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The Amazing Gift That Is The Fresh Chance

The Amazing Gift That Is The Fresh Chance

Another new moon, another first of the month, another Monday.

All traditionally associated with a new opportunity. A chance for a fresh start – and don’t we all need those from time to time…

Today is also my eldest son’s 32
nd birthday. I haven’t seen him for many years. The rift between us is huge, and I hope not unbreachable. One day we will both need to take a big breath, place trust in other and try for a new start. I hope that day comes.

This morning I am sitting in the gym car park waiting for the place to open. I have a session with my personal trainer then an hour in the pool. Having felt stale for a couple of weeks I am giving the training a shake up. Hence Craig the PT who is whipping me into shape.

I have also stopped using my Ironman coach as I have been very irritating to teach lately. So caught up with work and training and making my relationship whole that I haven’t reported to him as agreed. Silly of me to waste my money, his skills and experience at a time when I simply can’t make any more time to report on what I am up to. So I am going to have to slow down, reflect, decide whether or not to patch the coach relationship – which is far less important than the one with my son and my partner. Meantime make the best of my new start.

It’s cold this morning; would have been nice to stay snuggled in bed, but new beginnings don’t happen without effort and commitment and imagination.

So I will take a big breath, clear my mind of recent past experiences and plunge anew into the amazing gift that is the fresh chance.


My Gift of Wakefulness

My Gift of Wakefulness

It’s three in the morning – the alarm is due to ring in an hour and a quarter but my body clock is running ahead of time. Over the past three weeks I consistently waken well before I need to and can’t get back to sleep. What to do with this gift of wakefulness? Yesterday I drove to a local beach with the intention of running for an hour before going to my regular gym training session. I’d never been to this beach in the dark. It was high tide and the sea lapped at the base of the grassy bank that edged it. The footpath was irregular and the light not good enough to allow me to feel sure-footed and safe. I drove instead to the gym and spent forty minutes in the car park with my laptop watching a DVD on how to swim more efficiently.

Staying in bed and struggling to sleep again is not an option. My restlessness disturbs my partner who then lies awake next to me. If I stay in the house my toy poodle wakes and cries to come inside and start her day. The only way to make useful my time is to leave home and get some exercise or writing done. This morning I am again in the car park of the gym, writing some blogs and updating my training diary. This afternoon I pick up my bike from the shop where it is being serviced, so tomorrow in the early hours I will ride. The streets feel safer in the early morn as traffic is minimal.
Ironman training doesn’t allow polite, normal hours. My day starts well before the alarm goes off. Todaymy training is:

0400 update training diary, plan the next week.
Drive 30 minutes to gym.
0500 plyometrics 30 minutes
0530 lower body weights and resistance exercises 30 minutes
0600 RPM class (exercise bike) 50 minutes
0650 Core exercises 15 minutes
0705 leave for work.
1300 (lunch break) to pool or beach for an hour swim.

At 1800 – 2030h there is specific triathlon training with club. I’m usually too tired for this as the very early starts mean I need to go to bed early.

Tomorrow it’s plyometrics, stretching, lower body weights and a ninety minute swim with an hour on the bike either on the road or the stationary trainer. This is fit around a 60-70 hour working week with every night and weekend on call at the moment. Add in a relatively new relationship with a man with children and it’s obvious I’m busy…

Life’s busy, rewarding, and at times demands more than I feel I can give, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I might not make the podium in Ironman, palliative care doctoring or relationships, but I will work hard at all of them, and reap the rewards of dedication, commitment and endurance.

And one day I’ll sleep all the way until the alarm rings and wake rested.


Deed to Reacclimatise

As many of you know, I am training to do my second Ironman race.

I completed Ironman New Zealand in 2007, and finished fourth to last. At the time I became inspired to do the race (early 2006) I couldn’t swim, hadn’t been on a bike for 22 years and had hip pain when I tried to run. However these small issues did not get me down… I got up at 4 almost every morning, swam, cycled and ran for 16 months and got fit enough to line up with the big guys (and small women) on race day.

All that training on a minimal base meant that when the race was over I had had enough endurance training to last a lifetime… Completely ‘over’ exercise, I sold my bike and wet-suit, hung up the running shoes and went back to being an armchair athlete.

Now four and a half years later I have to start all over again. Or so I thought. I had forgotten about muscle memory, and about the neurological pathways that develop when a body is trained. Remember how to ride a bike? Of course… We can walk away from our bicycle for thirty years, but still recall how to balance on two wheels, how to circle those pedals, and (especially if we have been ‘over the bars’) how to feather the brakes.

Our brains have stored those memories, and it takes little to reactivate those nerve pathways. A few sessions on the bike, and though we have to work to get aerobic fitness and endurance back, the basic movement patterns are working fully again.

The same in the gym. Weight training gives much faster results in someone whose body has once been well muscled. The body ‘remembers’ how to build those muscles, and does so faster than expected. Yoga poses, running drills, bilateral breathing, Bulgarian split squats – if you’ve mastered them once before your body will remember the way to performing them again even after a long lay-off.

So I’m back to 04:15 wake up calls, back to gym workouts, 90 minute swim sessions and long hours on the bike. The muscles remember, the pathways are being etched deeper. I can now recall the deep fatigue but paradoxically energised feeling after mega-workouts. My shape is changing, as are my appetites. And back is the sense that despite the horrors of constant on-call work, non-collegial colleagues, and world disasters, that there is an area of my life where I have control. The life of tri – of try, try, try.

There is such joy in having a plan, in working towards it, and in knowing that my body knows what it needs to do, is remembering what comes next, and if I care for it will take me stepwise to my goal.

Swim, bike, run, rest, eat well, relax. That is the plan. Fun on Ironman day and during the journey to the day is the goal. Training and recovery are the steps that will take me there.

Now I just need to reacclimatise my butt to hours in the saddle. Sadly that pathway seems to have been erased…


People Who Listen

People who Listen, who Encourage, who Challenge

Isn’t it magic to have friends? People who listen, who encourage, who challenge us and keep us true.

Vaughan and I had several friends over for dinner last night – two nurses, a police inspector, a director of television documentaries and an art teacher at a local high school.

We drank wine, ate beef stew with garden salad – not a common combination but in tune with the changing season. After a very warm start to autumn the cold is beginning to bite.

We broke bread together, supped wine and listened to one another. All left the table full of food and emptied of stress. In a world of fear and disaster and want we can each find peace one table-full at a time.

Let’s eat.


Enjoy The Changes

Progression Enjoy The Changes

One of the things I find most difficult about training is the lack of linear progression. Even without overtraining it is in the nature of physical change that improvement happens faster some times and slower others.

Swimming is where I notice it most.  One day I can swim easy for 2000 metres then do some short sharp bursts, speed drills and kicking before leaving the pool refreshed and very pleased with my progress.  Other days I leave feeling demoralised because a kilometre swim felt just too hard, and my rotation didn’t feel right, and I struggled with coordination while the other swimmers seemed to be having a far easier time of it.

Keeping a training diary helps keep these blips in perspective.  Often after a period of slow gain there comes a burst of improvement where gains made seem enormous.  When I first started swimming again after a gap of four years I could barely swim 25 metres without feeling like my lungs would burst. Three weeks later I diairised my great delight at swimming 400 metres without stopping.  Wow!  Being able to return to my training log and recall the feeling that I could do ANYTHING having made such a great improvement helps me keep things in perspective when my performance seems stagnant.

Evolution of fitness, shape and ability in all fields comes in leaps and bounds, and is not the steady, ever- forward progression that we would like to see. To work through the hard times takes courage, commitment and the ability to see the big picture.

Keep a diary.

Review it often.

See how far you have come.

And enjoy the changes. They make all the hard work worthwhile.  


Fuelling better

I used to drive a ratty old car ... a Vauxhall Chevette which was almost as old as I at the time.

It got me to work as a doctor, and puttered up hills under duress. As we were often the slowest vehicle on the road I spent a lot of time hugging the kerb, pulling as far left as I could (I live in New Zealand) to let the stronger, bigger, faster cars go by.  Having owned dogs I recognised the position we took as subservient, non threatening, docile.  I didn’t want to be on the wrong end of road rage.

Now I drive a Mercedes, sleek and powerful.  We drive confidently, quickly, the bigger engine purrs rather than putters, and I don’t hug the kerbs any more.  It feels good...

In my other life, as a triathlete, I am returning to training after a four year hiatus.  Four years ago I swam confidently, back and forth in the lanes, keeping up with most of the other athletes.   My engine, well trained and maintained meant I didn’t have to pull over to let the fast kids past.

Four years of minimal body maintenance have taken their toll. I swim in the slow lane, to the far left, sometimes banging into the wall in my willingness to let the fast people go by.  My aerobic (engine) capacity is far lower, hence the training much slower than I wish it to be.

But things are changing. I am fuelling better, and slowly creeping the kilometres and speed up.  This time with my newly rehauled engine I will continue to train.  Meantime, I will slowly ease my way from the left of the slow lane to the middle. From the slow lane to the medium one, and stepwise I will get myself to the place I want to be ... crossing the finish line of Ironman New Zealand in a better time than I managed in 2012.

Say ‘hi’ if you see me creeping along in the pool or on the road one day.  And wish me well on my way to success.



To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.  Saint Augustine

I must say, I agree with Augustine. Moderation is hard.

I have got where I have in life by sustaining a single focus, often over long periods, and often at the expense of other, competing interests. It may not surprise that I have been married more than once – lost the same 20 kg over and over again. When the focus on daily life is subsumed to the newest obsession, life might fall by the wayside.

In 2012, I line up for my second Ironman race. The race is 343 days away today, but already I am out the door at 4.30 each morning to swim, bike, run and gym my way to the start line. The focus, dedication and hard work are essential – without them I may as well withdraw my entry fee and sit on the couch. This time though I will be kinder to my workmates, kinder to my partner, and kinder to myself.

Somewhere, deep inside, I must find moderation, take a broader outlook and keep the rest of my life on track as I pursue my dream.

Moderate does not mean mediocre – it means excelling in more than one area at once.

That is my aim for the rest of my life.

How do the rest of you cope with moderation?




I had the strangest phone call a month ago.

A cousin phoned ... I hadn’t heard from him in years ... to tell me that a woman I’d never met had found my mother’s headstone under weeds in her garden.  The woman (Carol) had gone through the telephone book looking for anyone with the surname Roche so she could return the stone to someone who knew the person commemorated on it.

Mum ... Pamela Joan Roche died in 1976, leaving 10, 12 and 14 year old daughters. Her ashes were buried in a cemetery fifty kilometres from Carol’s house. As far as I knew, her grave had not been violated.

A funny thing, while it was just a headstone it felt like a piece of my mother. My sisters and I have no material keepsakes of mum. She is in us in varying degrees. My sister Tracey has her ability to see the good in everyone, to forgive and forget. Shelley looks physically the most like mum, who left nothing but her genes to us. No letters, few photographs. No clothes, furniture, house, vehicles. No jewellery, no books. I am not much like her at all, except in a reckless early life and a tendency to try all the things I was warned away from at least once. These corporeal reminders are all we have.  On her death she was otherwise effectively erased from the physical world.

And now this, a concrete reminder, something to hold onto, was found in a stranger’s garden. Bizarre…

I phoned Carol. Some detective work showed the headstone hadn’t been stolen, but forgotten by mum’s sister who had it removed and a new, less weathered version made. When she moved house she forgot to take the old headstone with her, and it remained, lost in the overgrowth till a gardener found it and tracked down someone who would retrieve it and love it again.

Now I have something tangible, solid, which has both my mother’s, sisters’ and my name on it. It will sit for a while in my garden and then travel to stay with each of my sisters in turn.

Long bereft we will have something solid, tangible that brings her back, in the smallest and strangest of ways to us.


People Power

People Power

How powerless we can feel when we stand alone.

How rare it is to see one person prevail against alone against a bully, a despot, a corrupt corporation or an unjust law. So rare, in fact, that we write books and movies about their success, and turn them into folk heroes.

The true power of people is best seen through cooperation, working together.  Recent events in the Middle East have shown what concentrated people power can achieve.  Regimes that seemed unending have wavered; some have fallen while others teeter on the brink.

When one person cries aloud about injustice their voice can be shouted down. When a hundred, a thousand, a million people stand together even high powered weapons cannot still their voice. The world stops and listens. Change shuffles in.

When we see injustice let us find our communal voice.

Let us stand together.

Let us make our world a better place for all.

Let people power reign.

Living Each Moment

I have dreams and plans and goals, and they have driven my life forwards.

Without these dreams, these goals I may not have achieved the many things I have: studying to become a doctor, publishing a couple of books, finishing an Ironman. The goal somewhere out in the future became the thing to focus upon, to strive towards, to hold like a beacon before me. I wanted children, then I wanted them grown up.

I yearned for marriage, then later divorce – more than once. As the mirage future took up my time I forgot to truly live in the present – the only real moments in a life.

My books were autobiographical – while writing and promoting them my gaze turned back in time. The long-cold past, unchangeable, unforgiving, stared back. Old hurts were reopened, long forgotten slights recalled and rekindled. The present took on the stain of long ago. It became difficult to feel the heat of the sun, as yesterday’s cloud enveloped me. The past is no place to waste our days.

Now I work in Hospice, caring for the dying. There’s nothing quite like a terminal diagnosis to focus the mind. Through this work I am learning to live each moment, to savour every second, each sacred sensation, to truly be present to the only time that should matter – the here and now.

This doesn’t mean abandoning dreams, looking forward to a hoped-for future. Nor does it mean abandoning memory, recalling our stories, assessing our past experience. It simply means really living each moment, paying attention to the here and now.

The fluffy toy poodle is licking my arm and face as I write this blog; her breath smells of old bones. I can hear my partner’s children watching the Three Amigos on television, there is a cool salt breeze off the sea that flicks the bedroom curtain across my line of sight.

This is now. This is true sensation. THIS is living.

Vicarious Trauma

Vicarious Trauma

Vicarious trauma is a condition mostly affecting humanitarian workers who empathise with the plight of people who are hurting, and who feel a commitment or responsibility to help them.

Nurses, doctors, counsellors, trauma workers are at risk of vicarious trauma. Global media cover natural disasters, war and suffering round the clock these days, with continuous reporting from the front line of each new horror. With this saturation coverage many others will begin to suffer the trauma of daily exposure to the agonies and suffering in the world.

When the twin towers burned, then fell, millions across the globe watched in horror and despair. In Hurricane Katrina who can forget the open anguish of the displaced, bereaved population. Haiti, the BP oil spill, the Queensland and Pakistan floods. Civil war in Port-au-Prince, massacre in Libya broadcast 24/7, beamed into our homes as we sit and worry, and suffer as well. Our suffering nowhere near as great as those affected, but multiplied by every other disaster we are fed, night after night.

The Christchurch earthquake brought the image of two teens who had just been told their mother was unlikely to be rescued from a collapsed and smouldering building. The raw pain, overwhelming emotion and despair caught on film made its way round the world. We who could do nothing cried with the kids. Our pain burned, we were unable to ease their suffering at all, but somehow that image on our retinas made us feel we should try.

Now Japan. A horrendous earthquake and tsunami, live-coveraged on TV sets and monitors world wide. Compelling, compulsive, wall-to-wall reporting of the suffering, the suffering.Earthquakes, tsunami, hurricanes and floods have always been a part of life on our small blue planet. What differs now is our increasing exposure to live feeds of traumatic events as they happen, in corners of the world our forebears would never have heard of, let alone grieved for.

One of the effects of vicarious trauma is to stop caring, to build protective barriers of indifference to the plight of others. Much better than this is to find ways to cope.

To address the effects of vicarious trauma we need to remember to get away from the trauma. Turn the TV off, or switch channels from the constant newscasts. Play with a child, pat a pet, dig in the garden, remember what we can control and what hurts are within our power to heal, and start there. Reassure our children and ourselves that there are also great joys and triumphs in the world, but that these are rarely given the coverage that tragedy gets.

Seek out joy, renewal and life, and always remember that it’s still a beautiful world.

Importance of Resilience

Two events in New Zealand in the past fortnight have highlighted the importance of resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce forward when the unexpected happens, to see hope in spite of extreme difficulty, and to keep moving, a millimetre, a microsecond, one pedal stroke or shuffling step at a time.

On February 22nd a deadly earthquake struck Christchurch in the middle of the working day. Two fairly modern buildings, weakened by an earlier earthquake crumbled in on themselves entombing hundreds. Our resilience enables us to move forwards, even if it’s on our hands and knees, even if we weep all the way, knowing that somehow we will get through. Read More...

The Creative Penn

In August of 2009, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Joanna Penn, author and producer of The Creative Penn blog and podcast. Her blog, books, and podcasts are highly recommended resources for budding as well as published writers.

The author of two how-to books, she is now publishing her first novel, Pentecost. February 7 is the official launch of Pentecost as an Amazon e-book and I encourage my readers to view her website for more information on the release and her brilliant promotional campaign.

Link to interview and podcast.

Link to The Creative Penn Blog.