The A Team

On Friday night I arrived home after a meal with the in-laws to find an email message from my running club’s race selector. He needed me to fill in for a sick runner in the Masters Men’s A team for the next day’s Hagley Memorial Relay.

Yikes! I hate stepping up to the next level, and these guys are seriously fast. I replied in the affirmative, promising I would be trying to do my best. We both realised I am in taper mode, one week out from a marathon, but I had always planned to use this 4k lap as a fast sprint shake out.

The A Team. I didn’t sleep well. Worry. Stress. Tension. Pressure.

The day dawned eventually. But I had been awake for two hours already. It grew into a stunner, bright and sunny, warm and still. Hagley was ablaze with colour and bursting with life. A veritable kaleidoscope of autumn leaves, green grass, multi-hued athletes sporting hideous colour combinations, club tents, and spectators and supporters. Plus the usual host of park users walking dogs, cycling, and hitting little white balls into sand bunkers.

The kiddies were already running their relay – 4 x 2k – when I arrived by bike. I jogged the course in reverse for a warm-up. It was changed slightly from our trials two weeks earlier. Rumour said it was longer than the 4k. My Garmin had not been connected to the charger properly so I was running naked. Just short of the start I met the lap one runners of the men’s relay. I shouted encouragement at my fellow clubmates. We had a senior men’s team, two junior boys’, and three masters mens’ teams. The women’s race started five minutes later and we had one junior women’s team. With only two masters women left running this year, we are going to race in men’s teams. (Hint hint, over 35 women residing in Christchurch – we need you!)

I was fourth runner out of a six “man” team. I pinned on my number. Did the next part of my warm-up routine – walking lunges, leg swings, hacky sacks. Guy (lap 1) came in and handed over to Richie. I jogged to the toilet. It was hot. I splashed water all over my face and neck. Chatted to a few people. Richie handed over to Anthony, I was next.

I changed into my spikes. Did a few stride outs. I was told spikes weren’t making a lot of difference, but psychologically they put me in race mode. Plus they are lighter. Andrew told me that if we felt bad today it was a good omen for Rotorua next week.

I could see Anthony round the far bend. A bright orange horizontal stripe is great for spotting your teammate from afar. I lined up.

Anthony came down the straight, tagged my hand and I was off. Legs felt ok, I felt I was keeping it moderately paced. There was a Port Hills runner about 20m ahead of me. Headed towards Carlton bridge. The ground was soft but nothing like the quagmire from a fortnight ago. Grass was long and damp. Leaves were thick and sodden. We came down onto the gravel track but because I was in spikes I kept to the grass verge. Round the trees at the bridge and heading down to Fendalton Road corner. Rosa Flanagan flew past on her way to annihilate the junior women’s record which had stood since 1986. Closely followed by one of our junior men.

I felt slow and sluggish but decided to keep my effort up. It was only going to be 18 minutes of hardship. The course meandered around some trees, across a few tar sealed paths, which are hell on the spikes, and avoided some heavy mud patches which had not yet dried up. There were fewer acorns than previous years. Running across acorns is like running on marbles.

Along past the Chateau to Nancy’s corner and around into Riccarton Ave, evading pedestrians who are bewildered by this group of speedsters. I am overtaking slower runners now but as I do a u-turn at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens I note there is no-one to catch me from behind. I could ease up but my guesstimate is there only 1500m left to race. I kept at it.

I rounded the last bend. Rodger is there warming up. He yells at me to push it, go harder. I mange to retaliate with a “piss off, Rodger”. The final straight. I don’t see a blue and orange singlet waiting but then Andrew steps out from the crowd. I slam my foot hard on the accelerator and tag his hand.

Five minutes later I feel recovered. I drink. Change back into my other shoes. And feel great. I was taking my time off the official clock but I had immediately forgotten my finish time when I walked off the course. I thought I had run about 17:15. That was good. I wrote it down on our team card. And then encouraged the rest of my team mates, choosing to use my bike ride home as a cool down. The sun was hot. I didn’t need an extra layer. I had salt marks on my singlet. I began to cough up the dregs from my lungs, a good indicator I had reached my anaerobic state.

Andrew changed over to John, our final runner. Some teams were finishing, the fast senior men and the four women teams. But slower teams were still sending out their fifth or sixth runner. The first masters men team is in. Papanui Toc H. They have a number of national and regional grade runners in their team. And a healthy lead.

John comes back into view. We are the second team home. I am amazed. I really cannot believe it. Later on when the results come out I see I ran 17:07, a PB over this course by 10 seconds and 30 seconds faster than our trials two weeks ago. I am truly amazed. And pleased.

I joined the A-Team, and deserved to be there. I didn’t let them down and proved to myself that I can still improve. And I still have that killer instinct.

A great confidence booster for the season, and for Rotorua next week.

PS Our junior women won their grade, junior men came first and fourth, and senior men (which is made up of 16-19 year olds) came second. Bodes well for another good season for Christchurch Avon.


Puppy Love

Piper is staying with us for 12 days while her mum and dad have a break in Los Angeles. Piper has stayed with us many times since she was a young pup of eight months. Her first visit was to help cure our young son, Jonny of his wariness around dogs. He was eight and weighed about 25kg. Piper weighed about the same.

On that first night Andrew and I went upstairs to tuck Jonny in. He was surrounded by a lot of big black canine love. I guess he was over his wariness.

Now Jonny is 18 and filled with teenager stuff. Piper is 12 and showing signs of her maturity. She no longer comes on 10k runs with me, she is on meds to stop her incontinence, and her muzzle is whiter than it was in her youth. Her days are filled with many nana naps.

There are still signs of her youthfulness. Taken to a park after 24 hours of rain she ran and bounded and leapt and darted all over the place for about 10 minutes. She dived into the lake and chased the odd seagull. She still has a fondness to get over excited about stones and anything resembling a stick – even if it is still attached to half a tree.

Our house is also home to two cats. Billy is the elder and about the same age as Piper. And Adidas is five. Both these cats have grown up with Piper visits. But it has taken a long time for them to tolerate her. To start with both would become extremely scarce during the day, and very nocturnal while Piper was asleep upstairs.

They don’t bother with that now. But they have perfected feline warfare.

One will sit on the bottom stair, just beside the front door – effectively blocking two escape routes. The other will sit beside the lounge door which is close to the bathroom/laundry door, effectively blocking those routes. Piper will fret between them. She is the size of a large labrador with all the courage of the Lion in the Wizard of Oz. Billy will wait all day under our bed for Piper to come in for a nap, then a stealthy paw will whip out and attack. Adidas will spend the day asleep on the dog bed. Both cats will spend an extraordinary amount of time in the kitchen waiting for food, theirs or Piper’s. It doesn’t matter. It torments the dog regardless.

Piper is asleep on the bed next to me, having a snoring competition with Andrew. Billy is lurking under the bed. He will sit there patiently until Piper gets down and then will hiss and growl.

Adidas will be sleeping on Piper’s bed. Just because she can. Last night she came upstairs and posed like a sphinx on the bed. Piper would come up to sneak onto the bed, see the cat, and whimper pathetically. This went on for about 30 minutes.

We love having Piper to stay. We appreciate that she is so well behaved. We respect her intelligence by spelling out the word W-A-L-K-I-E-S. We are amused by her telling it is time for the aforementioned activity when she comes to us with her lead in her mouth. We are overwhelmed by her affection and her belief that she is just little lap dog.

I love dogs. But I am not sure I want one for ever. Piper is a great compromise.

Plus when she goes home on Tuesday, her grateful mum will leave behind a bottle of duty-free gin. I think we have the best of both worlds.

Taking on the world!

During my time on earth I have come to appreciate hard work. Not just in my chosen sport of running, but in all* sports. And arts. And all areas in which humans aspire to be the best.

This morning I wandered down the drive, negotiating mud and puddles to retrieve my newspaper. Unwrapping the plastic I saw a vaguely familiar face on the front page. It was my nephew, Oliver. My husband’s brother’s son. (My nephews have all taken to bushy facial hair and consequently look all the same, and a lot like their uncles on their mother’s side whom I knew as teenagers, and through whom I met my husband! Long convoluted story, a little incestuous, and more proof that I live in a village.)

I met Ollie 25 years ago next month, as a squawling newborn, the youngest of three boys. When I saw him being dragged around the house by his older brother who had him by the ankles I learned that babies survive, a lot! I babysat his two older brothers while Ollie went to his cello lessons. All three boys, and their parents are accomplished musicians. I took fish off hooks and re-baited them when Ollie came on holiday with us, aged 11. I steered clear of him while he was learning to drive. Ollie was a “gentleman” of the Christchurch Cathedral choir whilst our son, Jonny, was a treble.

I witnessed both boys, Jonny and Ollie, leave family functions or arrive late to fulfil their choir obligations. Singing hard and often all year but especially in the advent season leading up to Christmas. A recital on Christmas Eve. Midnight service. 10am Christmas Day service. Although the boys had evensong off, the gentleman returned for a fourth service in 24 hours. Jonny did as he was told. Ollie had to decide for himself. And as a teenager and university student, he chose to work hard.

He must have sacrificed a lot of what is considered normal for his peer group.

I admire that. It takes guts to say to your friends, “no, I cannot do (insert crazy plan, drinking, smoking, drugs, holidays, etc) because I have a bigger plan.” It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, “

Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most.”

And now that dedication and hard work (and a good helping of natural talent) has paid off. Ollie is off to study in New York. Wow, Ollie. I am impressed. But what impresses me more, is that two weeks ago when you were home from Wellington and the extended family got together for Nanna’s birthday (my mother in law), was when you walked in the back door. I was in the dining room. You said, “Hi, Robyn” with such warmth in your voice. That makes me smile still today. You’re a nice kid. With a great future. And a stunning voice. Go and wow them on the world opera stage!

Oliver Sewell

Cover photo

* Allow me to modify this to mainstream sports. Some “sports”, and even other activities which we start to see on our tv screens at night really do warrant a great big wtf. I am not talking about synchronised swimming, for example, because even that demands huge control and discipline, but some of the ones listed in this list of weird sports and games.

A warm fuzzy

This morning I went running. Not that unusual. I run five or six days a week.

I didn’t relish the thought of running this morning. It was dark. It was wet. It was cold. Autumn arrived overnight about a week ago. But once I started I was fine.

I ran my go-to route to Hagley Park (2km), the figure eight loop around both sections (8km), and back home giving me a total of 12km. A nice number to log before breakfast.

I needed to stuff my beanie in a pocket and unzip my jacket relatively quickly into the run. And then I just ran, at a comfy pace, probably close to MP. I zoned out, as you do. Thinking about breakfast, planning my day, muesli or toast, budgeting money in my head, peaches or rhubarb, remembering what I need to tell Andrew. Completely inside my head.

“Robyn.” Someone calls my name. I turn and another lycra clad person wearing a jacket and headband is running back towards me. I. Have. No. Idea. Who. It. Is. It is darkish. I am not wearing glasses. And I am pretty crap at matching names/faces.

“Robyn, I just wanted to tell you I am running my first marathon.”

My lightbulb clicked. This woman and I have spent some time together before and after races. I have also bumped into her in the supermarket. Christchurch is just a village really with only 400,000 people. I thought her name was Debbie. (Google later confirmed it. Phew!)

We chatted. She was running with a group of men and then carrying on to complete two and a half hours. I was tempted to say I would run with her but my stomach was remembering the promise of muesli, rhubarb and yoghurt.

She finished by yelling over her shoulder as she ran to rejoin her group, “Thanks, Robyn, you inspired me!”

Wow! A warm fuzzy for a damp dreary day. Thank you, Debbie. I ran a little bit faster all the way home.

Always look on the bright side of life.

Grey. Dark. Damp. Drizzle. Dreary. Describing the weather outside. It is quite uninspiring.

I am sitting on my bed post long run, pre coffee with a friend. The clocks went back overnight. We are officially into winter time. This morning I woke at 6:30am according to the clock, most of which are still in yesterday’s time zone.

I got up, tripped over the cats, more than once, and prepared for my long run featuring hills. In new time I left the house just after 6am. The ground was wet underfoot. Precipitation of some description had occurred during the night. The early morning was eerie. It reminded me of the morning of 9/11 which had had similar weather. That day though I imagined all those souls lost in the rush to get to wherever they were headed. I have checked the news headlines – no similar mass deaths have been reported.

It was a plodding sort of day, as it is when you need to clock up 30k. I ran towards Hagley Park. Visibility was poor and the few cars out and about made their presence known only by matching orbs of light. It was quiet.

Hagley was surprisingly devoid of human life too. I cannot remember seeing anyone through here. I left South Hagley, short-cutted through Tower Junction and headed down Barrington Street. There was more traffic and the occasional pairing of cyclists heading out, clad in lycra, headlamps flashing. Recently there has been a lot of discussion about cycle safety and should high vis wear be compulsory. The only thing hi vis about what I was wearing was my bright blue and orange Camelbak. Though Andrew asked me later if I was wearing a headlamp. Oops, no!

And then I was at the bottom of Hackthorne. 10k done. 20 left to do. It was time to head up. And up. And keep going up.

Now I was seeing other people, walking, biking, running. All ages, all shapes. I saw people I knew, two mums from dancing, a group from another running club, and others with whom I just swapped greetings. A fine drizzle coated me with a film of moisture. My hair was dripping. About 100m ahead people blurred into the grey haze. It was the sort of morning many would just roll over and catch some more zzzzzs. But the diehards and dumbarses were out there doing it.


And that is my wow today.

Good on everyone who got a bit wet and a bit sweaty and a bit puffed this morning. I am sure whatever you did was your equivalent of my 30k (with 12 of those pretty much climbing). I am sure with whomever you shared your exercise time appreciated tye company, whether it was your usual training buddies, your partner, your dog, or the random voices in your head (pick me, they all cry!).

I hope your post exercise cuppa was just what you felt like – I had a ginormous bowl of trim flat white, and gluten free pancakes with banana, bacon and maple syrup whilst reading the Sunday Star Times at The Cup. Andrew being the best training support person a mad runner could have collected me from there.

And I really hope someone else reads this and is inspired to get out and do it even if the weather is a bit crap. Because it doesn’t matter how much money we throw at it, or what scientific advances are made, we cannot change the weather. And for most of us, most of the time, it is not too bad.

“When it’s pouring rain and you’re bowling along through the wet, there’s satisfaction in knowing you’re out there and the others aren’t.”
Peter Snell

Cover photo

Contents photo: taken from Sign if the Bellbird looking down Lyttelton Harbour.