Monday, November 27, 2006

Strong Hearts

It's been too long since any quality posting. No Poetry Thursday, no Sunday Scribblings. I've been carried away by the king tide that is my life at the moment. I haven't been writer's blocked so much as writer's flat-tyred. The wish to write has been there, but the mind-space hasn't. The energy I usually send in that direction has been seeping away.

Right now I'm trying to run, cycle, swim, volunteer at the Sanctuary, maintain a social life, write, spend some time with Hamish and continue to perform at work. Let's not even mention the total lack of housework or gardening. I'm stretching myself thin and not giving any one area the attention it really deserves, particularly the writing.

However when I take the time to read posts like Michelle's on her nemesis marathon run, or search for Wellington poetry readings, I realise that my muse is still there, surviving independently of my main flow of attention. I just need to reprioritise my time a little!

So, one more gym-obsessed post before I start focussing a little more again on the creative mission that this blog was originally designed to carry me on. I made a commitment to provide distraction from a friend wrestling with their own exercise-goal induced nemesis, so here goes! The Strongheart 24 hour fundraiser...

Let me preface this by saying that for a long time I wasn't terribly socially assertive. I was never the leader in any social group, tended to keep only a small handful of friends close to me, and found it difficult to put myself out there. Organising the Jog Squad team for Strongheart was something that I was happy to volunteer for, but that I found more than a little stressful.

On Friday night, after a barbeque for Sanctuary volunteers, a couple of glasses of wine, a cider and a great episode of Heroes I was feeling rather euphoric. I had a good team put together for the relay and my knee was holding up well. By 6.30am on Saturday morning however I had a severe case of nervous-runner's belly and anxiety-induced insomnia.

By 8.30am I was at Les Mills on Taranaki Street sticking yellow ducks and a Jog Squad "I thought you said this was going to be an easy flat run" sign to 'our' treadmill. We were one of five treadmill teams. The team to our right - "Dorks that Walk" looked to be easy competition. The team to our left - "the Black Eyes" were the clear winners before they even pressed the 'quickstart' button. Predominantly tall, strapping and athletic looking men, I was glad our little team of intermediate and beginner runners had never entered this for the glory of a podium finish!

In front of us were three exercycle teams. Cruising along at low RPMs while idly reading magazines, there were many times the Jog Squadders decided we'd chosen the wrong event to sign up for.

At the front of the room was a whiteboard, to be used for recording our distances. The rules were simple. A team member had to be on our treadmill at all times. Distance recordings were taken during scheduled ten minute breaks at 3pm, 9pm, 3am and 9am. We could choose whether to run or walk - we just had to keep moving.

9am rolled around and I kicked off the event for our team with a quick couple of kilometres on the treadmill. After that a succession of wonderful women swapped stints. I stressed about women not turning up, about everything going pear-shaped, about not being a good organiser. Wonderful Caro dealt with Angsty Pip and kept me motivated through those early self-doubting hours.

Looking back there were so many amazing moments over the next 24 hours. Apart from having a real chance to talk to Caro (who looked at our timetable, identified when we would need her, and came back later that night to fill in some valuable time in the schedule), I also got to meet Prue, who, despite claiming not to be a runner, clocked up the bulk of our kilometres by pounding away at impressive speeds for sustained periods of time. Prue came back in to fill the hours to 3am, for which I was incredibly grateful.

There was steadfast Harriet, who put off student reports to come back into the gym at 7am on Sunday morning, when we really needed fresh runners. There was Tracey, who scared me at first with her need to timetable everything, but who slotted herself into valuable half-hour slots during the difficult times after 3am. There was Jacqui, whose hot-pink halterneck stop and faultless make-up despite high-rotation group fitness classes deserved special mention. Pregnant Megan, who, as a Les Mills employee was also flat-out helping keep the event going. Megan, true to her word, slept for a couple of hours then came to life at 3am, killing some valuable treadmill walking time. Caroline - another employee who jumped from one team's treadmill to ours for half an hour at 1.30am. Felicity, who was bullied into running half an hour, poor thing. Ingrid, who did two hours despite a rotten cold. Allie, who stayed far longer than I expected (thanks Allie), and provided me with some much needed distraction.

Last, but by no means least, there was thirteen year old Claudia, one of Duck's clients. Claudia put in huge amounts of pluck and energy, and displayed a strength of character well beyond her years. Having her around was like indulging in my own daughter fantasies for a day. All night she went from treadmill to Body Balance class to Combat, until 5am when she finally began to crumble. We took it gently on her from that point on, and from 7 till 9 she lay bleary eyed on a beanbag in the corner.

Gary stayed on reception, bright eyed despite probably having to continue working until 5pm Sunday night. Vernon remained his usual relentlessly cheerful self. Soli continued to look like he'd just stepped out of a fashion shoot. The RPM guys tried to give me beer when we were approaching the 11 hour mark.

Personal highlights/lowlights? 9pm was hard - knowing we still had twelve hours to go. I got extremely tired at around 10pm, and started to doubt I'd make it through. The period from 3am to 5am also seemed daunting, until some of the other team members stepped up. 5am to 7am were pure madness and total fun. 7am till 9am were absolute joy. Hamish made the rest of the gym howl with envy by showing up at 6.45am with a pie. Aviel stood there looking most bemused, having gone from feral psytrance party at the tattoo museum to fitness-bunny central in the course of a few minutes.

I ran until my knee started hurting after around twelve hours, then fast walked the rest. I remember major group fitness instructor eye-candy in the middle of the night on the Combat stage. I remember glow-sticks and UV lighting at 2am for one of the most spiritual Body Balance classes I've ever participated in. I remember dancing two Attack tracks before regaining my senses. I remember chocolate, Jellybeans, Airplanes, two cans of Red Bull. I remember caffeine jitters and running to the bathroom as a result. I remember a burst of euphoria and energy at around 6am after dawn and a dose of cortisol. I remember Underworld's "You Let Light In" at 8.45am, so beautiful I had to dance or I'd cry, and I had vowed by that point not to cry.

So when I had thought there would be tears, there was only the warmth of a team spirit and women who genuinely cared enough to be there supporting us.

Harriet jumped off the treadmill and I jumped on with just under 10 minutes to go. I ran the last five minutes, amping the pace up to 12km per hour to squeeze out every last bit of mileage. We counted down the last thirty seconds and everyone cheered.

In the end we came third, although we came second in the 3pm to 9pm slot after some team-rousing by Ingrid. I was extremely pleased with our result, given that several of us were carrying injuries. It was also amazing to hear that, by the end of the event, we'd already raised $21,000. The goal for this year is $24,000, and I'm confident we should achieve that easily.

A quick shared breakfast in the reception area, then there were lots of hugs and we all headed for bed. I was a little worried about driving home, but thankfully stayed alert for the ten minutes necessary to get me up the hill and between the sheets.

Fatigue does interesting things. In particular I noticed my ability to engage in complex analytical tasks bottoming out completely. Mental arithmetic took three times as long as usual. I struggled to remember who was on the treadmill at any one time. I know my reaction times were much slower - the second most dangerous aspect of driving home, with falling asleep at the wheel the big risk. Once home I slept solidly till 2pm, then fell asleep again til 4pm. After that I spent the evening in a dressing gown on the sofa, getting to bed again at 10.30pm and sleeping through till 7am this morning.

In the usual aftermath analysis - my knee feels oddly fine. My left shin is aching, as is my left quad and hamstring. Perhaps the podiatrist is right and I am now overcompensating for my right-sided injuries. I felt ok today, just stiff and drained. I avoided both a Jog Squad run and swim in favour of cider and chocolate at home. My diet has become quite shocking this week!

My only break from the gym over the whole 24 hours was the quick scheduled trip to Newtown Park so the podiatrist could film me running. It was a gorgeous afternoon and a real pleasure to be on a proper track. I immediately vowed to return again for some proper training. I haven't had a detailed analysis yet, but John did comment that I wasn't using my gluts when I was walking. As I said - no surprise there! I concentrated on my gluts when walking on the treadmill that night, and they were achy this morning, so hopefully I can retrain myself.

In the end the biggest surprise for me in organising the Jog Squad team was that it went so well, and that the girls wanted to help and support me. I'm not used to thinking of myself as being that kind of motivator. I even decided I would be prepared to organise a team again, maybe.

Duck and Ingrid are taking me out to lunch to thank me, but I don't really need the thanks. I got more than enough out of just being there. Besides - my kitchen is filled with chocolate and lollies. What more thanks could a girl possibly need?

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