super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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My leg isn’t broken so I’m obviously going to run an overnight relay in 2 weeks

GOOD NEWS, YOU GUYS. The doctor says my leg is fine and I just need to “take it easy” for a while. So I’ve decided to go and take it easy on the road from Auckland to Mount Maunganui in my very first team relay in two weeks time.

Ever since the doctor texted me back an all clear on the x-ray last Tuesday (have I mentioned how much I love how informal kiwi doctors are? Oh, I have), I’ve finally started getting excited about this overnight relay thing.

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(Pause to try to not freak out about how it’s only 16 days away.)

Anyway, I’ve been giving it some serious thought for a while (a couple of days) so, obviously, I feel like I’m qualified to write about it.

The Kura 2 Mount relay starts in Papakura (South Auckland, yo) and ends in Mount Maunganui which, in case you’re like me and maps mean nothing to you, is really freaking far away from Papakura. Like, keep zooming out, it’s further than that. The way we’re going is not even the direct way, of course, so it’s going to be over 300km away, which is what you’d describe, in non-metric terms, as a hell of a long way. Also, since New Zealand is one of those countries that OH DEAR GOD WHY DO THEY EVEN EXIST WHERE THEY DO?, there are mountains and hills and all sorts of weird terrain everywhere, just to make life that little bit harder more fun.

A team of six of us (hopefully along with lots of other teams with lots of other nutters) will start running on Friday morning and finish the next day on the beach where I intend to have the world’s longest nap (Guinness Records official people, you might want to head there for this one).

I had a look at the maps for each of the legs yesterday and, after I finished running around the house shouting WTFWTFWTF! and eating all the carbohydrates in sight (just in case), I sat down and called dibs on the option that’d give me the absolute least amount of hills. But even if you take out the hills (which I did because the other ones were too slow to choose – suckers), it’s still a hell of a long way to run.

So. A bit of a problem: The same person who currently struggles with the idea of half marathons will somehow be running nearly 54km within 24h in about two weeks.

it'sacoolconcept

But anyway, I’m pretty sure I’ve done enough bitching on this blog in the last couple of months to last me until at least 2016 so I’ve decided that it’s all rainbows of positivity around here now. FIFTY FOUR KILOMETRES! YAY! Pain, yay! Blisters, yay! Chafing in awkward places, yay!

I have a feeling I’ll be talking about this a lot in the next couple of weeks (probably not so much about the awkward chafing, don’t worry). But for now, since I’m still figuring it out what the hell I got myself into, fetch your reading glasses and let’s go over what I think I’ve done right so far (don’t worry, it isn’t much):

1. I put together a team that pretty much kicks ass
My relay team consists of both people I’ve run with and people I’ve never even met in real life. They all kick ass in their own way and at a much faster pace than I do. At least half of the team has basically simultaneously volunteered to do the hilliest legs (because being able to feel your legs is clearly overrated in their world). One of them found us a volunteer before we even brought up the need for volunteers. It’s good to have people who are on top of things because then you don’t have to worry about things like pretending to know what you’re doing.

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2. I’ve started getting organised
Even if you only really start organising it 2 weeks in advance, there’s still time to get stuff done (did you hear that? Go put a team together and join us!). This relay is really bringing out the OCD in me, which is great if you’re me, less great if you’re someone in my immediate surroundings. The logistics of this sort of event are a lot more complex than any other event I’ve entered so, obviously, I’m giving myself permission to go fully mental. Think lists-of-my-to-do-lists kind of mental.

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Still, I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing yet. How many jelly beans do I pack per leg? What am I going to have for breakfast once I’ve been on the road for 24h and everything tastes like Gu and feet? What’s the most effective way to remove fresh roadkill blood from my running shoes? What colour of compression socks matches a high-vis vest? About two weeks to go and so many important questions remain unanswered. Except that last one. Nothing goes well with a high-vis vest.

3. I’ve been talking about it
The only thing I love more than running is talking about running (and, more specifically, bitching about how hard running is). An overnight relay with a whole team of runners is the perfect excuse to go nuts on the running talk. These people are going to be running with me for over 30 hours. They’ll be in the van while I’m running and they’re responsible for picking my scraps off the ground if my body decides to disintegrate during the third leg (which is entirely possible). Ideally, I’d like them to like me and I’d like them to know me well enough to be able to judge at what point during the course they need to start throwing muesli bars at my head to wake me up while I run.

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We started off with emails but then realised it wasn’t 2008 anymore so got ourselves a little Facebook group thingy and now everyone sees when everyone sees posts so we can be all WHY THE HELL IS IT TAKING YOU LIKE 20 MINUTES TO ANSWER MY QUESTION ABOUT TOILET PAPER ROLLS? But I’m trying to chill out. Maybe toilet paper rolls aren’t as important to them as they are to me. The key is to understand that my life is basically in their hands for 30 something hours so I better be nice to them. Oh well. Nobody said this relay thing was going to be easy.

4. I’m running again MULTIPLE EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!
You’ve got a relay in about two weeks and you’re sitting there writing about how you’ve got a relay in about two weeks instead of being out running? Well, general consensus would be that that’s idiotic. But it’s not all bad, really. I’ve been trying to get back into my old running routine and, even though I’m not quite there yet, I’m definitely putting some kilometres on my legs. It turns out that signing up for an overnight relay is a sure way to scare you into getting your ass running again.

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I’m going to come back here a few times in the next couple of weeks with some actual proper information (lolz) about getting my shit together for this relay. All I really wanted to do now is tell you about it so you can tell me to stop freaking out. It’s just running, right? It’s one day and one night of doing what I love doing (sometimes), with a bunch of people who love it too. The website tells me it’s “guaranteed to be the craziest 30 hours of my life” and it basically sounds like one big party with a bunch of friends. Except instead of sore feet from dancing, you get sore feet because you’re running an unbelievably long distance that you’re pretty sure you’re not able to run but will try to anyway because what would be the point of trying otherwise?

Now tell me: have you ever done a relay? Or heard of someone who’s heard of someone who’s run a relay? If so, get in touch. I’ve got a couple of questions for you (actually, 352 questions, to be precise. Some of them about toilet paper). Also, join me. No, really!


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Motivational quotes don’t get me motivated and summer brings out all the idiots

Buzzfeed got a bunch of fitspo qotes and fixed them. All the others are here

Buzzfeed got a bunch of fitspo qotes and fixed them. All the others are here.

I’ve ran a grand total of 5 painful kilometers in the last week and a half so, naturally, it’s time to get my rant on.

I’ve been doing what I can to be a good runner and look after my injured leg. And what I can do is not run. Except not running is turning me into a miserable bitch so it’s basically been a choice between a leg that moves painlessly and a brain that isn’t subconsciously working out ways to hurt other people.

Fun times, you guys.

This is all being made even harder because of the timing of this whole injury thing. I’m not just talking about the events I’m supposed to be training for (I’ve got a relay in a month’s time and, at this stage, I’d need a relay team of 24 people just to run to the bakery across the road from home). There’s more.

You see, this weekend is Auckland Marathon weekend. Naturally, people are excited. Excited people talk about things that make them excited. Excited people talking about things that make them excited expect their excitement to be met with excitement too. Getting excited about marathons is hard when you have limbs threatening to crack.

(That said: go you good things! I’ll be cheering for you from wherever I am, probably sitting down feeling sorry for myself.)

Lesson: If you’re going to get a running injury, don’t get a running injury while everyone around you is excited about their marathon.

Also, the weather is getting warmer, which would be great if I wasn’t hating on everything right now. Like all “lifestyle” articles popping up about getting in shape for summer. Nicer weather has brought a bunch of seasonal runners out to the streets, those “trying to get in shape for Summer” types. Regular running Vera would find that pretty cool, yay for people focusing on themselves! Injured-no-running-hates-everything Vera sees them as she drives past on her way home to put ice on her leg and wants to yell at them to get their stinky running shoes off her reserve.

And yes, I judge you if you’re running around the park because Summer is coming and you want to look good on the beach. I judge people who talk about getting ready for “bikini season” because that’s the type of superficial crap that doesn’t help anyone make any permanent change that’ll actually make them feel better about themselves.

The other day, the lady who comes to sell sandwiches at lunchtime asked why I wasn’t buying a cookie with my sandwich. Before I had time to explain to her that I’d been sent some chocolate that I’d been working on all morning, she told me “probably for the best, Summer is coming!” and since I don’t understand why my cookie intake is in any way more related to the change of seasons than to the phases of the moon or changes in tides, I went ahead and bought the stupid cookie anyway.

(Maybe that was her plan all along? Well played, lunch lady, well played.)

The “getting fit for Summer” thing annoys me more than I care to explain. As a side-effect of trying to fit into a bikini that is not their size, some people will get a bit fitter. But fitness is a consequence they’re not even thinking about. They want the thigh gap and the flat stomach that doesn’t hang over their bikini bottoms. Once Summer is over, they won’t see a reason for their gym membership anymore. So their excuse to be out there running around my reserve while I have to go home and cry about how I can’t run is actually pretty stupid. Also, your leg doesn’t hurt and mine does so, naturally, I want you dead.

(I warned you I was bitchy.)

Lesson: If you’re going to get a running injury, get a running injury during Winter, when most people don’t really give two shits about working out either.

To top things off nicely, I’m less than two weeks away from making a pretty massive life change that, on the plus side, will involve the possibility of never having to speak to people again but, on the other hand, will involve the possibility of never having to speak to people again. It’s equal parts exciting and terrifying and, if history has taught me anything, is that I don’t deal very well with drastic changes, even ones I want to make (you’d be nodding along right about now if you’d seen me in the first couple of months of living in New Zealand). I’d usually cope with stress by running it all off but, instead, I’m coping with stress the only other way I know how to: by writing about how much not running is making me hate everything.

Lesson: If you’re going to get a running injury, don’t do it when you’re about to start freelancing from home and you’re so stressed about that life change it actually makes you want to vomit.

I’m finally off to get my xray today. In the meantime, I’ll be staying away from fitness websites for a while because motivational quotes are starting to drive me insane. No, internet, I most definitely should not be running right now. And I’d really appreciate if you stopped trying to make me feel like crap about that.


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Panmure King of the Mountain half marathon recap

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Silly mother nature putting volcanoes in the middle of what could be a perfectly nice flat route.

Here’s the thing about living in Auckland: there are a crap load of volcanoes all over the place (about 53 of them so far, but who knows when others might join the party). We live in constant fear that an eruption will cause us to spill our soy lattes all over our overpriced rugs.

But on the other hand, those volcanoes mean lots of nice views of the city, which is pretty much all you have to look forward to in life when someone decides that one of those beasts should be at kilometre 18 of your half marathon. Like yesterday, at the Panmure King of the Mountain half.

This is apparently a pretty iconic Auckland race (you can read more about it here to save me all the paraphrasing). There was a bit of a hiatus but the race came back this year and, even though I made a solemn promise to never again enter events with “mountain” in the name, I went ahead and registered, for some reason (the reason being that I’ve got the self-control of a lab rat).

It was all a bit uncertain for a while. After the Waitakere Half, I decided to be all responsible and didn’t run a single kilometre for an entire week. Believe it or not (and I can’t blame you for not believing it), I was genuinely considering skipping this half in favour of doing the responsible thing and continue to give my leg a proper rest. But then two things happened: 1. I didn’t have any pain in the couple of days before the event and 2. I randomly got bib #1, which had never ever happened before.

Now you ask “what difference does that make, you fool?”. Absolutely none, of course. But I really wanted to run it anyway so I took the whole bib #1 thing as a really good excuse sign.

And here’s something I don’t often get to say about my decisions: it was a good one.

(Let that sink in for a bit.)

No clue what I was laughing at but here's a photo of my #1 bib because I'm a giant show off.

No clue what I was laughing at but here’s a photo of my #1 bib because I’m a giant show off.

It was a pretty tough half for me but the pain in my leg wasn’t actually much of a pain in the ass, for a change. In fact, it completely disappeared about a quarter of the way through so I can’t even use it as an excuse for my slower-than-usual time. Actually, I’ll half-blame it on it. This bitch of an injury (will give it a proper medical term once I get around to getting the x-ray done, promise) meant that I didn’t get any decent training done in the last month or so and I definitely feel the loss of fitness.

I tried to go slow and not mistreat my leg too much, just in case. For a while, I couldn’t see any other runners anywhere and was fully convinced I was the absolute last person on the course. I had a brief “what’s the point?” moment but then realised that I never race anyone other than myself anyway and so kept going at my slow let’s-try-not-to-make-this-worse pace. Instead of worrying about my time, I focused on enjoying the scenery which, aside from a bit of boring suburban running, was pretty damn nice.

Luckily, the bit I had to run on sand was pretty short, otherwise this recap would include some pretty ugly words.

Luckily, the bit I had to run on sand was pretty short, otherwise this recap would include some pretty ugly words.

I can’t tell you how happy I was to give myself a mostly pain-free half marathon. It was the perfect reward to a week spent desperately wanting to run but choosing to do the right thing and staying home icing my leg instead. I missed pain-free running to the point of forgetting how it felt like. Turns out, it feels amazing, even at  slower pace. So I guess all that rest last week was good for something and if not running for a while means I get to enjoy running again the way I did yesterday, then I’m all over that idea.

So, just so you don’t think you’re wasting precious bandwidth on this for nothing, I’ll go ahead and say it: you were right.


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Waitakere Half Marathon recap

Here’s a little handy tip I picked up a few days ago: if you’re limping your way to the start line, you should probably not be running a half marathon.

But you know, #yolo and stuff.

The truth is that I had no good reason for never having done the Waitakere Half before, especially if you consider it starts about 15 minutes from home and registration is really well priced at $40 (important if, like me, you try to fit every running event into your budget even if it means 50c 2-minute noodles for dinner for 2 weeks).

(Did I mention I’m freelancing now?)

I didn’t want to wait another year before doing this one so decided to go ahead and register, ignoring the fact that I’m barely fit enough to run to the letterbox and back.  It’s pretty amazing how quickly my mind can go from “OH SURE, I can totally do this” as I get out of bed in the morning to standing near that start line wondering what in the name of Our Lady of Gaga I was thinking when I signed up.

To make matters worse, the morning had started with the realisation that I had bought the wrong M&Ms for the half (crunchy M&Ms, since when are crunchy M&Ms even a thing?).

How much worse could things get, really?

Well. A bit worse.

But at that moment by the start line, I couldn’t possibly have cared less about the pain. Or even the crunchy M&Ms.

(Seriously, though, like a cross between a regular M&M and a Malteser. Stop messing with my confectionery, confectionery manufacturers!)

There were hundreds of people on that track waiting to start and I was every bit as excited as they all were. And it started on a track! A track, you guys! That’s as close to the Olympics as I’m ever going to get. Not only that, it also finished in the same spot, with a full lap of the track, and the rest of the course included what looked like some pretty cute trail along the creek. The whole thing sounded like a neat bundle of awesome so the pain was going to have to wait until later because I wasn’t about to miss out on all that stuff.

But then we started running and my enthusiasm for the whole thing started to fade pretty quickly. That secret hope I had that things would magically just fix themselves disappeared and I quickly realised it wasn’t going to be the most fun I’d had on a Sunday morning. Not even 2km into the half and I was pulled over to the side trying to find a way to stretch the leg so it would stop hurting. From then on, I kept running and stopping, running and stopping, running and stopping, running and stopping, running and stopping, running and stopping, running and stopping. And if you think reading that repetition is annoying, try actually having to do it (no, don’t try, it’s stupid and painful and you shouldn’t try it).

At about kilometer 6, I decided that, since the half involved a second lap of the 10.5km course, I’d just turn into the stadium with the 11km runners and be done with it for the day. That sounded smart and responsible and totally like the right thing to do. So, obviously, when it came time to turn towards the finish line for the 11km run, I turned the other way and started the second lap for the half marathon.

The second lap wasn’t as scary as I had envisaged it (as in, I didn’t have to walk the entire damn thing). The downhills that are normally my BFFs were a killer and I actually found myself having to walk in segments where I’d normally try to pick up some speed (but you try pounding a sore shin down a concrete road and then tell me if that feels like a good time).

(Again, no, don’t try that. That’d be stupid. Stop listening to me.)

It wasn’t until around the 17km mark that I fully decided I was going to finish and not just call someone to come pick me up from the side of the road. I thought “whatever damage I’ll do to this leg today will have been done by now” (freelance writer, not freelance doctor. Keep that in mind.) and so I kept on running. Finishing with a lap of the track was actually pretty awesome, as far as reaching finish lines goes, and it was absolutely worth putting up with the stupid pain.

I didn’t break any course records (I know, weird) but I’m still happy I got out there and bagged another half. The weather was perfect for running, the course was great, the volunteers were super nice and I got to catch up with a really good bunch of people who are crazy enough to get up at stupid o’clock on Sunday for stuff like this. I’m definitely glad I didn’t wait until next year to do this one but I also can’t wait to do it again next year.

Now before you start rolling your eyes so much they disappear to the back of your head, let me tell you this: I came home determined to get smarter about this whole running thing.

No, really.

I went to the doctor the following day (more on that once I actually get off my ass and go do the x-ray he asked for) and didn’t even run at all this week. Instead, I rested. I took painkillers. I ate things that made me happy. I tried not to obsess about running. I obsessed about running. I took some more painkillers. I considered a run. Then I didn’t run. I ate some more chocolate instead and tried not to cry myself to sleep every night over a potential break from running.

So there you go, all responsible stuff. Which totally gives me a pass to go run the Panmure King of the Mountain tomorrow. Obviously.


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A list of things you definitely shouldn’t do while dealing with a running injury

Let’s make this quick: the reason I haven’t posted anything in – oh I don’t know, you go and check how long it’s been if you’re interested – is because I’ve been sporting a bunch of really hot running-related injuries. I’m too tired of moaning about them to moan about them here so you’re in luck (my friends IRL, however, are probably calling their cell phone providers to switch numbers as we speak).

Considering even the boy who never reads my blog has noticed it’s been ages since I posted, I thought it was time to come here and say some stuff. First I thought I’d post a photo of my lunch. Then I ate my lunch and forgot to take a photo, proving I’ll never be a proper fitness blogger. Then I thought I’d still try to go for the whole good fitness blogger thing and list all the distances, splits and paces of my latest workouts. Then I realised I couldn’t really give less of a shit about other people’s splits and paces so why would you care about mine?

So here we are. Nowhere useful, which is a good place to start.

Last time we spoke, I’d gone to hell and back at the Big O. Once the physical pain from that was gone (the emotional trauma will hang around for a while), I sank right into the world of running injuries where I’ve been unhappily living ever since. Shin splints on my left leg, ITB pain on my right leg (and occasionally on the left one too, for good measure) mean that I can’t go for a road run longer than 200m before I start reconsidering this whole running deal.

The problem, you see, is that I’ve been running (shit I never thought I’d say). Even though I should just sit at home quietly, both legs elevated and covered in ice, with my chocolate bars handy and Gilmore Girl episodes playing on TV, I have managed to drag myself out for a run every 2 or 3 days. It’s been doing wonders for my mental health (and other people’s personal safety) but very, very little for my injured legs.

I guess it wouldn’t be a massive overstatement to say I’m not exactly smart when it comes to recovery.

(Whatever. I’m a different kind of smart. Just ask my mum.)

(Please don’t ask my mum. I’m not entirely sure where she sits on that issue.)

Anyway. the point is that I feel like I’ve been stuck in a perpetual loop of running injuries for a while now, which is not a great place to be. Ever the practical one, though, I’ve identified the stuff I’ve been doing wrong and listed it all here so you can ensure you don’t end up like me.

1. Running

If you’re injured, don’t run. I’m not talking about tired legs, feel free to run on those, you big badass. But proper pain? Stay home. Put some cushions at the end of the bed, park your ass on it, legs up, 2L ice cream tub in hand. You’re good. Stay there for a while. Running when you’re injured would be very, very stupid, as I’ve discovered.

2. Skiing

Don’t go skiing, that’s stupid. I went skiing a few weeks ago when my left ITB was complaining. You know me, always testing shit out in the name of science. The conclusion, based on the empirical evidence collected during this experiment, is: NO.

brain

3. Bungy jumping

No bungy jumping. Definitely no bungy jumping. I did that last Sunday. At first I thought “SGG, you smart mofo. This is a brilliant idea that will stretch all your muscles and put everything back in its place”. I had this whole theory about how bungy jumps should be the new quick-fix alternative to massages. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good massage as much as the next middle-class white chick with a not-great-but-decidedly-above-average amount of disposable income, but I thought I’d found an alternative that would cost about the same and take way less time to get done. Well, wouldn’t that just be another giant sack of no.

4. Wearing high heels

No high heels. I know, that makes me want to cry too. Except I’ve worn high heels twice this week for two full days and the extra pain I got from those made me want to cry even more. For now, they’ll just have to sit in the closet, looking pretty. So pretty.

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5. Forgetting to ice, elevate, compress, etc, etc, etc.

Ice the shit out of your legs. I get home every evening convinced that I’m going to spend at least a good half hour bonding with a bag of frozen vegetables. Then I sit down and decide that I can’t be bothered getting up again and walking to the freezer for them (a friend today called me “the laziest long distance runner” he’d ever met and I’m afraid he might have a point).

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6. Not listening to the body

I’ve been going through a bit of denial when it comes to all this pain. Most of the time I pretend it’s not even there. Sometimes I convince myself it’s gone. Listen to your body. But listen for longer than a few minutes. I’ve been all “yay, my legs haven’t hurt at all for the last two hours! I must be cured! Let’s go running!”. Yeah… no.

7. Signing up for last-minute running events because I’m weak and can’t help myself

I’ve got a half marathon to run this Sunday, a half marathon to run the Sunday after, a relay at the end of next month and a bunch of other plans for other runs. I’m officially, undeniably, utterly, hopelessly addicted to the rush you get from confirming your registration to an event and adding it to your calendar. I think it’s safe to assume that none of my two upcoming half marathons will help my injuries and it’s probably not crazy to think they might actually make them worse.

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8. Treating my stomach like a dumpster

The problem with being injured is that I’m wasting precious training time for Tarawera. Since I can’t run, I should probably be doing other stuff that will impact my performance on the day, like sleeping properly or eating healthier. Except, lolz. Maybe after this cupcake.

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9. Refusing to see a doctor

Go to the doctor. Don’t be an idiot and go to the doctor. Don’t be this particular idiot who is refusing to go see the doctor because the doctor will probably say she can’t run for a while and then she’s going to have to punch the doctor in the face and no one wants to see that happening (especially because, in case you forgot, he’s actually a pretty cool guy).

10. Obsessing over these injuries

I spend an average of 92.6% of my waking hours checking to see if my legs still hurt. Hang on a second. Yep, still hurting. Doing this, surprisingly, will not make them heal any faster.

And now that I’ve given you a bunch of hypocritical advice that I’m probably going to continue to ignore, I’m going to sort the stuff for the half marathon I’m running on Sunday. Just me, my shin splints and my retarded IT band.

P.s.: I keep meaning to mention and then getting distract by checking whether my legs still hurt or not (9:18pm update: they still hurt) but, in case you haven’t seen it yet, go check out my article in the Guardian and, if you’re in New Zealand, go grab the latest Wilderness magazine and check out my profile of the amazing Ruby Muir in the latest issue of NZ Trail Runner. DO IT!


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Lessons from the Big O 2013 – I’d rather feel like crap than just feel okay

Posing for Mike Tennent's camera, before I knew what I was in for.

Posing for Mike Tennent’s camera, before I knew what I was in for.

I ran the toughest course of my life on Saturday and I’m not even sure I’m prepared to talk about it but if I don’t dump it all onto this keyboard right now, I may never find the ability to talk about it again so, stand back, here goes whatever’s about to come out of me.

The 21km trail I was supposed to run that morning ended up being a 28km trail with brutal elevation (who knew some parts of Rotorua were so close to the sky?) and some of the toughest terrain I’d ever run in my life. When I think of parts of it – and I still do, like some sort of weird PTSD – I just want to use swear words. I’m going to try to choose others and spare you from those but, frankly, I’m so out of energy that I can’t promise much. This will probably be a long one so get a cup of tea or something (and bring me a stiff drink while you’re at it). If you don’t feel like reading this whole thing (why would you?) and you just want to know whether I finished or not, I did. You can leave now.

For myself and whoever poor bored soul has decided to keep on reading, here’s a recap.

I signed up for the Big O on Tuesday after Leah told me she’d be running it in a fairy costume. I thought of my poor tutu abandoned at home and decided that putting some extra miles on it wouldn’t hurt.

Hahaha. “Wouldn’t hurt”. Anyway.

That same week, I got shin splints and a weird 24h bug forced me to work from home the day before the run. Feeling better by Friday evening, I felt too guilty to skip the NZ anniversary drinks of a really close friend, so decided to stop by those anyway (with the race in T minus just a few hours). “Stopping by” turned into cocktails and dancing (because my mind is that weak) and, at midnight, I was standing up in the kitchen separating jelly beans into tiny ziplock bags and hoping for a miracle. I finally fell asleep at 1am, with the alarm set for 5am.

whatcouldpossiblygowrong

Just a few hours later, in pain, sleepy and with a slight hangover, I got picked up by Stacey, a vision from heaven who picked me up with a hot coffee and a muffin. Three hours later (with an intense few minutes trying to follow the America’s Cup because apparently I’m now one of those people who follows boat races), we arrived at the event base in Rotorua. I immediately spotted Mike (who took the tutu photos) and a few other familiar faces and, as the excitement kicked in, I managed to forget about how crappy I felt and how there was absolutely not a single good reason for me to be attempting that run after such a shitty week. Whatever, I was wearing a giant tutu and it was going to be an amazing day out!

Except, not so much.

You see, I wanted to prove to myself that, even under such miserable conditions, I could run a half marathon. The problem is that, even if you ignore the shin splints, the sickness and the hangover, I’m still at the lowest level of fitness I’ve been in the last year. Finishing a half, at this stage, is like a personal Everest. I’d done it the week before on road and I wanted to do it this week on the trail, even though I was feeling even worse.

I know it might sometimes sound like I’m taking the piss when I tell you about how unfit I am and then write recaps of runs a lot of people can’t – or don’t – run. I’m not, though. If you know me, you know I have the eating habits of a stray dog living behind a McDonald’s drive-thru, I stay awake thanks to litres of coffee every day and sleep an average of four or five hours a night. Also, I don’t run nearly as much as some people think I run, just because I keep a running blog. But I have this theory that running is mostly a mental exercise and so, as long as your mind is strong, it doesn’t matter that the rest of you is falling apart.

Just a couple of little issues with that theory: a) it’s mostly bullshit and b) this run wasn’t actually a half.

I had company the entire way – Ruby the dog joined me about 4km into the run and never left me again so we had the chance to bond for a whole 24km of running, walking, sliding down mud, jumping over fences (so many goddamn fences!), getting lost and crying. Yep, crying. Not even embarrassed to admit it. I cried and told Ruby how much of a stupid idea this whole thing was. She listened patiently even though, by then, I had already yelled at her to “stop fucking judging me!” as she stood at the top of hills watching me drag myself up.

I spent hours and hours and hours and then some more hours climbing up hills, negotiating roots and vines, getting my legs cut by gorse. I fought not to let the mud swallow my shoes and tried my best to block out the constant rain that kept pouring for hours. Partly because of how shitty I was already feeling before I started running, partly because it really was that tough a run, I ended up sinking to a level of low I didn’t even know I could get to, a little basement hidden under the basement of the most negative shit I’ve got in me.

Running often does that to me and I don’t complain because it’s part of what I chase when I run: high degrees of emotions, whether they’re happy or sad. Some of the most unadulterated happiness I’ve felt in life has happened during a runner’s high. Some of the deepest sadness has happened during a runner’s low (is that even a thing? I get it a lot so it should be a thing).

The point is, and this is especially true for trail running, I experience feelings at a much higher frequency when I’m out running and that is a big part of the reason I do it. On Saturday, proving that it wasn’t all bad, I rode quite a good runner’s high between kilometres 5 and 9 (when I slipped and hurt my knee). For those 4km, I took close notice to the fact that I was wearing a giant tutu and running alone through a stunning piece of Earth in New Zealand. And fucking hell, I felt lucky. Luckier than you and anyone else around. I had one earphone on and didn’t bother with my usual BPM-influenced running music. Instead, I put on Yann Tiersen’s Amelie OST, which sounded strangely fitting, and spent a good half an hour smiling to myself in the middle of nowhere, genuinely happy. I don’t get that stupidly happy doing anything else that I do in life. Even if I’d not finished the run, it would all have been worth it for that half an hour alone.

But just like that, I also experienced what I now remember as the absolute lowest of the lows, a sort of feeling I find much harder to translate into words. When I got lost, cold, in pain and didn’t know how much longer I had to go, I wanted to give up. I wanted to sit there and cry. I didn’t sit (mostly because stopping would only have made me colder) but I cried and hated running and hated that I’d put myself in that situation.

I couldn’t remember the happy moments anymore and went into a strange dark place in my head where the finish line didn’t actually exist anymore and I was just going to have to accept I was going to be there forever. I stopped the music and went into a weird auto-pilot mode where I kept putting my feet one in front of the other without really hoping to get anywhere. I didn’t care about the cold. I didn’t care about the screaming knee. I didn’t even care about finishing. I was just empty of whatever it was I was supposed to think or feel and, instead, there was just nothing.

Now that it’s been a couple of days, even though nothing will change the fact that I felt absolute hatred for those moments, in those moments, I can see that they’re just part of what I seek anyway. Who wouldn’t want to feel things in such extreme ways?

The problem, you see, is that life is too comfortable. Way too comfortable. We take the elevator and get takeaways, pay extra for same-day delivery, have remote controls, heated car seats and apps for everything. If we plan things right, we can go whole days without even having to move anymore. We do whatever we can to make life as easy and comfortable as we can because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do. We even measure people’s success by how comfortable their life is. And we sort of stop feeling things. It all becomes average. Not quite freezing, not quite boiling, just an in-between temperature that fits no purpose and that is no good but also not bad for anything. We think that suits us just fine but we’re just crippling ourselves and getting through life missing out on actually feeling things.

In long-distance trail running, there’s no room for that in-between. Everything is heightened, enhanced and technicolor. Happy only means happiest and sad only means saddest. Average is a concept that only exists out of the trail, in the weekdays at work when people ask how we’re doing and we say “okay”, the hours we spend commuting, the time we numb ourselves in front of screens and forget to feel things because feeling things is hard work and drains you out.

A long-distance trail run never goes “okay”. That trail on Saturday left me empty, which was exactly what I wanted it to do (whether I realised it on that day or not is an entirely different matter).

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Just about every non-runner I know has asked me at least once why the hell I get out and do these things (especially since the next few days are spent barely moving and bitching about it). I find it such a transcendent thing that I have no skills to explain. I can only hope they assume there must be a really good reason I willingly put myself through the pain I talk about. Because that pain is just the result of a major rush of happiness and genuine feelings are supposed to leave you exhausted. Other runners know. We’re not as stupid as we look. We wouldn’t spend all this money, travel this far, abuse our bodies this much for something average. For that, we have PlayStations.

I’ve written so many words already I’m going to spare you a step-by-step account of Saturday. Let me just leave it here, for posterity, that this 28km trail was way, way tougher than my road marathon (and it took me longer too!) and tougher than any other event I’ve ever run. And I know you’re thinking “well, duh” after I gave you the laundry list of all the things that were wrong with me before I even started but I assure you it would have been one of the hardest regardless.

One of the absolute worst moments came at the 20km mark, when I caught up with another runner as we both slowly made our way up another god forsaken hill, trying to avoid all the gorse (he was smart and wore long pants, I’m currently sporting some really hot scratches all over my legs). I told him “not long to go now!” and he looked at his Garmin and said “yeah, maybe 5 or 6km to go, maybe a bit more” and, around about that time, my heart sank all the way down to the bottom of the Earth.

areyoufuckingkiddingme

“NO! We’ve got 1km to go,” I told him (and I’m pretty sure he could feel the panic in my voice). He explained that the aid station at 13km was the halfway mark (is this stuff in the emails the event directors send out? I need to start reading those) and that we were at least 5km away from the finish. He also said something about elevation and how he thought we should be heading down soon but we were weirdly still going up quite a lot. I don’t know, I stopped listening. I was still trying to process the whole “I wasn’t even ready for a trail half and now you’re telling me it’s more than a half” deal. So I took off and left him, obviously (actually, nothing to do with that, he was lovely, but I was freezing and running was the way to stay warm).

What happened next was proof that maybe freezing but staying near someone else would have been the thing to do. Being the self-proclaimed worst trail runner in the world (a title I embrace with more pride than I should), of course I got lost. We were high up in some crazy ass massive piece of farmland, fog so thick you couldn’t see anything in front of you, one wrong turn and I was panicking in the middle of nowhere and blowing my emergency whistle hoping someone would find me. Turns out the whistle did a bucket load of nothing and no one came to my rescue. I managed to backtrack all the way to the last marker I’d seen and found my way back to the track. Not long after, I spotted the same runner again – who had passed me while I was busy getting lost. Having gone through my little panic attack (of which we shall never speak of again), I decided to stick with him. We had a couple of kilometres to go by then and finally started making our way down. My watch marked just over 28km when I crossed the finish line. It took me over 5 hours to cover those – longer than it took me to run a full marathon on the road.

RIP, tutu.

RIP, tutu.

I wasn’t even close to prepared for what the day would eventually bring me. I know some training, less injuries and some better decisions (like, you know, not drinking and dancing the night before) would have made a difference but I’m glad the difference wasn’t between finishing or not finishing. I sort of still managed to prove my point, I guess. I’m more proud of those 28km than any of the longer distances I’ve ever done before and I’m still stupidly excited for everyone who braved that course that day, especially those legends who set out on a 35km and ended up having to accidentally run an ultra (and I’m super glad I ran the Big O 35km last year, when it was actually 35km).

With Ruby finally asleep in the car, Stacey and I took my bottle of wine spot prize to an Indian restaurant (we made sure it was BYO), ordered the banquet (all you can eat out of pretty much all of their curries, plus entrees), spent nearly $50 in lollies at the supermarket and drove back to Auckland singing our hearts out to keep ourselves awake.

The trail that marked the official start of my training for Tarawera ended up being so bad that it had the upside of making me confident that I can run that ultramarathon next year. If I survived Saturday, the way I was feeling, I can survive whatever gets thrown my way.

Settle down, universe, that wasn’t a challenge.


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Arthur’s Half recap – That time another runner helped me across the finish line

Pre-race, when he didn't really know what he was in for yet (hence the smile).

Pre-race, when he didn’t really know what he was in for yet (hence the smile).

I’ve said here a few times that signing up for half marathons and then not training for them is a really bad idea. I know this because I’ve made that mistake a few times. Like, oh I don’t know, last weekend, for example.

I registered for the Arthur’s Half (one of the hilliest road half marathons I’ve ever run) a few weeks before, then proceeded to not run anything over 5k until race day. Remember you like me for my charming personality, not for my smart decisions.

Anyway. I’m going to keep this recap boringly chronological, even though all I really want to do is jump to the bit where I tell you that I actually finished, but I suppose you need to understand why finishing that half marathon was such a big deal.

I jumped out of bed at 6am on Saturday morning with the ease I only jump out of bed early for running events. I got to the event area just as the marathon runners – those legends! – were starting their race. The marathon included a few extra amazing people doing it, including trail-addict Malcolm Law, running his first ever road marathon, and a group of people who had run a full marathon over night and for whom this was the second marathon that day. I hadn’t even had breakfast and those people were on their second full marathon. Knowing this was happening out there made the event extra special and I didn’t even care that it was raining and I actually just wanted to go back to bed.

I picked up my registration pack and immediately spotted Mike Tennent sitting at one of the tables, getting ready for the run. After a few months of almost-but-not-really meeting up at running events and knowing each other from Facebook, we finally got to say a proper in-real-life hello. Now, keep Mike’s name in mind. It’s important. In the bathroom queue, of all places, I met Jenny (hi Jenny!) who said hello to me even though she reads SGG. A few of us, Mike and Jenny included, then hung out by the registration area, as it poured outside. Leon, who was going to start the run with me, arrived shortly after.

Before we get to the running bit, let me tell you a bit about Mike. I’d briefly mentioned him here before, when I celebrity-spotted him at the Huntly Half a few months ago. Mike is currently nearly halfway through an year long charity fundraising project that basically kicks ass. He is running 52 races (half marathons or longer) in 52 weeks to raise money for Hospice. Now doesn’t that just make you want to high five a pony? I mean, what an amazing thing to do. The Arthur’s Half was event #22 for him and, because he’s one of those stubborn hardcore runners, he’s been sporting an injury and running them anyway (sometimes two in the same weekend because that’s just the type of fabric of awesome he’s made of). Because of his injury, and because he was planning to run another half marathon the next day (which he did, in 1:45:18, while injured!), he decided to start with me so I could keep him at a slow pace (I knew my slowness would come in handy for someone one day).

Pre-asthma photobombing, when things were still looking promising.

Pre-asthma photobombing, when things were still looking promising.

Shortly after 8am, we were off. And shortly after that, I felt something was off. I was running along with Mike and Leon (who couldn’t resist the temptation to run faster and bagged himself another sub-2h that day, the crazy man) when, suddenly, it felt like, no matter how hard I tried to breathe, no oxygen was coming in.

Oh great.

That exercise-induced asthma I had discovered I had a couple of years ago – and which I’d only experienced less than a handful of times – was back. Bitch. My inhaler? Nowhere to be found, of course, because inhalers are for sensible runners who plan shit properly.

We were just over 3km into the run and my immediate thought was that I could not possibly go into a panic. But you know what happens when you think that you can’t go into a panic? You panic about the possibility of panic. LAYERS OF PANIC. So I tried to think about other stuff and focus on my breathing instead. Like, really focus. No, harder than that. Literally putting some thought into every time I inhaled and exhaled.

I took a few walking breaks and Mike dutifully slowed down to walking pace to keep me company. I kept trying to bring my breathing down to normal levels and it occasionally seemed to work but always temporarily. I can’t remember how many times I told Mike I couldn’t breathe – as if he couldn’t tell – and he kept giving me instructions to try to get my breathing back to normal. He also tried to tell me off for not having my inhaler but he didn’t get mad at me for longer than maybe 2 seconds (not that I could tell anyway). We kept going at this running/walking/running pace as I tried to regain control of my lungs. At times, it felt like things were going back to normal. Then shortly after, I’d sound like Darth Vader again. It rained on us a few times and the wind was throwing the rain sideways at us and Mike kept carefully placing himself to shield me from it. Throughout the entire thing, I kept telling him I was failing to bring my breathing back to normal and he kept calming me down. Over 17km of this and the man still hasn’t unfriended me on Facebook.

So you get it, right? It sucked. I couldn’t breathe for most of my half marathon and it freaking sucked. But the universe has this weird way of balancing things out and, in all that suckiness (if twerking is a word, suckiness can be a word too), there was Mike. And now all I have are amazing memories of that morning. I felt immensely guilty for forcing a guy who runs half marathons much faster than I ever will to stay so far behind and I told him a number of times that he should keep going and I’d catch up. He could see right through my bullshit, though, and kept reassuring me that he would not leave me behind. And he never did. Instead, that usually speedy runner spent two long hours and fourteen minutes running at the slowest pace of his life and trying to take my mind off my breathing by telling me about his life and getting me to tell him about mine.

Mike carried me through that entire course. There aren’t many things I know for a fact but I do know I would have given up if it hadn’t been for him. I’ve never pulled out of an event and you don’t have to know me that well to know how giving up would have absolutely crushed me. So I owe Mike for the fact that I’m not crushed right now. That I’ve got half marathon #14 under my belt, that I’m breathing ok again and that I can continue to say I’ve never pulled out of an event.

A couple of kilometres from the finish line and we're actually looking happy. I blame the rain for the look I'm sporting, not just the sweat. But mostly sweat. I should probably stop filling the internet with sweaty pictures of myself. One day.

A couple of kilometres from the finish line and we’re actually looking happy. I blame the rain for the look I’m sporting, not just the sweat. But mostly sweat. I should probably stop filling the internet with sweaty pictures of myself. One day. (Photo by Allan Ure, Photos4Sale)

That, right there, is what running is all about. Forget the rest. It’s just that, nothing else. Just that man on the course who could be competing against others (or against himself, trying to get a new personal best) but instead fought his competitive instinct and stayed with me the entire way, a runner he’d only met that very morning, just to make sure I was ok. Along the way, he greeted all other runners we saw, took photos, chatted away, kept checking on everyone’s little pains and niggles. In between trying not to suffocate, I kept wondering to myself whether I was going through the most painful or the best half marathon experience of my life.

The answer, of course, was obvious. It was both.

Please go and like Mike’s Facebook page as soon as you’re done here. If you can, donate to his amazing cause. He’s dedicating all weekends for a year to fundraising for Hospice and, at the same time, he’s being the kickass human being I’ve just described to you. If you can, please donate. You can pledge an amount for each of the events or just make a single donation. If you have problems with the form on his website, let me know and I’ll put you directly in touch with him (although chances are you’re smarter than me and can work it out).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I seem to have signed up for another last minute half marathon (this weekend) and I’ve got an inhaler to pack.

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