Discovery. This is one of the pleasures I get from running. A number of the fantastic discoveries that have come my way I found because I got lost while out on a run. This was exactly what happened to me more than once while out on a few runs during my and my husband’s recent visit to Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland, New Zealand, for my youngest (full) brother’s wedding.
Dunedin: first encounter with the hills
For my first run in Dunedin, I decided not to wander far from the campus grounds of Otago University. I thought the route I chose was mostly flat, until I found myself at the bottom of a steep street (the map did not indicate mounds of any sort). By this time, I had already taken several wrong turns (that is, based on my ill-conceived route) and decided to let my wandering feet lead the way. As a tourist, I should have known that my feet were ignorant of the local environs.
My problem with running uphill is not the uphill part but the downhill part. I do not like going downhill unless my feet are strapped to a pair of skis. It takes major efforts to keep my knees from collapsing while running downhill. Hence at the first inclined road I encountered, I walked most of the way down. Luckily, the stretch was not that long. Unluckily, I decided to take another turn that led me to another but longer rise and had to do that uphill-downhill routine all over again. When I returned to the motel, I definitely did a little more research on a more suitable (in short, flat) route for my next outing the following morning.
On the third morning, a very wet and cold morning, I took a different route, got lost again, and ended up at the Botanic Gardens. Here I ran into the Dunedin Parkrun runners.
Since I failed to do any prior research on running clubs or scheduled runs in Dunedin, I did not even know this club existed. Apparently, I just missed the start by a minute or two. In this regard, I take this opportunity to apologize to the runners whose path I blocked when I stood in their way like a deer caught in the headlights. I hope I did not negatively affect anyone’s timed run.
The organizers were kind enough to explain the Dunedin Parkrun and let me tag along. The run consisted of two rounds on flat ground, and two long rounds on steep trails. I thought that the steep trails would not be that different from the steep streets I had encountered the other day, and decided to join in. Hah! Foolish, foolish me. The uphill trails, which seemed endless, were almost vertical, or so they seemed to my dismayed legs. My legs were screaming expletives, my lungs were on the verge of exploding, and my head was getting foggy and starting to float (and I’m sure it was not due to a hangover from the wedding reception the night before). Although I did not want to be defeated by the Dunedin trails, I most decidedly decided to walk part of the route.
After the first round on the trails, I followed an incredibly fast young boy run to the finish line, only to find out that I had to do the trails one more time. The shock of the vertical climb must have addled my brain because I knew that I had to do two rounds of the trails – the Parkrun volunteers told me when I started. Hence, I went back up. This time, I had more walking breaks.
When I was done, I was so relieved it was all over. But, although it was not an easy run, it was incredibly exhilarating.
Did I mention that Parkruns are only 5 kilometer runs? The Dunedin one felt so much longer.
Have you heard of Parkruns? I certainly had not before that particular morning. Parkruns are worldwide community running events. You can check this website < http://www.parkrun.com/> for more information. The Dunedin Parkrun volunteers I met were wonderful. Cheers to one particular older male runner who cheered every runner he passed. I met another runner at the coffee shop inside the garden who was really, really friendly. If you happen to be in Dunedin and want to go out for a Saturday run, join the Dunedin Parkrunners. They meet at the Botanic Gardens every Saturday at 9 am.
After the steep trails of Dunedin’s Botanic Gardens, Christchurch was delightfully flat. I followed part of the Avon River and then ran through North Hagley Park. I loved this run because of the tree cover and non-asphalt running paths (even if muddy from the light morning rain). I wish my run was more eventful but I was happy to settle for uneventful this time.
I would have wanted to run through the city center, especially around the areas close to the tram route, and enjoy the public and street artwork but our two-night stay (with a morning flight to Auckland on the second morning) did not permit this.
Auckland: More hills
My husband and I stayed for a few days with the newlyweds in Auckland. Torrential rain with strong gusts of wind one morning and oversleeping on another morning limited my run in Auckland to one. Guess what? I managed to get lost (again) and worse encountered a number of steep streets.
What happened that time? Well, my brother’s neighborhood was not built on a grid system. What appeared to be parallel streets were not. A number of long, meandering roads led to cul-de-sacs. Some of these roads, I found out the hard way, looked deceivingly flat from the main road, only to descend towards a dead end, which meant that I had to run back up. While some had “no exit” signs, others had none. At one point, I was ready to call my brother to pick me up.
On that morning, the sun was out and the temperature was up, unlike during the Dunedin and Christchurch runs. I usually welcome dry, sunny weather but if I were to run uphill (especially if I’m wearing a long-sleeved, thick running shirt and thick compression pants), then please let it be on a cold day.
I did not remotely come close to the beach although I saw glimpses of it. The vista from the top, looking down towards the water and beach communities and ahead towards mountains, was stunning. I also saw real estate which were unmistakably expensive. I passed by several streets full of parked cars. I could swear that in these quiet neighborhoods, there were far more cars than people.
Joys of running
Running while vacationing discourages me from overindulging, which in turn keeps those unwanted pounds from creeping up on me while I’m having a good time. I certainly do not want to let my runs go to waste by eating way too much. Less indulgence, which indulgence usually involves food high in carbohydrates but almost zero in nutrition (think potato chips), and maintaining an exercise regime keep my blood glucose in check. Running usually lets me forget that I have a chronic condition called Type 2 diabetes.
Running is a fantastic way of getting to know a city. Despite grumbling about getting lost and running hilly terrains, I enjoyed my running tours of New Zealand’s cities. Running (and walking for that matter) through a city or a town shows you its faces which you will normally miss if you are in a car or a bus, even if it means wandering aimlessly sometimes. I saw sights, met people and experienced sides of New Zealand that I would not otherwise have had, had I not been out running.
Running makes you feel like you are part of the community, and hopefully the people you meet think similarly. When I ran into the Parkrun guys, not only did we talk about my visit and Japan, we also shared our passion for running. This only enhanced the positive opinion of New Zealand which I formed while I was still on the plane (Air New Zealand).
I do not have to exchange words with other runners to feel a sense of camaraderie. When I see other runners, most of the time we exchange a nod of acknowledgment that we dragged ourselves from our beds that morning, or that we took some time from lunch break, or that we managed to detach our bums from the sofa after an exhausting day at the office, or that we braved appalling weather, to run. Even if I run alone, I know that I am part of a much larger global community of runners wherever I go.
Kinda like diabetes. Although only I can go through the challenges and problems of diabetes that I face, I also belong to a wider community of diabetics all over the world and have family and friends who care.
I’m never alone.