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

Running in Brussels

Well tomorrow after next to no training I run the 20kms in Brussels – anything close to 1hr 50 I’ll be happy with.

Belgium seems to be conspiring to do it’s worst (read best) to ensure we miss ‘her’ when we go.

The weather has been brilliant the last week hi 20’s low 30, Sunshine – it didn’t even start out grey!

26c forecast fro tomorrow and 21 at the race start.

That’s why I’m writing this now, I may not be able to move tomorrow.

One of the best things about leaving anywhere is you start to see what is good about a place, much like you did when you first decided it was a good idea. The rose tint returns, things don’t seem to bad.

So today when I had Edie on the tow-behind and Olive rode her bike by herself in front of me and we went to Nordspark, and they ran about recklessly without concern for where I was or where they were – well it was sort of “Hey this ain’t to bad”

The coffee tasted better then before, the sun shone, people smiled (and grimaced and smoked to be honest), the setting was not to bad if you didn’t look past 100 metres, and, well, life could be a whole lot worse.

I think how contained we mange to live our lives has a lot to do with how much we enjoy it.

The Castle – the source of the forewarned post – Castle Catastrophes

If i kept my view to 100 metres a lot of time Antwerp would seem pretty spectacular, but I think NZ life has made me a bit soft. I’ve got used to having space and plenty of it, if you don’t want things in your face they don’t need to be, it’s easy to escape.

Nelson, one of my favourite spots in New Zealand – and where I lived for 8 great years – is a case in point. You could disappear to places that well almost no-one went to, yet they were still spectacular places. It’s very hard to do here.

Olive was asking today what the biggest country in the World was – Russia, Canada, China, North America..are the top four, New Zealand though comes in at number 75, only 10% behind Germany would you believe. do the maths on population the answer is obvious.

However by the same token North America offers us lot’s of space and freedom – that is part of it’s appeal to me, and part of what I want the girls to experience.

We’re all social animals, but for me being able to be just yourself in nature is the most special thing we can do, and I can’t wait to do more of that with our family.

Anyhow, back to the run – as mentioned I’m completely undertrained, and the heat will not be my friend, so it will be a bit of minor torture, though hopefully also an affirmation that once you have your base fitness up again as I did for the NY marathon then – well lot’s of things are manageable.

the plus as well for me is that while we have been here we have seen very little of Brussels, though what we have sen we have really liked, so running a 20km loop through it’s streets and parks will be a pleasure indeed.

Bismarck Statue from 1901 in the Tiergarten

Last weekend i ran in the Tiergarten in Berlin, and throughout I felt enormous pleasure and privilege in being able to cover so much ground under my own steam. A car or a tourist bus just doesn’t cut it for me, and if a bike isn’t at hand it’s a great privilege to be able to run, I’m so glad I got back into it.

Anyway I trust this finds you all well and happy , and I’ll look to update you soon

Changing or shaping – it depends on how old you are.

Changing or shaping – it depends on how old you are

When we set of for Belgium in Nov 2010, we were full of optimism – why would you go otherwise?

Friends and colleagues knew more than we did – Wow you’re brave – was a regular expression. Others lived the dream with us ‘Wonderful, what an adventure, you lucky things’ And indeed we were and are and have been – brave, be-wondered (new word), adventurous and adventured, lucky – well no, fortunate yes.

Hold on – not lucky!?

Exactly, I firmly believe you make your own luck. There are exceptions like winning the lottery (though again you had to buy a ticket to be in), but invariably where we end up is where we take ourselves.

Happy us (Ok it's NYC but hey...)

Join the front of the queue or stand back until the course is a safe one – well trodden, predictable and, well, if we are honest boring. Most of life’s joys lie in the hidden corners of our lives.

Like having children – there is nothing predictable about that adventure and anyone who thinks otherwise better look at just how quickly the world is changing around us; and then of course throw in the infinite possibilities of the children you will have and then raise with the habits you will draw them to and those you will repulse them from.

Many of my joys, if not all, have been from stepping out from the usual path including my marriage with Chrissy and having our own amazing children.

My sporting and outdoor adventures have followed a similar pattern – my most memorable being largely spontaneous and largely uncharted (running the Heaphy track with 2 others – at a weeks notice, and an impromptu 28 km circuit around Lake Rotoiti –South island – prior to a friends wedding).

And then there was Belgium. Easy, right?

Life isn't always a box of chocolates

Well, as readers of this full blog would know, not exactly. None of it was Belgium’s fault. Entirely the blame lies with me.

Somewhere in in the aging process there is a change that takes place. Until a certain age an adventure to a new land and way of life – well it ‘shapes’ your life, enriches it, opens you to possibilities, blah, blah, blah… Then there is a stage at which such an endeavor no longer shapes your life – it changes it – BAM, BAM, BAM!!!! Clearly if you’re not ready this hurts.

And there I was, and here we are.

For the girls this has very much created a time that will shape their lives in ways we can’t imagine from here – and increasingly the third culture kid phenomena is being observed and understood globally.

For me, everything has changed. New Zealand is still home, but I am no longer fixed there like before. I won’t comment for Chrissy – if she chooses to comment in her blog, I’ll let you know. I’ll get back to New Zealand, but I’m not really in a hurry.

Home

Looking back much of the tension after our arrival I think was driven by the unrealized, deep down, recognition (I know that sounds oxymoronic but hear me out) that there was no going back. To return was futile; we came to create something new and exciting. Our company Chairman often says “It is what It is”. “It” took us quite some time to adapt to that fact as far as Belgium was concerned.

So 24 hours after completing my first mountain bike in Belgium since we came here – I now realize it was a bit more symbolic than just a ride. I had finally said to that deep down part of me “It is what It is”, and that deep down part of me accepted it (again without me realizing). A week earlier I had declared that I would only listen to the French speaking Brussels radio station (Pure FM), whilst commuting so I could improve my French (sacre bleu) – this was more than wanting to be able to understand the commentary on the six nations, I’d finally shifted to an attitude of ‘well you’re here, make the most of it’.

So the two events are connected and represent a sea change in my stay here in Belgium.

Seeing the light?

On the drive to the airport I was thinking about our plans to go to Croatia for a summer break – and how the fact that I already live somewhere that I can’t understand the language means I no longer have language as a reason not to go somewhere; liberating.

For our girls this will and has already shaped their lives. They are well down the track in accepting that they can travel and communicate wherever they wish – as I left this morning they were conversing in basic Dutch inspired by having been to see K3 – the enormously popular Belgian trio of women who appeal to all the sub-teens. They go to school with Dutch, Spanish, Americans, Germans, Czechoslovakians, French, Indian, Austrian, Chinese, and talk of places we didn’t even know existed until our high school years. What that leads to I have no idea, but I know they won’t live in one place forever.

Edie and Olive - going crazy in NYC (one of my favourite all-time pics)

However, to view this as the dream start for their lives is as fraught as our optimism in coming here. Everything is just a beginning and it very much has to do with what paths are chosen. And more important than bringing them on this journey is that they understand where the reward in life is; somewhere off the beaten track and before the precipice.

And then, as I understood and then forgot whilst standing in “Belgium’s headlights’, sometimes you still need to jump – your life can’t simply become a predictable series of ‘adventures’, because that is oxymoronic and pointless.

I marvel sometimes (as I am sure my parents did) that I have been able to survive some of these jumps, but daily I need to remind myself that is no reason not to ‘jump’ anymore. Everyday is discovery.

I re-tweeted a quote from Deepak Chopra last week rephrased it’s like this

– If you treat every moment of your existence as a miracle then happiness will follow –

It found me at a good time.

Thank you Belgium. Thank you Chrissy. Thank you my amazing daughters.

Our happy little Belgians - and friend Milla

Thank you ‘change’, without you I’d have none of this. Nothing.

So what do you plan to change today?

Go make yourself lucky.

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.

ING NYC Marathon – Epilogue

And so what of it…

Marathon fireworks two nights before the race

Well it’s renewed my passion for running, even if that does mean I need time for my ankle to rest, it renewed my belief in what people can do – anyone who puts there mind to it – the marathon is the metaphor – and it’s a very good one (I thought often through the race – why 26.2 (Iike really “why?”) – but more particularly what if it was less, what if it was more, is the story highlighted in history because someone realized something about that distance – and of course there is no answer, but isn’t it amazing that 47,000 people can get off the couch to do this, when we know for sure it isn’t easy).

And of course it proves that there is reward, real reward, in taking ourselves through these things, through pain and discomfort we wouldn’t ordinarily endure, by avoiding the ‘seemingly safe’ and taking on the ‘not so obviously safer’ route of pushing our boundaries and reminding ourselves of what is possible.

I remember my first training run – the day I found out I was in (true) – I dragged myself around a 2 mile circuit of Staadspark in Antwerp on a fairly hot late April day, got home to pop open a beer and then had the phone ring with the charming Bertrand offering me a ticket to a concert he was off to (his wife was unable to go and Chrissy and the girls were in Italy), my legs aching I headed off and had a great night – apart from having to stand for about 90 minutes more than I would have liked.

And from there to 26.2 miles in New York. Before that I had completed probably fewer than 10 runs in over 10 years, and not been past  6 miles in over 15 years.

The highlight of my training is still the novelty of running to the Nederlands from Antwerp (a convenient ½ marathon and my longest training run). The previous night I drove out there with the girls and cycled back to Antwerp with them in the bike cart. They had a great time and so did I, we did lots of crazy stuff along the way and I remember how excited they were when I got them home to Chrissy.

Edie and Olive - 2hrs after I'd finished (they'd been at Lion King) - we were all pretty stoked - so Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square saw the Croad girls celebrate in style!!

I was up at 5 the next morning and headed off into the sunrise on a beautiful late spring morning. It was peaceful, clear with a frosty mist drifting across the horse paddocks, probably to date the most beautiful day I have etched in my mind of Belgium. I completed the run on schedule and drove back to Chrissy and the girls before 8 in the morning –  I still had a whole Saturday up my sleeve. Magic, pure magic.

Honestly next to giving birth (not me, Chrissy – to our two wonderful children) this has to have been one of the best returns for effort I am aware of.

It costs a pair of shoes, a little organization, a bit of determination, a bit of care, and any 26.2 mile course you can find.

You’ll love yourself for it, and people will regard you as a superhero (even your kids)… which is all quite nice if you can get used to it!!

Be strong – go do something you never thought you would, and let me know what it is and how great it feels.

ING NYC Marathon – across the line

The Mountain Lion - I was looking out for this in the run - it helped get me home!

Coming out the park and heading towards Columbus circle was a bizarre feeling, I wanted to feel totaled, exhausted, dehydrated, spent, but I didn’t. My legs were traveling slowly but one after the other much like they were at mile 2. It was both a time of elation (I’m nearly there) and disappointment (I could have pushed harder) – and before you say it – go back and read my earlier comment, that’s just running and me!

I was running alongside a woman (I have this theory about running next to the best looking woman you could find, there were actually quite a few to choose from!) from the navy down that stretch but as I turned into the home stretch (back into the park and slightly uphill) I pulled away easily (I’d already caught and passed the Nederland guys) and then in the last 100 yards (just when I could have been ‘zooming’ across the line) I had Chrissy’s words in my head ‘look excited when you cross the line’ and I remember totally losing focus as I desperately tried to conjure up some ‘cross the line elation performance’.

I settled on crossing the line with what seemed like a large leap in the air (the video shows it to be about 3cm {: ) and thrusting my hands in the air.

Unfortunately it was such a well conceived piece of choreography that I completely forgot to consider whether the audience might be able to see it, so despite hundreds of camera’s and video’s at the finish line, my Oscar wining performance remained largely obscured as I ran in behind two runners and it looks more like I managed to stall some sort of exhausted fit.

I further added to my ignominy by not even stopping across the line, but quickly clearing the crowds (and photographers) with the one thought in my mind being “Right what’s the time I don’t want to keep Chrissy and the girls waiting after the Lion King”. Yes, I understand I should be seeking help for some of these pre-occupations.

Fortunately with thousands of people crossing the line every 10 minutes the route out of the park was quite lengthy and I had time to reflect on what I had achieved and I certainly felt pretty good looking at the condition of the many around me, but I also felt good for them. I loved seeing all these people give their all for something I have always loved doing – running.

There was no one being impatient, it was a well-behaved crowd of tired men and woman. The odd person being plucked from the queue by attentive medical staff, and a number just sitting as far out of the way as they could to re-hydrate or ease cramped muscles. It took a full 40 minutes to get from the finish line, to the gear truck and then out to the nearest subway.

Olive on the monkey bars in Central park - right next to where I exited two days later.

Music to my ears

A brief word on Music – the race started (each wave in fact) – with a Firefighter from one of the 911 brigades singing Star Spangled Banner, as the gun fired Frank Sinatra’s New York New York boomed over the speakers. You couldn’t mistakenly think you were in the London marathon!

Through Brooklyn it was covers of Born to be Wild, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, The Bangles (Girls just wanna have fun), Metallica, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and of course the choir in Lafayette, Katy Perry hit the waves on a few occasions and there was also a fair bit of Hip Hop and Rap – all but one of which was a mystery to me.

I can’t recall any music at all down 5th Avenue or through central or across the line – but I’m sure there must have been. But in the Bronx I did here the track which to me defines my trip to New York and I’d been waiting to hear all the way along, it defines New York exceptionally well and speaks of the music of ‘the time’ – you’ll all be surprised, I have this on my i-Tunes, I love the sound, the emotion, the lyrics and the way the song captures so much about NYC – look it up and have a listen and imagine you’re running the ING NYC marathon yourself: Jay Z (Featuring Alicia Keys) – Empire State of Mind.

Me and my support crew the day after. I wouldn't have done it without them 🙂

(Next post i’ll tell you what it all add’s up to…)