Saturday, March 31, 2007

Onwards and Upwards

I'm guessing that my continual posts about how well my training is going might be getting a bit boring for some readers. Certainly I don't think that my training posts have the audience that my poetry posts do, but I'm going to continue nonetheless. It's important for me to have a record of my progress, even if noone else is really interested in reading about it.

This week, which in all other aspects has been wonderul, has been tinged with a very real sadness. One of the gym staff, a lovely man who smiled with his whole face, a man with a kind word for everyone, a young family and another child on the way, was knocked off his bike while riding to work early on Saturday morning. The driver of the truck and trailer that hit him stopped but did not get out to check on him. Thankfully someone else was passing by and managed to get him breathing again. He was in an induced coma for several days. Apparently he is now out of the coma and is showing signs of responding to his family. However it will obviously be a long, slow route to recovery, and I'm guessing there's no guarantee of that recovery being anything like complete.

It's not like I know this person at all well. We exchange greetings as I'm coming and going from the gym. However the idea that this might happen to someone so full of life has been extremely difficult to accept. I've found myself genuinely upset, and the whole incident has been preying on my mind all week. It's not often that I feel compelled to offer someone my prayers, but I've come as close to praying as I ever do for this man.

The Women's Multis group spent a time discussing the accident on Tuesday before our training session. It was perhaps not the smartest time for Ingrid to decide to make us bike through town. Some of us are distinctly nervous about riding in heavy traffic, and I'm still not comfortable with the regular clipping and unclipping involved in cycling through the city.

However my days of wimping out seem to be over, and I simply set my jaw and rode off. Catherine and I took the lead, and we were lucky enough to hit nearly every green light going along the waterfront. We turned left at the Shell station and cycled up Bowen, past Parliament and the Terrace. Passing the Terrace meant riding in the right-hand lane, and thankfully we didn't have to stop at the intersection, as I'm still not sure I would have been able to clip in on a hill.

I was conscious of the need to regulate my cadence on the hill, but Bowen seemed much smaller than I remembered. I overtook Catherine early on, flew up the hill with barely a rise in my heartrate, and moved out into the centre lane again to turn right onto Tinakori. We did have to stop at that intersection, but I was able to push off with enough momentum to avoid falling off. From there Catherine overtook me on the downhill each time I cruised up to a red light at a slow pace, in the hope of avoiding unclipping. She also had a clear right turn onto Thorndon Quay, whereas I had to stop for a passing car. After that it was green nearly all the way back to Freyberg. I passed Catherine again shortly after turning onto the waterfront, and was first back, in just over 18 minutes. My city-riding demons seemed conquered.

A quick change of shoes and I was off again, running around Oriental Bay, up Carlton Gore to Maida Vale, down to Balaena and back to Freyberg. There was no off-the-bike weakness in my legs, and this was familiar territory. I overtook a guy on a mountain bike, stopped to let him pass to I could cross the road, overtook him again, stopped again, chatted with him as he passed, and finally left him to turn down Maida Vale. I stormed down Maida Vale then upped the pace as I rounded Pt Jerningham and Freyberg came back within view. I can't remember how quickly Ingrid said I made it back to the pool, but I know it was significantly faster than I'd managed the same route at the start of the squad.

From there it was a luxuriously slow ride back to the gym in the dark, thankful for my new bike light, where Lola was quickly thrown into the back of my car for the ride home. Brooklyn Hill is in my future, but not on the back of a hard Multis session.

I had gotten up early on Tuesday to get my lower body workout out of the way for the week, despite questioning my sanity on the back of the large session with Duck and run the day before. However it meant I was able to sleep in on Wednesday, and that I was fresh for Wednesday night's Jog Squad session. A small but keen group of runners headed up Taranaki Street to the Basin Reserve, where we ran intervals around the perimeter, practiced sprints up the grass bank, ran around the crest of the bank, then finished up with a relay that my team won. Faster, stronger? Yes! In the mood for an intense workout? Yes!

On the run back to the gym I broke out on my own, keen for a little more speed. Karen joined me soon after I turned onto Courtney. As is my custom I opened up a little and increased my pace. Karen increased and pulled slightly ahead of me. I increased my pace to match hers. She increased, I increased, she increased, I increased. By the time we reached Penny Farthings, 20 metres or so from the gym, we were both sprinting. Now, Karen is tall, with legs that go forever, so here was little Pip going flat out trying to keep up. I did it, and I was highly pleased with myself.

Thursday morning saw me rising early again for an upper body workout. I made it nearly to the end, but one set of star gazes saw me deciding enough was enough. Unusually for me I quit before finishing the entire session.

I made it through the rest of a busy day at work, then headed down to Freyberg for the last Multis session for the year. It was a warm, still night, and it was already starting to get dark. Predictably, Duck elected to have us swim and run.

Into my wetsuit, and out into Oriental Bay for what is likely to be one of my last sea swims for the season. It was a perfect night for swimming. The sea was calm and I was able to swim further than I've ever swum before. I decided not to try for the pontoon, content to leave that for next summer, and quite happily swum lengths of the beach, making it further each time. I reached that place of zen where my diaphram relaxed and my breathing clicked into place. In retrospect, had Duck been in her swimming gear, I might have been willing to try for the pontoon, things went that well.

We alternated swimming and running along the beach a few times, adding in a few pushups in the water, and practicing running in and out of the sea. Fially it was well and truly dark, and I reluctantly ceased floating around and headed for the showers. Multis was over for the summer.

Most of the girls from Multis are keen to join the next Jog Squad. From here on in the running gets serious. Duck's talking about lots more interval training, and five to six runs per week. I know I'm ready for it, but I feel a deep need to continue the cycling and swimming. Dee's been hinting I should do a Gear Shifters, so that may be a consideration once the half marathon is out of the way. Monday and Wednesday will be Jog Squad runs, as will Saturdays. I figure I should try to get in the pool on Tuesdays, do a homework run on a Thursday, and perhaps a light RPM on a Friday morning. Add in Body Balance on either Tuesday or Friday, and on Saturday morning, plus a Duck session and a couple of weights sessions, and that's me sorted for the rest of the year.

A few hours' sleep and it was Friday morning, and I was getting up to do RPM again. Unlike the first 'hard week' of training, where RPM seemed needless, stupid and unpleasant, I still felt stupidly fresh. Al got to have 'Push Push' for track 3, and I got Nirvana for track 7. Rog was absent again but the rest of us were feeling suitably vocal, and I went hard without fear of killing my legs.

In fact I felt so good that I even took time out from writing a paper for the Minister to do Body Balance at 1.00. Claire, the Body Balance instructor, was complaining that her legs were still sore from Jog Squad. She knew that I'd followed that up with Multis and RPM, and she knew that my quads were a little sore. So she really didn't need to look at me when she told the class that some of us could get lower in the Warrior poses, and she really didn't need to laugh at the expression of pain on my face during all the standing lunges.

Two glasses of wine after work on Friday night and I was toasted. It was early to bed and I don't even remember Hamish eventually joining me. My alarm went off at 7.45am, and it was up and back to the gym for a 40 minute hill run with Sarah. The gorgeous weather from the day before was replaced by a muggy grey morning and a stiff breeze. Luckily (and yet not) Sarah had an inland run planned, sheltered from the wind. For the first time this week I was not in the mood. My legs felt every one of the kilometres I'd run this week, and all I wanted was a little light cardio on a bike and a Body Balance.

However there was no rest for Pip. Sarah had absorbed my week's worth of enthusiasm, and it was straight up to the Botanical gardens via the cemetary. I knew immediately I was in trouble. The tank was empty. I'd pushed myself too hard over the last few days, and my body was unwilling to go any further.

So it was a quick slog up Glenmore Street, then we turned right and onto an almost vertical path up the side of Garden Rd. I walked the steep bit, then rallied with a slow jog up the long, winding slope towards Kelburn. I made it at least halfway before I suddenly found myself walking. From there it was a run-jog all the way to the top of the hill.

Sarah met me near the top, having jogged back down to try to find me. We crossed the viaduct then loped gently back down the hill, into the Botanical Gardens, and onto a gravel trail back down to the rose gardens. From there it was a quick hop back down through the cemetary and along a path beside the motorway, back onto Aurora Terrace and down to the gym, right on 40 minutes.

Claire was there to teach the 10am Body Balance, saw we had been running, and chose release 34, a class notable for its intense standing lunge poses. It's so good to have a merciful Balance teacher! Despite my tiredness my poses felt strong, my body felt in control. My hips were tight and my hamstrings felt short, but other than that everything else flowed, especially the tai chi.

So that was it, another hard week of training out of the way. This was the second week of hard training in a row, and the third in a month. The different between this week and the first were glaringly obvious. I had energy to burn each night from Monday through to Thursday, and was then still able to get up on Friday morning and work hard in RPM. It was only on Saturday that I started to feel like I'd worked hard enough. It's obvious to me that my body has been able to respond to being worked hard, and the payoff has been an increase in both speed and endurance.

So I'm torn now as to what to do this week. It's two weeks until the 10km. I don't want to back off for two weeks, but I don't want to burn out by trying to do yet another hard week either. On the other hand, now that Multis is over I have a little more play in my schedule. Tuesday and Thursday nights are now free. Duck starts teaching RPM at Xtreme this week on Tuesdays, so I'm planning on going along to her class. I can do one homework run on Thursday, and one on Saturday. That will leave a session with Duck on Monday morning, an upper body and a lower body weights session to fit in during the week when I'm feeling fresh, Body Balance on Saturday and on Tuesday or Friday as I can fit the classes in, and possibly a swim on a Sunday. That doesn't leave any time for any cycling, so Lola might have to wait a little while longer. I would also like to continue with my Friday morning RPMs, but I don't know how realistic that is in the long term, particularly once the long Jog Squad Saturday runs start kicking in.

There was a brief moment this week when I wondered about my sanity. Several people have asked me what I'm training for, and although obviously I'm training for the half marathon, I'm training way harder than I actually need to. I guess at the moment I'm pushing myself this hard because I can, because I'm getting results, and because I'm curious to see how far I can take things. There may come a time where I really do want to back off, but I doubt it will happen before June. I'm still playing things by ear, and that seems like a good way to continue. I'll keep this up as long as it still seems fun.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Art in your smile

The Poetry Thursday challenge this week was to write a poem about a piece of art. I chose to write about a Vincent Van Gogh painting. This particular painting has followed me around since I was an exchange student in Holland. There I was fortunate enough to live within cycling distance of the Vincent Van Gogh museum, and to be able to see many of these works in real life.

I love Van Gogh's work. I love his passion and the generosity with which he covers his canvases. I love the way that each stroke is so thick that each painting can almost be interpreted in 3D.

This painting has hung on my wall for a number of years. It was a cheap print bought from a discount store, and long ago it became too mildewed and faded to have on public display. It reminds me of many long nights spent sitting around pretending to drink coffee in little Dutch cafes, talking poetry and being obsessed in a very teenage fashion with the importance of the world around me and my place within it.

However as I wrote this poem it became something else. In my early twenties I began dating the man who is now my husband. At the time I needed a Ceroc dance partner, and poor sweet Hamish was the only guy I could think of who would come with me. Afterwards we would sit in a little cafe in Vulcan lane drinking wine and slowly falling in love. This painting reminds me of those warm, softly lit evenings.

So this poem is about my love of this painting, but it is also about the beginning of my love for Hamish.

Starry Night
We sit, you and I
at this table under a
thick gluey sky
scattered with
silver glitter stars.
They say they can
place us in time and
space, that our
liaison can be traced
on known charts of
astronomical movements.

I am more interested in
naming the exact
shade of brown in your
eyes and of measuring
the precise curve of
your cheek bone.
There is art across
the table in this
face that smiles at
me with such shy

Monday, March 26, 2007

But it's Monday...

There's nothing like preparing a space for two people who've been clearing out to get a girl motivated to do some sorting and clearing herself. As a result, my 'day off' was spent transferring piles of books onto a bookcase, moving empty boxes into storage under the house, moving linen from a corner cupboard into the empty storage space of our huge coffee table, emptying out the drawers of the desk I've sold on Trademe ready for the new owner to collect it, and getting rid of a heap of old clothing. I opened all the windows, unlocked the french doors in the study, and cleared the air, both literally and figuratively.

I really love our spare room, and when I spend time there I always think I should use it more often. It's full of things that are very dear to me. Apart from my books there's my piano, my first teddy bear, and a gorgeous art exhibition poster from my time in Holland over 16 years ago. I hope that Nic and Leonie enjoy using it as a little oasis of calm during their last few weeks in this country. We're going to enjoy having them around.

All of this buzz of activity meant that I wasn't at all in gym mode come 7am Monday morning. Duck has moved our regular Thursday morning sessions to 7am on Mondays at Xtreme for the next five weeks while she runs Look Better Naked. It took my whole 10 minute bike warm-up to click into workout mode. Once I woke up though we had a very enjoyable session. Sets of chest press alternated with pressups (holding at the bottom of each press), shoulder press, hovers, more cables, frog jumps, knee drives, lunges, squats, and horrid pull-up exercises with my body extended under a horizontal bar.

I was curious to know how well my run was going to go tonight, as I felt that my legs weren't fully recovered from last week's thrashing. However my increased fitness levels didn't let me down. The first hint of winter pinched the air as we huddled at each set of traffic lights all the way to Te Papa. Sarah and the Karens set a cracking pace along the waterfront to the service station. Sarah and I agreed the pace was faster again than last Monday's, and I wasn't sure how long I would be able to keep up.

A few more sets of traffic lights and we began to climb. First up Bowen to the Terrace, and from there up Bolton Street. We puffed our way up the steep slope all the way across the motorway. Once across the motorway we dropped left down onto the trail that runs alongside the motorway. By this time it was starting to get a little dark, so I really wanted to concentrate on not getting left behind.

We huffed and puffed our way up and down the trail all the way to the cable car, then swung left again, coming out onto the Terrace opposite the James Cook. From there it was a right-hand turn uphill to the top of the Terrace, down the other side, back up past the Mercure, and then left, right onto Willis, left onto Webb, and then it was a sprint between traffic lights all the way back to the gym. All up we were out for just under 40 minutes, even with multiple pauses at intersections. As I commented while we waited again for a crossing signal, all the new traffic bypass has meant to me so far has been more red lights.

When Ingrid described tonight's route it sounded incredibly gruelling, however it was much easier than I had expected. Sure, the hills got my heartrate up extremely high, but the horrid climbs were more than compensated for by lovely restoring descents. And the miraculous aspect? I was still running with the Speedy Karens.

I'm planning on getting up and doing a lower body workout in the morning. That will be followed up by a run and ride with Multis tomorrow night. Upper body and a run on Wednesday, and then I can sleep in on Thursday morning so as to be fresh for the last Multis session with Duck on Thursday night. RPM and Body Balance on Friday, a long run and Balance on Saturday, and that will be it for yet another hard week.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Kitchens I have known

The kitchens of my life have been places of colour, feasts for the eyes as well as the nose and mouth. I think I'm right in saying that my mother's kitchen at first had orange cupboards. I then think they may have been a dark blue. However the colour I most vividly associate with my mother's kitchen is a bright sunflower yellow. Mum has never been afraid of colour, and for many years the kitchen walls were painted a bright, glossy sunflower yellow. This was combined with some wonderful brown and white vinyl wallpaper in a large flowery pattern, and brown patterned vinyl. I don't think many people understood Mum's yellow kitchen, but to me it has always seemed inspired. It was a place of joy and creation - Mum's own happy place.

Eventually the yellow had to go. However my mother has never known how to be meek when it comes to colour. There is a wonderful photo of me standing next to Mum on the morning of my wedding, Mum in lavender mother-of-the-bride slendour, me in bridal cream and lace. The same old scuffed brown vinyl can be seen on the floor, a plate of uneaten cheese and crackers sits on the steel-surfaced kitchen bench. And the walls? A light but somehow still vibrant and in-your-face shade of blue. I can see why our photographer loved that shot so much. It was the very image of the kitschz suburban kitchen.

I moved out of home and in with Hamish in my early twenties. For the first three months we housesat for a friend in nappy-valley suburban nightmaresville. I don't remember the kitchen at all, but I do remember the first meal I cooked. Mum being the domestic goddess she still is, I had never cooked a dinner before in my entire life. I could have gone to the supermarket and bought something processed and packaged, but for some reason I felt an obligation to cook a 'real' meal to commemorate this new life together.

After agonising over my few cookbooks for hours I decided on spaghetti bolognaise, and spent hours cooking the sauce from scratch. The meal was delicious, but it's the one and only time I've ever made a bolognaise sauce. Ever since I've used bottled sauces from the supermarket!

Thankfully over time I lost my kitchen angst. I discovered that I'd absorbed a lot of my mother's culinary wisdom simply from watching her for all those years, and I also discovered that the occasional meal of sizzlers sausages, packet rice and a little tinned pineapple never killed anyone either. The only meal I've ever cooked that was inedible was a beef stirfry, and that only because I accidentally put in several times too much ginger!

After leaving our friend's house (trying not to cry as their cats watched me drive away), Hamish and I rented a small bedsit underneath an old villa in Newmarket. It was ideal - cheap and an easy walk to town. The kitchen however was fairly unsavoury. The vinyl floor was 70s faded, in dirty white and orange. The kitchen bench was covered in small khaki coloured tiles, which were rotting and falling away.

Dad to the rescue. It just so happened that he had an old kitchen bench (maroon coloured formica) hanging around underneath his house. To the consternation of the landlord's brother (who lived upstairs), we spent one afternoon ripping apart the old kitchen bench and replacing it with Dad's hand-me-down. We covered the old formica with vinyl in shades of grey and mauve. It clashed fabulously with the floor.

From that flat we purchased our first home together, our trendy little Ponsonby apartment, with its tiny two-element stovetop, chrome appliances and tame white cabinetry. It all looked good, but it was hopeless for any real cooking. We spent a lot of money on takeaways and cafe meals. All the same, I did manage to cook a wonderful Christmas dinner for Hamish's parents one year.

We lived in Ponsonby for two years before moving to Wellington and renting an old house with a huge kitchen. The floors there covered in squares of black and white vinyl, the wooden cupboards were painted a pleasant blue. I loved the space, but suffered from the lack of a dishwasher. To add to this, the kitchen came equipped with nothing more than a beer fridge. I lived for a year and a half without a freezer. I'm not sure how I coped.

So from there on to our villa in Mornington. And again I'm living in a house with a kitchen that is a riot of colour. Although the kitchen bench is varnished wood, and the cupboards an earthy green, someone saw fit to paint the walls yellow and fire-engine red. I love them, and I love cooking in this kitchen where the french doors open to a courtyard and the sun shines in on long summer afternoons.

I am, it seems, my mother's daughter. When I have the time, Sunday has become cooking day. I love big pots of soup bubbling on the stove, the Moosewood cookbook open on the bench. I love flicking through the Edmonds Cookbook, and claiming the recipes that were my Nana's once, and are now mine. There's nothing like long afternoons spent listening to Americana on the Tivoli, steam billowing up into the ceiling and the aroma of garlic and tomato spreading down the hallway.

More writers talk about their kitchens here

Saturday, March 24, 2007

More than Surviving!

So it's Saturday afternoon, and I'm officially at the end of my permitted 'hard week' of training. In the final analysis my left glute is notably achy, my left knee is a little sore (nothing major), my abs are sore, and the upper part of my quads are sore, but other than, and all things considered, I'm feeling remarkably good. I'm sure that in an hour and a half I'm going to find myself crashed out on the bed having a nana nap, but I'm ok with my nana-ness.

Starting where we left off, on Tuesday I was too busy working to make the 11.15 Balance class, but was more than ready for Multis that night. We cycled around to Hataitai Beach, ran for a distance (20 minutes from memory), swam a short distance, then jumped on our bikes and headed back to Freyberg.

The cycle out was fun, and the run also good, if a little slow. The swim, however, was heavenly. Hataitai Beach was perfectly flat, the temperature mild, and the sun was just beginning to set. I could have stayed in the water forever. My swimming skills started to come back to me, and I was a lot more satisfied with my effort.

The return cycle was much harder, against a very strong headwind. I overtook Rose and Fran, and was then in turn overtaken. It seems that I find it hard to cycle into the wind. I'm not sure why, and I wonder whether it has something to do with my lighter weight. However Rose did say that she felt like a 'blat', and my legs were feeling it a little from the run and weights the day before.

As the wind increased the world reduced down to the road a metre of so in front of me. It was difficult to hear anything other than the breeze in my ears, difficult to concentrate on anything other than staying upright. As we rounded the point it was all I could do just to keep inching forwards. To add to that it was starting to get dark, and those of us who didn't have lights on our bikes were feeling very conscious of the time.

So that was Multis. I got up on Wednesday morning and did an intense upper body session, again upping some of the repetitions. I was still feeling quite good by Wednesday night, when the Jog Squad met again. However I wasn't sure I'd be able to repeat Monday's speedy performance. I didn't need to worry.

Our task on Wednesday night was to run towards Newtown for 25 minutes, then back again. Our target was the roundabout at the end. We ran straight up Taranaki Street, then up the rolling hills of Wallace. I started out with Sarah and the speedy Karens, seriously doubting my ability to keep up the pace. However, although at times they pulled ahead slightly, I was always able to catch up.

We got to the main intersection at the start of Newtown and, faced with a long wait at the lights, Duck sent us up Adelaide Rd. So it was an uncalled for hill climb for us poor unfortunate front-of-the-packers. The short steep downhill back to the main street was a relief, and we made it to the roundabout with 7 minutes to spare. From there it was another uphill climb (after some debate), and we made it past the entrance to the sports park, turning around just after 23 minutes.

The return trip was wonderful. We bypassed Wallace in favour of the long slow downhill of the Basin and Cambridge Terrace. With home almost in sight I continued to keep up the pace, and it was only as we ran the last 100 metres on Courtney that I slowed and let the speedies get ahead. The run that was supposed to last 50 minutes was closer to 45, but it felt excellent.

I got to sleep in on Thursday morning, as Duck had moved our session to 11am. The extra hour in bed was extremely beneficial, and I didn't experience the same wave of tiredness I usually get on a Thursday afternoon. Duck ran me through some more Look Better Naked stuff, alternating pushups and hovers, cable work, more arm stuff and some excellent stretching at the end.

Given that my legs were quite fatigued, I wasn't quite sure how Thursday night would go, but again it turned out to be any better than it had any right to. Duck stayed at Freyberg while we raced eachother around to the Zephrometer. I kept a low profile on my bike, concentrated on keeping a fast but steady cadence, and sprinted. Dionne still bet me on her new road bike, but Dionne is a machine and I fully expected her to.

Spinning my legs out as I returned to Freyberg I felt perfectly satisfied with my performance on the bike. Duck sent me off on a run out to Pt Jerningham, which I suspected would be slow and painful. Painful it certainly was, but it wasn't as slow as it could have been. Unfortunately I misinterpreted her instructions and turned around at Carlton Gore, but I knew the distance was only around 2km, so I pushed myself hard and sprinted the return leg. I was helped by the sight of Rose and Anna in front of me, and so was able to push myself past them both.

Realising I'd short-changed myself, I even elected to run out to Fisherman's Table and back, again pushing the return leg. By the time I returned everyone was preparing to climb the rope climbing frame on Oriental Bay. I made it half-way up, but my inactive childhood and resultant lack of agility caught up with me!

I think we all expected to be able to call it quits at that point, but Duck had us lying on our stomachs in the sand, and on command jumping up and sprinting down the beach. We did this several times over and each time I found myself in the front few women. I found that if I could dig my toes in and push up through my arms I could rise to standing more quickly than I would ever have thought possible.

Friday morning and I had a date with Nic and Leonie for RPM. My tired body was protesting ever so slightly, and I did wonder whether there was true wisdom in continuing to push myself hard, and whether a little gentle cardio later in the day would have been better for me. However it was too late to back out. Dee had been replaced by Emma for the day, but Rog was back, and it was soon all on. After the first few tracks the adrenalin started to kick in sufficiently to get my mind around the pain.

By the time Emma put Children on for track 6 I was ready to go hard. Then Emma followed that up with track 7 from the latest release - a stonking Nirvana release. My eyes met Rog's, and the challenge was on. I do not remember killing myself as much in a track in a long time, and I would have loved to have been wearing a heart rate monitor. Any thoughts of spinning my legs out in preparation for today's run went out the window... I had speed and I had dial, and I was not afraid to use them. I did not back down.

At least I had enough sense to realise that Body Balance would have been a little excessive, and besides, the lack of any fresh gym gear and the thought of putting on a wet, sweaty sports bra did not appeal. So RPM was it as far as exercise on the last working day of the week.

Which left this morning. Sarah and I had organised to meet at 8.45 at the Terrace to run for an hour and be back in time for 10am Balance. Duck had suggested I try Ngaio Gorge, and Sarah was planning a flat run. It was such a beautiful morning though that in the end we both agreed it would be criminal not to run out around the Bays.

The upper part of my quads were aching in a way that reminded me of exactly how hard I'd run the shuttle runs on Thursday night. Either that, or I was in pain from track 7 on Friday morning. In any case, and with my knee already slightly creaky, I wasn't quite sure how well I was going to hold up. In the end I stuck it out with Sarah for 20 minutes before a slight stitch kicked in and I dropped back a bit.

I'd had four glasses of wine on Friday night, and eaten a fair bit of pizza and other junk food over the period of the day, so I thought the stitch may have in part been due to dehydration. I stopped at Balaena Bay for a quick drink, after which the stitch disappeared and did not return. I was able to pick the pace up again a little bit, although Sarah was now well ahead of me.

After 35 minutes I started to feel ok again. That's not to say that I was feeling good, just that I was able to sustain a reasonable pace, and to envisage maintaining that pace for the full hour. Apart from that, my calf muscles felt very tight, my archilles niggled a little, my knee threatened to complain, my glutes throbbed, and my quads - well my quads had given up on me and were seeking a divorce. This is the thing I've learned about what happens when your fitness levels increase. It's not that things hurt less, just that your ability to keep going anyway increases. It's the endurance that goes up.

Sarah caught up with me around the Chaffers Park mark, and we ran back more-or-less together, walking up Woodward Street and back to the gym just in time for Balance. I'm very glad I chose to follow the run with some yoga, otherwise I think I would have difficulty getting up off the sofa I'm currently sitting on.

We did my favourite release, and it was nice to be familiar with the moves and to not have to think too hard. Everything flowed reasonably well - no major breakthroughs, no backwards steps. I was extremely grateful for the last couple of tracks and for the relaxation at the end. I had finished my week of training, and I had survived.

The difference between this hard week and the last one a few weeks ago is palpable. I did not get anywhere near as tired this week, and although my body felt it, I was able push through the pain. I am fitter now than I was before the aborted half marathon last year. I am stronger and my cardio fitness is far superior. As far as the sports psychology side of things go, I'm also way ahead of anywhere I've every been before. This is who I am now, not who I am trying to be.

Last year I got to this peak point in my training and followed that up with a crash. It was a predictable trend across each Squad. So my challenge now is to recognise that and to pull back if I start feeling my body cave in. I've got the rest of today and tomorrow to rest before I meet Duck for a session early on Monday morning. I can drop out the extra weights sessions again next week if I need to, and rest if necessary. I've learned the difference between thrashing my body for the sake of it, and working my body hard to make progress. I definitely prefer the later approach!

Monday, March 19, 2007

New Shoes, Thou Name Art Gabriel

And yet ANOTHER good run. Where are they all coming from?

The second day of the end of Daylight Savings started at 6am when the alarm went off. By the time I was getting dressed it was light. I love watching the sun rise over the mountains in the morning...

I took advantage of Duck's permission to go hard this week by upping the weights on the leg press and increasing the reps on some of the other leg exercises. As much as I hate Frog Jumps I'm a heck of a lot better at them than I used to be. I didn't feel shattered at the end of the workout, and was able to get through the day without feeling tired.

I ate well today too, which helped. Breakast was a nice bowl of Special K with fruit salad, and I munched on fruit over the morning. For lunch I had a serving of the Minestrone I cooked yesterday, then at 3.30 I made up a mug of miso soup. I've just eaten a bowl of pasta with a tomato-based sauce for dinner, along with a huge bowl of salad with a little balsamic vinegar tossed through. So today wasn't as big on the protein as it could have been, although there were chickpeas in the Minestrone.

The Jog Squad met as usual at 6.00 at Xtreme, and it was still light. I was nervous about running in my new Addidas, having had such a bad experience with the last pair. It took around two months to break the last pair in, and I was never happy with how heavy my feet sounded in them. This new pair seem like a whole different kind of shoe. They look smaller, and feel lighter and more flexible. I'm not sure what they've changed, but I like it.

Those of us who'd already done the fitness test were sent off on a run along Manners Street, Lambton Quay, up Woodward Street, down the Terrace, up the incline that is Bowen Street, down Tinakori to Thorndon Quay, then back to the gym along the waterfront.

I started out running with Sarah and Karen. Even as we ran along Manners Street I could tell something was different. I could barely hear my feet, and I felt like I was gliding on air. Can a new pair of shoes make someone run faster? Ok, so I could tell I was running faster than I would normally run, but I never felt like I was going to have to slow down. I kept wondering when I was going to start to run out of juice, but it never happened.

All the way around the run I kept pace with Sarah and Karen. Could I be turning into a front of the pack runner? As we got to Bowen I fully expected the other two to race off ahead of me, but I managed to hold my own. I even lead for part of the way down Thorndon Quay. As we crossed the last set of lights back to the gym we even sprinted, and I made it back to the gym in first place.

I'm absolutely thrilled with how tonight's run went, but I have to admit to also being a little confused. According to Karen's stopwatch we ran for just under 40 minutes. MapMyRun shows our distance tonight as being 7km. That means I ran at approximately the same pace I ran the Round the Bays, even allowing for a little bit of traffic-light time tonight. I can't work it out, because I plodded around the Bays, and I flew tonight. I know we ran a hill tonight, but we still ran up Bowen at a good pace, and there was the downhill stretch on Tinakori to compensate. I'm not sure I trust MapMyRun after all...

Anyway, all that aside, tonight was a brilliant run. My old shoes were indeed the devil's spawn, my new shoes are my redeeming angels. I am fit. I am fast. I totally rock...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday: The Day of Rest

Things I've done today instead of running:

Reading: Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I'm one chapter in and wondering why it took me to long to pick this book up.

Cooking: A breakfast of honey-cured bacon, hash browns, kransky sausages, grilled tomatoes, eggs and sourdour bread. A lunch of the Moosewood Cookbook's minestrone, with some pastrami tossed through and a good dose of chilli. Unfortunately for Hamish I 'Pipped' the Minestrone!

Clearing out: Several superfluous household items that have been loitering in the spare room for too long. Listed on Trademe, and if they don't sell I will take them to the Salvation Army.

Wearing: My fabulous new Addidas running shoes. I doubt I'm going to take two months to break these in. They feel so light, flexible and comfy! I can't wait to run in them.

Walking: Around my neighbourhood this afternoon. I left in warm sunny weather, but the wind was blowing strongly from the South. By the time I made it home a storm was blowing in off the white-capped strait. As I brought the washing in from the veranda the wind blew the drying rack over.

Listening: To Media Watch on National Radio, the Americana Show and Roots and Culture on Radio Active, and the Greg Johnson CD I got free with my new running shoes.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


There is a small girl running through my dreams. Can you see her? She is maybe two years old, no more than three. She is wearing a sleeveless white cotton dress. She is testing her newfound agility as she flies across the grass. She is giggling to herself. Her hair is white blonde and wispy long against her neck. I'm not sure why she has insisted on introducing herself to you today, but here she is. She has, of late, been a corner of my imagination, a source of my inspiration. I have found myself trying to understand the meaning of her.

I write to test the meaning of things on the world. The thoughts that mull around inside this skull of mine find their way through my body's cellular structure and out through my fingers. Often I am sitting at my desk at work, gazing out the window at the insurance offices next door, or up the hill towards the Turbine spinning on the ridge. I keep a directory of poetry on the personal drive of my office computer, and email it to my home email address so that I can post it on my blog.

I write about the physical world around me. I write about the wind, the bush, the sun and the rain. I try to connect myself to a larger system than myself. Who am I in this place? Where am I in this place? When I was a teenager I wrote about people, and I positioned myself in relation to them. Now the people are still there, but I do not find a need in my writing to link myself to them. My link to people is instead my work itself, and the public posting of that work. Although there is that little girl, who seems to have taken up residence here next to me. I will have to take the time to get to know her.

What inspires you?

Blessings from the Training Fairies

Obviously I'm doing something right, because the good training sessions have kept on going.

After Monday's excellent run I managed to deny myself the opportunity to get back in the water on Tuesday by forgetting my togs and my running tights. I figured I could work around the lack of togs. I could simply wear my sports bra under my wetsuit then put a t-shirt on afterwards. However there was no way to get around the lack of running tights! I really need to get myself a tri suit.

In any case a Southerly was blowing and I had to run through the freezing cold rain to get from the bus stop to our house, so being snuggled up under a blanket in a pair of track pants rather than out there running and swimming didn't seem like such a tragedy. However Duck later confirmed that the water had been lovely and calm (Oriental Bay is sheltered from the Southerlies).

On Wednesday we ran the 2.4km police entry test. When I first ran the distance in July 2006 it took me 12.26 minutes. In October it took me 11.38. I was still buzzing from my burst of speed on Monday night, so I was confident I could beat that time. I started out at a fast speed, and was unsure how long I could maintain it. However I stayed focused, and knowing that I only had to hold that pace for a short period of time helped. My breath was coming in short gasps, and pedestrians were turning to see what small stream train was running up behind them. It was all a little embarrassing. As I crossed the bridge for the last time and reached the other end of Frank Kitts Park a quick look at my stop watch told me I wasn't going to make it in under 11 minutes, but if I didn't slow down I wouldn't be that far off. In the end I crossed the finishline in 11.05 - another 30 seconds wiped off my total. I get to run it again in three weeks, and I'm totalling aiming to wipe off that last five!

I got up the next morning and ran 2km on the treadmill in just under 10 minutes, and then Duck put me through a circuit/powerbag training session in the Studio. Lots of push-ups and leg work! By the time we met up again on Thursday night the wind was strengthening. We rode around the Bays for 20 minutes to the Naval Base, ran 10 minutes, then cycled back again. The wind was, at times, scary. The crosswinds on Cobham Drive threatened to shuttle me sideways at any moment. Coming back around the last point all I could hear was wind, and it was all I could do to grind my way slowly forwards, trying not to think about getting blown off. By that point even Rose had overtaken me on her shiny new road bike. I had to eat humble pie and not worry too much about my ego!

Friday morning, and another RPM class. Al and I got to choose the tracks, and it helped to distract me from the pain in my legs. I miss having fresh legs for RPM, but I'm just going to have to deal with it until after the half marathon in June now! At least the fans are back again, after several weeks of them all being broken.

I skipped Body Balance in favour of reading a good book, and was feeling remarkably rested this morning for my trail run with Sarah. We ran up Hawker, and as Sarah has described in her own post, we managed not to get too lost, although the steepness of parts of the trail had to be seen to be believed! We managed to find our way back down to Pirie Street and had enough time to sprint back down Courtney Place and Lambton Quay to Body Balance at the Terrace at 10am.

Today was my first attempt at release 36, and I love it! The new Tai Chi moves flow really well. The strength poses don't feel rushed (although all the standing lunges played havoc with my tired quads). It seemed all the hip openers and stretches worked on the exact parts of my body that need a bit of focus. I felt strong when I needed to feel strong, flexible when I needed to extend, and even reasonably balanced (although my right side still sucks). The back-strengthing and lengthening poses seemed to go especially well today, and I have more movement through my lower spine than I can remember having had in the past. However the best bit was the bird pose. I can't believe I have the balance and forearm strength to accomplish that particular move!

The rest of the morning passed in a flurry of exercise geek activity. I bought a fab new pair of running shoes at Shoe Clinic. Sarah bought Gloria, the perfect Giant hybrid bike. It was even in her price range! She will totally kick all of our butts in the SPARC duathlon... By the time I'd dropped Sarah and Gloria off home and done the grocery shopping I was more than ready for a nana nap. As I type this I'm stuck on the sofa under a blanket and two cats. The weather is terrible outside, and I can hear the sound of the Summerset concert in the Basin Reserve. I'm so glad Hamish and I didn't pay $65 each to sit in the wind and rain!

Finding Myself

I've been wondering recently whether I should split my posts between two different blogs. Perhaps I need a writing blog and a training blog. However I've decided to keep just the one, although the reason for that is a little convoluted.

Several women whose blogs I read describe themselves as seekers. I too consider myself to be a seeker. Over the years I've done my fair share of dabbling in Eastern religions, New Age wisdom, retreats, rituals and alternative healing. However the last year has been one of doing as much as it has been of thinking. I've been finding myself through running, rather than running from myself. I now seek myself on long runs around the bays and undulating trail runs. I open up to myself as the city opens before me on the slopes of Mt Victoria.

I also find myself through my writing. My writing is a direct expression of my own concepts, thoughts and experiences. I write to link myself emotionally and spiritually to the physical landscape in which I live.

So although they might not at first glance seem compatible, I do not feel that I can separate my posts about my training from my posts to Poetry Thursday or Sunday Scribblings. I am. Both of these parts of me form a whole, and there seems to be no point in trying to keep them separate.

Friday, March 16, 2007

My Visual DNA

Dictionary Definitions

This week's Poetry Thursday prompt was to choose a word from the dictionary that was unfamiliar to us and to use it in a poem, without looking up the definition. Initially I wasn't very inspired by this concept, but then I reminded myself that I have been looking to break out of my usual mode lately, and this was the perfect opportunity.

Due to time pressures I haven't had much of a chance to work on this one, and it's possibly therefore not up to my usual standards, but because I want to get this out there, here we go. Warning: The title is a spoiler:

After he spoke everyone
milled around in a
state of horripilation.
It seemed that what
he had said was so
outside of the boundaries
of accepted cultural
norm that it stripped
away the epidermis of
everyday communication.
He found himself
shuffling in one spot
squeezing his hands
behind his back,
eyes moving unable
to settle on any of
those who remained
to witness his state
of verbal nudity.
And yet it was not
just he who was
standing there naked.
His actions had left
everyone exposed,
witness to the
weakness of the
thin hair covered skin
of civility.

Once I got started on looking up words in the dictionary it was impossible to stop. There's a whole list of words just waiting for me to take them on:

Hoopoe - any Old World bird of the family Upupidae, esp. Upupa epops, of Europe, having an erectile, fanlike crest.
Hoosegow - a jail.
Hopak -
a folk dance of the Ukraine.
Horary -
1.pertaining to an hour; indicating the hours: the horary circle.
2.occurring every hour; hourly.

Hornfels - a dark, fine-grained metamorphic rock, the result of recrystallization of siliceous or argillaceous sediments by contact metamorphism.
Intrathecal - introduced into or occurring in the space under the arachnoid membrane of the brain or spinal cord <intrathecal injection of isotonic iced saline for intractable pain
Intertrigo - chafing between two skin surfaces that are in contact (as in the armpit or under the breasts or between the thighs)
Monokini - a topless bikini.
Monopsony - the market condition that exists when there is one buyer.
Nainsook - a fine, soft-finished cotton fabric, usually white, used for lingerie and infants' wear.
Nabob -
1.any very wealthy, influential, or powerful person.
2.Also, nawab. a person, esp. a European, who has made a large fortune in India or another country of the East.

Regolith - The layer of loose rock resting on bedrock, constituting the surface of most land. Also called mantle rock.
Saleratus - sodium bicarbonate used in cookery; baking soda.
Salian - of, pertaining to, or designating a Frankish people who lived in the region of the Rhine near the North Sea.
Skarn - A coarse-grained metamorphic rock formed by the contact metamorphism of carbonate rocks. Skarn typically contains garnet, pyroxene, epidote, and wollastoni
Tristesse - sadness

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Good Runs Continue

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Ginsberg

Something has happened. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but it seems that the hard work I've put in the last few weeks has paid off. However tired I felt at the time, however much Duck had to pull me back to stop me from overtraining, however much people looked at me like I was mad, I am seriously fitter than I was a month ago.

And it's not just a physical difference. Mentally I've proved to myself with the good runs and the hill rides that I can do this stuff. I guess I'm believing in myself a lot more than I was a month ago as well.

Tonight we started at Te Papa and ran around the Bays for 24 minutes, throwing in fartlek training every eight minutes. We ran up Carlton Gore and down Maida Vale and around to Greta Point before turning back. On the way up Carlton Gore I passed Jenna, who has always been faster than me. Maida Vale arrived extremely quickly, and the distance to Greta Point was a cinch.

On the way back the Northerly was blowing, and I decided to head back up Maida Vale to get away from it. I was passed by a fit woman running extremely quickly, and then by two men who were working hard to keep up with her. Not long afterwards I caught up with one of the men walking. I felt like calling out to him that he should try slow and steady and make it up there in one run.

Down Carlton Gore and a couple of the other girls caught up with us. It was halfway down Carlton Gore that things got interesting. We picked up the pace, and as we hit Oriental Bay again we caught up with Ingrid and a bunch of the other girls who had stuck to the flat. I kept up the pace I had run down the hill at, mentally wondering at what point I was going to start running out of gas.

To my surprise I kept the pace up all the way back to the gym. I think I was running at 12kmph, if not faster. That's REALLY fast for me! My perceived exertion levels did not
reflect the pace I was keeping.

I took a little bit of time to analyse what was happening to allow me to run faster. Everything I was doing was in line with the instructions my podiatrist had given me. I was running with a slightly shorter stride. I was keeping my heels down, pushing through with my glutes, and I was making a real effort to land my feet well.

The biggest difference was my left foot, which was landing far less flat-to-ball of foot than usual, and was also landing far straighter than usual, rather than splaying out to the side. I could feel a slight resistance at the base of my left leg, where my foot meets my shin. I know I'm stiff there, and I was really giving it a workout. I think my left footfall must ordinarily be quite inefficient, and I had stumbled on a way to force it into a better flow. The end result was speed.

So I'm going to continue stretching my calves and that front bit of my leg, to improve my left footfall. I'm heartened by my lack of knee pain today, even though we were flying down the hills. I avoided doing any leg weights this morning in line with Duck's instructions, but I think that it will pay off for me to chuck a really tough week in every few weeks, if it's going to pay off again with another big improvement in form and fitness.

I'm now feeling really good about doing a half marathon in June. I'm loving the running right now, and long may it continue!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Thanks Yeti!

Nic and Leonie recently gave Hamish their icecream maker. There's a long backstory there that I won't bore you with right now. It's one of those 'you had to be there' type of things...

Yesterday I found Hamish in the kitchen with a bottle of tequila and half a dozen squeezed lemons on the bench. He was making gelato - lemon and tequila gelato. Anyone who knows me knows of my fondness for Margaritas, so lemon and tequila gelato sounded pretty good! Unfortunately we didn't read the instructions properly, and so when we went to bed last night what we had was more like a slushy than a frozen dessert. We were discussing what we would do with it if it didn't freeze, and, totally independent of each other (I was in the shower, Hamish was in the kitchen) we both hit upon the idea of using it as a pancake topping.

First thing this morning a quick check of the freezer confirmed that we now had gelato proper, not slushy. However the seeds had been sown. There's almost nothing better than seeing Hamish standing over a pancake pan. In fact, the only thing better is a plate of pancakes with lemon and tequila gelato sandwiched between them.

Hamish is already planning improvements. It goes to show - you can get a geek into the kitchen. The trick is to give him cool implements and alcohol to work with!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Dreaming of Journeys

I'm lucky enough to know that New Zealand is the country in which I want to live. This place is home, and for now this wonderful city has my heart. When I was 17 I went to Holland on exchange and met an American girl, Liz, who for many years wanted nothing more than to be able to go back. Me? I loved Holland, but I didn't want to live there.

In New Zealand the tradition is for young people to go on their OE once they finish university. Typically this has meant going to London for a couple of years, living with other Kiwis, and getting drunk in Kiwi pubs. Over time things have gotten a little more sofisticated, but London is still home away from home.

Flash back 10 years or so. I was working for a local bookstore, having graduated with a BA. I didn't know what I really wanted to do with my life, but I had a vague idea that I might travel. I didn't know how one went on an OE. I didn't know the slightest thing about how one found somewhere to live, or found a job. When I look back now my cluelessness astounds me. However there I was, making some kind of effort to save, with some unformed plan to head back to Europe at some unknown point in the future.

Fate had a different plan for me, and I found myself engaged to Hamish and heading back to university to complete an MA. Before I started back Hamish and I took a month out to travel around the planet to Holland, where Hamish met my host-family and we spent a week in France. And, other than a honeymoon in Sydney, that was it. Since then I haven't left New Zealand once.

The lack of travel hasn't really bothered me that much. We've been busy with our careers, getting married, buying an apartment, moving to Wellington, buying a house, trying to get settled again. The world outside New Zealand hasn't necessarily seemed like that attractive a place, and we've been very grateful for the peacefulness of this country.

However there ARE places that I want to travel to, things that I want to see. I have, for example, always wanted to go on pilgramage to India. When I was diagnosed with Addisons one of the first things I read was that people with this condition should not travel to countries where there was a risk of stomach bugs. That seemed to put India firmly off the agenda. Thankfully my no-nonsence Endocrinologist quickly dismissed that particular travel advisory. India is a possibility, provided I'm careful.

Hamish and I went through a phase of watching lots of Lonely Planet on television, particularly if it was Ian Wright doing the travelling. I remember one episode in particular on Micronesia taking my fancy. I've also always wanted to travel to Tibet, and the Trans Siberian appealed until I saw Marcus Lush's Intrepid Journey there. If a guy who is train obsessed can be disappointed I figure it would probably be a letdown. Since learning to swim I've been thinking about going somewhere like Fiji (especially at the moment, because it's so cheap) so that I can snorkel.

There are other places I'd love to go - Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos. I want to go anywhere with a good underground dance scene. I want to go back to Holland to visit my host family, and I want to go to Hungary to visit my host brother and his wife and their two children. I want to go to Greece because it just looks amazing (and for dancing on the beach), and I want to go to Mexico for too many different reasons.

I want to go to America because Liz is there, and because San Francisco looks amazing. I want to go to New York for the sake of going to New York. I want to go to Canada, well, just because. I want to go to Africa, because Africa just is.

I want to go everywhere, really. The only barriers are those that I have put in my way. Like Nic and Leonie I could sell up and just go. Except that Hamish would have to want to do so as well, and how could we leave the cats? No, when it comes down to it I can see myself travelling for maybe a couple of months at a time, max. And to do that I'd have to take some money out of the mortgage or stop spending it all on exercise and put it in the bank instead. However for the first time in years the cogs are turning and the intent is forming. So it might just happen yet. Pip may still end up leaving on a jetplane, and not just in her dreams.

Days to remember when things seem dark

I wanted to jump on this morning and post something that would remind me of good things one day when things seem hard.

I set out on my own for a 45 minute run this morning from Freyberg. Allie had left her shoes at work, so wasn't able to join me. It was an absolutely stunning late summer morning, with a light Northerly that had disappeared off my radar by the time I rounded Pt Jerningham.

The carpark was full of people stretching, pulling road bikes out of their cars, stripping off wetsuits. This is one of the best things for me about my multisport training - the sense of being part of a wider community. We have a connection, and there is always something to talk about, even though we might never have met before.

By the time I reached Balaena Bay I realised that I was feeling amazingly good. My legs still felt really strong, and there was no sense of having worked them really hard over the last couple of days. There was no trace of a stitch and my breath felt relaxed and even. Although it was hot I didn't let that fact sink too deeply into my consciousness. Instead I took the opportunity of some alone-time on the pavement to closely observe the neighbourhood around me.

A woman jogging with her dog flew past, then a short while later I passed her as she tried to pull him away from an interesting odour. She ran off ahead of me again, then a little while later I passed her struggling with her dog again. She didn't pass me again. I satisfied my nosey side by taking a close look at the houses clinging to the side of the hill to my right. I noted the crazy paths, death-defying cable cars and huge decks on which lucky inhabitants were drinking coffee in the sun. To my left the water was clear and calm. Small waves were breaking on the shore and sprats jumped enmass from the water. I looked closely, but couldn't see a larger fish chasing them. Perhaps they were just jumping from the joy of the gorgeous morning.

Suddenly I was at Greta Point. 20 minutes had flown by and I was still feeling fantastic. I ran a few minutes' longer, then turned and continued back at the same steady pace. When I reached Balaena Bay again I was still feeling great (how different from last Saturday), so I crossed the road and headed up Maida Vale Rd. I climbed quickly up the hill, enjoying the shade of overhanging trees, and watching the harbour open up beneath me. The climb felt easy, unstrained. When I reached Carlton Gore it almost seemed a shame to be running back downhill again.

Back onto the Parade. I was still feeling great. I realised that if someone had said at that point that I was only halfway into my run that I would have been fine with that and quite happily kept going. I did toy with the idea of making the most of things and going out for longer, but in the end I pulled up at Freyberg a few minutes short of 50, my breathing barely elevated. I took a quick drink, noted in amazement that I still felt fantastic, and wandered off to the carpark to stretch. I don't think I was running any more slowly than usual. I think that I've simply been working really hard on my strength and fitness, and that it's finally paying off.

Pausing to stop by a woman stretching her calves we struck up a conversation. She had run for just over an hour, and was waiting for her husband to finish his own run. We compared running routes and chatted for a while until he reappeared. I wished them well, jumped in my car, and headed off to the supermarket.

In the supermarket I loaded up on fresh fruit and vegetables and, in the meat section, gave in to the appeal of red meat. A desire for red meat is a sure sign for me that I'm training hard. It toally disappears when I'm inactive. Right now I'm planning for Hamish and I to have a barbeque dinner!

In the supermarket queue the woman behind me, in her fifties and reasonably overweight, took a look at me (still in my running gear), glanced at my purchases, and commented on how healthy everything looked. She asked me if I'd just been for a run, and what I normally did each week. I told her, then rushed to add that she shouldn't use me as a benchmark as I'm kind of obsessive. We got talking about her own attempts to exercise and lose weight, and we discussed some of the items I was buying. My secret weapon - light evaporated milk. You can make up a lovely creamy pasta sauce with none of the fat. I told her about my weight loss, and about how I'd started out training for the Special K duathlon. I told her about my own mother - 57 and now running on the treadmill in preparation to complete the SPARC duathlon with me this year.

I finished that by suggesting she find a friend to cycle the SPARC for her, and that she do the two walking stages. She seemed genuinely interested, so I hope she enters.

Having had two inspirational conversations with complete strangers I happily toddled off to the car. Unloading everything at the other end I then bumped into my neighbour. Eight shopping bags in hand we laughed at how I'd just been for a run and was finishing off with strength training.

Exercise, a beautiful day, laughter. This is what I want to remember when things seem dark. I want to remember that life really is good.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The prison is yellow

Port Nicholson   looking at Mt Crawford  (prison)

About a year ago I was training with the Special K duathlon training squad. The event itself was very much targeted at beginner women athletes - a 3.5km run, 10km cycle and 1.5km run - all flat. However even just signing up for that training squad was hugely scarey for me.

One day Duck told us to cycle up Maupuia Rd to the prison. We were supposed to tell her what colour it was. I got to the Miramar cutting quite a distance behind everyone else, got confused about where I was supposed to be going, and simply waited at the bottom for the others to return. I was very disappointed that I hadn't been able to complete the task.

The week before the event Duck set us a trial duathlon - a 4km run, 12km cycle and 2km run. The cycle route included a climb part of the way up to the prison. This time I knew where I was going.

Anyone familiar with Maupuia will know that the first 500m or so is reasonably steep, after which the road levels off. I made it most of the way up the steep slope before I found myself out of breath and had to walk my bike until it levelled off again.

All year I've been very conscious I never made it to the prison, and I've always wanted to be able to tell Duck what colour the prison was. I kept waiting for her to set the Maupuia climb as part of the Multis training, but each week something else would end up on the agenda.

Not that Duck's getting predictable or anything, but on Thursday night I knew that the list of options was narrowing. Standing there it was clear that the sea was too choppy for any serious swimming. However the Northerly wasn't terribly strong, and the conditions were good for a ride. I was gripped by something that could have almost been called a premonition, had it not been so obvious. Sure enough, on Thursday night I finally had the opportunity to name that colour.

Heading around the Bays again I was glad I'd rested my legs on Tuesday night. I realised I was feeling good, and my legs seemed strong. I cruised along a short distance behind Jo, determined to pace myself against her on the hill climb.

I have to apologise to the guy on his road bike waiting to turn right out of Maupuia Rd who yelled at me to indicate when I swung left instead of continuing on past him. I was too busy focusing on Jo and the slope in front of me to even think about him. I had a mantra circling through my brain along the lines of "slow down, pace yourself, slow down, pace yourself".

I stuck behind Jo, I slowed myself, and before long the steep part of the slope was behind me. I was amazed by how gentle the incline was after that point. Where once I would have tried to pick up the pace I made the most of the opportunity to recover, stayed behind Jo, and focused on being steady.

The short downhill halfway up came as a nice surprise. Near the top I had to wonder who would want to live on a street called Prison Street. Not a great way to market a neighbourhood. I looked up briefly and saw the prison looming ahead of us - large and very definitely yellow. It still seemed very high up compared to where we were, and we'd already cycled a long way.

The last part of the hill climb leaves suburbia behind and ascends through grass and scrub. It also corkscrews around the rise on which the prison is located and gets steep again, although not as steep as the initial climb. It was impossible to see too far ahead, to know whether the incline levelled off or increased, or to know how much further there was to climb. There was nowhere obvious to stop and rest, so I simply kept climbing. Jo was still ahead of me, and was regularly standing on her pedals. I remained in my seat and kept up the grind. Dionne was ahead of us again - a demon on her mountain bike. If she ever gets a road bike she will leave us all for dead.

Finally the three of us turned a corner and there was the carpark. The gate to the driveway leading up to the prison itself was locked, so we circled around and flew straight back down again. Down was fun - very few cars, none parked on the side of the road, gentle corners with good cambers. Before too long we were at the bottom and cycling back around the Bays.

The Northerly had picked up again, despite all forecasts to the contrary. I stayed behind Jo and we kept up a gentle pace until Balaena Bay, at which point we sprinted to the finish. Before I knew it we were back at Freyberg. I felt fantastic, and at last I could see some progress in my cycling. The muscle mass I've gained in the last couple of weeks in my legs appears to have been for more than show after all. I am notably stronger than I was at the start of the year.

We waited around for the rest of the girls. I did my little victory dance and hugged Duck, just for the sake of tradition. We cycled back to Taranaki Street, Rose gave me and Lola a lift home, and I drank a cider then proceeded to eat a whole Curry Club Dal Makhani, not even feeling full at the end of it. That REALLY must have been a good workout.

I'm still basking in the rosy glow of another goal achieved, another target crossed off the list. The fact that it wasn't as hard as I'd expected made it even more sweet. The prison is yellow, Lola is red, and I'm a VERY happy Pip...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Round the Bays photos

Well, the electronic versions of my RTB photos have arrived. They looked really good in miniature on the sales website. Funny how they're not as flattering when enlarged! The photo at the top of this post was taken about a third of the way in. I was overtaking lots of people at this point and enjoying myself. Not that you can tell from my expression.

Unfortunately I tend to go very red and sweaty when I get hot, and it was a VERY hot day. I just hadn't realised that my neck and chest go as red as my face does! This photo was taken at the finishline, and I was feeling pretty relieved to be there.

Jog Squad continues to go well. We ran for over 40 minutes on Monday night - a reasonably challenging route with some good hill climbs. Tonight we did circuits around Frank Kitts park and the waterfront. I didn't push myself as hard as I could have done, but still stayed comfortably in the front pack. It was easy to tell which of the Squaddies weren't used to that kind of training, particuarly in the case of some of the faster runners, who ended up languishing near the back. Lots of fun, and I'm feeling nice and fresh on the eve of my double Duck session - personal training in the morning, Multis tomorrow night.

Late Summer Poetry

Posted on a Wednesday, because it didn't want to wait until Thursday:

Summer is swelling here.
Everything is growing fat.
Even the cicadas that fly at
my face as I walk through our
garden each morning are large,
fighter planes driven blindly
in a battle to mate.

Native fruit are multiplying
fat and red in our courtyard.
They fall spreading themselves in
sticky piles on the pavers.
This morning a Tui sat in
our Pohutukawa screaming at
me for interrupting his breakfast
as I filed past with an
overflowing recycling bin
clutched tightly in my hands.

I can feel a coolness in the
early morning that hints at
autumn soon to come.
In this garden of mine
I am the only one
not seeking to add
to the gathered mass of life.
I do not swell like this
late summer that flaunts
its pregnant belly as it
settles on our hill.

I am outside of the
cycle of nature as
much as I am in it
during this season
of procreation.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Long Time Gone

It's remarkably hard to start posting again after an absence, particularly when the absence has been caused by a simple lack of the ability to find time to connect with my iBook. As I commented to a friend at one point, it wasn't so much that I was burning the candle at both ends. Rather, I'd somehow managed to discover a third wick in the middle of the candle.

The longer I sayed away, the harder it became to start again. So much has happened. Where to begin? I got so busy that I even lost all impetus to write. I haven't posted to Sunday Scribblings or Poetry Thursday for weeks, and I haven't felt any inspiration. When I did try to write I was so fed up with what I felt was a lapsing into a 'style' which to me has become tired.

So no poetry just yet. I need to ease my way back into the blogging, so I thought it would be best to start with a simple rundown of my current training.

I'm pleased to report that I ran the Round the Bays successfully, and there are even a couple of photos available of me that I like. Photos of me running that don't make me cringe! I have ordered a couple of electronic photos from the official website, and will post them here once they arrive.

Sarah and I met up beforehand, but she somehow found the turbo button and took off right at the start. I made no attempt to keep up, and concentrated more on setting myself a steady pace. As I turned onto Oriental Parade Harriet flew past. Knowing that she normally runs more slowly than me I called out to her. It turned out she was running to some fast music on her iPOD, and hadn't realised how fast she was going.

A little further on and I passed Leonie, who I hadn't even known was running. It was a lovely surprise, and we kept pace for a little while before I sped up again. By now the early morning cloud had disappeared, and for once there was no hint of a breeze. As I rounded Pt Jerningham the temperature rose rather than fell, and I realised this was not going to be easy.

From that point on I ran through every hose I could find, even with my cellphone in my hand. It didn't feel like a pretty run. I was hot, I felt slow, and I fought an unaccountable stitch the whole way. However it felt good to be running in a large crowd, and the emphasis definitely was on 'fun'.

About half a kilometre before the finish I felt the first inklings of nausea, but ran through it. The run into Kilbirnie Park and down the finish shute was no sprint of glory, but I don't look as grim in the finish-line photo as I had imagined. All up it was good to get the run over with! I have no idea why it felt so hard, particularly given that I knew how far I had to run, and I knew that it wasn't that far.

On reflection I'd had a hard week of training in the lead-up. Duck had worked me hard on the Thursday, and then I'd wrecked my quads sprinting away from chasing Multis girls during a training session that night. They were still a little sore on Sunday. I had also gone hard in RPM on the Friday morning. In my memory I'm sure I'm also overexaggerating how hard it was. It wasn't a bad run. It just didn't feel as good as I'd expected.

Since then Jog Squad has started again, and the first session for the year truly felt like getting the band back together. I can't describe adequately how good it felt to have the Karen/Karyns speeding away at the front, Caroline, Tanya and some of the others behind. Our first night was a simple half-hour, which again felt harder than it should have done, but the joy at being back into the old routine over-rode the feeling of exertion.

Multis has continued to be a challenge. At one point I nearly decided not to sign up again for the last round, but I knew I'd feel disappointed with myself, and I knew Duck would kick my butt. Part of my problem has been with the stress of having to lug so much gear around, part not knowing what I'm going to be confronted with each night. Swiming and cycling continue to be psychological challenges, and the bitsy effect of training multiple disciplines each night means I have felt like I haven't got a proper handle on either.

I even skipped a session one Thursday, mostly because I felt extremely tired, but partly because Duck had said she wanted me to swim out to the pontoon that night. In the end it was too choppy and I wouldn't have been able to go out anyway, but I realise I still have unfinished business and that putting it off only makes it harder.

My mission for this week was to get enough sleep and to make it through without crashing. Everything started on Saturday, with two RPM classes with Nic and Leonie. A heap of fun, and an intense workout.

We were going to do the 32km Bike the Bays route on Sunday, but Sangria the night before and the need to tidy up for an open home (Nic and Leonie's, not ours) put paid to that. So I was relatively well rested by Monday. That sensation wasn't to last long.

On Monday morning I rose early and headed off to do Duck's new lower body routine for me. Leg presses, squats, frog jumps, walking lunges, hamstring curls, jack knifes, odd things on swiss balls. Enough to wipe me out for the rest of the day. Of course the problem with getting wiped out by 8.30 in the morning is twofold. First I have to get through work, then I have to get through Jog Squad.

Monday night's task was a flat 40 minutes out along the waterfront, onto Thorndon Quay and back. I made it as far as the Lighting Plus store, and met with Sarah walking back towards us looking pained. From there it was a steady run back along Lambton Quay and up Willis, a route that by now feels comfortable in its familiarity. It wasn't as fast as it could have been, but it was faster than the last couple of outings.

I wasn't in the mood for Body Balance on Tuesday, and my quads were really sore. I couldn't understand why a flat forty minute run had killed my quads, and it wasn't until halfway through the day that I remembered the morning's weights. As a result Multis that night was unmitigated torture. I had managed to forget my togs (on a night that was flat, and on a low tide that would have made it easy to reach the pontoon), so the run was the only item on my agenda.

We ran with our backpacks around to Balaena Bay, and every stride was agony. When we got to Maidevale Rd I wanted with every ounce of my being to run back along the flat with UK Sarah, who is suffering Archilles problems. However I steeled myself for the steady climb up the side of the mountain. In the end it wasn't as bad as it could have been, and it wasn't long before we were running back down Carlton Gore and around to Freyberg.

I decided to bike back to The Terrace through town rather than along the waterfront, but with a fair amount of traffic on the road and lights at every step of the way I soon wimped out of clipping in and out of my pedals and hoofed it for the last part of the route.

I rose early again on Wednesday morning and set off to do an upper body weights routine. Chest press, chin ups, hovers, lots of cable work, and an instrument of torture commonly known as the star gaze. Shattered? Yes! Yet I somehow made it through to Jog Squad that night, where the Austin Rd route of doom was revived and made worse by tacking the sprint up Hawker Street to the monastery at the end.

I ran with Allie and thanks to an urgent need on her part we kept up a good pace. Halfway up Hawker we passed Sarah coming down the other end. Sarah admitted she'd walked near the top (you know you were going too hard), and that was it for me. I was grimly determined not to walk, even though I was gasping for dear life at the top.

We met up with Duck for the return down Courtney Place. I had one of those wonderful surges of energy that I sometimes find at the end of hill runs, and was able to sprint from Tory Street, feeling fantastic.

The run of energy died on Thursday. More intense upper body weights with Duck, and then a 15 minute sample of Look Better Naked. Shuttle runs up and down the aerobics studio, interspersed with pressups, situps, lunges, squats, frog jumps, crunches, etc. I flashed her a dirty look every time I ran past, but for something that hurt so bad it sure was fun.

I knew I would have to swim that night if it was calm, and as the day went on the doom grew. Not because I didn't think I could do it, but because when I'm physically tired the mental strength is the first thing to go. A simple swim turns into an Everest. However as we waited for Duck to arrive the wind and the chop led us to one conclusion. We were going to cycle Mt Victoria. And so it was...

Which is how, halfway up, I ended up giving a firm but calm speech about setting myself realistic challenges, turning around, and cycling back to Freyberg. My legs just wouldn't work any longer. However Duck did make the observation that I'm starting out too hard when I hill climb. She used the analogy of starting out at sprint pace for a hill run. Once she said that it all made sense. I'm not pacing myself. Somehow I got it into my head that I need to attack the hill at full speed on my bike, even though I'd never dream of doing that on foot.

Knowing that made not climbing the hill a lot easier to deal with, and I also knew I'd worked extremely hard over the last few days. It has made a huge difference, and there are muscles popping out all over my legs. They've jumped in strength just in the last couple of weeks. I'm in a completely different place to that where I was this time last year. I couldn't run a year ago. Now I'm on my way to actually officially completing a half marathon. The Shoe Clinic event - my nemesis - will be mine.

Despite the exhaustion I still got out of bed this morning and did RPM, though it was a case of turning up for the sake of it. I couldn't use much dial, I wasn't in the mood to socialise. I stuck my head down, set a grim face and got on with it. I cleared the room as soon as I could.

Unfortunately I didn't learn from that experience, and was foolish enough to think I might get some benefit from stretching out in Body Balance. Even though I took the easy options, as I told Sarah this afternoon, it wasn't so much a case of getting stuck in poses as not being able to get into them at all. My warrior poses have never been so out of alignment. I was prepared to forgive myself this little lapse into limbs of stone however. As I'd reminded myself last night - I've done rather a lot this week.

Not that it's over. I'm taking the Jog Squad girls out for a flat 40 minute run around the Bays tomorrow morning. I'd like to get a swim in afterwards. However Hamish is at home this weekend, and we really need to spend some time together before he forgets I exist. And Sunday? If I get out of bed at all it will be a miracle.

So on the one hand the running is brilliant. I was having problems with my left knee at first, but the more I run the better things get. As long as I keep my heels down the pain stays away. I can't believe how far I've come in the last year.

On the other hand I'm feeling a frustration in relation to my multis training that come directly from my own failed attempts to avoid excising the demons. I'm so close I can almost touch success. By the end of this month I WILL have swum to the pontoon, and I WILL have gotten over being terrified of my bike. Otherwise it's going to be a long, slow winter of anticipation...