Thursday, June 28, 2007

Poetry Thursday: Escapism

This week a slow patch at work left me sitting at my desk begging for inspiration. Leonie responded from Madison. Her suggestion was that I take three words from the book nearest to me, Google them, and write a poem about the results.

The three words I chose were from How to Be a Princess. 'Jewel' led me to the website of an intriguing performer. 'Gown' led me to a number of websites hiring or selling ball and evening gowns. 'Curtsy' led me to a site that contained information on French etiquette in the 17th century. This is the result:

She dances above him,
hair swaying grazing
the skin on her shoulders.
She would swallow swords
as soon as succumb, shed
chains, suspend herself
from the sky if he spoke.
“Nothing impossible” she
mouths, still turning.

He would dress her in
an evening gown, not yet
daring to suggest yards
of ivory white and tulle.
He will settle for ruby
taffeta brushing against
his chest or gold velvet
to warm her as they
waltz, still turning.

She lands before him.
Slowly sinking on bent
Leg, her head lowered.
“Nothing impossible” she
whispers rising but
she curtsies to signal
her leaving, not in
supplication as she
smiles, still turning.

More Thursday poetry here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Winter Arrives

Winter has finally arrived in Wellington, right as the Winter Solstice passes by. For the first time this year Southerlies have kept me awake at night, rattling our sash windows and slamming into the wall behind my head as I lie in bed. Perhaps it's just a reflection of my higher awareness of the environment around me at the moment, but I seem to be reacting to the cold more this year. Although I love it when snow falls to the East, the plummeting temperatures have made cement of my bones.

Winter Solstice 2007
This house is so cold today
it freezes us in place.
Winds blowing from the
Strait fly up the ridge
from Berhampore and
infiltrate the lounge
through cracks in
Matai floorboards.
We stuff the chimney
with shopping bags filled with
balled up newspaper but the
central heating battling
valiantly through corner
vents can not dent the chill
tonight as snow gathers
on the Orongarongas.
I would do so many things,
compose symphonies,
dance a tango with you
down the hallway if
I could only coax these
chilled bones from the
sofa. Instead I loiter,
offer myself as some
small heat source to
short-haired, thin-blooded
Burmese cats, and
dream of summer.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Um, Yay!

I just ran a half marathon, and you know what? I loved it. I ran for 21km with a smile on my face.

There's a scene in What the Bleep that I love, in which the lead actress, having spent some time standing in front of a mirror telling herself that she is ugly and stupid, and that she hates herself, begins instead to paint beautiful designs and symbols of love on her skin. My mind did something like that to me today. In previous events a little voice inside kept up a continual running dialogue about how unpleasant this was, how unfit I was, and how I should just stop and go home. I never seemed to be able to control it.

Today the voice had only nice things to say. It told me how fit I was, how well I was doing, and it kept emphasising how good I felt. It kept me bouyant through the whole race. I just went into a kind of trance, a strange and new headspace. I'm not sure what happened, although I know I've trained very differently this time around, and that I was very prepared both mentally and physically. However I was taken aback by just how well it all came together. And I'm totally happy with myself.

That's the short summation of today. A longer race report now follows for those who can endure it!

I thought I might have blown it last night. I'd made up a lovely big pot of Moosewood Minestrone for lunch, with a big of chilli in it and some pastrami. After Hamish left for his Foxton party, leaving me to eat dinner on my own, I lost enthusiasm for the lamb chops I'd bought and instead had a second bowl of Minestrone. I don't know whether there were some subconscious nerves happening, or whether the small amount of chilli for once didn't agree with me, but my stomach seriously did not approve. Then, despite the pastrami and lentils in the soup, I started worrying I hadn't had enough protein.

In the end I slapped myself around a bit, and by 9.30 I was in bed reading, and by 10.30 I was dropping off to sleep. I had a surprisingly good night's sleep, waking up when Hamish got home from his party at around 6.15a.m, and getting out of bed just before 7. I followed my plan, having laid everything out the night before. All I had to do was dress, eat and go. Breakfast was porridge, and the bottle of sports drink went with me in the car.

This year the queue to get into the car park was minimal, and I sat around in the warmth for a while before leaving my gear in my car and meeting up with the other girls at the stadium entrance. It was bitterly cold and the Northerlies were blowing, so things were looking interesting. However it was also a beautifully clear morning. In the end I gambled on warming up and wore my polyprop over the top of my t-shirt. Allie, Sarah and I assembled near the two hour pace runner and her green balloons. The increased number of entrants was obvious in the crush at the start line and the congestion over the first couple of kilometres. It's unusual in Wellington for an event to be large enough for seeding to become an issue, but some of the slower runners who'd positioned themselves near the front must have got a shock as they were pushed past early on.

The first fifteen minutes or so were pretty chaotic, with my main aim being to keep the green balloons within sight. The polyprop was gone early on in the piece. The frigid temperatures at the stadium were definitely a red herring, and things were pretty mild the whole way. At around the 20 minute mark I started to feel a little uncomfortable with the two hour pace and dropped back a little. There were too many variables for me to push myself too hard at this point. I didn't know whether I could keep up a two hour pace, I didn't know whether I was going to wind up nauseaus or if I would run out of fuel. So I just focused on the technique that has worked well for me in the past. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, got comfortable, and let my mind settle into the experience of running in Wellington on this particular morning.

The winds didn't seem to provide that much of an advantage on the way out. There was a brief lift during the usual sprint down the straight on the Southern side of Pt Jerningham, and that was about it. I missed the first drink stop, which was pretty chaotic with people swerving all over the footpath, but wasn't too worried. It became more and more clear that running a course that I was familiar with was indeed an advantage. By the time we turned onto Cobham Drive I knew I was doing well. It didn't seem that much further to the second roundabout, and then it was only a few minutes more to reach the turnaround point. This was a nice part of the run, with the road closed. And then it was time to run back.

Now I had the fun of looking out for people I knew, and that kept me occupied for most of the way back. I knew that I'd slowed down a little, but I was still feeling strong. The wind definitely ate into my times, particularly around the infamous Pt Jerningham, where I was reduced to a crawl. I saw someone's race number go flying through the air, and ran with one hand over mine to prevent the same fate.

At some point I caught up with Jo, and then all of a sudden I looked up and realised that there was a blue bandanna in front of me. Speedy Smurf! Sarah, by all accounts, did not have a good run. I got in front of her when she stopped at at Balaena Bay to fill her camelbak. Sometimes it's just not your day. Today was mine.

I have to give some credit to Sarah for my success. As I was running around the Bays for the last 8km or so I kept muttering to myself "Mad Dog, Mad Dog, Mad Dog". I guess I found my mantra... A grim determination really did set in. Well, actually there was nothing grim about it. The last 5km were supposed to be horrific, but I was in party mode.

I got into a good group of women all running at around the same speed, and chatted to a girl I knew from Les Mills who was running her first marathon. I kept ticking off each kilometre, and all too soon I was running up the ramp to the concourse. Checking my watch I realised I could still make it across the finish line in the same time as my friend Deb. I picked up the pace, and the last 100 metres or so paced quickly. I ran past Duck and some of the other girls, waving and smiling, then it was over the line.

So the time? 2.07. Well off 2.00, but I lost a good couple of minutes with the headwinds. In the end it took me longer than my wildest hopes, but well under the 2.10 I thought I'd probably do it in. The positives were that I felt good the whole way, and that I had no problems with nausea or feeling that the tank was empty. In the end the time really isn't important. Some time later (after a slow stagger to the Terrace) Sarah and I were finishing off our showers at Les Mills, and I realised that all this fussing over times had obscured the basic fact that, after all these years, I'd finally done it. I'd finally run a half marathon.

As if the day couldn't get any better I even managed to win a spot prize - a year's subscription to Runner's World magazine! I must have smiled nicely at the girl holding the winner's tickets. I didn't win any Addidas gear, any of the Nano's, any of the Holiday Inn prizes, the mountain bike or either of the trips to London for the marathon, but I'm pretty stoked with my well-gotten gains.

As soon as prize giving was over I jumped in my car to drive out to Tawa to collect the painting I picked up on Trademe yesterday as a reward. This afternoon has turned into one of those Wellington-on-a-good-day afternoons. Hamish is currently messing around in the lounge running cables under the house so that the LCD screen can finally take up its proper place in the corner of the room. The sun is going down and the mountains behind me are a most attractive shade of pink.

My torn abductor isn't very fond of me right now, and a few of us will be hobbling into work tomorrow. Allie completely blitzed us all, coming in at 2.02. Kate finished her marathon in around 3.54. Another of our colleagues, Chris, ran his first marathon today. Clare, the Body Balance instructor, walked the 10km event, and Catherine the half marathon. Caroline knocked over quarter of an hour off her Wairarapa Country time. Deonne apparently battled intestinal issues, but still put in a good time. Duck came in at around the same time as the Wairarapa event, having reaggravated her injuries. Walker Ingrid did a personal best.

Already I'm thinking about what's next. There are a couple of halfs in August and I'll keep running 10km events to keep my hand in. Right now though I'm going to finish off my bottle of cider and enjoy some lovely Tortellini with a pesto sauce for dinner.

Yay for finally having a good event! Go the mad dog...

Friday, June 22, 2007

And the universe said ...

Image stolen from Mad Dog Resin
Please forgive me guys, it was just too perfect.

Sometimes, it's easy to forget that you always have options, Pip.

That your power has remained intact.

And that everything, up until now, has just been practice for the really, really good stuff.

The Universe

In 48 hours I'll be sitting on the sofa, as I am right now, and I will already have taken that option.
Will I remember my power when it comes time to stand up and be counted? Will I be able to recognise the really really good stuff?

I picked up my race pack today, together with my parking coupon. Everything is in place. Everyone is behind me, and several of them will be at the finish line to cheer me home. It's such a small thing really, to go out there and just keep putting one foot in front of the other for two hours. I've already done the hard work. I've brought myself to this point. There's no reason why I shouldn't be able to take it the whole way.

How could the universe possibly be wrong?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

In which the wheels are positioned for reattachment

It soon became clear after my Saturday run that I was indeed overtrained. I felt really annoyed, as I hadn't seen it coming, or to be honest, I'd refused to see it coming. I've realised that I tend to continue to push myself ever harder when things are going well, when I should instead be maintaining that comfortable level.

The list of ailments? My left abductor, almost certainly torn and aching after only half an hour of running on the flat. Something odd happening at the bottom of my right leg - Plantar Fasciitis? An Archilles problem? Whatever, my right arch was sore, my heel, although improved over Tuesday's run, was still aching, and my Archilles echoed the sentiment. Moving upwards, my right knee and IT band were threatening to join the chorus, my hip was definitely expressing dissatisfaction, and my right glute was the tightest it has been in weeks.

Self-preservation kicked in. Sunday was spent either in bed or in front of the heater. On Monday I flagged any weights training, but did meet up with the Squad for our last group run. Ingrid was in charge, and described a route that went up Willis street, up to the Aro Street shops, back down, along Webb, along Buckle, down Cambridge and Courtney, and back to the gym. Sarah and I looked at each other. "That's not going to take 35 minutes", I whispered. Sarah put her finger to her lips and shooshed me quietly.

It was very crisp outside, but there was no wind to speak of, and things were dry. We sprinted our way from traffic light to traffic light (the Bypass has killed Willis Street for running). By the time we turned onto Cambridge we'd only just hit 20 minutes. I fought a desire to slow down all the way back to the gym. We were all absolutely flying, so I guess it just felt harder than usual. We made it back to the gym in 25 minutes.

Afterwards I didn't feel like I'd done too much damage, but come Tuesday I felt it wise to hold off running again. I stuck to Body Balance. We did the latest release again, and it became clear to me that it contains a lot of moves that activate the abductor. By the end of the class I was even more certain that my injury was a tear rather than something that may need to be stretched out. I wasn't really enjoying the cramps I was getting in my right hip during the strength poses either. More rest seemed called for, although I continued to debate doing Duck's 6.35 RPM class right up to the point Dale, my massage therapist, demanded that I go home. As it turns out I may well have been the only person booked into her class that night, and it was canceled. I'm very glad I didn't stick around. Instead I enjoyed some quiet time with my lovely husband.

I thought before my massage that I was feeling better, however Dale had so much trouble with my legs that she only had enough time to work over my quads and shins before my time was up. Poor Dale, despite her best efforts and attempts at being gentle I was still left writhing on her massage table. I really admire people who can run and run, never stretch and never suffer from undue muscle tightness. I'm not one of them obviously. Even without exercise I am tight. Waiting until the end of an 11 week training programme, during which time I trained for up to 13 hours a week, to get a massage, was obviously not the best plan. Two or three Body Balance classes a week does not a limber Pip make ...

So it was a surprise when I felt noticeably better that evening, and it was a feeling I didn't want to mess with on Wednesday. No problems with finding an excuse, as the Jog Squad girls were meeting for dinner in lieu of running.

I was fairly confident that Duck wouldn't be working my legs this morning, and that was indeed the case. Unfortunately I slept incredibly soundly last night and woke with a spasmed neck. Upper body weights and chin raises did not help at all, and I spent most of the day at my desk quaffing Neurofen and nursing a heat pack on my shoulder. So poor Dale had a new challenge to deal with before she could go anywhere near those rested legs of mine when I saw her again this afternoon for a follow-up massage.

Neck of pain - Dale managed in the time to make only a small inroad into the cords of muscle I could feel twanging under her fingers. Still, it was enough that I have loosened up a little more over the last couple of hours. However I was more than a little disappointed that my newly fresh legs were still extremely painful to the touch, once she was finally able to get stuck into the real business of the day. My calves were full of over-inflated balloons that writhed under her fingers, my right Archilles and shin felt almost bruised. Then it was my quads again, my glutes, my hips. By the end, despite Dale's attempts at restraint, I felt like I'd just gone several rounds... No going back to work, it was home through the winter wind and rain and straight into the shower.

I'm going to have to learn how to deal with these muscles of mine if I'm ever going to be able to run injury free. I took out some time to look into some sports supplements. Magnesium is the obvious first choice and something I've always been short of. The health shop sales person I spoke to also recommended a fancy new antioxidant which is supposed to be good for muscle recovery and endurance, and the Google searches I've done sound promising. I think that I'm suffering some joint pain in addition to the muscle pain, so Glucosamine gets added to the list, and why not top that off with a general sports multi for good measure? This is going to cost me a fortune!

So, that's the physical state. How about the mental side of things? At what point did I go from just wanting to complete this event to wanting to complete it in two hours? How on earth am I going to feel if I completely revert to my usual head-case type and stagger in somewhere around 2 hours 15? In my happiest daydreams I come in just under two hours, with everyone at the finishline cheering me on. Realistically, I know that if I do ok I'm likely to be simply aiming to keep ahead of the 2 hour 10 pace team.

In my dreams the weather is as perfect as it has been for most of our training. In reality I now that the forecast for Saturday is for a high of 10 degrees and gusty Northwesterlies. In my dreams the euphoria kicks in and I run for two hours at full strength, with no significant pain and no nausea. In reality I know there's likely to be pain, that there may well be nausea, that I may not feel strong and that my mental demons may kick in.

However, and this is a HUGE however, I've dealt with all of these demons before in my training and in past events. I know how fantastic things can be and I know what to expect when they don't go so well. These things don't scare me as much as they used to, and I know the things I need to do and say to keep myself going.

I think I started to turn a corner on Tuesday night walking to Hamish's office. I was being passed by a number of runners, several with Shoe Clinic shirts on, and it occurred to me that a number of them will be in taper in preparation for this weekend. I felt like I was part of a community, and I started to think about how good a good run feels. I thought about having the opportunity to prove myself. I thought about being fit and strong.

Today the good feelings continued when I spoke to Duck about our plans for Sunday. I'm an interesting mix of fear, anticipation and excitement right now. Just this once I want to do better than I expect.

How good would that be?

How good would it feel?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

We Should be Dancing

Em, Uprising 2007

Ever since Hamish and I first got involved in crewing New Year's dance festivals, around this time of year, I start having dreams on a theme. As the mid-winter Solstice nears I begin to dream that we are back at Visionz, near Pakawau, trying to set up our camp. Often my family is there. Usually the place is full of people I don't know, strange hippie types. Inevitably I end up wandering around trying to find the crew kitchen, where I used to volunteer. When I finally find the crew kitchen I always discover it full of unfamiliar and unfriendly types, and I am never able to find Tony, the camp chef and general campsite looker-outer.

The things that happen in the dream are easy enough to explain. I always feel a sense of dislocation on arriving at a party. We are always coming from outside, being as we are from Wellington, and there are always new people in charge. It always takes me a few days to find my place, and to learn again that I am accepted and that I belong. This process has gotten easier over the years. We know enough people now that we are almost part of the scene for real, and I have more confidence in my right to belong.

I have never been sure exactly why this dream occurs with such regularity. My best guess is that it has something to do with longing for the grasshopper lightness of summer in the midst of the cold and wind of a Wellington winter. However we have had a remarkable winter so far this year - both still and bright. Perhaps my soul just starts longing to dance.

I've been listening to CDs a lot recently at work on a pair of noise reducing headphones. I've never joined the MP3 player generation, though I'm starting to think I might need to. Last week I was into Tim Finn, Age Pryor and Samuel Flynn Scott. I kept getting carried away in the subtlety of fading piano chords in the Tim Finn album, distracted by Age Pryor's lisp, charmed by the slightly out-of-tune roughness in the voice of Scott.

This week guitars and vocals just didn't do it for me. Instead I've been listening to fat beats. In particular I've been listening to Salmonella Dub's earlier albums, a gem from Pacific Bass Culture and a Rhian Sheehan remix album. A single line from a Rhian Sheehan track keeps infiltrating my thought processes. Over and over something - my heart, my soul - tells me that we should be dancing.

Pip in a Pink Hat with Bubbly, Uprising 2007

In my imagination I'm dancing to Salmonella Dub surrounded by the tall trees of Canaan Downs. The sun is out, although perhaps there is a rainbow in the distance. I'm dancing in bare feet. I have a pink hat on to cover the fact that my hair hasn't been washed in five days. I'm wearing a skirt that I bought at the festival market for very little cash, and a t-shirt that cost me even less. Since I bought them I have worn little else. I have a chain of small bells around my ankle that my imagination can hear jangling quietly over the bass rippling out from the speakers to either side of me. I have a string of rosewood Mala beads wrapped around my wrist. A bottle of cheap sparkling wine is being passed around. Someone else is passing around a plate of orange slices. We are dancing.

At my desk I hit save on the paper that I am writing for my recalcitrant Minister. Salmonella Dub finish and I switch back to Rhian Sheehan. Should I now confess that this is not music that my mind pictures me dancing to in the sun? This is music to strip naked to with someone you love, to seduce them with in a dark room lit by a roaring fire. Not so good for focusing attention on work then. Even worse, this whole album would operate equally well as an RPM class. Except I'm not going to strip naked in an RPM class. That would just be silly, not to mention unhygenic!

We Should
We should be dancing.
Bare feet grass,
dusty toes,
dub bass fat.

Conscious elements.
Sun, oxygen

Sound silence
all thought that
does not rejoice.

Bind us here,
earth floor,
rhythm tied.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Eccentric

As a child it's called being precocious. Later it's excused as teenage rebellion. In our twenties it's youthful exuberance. during our middle years we might allow ourselves to be thought of as a little odd. It's only as we become older that those personality quirks we carry with us are allowed to flourish into full-blown eccentricity. Why is it that we feel we need to wait until we are old to permit those quirks that truly define us to reveal themselves?

It's taken a long time, many years of trying to find somewhere to fit in, trying to find people who were in some way 'like me'. My generation grew up with sitcoms like Friends, and we were sold the idea that we gravitated around our tribes more than our families. If you couldn't find a place to fit in, then there was something wrong with you. There is something wrong with you.

Perhaps it's this city, with its craziness, fusion of government and culture, urbanity and wilderness. Perhaps it's easier to be an individual here, the rules less defined. At some point I think I stopped trying to tone down the dialogue, stopped trying to knock off the rough edges. Here at times I embrace bluntness, refuse social nicety. I'm not yet wearing purple, but I'm sure as heck embracing rose-toned pink. Strangely, people seem to like me anyway.

My mother's generation, and her mother's before here, spent their lives striving to be normal, only relinquishing the veneer as twilight crept in to tap them on their shoulder. I am encouraged by signs that my generation of stroppy women seems to be less afraid of consignment to the asylum. I think I may possibly be odd. If I try hard enough I may one day be able to achieve mad cat woman status. Bring on the eccentricities.

More eccentric types here.

Today, it's all about the light

So, what to say about a run? It went for an hour. It started on Courtney Place, jaywalked its way up Cambridge Terrace, skipped its way through Mt Vic Tunnel, loped its way through Hataitai, then paced winsomely around the bays.

What to say about waking at 5a.m to the sound of rain? Of extricating oneself from duvet, cats and husband at 6.40 on a Saturday morning, to change, shivering, in a dark bathroom in the middle of winter?

How many layers should one wear? Polyprop, wicking t-shirt and wind parker. Fears of overheating will soon disappear, and it will soon become apparent that the wind parker is, indeed, water resistant, and by no means water proof.

So, what is there to celebrate today on a cold morning, on a wet morning, on a morning where your strained abductor returns to niggle at you, where your glutes are drowned out only by the whining coming from your mind, which clearly thinks you have gone insane, and wants to call an end to this whole running thing?

As we round Pt Jerningham, as we begin to scent home, I pass a photographer and his assistant, squinting at the clouds sprawled across the distant mountains. In passing I comment "today, it's all about the light".

Today, it was all about the light. It was about the double rainbow, stark in colour against the gun-metal sky, and us gasping in delight as we turned up Cambridge Terrace. It was about light and shadow and catching up with ourselves through the tunnel. It was about white ships on grey harbours. It was about everything being grey but for gold and amber walls of 80s skyscraper glass.

This was not an easy run. It's too close to the half marathon, I'm overtrained, and the mental demons are kicking in too strongly for that. This was about cold, and it was about wet. Running through Hataitai I thought for a moment that it was about to start hailing. Yet as we ran the bays the rain eased briefly. This was a strangely beautiful run. It was a run that made me glad to be out there, before 9a.m, in the middle of winter. It reminded me that I could be in bed, and that I would have been sleeping away this chance to be blown away by the majesty of this grim morning.

So I made it back to the gym. My abductor hurt, I was drenched, and I was cold. A deep conditioning treatment for my hair, a face mask, 20 minutes or so gossiping in the sauna with other Jog Squadders, only to discover I'd locked my keys in my car, triggering a half hour wait for Hamish to emerge from bed and drop off a spare key.

It's still raining, but I'm warm by the heater with my cats. I don't know whether this half marathon will be a success, timewise, but I know it will happen. If I can hold onto this sense of beauty that running has given me, then I will have already won.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Poetry Thursday Unplugged

Unleashed from the weekly prompt! How scary to have to resume responsibility for my own inspiration ...

Looking for something to write about this week I opened a book to the first page. On it was a photo of a small egg, in black and white, and the words "If not now, when"? Oh the possibilities! Such a prompt asks for much more than a simple poem. It instead calls for soul seeking and introspection, journal writing and changes in direction.

The universe taps on my shoulder in many mischievous ways. This week it was in the form of a book placed on my desk by the woman who sits next to me at work, a depressive who otherwise drives me crazy. Her gift to me was to show me the work of a fabric artist, beautiful quilts - works of art covered in images of insects, frogs and birds. So of course now I have to find time in my busy schedule to learn the basics. I may even need to buy a sewing machine!

All this from one little photo in one little book. In the meantime, here's my poem for this week. It's been a while since I wrote a Wellington weather poem. While all you American types (and those of you living in America on a temporary basis) keep talking about how hot it is. Well, in Wellington the opposite might be said to be true. This is very much a draft. I will keep working on it though, I promise!

Winter 2007
A double agent has descended on Wellington,
extending his hand then freezing my own
with the trickery of his grip.

He has lured us all into his living room and
turned on the refrigeration units to strip
the skin from our faces.

We have been fooled by his tranquil fa├žade,
by his calm front and his coolness of demeanour.
We thought this frigid killer had reformed.
Now we run to secure ourselves from his attentions.

The warnings spread across the city.
The streets are no longer safe.
The cold war has returned.

More poets let loose here.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Some Like it Hot

When he first met Susannah it was her hair that he noticed first - long dark waves that hung around almond eyes of a similar shade. However it was her food that everyone else talked about. Susannah was known for the wonders of her kitchen.

And so it was that as he got to know Susannah he came to learn that it was more common for that sensuous hair to be tied back at the nape of her neck, one lock escaping free, often dusted with a scattering of flour. It wasn't so much that Susannah was a chef, rather that she lived to cook. Or perhaps she cooked to live. He could never be sure which.

Before long they moved in together, and soon food was flowing from his own kitchen in volumes that belied the few bags of potatoes and tomatoes he would carry from the car every weekend. It was once Susannah had firmly established herself both in his house and in his heart that the sorcery began, and the heat began to climb.

He had always had a sensitive stomach. His mother had raised him on a solid diet of Sunday roasts and apple crumble, and his constitution had never learned to cope with anything more adventurous than the occasional pinch of paprika. However, as their relationship grew ever more passionate, the fire that burned between them began to burn into the food Susannah placed on their table.

His meals began to be measured by expanding mercury. Susannah prepared a tomato pureed flood of meals, all infused with ever increasing amounts of chilli. A series of curries and Mexican delicacies passed over his table. If breakfast was baked beans then it would be augmented by a generous dash of chilli sauce. He would bite down onto a sandwich at lunchtime only to discover it dripping with jalapeno relish. An innocuous minestrone soup would be laced with sambal olek, a kumara soup with curry powder. Even Susannah's chocolate of choice contained hidden chunks of chilli, that crept up and burned the back of the tongue long after any sweetness was gone.

Slowly but surely his body began to rebel. Every time he downed another of Susannah's lovingly prepared meals his stomach would stir up a fresh batch of acid. His throat ached constantly, his eyes and nose watered, and the less said about the gases this new diet incited in him the better. Eventually even his heart burned from causes less than romantic.

He begged and he begged his beloved for mercy, that she tone down the seasonings in the food she prepared for him so faithfully. He even suggested that he take over some of the meal preparation. However she was her mother's daughter, and this idea was to her unthinkable.

Finally matters came to their inevitable conclusion, and one night poor Susannah left, taking her sauces, flakes, powders, pastes and chillis both dried and fresh with her. He felt his stomach release with a final gaseous sigh of relief. However as the days went by he realised that, with Susannah's departure, a fire had gone out that he could somehow never reignite.

For the rest of his days his food was mild and easy on his constitution. But he was never, ever warm again.

More Sunday Scribblers getting spicy here.

(And yes, by the way, I'm one of those horrid people who order 'Indian hot', and who ask for extra chillis on everything. I can't help it. I just like it that way!)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Holy running shoes

Today, according to MapMyRun I ran 17.8km in 100 minutes. I tried to post my route to this blog, but for some reason the HTML won't' work properly.

I'm a little afraid of jinxing myself, because I'll be happy with anything under two hours 10, but I'm starting to think a two hour time might not be unrealistic.

I died a little death at around one hour 25 today, but then I hadn't really taken on any water, and a gel shot would probably have helped. Fresh legs would have helped as well. I can't believe I was almost not going to run today. After over an hour at the dentist yesterday my jaw spasmed up at around two a.m. this morning. Between five a.m. and 6 a.m. I turned my alarm off and then on again two or three times, and even as I was in the bathroom getting ready between 6.30 and 7 I nearly turned around and got back into bed again several times. I told myself I could sleep in and run later, give my jaw a chance to recover, wait till it was warmer.

I still felt rotten right up till we set out. I just couldn't get warm. But then something strange happened again. I started running and everything just felt ok. And everything continued to feel ok for most of the run. I led the pack right up till I had to stop at Chaffers to do up a shoe lace. After that I simply focused on picking off one runner after another, even overtaking Sarah, who was being sensible and cautious and maintaining a steady pace.

We were blessed with another perfect, crisp clear and windless morning today. How different from the weather I remember training in last winter. I love how gorgeous my city looks on a day like this. It makes running less painful and at times, sheer pleasure.

I think there was something good in running to Westpac Stadium before we headed out around the Bays. It meant that we didn't have far to run before we could turn around. For some reason today the thought popped into my head that it was only 50 minutes before I could head back to the gym, and 50 minutes wasn't that long. So I just kept pushing myself onwards.

I kept pushing onwards most of the way back as well. At around Te Papa however I think I ran out of fuel. Emma commented that I slowed down and that something changed, and indeed it did. I started to feel slightly nauseaus. Not majorly, but enough to cause me a little discomfort. So I tried not to let it hurt that Jo overtook me again, and concentrated on just putting one foot in front of the other.

Sarah and I met on the Stadium concourse and jogged slowly back down onto Lambton Quay, up Woodward onto the Terrace, then down the Terrace and back for a total of 100 minutes. When I stopped it took a few minutes for the nausea to die completely, but all things considered I didn't feel too bad, and at no point did I feel like I would need to vomit. I think more water and a gel shot at around one hour 10 would have worked wonders for the energy levels. I guess I just don't have a lot of fuel to burn.

So it was onto Body Balance. I told Clare she wasn't allowed to hassle us during the strength poses, but in the end she had only compliments for me, until, nodding my head in response to her comments, I overbalanced and fell flat on my backside from Warrior 2! However both Sarah and I marveled that the strength poses and balance poses felt remarkably good all things considered. My quads feel fine. All the soreness seems to be in my glutes, with only a slight nag above my right knee. Even my jaw's not as bad as it was this morning. My technique is obviously lightyears away from what it was even at the start of this squad.

A leisurely walk back to Xtreme, a shower, and then Sarah and I enjoyed a well-deserved lunch at Subway, before she headed off to a movie and I headed off to do the groceries.

What a great day. I'm going to try to slip in one more long run this week - hopefully Tuesday night, if everything goes well.

NB: Later edit - 17.8 is probably a touch generous, but only by a few hundred metres. We still covered an impressive amount of pavement today!

Friday, June 08, 2007

For What It's Worth

A friend wants to lose some weight and has been asking me for advice. I tried to think about what to tell her, but it wasn't easy. The simple answer is eat less and move more. However it goes beyond that, because to be successful whatever activity she undertakes has to mean something to her.

I exercise a lot. I exercise to the point where I'm not doing this just out of some modern idea that I need to keep fit. I'm doing this because this is my life, and I love it. I love running. I love yoga. I love weights. I love RPM and I even love cycling and swimming. I've achieved the results I have because I've made a decision to make my workouts one of the prime priorities in my life.

I don't just go to the gym because it's 'what I'm supposed to do'. I love the gym. I've done well because I've managed to hook into something I enjoy. So what to tell my friend? She has recently had to start paying for a gym membership she used to get for free, and that has made her rethink what she wants to achieve. Her gym has a pool, and she enjoys swimming enough that she decided to keep her membership going. She also likes weights, and puts muscle on easily. So I suggested that she start from there and find some other form of cardio exercise that she finds interesting to help burn calories. I warned her that if she was going to sit on an exercycle or cross trainer that she needed to avoid the trap of working at a level of intensity too low to raise her heart rate. We also agreed that she might need to cut back on the wine and watch her portion sizes. In the end though, she will need to find some kind of intrinsic reward to keep her going.

This week I feel that I've been reaping my own rewards in the form of consistently good runs. There was the quickish half hour run around the Bays on Wednesday night, and back against gusting headwinds that kept stopping me in my tracks. I was running five and a half minute km's and knew I would have run faster had I not tired my legs the night before. On Thursday Duck worked my legs with single leg press and single leg squats. We followed that up with more push ups, with chin ups and cable and core work thrown in.

I had to run 45 minutes on Thursday, supposedly at a running pace. In many ways this could almost have been a bad run. My glutes, quads, and calves were all extremely tight. My left shin was sore, as was my right heel and my right IT band was acting up a bit just above my knee. I was a little nervous that history might be repeating itself, as it was only once I got up over 90 minutes last year that my knee issues kicked in.

However it was a lovely day outside, if windy, and it felt important to do the run. I started off up Bowen, and the tightness in my calves was such that I cringed at how bad my form must have looked. From there it was a short way down Tinakori, and then I hung a left and ran up onto Grant Street, along the side of the town belt, for a series of rolling hills. I chose that path because it was sheltered from the winds, but also because I was tired of the same routes I've been running all year. It was nice to be running past historic Thorndon cottages, and that helped me to keep going.

I ran as far as I could, electing to leave Wadestown Rd for another day. Eventually the road grew narrower and narrower, and to my right a magnificent view of the harbour and stadium opened up. I ran beyond one of those great Wellington signs that warns that the road narrows and that there is nowhere to turn around ahead. I ran until I turned a corner and realised that I was effectively running up someone's driveway. So I turned around and started running back. I headed up a short but very steep street that came out part of the way up Wadestown Rd, then ran back down and onto Tinakori Rd again. I then ran down Tinakori and out onto Thorndon Quay, where I turned right and started heading back towards the city.

I wasn't running at a genuinely fast pace, but I was certainly running faster than 'easy'. However each individual muscle in my legs was clearly expressing displeasure. By the time I was running past the stadium I was considering cutting my run short for the first time ever, and heading straight back to the gym for a total time of around 35 minutes. However as I ran past the Capital Gateway shopping complex (Hamish's office) something strange happened. I checked in and realised that, although my muscles were sore my lungs were fine and mentally I was coping ok with just putting one foot in front of another and plodding onwards. I decided that this was a good test for the latter stages of the half, and I kept going. I ran past the railway station, onto the waterfront, past Shed 5, around the outer T, then back into town and up Woodward Street, where I stopped for a total of 44 minutes. Despite the pain the last ten minutes of my run felt great.

Dinner with friends, a late night and too much wine put paid to any ideas about getting up and doing a 6.30am Body Balance, but that was no bad thing. Over an hour at the dentist, repairs to a cracked tooth, two fillings and three shots of local anesthetic left me unable to talk properly or feel anything on one side of my face (at some point I must have bitten my tongue but I don't know when). I had a splitting headache and by the time I got back to work I must have looked pretty pale, because my manager sent me home, where I spent much of this afternoon asleep on the sofa. Needless to say I didn't do my 20 minute homework run, nor did I do stretch yoga at the Gaura Yoga centre.

I have to run 100 minutes with the Squad in the morning. Given that I ran 97 last weekend over a major hill route I'm not worried about the distance. I am worried a little about my knee, which is still tight. I really should have stretched today rather than sleeping on the sofa for most of the afternoon. Sarah and I are planning to run to the Terrace gym after the Squad run, with the aim of making it there in time to do Balance. Goodness knows I need it, particularly if I'm going to survive RPM and dinner on Sunday. If I start having serious knee issues again I'll just rest for most of this week. One week of reduced kilometres isn't going to kill my fitness.

I hope my friend finds what she needs to achieve her goals, but it's up to her to decide how badly she wants to lose weight. I'm happy to support her the whole way, but I'm certainly not going to suggest that she try to copy me. I don't want to inflict my madness on the poor girl.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

So what do you want?

No, really, what do you want?

I'm sorry, I thought that was an excuse.
So, once again, what do you want?

So, if that's what you really want, what do you need to do it?

Great, so what do you need to put in place to achieve that?

I'm sorry, I thought that was an excuse.

So, once again, what do you need to do?

Ok, fantastic. So what do you need to help you do that?

What do you need me to do to help you?
No, really, what do you need from me?

Great. Well, now that we understand each other, let's get started.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Just Call Me Mad Dog

Sarah's been giving the Jog Squad girls nick names. I'm flattered, no, really. Well, I can see her reasoning. After all, I'm still suffering from Saturday...

It's hard to know whether I'm in pain because of the speed and technique workshop, the 97 minute run, or the aftermath of Saturday night. Let's just say dancing for five hours on the concrete dancefloor at Sandwiches in a halterneck dress and black high-heeled boots could prove harmful to the training plan! Yes, Hamish and I rather enjoyed Derrick May. God is a DJ, and the Lord was in the house well and truly on Saturday night.

We arrived at around 11.30, early enough to secure a nice seat in the lounge bar and to down a pleasant glass of wine. We hit the dancefloor at around 12.30, and danced until Derrick came on at around 2.30. From then on in, apart from a couple of quick trips out to Piglet, we stayed on that dance floor.

At around 5.45 Mr May showed no signs of stopping, but Hamish and I were seriously running out of gas. It was back to little Piglet, still patiently parked waiting for us outside on Kent Terrace, and home to cook up bacon butties with Rocket Fuel sauce for breakfast. We slept for most of the day, while outside by all accounts the rain poured and the wind blew. When I finally made it out of bed I was certain my knees were a little puffy, and I certainly wasn't going to drag myself out to go for that 20 minute run. I decided 5 hours of dancing more than equaled 20 minutes at an easy pace.

Oh Sarah, it just hit me, and I'm sorry, but it has to be said: Speedy Smurf. You can kick me later...

Hamish and I slept in again on Monday and cooked up apple pancakes, which we smothered in maple syrup and lemon curd, for breakfast. At 3.00 I rugged up warm and headed off to the Terrace for a special preview of the new Les Mills Body Vive routine. About six of the instructors from around the country took us through our paces as we struggled to control our vive balls and played with our Vive bands. Lots of fun, but not really something that will fit into my training programme. However, given that it's aimed at older women and people in rehab, I'm not really the target market. Especially since the physio finally gave me a clean bill of health today. Woohoot!

From the Terrace it was off to Xtreme, for a 35 minute run around the Bays with the squad with four 15 second sprints thrown in. My legs were, it has to be said, absolutely shot. I felt in pain, I felt slow, but I still managed to run five and a half minute kilometres and amped up the pace on the return leg.

I figured that it wouldn't make sense to try to do a lower body workout this week, and that it would also be a good idea to sleep in rather than try to fit in upper body weights before work. I did, however, manage to fit in V's Body Balance class at lunch time. I knew when I knelt down before the start of class that I was in trouble. My quads were screaming at me. It didn't help that V chose a very intense standing strength track. I knew the standing lunges were coming, and I felt every second of the poses as if they were minutes. I even caused V some amusement with my facial expression during the hip openers. Nice to know someone was enjoying themselves...

Given all of that, I fully expected my 40 minute homework run tonight to be pure hell. I had enough sense to know that following it up with RPM would not be smart, so I met up with Sarah at the Terrace instead. Neither of us was feeling particularly inspired when it came to selecting a route, although it seemed wise to try to avoid the gales. Sarah suggested the Kelburn loop, and I wasn't quick enough to come up with an alternative.

Full credit to the speedy smurf, she set a cracking pace up Bowen, then all the way up Glenmore to Kelburn. She got ahead of me, but not as far ahead as she could have done. I pushed myself a lot harder than I otherwise would have done, and certainly harder than an 'easy' pace! However Kelburn seemed to arrive a lot more quickly than it has in the past, and the hill seemed nowhere near as steep. Sarah met me at the Viaduct, and from there it was all downhill, onto Salamanca, and down to the end of the Terrace before turning back to the gym. All up, just a fraction over 40 minutes.

The wind very helpfully pushed us up Bowen, then back down Salamanca again. I enjoyed every footfall on the downhill leg. I wanted to protect my knees, but I was still able to set a fairly rocketing pace whilst keeping an eye on my technique. I have no idea how this turned into such a strong run, but I suspect it was partly due to having Sarah bobbing along just ahead of me on the uphill, and languishing behind me on the down. I also suspect it had something to do with the Cyclops yoghurt I at at 4.00. Two of my best runs now have been fueled on Cyclops. Perhaps it's a miracle training tool, and I'm just now discovering it. Whatever the reason, I'm not going to jinx myself.

I'm going to get up and do an upper body workout tomorrow morning ahead of Jog Squad again tomorrow night. It could all come crashing down on me tomorrow, and tomorrow night's run might be hell.

Now, where's that yoghurt?

Down the Rabbit Hole

Quantum Physics

I am standing facing the sun.

Behind me you are

spinning on one foot,

standing on your head,

doing one-handed cartwheels,

declaring your love whilst

singing the National Anthem

in Maori.

I turn and you are standing

smiling, one arm extended,

beckoning me to join you.

Behind us birds are singing

the Hallelujah Chorus

as they hover over

blossoming lotus flowers.

White Tara gazes benevolently

and Jesus rises again.

We turn and a cicada

flees in self-defense,

migrating from warm concrete

to the safety of a nearby Puka tree.

Why, when all the dots became

waves and you saw and chose

did that choice become me

when you have always had such

a thing for Helen Hunt?

Perhaps if I were a quantum physicist

I would be waking up each morning

in the Bahamas, and drinking orange juice

over breakfast with Brad Pitt.

Image courtesy of Electric Sheep.

Inspiration courtesy of What the Bleep: Down the Rabbit Hole

Saturday, June 02, 2007

I will admit to possibly being a little stiff...

This has been a week of workouts that should have been horrific and yet somehow weren't. Each has left me ever more aware of how much fitter I am than the last time I trained for a half marathon. Each has left me a little more confident of running a good event in a few weeks.

On Wednesday I did, indeed, get up and do my upper body/core workout. I still find it challenging, although the Star Gazes are easier than they were and I think I could probably lift my weights a little. I still hate the pull-ups. It's too reminiscent of the kinds of exercises we were supposed to do in school phys ed!

The Squad ran to the Westpac Stadium concourse on Wednesday night, then ran intervals in a circle under spotlight. It felt pretty nasty at the time, but Duck seemed to think I looked good. I don't think I pulled out all the stops. I definitely could have gone faster.

All the same, half an hour of interval training on concrete meant that my quads were feeling it a little on Thursday morning, and they were definitely feeling it by the time Duck finished putting me through a series of lunges and squats, together with core work on the swiss ball and single-legged push ups. She tried to get me doing single legged push ups with my feet on the ball, but it was a bit beyond me at the time!

The Northerly was blowing, and work ruled out the possibility of running at lunch time. I came out of a two hour meeting at 12.30 ravenously hungry, and elected to eat rather than do my Jog Squad homework. That meant leaving work slightly early and setting out for forty minutes at a running pace. The aim was to pick a route that would spare me the worst of the gales, so it was up Molesworth, down Tinakori, along Thorndon Quay and onto Old Hutt Rd. I wasn't expecting much, given my legs had been fairly intensely worked over the last 48 hours, but to my surprise I started off at speed and managed to hold it the whole way. Running a hill early in the piece does seem to encourage my glutes to engage, and once they fire the intensity picks up without any sense of extra effort.

I ran down Old Hutt Rd, with industrial buildings on one side of me and traffic on the other, wearing my sexy Adidas running jacket and floating in a happy little bubble. By the time I was 30 minutes in I was entertaining vain thoughts about how much like a runner I looked, and the enthusiastic greeting and big smile given to me by a very athletic looking male running past me only helped stoke the ego. Later MapMyRun put my pace at around 5 and a half minutes per kilometre, which is good for me, and right on target.

Friday was a reluctant rest day. I was feeling unexplicably loose and refreshed, but meetings from 10.30am through till 4.30 meant no Body Balance, and I wasn't booked into RPM. Two rest days in one week somehow did not seem right.

I didn't quite stick to my no-alcohol Friday mantra, managing to get through 2 or 3 glasses of red wine on Friday night. I had been craving a good curry all day, so it wasn't hard to talk Hamish into ordering Indian for dinner. All the same, I thought it best to avoid anything too full of chilli, so took the very mild Palek Paneer option. Somehow the whole portion, together with rice and a garlic naan, disappeared off my plate when I wasn't looking and ended up in my stomach. I'm not quite sure what happened, but I didn't feel at all full and even ate an apple afterwards.

The Indian left me well carbo-loaded for this morning, and a heap of water left me reasonably well hydrated. This morning some of the Jog Squad girls were meeting one of the gym instructors for a two hour running workshop at the Newtown Park track. I love the track. While we were there a couple of very fit and athletic young girls (gazelles) were doing drills next to us. I had wistful thoughts about how much easier this whole running thing would be now if someone had just taken me under their wing and helped me to be active at a younger age.

Our little group of not-so-athletic women amused ourselves doing knee raises, butt-kicks and other drills using low hurdles and a speed ladder, culminating in a series of shuttle runs up and down the track. I got no real feedback other than that I needed to relax my arms and tuck them into my sides more, which explains the pain I've been getting in the right side of my back below my shoulderblade. It was a fun and instructive way to spend a couple of hours, and it was good to be able to observe some 'real' runners doing their own thing.

I now had a big decision to make. Did I want to do my 90 minute run, or did I want to wait until tomorrow? It had always been the plan to run tomorrow, but Hamish and I are going to Sandwiches tonight for a bit of a dance, and I figured I wouldn't want to do a 90 minute run after a big night out. I decided that I was feeling good enough to be able to knock off an hour and a half, so went back to my car to down a little fruit and take on some more water, before turning up Adelaide Rd and heading in the direction of Island Bay.

I deliberately chose a very easy pace, heading out at around 6 minutes per kilometre. A couple of climbs led to a very long, barely perceivable downhill to the water. The weather was sunny, the route sheltered from the wind, and I thoroughly enjoyed running towards the coast, particularly through the Island Bay shops, which boast a number of quality establishments worth a return visit.

The kilometre or so from Island Bay to Owhiro Bay were a sheer joy, with a gorgeous view out to the Strait. I was feeling extremely good, and had been running for a touch over half an hour by the time I turned right and started climbing towards Brooklyn.

A couple of weeks before the Wairarapa Country Half last December the Jog Squad ran 20k.m, including this very same climb. At the time I was running on a knee I REALLY shouldn't have been running on. I had been out dancing the night before (hence my reluctance to do the same again tomorrow), and I was in a lot of pain and mental discomfort. I fought a battle to keep running even whilst still on the flat. It was a real struggle, one that I lost on three occasions, to keep running all the way to Brooklyn.

Today I ran that 5km rise very slowly, but I felt great the whole way. In fact I could have run it faster. I'm not saying it was pleasant, because it obviously wasn't, no climb is. But the difference from October last year was marked. This was another indicator of how much fitter I am.

As the hour turned over I felt a little nausea tapping at my shoulder, but refused to acknowledge it. I was running down Brooklyn Hill, I was turning down Webb Street, I was on the home stretch. Why on earth would I possibly want to start feeling sick?

I had been planning to run across town to Cambridge Terrace and back to Newtown via the Basin, but when I came out of Webb onto Taranaki I realised I was South of the bypass, and would have to turn back towards the city if I wanted to head towards the Basin. So instead I continued up Taranaki Street and over the rolling hills of Wallace. I think my body hated me at that point, and the ascents were horridly slow, but I got through them without walking. I resented having to stop at the lights on John Street to get into Riddiford, which wasted a few minutes, but then it was off again, past the hospital, dodging people coming out of the Newtown shops, and then finally up another incline and back to my car. I walked around for a few minutes getting my breath back, stretched, then rugged up and went off to do the grocery shopping. Groceries away I ate a Mrs Macs Beef, Cheese and Bacon pie (what else), and then finally I felt ready to get in the shower and freshen up.

So I did it. Horrifically slowly at 1 hour 37 minutes. However if I can run for that length of time with a third of the route involving hill climbs, given a flat course I should be able to run faster, and I'm confident I have enough juice in my to keep going for 2 hours. Right now I'm a little stiff, which is probably the effect of doing a long run on top of a heap of running drills. But, I'm sorry, how fit am I????? I'm chuffed with what I managed to do today.

Tomorrow there's a 20 minute run on the cards, and I might try to combine it with Balance, because this week's been remarkably short of yoga. Then I'm doing a 3.00 Body Vive class at the Terrace on Monday, and meeting the squad for interval training at 5 at Xtreme.

Once more now for vanity... how fit AM I?!?!