super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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When all else fails, go for a run. Or don’t. Whatever, I’m not your mother.

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Oh hi. How’s it going? Me? Well, funny you should ask. It’s been a shitty few days.

But you know, doors closing, windows opening and all that jazz.

In the mean time, like any proper unemployed freelancing journalist, I’ve been busy buying shoes. Not exactly the type of shoes I grew used to buying in times of emotional crisis but the rough looking trail running shoes you see in the image above (taken when they were about 15 hours old and duly christened out in the Waitakere ranges).

When all else fails, go running amirite? I’m sure there’s some motivational poster crap out there on the internet saying that.

Well, that’s not strictly how I’ve been dealing with it, but this is a running blog so on with the running stuff. I picked the shoes up on Friday, after about 36 hours without sleeping (I’M FINE, YOU GUYS, REALLY!), and tested them out on the trails bright and early (except not bright) on Saturday with Steven and Martin. It was precisely zero degrees when I got in the car to drive there to meet them but I didn’t completely hate them for picking that time. Then we started out on the trail and it was really steep and I still didn’t hate them for picking that route. I was still hungover, hadn’t had any breakfast, was running really slow and they also didn’t hate me for any of those things. Once we got to the top and started running down, I went from “not hating” it to actually kind of loving it and ended up having a great time getting the new shoes muddy and disgusting, as they should be.

And then came Sunday and, with it, another early morning to drive out to Waiuku for the third XTERRA run of the season. It was cold and foggy and the drive was long and I spent some of it making a mental list of things I’d rather be doing instead of driving to Waiuku (turns out, quite a few things). But then I got there, picked up my bib and timing chip and hardened the hell up.

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XTERRA runs never fail to wake anyone up, not even me. Barely one kilometer into it and I was loving it. Then came the soft sand and I wasn’t loving it so much. I was hating it. In fact, no, wait. Hate isn’t even a strong enough verb to describe how strongly I feel about running on soft sand. You pick a better verb, I’m unemployed. I don’t have to. It was also super foggy which meant the awesome views over Port Waikato were actually just a thick blanket of white stuff. Did I mention the soft sand? And it was freezing! And soft sand. Soft sand everywhere!

Then why the hell did I enjoy it so much? I have no idea. But there you have it. The next XTERRA is on July 21 in Woodhill Forest and you can still sign up and come get muddy too. There probably won’t be as much sand involved this time.

Surely not.

Please let there not be any soft sand.

Regardless, these two trail runs ended up doing wonders for my sanity (if very little for my sleep deprivation). So those idiotic motivational posters on Pinterest might not actually be completely wrong. When your magazine closes down and you’re out of a job, go get some mud on those shoes. You’ll probably feel better if you do.

 

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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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What’s in your trail running backpack?

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Winter is fast approaching in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the most exciting things about it is the number of trail runs I intend to enter during this season. The XTERRA Winter series was one of the best things about last Winter and I’ve been missing tripping on roots and sliding down muddy trails.

I’m one of those “just in case” people who thinks it’s better to carry all your gear in and out of the bush unused than to run the risk of needing something in there and not having it. My theory has proven truthful in some cases and trail runs often have mandatory gear, to ensure runners are prepared for any situation they may encounter. I’m not sure I’ve got the perfect trail running backpack but nothing like a few good runs to show what is needed and what can be left at home. For now, here’s a rundown of what’s weighing me down in the bush:

1 – Hydration pack with bladder. This pack is just a Kathmandu one. It’s not my dream trail runner pack but it’s been doing the trick for me, until I decide to let go of the money for the pack I really want. It’s been serving me well, though. It’s a 9L pack with just enough spare room for all the trinkets I stock it with, along with a bladder full of water (and lately electrolytes like the Nuun you see in the picture).

2. (not pictured, because I forgot to take them out and can’t be bothered taking another photo) – running gloves. They’re regular running gloves by Nike, sort of like these, which I only bought because a trail run I entered listed them as mandatory equipment. During Winter, I’m always glad to have them.

3. Energy gels

4. Nuts

5. First aid kit. I’ve got a number of first aid kits at home so I gathered the most useful stuff out of them and combined them in a resealable plastic bag (to keep the weight down) for whenever I need it. Plasters (bandaids for you non-kiwis) have come in handy a number of times so I’m always happy to carry that little bag.

6. Chocolates. A trail run without a chocolate or ten along the way? Madness.

7. Ice spray. I’ve used this so many times I can’t even imagine setting out on a long run without it.

8. Whistle. Another item I bought because it was mandatory for a trail running event. Haven’t had to use it yet, thankfully, but wouldn’t want to die in the bush for lack of it. Plus, I think they cost about $2 for a pack of 3 so it’s hardly the item that makes trail running expensive.

9. Emergency blanket. I was already used to carrying this on hikes and have made it part of my trail running gear, again, after seeing it listed as mandatory for a trail run.

10. Sunscreen. Ok, that’s not always in the pack – mea culpa. But it’s a pretty important one.

11. Sunglasses. Not always, especially if you’re in dense bush, but they can come in handy sometimes. I don’t bother with expensive sunglasses anymore (once you break 4 or 5 pairs, while running, you turn to the $10 ones).

12. Road ID

13. Cell phone. Even though there are a lot of parts of the bush that have no cell coverage, it always pays to have a way of communicating with others on hand.

14. Merino layer. It’s warm and lightweight so I carry one on most runs, just in case. I usually carry a lightweight waterproof layer too, another thing I forgot to include in the photo.

Am I missing anything? What do you always carry with you out on the trails?


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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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What if you got hurt today?

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Am I the only super pessimist runner who, on solo runs, always spends sometime wondering about all the bad stuff that could happen that very second and how would anyone she knows find out about it? Just me? Surely not.

I’ve had my share of near-misses with cars (but nothing that’ll make me give up my iPod while running) and I know there’s a reason even 5k events have ambulances stationed at certain points along the course. Bad stuff can happen any time, whether you’re out on a long run away from home or on a quick jog around your neighbourhood.

Oh dear. If you came here to be cheered up, it really wasn’t your best choice, was it? Here, have a look at this squirrel kissing a kitten. It’s okay. You’re not about to be hit by a car while you’re singing along to Will.I.Am and Britney during your run. Probably. Maybe. I mean, who knows, right?

The truth is… you might.

(I’m sorry. Here, look how this kitten hugs his teddy bear!)

But what if you do? Or what if you just get heat stroke and collapse? Or you trip and fall and hit your head? I mean, how many times has that almost happened to you while running?

(Cheer up. You almost fell but you didn’t and you made it home. Look at this panda cub trying to reach the window!)

Anyway, I usually take my phone out with me on my runs, mostly so I can take crappy photos to populate my Instagram and so I can check my email when I’m waiting for the green light. These days, my supposedly super rugged phone is a super rugged piece of crap, though. It takes me about 3 minutes to even load my contacts’ list so, if I’m in a life or death situation, I’m not going to sit there waiting for it to work. Especially because it’ll probably crash twice before actually loading any contacts and if there’s something I don’t need is an anxiety attack over the phone, on top of whatever else is already happening to me.

But even assuming that my phone worked properly (one of these days I’ll stop being such a cheapo and I’ll buy a new one), how many of you have a pin code on yours? So yeah, in a lot of cases, even assuming the stars align and you take your phone and it works properly, it’s still really not the best solution. I have an ICE number on my phone (I recorded it during a First Aid course I took last year), but I don’t want to rely on someone else being able to navigate to that, especially in a situation where timing might be everything.

So I went analog for safety while running and got myself a Road ID wrist band.

I thought I would only wear it out during long runs but the model I got is so discreet that I actually wore it for a couple of days before taking it off. I pretty much immediately forgot it was on my wrist (and I don’t normally wear bracelets anyway).

You can choose out of a few different models, with different colours and sizes (you can even get stuff like a tag for your shoe laces, if you prefer that to a bracelet) and the whole ordering process is very straightforward. You choose everything that gets engraved in the stainless-steel plate. The website has a bunch of suggestions of what to add, if you’re not sure, including tips on what medical information to give and even some inspirational quotes. It shows you what your bracelet will look like and gives you the option to make changes at any time during the process.

Living in New Zealand, I’m pretty used to getting ripped off on shipping costs from some US-based sites so paying around $2.50 for shipping was a really pleasant surprise (only about $1 more than to ship within the US). I got an email informing me that the bracelet had been shipped just two days after ordering and had the package in my mailbox in the time they said it would take for it to arrive.

The bracelet came in a neat metal tin and the Road ID website includes a section on how you can “think outside the tin” and re-use it, which I thought was a really nice touch (also, emergency wine glass!). It included a brochure letting me know that Becky had carefully packaged my bracelet (I’m a sucker for details like that) and some coupon codes to hand to my friends, along with the history of the company.

Road ID have a bunch of other items, all dedicated to safety outdoors (like high-visibility and reflective running and cycling gear) that I encourage you to check out. The bracelets are almost essential to any outdoors athlete, whether you’re a runner or a cyclist, but I think they’re a good idea for anyone who gets out and about (because, well, shit happens). I know a lot of keen hikers who should definitely invest in one of these.

If anyone looks at it and wonders if I’ll ever need it… I really hope I don’t. But I reckon 20 bucks is a pretty low price to pay for peace of mind (not just yours but of those around you too). And if you think it’s unnecessary, I hope I never have to prove you wrong.

My ability to conceal my emergency contacts' information from the internet is only as good as MS Paint allows it to be. Don't judge.

My ability to conceal my emergency contacts’ information from the internet is only as good as MS Paint allows it to be. Don’t judge.

Road ID has emailed me a discount code following my purchase. The code is ThanksVera22242623 and can be used 20 times in the next 27 days (it was valid for 30 days but they sent it 3 days ago and I was too lazy to blog about it then). Go ahead and get $1 off now.

This is not a paid/sponsored post. Road ID didn’t not contact me about writing this. I paid for my bracelet like everyone else and I’m writing about it because I truly believe it’s a great product that everyone should consider getting.


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Adventures in trail running – XTERRA trail series – Whitford Forest

Last week, after realising that we hadn’t really done much running at all, S. and I made the wise decision to chicken out and downgrade our entry to the XTERRA event in Whitford from the superlong course to the mid course. Last night, I decided to take things one step further (well, backwards) and worked really hard to convince her that the best thing to do would be not to run the event at all. I tried to bribe her with a flat road run later in the morning and, just so you see how little intentions I had to run this trail, I even offered to pay her registration fee if she agreed to pull out with me.

The fact that I had to drag myself out of bed and all the way to Whitford this morning says a lot about my powers of persuasion (or lack thereof). I don’t fully know why I didn’t want to go to Whitford but I was just not feeling up for the trails this weekend. I remained hopeful that S. would cancel at the last minute but that didn’t happen so I ended up going a lot less prepared than normal – I failed to have my usual pre-run breakfast and didn’t carry a pack for the first time on the trail, having only taken a bottle of water I got a few minutes earlier from the petrol station.

As usual, I’m glad I did go. The only run you regret really is the run you don’t go on and today proved that once again. Truth be told, there wasn’t really much running to be done there. The course was incredibly steep and the muddiest I had ever been on. The best way to enjoy it, as we quickly discovered, was to just embrace the mud. And so we did. We slid down hills, fell on our bums too many times to count, kept taking steps forward only to slide back down again. It was awful and so, of course, we had a great time. It might not have been an amazing run but it was a great workout and I’m already feeling the pain in different parts of the body – which is always a very good sign. After discussing different ways to get our running mojo back, we seem to finally have found it. It had been hiding under a giant pile of mud (which I now hope the washing machine can cope with).

In retrospect, perhaps wearing my brand new running shoes wasn’t a wise decision.