super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (again) and a side of peak bagging

 

Does it make me really lame to be talking about new year’s resolutions in April? If it does, rest assured I’m only talking about them because I’m doing well(ish). If I hadn’t been ticking things off the list, I’d probably try to forget I’d written the list in the first place.

Last weekend, I ticked off my third item on the list of ways I’m trying not to screw up this year and went back to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for a third go at it.

In the interest of accuracy, I should point out that I didn’t hike the full Tongariro Alpine Crossing last weekend. The track is closed from Blue Lake onwards due to a volcanic eruption (“a volcano erupted all over my hike” sounds a bit like a “dog ate my homework” kind of excuse, but it’s true) so, technically, I hiked the crossing I could hike (almost), from Mangatepopo to Emerald Lakes and back. It was still a challenging hike – possibly even more challenging because my (almost fully recovered) knee hated climbing down the aptly named Devil’s Staircase section (which you don’t have to climb down when the entire track is open). The track from Blue Lake onwards, which is currently closed, is mostly downhill so, once you’re over the really tough bits (have I mentioned I loathe the Devil’s Staircase?), the rest of the hike is pretty pleasant. If you want to wait to do the full length of it, though, you will have to wait a little while longer.

I’d written about this hike here before, and this third attempt served to show me that it does remain my favourite day hike in the country. There’s just so much beautiful scenery to feast your eyes on, you almost forget how hard the walk actually is. But it is. Just a couple of days ago, six people had to be rescued from the crossing in four separate incidents, a good reminder that you should never under-estimate the crossing, even if the weather seems to be in your favour (and I did see some people up on the mountain that really should not have been there the way they were – think handbag and plastic bag with food, regular shoes or not even carrying anything at all).

The bonus this time, on my third Tongariro crossing, was the side trip to the top of Mount Tongariro, 1978m high, which I was pretty stoked to summit. The trip to the summit is about 1.5/2 hours return from Red Crater and not as steep as one might expect a hike to the top of a volcano to be, as the bulk of the elevation is gained on the walk up to Red Crater (all the way up the damn Devil’s Staircase). The views from the top are spectacular and completely worth all my fears of causing permanent damage to my knee (I’m pretty sure my doctor wouldn’t be happy to know this is what I was doing when he told me to rest). Really not a bad place to have your lunch, oh no sir.

I was pretty excited to bag a peak and I can see why so many people are into it, the whole “feeling on top of the world” kind of thing, with the physical and the metaphorical sense of the expression coming together at the end of a rough climb.

March has now come and gone and it’s safe to say that it was one of the most awesome months I’ve had in a while. Now that the pain is all gone and I’ve got full mobility back (even managed a few small runs in the last few days), it’s time to work on making April a pretty decent one too.


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Being good on Good Friday

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Look, ma, no meat!

In May, five years will have passed since I moved to New Zealand. A whole half a decade of my life spent in the last bus stop in the world, almost 20,000km from home. It’s a whole lot of time to spend in a place that isn’t your own.

Except, it kind of is my own. I came across this article today, via a friend and fellow expat, that completely translated into words my feelings about living abroad.

It turns out I’m not the only one who’s come to the painful realisation that an expat will never fully feel whole again, no matter what happens. I miss Portugal dearly while I’m in New Zealand and I think fondly of all things Kiwi when I’m back in Portugal. I say “I’m going home” if I’m flying to Lisbon and I tell people in Lisbon about things I have “back home” in New Zealand. “Home” has come to define more than one place. It sounds like – and, for the most part is – a great situation to be in, to have two special places in your heart. But it doesn’t come without a decent amount of heartache.

I’ve grown more than five years in the last five years. Timezone differences mean my mum is asleep when most of my questions arise, when I burn my food, when I’m not sure which clothes I shouldn’t mix up with which in the washing machine, or when I can’t find an important document. If I get good or bad news that I want to share, I usually have to contain my enthusiasm for a few hours (we’re usually about 12 hours apart, depending on daylight savings). For the most part, I think I’ve been doing alright. Every few months, saudade hits harder but I’m fortunate enough to be able to solve that problem with the purchase of a flight home.

Moving this far meant that I had the chance to completely break away but, mostly due to having the most awesome family in the world, I’ve chosen not to.

Today, on my fifth Good Friday at home away from home, I purposefully didn’t eat meat. I have never eaten meat on any of the Good Fridays of my life. I have no real clue as to why, if I’m honest. My mum taught me we don’t eat meat on Good Friday and my grandma taught me the same and I’m pretty sure my great grandmother and great great grandmother didn’t eat meat on Good Friday either. Something something Jesus something, of course. I never really questioned it, especially because there were always plenty of chocolate eggs to make up for not being able to make a ham sandwich for 24 hours.

So if I don’t even really know why we had to do it, why do I choose to keep doing it, right? Well, it might have religious roots but it’s most definitely not a religious thing for me (if there is a God, he/she wouldn’t want to deprive me from steak). It’s a family thing. By continuing a family tradition, even if I’m away from family and surrounded by people who don’t do it, I’m closer to that other home I’m actually away from.

I couldn’t plan my Good Friday as well as I wanted to because the supermarket near home decided to close earlier than expected last night and I couldn’t buy the stuff I had planned for my meatless meals today. This little setback made me realise that, without proper planning, I’d be the world’s worst vegetarian. Aside from a fairly healthy-ish omelette (which did contain enough cheese to feed a small army), my day has been a sugarfest. Hot cross buns, pancakes, breakfast cereal and fruit smoothies.

Days that are heavy with traditions like this one are particularly hard for people who wish they could split into two or who wish science would stop mucking around and hurried up making teleportation a reality. No amount of Creme Eggs (which, thanks to the supermarket closing too early, I also did not have today) can make up for not being able to celebrate Easter back home.

I’ll just celebrate it here at home instead. And as soon as the shops open tomorrow, I’m queueing up for Easter eggs.


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Whatipu weekend

My Fitbit is pretty happy with me right now. It doesn’t know that I’m going to be on deadline at work tomorrow and probably won’t move much from my desk. All it knows, in its current blissful ignorance about the future, is that I had a pretty kick ass weekend.

And I did. It started with a bush hike in Whatipu on Saturday (which consisted mainly of going up and down what felt like never-ending hills) that made Fitbit believe I had climbed the equivalent of the Empire State Building (152 floors climbed). A slow 21k trail run on Sunday ensured the Fitbit was pleased all weekend long. 341 floors later, it told me I had climbed the equivalent of Angel Falls today. I’ll take that.

But forget the numbers and stats (whoa, who is this?). The word that best describes this weekend is “hills”. I was either going up or down one of those beasts and, even now, I still can’t make my mind up about which one is harder. My lungs complain about the uphills but my knees make a big deal out of the downhills. It’s ok. There was cider and wine, good food and good conversation. Plus, Auckland put out another stunning summer weekend and we stayed at the cutest lodge, complete with its own little library and everything. I didn’t even mind the fact that there was no cell phone coverage in the area which meant I spent nearly 48h without checking my email or Facebook. Miraculously, I survived.

I didn’t read any of the books available at the lodge but, instead, finished Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run. It ended up being a pretty good book, as far as running books written by athletes go. It had a fair deal of bragging (but I suppose he can brag…) but it was mixed with some pretty insightful and useful advice and the race recaps were exciting to read.

You know those weekends when you feel like you really made the most out of the time you had to yourself? Yeah, one of those.


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That morning I ran from one side of the country to the other (well, sort of)

The face may say "I'm excited so let's run" but the reality was more like "it's cold so let's run!"

The face may say “I’m excited so let’s run” but the reality was more like “it’s cold so let’s run!”

A couple of months ago, I watched the video shot by Andrew Evans (National Geographic Traveler’s Digital Nomad) of his run across Liechtenstein. Coincidentally, I watched it just days after I had driven across Liechtenstein (during an amazing European road trip I really should tell you more about one of these days) and had one of those I-wish-I-had-thought-of-that-myself moments. Liechtenstein is a tiny country and one of the few where someone like me can actually run the length of it in one go so I was a bit bummed about not having thought of that.

But never mind. On Sunday, S. and I sort of did that. Well, not really. Let me explain. New Zealand can get really narrow in some points. Conveniently enough, one of those points is right near where we live which means we got to run from one side of the country to the other, technically, in what was only a 16k run.

coasttocoast1

I made a sweet, sweet illustration in MS Paint to scientifically prove we ran from one side of the country to the other.

The Auckland Coast to Coast Walkway is an official walk established and maintained by the city council, that takes walkers (or, in our case, runners) from the Manukau Harbour (Onehunga) to the Waitemata Harbour (Viaduct), on the other side of the city (and the island). Along those 16k, whether you’re walking or running, you get a really good taste for what Auckland really is all about. Boring suburbs, yes, some of that. But also an amazing range of great parks and reserves, extinct volcanoes, historic buildings, etc.

Then realised the thick pink lines in that image covered evidence of water on both sides so used all my skills to create yet another masterpiece.

Then realised the thick pink lines in that image covered evidence of water on both sides so used all my skills to create yet another masterpiece, this time zooming in on the map a bit more. SO MUCH TALENT.

The course itself is fairly well marked by blue signs with arrows (if you’re going from Onehunga to the Viaduct, which is the way we went) or yellow arrows if you choose to start from the Waitemata Harbour side. There were only two or three occasions when there wasn’t a sign telling us which way to turn so we sort of had to take a guess. Luckily, the signs were not far apart and, surprisingly, we never got lost along the way. The arrows also tell you where you should cross the streets but I’m not entirely sure you should take their advice every single time (some of them seemed to have been placed in random spots, away from traffic lights or crossings). Other than that, the route was really well chosen, leading us through reserves whenever there was one nearby, and up and down special places like One Tree Hill, Mount Eden and the Auckland Domain.

Not being great fans of routes that loop around and force us to see us the same things twice, we were pretty pleased with this run. There was always something nice to look at and 16k was an easy enough distance, only made slightly more difficult by the elevation of the terrain in certain areas (but that’s only a worry if you have enough will-power to run every single hill, which we don’t).

So there you have it. From one side of the country to the other. Another training run down, about a bazillion to go.

***

Not completely unrelated, there’s a guy who’s not cutting any corners and can actually claim to be running the length of the entire country, top to bottom, rather than across one of its narrowest parts. Dan Burgess is just about finished with his epic running adventure from Bluff (down the far South) to Cape Reinga (right at the very top). He is raising money to aid Parkinson’s UK and Cystic Fibrosis NZ and if you’d like to help his fundraising efforts, you can do so through here or here.


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Amazing people doing amazing things – the Michael Stewart edition

Here I am, worrying about running 1 marathon months from now, thinking it’ll be my biggest feat ever. And just a few hours south from where I live, on the same island, is Michael Stewart, gearing up for his 500th marathon this coming Sunday.

Yep. Five hundredth. Take a second or ten to digest that.

He ran his first marathon 42 years ago and is currently sitting on marathon number 499. All going well this coming Sunday, 42 years to the day, he’ll cross the finish line of the his very special marathon – the Michael Stewart’s 500th Celebration Marathon, a 42.2km run from and to Pinehaven Community Hall in Upper Hutt.

Stewart, also known by some as Mad Mike or Rainbow Man, is known for his bright running gear and so the marathon has a “pink” theme. He will be running with a number of “100 Club” members – people who, like him, have run over 100 marathons.

This weekend, while I probably sleep in and then moan about having to go for a longer-than-normal run, Mad Mike, rubbish truck driver and marathoner extraordinaire, will be setting a southern hemisphere record.

If you’re from the region and keen to enter, it’s only $40 and promises to be a really special event. To sign up, you just need to fill out and post this form.

Click here to read more about the 60 year old from Lower Hutt putting us all to shame and don’t forget to send him some good vibes on Sunday.

photo credit: Hutt Valley Marathon Clinic’s Flickr page


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How Lord of the Rings and VFX relate to marathon training (at least in my head)

Well, if we’re going to talk about numbers, this week was a massive catastrophe. Good thing we’re not going to talk about numbers then, or else I’d have to admit to you that I didn’t get anywhere close to the goals I had set up for myself. Among the reasons I didn’t run nearly as much as I should have this week I include: work commitments (those bills aren’t gonna pay themselves, apparently), meteorology (can’t control the weather, amirite?) and just overall laziness. You know, the usual. And yes, I am feeling stupidly guilty about it but guilt won’t really get me running any faster or longer so I’ll just harden up and get over it now.

I did put together a bit of a training plan with S. on Monday evening (while not running because of the rain) so that’s gotta count for something. I then flew to Wellington for work on Thursday and, on Friday afternoon, managed to drag myself to the path along the waterfront (part of the route of the half marathon I ran there back in June). It was a lovely, albeit fairly short, run, during which I only stopped a couple of times very briefly for the photos you see here (Instagram is my new excuse to take breaks during runs).

The conference that took me to Wellington ended on Saturday night with a gala dinner at Te Papa Museum (hands down my favourite museum in the country). They had a guest speaker come and give a bit of a speech after the awards ceremony (or was it before? I don’t know, it was in between wine). The speaker was Wayne Stables, a name that didn’t ring any bells to me but must make serious Lord of the Rings fans’ hormones go a little nutty. He’s the big visual effects guru at Weta Digital, Sir Peter Jackson’s film company.

It was during his talk to the conference guests that I realised two things:

1. I need to immediately take a weekend off to re-watch all Lord of the Rings (including the bits during which I fell asleep in my first and, so far only,  attempt)

2. I’m so obsessed with running and marathon training I’ll find a link between that and anything else in life.

All the man did was stand there for a few minutes talking about his amazing work in movies such as Lord of the Rings, Tin Tin and Avatar. My brain related pretty much each one of his sentences to running. One of his key messages was that working with massive visual effects productions means you have a lot of really big overwhelming challenges – like, for example, creating all the vfx for the battle of Helm’s Deep in LOTR or the super long continuous shot that was the chase scene in Tin Tin. There are a million little details that have to come together to create those scenes. If you think of the whole scene as one big thing, you’ll be completely stumped and overwhelmed by all the details that need looking after (stuff we don’t even think of as we watch the movie, such as cloth motion or the most realistic way to get water falling). So the key, he says, is to break those big challenges into tiny little ones and look at each detail at a time, rather than having the whole big picture in mind.

D’ya get it? D’ya? D’ya? Don’t tell me I’m the only one who made an immediate correlation to training for a 42.2km long run (not to mention that the marathon is only part of a much larger goal to run a 75k trail run, but that’s a whole new blog post). It’s all about breaking the massive challenge into little ones. Simple and yet genius. I went back to my hotel room later on having run a grand total of zero kilometers that day but with the distinct sensation that sitting through that talk  represented some sort of progression in my training.

Probably bullshit. I better get my ass on the road and run because, at this rate, special effects really are the only way I’m ever going to be seen crossing that finish line.


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Auckland Half Marathon recap

It was 6AM and I had been up for 1h30. That’s gotta be a good enough excuse for this pose.

Suppose you had asked me a couple of days ago if I was able to get out of bed at 4:30AM. I don’t know why you’d ask me that either but just play along, please. Anyway, I probably would have laughed at the idea for a solid minute or two before letting you know that, no, it was never going to happen. Especially on a Sunday.

Yesterday, Sunday, my alarm woke me up at 4:30. It was pitch black outside and the cat gave me hateful look when I accidentally woke her up. I couldn’t really blame her. There didn’t seem to be enough coffee in the world to help me cope with that kind of sacrifice. But then I got into my bright clothes, green tutu included, swallowed some coffee and a bagel and the world seemed a little better.

As we made our way to the ferry terminal in downtown Auckland to catch the ferry to Devonport, where the start line was, the only non-running people around us hadn’t actually gone home from their night out yet. I felt less normal than the girls in dresses three sizes too small trying not to vomit on the footpath. It didn’t matter that I was wearing a running headband that said “I run so I can drink”, I was still among the weird people getting up at that time to go for a run. And I liked it.

We arrived in Devonport with plenty of time to spare, the sun was yet to come up and the single-digit temperature was trying to disguise the warm day we’d have ahead of us. The only consolation was that we got to be near the start line to watch the participants of the full marathon. I couldn’t imagine what was going through people’s minds as they got ready to run 42.2km but seeing them certainly helped me get excited about the idea of running half of that. There was a little schadenfreude in knowing that at least I wasn’t in their shoes.

Plus, I was about to run another half marathon in the city I live in these days (this time, across the bridge), only three weeks after running an amazing half marathon in the city that will always be home. So life was good. I just wished all these thoughts were coming to my mind a couple of hours later, after a longer night’s sleep.

We started off running at 7AM. Approximately 5 seconds later, I hit the button on the GPS watch to start tracking and it immediately crashed. It refused to come on again so I had to resort to the iPod, which is far less accurate. I got over my little first world problem pretty quickly. The bright tutu meant that I got a lot more support from other people (runners and watchers) throughout the run. I quickly realised that running in costumes is definitely the way to go, if you need a little extra motivation. And if you don’t mind looking ridiculous in public, which I obviously don’t.

The good weather meant we had thousands and thousands of people watching and cheering for all of us, which was, as usual, more helpful than any training session. This was handy considering my training turned out to be non-existent. Somehow, time flew by since Lisbon three weeks ago and I did nothing but a couple of short runs. I figured nothing could be worse than running in that Lisbon heat and I was right.

I also took a chance and decided to break the old “don’t try anything new” rule for running events and wore my bright pink compression socks on this run. As silly as it is to take a risk on race day, this one ended up working really well. Over 24 hours later, my legs are feeling like I didn’t even run yesterday. So there’s another lesson – compression socks are a go. Shame they are so stupidly expensive but I guess I can survive with just one kidney.

This was half marathon number 5 for this year and it is now time to choose the next one for next month. I am tempted to repeat Kerikeri but also feel like I should go for a new course. Options include the Rotovegas Half Marathon, The Speight’s West Coaster and the The Great Cranleigh Kauri Run in the Coromandel. Not sure which one (or ones?) will be chosen yet. All I know is that all this running thing is giving my credit card a real workout.


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santa runners everywhere!

What to do on a wednesday afternoon after a day of work? Join over 900 people all dressed in santa outfits and go for a 3km run along the Auckland waterfront to support KidsCan, of course! The atmosphere was awesome and even though the run itself was very, very short, it was still very much worth registering and making our ways down there for it. Christmas and running together… what’s not to love?

I sort of wished it had been a longer run but was also thankful I didn’t have to run in that costume any longer. It’s summer in Auckland and even real santa (yes, REAL santa!) would swap that suit for a singlet if he was here. Yay, running! Yay, Christmas! I would like more running events to dress up for now, please, thank you.

photos by the lovely pierre gerardieu


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Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand

We layered up just as we had been told to and set on our walk pretty early in the morning (from memory, I think it was about 7AM when we started).

We had 19.4km of a World Heritage Site ahead of us and we’d been told to be prepared for a tough walk. I don’t want to say it was easy because, well, it wasn’t and I also don’t want anyone to read this, get the wrong idea and go completely under-prepared. If you’re reasonably fit and you’ve done a few long hikes before and you’re used to uneven and sometimes difficult terrain, then you’re probably ready.

The first 3km are flat and maybe even a little bit boring, compared to what’s ahead. Around 5km into it (distances may be slightly off because I suck at judging distances), we got to what people call “the devil’s staircase”, a steep uphill climb during which I wanted to die about 23 times. But I didn’t die and we made it to the top and it wasn’t long (relatively speaking) before we reached the Red Crater and I got all excited about life again.

We walked and walked and walked, much slower than I’d hoped we would (because super idiotic girl had injured her foot the day before – and yes, I’m talking about myself in third person). Then we got to the Emerald Lakes and the way I verbalised it may have even included some swear words but it was something along the lines of “oh dear, those are some very pretty lakes”.

The lakes are about halfway along the hike and we decided to stop there to have our lunch. Not a wise decision, unless you don’t mind eating with the smell of sulphur that comes from the lakes. For lunch that day, I had ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches with a side of sulphur fragrance. Yum. Still, it was pretty much the most amazing place to have lunch.

The second half of the hike is much, much easier. It’s pretty much all downhill and, even though it seems to go on and on forever, it gets really pleasant past the Ketetahi Hut, once you get into the bush.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (the “alpine” was added to its official name in 2007 to point out to people it’s not just a stroll in the park) is the best day hike I’ve ever done. It’s wild enough but not too wild, hard enough but not too challenging, long enough but not too strenuous. And boy is it gorgeous! It’s no wonder it is rated as the best day-hike in New Zealand and constantly ranked in the world’s top 10.

We’ve done it one more time since this first time (which happened a couple of years ago) and battled some really nasty weather on the second time. So terrible I don’t even like remembering that day because I don’t want it clouding the memory of the first one. The weather wasn’t perfect on our first visit (as you can see from a couple of these photos) but it was certainly not as life-threatening as on the second time. Now I have to go back when it’s sunny so I can get some proper photos.

Remember that, even though it’s only day-hike, it is a hike through quite challenging terrain in a mountainous area. If you’re going:

  • Layer up! No matter what time of the year you visit, you’ll experience a wide range of temperatures while you’re there. Wear waterproof clothing but also don’t forget your hat and sunglasses. It gets freezing up there… and then it gets stinking hot.
  • Take plenty of water and food. You’ll be walking for anything between 6 and 8 hours so stuff those snack bars in your backpack. And yes, that Mars bar can go too.
  • Dust off the sturdy hiking boots and maybe throw in a walking pole for extra comfort (I find that my walking pole really helps on the uphills)
  • Wear gloves. My hands were freezing both times even though I was wearing gloves. I don’t want to think what I would have felt like if I didn’t have them.
  • If you possible, stay the night in the area after the walk. Your legs will thank you for not cramming them inside a car for hours right afterwards.
  • Remember that you’ll be walking through exposed volcanic terrain and that the weather can change quite quickly and unexpectedly. Winds can get really, really strong up there and visibility can be reduced to pretty much zero (flashbacks to my second time on the track). Don’t underestimate it.
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