super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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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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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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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.


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Okura Bush, spring tides and morning crankiness

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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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The big 2012 highlights post everyone is writing too

 

I logged onto Facebook* yesterday morning (I swear it’s not the first thing I do when I wake up… not always, anyway) and it presented me with the option of viewing the highlights of my year, according to Zuckerberg’s fancy algorithms. My first realisation was that the year is, indeed, almost over. The second realisation is that this year was actually a pretty good one. Facebook got some stuff right – my cat’s birthday really is that big a deal – but it failed to mention others. So screw you, Facebook, how about  I decide what the highlights of MY year are?

Well, it turns out that, without fancy algorithms (or proper short-term memory), coming out with a “year in review” post is quite a bit of work. But it’s also a good way to get me to reflect on everything that has happened so bear with me here.

I ended 2011 with an early night in a bungalow on an island without electricity in Vanuatu. By the time New Zealand started letting off fireworks, I was asleep. In fact, I soundly slept my way into 2012, having spent the last evening of 2011 on top of a volcano spitting lava everywhere. That new year’s eve experience is so hard impossible to top that I haven’t even made any plans for this coming December 31. What’s the point? Ryan Gosling could kiss me at midnight and it would still pale in comparison to last year’s experience (sorry Ryan, I still love you).

I went ahead and spent the first day of 2012 with a kastom tribe on the island, making January 1 2012 the best January 1 in the history of January 1. A couple of days later, I flew back to New Zealand and, just a few days after that, it was off to Las Vegas, a trip where I got to see the opposite world of what I’d seen in Vanuatu. Also, my first time flying business class long-haul (full sized bed and unlimited alcohol on the plane? Yes, please).

February was a quieter month and was also the month I ran my first half marathon of the year, the Cathay Pacific Half Marathon, in Auckland. It was a great summer day and I was happy to be ticking off 1/4 of my half marathon goals for the year (little did I know I’d go beyond that goal in the end). March seems to have been a little less eventful on the running front (and I can’t remember what I was doing instead) but, by the end of the month, S. had convinced me to sign up for a 35k trail run in May. Shit was about to get real.

April was all about freaking out about May. It started with a bittersweet PR at the Whenuapai Half Marathon before a first (and non-official) off-road half marathon. I squeezed in a work trip to San Diego (where I got to run in both Balboa Park and along the city’s stunning waterfront) before returning to New Zealand and getting into full on trail running training mode. It was also in April that we decided we needed bigger motivation for this run and so we started fundraising for KidsCan. The response from people we know was amazing and we even got $20 beyond our goal, in spite of starting fundraising so late.

May came and, with it, the final stretch of the big training plan. And then it came – May 26, the big day. The anniversary of my move to New Zealand and the day of the biggest physical challenge I’d had to date, a 35k trail run with a heart-attack inducing elevation chart. It was every bit as amazing as I had hoped it would be. After that, I didn’t think the year could get much better. But of course it did.

The next month, we flew to Wellington to run the Wellington Half Marathon. It was the first time we flew on purpose for a race. The weather wasn’t fantastic and my body wasn’t exactly up for a long run that day but it was still a great experience. In August, it was time to finally head back to the trails and get some mud on our shoes. And our shorts. And our shirts. And our underwear. And everywhere else. It was great.

The really amazing month, the one I wait for every year, was September (I mean, rocktember). I got to finally fly home and see my family and friends again and, this time, the long way around, with the final leg of the trip being done by car (after two flights), via 13 countries in 6 days, in an epic European road trip I won’t forget any time soon.

In Lisbon, I entered my first urban trail race (and a night one, to make it even cooler) and loved every second of it. A week later, I ran the hardest and simultaneously most amazing half marathon of my life, along the waterfront of the city I was born and grew up in, with my family cheering me on. The finish line took a while to get to but the reward was grandma’s tomatada so life was pretty much as perfect as it gets right there and then. Back on this side of the world, later that same month, it was time to finally run the Auckland Half Marathon and cross the bridge in a bright green tutu. People were extra cheery thus scientifically proving that costumes are definitely the way to go.

Then November came and I didn’t think I’d be running any more half marathons this year. Turns out, I was wrong (I was shocked too). The ADRA half marathon in Auckland was a last minute decision but resulted in a PR and one of the easiest and most enjoyable half marathons I’ve ever run. I know the year isn’t over yet but I think I can safely say that I closed my half marathons cycle for the year, with a total of six official road half marathons run this year, two over my initial goal of running one every season.

It was also in November that S. and I decided it was time to bite the bullet and commit to bigger challenges. And so we registered for our first full marathon. Come next March, we’ll be seen running/walking/dragging our asses along the course of the Mountain the Surf Marathon in New Plymouth. It sounds maddening to me still but, then again, so did that 35k in May.

December has been a quieter month, with lots of training runs but less long events. We had an amazing time running from one coast of Auckland to the other and I chased my Christmas spirit in the rain in a santa suit.

There were a bunch of other awesome things that happened this year and I’ll probably write about them as soon as I find the time/patience/inspiration to do so on here (must. record. everything) but this is the recap of the stuff I managed to keep writing about as the year went by. Winning lottery has, apparently, been put on hold once again (your move, 2013) but, all in all, I’m happier and healthier than I was last year. Wasn’t that the whole point to begin with anyway?

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*Speaking of Facebook, I decided it was time to stop annoying the hell out of my non-running friends with my running-related posts so created a page for the blog on there. It’s actually a secret plot to unleash my running geekery onto the world guilt-free, since I noticed I had to stop myself from sharing running-related links there (remember?) because, apparently, not everyone in the world is as interested in them as I am (whaaaat?). Check it out if you want, like if you like.

P.s.: For a really cool and almost tear-inducing video about this year, check out Google’s Zeitgeist 2012.


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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.