With Aunty Rata
I like to run, always have done. As a child growing up on a dairy farm characterised more by rolling hills than flat pastures us kids were supplementary cattle dogs albeit rather more obedient than the actual dogs. The reward for our athletic efforts was getting to sleep in the house rather than the kennels, a nice touch for which I remain grateful to this day. When I got a bit older I would dodge the random holes, blackberry, gorse, mud and cow pats to run around the same hills and even share the dusty metal roads that bordered the farm with the big quarry trucks for a bit of exercise on flatter terrain. When I left the farm for University laps of the Auckland Domain and trips up Mt Eden took away some of the culture shock of living in the middle of New Zealand’s biggest urban area. Later on when I took up tramping running remained in the background – the perfect complementary activity.
Recently though running has regained pole position amongst the leisure activities that clutter my life. Not road running, that is a bit too hard on the joints for us old fellas, trail running . I find the softer terrain and more interesting scenery experienced out on the trails provide a great way to exercise without wrecking the body. The other great advantage of trail running is that it takes up less time than tramping so it is a great activity for those of us trying to juggle employment, family and other social commitments.
Around Wellington there are plenty of semi-urban trails for beginner trail runners. The Southern, Northern and Eastern walkways are great places to start. Good lunch time runs include Tinakori Hill, Mt Victoria and heading up to the Windmill via Karori Sanctuary. Once you get better at it you can go further afield for longer runs. There are loads of trails in the Hutt Valley hills, around Johnsonville and Karori plus the Orongorongos and the Tararuas. In fact once you are up and running there are not many places where you would ordinarily go tramping that you cannot also run.
There are lots of trail running events you can enter and compete in if competition motivates you or you like working towards a specific goal but there is no reason why you can’t get together with a few like minded bods and organise your own trail running trips. With this in mind keep an eye on the Winter and Spring trip schedules, you may find that some trail running options have snuck their way in there!
Running is not for everyone of course. Here are a few of my tips/words of caution around getting started:
- Invest in a decent pair of running shoes. Leave bare foot running and other malarkey to cloven hooved animals.
- Don’t over train. Start out doing about the same amount as you’d normally do or a bit less. If you have no running history it will take a bit of time to build up so you’ll need to be patient. Trails can be a bit more tricky than footpaths. Rough terrain requires more concentration which consumes more energy. If you double your mileage each time you go out you will injure yourself, tire yourself out and then you’ll give up. Aim to increase mileage gradually over the course of several weeks or months. Think tortoise not hare.
- Variety is the spice of life. If you run trails all the time you will injure yourself, tire yourself out or die of boredom. You need to mix things up. Do some cycling or walking. Weight training is excellent for strengthening running and stabilising muscles. Swimming is great too because it’s low impact. Gardening or sitting on the couch is fine too, in moderation. If you are strictly monogamous where running is concerned you still need to mix it up. Think shorter or longer runs, varying your pace and the terrain.
- Be safe. If you’re heading into the hills go with a friend and tell a third party where you are heading and when you expect to be back. Just like for a day tramp take appropriate gear in case the unexpected happens – spare clothing, a map and compass, first aid kit, food, water, survival blanket etc.
- Pay attention to what you eat. Endurance exercise like running and tramping depletes the body of essential nutrients. These need to be replaced otherwise you will end up skinny, tired and grumpy. See recipe below for a smoothie that helps keep your energy up. It is crucial to eat regularly, especially 2 hours before you head out and within 30 minutes to an hour after you finish. A mix of protein and carbohydrate is best so I go for a milk drink. If I’m especially organised I’ll have some wholemeal pasta with tomato sauce and veges waiting for me to eat when I get back along with a can of salmon. If like Aunty Rata you struggle to keep your iron levels where they should be you may have to consider multi-vitamins.
- You have a licence to drink. Not beer though. I’m talking water if you run for less than 2 hours but over 2 hours you need to take some water mixed with a sports drink that contains sugar and salt. Said sports drink will make you thirsty and the electrolytes in it help you to rehydrate safely. Diluted sports drink will give you the energy you need to complete your run and help prevent cramp. I prefer to take Replace but there are a range of options available. Proper hydration makes running more enjoyable and recovery swift. Once you have recovered you can think about beer. If you start thinking about beer you’ll know you have recovered.
- Pain is NOT weakness leaving the body. That is the kind of rubbish you hear from leaders of fit trips when you’ve been going for 10 hours and, due to an unforeseen navigational error there is at least another 4 to go. Do NOT ignore pain. Your body is trying to tell you that something is wrong. It is worth figuring out what. Long periods of not being able to run or tramp can be avoided by addressing potential injuries early. Often a bit of RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) or just resting will get rid of a niggle before it turns into a major problem requiring many weeks of visits to the physio and couch time. There are 3 very common “wear and tear” injuries to watch out for: i) plantar fasciitis (inflammation along the sole of your foot – the bottom of your foot near the heel will feel sore when you walk on it especially first thing in the morning) ii) shin splints (sore shins) and iii) sore knees. All 3 are painful, debilitating and get worse if you ignore them. Oh yeah, and those 3 categories are just the tip of the iceberg.
- Only stretch those muscles you want to keep. Running, like tramping and other physical activities causes lactic acid build up in your muscles. The best way to release this lactic acid is to do gentle stretching while your muscles are still warm. Learn how to stretch your main running muscles – the calves, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hip flexor , IT band etc. Stretching aides recovery and ensures you can walk the next day but don’t overdo it.
- Connect with other runners. There is a virtual trail running “club” called the Wellington Ridge Runners. If you consult Google you will find them. The RR’s organise after work rogaines which may appeal if you like navigation with your running. You could also try your local running club.
- Have fun! Not everyone can run. Aunty Rata runs because she enjoys it and because she can. Every day that I get out on the trails I feel very lucky. I’m fairly sure I won’t be able to run when I’m 90 so it is important to me to make the most of now. You may not be a runner but I’m sure there is something that you really enjoy to which the same principle can be applied.
Pre or Post Run Smoothie
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup plain low fat yoghurt
- 1tsp flax seed oil 1tsp olive oil
- Half cup frozen berries (mixed, boysenberry, black current or blueberry are good) 1 banana
- 1 TB protein powder or milk powder (latter is way cheaper)
Throw all ingredients into blender and push “smoothie” button. Otherwise just blend with whatever you have. Pour mixture into a glass and drink.
Note you can make the smoothie up and take it with you in a thermos and leave it in your car or at the road end for drinking after a big run. Post race you can add a raw egg to the mix if you like. Sound like too much dairy? Substitute soy milk or halve the quantity of milk and yoghurt replacing the liquid with water.