What I learned from my Second Half-Marathon

About a year and a half ago I ran my first half-marathon. Then I all but stopped running. It’s not that I don’t enjoy running, because I obviously do or I wouldn’t have run a half to begin with, but first I was taking a break after all that training; then the weather was too hot; then too cold; then we were living in a van. Next thing I knew it was a year and a half later and I hadn’t run in ages. When I moved to Wellington I decided to sign up for the Round the Bays half, convinced Steve to do the same, and started running again. I learned a lot from the Vancouver Half-Marathon, my first-ever race, but I still picked up a few new insights this time around.

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Before the race and ready to run!

The first thing I learned is that in some ways, it is like that old adage about riding a bicycle. Obviously you’re not going to jump back into running after not training for ages and immediately be able to run that whole 13.1mi/21.1km, but running a race requires mental training as well as physical. Before training for my first half-marathon I had never run 13.1 miles before. The longest run I could find in my Runkeeper records was 10 miles, way back in 2012. Usually I topped out around 5 or 6.

Training for my second half-marathon was different because I knew I could finish it. I had a good suspicion that I could back in Vancouver, but for this one I already knew because I had done it before. Getting over that mental hurdle (running pun, ha ha) made it much easier to jump into training and push myself toward that 13.1 mile goal.

While the first thing I learned came at the very start of my training for Round the Bays, the second arrived at the very end, as I crossed the finish line. I ran my first half-marathon in 2:08:12. That time around, I didn’t have a goal time because I had no benchmark for how fast I was and I just wanted to finish. This race, my goal was to finish in two hours or less. And… I didn’t. According to the official race results, my final time was 2:00:42. Just 42 seconds longer than my goal: close, but not quite there.

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After the race and ready to sit!

I’m a perfectionist, and I hate not meeting my own expectations. There are a lot of excuses that can be made– a serious head wind for most of the course, a rumour that the track is just a bit longer than a half-marathon (and the GPS on my phone would seem to back that up)–but at the end of the day, I just didn’t quite get there. Usually I’m pretty hard on myself when I “fail” at something, so I expected to feel disappointed that I didn’t achieve my goal.

Instead I felt proud and excited. I cut seven-and-a-half minutes off my previous time, with half as much training as I did for the last race. I also felt energized–after my last half-marathon I felt like there was no way I could see myself running a full marathon in the future. Now? It seems like a definite possibility (with a good bit more training first, of course). I’m happy to celebrate my victories instead of dwelling on my “failure,” and now I have a goal to work toward in my next half.

My main goal is to not stop running for over a year like I did after the Vancouver half. I’m enjoying a week off from running this week to rest and recharge, but I’m looking forward to getting back to it next week and breaking that sub-2 hour barrier in my next race for sure! And maybe then I’ll be ready to turn 13.1 into 26.2! Or not, but I’ll be glad to succeed or fail at whatever comes next.

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My unofficial race results—ready to do even better next time!
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Hiking Mount Holdsworth: My First (but not last!) Overnight Hike

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When I was a kid, I went camping with my Girl Scout troop. We spent a weekend in cabins, making crafts and reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (that drawing of a woman with a half-skeletal face still haunts me). I remember it rained most of the weekend and the food was bad; it didn’t do much to encourage anyone’s love for the Great Outdoors. My only other camping experience until recently was a few nights my sister and I spent in a tent in the backyard–or, when the weather was bad, in a tent in the living room. Camping was never something I was specifically not interested in, but it wasn’t something I went out of my way to do until recently either. Why sleep in a sleeping bag if you could sleep in a bed?

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Living in the Pacific Northwest, I came to enjoy and look forward to camping. We camped in Tofino on Vancouver Island, in Olympic National Park, in Levenworth, WA, and in Banff. Camping was a chance to enjoy the beauty of nature close-up, as well as saving heaps of money on accomodations. Naturally, when Steve and I took our road trip camping became second nature, although we usually slept in our van rather than in a tent.
Still, as much camping and hiking as I’ve done the past few years, there was still one experience I’d yet to have until this past weekend: an overnight hike. In the USA and Canada, overnight hikes almost always mean backcountry camping, and the idea of bringing pack, tent, food, and everything standing between me and a bad time was daunting to me.

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However, in New Zealand, the popular hiking trails often have huts along the way, making an overnight hike a little less intimidating. The huts are designed to keep out the wind and rain (to an extent), provide toilets and potable water for your journey, and some even have cooking facilities in the form of gas burners so you don’t have to bring your camp stove and canisters.
A few friends are spending a number of days on the Milford Track in a few weeks, so in preparation for them and in anticipation for us of wanting to do an extended hike in the future, we spend the Wellington Anniversary weekend at Mount Holdsworth in the Tararua range. Twelve of us set off in total, with only a few having done an overnight hike before (although one member of our group had walked the entirety of the South Island, so she was well-experienced in this sort of excursion).

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I packed up my trusty North Face backpack with two extra pairs of yoga pants, two spare shirts, clean underwear and socks, pajamas, a sleeping bag, a raincoat, a warm jacket, two water bottles, cutlery and a cool collapsing bowl, food (including plenty of snacks), wipes, paper towels, and plenty of sunscreen.
We aimed for an early start, leaving Wellington just after 9am and beginning the hike around noon. The hike up to Powell hut took about four and a half hours including breaks, ascending some 1200 metres through the bush and up the mountain.

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When we reached the hut, we joined 15+ others (the 28-person hut was completely booked due to it being a holiday weekend, and there were even a few people who had to kip on the kitchen floor) in stashing our bags next to the bunks, which were outfitted with “mattresses” resembling gymnastics tumbling mats.
Fearing that the weather would be bad and the visibility low on our return hike the next day, a few of us decided to head to the summit a few kilometres further beyond the hut. High winds pushed against us and tried to knock us off course, but we made it to the top… and then almost immediately turned back because seriously, those winds were no joke.

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Sleeping in the hut was pretty much like sleeping in a hostel: folks bumbling around, turning on lights, generally being inconsiderate. Luckily, after eight kilometres of hiking with 10-15kg packs weighing us down, we were all pretty exhausted and ready to sleep anyway.
The next morning our group woke at various times between 5:30am and 7am, and we were packed up and ready to go by 9. This was important because our second day of hiking was much longer than the first; around 18 kilometres, so at least twice as long as Day One. However, the views made up for it with the first few hours of the day a trek back up to the summit and then along the ridgeline, above the trees and nearly level with the clouds.

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Unfortunately, one member of our party hurt her ankle, and she and her partner took a shorter route down the mountain, leaving us as a group of ten to follow the Jumbo route. After following the ridges, this path took us back into the bush and into a forest that was straight out of Lord of the Rings.

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Unlike the trail up to the Powell hut, which featured a number of overly large stairs but which was otherwise fairly easy to traverse, the Jumbo path was much more wild and we had to make our way carefully over a mess of tree roots and uneven ground, descending a steep slope for several hours until we finally reached the riverbed. Soaking our feet in the icy cold water at the bottom was a welcome relief.

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We reached the parking lot at 6pm, nine hours after we left the Powell hut. We had hiked some 24km, changed 3000m worth of elevation, and had completed our first (for most of us) overnight hike!

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Finishing the Mount Holdsworth trail definitely makes me want to do more overnight treks while I’m here in New Zealand and in the future. However, here are a few things that I learned for next time:
– I’ll need a bigger backpack if I want to go for longer hikes in the future. My North Face bag is only sized as a daypack, so I had to attach my sleeping bag to the outside and I couldn’t carry much more than a weekend’s worth of food. If I plan to go for longer, I’ll probably invest in a bigger Osprey bag.

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– Speaking of food, I brought a can of Mexican-style beans and some rice for dinner, and next time I’d probably pack food that doesn’t come in a tin. It saves space and it’s easier to carry the rubbish afterward if it’s a bag or packet that can be crumpled up. I’d also bring a few sweet snacks like M&Ms or other candies; they’re a great treat after a long day.
– Bring a tripod. Steve gave me a nice tripod for my camera for my birthday last week, and I haven’t got a chance to learn how to use it yet, but next time I go hiking I think it’ll definitely be worth the extra weight to lug along. The landscapes up on Mount Holdsworth were amazing and moments like the sunset could’ve been captured better with a steadier camera. Plus, a tripod is great for group photos (although friendly hikers and selfie skills did the trick this weekend).

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– Make a checklist. I’ve never been the sort of person to worry too much about packing. I have a pretty good idea of what I need, and if I forget something it’s not the end of the world. Of course, when you’re camping you can’t exactly just pop out to the shop to pick something up. Most of us forgot something that would’ve made our trip easier or better; having a list will help prevent that next time.
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