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.


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.


ING NYC Marathon – Part three

So onto the second half.

Yes I do remember it, and even physically the run is divided sort of neatly into two halves. Not long after half way you cross a small bridge and then onto the long Queensborough bridge which presents a not inconsiderable grind up and a mind altering decent down through a spiral bend onto first avenue.

Mind altering because it had to be the coldest corner on the course and it was wall to wall crammed with more craziness; bands, yelling and screaming supporters, kids, grandparents, mums, fathers…Smurfs for all I knew!. That and what followed was probably the most memorable scene of the course for me, for as you came out of the turn you lined yourself up with 1st avenue ahead, jammed full of thousands of runners down 6 lanes and more spectators giving it ‘all’ for as far as you could see (and from the bridge end that was quite a way)

Even though I knew that there was a return leg, for the first time I felt like I was on the ‘back’ of the run. And wow what a beautiful day, glorious, absolutely glorious. The race merited the weather and the weather the race, and all the supporters deserved every good break they could get.

The Queensborough Bridge (I think!?) - taken from DUMBO

I suppose not unexpectedly, more people recognized the “kiwi” while running through Manhattan, so that was odd to have more support all of a sudden, but by now I was watching a lot of others, trying to pick countries, see what sort of people were around me, who was fading who was doing it easy.

I lost big chunks of 1st avenue in this way; I was hardly conscious of running, I felt pretty relaxed, and was actually looking forward to getting into the Bronx and through Harlem, to feel what they had to bring to this massive 26.2mile street party!

I mostly remember two things about the Bronx – the music and more unfettered compassion and encouragement – oh, and pulling a muscle thanks to the great rendition of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. I thought it was going to be a long way from there. I remember straight after that a big dude of a DJ blearing out “Welcome to the Bronx runners, this is the heartland…now come on bring it on home!” Hobbling as I was it made me determined to try and get back to running, which about ¾ mile later I was – but during that time the 3hr 50min pace marker passed me and just after I got going again the 4hr pace runner – so I knew 4hrs was toast!
I settled again for what my pre-race estimate was of 4:15, and started doing the math to get me over the line then (8 miles to go). In hindsight I should have just ‘hurt more’ and got on with it.

Strangely I felt a bit disrespectful just charging (Poetic license!) through Bronx and then Harlem, felt like I should thank them and thought of my friends from Australia Wes and Annette who were doing the race for a Harlem kids charity and what a satisfying feeling that must be as Wes ran through before me and Annette followed later.

Somewhere in Harlem another DJ boomed out “this is the wall, welcome to the wall”. It displays my lack of taking this seriously that I didn’t even know what that corresponded to, I think it’s 20 miles, but I remembered thinking ‘so what!’ though I concede I was a bit tired and still walking to ease the pressure in the back of my right leg.

Central park - walking part of the course with the girls 2 days before the race

As we finally came alongside central park it all seemed within reach, I checked my time and distance and knew I had a bit up my sleeve, walked some more, and then as we turned into Central park at E72nd street I hooked on to the back of a ‘likely bunch of Nederland runners’ and followed them through the park. I walked again near to a spot I knew from walking it with Chrissy and the girls, just to re-gather myself, got to the top of the rise and then set off past the mountain lion and on my way to the southern end of the park.

(Next – the final installment)

ING New York City Marathon – Part two

It is indescribable, something I have never seem in a sports event to this level (and I’ve done many of the most popular events in NZ). I would run it again just for that feeling – and I’m sure it would work me over just as much the second time.

Through Brooklyn, every ¼ mile (out of respect to the Americans all references will be in miles) was another band – folk, rock, pop, electric, and down Lafayette Avenue the Choir – I could have just stopped there a while and listened. However all of it added up to feeling like you owed it to them; to give it your best.

I knew some of the kids I was high-fiving probably would never get to have a pair of decent running shoes, and yet here they were being foisted high by mum or dad or their big brother or sister with grins and encouragement (and meanwhile probably thinking they had just high-fived some super athlete – Olive asked me the night before if I was going to win! – oh to be struck down from your pedestal).

And so it went, not long after turning off 4th avenue I got my first big “Hey Kiwi, go Kiwi…” (see photo to understand that) – it was a very emotional moment and the one I remember best of all (what’s that they say about your first!).

From there the entertainment started to morph – in terms of either passing or being passed by a carrot, an apple, Spiderman, Captain America, Superman, a bride and groom, and a few others whose outfits in general use would have qualified them as a nut-job.

I saw a few Kiwis through the race, but mostly everyone was either running their own race or running with a group – socializing was largely limited to brief interactions with the crowd and the occasional person ‘diving’ out of the pack to hug and embrace mum/dad/son/daughter/husband/wife/brother/ sister/ friend/ or fellow countryman. That was very emotional and I must admit though I had insisted Chrissy take the girls to Lion King rather than put them through the torture of waiting for a brief glimpse of me running by, I was more than a little envious and at times a ‘hug’ would have been better than great.

The ½ marathon mark came up with relatively little effort, I was 4 -5 minutes behind my target, but I knew the slow crossing of the Staten Island bridge (just too many people to weave around) and the brief ‘relief’ stop on the other side (tactical decision due to poor pre-race strategy) had been the main contributors. However the mind games kicked in immediately – I had not trained at any distance greater than this due to a heavy travel schedule and my nursing a niggly calf muscle for the last 3 months. So mentally I switched from cruising to being very conservative – and more than anything that added time to my time.

If I could have run the race the next day with the knowledge I could run it I am confident I could have taken off between 10 and 15 minutes (note the distinction between knowing I could finish and not knowing how much I could run), and that is a little of what holds me back in celebrating – I didn’t hurt enough, in many respects this was probably my most conservative effort in a sports event ever.

As a half-way interlude for you  some random musing– who did I think of while I ran?

Well Chrissy of course, and her determination to run and her enjoyment and satisfaction from running (it was in the end what got me back into a pair of shoes). Olive – she loves movement, and is certainly showing early signs of being a great little athlete. Edie because she just loves doing stuff – whether that ends up as running, downhill mountain biking, or – who cares!

I thought of Lance Armstrong and how he described it as the hardest thing he ever did (I think he is now doing under 3 hours and a half marathon time similar to mine when I last ran one in my 30’s), I thought of the old guy that used to run all over Manawatu where I grew up, he was probably one of my first role models – I wanted to be fit like he was at his age (I hope in reality he was over 40!).

I thought of all the people who couldn’t, of friends I have lost and in particular Francie who died 18 months ago from cancer, I thought of my brother Rodger.  I thought of my older brother Peter who has run plenty more Marathons than me and was in hospital having a quintuple bypass the week Olive was born, I thought of my brother in law Simon who competed at the world heart transplant games in Gotberg this year. I thought of my boss and his family who have endured and survived a tortuous year.

I thought of the impossibility of poverty and the generousness of almost every New Yorker we encountered rich or poor. I thought of my parents and my in-laws and my many friends. I thought of Ray Wood the long tall Texan – Kiwi who has always run and tagged me along with a good friend of his to run the Heaphy track in a single day (49 miles), Ray has been often on my mind whilst I trained, I think he used to find my approach to running quite humorous (that I could pick it up without much effort or thought as and when I wanted). I thought of Dan Rockwell who I should have contacted and who only weeks later came close to losing his life in a car accident.

In short I constantly thought of how lucky I have been, and how lucky I was to be able to ‘compete’.

If you’re not on the list – it’s only because I can’t remember it all and I didn’t have enough energy to run another 26 miles to get a few more in!

Part 3 – in a few more days…..

ING NYC Marathon 2011 – Part 1

Chrissy asked me some time ago to do a post on the ING NYC Marathon.

Well it’s been a marathon wait and here it is.

Three reasons for getting underway – Chrissy asked, lots of people at her birthday party (NZ) asked, and I’m stuck in a motel by myself so it beats TV by a long shot.

Where to begin?

Well perhaps somewhere past the end… I have had many unbelievably positive reactions to this achievement and often people have seemed somewhat confused as to why I am so seemingly modest about finishing. Truth be known I am not modest at all, but when it comes to running I have pretty high standards.

I did regard my effort as very modest compared to people who only took up running in the last twelve months, people who only ran it to honour a lost loved one (mother, father, sibling, friend), those running blind, those running without ‘legs’, the woman who had to be in her 80’s cranking the handbike up first avenue with a smile on her face, the people without arms, the war vets with injuries of all manner. And had I finished ½ hour quicker I would still feel just the same (though undoubtedly more satisfied within myself).

For those who know me well I’ll save the comments; yes I’ve broken both legs and ankles and still have metal in place, I have a lung which is glued to my chest, get asthma, but, and this is the point – I knew I could do it – the only questions for me were how fast and how much damage would be done (ankles etc.).

They say something like ‘Marathons are 20% physical and 80% mental’ I completely agree. Mostly it’s perseverance, it was nigh impossible to pick those who would ‘ace’ you and those who would trail you across the line – you could see them physically, but not what they had inside (though I wish I knew where the woman with the diamond studded head band and Hermes top finished). I particularly enjoyed the T-shirt a guy had on (who I ebbed and flowed with through much of the middle of the race) which said “Personal best is only temporary”.

Having done multisport events 2 and 3 times longer than the time I expected for the marathon I never for one minute doubted I would finish (though when I pulled a thigh muscle while boogieing to R.E.S.P.E.C.T being sung out loud as I ran into the Bronx – I did picture myself hobbling across the line).

So will I do another, and do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Now I’ll try to explain why, and if I motivate one single person to get up and go for it, then all this self-reflection will be worth it.

The ING Marathon

This was simply the most amazing accumulation of human charity and compassion I have ever seen. 47,000 people running and in the process raising US $36 million which is simply amazing and makes most every other charity event I am aware of pale into insignificance.

For me though it was the 2 million odd New Yorkers (and foreign add-ons) who lined the course from 9:30 a.m. to 6pm to cheer and shout and sing and wave and high five and hand out sweets, Vaseline sticks (fortunately not on my list of needs – and that’s for chaffing for the non-initiated), bananas, drinks, smiles, shouts, encouragement and general craziness. It practically brought me to tears as I ran onto Fourth avenue in Brooklyn ‘this is insane’ I declared with tear filled eyes to any runner nearby ‘…and I mean that in a good way’ I added to probably a completely different bunch of runners!

(next installment in a day or three…)_

There’s a building here 828 metres tall

A quick post from Dubai.

This post has nothing to do with the building – but that is amazing.

This is what I am going to post about  – New Zealand, from which (whence?) I am returning?

Things I noticed while in New Zealand:

  •  I could understand most people
  •  Plenty of smiles
  •  Plenty of acknowledgement – direct and indirect
  •  Discussions with people I had never met
  •  Having someone come out from behind their counter to heartily shake your hand because you had competed in an event that day
  •  Store owners staring conversations with you
  •  The amazing ease of getting around
  •  Stress free driving on roads I used to think were busy
  •  The realization that most New Zealanders really don’t realize what they have
  •  The thought as I walked around Blue Lake – that if millions of people a year passed it’s shores it would be as famous as most any other tourist attraction in the world (along with many, many other parts of New Zealand)
  • I thought about what this drawing of Olives meant

  •  The guilt of not contacting family and friends
  •  The futility of contacting family and friends when if its only a phone call I can do that from home
  •  The longing to see those same family and friends
  •  The exhaustion
  •  The celebration
  •  Not hearing the hum of a motorway at every stop
  •  Being in places where you could truly look for miles and see no sign of civilization
  •  Water you wanted to swim in
  •  Water that was just water (sometimes sea water, sometimes fresh)
  •  More people exercising per capita than I have seen anywhere else in the world (OK maybe I would include parts of Australia this, especially if you count the surfers)
  •  Late winter and it’s warm enough to be in a T-shirt
  •  Pretenders
  •  People of considerable warmth
  •  The sense of community which Maori and Pacific Islanders seem to uniquely bring to the party
  •  People willing to share some of their life/ their family with you
  •  Warmth (in all the other variations)
  •  Humour (which I understood)
  •  The beauty of Chrissy, Olive and Edie – constantly bringing warmth to my day
  •  It’s a long way
  •  Knowing this will always be home (And questioning if this is the same ‘knowing’ as Belgians ‘know’ Belgium is – I think not)
  •  Celebrating we have had the strength to leave it – to discover, to grow, to not cultivate moss.
  •  I had more time
  •  I slowed down
  •  I liked myself more (please that is not a gloating comment, it is perhaps however the most telling)

Lastly, the destinations on the departures board here in Dubai:

  •  Jeddah
  • Sana’a
  • Damascus
  • Newcastle(love the Geordies)
  • Beirut
  • Amman
  • Accra
  • Casablanca(come on Chrissy we have to go sometime)
  • Lagos
  • London
  • Colombo
  • Kuwait
  • Tehran
  • Glasgow
  • Madrid
  • Singapore
  • Riyadh
  • Karachi
  • Birmingham
  • Paris
  • San Francisco
  • Frankfurt
  • Seychelles
  • Doha
  • Amsterdam
  • Entebbe
  • Copenhagen

It’s 7 a.m., they’ll all be gone by 8:30 a.m

So will I.


What is a long way away?

I’m really not sure what this post is about, but I’m probably due for one of those totally irrational posts anyway.

I think it is probably a post for anyone who is separated by distance from those they love.

I am some 18,700 kms from my family in Belgium. It’s a long way – almost as far as you can get.

Bye for now...

I still see Chrissy, Olive and Edie everyday thanks to Skype. It’s wonderful.

Still I am theoretically a ‘world away’.

So how far is too far?

When does ‘down the road’ become a ‘world away’– and when does a world away really matter?

Does it have anything to do with distance at all?

Here’s where I’ve got to in responding to these questions.

A world away is a function of:

  • Time away
  • Nature of absence (work, illness, holiday, celebration, grievance)
  • The state of the relationship (and this is not linear – a strong relationship should     have the shortest apparent distance, a weak or average relationship may create a feeling of either great distance or very little and for quite different reasons)
  • The independence of the relationship
  • The familiarity  of the situation (where you are, where your family is, how often it     occurs)
  • The age  of your children
  • The weather
  • The (apparent) state  of the world
  • Local events or tragedies (the Christchurch Earthquake for example made me feel a  long, long way from New Zealand)
  • The time since you last saw other friends or family
  • That you see friends or family whilst you are away (which can make you feel closer or further away)
  • and is weighed  upon by the unknown and the unexpected (like worrying about your children when they are late coming home, when if you didn’t know they were  late you wouldn’t worry).

Too far is when:

  • either party knows the other wouldn’t drop everything in a moment to return  if it was truly needed.
  • the phone  or the internet is not used
  • everything comes before family
  • either party  doesn’t know the other loves them

It ‘really matters’ when:

  • you have  gone ‘too far’ – it has nothing to do with distance
  • you don’t  weigh all the factors above before making a decision to travel

So a mantra for travelling:

I miss you when I’m here, much like I miss you when I’m there, the difference is the time, the touch, the knowing, the immediacy, the intimacy.

A long way a way, reminds us of what we miss, what we should celebrate and take comfort in whenever we are together and whenever we are apart.