super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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XTERRA Auckland Trail Run Series – Riverhead Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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XTERRA Auckland Trail Run Series – Shakespear Regional Park

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There was a time in my life when I thought waking up at 7AM on a Sunday was just about the worst thing that could happen on a weekend. To be fair, though, there was also a time in my life when I thought denim on denim was acceptable and that the Backstreet Boys had some cool songs so I guess I haven’t always made the best decisions.

As it turns out, denim on denim is not okay (ever) and I can even admit that the Backstreet Boys were not that great (sorry, 14-year-old super generic girl). On top of that, getting up early on a Sunday is scientifically proven (by me) to significantly improve your weekend. This last statement proves even more truthful if, as based on empirical evidence collected today, you’re getting up early to drive an hour north to one of the most beautiful places in the region for the first of a series of trail runs that will keep me out of trouble throughout winter.

It only took me two Xterra events and approximately 10kg of mud in my washing machine last year to realise I wanted to do them all this year (that was even one of my new year’s resolutions). Last month, because I apparently hate having money in my bank account, I signed up for the whole series (all six events, from now until September). I figured that at least, that way, I couldn’t chicken out when the weather gets really miserable.

It looked like it was going to be really miserable today. There were weather warnings in place and Metservice said it was going to be raining all through to Monday. Actually, now that I think about it, the first sign that the sun was going to come out was the rainy forecast on the Metservice website. But I digress…

Today’s Xterra event in Shakespear Regional Park was the first of what promises to be an epic season of winter trails. I played it safe (which is only one level up from chickening out, but will do for me right now) and entered the mid course, which meant I only had to run a little over 10km. But 10.5km on trail and 10.5km on road are two completely different things – almost not even the same sport. There were some big hills to get over, the type of stuff you run/walk up and then almost struggle not to slide down, but there wasn’t nearly as much mud as there could have been, which made things easier.

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My love for trail running has been growing by the bucket load lately (just in case you hadn’t noticed). It’s easy to dismiss it because of the whole logistics of actually heading out to the trails (it’s not exactly hard but it’s definitely harder than just heading out your front door for a road run around the neighbourhood) and it’s easy to tell yourself that, you know, running is running and you can run anywhere so head out the door and run. Except not really. Actually, not at all. I have to keep reminding myself that no amount of road running can make me half as happy as running on the trails does, for reasons I’m not even sure I can explain. No 10km on the road can compare to an Xterra 10km or any 10km out on the trails. You can ask me why but the question will go unanswered. I have no idea why. All I know is that I didn’t want today’s run to finish when it did (I wanted to be done with the uphills, but I was perfectly happy to slide downhill for a while longer) and that’s pretty much the best testament of a good time.

It’s also always a good sign when you come home from a run and immediately look up when the next one in the series is going to be. Riverhead Forest and I have a date on June 9th. And you. You should definitely come along too.

P.s.: Chris was kind enough to welcome a group of sweaty runners into his home for coffee and food after the event today. This kind of support crew is hard to find.

P.p.s.: I hope none of my former English Lit teachers read this and think I can’t spell Shakespeare’s name. I swear I can. Blame whoever named the park.


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I went to a Nike run and all I got was a free singlet and a kick in the butt

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You would think that what with being into running and keeping a blog about the subject, I’d know more about stuff like the global Nike She Runs events. You’d be wrong. But last night, I crawled out from under my metaphorical rock and heard about it for the first time.

I’d seen something on Facebook last week about a 10k run organised by Nike downtown on Monday evening so thought it would be a good excuse to resist the gravitational pull towards the couch. I assumed it would be a very low-key deal, just a bunch of ladies getting together for a run along Tamaki Drive, so it sounded like a nice relaxing way to end the first day of the week.

Nope.

I realised I was wrong when, while walking around trying to figure out where the store was, I spotted the stage with the big screen, the bright lights, the DJ and the wave of pink shirts eagerly awaiting the start of the run.

Definitely not the casual running club thing I was expecting to join.

I filled out a form, got asked what time I was expecting (an hour would be fine, thank you very much), and was then handed a bib with a colour to reflect my expected pace (pink) and given a singlet (also pink) to wear on the run. We were all then told to warm up together by doing a couple of laps around a patch of grass and, since I never warm up before a run (it just adds to the hard work but counts for nothing so why not just run?), I started rethinking the whole idea. But, you know, free singlet.

After waiting around for a while, we took off running along the waterfront towards Mission Bay. It was a nice cool evening and there were a bunch of other runners out there (a lot of them looked like they were doing the Powerade Challenge). The ladies in pink weren’t joking around though and it wasn’t long before a whole bunch of them disappeared into the distance.

Well, shit.

I was going for a nice little jog with the girls. Getting my ass kicked was not part of my Monday plans. At first I thought it’d be ok. I can do my own 10k, at my slow but comfortable pace, no rush. But as the pink wave continued to disappear into the distance, I started picking up my pace too. I blame the bib effect. You’re all set for a nice relaxing run by the waterfront after work, no big deal, but you pin a piece of paper with a number onto your shirt and BAM, you’re racing the world.

It felt horrible for a while. And then I felt horrible about how horrible it felt. I saw a bunch of fresh faces running past me and wondered how they managed to stay like that. Then I realised the answer is pretty simple: training. From what the lady with the microphone had said during the warm up, this was an event that most of the people there had been training for together over the last few weeks. I felt a little like I was crashing someone’s party and I couldn’t even handle the booze. I haven’t trained for anything in nearly three months and I’ve been blaming injury trauma (yes, it’s totally a thing) for the fact that I haven’t been running any decent distances or making any major efforts.

But last night I officially ran out of excuses. It’s been a while since I last had to accessorize my leg with a bag of frozen peas so I’m not really allowed to continue using my knee as an excuse not to get off my ass anymore.

I ended up running faster than I’d expected (at first I thought it had been a personal best but, looking at my previous stats, it turns out I’m just not very good at remembering my times) and took the short detour to Sal’s on my way to the car. I took home one of their massive pizzas and I’m pretty sure I did score a personal best for the time it took me to inhale half of it.

I don’t exactly know how I feel about the whole women-only event thing but I clearly throw any convictions out of the window pretty quickly when there’s free stuff on offer. And giant delicious pizza afterwards.

Checkmate, Monday.


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A love letter to the lava trails

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You know you really love trail running when you willingly give up the comfort and warmth of your bed for it before the sun is even up and then end up riding a massive runner’s high for the rest of the day, even hours after leaving the trails.

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That was my day today – a whole morning out on the trails with a bunch of other crazies who also thought that was a good way to spend their Saturday morning, followed by an afternoon and evening of grinning from ear to ear like an idiot because of the morning adventure. Who needs drugs when you can just run your ass off instead? Today was one Ryan Gosling visit short of the ultimate perfect day.

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The trail of choice was Rangitoto but, instead of the planned Rangitoto Romp (which I’d done before), we chose a different track to the top, and stopped by the lava caves on our way back down to the wharf.

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After a week of pretty much non-stop rain, it was great to finally have some dry weather (and, from mid-morning onwards, even stunning blue skies – high five, weather gods!). The views from the volcano are just one of the many good reasons why I’m never going to say no to a trip back to the island. Seeing the Auckland skyline from afar gets me all in love with the city every single time.

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The other reason would have to be the island itself, really. It’s so easy to go about our days and forget how amazing it is to have a 600 year old volcano less than a half hour ferry trip away from the city. Raw lava, loose scoria, the largest pohutukawa forest in the world, and an unspoilt moon-like landscape to explore. If everyone in the world had one of these at their doorstep, we’d all be much happier people.

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And kidney ferns. Kidney ferns are adorable, all curly and cute and everyone should get to take photos of them.

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Did I mention I love Rangitoto? And that it’s after 10pm and I’m still on a runner’s high?

(Thanks to the awesome group of people who ran with me on Rangitoto today, including Chris and others who found this blog before meeting me in real life and decided that hanging out with me was a good idea anyway. Fools.)


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Will run for free drinks

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Apparently I’m one of those who does anything for a free drink. Okay, calm down, not quite. But I’ll run 9km after work, mostly in the dark, for a free bottle of Powerade. How much does a Powerade bottle even cost? I have a feeling I’m being a bit cheap. Don’t tell me.

It’s the third year in a row that I get an RFID bracelet in the post to enter the Powerade Challenge, which will be on in both Auckland and Wellington until the end of June this year. Last year, I somehow managed to make it downtown a grand total of zero times for the challenge. This year, I’ve had the bracelet for three days and have gone down there once so far so that’s already a 100% increase over last year’s efforts. The secret to excellent results lies in setting the expectations really, really, really low.

The challenge is a simple yet really good marketing idea, for a number of reasons:

– It’s free to enter (free stuff tends to be worth the money)

– It gives you free stuff (with potentially extra prizes)

– It’s fairly easy

– It’s centrally located

– It’s on during Winter, giving people extra motivation to get out there

– It appeals to competitive people

– It can be done at any time, day or night

It may be a 9km run, which is not what a lot of people are up for on weekdays, but it is a very flat course, so the difficulty level isn’t so high that it puts most people off. The challenge starts by the ferry building, in downtown Auckland, where runners scan their bracelets on the Powerade vending machine. They then set off on their way, running towards Mission Bay along the waterfront. About 1.5km into it (maybe less, I was too busy jumping over puddles to notice), a massive interactive billboard shows “GO <RUNNER’S NAME>!” which is a cute little detail if you’re into stuff like seeing your name in neon lights in a big billboard (AND WHO ISN’T?). At the halfway point, at the end of a boardwalk, runners scan their bracelet on a different vending machine, which tells them how long it’s taken them to get there (about 26 minutes if you’re me, about 16 minutes if you’re the human-shaped machine who scanned his bracelet right after me). Then it’s time to run back to the ferry building, another 4.5km, where runners scan their bracelet one final time for the free bottle of Powerade.

My completely unscientific research, based solely on my own assumptions, makes me think that weekdays after 5pm are probably some of the busiest times for the challenge. That’s when I ran it on Thursday and there were a bunch of other blue-bracelet wearing runners out there, probably getting their after-work run in for the day. The fact that so many people run the challenge at the same time helps create a bit of a social atmosphere, even if you’re just doing it on your own and not talking to anyone else, because you see their bracelets and know you’re all running for the same reason. Awww, buddies.

By signing up for the challenge, you also get your own dashboard on the website, where you’re able to track all your runs (which get automatically logged on there) and check your progress. Plus, you can join teams and work towards a collective ranking, further adding to that competitive side of things. I logged that run on Strava, Nike+ and the Powerade website which makes me think all this self-tracking deal is getting a little out of hand.

If parking in downtown Auckland wasn’t such a challenge in itself, I’d probably do it even more often. But I’m still looking forward to taking the bracelet out a few more times before the end of June. I guess if I absolutely had to give some negative feedback about the challenge, I’d say that Powerade could very well promote their brand through the billboards and vending machines and bracelets and all that, but partner with the whiskey store for the whole free drinks part of the deal. Nothing against the blue sugary electrolytes, which tasted great after the run, but I’d run further (and potentially faster) if there were other options on offer.


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Okura Bush, spring tides and morning crankiness

Okura Bush Walkway

After feeding you all that crap about becoming a morning person just days ago, I woke up on Sunday really angry at my alarm. The stupid thing was going off and it wasn’t even 7AM. And did I mention it was Sunday? I was exhausted and woke up with a sore throat and a headache. And it was Sunday. I may have mentioned that. I really wanted to sleep. Until midday. Possibly 4pm. Instead, I dragged myself out of bed, put the bread slice in the toaster, turned the coffee machine on and proceeded to hate life and everything it comprised.

S. was also already up and we were getting ready to finally head north and run the Okura Bush Walkway, a run we had been talking about doing for months. We were both cranky for most of the way there, questioning why we were even doing it, if it was putting us in such a bad mood.

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But then we got there and had these views and we weren’t so cranky anymore. Amazing what some nice scenery can do for you.

I had walked the 16k of the Okura Bush a couple of years ago but failed to remember that it included a stream crossing if you are running/walking the entire length of the walkway.

From Haighs Access Road, the Department of Conservation says walkers/runners have two options: 4.8k to Dacre Cottage (9.6k return) or 8k to Stillwater (16k return).

The spring tide this weekend meant that high tide was really high, and, being the organised little runners we are, we forgot to check the tides and managed to hit the stream just an hour before high tide. We crossed, with water already up to our knees, but after realising that we would not have time to run the 8k on the other side and loop back in time to avoid high tide, we decided to run back and make it a shorter run.

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On a scale of “really dense confusing bush with tracks going off in every direction” to “are you kidding me? Not even Vera could get lost here”, this track is definitely an easy one. It is, however, far from flat. Note the description on the DOC site includes words such as “20 minute hill climb”, “the track drops down”, “then climbs”, “dropping quite steeply”… I think you get the point. It’s hard work for someone who loves nice flat courses like Lindsay Lohan loves Jagermeister – which is why I was more than happy to turn around at the stream crossing and only make it an 8k run. It may have been a short distance but it was definitely a good workout and the amazing scenery made it worth bitching about life before 7AM, proof that there’s nothing a good run and some beautiful scenery can’t fix.

Next time, though, I’ll try to do the whole responsible trail runner thing and check for tides and stuff. If I remember correctly, there is a whole lot more prettiness on the other side of that stream.

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Chasing my Christmas spirit

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This Christmas will be my third one in the Southern Hemisphere and, therefore, my third Summer Christmas. You’d think I’d be used to it by now but… nope. Nice warm weather in December will never make sense to me and a Summer Christmas still sounds like a big paradox.

Christmas has always been my absolute favourite holiday, even though it always used to take place in my least favourite season. I initially thought that perhaps combining Christmas and Summer would make my head explode with happiness but that hasn’t happened.

It’s not that I have a bad time over Christmas in Summer. It’s just that it doesn’t feel like Christmas, at all. Words always have a variety of feelings associated with them and, to me, Christmas means warm coats, short days, the smell of pumpkin and cinnamon and all the other ingredients of the traditional Christmas food we have back home.

Instead, for the last three years, I’ve been wearing shorts and going for walks on the beach. I know it sounds like a massive first world problem – poor wee Vera has to go to the beach over Christmas, boo hoo, yadda yadda yadda. I know. But, as nice as it is, it doesn’t feel the way it should.

Some things, however, make it all a bit better. I intend to fill the house with the smell of anything pumpkin-related, decorate the hell out of it (and spend December vacuuming pine needles off the rug or chasing the cat to make sure she doesn’t swallow the tiny ornaments she grabs from the tree), eat as many pieces of french toast as my body can handle (in Portugal we call them “rabanadas” and they’re a traditional Christmas dish), crank out the Mariah Carey (don’t be hater, nothing says Christmas like All I Want for Christmas is You) and take part in as many Christmas-related activities as I can.

read to run!

Like yesterday. For the first time, I was happy to be going out for a run in the rain. It was time for another Auckland Santa Run. Last year, we’d had good weather for it but, this time, even though the temperature was warm, I had the rain to make it feel a little bit Christmassier (yes, that’s totally a word).

About 1400 people dressed up as Santa and ran the ~3k course in Auckland central in the rain (at the same time as other thousands of Santa runners did the same in different cities and towns across the country), all for a good cause. It was a short run but you should never underestimate the added difficulty of running in a santa suit (there was nothing breathable about that material, I tell you) – so, by the end of it, I definitely felt like I had worked enough for some french toast. I mean, rabanada.