Category Archives: Active Life

Cobwebs

Lately I’ve been craving time outside. It’s not as if I’m not an outdoors person normally, I’ve know for a long time that when I get that sleepy, lethargic, bleurch feeling, going for a walk leaves me feeling invigorated and refreshed. Despite relishing the occasional lazy day at home, I wouldn’t describe myself as an “indoors person”. My mother always used to espouse the benefits of “blowing away the cobwebs” (usually requiring “fresh air” to do so.) There are many things I disagree with my mother about, but this has never been one of them.

Lately, however, it seems like more than that. Maybe it’s that we’ve been spoiled this year with a really mild autumn, conducive to outdoor pottering. It’s mid-May and still shorts and t-shirt weather during the day, with temperatures in the low 20s. Maybe it’s that I’ve grown a little tired of cooking, tidying, and essentially doing “inside jobs”. Maybe I’ve been so encouraged by the success of my pumpkin seed planting that I fancy myself as something of a green thumb now.

I’m not sure what it is, but I frequently feel the urge to go outside and just potter around the garden, tidy up a bit, check the plants, even take the kitchen compost container out to the compost bin (previously on my list of jobs to avoid/wait for Mr L to do). I love taking the dog for a stroll, partly because I’ll often listen to a podcast, but also just for the sake of it. Yesterday I ran/walked for an hour with the dog and baby L in the stroller in the morning, yet still felt claustrophobic and stuffy again, after spending the remainder of the day inside.

So today I ate my breakfast sitting on a garden chair on the back patio. I thought about what we can do to spend more of our time outside. By happy(ish) coincidence, I found the library shut when I turned up this afternoon, coffee in hand, to do some work, so I sat on the wall by the beach for a bit, watching the choppy waves and the squally skies and breathing in the saltiness, thinking “So long, cobwebs”.

Trying to be mindful

After my recent (actually it was about 6 months ago- wow) foray into mindfulness I was kind of aware of the fact that it might be useful to practice some simple techniques on a regular basis (mindfulness aficionados would refer to this as a “daily formal practice”) for the whole thing to really benefit me when it counts. But, like most things I know I ought to do (or not do) regularly, it kind of got shoved in the “too hard” basket (which should really be re-named the “can’t be bothered basket”).

We are in Canada skiing at the moment, and getting myself down a ski slope is one such time when, you could say, “it counts”.

Skiing is not something I am naturally good at. For starters, I didn’t ski for the first time until I was 33 years old.

The other things that go against me are:

  • I am not very brave. Specifically, I don’t like going very fast (on skis, horses or mountain bikes), I don’t like falling off (skis, horses or mountain bikes) and I don’t like breaking bones (which I have only ever done in association with horses and mountain bikes…. so far)
  • I don’t have a great innate sense of balance (although luckily it turns out that this can be developed)
  • I am not naturally very coordinated
  • I tend to be put off by previous bad experiences (such as broken bones)

Sometimes I have these amazing skiing days when things just effortlessly come together. Each time this happens I try to identify what it is that’s going right. Somehow, my posture seems spot on, my weight is balanced, I’m relaxed and I gain confidence with every slope I comfortably negotiate.

Conversely, I sometimes have days, or at least runs, when it seems I’m doomed. I try to lean forward, remember what I’ve been taught previously, be brave and confident and relaaaaax…… easier said than done, right?

Well maybe not any more.

I didn’t have the best day yesterday, it wasn’t terrible but it ended with a long, difficult, icy, monotonous run home. Not my finest moment. (If only it were just a moment, it was actually over an hour of “moments”). At the top of that steep, white, icy descent, my brain went from thinking “Ok, let’s do this! Final run!” to “Oh my god it’s steep! It’s long! How long is it exactly? And how long will it take? My legs are tired! Will I be able to make it? How long till I can take a break? Is there a bail-out option? Why did I ever think this was a good idea?!?!?! HEEEEEELLP!!!!”

But this morning, when my thoughts started to rapid cycle, I took some deep breaths. In and out. Cold, pure, mountain air. I looked at the snow on the pine trees. I saw the icicles hanging from the tips of the branches. I noticed how the trees seemed to grow out of the rocks, from barely any soil. In the distance I took in the blue sky, the mountains, how the snow goes from a dense white blanket to a speckled mixture of green and white, to dense evergreen lower down- a gradual transition from white to almost black without any discernible borders. I made a point of thinking “Just take it as it comes. Not even one run at a time, but one turn at a time, one moment at a time. It is what it is.”

Did it make a difference? I don’t know. I was less anxious than yesterday. I didn’t ski brilliantly, but I didn’t ski terribly. I didn’t have any moments of complete and utter panic and despair. I still wimped out of a lot of stuff I should have been able to do.

But at the end of the day I thought “It was what it was. I’m better than I used to be. I wasn’t as good as I can be at times, but that’s ok.” I didn’t worry about wasted time or wasted money. I felt like I had spent the day doing what it felt right to do at the time.

And I have convinced myself that as well as lots more formal skiing practice, I need lots more formal mindfulness practice. Fortunately, unlike skiing, I can do that every single day. Without breaking any bones.

Hauraki Rail Trail

In preparation for our Big Christmas Adventure, we cycled the Hauraki Rail Trail last weekend.

“We” being myself, Mr L and the three little Ls. When we mention family bike rides to people, the usual response is “Wow! Ummm- how does that work, exactly, with 3 kids?”

Well, here’s how we do it:

The cycling logistics involve Mr L pulling a Wee Hoo iGo Two behind him. Master L (and usually Miss L) sit on this. Whoever’s at the front can also “help” by pedaling, although Mr L tells me it’s not a huge contribution they make! I pull baby L (and sometimes Miss L, when she tires of the Wee Hoo) in a Chariot double trailer. Mr L is a competent, experienced cyclist, so having an extra long bike with two young children who like to randomly throw their weight around (and sometimes fall asleep and slump inadvertently to one side) is a small challenge but not a huge deal. I’m not sure how I’d manage, being by far the less experienced, less confident, less fit and less skillful rider (not meaning to put myself down, just being honest). Towing the Chariot, on the other hand, while being harder work than propelling just myself, isn’t technically any more challenging, although some of the narrower gates require a certain amount of precision riding!

So the Hauraki Rail Trail is a 95km trail (in its entirety) between Thames and Te Aroha at the southern end of the Coromandel peninsula. There’s a side arm approximately 21km long which goes from Paeroa up to Waihi and this is definitely the most scenic section of the trail and would be my recommendation if all you were looking for was a day ride. The trail runs beside the beautiful Ohinemuri river, through the Karangahake Gorge, which is the kind of place you’d almost expect to find a hobbit asleep under a tree, it’s just so picturesque. We wanted to do the whole thing, not just the prettiest bit, partly as a trial run for Christmas and partly because there’s something immensely satisfying about waking up at point A and transporting yourself (without a vehicle) to point B, where you sleep. Thames-Paeroa and Paeroa-Te Aroha are not unpleasant rides by any means, cruising through mostly rolling fields and agricultural land.

There’s not a lot in the way of skilled bike support on the trail, so my advice would be as prepared as you can be for technical issues. Another big worry I had was sun protection and it turned out not to be an unfounded one. The NZ sun is fierce and we proved that even on a mostly cloudy, rainy day, it’s still possible to get burnt. The strategy of covering up as much as possible with clothing (long sleeves and pants), hats and sunscreen proved a successful one but even so, it’s easy to forget about exposed hands and that long shorts can ride up to expose un-sunscreened knees.

So was it worth the logistical challenge and extra grunt to pull 3 children along almost 100km of cycle trail? Absolutely. Our feeling is that if we can make adventures like these realistic and fun for the kids, they are far more likely to embark upon their own later in life (not to mention enjoy some more challenging ones with us as they get bigger). When I think of my own childhood, where a “bike ride” meant 10 minutes down the street and around the corner to the playground, it just doesn’t compare.

Weighty issues part 1: Michelle, meet Gretchen

I specifically have not talked about weight or dieting (in detail anyway) on this blog- I wanted to keep it a weight-free zone. For most of my life I have had a preoccupation with my weight, diet, eating etc (I kept my first food log when I was 9 years old) and I didn’t want it to take over my blog.

However, Baby L is approaching the 4 month mark and I still have 8kg of baby weight to lose…

As part of my general ruminations about weight loss over the past few months I have vascillated wildly between two main strategies I might use to shift these stubbon kgs.

The first (and the diet I’ve been most successful with in the past, losing my baby weight after Miss L was born) essentially revolves around calorie counting. Specifically, the Michelle Bridges 12 week body transformation. It’s surprisingly simple: you eat fewer calories than you expend and voila, you lose weight. More specifically, 1200 calories a day for women- this allowed me to lose about 10kg in 12 weeks. It even permitted me a few slip-ups along the way. Michelle is big on exercise but emphasises that the calories you burn from exercise are far exceeded by the calories you save by sticking to the diet, however, I’m a big proponent of the other benefits of exercise (link to running post) even if calories burning is not number 1. You get a meal plan, which is essentially 7 new recipes a week, most of which were tasty and surprisingly quick to prepare. I found the diet quite easy to stick to for most of the 12 weeks. You keep a log of the food you eat (just for your own records) and you post your weight online once a week. She advocates weighing in on a Wednesday, which unofficially allows you to relax a bit on the weekend and be really strict on a Monday and Tuesday. You also get a treat meal once a week. She sends you weekly or twice weekly “motivational” emails and video links and you have access to the online 12WBT “community” where you can be encouraged and motivated (I must confess I was largely discouraged by the overwhelming stupidity of the general population and their failure to comprehend basic concepts but that’s another story.) This for the fairly reasonable price (I thought) of $200, which is less than $20 per week.

I finished that diet very pleased with the results, smaller than I’ve ever been (as an adult) and rather smug about how “easy” I’d found the whole thing. “I really have very little sympathy for people who say they can’t lose weight” I recall saying (despite the fact that I’d been struggling with it for 25 odd years). However, I felt a bit lost at the end of it, I kind of wondered “Well what do I do now?” Do I keep counting calories, do I start eating “normally” again? MB recommends you gradually increase your daily calorie allowance until you find your set point. She herself, apparently, doesn’t count calories or log her food but is (obviously) pretty in tune with how much she’s consuming and tends to stick to a fairly strict diet in the week and relaxes a “bit” on weekends. And so I started eating some of the things I’d given up- mainly cheese and cakes- started baking again, got a bit lazy…. And gradually 3kg crept back on. It wasn’t a huge deal, that was me back at the lower end of my comfortable adult weight range, so no big deal, right?

When I got pregnant with Baby L, I was determined not to gain 25kg again as I had done with the other two. But it became obvious I was stacking it on again so I tried to do MB to maintain my weight and limit my pregnancy gain. Hmmm…. Not so easy when nauseated and tired. So I ended up 25kg heavier again with Baby L.

Since giving birth I’ve said “Right, this is it, time to start!” a couple of times but I’ve just found it so bloody hard. I can’t help feeling that signing up online, paying the money, all of that seems key in sticking to it, but I find it ridiculous that handing over $20 a week makes you stick to a diet when you could spend that $20 on something else… like a yoga class, an exercise class, a pedicure (well not every week obviously).

It was timely then that I read Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before”, which is a book about habits- forming good ones mainly. Early in the book she encourages you to identify what sort of personality you are- the options are Obliger, Upholder, Rebel and Questioner. I didn’t even need to read the descriptions of the personality types to know that I am an Obliger. Obligers essentially are motivated to follow through with things if they are accountable to someone else. We don’t like to let other people down but are less motivated by keeping promises we make to ourselves (Upholders on the other hand, are motivated to keep their promises to both other people and themselves). This kind of explained a lot, paying money (and not just my money but mine and Mr L’s money) means if I didn’t get results on this diet I would be wasting our money. And, somehow, posting my weight online for all to see (even people I didn’t know) also motivated me. So how can I substitute that external accountability?

The other thing I had last time was a wedding to go to at the end of the 12 weeks- one of Mr L’s friends- I’m not sure why that made a difference except for the fact that I knew that a lot of the girls there would be fit and skinny as well as younger than me and I suppose I didn’t want to be the fat dumpy wife (not that any of them would have thought that, it’s just how I would have felt).

I’m also trying this time to note how beneficial being a few kgs lighter would be for things like my newly trialled yoga hobby, running, SUPing, etc, rather thn just doing it for the sake of looking good.

So I’ve planned my meals, tried to substitute paying Michelle Bridges with paying my unofficial yoga fund and printed out some skinny pics of myself for motivation. I’ve also written out a week by week countdown and declared my 15 year uni reunion as the official 12 week milestone to get in shape for. (Interestingly, Gretchen warns against using a “finishing line” when trying to achieve goals or start habits, as they generally lead people to stop their new habit, after which they often find the second time round even harder. As I have proven…)

And if it all falls apart this week, there’s an “official” round of 12WBT starting September 14th

Why I Run

This morning I ran the SMH Half Marathon and so it seemed appropriate to put this post (which has been writing itself in my head for a while now) into black and white.

There are a million good things about running, and very few bad, particularly when you’re a fairly lazy runner like me, who, despite the fact that I’m about to list the benefits of running I can think of, still manages to come up with excuses NOT to run on a frequent basis.

  • Head space– “I lose my breath, I find my answers”. So said a Nike ad I tore out of a magazine and stuck above my desk with Blu-tac to motivate me (to do what, I’m not sure- look like the stick thin girl running across the page, perhaps). It’s totally corny, but kind of true… running is a great opportunity to think. I don’t necessarily think about anything particularly profound. My thoughts range in depth from somewhere between “What will we have for dinner tonight?” and “What am I doing with my life?” Usually I ponder plans for the kids (existing and future), work, random moves to NZ etc. Sometimes I indulge in idle fantasies about achieving super-amazing things (winning awards, setting records, whatever, usually completely unrealistic).
  • Doggy exercise– I generally try and take the dog so I feel extra virtuous (plus she gives me an excuse to stop for breath when she needs to sniff around).
  • Fresh air– Another cliché but there is something very therapeutic about being outside, blowing away the cobwebs, getting some fresh air and all the other catchphrases your Mum used to come up with. I love being out the most when it’s early in the morning and the air is cool, preferably somewhere vaguely bushy where I can smell the gum trees and hear the whipbirds.
  • Not eating– since doing my calorie-counting diet last year, I realized that (although better than many other forms of exercise) an hour’s run does not actually burn a lot of calories compared to your average daily food intake. Exercise physiology aside, however, I think the health & weight-loss benefits are about so much more than burning calories. Firstly, the time you’re out running is time when you physically cannot be eating (unless you’re really sad and desperate) and for me, I also need to not eat for 2 hours before a run or I get a terrible stitch. But really, it’s the exercise psychology that’s most powerful. Running puts you in a better frame of mind and creates a sense of vitality and healthiness that motivates you to watch what you eat a bit more. You start to feel like that girl in the Nike ad and you can bet that she doesn’t go home and eat a piece of cake: she eats an apple.  And even if you don’t feel that much like the Nike girl, you start to think that one day in the not-too distant future, you might. If you don’t go home and eat that cake, that is!
  • Exercise– despite not burning a huge proportion of your daily caloric intake, compared to a lot of other exercise, running is still a fairly good way to burn some calories. That’s all I’ll say about that, because burning calories is really NOTHING to do with why I run.
  • Portable– you can do it anywhere (as long as it’s safe) and so it’s not a bad way to see new places.
  • Easy– well it is for me, I know there are people who say they “can’t” run. I’m not sure I believe them. Really, you need very little in the way of “proper” technique (just look at the multitude of odd running styles at any running event), skill, knowledge or expertise. You don’t need equipment, rules, uniforms or team-mates. Just a bit of effort to put on your shoes and step outside (seriously, this is the hardest part, the rest is easy).
  • Achievement– I remember running my first 10km fun run in 1998. It felt awesome. That year I did the City To Surf for the first time- 14 km felt like forever and I remember being so stiff by the time I got home I could hardly get out of the car. I said at the time I couldn’t imagine ever running further than 14km, that was my limit. The year I turned 29, I decided to do my first half marathon. That really seemed MASSIVE, like something only really hard-core people did, which made me feel partly hard-core and partly like a try-hard. I felt amazing crossing the finish line, actually quite emotional. I knew then that while I didn’t exactly feel like doing a marathon then and there, that I’d never rule it out as a possibility. And in 2009, at the age of 33, it became a possibility. I did the Gold Coast Marathon in 3 hours 57 mins and then 18 months later, the Auckland marathon. On a smaller scale, too, such as starting to run again after a long break (like having a baby), it’s amazing how you progress. One day you can’t run up that really steep hill, a couple of weeks and a few runs later, you suddenly realise you can. It’s really a great sense of achievement on a run-to-run basis, not just a race-to-race one.
  • It’s my thing– my running belongs to me. I’m not particularly interested in competing against other people (I say that, although after a race I always wish I’d gone a bit faster so I could have beaten someone I know). But on the whole, I run at my own pace. I’m not even all that into PBs and improving my times and what-not. And it’s a great leveler. You have people who you think would be pretty fit who run way slower than you and the reverse. It’s always fun to look around at the start of an event- some people look amazing- fit, lean, light- and they are terrible runners, others, a bit overweight, with funny running styles- you find yourself feeling slightly foolish for assuming you’d be faster than them because something about the way they run evidently works!
  • Virtue- at the end of the day, I feel virtuous if I run! The earlier the better- it’s out of the way, my good deed for the day- done!

And so, there are a load of reasons to run. Probably why I have never ever come back from a run thinking “I really wish I hadn’t bothered”.