the long run

Several times a week I find myself thinking “what the hell am I doing?” and “who am I, and what ever happened to the me I used to know?“.

For the first 40ish years of my life, I lived happily sure in the knowledge that running was only useful in organised team sports, and then only when absolutely necessary. I’ve never seen anybody out running with a smile on their face, and “real athletes” (like olympians) aren’t human so don’t count (plus they’re probably on steroids…right?).

I therefore knew, without having to try for myself, that running sucks and nobody normal would voluntarily do it.

And then, approaching 40, I found myself consciously avoiding mirrors, dreading trips to the park to run around with the kids, and huffing and puffing unreasonably on the basketball court.  So with a little motivational support from my family I started dragging myself down to the local park before sunrise and joining in a boot camp.  It started great, nice people, encouraging, motivating, fun variety of exercise.

Until “Week Two”.

We arrived one morning in the cold and dark as usual, but there was no gear set-up in the park, no exercise equipment. Just the trainer standing there, smiling his evil smile.  “It’s a running day” he said, before briefly describing the course and sending us on our way.  The shortest course he outlined was 5km, but there were 8km (you must be joking) and 10km (don’t be ridiculous!) options as well.  “10k in an hour boot camp session? That’s not possible.” I thought to myself.

That first morning I made it 1km before grinding to a halt, and shuffling along for the rest of the 5k loop, arriving back to see the rest of my crew getting in their cars to head for home.  I hated running that day just as much as I ever thought I would.

But little by little, the boot camp worked, fitness improved, and with one dedicated running session a week I gradually got better at it.  In the final week of my 8-week boot camp experience I ran 5km non-stop. I have to tell you, I skipped, danced, sung and laughed out loud on that last half-kilometre through the deserted pre-dawn streets of Launceston – pity the early morning shift workers who had to witness it. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined running 5k and here I was, about to do it.

A couple of weeks later I heard about the Launceston Ten – a dead flat mass participation “fun run” (oxymoron alert!) a few months away.  I kept up the training, increased distances little by little and had a crack at it, finishing in a faster time than I dared think possible, and running the whole way (the first time I managed that over the 10km distance).  It was such an adrenaline rush to set out in a field of over 1500 runners, all tackling their own internal demons and trying desperately for a personal best, or even just to finish.  I loved every step of that run (my first and last ever “competitive” run).

Stupidly as I crossed the finish line I heard a little voice inside my head say “that wasn’t so bad, what about a half marathon?”  That’s as good a reason as any never to trust the little voice inside your head.

Life intervened and we ended up moving back to Brisbane – so it wasn’t until 12 months later I had my first “half” experience – at the 2013 Gold Coast Half-Marathon.  I chose that race for one reason: the course is dead flat (see a theme here?).  I trained fairly well, including a pre-race “long” run of about 17km and set off to the coast to run 21.1km (not for the first time thinking those same thoughts I mentioned right up the top of this little story) in my second ever competitive running race.

Like many rookies I went out too fast and paid the price – hitting the invisible (but very real) “wall” at 17k and struggling home.  I crossed the line, collapsed on the ground and (I’m not ashamed to admit it) wept. The emotions of the moment overpowered me. I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe that less than two years after getting off the couch I had just run 21.1km.  I was also mighty relieved, having now run that distance and got it out of my system, I could head home, keep doing a couple of 5-7k runs a week and just go bike riding with my mates for fun and fitness. It (my two-race old competitive running career) was over. Thank goodness.

Except I made the mistake of going back to the finish line a few hours later to watch the marathon runners coming in.

Not the elite non-human athletes, but the “normal” people, finishing in 4 or 4 1/2 hours. People that (while clearly fit) look like you and I, come in all shapes, sizes and ages. And the sense of achievement written all over their faces at that finish line (along with other things like “I feel like vomiting” and “I hate running”) stirred up that little voice inside my head one more time:

I wonder what it would be like to run a marathon?

What is it that makes people think things like that? What is it that makes people run?

I’ve discovered many things about running, and about myself while running. Sometimes it’s the peace and quiet. Sometimes its the amazing sunrises on an early morning outing. Sometimes its the chance to ponder work challenges. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I just listen to the rhythm of my feet and breath, and don’t think about anything at all. Sometimes its the sheer blessed relief of sitting down after a long, painful run.

Sometimes I do hate it, but mostly I’ve come to love it.  Lacing up the shoes, slipping into something light, breathable and non-chafing (now that’s a challenge!) and heading out the door in the quietness of the early morning….I don’t know, I guess I breathe differently when I’m on the trail.

And so I run, and (so far) keep on running.

Which brings me to this point, the start of May 2014 and now just 9 weeks until I find out the answer to that last little question: “I wonder what it would be like to run a marathon?”.  I’m entered in the Gold Coast Marathon (it’s flat remember!) and will have a crack at the full 42.195km on July 6th for my third (and last!) competitive running race.

Training has been going well, I’ve been racking up lots of miles and my longer runs are building in distance – up to a 25km outing last weekend for my third weekend in a row of running half-marathon distance or more.  My training schedule (concocted with the help of My Asics and tweaked a little after some running forum conversations) takes me out to 32-35 over the next 6 weeks before a 2-3 week taper ( I know…I get to taper as if I’m a real athlete!). I hear it’s what happens beyond 30km and when you’ve been on the road 3 to 3 1/2 hours that really tells if you’re ready for a marathon.

I have to say, my family have been fantastic. There’s a lot of hours on the road, and while I mostly try and go early in the mornings, it inevitably creeps into family time…and they’ve been nothing but supportive.

So far I’ve suffered no significant injuries, just a constant state of exhaustion, dead legs and the never-ending desire to crawl into bed and sleep for a year.  I’m constantly dreading and at the same time aching for my next long run.  I sure hope that’s all normal (it definitely doesn’t sound like it to me!).

So here I am, inviting you (my 2 friends, and 2 relatives who read this!) to join me for the next few weeks.  For that period I’m going to use this blog as something of a training diary, keeping track of how I’m going, how often I’m thinking “what the hell am I doing?” and how many times I’m tempted to withdraw my entry. I promise this isn’t going to turn into a fitness blog for the future…just for a few weeks.

And if you want, come and join my on the running track for a few km to keep me company or teach me some things about running (for I am a rookie….making it up as I go along!). If you want to check in with the training runs in a little more detail, you can find all my info over at strava. If you know stuff about running, I will gladly hear your wisdom.

I have two main goals for the next few weeks. First to learn to run a little slower – to make the pace sustainable over the distance.  And second, to figure out how to shut down that little voice in my head….in case it says something genuinely stupid like “what about an iron-man distance triathlon?

I fear I’m in this for the long run.


on yellow cars and casual, cultural sexism

We play a game, our family.

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.

Bit by bit.


have you had a busy week?

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.

The costs of busyness are high.

Physical tiredness, mental exhaustion, emotional strain, spiritual flat-ness, relational distance.

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”?

So how about you?

Had a busy day?

step away from the golf ball….

golfThe other night I was out at a golf driving range, with a couple of mates.

It’s something we do whenever we get the chance, meet out there, smash some golf balls out into a paddock, tell stories, listen to each other.  Really its just an excuse to hang out together, but there is a little golf as well.

When you’re the kind of golfer I am (most accurately described as a hacker!) there are lots of experiences that are common.

There is the experience of spending long frustrating periods searching for a golf ball in the long rough.

There is the experience of watching putt after putt miss left, right, short and sometimes go straight over the hole.

There is the experience of that mysterious slice, seemingly un-correctable.

There is the experience of the ball screaming along inches above the ground instead of launching skyward in a truly beautiful arc (a phenomenon we hack golfers call “the worm burner”).

On this particular night, I was reminded of another regular experience for hopeless golfers. Continue reading

the joy of the job: a new beginning?

I was chatting with Mitch the 10-year-old this week.

As an aside, how good is it when your kids reach a point where the conversations turn interesting, and insightful and not just about crayons, lego and fart jokes (ok, I confess one of those topics of conversation is primarily my responsibility in our family)?

Anyway…leaving that mental image aside…out of the blue, Mitch said to me:

“Dad, do you enjoy your job?”

Do I enjoy my job.  Interesting question. Well…do I enjoy my job?

I made some non-committal answer like “sometimes I do Mitch, and sometimes I don’t”.

Mitch’s response?

“If I had your job Dad, I would enjoy it a lot!”

I’m assuming he was talking about my real 9-5 job, not the other in which I moonlight as a columnist and product tester for a R/C car magazine.

The truth of course, in adult world, is that most of us have parts of our job/life that we thoroughly enjoy, and parts that we don’t.  The bits of my job where I’m trying to channel creativity, getting involved in interesting conversations that unfold possibility, that help people (including me) see light…these I enjoy thoroughly. The bits that are administrative, organising events, management tasks…well….not so much.

But Mitch’s question has stuck with me, because in an adult-kind-of-way to brush it off with a “sometimes yes, sometimes no” answer seems to do it (and him) a disservice.

I think the deeper question he was asking might be something like “am I glad I do what I do? is it more than just a job? do I look forward to the opportunities I have in my work?”

Or maybe “you spend a lot of time at work Dad (subtext: when you could be playing cricket with me), is it all worthwhile?”

Maybe the truth is that while I’d like to be a glass-half-full kind of guy, I’ve accidentally slipped into a kind of pessimism about the organisation I work for and it’s challenging future. And from that point of view, the word “enjoy” doesn’t quite fit.

So my challenge, for 2014, is to reshape that attitude, to look for the possibility and the potential in every day. To remember my sense of excitement about my work in this organisation, alongside these excellent people.

To reach a point where I am able to answer honestly the next time Mitch asks if I enjoy my job:

“You bet I do”

How about you…do you enjoy your job?

And just because it’s my role in my family…here’s a little gratuitous dad humour for you:

a little peace of christmas

christmas treeI found myself in the Brisbane city centre this week, taking my kids to see the parade, pantomine and (honestly, amazing) city hall light spectacular.

It’s Christmas, it’s school holidays, it’s a fun outing for the kids.  Those were the kind of thoughts in mind as we headed off into town.

Unexpectedly to find myself in the middle of my own baffling analysis of what Christmas means today.

The parade was an impressive but kind of confused mix of the Nutcracker story with Christmas themes. Marching bands, ballerinas, stunt-mice, toy soldiers, choirs, dancing Christmas trees, kids dressed as gifts, Santa in his two-reindeer-drawn-sleigh (the rest presumably resting up for the big flight on 25/12) were all in the mix.

And right in the middle, somewhere after the christmas trees, gift-wrapped children and marching drummers, came Mary on a donkey (baby Jesus already born, hung in a sling from Mary’s shoulders) with Joseph alongside, and a few shepherds (real sheep!) and wise men (real camels!) following along behind.

They passed by follow by Santa, then a giant inflatable toy train and the aforementioned stunt-mice (no, I have no idea why either).

I found myself thinking “well, it’s nice that in a commercial Christmas parade there is a little room for Jesus, good on them.”  It’s almost incarnational, Jesus in the parade, passing by 10-15-20000 people, reminding them there is more to Christmas that gift-wrapped commercialism and tinsel-draped pine trees.

And then later, as I pondered some more I started to wonder if it was so good after all?

Perhaps its not so good that Jesus fits neatly into the parade between the presents, the santa, the dancing tree and the stunt-mice. Just another costumed actor in a mixed-message presentation of all that Christmas means in Australia.

For Christians of course, Jesus is the reason for the season. The main thing.  Santa, gifts, family etc, they come as secondary considerations (important, celebrated, fun, valued, but still secondary).

For our nation, as we move from being a kind-of-christian society to a mixed, multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, kind-of-secular state, it seemed to me that this Christmas parade was a bit of a metaphor for what’s going on.

A bit of everything, maybe no real connected, articulated meta-story being told?

And I wonder if the presence of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the animals, sheep and wise-men in this whole big mess raises some questions for the Christian church.

Does it (do we) just want to be one more dressed-up set of actors in the midst of a whole parade? A bit part in the whole confusing story of what it means to be Australian, human, created, community in the 21st century?  Any particular message we might have to share…does it just get lost in the mumbling?

Or is it more important in this time and place to stand out, to be distinctively different, sure and certain of what we claim to believe, who we claim to follow? Should we refuse to participate in the parade at all?

And if we do, does this sanitised, commercialised, feel-good image of the beautiful baby, silent-night, well-dressed shepherd thing kind of inoculate the world against any real power of the Jesus story?

For it is a scandal, this story. Here is the creator of the universe, this God who is all knowing, all powerful, come to life as a helpless, crying, poo-ing baby, spending his first night in an animal’s feed-trough to a teenaged mother and recently-contemplating-divorce father.

This child who would spend his life counter to every human expectation of the son of God, eschewing wealth, power, privilege, refusing to live into the expectations of those around him.

Who would claim time and again that true humanity stands with the powerless, heals the sick, hugs the unhuggable, loves the unlovable, frees the unfree-able, knows the unknowable.

This child-to-become-man whose unremarkable beginning and completely localised life, unknown more than 100 miles from his birth-place would spark generations of debate, discussion, passion, compassion, grace and controversy the world over.

Maybe after all, his place is here, easily-lost in the midst of this Christmas parade of options, one helpless baby in a sea of hundreds of singers, actors and dancers, unable to convey any message beyond love and total dependence.

Maybe it’s a reminder, that even if we forget sometimes, God is in all things, all times, all places. Sometimes easily missed, for sure, but there nonetheless.

In the midst of your Christmas, as you tip-toe between wrapping paper, torn-apart bon-bons, plates of half-eaten prawns, sleeping uncles, half-built Lego and squabbling children, may you notice the anonymous baby in the midst of the parade.

May you ponder his place in the drama of Christmas.

And his place in your life.

Merry Christmas.

the life of the international athlete ;)

Have you heard the one about the lawyer, the architect, the social worker, the restaurateur and the minister?

Sounds like it would be a terrible joke to me!  But that’s the mob with which I travelled to New Zealand recently for my first tilt at being an international athlete.

We were making the trip to NZ to ride in the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge  – a weekend cycling festival that draws in over 8000 entries for a variety of events. The majority, like the five of us, were there for the “Solo” – a 154km circumnavigation of the stunning Lake Taupo.

In the field of somewhere between 4000 and 5000 “Solo” riders is everything from semi-professional to barely prepared, from bikes with price tags that would make your eyes water, to K-Mart quality mountain bikes.  It’s not a race, but a challenge (yeah….right!).

For some the challenge is to beat a personal best time, for others to beat their mates.

For some it’s an endurance event. A very small group go out to complete 2, 4 or a staggering 8 laps of the 154km course.  There are shorter (family friendly) rides too, along with relays and some spectacular mountain bike events.

For many, and for most of our group this is true, the challenge was to complete the Solo course and enjoy the experience.

We were at the ride as a celebration of my brother Paul’s 40th birthday.  Rather than a giant party, it’s becoming more and more common these days (at least in our circle of friends/family) to mark the momentous birthday with a special experience – and because there’s no fun doing something like the Taupo ride with a bunch of strangers (and to make sure he got home in one piece), a few of us joined the expedition.

As our trip to NZ was all about the ride it was a pretty short one – but we did manage to pack in a round of golf at Taupo Golf Club (where the rough was unbelievable, and the golf not much better!) the day before the ride.  And then a hilariously out of control encounter with the concrete luge racing track at Rotorua Skyline the day after. Less said about that the better in case word gets back to them of our shenanigans and we get blacklisted!

The ride, of course, was the main event.  It was hilly (somewhere around 2000m of climbing over the course) and made all the more difficult by what started as a stiff breeze and got steadily stronger as the day went on.

Most frustratingly, the wind backed around over the course of the day, meaning that for 90% of the ride we either had a headwind, or a nasty cross-wind. Neither is much fun to ride in! A little rain occasionally wasn’t too much to worry about and temperatures were pretty nice for cycling all day – hovering between 15 and 20 C.

Weather aside, it was a wonderful experience to ride with more than 4000 other cyclists, to find groups in which to draft, hide, lead and chat, to meet and talk with so many cyclists from every corner of NZ and a few other places further afield (about 300 Aussies for example).

We tried to set a realistic pace and all got through the ride pretty comfortably in the end. Paul suffered a couple of punctures which slowed him a little, and Tony some drive-train issues on the downhill sections – but otherwise we were trouble free.

The scenery was beautiful, our loop taking us through lush green pastures, rolling hills, lovely forest and the stunning lake-side drive along the southern edge of the lake.

View from the 92km rest stop looking over Lake Taupo

There was plenty of climbing to do, most of it in the first 90km, but nothing too serious. Grades were moderate and the pace comfortable enough. The notorious Hatepe Hill at the 130km mark turned out to be pretty manageable – with our only tailwind of the day helping us up the long grind.

Tucking into a group and blasting along the rare flats at around 40kmh was definitely a highlight, along with some very fast descending. My speedo registered a top of 70km/h during the ride. For a proper cyclist that’s unremarkable, but for me….let’s just say I knew I was alive!

Our group split up a little over the course of the day. Dug is much faster than the rest of us so set off early in one of the fast groups. The rest started together but splintered a little on the first 12km (pretty much all uphill!) section.  And then Paul’s second puncture split us again so we all came in solo. Dug hit the 154km in around 4hrs 48 mins, myself 6.26, Simon 6.29, Paul 6.34 and Tony 7.04.

I couldn’t have been happier with my own ride. I felt good all day and did plenty of leading as well as some following and hiding out of the wind. There were some fast groups that we couldn’t quite hang on to, but not for want of trying!

I hadn’t cranked out huge rides in training (my longest training ride went around 90km) but I spend plenty of time lapping Mt Cootha and a couple of trips over to Mt Gravatt…and that really helped. I had no trouble with the hills and felt very strong on the flats.  Maybe it helps that I do most of my training rides solo, with no group to tuck in behind…who knows.  A freshen up of the bike (Giant Defy 3) with some new light/fast tyres definitely sped things along as well.

It should be said that the last 20 km was awful.  Gusty, nasty side winds, narrow road, lots of traffic and then a turn into a blunt headwind for most of the last 3-4 km just plain hurt.  It would have been nice to ride in with the sun shining and a gentle breeze at our backs for that last half-hour…but not to be!

So the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 154km Solo ride is done and dusted.

Would we do it again?  Absolutely.

Will we actually do it again? Who knows.

If you’re a cyclist, put this ride on your list as a fantastic experience and a very well organised event.

And besides, there’s nothing quite like being an international athlete.

PS: Paul, in case you read this. There is no way, not now, not in 2015 that I am riding the Victorian Three Peaks ride.  4000m of climbing over 210km in a single day? I hope you enjoy it!

9 people who write

I have a few friends (and family) who write what I think are the most interesting things. You should go for a visit and see if they are your style. Here’s some of my favourites:

wednesday wonderings – gathering grace in the everyday:  Caroline has been living in Cambodia for years now, and just as she prepares to return to Australia, I discover this quite lovely, thoughtful (and thought-provoking) collection of stories and observations from her time there. I wish I had known of it sooner, and I hope Caroline continues to write with a kind of cross-cultural eye when she returns.

katie is travelling:  Katie is the kind of interesting, funny, bang-on writer I wish i was.  Mostly she writes stories here from the road (which might be anywhere in the world) and you will laugh and cry with her – guaranteed.  She’s also about to release her first book and I’ll be plugging it when it’s out and about.

matt guyatt golf:  really interesting insight into the life of a pro athlete. Last Sunday I watched on at the Australian PGA Championship as Matt’s day went pear shaped in full public view. 4am the next day he is on a plane to the next tournament – no time to lick wounds, recover or process.  Glamorous? Not so much.  Check in for Matt’s stories from life on tour.

passing phase: Tracey started writing almost as therapy while figuring out how to be mum to a pair of rambunctious twins (that’s my words from the outside, not Tracey’s). Passing Phase is growing as the boys grow and now explores all sorts of ideas. Topics like parenting and family, disadvantage, politics and education all feature regularly.  I like it most when Tracey rages. There’s nothing quite look a good, well written vent.

scott warner photography: Scott is awesome with words, but he’s building a new kind of way to share life with photos. Check out some stunning images from south east Queensland and beyond.

the kids inheritance: my folks are grey nomads, wandering around Australia in their caravan, spending my inheritance. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Mum is the writer and a growing photographer, stories filled with fascinating detail about all sorts of places that I might never visit.

weave and wonder: it’s kind of photoblog, meets writing blog, meets small business. Weave and Wonder is both Melissa’s child-focussed art project/business and a place where she connects art, colour, pattern and rhythms of life. Also a prolific and quite delightful instagrammer here if instagram is your style.

hold this space: Cheryl writes what I like to think of as “dispatches from the edge”.  From the edge of faith. From the edge of society. From places many of us don’t visit.  And she writes so poetically I can almost (almost) forget I’m being pushed and challenged by the experiences behind the words.

riley says:  Not only because I’m the proud dad of 11 y/old Riley, but because she writes funny and interesting stories and poems from her vivid imagination. Her ode to Tasmania’s incomparable Maria Island is a ripper.

I hope you take a few minutes to visit some or all of these. They’re fascinating sites in their own right, but written by people who I know to be truly what the pages present.

new world….new tricks

Photo 18-10-13 3 43 09 PMThere I sat in the main lounge at Canberra airport, tired after a long week and ready to head for Brisbane and home.

And in wandered four snappily dressed people, a heap of music and sound gear on their trolley, and started unloading just behind us.

The Griffyn Ensemble – Canberra’s Best Chamber Music Foursome” read the banner as they erected it, and started setting up keyboard, microphones, speaker and music stands in what must be just about the most unlikely setting for such a group.

They slowly set themselves, tuning instruments, and completing little sounds checks as they set and reset volume and listened carefully for the acoustics in this relatively new airport lounge.

It seemed they hadn’t played there before as they experimented with different settings, looking for the perfect combination of sound in an unfamiliar, and unusual setting.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard chamber music live on a Friday afternoon in a busy airport terminal.

What I appreciated about the experience was watching this group bring their skills, gifts, instruments and equipment to a completely new setting.

It seemed experimental, unfamiliar and a challenge for the group (though it looked to be an challenge they were enjoying).

I couldn’t help thinking about other aspects of my life where those same experiences are under-way.

In the church I work with we are constantly wrestling with how to bring ancient rhythms and patterns, treasured gifts and approaches and apply them in a whole new world that is opening up around all of us.

The challenges of this new time and place are profound and unique – just as I imagine playing chamber music in an airport hall must be.

Sometimes we find it all a bit too hard, all but giving in to the temptation to pack up our instruments and head for more familiar territory.

But you know what? The gentle sounds of that soft and somewhat unusual music filled the room, and suddenly it seemed right and natural.

I don’t know whose idea it was, but I was glad for the Griffyn Ensemble that afternoon, just as I am glad every time I see someone experimenting, trying old things in new places, or even new things in old places.

My prayer for the church is the spirit of creativity, of boldness, of risk taking as it seeks to relate to a new and different world.

It might take us a while as we tune instruments, check the volume and get used to a new and unknown acoustic.

But the sweet music of grace, compassion and gospel can just as readily fill the room, wherever we find ourselves – if only we can find the courage and willingness to trust our giftedness…and try.

you are a machine!

Recently I was in Canberra for work, staying with a friend in the foothills of Mt Taylor, to the city’s south.

With my battle against middle age continuing, I packed the running shoes, intending to get out for an early morning run before each day’s conference gathering got under-way.

My host advised a left turn from his driveway and then head up towards Mt Taylor to pick up a flat walking trail that runs all the way around the bottom of the mountain with quiet countryside and spectacular views – and a distance of around 5k or so.  Perfect.

So I headed out, turned left into the park and started up the 2-300m straight uphill section (flat!) to the walking trail.  As I huffed and puffed my way up the hill, a young bloke came around the corner at the top and headed down the trail toward me.

As we passed, him strolling downhill, me doing a good impression of a man about to have a heart attack, he spoke to me:

“Great work! You are a machine!”

I puffed my way up, and he was gone.  Never seen him before, unlikely to ever see him again.

Those words were powerful, just as I felt like slowing to a walk I found a little extra energy to complete the last of the climb to the trail.

A machine!

Now honest truth be told, I would have looked anything but.  Hunched over, almost shuffling, breathing hard, mismatched running cclothes, ill-fitting old cap.

Some machine….

But, days later, I still feel a little burst of energy when I think of his words.

They cost him nothing to utter. Just a couple of words to a complete stranger.

Such is the power of encouragement.

Further on in the run I nodded hello to a couple of retired blokes out walking their dogs. Later as I looped around the mountain I came upon them again, this time a more friendly greeting exchanged between us all.

Day two and and I ran Mt Taylor once more. How could I not? I was a machine!

Of course I saw those two same gents and their pair of pooches, out for their morning walk, and the greeting was once again a little more friendly as I continued on my way.

And then one final time as I neared my last stretch, almost out on my feet with the hills in my legs (flat!), I ran into that same pair, chatting animatedly, walking their dogs.  They looked up, saw me coming and one spoke aloud to his friend, and to me:

“Aha, we know this guy, he’s the runner! Keep it up, you are doing awesome!”

I returned the greeting, we chatted momentarily as I passed, and that was that.

From somewhere came the energy to finish out that run, standing just a little taller, striding out just a little longer.

Words are free.

But they are also priceless.

Of course just as easily words can hurt and drag down, but on this occasion, these occasions, two different people offered freely the gift of encouragement to a stranger. Words not deserved, or earned, and with nothing to be earned in return by the giver…..but given anyway, given generously.

And not only did I run a little longer and better as a result, but resolved to pass on words of encouragement wherever I can, to friend or stranger.

Encouragement might just be the gift that keeps on giving.

And it’s free.

Get better than that.