Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Writer's Island: Haunted

Halloween isn’t really celebrated in New Zealand. Over the last few years there has been a bit of a marketing push to introduce the concept, but it still hasn’t really taken. We’ve never had anyone come knocking on our door. So this week’s prompt didn’t lead me in any seasonal direction. Instead I started thinking about being haunted by things, emotions or events. This is the result.

The Haunting
They say I am haunted,
and these arms that flail
are possessed. My
tongue is gripped with
a grasp that leaves it able
only to roll exhaustedly
in the roof of my mouth.
At night I lie and dream
of healing hands and of
exorcism in the form of
holy embrace and rose water
sweet with sugar.
If there is a devil in me
it did not spring from my
own soul nor from the
misdeeds of my prior
lifetimes. This poltergeist
that chews at me like a
parasite is the lingering
shadow of a dark angel
who was sent to wrap his
hands around my neck at
the moment of my birth and
who nurtured himself on the
laboured reflex of an
infant’s first breath.

You can read more poems on the topic of haunting here.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Speed freak!

I think I just got addicted to speed.

My workout for today was down as a hard speed/interval session on a treadmill. I was dreading it, but I was still feeling good after yesterday's 80 minutes of hills, and as the day went on I started to get excited.

I skipped out of the office ten minutes early to ensure my spot on the dreaded machine. The plan was to walk for two minutes, then run for a minute at a very slow pace, slowly upping the pace by a minute each kilometre until I was maxing out. Then it was back to the low running speed, rinse and repeat (three times through all up). Duck had me starting on 8kmph, which felt like I was walking. 9km didn't feel much faster. 10km was feeling ok. 11km was starting to feel a little bit more like it. 12km felt faster than usual. 13km felt fast, 14km felt very fast. However it could have been worse. My heartrate got up, but I felt strong and never like I was going to fall on my face.

The second time through was definitely easier. The third time through I commanded myself out loud to 'go' as I hit the 14km switch. My heartrate maxed out at just over 170 the first time through, 176 the second and 180 the third. So obviously I was working pretty hard. However I still think I could have gone faster. I was grinning madly and euphoric at the end and my hair was going in all directions. I was a sweaty mess.

I walked for two minutes and my heartrate came back down reassuringly quickly. 21 minutes of running, and I felt like I hadn't yet done enough. I flirted with doing leg weights or hanging around for 6.30 Balance, but in the end I called Hamish and jumped on a bus home.

So I love interval training. I need speed. I had forgotten how effective this kind of training can be. So much of my training lately has been about long and slow. Short and hard appealed to my Mad Dog tendencies tonight.

Congratulations to Kate for her personal best marathon in Auckland, (read her grumpy multi-entry marathon report and grin) and to my colleague Kate for her half. It was wonderful to see a female triathlete win the women's marathon event, especially one who does not look like a traditional marathon runner. Girl got muscle!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fair weather runner

It seems my body has decided that I am a fair weather runner. I was supposed to run around Karori Sanctuary with Karen and Sarah yesterday morning, but languished at home instead with an unexplained dodgy stomach. Outside it was cold, grey, windy and intermittently wet. Bed seemed like a good place to be, so there I stayed.

This morning I woke at 7am, once again to the realisation that it was both sunny and seemingly wind-free. I left home at around 8.30 and was glad that I'd decided to tie a polyprop around my waist. Once I got up to the street I was hit by a rather icy south-easterly that was likely to make things interesting running around the coast.

I was down for 80 minutes of hills today, in preparation for the Rimutaka Incline run on November 17. I started out taking things easy down the hill to McAllister Park. Turning left I ran up Liardet Street, then headed uphill as if to take the saddle to Newtown. Instead, at the top of the hill I hung a right and ran up onto the City-to-Sea walkway, pst two little old scotty dogs. Down onto the grass, down a gravel trail, around the edge of the playing field, and it was onto Britomart Street and down towards Island Bay..

All that downhill gave me a bit of a stitch, but it died away once I got to the Parade and was running on the flat. The wind around the coast ended up not being that bad, although the surf was certainly impressive.

Before too long I was at the bottom of Happy Valley Rd and a deceptive five kilometre climb back up to Brooklyn and home. At around 50 minutes I started to have a few residual stomach issues. On the way up the valley I had to slow to spit a few times, something I'm not usually in the habit of doing. It got me through though, and I realised that I'm just going to have to learn to run through the nausea. Rather than my stomach the queasiness is based at the bottom of my ribcage and I wonder whether it's the way I'm breathing that's triggering it. It was annoying today particularly because I could have run up the hill faster but every time I pushed I had to fight back the urge to hurl.

Anyway, the climb seemed easier than last time, which seemed easier than the time before that. I'll have to start timing myself to see whether I really am making it up there more quickly. I felt fine afterwards and very proud of myself. My quads finally lost the stiffness they've been holding onto yesterday and felt good all the way around today. My calves are a little tight but I spent a good length of time stretching out my hips and glutes and they are both feeling very free. I'm not one bit tired. My stomach wasn't too keen on the chicken-bacon and hash browns Hamish cooked for breakfast afterwards, but that's probably to be expected!

Kate ran the Auckland Marathon today. I probably could have run the half and felt ok, but I didn't know that a couple of weeks ago when I would have had to make the travel arrangements. Oh well, there's always another half.

I'm dreading my run tomorrow. Duck has me down to do some insane intervals on the treadmill. I'm not quite sure that what she wants me to do is actually humanly possible. I'll update on how it goes tomorrow!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Message in a Bottle

Response to a Writer's Island prompt from a couple of weeks ago.

The Message
After 91 days and
93 nights he was forced
to admit that there was
no message in the bottle,
just the metallic buzz
of a disconnected phone
and the whispered hum
of the world going by
without him.

So he put out the
empties and filled
the dishwasher with
what was now left of
the good crystal he had
inherited from his

When he went outside
that afternoon he found
there were messages
all around him, inscribed
in the bark of the Pohutakawa
trees and broadcast from
the mouths of the old
couples holding hands
as they walked through
the Domain.

For days after his
release from self-exile
he felt as though he
had suddenly been given
the gift of sight, miraculously
woken with the ability to
speak a foreign language.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sometimes Life is Just Good

Because it just is.

Let's forget that I screamed in pain when one of our cats jumped onto my lap last night. Let's forget that my quads have been so sore all day that I shuffled around the office rather than walked. Let's acknowledge that Duck told me off this morning, just as I knew she would. Let's be grateful that she largely left my legs alone, and be thankful for a good, hard upper body and core workout and the discovery of a new exercise that works both my glutes and lower back.

Why? Because sometimes you get more than you asked for, and sometimes you get more than you ever expected.

I got offered a promotion today. I got offered a BIG promotion today. I knew that there was some reshuffling going on in our office, but I was not expecting my manager to take me out for coffee and offer me what he offered me today. I'm terrified, but I'm incredibly excited. I wanted this, but I wasn't expecting it to fall into my (sore) lap so easily. It seems that all I had to do was put my interest out there. When I got back to my desk today the coffee I'd just consumed wasn't the only reason for my shaking.

And then there was the hour-long run I had to complete this evening. Duck said that she thought I'd probably have a good run. Perhaps it was that seed planted in my mind, and perhaps it was my general joy at the good news, but against all logic (and the screaming quads), I had one of my best runs ever tonight.

I ran around the Bays to Kilbirnie, and into a strong headwind until Pt Jerningham. Once around Pt Jerningham however it was tailwind, sweet tailwind all the way to the Wind Wand. And what can I say? My legs felt fine. If ever I needed proof that I use my glutes when I run, tonight was it. Once upon a time sore quads would have meant a virtual inability to even jog at a minimum pace. Now my quads said ouch, but my glutes said 'get with the programme'.

I was a couple of minutes off pace by the time I got to the wand, but the headwind had slowed me a bit, and I think I lost some time at the peak-hour traffic lights between the gym and the waterfront. Besides, I had no one to pace myself against, and I was judging myself against a night when I had fresh legs and an absolute perfect run. That night I'd pushed myself harder than I did tonight.

Tonight just felt good. No nagging mental dialogue. No wishing I could stop. One foot in front of the other at a steady pace. One breath after another. Smiles exchanged with other runners, a deal done with the wind. Energy and a love for life and running. This was truly being alive.

From Kilbirnie it was a cinch to climb over the saddle and down into Newtown. Tonight I did not have to dodge Newtown shoppers. I barely noticed the fish and chip shop odour on Constable Street, and the fruit shop smelt good, so good.

I ran through the Basin rather than around, caught lights all the way back to Courtney Place, made myself sprint all the way back to the gym. When I got there I was red and sweaty and disheveled. On the bus home I grinned like a loon, and half way up Brooklyn Hill the pine trees in Central Park suddenly seemed like the most beautiful living things on this planet and somehow everything was connected. The bus driver overshot my stop and I walked home from the other end of my street. The mountains were pink and there was a majestic full moon hovering above them. I got home and cooked a green Thai curry. While I cooked I drank two (TWO) bottles of cider.

Yep, sometimes life is good, because it just is ...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I'll be seeing you in Palo Duro ...

Hamish and I have been using Google Earth to plan a world trip together. I'm not sure when we'll be going yet, but 2011 would be a good time if we want to miss the Rugby World Cup. Thanks to the Bad Buddha Palo Duro just got added to the list ...

A quick breakdown of this week's training. After Sunday's 70 minutes I ran a hard half hour tempo run on Monday, followed by a Balance class. On Tuesday I jumped into another Balance class at lunchtime, then after work I did a lower body session then flogged myself unintentionally in Duck's RPM when I thought we were on our last hill interval of the class. Today I got up early to whip my upper body and core back into shape. By this afternoon my quads were feeling that pinched kind of pain that says nothing less than "you've overdone it a bit in the last couple of days". Walking down stairs hurt - considerably!

The old me would have gone out tonight and completed my scheduled one hour flat run regardless. The new me is working on a theory that I'm letting my legs become progressively fatigued by working them too hard over a series of days, and it's having a cumulative effect that leads to them becoming intolerant to my workouts. Hence the nagging muscle pains and shortness. We'll see how giving them the odd chance to rest goes!

Not that I'm giving them too much of a break. I've got a Duck bashing in the morning, and I'm going to have to run my missed one hour tomorrow after work. I am, at least, being sensible enough not to do Dee's Friday RPM (just Clare's Balance class at lunchtime), but I have 80 minutes of hills to run on Saturday. Oh, and I should really do some more nestbox monitoring at the Sanctuary on Sunday.

I have had way too much energy this week though, even with the muscle soreness. I'm having to pull myself back quite hard not to do more. I'm leaning out a bit again too, in all the right places. Now, if I can just have enough sense to control the forward momentum without letting it careen out of control ...

A Poem and a Green Consciousness

Photo courtesy of Hamish - Labour Weekend Kite flying at Queen Elizabeth Park

I haven't been posting to any of the post-Poetry Thursday sites lately. I have been a bit lackadaisical when it comes to dedicating time to my writing. My current focus seems to be on environmental issues and to educating myself by reading many of the excellent greenie blogs. I've also been getting back into my training and enjoying making use of my physical, rather than my mental energy.

Two poems wrote themselves this week. One was a simple mind-blurt, a way of releasing some of that physical energy via a mental process. It was a gorgeous spring day and I was itching to be outside moving around, instead I was stuck at my desk.

The other poem was a response to a Writer's Island prompt from a week ago. Neither have had any real editing, and neither are that good, but at least I'm creating again. I will have to wait tomorrow to post my 'message in a bottle' poem, because it appears I forgot to email it to myself after I wrote it (as usual, I was composing poetry at my desk).

So for today, the mind-blurt:


When you’re dancing

on the tips of your toes.

When you’re singing

the same bar over

and over and over

again because it’s the

same tune that’s been

stuck in your head for

days. When you have to

shout because it’s all too

much and it’s pouring out

of you and if you try to

hold it in you will burst.

That’s when we want to

touch you, to feel that

energy fizzing from you,

to borrow some of that

love of everything and

anything and to feel

young by proxy because

you have never worked

out what it might mean

to grow old.

And still on a green note, I was depressed today by the National Party's apparent promoting of a New Zealand "Think Tank's" recommendation that the country be a follower, rather than a leader in meeting its Kyoto commitments. At a time where all relevant experts are saying that carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than predicted, at a time where the ice is melting at phenomenal levels, at a time of wild weather and climactic records, when the consensus seems to be that we are already at a tipping point, to argue that business sustainability will be threatened if we act quickly seems irresponsible to say the least. Sticking one's head in the sand is self-defeating when the sand is thermal-heated and scalding.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Running in and like the wind

It’s been a busy week and I’ve had little motivation to blog, but I thought I should check in with a quick breakdown of the week’s training. This was to be the week of trying to get back into a routine, of testing out my fitness levels, of discipline. Overall I was successful in achieving my aims.

On Monday I managed to get up early and head to the gym before work for a lower-body weights session. It was good to be back. My only concession to the break was to reduce the number of frog-jumps. Even so, it all felt reasonably light. Perhaps I didn’t push myself enough.

On Monday night Sarah and I arranged to walk to the gym together. I’d planned 40 minutes of rolling hills. Sarah was going to run with the Squad. I bumped into Ingrid in the changing rooms and she invited me to run with them. Feeling a little guilty I took up the offer. It was great to catch up with everyone again. I realised how much I miss the social factor of being a Squad junkie.

I wasn’t planning on going hard, as I was still supposed to be taking it easy. However I found myself in the front pack as we ran along the waterfront towards Bowen Street. I backed off a little bit as we ran up the hill, not knowing how hard to push myself. At the top we were supposed to turn left and run uphill for another six minutes. Duck turned to me and sent me off down Tinakori instead. A part of me was disappointed, but I wasn’t going to argue with her and loped off down the hill on my own.

My legs could feel the leg press that I’d done earlier that day. There was a certain heaviness in my stride that spoke of recently fatigued muscles. To add to that my feet felt really slappy, hitting the ground with a thump each stride. I felt as though my glutes weren’t firing enough to keep my feet light. I was a little frustrated! All the same I was surprised by my pace, particularly along Thorndon Quay. I think I was afraid of being caught up by the front of the pack, and that was enough to motivate me to keep going (sure enough, that night I dreamed I was running a cross-country half marathon and trying to keep ahead of someone who was running behind me). I made it to Frank Kitts bang on 40 minutes, then had to wait another five minutes or so for the speedies to catch up.

On Tuesday I headed off for Mike’s Balance class. It turns out that the class is now one of Les Mill’s new ‘Express’ classes. This means it has been shortened to 45 minutes. No hip track, no twist track. In other words – a shorter class means that some components are dropped all together, rather than all components being shortened. None of the large contingent of regulars were impressed. Those who can’t afford a whole hour usually just leave before the meditation tracks, so an Express Balance is a little redundant. Mike wasn’t terribly happy either. Next week he’s going to try using shorter tracks and dropping one meditation track. We all put notes in the suggestion box asking for the class to be returned to one hour.

After work it was a case of “where should I run to avoid the wind”? Gale force Northerlies were rocking the city, and I felt insane as I headed out for my half-hour session. My legs were suffering a little DOMS from the weights session, but oddly my feet weren’t as heavy. I slogged it through a headwind up Molesworth, doing the usual Tinakori Rd, Thorndon Quay loop, with a little extra waterfront running thrown in to make up the half hour. Again my speed wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, though I still felt slow.

Any hopes of getting up Wednesday morning to do upper body/core weights were blown away, literally, by the same gale-force wind. It kept me awake all night waiting for the roof to blow off or the window to blow in. Hamish couldn’t sleep either, and we were both pretty groggy. I was also still feeling it a bit from Monday and Tuesday. I get really frustrated by how long it takes my muscles to recover. I don’t want to drop the number of runs I do, but I find it hard to recover enough if I run too many days in succession.

Thankfully the wind dropped as the day went on, so I decided to run for 40 minutes from the Terrace gym out past Oriental Bay and back. I kept up a medium to fast pace for the first twenty minutes, dropping back slightly on the return. This run actually felt a lot better than it should have done. I stopped briefly near Freyberg to check that a cyclist who had been knocked off his bike wasn’t someone I knew, then kept going. He had lots of people helping him and didn’t seem too badly injured. Back at the gym I briefly considered joining in the Balance class that was about to start, but decided to head home instead. I ended up standing at the bus stop in the wind and cold (with dust from nearby construction blowing into my eyes) for over half an hour. Needless to say I was not impressed, and was only cheered by Hamish playing the nearest episode of Heroes for me when I got home. That’s the karma I earned for not doing Balance!

So should I have hoped for an early session on Thursday? Nope! Duck had me in the studio again jumping and hopping over a row of power bags, lifting the powerbags over my shoulder and squatting (“you can lift heavy for a little thing” she says, as I struggle with an unwieldy 20kg bag), and doing pressups and shoulder raises. From there we moved to drills with a rope ladder spread on the ground – lots of knee raises and stepping in and out of the rungs of the ladder. I love those sorts of workouts, even if that particular session left me with sore shoulders of doom the next day.

All of which was going to make Balance interesting on Friday. First though I had to get through RPM. My legs were NOT impressed, and I wasn’t really having as much fun as usual. However I did it, although that will be the last Friday RPM I will do for a while. It’s too hard to blast my legs all week then expect them to co-operate with me when I ask them to do a long run on a Saturday morning. Oh, and Balance – hard. Thanks Clare for picking an intense release with lots of standing lunges and stuff that made my shoulders hurt.

I ended up putting my Saturday run back a day, partly to give my legs a chance to recover, and partly because I needed to go into the Sanctuary to check on my nestboxes. So it wasn’t really a rest day – several hours of hauling myself up and down bush-clad slopes.

Which led to today. Sunday – the middle of a long weekend. I snapped awake at 7am, and my first thought was “hey, it’s sunny”. Ten minutes later – “hey, it’s silent – there’s no wind”. Five minutes later – “hang on, I need to do a 70 minute run today”. One minute later “hey, I’d better leave now, before it gets windy again”. Half an hour later I was out the door.

My goal for today was to enjoy my run. I told myself I wasn’t allowed to worry about speed. I just had to get out there and keep putting one foot in front of the other for 70 minutes, on the flat. Thankfully Wellington put on some weather that was extremely conducive to enjoying myself. Yes, there was a bit of a headwind, but it was needed on the way back to keep me cool. I felt good right from the start. There were plenty of runners out, and everyone was in a good mood. I got nodded at and greeted more than ever before.

I told myself I wasn’t allowed to look at my watch until after Greta Point and I relaxed into things. As I reached Oriental Bay I spotted a younger female runner ahead of me. She was decked out with a fuel belt and iPod, and I wondered how far she was going. I overtook her fairly easily, but that wasn’t the end of the story. As I got to Maidevale Rd something suddenly started beeping loudly, a bit like a truck reversing. I kept going and realised that the sound was following me. Turning around I saw the woman I had earlier overtaken. Yes, that beeping was her heartrate monitor sounding off at her. With her iPod blaring in her ears I realised she probably couldn’t hear it. I wondered if she was maxing out trying to pace herself off me.

I kept running and she kept beeping. I looked over my shoulder at her a couple of times, but she kept on grimly keeping on and didn’t get the hint. Now, am I being unreasonable in being annoyed by having to run to the accompaniment of a continually beeping monitor? Once I had decided the noise was annoying of course it started to obsess me. In the end I stopped and let her get ahead of me until I could no longer hear her. Relieved, I kept going, running past the new sea cadet buildings before turning around.

On the way back and around the 39 minute mark I suddenly felt like Superwoman. My muscles woke up and I found myself powering back towards the gym. I briefly considered running up Maidevale, but decided to stick to the plan and run on the flat. I stopped at Balaena for water, although I decided in the end that I hadn’t really needed to. At Oriental Bay swimmers in wetsuits were doing circuits of the fountain. I asked one guy walking past holding a wetsuit how the water was and he replied that it was warming up. I considered going home for my wetsuit. I kept running all the way back to the gym, for a negative split. Nice!

A good long stretch at the gym, a quick trip to the Farmer’s Market, and a cooked breakfast to get Hamish out of bed. I knew I’d had a good run because I was feeling charged rather than exhausted. My legs felt fine, my hip felt fine. I opened the bedroom curtains and told Hamish that unless he could find a beach with WiFi there was no way he was working today.

So we spent the afternoon on the beach at Queen Elizabeth Park. And now I have a face the colour of a radish. Oops. First sunburn of the season.

I have a half hour tempo run on the cards for tomorrow and it’s going to be a blast. Today’s run’s made me feel confident again. It will be hard not to get carried away this week. I need to keep myself reined in for a little longer!

11 Years Ago This Weekend

11 years ago this weekend (more or less) Hamish and I became a couple.

We celebrated by driving out to Queen Elizabeth Park where we lay around on the beach all afternoon eating strawberries and grapes and talking. Somehow the idea of getting a dog entered the conversation. Does that mean we're finally growing up?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Weekend of Good Things

I wish I could sleep in on a Sunday morning. It's not a skill I've ever learned. This morning I woke up at 7.30am, registered that it was lovely and sunny outside and managed to rein myself in long enough to listen to the 8am news. After finding out that Kerry Prendergast has been voted back in as mayor (so now I can hassle Hamish that it's his fault for the next three years, as he forgot to send in his papers), I got dressed and headed off to the farmer's market in Willis/Victoria Street.

This is only the second time I've been to this market, and it's not what I would technically call a farmer's market. The Californian grapes and nectarines could hardly be described as local. Somehow I also doubt that the av0cados were grown within 150 miles of Wellington. However most of the produce looked fresh, and it was certainly much cheaper than buying from a supermarket. There was a good range of Chinese vegetables and herbs, although this was very much a fruit and vegetable market, without any other forms of produce. It was very social though, and I struck up some interesting conversations between the crates of cauliflower and apples. I was able to point one lovely man in the direction of the tree tomatoes (tamarillos), and theorised on the philosophy of queuing with another lovely woman who was marveling at the size of a nearby cauliflower.

I sized up the various offerings of asparagus before selecting from a crate of lovely, slender stalks. I treated myself to some of the tamarillos and some Packham pears (I'm pretty certain the pears weren't local, although I'm not so sure about the tamarillos). I couldn't pass up another punnet of strawberries either. I filled up with red capsicum (half the price of supermarkets), courgettes and a firm, shiny aubergine (is it the right season?). I added some mandarins and oranges, and I was done. I strolled back towards Brooklyn Hill, watching in amusement as cars vied to park as close as possible to the market, no doubt all competing to be as eco-friendly as possible.

I arrived home just as Hamish was mashing up a couple of old bananas that had been languishing in the fruit bowl. He whipped up a batch of some of the lightest, fluffiest banana pancakes ever. While he was doing his thing with the pancake pan I chopped up the strawberries and covered them with some organic yoghurt, then drizzled the bowl with a little honey. We ate the pancakes with the last of our Canadian maple syrup, the last of the lemon curd and the strawberries. Delicious! It was too windy to eat them on the veranda, but it was sunny in the lounge and pleasantly warm.

At 1.00 we wandered up the road to an open home. Our friend Rose lives in one of two semi-detached townhouses a few minutes' walk from us. They are quite well built, with a large balcony off the living area, three good bedrooms, a huge main bathroom and nice ensuite (with under-floor heating). They're warm and low maintenance, private, West-facing for good afternoon sun, and they have internal access garaging. If we were sensible we'd be living next door to Rose instead of in our lovely old villa that needs things doing to it and that we don't have time to maintain. But hey, I've talked before about how much I love this house of ours.
We did spend a lovely hour or so sitting out on Rose's balcony however, drinking tea and discussing the relative merits of each townhouse. If I were in the market I wouldn't hesitate to put an offer in, but I'm kind of settled where I am.

Back at home I spent a couple of hours claiming the garden back from the weeds and listening to the Americana show on the Tivoli. The soil doesn't seem too worse for wear given that it hasn't had any attention since last summer. A pleasing amount of natives have self-seeded in that time. The flax and Punga are taking up an increasing amount of space, and the Hebe is getting taller and taller. Amazingly, the Rhododendron in the middle of it all is flourishing. I'm concerned that it will get over-run, particularly as I plan to plant more natives around it. I may need to transplant it before it grows too much more.

My whole approach to this garden has changed. When I first moved here I wanted to turn it into the classic English country garden. Now I love all the natives and the bird and insect life they attract. Right now the Tuis are loving the Kowhai tree and a fantail is flitting around the courtyard. There's a lot of bush in our neighbourhood, and I like to think it provides a green corridor for birds from the Sanctuary passing through to the Mt Cook/Mt Victoria town belts. Certainly the Kaka seem to have adopted this area as their own.

Next weekend I'll finish off weeding the middle garden and tidy up the edging. After that I'll move up and tidy the top of the garden, then drop back down and have another go at the courtyard. After that I'll head off to a garden store to ask about composting and to get some tips about extending the garden. Most of the lawn up there has been over-run by onion weed, so that will have to be dealt to first.

The top of the garden can be maintained but the larger part of the work is in the bottom of the garden. The blackberry is growing up around the cabbage tree again. Last summer's cuttings are still heaped up in the box garden and need to be put through a mulcher and disposed of. I need to fill the box garden with some decent soil, and then I can finally turn it into the vegetable garden I've been hanging out for. It sounds straight-forward, but it's hugely labour intensive, as it takes so long to get the garden waste up to the road, and the soil down to the garden. As I've said before, it's 46 steps down to the house, and the bottom of the garden is a long way further down from that!

A little housework and a bit more lounging around in the sun, some time in the kitchen cooking up a pot of Minestrone, and the day was nearly over. I've been left feeling energised and keen to get back to the gym in the morning ahead of a busy week at work. A little exercise, a little socialising, a little time in the sun and some good food. All of this makes me feel like the world is revolving around me and I'm keeping perfect pace.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Illicit workouts...

If there’s anything better than the first punnet of strawberries in springtime then I don’t know what it is. Technically I should have waited until Labour Weekend, but they were sitting there calling to me. So red, so fat, so juicy. Regretfully, the strawberries exist no more. They disappeared into my stomach devastatingly quickly. Mmmm…

I’ve had a good week this week. I started off obeying Duck and keeping things light. There was the short half hour on Monday, which I planned to follow up with a rolling hill run on Tuesday. Here’s where I find out whether my trainer reads my blog or not…

I bumped into Duck and Ingrid on my way to Balance and stopped to say hello. Duck then told me that I wasn’t to do anything else that day. For once I had no intention of doing what I was told. Sarah and I had already arranged to meet up after work for a half hour run. It was a nice day and I was itching to get back out there.

So, at 5.15 I was standing around nervously outside the gym hoping I wasn’t about to get sprung. Sarah came bounding down to meet me and we agreed to run up to the Botanical Gardens. We ended up flying up Bowen, with me keeping pace most of the way. By the time I got to the top I could feel every little bit of congestion left in my lungs, which were rattling again. Oops.

I caught my breath at the lights, then it was up and around the duck pond, over to the rose gardens, up the Serpentine Path (where I got chased by a strange white cat), back over to the rose gardens, then down through the cemetery and along the motorway to Aurora Terrace, down the Terrace to Bowen, then back to the gym. Thirty minutes all up, with a fair percentage of hill work. I was coughing and spluttering for the rest of the night…

Wednesday did, however, end up being an unintentional rest day. It was absolutely bucketing down when I was considering running at lunchtime, and then some friends from Auckland arranged to meet Hamish and I after work on their way through to the airport. I figured the rest probably wouldn’t hurt.

On Thursday I was expecting Duck to take things lightly. All the bikes were taken so I ran 2km on the treadmill to warm up instead. Then it was up to the studio where I was made to crab step lengths of the studio, followed by lengths of knee raises, then bounding knee raises, then crab steps with a squat in the middle of each step. Then it was some knee raises on the box step and some upper body and core work with the power bags. Oh, and Duck had me stooped over pushing a power bag up and down the studio floor. Brilliant, mad fun that nearly killed me. I was drenched with sweat by the end of it all and spent the rest of the day in a happy post-exercise fog.

I followed that with RPM on Friday morning. I couldn’t do Balance because our team was in an all-day workshop at a near-by conference centre. Instead I drank four glasses of wine and ate way too many savouries. Oops, again. All of which meant that I was sure my scheduled one hour run was going to be painful today. I made it to the Terrace gym just before 9. It was horrifically windy again, so I decided to stay inland. Unfortunately that meant that I was going to have to negotiate a series of traffic lights. Normally that would bother me. Today I was sure I’d be grateful of the breaks.

From the gym I ran down Lambton Quay at an easy pace. At this hour of the morning there were very few people out, so I didn’t have to do too much weaving. I ran up Willis, down Manners Street to Dixon, then up Taranaki. From Taranaki I ran up the rolling hills of Wallace Street to Newtown, then back down Adelaide and Cambridge to Courtney Place. When I got back to Xtreme I turned up Taranaki again, along Webb, down Willis and back to the Terrace gym via Lambton Quay again.

So how was it? It felt slow and it felt nasty, but at least I didn’t have any stomach issues. I can certainly feel that some of my strength has been lost over the break, but things aren’t catastrophically bad. When I looked at my watch and saw I’d only been running for half an hour I have to admit to having a bad moment, but I just kept on keeping on, and I got through in the end.

From there it was straight into Balance. We did release 37, which I do like. My shoulders were still sore from Duck on Thursday, which made the warrior poses interesting. My hips were a bit tight from the running and my hamstrings felt quite short. I let myself take things easy and enjoyed myself.

So there it was, two hours of exercise on a Saturday morning. It feels soooo good to be back into things again. I feel so much happier when I work out. I’ve been feeling quite tired this afternoon, but in the best possible way. I’ll do a short run tomorrow then try for a longer run again on Monday night. Yay!

Monday, October 08, 2007

I ran...

I ran, I ran, I ran, I ran, I ran.

Only half an hour - from the Terrace gym around the waterfront to Fisherman's Table and back. I made myself take it really slowly and my lungs are still a bit congested, but it felt remarkably ok for my first time out there in, what, three weeks?

The conditions were horrid all day. More Wellington spring-time gale Northerlies and rain. I expected conditions to be bad and had to really kick myself in the butt to get back out there again. What is it about not running for a while that makes me terrified about trying again? Like I would have suddenly been reduced to total newbie territory in such a short period of time.

In the end I didn't need my wind parker, and there was a bit of a head wind on the return split, but nothing really to be scared of. Perhaps it was the novelty of being back out there again, but everything felt fresh and new. A rest really is as good as a vacation. Everything seemed sharp and beautiful. The container ship sitting out in the harbour, the haze obscuring the Rimutakas in the distance. Little signs of spring that have emerged since I last ran this way several weeks ago.

I opened up a little for the last few hundred metres, and funnily enough my perceived rate of exertion didn't really change. I think I become a lazy runner at the lower speeds. When I run faster I engage my large muscle groups more, so I don't necessarily feel like I'm working any harder. It's only my mind that keeps me running slowly. Something to work on. I want to get a bit more technical about my training. I've written before about heart rate training. I've been thinking about doing the Tuesday night Loaded Hog runs as well, so that I can learn to pace myself over 5km, then continue trying to improve. If I'm not going to be running with the Squad then I need to ensure that I'm continuing to train at my best possible speed and that I don't allow myself to slacken off.

Anyway, enough. A quick word of commiseration to those runners who weren't able to finish the Chicago Marathon on Sunday. The conditions sounded extreme, and although I'm not sure the organisers handled things as best they could, given the number of people dropping like flies I think the decision to call the event off sounds like the right one. I hope you can all find other events to train for, and that this doesn't put anyone off running in the future.

And, oh yeah, I RAN!!!!!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Grand Return

I felt recovered enough yesterday to try a Balance class. Or rather, I NEEDED to try a Balance class. I took along some tissues, but in the end needed only needed to use them once. At the start of the class I thought it might be a break-through type of day, but instead it was just a fairly ordinary kind of hour.

I probably shouldn’t have expected anything otherwise. My chest was still full, my sinuses still a bit clogged. I was feeling lumpy and couch potatoed, and I knew exactly where every gram of the weight I’ve put on was sitting. However I made it through class. I took it easy, didn’t push any of the moves too hard, got through to the end. It wasn’t much, but it was enough, and I took it for what it was worth.

This morning was a different story. I snapped awake at 7.00 and knew instantly that I wasn’t getting back to sleep. I was still feeling too couch potatoed to contemplate running, and I was theoretically still supposed to be taking it easy. So I booked into an RPM class instead. Go figure.

Ironically, I continued to feel good until I got to the gym, when I met up with the Jog Squad as they were waiting to leave on their first Saturday run. At that point my chest clogged up again and my nose started running. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling so recovered after all! I don’t think Sarah was too impressed with my RPM plans, but I still thought that RPM would be easier on me than a run.

I was a bit too early for class, so I decided to warm up with a fast walk on the treadmill. That was ok for the first four minutes, then a stonking house track came over the speakers. I ended up running – not fast, and not for long – but I was running. Oh, and it felt GOOD. My heartrate was a little higher than I would have liked, but I felt a lot better than the rather rapid beat might otherwise have suggested.

After around 10 minutes the 8.30 RPM class finished, and I thought it would be a good idea to get off the treadmill before someone caught me running. I reminded myself I was supposed to be taking things easy and resolved to keep the dial light on the bike. My resolution to take things easy lasted for around half the class. My lungs just couldn’t keep up with my legs. I was left coughing at the end of each track, attracting weird looks from Stefan. To add to that, my thermostat seemed to be a bit bung, and I found myself overheating.

I soldiered on until track five, which was one of the latest release tracks, Painkiller. Since neither Duck nor Dee are particularly big on the latest release I hadn’t heard it before. I loved it! I actually put some dial on, and my lungs let my legs share the pain for a while. Track 6, the sprint track, was an oldie but a goodie, and suddenly I could feel my body remembering what this whole exercise thing was about. I started to be able to squeeze out a smile through the pain. I actually started to enjoy myself. Track 7 was almost joyful. I could feel that my fitness levels haven’t suffered too much during my enforced vacation. I realised that it won’t take much to get back up there. Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t left gasping like a goldfish on the carpet at the end of it all, just a comment that things might not be as bad as I’d feared.

The interesting thing with the weight that I’ve gained is that a little of it has gone on my hips, but most of it has gone on my bust. I have my chest back! I guess that’s not all bad, but I’m keen to deflate the balloons again and get back to fighting weight. I have to remember that I can’t go too hard this week, otherwise I’ll wear myself out. However I’m going to try a run on Monday, and we’ll play it by ear after that.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

And then the Universe Spoke

I'm not kidding. My daily email from the Universe just popped into my inbox. Sometimes the Universe is just too insightful for words.

Talking a lot about something that bothers you, Pip, is a pretty good sign that you've got something huge, and profoundly liberating, to learn.

The Universe

That is, Pip, if you can catch yourself, turn within, and yearn for illumination

Trapped on Planet Sickness

Urgh. I keep thinking I'm going to make my bold comeback to the world of exercise, and you know it just isn't happening!

My first day back at work yesterday left me shattered. By yesterday afternoon I was gazing vacantly out the office window, with colleagues looking at me sideways while making dark mutterings about people who spread contagion. I was in bed before ten and slept heavily all night.

My aims for today were possibly a bit ambitious. I thought perhaps I could manage Balance at 11.10, then if I was feeling okay I could try for Duck's RPM class. I thought there was at least no harm in packing my gym gear and that I could play it by ear. However I was left wheezing after the walk from the house up to the road on the way to work. I've never heard my chest rattle in quite that way. Even then I still thought that RPM might not be as hard on my respiratory system as running, and that I still might be able to give it a go.

I met Duck for coffee at 9.30, and by that time I'd already decided that there would be no exercise for me today. I was just too gunged up still and any attempt to get into Downwards Dog would lead to agonising sinus pain. Duck took things a step further though and banned me from any more exercise this week. Sigh! On top of that I'm not going to rejoin Jog Squad this time around, because even if I can start back with the running next week I'll need to take it easy and will have missed too much training. She's going to write me my own programme, so that hopefully I'll still be able to run Rimutaka, although Wairarapa is a write-off now.

I was starting to feel that I needed to give Jog Squad a rest anyway. The last Squad really just wasn't meeting my needs, and if I'm going to start showing some improvement I need to start doing my own targeted training. I'll miss the social side of things, but there's the Marathon Clinic and Scottish Harriers to consider (I can hear Kate crying 'Scottish, Scottish' from here).

So I'm left hanging around getting unfit again and gaining weight. However once I get back into things I'll have a new, targeted programme to train to, and on the positive side my body's had a good chance to recover from its various aches and pains. I've been feeling vaguely stressy and uncomfortable with myself, and it finally hit me that I was suffering genuine physiological exercise withdrawals, so I'm looking forward to recovering. In the meantime, I'd settle for just being able to taste something (anything) again, and for my nose to stop releasing toxic chemicals....

I'm quite interested in getting into a heart-rate training programme though. The ability to track progress through measurable physiological changes somehow appeals.

Writer's Island: The Journey

This poem started off being about one journey, then ended up being about another. There's a rites of passage element that slipped in when I wasn't looking. I guess it's all part of the nostalgia I've been feeling lately for my early 20s, a period of my life that I've never particularly wanted to remember until now.

The Journey
The brakes that were
squeaking when they
left Picton were
grinding by the
bottom of Takaka hill,
the front right tyre
worn bare on the way
to Totaranui and
12km of potholes
in the metal road.
Three sizable young
women and their
bags in one noble
aging Mini on a
detour sideways
en route to adulthood,
pulling over for the guys
in a rusty Holden with
surfboards strapped to its
roof who knew
that the fastest way
to get somewhere was
to go hard on the
They were singing the
Ballad of Lucy
Jordan because of course
they knew that the
warm wind would always
blow through their hair
and that all of their
dreams were due to
come true in the crest
of a wave hitting
sand in the year
that they all
turned 22.

Please visit Writer's Island for more poems and other musings on a theme.