Rethinking the ink

At 22 years old, I got a tattoo.

I spent a very long time thinking about it, exactly what I wanted, where I wanted it, what it meant to me. I spent around 5 years thinking about it before I eventually got it done, and I loved it, it meant so much to me.

Close to 10 years on, and I could take it or leave it. It’s still a meaningful tattoo to me, it carries a lot of memories, but it doesn’t have the same meaning. I hadn’t really thought about removing the tattoo, but I came across an ad for tattoo removals. It intrigued me. I booked in for a consultation just to get a better idea of what it’s all about.

Now, people get tattoos removed for a variety of reasons, the top two being regret and work. Thankfully, neither of these have been the case for me. Despite the prominent location of this tattoo, it’s never stopped me from getting a job. Then again, bar tattoos directly on your face, I doubt any would stop you getting a job in science. I’ve never regretted this tattoo either. I was told during my consultation that some people turn up within hours of the tattoo being completed wanting it removed. In both of these situations, time is a big issue. For those who regret it, they want it gone right then and there. For those who can’t get the jobs they want, they want it gone immediately too. I wasn’t in that boat, it could take as long as it would take and I was fine with that.

Chloe, my consultant, was lovely. She put me at ease, she didn’t make me feel guilty or that tattoo free skin is the ideal we should all hope for. She and her husband both have tattoos and she went on to explain that some of their clientele are people who are bored of what they have, or wanting to change pieces, so get tattoos removed to have something else in it’s place. I felt so comfortable and happily informed that I decided to go ahead with the removal, and Chloe started my first treatment right then and there.

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It hurts. It’s not unbearable, but then again we all react differently to pain. My tattoo is only small, so it took less than a minute to treat it, much quicker than the original tattoo process. It feels like a burning elastic band is being flicked at your skin, but I found it fine to deal with. A larger area would probably hurt a whole lot more. The location also plays a role in how much it hurts, so there are definitely areas I’ll never get tattooed, just in case…

It’s going to take a while. Depending on the type of ink that’s used, how deep the ink is set in your skin, how old the tattoo, all contributes to the number of treatments you’ll require. Thankfully, mine is getting on in age, the ink seems to sit quite shallow, but there is no way to know the quality of ink. At this stage, it looks like around 6 treatments, but there is of course no guarantee with this. Our bodies react differently, and it’s impossible to know for sure, but as a rough guess, 6 treatments could be enough. I’m happy with that. It’s pricey, but I’m also ok with that too.

So why am I getting it removed? Because I’ve changed. I’ve grown as a person, and though it hasn’t lost it’s meaning, the meaning has changed. I initially got the tattoo as a sign of strength. I had been through some difficult experiences including an assault, and I believed I was still strong, that I was still capable. I loved a quote I’d heard, “when water gets trapped, it carves it’s own path”, and I thought it applied to me. I believed that despite what I had been confronted with at such a young age, I was able to reach my potential regardless. I found a way to deal with things and move on, believing that it didn’t affect me, didn’t control me.

As I get older, I realise that things weren’t as clear cut as I thought. I still believe I am strong and resilient, but I see now how much more I have been affected by things in the past. I was fooling myself into believing a narrative, when instead I should have been facing some incredibly difficult truths. As such, this tattoo now means something different to me. It reminds me of a young, naive and vulnerable girl. Someone trying desperately to show the world that she was strong and capable, that she would not let her past traumatic experiences define her. Someone who was clutching so hard to a narrative of strength, she didn’t realise how much help she needed.

I still see myself as resilient. I’m a functioning member of society, I have a good job, great friends and family, I am fit and healthy, and I take care of my mental health now too. I still appreciate the ability to adapt to situations as they change, to take strength in who I am at my core, but I don’t need this tattoo to remind me of that anymore. I don’t need a symbol to cling to, to turn to when I feel weak or vulnerable, to validate me. Now I embrace those moments and draw my strength from within them.

 

For super cool info on what is happening when you get tattoos, and what is happening when you get the tattoo removed, check out these links:

Tattooing close up

Laser tattoo removal

Measuring up

My height is 165 cm.

My weight is 70kgs.

My body fat is 24%.

My BMI is overweight.

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There seems to be measurements available for everything. To determine our health, our fitness, you can get every aspect of your body and your ability measured. What does it all mean?

I’m just above average height for a woman in Australia (161.8cm). I’m about average weight for a woman in Australia (71.1kg). Australia is getting taller and heavier over time. Does that mean we are becoming lazier? Does that mean our diets are our downfall? Seeing as I sit as a pretty average Australian woman, with a BMI that proclaims I am overweight, what does that mean about me? Am I lazy? Is my diet poor? What about those pesky genes people blame?

I went in for a DEXA scan, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A complete picture of my body composition, the weight and density of my bones, the distribution of my body fat, the weight of my lean muscle, would it help me or hinder me to know? Would it encourage me to make changes if necessary or is it just another measurement collected in this whole process with which I do nothing? One way to find out.

I must say, I was not impressed with my experience getting this scan. After my scan was completed, I was then explained the results. My bones are heavy and dense, well that’s good. I have a significant amount of lean muscle, 70% of my body, which suggests a genetic predisposition to muscle building, again, sounds good. My body fat is at 24%. I had no idea what that meant as I hadn’t really looked into it, but no worries, my “specialist” was about to explain. After telling me that BMI was an unreliable measure and that we shouldn’t pay attention to it as it tells a limited story (fair enough, indeed), he then told me my BMI, and that I was considered overweight… Now, lets look at your body fat distribution and percentage. This is what he spent the next 30 minutes on. I felt like I was incredibly obese. I felt like I was unhealthy and on the verge of an early death because of my body fat. He told me that my ideal weight was 61kgs, my ideal body fat percentage would be 19%, and if I ate organic and clean, and came back in a couple of months we’d know if I was losing fat or muscle. This would take me 18 weeks to lose close to 10kgs. He even grabbed out his replicas of 0.5kg and 1kg of fat to demonstrate to me the severity of the situation.

I walked out feeling pretty down on myself. Twenty four percent, that sounded huge, I mean that’s a quarter of my weight! I was thinking that perhaps that extra 5% of body fat was why I am not performing well cycling? Perhaps it was that 5% that was making me one of the last to complete a climb, one of the last to finish a race. Could that be true? And was I seriously overweight? I knew my BMI said I was but I try to ignore that, it’s not a reliable measure. But here was a body composition expert telling me that I should be 10kgs lighter.

I decided to look into it a bit more. I spoke to a couple of friends who were open enough to share their measurements with me and what it meant to them. I looked up tables of bf% and discovered something. I wasn’t obese, I wasn’t overweight, my body fat percentage indicated that I was in the athletic range, the ideal range, the healthy range for my age. So why the heck did that guy make me feel so bad? Why does he expect that I want to be lean?

Body fat chart for women

So does that extra 5% slow me down? One of the incredible racers I know sits at 28.5%bf. Does that mean she’s overweight? Does that mean she’s the last up a climb or the last to cross the finish line at a race? No, in fact she often podiums, not just in second or third, but first place. She doesn’t have the lean body of an elite racer that most likely sits at 14 to 20%, she has a normal body, she is elite, she is an athlete, and she is achieving incredibly. She has strength, endurance, skills, and that measure of body fat doesn’t stop that. So, in reality, my measure of body fat isn’t the reason I’m not as strong as I could be, not as fast as I could be. Yes, getting leaner can help, of course, but it’s not the only way to improve and it’s not the only important measure.

So, what could be better measures of my health and fitness? What are better benchmarks that can help my training?

Regular assessments of my cycling. Riding segments every couple of months and seeing how my times and comfort changes over time. This applies to running, to weight lifting, to swimming – revisiting things and seeing how much quicker you are, how much stronger you are, and allowing yourself to identify potential areas of weakness. Leaving spaces in between allows you to appreciate the changes, as riding the same segment day to day it gets hard to notice your improvement.

Functional threshold power. This tells me how much power I am getting from my legs and is a useful training tool, with most professional cyclists training to their power thresholds.

I guess what I’m trying to say is forget about the scales. I’m trying to say forget about how fat or thin you are. Instead, focus on what is more important and relevant to your health and fitness. Focus on training regularly so you can run faster, lift heavier, ride harder. Focus on taking appropriate rest. Focus on your diet so you can fuel your body better, to allow that engine to burn bright throughout life, not just during races, and to recover and grow. Focus on how you feel about yourself, your mental health, and put those body shaming magazines to the side.

A six pack doesn’t mean you’re fit. A toned body doesn’t mean you’re fast. Just like a bit of extra body fat doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy. There is no need for so much judgement. By all means, get measurements if you are curious, if you want those kinds of bench marks, if you are shaping your body on the outside for a surface contest such as figure building, but don’t walk away with your head hung low. Instead, be proud of what you’re doing and what you’re achieving, and use it as a driver to achieve more (and not as a driver to focus on what’s “wrong” with you!).

The value of a coach

Historically I’ve never placed much faith or interest in a coach. When I lost all that weight, I did it alone. I didn’t need someone telling me how to work out or what to eat, I was capable of losing the weight on my own. There was a lot that I learnt that I maybe couldn’t have with a coach. I was capable of this alone, I had the strength to do it alone, I was resilient, resourceful, committed, and driven. I learnt that I didn’t need anyone else to achieve my goals, that I was strong enough from within to get where I wanted to be. But, I probably didn’t make the wisest choices getting there. As I mentioned in my weight post, I became paranoid about food, about taking a day off, about weighing myself twice a day. These are not healthy things to learn. This is where the guidance of a coach would have been valuable. Looking back, there was a lot I could have learnt that I didn’t.

A good coach can offer many things.

A good coach can offer a program that helps you attain your goals whilst managing your fatigue and allowing you to fit a life in there as well (unless you are top podium hitting, no time for life there!).

A good coach can offer you nutritional advice. Giving you tips to help you eat right, eat for strength, for recovery, for growth. A good coach can give you advice about food that can help you develop a normal relationship with your meals, a healthy relationship.

A good coach can offer you feedback. Taking the information you are giving them and altering the program to evolve with your abilities, whilst telling you what they are expecting from you if you follow the program, what milestones you could be hitting.

A great coach can offer you more.

A great coach will keep an eye on your motivation. They won’t just ask what your goal event is, but ask more, why are you doing it, how you’re going with keeping up with the program and what can they do to help with that. Does it mean changing a few things around to get things to work more smoothly? Is there something that isn’t enjoyable and that’s leeching your motivation from you? Is there something you really love doing that isn’t target essential but something that would make you happier about all those 5am starts? A great coach will remind you that we need to be enjoying our training, otherwise why do it? It needs to give us something back, and yes, there is pain and discomfort in the routine, but it still needs to be enjoyable.

A great coach will keep an eye on your mental health. Asking you probing questions and caring about the answers. They won’t just let it slide if you aren’t making quota and write you off as another “unmotivated, lost cause”. I see a lot of personal trainers that get annoyed with their clients because they don’t stick to a program, they don’t commit. Perhaps it’s something deeper? Anyone can write a program for an “average” person, but none of us are average. We all have things going on in our lives, we all have differing abilities, and a great coach will see the signs that maybe something isn’t so great and that’s why you’re having trouble with the program. A great coach will remind you that whilst the world feels like it’s turning on it’s head, we need to focus on what we can control. A great coach will work with you to help you become the athlete you want to be, and your mental health is part of that process. A great coach will remind you that they are there to help you reach your goals and that you are a worthwhile investment, even if you aren’t hitting the podium at the end of your race.

A great coach will connect with you on a personal basis and be in your corner no matter what obstacle you are facing ahead.

A great coach will let you know that you mean something, more than just a pay day.

A great coach will let you know they are human too.

I’m incredibly lucky. I have a great coach. IMG_20150719_150806

Find Coach Chops at the Athlete Lab in Sydney, or on Facebook.

 

Maintaining an Active/Athletic Lifestyle – Tips by Real, Relatable People.

wallancee:

I was part of a survey on changing to an active lifestyle and some of the thoughts of the women surveyed are gems that I believe are worthwhile to share. The underlying theme, do what you love when it comes to fitness, and do it for you!

Originally posted on Body Positive Athletes:


Have you ever (like me) sat there reading advice about how to really make ‘that’ change to an active lifestyle, and found yourself thinking ‘there is no possible way I can relate to these suggestions because there is no possible way I can relate to this person‘?

Recently I have undertaken research to explore if there are common traits and experiences amongst people who have been consistently active for a period of over twelve months (this was the ONLY criteria). Within the questions was one asking for any advice these people may have for those of us find themselves in the same position I was many years ago – having what felt like my MILLIONTH go at losing weight and ‘getting healthy’ because I still believed the two concepts were completely intertwined. For me personally, it was a shift of mental focus from weight loss to just doing an…

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Race 8: Three Ring Circus, Wingello

This was to be the last round of the Three Ring Circus, and my first. With the Scott 6+6 getting closer, I thought a double up of racing along with some cold cold camping would help me prepare for my coming goal. I had attempted Wingello before (read it here!) and my head wasn’t in the game that day, but I had a feeling things would go a little better this time.

We arrived early for the night performance, got in a bit of single trail love before the upcoming race. Things felt pretty good (and cold), and when the time came to get ready for the night race I was excited. Twenty two kilometres of mostly singletrack, and in the dark the trail presents an entirely new challenge. Drums broke through the quiet and a couple of awesome volunteers were drumming away an amazing beat at the top of a tough climb. That rhythm definitely made the climb easier. It felt like a quick race, and crossing the finish line I was handed a bowl of delicious and hot soup! Perfect way to warm up, that and the fire pits they had available!

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Not even off the bike and handed hot soup!

Overnight, I have definitely figured out to keep warm, but the camping comfort level is still in progress. The wind howled, many times scaring me awake. I was hopeful that the morning would bring a calmer day, but I was wrong! Another crazy windy day, many people were blown off their bikes and walking some of the more open sections. We got to explore some newly opened sections that were incredibly fun, and the singletrack was much more sheltered from that crazy wind. The three loops had their own personalities. The initial loop of fire trail split us up nicely, even after the self-seeded start. The 27km of the second loop was all sweet singletrack. The last loop was a hard core climbing fire trail, with many riders hopping off to push their bikes. With the 5km to go sign in sight, I decided to push every last bit of energy into it and sped up.

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Warming up by the fire before the start of the Matinee performance.

What an amazing feeling to finish. Over 80kms for the weekend, an amazing atmosphere with Schitznel von Boom and the Grandmaster, heaps and heaps of free stuff from Osprey, fantastic food from the local school, who could want more?! Thanks to Wild Horizons for putting on such a great event, I think I’ll have to hit up the Highland Fling too!

The circus gave me a lot to think about. I’ve been riding a lot of lap based races of late, and this point to point style was a long missed style. It was nice to not feel the constant heat of a faster rider appearing behind me and anxiously searching for a spot where they can pass safely. It was not nice, however, to realise how much more lonely it becomes. It was nice to have space to myself, to enjoy the trails without that pressure, but I also missed the interactions with people as they lap you or you lap them.

I’m starting to realise that the best rides I do are the ones where the interaction with the support crews, the volunteers, the other cyclists is fun. Relaxed, jokes, having fun whilst pushing hard against the clock, those are the best events.

I also realised in this race that I’m getting fitter. For the first time, I was catching people, lots of people, and most of them I caught on the uphills, especially on the final loop. What an great realisation! I have been working hard and it’s hard to tell, hard to measure fitness sometimes. To be able to ride up these hills, to pass people and not have to walk on inclines that would have crippled me in the past, what a great feeling!

I still have a long way to go, it’s a road of constant improvement, but I’ll take the little wins, every single one of them!

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Race 7: Evocities Series 5hr, Dubbo

When I first started mountain biking, I rode clipped in. I felt like that was the proper way to do it, the accepted way to do it, and to ride on flats was to be a n00b. It wasn’t until I started a skills course where it was recommended to ride in flats that I changed over. I am now struggling to return to clipped in riding. I feel so much more freedom and courage to try things in my flats than clipped in. Of course there are big discussions about what is best option and the fastest, with many putting the money on clips. When the winning elite women’s racer tells you that she thinks it’s more hard-core to race in flats, well, I’m happy to take that! For Dubbo, I had planned to ride clipped in. I was being brave, doing my reccy ride clipped in to prepare and workshop anything for the following day. For the first half of the course I felt great, but it was easy. I hit the second half, the rocks, the technical climbs, descents, turns, and I lost all confidence that I could do it. Disappointing.

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Beautiful sunset before the big race

That night I gave myself a break. I have a tendency to be hard on myself, too hard, especially when I feel a bit embarrassed and ashamed that I am still racing on flats. I decided for this race that again I would ride in flats and run the sections I hadn’t been able to ride the day before – it would be quicker than struggling through and I wouldn’t be holding as many people up. I was going to do my best, try what I could on flats and run when I thought it would be best.

I was nervous for the start of the race. I wanted to do well, I wanted to ride hard and put it all out there. Add to that a quick interview for WIN television and I was feeling the nerves!

This race definitely had two personalities. A smooth, flowy and fast start, followed by rocky, pinchy ups and downs. Sixteen kilometers and 400m of climbing each lap, jumps, berms, tight corners, something for everyone.

By taking the pressure off for the race, giving myself that out of running if I had to in those difficult sections, I opened up a new strength. I rode every single bit of that trail, I stopped at nothing, rode most of the A-lines, some of it by simply holding on and trying not to grab too hard on the brakes! This definitely demonstrated that being clipped in puts up a mental barrier for me. Here I was, less than 24 hours later, dominating this course and riding lines that the day before I was shaking at and completely unable to attempt. It is also in part due to the nature of race days I expect, that excitement, adrenaline, pushing yourself and not having as much time to stop and think and ponder the obstacle.

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Now, that’s not to say I did it all perfectly! As the hours wore on, my head and legs got tired. I started making mistakes, especially on my last lap. I was nursing a potential cramp in my left glute that hadn’t quite taken but was threatening to for the last two laps. With less than 3kms to go, I made my biggest mistake. I took a jump wrong and hugged a tree. Apart from some minor bruising, the worst of this tumble was that the cramp seized the opportunity to go full force! I need to figure out what’s going on. It could be related to nutrition or hydration, but I think that it is my bike fit. I suspect that my seat is a fraction too low and I’m not getting proper glute activation. It’s all about trial and error, working out what works and what doesn’t to get your best rides in.

Speaking of trial and error, I want to say something about riding clipped and on flats. We should be able to ride however we feel the most comfortable. There should be no shame in riding in flats. I overtook many riders, men and women, who were clipped in but lacked confidence and stopped at even the most simple of obstacles, including a short smooth, but steep, downhill. The pressure to ride clipped in because it’s more “pro” is very real. The ridicule for not being clipped in is unwarranted. I completely smashed my race because I was confident and capable. I rode the lines that the day before I struggled with because of the clips. I know that I should be able to ride it all clipped in as well, but I am happy to work at my pace to get there, if I even want to. I am working on my ability, my skills, my fitness, and I really like that with flats I am (a very little bit) more daring. We should do what we are comfortable with, work at our pace and find, through trial and error, the set up that works the best for us.

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Dubbo surprised me. I wasn’t expecting the level of technicality compared with the other Evocities events that I’ve competed in, I wasn’t even expecting the rocks. The second half of the race came out of nowhere for me, but all in all, this race was amazing. The trails were safe and well made, and the atmosphere, as usual, was friendly and encouraging. Can’t wait for the next challenge.

I have to thank my incredible cheer squad, and the supportive words that so many of the amazing riders gave, especially my coach. If you haven’t tried a mountain bike race, get on it, everyone is incredibly supportive!

 

Guest Blog 3: Sal Butcher

I lost close to 60kgs to leave a life of obesity and enter one of activity. Before losing weight, I knew I wanted to have kids. Since losing weight, the thought of allowing my body to gain weight, to deliberately put on weight for the health of the life growing within me, terrifies me. I have many fit friends, and I have many amazing mums in my circle. When I look at them I see happiness and love for their kids (most of the time), but I am always curious to ask the more selfish questions, about their bodies, about their selfish goals and wants, because I think it’s not a bad thing for us to have those selfish wants. So I asked. Below are the beautifully raw thoughts of my soon-to-be-mum friend Sal.  

When my beautiful friend Eliza asked if I’d be interested in writing a piece for her blog, I was actually really excited! Then I began to feel a little apprehension as what I’ve experienced may be a little too honest or confronting for some women. Nevertheless, I have always felt that honesty is the best policy and I’m saying, “It’s OK to feel the way you feel!” Whether that is positive or negative, it’s OK!

I’m now 32 weeks pregnant with my first child, I’m turning 30 at the end of this year and my husband and I had been trying for the best part of 2 years before we finally conceived at the end of December last year. Merry Christmas to us!

Before falling pregnant I was the fittest and healthiest11793154_10156000246805045_314940155_n I’ve been in my life. I was running no less than 50km per week, doing strength training four (4) times a week and eating extremely clean. Organic foods where possible, water only, grass fed produce, NO refined sugars and all wholemeal/wholegrain alternatives to the likes of rice, potatoes and bread. Pastry and Pasta fell victims and were completely slashed from the diet.

Now when I say diet, I mean in the true sense of the definition. Not ‘a diet’, my diet. Mentally I was the happiest and most stable I’ve ever felt. I had energy, I was sleeping well, I felt great all round and I looked the best I ever have. I definitely wasn’t lacking confidence. Compare that with how I was say 18 months ago and I was on top of the world!!

When I found out I was pregnant I was so happy! Yes! My body does actually work the way a woman’s body is supposed to! I don’t have something wrong with me. My hips are obviously not too straight to bare children. I’m going to be a mum… God help me… I’m going to be a mum! Up to the point of falling pregnant, I’d always thought ‘I can’t wait to be a mum, I’ll nail it’, but part of me always felt as though the time would never actually present for me so when it did, all that confidence and surety went cart wheeling out the window.

It’s ok though, I’ve gone through all the elation, the self doubt, the fear (Well, the fear is still with me, I have 8 weeks til sh*t gets real!) and now I’m ready. I’m ready to be 100% devoted to a little creation made through the love my husband and I have for one another. The thought of making something half of me and half of him still blows my mind!

What I wasn’t ready for, was the overwhelming feeling of disgust I would feel about my appearance and the physical transformation my body has taken. Every time I look at myself, I just feel disappointment, sadness even. My boobs have grown to the size of watermelons (And unfortunately this is no exaggeration), my face is round, my upper arms and upper legs and butt are all soft and pudgy. If I could have spent this whole pregnancy at home and not had to venture out into the public I would have. And if I had a dollar for every woman that has said to me, “Oh wow, you look amazing! You’re glowing!”… Um, did you see me before I fell pregnant? I looked amazing then! I don’t look or feel amazing now!

11778193_10156000246835045_154787595_nI feel embarrassed even around complete strangers. And the thing is I know how stupid this all sounds! I’m pregnant, I look pregnant, and people are not likely to be judging the way I look right now. I’ve been told that I should be grateful as some women are unable to have children. You know what? I am grateful. Just because I feel completely crappy about myself does not mean I am being ungrateful or acting like a spoilt brat. These are my feelings right or wrong and I’m putting this out there now, shame on the women who are so bloody judgemental! I bet there are many women who feel this way and to be scolded or judged by our peers is horrible.

Some may say that my only focus should be the health and wellbeing of my newborn but I would argue that if I’m happy and healthy, won’t it filter down to my baby? I care for myself as equally as I care for my baby. I don’t see that women should lose their identity upon becoming a mother. I’ll still no doubt have some selfish tendencies and I won’t apologise for it. Mums should never forget how special and important they are in the world.

Thankfully there is always the light at the end of the tunnel. I still own my various pairs of running shoes and have a sound understanding of quality nutrition. I know that once I have my bub and I’m physically capable, my motivation will be ever present to getting back to the lifestyle I’ve been accustomed to. And I intend to do a post baby blog detailing the progress back to the old me!

So I really hope my blog has touched someone for the right reasons. I think it’s important to accept pregnancy for what it is. If you love it, great! If you hate it, that’s great too! Embrace it! I hate being pregnant and I’m ok with that!

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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Last one!

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