super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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What are you thinking about?

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A couple of years ago, while hiking across Rarotonga, the local guide (the cool looking dude in the picture above) told me he was meditating while we were making our way through the bush.

“Bullshit,” I thought to myself (because apparently my inner-voice has no manners). “How can you be meditating if you’re moving?”

You see, this episode happened in my past pre-running life, a few months before I discovered things like runner’s high or those special places in my head that I can only get to while running. My idea of proper meditation involved sitting down with my legs crossed, eyes closed, and a whole lot of “oooom” sounds (something I had never tried either).

Not long ago, Josh Gale wrote a review of a book that Amazon keeps on hinting I should read by adding it to every recommendation email they send me – Zen and the Art of Running. His review, more than Amazon’s tiresome targeted marketing, got me interested in finding out more about the relationship between meditation and running. This week, thanks to a nasty cold, I’ve spent a pretty outrageous amount of time reading about running (and no time actually running). I’ve found myself going through a really large number of articles about mindfulness and running.

“Zoning out”, rather than meditating, is likely to be the most helpful thing I do to cope with long-distance running, on top of things like hydration and proper fueling. You know, those runs when everything just falls into place and you find yourself running effortlessly, going through a training run without even noticing the kilometers ticking by? Yeah, those ones. Unfortunately, it’s something I don’t feel like I have much control over. Sometimes I set out on a long run and the universe is all “yeah, Vera, go you!” and my brain does what it’s supposed to do. Other times, well, it sucks and I just turn around and run back home because why the hell not. The interesting thing for me is that my runs hardly ever come to an end because my body is tired, it’s always my brain that gives up first.

Lately, I’ve been wondering about how great it would be if I could control that element of my running as much as I can control how much I eat or drink during the run. If I could train my brain to go the places it should go, every run would be a pleasure rather than a task, right? Don’t answer, I’d rather keep that hope. Since one of the things I dread the most is the possibility of running becoming so much of a chore that I stop enjoying it, this is something worth considering.

In my last trail run, I tried giving this whole mindfulness idea a go. I still don’t know much about it at all but that has never stopped me before. I went with the “repeating a word (or mantra) to yourself over and over again” idea for one of the uphills, tried counting my steps while going up another hill, and focused on my breathing (and coordinating my breathing with my steps) on a third climb. As much as cool hip Vera wants to dismiss this sort of stuff as just new-age bollocks, cool hip Vera doesn’t actually exist and the fact is that I ran the three hills that I know for sure I would otherwise have walked. So, there.

New-age stuff 1 Super Generic Girl 0

Now I find myself wondering if the secret to excellent running actually relies more on one particular muscle, rather than the muscles on your legs. (I’m hinting at the brain, get it? Get it?)

The trick might be to actually focus on the run itself, rather than trying to distract myself from the run. I mean, there has to be something right about this because that 60-something year old man in the picture climbed to the top of that hill with no effort, while meditating, while I got up there wondering where I’d left my lungs along the way. Surely this is enough of a reason to consider looking into this some more.

Either that or I’ve just been taking far too many drugs for this stupid cold. Don’t mind me.

Haha. “Don’t mind me”. So clever.

Again, I’m sorry. There’s some pretty strong over-the-counter stuff for colds these days and I’ve been taking it all.

What I really want to know is whether you’ve ever tried meditating while running, what are the best resources for me to learn more about it and, if that’s not what you do while running, what in the world do you do? Tell me everything!

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Related reading, if that’s what you’re into:
Transcendental Steps
The Zen of Running and 10 Ways to Make it Work for You
Running with the Mind of Meditation


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Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel – book review

Never-Wipe-Your-Ass-with-a-Squirrel-by-Jason-Robillard

I didn’t realise Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel was such a recent release (April 2013) until about two minutes ago when I searched for some extra information about it to write this review. But look at me, being all early-adopter and stuff.

I bought the book on May 22nd, according to my Amazon account history, after virtually wandering around Amazon searching for books on trail running, days before signing up for my first ultra. The title grabbed me, and not just because it has the word “ass” in it (I’m not that juvenile, really). The full title is actually pretty long: Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel – A Trail and Ultramarathon Running Guide for Weird Folks.

Weird folk, that’s me.

Jason Robillard, the author, is known in the running community for his Barefoot Running University website and for his previous book, The Barefoot Running Book. He’s also known for having pretty much my dream life (writing and running for a living). Don’t you just want to hate him a little bit?

No, you don’t. Because, number one, your mum was right and that’s ugly. Number two: he actually has some pretty good advice to give.

It took me a few pages to really get into the book. It’s got a long list of chapters, which at first I thought interrupted the whole flow of the book. But then I realised that, as a handbook, it needs to have information structured in that easy-to-find way. Just a few pages into it, I discovered a really good deal of incredibly useful advice, not just for trail runners in general but for anyone stupid enough to sign up for an ultra.

(270 days to go, you guys!)

I liked the unpretentious conversational tone of the book, which reads almost as if a trail running buddy was just emailing you his best tips. These days, being the ridiculous gen-y that I am, I judge my opinion on books partly based on how many highlights they get on my Kindle. This one got a few, mostly tips about how to run in different conditions but also stuff like:

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Robillard also says he walks all the hills of any course over 50k and adds that that strategy has actually resulted in improvement on his finish times. Any trail runner who tells me walking is a good idea in an ultra is automatically added to my best friends list and would qualify for a Merry Christmas card if I still bothered sending those.

He also suggests a number of interesting things I wouldn’t have thought would be a good idea, including wearing white cotton shirts when there is a lot of sun exposure and adding “foodless runs” to your training, to help develop the ability of using fat as fuel.

I’d like to share a few of the tips I got from the book but that would be doing it a disservice since what you should really do is pick up a copy and read it yourself (won’t take you long). It’s not exactly Nobel material and it doesn’t try to be. It’s written as a trail running handbook and, as such, it pretty much ticks all the boxes, with a really comprehensive list of practical advice for every trail runner out there.

For a free sample of the book, click here. For more information on the book, check the blog with the same name or head to Amazon for a copy.


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Trying to give this running-commute thing a good try. Maybe.

Random running commute scene one. NZ billboards are kind of cool.

Random running commute scene one. NZ billboards are kind of cool.

You may or may not remember that one time, about a year ago, I announced to the world (or the 3 people who read that post) that I was going to become a running commuter.

It didn’t quite work out as I’d planned. One year later, I’ve run to/from work a grand total of zero times. Until today. After a whole other year of jealously staring at other runners as I sat in traffic, I got my act together and ran home from work.

I have all sorts of excuses for not having done this before, don’t worry. Few of them are actually valid, but that’s an entirely different matter. There’s always a “I need to drive because…” and even though I try to say something that’ll make it sound legitimate, the only real reason I have to drive is because I can’t be arsed with the logistics of not driving to work.

Unless, apparently, there’s alcohol involved. The other night, the company I currently work for hosted a gala dinner as part of a two-day conference it put on. I wasn’t involved in the conference at all but somehow got invited to the gala dinner (score!) and it made perfect sense to get the bus to the office in the morning so I wouldn’t have to count my wine glasses at that dinner, worried about driving home. Seven glasses of wine later (I still counted them), I realised this whole not driving thing isn’t as bad as I remembered (the whole hangover thing is, however, even worse than I remembered).

Since I sweat approximately 456 liters during every run, running to work isn’t really an option, as I don’t actually hate all of my co-workers. Running home from work, while entirely realistic, has its own challenges too. It involves taking the bus in the morning, which means leaving the house earlier than usual. It also means I have to prepare stuff the night before, which can be hard if you’re me and absolutely suck at planning anything in advance.

Random running commute scene two. I may need to run back and buy this sweater.

Random running commute scene two. I may need to run back and buy this sweater.

Some things to keep in mind if you’re going to try run-commuting (from someone who clearly sucks at run-commuting but hey, do as I say not as I do, amirite?):

1. Prepare your clothes the night before
Keep in mind that if you’re planning to carry those clothes back home in your backpack, they should be lightweight. I thought of this today when I woke up and it was raining. It was definitely a boot and coat kind of a day but I stuck with flat shoes that I could easily stuff in my backpack. I’m so dedicated to running it’s unreal.

2. Only take the stuff you will definitely need
I fit every stereotype of the woman journalist you can think of. I carry a bunch of pens in my bag (except on those times when I actually need a pen), plus a notebook, a diary, a paperback book, my Kindle, my wallet, a bunch of keys I never need, and those important faded receipts from the times I went grocery shopping in 2009. You know, just the essentials. In my commuting backpack today, though, I had to really trim it down. Some cash, phone and house keys. The rest stayed home, which is ok because it turns out I don’t need to carry 2009 receipts with me anywhere.

3. Keep a pair of office-appropriate shoes at work
I realised when I got to work that I could actually just have worn my running shoes in the morning, since I have a couple of pairs of shoes living under my desk. Must remember this next time and then I won’t have to worry about picking shoes that fit in my pack.

4. Your office isn’t too far for this
Just because your office is too far away from home, it doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate running into your commute and use that time more wisely. If you take public transport for example, you can always consider getting off a few stops before the office or home and run the rest of the way.

5. Baby wipes and deodorant are the world’s greatest invention
Not really much to be said about this, really. If you’re just running home, then you can jump straight into the awesomeness that is the post-run shower. If you’re running to the office, though, you better have some of this stuff on you, unless you want to give them a reason to make you run to the unemployment line.

Bringing back the running-commute is the best idea I’ve had all week, unless you count blending a banana with my chocolate milk (and since it’s Friday, I wouldn’t expect it to get any better than this). It’s cheaper than driving, a bazillion times better for the environment, and stops me from wasting daylight sitting in traffic to then have to run in the dark (or, more likely, not run at all because it’s dark). It saves me a great deal of time, since I realised rush hour traffic means that, most times, it takes me as long to drive home as it would take me to run home. Running home also means I don’t have to run after I get home, which considerably increases the amount of time I can devote to watching old What Not To Wear episodes on You Tube. It also highlights the functional side of running, which is a pretty attractive aspect of the whole thing, if you’re into shutting up people who say there’s no point to running. I know I am, which is why I think it’s time to put the running in “running errands” more often.

Let’s hope it’s not another year before I run home from work again.


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XTERRA Auckland Trail Run Series – Riverhead Forest

The true sign of a good time is putting a load of laundry in the machine and having to set it to “very dirty” (which, thankfully, is an actual setting on my machine) and cross fingers your clothes will go back to their real colour.

That’s what happened today, after running the XTERRA event in Riverhead (event 2/6 of the series, after Shakespear Park).

Riverhead, in case you don’t know, is a forest in Auckland where all the mud in the world is kept and it was the stage for the second event of the XTERRA series.

This morning, the weather was miserable, my legs were heavy and my head hurt a bit from not drinking enough water. I didn’t feel like I should be running.

But I should know better than to doubt the ability that the trails have to make everything better.

It all started looking upwards when I met up with some friendly faces before the run even started (including people who knew me as SGG before they even met me as Vera and still wanted to hang out with me anyway). I was also worried that, without proper trail running shoes and all that talk about how clay is just the most slippery thing ever, I was going to end up with two broken legs.

Once the run started, all the climbing and sliding down muddy trails felt far too fun for my crankiness to survive and I ended up having a blast (without breaking legs in the process). I wasn’t much of a fan of the slippery climbs, with my old road running shoes, but thankfully trail runners are the nicest people you can find and with a push here and a hand there, everyone made it to the top (even me).

The weather cleared up just enough for us to get our running done before the rain returned and the views from the top of our steepest climbs were nothing short of amazing (made slightly less amazing by the fact that I had to quickly hold onto something as I was climbing my way to the top of one of the hills and accidentally grabbed a bunch of gorse).

I was slow and took a while to get my mind in the right place but caught myself smiling like an idiot as my feet dug through mud pits and mud splashed everywhere. If there is one secret to enjoying muddy trails, it’s really to just not give a shit. Once you stop caring about where mud is going, then you can just go for it.

My hands were so caked with mud I didn't dare take my phone out for any photos so I made you a really realistic representation of what I'm pretty sure I looked like from behind.

My hands were so caked with mud I didn’t dare take my phone out for any photos so I made you a really realistic representation of what I’m pretty sure I looked like from behind.

And here's another super artistic illustration of how it actually felt to get through that mud.

And here’s another super artistic illustration of how it actually felt to get through that mud.

Ski lessons came in handy dealing with the slippery downhills and I manage to only fall on my ass once, an absolute victory in my books.

I can’t say I loved every second of the run today (definitely didn’t feel any love for the holding-onto-a-gorse-bush bit) but, once I got into it, the time I spent enjoying it far outweighed the time I spent in the beginning wishing I was back in bed. After crossing the finish line, I got to my favourite part of these events – the cold cider + sausage + friends combo.

I’m counting this run as training for the Tarawera Ultra. Some bad news for volunteers at that event next year, though: my run today was only just over 1/6th of the length of Tarawera (since I’m entering the 60km) and, judging by how long it took me, I suggest you take sleeping bags.

But for now, I’m going into the new week after a fantastic event that brightened up an otherwise pretty dull Sunday. Roll on Waiuku!

Now I’m off to get the mud off my shoes, which is a whole other workout in itself.

Speaking of shoes, I’m going to pour yet some more money into this running thing by buying a pair of proper trail running shoes, to avoid having to deal with any more of these one-step-up-three-steps-down hills. I looked at the Inov8 tent at the event and told the lady I’d go back after the run but was far too muddy to try anything on. Do you have Inov8 shoes? Love them? Any other brand I should be looking at? Spill the details!


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Countdown to the ultramarathon

Remember when, less than two years ago, I signed up for my first half marathon and made a big deal out of it because it really did feel like the biggest achievement of my life? Of course not, why would you remember that? It can’t have been too bad since I’ve run over a dozen of those since then, but, at the time, it felt pretty hardcore.

And remember a couple of months ago when I ran my first full marathon and it really did feel like it had changed my life? You might remember that since I mention it at every opportunity, including this one.

Two days ago, I signed up for my first ultramarathon.

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Registration for the Vibram Tarawera Ultra opened at 11am on Saturday and I was all signed up by 3pm, just to make sure I didn’t have much of a chance to talk myself out of it. Come March 15 next year, I will be running SIXTY ENTIRE KILOMETERS (this sort of ridiculous distance deserves that I hit caps lock) of trail goodness up and down the rugged terrain between Rotorua and Tarawera.

Ever since getting that email confirmation, I’ve been in a OMGIAMRUNNINGTARAWERA state of euphoria, which I’m guessing (and hoping) will last for a while, before I realise what I got myself into.

I couldn’t drag myself out of bed on Sunday early enough to hit the trails with friends (thanks to the leftovers of a pretty crappy week, which meant I really needed some extra sleep) but finally got up around 11 and got 12km in just near home. I hated most of it, especially this bit, but it was one of those days when getting out of bed would have been enough of an accomplishment anyway.

Luckily, today was a public holiday in New Zealand (thanks Liz!) and I was able to make up for it.

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I met up with Stacey and her awesome puppy Ruby and we headed into the forest for a morning run. We didn’t exactly push ourselves to any extreme limits or anything (a 10km with both walking and puppy-photo breaks) but Ruby seemed to have lots of fun and our legs show evidence of a good time.

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285 days to go and I’m officially all out of excuses. Next time you invite me for a trail run and I say I can’t make it, I better have some pretty out-of-this-world excuse for you because March 15 will be here sooner than I want it to be and it won’t be long before I’m huffing and puffing a hell of a long way between Rotorua and Tarawera, in my quest for ultramarathon stardom (or, you know, just survival), a year and two weeks after becoming a marathoner, and a few months before hitting the big three-oh.

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In the meantime, a little disclaimer: if you are not interested in trail ultramarathon training ramblings, I suggest you take a gap year from this website and look up different stuff on the internet (I hear Amanda Bynes is putting on quite the entertaining show online these days). I intend to run my heart out in the next few months and use this ultra as an excuse to explore every single possible trail. I am officially out of the post-marathon funk I was in for a couple of months and I’m ready to chase another big goal.

Winter blues my ass.


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You should hire an endurance runner

Can we all take a moment to acknowledge how awesome runners are? Good. Because runners are the freaking coolest.

If you’re smart (and you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t) there is only one particular timeframe when you don’t want to be around a runner – that period after the long run and before the shower.

I realise that this claim would sound a whole lot more legitimate if I wasn’t a runner too, but the truth is that runners are pretty awesome people. The attitudes developed out on the trails and roads inevitably extend to other parts of runners’ lives.

If you’re an endurance runner, running affects every other part of your life. It affects the social part of it (by making it close to non-existent, if you’re me) and it affects the professional aspects of it too. Nothing is immune to the overflow of awesome.

Among other reasons, here is a succinct explanation of why endurance runners make the best employees:

1. Endurance runners are usually happy and healthy people

It’d be pretty hard to be an endurance runner without a decent degree of health and fitness. Healthy fit people don’t need to take that many sick days. There are also about 235 million scientific studies about how running makes people happier (I’d Google some for you but I live in New Zealand and bandwidth is a luxury so do it yourself). Contrary to what you might be thinking, there aren’t mystery sick days after a long run, because the legs are too tired to make it to work. There’s nothing better than gloating about not being able to move from your office chair because you ran a marathon the day before.

The bottom line is that not only do runners not take days off due to sickness but they’re also always happy in the office, whether their legs work or not.

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2. Endurance runners know how to work efficiently

Training for an endurance event teaches runners a lot of things, like the fact that carbs are good and beer has a lot of them, or even what really early mornings look like. It also teaches runners that it’s important to be efficient about things like stride, pace and nutrition so we use our energy sources wisely and don’t crash and burn halfway through the run because we went out too fast. Endurance runners can consistently maintain a comfortable pace allowing them to run for a long period of time. Such smart cookies.

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3. Endurance runners understand that hard work pays off in the long run

I know I should be ashamed of this lousy “in the long run” pun but I’m really not because it’s true. Every single run counts towards the result of the ultimate event. Every 5km training session is part of a much longer plan towards the goal of the marathon. A marathon isn’t something you can procrastinate on for months and then train for in the last couple of weeks. Knowing that is what gets runners out of bed in the morning when it’s disgustingly cold outside. Training for an endurance event is the proof that hard work is the key to success (hard work and jelly beans, actually) and that you can’t cut corners if you want to achieve that. The mile you ran a couple of years ago, in a moment of insanity, does not count for anything unless it has since been followed by a lot of other miles. This is why so many runners develop almost unhealthy obsessions with tracking every single kilometer of their progress and spend almost as much time analysing their results as they spend running.

Moreover, endurance runners understand that procrastination will only get them in trouble on race day. If you want an employee who won’t spend the day searching for recipes on Pinterest instead of getting work done, you should hire an endurance runner.

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4. Endurance runners love a challenge

Why else would they willingly give away money in exchange for entries to races they’re not entirely sure they can survive?

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5. Endurance runners are goal-oriented people

We follow training plans for months at end with one goal in mind. We stay on track (mostly) and count down to the day when we’re going to put all that hard work to the test. We give our co-workers something to look forward to as well – the day when we’ll finally run that stupid event and shut up about it. It’s good to have a goal to look forward to, even if it’s just your co-worker shutting up about something.

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6. Endurance runners are less stressed

Again, far too many studies for me to search for. The point is that we leave our frustrations out on the road instead of bottling them in until the day we take a machete into the office.

I think I’ve made my point. Next time you get a CV from an endurance runner, you should hire them. You don’t want to end up with the unfit machete-wielding guy in the office instead, do you?

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