The Blonde Runs

an American girl living in Australia


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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef

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The four of us took an early flight from Brisbane to Cairns on 31 December, arriving with plenty of time in hot, humid Cairns to check into our Airbnb and explore the area a bit.

I’m not going to lie. I’m actually going to get it out there right away and say that Cairns is not what I expected. Knowing it as the “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef,” I anticipated the massive, beautiful, golden beaches that are a dime a dozen along the Australian coastline. Not here. You get a not-so-lovely low tide (which seems to be ever present), with a non existent beach, all of which is often crocodile infested (watch the signs that are everywhere!). Thus the need to create a man-made lagoon on the esplanade, for safety and a beach-feel. But, to get back to the “real” beaches, you have to trek another 15-20 minutes north. I assume Cairns is so popular not for the beach-going, but for the its’ proximity to the reef, as it is the city with the easiest access point. However, Cairns surrounds are beautiful! With the lush rainforests, hills, etc., what you don’t get in the beach views, you do get elsewhere!

Based on our timeframe in Cairns, we decided to head north to Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge that very day. Port Douglas is about an hour north of Cairns, and as the road hugs the coast, the views aren’t too shabby.

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We spent a little bit of time walking around the town of Port Douglas, with it’s quaint shops, cafes, etc., and we drove around to find some good lookouts. This view is back toward Cairns.

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And then we took a little tour out to Mossman Gorge. The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest surviving rainforest, and in the gorge you can take a dip in the crystal clear swimming holes, hike, and watch for carrowary and other unique fauna.

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That night, we enjoyed a few fireworks over the ocean, and said goodbye to 2014, my favorite year yet!

The start of the new year was fairly relaxing. Because we hadn’t made any prior bookings for day trips, Nick and I spent the morning finalizing some options out to the Great Barrier Reef. We found some availability for a snorkel tour the next day and booked in for the 4 of us. The rest of the day was spent north of Cairns in Palm Cove and Trinity Beach. I really liked this area, despite the ropped/netted off swimming area to “keep out” crocs and stingers.  Or maybe I really liked this area, because of that ropped/netted off area…

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Nick and I had originally considered doing a dive trip in the GBR, as we were recently certified (cue a new post about that experience), but we didn’t want to leave Tia and Jason. So, we headed out to Green Island, one of the closest GBR locations from the mainland. Despite being on the edge of the reef, we saw some gorgeous underwater habitats and unbelievable wildlife. All the colors, all the fish, all the coral. So much to see. Sadly, I have not uploaded all of our GoPro photos onto my lappy, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I would love to return for a dive trip, but be a bit farther into the reef.

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Before leaving Cairns, I wanted to see the Cairns contribution to “big things” in Australia. While none of the websites tell you exactly where each thing is, I thought I had a general idea. That is, until we started driving around, and I had no general idea at all. After checking many sites, many maps, making many wrong turns, and circling around many areas (over and over), I was ready to give up and just start our trip out of town. But by now, Nick was mostly invested, as he was driving, so he made sure we found it…in a shopping mall carpark (parking lot).

The Big Marlin
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After this accomplishment, we began to make our way south, along the coast. While our final destination for the night was Townsville (hostel), we made a few stops along the way. One was Josephine Falls, and the other was Paronella Park.

It had started to rain on our way out of Cairns, and by the time we made it to Josephine Falls, which was a last minute decision anyway, it was coming down in sheets. That didn’t stop us from making the short trek out to the baby falls.

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Paronella Park was an oddity, all on its own. Who would expect a massive 1930’s castle/hydro electric plant set in the middle of the dense Queensland rainforest…? It it beautiful, and exotic, and yet looks out of place.

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The landscape in this area is certainly a nice change from the bush I see daily in Canberra, and the mountains of Colorado…

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All the banana farms.

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31 December to 2 January
This Stretch – ~561km (Not including the flight in the mileage)
Total – ~1931km/1199m

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Keep in mind that this map shows where we went from arriving in Cairns to when we left. It does not include the out and back to Trinity Beach/Palm Cove. That is figured into the total above.

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XO,


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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: Brisbane, Brissie, Brisvegas?

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Nick and I arrived in Brisbane, late on 28 December, coming up from the Gold Coast. We had plans to meet up with some friends who happened to be in town visiting family for the holidays, and they were kind enough to let us stay with their family for a couple of nights on a lasts minutes notice (better then doing all the hostel research, trust me). Gordon and Laura are our Aussie “counterparts,” so to speak, in that Gordon and Nick were the two involved in the work transfer which landed us in Australia, and them in America. It was nice to see some familiar faces as they gave us the grand tour of Brisbane over the next day or so, complete with a riverside picnic…

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A visit to the Buffalo Bar, an American-themed bar which offers a mish-mash of fare including Stromboli, a Clam Bake, Wings any which way, Duck and Waffles, Steak, and Hoagies. Totally random. A little bit of this and that. But, it also offers a variety of whiskey US “craft” beers (Coors, Sierra Nevada, Rogue, Big Sky, Founders, and a few others I had never heard of). It was nice to taste a little bit of home in a glass. While I understand that everything is relative, the beer in Australia is different that what we are used to in the States (as is the wine, but that’s for a different post), and I know Nick, in particular, has missed the beer culture in Fort Collins, Colorado, and surrounds.

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While I’m still not quite sure why Brisbane is sometimes referred to as “BrisVegas,” and most of my research confirms that no one else really knows why either, I can assure you it is nothing like Las Vegas! So, don’t be fooled. Perhaps just a tongue-and-cheek nickname, as we sometimes give to our American cities (i.e. Chi-town or Bean Town).

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The morning of the 30th, I was fortunate enough to be able to run with Tyra, who is part of the Oiselle Running Team. After following her on IG, then finding out we would be moving to Australia, I was determined to find a way to meet our one Aussie teammate, despite the fact she lived 1200km away. It was such a pleasure to chat with Tyra, who made pushing the pram with her little one along the river look effortless. I don’t know how those mama’s do it! This beautiful route gave us a stunning view of the city.

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Later that day, we picked up Tia and Jason (Nick’s siblings) from the airport and we readied ourselves for the next part of the trip: flying to Cairns (pronounced CANS) and heading back south. We stayed at a serviced apartment close to the airport on the night of the 30th.

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28 December to 31 December
This Stretch – Around Brisbane – Airport, beach, city, etc…but I’m not including that in the overall mileage, because that might be too nit-picky.
Total – ~1370km/851m

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XO,


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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: Central Coast to Gold Coast

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When we left Bondi, we knew we needed to be in Brisbane by the 29th, since Nick’s siblings would be flying in on the morning of the 30th. So between the 26th and the 29th, we had no agenda. Panic mode commences. Just kidding. I was fine.

We knew we wanted to drive through Newcastle, the largest coal exporting harbour in the world. It’s about 2.5 hours north of Sydney. But I swear it took us nearly 2x as long because of an accident that shut down the main motorway, the M1, just as we were leaving. I blame my poor average navigation skills for not being able to get us around it. Regardless, we made it down to the Esplanade for a late lunch on the waterfront.

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Wanting to be a bit farther north, we continued on another couple of hours to Port Macquarie (pronounced Muh-qwor-ee). During the drive, I called around for accommodation and found a decent hostel through the Hostelworld app. Yes, there were times during the trip that we thought we are too old for hostels. No, we didn’t want to spend heaps (a lot) of money on accommodation during a month-long trip. Yes, we actually had some decent spots. No, we didn’t always stay at them. Yes, we have some great stories from those experiences where we did. :)

We got in late enough to not be able to see or do too much in town, so we had a really nice dinner (I guess this is where we make up the difference spent on cheap accommodation) and called it a day. In the morning, we headed out early, but not before stopping by the river, where dolphins are rumoured to play in the morning hours (no dice).

Port Macquarie is also know for its’ koala population and is home to a koala park and koala hospital. And to celebrate the iconic animal, a sculpture track was created to display 50 uniquely hand-painted koalas in and around the city as the Hello Koala Sculpture Trail. They are about 1 meter/3 feet tall.

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I should mention, that it had started raining overnight, with a consistent drizzle, so there wasn’t much point in trying to really “do” anything, except keep moving. We had been keeping an eye on the forecast and knew we’d be running into rain during our trip (it is rainy season and we were heading north toward rainforest…), so we figured we would just knock some kilometers out of the way, if the weather wasn’t really cooperating for sunny, beachy activities.

We did stop briefly in Crescent Head, as we were considering a place to stay here on the way back down with Nick’s brother and sister. It was here that we started likening coastal towns to mountain towns. Since that’s easiest for us to make a connection with. And if you are familiar with Colorado mountain towns, we suggested Crescent Head was the Crested Butte of surf towns. Small, raw, and not quite yet overrun with money and people-at least not that you can see overtly.

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Between here and Coffs Harbour, I had a little bit of time to do some research on Big Things Australia. It’s really just a collection of over 150 very large “things” spread out all over the country. Tourist attractions. Kind of like the Big Ball of Yarn, the Corn Palace, and The Green Giant, among hundreds of others, in the States. I’m sort of a sucker for those types of things (I guess anything “shiny” to keep me distracted and occupied on long road trips), and I wanted to see a few in Australia. As long as they were not out of the way, and mostly in our path of direction. Mostly. We really lucked out with a few and were able to pass right by them with very little stopping time.

The Big Banana – Coffs Harbour
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And after seeing that monstrosity, I had to see more!

The Big Prawn – Ballina
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There are multiple websites housing various pieces of information about some, but not all of them. So, over the course of the trip, it became a bit frustrating for me trying to piece them all together on the route we were taking. I have very little patience for poor web design on important sites, so toggling back and forth between several poorly designed sites made my interest fizzle a bit. And yes, I do consider the Big Things Australia sites to be be “important.” But not to worry, there are several more big things I will reference in subsequent posts!

After that nice little distraction, we made it to Byron Bay. The Vail of Ski Towns. This lovely town is full of shops, people, restaurants, bars, cafes, people, money, and such, with pretty much just one very busy and often backed up road in and out. It’s a great place! And being such a great place means you have to book accommodation early during the summer months, or be willing to pay a steep price. Which we weren’t. Which meant we stayed out of town. Which was fine.

Byron Bay
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We stayed about 20 minutes inland at a hotel in cute little Lismore, where we were treated to a twilight show of thousands of massive (large) bats flying overhead. Nick and I first noticed some movement outside when we were listening captive to a Serial episode. Probably the one about the cell phone tower pings. Or the Nisha call. Or maybe they were both in the same episode. Anyway, we mistook the dark shadows for birds. But at a closer look, and finally moving outside to watch, we knew it had to be bats; based on the shape of the wings, and that these shadows were moving so silently and erratically. Literally, thousands flying over the hotel. Thousands. It was awesome and disgusting all at the same time. Our hosts confirmed our theories in the morning when we checked out. Apparently, they cause the farmers a lot of frustration. While I didn’t get a picture of them, I did get a picture of this guy the following morning, right outside our door:

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From Lismore, we drove through the Gold Coast (see top pic), seeing cities like Miami and Surfers Paradise, and finally into Brisbane. Here, we’d be staying with some friends, seeing the sights, and picking up Tia and Jason (Nick’s sibs) from the airport.

26 December to 28 December
This stretch – Bondi Beach to Brisbane ~1077 km/669m
Total – ~1370km/851m

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XO,


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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: Christmas at Bondi Beach

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On 24 December, Nick and I left Canberra for the start of this massive adventure.

This was one of the places I actually booked accommodation. Not surprisingly, most hotels and hostels close to the beach were booked, save a few outrageous spots that we refused to pay for. Airbnb is always among my favorites to search through, and I was able to find a unit only a couple blocks from Bondi! It was affordable and closer than any other hotel could have placed us, in that area.

This year’s Christmas was a bit different. Really different. For one, it didn’t even feel like Christmas. In the weeks leading up, thanks to the warm, long days of a southern hemisphere summer, it seemed more like Christmas in July. Commercials with Aussies’s on the beach, dressed in togs (swimsuits). People out shopping, collecting Christmas trees and decor in their thongs (flip-flops), all while blasting the AirCon. A fake Christmas. This fact alone was strange enough. Not to mention family, friends, traditions, decorations, and the like were all absent. It all sounds much more pitiful than it really was; but what I’m trying to get across is that it just didn’t feel…right.

We did our best though, to add some Christmas spirit. Christmas “tree” at the beach (see photo above), reindeer ears and Santa hats, home cooked Christmas dinner, and of course Christmas crackers. We Skyped with our families and overall, it wasn’t so bad to be Christmas Orphans. Just a new memory and experience to share.

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Bondi itself was much less busy than I expected. And much calmer. It was not a crazy beach party, with thousands of co-eds dancing to Aussie electronic music with their brightly colored Wayfarer sunglasses, togs and budgie smugglers (swimsuits and Speedos), like pictures may portray. Instead, it was simply families and friends relaxing on the beach, sometimes getting their photos taken with the blow-up Santa and Snowman. And maybe with a cheeky (saucy/smart-alecky) bottle of champagne or other grog (beer or alcohol)…otherwise prohibited on the beach. Pretty sure there have been some problems in the past and “alcohol prohibited zones” have been set up in certain areas of Australia.

On Boxing Day, 26 December, we ran a bit of the Bondi to Coogee Beach Coastal Walk. Packed up, and started heading north again.

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24 December to 26 December
This stretch – Canberra to Bondi Beach ~293km/182m
Total: ~293km/182m
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XO,


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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: The How

IMG_9832Dusting off the blog with a series of posts about Nick’s and my recent road trip along the east coast of Australia.  I mean, why do a measly post about my lack of running, when I can post several times over the next few weeks about all the kilometers we racked up, all the beaches we visited, and overload you with all the photos?!  I think this is a much better option…

Let’s begin with how this all came about.  Since moving to Australia, Nick and I spoke frequently about the places we’d like to visit during our duration.  Not really knowing how long we’d be here, we knew we wanted to make the most of our time, and see as much as we could, at least within the restrictions of work and money.  So, we kind of had a verbal short list and long list of everything we wanted to do/see, based on those restrictions.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if….”

“I’d love to see…”

“I just read about…”

“Someone suggested ___ and ___ …”

“If we had two weeks, we could go…”

“But if we had three weeks, we could…”

And so the conversations went.  And the dreams grew. And the excitement started building.  Especially when we found out Nick’s work would be shutting down for a good amount of time over the Christmas and New Year holiday.  Then those dreaming conversations turned into a matter-of-fact:

Let’s do it!”

So we started planning a road trip that would cover the majority of the eastern coast of Australia.  Well…kind of.  “Planning” is a tricky word. And this is where Nick’s and my love for travel and experiences and outlook on how it all should go down differs.  A lot.  But don’t worry, we know this about each other and it was only annoying a few times during the trip.  Let me lay it out for you a bit, in regards to how we wanted to approach this trip:

Nick:  Go with the flow; have a few must-do experiences; have a few specific spots in mind to visit; don’t make any accommodations so we aren’t confined, but just see where we end up each day and then find a place to stay; hire a car in Cairns; but let’s have fun!

Rebekah:  Type A; decide where we are going to be each night so we can book accommodation (it’s summer holiday and the coast is busy); decide on what exactly we want to do so we can book in for those must-do experiences (it’s summer holiday and the coast is busy); not plan every minute of every day, but at least have a rough outline so we aren’t wasting time making last-minute decisions; but let’s have fun!

So yeah, a little different.  But I was determined to calm my Type A personality and travel how Nick does.  At least for part of the trip.  I did book accommodation for Christmas and New Year, because, well, that’s just a given.  And the rest, I was just mildly concerned that we’d miss out on experiences because we didn’t pre-book, or we wouldn’t find ideal accommodation because we also didn’t pre-book.  This trip would stretch me.  And I was prepared and mostly okay with it.

Once things were set in stone that this trip was, in fact, happening, Nick was able to convince his brother, Jason, to fly out from Minnesota and join us for part of our adventure.  Not long after, his sister, Tia (also from Minnesota), found a way to make the trip happen as well.  And just like that, we had travel companions! And it was family!

The route began to take shape, based on their arrival into Brisbane on 30 Dec, their departure out of Sydney on 13 Jan, some technicalities with our vehicle (more on that in later posts), and a lot of “maybe we could do this”, before, during, and after his siblings visit.

Roughly, this is what Nick and I covered over the span of 4 weeks: 

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Don’t be fooled by the distance stated on that map. It was actually closer to 7200 kilometers (about 4500 miles-and I’ll have the official total in the final post) because it doesn’t take into consideration the initial trip Nick and I drove into Brisbane, nor does it have all of the little out and backs we took to visit beaches, waterfalls, etc. I’ll go into more detail in subsequent posts with maps, and kilometers/mileage, photos, what we saw, what we didn’t do, etc. You’ll be bored. This is mostly for posterity.

And if you follow me on IG, you may have noticed the recent photodoc of the trip under #australeoni.

XO,


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…just when I thought I was ready

Just when I thought I was ready to start training, add a little umfph to my workouts, alas, a slight setback.  While I wasn’t really sure what to attribute it to, my right hamstring is feeling rather tight.

Since arriving in Australia a little over three months ago, I’ve played it “safe” with running.  I’ve not been training.  I’ve not ramped up my miles drastically.  I’ve not even done any real speed work.  I’ve only maintained about 30 miles a week that included a weekend long run of about 10-13 miles.  This is nothing I wouldn’t normally do when I’m in my off-season.  So, what gives?

After running a 12 miler over a month ago, in preparation for my 32k relay leg, my right hamstring seized up. There was never any sharp pain, never a time in the run where I could pinpoint that something had happened. It just wouldn’t relax afterward. Then, the following weekend, after actually running the 32k leg of the relay race, I knew I should get some advice on the situation. Especially since I was just beginning to feel a solid routine with my weekly mileage and starting to get the tiniest little niggle of wanting to start training for something. Anything.

After three weeks of PT, I am finally feeling somewhat “better.” The pain has been attributed to my lower back and great pains have been taken to relax it, including dry needling, which is truly a great pain. But I stick with all of my exercises and hope for the best. On a pain scale of 1-10, I’m down to a 3ish on each run. Which is drastically better than what it was even a week ago. I dropped my weekly mileage by about half and eliminated my long runs for the past few weeks. Better to preserve the old bones for November races, and I do have November races. So, now that I’m feeling better, time to slowly, smartly, add a few miles here and there.

What’s hard is that I’m considering myself injured, without having done anything to actually prompt it. I mean, maybe if I had been up to 65 mile weeks, at the peak of training, I could understand aches and pains and pulls and such. But not this.

I suppose, as usual, running is a metaphor for life. When you feel like you’re in a groove, things are smooth, and then…WHAM! Out of nowhere, something happens to shake it up. What’s important is how you react/respond to the situation and keep a good attitude.

Thanks for the “life” reminder, Running…

XO,


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…two valuable Aussie lessons learned during a 101k relay

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On 28 September, I learned two vitally important lessons on a 32k relay leg.

Not long ago, I started running with a sweet gal here in Canberra. She invited me on a group long run and after some soft hazing I was immediately asked to join one of their two relays teams running the upcoming Sri Chinmoy 101k relay. I said yes, immediately.

While I was initially going to run Leg 4, I switched with another relay member to take on the longest Leg 2, at 32k (about 20 miles). I had been building up to running about 10-13 milers for my long runs, but I knew the 20 miler would be an effort, and I was up for the challenge.

The day started cool, but began warming up as I stood around, waiting at the exchange between Leg 1 and 2. Good thing I had lathered on the sunscreen. Amanda and Phil would be coming in for the hand-off to Jasmina and me. Our portion of the course would take us on a steep climb to the Mt Arawang summit, took us along the backside of the National Zoo, and had us finishing at the National Arboretum. It was truly a beautiful course, predominately on trails, with kangaroo sightings, gate climbing, and only a little bit of terror…

VALUABLE LESSON #1
The deadly snakes and spiders that I am terrified of in this country have NOTHING on the magpies. While I’ve been looking down at the trail all the time, paranoid about the snakes that aren’t even out yet, I realized I should really be looking up, at those annoying black and white birds that sing that beautiful, throaty song. At least during the spring. Swooping Australian Magpies. This is a very real thing, readers. More in Canberra than other Aussie cities.

Proof.

And all of this came to a head, when at the 10k mark, some of our teammates were waiting to cheer for us, and WARN us of the swooping Magpies up ahead on the course. We were given a hat, to wave it around in hopes of warding off the swooping. My heart skipped a beat. Maybe two. I really didn’t want to be attacked and have to get stitches from some bird who felt I was threatening a nest and thus pecked my head or my eyes or my back or something of that nature. I think I started waving the the hat around my head immediately, even though I didn’t see any Magpies. Jasmina calmly told me that I didn’t need to do that yet…

We saw several Magpie on the telephone wires and on the ground. I waved the hat, I looked around frantically, but we ran through the grassy knoll unscathed. I’m pretty sure the birds knew I was a Oiselle runner, and thus, one of them. Bird to bird, we had an understanding.

I pretty much have no choice but to not run, or not leave my house, until breeding/nesting season is over. So, November. And if I do leave my house at all, I must wear only black, gray, and white. I’d hate to provoke them by wearing orange, yellow, and purple during this time.

It’s no wonder that I see bikers with zip ties attached to their helmets, or eyes glued to the back of their helmets (Magpies won’t attack if they see you looking at them). But I refuse to wear those things will running!

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Jasmina and I continued on, chatting, hiking the hills, watching for Magpies, and climbing over gates. While I was originally somewhat concerned about navigating the course, the RD had marked it all quite well! I never questioned which turn to take which really took the guesswork out of it all. Thank goodness.

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The final 10k was fairly uncomfortable with the heat. I can’t say it was considerably HOT, temperature wise, but the direct sun, and very little shade made whatever the temperature was feel much warmer. We’d get a little bit of reprieve when the wind kicked up, which felt so nice. The few miles leading up into the National Arboretum and our exchange point were uphill. I think Jasmina and I were both ready to hand over the run to our strong Leg 3 ladies.

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And when I went home to clean up and nap, I saw this:
Sunburn

Oops. (No, I’m not a lefty. Yes, I wear my watch on the “wrong” wrist.)

VALUABLE LESSON #2
There is a hole in the ozone layer directly over Australia, and the usual 30 SPF I use in the Mile High State of Colorado does NOT work. I am no stranger to sun exposure. Having lived the majority of my 33 years in sunny Colorado, at 5280 feet, and I am adamant about wearing sunscreen daily. At least on my face, if not elsewhere, depending on the season and my clothing and the type of activity. Knowing that Canberra is not at sea level, but at about 1800 feet, I naively assumed that what I would usually use on a Colorado mountain run would be suitable for a trail run in Canberra. Not. So.

Looks like I’ll need to up the sunscreen (sun cream?) anti whilst here… Understatement of the century.

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All in all, it was a fabulous day and the race was a lot of fun. Of course, I can say this nearly two weeks later!

XO,

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