I-runner

Tonight (Wednesday) I committed to a race, the Winter Warm Up. A 10k hilly trail run in the limestone hills of North Canterbury. Sponsored by Waipara Springs Winery

For me it is a race with a difference. I am going to subdue my competitive nature and support Mike instead. Mike is blind. I met him a couple of months ago through Achilles International. In Achilles there is no political correctness. Mike suffers from a congenital condition. He can see light and shapes well enough to run unleashed but his peripheral vision is non existent. He also struggles with depth and perception, unable to judge distant or speed of other people.

We run well together. My brain gets very tired as I struggle with my left and right. I can’t use the fall-back of pointing in the direction I mean. Mike gets very tired as during winter he can only run during the weekends. It is too dark before and after work for someone with limited sight.

The weather forecast is foul. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is someone like Mike gets to run in an event just like so many other people.

It is Sunday afternoon now. We ran this morning. It could not have been a better morning for it. The frost was hard and heavy but it morphed into a brilliantly sunny day with no wind. That is the thing about weather – it just does what it does regardless of what the forecasters predict!

A group of six congregated at the Foundation for the Blind and we car pooled from there. I love driving through Canterbury with the snowy alps outlining the western horizon. We live in a special place.

Wrapped up warm in layers of hats and gloves and puffer jackets we joined the many other runners and walkers registering, and queuing for the toilets. My feet were frozen solid but as the sun slowly rose the frost was melting. I made the brave choice to discard my thermal long sleeve, beanie and gloves for the actual run.

It was time for us to go. Mike had decided we did not need to be attached. He was a little anxious about running with a large group of people so we set off at the back. We agreed he was to set the pace, I would run to his left, unless it got tricky in which case he would pop in behind me and follow.

Our plan worked brilliantly except when Mike was diligently following me to allow faster runners to pass on the first uphill. I forgot to mention the fence had a top strand of barbed wire. He jokes about gashing open his arm and haemorrhaging profusely but in actuality he snagged his tee shirt.

We walked most of the uphills and quite a few of the alongs. About 3k from the end I pointed out some distance shiny reflections which he could just see. That was the finish. I also said there were a group of women wearing matching fluro tops calling themselves the cupcakes. We were not going to be beaten by them.

With a bit of final motivation and the threat of a cupcake closing in on us we crossed the finish line in 1:13.

Mike, you’re a bloody legend.

It was fun. Mike will be sore and stiff tomorrow. There were some good uphills. The course description said three and there were three decent sized hills, but another half dozen or so smaller or sharper ascents. Each of those was followed by a matching descent which kills the quads if you are not used to it. The scenery was stunning with long vistas of farmland dotted with sheep, pitted with limestone quarries, traversed by a freight train. Blue sky. Snowy hills and mountains. If we could have seen the coast my day would be perfect.

The race pack included a lovely lunch put on by the Amberley Rugby Club – hamburgers, sausages, hot soup and baked spuds. Sitting in the sun with a group of people celebrating their achievements, eating scrummy hot food. What a way to spend a Sunday.

Thanks to Barb Millar, from Events with a Purpose who allowed me (and Donna who guided Petronella with Fletcher the guide dog on the 10k) to run for free. Awesome event. Awesome day. Might have to come back and tackle the 20k next year. Mike, you have been warned!

(Unfortunately I am having trouble linking websites today. So no links to Events with Purpose, Waipara Springs Winery, or the Winter Warm-up Run.)

From nature to nurture

Wow. What a wonderful weekend.

Which although began on Friday afternoon made me stop and stare on Saturday morning when I was setting off for a frosty run through big country.

Seeing the sun rise turn the mountain range a rich peach colour.

Moments later the brighter sun illuminates the feather fronds of toetoe which shine golden like tinsel.

Looking back at the crisp sharp edges of the mountain ridge which serrates the intense blue of an early morning sky.

Wow. You don’t see that sleeping in on a Saturday morning in Christchurch.

I wasn’t in Christchurch though. I had a girls’ weekend with four fantastic friends.

It has become an annual tradition that the five of us get away somewhere. Like most Christchurch women we gravitate to Hanmer as it is less than two hours drive from home. The small town offers something for everyone whether you want to be excessively active or gently stroll, shop til you drop, soak in the thermal pools, wine and dine or coffee and cake.

Our tight group met between 15 and 20 years ago through playcentre. We have shared the highs and lows of parenting, marriage, careers and families. We all bring our own unique piece to the complete group.

This weekend was much needed as 2014 has brought about many changes in our working lives. No longer is there a window of opportunity when we are all available to grab a coffee during the day. Our busy lives often mean weeks go by without any opportunity to catch up.

This weekend we did.

Maybe the idea of a weekend away is to relax. I always find I pack so much in I need a day or two to recover. My legs hurt from running on steeper than usual trails. I ate and drank far more than I usually do. I stayed up late – for me! And my tummy muscles still ache from the belly laughing sessions we had.

Wow is for weekends away. Time with friends, friends with whom you feel so comfortable sharing the good and the bad, friends who you know are really laughing with you when you muddle up their names, Shawn and Dona. Friends who would happily answer to Robyn, because when three out of five were given that name at birth, it just makes sense that the others use it too.

So to the other two Robyns, to Dawn and to Shona, this is for you!

A sight to behold

This morning I was treated to an awesome natural wow. It is one I get to enjoy many times a year but it still amazes me everytime I see it.

The Southern Alps, covered with a fresh dump of winter snow, as seen from the top of the Port Hills.

I run most Sundays up there, for about 90mins. It is usually an easy 15k of conversation, the hardest part being keeping the conversation going as we keep an even pace up and down the undulations.

The Alps which reach a height of more than 3000m lie 70 west of Christchurch. Most days I catch glimpses of their majestic glory. But to see such a wide panorama from the many vantage points on the Port Hills. Wow!

20140615-173910-63550588.jpg

Picture credit

Cover picture credit

50 wows for 50 years in one run!

Today is my birthday, my 50th.

I celebrated with a run as I like to do on my birthday. It was awesome.

Andrew dropped me at the start of this track. He arranged to pick me up 90 minutes later at Moke Lake. His parting words were, “you know you are insane!”
20140609-190506-68706148.jpg

I ran through bush, bird song being the only other sound I heard. It was still. Cold. And almost raining. It was also straight up until I hit this spot beside Lake Dispute.

20140609-190808-68888451.jpg

A big tough hill, but I ran all the way over it. I might be literally over the hill, but certainly not figuratively!

20140609-190958-68998923.jpg

I found a cute wee musterer’s hut settled amongst the matagouri and bush. I preferred the musterer’s accommodation we had the other night, but this was authentically New Zealand..

20140609-191133-69093882.jpg

20140609-191131-69091945.jpg

20140609-191129-69089971.jpg

Then an easy downhill track through a paddock of cattle beast, who carried on eating as I ran by.

Traversing Moke Lake, around the head and back along the shingle road until I met my support person. He had bananas and a peanut slab!

20140609-191423-69263815.jpg

“Not all those who wander are lost”

Sometimes the journey is as much fun as the destination. Yesterday’s trip from Fairlie to Queenstown, a journey of just under 300k with a predicted drive time of three hours 25 minutes, took us almost eight.

And for once the delay did not involve mechanical meltdowns or comedic catastrophes! Though as we drove there was a lot of remembering previous
Trips and associated good and bad times!

Before we left I had had a lovely country run of about 40 minutes, enjoying the wake up sounds, sights and smells of small town New Zealand. Sheep, cattle, birdsong, woodsmoke. This was followed by a cooked breakfast and a soak in the hot tub. I seriously want one of those.

We were packed and on the road by 10am. The cloud hung low and squeezed the odd drop of water onto the windscreen, occasionally meriting the use of the wipers. It was a short drive to Lake Tekapo which seems to have been ruined by overbuilding. It is so different from when we came as kids, staying in relocated Ministry of Works houses on the lakefront, feeding the power metre with 20 cent coins and learning to skate on the outdoor rink.

I finally got my Denheath custard square and a coffee which I ate, parked overlooking the lake. It was very still and looked very cold. Low cloud obscured the mountains. From here we continued south through the Mackenzie Basin. I am more used to seeing deep golden tussocks against a brilliant blue sky. The low cloud made it very grey and bleak looking. We came across a surreal Lake Pukaki which glowed slightly blue against the cloud. It was very thick and low here. No photo ops for Mt Cook today!

Andrew threw me onto my bike and I picked up the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail. I loved it. Zipping along a well formed but still rugged trail, the blue glowing hint of a lake to my right, the distant hum of the main road to the left. Just me, my bike and a lot of bunnies. Andrew picked me up again at the top end of Pukaki by the canal inlet. These southern lakes are all linked by massive canals which move water around to feed the massive power hydro scheme. Fascinating engineering.

From Pukaki the weather was more fragmented. Sporadically the cloud would lift and we would be treated to a hint of a vista. The colours remain vibrant and would reflect beautifully in the still waters of the many lakes. Sadly I knew my little camera would not do it justice. I committed them to the photo album of my mind.

I needed more food! How or why I am not sure. I don’t eat this much at home. Omarama offered some ancient fried food or any selection of stodgy carbs. I chose to wait.

We continued south through the Lindis. Wow. It never ceases to impress me. I do live in a beautiful country. And eventually my starvation was relieved at Tarras with a bowl of creamy potato and garlic soup. I had been chilled for some time. Andrew and I do not operate on the same heating system. He was driving in a t shirt with the window down. I had a merino top, a thermal top and my windproof fleece, my winter weight cycle tights, and my beanie and gloves. I was still cold. But the driver’s needs dominate.

There was a merino store attached to the cafe. As all the signs said, “Your Icebreaker comes from here.” I fell in love with a little merino dress. Unfortunately they didn’t have it in my size otherwise I would have bought it. Very disappointed.

We carried on past Lake Dunstan, bypassing Cromwell and through the Kawarau Gorge. Again I continue to be wowed by this scenery. Despite my unsubtle hints we drove past the original home of the bungy, instead stopping by Lake Hayes for a bike ride. It was 4pm and the sun was dropping quickly. The low sun and the lifting cloud lit the lake in a golden glow. The trail looped the small lake. It was a busy wee trail with us two biking and maybe 50 people out walking or running. Andrew found it tough, telling me it was further and hillier than his commute to work. I. Loved. It. Swooping up and down the hills, relishing the view at every corner.

We got back to the car right as the sun set, to the minute. Perfect timing. And drove the final kilometres to Queenstown.

We are treating ourselves with lakefront room at the Copthorne, about 1k from the centre of town. It was dark by the time we got to the room but I think we will love our view.

We finished the day by walking in to town and having a meal at Speight’s Ale House. I may not need to eat today. Yeah, right. (Oops wrong beer ad.)

Cover photo: Lake Hayes at the start of our bike ride
Title: As we drove through some of the country used to film the Lord of the Rings series, it seems fitting to title my blog with a quote from Tolkein himself.

A Great Kiwi Road Trip

“Deviating from a plan brings opportunities unforeseen.”

I am sure that someone famous must have said that or something like it. Otherwise feel free to quote me!

Andrew and I are on a bit of a road trip. Destination Queenstown via a race I had in Cust. For those unfamiliar with New Zealand’s geography this involved us driving north west from Christchurch to Cust then heading South via the Inland Scenic Route which runs along the base of the Southern Alps.

We stopped in Geraldine to buy some food for dinner. We were spending the night en route, somewhere unbeknownst to me. While looking for the supermarket Andrew mentioned he would like to go to the Barker’s shop. The Barker family are an institution in this area, famous for their fruit products. As a child we always stopped at their farm shop as we travelled south for our annual skiing/skating holiday.

The current shop was amazing. Barkers products and their new product line, Anathoths. I wanted it all. We were the only customers. It was a dark damp Saturday evening, just before closing. Andrew and I were discussing what to buy, tossing comments back and forth across the shop.

I noticed a man. He was listening to us. As we were discussing whether Robbie would like Anathoth’s Lemon Curd as a present, the man came over.

“You must try it. It is the best.” Well, of course he would say that. He was the current owner, Michael Barker.

We spent the next 45 minutes tasting his products. He asked our opinions on marketing. Told us the stories behind his new products. How Anathoth’s is made with ingredients his grandmother would have used. That is their mission statement. Barker’s is to make the best product available. Andrew ended up going back to the car to get homemade Quince Jelly. Michael was impressed with the depth and clarity of colour but said it was a little overcooked.

It was a wonderful and unexpected delight. We left feeling enriched, and with a massive box of purchases. One I am keen to try is is unsweetened blackcurrant juice concentrate which he says adds pro-oxidants to the body which when taken two hours before vigorous exercise promotes recovery. Mmmm like the sound of that!

Straight to the supermarket to buy some cheeses and crackers. I found a local cheese, Talbot Forest Geraldine Aged, a strong cheddar which teamed well with the Spiced Apricot Chutney.

We ended up staying the night in Fairlie at a new accommodation place called The Musterer’s. Very luxurious and very well set up. I especially like the wood heated hot tub. The perfect way to soak tired muscles after a hard hilly muddy race.

Andrew is getting good at organising wee treats away. He might be a keeper after all. Soon it will be light enough for me to go for a run. As I said yesterday if we stayed the night in Fairlie I was definitely going to have a Denheath Custard Square for morning tea, I had better go for a long run. I can see my typical athlete’s diet being abandoned for the next four days.

Keep calm and run a marathon.

Murphy has a lot to answer to. His law seemed to prevail this past week. If it could go wrong, then it would.

There was the last minute accommodation kerfuffle, which finally got sorted to everyone’s satisfaction. There was the realisation that I had neglected to book a flight with bag and my suitcase was slightly too big for cabin baggage. I bluffed my way through that one. There was Signor Grumpy who refused to allow me to order a full sized meal of pumpkin risotto even though it was offered as a side. Consequently I was a little hungry going to bed the night before a marathon.

There was losing everyone in the crowds 10 minutes before the start and still carrying my gear bag. I finally found Rodger in the starting chute and he ran forward with my bag to give to his wife.

It was now less than five minutes to the start. Time to take some deep breaths. Focus. Five months of training was about to tested.

Someone began to sing the waiata, and then the rest if the kapa haka group joined in. Straight into the haka. The countdown. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. BOOM!!! The cannon blasts. We were off.

The running of the 50th Rotorua marathon. A marathon chosen because this is my 50th birthday month(ish).

My goal was to head out at 5:05 pace, hold it steady through the hills which were fairly steady from 5k with a big saddled climb between 20 and 25k, and then one last long climb at 30k.

I checked my Garmin. It just didn’t look right. Shit. The last time I had worn it I had been on my bike and it was still set in bike mode. I couldn’t remember how to change it. Dammit. Damn that bloody Murphy. I would have to run with it registering average speed in kilometres rather than pace. Oh well.

First k done, I felt really comfortable but the pace (which flashes with every k in tiny little writing) was 4:52. Too fast. I tried to slow down, but literally couldn’t. The next 10k were pretty much all bang bang bang around the 4:50 mark. I felt really easy.

It was tough running though, through the suburbs and then alongside the main highway out of Rotorua to Hamilton and Auckland. There was a lot of traffic, and noise.

We had driven the route yesterday so I knew vaguely what lay ahead. A lot of hills barely noticeable in the Holden but big climbs on foot. I am strong on hills and have the experience now to keep a steady pace on both sides. First 5k done in 24 minutes. Seems slow for a 5k but not in a marathon.

I first ran Rotorua in 2008. It was only my second marathon and I was pushing for 3:50 which would have been a Boston qualifier in those days. I went out too fast, burned on the hills, and suffered through the final 18 kilometres into a headwind, for a time of 3:55. No Boston for me that time.

So I knew Rotorua was a tough taskmaster. As we had discussed the previous night, it used to be called the Rotorua Challenge!

With all the snafu over my gear bag I had not managed a final pit stop. My gut had been iffy for the previous 36 hours and you’d think would have had nothing left. With all my blood going to the muscles, luckily it seemed to forget it had wanted a final visit to the poop deck. (I have been reading about Captn James Cook who mapped NZ in the Endeavour). My bladder was on temporary hold.

This race had big numbers for a NZ marathon. I was not running alone. In fact I was tripping over people, especially at drink stations. At one stage I flung my arm out to give a thumbs up to a bagpiper and nearly took someone’s eye out. He was trying to pass on my inside. Whoops.

My running club had six people running in our distinctive royal blue singlet with bright orange horizontal stripe. It clearly states Christchurch Avon Athletic Club, front and back. It was great. So many people cheered me on, “Go Christchurch”. A lot of NZ feel sorry for what we are living with, and many if them have not actually spoken to someone who has lived through the earthquakes and flooding. It was very warming.

20140505-044454.jpg

My bib also had my name on it. So I got a lot of “Go Robyns.” That really helps. Everyone got a thumbs up. The volunteers on the drinks station all got thanked.

We are leaving suburbia, and running closer to the lake. Rotorua is the centre of the geothermal region. There is an ever present smell of rotten eggs. And little pockets of steam just vent out of the ground, anywhere and everywhere. Boiling mud. Spouting geysers. It is surrounded by volcanoes, long since extinct, but not so far south there are still Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngarahoe. I was going to be mightily pissed if volcanic activity ruined this weekend!

10k done in 48 minutes.

A couple of dudes caught me. They had bunches of blue helium balloons. They were the 3:30pacers. I was still worried about my pacing, feeling it was too fast, so I planned to stick with them. My AA goal was sub3:30 but I really thought that was a fantasy considering the hilliness and my PB is 3:27. So my more realistic A goal was 3:32 but I expected to run 3:36, and would be happy with under 3:40.

I hadn’t set split times to meet. This was was going to be run by feel/effort. Because it was also the NZ marathon champs I knew there were some big names. And because it is located centrally to the biggest population bases, more people would attend. Not so many North Islanders bother to travel when the champs are in the South Island.

These pacing guys were running steadily, but I felt they were running a little fast for a 3:30 finish. Still I kept up with them through the big hills. They were big hills. Climbing for about 2k, traversing a saddle for just under a k, up again and then a long steep descent. I knew this is where you could trash your legs for the long run home. The balloons got ahead of me a bit. But I thought if they got home in 3:30 and I could still see them, then I would hit my 3:32.

Through the half way mark at 1:44. My Garmin was running between 200 and 300m ahead of the k markers, but there was a clock at halfway.

We hit the turn for home just short of 25k. Six years ago this is where some bastard tied a parachute filled with bricks onto my waist and I struggled to tow them home. This time I was tired but focussed. My average speed was 12.5k. That used to be my top interval speed on the treadmill! Oh how I have learned so much.

Other people seemed to have attracted the load of bricks. There were a lot of people walking now. We started another big long climb. I thought I could see another blue and orange singlet ahead of me. I pushed a bit harder and closed the gap. Sure enough it was Rodger, struggling. He has been dealing with an ongoing hamstring-glute injury and trying to fix it with wacky-doodle treatments. He was aiming for a 3:10 finish, even though it was obvious he was never going to do it. I always wondered if I would beat him this weekend. In the end he pulled out at the 30k mark. Sorry Rodger. With true Kiwi love and support he has been the butt (pun intended) of all our jokes since. The best being that it was the start of the duck shooting season, and Rodger bagged the biggest duck (a cricket term which means you are out for no runs).

That bloody headwind was back again. It was tough, mentally and physically. I felt like I was making no progress, whereas I was still running about 5:13 pace. My maths head was tired and I was doing crazy calculations. I wanted to walk. I wanted to stop. I wanted to be there. My toe hurt – there was a blister eruption growing. Must obey the rules and not wear new shoes!

But the ks kept ticking off. I kept battling the wind. I kept pushing it harder than I wanted to. The road is interminably straight. I have been passing people but still being passed by others. There are the half marathon walkers taking up space. And the next day driving it in reverse to the airport, we noticed what a steady climb it had been.

Somewhere we veer off but where was it. The ks are still ticking over. Down to 10 and then nine. Past the airport. Eight. Seven. Here’s the turnoff. This is shorter than around Hagley Park. There’s the finish over there.

Six. Five. Four. I ran four in 17mins last week. I have 23 minutes to run four this week and still break 3:30! Three. Pak’n’Save must be here soon. That is the final turn to home.

Two kilometres. Twelve minutes left.

One kilometre. And Pak’n’Save. The crowd goes wild. The support is incredible. The previous night we had secretly texted our estimated finish time to Andrea. The closest to their time would win. My text was simple. “3:32. Fuck!” But I knew that the others would have finished and they would be waiting for me.

We turn and run under the arches and down the river to the Rotorua Museum, a big grand old Victorian building. I cross a timing mat. People are yelling my name. My team mates. I sprint (or what counts as a sprint at the end of a gruelling 42k) past Mr Orange guy, aiming to get a gun time of under 3:30. It was 3:29:23. Net time 3:29:04.

Someone put a medal around my neck. Someone else stopped me and took my photo. I grabbed two bottles of Powerade and wandered out.

Andrew RJ and Richard found me. Congratulated me. Hugged me. There was Rodger. More hugs. And John. Another hug. I told them I needed to lie down, pass out, throw up or crap myself. Getting mixed messages from my body.

We met up with the wives and walked back to the hotel, a mere 500m away. Planned to reconvene for a soak in the mineral hot pools at 2:30pm.

I showered. And nibbled. And tried to sleep. But couldn’t. Eventually I wandered into town for some food. Macaroni cheese – yum, yum. Runners were still streaming in. We met up and went to the pools. It was really lovely sitting soaking the body in hot water, overlooking a steaming lake, birds flying. I don’t cope with the heat so I sat on the side and just soaked my legs. Had a bit of a swim in one pool. It was so lovely. The pools were filled with runners. There was a lot of sharing of war stories.

We went back to the hotel, met at the bar for a celebratory drink and walked back to the prize giving. I had found out by then that I had come fourth in my age group. Better than I expected. John had also come fourth with a time of 3:03. Rodger was a DNF. Richard had returned from the Paris marathon followed by four weeks in Europe. He was just behind John, considerably slower than his usual 2:50mark, but undertrained, overtired, and carrying a flight cold and a hip injury. Andrew ran 2:53. He found it tough too.

We went down to the prize giving. I was astounded to find that in the NZ Marathon Champs I had come second, John picked up a bronze medal.

What a wow. It really was a tough marathon. It was probably also the first marathon I really battled. Usually I get two weeks out and give up on my goals. Or sandbag. Or sabotage myself. But this time I just kept pushing and needling away. One more k. Just keep going. Run your own race. You are doing great.

Today I am tired. I never sleep well after a marathon. My toe hurts from my blister. My butt hurts from powering up those hills. I am hungry – need to find breakfast! But I am not terribly stiff at all.

And I am justifiably pleased with myself. Considering I have only five weeks left in this age group, I am still kicking some serious butt!

So every though the final days were fraught with obstacles, I overcame them and kept on kept calm(ish).