super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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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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On being free to run (and do whatever else you want)

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I had plans to post something about my run from last Thursday today because, after feeling less than stellar for most of the weekend, I’m finally feeling okay. The problem was that I got sidetracked by DOS emulators and abandonware and ended up wasting spending the evening playing my favourite video games from when I was a kid (Micro Machines 2! Xenon II! Theme Hospital!). The whole blog post + gym evening plan was replaced with retro gaming + burgers + more retro gaming and so, here we are right now. I’ve warned you before that this is not a healthy living blog. And no, you can’t have your money back.

But where was I going with this? Oh, right. Last Thursday.

I’ll save you from looking it up – last Thursday was April 25th. April 25th is one of my favourite days of the year. It’s so so good it’s actually a public holiday both in Portugal and in New Zealand (and Australia), which means I get to be home and watch midweek TV (which always gives me a new sense of appreciation for my job) and I get to Skype family back home because they get a day off too, those lucky things.

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It’s a day off in both countries for different reasons, though. I’ll explain: New Zealand celebrates ANZAC day, a day which commemorates all Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in World War II. Portugal celebrates the carnation revolution, the end of a dictatorship regime that lasted for 40 years and left some pretty big scars in the country.

My grandparents grew up in a dictatorship. We’re talking real dictatorship, not just a stricter-than-average government. These are not distant relatives I’m talking about either, this is the lady who taught me to tie my shoelaces and the man that, to this day, will slice bread for me so I don’t accidentally cut myself. They’re grandma and grandpa, who I talk to every week, who I grew up with. They weren’t allowed to speak their minds. Even my mum and dad lived a few years in that regime (although my dad’s only memory of the revolution is being sent home from school early). In 1974, after 40 years of oppression, everything changed and, every year, on April 25th, my country celebrates that, regardless of how shitty the economy and everything else is there at the moment (and, let me tell you, it’s pretty shitty). No other holiday is as important as this one (no, not even Pie Day) because when you have decades of not being free, you learn to appreciate your freedom.

Two things about this previous paragraph: it proves that you can learn stuff on Super Generic Girl (bet you didn’t expect that) and it serves as an explanation as to why my run on Thursday was so good.

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I headed to the bush early in the morning. It wasn’t even properly planned, but more of a “meh, let’s wake up and see what the day is like” kind of thing. There weren’t many people out on the trail yet so it was really nice and quiet for the first few kilometers. Running that trail gave me a chance to reflect on how we are so used to taking our freedom for granted, like it’s no big deal. That run was the best way I could think of to celebrate my freedom that morning. I mean, holyfreakingmothernature, look at the photos on this post. This is the halfway mark of my run on Sunday. If you don’t think this is the perfect spot to reflect on freedom or whatever else you feel like reflecting on, then we’re just going to have to agree to disagree, and you’re just going to have to be wrong.

The run also gave me a good excuse to go home and nap for the rest of the afternoon, which is pretty much the smartest and most logical way to spend a public holiday. Write that down too, that’s the second thing you’ve learned here today.

I’m all out of insightful stuff to say now. I’ve got some Jones in the Fast Lane to play. I swear I’ll go the gym tomorrow. Maybe.


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If you only read one book about running…

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Malcolm Law at the Pt Chev Bookshop and Resource Room, talking about his book, last month, four days after running 100km at the Tarawera Ultra.

I really dislike writing book reviews because whenever I read a disappointing book, I always feel like the horrible mean lady telling the mother their baby is ugly. So, instead, I just give them stars on Amazon and Good Reads and carry on with life assuming I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings about their babies or their books.

When a book is really, really good, however, I have no problem writing a review. Look at the words flowing out of the keyboard, straight onto the WordPress screen like nobody’s business. This review? It’s practically writing itself.

First, the jist of it: One Step Beyond chronicles Malcolm Law’s crazy ass idea of quitting normal life and running New Zealand’s Seven Great Walks (in the mainland) in Seven Days to raise money for the Leukaemia and Blood Foundation (which is now called Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand). If you’re not from New Zealand and/or you’ve never heard of the Seven Great Walks, you can read about them here or you can just trust me when I tell you that this is one of the craziest ideas a runner could have (the equivalent of running 9 mountain marathons in seven consecutive days, having to make your way to all these remote places in different parts of the country).

The book documents the entire process from planning to training and execution, along with all the crazy bits in between. If you’re a runner, it’s the book you have been waiting to read. If you’re someone who likes adventure, it’s the book you have been waiting to read. If you love sitting on the couch doing nothing but deep down wish you were out there exploring, then you should already be halfway through this book. What are you still doing here?

By the time I first heard about Malcolm Law, a couple of years had passed since this first 7in7 adventure. His website was one of the first I discovered when I first started getting into trail running a couple of years ago. At the time, he was gearing up for his CoastPathRun an epic adventure to raise funds for Mental Health Foundation NZ. Mal at the time emailed me saying thank you for the donation to his cause (sending personal thank you notes to donors was important to him, as he talks about in the book) and I thanked him for the inspiration (I was training for a 35k trail, and felt like I needed all the extra inspiration I could find). From then on, I’ve followed his adventures closely (like that time he “climbed Everest in a day” in preparation for the CoastPathRun) and his website – a trail running bible for New Zealand – became a sort of manual of reference for me, whenever I want a new trail to explore.

In the book, he makes no secrets about all the work that went into organising 7in7, about the decision to quit his day job and run after his passion instead. The market analyst turned adventurer extraordinaire did exactly what each one of us secretly dreams of doing and turned his passion into his full-time job. What’s even more awesome, I hear you ask? He has single-handedly raised over a quarter of a million dollars to the Leukaemia and Blood Foundation in the process. Don’t even try to pretend that’s not what you want to do too.

One of the reasons it took me longer than usual to finish this book was because of the amount of times I got distracted and found myself drifting away, having flashbacks of past trail runs and an unbelievable envy of Mal for having dared to even dream to do something like the 7in7.

I’m pretty sure that was his point, though. He wanted to create that envy because it is that envy that gets you out there doing stuff. His premise is that, if he can do it, anybody can do it. Yes, even you. Or I. It’s the triumph of the “average” man. Mal doesn’t break any records other than the ones he sets for himself (which are pretty damn huge anyway). The point is, he’s just a regular person, not an elite athlete who’s been training for this his entire life. You know what that means, right? It means there’s hope. That if we suck it up and get out there like he did, if we harden up about the blisters and take the hills head on, we can do it too. That’s pretty damn exciting.

More importantly, though, he had a cause. He did it for his brother Alan, who died 40 years ago of Leukemia – something Mal could never quite get over. On his feet, during the adventure, his running shoes. Around his neck, the photo of his brother Alan, the real reason for this whole thing. Let’s get one thing straight: no one just decides that they feel like going for a massive seven-day trail run, up and down mountains and through rugged country. This was his way of finding closure for his brother’s death, an issue that had gone unresolved in his heart for 40 years. In the process, he helped a whole lot of people going through the same thing his family did back then. You know how running makes people awesome? It’s for stuff like this too.

By the time I got to the epilogue, last night, I was experiencing some weird symptoms: teary eyes (his son Beinn running the final few meters of the Kepler Challenge with him? Stop it, you’re making my heart hurt!) and really, really itchy feet, desperate to step on the trails.

If you think things have now gotten a little out of hand and he can’t get himself into anything crazier, think again. He’s plotting an even more outrageous adventure so keep an eye on Running Wild NZ for details. Also, that’s the same website where you can buy his book from, if you want to read an amazing story and get inspired to do epic stuff with yourself.


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Being good on Good Friday

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Look, ma, no meat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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That time I accidentally ran a half marathon

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If you’re a faithful SGG reader, you are probably super smart and extremely good looking, and you know I hurt my IT band two weeks ago during my first full marathon (look at that, I couldn’t even go one whole sentence without mentioning the marathon) and haven’t run since then. I went to the doctor last week and he gave me stretching exercises to do, recommended medication and plenty of rest. He also told me that I could run “but only shorter distances”.

I had bought my entry to the Coatesville Classic half marathon a few days earlier, back when I thought the knee pain was just an entra sore spot from the marathon (mention #2!) and not much else. Turns out it is something else and half marathons are definitely not prescribed as a cure or even relief for IT band issues.

But I can explain, I swear.

On Thursday, after nearly two weeks of constant pain, I could finally walk pain-free. I remained fully convinced I was going to do the responsible thing and not run the half marathon on Sunday, letting the registration fee go to waste (since it was too late for a refund). On Friday, still no pain. Along comes Saturday and, whaddayaknow, another pain-free day. So I thought “you know, I don’t have to lose absolutely every cent. I can go there, pick up my registration pack (which included a free t-shirt and a bottle) and cheer for the other runners for a bit”. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning, right? I don’t know, that’s not what happened.

Later on Saturday, I saw that the bit of the course that went through the inside of Kim Dotcom’s mansion grounds was only 3km into the whole run. That course change announcement that meant we’d run through his property was part of the reason I had signed up in the first place so I thought “maybe I’ll run those first 3 or 4km and then walk back to the start line and be done with it”. That shouldn’t be too bad. Plus, I’d picked up a St Patrick’s Day themed headband from the $2 shop the day before so that was my excuse to get a run in on that day. I matched it with a bright green shirt, green compression socks and even green nails (it may only have been 3 or 4km and I may not have a single drop of Irish blood in me but none of those are reasons not to get festive).

So at 7:30AM on Sunday, I lined up near the start line with all the half marathon runners, ready for my little jog up to Dotcom’s not-so-humble abode. My knee started hurting again before I’d even run 500 meters but there was no way I was going to step to the side less than a kilometer into it, so I kept going. Really, really, really slow. No, slower than that.

The rain was pouring and kept pouring the entire morning so the views weren’t as impressive as they would have been on a clear day but they were still enough to distract me. Kim Dotcom’s gardens are lovely – fake giraffes and all – and next thing I knew, we were leaving the mansion grounds and continuing along the course. I had assumed we would exit his property through the same gate we’d entered but that wasn’t the case and I was a little confused about how to get back to the start line from there so I decided to keep on going a little longer, hoping to see an ambulance or some sort of support car that I could get a ride with. Either none passed me or I was too distracted to notice them so I just kept running slow/ walking my way along the course. It’s described as Auckland’s “most scenic half marathon” for a reason. Scenic is just code for hilly but, for once, I was happy about the climbs (my knee didn’t hurt so much during those) and miserable in the downhills (which I had to walk because the impact on the knee was too much).

To cut a long story short, I ended up slowly running/walking the whole thing. My knee was sending me death threats at about kilometer 15 but I thought that, by then, whatever damage I could do had already been done. After getting through two-thirds of the thing, I wanted the medal.

The Coatesville Classic is, in my opinion, the best organised road running event in the Auckland region. It’s incredibly good value – my registration was only NZ$45 and it included the shirt, bottle and finisher’s medal (medals are rare in half marathons in New Zealand). We got free massages at the end, the race briefing at the start was funny and the course marshalls were some of the nicest I had ever come across, shouting my name and complimenting my St Paddy’s headband (while probably wondering what the hell I was thinking wearing that thing in the rain).

It took me almost a million years to cross the finish line (not really but, if you consider I’m very close to 2h when I don’t run injured, it’s a pretty big difference) but I was pretty pleased to have done the whole thing, considering I didn’t even start it thinking I’d do that much and I walked about half of the distance (maybe even more than half). I was actually genuinely surprised to not have been absolute last.

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Of course my IT band is hurting again (although not nearly as much as it did last week). I’m back to icing it all the time, taking Voltaren and wearing my super sexy knee brace so I’m not expecting to run at all in the next few days. But you know what? It was worth it. The injury will take slightly longer to heal, of course, but I’m happy with the trade off, even if it means I now deserve zero sympathy from people because I clearly bring this onto myself. True. Although, technically speaking, the doctor told me to run “shorter distances” and you can’t argue that this is a 50% decrease in the distance of my last run, two weeks ago (marathon reference #3).

But I get it, I’ll calm down. I realised today that, in the last 4 weeks, I ran 3 half marathons and a full marathon (marathon reference #4), and that includes a solid week without running because of a cold (in between half marathon #2 and the full marathon – marathon reference #5) and two full weeks without running because of the IT band injury, between the full marathon (marathon reference #6) and yesterday’s half marathon.

No wonder I need a nap.


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The day I became a marathoner

(Warning: this isn’t a funny post. It is lengthy and detailed. Read at your own risk but perhaps get a cup of tea or something first.)

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I’ve spent hours trying to come up with the words to write about the experience of running my first ever full marathon yesterday. I’m a writer and I’m supposed to know how to use words so that they say what I’m thinking but I’ve rarely felt as lost for words as I feel right now. So I’ve decided to just sit here and spill onto the WordPress dashboard whatever comes to my mind about that day, regardless of whether it makes much sense or not. I just want a record of it, for my own sake, even if I can’t translate my feelings into words in any language. Just assume that whatever you get from what I write, it is like one of those sachets of powdered juice that have had way too much water added to it. The reality is an undetermined number of times stronger than what I can describe.

On Sunday, just before lunchtime, I became a marathoner. It went right up there to the list of biggest achievements of my life.

I’ve been asked “how’d it go?” a lot in the last few hours. Possibly the hardest question I’ve been asked in a long time (since I chose social sciences and stopped having math classes in school, probably). I don’t know, you guys. I want to say “it went great” because I finished but I also want to tell you about how I had moments of pain (physical and mental) that I thought would be beyond my abilities to overcome (so, in that sense, not so great). It was horrible and amazing and painful and joyful and brilliant and terrifying and exhausting and energising and every other adjective in the OED. It was like a whole lot of emotions that you’re supposed to feel over a long period of time (days, months, years) all condensed in a few hours. I laughed, I cried, I felt worried, relaxed, tired, distracted, focused, happy, sad, and all the other emotions in between. I took my body and my mind to a limit that I wasn’t sure they could take it and I crushed the voice in my head that kept telling me to stop. That I didn’t have to do that. That no one needed to choose to be in pain. That I could just go to a bakery and go sit by the beach with a donut instead. That’s what I wanted, a donut. Why the hell was I not sitting down eating a donut?

Because I wanted to be a marathoner more than I wanted a donut (and that’s saying something because I really freaking love donuts).

I won’t lie to you: I was scared shitless. Just freaking terrified. I went through the week before with my “no big deal” face on about the Cold of Doom but I lost hours of sleep worrying about my weaker-than-average lungs. I wondered whether I was just being stubborn and irresponsible for putting myself through the marathon right after (still during?) the worst cold I’ve had in years. I didn’t want to get sicker. But, most of all, I didn’t want to give up.

On Saturday, after getting to the hotel, I laid all my running gear on a spare bed in the room, ready for the 5AM start the next morning. We’d been given the chance to start at 6:30AM, with the marathon walkers, so a few of us runners chose to do that. I knew I’d be slow and I couldn’t see a reason not to start an hour earlier and get it out of the way. The alarm went off at exactly 5AM and I took about 0.03 seconds to jump out of bed. I had a muesli bar, half a banana and cheap instant coffee from the hotel. I got ready in between numerous toilet breaks. My stomach hurt with anticipation. I got a text from Stacey telling me it was raining outside. Crap, I hadn’t even thought about that possibility. I blocked it off my mind. “You’re not giving up because water’s falling off the sky, you idiot.”

At 6:30AM, we lined up at the start line. It wasn’t raining there. A runner asked us if it was our first marathon and our positive answer was received with a look that translated into “you have no idea what you’re getting yourselves into”. “Please don’t scare me,” I told the lady. “But you’ve done half marathons, right?”. “Yes.” “Oh, you’ll be fine then.” I freaking hope so. The guy with the shotgun (yes, an actual shotgun to start off the race), pointed it up to the dark sky and yelled that we had 20 seconds to go. Oh boy, I needed the toilet again. The shotgun went off and the fright made me jump even though I totally knew it was coming. And then we started running. That was it, we were on our way.

Some of us carried torches because it was still pitch black. A few minutes later, it started raining. It rained until around the 10km mark. The sun started to come up but the clouds weren’t letting much light come through. I was freezing. I didn’t have my iPod on because I wanted to be as alert as possible. It was dark and the road was open to traffic. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other trying not to think about how long I had to go, because I knew the number was overwhelmingly big. I told myself I was just going to go to the halfway mark, where I knew my wonderful support crew would start popping up. I was going to run until I could see familiar faces, that was the goal. I’d figure the rest out later.

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Eventually, the sky cleared up and the rain clouds were replaced with a blazing sun. It was like running in different seasons. The sun was burning my head (and I now have a sunburned scalp to prove it). It made me almost miss the rain. I put my iPod on and tried not to think about what I was doing and all the things that were making me feel uncomfortable. The backpack bouncing up and down (and I have a couple of burn marks from that too), the wet clothes, the congested nose. Luckily, I managed to store that all in the back of my mind. By the time I saw the 14km sign, I was loving it. I loved it and then loved it some more and, at 20km, I spotted my friends for the first time. They had taken the nearly 5 hour drive from Auckland just to cheer me on and, even though I much prefer when they meet me for dinner and I’m not sweating through every pore, I couldn’t have been happier to see them right then and there. I knew I was almost halfway and I started thinking about walking but I saw them and didn’t want to walk in front of them so I gathered the strength to keep on running.

The finish line of all of my longest road runs had turned into my halfway point and I was ecstatic to realise I could keep on going. At the 22km mark, however, I decided to walk a few meters, just to mentally reset and get myself ready to run the rest of the way. I took maybe a dozen walking steps and then decided to run when my knee cap felt like it had popped out of place, making me scream with pain. A spectator came from the other side of the road to help me out. I had ice spray on my backpack and she got it out and sprayed it on my knee. I walked a bit longer and, 100m or so later, picked up a slow running pace again. But I was in pain. A whole lot of pain. My knee was sending me a clear message that I really should stop. I was responding back that I hadn’t gone all this way to now give it all up because of a stubborn knee. We had this argument for a whole 20km, in a run/walk negotiation that ended up lasting longer than I had anticipated, interrupted by pauses to put the knee brace on and re-apply ice spray. I know for a fact that I could not have kept running if I hadn’t had my knee brace on me, which makes me really thankful I ran with a backpack that was so well stocked it gave the idea I was going camping.

The last 20km weren’t as pleasant as the first 22km but my exhaustion grew directly proportional to my excitement to finish. I questioned my ability to finish for a couple of kilometers and tried to assess whether the pain on my knee was something that I should really worry about. In the end, I decided to truly take it one step at a time and not worry about anything more than the road immediately ahead of me. Painful step after painful step, I ran my way to the 30km marker, being cheered by my wonderful crew at different spots along the way. I grew mentally stronger as time went by, because I knew that each step taken was one step less that I’d have to take to reach my goal.

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Eventually, I switched from taking it one step at a time to one kilometer at a time. I told myself to re-assess the knee pain at every kilometer marker and gave myself permission to give up if I thought I was causing permanent damage. “There’ll be more marathons,” I thought. But there was also this one, right now, and I was mentally strong like I hadn’t been before and I didn’t want to waste that. So every kilometer marked the decision to run one more. And then one more. And then one more. At 35km, I had 7km to go. I told myself that 7km was something I could do before breakfast so there would be really no excuse to give up now. I bargained with myself “get to 5km to go and we can worry about the knee again”. And then there were 5km to go. I kept switching between running and walking and using the ice spray along the way. The extra pressure caused by the knee pain was getting the rest of my body extra tired too. I tried to focus on the music. I even tried to quietly sing along, hoping that’d take me somewhere else.

With a mere 4 kilometers to go, things got messy inside my head. I was exhausted, drained out. I wanted it done. I started thinking about the things I’d been told by people who’d done this before. Kim Allan, an experienced ultramarathoner, told me to “smile through the pain” so I repeated that out loud to myself a few times, like a mantra. Then I tried to actually do it, I tried to smile. I figured if I could fake a smile, maybe it’d turn into a real one. But boy, I was knackered. And not the “that was a tough day at work” kind of knackered, more like the “I just want to sit here and not move forever” kind. I wanted to see my friends again but they had all headed down to wait for me at the finish line. I needed something else. So I took the tough love approach with myself and thought about how I really shouldn’t be such a wuss. I got emotional in a sappy gooey way. I thought about my life and how truly wonderful it is, how I have a job and I have my health and my family and friends, how I get to travel and explore the world and do the things I always wished I’d do. I thought about my mum and dad and their daily struggle with circumstances they didn’t choose to be put through. I thought ‘if mum and dad can get through each day, you can get your stupid legs to keep moving”. And so I kept moving, my brain in a puddle, thinking about how I could have it so much harder and this was nothing compared to what other people go through. “Smile through the pain” got replaced with “stop being such a freaking baby”, which I said out loud a couple of times.

As I was busy working my way out of those bad thoughts, I spotted the 40km marker. That was all I needed to see. For some reason, 40 seems like a much bigger number than 39. I had run 30+ kilometers before but I had never reached 40 in my life. I had a “holy shit, these legs just ran 40km on their own!” moment and my fake smile turned into a big genuine one. I had 2 tiny little kilometers to go. I was happy. And so I ran. And ran. And ran. I turned down the last street to see the park where the finish line was, right at the end. I wanted to walk a few steps, my knee was complaining again. I walked maybe five steps and a girl came up from behind and told me to keep pushing through. I wanted to tell her she didn’t know how much pain I was in but the voice inside my head reminded me to “stop being such a freaking baby” and so I went back to running pace with her.

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It wasn’t long before I spotted familiar faces again and they started trying to make their way to the finish line before me. “I don’t mind slowing down for you guys,” I told them, only half-jokingly. Then I looked ahead and there it was, in the distance: “FINISH” in big bold font. There’s no giving up now. I ran the happiest meters of my life towards that finish line, could not have stopped smiling if I had tried, my mind in a mess of emotions, barely able to believe I was going to be allowed to stop.

Maybe one day I’ll get to a point where marathons aren’t such a huge deal. This one was my very first one, though, and it’ll forever have a special place in my heart. It was the first time I realised I could do it. The girl who hated PE in school, the girl who struggled with TB as a kid and had weak lungs thanks to that, had just become a marathoner.

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A friend who has run a marathon before told me a couple of days before that I was about to discover an overwhelming sense of possibility, like nothing could stop me from doing whatever I wanted. That stupid knee couldn’t stop me and neither could exhaustion so I guess she may very well have a point.

Ever since I crossed that finish line, over 30 hours ago, I’ve been the happiest I’d been in a long time. Feeling proud of myself is sort of a rare thing for me, because I’m one of those “too hard on myself” types and always think I could have done better. Yesterday, however, I left my heart on those roads and now I’m just enjoying this weird feeling of complete satisfaction.

I’m a marathoner now and I’m never not going to be a marathoner again. I think this is what they call life-changing.

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Whatipu weekend

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

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

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

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

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