A running memory and running from memory

I’m back

I thought if I didn’t write this now it wouldn’t get written, and Olive is busy on the Mac book air and Edie on the home computer, while Chrissy whips up some gourmet health feast for tomorrows breakfast.

I finished the Brussels 20km 4 hours ago in hot sunshine – about 26c – I was completely blown.

Since finishing I have eaten a banana, drunk at least 1.5 litres of fluid, eaten a mars bar and a nutrition bar and a half a serve of hot chips (very Belgian) – and guess what I’m still 4kg lighter than when I started!! I haven’t been 62 kgs for at least 20 years!

Yes it was that hot, also I have struggled with hydration with all the flying I have been doing of late (my 5th trip to the USA in 6 weeks tomorrow), and I paid the price, by 4 km’s I wasn’t even sure I could finish, as I hung in waiting for the first drinks stop at 7kms, knowing I was at severe risk of heat stroke.

Olive out MTB’ing with me – part of my build up!

That was where experience kicked in, and running on memory.

I’d had terrible heatstroke twice in my life, once 30kms into a 79km mountain run, I swore I would never let it happen again. I backed off completely in Brussels, ran in the shade wherever it was possible, and just let people pour past. that was experience.

Memory had taught me I could see this through and with a woeful seven kms of over 50 minutes I thought my sub 2hr target was toast – but memory told me, you can do this – so at 7kms I did something I have never done before; I walked and drank 1 litre of water and half a bottle of isotonic sports drink – I was so parched the dextrose tablet I was trying to suck wouldn’t dissolve. I preferred the choice of stomach ache over dehydration.

I thought of my post last night – that the NYC marathon had taught me what was possible, and got away again. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I stormed the rest of the course – I hadn’t done the training for that – but suffice to say I had a purple patch in the middle 7kms, which also fortunately had a lot of shade. Despite wearing out between kms 16-18km marks (mostly uphill) I managed to pull through for a shade over 1hr 56minutes.

So we can do stuff, we can drag ourselves through things, and practice is not just about perfect it’s about preparation both mental and physical, about belief, about understanding your possibilities.

I feel 5 years younger at least, and all I wanted to do at the end was get back to our wonderful girls.

I sneakily got two finishers medals – so they now each have one  – which I told them were awarded to me for having the best girls in Antwerp (you should have seen Edie’s horror when hers fell of the ribbon, and even more so when I threw an apple core in the bin and she thought it was her medal!)

And what of the race as compared with the NYC experience?

Well it was different in all sorts of ways. An email printout sufficed as ID (very loose by Belgian standards), the starting gates (6 for 35,000 runners) were almost empty with 20 minutes to go, there was nowhere obvious to store surplus gear (so my bag of finishing goodies was gone when I returned to it after the run), and as compared with NYC which started with Start spangled banner and Frank Sinatra singing New York New York, …well Brussels had Ravels Bolero and then Beethoven’s 9th – too funny!

Olive at 6 years old doing 1 arm press-ups, I have no idea where she gets that from 🙂 – though Chrissy was the inspiration for this Jillian Michaels session!

Once underway it was similar – I was lucky to be in the second group away, so it was busy but not too crazy, the highlight was the first underpass/ tunnel we ran – almost 1km of people (runners) clapping chanting and whistling – that was the only part that really came close to the buzz of the crowd in NYC – and the difference being it was entirely generated by the runners themselves.

I saw two supermen, ad passed someone running in their civvies with about 4 kms to go – hot! So on the humor count NYC won hands down!

The music on course was very different – almost every band was a jazz band – modern to swing, to more of a traditional brass band, it was sort of kooky fun – the others were all conga drums beating out the rhythm – wherever they were I was grateful to them, music is such an uplifting thing.

The high 5’s were fewer, but they were there and I regret not going back to a young girl on the side of the course in her wheelchair with a broken leg who I did not see until I had passed her – sorry to you if you ever get to read this.

And the course itself was quite beautiful, Brussels is such a different beast to Antwerp, our experience would have been totally different had we based ourselves there, and I say that with all due respect and deference to the great people and friends we have made in Antwerp. I’m just saying Brussels would have been very different, for me the environment is so much more inspiring – hills for one, nice parks, just more sophisticated for a number of reasons – I would love to have done my training there and lived there a while.

Anyway there it is, I don’t have any pics to show you so I have included a couple from recent travels – because I had nowhere to leave a camera or cell phone while i was running.

Edie – giving it heaps at the Atomium (Brussels) – her hair is wild because she’s just jumped of the concrete moulded seat (way cool)

It’s been a good day – We’re all out for Burgers tonight – Olive is going to ride there she’s very excited. It’s been a good week, it’s been a good year.

Thanks for joining me.

Richard

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It’s been a while…

A long time between blogs

Very thought provoking – the Jewish Memorial in Berlin – a great work of art

There has been plenty happening – and the more that happens the less I can blog – it’s sort of the inverse law of blogging – the true excuse however is that I have been travelling so much for work that what spare time I do have I try and commit to Chrissy Edie and Olive.
However motivated by Chrissy’s biggest ever day of hits on her blog – and while I await the arrival of friends with our takeaway Indian (yes that busy) – oh and I mean take-away Indian food not a take-away Indian! – I thought well why not thrash out one of those many blogs that have occurred to you in the last month or so.
Possible titles:

  • Why we are moving to Virginia
  • The name of my new blog is…
  • OMG we’re leaving Belgium
  • Great friends and special people I have met in the last 20 months
  • Things I won’t miss in the least (rudeness, traffic, grey, traffic, gray, grey, waiting for everything, grey , gray – did I mention grey?)
  • My amazing family
  • Take life by the Kahuna’s
  • Croa(d)tia here we come
  • The dumbest things I’ve seen in Europe
  • The best things I’ve seen in Europe
  • I think I’m turning Germanese, turning Germanese I really think so…
  • Running in, around and from Antwerp
  • People who I really want to see again
  • The smells of Belgium
  • Great food disasters in my travels
  • Don’t get a 3 year lease just buy noose and hang yourself
  • The many shades of grey (gray) – mainly found in Belgium
  • Castle catastrophes
  • My worst summer holiday
  • How to know you really love your partner
  • At the Berlin Wall – East side – where i never thought I would be

  • Constant reminders
  • Friends in low places
  • Friend sin far-away places
  • Support, supporters and suppositories
  • Apotheek’s and reducing the size of your bank balance
  • Mountain biking on a flat surface
  • Enjoying traffic
  • Why vehicle pollution is such an issue in modern Europe
  • Laughing at yourself
  • Being genuinely and pleasantly surprised
  • Music as an icebreaker
  • Staying fit
  • Fat and Sugar
  • Friends, Belgians, Countrymen, bring more your greens
  • The right to party hard
  • Living with global children (who know as much as you do, possibly more)
  • How to conceal Great public events in a cosmopolitan society
  • Why I still want to be French – or at least claim some hereditary status
  • NZ is neither the end of the nor is it all things to the world, stay there or stay away at your peril
  • Zoo 101 – Berlin
  • The wall …and ways to hit it

So anyway – I could go on, and as you can see there is quite a list, now I have no time to attend to any of them.
Votes for which one you would like me to start on are gratefully received
And I promise I will.

For many in Antwerp – you won’t need the blog post – you’ll get it in two or three words from each topic, for others, I promise all will be explained over the next few months

Oh and as a hint my new blog will be http://www.youcannotbserious.wordpress.com

My favourite girls – living the life in Berlin!

Love you all
Croadie

MTB Belgian Style (well Flanders at least)


So the last time I went mountain biking – like by myself, serious ride stuff – in Belgium, was September 2010, that is before today, eeeekkk.

After a great ride in Rotorua last month I thought it was a waste to leave my bike only hammering the pavement of Antwerp, so I went web searching for some hills. That was not easy to find, the biggest climb over the entire course I could find within 70 minutes drive of here was 300 metres – made up of several short climbs, with the largest being about 60 metres – and usually that required a minimum of 30kms riding (For wellington that’s about 3kms!)

I finally settled on a route centred around Holbeek – about 15 minutes from Leuven – just over 50 from home. It appeared to be undulating and have mostly friendly reports – though I appreciated the warning about missing markers, and downloaded a GPS route to my Hollux which probably saved me many miles and definitely saved me many frustrated moments.

At 37 kms on easy terrain I thought it would be 2 hours ish, however not being a road cyclist and not factoring for the Belgian mud, and a few snaps along the way 2:40 was closer to the mark, and I’m reasonably shot!

What was it like? Well sort of weird and kooky and boring and interesting and fun and novel, all at the same time, or in ‘closely followed moments’ may be a more accurate description. Not as addictive as Wellington or Rotorua but still worth doing again.

Some things just don’t happen this way in NZ – the following four shots were taken on the track for example from the same spot.

South

East

West

Like, you ride through peoples back yards almost, certainly across farmers fields; often you found yourself unexpectedly making a sharp left or right, simply for the purpose of the trail adding another few hundred metres of non-asphalt, because it was there, sometimes there was vague point with a bench seat to sit and admire the view over the valley the route sort of crisscross circumnavigated. at one point I past a local and his dog gently ambling along a path, I disappeared for about 10 minutes of slog and re-emerged about 5 metres behind them – he was aware obviously and happily turned and acknowledged me with an encouraging smile as I rode past looking slightly bemused.

Yes the trails are not of the most challenging nature – though my GPS really struggled on the cobbled roads at 30-40kmh

It was the mildest day we have had since early November – up to a tropical 14 and the sun almost came out for the first time in about 3 weeks, I know it’s there because the nights are so dark.

I saw some very pleasant properties – certainly there a lot of Belgians living very comfortably thank you – even if it is less than a stones throw to your neighbor. I saw some beautiful small farms, special sheep, chickens, roosters, a few draught horses, deer, plus a bit of wild life – including my first squirrel for some time as he/she scurried across the track in front of me.

I only saw four other mountain bikers – two who were lost at the start and a guy and his girlfriend coming the other way about 10kms into the ride – she look terribly unimpressed. However as the trail weaved in an out of small villages and across some quite busy roads at times, I would have seen no fewer than 10 small to medium sized groups of riders, most of whom in the best spirit of code rivalry appeared completely humourless.

All in all it was quite peaceful – out where I was it is more open country than in this part of Flanders, and the landscape is more varied and undulating. There were birds heard singing, kids playing (not seen however), horses whinnying, teams readying themselves for the local football derby, a young girl feeding her pony, locals preparing wood in the forests, older couples out walking and biking, and unfortunately not a single pub to be passed on the way.

So I’ll do it again, maybe try another track, and gradually explore the outer regions of east Flanders.  Part of the reason is the slightly elegiac quality of the vistas you come upon – I’ll leave you with another 4 which I hope capture some of the mood of a mountain bike ‘stroll’ in the Belgian countryside. Oh, please a hill, a hill and an exhilarating downhill to go with it (I did get up to nearly 50kmh today and on a dry track that would happen, but …)

Flanders landscape

Definitely Europe to Kiwi's

Holbeek Sky March 2012

Striking huh!

Same again - landscape view for landscape view. Classic 🙂

Patience

It’s just after 4 in the morning and I’m blogging about Patience. I’m sure there is something ironic about that, though it eludes me for now, oh well.

People who know me well, will know I don’t have a wonderful history of being patient. Now that I’m starting to develop better skills in this area I realize that it is one of the key gifts I can pass to my children.

Funnily I have Belgium to thank for this.

Firstly, why do I consider it so important?

Well, for me what usually sits at the middle of most of my ‘stressed’ moments, and many of the ones in the past where I used to get angry, was a lack of patience.

And most everytime I could see the replay of my childhood; watching my father curse a queue of traffic, a nut that wouldn’t go on a bolt, a drawer that wouldn’t open, a child who couldn’t complete a task as readily or as well. And not surprisingly, I picked all of this up and thought that was the way to behave.

Secondly, being patient makes me a nicer person to be around, I feel better when I am, operate more effectively, and keep stress at its lowest possible level, it has to be worth a few more years with my girls J , and for them it has to be a life skill of immense value.

Belgians have a different view on patience to anything I have encountered before. I wonder whether their somewhat phlegmatic approach to things – which can drive you insane on first, second and one hundredth encounter – is the reason that despite their smoking rate they live to old age quite nicely thankyou. Stress just doesn’t seem as prevalent as it does back in New Zealand. Belgians take their time over things in a way Kiwi’s seldom would.

People stand patiently in queues, wait at pedestrian crossings whilst people dawdle across, consider dining out as something that lasts the whole night (a single table turn is the accepted practice here – Chrissy waited almost 2 hours for a main course the other night – and so did everyone else), are happy to sit on a single beer for a whole afternoon, and a number of other subtle little signs that really show that ‘time’ is not a reason to get upset.

Of course it is not perfect, neither is every one in Belgium, Belgian.

It is in my mind part of why it has taken to so long to form a government over here (they have haven’t they?) – what’s the hurry?

The traffic jams here are something else – not because of the size of them (though my commute can vary from 35 minutes to 2 ½ hours!) but because people drive into the middle of intersections with know where to go as the lights change to orange then red. The only time I really encounter obvious impatience is when I refuse to drive out onto an already jammed intersection and wait patiently for someone coming from across the other direction to do the same so traffic can start to move freely. I do this at the personal cost of being honked at as if I am unreasonable. I typically conclude the person honking can’t be Belgian!

The other thing that is ironic is that whilst exhibiting all this patience, jumping a queue or pushing in for service is quietly accommodated as well, no-one really complains.

We have both become a lot better at getting to the front or ensuring we get served ‘in proper order’ – so certainly patient does not mean you are not assertive.

One downside to Patience is I do think that without focus and priority it can be a disaster, or if not a disaster it can lead to some bad habits. Most evident over here is the time it does take you to get served in a lot of places, the disinterest shown by people in serving you or assisting (which in fact is probably not disinterest but just a lack of urgency ‘what’s the hurry’). This can manifest in many different ways, from phone calls to friends or family whilst you wait in line, conversations with other staff with no regard to you or the queue, and then of course the wonderful tradition of shutting up shop for lunch or otherwise – I mean really who needs a hot lunchtime siesta in Antwerp!

Anyway, I’m pleased to report my driving has improved (slower, more patient, not concerned about being passed), I plan more for the ‘longest’ something might take rather than the optimal / fastest time something ‘should’ be done in, get less frustrated on a daily basis, ensure I build time into outings and don’t overcommit, enjoy the girls more and allow them time to develop skills (so what if it takes them 5 minutes longer to do up their shoes than I could do it in?), and generally get more done with much less stress and more enjoyment.

The simplest way to reality check your impatience is to ask the next time you are stressing about being held up in traffic – “and what will I do with 10 minutes I would have had at home without this traffic jam?”. Remarkably putting 10 minutes on the end of your day is not that difficult, in fact if you keep the stress down, you may not even need it.

Hard not to like really.

Shameless

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a simple test for who will make a great expat and who won’t.

You simply need the “Shameless-ometer”.

I think in general I would score average, or, in truth – less than average – because shameless was something I was only good at in my late teens and early twenties, particularly after a drink or three.

The basis of my theory? To make progress, to get things done, to do something new in a foreign country, each and every time you have to accept that you might:

  • Say something wrong
  • Culturally offend someone
  • Incur the wrath of some local, official, parent…
  • Be completely mistaken in your reading the measure of acceptance, or rejection, in  social setting
  • Appear way less intelligent than you think you are (or perhaps just appear only as intelligent as you really are)
  • Waste a lot of time doing the wrong things, joining the wrong queue, asking the wrong question, going to the wrong park
  • Say the completely wrong thing and not realise

And so it goes.

You must approach each and every situation with a mindset of complete gullibility, with almost a wanton disregard and a shamelessness which means whatever the event and whatever the outcome your face remains bathed in calmness and your body floating on the sea of tranquility.

And if your don’t, your life quickly starts to resemble an ancient ruin unlike any other ruin you ever occupied when back in your cosy cave of familiarity.

It’s a simple reality and for me it explains why I at times have crashed so badly whilst on the other side I know of people who have breezed the whole expat experience and yet I generally regarded them as being slightly naive and not really independent.

And there’s the point – as an expat not being ‘all-knowing’  (and to accept that) and not being independent are actually huge advantages, and me, well I’m not gifted with either of those blessings.

Which is kind a funny when you think about what I’ve wished for in our children, what I have thought of as critical life skills, and… well now I see the other side of life. The side which is the Ying of the Yang or the Yang of the Ying  – whatever way that’s meant to be, and now i’m not sure which is the fire and which the water.

So I’m learning to be wrong and accept it, learning to put myself in situations where I may be embarrassed (but for shorter and shorter periods of time), learning to be completely lost  in understanding what is going on, and generally learning to accept this.

And as, if not more, importantly I now have the challenge of how we might transfer this to our girls, and at a business level how we might apply this to our managers and leaders.

And where it resonates is when I think of many of the more entrepreneurial people I have met (I mean the successful ones). Often they are not the brightest and they have a certain gullibility about them. Their main belief is not ‘themselves’ (as they are often accused) but that progress is imminent and the only way is up. They know they will make mistakes (learn) and they know they will go into places and situations they have never been before – typically about very 2 hours would be my guess.

And what we teach and lecture and insist upon in much of life is ‘get as many ticks as you can, have the right answers and don’t make yourself look foolish.’

The platitude is that ‘mistakes are OK as long as you learn from them’.

I now think a better phrasing may be:

Mistakes are Ok as long as you are prepared to follow them up with more new ones

For me, this may just be the beginning (just when I though I was getting closer to the end)

Go forth and get something wrong!

Be shameless.