Some days your head just isn’t in the game

A week ago, I pulled out of a race.

I wish I could say I had a technical disaster, so I had to stop the race.

I wish I could say that I cramped up badly, so I had to stop the race.

I even wish that I could say that I crashed out, so I had to stop the race.

But I don’t have a “reason” for stopping my race.

IMG_20150628_213736

The trails were new, but beautiful. The trail was challenging, but not technical. The morning was cold, but bearable. The atmosphere was upbeat, as always. My legs felt fine, yet I wasn’t feeling it. I have gathered the nickname smiley on my bike, and during every race, and after every race, the smile on my face is impossible to remove. On Sunday, I wasn’t really smiling. I didn’t feel it, my head wasn’t in the race, I just wasn’t connecting with the day, with the feel, with the trails.

I managed a couple of laps. I could have pushed on, I could have made myself continue the laps, and perhaps I should have. Maybe I wouldn’t be feeling as negatively towards myself if I did. But I also ran the risk of completely hating the day. I’ve had a fickle relationship with riding and there are times when I push the enjoyment and training too far and it becomes a chore. So, if I continued to race, despite my feelings, then I may have come out worse off. I didn’t want to hold people up because I wasn’t in the game, I didn’t want to cause an accident or have one because my mind was not focusing on the trail.

I felt embarrassed to finish my race prematurely. I felt a bit like a failure for not pushing on, but I think there is a legitimate reason at times to call a race early, rather than push it and risk a negative outcome. At the end of the day, I love riding and I love racing for the challenge it gives me. I’m there to compete with myself, compete against myself. I’m there to do my best, and if there is a time when I’m not into a ride, when pushing it may end up worse off than better, then I think it’s fair enough to call it.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we aren’t feeling it and pushing through is the best option. The beginning of a ride when the legs feel a bit dead, when that first climb really knocks it out of you, when you aren’t quite feeling the groove and those corners and obstacles are jarring and off line. I am happy to give it a while, get those legs to wake up, that groove to settle in, and it’s all good. Some days, however, that doesn’t happen.

This race was one of those days. I’m not going to beat myself up about that. I’m going to give myself some space to breathe, I’m going to let go and relax, and take the trails when I want them and focus on the flow, on being outdoors, on being fit and capable, and leave the mind games, the blame games, the shame games behind me.

I’ll ride another day.

Hong Kong in two days

Last month I went to Sri Lanka for a friends wedding. Flying to and from Sri Lanka there was a day lay over in Hong Kong each way – arriving early in the morning and leaving late at night. There was no way I wanted to spend around 15 hours sitting in an airport, and I was in another country and I wanted to explore! I did some googling, asked some friends, and made a short list of things I wanted to see. I tried to be conservative, as I wasn’t sure how long things would take, so on the way over, Victoria Peak, on the way back, Tian Tan Buddha, with whatever food and extra sight seeing I could fit in!

Day 1:  Victoria Peak

1507734_10155521832540158_233618853911032304_n

Arriving at the airport at 5am, we were already tired after a difficult flight. I had take some drowsy motion sickness tablets to help me sleep on the plane for the first time, but they just made me drowsy and cranky, unable to sleep solidly and unable to wake fully, so arriving at the airport I already wasn’t feeling tops. I found a place to charge my phone and surprise, Hong Kong airport has free wifi! Winner! This meant I was able to find out more details about how to get around Hong Kong, where to go, and it’s all so easy.

We hopped on the airport train over to central station, everything is easy to follow and most things have English as well anyway, making it incredibly easy to get around. With it still being so early in the morning, we walked around the city and headed for a peak at Hong Kong Park, before making our way to the tram line. The tram ride was amazing, it was incredibly steep, and I was amazed at the sheer size of the buildings, hundreds of stories high, accentuating the ridiculous angle of the tram line climbing the mountain. Not a single photo captured this, no matter how hard I tried!

11227532_10155521763510158_8042940280507544204_n

It was cool at the top, a little humid, but we had a lovely view of the sunrise. We were there so early that nothing was open, so we walked around the mountain, getting more and more wonderful views of the city. I had no idea how green Hong Kong was. All the buildings were nestled into the mountain side, towering into the sky, but still looked like little matchsticks compared to the mountains and the harbour. Someone had mentioned that Hong Kong was 75% green space, and that was beautiful. It was serene standing above the city watching the boats moving up and down the harbour. A great place.IMG_20150508_203250

We headed down to central, caught the ferry across the harbour to Kowloon, walking up and down the waterfront, relaxing in the sun, and perusing the shops for some delicious dumplings and buns. As I am a worry wort about missing planes, we headed back to the airport very very early, allowing time for a few restless naps. I was definitely in love with Hong Kong at that point and very excited to have another day there on the return flight.

peaktower

Day 2: Tian Tan Buddha

It was another long day before arriving in Hong Kong on the return journey, barely any sleep on the flight, but I was determined to get out there! Another pause in the airport to charge the phone and search some tips and details for transport. A friend gave me a list of places to try to see, all of which wouldn’t occur in a single day (especially as we had arrived later than expected due to delays), so I chose one option with the potential to see other things if time permitted.

Tian Tan Buddha. Many people had raved about it, and that the gondola ride to the summit was picture perfect. We headed over to the gondola on the bus (what awesome double decker buses!) and my goodness what a line! I had read reviews mentioning lines, but this was intense. Even after buying the ticket, there was a line on the other side of the ticket booth. This made it a little less worthwhile to be honest, not quite worth the cost, and in hindsight we had looked up trails to walk up the mountain and should have done that instead! There were a couple of trails up and if we had of left when we first turned up, we would have well and truly beaten the gondola up the hill!

gondola

That aside, the mountain was covered in a heavy clouds – again, in hindsight we probably could have chosen a better activity for the day than a cloud covered mountain, but it was still worth the experience.

buddha

We couldn’t see the Buddha, at his feet we could only see a giant shadow. This different perspective on the Buddha offered up a unique experience. The mood was eerie, everyone was quiet and great reverence was felt. It was surreal. The Wisdom Path especially touched me. There weren’t many people at the top, at least not at the Wisdom Path, so I was able to walk around the paths alone, connecting with my thoughts. It would have been scenically beautiful in the sunlight, but was even more touching in the mist.

wisdom

We headed back, ate some hot corn and weird but delicious cuttlefish dumplings before heading back to the gondola line. I decided I would run down the path, as I would probably get to the bottom before the gondola did, and I was desperate for more time in these gorgeous mountains. I started jogging along the path, a very uneven cemented rock surface, when the skies opened up. It started raining, lots of lightning and thunder, and I suddenly started worrying that I wouldn’t make it back to my plane on time, that I might get lost or take a lot longer than I thought to get to the bottom, my mind was racing! I headed back to the gondola, which had been shut down, and was popped on a bus to the bottom.

As the bus drove down the hill, the clouds moved and finally, from a distance, we saw the Buddha. It’s size was definitely under appreciated in the clouds, but it was towering over the mountains as we drove through some crazy rain to get back to the bottom.

10525695_10155551314065158_4620079112109364019_n

This little trip took up most of our time. We wanted to get back to the airport, still a bit earlier than required, but we wanted to try to nap. I had some more amazing food on the way back, and a second day in Hong Kong was definitely not enough to satiate me! I will be going back for sure, there is so much more I want to see, to do, and I can’t wait for the next chance to meet Hong Kong again.

IMG_20150516_200417

Jpeg

The Royal Coast Track

A 27km coastal hike just south of Sydney. This is generally suggested as a two day hike, and originally that was the plan! Hike in the first day, set up camp, have a nice fire and a chilly night, then wake up early, watch for whales and hike out.

Jpeg

Best laid plans, huh?

With the camp sites all booked out, probably months in advance, meant there had to be a new strategy. My idea? Let’s do it in one day! Let’s run the 27kms. Piece of cake.

Well, not really.

Such a long run, I had no idea what to pack. I ended up over dressing with a jumper and a thermal too many. I took enough water, but thankfully there are also a couple of spots to refill – good to know for future attempts at the hike. I took heaps and heaps of food, more than I needed, but with an hour wait for the train at the other end and no shops in sight I was more than happy to empty my bag with my lunch.

IMG_20150606_142538

I underestimated the difficulty of the track. The first half was easy and familiar, managed to jog for the most of it, apart from the very muddy sections. The second half, phew, that was tough! Steep climbs and ankle rolling descents, had to slow down and pick my steps carefully. I was happy to not be carrying an overnight pack, and I loved the challenge of it. We ended up with around 29kms, after a missed turn off meant taking the long way to the train station, but every km felt worth it. My feet were sore at the end, my ankles tired from the constantly changing surface and bracing the twists, but it was beautiful and rewarding. I highly recommend hiking any part of this trail, especially during whale season (saw 2!). The scenery, the views, change often, constantly having me stop to appreciate the gorgeous area I live in.

I’ve always enjoyed running, ok, well maybe not when I was obese, but I know I longed for it then. Once I started running, started improving, started getting involved in running events, I knew I had found one of the most lovable pastimes around. The ability to get out into nature and let your legs power you through the wilderness is an amazing feeling, and on the plus side, it’s cheap! You can even go barefoot running if you’re interested in that kind of thing! I long for endurance running, for these kinds of distances. Not necessarily as a marathon event or some such, but a wilderness event, an endurance event, getting out and having my body propel me through life. It’s invigorating, it’s incredibly freeing, and I hope that in future I will be able to run more, run faster, run further, run longer. Those aching feet at the end of the run feel rewarding.

Jpeg

I intend to return, periodically, to see how my fitness is changing, but primarily because it’s just so beautiful! There were two amazing waterholes that would be awesome to swim in during summer, as well as numerous beaches to enjoy.

Jpeg

Jpeg

Jpeg

Last one!

Jpeg

 

Reflecting on my PhD

Most of the posts I have shared thus far are about an active lifestyle and traveling, but there are more things that I want to share.  One thing I have often thought about sharing has been my PhD experience. It’s a tough one to describe but after meeting people who have gone through similar situations it’s heartening to know that I’m not alone, perhaps it’s heartening to you to know you’re not alone. Instead of sharing specific incidents, I want to offer up the things I have learnt from my experience.

I remember moving to Canberra to start my PhD in a respectable lab at a great university, and baby sitting for a family friend the first words from her mouth when I mentioned starting a PhD were “don’t do it.”

Don’t do it.

I didn’t understand why someone would be so negative about undertaking further education. It took less than a year to understand where she was coming from.

Now, my experience is not at all indicative of your potential experience, or your current or past experience, and I wish to share it for those who may be, or who have experienced something similar to me. Don’t let this put you off a PhD, instead use it as a resource to prepare you for the long and sometimes very lonely road ahead.

First step – prepare to be lonely. You become an expert in your research, which means you are the go to guy for all things related to your very specific topic. Sometimes that means that you feel a little lost and out of your depth when things don’t quite work the way you had hoped. My best advice here is networking. Get to know researchers at conferences, within your building, from other institutions, even if it has nothing to do with your specific work. Why? Because sometimes fantastic ideas come most organically when you’re having a casual discussion with the gal from engineering trying to explain your current obstacle and she suggests a simple solution. Sometimes you aren’t that lucky of course, but integrative approaches to your work are the most rewarding. Personally, I learnt this way too late. Partially due to the nature of isolation my lab seemed to foster (all the neighbouring labs moved out into another building but our top dog wasn’t ready to go, leaving us to wander the halls alone), partially due to my stubborn nature of believing I have to prove myself, so I struggled on alone instead of asking for help. Sadly, when I did ask for help in a time of great need, I was shunned by my supervisors. All together, I wish I had of made use of the support that was available to me, if I had of known it was there.

329613_10151121815100158_605186576_o

I am an expert in this species of ant, I know a bit about others, but I know crap loads about just this one.

Second, give up on socialising. Not completely, but you will become withdrawn, you will become unreliable and forgetful. Those closest to you will forgive you, even if they don’t understand, but especially in write up phase, you’ll be falling down a rabbit hole and maintaining relationships becomes hard. Realise that you will get stressed, depressed, you will take it out on those who love you, and though that is something you should be aware of (and they should too), it doesn’t make it ok. I can not apologise enough for the suffering I caused to those closest to me when I was struggling. They, thankfully, have been nothing but patient, understanding, and forgiving. It’s hard to understand what it’s like for a PhD student, unless you’ve been there, but I was lucky enough to have some incredible people who were supportive none the less, who dealt with my tantrums, with my fatigued demands, my unwavering stress and roller coaster emotions. A PhD can make you feel crazy.

Third, choose your supervisors well. And I mean really well. Get to know them, get to know their students especially, get to know people who know them, hear all the gossip, ask lots of questions, and above all else, know that it is ok for you to change supervisor! I didn’t know this! I thought I was stuck when it would have been much better for both my supervisors and I if we have of gone our separate ways before the stress, pressure, conflicting personalities caused irreparable damage.

376367_10151002665810158_2020536231_n

I also think other ants are cool too!

Lastly, after reading through all of this, ask yourself, do I need this? Do I want this?

If you want to get into academia, then yes, you need it. If not, well, do you want it? What will a PhD add to your life? What reward does the investment give you? If you have any niggling doubts, if your answer isn’t a strong and definite “yes”, then give it more time! Reassess your plans, try some other options, and if you are still feeling drawn to the PhD, come back.

That’s what I did. I worked as a scientist, but for some reason it was drilled into my head that I wanted that PhD, I needed it, possibly to prove that I was as smart as others thought I was? Possibly because I had always felt the pressure to succeed and this was the expected way to do it? I thought I wanted to get into academia, I thought that I wanted to run my own lab, have my own lectures and classes, my own research and funding. I thought that was what I wanted and to get that it meant I needed the PhD.

In retrospect, no, it’s not quite what I wanted. In my work as a researcher before the PhD I was too sheltered from the academic life. I came to work, I had a stable job (be it for short yearly contracts), I made good money, and I longed for more involvement in academia. I didn’t see the number of grant applications that were put in, I wasn’t privy to the conversations with higher ups placing the pressure on for the number of publications your lab was turning out, I wasn’t aware of the level of competition across research for academic positions, for post doctoral positions, for access to funding, for grants. I had no idea, really, how difficult it is and how unstable it can be, and in reality, I wanted something very different to that. I wanted science, I wanted knowledge, but it wasn’t until I was half way through my PhD that I realised that I didn’t want academia, not this kind of academia, and thus I didn’t need a PhD. I didn’t learn until too late that there were other ways that I could still be in science, still achieve high and challenging goals, and I didn’t need a PhD to get there.

With all this in mind, there are things that shouldn’t stop you.

1. Money – yes it’s expensive and it’s hard, and you’ll be living quite poor for quite a while (woohoo for free lunches at seminars, hit those up!), but money shouldn’t stop anyone from furthering their education. I know that’s easier said than done, but there are a lot of scholarship opportunities around so look, search, put in as many applications as possible for funding, because if you want that PhD, if you need it, money shouldn’t stop you. Your potential supervisor should help here too – if they don’t know of any scholarships, or are unwilling to help you out, look around for a new supervisor. I was earning $4000 a year less than others at my university because my supervisor was “morally” against an extra grant I was eligible for and thus didn’t tell me about it.

2. Impostor syndrome – you didn’t get to where  you are through luck. You are not fooling others into thinking you are smarter than you are and sliding through the cracks somehow. You are smart, you deserve the position (and future ones) just as much as anyone else. Impostor syndrome is especially prevalent amongst high-achieving women, and I am one of them. I know the feeling, I still fight it, but I deserve what I have achieved because I worked hard for it. I am smart, I am competent, and so are you, so don’t let something like that be a reason you stop achieving goals.

3. Feeling out of your depth – this is going to be a recurrent feeling in the PhD, and don’t be afraid of it. It’s a learning curve and some of that is going to be pretty darn steep – but don’t back away of the challenge, don’t think it’s too big, instead find a way to make it manageable! Ask for help or advice from others, seek out those who are willing to help, who are resources you can use, like the higher degree research staff, like the student union, like other researchers and counselors. You will become an expert, you will feel lonely, but that doesn’t for a minute mean you need to do it alone. I wish someone had of told me that.

In conclusion, what the heck do you get out of it?!?!

Strength. I am so much stronger for what I have gone through. To start with I did whatever I was told, I had no real voice and was incredibly submissive – probably why there was no real respect shown to me as a person by my supervisors. By the end of it, I was stronger, I was adamant, I knew what I was and wasn’t capable of, I knew what I would and wouldn’t do to finish my PhD, what I would compromise on and what I wouldn’t, and I had the strength to stand up to those who I had felt intimidated by. This was my PhD after all, it was my work and my decision. They were there to guide and offer advice, but not to control and dictate. It took me longer than I would have liked, but I got there.

Determination. I got it done, and I was determined to get it done and get out. I was close to quitting, so close to quitting, and had to get the head of the department to help me in negotiating terms of my submission as the relationship between my supervisors and I deteriorated. The head of the department didn’t want me to quit, my supervisors didn’t want to let me finish, but 3 and a half years of what felt like emotional hell, I had to get done. I had enough, I knew I had enough. I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, but I knew it didn’t have to be. So, I became determined to get it in, come hell or high water, and the head of the department helped me greatly there. I felt vindicated in this decision when I received minor correction comments for my thesis from 2 reviewers, and nothing but lovely supportive words praising the high quality of my work from my third. I knew I had done enough, and had done well enough to be awarded my PhD, and I had the strength and determination to say so.

A sense of achievement, although it doesn’t feel like an amazing piece of work. You don’t run across that finish line so much as crawl with fingers outstretched hoping that your index finger makes it across. Plus I make sure everything addresses me as Doctor now, I worked hard and deserve that title!

A belief in yourself. What you do for your PhD doesn’t matter. It’s not the be all and end all of your career, it’s the starting point. It’s the hardest part of getting into academia and no one is going to read or care in depth about your very specific topic. You’ll be fortunate to get publications and even more fortunate if anyone has read them apart from a couple of people who need to cite some random note that you found. Keep that in mind though, academia is all about the publication record. Is your work going to be publishable?

Perspective. That was hard. I realised that my mental health mattered a whole damn lot. I realised that my physical health mattered a whole damn lot. I realised that academia wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be. I realised that I’m strong, capable and intelligent, and I can still do whatever it is I want to do.

10286912_968193233209524_2173533709468593947_o

Some of the incredible people who were with me until the end. I can’t thank them, and some others, enough.

So what now? I’m working as a Postdoctoral Researcher in a fantastic lab environment, my boss is incredibly supportive and it makes me love science and research, just as I had before. But, once this contract is up, who knows where I will be. I may look into more Postdoctoral positions, as this job has been so rewarding, or I may not. I may take time and change my focus for a while, though I’m pretty sure it’ll always be science. I don’t regret getting the PhD, I just wish I had of been smarter about it. Hindsight. But, I have learnt an incredible amount that I am paying forward into my career and life choices, and I can thank my PhD for that.

 

Race 6: Evocities Series 4hr, Bathurst

It’s a strange position to be in when I approach a race and think to myself, “meh, it’s only 4 hours”. After my 7 hour solo race I’ve been given a bit of perspective, with a 4 hour presenting a different kind of challenge, yet being 3 hours shorter made me feel much more confident for it.

IMG_20150529_214952

Last minute gear tweaking after changing the cable over.

I had never ridden the Bathurst course before and when the race director mentioned that the technical sections sneak up on you, he wasn’t wrong. For my first lap I followed a couple of women that I discovered had ridden the course before. It was a great idea as every surprising drop, jump, roll over, bridge, rock section they took with confidence, so I followed. If I had of attempted the course solo, or casually, I probably would have stopped and checked out the drops, wanted to find the line, or felt a bit too intimidated by them to attempt them. After managing the obstacles on the first lap, I was determined to do every obstacle on every lap to really cement my ability and confidence. Even as I was getting tired towards the last couple of laps, I was still able to take the obstacles comfortably. I focused, reminded myself of the advice I’d been given for obstacles at various skills sessions and comfortably completed the course. Bathurst is an amazing course. There is a lot of climbing, including a great section called “mother-in-law” which brought you to an fun downhill section back to the start. The log rolls, bridges, drops, jumps and rocks abounded, and a blackberry switchback that made me ensure I didn’t overshoot a corner! The harder you ride this course, the faster it gets. There is a lot of free speed that you can gain from pumping the track. All in all, a really fun course.

IMG_20150531_145811

Pre-race, check out the sparkly new bike!

I rode this race on my new bike, my lovely fancy new bike! It is a dual suspension bike, but to be honest I feel this course would have suited hard tails perfectly. My bike felt like a weapon. I felt quick and I felt confident. I do need to get a little tweaking done to make my bike more comfortable – my back started to ache/cramp in a strange position, possibly because of my dominant forward leg and the slightly different geometry than my hard tail? I took a 10 minute break between my 4th and 5th lap, the last lap for the race, and that really helped my back. This, however, is something I will need to address before the Scott, so I’ll talk to my bike shop and get out on the bike more to work on this.

IMG_20150531_145659

I loved every damn lap!

The race had a truly great feel. Everyone was fantastic about passing and being passed, and the wonderful women in the race were all super supportive. I was very priviledged to make it up on to the podium in 5th place along side some truly incredible women, Eliza Kwan, Brooke Rowlands, Sara Mills, and Kate Heynes. I am so impressed by the effort that everyone put in, the volunteers for cheering us on, having everything run smoothly, the first aiders for being there in case things went wrong, and the sponsors, it was a really great event, all the Evocities events thus far have been! Come along to one if you get the chance! IMG_20150531_195447 So, what’s next on the agenda? Well, it’s been at least a month since I trained “seriously”. Heading overseas, lots of rain, I’ve been a bit out of love with training, and instead have been more interested in changing things up, because riding bikes started to feel like a chore. This race brought me back to a position of wanting to ride a whole lot more, but at the same time I really want to keep up the changes. The cold weather and short days don’t make things terribly exciting, but when you want something, there is always a way around it.

1908378_10155580989145158_9196320533750537421_n

Race 5: Paddy Pallin Adventure Series, Royal National Park

I’ve been hassled by the lovely Leah to get into triathlons. Paddy Pallin’s adventure race of mountain biking, running and kayaking counts as a triathlon, right?

I was super keen on this race, something a little different but right up my alley. I managed to wrangle a friend (B-real) in to join me in the mixed pairs and together we tackled the unknown.

11118848_10155580988230158_8976568556424278753_o

Before the race!

The layout of the course is kept secret until the day. You have a list of things you need to take, such as pens to mark out your map, safety whistle, a compass, etc, but that’s about it in terms of hints of what you will be doing. B-real stayed the night before, easier to get up and get to the event, and we went through our backpacks, our plans, how much water to take, and goodness did we take a lot of food! Better to be over-prepared though! We both had no idea what to expect.

11141133_10155580989025158_7304510179410978410_n

Hacking river, our kayaking leg

We arrived, set up our bikes, and headed over to get our maps. Taking a look at the maps I realised that the first run was completely familiar to me from mountain biking through Royal National Park. The bike leg was straight forward and fast, the next run was new and gorgeous. After that, back to the bike, another run, and then into the kayaks for the final leg. I’m glad the kayak leg was last, we ended up soaked from the hips down. Carrying the kayak down to the river for our last leg the photographer commented that I had the only genuine smile he had seen all day. How couldn’t I smile, I was having a ball!

11216254_10155580988865158_2228056865110997419_n

Planning time!

It was fun to plan the route, though this one was simple and straight forward. I estimated the distances between our check points but being a novice map reader, I didn’t spend much time making myself familiar with the landmarks. This would have been much more helpful in identifying how close we were to a checkpoint, and on the bike legs I didn’t really have a good estimation of the distances we had travelled. We were pretty good at guessing how far we had run, but again, better attention to landmark details and it would have been much smoother and faster.

11350613_10155580988510158_8057192219303308504_n

If you’ve thought about a Paddy Pallin event but you’ve never tried one, I recommend it. About half of the participants were new to this racing format, so we weren’t alone. On the first run leg, a pair in front looked back and saw we’d just missed a slightly hidden checkpoint and yelled to us where it was. Everyone was like that – maybe not the top 10% of serious racers who are in it to win it, but everyone else was super helpful in finding the checkpoints. A couple of people who had done them before told us to do it at our pace, to take it easy, which we did. We need to work on our kayaking skills, but other than that we just jogged along the trails, cruised on our bikes, and get soaked in the water. Afterwards they put on a meal for you and cake!

11350512_10155580988335158_8324094163164709064_n

After!

So what’s next? Hopefully I’ve sparked some interest in friends to try more adventure races with me, but in the mean time, more cross training. Riding, running, lifting weights, hitting up races of all sorts and practising my skills. Oh, and eating cake.

10476507_10155580988630158_6334896829023393070_n

A simply gorgeous day to spend in the wild around Sydney.

11207308_10155539614280158_3634249229225025862_n

Sun kissed in Sri Lanka

I must start this with an honest statement – Sri Lanka wasn’t high on my list of places to visit. But, my gorgeous friend, Piyankarie, was finally getting married to her long time love and I didn’t want to miss that! She had also sent us all several itinerary ideas to help us out. So, let the whirlwind 9 day holiday begin!

First stop on the agenda was the popular tourist destination of Dambulla. The place I chose to stay was super cheap and simple, and I loved it! It was just a bed, a mozzie net, and a cold water shower, and it was perfect. In the mornings, monkeys surrounded us whilst we ate breakfast on our porch, everyone walking down the secluded lane would smile and wave – the kids were really good at saying “bye”, but didn’t seem to know hello which was very cute.

dambulla

(L to R, T to B) check out the sweat shine on those arms; a relaxing cheeky monkey; the view from the top of Sigiriya; village meadows; our park tour guide.

In Dambulla we headed out to Sigiriya, the Lion Rock, the site of a palace and monasteries before being abandoned in the 14th century. The climb up was impressive and a little scary – beautiful gardens and moats lead up to the climb, and metal stair cases lead you up where the rock ones are not being used. At the top you get a fantastic view of the surrounding country side and can walk amongst the ruins, where the king would sit and watch people dance whilst offerings were brought to him. It was incredible and getting to the windy side gave much relief to the sweltering climb. Once back down, we went on a village tour, riding in a bullock cart into the jungle, then onto a kayak to cross the lake before arriving at a little hut with a beautiful woman, her mum and her little baby boy slung in a hammock in the kitchen. The views along the way were incredible and the food they made for us delicious! Curries made from pumpkin, ash banana (similar to bananas but a bit denser), jak fruit (which had a weird meat texture), mango and finally some fried fish. My gosh it was delicious! After lunch, learning how to cut and grate a coconut and keep an eye out for elephants, we walked around a lake, being joined by some other tourists riding an elephant, and then headed on the most amazing park tour I’ve done. Not just because we got to see elephants close up, but because of our incredible guide, he was deaf. This meant that throughout the tour he was very animated and engaging, allowing us to feel like we learnt so much more from the effort required to communicate, the effort he put into us. To get the driver to stop the jeep he would tap the metal with a metal ring, point to whatever it was we should see, pass us his binoculars to see the birds and show us in his book which one it was. We got up close to several elephants, they were everywhere, and even saw a beautiful little 2 week old. They are such majestic creatures and surprisingly a bit smaller than I had realised.

I got sunburnt! Here I am talking about the importance of sun safety and I get burnt. Thankfully it was a small burn on one shoulder and I reapplied my sunscreen, but I put it down to a singlet, very sweaty mountain climbing and the rubbing of my backpack wiping off the sunscreen. Regardless, a good reminder of being sun smart.

11181231_10155529766915158_3985268459634553824_o

Travelling on to Kandy, a city nestled in the middle of the mountain range, and the views seemed only to get better and better. We toured a spice garden, a batik factory, the botanical gardens, many many waterfalls, and more amazing food. The hotel this night had a very friendly cat that I just couldn’t help but pat. We boarded a train from Kandy to Ella in third class after the others had all sold out. If you read online, everyone goes on about how you have to book first class or the observation deck, that otherwise it’s not going to be a comfortable ride. We went with third, and honestly it was perfectly fine! There was no air conditioning, but there were fans and the windows opened. In fact, it was quite cool up in the mountains that many times we closed to windows because it was too cold. We met a couple of Australians, sitting across from us, that made the journey even more fun, and the gorgeous Sri Lankan man sitting near us who laughed at all the things we did that must have seemed odd, and told us when the best views were coming up. Everyone says not to eat street food, but to be honest, I think if you avoid meat products and be a bit sensible you should be pretty good. So, when the trained pulled up, people lined the sides of the carriages with fresh fruit and some hot delights, which we had to sample.

ella

(L to R) Kandy botanic gardens; train from Kandy to Ella; hotel on a boulder in the landslide area!

11218765_10155539614750158_5631424475463139743_n

Breakfast

The mountains were quite cool in the mornings, but they heated up. We drove out of Ella back to Colombo and seeing the farming on the sides of these steep mountains made me giddy. You truly can’t be afraid of heights to work there! Back in Colombo the hotel was a great choice, definitely needed the comforts of air con, mostly because it helped get rid of that feeling of city smog suffocating you! I felt like we got into a routine in the city – early in the mornings we went out running with a lot of locals along the ocean front, back for a shower, then relaxed checking out the town and places to eat before and after the beautiful wedding!

wedding

(L to R) waiting for the bride; the entrance song and dance; tying the knot literally; and heading off on their new life together!

The wedding, what a gorgeous wedding! Piyankarie and Mithun looked amazing, both had moments of tears in their eyes during the traditional ceremony (all in Sinhalese so had no idea what we being said, couldn’t help smile at the obvious jokes though!), and then we all stuffed ourselves with the incredible food before dancing the afternoon away! After covering Piyankarie and Mithun in confetti as they left, we had the best tuk tuk driver experience of the trip! This guy was crazy, telling us that the scars he showed us on his arms were from being shot by the Tamil Tigers during the war, then telling us they went to Australia as refugees, and whilst taking us through random back streets that wasn’t the way we had gone to the wedding, then asked us several times “no chance you are government police?”! Turning the wrong way down one way streets he would just say “naughty tuk tuks” and laugh! He was a hoot! That afternoon we went to a resort with a pool to relax as the sun set on our second last day. The next morning, a last minute run around, touring more of the city and finding a delicious place to eat lunch, then watching the final sunset and squashing coins on the train line before we headed to the airport for a 1am flight. It was sad to leave and not at the same time.

lastdays

(L to R, T to B) tuk tuk rides; last sunset; packed trails; maintenance Sri Lanka style.

There were some things about Sri Lanka I didn’t like. I don’t want to paint an incorrect picture of perfection – the pollution in the major cities was pretty bad, especially in Kandy where I think the mountains held it in. The rubbish surprised me, so much litter everywhere you went. There was a bit of begging and harassment, but thankfully not to much and some I was willing to donate to. The worst was at a waterfall where a guy would not leave us alone. He tried to get me to take a rock as a “present”, when I wouldn’t, he put it on top of my phone and I didn’t want to drop it on the ground and let it smash. I probably should have, he then followed us everywhere saying that his daughter was collecting coins for school and we should give her something. We heard later that this was used by others elsewhere. I really hated that. I don’t buy souvenirs no matter where I go, so regardless, I did not want a rock. But, people were friendly, so many smiles, a bit of ripping off but the exchange rate means that it wasn’t something to worry about really.

In the end, there are pros and cons to every place you visit and you take the good with the bad. Sri Lanka was an amazing place. I want to return some day, but there are many places I want to also experience before I head back. I am so grateful that my gorgeous friend Piyankarie got married there, otherwise I don’t believe I would have ever ventured to that tiny island, the size of Tasmania with the population of Australia. It was a life changing experience, I mean that, and hopefully I will be a better person for the things I have learnt.

Jpeg

Thank you Sri Lanka for an amazing experience

 

 

Guest Blog 2: Rin Meyer

Continuing on with featuring amazing women I know, this is Rin. We went to the same school, her mum was my favourite teacher, a strong woman that raised an equally strong daughter. I’ve always admired Rin’s tenacity and her multi-day trekking adventures. I asked her to write about her experiences, and if you’d like to know more about some multi-day hikes, check out these links, as recommended by Rin; AuswalkGreat Walks of Australia If you are suffering from depression, believe you may be, or know someone who is, or may be, check out these great resources, Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute, and Lifeline.

I am incredibly honoured that Eliza has asked me to contribute as a guest blogger. We were both daughters of teachers in a small country town and as kids grew up on farms and worked just as hard at school as we did at home. And now our paths have crossed again. I was incredibly inspired to watch her journey from 12 runs in 12 months to placing 5th at the Wylde Classic on the weekend, she is one of my motivators. And this is my little contribution to her brilliant blog. Single. 34yrs old. High school Head teacher. Farmers daughter. Teachers daughter. Amazing Aunty. Great friend. World traveller. Overweight. Bush walker. Cat lady. Sufferer of depression. Crochet queen.

“I though it was normal to get a bit emotional”

11139661_10153301121860362_882730788_n

I became an obsessive compulsive map reader.

I am all of those things. But of all of those things, in no particular order I would think the thing that has changed how I live my life now is living as a sufferer of depression. Like with life there are highs and lows, and with depression the wave can be much higher, and much deeper. I was told this in about 2010. Having always been a kid who sought my own fun, I though it was normal to get a bit emotional, or down but apparently the blues at that time in my life overwhelmed me. I had to find a way, and for me medication was not the answer. I knew I loved walking and one night I was with my mum at a View Club meeting in our small country town and two incredible inspirational women spoke about their journey of walking. They were local women. Sharing their journey of their walk across England on the Coast to Coast walk. I was inspired and thought if these women can do it, so can I. I walked once before in Germany. I was much younger, but no fitter, and I nearly died doing it. I was an exchange student at the time and I’m pretty sure my host family would still talk about it to this day. But we made it. Together. And I think that is the message here. What a crazy thought. I wasn’t talking about a small 5 km or a day walk, these were long week walks in solitary environments away from people. But it happened. These walks have happened all across Australia and there are plenty more to do, but the most powerful thing was getting others behind me, either in spirit, or in person and people came together.

“We had battled through and accomplished a fight alongside nature and the feeling was something I just wanted more of.”

rin

(l-r) Seeing the end point of our 149km Cape to Cape; Blue mountains traverse; Great Ocean road walk.

My first walk was in Western Australia- the Cape to Cape track. 149km of track through the Margaret River region. My best friend came along and our love for walking was forged. Each day was a challenge. Our very first day the most- I usually always have a melt down on the first day saying how silly the idea is and I should never have started. I ran out of water, I drank my friends water, we suffered through shin high sand on an 8km beach, and we still hadn’t finished the walk. But when we sat down at the end of the day, we had made it. Together. We had battled through and accomplished a fight alongside nature and the feeling was something I just wanted more of. More than the walking itself was the scenery I’ve experienced. I’ve walked the Cape to Cape, I’ve done the Great Ocean Road (98km), I’ve done the Blue Mountains Traverse (76km) and the last walk was the Mornington Peninsular Walk (82km). And there are more in the pipeline. A few friends and I have locked in that Coast to Coast walk in England for my 40th birthday. So there is still something to work (or walk) towards.

“the sense of achievement was far greater than any mood that could get me down”

11160289_10153301122215362_123922746_n

Sally is my dual time walking companion.

Best day I’ve ever had on track, and admittedly the most challenging, was on the Great Ocean Road walk ending the day on Johanna Beach. The weather is always to be watched on a walking week and we had some ideas what we might have been in for . But not all of it. As we set out a torrential down pour occurred. We all had the the opportunity to turn back. But I chose to push on. That day we only did 17km on track, a relatively short day on an endurance hike. but it was the most rewarding of all battling thunderstorms and lightening and ending our days walk with a blistering sand storm on the 2km beach. I could hear Lawrence Of Arabia playing in my head. I came away from that day having battled something bigger than myself. Greater than my own doubt. And more forceful than the person who lives in my head. Nature is immense, and it has my eternal respect. My body was sore, I lost a toenail because of that day in waterlogged walking boots, but the sense of achievement was far greater than any mood that could get me down, or the itch of a regrowing nail. So in all of this my battle isn’t my weight, which I’m pretty sure most people would look at me and say it were. It really is the depression. Planning a walk, knowing the struggles ahead, conquering those first day demons and having all the support in the world is the most positive thing I could hope for. People have sponsored me for the walking, allowing me to contribute this to Beyond Blue, people have been on practice walks, called me for pep talks and the hits of “like” of the Facebook page is always a nice feeling. There’s no nicer people than walkers I’ve heard many a time. It might just be true.

“I’m not meant to be able to walk 149km in 8 days, but it happened.”

11149205_10153301122260362_511205064_n

Mornington peninsular walk

As a walker I come to know that there is something bigger than us all, that makes us feel small, and it’s the ultimate in getting out there and having a go. I’m not meant to be able to walk 149km in 8 days, but it happened. I’m not built to climb up mountains or scale muddy downhill paths, but I do it. And it’s amazing. I get it done knowing that I have the support of friends and family and that there are bad days, and there are great days. but at the end of the walk I will feel an amazing sense of accomplishment and be able to wonder and marvel at nature. It’s an amazing feeling and if I can do it, you can too!

How do I train in all this rain?

In Sydney, you may have heard, it’s been raining. A lot. Rain puts a dampener on any outdoor training regime, but it gets particularly difficult for mountain biking. I’m not averse to cycling in the rain – depending on the intensity, my perceived safety among traffic, I don’t mind it too much, though I prefer it to start raining on my when I’m already on the bike, rather than to start in the rain! However, for mountain biking, it’s not simply a case of putting up with the rain, well not with the amount of rain we’ve been having in Sydney. Instead, there is the condition of the trails to consider. With all this bad weather, we’ve had flash flooding of the trails, trees down, and riding through the mud can damage the trails and their longevity. All in all, this means that the hours I can spend on the trail are strictly limited. There will be a few days of sunlight that get my hopes up of finally being able to take my brand new bike out on the trails and work on my skills, only for the next few days to be constant rain.

IMG_20150422_140333

It is hard, all those days of wasted plans, not being able to get out and focus on the things you were so keen to work on. It easily leads to a loss of motivation, a loss of drive, that can be difficult to recover from.

So what do I do?

1. Work on my strength.

I’ve loved lifting weights since I was first introduced to them a couple of years ago. At first I was afraid, I wasn’t strong, I didn’t want to get too “big” looking or some ridiculous thing like that, as I thought all women who lifted weights turned out looking like men. But, I learnt that’s not the case, at all! Even if it was, who cares? I feel incredible when I lift weights, when I feel strong and capable, when I see that I lift more each week, each month, and see tone in my muscles. I think a flexible and comprehensive fitness plan is the best kind of plan for what I want to achieve. Do I want to be the best mountain biker in the world? No. Do I want to stand on a podium for winning the Scott 6+6? No (though that would be an awesome!). Do I want to be fit and strong, have significant muscle mass that protects my joints and bones as I age? Do I want to stay fit and active as I age, feeling stronger and healthier every year? Hells yes. So, time to lift more weights.

2. Keep on riding.

I can’t get out there on the trails, but I can ride about on the roads. Road cycling was still part of my training, so I have increased my road cycling, more in the amount of commuting I am fitting in at the moment, and some trainer sessions, those Sufferfest videos really get the heart rate up! The wonderful experienced I had at the Tour des Plages has only made me even more determined to ride longer distances. This will help with my endurance and all the hills I tackle in between will only help my fitness. Although, I need more hill practice, that’s a must.

IMG_20150303_064735

3. Street skills.

I can’t get out to the trails, but I can get out on the street. There are a few little drills I can work on, and I like watching Youtube videos (MTB tips are my favourite to watch) to give me ideas on what to work on – some cornering work, track stands, slow-moving handling skills, things that will be useful out on the trail when the weather finally clears!

IMG_20150324_173118

4. Experience.

Ever since becoming active I have wanted to experience more. Perhaps that was part of the driving factor for my change in lifestyle. I have noticed that during training programs, people get burnt out, lose focus, start to hate the activity they love because of the pressure to train when some days you just don’t want to. I don’t want to reach that point, and my aim for the year is to compete in the Scott and do well by my standards. To ride hard, ride well, finish strong. To achieve that, I don’t want to get so focused on a strict training program that I will lose that love of mountain biking that made me aim so high in the first place. Keeping that in mind, I like to add in runs around Sydney, which I’m ok with in the rain, as well as planning some camping and hiking trips in the coming months, and a trip to Sri Lanka.

So until the rain stops and the trails dry out, I will do my best to stay motivated. I will do my best to not let the weather get me down and stop me from being active. I will try to be flexible, to keep improving my fitness and strength and enjoying being out and about as best I can in all the wet weather!

Jpeg

Tour des Plages

I follow a few different cycling clubs on Facebook for all my relevant updates, mostly with mountain biking trails, closures, all those useful things. Somehow, I stumbled across an unofficial event with the Rapha Cycle Club, the Tour des Plages. Four check points, a potential of 160kms, teams of 4, tackling the weekend traffic of Sydney roads, and almost non-stop rain after the first checkpoint. I had recently connected with a fellow Sydney rider through Facebook, thanks to my blog posts through Roxcycl, who I thought might be keen for a crazy day of riding like this, and who may know more people to make up a team. Thankfully, she was! So the team, Wheelie Tyred, was set.

IMG_20150426_090850

First check point, Palm Beach, getting our hashtags on!

Immediately, I was doubting myself. Could I even make 160kms? I am so slow, will everyone get annoyed at me because they are constantly waiting for me? This self doubt has always plagued me, and I see it in others as well, especially women, especially those new to physical activity. Why do we do that, that self deprecation? I had been working on a blog post about this, about my efforts to stop people I know from talking that way, and stopping myself too. It’s hard, and putting my hand up for this ride definitely made it a struggle to fight against.

IMG_20150426_181419

Palm beach, before the rain.

Our little team of 4 instead turned into the mega team, with 3 hitchins! Such friendly, smiley, lovely people that made me feel so welcome and excited for the massive ride that lay ahead. We scuttled through the city, but when we hit the more serious climbs, I started to notice something. Everyone was waiting at the top of a climb for me and as soon as I’d get there, in need of a break, some refueling, they’d roll off again. I was too embarrassed and ashamed to ask them to wait, and this really, honestly, made me doubt why I endeavoured to attempt this ride, to get on the road again with others, when I felt like an unwelcome burden, slowing the group. I wasn’t as strong for the climbs. My self doubts felt they were being fulfilled and I felt like I shouldn’t have been there.

But Karen noticed.

Then everyone noticed and realised. This wasn’t a race. This was a day out riding around Sydney together, supporting each other through the ride. Suddenly, the feel of the ride completely changed. I think no-one was really aware of my abilities, having not known me before the day, completely understandable. They were used to riding with each other, so as I fell to the back of the pack, it wasn’t initially noticed. But once it was, my gosh, I have never been on such a ride, as the slow poke, and felt like I wasn’t a burden. I felt welcomed, encouraged, that we were all in the ride together, and was even included in future long ride planning!

checkpoints

(L to R) Check point 2, Manly Beach; Check point 4, Custom’s House; Finish line, Rapha Store and cafe!

After our first check point, through a miscommunication, we lost our 3 extra teamies. The rain had started, and we decided we would head down to the second check point at Manly, see if we could find our teamies (should have swapped numbers!) and then hop on the ferry across to Circular Quay. The ferry ride gave us a chance to eat some more substantial food (read donuts) and warm up with some hot beverages. We ran into a couple of other teams doing the tour and had some super friendly chats. One team was doing a tour of pubs and yum cha for the day, the exact kind of attitude suitable to a rainy, windy, long riding day!

Jpeg

Soaked to the bone, but I loved the ride! Definitely gave those knicks a good work out.

Two more check points lay ahead, and every kilometre of this ride was new for me. The girls in my team were confident in Sydney traffic, knew where they were going and gave me great confidence in my ability to mingle with the drivers. They encouraged me to join more training rides with them, difficult given where I live and where they start from, but it was so heartening to have that encouragement. The rain continued, the winds got stronger, but I felt awesome! I felt like I could keep riding all day long, the attitudes of my team mates was awesome, I was just so happy and ecstatic even with the rain, it didn’t impact the day for me at all!

In the end, I always knew I could do the distance. I knew I had the mental strength to keep plugging away until I made it to the end, I’ve got the endurance. My doubts were about my ability, being too slow, holding everyone up, that I’m just not good enough to ride.

We need to stop saying these kinds of things. It is holding us back, as we doubt ourselves and become crippled by that doubt, believing that doubt, we do not move forward as quickly as we could be. We hold back from great opportunities, like this ride. We don’t attempt new obstacles because we are so convinced we can’t do them. But what if we ignored those feelings of self doubt and instead believed in ourselves. Who cares if I’m the slowest, the only way to get better is to keep riding – but what if I hadn’t turned up at all? I’m only hurting myself and my progress through this kind of talk, so, despite how desperately I was feeling those things, I am glad that for once (and hopefully forever more), it did not stop me from going on this ride, it will not stop me from trying that next obstacle, for putting myself into new scenarios that challenge me.

Jpeg

The sun returned as we finished the ride. Best. Day. Ever.

I highly recommend these two blog posts on this topic, they have resonated with me a lot.

Self-Deprecation and the Female Cyclist 

Dig In: Being Honest About Your Strengths