Tuesday, November 13, 2012


It has to be said that, while I’ve run quite a few half marathons and even a marathon in my time, there are occasions when I have quite the affinity for Newton’s First Law. Today was one of those days. When I got home, I collapsed on the couch with no intention of further movement. I had overdressed for work (merino dress and boots) because it was freezing and grim this morning. Then the office was too damned hot and the weather improved, so by the time I got home I was feeling all headachey and stuffy. The temptation was to stay right where I was on the couch and take a nap, but I’m proud to say I levered myself off it and went for an evening walk.
Mahoe - the wax-eyes and kereru go crazy for the berries!
No matter how many times I fight inertia and win, it always surprises me how much of a reboot a decent walk gives me. It was a perfect spring evening. The sun had come out and the air was cool but not cold, with just the tiniest breeze. I went up the bush track that starts at the end of my street where it winds to a dead end. The mahoe and kawakawa are going crazy with spring growth at the moment and the kiokio and spleenwort are dripping with new, bright green fronds. The track winds back and forth on itself up the hillside and between the trees the earth is studded with great granite boulders that give the whole thing a very sculptural look. At various spots along the track, people have built dolmens and little rock seats where you can sit and look out across the valley at the ridgeline opposite. 

We don’t have any chateaux or palaces in this country, but my track still has a few things to recommend it for a history buff. On the front side of the hill, facing the harbour, there are the remains of a quarry where, back in the nineteenth century, Maori labourers hacked out the rock used to construct some of the neo-Gothic monuments of colonial government. Slightly off to the side of another, less frequented, track, is a somewhat mysterious tunnel dug partway into the hill. This was thought to have been dug in an attempt at  gold mining, but an explosion killed one of the miners and it was abandoned. It’s said to be haunted by the worker’s ghost. I love a good spook story but I did manage to freak myself out a bit last winter when I was up there during a storm and decided to go and have a look inside it. It was only midday but the clouds were hunkered right down on the hillside (it sits at about 400m) and the mizzling rain made it look like a scene from an antipodean Hound of the Baskervilles. As a friend of mine once told me, I’m the only person who can scare myself witless with something I’ve made up! (Ask me about Pigman…)

Anyway, I’m glad I actually made the effort to get off my bum because I feel loads better now. I’m in the thick of a bunch of research/writing projects at the moment (PhD proposal, article revisions, conference paper…) and I sometimes end up sitting at this desk for hours at a stretch without even realising it. I’m really trying to get a bit more balance and get outside a few times a day, either for a long walk like tonight’s one or even just into the garden for 15 or 20 minutes of weed-whacking and tree-wrangling. I keep a list in a desktop calendar of all the things I want to get done on each of these projects each week (paper calendar – Moleskin actually, with a week per two pages) and then keep track of the time spent in half hourly blocks. To my generally somewhat chaotic self, this seems frighteningly well organised but so far it is working to keep  all my projects moving along at a steady rate (avoiding the temptation to spend all my time on the easy/enjoyable tasks and avoid the crappy ones).  It also helps me to see that even during weeks when I think I’ve done squat, I’ve actually accomplished some things. I’ve now added exercise to the list, mostly walking at the moment but trying to work in running a few days a week as well. (My days of running six days a week are behind me, though!) From what I can gather, this problem of balancing intensive reading/writing/desk work with the need to move seems to be pretty common amongst grad students and academics. 

What about you? Do you have trouble striking a balance? How do you fit exercise into your daily routine? Share your wisdom before the couch beats me again!


Good Enough Woman said...

I love your description post! Your walk sounds lovely.

Last year was really crazy, and I got no exercise. After the school year, and I realized a couple of things:

1. It's never going to get less busy.
2. I'm getting older and I need to use it or lose it (bone density, muscle mass, etc.)

I love hiking, but that is time consuming, and I have to watch out for rattlesnakes in the spring. And when I get home, I have to wash the dog in case he got into poison oak. I also love taking the dog to the beach, but that also takes a lot of time (esp. if the dog rolls in something dead). Yoga classes are another wonderful activity, but I can never fit them into my schedule, and I'm not good at cultivating a serious practice on my own (and yoga classes don't help the dog).

So it finally came down to running. I've never been a runner, but a few months ago, I started. Now, like clockwork, I run three mornings a week for about 30 minutes. If I'm short on time or really tired, I still make myself go out the door, giving myself permission to walk or only run for 15 minutes. With these short blocks of time, my family hardly notices I'm gone, and I am able to squeeze it in. I'm not sure what will happen when it starts raining and I get thrown off schedule. So far, I've only had one sort of raining morning, and I ran in the rain.

Since you were a big-time runner in the past, this might not seem like much, but these short regularly scheduled bursts have been great for me. Since I do it at the same time on the same days, I don't start to debate or negotiate with myself. I just go.

If I were doing a lot of work at my home desk, I think I would also take regular walks around the block in order to stretch my legs and keep the metabolism chugging along. But you time in the garden and on the trail sound wonderful!

Bavardess said...

GEW, I think your approach of little and often is perfect. And believe me, these days three 30 minute runs in a week is actually a very satisfying accomplishment for me! Unless I'm training for an event (no plans to do that in the forseeable future) that much running is enough to keep me fit and keep my knees happy without starting to become too much of a time-suck. Oddly, with either more or less running, my knees start to get cranky these days. I do feel lucky to live where I do. Weather is very rarely a deterrent as long as I have proper clothing. Plus, no snakes! I would love a canine running buddy, though.