Swimming has always been easy for me so I do it happily. Even when I was at my biggest, it was the only exercise I actually enjoyed – but I’d only go to the beach to swim after dark so I didn’t have to deal with the disapproving looks and bitchy comments about my size. Night swimming is still one of my favourite things to do especially when the world gets a bit too noisy.
For a while there, the shouty part of my brain had its dodgy theories reinforced by the fact that I had an absolutely terrible time doing the 16 km at the Hillary. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a freaking awesome event. I just had a shocker. As well as being in a terrible headspace, it was a stinking hot day and I don’t cope very well in the heat (I’m from Invercargill, for pete’s sake). Long story short, I ended up with mild heatstroke and would probably still be out on Te Henga trying to work out if I could swim home if it wasn’t for Tail-End Charlie Extraordinaire, Kim Allan, who patiently put up with my meandering and muttering to make sure I made it to the finish in one piece. Well, I say ‘one piece’ but anyone that saw me there might disagree – I don’t know, I can’t really remember it.
It’s counterintuitive but while I still struggle with going out in public in my running gear, I’m completely comfortable when I’m in my togs or my wetsuit – so long as I’m within a few metres of the water, obviously. I guess it’s because I’m confident of my swimming ability. I might not be fast but I know I can swim for hours, so all the while that I was miserable running, swim training made me happy. Hell, I even started enjoying pool training, which I’ve avoided for years in favour of the open water.
And then, of course, it happened – the inevitable crash down to earth when I realised the swim season was over and it was time to focus on running again. Erk. Suddenly, here I was running five or six days a week and really just grinding it out. For several weeks, I ran around a circuit with about as much joy as one of those polar bears that dementedly goes around in circles in a dodgy zoo. I didn’t feel like I was getting any better at it, I wasn’t having any fun, and I spent a lot of time wondering why the hell I was doing it. I was miserable.
That’s when I realised there’s something else I avoid doing because I’m not very good at it – asking people for help. I’ve always done my best to sort things out for myself, but this was one mess I didn’t know how to fix. Eventually, I messaged Vicki, the editor of Kiwi Trail Runner and said, ‘I’ve been really struggling over the last couple of weeks. I feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew and I’m wondering what the hell I’ve done.’
Her reply turned things around for me. ‘This quarter is about head down and training – it’s the grind quarter where it all feels unglamorous, hard, monotonous and unrewarding: it’s all about the build so you don’t get much of the feel-good stuff going on – you’re just grinding away, logging hours and miles. It can be pretty depressing and it’s where a lot of people throw in the towel.’
Bloody hell. I hadn’t expected that. The boredom and the frustration I was feeling were normal. When I eventually let on to James how I was feeling, he tweaked my programme so that there’s more room for going on longer trail missions with friends, as well as making sure there a couple of swims and a deep water running session each week to vary things a bit. The polar bear was free!
Funnily enough, I then started to notice the small gains I was making. A wee reduction in my kilometre time, nailing a hill that used to stop me in my tracks, running a bit more and walking a bit less – all things that I wouldn’t have noticed before because I was so focused on what a bad time I was having.
Then I saw a Facebook post by my friend, Laurie Wilson, about her run at the T42. In it she said, ‘When I started this lark being on my own for so long would have been hard. The voices in my head kept telling me I was too slow, too fat, too old, people were laughing. Blah, blah. Now I've pretty much shut them up. I have peace and quiet and could hear all the beautiful birds, the wind in the trees and the running rivers and waterfalls along the way.’
That right there is what I aspire to. I want to be able to hear the birds, the wind, the rivers and waterfalls. I want to feel the same peace out running as I do when I swim. And as the logical part of my brain reminds me - the only way I’m going to get there is by running more.
Copyright © 2015 Kiwi Trail Runner Magazine. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Kiwi Trail Runner Magazine.