February 2020 was the last time I lined up at the start line (well not quite on the start line – as that’s for the real athletes – but mid-way back!) of a running event. The Tarawera Ultra Marathon was the longest I’d ever ran and it was an incredible event. Around six months after the event I started to develop Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, which side-lined my running until I started to make a come back in January 2021 – only to suffer a serious ankle injury in March 2021 (with a spectacular fall from my daughter’s slack line – tightrope thing… really should have said, ‘Nope’ to trying that one!).
It’s fair enough to say the last two years have taught me a lot about the need to incorporate a whole heap of strength (hello ‘glutes’!), stability and stretching into my week, not just bolting out the door for a run after a few minutes warm up. I joined a local run club that offered online workouts providing all the inspiration and motivation I need (thanks Life in Motion Run Club!). I had planned on joining the run club for some of their weekend jaunts on the trails of Wellington – but the injuries kept me on the flat for some time (and the ankle injury kept me from even walking comfortably for a few months). By the time I started to recover I received news of my Mum’s deterioration in the UK, which then took me over there for four months, from September last year to this January, so I really haven’t had my body (or mind) completely focused on running…. until now!
Since the beginning of February I’ve been consistent with workouts, yoga and slowly increasing the amount of running I do, introducing more hills in April and May.
It’s so great to feel stronger and fitter, but most importantly feel comfortable about being on the trails again, without being in pain. I am acutely more aware of listening to my body and holding back when the temptation is to do more – as I really don’t want to be sidelined for months again! I love the mental clarity I feel from being on the trails, it’s like a moving meditation.
By May of this year I felt ready to sign up for a couple of events and with excited anticipation turned up for one of the Xterra Wellington Trail runs – not far from where I live – on the Red Rocks reserve. The week before the event there was a heavy swell warning on the south coast of Wellington, so the trail was modified to avoid the flat beach section and stay within the hills – adding another big climb!
What I love about the Xterra events is the people and the way trail runners look out for one another. The medium and short courses are open to walkers and runners alike, so I mostly hike up the hills (especially ones with a very steep gradient – of which there were many on this course!) and jog the other bits (though some of the steep down hill descents aren’t always very runnable – unless you happen to have mountain goat legs!).
I was really pleased to be able to hike up the hills (with a total elevation gain, over 13km, of nearly 1,000 metres!) without having to stop and catch my breath and on the down bits I was flaying out my arms and whooping with delight at being out on the trails and flying free of pain (though I needed to do a whole heap of stretches after the event and made sure I attended a yin yoga class the next evening at the wonderful ‘NOWBreathe.‘ studio).
The week after the Xterra event I headed over to the Wairarapa to participate in the inaugural ‘The Tora‘ a 21km trail run/walk over private land on the south coast of the Wairarapa, an hour’s drive from the wine village of Martinborough.
There was also a 13.5km event and a 5km event – all raising funds for the CatWalk Trust, helping people with spinal cord injuries to get back on their feet. I put the word out to local runners and walkers and a few decided to join me, which meant we had a fun Friday evening prior to the event and enjoyed the atmosphere at the event site after our time on the trails (the post run food and beverages were exceptional and very plentiful!).
We were so blessed with the weather, as the location is very remote and exposed (particularly when it’s windy!). We woke early, before sunrise, for the bus from Martinborough to the event start. It was a stunning, but cold morning.
Most of the course was on open land, with little shelter from the elements (thankfully we weren’t in need of any shelter!). There were some sections that wound through beautiful native woodlands and the undulating course kept our legs switching gears and using all the muscles!
A few days prior to the event there had been some huge swells on the coast and a downpour of rain created some extremely muddy sections of track for everyone to slip and slide their way over! There was a section at the beginning that had us all in a bit of a log jam, whilst we balanced over a narrow section of rocks to try and avoid starting with completely wet feet.
The scenery along the course was absolutely stunning and I can see why this is such a popular 3 day private walk (bookings are almost sold out for the 22-23 summer season and open for the 23-24 season!).
For this event we had a generous time of 6.5 hours to finish the 21km event, allowing people to participate as walkers. Many of those that had entered as runners ended up walking large sections of the course, due to the thick, heavy and very slippy mud. The atmosphere at the finish line was a very warm and welcoming one, with a band playing and lots of refreshments. Two of the people I attended the event with finished around the same time and so we were quite merry by the time our walking friend crossed the finish line a couple of hours after us. We were all there to greet her over the line.
Participating in these two events felt amazing and I can’t wait for more! The ‘Running Calendar NZ‘ is my go to place for finding new events. I am looking forward to participating in at least one of the last two Xterra events of this year (both in June), before visiting my oldest daughter in Melbourne, at the end of June (for her 19th Birthday!) and then heading away to the UK to see family in July and August. On my return I’ll be gearing up for the Rotorua half marathon in September and continuing to enjoy the beautiful trails in my neighbourhood, on the south coast of Wellington – where there are plenty of hills to keep my 48 year old legs ticking over and getting stronger for plenty of adventures in my fifties! Onwards and upwards!