Monday, April 13, 2009

#32 Touching a Gla-ceer

After white water kayaking in Murchison we headed to Franz Joseph, a town with a glacier by the same name. It was named after an Austrian-Hungarian King. Spending money to go on the glacier was quite a bit and, as Cat put it, we were Canadian, we had seen ice before. So instead we did a four-hour walk to the base of the glacier where we could touch it. Our guide this time was a Kiwi named Troy. He was quite funny and had lots of knowledge. He normally did the tours that went on the ‘gla-ceer’ but had to have a shot that morning and was not able to go up, so instead, he took our group on the first walk to the base that he had done in a year. He was loving it and took his time, not caring how long we were out there. So it was a nice leisurely walk until a river got in our way. At that point he led us up this steep, forested embankment. While it was fine for Cat and I, he had to help a lady in her 60s the whole way by bracing her arm or holding her hand. Such a gentleman! I was trying to picture my parents doing it and knew dad would be completely excited by the adventurous climb, and mom completely terrified at the steepness of it.

I learned a lot from Troy about the Maori people who were the first people group in New Zealand. They are amazingly well integrated into the “European” culture, while retaining their own traditions. There are very few land disputes left, but you can find their language printed everywhere, just like French is on everything in Canada. When I arrived in Auckland the first thing I noticed was the number of men in skirts. So many! The Polynesian culture is very prevalent there.

We got to the base of the glacier after passing several signs that said No Crossing or Extreme Danger (without a guide) and touched the glacier. It was a large, large chunk of ice. And very cold. I think the really interesting part was seeing the glacier as it melted into a river. I don’t think I have ever seen the source of a river before and here was one. I can’t remember all the facts about the glacier that Troy told us, but it retracts quite a bit every year but then comes forward again at certain times because of the ridiculous amount of snow that falls every year. Overall, it turned out to be a really nice walk and day out in the sun.

#31 White Water Kayaking

Cat and I had our first bit of fun with white water kayaking. We had the option of doing rafting or kayaking and I hesitated as to what to choose. I had done sea kayaking in Cape Breton and really enjoyed the peacefulness of it; little did I know that this kind would involve rapids (I didn’t realize it was white water kayaking till we got there). Turned out it was the best option.

Cat and I were the only two kayakers amongst two groups of rafters. We had our own guide named Jack, who was Australian, and he gave us a small lesson before we set out. I was the driver, which was fine with me. Being the driver means you sit in the back and steer the ducky (inflatable kayak). It also uses a lot of upper body strength and turned into a great workout, which was really what I wanted. Because it was just the two of us in one kayak, we were able to go back up rapids and take them again. Jack thought we did a great job…but perhaps it is just his job to say that, however I will take that as a compliment.

As a kayaker you are so much closer to the water and it makes going through rapids that much more of a thrill. We were both really glad we did it and I think some of the rafters were actually jealous that they couldn’t get into it as much. I really hope to take up more kayaking in Vancouver.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

#30 Driving on the Left Side of the Road

When Catherine picked me up in her car after I had been traveling for 30hrs, I was a bit knackered and seeing cars driving on the opposite side of the road really threw me. Cat is a fast driver and the roads were very curvy…everywhere. Needless to say I was a little hesitant about getting behind the wheel of our rental car when we got off the ferry in Picton, South Island. I certainly needed to get more comfortable with seeing people driving and seeing the road signs and intersections. On my third day there it was my turn and I was ready. It was actually really fun driving around the super curvy roads, but it was tougher in town and I usually would switch with Catherine before we got into any town with more than a couple stop signs. Of course the first time I get behind the wheel I didn’t notice that we were almost out of gas. About an hour into the ride Catherine asked about gas and I looked down and it was below empty. We started looking for gas stations but didn’t find one until probably 40mins later. I’m not sure if Catherine was upset that I hadn’t noticed, but it was a pretty quite ride till we found gas.

They have an...interesting road rule in New Zealand. If you are on a road and going to turn left (you will not be crossing lanes) and there is a person coming from the opposite direction about to turn right (crossing traffic), you have to let them turn in front of you before you turn. I forgot this rule when I did the North Island by myself and each day I kept trying to think of what the rule was, but would only remember when there was no one to ask. On my last day in the car I had a chance to ask someone and was observant of this rule after that…though I never had to use it. By the end of the trip and being able to drive by myself for a couple days, I really got used it and enjoyed the new challenge. I even felt comfortable driving in cities where there are tons of round-a-bouts and strange intersections. I even started looking the right before I crossed the road. What is going to happen when I get home! It will be then that I get mixed up and get hit by a car. Let’s hope not.

*The first time I got in my car and had to turn at a major intersection, I completely forgot which side I needed to turn on to. Thankfully a truck pulled up in one of the lanes and be the rule of deduction I knew where I was to go. Every now and then I still feel a little strange making turns.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

#29 New Zealand Feb 14-Mar 1

I have two friends who live in Wellington, New Zealand. I knew they were going to be there for at least two years and it would be a wonderful excuse for a vacation. Before I left I didn’t even care that it was New Zealand, it could have been Spain or California, I just wanted to get out of the country and have some adventure. Little did I know that New Zealand would be such a great place to go. There is so much outdoor sport and beautiful scenery. I almost completed my ten new things just on this trip and I’m sure that if I really combed through, I could find 50 new things that I did including sitting in hot springs, which felt wonderful after all the tramping and running I did, even though the bug bites on my feet felt like they were burning off when I stepped in the water.

I digress. It was a wonderful vacation and I ended up meeting several new friends and meeting up with a couple old ones including an old university friend who was traveling through the country for four months and an old high school friend who had just moved to Christchurch two weeks before. It was a strange place to catch up with so many people, but it was so wonderful to see them all the same. I only wish I could have stayed two more weeks, but that is just an excuse to go back to the Land of the Kiwi some day.

More stories from my trip to follow...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

#25 A Kole is Born

First things first: I don’t like blood. So much so that I was told I could not donate blood because I almost passed out when they pricked my finger to test my blood type. Imagine being hauled across a gymnasium on a stretcher because I was so dizzy…did I mention I was in college when this happened?

Strangely enough, when Megan asked if I wanted to be in the room when she gave birth to her first child, I said yes. Even thinking about it later didn’t get me worried. I kind of figured it would be like watching a car crash, I wouldn’t be able to take my eyes off of what was happening, no matter how I felt.

I happened to be on vacation when I got the call on July 8th to go in and see Kole be born. When I first reached the maternity ward about 11am I was asked who I was going to see. I said Megan Sloan and of course they didn’t know anybody by that name. I said I knew that she was there as I had been called. It wasn’t until they asked me if she went by another name that I realized my mistake. Megan Kramer. She has been married for two years and I still couldn’t get it right.

When I arrived in the room, Megs had been induced already for about an hour and was doing well with the contractions. There were two nurses in the room helping her through them and keeping her as comfortable as possible. There was also a student whose last name was Love…that’s right, Dr. Love. ☺

It wasn’t long before the contractions starting coming fast and heavy and the real doctor came into the room. Kole was coming so fast that when Megan decided she wanted pain medication it was too late to administer it. Not only was she is pain, but she was also irritated mentally. So whenever Tim and I started talking about anything we got a ‘shush’ and a hand wave. Megs needed to focus.

She did keep saying that she felt like she had to poo, which was strangely cute, as I’m sure that a lot of pregnant woman use other words to describe the sensation of something wanting to come out of their nether region.

I’ll spare you some of the more not-so-pretty aspects of the birth, like the bag they put under Megs to catch all the stuff that comes out or the way they poked and prodded inside her. But lets just say the female body doesn’t look anything like it should when giving birth, and as a result, it didn’t freak me out.

Soon you could see Kole’s head rocking back and forth near his exit door and I thought, “Oh great, he looks so small. This should be a cinch.” Half an hour later when he finally did come out, that little spot that I thought was the whole diameter of his head, was actually about a quarter of it. He was huge and he shot out like a bullet. When Megan gave the final push, Kole practically shot out and the doctor heaved him immediately onto Megs’ lap. All she could say was, “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness.” He was finally there. He was no longer in her stomach but suddenly on top of it. I almost cried. Almost. Though Tim, for sure, teared up.

There were plenty of pictures and they weighed Kole and cleaned him off. He was 9lbs 5 oz. and ridiculously long, but healthy.

But this is where things went bad for me. It is time to stitch Megs up. Needless to say, Megs was going through more discomfort and pain I start to get dizzy. It was then that I had to leave the room. I can watch a baby be born but I could not even stand and talk to Megan while they did all the clean-up work. You know you are a total wuss when the nurses are asking YOU if you are okay.

Kole is now a fast growing boy. I think he will be taller than his dad in a couple months. He almost weighs more than my twin nieces who were born two months before him. He is usually pretty content and I am happy to report that he no longer cries every time I hold him.

Thanks Megs for letting me share the experience with you!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

27c Pounding Pavement - Finishing!

Bang! The gun goes off and we are running. I chucked my throw-away sweater and did the normal start and stop with the thousands of other people trying to get across the start line. Once I crossed the start line the crowd loosened up. There were well over a dozen bands along the route getting the Motown music flowing and pumping us up along the way. I reached the Ambassador bridge about 15mins into the race. Coming up to the bridge you could see the elites already crossing over. They were going almost twice as fast as I was and it was incredible to think of how much distance they had already covered.

Crossing the bridge, while the sun came up over Windsor was really impressive. I was RUNNING over the bridge! Can you imagine? How many people get to run over that bridge? As we crossed the centre I yelled out “Yeah CANADA!” to which I received a few snickers from some Americans who started harassing me in jest about our accent and customs. “You like hooocky, eh?” “Don’t you put vinegar on your fries?” To which I replied, “Yes, you have the accent down perfectly. And vinegar on fries is delicious. Have you ever heard of poutine? Gravy and cheese. Try that one!” Well that scared them a little! As soon as we were in Canada the Tim’s cups were abundant, warming the hands of dozens of spectators our in the cool morning air. Strangely this made me feel proud. I even ran past a woman with Timbits and asked her if she was handing them out. She laughed, but I was serious! ☺

We crossed back into Detroit through the tunnel, which was a cool experience in itself since it is the only underwater mile in any marathon in the world. As far as the eye could see there was a solid mass of runners bobbing along. As we came out on the incline of the tunnel it grew hard to breath. There was still exhaust in the air that hadn’t been blown out. As soon as we high fresh air I was coughing from the difference in air quality. But that also signified the end of the hilly portion of the race. It would be flat from here on out.

About a kilometer before I hit the tunnel I had noticed another female runner checking her watch and walking every now and then. I figured she was doing the same method of running that I was (the Galloway method of running ten minutes and walking one minute AKA 10 and 1s). As we went into the tunnel I struck up a conversation and we didn’t stop talking for the next 10 miles. I had been praying the night before that I would meet someone on the run that would help pass the time and give me that push that I needed to make it through and Courtney did just that. It was great.

The next best motivation was seeing my family at the 9.5 and 12.5mile marks. I was so happy to see Abby’s face cheering me on. Shane even brought her out on the road and we did a little fist bump. I think she was overwhelmed by it all though because she had a bit of a goofy look on her face. Seeing family was a wonderful extra boost to keep me going for the second half.

The first half went by so quickly I thought it was a joke when I saw the 13mile mark. How could I feel like I had only ran 2km and have actually ran 21k? At that point I didn’t care, I just wanted to keep my pace and finish strong.

I continued to drink at every fluid station, rotating water and Gatorade. Being an environmentally friendly person, I loved being able to through my empty cups off to the side, not worrying that they wouldn’t be cleaned up. In fact running through these fluid stations was like running through a mine field. You were constantly dodging flying cups (some half full) while running through literally hundreds of cups already on the ground. It was kind of exciting.

Fluid and food were very important during the run. I needed to be replacing all the salt I was sweating out and the carbs I was burning off. During the run I was going to burn about 2500 calories, so I needed all the food I could get in me. I grabbed every cup of candy that was passed to me, including M&M’s, jelly beans, Jolly Ranchers and pretzels. I also grabbed oranges and a full banana. I had brought some energy gels with me to eat, but at about mile 15 we hit a free gel station, so I just started grabbing them out of the volunteers hands and stuffing them in my sports bra (a very secure place to keep them, I might add!). This really was a 4-hour party in my mind, I got to eat and run. I must have looked silly holding a big pretzel in one hand and having a fist full of oranges in the other, but it was all so good I couldn’t resist! I was determined not to ‘bonk’ at the 20mile mark so I needed to be sure that I was taking in energy to get me to the end.

At the 17mile mark I lost Courtney, I was going too fast for her and she needed to conserve energy or she wouldn’t make it. I understood that and we didn’t say goodbye, we just eventually separated. My foot was starting to hurt at this point, but I was determined to push through. I could recover later.

It happened right about the time a runner in front of me ran over to join a mariachi band for a minute shaking a shaker like nobodies business. It was hilarious. Another memorable moment happened a couple miles earlier I had seen a woman handing out Vaseline for all those people who forgot to use their BodyGlide for chaffing. (You don’t even want to know all the places you can rub raw!) Shortly after I saw a guy on the side of the road with his shorts hiked way up applying Vaseline to his thigh. I did not stare...for more than a couple seconds. ☺ I would also later see another funny site as a man ran to a Port-A-John on the side of the road, only to open the door to reveal another runner doing his business inside. A little embarrassing? Yes. Funny? Absolutely!

At mile 20 I looked over to see a group of the Hanson Brooks Distance Training guys (with Brian Sell in the centre) cheering us on. How incredible is it to have an Olympic athlete cheering you on at their sport? It gave me another boost to keep going.

For the last ten miles I couldn’t get the smile off my face. I was having such a good time befriending other runners and encouraging those who were struggling. All first timers, including myself, wore green bib numbers. My friend Joe, who is the Start Line Director for Detroit, told me first timers were called Greenies. Volunteers and spectators knew to cheer us on even more when they saw the green and often you would hear people calling your name. “Go Dana! You can finish strong!” And I was strong…well at least stronger than the guy I saw at mile 24 laying on his back in the middle of the road, groaning in agony as a volunteer helped him stretch his legs…another casualty of the marathon.

As mile 25 I was greeted by a group of spectators handing out cups of beer and pieces of brownies and cookies. What the heck! It was close enough to the finish line, I felt like celebrating. Beer it was! I grabbed a cup and splashed some of it on my arm as I reached for a brownie. I missed the brownie but wasn’t about to stop and go back for it. A second later I heard a woman yell, “You missed your brownie!” She had actually run after me to make sure I got one! Detroit has the best spectators!

The hardest part came with one mile to go. As soon as my brain registered that I was almost done it started to shut down. Mind you, I didn’t struggle too bad, but I couldn’t go much faster than I was, so I upped my pace just a fraction as I came into the final turns…and more turns. This is the notorious point in a marathon where people on the side lines start cheering that you are almost done, just one more corner…but it usually means three more corners and 5 more minutes of running when all you want to see is that finish sign. I even started mumbling under my breath, “Where is that bloody finish sign!” The woman running beside me overheard and gave a laugh. We were close!

At this point I also started to choke up a bit. Leading up to this day I had expected that I would be a fountain of tears when I saw the finish line, knowing that even on some of my longest training runs I would get emotional after I finished. But for some reason I got a little verclempt but didn’t shed a tear. I started strong and that was how I was going to finish. Finally I saw the finish sign and knew that I was about to complete one of my lifetime goals: my first marathon. As I ran under the sign I jumped up and smacked it with my hand. It was over. I had did it! With my foot troubles I had hoped to finish in 4:15, but my final time ended up being 4:04:24. I had managed to surprise myself!

I was handed a medal and worked my way through the finishers chute to grab more water, food and a space blanket to keep me warm as my body cooled down and quickly adjusted to the temperature. As I worked my way out of the finisher’s area, passing the long line of people waiting for a free massage, I saw dad and then Breanne and Shane waiting for me on the other side of the fence. I squeezed out of the gates as fast as possible and was greeted by a big hug from Abby and then my parents. It felt great. We were all so happy at what had been accomplished. It was also great knowing that my parents were proud of me. They don’t always relate to the crazy things I do, but I know that they knew I had worked really hard for this and that it was such a great achievement for me.

From there we headed back to Windsor for lunch at Applebee’s and then I took the long drive back to London. Work the next day was extremely sore. I felt like my 87 year old grandfather who hobbles around with his cane. My toes were so sore that I couldn’t wear anything but sandals, afraid that any more pressure and I might lose a toenail or two to the blood blisters that were forming under some of my nails.

They say that marathon running is addicting, and leading up to Detroit, with such tough training (up to 7 or 8 hours a week or running) I didn’t think this was something that would ever become an addiction for me. Over the winter I had planned to cut back my running and take up swimming and cross-country skiing and indoor soccer. But now, having completed my first marathon and realizing that it was the happiest 4-hours in my life, there is no doubt I will do another one at some point. The question now is where? Rome? Hawaii? Big Sur? I can’t wait to see where my feet will take me next!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

27b Pounding Pavement - Getting to the Start Line

The Saturday morning before the race came quickly and I drove and picked Breanne up at home and we headed to Detroit. We first went to the race expo at Cobo Hall and started weaving our way to the race kit area. Bre tried to not ask any silly questions with so many runners around, but she did slip one. “What does 26.2 mean?” Perhaps that does not me anything to most people, but that is the distance of a marathon in miles. Something all runners know. I quickly shushed hers and whispered the answer as not to be heard! ☺

About a minute later came one of the most exciting parts of the whole weekend. I turned around and there was Brian Sell signing autographs. My heart went through my chest! Note: A week before I was telling someone how, at my age, I wouldn’t get star struck if I saw someone famous…well I was wrong. Who is Brian Sell you might be asking? He is only one of my top two favourite male runners, right behind Ryan Hall. He was third in the US Olympic Trials and ran in Beijing at the Olympics finishing 22nd in a field of almost 100. He runs with the Hanson Brooks Distance Project, a group that trains and lives together in Rochester Hills, MI. He is one of my heroes and an even paced runner…just like me. Of course I didn’t know what to say but I had to get a picture with him. I built up the nerve and walked up to the table. “Uhhh hello. Can I get a picture with you?” (Yes, lame I know, but I didn’t know what else to say.) It was wonderful and he was really friendly. What surprised me the most, but shouldn’t have, is how skinny he is, I think he is about 120lbs. I did manage to tell him that he really inspires me, but later, laying in bed, I realized I should have asked him if his feet had recovered from Beijing. Brian doesn’t wear socks when he runs and with the humidity in Beijing he blistered so bad that his shoes were a bloody mess afterwards. But he finished.

I was pumped the rest of the day, even when I picked up my race T-shirt which was an XS but was still a couple sizes to big…I don’t understand why they think people running a marathon need such large sizes. Anyway. Bre and I loaded up on carb-onara at a great trattoria called Spago’s in Windsor and relaxed at Chapters for a bit before meeting up with mom, dad, Shane and Abby at the hotel.

I had a terrible sleep that night (and the entire week before), waking up almost every hour. We woke up at 5am and got ready to go. We were out the door by 6am and crossed the border easily…however, we got seriously lost after that. Thank goodness for GPS on my iPhone or we would have been in Florida before we realized where we were. At one point we went the wrong way on a one way street (which even after we realized it we kept going down…much to mom’s delight). It was ridiculously stressful and tense. We finally managed to get pretty close to the start with only 15mins before the gun went off. I was dropped on the side of the road and did a warm up sprint to the start line. Of course, being tense and nervous, I had to go to the bathroom really bad and ended up scaling a 5’ fence to get into the Port-A-John area. I did my business in record time and managed to be in line to start with about 5 minutes to spare.