This week I sat on my couch watching TV. Nothing unusual about that, it’s one of my favourite places.
What was slightly unusual was that I watched live, in high definition, while four astronauts launched aboard the latest Space X Crew Dragon space vehicle, a commercial partnership between NASA and Space X.
I watched live, in high definition while the launch rocket returned safely to earth, landing on a drone ship in the north Atlantic Ocean after depositing its cargo in space.
I watched live as the Crew Dragon orbited the earth a couple hundred miles above the surface, and at thousands of miles per hour.
27 hours later I was back on the courch and watched live, in high definition while the ship approached the international space station, a football-field sized mechano set similarly orbiting the earth, docked and the four went aboard to greet three other astronauts already on the ISS.
As an aside, there are only 6 sleeping cabins on ISS, so one of the new arrivals has to sleep on the Crew Dragon which will remained docked at the ISS until next March. I guess it’s like a visitor sleeping in their caravan parked out on the driveway!
All this happened less than 60 years after the first manned space flight, 12 years after Space X flew its first rocket into orbit, five years after they first successfully landed a launch stage rocket, and six months after the first crewed Space X test flight.
By any measure, the pace of development since Yuri Gargarin did a lap of the earth in his Vostock spacecraft back in 1961 is astonishing. It’s a testament to human ingenuity, determination, technology, ability to learn and problem solve, ambition, creativity, collaboration, desire to explore and a thousand other things.
Honestly, as I sat there I was gobsmacked as I processed what I was watching. Sure none of what I saw was the first time you could live-stream a rocket launch or watch video from the ISS, but I guess there are moments when you realise the significance of what’s happening.
As I watched, enthralled, my 13 year old wandered past. I called her over, told her what I was watching, how amazing had been the technological growth and how astonishing it was to be able to sit on the couch in Brisbane, watching all this unfold in real time hundreds of miles overhead.
She said “What’s the big deal dad? It’s just some people going to space.” and went back to reading her book. She barely feigned interest for 10 seconds.
This is the same kid who will never know life without the internet, or mobile phones, or streaming video. Youtube started two years before she was born. She beat the iphone into existence by a handful of days.
It’s no insult to her of course, she only knows what she knows. She’s only lived the life she has. She has never known any different.
To me though, it was an extraordinary thing to watch. And I was left pondering the meaning of it all.
Just how much further will human ingenuity, ambition, creativity (and yes, greed) take us over the next 60 years? I’ll be approaching my 110th birthday by then, so I’m not sure I’ll see the answer, but can you imagine what we’ll be up to if the rate of change continues?
I put that experience alongside the global scientific community’s response to the COVID19 pandemic and the phenomenal rate of development of treatements, medications and vaccines for a disease essentially unknown 12 months ago.
When we collectively put our mind to something, there’s almost no limit to what can be achieved.
My last thought was to wonder what other things could be figured out if only we could genuinely turn our collective will and wisdom to it. World peace. Global food security. Clean energy. Heading off the looming environmental catastrophe. Calorie free chocolate that tastes amazing.
So many possibilities.
And in 60 years time, some 13 year old will say to their dad “What’s the big deal?”
Over the last couple of years I’ve been entering into that most terrifying realm for all parents: teaching a child to drive.
My #1 child is all the things you’d hope for in a learner driver. She’s cautious, obedient, patient (mostly), understands road rules, knows enough about how the car works to understand what’s happening when she pushes that pedal or pulls that lever.
We’ve taken our time, working up from what we came to know as “industrial estate Sunday” (you know…where the industrial estates are all filled with learner drivers on Sunday afternoons) to quiet back roads, to suburban streets before finally graduating to freeways and busy arterial roads.
We’ve used professional instructors at a few critical times (I’d far rather pay someone to teach freeway merging than sit in the passenger seat myself for a couple hours of white-knuckle on and off-ramp experiences), built in some road trips to get bulk hours, and had her drive all the local kid-taxi shuttles for her siblings.
We’re now past the critical 100 hour mark which under the Queensland system enables #1 child to go and take the driving test. Our time as teacher/learner is coming to an end.
It’s been largely pain and tear free, and despite a few near misses (which I assume all learners suffer) and a few stalling-in-the-middle-of-an-intersection moments (ditto), everything has gone pretty well.
I’ve worked hard to be outwardly the least anxious person in the car, to not raise my voice, to not provoke nerves or (unhealthy) fear in my learner.
Every time I’m in the passenger seat, I’m all eyes on stalks, and hand hovering over the handbrake lever kind of nervous. I’m sure I’ve left dents in the passenger footwell from the number of times I’ve tried hard to apply the brake pedal from my side of the car. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated my mantras (“the secrets of good driving are smooth, deliberate use of the controls”, “remember to look ahead and anticipate” and so on) desperately hoping she’ll finally listen. As we approach the finish line (at least for this first one, #2 is lining up in in just a few weeks for his learner’s permit), it frustrates me that I can’t fully relax despite the evidence that she’ll (probably, maybe, possibly) be fine.
The truth is that despite the everyday nature of driving, every time we get in a car we put our life on the line – trusting in our own abilities and attention span, and that of every other driver around us. It’s almost the very definition of a dangerous activity, even though we rarely think of it in those terms. And those dangers, the immediacy of them, never become quite so stark as when you put your precious 17 year old behind the wheel, conscious of their limited skills, non-existent experience, and the multi-tasking nature of driving a car as a beginner.
Life is like that isn’t it? The things we take for granted everyday were once new, and fresh and risky. The things we can do without thinking once took every ounce of concentration we could muster. Maybe teaching #1 to drive has just reminded me that we were all beginners somewhere along the line, and that learning (particularly a skill where there is danger) is a difficult and challenging road (pun 100% intended).
And maybe it’s a reminder to me that it’s been a while since I was genuinely a beginner at some new skill.
A few years back I started riding mountain bikes with mates. We would head out into the bush, desperate to recover our lost youth, struggle up hills and bomb down the other side over roots and rock and (in my case very small) jumps. I now ride a few times a week and these days rarely think about the dangers or difficulties of this pastime. But I do recall that it wasn’t always like that. It used to be that near misses, and actual crashes were part of every single ride. I recall the months I went with gravel-rashed knees and elbows that for some reason take much longer to heal now than they did when I was 13. I recall every descent was a cause for nervousness and anxiety. Most of that is gone…unless I take a wrong turn and head down a trail that’s beyond my capability.
Deep down of course, I know that when riding my mountain bike I’m always just one mistake away from a busted collarbone, or a battered, bruised 48 year old body. A bit like driving a car. And just like driving the car, I rarely think about that reality.
Maybe teaching Miss 17 to drive is reminding me of all these things: being a beginner, the challenges of learning new skills, my own fragilities, the ease with which I dismiss danger, the task of trusting my child to grow into her adult self.
Tasmania is without doubt one of the best places in Australia for family adventures. And on an island full of great places to explore, and great adventures to experience, the Overland Track stands out.
The six day walk from Mt Barney in the central highlands south to Lake St Clair is justly one of Australia’s best known and most walked routes. From the heights of Mt Barney to deep temperate rainforest, from spectacular waterfall views to glorious highland tarns, the Overland Track has something for everyone.
We set out with a bunch of friends to walk the Overland Track. In our group were kids aged from 10 years old and up, with a wide variety of walking experience together with their respective parents with a similar variety of outdoors experience. Our own kids are 13 and 15 and proved the ideal age for the walk. The 9 year old in our family opted for a solo holiday at Grandma’s…she didn’t feel quite ready for the walk and we didn’t want to push her into something like this too soon.
There’s a bit of logistical work to do on a walk like the Overland Track – with gear to be organised and transport at either end to be sorted. We won’t bore you with those details – head over to the official website to find lots of great information on preparing for the walk. You’ll also need to think about time of year. The peak season is the late summer – January and February – with less rain and snow falling at that time of year (less, but not none!). In winter it’s a truly difficult walk and you’d want a lot of winter (snow) walking experience before tackling it. We hit the trail early January in the summer school holidays.
There are a couple of ways to do the walk: self-organised or with a guided group. If you’re not an experienced walker, the guided groups offer a fantastic way to complete the walk – with all the challenges of gear, logistics, cooking and navigation taken care of for you, and experienced guides to show you all the highlights along the way. Even with guides it’s still a long walk though, so don’t be too complacent if you take this option.
Long distance walks in Tasmania are based around the choice of using simple bush huts, or camping in tents – and the Overland Track is no different. There are huts and camping areas at each night’s camp, and you can use either (but you must carry camping gear in case the huts are full). Staying in huts can be crowded and noisy, but it can also be a great way to meet people who have come from all over the world to walk the Overland Track. They also enable respite from weather that can turn pretty nasty at short notice!
In our group there were enough people with bushwalking experience (and having walked the Overland Track before) that we could safely opt to be self-organised rather than take the guided option. Both Sheri and I had walked the track together a few years ago and were excited to share it with our kids before they get too much older.
Our kids were pretty committed to preparing for the Overland Track – and it’s not a preparation to take lightly. We did lots of day walks around south-east Queensland, an overnight test walk into Mt Barney Creek, and the kids made their own decision in the weeks leading up to the trip to walk to and from school regularly rather than the bus or bike options they’d usually choose (a distance of around 5km each way). By the time our walk rolled around, they were fit and ready to go…and excited!
I won’t go into too much gear detail except to say we carried two small tents, cooked using a Trangia fuel stove, and that the kids definitely carried their fair share of gear. The 15 year old daughter carried all her own gear, plus a share of family equipment, while the 13 year old carried his own equipment plus our family’s daily lunch supplies. Sheri and I carried a little more gear than the kids, but they definitely kicked in their share.
We kept a good lookout for value-for-money equipment in preparing to go, and apart from borrowing from generous friends chose to pick up some bits and pieces from Aldi, and an on-line discount supplier. I wouldn’t recommend Aldi gear if you’re going to be doing regular long distance walks, but for a one-off summer walk we found their down sleeping bags, boots, hiking socks and two-main tent fit for their purpose. A 55l pack for the 13 year old, gaiters (a definite for the Overland track!) and waterproof pants all came from on-line discounters. We didn’t skimp on rain jackets though, conscious they’d probably get a workout (and they did!) so opting for good quality rain gear.
We planned our menu together, and put together a tasty selection of recipes including home-made Bircher muesli we mixed up each night for the following morning, wraps and crackers with a variety of fillings for lunch, and a mix of stir fry meals for dinner. Other friends in our group used commercially available dehydrated meals for dinner and definitely had a quicker and easier meal prep time than we did, but there’s generally no rush. We let the kids go crazy on making up some trail mix (nuts, chocolate, lollies, dried fruit etc) to their own specification – you’re going to burn lots of calories on a walk like this so regular snacking is important, and we also carried as much fresh fruit as we thought we could.
The Overland Track is an incredible walk. It starts at the base of the majestic Cradle Mountain, and within a matter of minutes the steep, tough climb to Marion’s Lookout begins. This first couple of hours is the hardest of the week, but our kids bounced up the climb like they were out for an afternoon neighbourhood jaunt. The view from the top on a fine day (which we had) is incredible. From there, day one continued around behind Cradle Mountain and an optional side trip to the summit. Sheri took the 13 year old to the top in what turned out to be a quite difficult and at times exposed climb to an incredible summit, while the 15 year old and I stayed on the main track toward the night’s first campsite at Waterfall Valley. We were off to a great start.
What followed was another five days of fantastic walking, lovely campsites, glorious views, and the kind of family experience you’d dream about. Hours of walking with the kids, chatting about life, the universe and everything, were interspersed with periods where they were walking with other kids from our group so Sheri and I had plenty of time to walk and chat too.
It’s hard to pick highlights from a walk in which every day was unique and special, but there are a few that stand out:
A sunny afternoon enjoying the lovely grass campsites of Waterfall Valley and watching the sun set behind Barn Bluff
An optional side trip to the summit of Mt Ossa (Tasmania’s tallest) was rewarded with an astonishing summit area after a hard scrambling climb. I couldn’t make the walk (a little dodgy knee action), but Sheri and the kids joined some friends for the trip – and they haven’t stopped raving about it since.
We camped some nights, and stayed in the huts on others and enjoyed meeting walkers from around Australian and beyond – including a dad with his 7 and 9 year old kids who charged through the walk in remarkable style.
On our fifth day, from Kia Ora to Windy Ridge, the rain set in. We’d had great weather up until this point, but this day was bleak, cold and wet (even in summer time the weather on the Overland Track can turn nasty, with snow possible any time of year). Rather than bemoan the weather, we celebrated with the kids, telling them “embrace it, this is the real Tassie!” We buttoned up the waterproof gear, splashed our way along tracks that were more like creek beds than dry walking trails and explored a number of side trails to spectacular waterfalls along the Mersey River. It rained all day, the kids loved it, we coped well physically, and were rewarded with the big, modern, well equipped hut at Windy Ridge as a fine place to warm up, dry out and spend our last night on the track. While on other days we’d walked intermingled with our larger group of friends, on this day we spent most of the time just walking as a family unit…and that made it all the more special.
While it’s possible to walk right along the shoreline of Lake St Clair to the finishing point at its southern end, that day’s walk is rough, slow and not particularly scenic, so most people (us included) finish the walk at the northern end of the lake and organised a ferry across the lake to the official finishing position. That last day’s walk down to the lake edge is fast, flat, scenic and includes a spectacular swing bridge over the Narcissus River, before a (nearly compulsory) celebratory swim in the icy-cold waters of Lake St Clair….we were done!
The kids smashed this walk. We had zero complaining, zero whinging about no mobile phone or internet access. We had some blisters, sore shoulders, hips, feet as you would imagine, but the kids truly loved being immersed in this spectacular wilderness environment. We had one gear failure – my trusty boots gave up the ghost on day two and only survived by being taped together each morning with Elastoplast – but an otherwise trouble free walk. Our only regret was that the 9 year old wasn’t quite up to joining us (yours might be, but ours wasn’t)…the bonus to that being that we might have to make a repeat visit in a couple of years when she’s ready.
A walk like the Overland Track (either alone or with the family) isn’t easy. It takes preparation, training and a certain degree of skill and capability in the outdoors (particularly if the weather turns bad). That said, there are the guided options I mentioned earlier, or the option to walk with friends who do have the skills and experience necessary.
When all is said and done though, the memories of a trip like this will last a lifetime for kids, and set them on a path to pursue adventure, with the confidence that comes from having completed (and enjoyed) such a trip.
This story was originally written for a family adventures website, so it’s a little different to my normal writing. Its now published here to make sure I don’t lose it. Hope you enjoyed!
Recently I was sitting with the 13 year old at a high school subject selection evening. She’s preparing for year 9, and has a couple of elective choices to make, so the school puts on an evening where all of this is explained to parents and students.
There are two things you need to know about this particular 13 year old. First, she’s very academically oriented (and I’d say gifted too…but them I’m biased). Second, she has inherited an intense introversion and dislike of public speaking from her parents. We’ve both learned to do it, but it hasn’t been a fun ride.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, right, subject selection.
In the end she had one choice left to make, and the list of options was long. A whole bunch of arts subjects, some industrial tech stuff, and geography.
I thought the choice was simple. She loves geography, would do well at it, would find it relatively easy. An easy choice.
Naturally, she didn’t choose it (I mean she could have, but then this would have been a dull story, right?).
She said to me “Dad, I’m going to choose drama”.
“Drama?”, I thought to myself. “Drama? Seriously? What about geography?”
“Oh, that’s good” I said out loud, desperately trying to play the cool, supportive, helpful parent. “Tell me why you’re thinking drama?”.
The answer, when it came, floored me. Stopped me. Confronted me. Challenged me. Then and now.
“Because I know I’m not good at speaking in front of groups. It makes me nervous, and I’m not good at it. I think if I do drama for a year, it will help me to find my voice. I can always do geography later”. Such is the wisdom of the 13 year old.
Now let me hasten to say at this point that I have no objection whatsoever to drama as a subject. I wish I had the courage to do it (I would be hopeless, but I still wish…).
It’s a choice that impressed me, and for several reasons:
She chose the unexpected
She thought it through enough to not just take the obvious choice
She chose to be challenged (and believe me, she will be challenged)
She chose her weakness
She chose to grow a new strength
She knows that choosing one (drama), involves letting go of another (geography)
So many of us (I raise my hand high) don’t take those kinds of choices. We stick with what we know. We stick with what we have already learned. We stick with what we have proven we can succeed in. We stick with the safe, the obvious. To choose challenge, growth, weakness, risk? That’s unusual. Most of us would choose geography over drama every day of the week (it’s a metaphor…go with me):
We take a holiday to the same place (or at least the same kind of place).
We stick with the same kinds of food.
We make the safe, obvious career choice.
And so on. Geography over drama, every time.
In the organisation I work in, we are under some degree of stress. Our future is clouded. Under such stress, we choose geography time after time after time. We choose what we know. We choose the obvious. We choose to keep doing what we’ve always done. I can’t help but think that at this point in our life cycle, we should be consciously choosing drama.
It’s left me both (a) incredibly proud of this child (even more than before…true); and (b) challenged in the way I go about my choices as a person, husband, father.
I’m wondering what it means for me to choose drama. I’m a little nervous about the next choice I have to make. And if I’m honest, a little sad too….because I quite like geography!
Those who read regularly (hi!) will know I’m a some-times runner.
I’m not that good or that fast, but I enjoy it, and I run. When I travel for work or play, I’ll usually pack the shoes and go for a trot to explore new places. It’s a nice way to start a day, and to get to know the lay of the land wherever I happen to be. I sometimes do the same with my bike…but it’s not quite as portable as a pair of running shoes!
Those who know me personally will also know I’m a bloke, and a fairly big and tall one. That matters too, in the context of this story.
A while back I was on the Sunshine Coast, and early one morning laced up the shoes and headed out for a run from Coolum down to Mudjimba. It was a beautiful early morning, and quiet, with not many people out and about yet. On the return leg I started taking little detours off the main road, into little beachside streets or waterfront walking tracks and then back out onto the main road. It was a nice bit of variety and a few extra metres each time.
The first time I did so, I came back out onto the main running track just in time to see a fellow runner (a woman, and yes, in this story, it matters) join the trail from a side street a little in front of me. I was traveling a slightly quicker, so passed her by, offering a quick “hello” as a greeting often shared by runners, and continued on my way. Soon after I turned off the trail onto another little side route, and when I returned to that main trail found myself just behind the same woman. As I said, I was running a little faster so I went past, and continued on my way. I took the next side-route and on rejoining the main road, once again found myself behind the same woman.
This happened about three or four times before I made it back to my starting point, turned off the trail once and for all and went home for breakfast.
Later that morning (I’m a bit slow to pick up on these things) it occurred to me that I could well have been causing my fellow runner to think she had a stalker…a middle aged, dark-sunglassed, huffing-and-puffing stalker who kept on detouring and then running up behind her. She could well have been quite anxious about my presence, really worried in the quiet early morning about my motives.
I have to say it was a horrible feeling, that I could have been causing anxiety or fear in another, and even worse that I hadn’t realised the possibility until later (when it was too late to take a different route for example). It matters not that the repeated encounters were totally innocent. It matters not that I was there (on the trail) first. In some ways it matters not whether she actually was afraid or anxious (I have no idea). The very possibility was real.
What concerned me then, and concerns me now, is that we live in a world where the very presence of one (man) can and does cause anxiety or fear in another (woman). We live in a world in which I understand women are continuously targeted for harassment or intimidation. Where men (yes not all men, hopefully including me and most men that I personally know…but surely that’s not the point) continue to inflict violence upon women that they know (and don’t know).
And that my feeling of anxiety and fear about making another afraid and anxious while palpable to me completely pales into insignificance when compared to the experiences and feelings of many women every day.
We live in a world in which this video (released yesterday) depicts an everyday reality for some/many women. I can’t say from personal experience if this is genuinely what it’s like (for as already canvassed above…I am a bloke), but women I know and trust tell me that it is:
And we live in a world in which a well known V8 Supercar driver (my sport of choice, please don’t judge) said today:
Hello Adelaide! In town for the 2015 @Clipsal500 launch. Most pressing item for the day, what do the grid girl uniforms look like?
This is a man with a huge public following, and with a wife and young daughter. And who continues the culture-wide objectification of women. And who is defended in social media commentary as “just having some fun”. And this is the relatively innocent end of the spectrum.
And….I don’t know what to do with all of this. Really, I don’t.
I’m a man. Men cause this. Maybe not me personally (to my knowledge). Maybe not many of the men who might read this. But we do, collectively, harass, objectify, instil fear in women everyday.
There’s a 7-year old who shares my house, and my life.
She is ridiculously, relentlessly, noisily happy.
I mean, within moments of her eyes opening in the morning there’s a smile on her face, and it rarely leaves until the last giggling, cackling, out-loud goodnight tickle fades away. She is just happy.
Her happiness is out-and-out infections, and those around cannot help but be swept up in the joyful life that bursts forth involuntarily. She is just happy.
Even when disaster strikes (like a stubbed toe or an uncooperative older brother who refuses to play by her rules) the smile doesn’t fade for long. Wherever, whenever….just happy.
I feel the need to include an emoticon…. 😀
It struck me this week, as once again I found myself marveling at this seven year old and her crazy antics, that somewhere along the line, we seem to have gradually lost this kind of general happiness.
And when I say we, I partly mean those of us who are a little older (and dare I say it, more sensible) as individuals. But I mostly mean all of us collectively, our society.
It’s rare that I notice outright happiness, infectious laughter and non-stop smiling kind of behaviour. How about you?
More and more we’re prone to expressing our frustration, disagreement, disapproval or downright dislike. It seems like there’s a constant flow of dissatisfaction in our public discourse, and even in our private moments.
We’re more likely to be sadly observing how busy we are, how hard life is, how expensive everything has become, how the people around us just aren’t doing a good enough job (at anything!) than we are to just be loving life, out loud.
Maybe it’s years of advertising rammed down our throats 24/7 with the singular message “who you are, what you have is not good enough/beautiful enough”.
Maybe it’s the constant assault of “it’s all about you.”
Maybe it’s wall-to-wall media that is focused on stories of conflict and anger because they sell more advertising space.
Maybe it’s none or those things, or all of them.
I just know…when I watch the seven year old, I see in her this kind of raw happiness that I don’t observe anywhere near as much in the rest of my life.
And that makes me sad.
So my new month’s resolution (is that a thing? I think so!) is to strive for happiness. To find and enjoy moments of pure joy each day. Join me (if you’re not already there)?
This week I finally admitted it out loud: I’m sick of training to run a marathon.
I woke up Thursday morning, alarm set early to head out for a mid-week run, and just did not want to go. It wasn’t the consequence of a late night the previous evening, or too many days of running in the week, just the cumulative effect of weeks and months of running to try and get my middle-aged body in decent enough shape to run 42km.
This day, I was over it all. I just wanted the race weekend to be here, and to be over, so that I can go back to bed. So that I can choose to run if I feel like it, instead of running to a schedule.
But, my schedule said run, and the last thing I’m going to do is let the months of training slide because of slackness in the last few weeks…so I dragged myself out the door and onto the pavement.
And I felt rotten the whole morning. I felt every twinge, every ache, every step. And I ran slow, and not very far. There’s no question that state-of-mind has an impact on performance!
The next day I ran into a PE teacher/sports-trainer friend and was telling him my sob story. He said “You know Scott, those training miles, the ones that you do even when you most want to be at home in bed, they’re the most valuable training miles you will ever run”.
I didn’t believe him at the time, but with a week to ponder, I think maybe he’s right. The moments when we somehow manage to talk ourselves into what we know is the right thing, even when we’d rather be elsewhere…those moments are important. Maybe it’s the minutes I choose to spend reading night-time stories to the six-year old instead of snoozing on the couch. Maybe it’s the yard work, or time invested with the family, or volunteering at my community group….whatever the category, it’s the times we go when we’re just not motivated that really matter.
Anyway, a couple of days later I was scheduled for my longest run yet – 32km. I think you can guess how much I wasn’t looking forward to that experience! My previous longest at a little over 28km hadn’t ended well, with a little walking mixed in the last couple of km to nurse home some injured legs. That memory, together with the general funk about the whole project meant I was dreading that alarm bell.
What a surprise then, and a blessed relief, to find myself thoroughly enjoying the whole run. Pace was good (still probably a little too fast for training…but such is life), the few aches and pains that popped up along the way disappeared as I plodded along, and to top it all off, the river was shrouded in fog to lend an ethereal quality to the early miles, before the sun came out to cheer me home. It was perhaps the best “long” run I’ve had, and definitely the best in weeks.
Don’t get me wrong. I was spent by the time I got home, and nursing a couple of pretty painful knees – but way better than my previous long run, and way better than I expected as I headed out the door that morning.
And with my 32.7k including quite a few hills (where the Gold Coast race is almost totally flat), the whole experience gave me a much needed shot of confidence that 42km is going to be achievable.
Not easy. And not pain-free. But achievable.
I guess that’s the value of the hours and hours of training. Even when it doesn’t feel like it to me, it’s been building and conditioning the muscles to do what they could not have done before. To churn out km after km on one Sunday in July, hopefully going the distance and enjoying the journey.
On this second-last long training run, I think my brain finally caught up with my body. Everything feels like it’s nearly ready. The training is working. There are a couple of weeks of solid running left, one more long run (35km) and then it’s into the blessed relief of the taper and pre-race rest.
I got to wondering (as I do) about parallels. About other areas in life in which long hours of preparation, weeks and months and years of training quietly sneak up on you, preparing you for some new experience.
Maybe it’s education and formal training. Maybe it’s on-the-job learning. Maybe it’s hours of training sessions at a sport or hobby. Maybe it’s years of practice as a first-time parent helping to prepare you for each new stage of a child’s life.
I don’t know what the answer is for you, or even necessarily for me.
I only know that training matters. It prepares us, equips us, enables us.
On Mother’s Day we headed into Southbank, where Sheri, Riley and my mum joined some friends in a team entered in the Mother’s Day Classic Fun Run/Walk. It was kind of cool to see the three generations together walking/running in the 4.5k event, and all three enjoyed it a lot.
As did the other two kids and I, watching from the sidelines. So we went home all inspired to all enter the event in 2015 and run/walk together…but that wasn’t quite soon enough so satisfy our craving for instant gratification.
So we scoured the internet for events, Mitch signed up for a kids try-athlon hosted by Weetbix this coming weekend at Southbank, and then we started looking further afield.
The Gold Coast Marathon came to mind…for the obvious reason that we’ll be there for the event anyway. When we dug a little deeper, the whole event includes a heap of different distances and categories…so we’ve signed up the whole gang. Mitch and MK will run the 2k kids dash, Sheri and Riley the 5.7k run, all on Saturday morning, and I’ll be there Sunday for the full distance event.
It’s given our whole family quite a buzz to all be entered. Training plans are developing and we’ve already had one whole-family training session on the street out the front – with Mitch practicing triathlon transitions on the footpath, and everybody else running laps of the block (including the dog…who thought it was awesome!).
It’s been nice to talk together about it this week, to be sharing a goal and as a family looking forward to an event that had up until now been mostly about my Sunday race.
Training for the marathon has continued, with a little bit of both up and down over the last couple of weeks. I’ve managed two quite long runs at 25 and 28.7k respectively) but also run into a couple of little niggly injury worries – both problems I’ve had in the past.
With some time on the massage table, a few days rest and a session with a running-specialist physio at intraining, all seems under control for the moment, so I’ll just (cautiously) press on with the program. A quieter weekend this week (with long run at 18-20k) precedes what is planned as a 32k long run next weekend, so it’s definitely a week to look after the legs a little.
The other down moment this week was waking up one morning for my regular mid-distance run and almost pulling the pin. Mostly I’ve not struggled for motivation, and once I’m awake have been happy to get up and go.
This day however, I really struggled to get going. I had that thought “why am I doing this?” and for the first time, had no answer. It was only that (a) I knew I would feel guilty if I didn’t go; and (b) I have some friends who have been great encouragers on the whole marathon project that got me out of bed and onto the streets.
I guess that’s life sometimes isn’t it. No matter how much we like the idea of something (moving house, new job, parenthood, whatever your mountain might be) there are moments when the reality of the challenge overwhelms the theoretical motivation. There are moments when we say “why am I doing this?”.
On the whole I’m not advocating for guilt as a motivator, so that leaves me with the critical importance of friends and family that encourage and support us. So, I’m thinking, next time you’re struggling for motivation, who can you turn to that will help you feel great about what you’re attempting? And conversely, look around to see who in your life is trying something new….and fire some words of encouragement there way.
It’s a driving game, it keeps the kids occupied on long trips, gives us something fun to rib each other about along the way.
We call it “Spotto”. Maybe you play a similar game, but in our version it’s a point for each time you see a yellow car and call out “SPOTTO!” before anybody else does. As with any family game there are a few quirky rules, some inside understandings of what is and isn’t yellow (Brisbane City Council buses for example, don’t qualify) and for some unknown reason lost in the sands of time spotting a purple car and calling “SPURPLE!” accrues double points.
Hey, it’s fun, and its in the privacy of our own car…
There’s a problem however, and it’s a big one.
Once you start spotting yellow cars (SPOTTO!) it’s just not that easy to stop.
And so now I find myself even when on my own (that’s right…no kids to use an excuse) making a mental note of every yellow car I pass. I swear to you I haven’t said “SPOTTO!” out loud on my own….yet….but that’s the problem. To borrow a well known advertising catch phrase…once you pop, you just can’t stop.
At the same time as I find myself thinking about yellow cars (SPOTTO!) I’m become more and more conscious of the casual (and not so casual) sexism that still seems ingrained in so many levels of our society. Maybe that’s a strange connection to make…but go with me here.
As a father of two girls and a boy, I’m very conscious of the opportunities Sheri and I want our girls to have, of the way we want them to be treated, and of the responsibility of our son to know just how he can and should act with regards the women in his now and future life.
And in our current world….there’s a pretty ugly reality that I’m noticing more and more often (SPOTTO!).
Not with me?
Take a look at any Saturday morning “video hits” TV show, where film clip after film clip treats women as little more than scantily clad window dressing. Men dress in suits, jeans, shirts and women (even when they’re the star attraction) may as well be in body paint.
Take a look at my favourite sport of motor racing, where start grids filled with heroic male drivers have the decoration of a grid girl in Lycra close at hand (or maybe your favourite athletes are footballers and the grid girls come in the form of cheerleaders). Ridiculously, sadly, even in my chosen hobby of R/C car racing (that’s right…I race toy cars) we sometimes have the stupidity of “trophy girls” at major events. How do I introduce my daughters to this hobby when basically this is the image of women perpetuated in even this obscure hobby?
Take a look at any number of magazines aimed at women and perpetuating the stereotypes of make-up, fashion and appearance as underlying all self worth. Even the recent “no make-up selfie” trend that whilst ostensibly has a cancer awareness message (and at best even cancer fund-raising) at heart underneath seems to be implying “no make-up = courageous”.
No man has to put up with such nonsense.
Women continue to be under-represented in leadership in nearly every corner of our society (Federal parliament?) and even where they are present are treated differently (can I say Julia Gillard as just one very visible example without getting into political point-scoring debates?).
They’re underpaid, misrepresented, rejected. Women are subject to totally degrading treatment on the basis of appearance and they are sexualised relentlessly. Then there’s violence against women prevalent even in mainstream Australian society.
The more I think of it, the more I see it (SPOTTO!). It’s everywhere. Even though there’s clearly been structural progress in recent decades, there’s still a lot of pretty ugly cultural sexism.
To be fair, there’s plenty of pretty rough male stereotypes as well (cue the witless, useless, clueless father figure than inhabits so many TV commercials and sitcoms), and there are some pretty serious issues around boys in education or even church models that seem more shaped in a way to which girls respond more readily…..but to my eyes (SPOTTO!) the girls have a much tougher road to walk.
And our daughters are growing up in this culture, and will be victim to it. They’ll face pressure to conform. They’ll face expectations about sex and sexuality. They’ll have to abide by different standards than the boys around them.
The more I see it (SPOTTO!) the more I am conscious of just how far we have to go, and of the fact that I’m only just starting to work this out, see what’s in front of me, and can only wonder at the times I’ve probably been complicit.
And more aware of just how much I want both our girls, and our boy to see through the surface of our culture, to find a different way, to live to a different standard.
The fact is our girls (and our boy) are awesome. They’re smart, funny, committed, compassionate, imaginative, creative and talented. One is intense and motivated, the other non-stop joyful and social. That’s the basis on which they should progress in life….not on gender, appearance, make-up, short skirts and photo-shop.
The thing is…while I hope I gradually stop seeing yellow cars (SPOTTO!) because to be honest, it’s an annoying game, I sincerely hope the only reason I stop spotting ingrained, cultural, casual sexism is because bit by bit we find a better way.
A couple of days ago I was in the corner store picking up some bits and pieces. As I wandered up to the counter I asked the assistant “have you had a busy day?”
She answered in the affirmative and we got into a pretty typical shop-counter conversation about how busy life is.
I bet you recognise that conversation. Lots of us have it, nearly every day.
Sometime over the last couple of years something has changed in our society. It’s subtle, but I wonder if it’s important.
We used to start conversations with something like “how are you?” or “are you well?”…..but now it’s “have you been busy?” or “do you have a busy weekend coming up?”.
Busyness is the new in thing.
The expectation when we ask that question is that we’ll hear back “yep, flat out”.
Busyness is the new fashion accessory…the “new black” if you like.
We pride ourselves on how busy we are. The one with the most full diary is the most worthy. The one with the most evening commitments, the busiest social calendar for the weekend, with the most extra-curricular activities for the kids….the busiest wins.
There’s very little in our society today (apart from our treatment of the vulnerable, or the ongoing ingrained sexism in our world….but they’re stories for another day) that are more damaging I think to families, and to individuals than this perpetual obsession with busyness.
And a messy house…though maybe that’s just my house…I can’t be sure.
I wonder too – and I worry – about the kind of example we’re setting for our kids with this perpetual busyness.
I wonder if we should be striving really hard to keep lots of empty space in our home diaries, make sure there are afternoons when we just go for a walk around the neighbourhood then come home for a simple dinner and hang out. I wonder if we should prioritise the preservation of down-time on weekends rather than back-to-back-to-back social, sporting and other engagements.
I’m a big fan of couch time, or hammock time, or “promenade time” (as we used to call the kind of relaxed afternoon walk that we seem to preserve for holidays only) but it’s rare. I don’t even really like being busy…but it’s such a point of pride I can’t help getting sucked into it, and filling any empty moment with something planned.
What might happen if the next time someone asks “are you free Tuesday night?” I answer “No, I’m having some relax time with my family”?
And will it be weird if I ask the shop assistant when I next stop by “have you got a quiet afternoon ahead”?