CONVICTtON- The Convict Ton

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So Michael McGrath calls me ‘How would you like to do a totally unsupported 100km run along an old convict built road with only 3 water stops? On the hottest day of the season? Oh, and if the furthest water tank is out of water, we’re screwed’

‘ That’s the craziest idea I’ve heard for ages. Let me get my backpack.’

Well it didn’t happen quite like that, but it could have……. Michael is a meticulous planner and when he said he was doing a 100km route that hadn’t yet been done as a race, I was intrigued.

Starting at Wiseman’s Ferry, the Great North Road was built in the 10 years after 1826 and almost immediately fell into disuse as people preferred to travel by river boat. Today it’s a well known mountain bike track, fairly smooth and open in parts, but overgrown and dense single track in others.

I wasn’t feeling very charitable when the alarm went off at 3:40am on Saturday morning, but managed to stay awake and get out side to be picked up at 4:15am for the drive to the start. There were 3 runners, Michael McGrath, Rob Mattingly and myself. Mike was obviously hedging his bets, taking along one mighty fast runner (Rob) and one plodder (me). It worked well, we know each other well enough that there were no problems with ego or understanding each others needs, and I was pretty sure they hadn’t heard quite all of my jokes. There was a lot of smoke around and Michael checked- there was 9 fires within 50km of us, but none likely to be close to our run.

The route

The route

We were aiming for a 6am start, but by 6:08 we’d come off the ferry and started the Garmin. The first 3.5km are along a tarred road along the Hawkesbury River until we get to the entrance of a fire trail and enter Dharug National Park on the Western Commission Track. My only problem was that at 2.7km I’d looked at my Garmin and thought ‘wow, my legs really hurt a lot’. It was only 2 weeks after Trailwalker and I’d done a fairly hard strength session with Andy DuBois on the Wednesday. Knowing that I was with 2 runners better than me didn’t help, so I resigned myself to joining the pain train a little early. Normally I’d expect to feel pretty good for at least the first 20-30km, so 2.7km was pretty ordinary. Sub optimal indeed.

Rob checks out the view

Rob checks out the view

Luckily we all knew it was going to be a long day out, and even Rob who would normally bound up all the hills was playing it sensibly- we walked the hills, kept the heart rate down and stopped to take pictures frequently. We re joined the Great North Road (GNR) at about 15km and 4km further on we got to the first water stop- it’s a barrel with a tap beside the road provided by the Wat Buddha Dhamma Buddhist Monastery there. Thanks! About 400m further we turned off on to Simpsons Track and had another short stop at the Ten Mile Hollow camp ground where there is more fresh water. We then entered the longest stage without access to water (39km). There’s quite a few areas with signs of previous habitation, but it’s mostly just flat areas with different vegetation where the bush is taking back ground. We reached a large open area where Simpsons Track meets Ten Mile Hollow Road, took a pic at the plaque, and carried on up Ten Mile Hollow Road. We also took a short diversion to have a look at ‘Fairview’- and abandoned home in the middle of nowhere. Very cool. This next part included the biggest climbs of the day. As you can imagine an old convict built road has to be reasonably flat to allow for horses, but later roads don’t have quite the same restrictions. Anyway, the views were spectacular.

Plaque at Ten Mile Hollow flat

Plaque at Ten Mile Hollow flat

Eventually we came back to the Great North Road. This would have been my last bail out point- we’d done about 34km, and all I had to do was turn back on to the GNR and home was about 18km away. It’s essentially a 24km out and back from here to make the 100km distance. By now I was getting into the groove and thought I may as well carry on. I mean how bad can it be, right?

 

The answer came quickly- the road turns rough and gnarly almost immediately. There’s heaps of leaf litter on the track, and as you might think for a road that’s been disused for over 80 years, it couldn’t really be called a ‘road’ any more. For me, this bit was increasingly soul destroying. I knew we would have to come back this way and mentally it was eating away at me. It was much rougher than I’d expected and progress was slow. I knew that we could expect the Mogo camp ground at 58km so I started focussing on that. Our first marathon distance passed in 5:50 which was pretty good considering all the time we had spent sightseeing. With about 15km to go we rounded a ridge and were fully exposed to the sun. Apparently the temps were mid 20’s however by then we were really feeling it. Winter doesn’t prepare you for this! At 51km I got the Dead Man’s Suck. My water ran out. I still had a 750ml bottle of Coke on my front, but I was trying to save that.  Oh well, that plan turned to ‘get fluid on board, worry about caffeine levels later’.

On Western Commission Track

On Western Commission Track

At Circuit Flat Bridge we were originally intending to do another loop to increase distance. However it wasn’t needed and we took the direct route to the camp ground. Michael said ‘it’s 2.2km from here to the campground, you can’t get lost, see you there’. I hadn’t told him about my water situation but it sounded pretty straightforward. Unfortunately 2.9km later I was wandering around the bush, by myself with no fluids, in a blazing hot sun thinking ‘uh oh, this is bad’. Luckily I carried on and found the campground at 3.1km. It was a simple mis remembering- I wasn’t in any real danger, they would have come back to look for me, but I think we all realised we’d have to stay together from then on, and Michael said as much at the camp ground.

The water tank was full of fresh delicious water, and I drank 1.5 litres before lying down on the grass and we all watched the wind move the trees for a while. Michael went to refill his bottle and yelled ‘guys, we have a problem!’ The water was alive with larvae. We’d all drunk some but we had yet to fill our bladders. I’d borrowed a water filter but hadn’t brought it along because of the weight. In true MacGyver style we then filtered about 8 litres of water through a bandanna (unused) into a water container we found onsite, then transferred it into our packs. I applied a Compeed to a developing blister and remarked to Rob ‘gee you’ve been good today- you haven’t turned a nasty shade of green or grey like you usually do’. He didn’t say much and wandered away towards the toilets. On the way there I thought I spotted him stop to have a spew but I wasn’t sure. Unfortunately this wasn’t the last spew of the day.

At this stage we all felt like we’d had a good day, and if we’d had support at this point we probably would have pulled the pin. Conditions were difficult, and weren’t getting better. The camp ground is next to a public road, so here is where we saw the only 3 humans we would see all day. One stopped their car to go to the toilet, and one couple actually talked to us- they were scouting for a place to camp for the night.

With 43km to go, I suggested to Rob that we could wait for a tourist and ask them to take him home, or we could all give up. He said that he’d be ok, and would simply walk back if we had to, and that’s the way it worked out. I need to make something clear here- you might think it’s unwise or dangerous to head back into the bush with an injured runner, but Rob is one of the strongest people I know. If he says he can do something, he can. It wasn’t easy, most of it wasn’t fun, but we got it done. Also- I’m not singling him out for any criticism. It could have been any one of us having issues (in fact 2 weeks earlier it had been me), and this is essential to the story!

Strangely, I was feeling fantastic- my leg soreness was gone, my mental attitude was good and I was raring to go. It never lasts, but was nice to have for a short while. Could have been the stop- we spent more than an hour at Mogo.

 

3 Amigos at Ten Mile Hollow flat

3 Amigos at Ten Mile Hollow flat

The last 43km was just a death march. We sandwiched Rob between us so he couldn’t drift off the back, and I occasionally tried to get him to talk about races where he had experienced great success, like last years North Face 100. Michael reminded us that he’s won the Dolls Point marathon a few weeks back so I was forced to tell everyone that I’d once won a race that nobody had ever heard of too, but it was an ultra marathon so there. The conversation died out, and the sun descended. At 30km to go I started counting down until the Buddhist water stop. None of us were keen to keep drinking the ‘protein water’ but we had no choice. The bush at night was teeming with bugs. There was spider webs across the trail, beady eyes reflected from our headlamps and innumerable moths attempting suicide in our lights. I got my share of protein straight out of the air as they flew everywhere. At one of our many stops Michael produced some crushed fruit, and magically Rob was able to keep some of it down. In fact both of them took off on the last 2km of downhill heading back to the start. By then I was shattered and wanted to get off the ride.

Total 102km, 19 hours 29 minutes, 2000m of elevation.

We got back to the car, took off some crusty clothes, had a wash in the cold water basin, a quiet beer and headed home. And got lost. To be fair, none of us really had any mental acuity left, but arriving home well over 24 hours after leaving, with the local wildlife signalling imminent dawn I was able to have a real shower and fall face first into bed.

Thank you Michael and Rob for an experience I will treasure. And yes, next time we can definitely go sub 15 hours. Oops, did I say next time?

The 4×100 Relay

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting excited about running since it’s turned cold. After the North Face 100 I had a brain wave and decided I’d like a new challenge, and that’s when I started working on an event I would call the ‘4×100 Relay’. It consisted of 4x 100km runs, one each weekend for a month. I chose the month of August, and it went  like this-

Week 1- Saturday 3rd August 2013
CONVICTtON- This is a new run devised by Mad Mike (Michael McGrath) along a 50km section of an old convict built road as an out and back. Done as a Fatass/ unsupported run with no support.

Week 2- Saturday 10th August 2013
12 Foot Track– Another Fatass run, another out and back. Yes, it’s ‘only’ about 90km so you’d have to do the City to Surf on Sunday to make up the distance

Week 3- Saturday 17th August 2013
Capital to Coast 100km stage race. This one is 100km over 2 days, so a great ‘warm down’ for the main event which is-

Week 4- Friday 23rd August
Trailwalker Sydney– I did this in 2010 as a walker, and 29.5 hours of walking is pretty difficult. I think it will be much better as a runner!

It didn’t work out- I wanted to use the Poor Mans Comrades as a test, and I failed the test. With 3 weeks recovery after TNF100 I was still feeling it in the legs and realised that it was going to be impossible to do so much running in such a short time. What I’ve only realised today is that I COULD have been a little less ambitious and done 4×100 over 4 months. It would have looked like this

May- The north Face 100
June- Poor Mans Comrades
July- 3 Marathons in 3 Days, Adelaide 12/24 Hour, Kokoda Challenge
August- Trailwalker

So if I’d finished PMC I’d be halfway through my challenge! Oh well. Maybe if we start with Trailwalker we could do something that looks like this-

August- Trailwalker
September- Centennial Park Ultra
October- Hume & Hovell 100/Ned Kelly Chase
November- Great North Walk 100s

I really need to have something to focus on and help me get outside while the weather is chilly, maybe this is it. What about you, will you join me?

UPDATE 9.9.13. I’ve just completed the CONVICTtON (it was rescheduled several times), so we might be on target for ‘Plan B’ after all…….

 

Kirrily Dear Guest Blog- Big Red Run 2013

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(Adam Connor) I’m very pleased that Kirrily Dear has agreed to share her experience at the Big Red Run this year. As the first ever guest blogger she has some interesting things to say, it’s a pity it has taken me so long to post this. She’s done some great writing and I might ask to host some more of it- including her incredible multi day epic out on the GNW. I have to add that I wasn’t really interested in this run until I heard about how much fun it was afterwards! Take it away Kirrily………

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A few people have been asking me to write a bit about my experiences so I’ll keep in nice and short and break it into a series of indisputable facts.

FACT 1: I HAD A BLINDER (FOR ME!)

3rd female, 7th overall, 33hrs to run 250km and plenty of time spent sight-seeing along the way. Don’t ask me where I managed to pull that from on my first multi-stage race but I felt comfortable and strong for 90% of the way. That last stretch on the 84km long day was a killer as always.

I had absolutely no interest in racing the BRR. I was there to enjoy the experience and take in the scenery. As soon as I got moving on the first day though I knew my body was feeling strong and my brain was in the right space. Each day I just kept getting stronger. I was pain free and didn’t have any sense of fatigue until toward the end of the 3rd marathon on the 3rd day.

Over the last 18 months I have dramatically changed the way I train and it’s really starting to work for me. The change has been fuelled by increasing understanding of what my own body responds to and also watching the large number of elite ultra runners that are now completely sidelined because they have overloaded their bodies with the wrong type of training. I may never be world champion at this sport but I plan to be taking out the 80+ year old age category in a few more years.

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So what’s changed? I no longer believe in ‘running through pain’. If there’s pain I get it fixed, early. I no longer believe that you have to be doing ‘the big km’s’. If I regularly go above 80km a week I end up with injuries and training becomes inconsistent. So I am keeping the km’s low and focusing on intensity instead and giving all I can to every training session. I am more exhausted after a session at Crossfit 2036 or Sean Williams Sweat than I was after any of the marathons at BRR and I back up 4 mornings in a row week in, week out supplemented with long runs on the weekend. It provides incredible conditioning and with good condition you can do just about anything.

Finally a wonderful run of this magnitude is only possible with incredible support through the vollies and medical team. They were everywhere and always unerringly positive and helpful. One of the greatest sights in the world was one of those little red checkpoint tents appearing on the horizon, shimmering in the heat haze like a mirage.  I had a minor incident on the long run that could have easily brought the whole game unstuck in such an extreme environment but with their outstanding support I was home safe and well. Thank you!

FACT 2: THE LANDSCAPE IS MONUMENTAL

The Simpson Desert landscape is vast and more diverse than I expected. It is staggeringly beautiful. I don’t have the words to describe the impact it has had on me. I’m a nature nut and have been on a lot of adventures in all corners of the world and the Simpson Desert ranks up there as one of the greatest. It’s a silent, vast beauty. It commands attention through its stillness.

The sand dunes in the ‘channel country’ part of the Simpson all run north-south with wide areas of flat ground in between. They are like waves in an enormous sandy ocean. At any point we were either running parallel to the dunes or crossing them. Running over the dunes was an absolute delight. The climb was one of anticipation, wondering what would be on the other side. Each crest brought with it vast, sweeping views and revealed the next terrain feast laid out on the desert platter for kilometres in front of me. As a dedication to 5 year olds everywhere, it was then essential to hurtle down the dunes as fast as my legs would take me.

Surprisingly around 80% or more of the course was completely flat so the challenge of BRR isn’t so much in climbing dunes but dealing with the technical nature of what is underfoot. Gibber plains, hard clay pan, sand moguls and mud meant constant variation in gait and pace. Tuft grass hid endless burrows ready to snap an ankle should concentration wane. Scratchy “grrr” bush (need to find out the real name one day) lacerated bare legs creating a stinging brew when mixed with sweat and sunscreen. We had rain, cold, wind and intense heat. The desert giving us just a taste of its true potential.

Navigation of the course also demanded attention. Much of the course was cross country with no trails. We ran from one pink ribbon to the next. It was easy to get off course. Every day people returned to camp with stories of unplanned detours and gut wrenching moments of realisation when they discovered they were off track, tired and alone.

The highlights for me? Every day was an incredible adventure although I have noticed there are a few scenes that keep replaying in my head a bit over a week later.

Day 2 – I had just worked my way through a field of sand moguls with burrows, bushes and all manner of challenges. A head wind was blasting whatever slow progress I was making. I was glad to see the pink ribbons cross up and over the sand dune knowing the terrain would likely change. Cresting the dune and the world opened up to a enormous hard clay pan. The red checkpoint tent was a kilometre or two away on the other side and there were people around. I ran like crazy down the side of the dune, the momentum propelling me across the clay pan. At last running at full tilt, it was pure bliss.

Day 3 – Running along the top of big red after the rain. It’s one of the iconic photos that has come out of the week. The sand was an intense red colour and the air fresh. The rain had firmed the sand so it was easier to get some pace.

Day 4 – Sunrise. It was a clear morning and the intensity of the colour is like nothing I have seen before.

Day 5 – Early morning I was running along the top of a dune. The wind was gusting and lizards scurrying. Overhead two wedge tail eagles circled watching my progress. I had a strange feeling that if I didn’t keep moving I would be on a lunch menu.

Day 5 – Crossing the vast moonscape of the gibber plains. I love running on gibber. The rocks are all highly polished from water rushing over them in the wet season and underneath is sand so as you run along the ground looks like it should be hard but it is spongy. I also enjoyed being out in the intense heat on day 5 on the gibber. Strange I know but it felt like a real desert experience. Heat waves distorted the horizon. Dry air sapping any moisture from your mouth.

BRR desert pic

Photo by Damon Roberts – Stellar desert runner

I miss the desert.

FACT 3: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE

I remember when I first met someone who had run 100km and it hit me how casually they talked about such an achievement.  It was much like other folk talk about going for a walk around the block; it happens, it’s nice to be able to do it, but for the regular doer it’s no biggie on life’s list of achievements.

 

Turns out I’ve become one of those people. A hundred kilometres on foot in a day barely even warrants a post except perhaps to mention you’re home, fed and relatively blister free. Every ultramarathoner knows how much of a privilege it is to do what we do.  It’s not something we take for granted but more that it’s just well…normal.

 

That’s where BRR was completely different to any other ultramarathon experience.  Many people on that start line were about to face their first marathon and then keep going for another 208kms.  It was an honour to bear witness to their journey.  Each morning it was awe-inspiring to see them overcome the fatigue and mental barriers to get to the start line.  Into the afternoon and sometimes the night we waited and watched the horizon for them to be making their way back to camp.  Each day while their bodies grew tired, their minds grew stronger.  Slowly they chipped away at the challenge and began to believe.  The last person across the line was out on the course 22 hours longer than me.  Close to an entire extra day.  I find the thought staggering.  The persistence and resilience it would take to keep going, the inner strength.

 

The transition to being an ultramarathoner is a life changing experience.  It redefines the boundaries of your world in the most profound ways.  To be in camp everyday with the true champions and support their journey is a memory I will hold dear forever.

 

 

Thanks so much to the BRR organisers, vollies, medics and the massage angels for making the journey possible.

Photo Provided by Big Red Run

Photo Provided by Big Red Run

Big Red Run

FAQ & Info For New Runners

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happyfeet

I’m not shy about telling people that I run, and this gets me a lot of questions from friends about running. It seems this is common for all runners, so I’ve compiled a list of some common questions, and my answers. If my advice is wrong, it’s totally my fault. Or possibly yours for listening to me.

Why do you run?
I run because it’s the LEAST efficient way for me to move. I can use more energy in a shorter period of time than doing just about anything else. Think about it- it would take a lot longer to use the same amount of kilojoules by cycling, driving or batting your eyelids. I kind of hate running, but I’m kind of used to it. And I love the people I’ve met- interesting and DEDICATED. I get a lot of strength from these people- much more than I put in. I get a lot out of running and the community. There, I said it again.

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What shoes should I buy?
Hang on- you’re asking someone who’s run (slowly) for 3 years when you can get expert advice from a trained professional? Seriously, go to a specialist running shop and ask them. A place like FootPoint Shoe Clinic in Mosman will even have a someone video and check your gait (make an appointment). Don’t go to Athlete’s Foot or Rebel. Really

Should I buy those Vibram Five Fingers things?
No

But I’m a dreadful heel striker!!
Yeah me too. Modern shoes have plenty of cushioning- get the right ones and go for it. If you want to teach yourself to forefoot strike, just run barefoot. That’ll teach your nasty feet. Or do your body a favour and buy some Hokas

But I need to wait for summer/ winter/ my pet lichen/ the rapture
No you don’t. There will never be a perfect time to start. The closest to perfect is NOW.

Do you run every day?
Hell no. My days off are like brilliant pearls of cool nothingness in the brutal fire of training. I mean I really enjoy my days off.

But won’t you stuff up your knees?
Short answer- no. Longer answer- not yet. Pat Farmer’s knees are ok, and he ran more than 2 marathons a day over 10 months from the North Pole to The South Pole. Strangely enough, we seem to have evolved to be able to run. If you don’t run you are ignoring one of the key things you are built for. Yes you.

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But I’m too unfit!
Yep, so was I. Make a plan, execute it. Don’t delay any more. Do it while you still can. Don’t end up like the next person-

I can’t walk up stairs without an oxygen mask!
See a Doctor, you really need more help than I can give.

But Don’t runners get injured all the time?
I read a statistic that says that 60% of runners will get injured in any single year. That could well be true. You could get run over by a bus- does that stop you going to work? Let’s call this one out- it’s an excuse that has a basis in truth. I can say this- if you run, you won’t care much about this statistic. I don’t.

But won’t your body wear out?
Will your brain wear out from all that high level thinking? No. In fact if you start now, you might reverse some of the damage caused by NOT moving your arse.

Don’t you have a certain number of heartbeats in your life? You’re using them all up by running……
This is unscientific garbage. You will  live longer if you exercise

Isn’t it hard?
So what? Shake your life up. If you’re my age, you’re probably not going to get any better looking, unless you get fitter. Worth a try? You bet.

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Don’t you freaks live on mung beans and air?
I really like air. I also really like foods with lots of fat, salt and sugar. I can’t control those cravings well enough to diet my way to thinness, so I eat and run. My diet has become slightly better because of running, but boy do I earn a lot of beer points.

Is pain just weakness leaving the body?
No, that’s just some dumbarse saying that gym rats use to make them seem tough. Pain is a useful message that your muscles are breaking down, or building up, or it could be your body telling you to stop. Learn to ignore it. Unless you really are injured.

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Do I have to give up things I love?
Do you like living or watching TV more? I’m not going to live for ever, but running has improved my quality of life. I’m prepared to give up a bit of TV for that.

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But I prefer 40 minutes of running and 4 hours of drinking!
Join the Hash House Harriers.

I have a problem with motivation
Join a running club, you’ll have a great time and will look forward to training. Also- sign up for a race, that’ll scare you enough to train!

I have a problem with motivation, but I’m rich
Get a personal trainer

I have a problem with motivation, but I’ve just signed up for this ridiculously hard race
Get a coach

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I Don’t have time
Here’s a confession- I have the same number of hours in the day that you do. I have a supportive wife and together we’ve set up our lives so that we can both train. Not easy, but we’ve done it. Here’s a typical Saturday for me- get up at 4:40am, breakfast. Run from 5:30am-9:30am, have a nap. Take son to a birthday party, take son to grandparents. Go out to dinner, midnight home and tucked into bed. Does it sound like I missed out on anything? Nope. Runners fit more in to their day.

I can’t change everything at once!
Don’t. Even trying to do that is a sure way to failure. Change one or two things at a time. Turning up is half the battle, the other half is well, turning up regularly. Amongst my running friends there aren’t many smokers, but there are a lot of past or present booze hounds, gamblers and a few drug pigs. Don’t be surprised if a few of us take to running like a new addiction, because it is. Sorry if we sound like we’ve got religion, but if you start running, some of those high fives will be aimed at you.

Why do you run such long events?
Well, I can’t run very fast. And I’m like a kid with a new toy- I want to see what my body can do. Does this mean I will poke it until it breaks? Probably, but you shouldn’t be worried because we have an amazing capacity to heal. My VO2 Max is probably quite low from childhood asthma, I can’t ascend hills very well. I’m a middle of the pack runner and will probably never get much better. But that’s no reason not to try.

I like cycling better
So do I. But I like runners better, and I’ve recognised that I’m a social animal. I’m more likely to go out on a cold night for a run. So I run. You should do whatever gets you going, it doesn’t have to be running. But do it.

Are you one of those crazy people who run in the rain?
Ohhh yesssss. It’s stupid, and painful for a short time. But you know what? One of my most memorable runs was with a bunch of people I didn’t know very well through a major storm. We were screaming with laughter and splashing through puddles for joy. It was awesome. You feel a bit like King Canute screaming at the implacable rain ‘come at me bro!’ Don’t ever feel sorry for people running in the rain…….

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But I get shin splints/ stitches/ knee pain/ groin pain etc
If it’s really bad, see a Sports Doctor. Otherwise it will probably go away if you keep going. I had bad shin splints for several months, but it was just my body adjusting. It’s also very common for new runners to get stitches and other pains. These will usually go away when your body realises that you aren’t simply going to stop when it gives you the signal.

I’d love to come for a run with you- when I’m fit enough!
Discard the bit about ‘when I’m fit enough’. We don’t care how fit you are, we just want to share a bit of outside time with you. If we go and do the Bay Run and you run 100m and walk 200m, we’re going to love it so much more than if you pounded out those 7km by yourself. And you might too. Get someone else involved. Don’t be shy about your abilities, everyone starts from nothing (well not everyone, but I sure did). You want to go for a slow run? I LOVE a slow run!

Join a club-
Northside Running Group
Sydney Striders
Sydney Front Runners

Join a FaceBook Group-
Northern Beaches Trail Runners
Hunter Valley trail Runners

Get a Coach-
Andy DuBois
Dominic Cadden
Anthony Traynor