Last week my coach was away so I received instructions for training sessions by text. Monday night’s beepedy- beep-beep was, as expected, a list of distances, paces and recovery times in shorthand. What I didn’t expect was the second beepedy-beep-beep as I was climbing into bed. When I somewhat ungracefully located my phone in the dark, the message that flashed up was this:
Run fast, not hard.

And that was about as much thought as I gave it before I reached the land of nod.

But since then I have gone over it a fair bit. It seems like such a “yeah, yeah” easy task, but you can bet your life it is easier said than done. In fact, when I concentrated on this sentiment during my session, it was like being caught in some crazy tug-of-war in my head: Faster…relax…go faster….relax your shoulders…faster…relax. Don’t try this at home – it makes you kind of dizzy! Every time I tried to relax I felt like I was dawdling and every time I tried to accelerate my whole body tensed up. No doubt I probably looked a little odd to any random onlooker passing No. 1 oval on their way to work! So what’s the secret? How do you simultaneously move like a butterfly and sting like a bee? I, for one, am yet to find out!

Unfortunately, the last month has provided an excessive amount of alone training time for processing such ideas! I have been on a month’s clinical placement for my physiotherapy course at Manning Rural Referral Hospital, Taree. Keen to get out and experience rural health, I jumped at the chance to travel away and was lucky enough to be placed with two of my close friends. We loaded up the car with everything 3 girls could possibly need in 4 weeks, cranked Mumford and Sons on the iPod and headed north.

The best way I always find to get my bearings n a new place is to run. So run I did…along the banks of the magnificent Manning River, along firetrails in Myall Lakes national parks, around the headlands of Seal Rocks and every possible loop around town. There’s lots of lovely country around the area, but the hard thing was that you couldn’t just step out the door and run – most were a decent car trip away. With basically one major road in and out, I got very used to the same stretch of pavement as I trekked out to the grass oval…or the pool (same road)…or the gym (same road). As a mountains girl, I also was struck by the lack of hills or change in terrain and felt sore from pounding the same muscles. The other thing I was disappointed about was that I was unable to connect with many local runners for company (not for lack of trying) so I really missed training with my squad! Placement was an amazing experience which I thoroughly loved, but I wasn’t used to full days on my feet! Trying to fit 2 training sessions in around an 8-4:30 working day and nightly exam study was a quite a challenge! I admire those runners who manage to balance full time work with training and life and appreciate how lucky I am on a uni schedule!

Needless to say, it was a relief to return home for the weekend of the Fernleigh15 fun run. This was an inaugural event which Athletics NSW and H-events were jointly organising in Newcastle and it was the real-life product of an idea thsat had been tossed around on many a Sunday long-run with my squad. The long-awaited festivities kicked off with the Fernleigh15 Fire-Up dinner on Friday night, in which an enthusisastic group of locals toasted the event and listened to the experiences of greats like Kurt Fearnley and Martin Dent as they were interviewed on a panel. We had dared to hope or about 500 entrants, so it was overwhelming when we arrived on Saturday arvo to pick up our race packs and had to line up with 900 other competitors! Dave, Scott and I headed out on the course to hammer in kilometre markers but our 1-hr job took a little longer than expected and after 4 hours and about 20 wrong turns, we wearily returned to find our car had been locked in the school grounds. All in all, things didn’t quite go to plan!

Sunday morning rolled around bright and sparkling, and I had the pleasure of my dad’s company- a reminder of when I was little and we used to enter fun runs as a family! Everything went off smoothly and we left the start line in waves. The general atmosphere was so upbeat and friendly and it was awesome to have a few guys to pace me through 10-12km. I ended up just dipping under 55 mins, which was a solid run for me. The finish area was lots of fun with balloons, cheering family and friends, the “Naked Runners” commentating up a storm and an infectious positive mood. Such a successful event – congrats to Scott Westcott, Paul Humphries and the organising crew and hopefully this becomes an annual run from now on!

The final piece of excitement for the month was the news that I had been selected to represent Australia in my first ever senior team at the Chiba Ekiden relay in November. It’s an honour and a great opportunity to learn from some inspiring team-mates and get a bit more of a taste of the international running scene. One week of uni exams and then it’s full steam ahead for Japan!

Until then, happy training and make sure you run fast, not hard!