super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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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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Portuguese food in Nelson

Ever since I visited the top of the Sydney Tower a few years ago and the first voice I heard was one of a lady telling her elderly mother “olha ali! olha ali!” as she pointed at the view, I’ve become more and more convinced that it is true what people say about Portuguese people being just about everywhere. When I approached Senhor Jorge last Saturday morning at his stall at the Nelson markets, it was only around 10AM and I was already his second Portuguese customer of that day.

I had no idea I’d go all the way down to Nelson (at the top of the South Island) to find some Portuguese deliciousness but that was exactly what I found. My stomach is not normally ready for something as heavy as beef and mustard in a bun quite so early in the day but the excitement of seeing and smelling the food got the better of me and a few minutes later, after having a bit of a chat with Senhor Jorge, as he prepared the food, I was digging into this.

Senhor Jorge’s Fernando’s business is not just a market stall and he sells his own homemade chouriços and other stuff online as well (I have a feeling I’ll be placing an order very, very soon). He let me have a slice of chouriço and asked me if it tasted like home. And it sure did. He also told me he’s working on some ideas for what other Portuguese traditional stuff he can start selling in New Zealand and there was a mention of pasteis de nata (real deal ones, not the fake portuguese custard tarts you find in other places) so I’m sure as hell going to keep checking his website for new stuff.


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Kiwi letterboxes

You’ve probably heard all about New Zealand’s many fences (the jandal fence, the bra fence, the toothbrush fence, even the bicycle fence), but there are plenty of other excuses for “emergency” stops on the side of the roads around here. These are some of the examples of the quirky letterboxes I’ve came across during roadtrips around New Zealand. Using microwaves as letterboxes, for example, seems to be pretty common, as soon as you leave a big city,  but I can’t help smiling every time we drive past one.


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Leitch’s Track, Whareorino Forest, New Zealand

It was about time we hit the bush again for some good hikes, after a way too long break caused by a mixture of New Zealand winter, busy times and a certain dislike of freezing temperatures.

On Friday, a group of nine people left Auckland and drove for three hours down to the Whareorino Forest for what was my first overnight hiking experience. In fact, there was more than just one “first” that night: first time hiking in the bush at night, first time sleeping in a hut, first time using a longdrop toilet… too much info? Okay then.

We set out into the bush when it was already dark and could only see as far as our head torches would let us (which really wasn’t more than a couple of meters in front of us). The hike into the hut took us about 3.5 hours and turned out to be 10.5km and not the 8.5km that the DOC sign at the start told us it was. The terrain was fairly easy but it was made slightly harder by the fact that we were hiking in the dark and carrying heavy backpacks.

Needless to say, we didn’t stop to take any photos. Those 3.5 hours were spent adjusting our eyes to darkness, fighting big patches of slippery mud (and losing most of those fights) and trying not to slide down the skinny parts of the track with huge drops on the side. We did see lots of glowworms, though, so if you need a reason to hike at night, there’s one right there.

We arrived at Leitch’s Hut just after midnight and, after a quick snack and a few laughs (that must have woken up the other two occupants of the hut – oops!), got into our sleeping bags. It wasn’t exactly the five-star accommodation I had been in just a couple of nights before in Singapore but I was so exhausted I slept like a rock.

I woke up the next morning feeling much better than I’d expected, with no sore muscles and loads of energy. I was pretty excited about not needing my head torch anymore and being able to finally look at all the waterfalls we could only hear the night before.

After quickly eating breakfast (a nut bar and an up&go liquid breakfast), I put on a clean top and a clean pair of socks (that turned into wet socks about 0.2 seconds after I put my hiking boots on) and we set on our way. My pants were still damp and dirty from the night before so I was glad I’d made the last-minute decision to wear my full-length running skins underneath.

Before leaving the hut, we signed the Intentions Book where we’re meant to inform DOC of our names and details of our tramp, in case we get lost or injured.

The path was still very wet and slippery but at least we could now see everything ahead of us.

The weather wasn’t as clear as I hoped it would be but the few rain drops we got on our way out were a very welcome way to cool down. For a lot of the way, what was ahead of us was actually giant patches of slippery ankle-deep mud. I discovered hiking is a lot more fun once you stop caring about how much water and mud gets into your shoes.

And yes, our ears hadn’t been lying to us. All those times hearing water right next to us as we hiked further into the darkness meant that we were walking past pretty waterfalls.

About 20km later (lesson learnt: don’t believe all DOC signs), we were heading out of the track and back in the car to drive another three hours back to Auckland and back to our happy places where not all shoes and socks are damp and cold and cell phones have reception. I’m still unsure whether my pants need to be washed or incinerated but at least I now know I can hike at night without dying of a heart attack anytime something moves or there is any noise coming from the bush and I can sleep in the most basic of huts because, after all that effort, my body is no longer equipped to tell the difference between my sleeping bag and a five-star hotel bed.

If you want more specific information about this track, New Zealand Tramper has the accurate details.