness, but running at an event gets the adrenaline pumping like nothing else. I couldn’t believe I was really going to do a mountain run. In Spain!

20 mins until start time

My husband and kids arrived to see me off at the start line, and I could see my kids were worried. They told me they didn’t want me to get lost on the mountain, and that they were worried I’d come face to face with a bear or a wolf. We assured them that bears and wolves don’t live in these mountains and I gave them a kiss thinking ‘I don’t really want to get lost either’. I had the GPS map with me. I’d be okay.

As the race started, the excitement was palpable as competitors were shouting, cheering and dancing. So much more exuberant than the start of a race in Australia. This continued for the first two kms of the race where people would randomly cheer, or clap. It made it so exciting.

Everyone lined up in the chute ready for the start

I was armed with a very specific plan of which inclines I was going to walk, and estimates of times at each kilometre. It all went out the window at the very start of the race. Another lesson in the values of plans, but the also the value of being able to abandon them. I had anticipated running the first two kilometres to give me a good starting pace, but there were so many people on the single trail, that it was bottlenecked. Everyone had to walk, and walk at a very slow pace and the trees were so close there was no overtaking to be done. I found this frustrating, but the random cheering and clapping kept me feeling good.

I powered up the first 5 kilometres. I felt really good. I ran where I could and walked with a strong pace where I needed to. I chatted in Spanish to a lady in front of me who was doing the 11km. She told me I was crazy to go as high as the 20km. I felt she was right.

At the 5km drink stop I was right on my target pace, but was already feeling the burn in my legs, and I knew this was the steepest part coming up.

Letting some people pass me, I slowed down. I was feeling the shallower breaths required by the altitude (I was already higher in altitude than I’d ever been before). I took each step carefully and slowly. I am glad I took this approach as it got me to the 7km mark with good spirits. I paused for some breaths on the way up. Each time I did, I knew it would slow my pace down, but I knew there was still a lot of steep climbing to go. I started hearing that voice in my head, ‘you can’t do this’, ‘you’re already exhausted, don’t keep going’, ‘just stop and rest awhile’. I listened to it, and said to myself ‘you can do this’, ‘you’ve done harder things before’, ‘you did everything you could to prepare’ and ‘one step at a time’. I repeated all of these like mantras and slowly made my way up. I had to constantly battle the demons in my mind. As the incline got steeper and the air got thinner, I had more of these mental demons come and face me. I started feeling like this was the hardest thing I had ever done, couldn’t understand why I had signed up, and that mountain running really wasn’t my thing. People overtook me. I kept climbing. The tree line ended and the large rocks appeared. I kept climbing. The air chilled and I kept climbing.

At the first peak, the views opened up and I started to feel truly alive. I stopped to take a couple of pictures. What’s the point of climbing a mountain if you don’t stop to appreciate it for a moment?

The air up there was fresh and clear, the views were spectacular, and I felt like nothing could stop me now. The final ascent was exhilarating and the burn in my legs and the huffing and puffing couldn’t affect me anymore. They were just a part of being, and no longer caused any doubts in my mind.

Finally, right at the top, there was a man, all rugged up agains the wind and the cold. In my limited Spanish, I understood him to say ‘You made it to the top, well done. All you have to do now is go down!’ I thanked him profusely. A quick look at my watch showed that I wouldn’t make the cut off time. I would have to run the last 10kms faster than I had ever run 10kms before. And I was already tired. Knowing that I would miss the cut off time released me from needing to keep a certain pace, however I didn’t want to be there all day, so I started running.

The first part of the descent was a steep technical trail, very rocky, and covered with loose shale. I took it slowly. I wasn’t so hooked up on pace that I needed to injure myself. I picked my way amongst the shale and when the track widened up a little, and the shale was less, I started to pick up the pace. I kept a really fast pace and reduced my average pace so far from 14 min/km to 11min/km. I felt good.

However around the 16km mark I hit a wall. I was feeling really tired. I walked some flat sections and tried to recuperate, and kept eating my snacks at regular intervals. I ran/walked a few kms, keeping a 10min/km pace but feeling really done in. The trail followed a fast flowing river, and even though I was tired, I was able to enjoy its beauty.

Soon, I started being overtaken by the 40km and 60km lead runners. They were all looking strong. I was impressed. They shouted ‘vamos’ – ‘let’s go’ and ‘venga’ – ‘come on’ if any of them saw me walking and it really got me going. I ran the last two kilometres feeling mentally strong (but physically worn out) and I really think it was due to the encouragement from these people who had run so much further (and harder) than me.

As I turned into the village, someone yelled to me ‘ya lo has hecho!’- ‘you have already done it’, and they were the best words I could have heard. With a renewed burst, I sprinted towards the finish line, and my kids joined me in the last few metres to cross with me holding my hands.

Drinking a beer, looking at the mountain

I didn’t make the cut off time of 3:30, but made it in 3:47, and was really happy. It was the hardest thing I have ever done (let’s leave childbirth out of this) and I was so proud of how I managed it mentally and physically. I’m always telling my kids that bravery is when you are scared of something but do it anyway. I was the definition of brave that day.

Watching the rest of the runners come in while drinking a beer in the sun,I thought to myself, that’s it. I don’t need to do a mountain race again. Good. Tick. Done.

Two days later we went for a walk to the base of the mountain. It doesn’t look so big, I thought, I’d like to do that again.

A few days later

Cleland Trail Running Championship 24.66km

A 25km trail run. As I signed up, I said to my husband, ‘this is crazy, why do I want to do this?’. I had never run further than 21.6km and the elevation gain on this run was going to be over 700m. This was scary.

Even after training hard with a lot of hours on the trails, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do this run. Self-doubt is a powerful force. Standing at the starting line, I still wasn’t sure.

I’m a slow runner, I don’t ever claim to be fast, and it’s not why I run. As I’ve said before time and again, I run because I love it. My favourite places to run are trails, but all my long trail runs have been excruciatingly slow. To that end, I set myself the goal of finishing this event before the cut off time of 3 hours 40 minutes. This would be challenging for me. The first 10km was mostly downhill but the last 15km was a steady climb, with the most brutal part, dubbed ‘Doug’s Hill’ just after the 20km mark.

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Cleland Trail Running Championship 24.66km course

As I stood on the starting line, I was full of self-doubt, but I knew that if I kept to my race plan, I would be able to finish. Whether that would be within the cut-off time was another question.

My plan was to run 75% and walk 25% even in the early stages, so that I left some energy in the tank for the gruelling climb at the end. As I started off, it was so tempting to throw the plan out the window. Having everyone around me running full pelt at the start made me think I should keep up, but I continually said to myself ‘run your own race, stick to the plan’. This proved very useful in the later stages… but more of that later.

Approximately 4km in on the Wine Shanty Track. Photo courtesy of Michael Slagter.

My gorgeous family turned up at four out of the five drink stations to cheer me on. This gave me an incredible boost, and I cannot thank them enough. I first met them 5km in at Greenhill Road, where they were cheering and waving ‘go mummy’! Nothing beats that.

The first 10km were fairly plain sailing. You would hope so, being downhill. I had also been working on my downhill technique during training, so I could move at a fairly good speed. I covered the first 10km in 71 minutes even with my walking breaks.

Down at Waterfall Gully, a few of us stopped to help someone who had fallen down. She wasn’t in a good way, but thankfully had someone with her to help her out. As we continued on, a few of us commented how glad we were that it wasn’t us.

As the ascent of Mt Osmond started, the sun started beating down a little harder, but I enjoyed the view of the city, sky and ocean. It was on the long climb up to Eagle on the Hill that I started to be glad of my run/walk plan. I felt strong walking up the steeper sections and managed to pass a number of people who seemed to be hitting a wall.

At the 20km mark, it was my turn to take a tumble. I landed well, thankfully, but my elbow was bleeding. I took a moment to wash it out with water, then started the climb up Doug’s Hill.

This was by far the hardest part of the day: a steep climb, requiring hands and feet to get up. Many people were stopping half way up (I also took a moment), and as you turned a corner, it just got steeper. I passed a few people on the way up, and we all acknowledged to each other how hard this was, and that we believed we could make it.

Close to the finish line. Photo courtesy of Michael Slatger.

One thing I can say for trail runners is that they are always there for you when you need it.

Doug’s Hill had slowed my time down incredibly, so I knew I had to keep my pace up from there to the finish line.
There was another 4km to go, so I tried to ignore my bleeding (and hurting) elbow and kept up with my run/walk for the rest of the race.

As I came down the home stretch, my daughter and son ran the last few metres with me across the finish line. No better way to finish.

Coming across the finish line with my daughter & son. Photo courtesy of Michael Slatger.

Official time: 3 hours 38 mins 08 seconds. 2 minutes under my goal time!

I’m very happy with my time, but most of all I’m feel a great sense of accomplishment. I looked up at the hills this morning on my way into work, and thought, ‘Yep, I did that.’







Running in Hobart, TAS – Part 3

After a big week at work, I decided to treat myself to a trail run on Saturday morning. I had been watching Mt Wellington all week, and so decided that I wanted to explore some of Wellington Park.

Within my training plan, I was only supposed to run 5km so decided to catch a bus to Fern Tree to start my run up there. Fern Tree is a small locality on the edge of the park which provides an entry point to a number of trails and has a pub and cafe. The bus ride up was extremely picturesque, interesting architecture on steep hillsides as we climbed our way up the side of the Mountain.

I had studied the Wellington Park map and decided to tackle the O’Grady’s Fall track which looped from Fern Tree to some falls, and then back to Fern Tree via Rocky Whelan’s cave.

This was a good plan…

But as happens on trail runs, I took a wrong turn (I found some tracks were not very well sign posted) and ended up on the Radford’s Track. IMG_2940

IMG_2941 Both tracks were fun to run. It was a strong uphill climb, some of which I walked, but the ferns, eucalypts and rocky paths were stunning and the light was filtering in through the canopy. As always, I found my happy place on the trail.

After a couple of kms I found myself in a clearing with a road. As I hadn’t really looked at my map since Fern Tree, I had no idea where I was or what I had stumbled upon. As I crossed the road, I found a coffee van (very

Mt Wellington from The Springs (and a coffee van)

tempting to stop and have a sit down for a while) and a view of Mt Wellington. There was some signage that told me that I had arrived at The Springs. Originally a home site, the area is now a lovely picnic spot with lawns and a hut.  A nice spot to stop on your way up to the summit (if that’s what you are doing – I would love to tackle it one day).


After consulting the map, I took a route back down to Fern Tree that took me to Silver Falls via Reid’s Track (a very rugged downhill section that took me forever to navigate at a snail’s pace). The falls were beautiful and refreshing. I took a moment to enjoy them (and stick my head in!).

Silver Falls


Eventually I made my way back to Fern Tree only to discover that I’d missed the bus by 5 minutes and there wouldn’t be another one for an hour. I paced around Fern Tree for a while, trying to figure out if I should stop and get some lunch while waiting for the bus, or whether I should go for a longer run. While doing so, I noticed a lot of people disappearing down an interesting looking track so I decided to make it a longer run. It looked like it went the same direction as the road back down the hill, so I though I could always catch up at the bus at a different stop.

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Elevation & Map – Fern Tree to Hobart

It turned out to be the Pipeline Track, which runs along a pipeline built in the 1800s to provide a water supply to Hobart. This track was a gentle descent to the Waterworks reserve. A scenic run including old aqueducts, historic buildings, ruins and there is plenty

Pipeline Track

of signage along the way describing the history.


I ended up running all the way back to my accommodation in Hobart, as I figured it was easier than trying to find a bus stop. Luckily I had enough water with me.

All in all it was a magnificent run that once again renewed my love for running.

10 out of 10.


Running in Hobart – Part 2

My next Hobart run was up to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.

Seeing the local Botanical Gardens when travelling is always a must for me. I love seeing how the plants from all over the world have been combined in a way that harmonises and creates such a peaceful setting.

I followed a trail from the city up towards The Domain. A good uphill climb at the start of the run gave some beautiful views northwards up the river, and also eastwards across the river.

I then followed a trail downhill into the Botanical Gardens. The gardens were spectacular, and I spent a bit of time zig-zagging around the paths. I had hoped to come out of one of the eastern gates to get onto the Intercity cycleway for the return run, but ended up getting stuck at a major road that was not passable.

I eventually found my way through to the cycleway after a bit of retracing my path, and ran along the cycleway back to the city, with a short detour to the War Memorial. The cycleway wasn’t an interesting run. Fairly flat and with little to see. I wouldn’t recommend it as a great part of the run.

The Botanical Gardens however was well worth visiting and was a very beautiful place to run. I’d like to go back with the kids one day and explore it, as there were a lot of beautiful nooks and crannies (and secret paths!) that they’d love to discover.

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Botanic Gardens run
Mount Wellington from the War Memorial

Running in Hobart, TAS – Part 1

Work took me to Hobart recently for the MONA FOMA festival (which was amazing, definitely worth checking out).

So on my rare moments when I wasn’t working, I took to the trails and streets and explored. I started by exploring the Greater Hobart Trails website which proved to be a great resource when planning my runs for the week.

I didn’t have a lot of time for this run, so opted for a shorter run around Battery Point combining two runs from the Greater Hobart Trails website – the Sculpture Trail and the Battery Point route.

It was a gorgeous easy run around the Georgian era buildings that Hobart is famous for.

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Battery Point 5km
Mt Wellington under cloud

Some of the route I was following from the website was inaccessible, as I went early and there were some gates that were still locked for the day, but I found my way using a different route.

Mount Wellington stands tall beside Hobart and is a sight to be seen. One thing I love about Mount Wellington is how different it looks every time you see it. I took a photo of it every day. On the right here it has a canopy of cloud as the dawn sun shines up towards it.

This run was a great way to have a preliminary explore of Hobart. From this run, I discovered all the facilities  would need (including some good whiskey bars!).

The sculptures on the way kept my eyes up and at some moments I forgot I was running.

I would highly recommend this run when you arrive in Hobart. A great way to start your Hobart adventure.


Running in Halls Gap, The Grampians

Next stop on the holiday was in Halls Gap, in the Grampians, Victoria. This amazing place rises up out of nowhere, and has so much to offer. I could easily spend a month (or more) here exploring.

I was lucky enough to get out for two runs while at Halls Gap. We stayed at the caravan park in the middle of Halls Gap, which is flanked on two sides by the Grampians National Park.

IMG_2035For the first run, I headed on the closest track to our campsite, which had a sign to Venus Baths (which sounded interesting!). It wasn’t far, and it was so beautiful I decided to bring the kids back the next day, so I headed further up the track towards one of the peaks. The climb was steep, and the rain was setting in so I walked some of it. Eventually the climb swapped from steep rock steps, to a steep rock face, with a handrail to pull up. I decided that in the slippery conditions, (and I hadn’t told anyone I was going up that way) that I should turn around.

Halls Gap Trails

I wanted to go a few extra kms than I had, so on the way back, I thought I might take a little detour up towards Bullaces Glen. It sounded interesting and the sign said it was 2km, so why not? Once halfway there, there was another sign leading to Chatauqua Peak. I couldn’t resist, so headed up that track. Again the climb was steep, so I walked a large percentage of it, but it was well worth it! The view from up top was almost 360 degrees, and as the sun was setting, the golden light peeking through the rain clouds was amazing.

Panorama taken from on top of the Chautauqua peak

in the end I needed to get back, as the sun was setting and I didn’t have my head torch, but took the alternative trail down so I did a loop. The map looked a little like this in the end…
Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 9.42.43 pmA few extra snaps of my travels on this run:Happy to be out


My second Halls Gap run was pouring with rain, and foggy, so not so many snaps of that run, but I still managed a 7km alongside the creek and back down the bike track to our camp. I’d really love to spend some more time in this intricate place, to explore the trails and find what wonders it has hidden, as I think I’ve only really scratched the surface. I’d love to hear from others that have run any Grampians trails. Please leave a comment below.

Halls Gap Run 2

Running in Jervis Bay NSW

We’ve taken our little family on a camper-van adventure from Sydney to Adelaide, with a few detours, and I’m making the most of the time to run some trails. This is the first of a series of posts from my holiday runs.Jervis Bay Grass Patch Beach

Our first stop was Jervis Bay, at the Booderee National Park. This is my second visit, and both times, it has been nothing short of paradise. Apart from all the wonders it offered the kids (they particularly loved the white beaches and the Botanic Garden exploring), it offered a very picturesque place to run.

We were camped at Green Patch, so my run started there, and headed up to the hill behind the campground, following the Telegraph Creek Nature Trail. From there I weaved my way back to the road via some fire tracks, and made my way to the beach where my husband and kids were playing.
Map of Jervis Bay Run

Although it was mid-May, the temperature was perfect for running, warm but not hot, and less humid than my Sydney runs. Jervis BayMost of the trails were in heavy woodland, with the occasional view to the sea. The morning sun streaming in through the trees was beautiful.

Family playingLater in the afternoon, we hung out at the beach, and I swam (well…floated) around while the kids played on the beach. If you’re in this neck of the woods, I strongly recommend spending some time at this National Park. It is more spectacular than you could imagine.

Running in Manly, NSW

Me at the topToday’s run was a 9.5km from Queenscliff to North Head. I had hoped to go a little further, but was running out of daylight. The views were breathtaking. The run started along the Esplanade that follows Manly Beach. Beautiful weather meant that many were out enjoying the sun and the sea and the sand.

From there, the run went along the side of the headland, lined with sculptures, to Shelley Beach. From there, I climbed up the headland to amazing views. At the top of the headland, the only way forward was through a hole in the wall. Through the stone wallLovingly decorated with a heart, the hole in the wall leads into North Head National Park, that used tooperate as the army defence point should any attacks from the sea threaten Sydney.

Within the National Park, I came across plenty of sandstone, banksia bushes in flower and mysterious paths through the scrub. My favourite was the lake right on top of the headland formed by the natural dips in the stone.

Lake on the headland

From there, I continued into the military areas, where there are a number of gun pits and the main military base. You are able to go into a lot of these areas, and it was frightening and exciting all at once. To see these monuments of history was fantastic.Gun area

This was a great run, and I strongly recommend anyone visiting the area takes some time out to explore this amazing landscape, history and culture.

Laughing at Hills

Out for an 18km run the other day and was really proud of myself for getting to the top of a very bug hill. As I looked ahead to see what was next, I saw a hill before me that was so steep, it appeared vertical.

All I could do was laugh.

Why was I laughing? Because surely there was no way I could climb that hill. It was laughable to even think it an option. It was too steep. It was too high. It was impossible. It seemed so ridiculous that I would even consider it, that I laughed out loud. And I laughed hard.


I had climbed this hill before. So what was stopping me?

I ran down the hill I was on, and got a good run-up. I managed to run all the way to the top of that unsurmountable hill.

Was I superwoman? No.

But it made me realise, that sometimes when something seems ridiculous, or impossible, all you have to do is get yourself a little closer to it, and you might realise it isn’t as impossible as it first seemed. Yet another life lesson learnt from running.

And I also learned that there’s nothing wrong with laughing at hills.

Running in Northern Rivers, NSW

My family are holidaying in Northern NSW at the moment, and while my husband took the kids fishing, I decided to try a trail. I did a fair bit of research, and found the Northern Rivers Bushwalking Club site was useful in finding local trails. After some consideration, decided to head to Rocky Creek Dam. My husband and I had picnic-ed up there about 10 years ago, and I had fond memories so thought it would be a good option to try.

When I arrived, I checked out the information board and decided to head off on the Swamp Turkey Walk which was 6km return. I’m still building my distance slowly after a minor knee injury and was looking for 5km, so that was perfect.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/f1d/58695303/files/2014/12/img_1548.jpgIt was raining when I got up this morning, but wasn’t going to be deterred, so packed some salt for the leeches, and a hat to keep the drips off my face. Not wanting to get my phone drenched, I didn’t take many photos, but there’s some excellent pictures on this blog, Travelling Type. I did manage to take this photo on the left, though.

Here’s the map, I didn’t do the full 6km, just a 5km return instead.

Rocky Creek Dam Run

The run starts by crossing the dam wall, which is always fun and heads into some rainforest. Shortly after, the run heads across the spillway of the dam (which you are only allowed to cross when the dam is not full and no water is overflowing). The run then heads into the Nightcap National Park which is a dense rainforest of fig trees, black butt eucalypts and vines.

As the rain was steady, I didn’t see much wildlife but the bird calls were incredible. I’m pretty sure I heard some Lyrebirds too, as something sounded a lot like a sheep and I wasn’t anywhere near a sheep paddock.

All up it was a great run, and I didn’t need the salt after all (although a saw a leech on my shoe as I was taking it off). There’s something very special about running in a rainforest in the rain.