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Be assured that sheep in New Zealand are free ranging.
In our daily activities and rhythms we often forget that where we are is a foreign place to others. It looks and smells different and there are very different things that punctuate our day. After dropping my son off at day care, I wanted to go out for a run before settling down to work for the day and so pointed the car in the direction of a place I knew I could don my headphones and listen to some travel podcasts and forget that my legs were annoyed with me for making them move at this hour.
I’d slowed my car to a halt and was waiting to get through when it suddenly struck me that my windscreen framed what some might call “a New Zealand scene”. I was in Corwall Park at the base of One Tree Hill, one of Auckland’s 50 odd volcanic cones. It was fully my intention to run around the cone if only I could get to the car park and set off. But I was stuck, waiting for three sheep to decide which way they wanted to go. One was halfway up a hill and already tucking in to a fresh patch of grass doused in morning dew. I’m thinking this is like a power breakfast for sheep, greens and hydration in one. I had a lot of time to think. Another of the sheep was just looking at me and chewing , like they do. “What are you doing here?”, he seemed to be thinking. The last one was contemplating the cattle stop but finally decided that what lay beyond the stone gate was not something worth treading over narrow metal strips for, at least not today. When they finally inched over a bit I slowly rolled forward enough that they got the idea a flitted up the hillside.
Much of a travel writer’s job is to take up the challenge of describing a place without the dreaded “commodification”. Like salt has pepper, Japan has geishas, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, England has Beefeaters (I never understood that one), and California has the flashy cheesiness of Rodeo Drive (never understood that either). Places get stuck with images, often not actually very representative, and then they are copied and pasted ad infinitum. This is how we package things up to sell the story and sell the place. Perhaps some people actually still want this kind of writing. Perhaps they want to have critical mass of a particular image in their mind so they can tick it off on their list when they arrive at the destination, you know, for reassurance that all is as we believe it to be in the world. Indeed, I’ve had clients request this kind of writing. If that’s what they need, who am I to refuse? But I can say that it is difficult to spin that story in a new direction for the ten millionth time and it still be interesting. Very difficult.
As much as I hate reading the same bloody exclamations of “There are more sheep than people in New Zealand” and “They even have sheep in the middle of the cities” over and over, I have to admit that, in this case, it is absolutely true. There ARE sheep in the middle of Auckland. I’m sitting in my car, the rainy mist is hanging low, the stone walls are grey and the grass is green and covered in sheep. This doesn’t happen in London or Beijing. There may be some people who might want to know. Sheep in cities is sort of interesting… I guess. I suppose I should write about this. Oh, I just did.
Things are off balance, out of kilter, listing, not quite right. The mechanics of the human body are such that doing a small thing differently, like carrying a heavy bag on the arm you don’t normally use, can put everything out of whack. I’ve always thought this was all that was happening when I started getting pain when stepping down on my ankle. It’s happened about half a dozen times to me in the past, but it always gets better within a few days and I’ve never thought much of it. But this time was different. The pain lasted longer and was more intense. I went to that place you never want to go when you are sporting an injury or ailment for fear of your mind running wild with possibilities, the internet. Far from deciding I had an incurable foot disease, I was able to find out that my symptoms are very common and it is only a light sprain. RICE, they tell me, rest ice compression elevation. So, I decided to try it and then get to the doc after the weekend if needs be. It worked a treat, I thought, until attempting to go for a run and ending up in a lot of pain. Damn. I decided to give it more time and check the internet again to be sure I was wrapping it correctly. I haven’t felt pain in a couple of days now and today is one of my running days. Fingers crossed, I’ll start out with a vigorous walk and see how I go.
Do you want to know the ironic bit? I did this doing yoga. Yes, that’s right, that therapeutic thing you do. I have not practised hatha in a long time and I overestimated how stretchy my ankles were. I did a lot of triangle-type poses and I should have stopped and listened. But, as I’ve mentioned, things are out of balance. I am resettling my son into his own bedroom after he stayed in our room while we were travelling for three weeks. I am thinking about how much I need to get back into work so we can keep doing crazy things like eating food and paying rent. I am worrying about my husband as he deals with tragedy at work and I am wondering what to cook for tea every night. I am thinking about the next job and making task lists in my head that I can’t remember in the very next minute. My body is right here, but my mind is somewhere out there. I am not listening.
Being present can feel like climbing onto a rooftop and trying to lasso the moon. I guess it’s all a vicious circle. When I run, my head becomes clear and I can be present more easily. But I can’t run right now, so I’ll have to wait. Sit, and breathe and wait.
My new runners which were christened in California and are patiently awaiting their Aotearoa debut
Why, yes, it continues that “I am a runner“. Thank you for asking. Well, OK my original plan has been a bit altered and I am essentially starting over, but still…
If you may recall, I’d decided to do a sofa to 5k- type running plan and I was really enjoying it for a good three weeks. But then my time got sucked up. Prior to this point I’d pretty much blamed becoming a new Mum as the reason that I no longer had time to do things for myself, but it turns out the kid is not actually the one to blame. Once I started thinking about when I could run, there was a very small window between when my husband came home and dinner time. Any time after that would see me too wired to sleep. Yep, fine. But then my husband’s work started getting mad out of control with managers jetting in who needed to be taken out for dinner (This makes it sound so grand to be in education, does it not?) accreditation audits that needed to be prepared for, etc. Long-short, my small window disappeared. Yes, I admit that I sulked.
But we had a talk and somehow he’s managed to organise so that I can have two days a week for running. Wednesday, Friday and I can sneak a run in at the weekend. That just sounds grand, but theory is not practice. Things come up like clingy ill children, ill adults, unplanned meet ups, birthday parties, one-year celebrations and trips abroad. I’ve felt myself slipping into the idea that I am not meant to do this.
“Shake it off!”, I tell myself. “I AM meant to do this.”
So, I’m shifting my viewpoint. Rather than regretting my lack of running time at the end of every week, I am just trying to be grateful for all the sessions I can get in. Yes, my progress is going to be a lot slower, but I need to remind myself that I’m doing this for my own health and enjoyment, not to win any sort of contest. Shall I abandon the ‘Sofa to 5K’ rubric? I don’t think so. If I have to stay on week 6 of the plan for two months, so be it. Slow and steady wins the race, right?
How do you compromise on your goals? How much compromise is too much?
I’ve been flirting with running off and on for a couple of years and every time my pre-programming, the one that started when I was growing up and it was uncool to be sporty, talks me back into the idea that running’s just not my thing. In my mind I am a runner. I am completely in love with the idea. My body just doesn’t let me follow through on that vision.
But recently I’ve been getting messages, well examples, of people who are like me and have moved past the programming. First it was my friend from high school. We used to be in the “alternative group” at school which meant that we were not jocks or cheerleaders or in any way associated with exercise or bodily self-improvement. We made art. We weren’t so shallow as to worry about outward appearance (Yeah, right.). Gym class was uncool and, quite frankly, a nightmare. When I found out that my friend had been running it was almost like everything I’d ever known had changed. Some things you just assume will always be the same, right? Right. But I think this kind of shocker starts to set in once your friends all start to reach a certain age (not you, of course, just your friends). You start to realise that you can’t drink 6 pints of beer and then dance it off in some sticky-floored club as long as the evening is punctuated by a dodgy kebab at 3am. If you’d told me this in my 20s I would have walked away from you, you mad person, you. And, it seems, my high-school friend thought the same. She asks, poetically, if “a bear is chasing” her. Why else would anyone run? Why else indeed. And since there are no bears in Auckland, save for a couple in the zoo, problem solved. Stay away from the zoo and there is no need to exert oneself.
Oh, but wait. Yet another of the diehard, formerly leisurely people has fallen. Sally over at Unbrave Girl goes and does a freaking run on the Great Wall of China. “Show off”, I say, “She was probably one of those track meet geeks at school”. Well, slap my face and call me a throbbing shin splint…she wasn’t. She informed me in a Facebook “conversation” that she was never into it at all. She’d hit that point in life that my friend had and just felt the call. I mentioned my flirtation with the idea of running and that I had even downloaded a Sofa-5k running programme, you know, just because I like charts, and she said, “Yes, do it! I know someone who’s done that and it was successful.”. Dammit.
About the writing thing…although I’d been writing for years, I’d never planned to actually show any of it to anyone until one person mentioned to me that I could maybe get some of it out there. Hmmm, I said. I don’t know about that.
“But I’m not a writer so how could I do that?”
“You just hit send”
I had to tell myself to stop messing about and recognise who I wanted to be, who I was. So, I called myself a writer and just kept writing. And people actually wanted to read some of it. And they still do, it seems. Weird. Problem solved!
So, now I’ve applied the same logic. No second guessing. No wishy washy “well maybe I’ll try it for a bit”. I’m a runner. I’ve bought the running tights.
Come on, people.
P.S. I’m two weeks in and I have been out in all manner of crappy Auckland winter weather save one day that was a cyclone. I know. I won’t let it happen again.