Race Report: 2016 Canberra Running Festival (and also, how to train for a fun run*)

*when you have two small children, are not a runner, and aren’t going to break any records.

[Obvious disclaimer: Not an expert! Talk to one if you really want to train for a fun run!]

Two years ago I ran the 10km in the Canberra Running Festival and it was not fun. So this year, after Andy and my sister convinced gently encouraged me to register for the 2016 event when I’d not run more than 5km since before falling pregnant with Finn, I promised myself it would be different. I drew up a (very basic) training program for myself, told Toby I’d be training twice a week leaving caring responsibilities in his capable hands, and got to work.

I built up from 5km to 10km by increasing my distance by 1km every two weeks, adding in some cross-training when I could. Any time I was tempted to skip my long run (usually on Sundays – a day of rest!) I remembered how horrible that 2014 run was and how I didn’t want to feel like that again. Also, when you are at home most of the time with two small children it is actually not that hard to want to leave the house and have some time to yourself. It’s like a magic motivator.

The run was at 7am on a beautiful April morning, my favourite time of year in Canberra. I’d been up most of the night before because Finn had started childcare orientation, so obviously he had gastro that night. That he’d caught from spending two hours in a childcare room. Because of course. I thought I’d be okay without much sleep; I was mostly worried about coming down with it myself before I had to leave, but I was feeling fine so off I went.

I had my new playlist ready to go, thanks to Spotify, I was perfectly dressed for the weather (tip: pay attention to the temperature during your training, and what you’re wearing, and how comfortable you are), and I was feeling really great. And that feeling just continued.


I’d done most of my short runs around Red Hill and Mystery Bay with lots of hills and had been getting discouraged at my times, but I was so glad to have done so many hills as I barely noticed the ones on this route, not even the one I remembered being a killer from last time. And instead of completely losing sight of Jude for the whole thing I managed to keep her in sight for most of it, which was excellent motivation. I never felt the need to walk. I started to struggle a bit around the 8km mark, so I couldn’t catch up to her for the finish like I’d planned, but once I hit the 9km mark I felt stronger and finished with a time of 1 hour 1 minute 30 seconds – a whole 30 seconds off my previous personal best.

I just about cried when I crossed the finish line, I was so proud of myself. Jude was still there drinking her Hydralyte (she just calls it cordial, because she calls a spade a spade does Jude) so I jumped up and down to make sure she knew how amazing I was. I nearly hugged the girl who gave me my medal. I hung around the event for a while so I could give dad a pep talk for his 5km event starting at the far more civilised time of 9am. But then I started to feel a bit ill, a bit bad for Toby being stuck at home with two kids, one of whom had gastro, so I high-tailed it out of there. (I was fine, by the way. And so was Toby, because both kids had slept until 8.30. Because of course they do that for dad.)

So, if you’re thinking wow, if a person who spent 30 years making up lame excuses to avoid running can now actually enjoy a “fun” run and somehow manage to spend time away from her children then I can do that too, read on!

First, decide you will do a fun run. Talk to other fit people who will encourage you. Don’t mention it to anyone who thinks “fun run” is an oxymoron. Choose one far enough in the future that you’ll be feeling comfortable with the distance, but not so far that you lose your mojo in the meantime. Twelve weeks or less. Then, start training. You can get programs online, in books, or just in your running app on your phone. (You should get an app either way, so you can track your distances and get friendly updates on your pace. I use Run Keeper.) I didn’t follow a specific program this time, because SMALL CHILDREN. I just aimed for a part realistic (one long run a week, two rest days a week when I was at home with two children), part idealistic (four other sessions, including Jazzercise, strength, HIIT and a short/fast/hilly run, plus continuing my core work) program. Some weeks I did it all; lots of weeks I only managed the long run and a Jazzercise class.

If something isn’t working during your training, fix it. Bored? Change up the playlist, switch to podcasts, try running in silence (I’m too scared to try this but many people swear by it), invite a friend, go to a different spot. Disappointed in your times or that you’re still feeling shattered by the end of your long run? The route might be the problem – I was struggling to get past the 7km mark until I switched from the trails around Red Hill to a flat concrete route around Lake Burley Griffin. It’s boring but suddenly I was able to do 10km, and I still do the hills on my short run days. Uncomfortable in your clothes? Invest in a new bra or pants (we don’t want any wobbling), new shoes, socks, whatever it takes. Also, wear sunnies and a hat even if it’s not that sunny. I can’t believe the number of people I see who are so busy squinting and brushing the sweat out of their eyes that they trip over themselves. Really sore? Invest in a foam roller (seriously), book a massage, do more stretching. No, like really sore, like something is wrong? Then go see a physio and think about booking into a running coaching session for some help with technique. You shouldn’t be in real pain. But, don’t let annoying socks or an outdated play list stop you. You’re going to make it!

Finally, organise a post-run celebration of some kind. If you know other people in the same event, convince them to join in. Whether it’s hanging around afterwards for an egg and bacon roll or meeting up at the pub later for a debrief, book it in. Don’t be shy to go to the nearest coffee strip still in your sweaty gear. You won’t be the only ones and you’ll get to feel all smug in amongst the hangover crowd.

I hope this encourages at least one person to give it a go. For me, that feeling of accomplishment at the end was worth every tough kilometre in the lead-up, every Sunday morning spent pounding the pavement when I could have been still in my pyjamas. When you spend your days knee-deep in nappies and play-dough it can be really empowering to do something that’s just for you. Massive thanks to Toby who was just as committed as me to making sure I got out there and didn’t die. It feels really good to be back.




Race Report: Lifeline Fun Run (and the people you see at fun runs)

I put off writing about this fun run because I was pregnant at the time and it was impossible to talk about it without also mentioning that fact, which is fortunate overall but was very unfortunate when it came to this event. Much like 2013’s challenging runs – either due to hail or unexpected ascents – this one unexpectedly pushed us to our limits. Jude and I signed up together, convinced by the excellent cause it was supporting, the fact we’d get to run on the not-even-opened-to-traffic-yet Majura Parkway, and we’d neglected to enter a single bush marathon in 2014. (I blame the fact that the space tracker station event was held on my birthday this year.) I signed up for the 10km, downloaded a training program onto my phone, started training, promptly discovered I was pregnant, fell prey to dreadful morning sickness, knew I wouldn’t be able to finish training, and emailed the lovely Karen at Lifeline to switch to the 5km. Jude joined me in solidarity, because that’s what sisters do.

It was held on 23 November, a time of year with an average temperature in Canberra of 22 degrees.

It was 38 degrees.

That’s pretty much all you need to know: pregnant lady who hasn’t trained, “running” in unseasonably hot weather. The start line was at a winery (read: no shade). The route was on a brand new highway (read: no shade). It was 33 degrees by the time I hobbled over the finish line at 10.15. I’d walked the vast majority of it, emptied both my water bottles (which I don’t normally run with because I don’t run marathons, but I have a runner’s belt to carry them when I’m pregnant), ate all my snacks (one of the cruelties of pregnancy nausea is that eating helps – which means you start putting on weight immediately and you actually get sick of stuffing your mouth with more starches), rested for a good few minutes under the only shade available (a bridge), and still felt like I was going to die by the end. It was unpleasant, to say the least.

Huddling in the shade before we begin.

Huddling in the shade before we begin.

I did feel sorry for the Lifeline organisers, because on any other day (including the day before or after) this would have been a great event. But it was a terrible setting for such heat and sun and you could just tell everyone was super hot and cranky whether they’d done the marathon or 5km. It was the event’s first year so hopefully next year the weather will be kinder and they will still get a good turnout.

All that walking did give me time to think though, and especially ponder on the types of people you see at fun runs. Anyone who thinks they wouldn’t fit in at a fun run needs to go and have a look, because everyone fits in.

There are the people who are chronically underprepared. They show up in jeans or sandals or the same worn-out sneakers they’ve been walking the dog in for ten years. They don’t have a hat and they’re wearing the wrong bra. They look uncomfortable before they begin, or sometimes I wonder if they were just walking past, saw there was a fun run, and decided to join right then.

At the other end of the spectrum are people who are uber prepared for their 5km event. They’re wearing top-to-toe skins, even in mild weather. They’re carrying three litres of water as well as a back pack (presumably that’s where the first aid kit is). They’ve got their Garmin all set up, sometimes even two in case one fails, and the best sneakers money can buy. They’re stretching and jogging and laughing bravely in case anyone thinks they are at all nervous or unprepared.

There are the gym goers who are usually middle-aged and overweight and wearing the T shirt the gym or personal training company gave them, and they’ve been training for months for this event because any “10 Tips To Get In Shape” article will recommend having a clearcut goal to motivate you. They’re in a nervous group but they always try really hard and I hope when I am that age and shape I’m still getting out there and having a go even if I’m scared.

You can tell the marathon runners because they are all tanned and sinewy with bald heads and mirrored sunglasses. They wear tiny running shorts and nothing on top, or a fluoro bra if they’re female, and look like they live on spinach and egg whites. Sometimes they look like they are in their element and it’s easy to wish you loved something as much as they love running. But other times they look absolutely wrecked like they’d rather be anywhere else, and then you’re just glad that you have friends and food in your life, as well as running, because that’s called being well-rounded and it gives you something to look forward to after your run.

There are the do-gooder groups, wearing T shirts for an important cause or another, who don’t really try that hard but they wave their flags and make sure everyone knows what they are really there for. There’s the families, skinny kids with skinny mums and dads, and I can’t wait for Emma to start coming with me so she grows up knowing running is not to be feared. There’s the veterans, who look a lot like the marathon runners only more weathered and much happier, presumably just to be alive and still running.

These are the sorts of thoughts you have while you’re having to finish a 5km as slowly as possible lest you and your unborn child melt to the pavement. I didn’t run for 6 weeks after that, but now the morning sickness has eased I’m looking forward to getting out for some more slow runs before I really can’t do it anymore.