Thursday, 24 July 2014

Crafty goodness

Y'all thought I'd given up on knitting entirely, didn't you?  For a while there, I almost thought I might just let it roll on by.  Like that fixation had run its course.  Well, it hasn't, I just don't have as much time to put into it as I had previously.  I'm spending about 1% of the time I used to spend on Ravelry now - I just check in every few days to see if there are any posts in the Auckland group thread about Sunday knitting.  I don't even keep my projects up to date any more...  But there are finished projects!  Unfortunately, three of the cutest projects I forgot to get photos of before sending them to the mum-to-be.  Hopeless.  I will at least link to the patterns though, so you can see what they looked like.  I used some of my stash yarn - the olive-green Cascade 220 I bought in Canada.  You know the yarn, I made an afghan out of it, and my cardigan:

I used a skein and a bit to make a Milo vest, a wee Barley hat, and some ridiculously cute baby boots.  Love them!  So did the mum :)  I may see if I can snap a pic of them on the baby when he's born (he's due in August).

Another project I do have pictures of is an afghan I knit for our friends that got married in May:

Graphic Afghan, knit in Countrywide Natural 12 ply yarn.  I modified the pattern slightly by knitting eight rows of seed stitch to start, and eight stitches of seed stitch on the sides (increasing the row stitch count by eight), and I knit 15 full pattern repeats to make the afghan a little larger.  I was initially disappointed with the size even after the various increases, but after blocking it stretched out a bit, and our friends love it.  They comment often on how warm it is, and perfect for keeping their feet warm at the end of their bed at night.  My friend and I are watching one Harry Potter movie a week over winter, and this afghan gets brought out each time.  That makes me pretty happy :)  It's always good to know when your hand knits are appreciated and used.

Last of the finished projects is something that's been in the works for nine months.  Yep, you read that right.  Nine.  Months.  Crazy.  But I persevered and worked on it little by little, and finished it (finally) a week and a half ago.  I haven't 'modelled' it for photos because it's just too darn cold at the moment, but here's a crappy 'finished' pic:

A stockinette, long-sleeved, lace weight hoodie.  This was knit in 100% merino lace weight yarn I bought from Skeinz a while back (obviously, since this project is nine months old...).  The original pattern, Versio, is not a hooded sweater, but a large number of people who knit it convert it to one.  I used some modifications that were posted by another Raveler and am fairly happy with the result.  I'm looking forward to wearing this in summer - the plan is for it to be used as an over-bikini beach garment/warm summer evening garment.  But please, if I ever mention that I'm thinking of knitting a long-sleeved lace weight anything ever again, remind me that its a bad idea!!  It wasn't a difficult project by any means, but deathly boring!  Particularly because of the colour choice, the fact that I didn't want stripes, and omitted the fake side seams on the body and sleeves.  It was just plain ol' knit stitch, over and over and over and over...  It's done now.  I just have to wait for the warmer weather ;)

What I'm working on now is going to be a bits-and-pieces project - I'm using all my sport/dk/worsted weight leftovers to make a crochet granny square blanket.  I love granny square blankets, and aside from the one T has from his babyhood, we don't have one in the house.  Shock horror!  This must be remedied!  Behold, the in-progress fugly blanket!  (Y'all know what fugly means, right?):

It's a little hard to tell from this pic (which I took in poor night-time lighting) but the colour combinations are something to cringe over.  So far, from the middle outwards, we have: grey, red, forest green, black, bright yellow (and some beige when I ran out of yellow), blue, dark grey, olive green, burgundy, brown, light grey, bright pink (in three shades), peacock, mid-blue... and I've been working on the latest colour since this photo was taken - bright, golden yellow.  Mmmmm, fugly indeed...  I love it!!

Next on the 'to-do' list is a Where's Wally hat for my nephew - he specifically requested it for his birthday.  Kids.  They're weird!  Gotta love 'em ;)

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Dome Valley race recap

I had my alarm set for 6am on Sunday morning - the XTERRA website would be updating at that time to let us know whether or not the event was going ahead, due to severe weather warnings north of Auckland.  I woke up well before then and lay in bed checking social media to fill in the time.  At 6.10am, the website was updated, letting everyone know it was indeed going ahead.  I'll admit to being slightly disappointed - we were in for a muddy one, and it was cold and wet to boot.  I don't think I would've minded if the event was cancelled and I had the option of just staying in bed.  But I got up and flumphed downstairs in order to get ready.  I packed extra gear just in case - waterproof jacket, cap, thir, shorts (in case I changed my mind about wearing capri tights), rubbish bags for in the car (because mud just gets everywhere)...  I'd decided to go with the smaller hydration pack because it was a shorter distance run, and because it was cold I wasn't expecting to need much water.  I would've gone without it entirely, but there was going to be quite a gap between the two aid stations and there's nothing worse than running thirsty.  I had a power cookie for breakfast, made a cup of tea for the road, and went outside to wait for Martin to arrive.  Parking was going to be tight, so we were carpooling because we're good like that ;)  I picked up Lindsay and we headed out to Warkworth, debating about the weather and how crazy we were to still be running in it.

We arrived early enough to get a park pretty close to event base (hooray!) so there was minimal schlepping back and forth, and the car was close by to sit in - dude, it was coooooold!  And poor Lindsay wasn't starting her run until 10am so had quite a bit of time to wait around.  There was nowhere to sit outside because the entire area was a mud pool except for the occasional patch of grass, which was wet because of the rain.  I picked up my bib and transponder, and noticed quite a few people were dropping down from the super-long to the long distance.  The organisers had already had to reduce the distances earlier in the week - the super-long had dropped from 25km to 21km, and the long had dropped to 15.5km from (I think) about 19km, but the terrain was going to be tough, which would make up for the shortened course.  I don't think anybody was complaining!  Before race briefing it started to rain, so after some convincing from Martin (I believe his comment was "tell me where the car keys are so I can drive us home because you'll be suffering from hypothermia") I donned my waterproof jacket over my merino sleeves and singlet top.  This required me to shift my race bib to the top of my tights.  It was still obscured by my jacket, so I tucked that into my tights a little bit to uncover it - don't want to miss out on those race photos ;)  I have no idea how people can run whole races with their number there, it's bloody annoying!

At race briefing we were informed that due to the high level of the river after all the rain, it was too dangerous to have the river crossing in the event, so the long and super-long courses had been shortened again - they would now be 14km and 16km respectively.  A lot of discussion broke out after that announcement, and I don't think anyone was really listening to the rest of the briefing - poor guy, he still went through it anyway.  I'm pretty sure everyone was happy about not having to jump into freezing, fast-moving water!  At 9am we headed off on our run, which started with an uphill slog on a gravel road.  Just as we began, the sun decided to make its appearance.  About two minutes into the run, I was cursing Martin for convincing me to wear my jacket!  I stripped it off pretty quickly and tied it around my waist, but it wouldn't stay done up.  It was so annoying!!  I briefly considered just dumping it on the side of the road, but came to my senses and realised I'd be pissed at losing a $120 jacket just because it was irritating me.  I ended up having to tie it around the top of my pack straps because there was nowhere else to put it.  I had to slow to a walk to achieve this, but at the time I didn't mind too much because the uphill was relentless and I needed a bit of a break.  I also took this time to shift my race number back to my shirt.

There was a bit of downhill as well which was quite fun, but then there was more uphill.  Another opportunity to take a short walk break and strip off the sleeves too, which I managed to stuff into the tiny pocket of my small pack.  On reflection, my trail pack would probably have been a better choice for this event simply because there are more storage pockets - it would have prevented the jacket issue entirely.  Oh well, you live and learn...

After about 5km of undulating gravel road, we veered off into the forest.  They had warned us it would be muddy, but I have never seen so much mud all in one place, including Tough Mudder!  Holy crap, there was a lot of mud!  We're talking giant slip-n-slide hills, both up and down hill.  There were ropes for a couple of the uphills which were really handy, because I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't have made it up without them.  I love being able to fly downhill at top speed, but I am not a fan of losing control while doing it, so I went carefully on the slippery downhills, planning my footing as best I could to avoid sliding out.  I got passed by quite a few people who clearly had less concern for their safety and general well-being.  I have no idea how they made it down without disappearing off the side of the hill or severely injuring a limb in the process...  It didn't matter what shoes you had - unless they had 1" spikes protruding from the soles, there was no avoiding the slippery slides.

This pic, although only showing a short section of the epic muddy uphill slog towards the end of the run, gives you an idea of what it was like (shamelessly stolen off Facebook - was posted by Nic Daulton in the Total Sport Dome Valley thread):

Most people used the rope over to the right hand side, a few hardy souls slogged up over on the left without the aid of a rope (apparently there was a lot more vegetation over there which helped prevent sliding downhill), and the poor dear in the pink top you can see in the mud on all fours had just been flung off the rope sideways after somebody slipped.  A select few attempted to go it alone through the middle, and had to be rescued.  I heard a few less-than-savoury comments coming from some participants, but most of the banter was pretty jovial - its not every day you get out in the elements and slog up a ridiculously steep, muddy incline for the fun of it, you might as well enjoy it ;)

After the mud-fest, there was a little more forestry to run through, then we hit the gravel road again.  I was expecting there to be a lot more downhill than there actually was - my memory tricked me into thinking I'd run a lot more uphill at the start I guess.  It felt like a bit of a slog and I walked a bit on and off.  I caned it on the downhills and thought I was going pretty fast, but I was still getting passed - admittedly those passing me were all men with long legs...  Afterwards there was another short downhill blat through muddy forest track before heading to the finish line.

My watch said 14.98km, and I'd run it in 1:49:50.  I'd been feeling pretty strong and was really keen to see where I'd placed.  I jumped in line to grab some freebie noms (cider was top of the list - I bypassed the sausages as usual), then waited around for my friends.  I caught up with Sheryl for a while:

Thanks to her hubby for taking the picture :) (btw, purple-haired lady from the first XTERRA race is right behind Sheryl!)

This picture gives you a little more of an idea of what the place was like - mud, mud and more mud!  I fared pretty well - I didn't slip over and get covered, but the back of my legs were pretty splattered.  I grabbed a hot coffee and waited for Martin to finish his super-long.  He looked like he'd been swimming in the mud, he was covered!  I was very glad I'd packed a roll of rubbish bags after seeing him!  By the time we headed to the car, most of the mud had dried so I could scrape the majority of it off before throwing on a pair of jeans and changing into some clean socks and shoes, then we all headed to Warkworth for lunch.

That evening I jumped online to check my results - 55/121 overall, 19/56 women, 11/33 in my age category, with an official time of 1:49:39.  Yep, I'm pretty happy with that :)

Dome Valley shall hereafter be named 'The Mud-fest'.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Riverhead is like at the end of August.  It's known for its muddiness - the first race was also in Riverhead and although muddy, I don't think it has a patch on Dome Valley.  It wasn't even on the same scale.  We shall see...  The next XTERRA event is in Waharau on the 10th August, with a toughness factor rating of 9.5/10.  Should be fun ;)

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Game on

I mentioned recently that my marathon training had started, but I wasn't expecting it to go well over the school holidays with Deane often away and the kids (obviously) home 24/7.  I was out of free babysitting options too, which meant I couldn't just sneak out for a quick blat around the neighbourhood.  That was certainly the case for the first week, with Deane in Sydney.  I was a little annoyed about it, but was happy about the fact that I managed to get a lot of other stuff done - spring cleaning and de-cluttering, finishing my laceweight hoodie (more on that later) and lots of other tiny little things that didn't take long to do, but were way down on the priority list.  I didn't even end up jumping on the bike because of aforementioned assorted other stuff.  I had planned on going for two long runs over the weekend - 15km on Saturday and 23-24km on Sunday.  Well, Saturday morning ended up being horrendously wet and windy with severe weather warnings, and I had other things planned for the rest of the day which completely ruled out the first run.  After the week I'd had, I did not hold back on the whinging over missed training!  And I felt the need to make up for it by going for an extra long run on Sunday.  What was going to be about 23-24km ended up being 31km!  And boy, did it feel gooooooooood!  I arrived home in a much, much happier mood.  The weather held out really well, and for the most part I had good company too.  Martin ran to my place, arriving at 7am.  We headed to Cornwall Park and met up with a few others, and proceeded to run a couple of laps including One Tree Hill.  I am very pleased to say I ran up both times without stopping :)  Hill endurance for the win!  After that, they all headed off for coffee/breakfast, and I ran home.  Not happy with leaving it at 29km, I decided to extend the run a little to round it out to 30km - I ended up overshooting a little, oops ;)

Auckland Domain, early morning

View of Rangitoto from One Tree Hill

The lovely peeps I got to run with - Richard, Martin, Deb and Dan

31km, in under three hours no less! (Actual run time - I paused for all the stops)

But I still had another week of school holidays ahead of me, which potentially meant more missed training opportunities.  What to do?  Monday was a rest day because seriously OMG 31km, and Tuesday I finally got around to setting up the bike trainer again so did half an hour of relatively vigorous cycling.  And Wednesday?  Well, Wednesday saw me doing 10km on my brand-spanking new treadmill!!!  The guy who delivered it was kind enough to set it up for me so it was all ready to go.

One can only assume my whinging became annoying enough that it warranted a significant purchase...  In case you were wondering, I have since moved it because I quickly realised running while staring at a white wall is incredibly boring.

Thursday morning was a super early start - at 5am Martin and I embarked on a 22km run through a bunch of Auckland suburbs.

5am and ready to roll!

I took this photo at about 6am, a little over halfway through the run:

About ten minutes later I tripped on some uneven paving.  Determined not to injure my legs, I managed to do a bit of a sideways dive roll manoeuvre.  My hands hit the concrete, but I landed on the grass verge on my shoulder and did a complete roll to end up on my butt, yelling "I rolled!".  I was rather pleased with myself :)  Apparently it looked pretty stylish too, lol!  It wasn't until the next day that I felt any effects - my shoulder is a little sore, but there's no bruising so I guess its not too bad.  Weird running injuries - I haz them ;)  The views on the run were pretty good, although as always, the pictures don't really show it:

Hello sunrise, nice to see you.

Friday was another 10km on the treadmill, this time while watching a Harry Potter movie with the kids.  Much more interesting than a blank wall ;)

Yep, that treadmill is pretty darned handy...  there's no excuse to skip marathon training any more!  If I can't make it out the door, I can still get a run in.  Hurrah!  Less than three months to go now, so training is in full swing.  Game on!  Gosh, that marathon is creeping up fast...  The combination of the looming marathon and the 50 Days of Winter Running challenge has really made an impact on my weekly mileage.  I've enjoyed participating in the challenge, and seeing how others have been progressing as well.  It definitely kept me motivated!  And in case you were wondering, the challenge is also the reason for the run-selfies lately. Y'know, in case I didn't manage to get a good pic of the scenery...  Don't worry, I spared you from most of them ;)  Tomorrow marks the end of the 50 days, and it will be finished off in style with a 15.5km gnarly trail run in Dome Valley.  Looks like the weather will be cold and wet too.  Fitting I guess, for a winter running challenge...

Along with the increase in mileage comes the increase in appetite.  Ever heard of the term 'rungry'?  Here, let me help you out a little:

I can relate to this one (although sub the greek yogurt for granola):

Eating so much food!!!  I have a granola addiction at the moment - current faves are the chunky chocolate buckwheat granola (seriously love that stuff!) and a new find, coconut macadamia granola.  I made a batch, then ate a quarter of it in the first two days.  Dangerously good!  I subbed pine nuts for the hemp seeds since we can't legally buy hemp seeds for human consumption in New Zealand, and they worked really well.  I think I'm going to have to stop making granola for a while, because I end up eating it for breakfast, snacks, dessert, sometimes lunch, or second dessert, or third dessert... yeah, too much granola...  But just look what happens when you try to branch out and make something nice like blueberry oatmeal waffles:

Nailed it! Hahahaha!!

After that minor fail, I managed to salvage my breakfast by making pancakes with the remaining batter:

Much better :)

I stumbled across a new product in the supermarket the other day, and after a quick perusal of the ingredients list, happily added it to the shopping basket:

Dairy and egg free, yay!

You must go out and buy this bread and try it.  Yuuuuuuuuuum!!!  Nobody else here is eating it so the whole loaf is mine!  And I've nearly finished it already...  The slices are super thick, and its great toasted with jam, or cashew butter, or just dairy free margarine.  Again, not really eating it for breakfast...  Unless breakfast is now an all-day thing ;)

Okay, this post is getting super long, so I'm going to finish up here.  Next post - Dome Valley race recap.  Post after that - knitting!  Yep, still knitting, just not as much.  I've got a few finished projects to tell you about, so I'll see you again soon :)  Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

What's important to you?

Ever just wondered, during the course of your day, what are the most important things in your life?  I happened to be contemplating this yesterday, while de-cluttering the boys' room.  Being stuck at home with the boys during school holidays while it's stormy outside and Deane's away does have benefits I guess - much-needed spare time to get 'things' done that haven't been done for an age.

So anyway, I was thinking about what was most important to me, and it came down to four things (in no particular order):
  • Food
  • Sleep
  • My people
  • Experiencing life
Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?  In a nutshell, I guess that's what it's really all about.

Food is essential to life, but there's no reason why we can't make it an enjoyable aspect of our everyday.  Branching out and trying new things is part of the fun, and eating healthy (with the occasional splurge on the decidedly un-healthy) doesn't have to be a chore.  Every few months we order our 20kg of grass fed 'happy cow' beef, and stock the extra space in the freezer with chicken, lamb, pork and a few bits of game meat.  This makes it easier to meal plan, with a list on the wall above the freezer of exactly what we have.   Of course, since September last year this has been purely for the omnivores (or as T likes to say, the omnomnomnivores) in our family - aka, not me.  What keeps me happy is the weekly delivery of our Foodbox.  I know what's arriving every week, and sometimes there's stuff in the box I wouldn't ordinarily buy myself - new things to try, or something to get creative with.  I enjoy the challenge of trying to come up with healthy, nutritious meals with what we have in the fridge.  Yesterday I tried a roasted cauliflower and leek soup, and was pleasantly surprised.  It was delicious, and I'm looking forward to having the other half for dinner again tonight (I halved the batch):

Excuse the head-shadow...

Today for lunch I'm going to give beet, avocado and grapefruit salad a go.  I'm not a fan of grapefruit or beetroot, but don't mind them mixed with other things.  I'm looking forward to seeing how they go together :)

Planning ahead and being organised makes cooking weekly meals a lot easier.  I've gotten into the habit of cooking and freezing large batches of chickpeas, kidney beans and black beans at a time and freezing them in half cup or one cup lots since I usually cook vegan meals for just myself.  Having said that, halving or quartering recipes isn't always possible, so the occasional meal ends up being a three-night affair, or freezer leftovers.  My pantry is always stocked with nuts, seeds, grains, pulses, spices (seriously, 43 different spices (probably more since I counted) and they're all used regularly), flours, sugars and natural sweeteners, and all the other random assorted items that come in handy for cooking and baking.  Having pre-made steel cut oatmeal in the fridge in single serves has been great too - hot, filling, healthy breakfast only takes a couple of minutes!  My list of recipes to try is forever growing, but I'm crossing things off the list as fast as I can too - so much fun, and so much good food!

Sleep is also an essential part of life, and again, something that doesn't have to be awful.  I adore my bed, and look forward to hopping in to it every evening.  I'm a morning person so don't spend much time in it once I've woken up - my 'sleep in' (if you could call it that) is usually over by 7.30 if I have one (which isn't often), and once in a blue moon I might lie in and read for a while, but I've usually got stuff I'd rather be doing so I generally get out of bed as soon as I'm awake.  Breakfast is a big contributing factor - I love breakfast, and often go to bed the night before, thinking about what I'm going to have in the morning :)  A comfortable bed is important, so a good mattress is definitely something worth spending money on, as is good linen.  We've had two sets of 1,000 thread count cotton sheets for about ten years and they are the softest, most comfortable, beautiful sheets to sleep on, but sadly they are becoming threadbare and have slight tears in a couple of places.  Sad face :(  So, after spending several months contemplating and researching different types of sheets, we finally splurged on a set of 100% linen sheets, pillow cases, and duvet cover.  Yes they are expensive, and straight out of the box (and after a wash) they are a little rough (particularly after sleeping on aforementioned ten-year-old softness), but linen sheets are known for softening more and more as they age, and lasting for a generation (or two).  Call me crazy, but I am excited about this.  I slept on them last night and they weren't too bad.  I am really looking forward to enjoying them and their growing softness for many more years to come.

Hello bed, I love you.

The people in your life are what makes it all worthwhile.  Family and friends are what hold you together.  They share in your experiences, make you laugh, make you cry, make your heart burst with pride and joy and love, and infuriate the crap out of you.  Where would I be without my people?  My mum and dad, my sisters, my husband of thirteen years, my two boys, extended family and in-laws, my best friend, all the other friends I've made along the way... so many good people, who are all amazing in their own way.  I wouldn't want to be without them, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them.  Y'all are the best!

My boys are in the midst of their mid-year school holidays, and they're enjoying things like a movie night sleepover, and mall-shopping ice cream and juice breaks:

Fun times ;)

Today we have the not-so-fun outing for allergy shots, but we'll improve it slightly with a much-wanted enderman purchase (for T - hooray for pocket money!) and comic book purchase (for X).

Now, experiencing life... this covers everything from the big adventures like trips overseas to see another part of the world (always exciting and fascinating), and the little things like enjoying a sunrise or sunset, or even just how the sky looks at any particular point of the day, the sound of the rain on the roof or the wind howling, hearing the birds sing, watching insects and other little creatures go about their day - a spider spinning a web, an ant carrying some food, bees pollinating flowers... seeing the patterns in plants, or wood grain... looking up at the night sky and seeing the moon and the stars... the world is an amazing place, and everything in it has a purpose.  A reason for being there.

Even the everyday experiences are a part of what makes you who you are.  Studying for a degree as an adult has been quite the learning curve - not just the subject matter, but how to manage time and juggle all the balls (family, hobbies, exercise, household, etc).  As hard as it is at times, I'm enjoying learning all that I can.

The people I've met, the things I've seen, and the experiences I've had and shared through things like running and knitting are something I'm so glad to have been a part of.  I'm looking forward to experiencing so much more - running, in particular, will be a huge factor in this.  I have seen so much of Auckland and its surrounding areas through running - suburban streets, little pockets of sanctuary hidden amongst the urban sprawl, amazingly beautiful regional parks... and the people!  Runners are a wonderful, friendly bunch.  I'm not the most social of runners and struggle to strike up a conversation at times (and I have a 'bitchy resting race' that makes me look unapproachable), but although I may not be the most chatty, rest assured I'm enjoying the experience.  Just very quietly :)

Gosh, that turned out to be quite a waffly post, didn't it?  Let's chalk it up to procrastination.  Now I need to go have a shower and continue with my spring-cleaning/de-cluttering.  Today, the spare room!

So people, I ask you - what is most important to you?  Think about it...

Monday, 7 July 2014

Love the run

My marathon training has officially commenced!  Having said that, it's school holidays and Deane is away all this week (seriously, I'm sure he's moving to Australia without us.  His backup plan appears to be Wellington) so although I managed to squeeze in a slow 6km this morning, that'll probably be it until the weekend.  Helloooooo bike trainer!  We'll be hanging this week, just so you know...

This last few weeks has seen some pretty good runs though.  Even the shorter, mid-week runs are pretty cool.  Last Wednesday my training program called for a 10km hill run, so I decided to visit Mt Eden.  If you take into account the run up Hepburn Street, Newton Road, and Mt Eden Road, then two times up and down Mt Eden before reversing the trip home (which, naturally, also has uphills along with the downs), I'd say it was a pretty good hill workout!  The hill runs for the next few weeks call for 10km or 11km, so I think I'll stick with it for now, throwing in an extra up-and-down of Mt Eden for the 11km runs.  After that the distance increases, so I'll plan a new route.  Friday's run was a 10km PB - 49:39!  Woohoo!

But my favourite training run so far (all of one week in to it) would have to be yesterday's run.  A group of five of us headed into the Cascade Kauri regional park in the Waitakere Ranges, and ran some very technical trails adding up to 19.2km.  The scenery was amazing!  Sadly, my phone is on its way out and died every time I tried to take a photo, so I only got a few along the way, and nothing spectacular like the tramway or the waterfalls :(  We drove to the end of Falls Road, and started along Whatitiri Track, then onto Long Road Track.  We detoured onto Wainamu Bush Track then back along Smyth Ridge Track before joining back onto Long Road Track.  From there we headed along Fence Line Track before crossing the dam at the end of Waitakere Reservoir and running along the Waitakere Tramline Walk, finishing up along Anderson Track.  Such a good run, so much terrain variation (mud, gravel, grass, tree roots, stairs, stream crossings, tram lines, boardwalks, dirt, vegetation... you name it!), beautiful birdsong the whole way, and stunning surroundings.  We were lucky to get good weather - a little chilly, but perfect for when you're on the move!

I would never have remembered all the track names while running them, but was able to compare my Nike GPS tracking to the topographic map and figure out exactly where we'd gone.  Very handy!  I'll have to remember this for future bush runs :)

The regional park is named for the majestic kauri trees in the area, and it was good to see a large amount of kauri dieback hygiene stations along the way, and everyone using them.  Some of the tracks in the park were closed for research purposes (to further understand the nature and spread of the disease), but our run host had done his research and knew the route he'd mapped out would be all clear.  We were out on the trails for over three hours, but actual run time was about 2 hours 37.  Considering the technical nature of the trails, I thought this was a pretty good time.  There were definitely some pretty decent downhills!!  I was feeling really strong and had a really good day.  I had a power cookie for run fuel, which clearly did the trick!  My uphill endurance is improving, and Richard (the run host) set a good, steady, manageable uphill pace to keep up with.  I'd love to head back some time soon and run the area again - it was just so fun!  Next time, I'll get pics of the tramline, tunnel, trees and waterfalls in the area.  Beautiful.

Afterwards, we scoffed a big lunch at the Swanson Station Cafe - I got the corn fritters sans bacon and sour cream:

Yum!  I haven't been posting much about food on here lately (I'm sure you've noticed!) but that doesn't mean I'm not cooking up a storm!  I'm still going through 'the oatmeal trials', although branching out from The Oatmeal Artist and trying other recipes along the way (such as these), I'm still trying out recipes I find on Pinterest (and most of them are pretty good), and I still have my main fave vegan websites to draw from - my current pick has to be Minimalist Baker.  Such.  Good.  Food!!!  When I do post foodie pics, they're usually on Instagram.  Pretty much all vegan, although I'm also trying out different meat-based recipes for the boys.  We've found a few faves for them too :)  This break in study is giving me a little more time to plan meals and try slightly more challenging things.  Tonight, I'll be giving corn tortillas a go!  I sweet-talked Deane into letting me buy a tortilla press over the weekend.  Now I have to learn how to use it ;)

Fun times ahead!  I'll let you know how I get on, and promise to take pics of any disasters.  They're always entertaining :)  Enjoy your week!!

Edited to add:

Dinner was a success!!

Excuse the terrible photos, I was in a hurry to eat ;)

Monday, 30 June 2014

XTERRA Woodhill recap

Boy, were we lucky with the weather for Woodhill!  It had been raining off and on all week, with some pretty impressive thunderstorms thrown in for good measure, but Sunday morning was completely rain-free.  Today it's been pouring pretty much non-stop, so thank you weather, for allowing us to have a drizzle-free event ;)

One thing this year and its many events has given me, is the ability, finally (it took a while!), to not stress about races any more.  The day before is just like any other day, maybe a little more relaxed and without a long run.  Definitely no alcohol consumption (I've learned that lesson), but I'm cool to just roll with whatever happens.  People over for dinner?  Fine.  Late night?  No problem!  Lack of sleep?  Not the end of the world.  The morning of, I'll just pootle about getting my stuff organised.  Breakfast is a non-event because, again, I've learned that worrying about it gets me nowhere.  If I'm hungry, I'll eat a banana or some toast.  For Woodhill, I ate a power cookie (recipe below) and took a cup of tea for the car ride.  Martin picked me up at 7am and we trekked on out to Muriwai, parked, and took the shuttle bus to the event HQ.  Because of the distance from car to HQ, and time we would be waiting around before and after, we both took our gear bags with extra clothes to drop before the race.  We visited the portaloos, grabbed our race numbers and transponders, and fluffed about chatting to people while we waited.  Although we'd arrived quite early, our leisurely meander took up most of the wait time, so race briefing wasn't too long after we'd organised ourselves.

At 9am, we headed off on a wide gravel forestry road.  I was determined this time to start out slow, since the last few races I've gone out too fast and worn myself out too early.  I was getting passed by what felt like the entire field of long and super-long runners, but once we were a few kilometres in, I overheard a couple of guys chatting and one mentioned that we were still in the 'lead group'.  I was surprised, but felt a little better anyway.  I lost Martin quite early on (I started out reaaaaaaaally slow!) and ran a couple of kilometres by myself.  We caught up again when he stopped to stretch his achilles.  The trail, once we got to it, was quite soft and spongy underfoot because of the thick layer of pine needles, and thankfully it wasn't too muddy.  I was expecting a quagmire after all the rain we'd had!  The scenery wasn't particularly exciting, but the silence was lovely.

Some poor, lost soul who died alone...

Barren, wintery pines

Whilst the ground underfoot was relatively easy to run on it was constantly undulating, much like a BMX track.  I found it rather irritating after a short while, and it was quite draining on the legs.  Still, Woodhill was a relatively flat course overall, so I guess you've gotta have something to make it a little more challenging ;)  I had gone in to the race thinking my hill strength was pretty good since I'd been working on it a bit lately, but discovered after a while that whilst my road hill running is definitely improving, my trail hill running is still pretty crap.  The unevenness of the trails prevent regular, smaller steps which I find I can manage continuously - instead, there were small steps, large steps, and soft, shifting, sandy dirt which altered your stride with every foot fall.  There's no chance to get into a rhythm on the uphills.  Having said that, I was getting passed by a lot of people on the uphills, so it's probably just me ;)  The longs and super-longs split relatively early, at about 4km in.  I said goodbye to Martin and carried on my merry way.

There were quite a few tree roots and things to snag your feet on, but thankfully I avoided a full face-plant.  Several runners were less fortunate, but had the benefit of soft, springy ground to hit instead of unforgiving rocks or hard-packed dirt.  Still, I have now begun to think of it as tr(ip-and-fl)ail running ;)

I took a few walking breaks, particularly on the uphills, and had a gel at about 8km in, knowing it was going to be a longish race - estimated at 19km.  Since trail runs usually take longer than road runs, I figured I'd be out for over two hours and decided a gel was warranted, particularly after only a cookie for breakfast (even though said cookie is nearly 300 calories!).  The mid-section of the run was pretty uneventful although there were some pretty cool downhill sections - soft dirt means you can really fly down and not worry too much about falling and hurting yourself!  We joined the super-long, mid-distance and short-distance runners at various points along the way.  There was some nice scenery whilst running alongside the stream with a wood bridge to cross, and some open grass areas.  The sun was out at that stage, so it got a little hotter than I was expecting and I considered taking my sleeves off, but couldn't be bothered undoing my watch so decided to just leave them on.  The finish wasn't too far away.  The last section was a bit more of a slog than I was expecting - a gentle uphill on sandy dirt and grass.  Sounds like it wouldn't be too much of a challenge, but I took several walking breaks anyway because my legs were pretty drained.  Soft ground sucks the energy out of you!  I still managed a smile for the camera, and crossed the finish line in the middle of the pack, at 2:08:09, 13th out of 24 in my age group, and 68th out of 110 overall for the long distance.

Concentrating on my footing

Those photographers snap pics of you before you even realise they're there!  Allan Ure and his team at Photos4Sale do a fantastic job :)

Yep, my running outfits are getting weirder...

For 19km (and the fact that my 'starting out slow' tactic ended up continuing for the entire race, lol) it was a little quicker than I expected.  Taking into account the lack of serious hills, I guess it makes sense.  The next XTERRA run is in Dome Valley, and is listed at 19.5km.  I imagine my time for that will be quite different, because the hills are much more... hilly.  Sadly, the elevation profile isn't available so I can't get a good idea of what we're in for.  Oh well, I guess we'll find out in a few weeks!

After the run, I managed to find Sheryl and catch up briefly (it was good to see you Sheryl!) before heading off to get changed and go have lunch with the group.  All in all, a pretty good day :)  Discussion (for myself and Martin at least) has moved to training for XTERRA Waihi, which is a little over three months away now.  Time to start increasing distance and really working on the uphill trail endurance!  This is one race I am freaking out about!

As for the 50 Days of Winter Running challenge, things are going pretty well.  That was a 55km week from Monday to Sunday, which I'm quite happy about.  On the days I don't run, I walk a lot so although my cross-training ambitions have fallen by the wayside (again) I'm still getting something achieved.  My fitbit is really helping me keep track of activity levels, and motivating me to get off my butt a little more.  Hopefully I'll be able to keep it up (injury-free) heading in to the later months of this year, with the training increase for Waihi.  Now, as promised, the power cookie recipe.  These things taste amazing, and are a great energy source for long runs.  I got the recipe from a runner friend, who found it on the internet.  I'm sorry I can't link to the original source :(  I might go for a hunt at some point to see if I can find it.  In the mean time, here you go:

Power Cookies
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup raw unsalted cashews, chopped
1/2 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup peanut butter
5 medjool dates, chopped into six pieces
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup dried fruit (currants, apricots (chopped), cranberries, blueberries, raisins etc)
1/2 cup dessicated coconut

Heat oven to 160°C.  In food processor, pulse nuts, agave, peanut butter, dates, flaxseed and oil.  Add fruit and coconut and pulse until just combined.  Tip into a bowl and mix well with a spoon, then using a 1/4 cup measure, form 2cm thick rounds and place on a lined baking tray, leaving about 1" between each cookie.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until browned around the edges.  Cool completely on the baking sheet before storing in a container or wrapping.  Makes 11.  As an added bonus, they're gluten free and vegan too :)  Great for sharing.  Enjoy!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

This ride is moving too fast! Can we stop for a bit?

Wow, this year is zooming by so quickly!!!  I've been focusing on one thing at a time, trying to navigate my way through the crazy chaos.  Unfortunately this seems to be a bad tactic because I keep getting broadsided with stuff I've overlooked or ignored.  (Missed my niece's birthday for example... oops!).  I just discovered today that school holidays start next Friday.  I mean, I knew they were coming up soon, I just didn't know it was THAT soon!  I need to improve my note-taking skills, particularly when it comes to important dates.  I thought I had until today to finish my last assignment for the trimester, but found out last Tuesday that it was due on the 19th, not the 26th.  This is not something you want to hear two days beforehand, especially when you've barely started!  I went in to freak-out mode and drank all coffee within reach, stayed up late every night working on it (thankfully Deane was in Sydney (again!!) so I had no distractions), and managed to get it done by about lunch time Friday.  We all got an automatic one week extension because the due dates were ambiguous (19th June listed in one place (which was in week 16), and 'end of week 17' everywhere else, including on the assignment info), but were asked to submit it as soon as possible.  Knowing how this week was likely to pan out, I hauled ass and got it finished before the weekend just to be on the safe side.  That may have been a good call considering this week's events and the fact that I still haven't even managed to get around to doing the housework, but I haven't got my mark back yet so the jury's still out.

Ah yes, this week has been quite jam-packed with adventure!  Deane is, I think, secretly moving to Sydney on a permanent basis - he's been there all week again :(  I sent X to stay at a friend's place Tuesday night so I could take T to camp (I had to go with him, otherwise he wouldn't have been allowed to go - long story).  So Monday was full of catching up on random stuff and organising to go away, and Tuesday morning I sent X out the door to his school, then lugged our bags across to T's school ready for camp.  T was super excited and wanted to be there as early as possible.  Good thing we live across the street!  The double-decker bus arrived on time, we helped load all the bags, head count was checked and double-checked, then we were off to the Marine Education and Recreation Centre in Long Bay.

The kids were really excited.  You could tell by the horrendous level of noise they were creating (my poor ears!).  Thankfully it was only a 25 minute drive, and we got stuck in to activities after a short briefing about the day's events and a break for morning tea.  T was in a different group so he could enjoy his camp experience (I just had to be nearby), so I had a group of eleven kids to wrangle with the help of another parent and the MERC instructors.  The weather was a bit cold and windy, so the activities had to be planned accordingly.  Our group got all land-based activities for the first day, which included archery, stack-em, and tree-climbing.  Archery is something I haven't done since I was a kid, and it turns out I'm just as good at it now as I was then.  Which is pretty shit.

I got to redeem myself though, with the stack-em activity.  It involves stacking milk crates one on top of the other and climbing up as you go, until they fall over.  You're harnessed in so you can't injure yourself, and they have a rope rigged up so people can keep handing you crates via a pulley.  I got the camp record!  Yes, it is supposed to be a kids camp, not an adults camp.  But hey, you take what you can get ;)  Our last activity was tree climbing, and that was quite the challenge - physically it was quite easy and you were harnessed in so there was no danger of falling out of the tree.  Getting over the fear of heights was what challenged most kids (and the adults who accompanied them).  Our group got about 20 feet up into the Norfolk Pine, but couldn't go any higher, a) because it was really cold and windy and they were concerned about safety, and b) because a kid in our group freaked out fairly early in to the climb and we had to go super slow up and back down again, with her crying and complaining the whole way.  There wasn't much else to do since the six of us were roped together in a chain, but the instructor was amazing and coached her the whole way - he got her all the way up, and all the way back down again.  She did it despite her fears, and everyone was really glad.  Mostly because we were freezing and happy to be back on the ground (since we had to hang around in the tree for so long, not moving around much while we waited).

The tree

Birds-eye view, haha

I can see my house from here!  Just kidding...

T's group had tree climbing first (he didn't do it), then another activity (that he also opted out of), and a water activity which, surprisingly, he did do.  They went out in kayaks with little wet-suits on.  He had a ball!

OMG would you just look at those freckles!!!

After that it was time to hit the showers and get ready for dinner.  I had gone to camp fully prepared to feed myself, but the catering ladies were amazing and made me vegan options for each meal.  There were several vegetarian kids at the camp, and they assured me it was no big deal to go a little further to veganise some of the meals (rice pilaf made with miso, vegetarian hot dogs sans cheese, using margarine instead of butter).  I was so impressed!  All I ended up needing was the soy milk I'd brought with me.  They were so lovely :)  Of course, staying vegan wasn't the issue - I ate sooooo much food over the two day camp, I put on a kilo!

That night, the kids had a wee talent show (super cute) and then watched a movie before bed at 8.30pm.  I was sharing a room with the other mums, and came prepared with my Kindle (hooray for being able to read in the dark!) but we were all quite tired and I ended up putting my book down at 9.30pm.  It didn't take me long to go to sleep either.  The next morning, the boys were awake and being rowdy by 6am, ready for the day's activities.

Sunrise, sadly a little lacklustre...

Cold, windy, and preparing to rain

All water activities were called off for the day due to the crappy weather (which suited me fine, because I wasn't keen to get wet in that weather!) so my group had rock-wall climbing and slingshots (big, wood-frame slingshots, not the hand-held variety) but I got roped in to cleaning the dormitories so missed out on most of it.  T had archery (which he struggled with - the bow was almost bigger than him!) and stack-em, which was the activity he was most looking forward to.  The wind was really strong though, and the stack-em activity was right in it's path, so nobody managed to get past four crates that day.  T got to three.  He's vowed to go back at a later date when it's not windy to try and break my record ;)

After the activities and lunch, it was time to go - the bus arrived early so we could avoid most of the rain.  Good decision on the part of the teachers!

Home time!

We had a lot of fun, and it wasn't as awful as I was expecting it to be.  Having said that, it was a one-night camp.  My opinion may be different if it was a longer camp.  I was told several horror stories about the four day/three night camp...  I might send Deane on that one next year... ;)

Today I had planned to get stuck in to the housework, but after my run this morning, appointments and errands, cooking dinner and helping X with his homework, it didn't even get a look in.  Tomorrow, maybe...  We have house guests from tomorrow through to next Tuesday and my weekend is booked up with plans so hopefully I'll be able to get it done, otherwise it'll have to wait until next Wednesday and by that stage CYF will be knocking on my door!

Have an awesome weekend people!  I'll tell you all about XTERRA Woodhill next week - wish me luck!