International Yoga Day

I was asked recently if I was happy with how my Coast to Coast training went. As a whole, the answer is “Yes”, but compared to when I trained for Coast the first time, my situations couldn’t have been more different. The main factor between the two was working for a company compared to now being my own boss. Working for yourself has this dreamy connotation – you get to work your own hours, have as many days off as you like etc, etc. But to be honest, the last two (or so) years have been the hardest of all. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I know I shouldn’t say this but some days I just want to throw it all in the air and work in a café. But luckily those days are few, and there are more good days when I feel like I’m kicking butt and doing what makes me happy.

No matter how many hours you get to put aside for training, there is one aspect that I did the first time around that I didn’t do last year was yoga. And I regret it. If I can offer you one piece of advice – yoga is it. Mentally. Physically. It helps on so many levels. And as it’s International Yoga day today, I thought I’d write about it.

When Lululemon asked me to speak at their event to celebrate International Yoga in a few weeks, I was initially stoked, but that was quickly followed by ‘What they heck am I going to talk about?!’. Which got me thinking. Yoga is more than just downward dogs on a mat and praying that you don’t fart, though. Even though it’s really, really hard not to laugh when someone does. Or an excuse to pick your toenails when you’re holding a position for what seems like an awkwardly long time. If you’ve done yoga before, I can almost guarantee you can relate to both. And while I do love going to classes, I find my yoga in the hills and mountains; my form of meditation that helps with the stresses of life. Have you ever found yourself running along, and then you get to the end suddenly and wonder how the heck you got there? So lost in the moment that it becomes therapeutic. That’s what yoga is to me.

If you’re free next weekend and are in Christchurch then why don’t you come along? They describe their event as “A day of flow, connection and inspiration from Christchurch’s best. Explore how the benefits of yoga show up in all areas of your life and how practice can become something so much more than on the mat.” You can grab a ticket here.

I am in no way sponsored by Lululemon, but I want to genuinely share with you how awesome I think they are. And not just because they have amazing fitness clothes. I went into their shop a while ago (I try and stay away to be honest as I just want to buy everything!) to sort out some gear for my Coast to Coast supporters and started chatting away with the lovely girls working there. A few weeks later I received an email asking if I would supply some magazines to an evening they were organising (which, I, of course, said yes) and was stoked a few weeks after that to be invited to their event ‘Talk to Table’.

Rocking up to the stunning venue in Lyttleton (the old Kingswood Skis workshop) I was blown away. I was one of 50 that was invited along, all from the Christchurch community who Lululemon support in different ways. Surrounded by people who ran their own business, were ambassadors or worked for Lululemon, we mingled while listening to epic tunes before sitting down to a beautiful spread by Herba Gourmet. It was a great night meeting new people, going somewhere new and feeling like what I do doesn’t go unnoticed. No longer do I think they are a global company chasing the dollar, but a company who supports their community and is helping those in the fitness industry pursue their goals. A boomer of a marketing strategy!

And it gets better; I was invited to their store opening too! They have moved out of their temporary store next to Ballantynes in the iconic Container Mall and can now be found further up Cashel Mall at 145 – 161. The morning started with a Bootybarre® class at the recently opened On Pointe studio at Carlton Corner. It wasn’t just the new gear that got me excited, but if I had my time again, I would have carried on with ballet and dance. I was so excited to go and do a class in their studio and while it turns out I’m not as strong as I was when I was 12 (those glute exercises), the love for ballet is still strong. Described as a fun, high energy fusion class, combining Pilates, Dance, Yoga with Cardio Intervals at the barre, it is suitable for all levels. Give it a nudge if you’re looking for something a little bit different from the usual yoga class.

We then headed back for a yummy breakfast and the chance to check out their new store before it officially opened to the public. I would highly recommend a visit if only to see the beautiful art on the walls by local artist Lara Marshall.

Thanks Lululemon for your support and for giving me the chance to be a part of your amazing community.

“True meditation is about being fully present with everything that is – including discomfort and challenges. It is not an escape from life.” ~ Craig Hamilton

 

I’d seen the trailer of the Waitomo Trail Run earlier in the year and decided if there were any events to head north for this would be one. So (easily) convincing Scott to join me, we booked tickets to Auckland for a long weekend to explore the caves of Waitomo.

Like every event these days, it rolled around far too fast, and my training was somewhat dubious. Or maybe it wasn’t. It’s fair to say the last year of consistent training has set me up with a pretty solid base, which I occasionally take for granted. When I thought back over the previous week, I had managed to fit in a mountain bike, a road bike, a kayak, a trail run and three yoga sessions (it’s my new morning ritual, will be interesting to see how long it lasts!). So why I hadn’t trained specifically for this race, there was plenty of cross training in there to keep the heart ticking over.

Meeting Scott in Auckland on Friday morning, we picked up our rental car and hit the motorway south. With plenty of time to kill before registration in Waitomo at 5pm, we decided to take a detour and see what Raglan was all about. Discovering a quirky little surfing town, we grabbed some lunch and spent a very peaceful afternoon on the beach soaking up the autumn rays and watching many attempt to catch the decent-sized waves rolling in.

Punching in Waitomo to the navigation, we opted for the shortest route, resulting in a gravel road and some very beautiful North Island countryside. Hey, it’s, all part of the adventure.

The Waitomo Trail Run, now in its second year, is put on by Paul Charteris, well-known in the trail run world for running the Tarawera Ultra. It had managed to attract 3,300 people, a massive number for a New Zealand event. There were four options – 35km, 22km, 11km and 6km. So no surprise, we both entered the 35-kilometre event – may as well get our money’s worth!

Staying with a great friend’s parents, who live a very handy ten minutes out of Waitomo, we planned to head to registration about 5:30pm then on to their house. What we didn’t count on was 3,300 others turning up at the same time!! After seeing the length of the line, and what we imagined would be at least an hour wait, we headed back to the Roberts with the plan to come back just before registration closed at 8pm. Definitely a great idea – we turned up with no line and were registered in less than five minutes!

An early start had us parking the car and getting on the bus while it was still dark. Heading south for a good 30 minutes had me questioning just how underprepared I was for this race. Opting to not take a pack with water (there were aid stations along the way) we looked around and couldn’t spot anyone who had made the same decision as us. Too late now but it certainly didn’t help the nerves! We were on the second bus to arrive at the start, which meant we were also in the second wave to start. We were at the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, and a quick five-minute walk amongst beautiful native bush, deep in the undergrowth had me excited as to how the day would unfold. I was feeling good; drizzling and warm, it was ideal conditions for running.

The gun went off just after 7.30am. Playing follow the leader, we climbed some stairs and headed off on the course. It’s not often the start of the race is memorable, but as I arrived at a fence with the competitors in front of me coming back looking lost, I could only laugh. No one had any idea where the track was. Some were saying that it took us back to the carpark where the bus dropped us off, with others saying that it had to be the track and maybe we went past it? So off we all went again, back to the start. The front runners arrived and were told to turn around and head back; we had missed a marker right at the very start which took us in an entirely different direction. Eventually, we found it and got back on track, but by now we were all a big group again and had lost at least five minutes of time.

I managed to get into a steady rhythm as best I could – it was extremely wet underfoot which made for lots of sliding! It was exactly like the jungle – except you could reach out and grab branches without your hand being covered in biting ants! Gotta love NZ. The terrain was beautiful; dense bush, river crossings and lots of single track. We also went through the only cave of the day, a highlight of the course. I had planned on taking pictures with my iPhone for the entire course, but after face-planting in the cave while trying to take a photo and still run, I decided that a broken phone wasn’t what I wanted, so it was put away and only pulled out a few times when I was walking.

The first aid station was 10 kilometres in and I arrived feeling great. The race had opted for a ‘no cup’ policy, so I was carrying my Altra Aspire cup in a belt around my waist, along with my phone. The aid stations were second to none – water, electrolytes, fruit, sandwiches, coke and sweets – everything needed to keep you going. Grabbing a drink and a few bananas I didn’t wait around long and was back on the trail in no time.

The next eight-and-a-half kilometres were the toughest of the day. Mostly through farmland, it was quite steep in places, both up and down, and the wet underfoot made it very slow going. I took many tumbles and ungraceful slides, and at times carried an extra few kilogrammes of mud under my sneakers, but it was bloody good fun. Run the flats and downs and walk the ups was the motto of the day, which seemed to work out very well for me. I even ran some of the ups!

I had no idea how far away the next aid station was, and after what seemed like ages I was questioning whether not taking a pack was a bad move. I was just lucky that it wasn’t any warmer – if I come back to do this race again I will definitely be taking a pack with me! But finally, the aid station came into view, where I guzzled down some much-needed water and sweet oranges, before grabbing a few more goodies and eating while I walked.

A few kilometres after the second aid station we got to a section where we could opt to go through the hole in the rock – or bypass it. When in Rome! I was with three other competitors, so we all decided to head for the gap. Helping each other through – well I was fine, one of the few times being small is an advantage! From then on the landscape opened out and was mostly downhill as we headed for the finish line at the Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre. Unfortunately, the last four or so kilometres was on the same track as the 6km race, which meant many people and plenty of children dodging. It was a shame really, as it slowed the pace and there were just too many people going in both directions and was too narrow to pass easily.

But it did mean that the end wasn’t far away and I managed to cross the finish line in 5.02 hours, just sneaking into the top 10 females. Scott was waiting for me having come in an amazing hour beforehand, and finishing 12th overall. I wonder how he would have gone if we didn’t get lost at the start??

I’m a South Islander through and through, but this course gives the trails of the South a run for their money. While it doesn’t have the Southern Alps to frame the backdrop, I can only imagine what it would be like on a beautiful day. If you want to do a run in the North Island, then I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter. – Francis Chan

I had once heard that if you put your tongue on the top of your mouth, it will stop an ice cream headache. In between breaths and trying not swallow the entire Lake Wanaka, I was doing just that, but so far it wasn’t working. I was no more than ten strokes into the 2.5 kilometre stretch of water that lay ahead of me. I knew it was going to be long, but never did I imagine it was going to be this cold.

Looking up every third stroke or so, I was aiming for the boats which were supposedly making a channel for us to follow, guiding us to the flag on the other side of Stevenson’s Arm. That’s what we had been told at the race briefing the evening before anyway. Scott was ahead of me, just that much faster so that he could tread water and have a proper look at the line we needed to be taking before I caught up. Except he wasn’t convinced. The boats appeared to be well out to our right, and instinct told us (well, Scott) that we needed to head more left. Meanwhile, I was having a mere; I just didn’t seem to be making any progress, the shore appearing no closer than it had been when I looked ten minutes earlier.

We stopped for a much-needed team talk and devised an action plan. I could sense the frustration in Scott’s voice when he was politely telling me I kept drifting in the wrong direction. We had a tow rope that we had already been using on the run, but had opted not to use on this leg. If there was ever a time in this race to work together as a team, this was it, that and we needed to start moving again quickly before we both froze! We hooked it up to each other, and for the rest of the swim I sat right on Scott’s feet and let him be the guide.  The odd occasion that he did stop I kept on swimming up beside him; I had visions of Titanic recreating itself at the top of Lake Wanaka.

The last time I could remember being this cold was when I was at primary school, and we were stuck up the mountain on the chairlift in a white out. I couldn’t feel my feet, or my hands and I kept biting my tongue as my teeth chattered uncontrollably. I would have given Miley Cyrus a damn good run for her money with my twerking skills, of which I had no control over! I actually did think this while swimming, that and how all I wanted was a Pork and Apple Pie from the Fairlie Bakehouse.

“Is that shore getting any bloody closer?” I yelled in my mind, angry at myself for not putting in the hours needed to swim eight kilometres competitively, let alone the 2.5 I was attempting now. But like anything, I knew I just had to keep going. There was no doubt it was going to end, it was just up to me how quickly that was going to be. Someone asked me once I had finished if I freaked out when I saw the bottom. I instantly replied ‘no’. Seeing the bottom meant the swim was almost over! I’m making it sound like I hated the swimming, I didn’t, I really enjoyed it. The repetition of arm strokes, breathing, and gentle kicking had a soothing rhythm to it. What I didn’t enjoy, especially on the long section, was the cold.

While living in London three years earlier I had heard about a race called ÖTILLÖ, (Swedish for “island to island”) an endurance swimrun race based in the Stockholm archipelago. I guess what intrigued me the most were the images of people wearing a wetsuit while running distances more than a marathon, with some weird floatation device attached to their legs and paddles on their hands. My mind boggled, and I needed to know more.

ÖTILLÖ started in 2002 when two teams of two challenged each other to run and swim 75 kilometres over 26 islands. The rules were simple: the last team had to drink and pay for the rounds at the bars lining the route. And so, the sport of swimrun was born. When I heard that Breca Swimrun was coming to Wanaka for its inaugural event, there was no option I was going to miss this one.

NOTE: Breca (or Brexit as Mum calls it as she knew the Race Director Ben is from the UK) is a character from the Old English epic poem Beowulf. In a seven-day swimming race across icy, windswept seas Breca is victorious over the eponymous hero; a defeat that Beowulf only acknowledges as he had stopped to fight sea monsters during the match. This is mainly for mum’s benefit, but I bet she will still call it Brexit.

The competitive side in me was always going to opt for the bigger challenge of the day. The Long Course consisted of 17 transitions – eight swim legs (eight kilometres) and nine run legs (42.2 kilometres), while the Sprint Course was the last half of the long course, starting at West Wanaka and consisting of five run legs (15 kilometres) and four swim legs (3.5 kilometres). Starting at Albert town, we set off running at 8am (a very leisurely start time due to daylight savings) along the Outlet Track towards the mouth of the Clutha, and our first swim leg. The initial cold water running down my back took my breath away but was quickly forgotten as I battled sideways while pushing against the current to the bank on the other side.

We then carried up the west side of the lake along a 4WD track and down into Dublin Bay. Aiming for a tree on the other side we were overtaken by a few teams but appeared to be tracking along nicely. We arrived at the first checkpoint of the day and fuelled up on bananas, cliff bars and electrolytes. It was a treat not having to carry our own! In a move that I hope quickly becomes compulsory in all events, no matter how big or small was the exclusion of plastic throw-away cups. Instead, we had to carry our own drinking device with us throughout the day. We both used an UltrAspire cup, which can be screwed up to nothing and jammed inside our wetsuit. They worked brilliantly, not only better for our environment, but it must have been so much easier for the volunteers at each station. I was warned they don’t go so well when filled with hot water, though!

Cruising along we picked our way over sheep tracks the gravel beaches before crossing at the top of the lake over Stevenson’s Arm and down to the shore for the longest swim of the day. Just surviving the freezing waters, we emerged on Cattle Flat on the far side and had a short amble (meant to be a run but the legs took a wee while to find life again, see first few paragraphs) to the next transition. Politely harassing the volunteers for a warm cup of tea, or just anything warm (we weren’t the only ones), we fuelled up again before starting the longest run section of the day. Scott and I had both previously done this route before while competing in Red Bull Defiance, except that time we had the luxury of two wheels beneath us! Scott’s stomach wasn’t playing ball, not ideal in a wetsuit, so we cruised along at a steady pace before reaching the next station just before the Matukituki River bridge.

The overcast skies had now cleared to a beautiful warm autumn day, and it didn’t take long for the sun to warm our bodies in our wetsuits. The conditions were once again perfect. Somehow, I had managed to hit the jackpot with my three main events this year – Coast, Challenge and now Breca (luckily, I avoided the snow storm at Defiance!).

A long flat slog along a gravel road to Buchanan’s Rise followed, but we managed to run all of it before reaching the water of Glendhu Bay and the next swim section. We were met by three boats with friends and family – Jacqs and her brother Aaron had come over from Alexander, Dad with his jet boat and Adam Spiers with his. I was slightly jealous of the ladies on the back of Adam’s sipping their wine while soaking up the rays! Dad had bought his jet boat down to follow us throughout the day; any excuse to trawl and fish for nine+ hours! He was great, and we often found him chatting to the race volunteers at transitions, a very typical trait. At one stage, we were running along the millennium track when we looked down and spotted him fly fishing below us, quickly followed by Jacqs and her brother hooning past on their wakeboard! I did mention to Scott that I would have happily traded places with them both.

From here to the finish line we managed a good pace, both running and swimming. I really enjoyed the running and found myself keeping up with Scott more than I usually would (yes, I was still on the tow for the hills), but we made up good time on the run sections, only to be caught and passed once back in the water. Unluckily for us, we finished with two one-kilometre swims out to Ruby Island and back, and were frustratingly overtaken again. But on the plus side, I have always wondered what Ruby Island was like and look forward to going back next time on a jet boat with a beer in hand!

Running up the grassy bank at Edgewater we stopped the clock at 09:22, well down the pack but very happy with our efforts. As always is the case with these types of endurance events, the pain has diminished, and I find myself wondering if Hvar in Croatia is a good spot for the next swimrun race (I know, how bloody awesome would that be!). I couldn’t fault the event; it was well run and a great day out exploring the shores of Lake Wanaka. They have some exciting news for next year too, although we were told not to let the cat out of the bag. So, here’s a clue: It’s not in the South Island, and it involves a group of islands…

I’m the first to admit I underestimated this race. Or, more to the point didn’t train properly. Since the Kathmandu Coast to Coast, I had really buttoned off, in fact, I am ashamed to say I only managed four swims outside of the pool – two in the irrigation pond at Mum and Dads, one in Lake Clarence over Christmas (yikes) and one while competing in Challenge Wanaka. Add to that a rather large Friday night the week before celebrating the Irish, with the Irish, resulting in a cracked rib. I figured if there was any bone in the body to hurt and still compete, a rib was just that. But it did mean that codeine and ibuprofen were consumed quite high quantities during the seven days leading up to the race.

But I love a challenge, and this was exactly that.

If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary. – Jim Rohn

Life after Coast

My focus for the last six months, and with good reason, has been the Kathmandu Coast to Coast. Everything seemed to revolve around getting myself over the line at New Brighton Beach. I don’t think I have ever been so organised for a race before. Ever. Lists of lists included. Exactly a week after the Longest Day, I headed south to compete as part of a team for Challenge Wanaka Half-Ironman, and the contrast between the two couldn’t have been bigger.

I did the swim leg of team Say Yes to Adventure, with Scottie claiming the bike and Jacqs the run and at the last minute, I joined a friend’s team who found themselves a man down on the run section. Because it seemed entirely logical six months ago to do the only part of the race that I hadn’t done any training for! I wasn’t nervous at all, though, even with minimal training. I had done a couple of swims in Mum and Dad’s irrigation ponds a few months ago, plus a few over Christmas in the new lake at Clarence (thanks to the Kaikoura earthquake). I knew I had the fitness and for me, swimming is about getting into a steady rhythm and keeping the arms ticking over. I lived in Sydney for three years, where I joined Bondi Fit, a triathlon club based at Bondi, and managed to go from someone who only ever made the ‘K Grade’ at school swimming sports, to someone who could do a two-kilometre ocean swim fairly easily (no records were broken, however). So far, I appear to be unsinkable, my bubble butt finally offering a small advantage.

It seemed like everything was against us not to compete in the event, though. A compulsory registration had to be completed before 6.30pm on Friday, which meant an early afternoon departure from Christchurch. Scottie and I got as far as Mum and Dad’s south of Ashburton, as they were coming down with us, picked up Dad then headed for Geraldine to collect Mum after she finished teaching for the day. Even with a very tight schedule, there was room for a brief stop for a Fairlie Bakehouse pie on the way – never a bad move – before we were back on the road and heading slightly too fast to Wanaka. Arriving with seconds to spare, we appeared to be a massive inconvenience as we were palmed from one race organiser to another before finally getting our name taken off the ‘Did Not Start’ list. Phew, Scottie’s bike got the once over and after the go head there (a few screws tightened) she racked her bike, and we headed straight to the beach for a pre-race beer!

Wanaka finally decided it was summer time and turned on a boomer for us. The lake was glass, only rippled by the swimmers and safety boats. After realising we hadn’t been given a swim cap the night before and told we would be disqualified if we didn’t have one, we managed to track one down with enough time before the start. I did a quick recce to check the goggles still worked and the wetsuit wasn’t going to rub in any wrong places. After a few strokes the ice cream headache was quick to appear, now realising why people had their own cap on underneath the compulsory one. So, it was quickly back to shore to sort that out before wading back into the water and heading for the start line.

Back on shore, and with less than a minute until our heat was to start, Jacqs and Scottie were chatting to a friend who mentioned their swimmer had almost forgotten to go between the flags to start their timing chip. They both looked at each other; I hadn’t done that. With no time to get me back out of the water they went and found an official to let them know. It must have worked though as we managed to get times on each leg of the race.

My goal leading up to the swim was to start nearer the back so as not to get dunked or hit on the head as we started. But with 30 seconds left to go, I found myself right up the front in the middle, all set and ready. The gun went off; it was all go. I managed to quickly get into a rhythm and control my breathing as I headed for the first buoy. People seemed only to be passing me, with one person even doing backstroke!! But as I rounded the first buoy it was incredibly satisfying as I slowly started to pick people off with the same coloured cap as me. A few passed me on the final leg back in, but they were from the mixed teams who started five minutes behind us. I was swimming blind with the morning sun blinding my vision, so just stuck on the feet of a few ahead and managed to take (I hope) a pretty straight line into the shore.

I had hoped to complete the swim in 35-40 minutes so was very happy to hear my time was 34 minutes. Only a few minutes slower than when I used to swim at least three times a week! I ran up out of the water, over the bridge and down into the transition area where I found Scottie with her bike all set to go. The hardest part was the sprint out of the water!!

Team Say Yes to Adventure ended up having a great day out, with both Scottie and Jacqs having great legs too, even with Jacqs blowing a calf muscle one kilometre in. We finished in 6:15:59and ended up 24th out of 63 finishers, a great result.

I also did the run leg for a friend’s team called Belgian Biscuits, which I loved. It’s been a while since I did a 21-kilometre flat run, though, and I couldn’t believe how sore my muscles were the following day. I have definitely slowed down on the flat; might need to look at that as an area of improvement over the winter!

It’s been all go in a good way since Challenge too. The following weekend my sister and her gorgeous family arrived from Kenya for three weeks for my brother’s wedding. Adding to the wedding week madness, Resonate Productions came to Mum and Dads to do some background filming for the Coast to Coast documentary they are putting together, which meant some interviewing of my family (can’t wait to see it!!) and some drone action half-way up Mt Peel. And as I write this, I am sitting in Mum and Dad’s campervan driving back (feeling slightly carsick) from a magical week in Twizel where summer had finally decided to arrive. I managed a few swims, runs and bike rides accompanied with a slight over-indulgence of eating and drinking!

I have a few races on the horizon, one being Breca Swimrun in Wanaka on the 25th March. I’m in a team with Scott, where we will run and swim our way anticlockwise around the perimeter of Lake Wanaka, starting in Albert Town and finishing at Edgewater. It consists of 18 transitions – seven checkpoints, nine swim legs and ten run legs – a total of eight kilometres of swimming and 42.2 kilometres of running. All while in a wetsuit and with sneakers! I daresay a lot of Gurney Goo will be used! I have never done anything like this before, and it’s the first time a race of this type has been held in New Zealand. Check out the course map here.

In other news, Volume Eight of Say Yes to Adventure magazine has hit the ground running and is now on sale in stores. If you haven’t seen it yet make sure you grab yourself a copy here or head into one of our stockists. It’s filled with some pretty awesome stories and contributions, a little hit of inspiration to help with your next adventure.

When you make everyone on the familymoon do press ups with you!

And on a final note, I have now been doing press ups for more than 70 days. This is the longest I have ever stuck to something before, more surprised that I have remembered to do them every day too! I can’t believe we are 70 days into 2017, yikes. I have cranked the number up to 30 and am feeling stronger. I think I’ll change the style slightly to make it harder going forward. My original plan was to up it by ten each month, but think this might be a bit ambitious! Will see how we go. Join me on Instagram @pressup365 to follow my progress, or better still, share your own #pressup365.

Fun is one of the most important – and underrated – ingredients in any successful venture. If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits and try something else. – Richard Branson