“One day you will be domesticated,” she said.

Early on in my marriage, one of my new family members said to me, “One day, you will be domesticated.”

Old Egyptian hieroglyphic painting showing an ...

Old Egyptian hieroglyphic painting showing an early instance of a domesticated animal (cow being milked). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I’m American by birth, and I’d married into an English family.  I knew this phrase must mean something different from what it seemed to mean to me.  This well-meaning relative must have meant I’d learn how to cook and clean better, how to be a good mom and wife.  Still, my hackles rose.

To me, the word “domesticated” meant “tamed”.

For an Aquarian Fire-Horse like me, the most freedom-loving of all creatures, this idea was, well, not terrifying, but somehow unlikely.  Me, tamed?  Ha!  Me, of the wild dreams, of the adventure sports – me, who was sure I’d never have kids.  Me, who didn’t even have a kitchen in my New York apartment, just a hot plate, and lots of deli options.  Me, who sang songs of liberty at the top of my voice in the shower…

For five years, I’ve lived in the suburbs in Melbourne, Australia, with my young children, two cats, and a loving husband.  I’ve learned how to cook and clean, how to parent, how to garden.  I’ve examined myself up against the sound images of some strong domestic role models, friends, woman who I turn to when I don’t know how to do things like, “cream the butter and the sugar together”.  During this time, I’ve thought often of my own mother, and her path in life as an executive assistant in one of the largest New York City ad agencies – she never learned to cook. And I’m sure being “domesticated” never even occurred to her.

As a woman, there is a fine line between being domestic/domesticated and being tamed.  Wait.  I’ve got that wrong.  It is not a fine line.  It is a big, fat broad line.  I’ve discovered this line is so broad, we can run trails along it, waving our hands freely in the air, and singing our favorite songs.  We can be domestic, without being domesticated.

This morning in the gym, while lifting weights, I heard that phrase again, in a rap song on the radio.  The rapper was Robin Thicke and the phrase, “…tried to domesticate you, but you’re an animal…”…

I know, I’m a Bon Jovi girl really, but that phrase, as I bench-pressed my twenty-pound dumbbells, followed up with a set of push ups, and a set of triceps extension with that same twenty-pound dumbbell – well, it was kind of perfect.  “Tried to domesticate you…”

And failed.  I am nowhere near domesticated.

Last week, in that same gym, I was the sole woman in the free weights area at 10 am on a Monday morning, and I was surrounded by young men from a footy team working out.  I had to fight hard not to feel intimidated by the overwhelming testosterone, to know that I too belonged there in that world of steel and muscles.  To be tamed would mean this area no longer belonged to me; I stayed.

This morning, when the rapper was singing, I was in the free weights area with just one other woman nearby, and I could listen to the words, and reflect on them.

“Tried to domesticate you…” 

It is the passivity in the phrase that gets to me – the idea that someone or something else is taming us.  For the stray cats among us women, for us with holes in our jeans torn from climbing trees, for the ones without makeup, for the rebels, it is essential that we remain untamed, even in the suburbs, even in the boundaries of our own homes.  I’ve learned to cook from YouTube videos rather than a cooking class, and I’ve shied away from any attempt by friends or family to tell me the “right” way to be a woman, a mom, a homeowner.  We all find our own way; I love having a home and a family, but I am sure I’ll never be tamed.

Running, long-distance running, ultra-running, is, for me, the ultimate act of “anti-domestication”.  Out in the woods, it is just me and my backpack, for hours and hours, all alone.  My only fuel, little packets of GU gel and salt tablets, the mud my best friend.

There, the idea of being tamed does not occur to me.  I sing the Savage Garden Animal Song loudly as I run:

“…Cause I want to live like animals
Careless and free like animals
I want to live
I want to run through the jungle
the wind in my hair and the sand at my feet…”

Domestication, bah.  Now I’m off to make my children dinner.  Wild and free.

Overtraining, broken washing machines, and Norton Anti-Virus

English: Nelson, a local cat, Mordiford Lookin...

English: Nelson, a local cat, Mordiford Looking very grumpy and keeping well away from humans on this patch of open ground. Two local ladies remarked that he always looks miserable. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had planned on writing tonight all about my excitement about the start of the Salomon Trail Series this weekend, the first race for me a 15k in Studley Park.  In fact, I sat down with my journal this morning (my private one, where I really let loose), and started to write those very words.  Then I realised I was not telling even myself the truth.  I was just writing what I thought I should be feeling, what I usually feel when a big trail race is coming up.  The truth is, I am not excited.  Just tired.  And grumpy.

So imagine the sense of irony, when, flipping through the latest issue of Runner’s World, I came across this mini-article called “Brain Drain”.  It had a horrific checklist, on which I checked four of the five items, so apparently, I’m meant to “hold off and review my training load”.

At least I can sit back and heave a great sigh of relief – I’m not just getting stupid, clumsy, and irritable.  Well, I am – but because I’ve been doing too much.  Here’s how I know:

My Norton Anti-Virus came up for renewal.  Always a joyous moment.  I soldiered on, paid the bill, downloaded the massive file, and got the expected message of, “Your operating system is out of date so this was all a big waste of time.  And get prepared to waste more time, because you have not downloaded the 850 security updates over the last three years because you have been overtraining you idiot! Oh, and your house needs a vacuum, especially the stairs.”  Well, it didn’t really say all that, but it might well have done.  So I spent the last two days fixing all that stuff, feeling my neck muscles tense and my patience, always slim, dwindle to nothing.  Stupid security updates.  Stupid giant security updates.  Stupid stairs.

Then I decided it was high time to soak the smelly dish towels in white vinegar, because my husband (who can’t smell anything!) was complaining about them.  It seemed a great solution that I discovered via Google: soak the towels in white vinegar in the washing machine.  (Not as good as my original plan to dig a big hole and bury them in the back garden, but more economical).  I even read the washing machine’s instructions for how to soak.

One of the 1st washing machines of Constructa

One of the 1st washing machines of Constructa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But after I soaked, I noticed that the towels were only half-wet, and wait, why wasn’t the stupid machine going around now that I’d turned it on to wash out the vinegar?  After learning how to disconnect the filters, flooding the floor of the laundry, realising just how much dirt trail running gathers in filters, and swearing under my breath for three hours, I was sure I had it fixed.  Really sure!  So sure I ran the stupid dish towels through the vinegar again, and guess what, the machine still didn’t spin.  Arrgggh.  I caved and called the washing machine service people, who claimed that a Siemens machine is really a Bosch now, claimed this in a very strange accent spoken softly as if they were telling me something even more secret than Wiki-leaks, but that they will fix it, sometime between 9 am and 1 pm tomorrow.  But they don’t want to know the model number because they don’t want to buy the wrong parts.  Um hm.  We’ll see.

Finally, there were the plants.  The long, lush liriopes that had been a feature of our front garden since we moved in.  My lovely husband had cut them back to be able to mow the lawn (several months ago), when I like them lush and long and wild.  I noticed today, and had a very dishonorable hissy-fit that makes me blush and think the words “fish-wife”.  Ungrateful.  Bratty.  Irritable.  Stupid plants.  (note how many times I’ve used the word stupid already).

SO back to that checklist:  irritability (check); Grumpy Owl

poor short-term memory (check – did I mention that I’d left my credit card at the restaurant when I went out for coffee last week?  Nnope, must have forgotten); struggling on runs I used to blast through (check, if that means I’m slower than an old donkey); persistent joint soreness (check, but only when I train).

Darn.  I hate when the experts are right.

Looks like a bit of extra rest is in order, so I’ll have to blog about my excitement about the trail series later in the week, when I’m really telling the truth.  And I promise I’ll tell you about training my 9-year-old son to run 5k – a most amazing experience!

Sweet dreams to you all.  And may all your appliances and software updates function like a dream….and may you never make the mistake of training too much. Or at least learn more quickly than me if you do!

Recovery (the restlessness of a caged tiger)

So, the North Face 50km is over.  Saturday, 18 May, the day I ran my first ultramarathon.  We stayed up in the Blue Mountains for two more nights, with the idea that I’d have mental energy to enjoy the holiday after the race.

Sunday morning was comical.  We went to the buffet breakfast in our hotel, which had been fully booked out by runners the night before.  You could pick the runners out very easily from the “normal” folk.  They were the ones who grimaced when they stood up, and moved very, very slowly towards the buffet, if they moved at all.  Some lucky few, like me, were waited upon by their spouses, who delivered wonderful coffee, as well as the best bacon, eggs and toast I have ever tasted.  Watching all of us, I had to laugh.  We were hungry, stiff, sore, but elated.  There was an air of celebration at that breakfast buffet.  And not much food left at the end. I even ran into an old running friend from Hong Kong, Jeremy, with whom I had attended an Adventure Race training weekend in 2003.  He was looking fit, lean, and content; he had completed the North Face 100.  I felt slightly weak admitting I’d only done the 50.

That day, we drove back to Echo Point, and I was mesmerised by the remaining blue arrows and pink ribbons that had not yet been removed.  Did I really run there? I thought to myself.  With stiff legs, I explored with my family, showing them some of the trails. This couldn’t last long though, as my daughter quickly remembered the “run at cliffs to scare Mom” game; I hadn’t really noticed the potential drop-offs the day before.  We fled the scene quickly, kids intact.

Monday was quieter in Katoomba, less stiff runners, less exuberance.  The time had come to begin the long journey home.  I enjoyed the sitting still in the car very much – the drive from the Blue Mountains to our home in Melbourne takes about ten hours in total, and I was happy as a lark not moving for most of that time.

So, I managed three days with minimal exercise after the race.  I was recovering well, listening to my body, being smart.  Of course, when we arrived back in Melbourne, and the kids went to school on Wednesday, things were going to change.  I went straight to the gym, and found to my wonderment and delight that my 5k run on the treadmill was still possible – I could still run!  I did light weights as well, stretched, and was mightily relieved that I’d not broken myself.  Thursday was a slow, meandering bike ride with my husband for a couple of hours.  Friday I planned a great big trail run up in the Dandenongs, 20k would be easy.  Surely I’d be recovered enough by then, was my reasoning.  It would be six whole days after the race.

Well, as Thursday evening drew to a close, I reassessed myself.  I was exhausted.  So tired that even filling my CamelBak seemed too hard.  I reluctantly accepted that I’d have to miss the trail run, that it was stupid to push so hard so soon.  Perhaps I’d run an easy 10k down at the beach instead?  Except my hips were aching, my calf hurt, and my neck felt like fire when I turned my head.  Just about then a Facebook Ad popped up from Muscle Fix, the massage place that does “serious massage”.  Quicker than lightning, I traded the run for a muscle fix, which did, indeed fix all my muscles.

I was fixed, so I planned to run in the Dandenongs on Sunday morning.  Except – guess what? – I was still too exhausted to get up at 5 am, and slept in instead.  Seeing a pattern here?  I was.

My poor family.  I spent the weekend pacing the house like an angry, captive tiger, my claws on show for everyone to see.  Growl, roar, growl.  Or maybe like a dragon, with wisps of smoke curling all around me.

I know running hard requires recovery time.  I know.  I googled it several times to see what smart people recommended after running 50km of trails.  I just hate that it applies to me too.

I did manage to get the gym today, did my 5km on the treadmill and heavier weights.  The hip pain has gone, the neck now turns, but my left calf is still twingy.  So it will still be a slow recovery week this week.

Heaven help my family.

Growl…

Oh, and the obsessive exploration of what the next big thing is going to be is not helping.  100k?  45k?  The Six-Foot Track?  New Zealand? No goal at all?

My husband said to enjoy this phase, that it is part of racing.  He is very wise.  I will try.

What to do about fear.

Lookout from the DandenongsLast Friday I took myself for a run – a 27 km run in the Dandenongs, to be exact, along the Roller Coaster Run course, to relive the joy of the previous week’s event.  I’m pleased to report there was no repeat of my Superman move, though with a storm the night before, the footing was treacherous.  I learned a few new things from this training run:

1.  Do not step on twigs that lie perpendicular to the path on a downhill slope.  They roll, and take you with them.  I had a few near disasters learning that one.  And there were lots of twigs down.

2.  If a trail looks markedly different from a week ago, there is a reason for it.  In one case, it was because Parks Victoria had come along and dumped a heap of yellow dirt on my favorite track (Zig Zag Track) and left it unrecognisable.  I ran down it anyway, using the three foot piles of pebbles mid-trail to test my stability – and they were slippery!  In the other case, grass had appeared where there was none the week before.  This made me pause.  I was sure the trail had been dark dirt and rocks, not grass.  I ran down it anyway for a little bit, but then had to backtrack.  Grass does not grow in a week – learned that lesson with an extra kilometre!

3.  Do not get distracted by signs.  One trail had a sign prohibiting cycling, baby strollers, frisbee and any sort of fun (I might have made a few of those up).  It also said, “Limbs May Fall”, so of course I looked up at the massive Mountain Ashes to see what sort of limbs we were talking about (while moving).  My limbs nearly fell.

Enough about learning though.

Looking back from lookout

A typical section of trail

The wonder of this trail run on a Friday morning was how empty it was.  I saw a total of five people in four hours.  And I forgot to be scared of the things I’m usually scared of, for long periods of time, until it occurred to me to think of them, be scared, and then forget them again!

The hills seemed even steeper without the thrill of the race I’d run the week before, but the real hard part was I had planned an extra 6km to keep growing my distance in preparation for the North Face 50km race in May.  Silly me, though – I added them at the end!  I was so very close to my car, but I forced myself to run out a further 3km and back down the same route.  I was swearing and hating trail running for that section, so I will not do that again.  I’ve got to trick myself a bit to go that far.

The only one there besides meAnd here’s the only real company I had all morning.  I met this fellow at the top of the lookout pictured above.  I waited ages to see him take off, thinking what a glorious thing it would be to witness.  But he insisted on staying on the ground, hopping around among the rocks.  It was sort of like he was trail running too, but that might have been my delirium kicking in from too many GU gels.

So, the North Face is closing in on me fast.  It is just about 8 weeks away.  Thinking about that makes me feel sick to my stomach.  I’ve spoken to a professional coach, Hanny Allston, who was excellent, and did her level best to convince me I can do this event.  I hung up from our phone call elated, shouting to my husband, “She says I can do it!””

But of course, I then panicked.  What if she was wrong?  What if I needed to run further in training than she thought I did?  What if I’d misrepresented myself somehow?  What if, what if, what if…

Today, I printed off the terrifying range of maps of the race (there were four of them), along with the elevation profile.  I read about the starting waves, and about the 1700 metres of elevation we will ascend.  That was really scary.  So I went back to my Garmin records, and found out I climbed 1125 metres in training last Friday.  I’m not too far off it, though our hills only go to 600 metres in Melbourne and Sydney’s Blue Mountains are, well, mountains.

Am I still scared?  Sure.  Someone asked me at a talk I did for Mentone Public Library last weekend (all about my books – and that was scarier than any race!) what I did about fear,  how I managed fear.  The question made me pause.

I don’t manage fear.  I feel fear.  I know it is going to be there, but somehow it doesn’t really matter.  I do what I have set out to do anyway.  Good question, I thought.

The other thing I do is plan.  And that’s what I’m off to do now.  To plan away as much of this fear as I can, and to just live with the rest.

Teaching BodyPump

Tonight, as I was teaching BodyPump to a full class of about 25 women, my mind drifted back to the beginning of this long journey.  I remember the first instructor workshop:  I had never worn a microphone; I didn’t know what a beat was, or how to count one; I didn’t know about choreography or how to lift a room, or how to use the various tones of my voice to change the atmosphere.  All I knew was I was drawn to this program, because it had changed my life.  I had walked into an aerobics studio in 1997 as a Human Resource Consultant with a PhD in Organisational Psychology.  Then I did first BodyPump class.

It was more of a re-awakening.  I was on the wrong path that day, and BodyPump delivered me back to the right one.  The path where physical and psychological collide; the place where change happens.  From there, I left my suit behind, my heels, and re-found the clothes that hang right on me, the gym clothes, the runners, the bright, peacock-coloured clothes that are worn for function rather than form.

Tonight as I taught, as I lifted that room, as I helped people surpass their limits, I gave a nod to that self who was brave enough, way back in 1997, to attempt what felt impossible.  I knew so little that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

And tonight, there was a woman who had gone as far as she could.  We were nearing the end of the shoulder track.  She had nearly made it.  I caught her eye.  I said, “We are going to finish this together.  Just you and me.”  The rest of the room disappeared as we powered through those last eight repetitions.  When she made it, I cheered aloud, and saw a look in her eyes that will stay with me.  She had just learned she could do it.  She will keep that knowledge.

BodyPump.  It changes lives.  And it enables me to change lives.

Lesson learned: increase training by 10% per week only or risk injury

So, I finally found a limit.  I’ve been pushing and pushing things, surprised that nothing hurt, that is, nothing hurt until Friday last week.  With the use of my Teva Five Fingers and my Fit-Flop shoes, with lots of TR-X training, and lots of squats, lunges, and core work, I had managed to complete my first 22km run a few weeks back.

Then a fellow team-mate and I decided we were going to do the North Face 100 in Sydney’s Blue Mountains as Marathon Pairs.  Which meant that, come May 2013, I’d be running up to 56km in one go.  Without much recovery from the Surfcoast Ultramarathon, and with the Marysville Half-Marathon coming soon, I hit the trails hard.

Yes, I’d heard of the 10% rule.  And I had printed out and read several detailed 50km training programs, but simply hadn’t put one together for myself yet.  Last week, I decided I’d just up the distance of the runs I was doing, each one, a little bit.  Twenty km became twenty-one; four became five; six became seven; four became, well, four became ten.  That was the one that broke me — because all I was doing was substituting my usual cross-training session for the same amount of time running, I thought I’d be fine.

Did I do the math?  Of course not.  If I had (and I did after my hips were aching on Friday night), I would have seen that all my tiny increments added up to a whopping 40% increase in one week, instead of the 10% I should have been aiming for.  I cringe thinking about it.  I am grateful that my friend Maria saw my “aching hips” post on Facebook, and texted me to remind me what I knew, but hadn’t adhered to.

I like to preach “no limits” to myself and to my classes.  I like to live “no limits”.  But the fact is, there are limits and if I don’t respect them, and train more consciously, I won’t be teeing up at the start line of many 50km races.

So, with new-found respect, I am committing to designing a six month plan to get me to that start line.  The good news is that after two solid rest days, my hips are back to normal.  I ran 5km in my Teva Five Fingers on the treadmill this morning, and it felt just like running should feel.  Pure, pain-free joy.

My mathematician husband also solved a great mystery that may have plagued other math-illiterate runners – the 10% increase can apply across the whole week (like if you run 35km in total for the week, you increase that total by 3.5km), but if you increase each individual run by 10% this will add up to 10% across the whole week too (so you can spread that extra 3.5 km across various runs).  That was one sticking block I couldn’t get my head around.  I think I’ve got it now.  Let me know, other runners, if I’ve still got it wrong.  I can be a bit of a blockhead about some things.

I suppose the only way to gain wisdom is to make mistakes along the way.  I have never tried to run so far.  For most of my thirty years of running, I’d simply do one long run per week of about 10km, and cross-train the rest of the time with swimming, weight training, cycling, spinning, or whatever was the most fun at the moment.  So this conscious increase is a whole new ball game.  I love to do things right the first time, but I suppose that is not so realistic.  This is going to take some learning…

Tapering for the Surfcoast Ultramarathon

With only four days to go until my 21 km leg of the Surfcoast Ultramarathon, I’m well into taper mode.  Our team, Team Inspiration, is tackling 100 km in a four-person relay – my leg is the first.  I am prepared, except for the fact that I had not yet tried out carrying all the mandatory race gear in training.  So today, with my planned run between 12 and 15 km, I loaded up my Camelbak and set out to prove I could do this thing.

Well.  Seems an extra five kilograms does make a difference.  The first kilometre, I really wanted to throw that Camelbak on the ground, kick it, stomp on it, and abandon it by the roadside.  I fought the urge successfully, and found my way to the Bayside Coastal Track.  I was expecting the run to feel easy in comparison to my mammoth 22 km effort last week, but I’d underestimated the impact of the load on my back.

As I ran, the bag grew lighter though.  I found if I leant into it, I could land more lightly on my feet.  If I remembered running up the Morning Trail in Hong Kong, the little rises I had to climb seemed less significant.  I kept debating within myself – 12km? 13km?  15km?  My husband said later that I was kidding no one – I’d always choose the longer of the distances, regardless of what was going on.  My reasoning this time was I wanted to convince myself I could carry that pack far enough; there was a spot I wanted to see again on the Bayside Coastal Track; oh, I just wanted to!  I aimed for the 14km target, upping it slightly to 14.6 so I’d know I could do the final race in the Salomon Trail Series with ease.

When I hit the turn-around point, it was time to test my other new piece of gear – an AquaPak for my iPhone.  The cool thing about this AquaPak was you could take photos through it, even use the touchscreen without removing it.  Having swum up rivers with my last AquaPak holding my mobile, I knew I could trust the product for water protection.  But the cool bit was trying out the photo option.  And it was true – I could take photos fast, without removing it from its protective case.  So I took some photos of my favorite sections of the trail, knowing I’d be unlikely to bring the phone up here for a regular training run.

This is the view on my trail on the way back home.  It was a hazy day, but you can see a hint of the bay and the foliage that surrounds it.  There are still remnants of drought-damaged trees, which remind me how lucky we are to have rain these days.  The track winds like this for a full 17km, some technical, most not, but with twists and turns and tree roots to keep my mind active.

I continued on, feeling light on my feet after the rest and relishing the view I knew was just another few kilometres ahead.

Red Bluff.  To me, it is a spiritual place.  I stop there during each run, no matter how far I’m going, but always on the way back.  I stare out at the sea, raise my arms overhead, capture the energy with my hands, and push it back down to earth.  This simple gesture taught to me by a Tai Chi teacher restores me, no matter what is going on in my life.  Then I stand and look:  I’ve stood here in tears, mourning a friend’s death;  I’ve stood here in elation, thrilled at the course my life is taking; and I’ve stood here to contemplate what to do next, how best to fulfill my mission of inspiring others.  In the standing, the looking, I find my center.

Today it is hazy, overcast.  I relish the differences in the view each time I come: the stormy seas; the blue-sky brilliance; the seagulls hovering over the bay.  Today, the haze reminds me of Hong Kong, and makes the world seem slighter more insulated.

Red Bluff

To the right is the beach, a sinewy coastline.  By rights, I should be running there instead of on my coastal track, as my next race is 100% beach.

But this would be too hard, with the other training demands I have placed upon my body.  I will have to trust that I will find what I need on the day.

From here, I dance down some stairs, trusting my strong ankles, loving the bounce in my stride.

Knowing this is a shorter distance than I’ve been doing, I increase my pace, try to bring it up to my 10km race pace.  This pace makes me move with more agility, land more lightly on my feet.  The last few kilometres go quickly, my Garmin beeping at me insistently at each one.

Near home, I climb the big hill that is bigger today.  It occurs to me I haven’t thought about the Camelbak in quite a while, that I have achieved what I set out to do.  The fear of the event has dissipated, and I feel certain I can do it now.

Funny –  14.6 km seemed too short today.  I felt somehow cheated, like I had too much energy left bouncing around in my body.  I guess that is how tapering is meant to feel.

In any case, that is my last long run before Saturday’s race.  I’m going to gather my gear over the next few days into a compact, cat-proof pile in my office.  That will help stave off the bad dreams about forgetting things, turning up late.

I am one step closer to achieving this aim.  Go Team Inspiration!