Losing the labels

Hi. My name is Robyn and I like hugs.

That was a strange sentence to write. For so many years I have been Robyn who doesn’t like hugs. It was a label I gave myself. Along with shy. Fat. Frumpy. Worthless.

These labels are peeling off. The ink fading. The words no longer relevant.

These labels have been my security blanket. They have defined me in my mind as others would see me. I feel exposed and vulnerable without them. But it is time to let them drop off and be forgotten.

I have grown. Which is a good thing because it means that I am not just alive but I am living. But without any labels how will I and others know who I am.

Who am I?

Hi. I am Robyn. I like being hugged.

Hi. I’m Robyn, I am Andrew’s wife, and mum to three wonderful people.

Hi. I’m Robyn. I am a runner. Actually I am the Canterbury marathon champion! Now that’s a pretty cool label.

Hi, I’m Robyn, and I’m ok.

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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.

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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.

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Winning is everything!

My feet ache. My legs twitch. My belly demands feeding, again, as I look at the empty bowl next to me. My butt feels tight as, or should I say tight ass! And my arms are tired. How can my arms be tired?

This morning I ran 30 odd kilometres, 22 of those being part of a race. The Sri Chinmoy Waimairi Beach challenge. I was aiming to run at tempo, come in the top three women. And tack on an extra eight to fulfil my Jantastic long run. I had raced a pretty speedy off road 4k yesterday.

I woke early. It is a big day today. Later this afternoon we have the “grandparents” coming for afternoon tea. At 6am I got up and made scones, and mashed eggs ready for sandwiches. By 7am I was in the car heading east to Waimairi beach.

It was very dark. And a thick sea fog covered the slumbering city. This was good. This meant no easterly wind.

I warmed up with a 2k jog along the track, and then my routine of lunges, leg swings, hacky sacks, single skips. It works for me. I registered. Checked out the entry list. Very few women. No names I recognised.

I talked to one younger woman. This was her longest run. Ever. Sweet. Crossed her off of my list of threats. Then this uber fit skinny bitch bounced up. All muscle and speed. Top three, Robyn. I had already discarded any momentary thought that this was not a race. It was on.

It is the usual practice at Sri Chinmoy races to have a moment of reflection. I used this moment to rub my hands up and down my thighs, to feel the muscle bound by compression shorts, to focus on their strength. My mantra today would be strong. Vajin sounded the hooter and we were racing.

It was still. It was foggy. There was no colour. Grey sand. Grey cloud. Grey sea.

A wee dot of a thing headed to the front of the women. She was wearing a lot of colour – bright blue shorts and a red cotton Sri Chinmoy tee shirt. She was determined to stay ahead of me. I was sitting on her shoulder. When I went ahead a bit she sped up to catch me and stay just ahead. This went on for 2k. I was thinking, dumb move. My legs must be eight inches longer than yours, you are breathing heavily wasting all this mental and physical energy surging. I am a nasty mean cat toying with a weak mouse.

To my left I see the skinny bitch, all in blue bound alongside me. Wee dot pulled right back. I think she realised she was up against the big guns. Skinny bitch and I ran side by side for about 3k. The tide was out and there was a wide expanse of hard, fast sand. And pure luxury, no easterly headwind.

I could tell Skinny was determined. But so was I. Was I prepared to battle this out for 17 more kilometres, she was breathing heavier than I was but I was being made to work.

The beach calms me. I love the waves and I am sure the positive ionic energy created by the breaking water breathes new life into me. I thought of my mother. Part of my therapy to deal with depression involved me coming to the beach and having an out loud conversation with my mother. Yeah, I felt like an idiot but I found it helpful.

Today I heard the gentle ching ching of the two stone hearts my mother gave me as they tapped together. I focussed on mum. Come on, it is your time to help me. I changed my mantra to “give me wings, and make me fly.”

And fly I did. I subconsciously kicked it up a gear. Very soon Skinny was behind me. I felt strong. I was tearing north along that beach.

Ahead of me I could see just one other runner, a black silhouette. I knew he was third male. I was fourth overall, and now leading woman. I felt strong. I felt invincible. By golly, I must be Helen Reddy!

My pace was pretty steady half marathon pace, 4:35ish. Everything felt good. My Garmin was burring kilometre markings frequently. It seemed like no time until I could see more disturbed sea as the great Waimakariri river, which has come from deep in the mountains, meets the Pacific Ocean.

Cones marked our change of direction. And also change of surface. Farewell hard flat and fast sand. Hello marshmallow. Instantly we were on a rough beach track. The sand was incredibly dry and soft. My legs which for the previous 55 minutes had been pounding out speedy ks suddenly had the brakes slammed on. Every foot placement slid or sunk. It was hard. And slow. My pace dropped to about 5:40 but my effortometre was heading to a high nine out of 10. I knew we had a good five to seven ks of this. I dreaded being caught by someone else. Oh the horror if Skinny chased me down. I kept pushing through the thickness.

With relentless forward progress you do eventually reach your destination, or at least a marker in the journey. As we neared Spencer Park more people-traffic had hardened the track. And coming out of Spencer Park I know the track well. There are five little dune climbs, but the rest is hard and fast multi-use track. Which meant, of course, that there were mountain bikers, and men with dogs, and baby buggies the size of a small RV, and couples taking their Sunday constitutional. I was still asking for wings. I had picked up speed. I was flying again. My final kilometres were at 4:30 pace.

There were the flags. There was the finish line. If there is one thing I do, it is a strong sprint finish. I crossed that line, 1:47:05 after I had started. I don’t know the exact mileage, but it was pretty close to 22k, either up or down. I kept my Garmin running and went for a slow jog cool down to get my final kilometres in for Jantastic.

There might not have been many people in this event, maybe 40. There were only five or six women. But I gave it everything I had. I won it fair and square. More than the medal, though, I won the feeling that the training is going well. I feel confident heading into Rotorua in just under five weeks.

I ache, but it was worth it.

Beach runner photo

My final Jantastic score was 99.6%
Skinny finished about five minutes behind me.
Wee Dot came in about 2:15

All you need is love

Today is Valentine’s Day. The day of love.

What bollocks!

Every day should be a day of love.

Growing up in New Zealand, Valentine’s Day was something I read about or saw on TV. It was part of a culture quite different to mine, one which included Halloween, Thanksgiving, cheerleaders, proms and drive-in movies.

I also read a lot of English books and was just as intrigued with boarding school, lacrosse and smugglers. (OK, I read a lot of Enid Blyton.)

Somehow with the globalisation of the world these figments of my childhood literary world have invaded my actual adult world. I even saw school girls playing lacrosse in Hagley Park on Wednesday.

Valentine’s Day. Roses. Chocolates. Cards. Gifts. Dinners and special dates. The pressure is on.

It is Friday. In our family Friday are fragile. Everyone is a little frazzled. Tempers are frayed. Fights frequent.

But we know this and try to avoid any extra pressure.

Juliet teaches dance class and then babysits or goes out, or else goes to bed early. Jonny usually has indoor soccer and dines royally at Burger King. Robert goes into cyberspace and does not notice anything else outside of that world.

Often Andrew will come home and offer to take me out for a meal as neither of us feel like cooking. It will be cheap. Sometimes so cheap it involves a trip to the supermarket deli and then parking up by a river or the sea. It doesn’t actually matter. What is important is the time we have alone to talk about stuff – big stuff, little stuff, silly stuff. That’s what keeps the love evolving.

I like getting flowers. And presents. I like being romanced and treated like I am special.

But I like it more when it just happens. Not because of some declared day.

And when Juliet says I can share her pot of coffee, or Robbie pats me on my head as he walks past. Jonny puts selfies all over my phone and Andrew offers to bring me tea if I am working late at work.

That is love.

The cat nuzzling me all night, kneading my shoulder, purring loudly on my chest? Not love! Hunger! The cats need to give me flowers and chocolates today!

So this Valentine’s Day will be like any other Friday. If we can get through it without falling out – that will be fine. That is all I need.

Solar recharge

Where deepest green meets grains of gold.
Brightest blue reflects in cooling seas.
Totaranui.
The most beautiful place I know.

Winding through the hills
On a road narrow and fragile.
Dust clouds surround our load.
Cicadas herald our arrival.

We drive through the avenue
Of English trees planted years ago.
The sun beats down. Our clothes feel sticky.
As possessions tumble around the car and trailer.
The children vanish into thin air.

They will return. Occasionally.
To eat.
To sleep.
To eat some more.
The only signs of their existence.
Dishes on the table.
Wet towels on the floor.

Meanwhile it is us. Mum and Dad.
Who build a castle out of canvas and boxes.
The sounds of metal on metal ring out across the bay
As poles are assembled. Tent pegs hammered home.
Beds are made. Kitchen organised.
The lounge is on the beach.
My work is done.

For two weeks I live here,
Off the grid as they say.
There is no electricity.
Or cellphones.
Perfect for recharging the batteries.

Before packing it all up.
And driving back to the city.
Until next year.
When we will come again.

I wrote this poem about a place very dear to me. I go there tomorrow. I won’t be able to blog while I am away. But I am sure I will have plenty to say upon my return. Until then.