Tag Archives: Reflections

Great North Walk: Post script from Stockton Beach

My footsteps in the sand in Awabakal lands

My footsteps in the sand in Awabakal lands

Time of writing: 8:00pm 14 July

As I lay here in my tent for my final night before returning home, I can’t help but look back on the highlights of the past two weeks. It already seems so far away; it’s odd how that happens.

I think the thing that’s touched me most are the people I’ve met along the way:

  • the artist lady and her children who reminded me to keep an eye out for animals and birds
  • the fitness walkers in Lane Cove who wished me well
  • the father with his children who kept me company that first day when I was quite anxious about whether I’d make it to the finish
  • the Duke of Edinborough group who welcomed me around their campfire
  • the Christian missionaries who left me with such a sense of peace
  • the cyclist who took me to water
  • the Scout leader who shared a yarn with me when I was lonely
  • the teenage boy who insisted I take $3 in change because he thought what I was doing in taking on the GNW was inspiring (I am going to donate the money towards my Cycling for Hope challenge)
  • the wounded warrior camped next to me at Stockton Beach who gave so much for my freedom (I hope he finds peace for he is only my age but has paid a heavy physical and emotional price)
  • the man camped on the other side of me who I only met tonight but who offered me a lift to the airport (I politely declined because I have to leave early in the morning)
  • all the other people who’ve taken the time to stop and chat as our paths have crossed.

The journey has been intensely physical but also deeply spiritual. Everyday I have spoken to the elders past to tell them why I was traveling through their land and to offer my respect. Everyday I made time for prayer. Today I bought some simple prayer cards from a church of another denomination from mine. I spoke with the good people there and they gave me an extra card: A Blessing for Travelers. I will keep the prayer in my heart and will also wish it on others who take a journey on or off the road:

Loving and gracious God, you always show mercy to those who love you, and you are never far away from those who seek you.

Remain with your servants as they travel far from home, and guide their way by the light of your Word.

Shelter them with your protection by day, given them the light of your grace by night, and as their companion on their journey, bring them to their destination in safety.

May they see your face in everyone they meet, and know the depth of your love on every road they walk.

At the end of their journey, may they return home once again with renewed faith and hearts full of joy.

On this journey I learned that if I just put one foot in front of the other and don’t give up, then, even with a heavy load and rest stops, I will get to my destination. It might not go according to plan and plans might change. But that’s just par for the course. And the most magical moments occur when my heard is open to hear what my ears cannot.

The End

(for the Great North Walk story)

Total: 16km walking around Newcastle over two days


Mother and son road cycle

Mother and son by Andrew Gills
Mother and son, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

It didn’t take much to convince Mum to come riding with me this morning. She enjoys a morning cruise as much as I do. Actually, she’s up for just about any adventure that comes along; so long as it doesn’t involve running 50km.

That’s something I’m grateful for: that my parents are outdoors people. I can’t remember a time when they didn’t take me cycling, bushwalking or camping. As a child, it was normal for us to spend our free time outdoors playing in the sun, rain and wind.

Weekends and holidays were times for camping and exploring; no cotton wool provided. I was still in primary school the first time my family went on a 15km bushwalk and when I was ten years old, Dad took me on a 50km road ride. Being outdoors wasn’t something you planned to do one day; it was just something you got up and did.

I have come to see that the life I live today is heavily influenced by the outdoor experiences of my childhood. And this is why I have recently signed up as a Scout leader; to share the outdoors with the next generation just as my parents shared the outdoors with me. Perhaps one day they will see that getting up before the dawn to walk, run, cycle or paddle is normal and fun.

Mum and I had a lovely ride this morning. Yet another shared experience in the outdoors.

Total: 42.3km road cycle.

2,000km cycled this year!

Image courtesy of Bigjom / Freedigitalphotos.net

There was a time when I didn’t think I’d even pass the 1,000km mark in my cycling mileage this year but this morning I passed the 2,000km mark.

My cycling has definitely evolved this year. Back in January I was cycling to train for triathlons. I was focused on the Kingscliff Olympic distance triathlon with its 40km cycle leg. Through February and March I started focusing more on speed and increasing my distance so that I could complete the 40km cycle leg at the Byron Bay Olympic distance triathlon in May. While I did get faster and fitter on the bike, it was hard work.

As the weather cooled into April and May I switched my attention to my mountain bike as I trained for the Adventure Race Australia. I had a few fun times and gained a lot of new off-road skills. At first, mountain biking was a bit scary because gravel is more slippery than the road but I got the hang of it by the time Adventure Race Australia came around. Then I kept mountain biking in the lead up to the Tre-X Off-Road Duathlon in July.

In July I made the switch from triathlon / duathlon to trail running. I did a few long rides as endurance training for trail running but almost immediately switched all my training to running. I had a few running successes with the 50km Flinders Tour trail run in July and the Perth City to Surf Marathon in August before injuring myself in early September.

Since September I’ve been clocking up the miles on my bikes. I’ve also done my first ever bicycle mechanical maintenance by replacing the chain and cassette on my road bike. I recently joined Audax Australia, a long distance cycling club with which I hope to complete some endurance cycling events. I have also started cycle commuting again after a few years absence.

I now am falling back in love with cycling in the same way I fell back in love with running in July. It’s becoming a way of life again like it used to be. A happy way of life.

Ironically, it was completing the 50km trail run and marathon in July and August that gave me the confidence to teach myself basic bicycle maintenance. And it’s the ability to maintain and repair my bicycle that is giving me the confidence to tackle long rides and to fully embrace cycling as a form of transport.

It’s going to take me a while to get back to running long mileage again. Hopefully that gives me time to find a way to balance my desire to participate in both sports in a way that allows me to stay injury free.

Total cycle today: 12.9km to work + cycle home.

Taking stock of the season to date

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m now 6 months into the 9 month triathlon season and am on 4 days rest. It’s an excellent opportunity to reflect on my season so far to celebrate the goals I have achieved and to work out my plan going into the final third of the season.


I started training on 1 July 2011 after a 14 year absence from triathlon. My goals were simple: to complete one race a month, culminating in a sprint distance event by the end of the season.

In my first session I struggled to swim 200m and run 500m. So I spent the whole month taking baby steps by doing a lot of short swimming sessions combined with run/walk sessions. I didn’t even touch my bike for the entire month. I switched to barefoot running after reading Born to Run because I was struggling with shin splints. The barefoot running slowed me down a bit but my shins stopped hurting too.


I completed my first race in August: the Wivenhoe Dam Sprint Distance race (750m swim / 20km bike / 5km run) on 21 August. I had intended to wait until October to race a 400m swim / 15km bike / 4km run event at Raby Bay but when the Wivenhoe Dam race was announced I impulsively entered . At the time I lodged my entry, I was still only able to swim 400m in 50m lengths and run 3km at about 6:00 pace. I still hadn’t cycled in over 2 years.

My goal for the Wivenhoe Dam triathlon was simply to make it to the finish line. By race day I had managed one 750m swim, one 5km run and one 15km cycle in training.

It was a cold winter’s day (maximum temperature was 21’C) with blustering winds and drizzling rain. The official water temperature was 19’C but the ambulance also tested it and found it was 16’C. I didn’t have a wetsuit. While there were many rescues and withdrawals, I completed the 750m swim in 15:56. It was cold, wet and slippery on the bike course but I felt buoyant just to be out there competing. I completed the hilly 20km course in 44:51. I finished with the 5km run, which I completed in 24:10. My total time was 1:24:59.


On the back of my success at Wivenhoe in August, I entered the back-to-back Rainbow Beach Triathlon. I was now regularly covering the sprint distances in training and was still doing my running training barefoot.

The Rainbow Beach race was held on 3 & 4 September. The Saturday we raced at 3pm and Sunday we raced at 9am. The swim was an ocean swim with small swell (too small for surfing) and a strong northerly sweep (enough to cause us to start about 100m south of the first turning buoy). I enjoyed the 750m swim and came out of the water in the lead group on both days with times of 15:31 and 13:53 respectively. The bike course was a flat but windy out and back. The tail wind was phenomenal but the head wind punishing. On the second day I broke a toe strap, which slowed me down a little. My times for each 20km bike were: 39:15 and 40:28. The run took us up a steep hill but the views over the ocean coming back down were stunning. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of the run and felt strong both days. My times for each 5km run were: 24:37 and 25:16. My total times were: 1:15:31 and 1:1938. It was a big improvement on Wivenhoe.

I also joined a running club in September – the Brisbane Bayside Runners and Walkers. This fantastic group of people meet every Saturday morning for a 7km run, with a 5km time trial on the last Saturday of every month. It was through this group that I started regularly going out for long runs, increasing my distances significantly in a fun social setting.


I traveled to Agnes Water, 6 hours north of my home for a sprint distance triathlon on 2 October. The swim was a 2-lap ocean swim followed by solid bike and run courses. I don’t have split times for the event but completed the 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run in a total of 1:11:33. I was absolutely astounded by this time because it was a vast improvement on my first race just two months earlier.

Throughout October I started to increase my running and cycling but decrease my swimming training until I was swimming less than 3 times a month. Given that the bike and run are my weak legs it was a good move for me. And the early morning daylight gave me plenty of opportunity to train.

I changed my season goal by deciding to enter the Byron Bay Triathlon in May – an Olympic Distance event.


4 November saw me again travel to Rainbow Beach, this time for the Rainbow Beach Ultra Marathon Trail Run (45km). The furthest I’d ever run in training prior to the event was 15km, which I had run just once, two weeks before the event. I hydrated, ate and slept well the week before the event. I decided to run barefoot along the trails and beach, and to walk up the steep hills. My goal for the event was to make the cut-off so that I could run up to the Double Island Point lighthouse. I didn’t have any specific time goal for completing the event. I made it to the lighthouse and then to the finish line in 7:30. This included about 20km of beach running at king high tide and 500m wading waist-deep through a lagoon.

For the rest of November I worked on increasing my running distances and I did some slow 30 and 40km bike rides. I don’t think I swam at all.


I started this blog in December so my training is all recorded. I started the month by completing the Toorbul Triathlon. The event was slightly longer than sprint distance (750m swim, 24km bike, 5km run). I completed the horrible seaweed infested swim in 12:56 but don’t have splits for my bike and run. My total time was 1:25:13.

I was now doing most of my running with the running club and while my speed reduced my endurance and patience improved. The women I was training with were starting to train for a marathon and that meant we were doing lots of longer slower runs. I took some rest through Christmas and entered the Kingsliff Olympic Distance Triathlon for February, bringing my Olympic Distance goals forward by 3 months.


January was a tough training month for me as I tried to refocus after the Christmas holidays. I started doing speed sessions on the bike, which was really fun and also tried to hit some of my longer rides a bit harder. Again I didn’t really do any swimming training. I injured my toe and ankle mid-month and had a few days off to recover before entering the Convicts and Wenches Australia Day Half Marathon on 26 January on the day.

I completed my first half marathon ever in 2:10:57 and ran it all barefoot. It was tough going in hot and humid conditions that reduced many runners (myself included) to walking sections of the course. It took a few days to recover from the effort.

I took up parkour training this month.


This is where I’m at. I just completed the Kingscliff Olympic Distance Triathlon (1,500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run), achieving my goal of going better than 2:30 (I completed in 2:25:53). I surprised myself in the swim and bike, completing them in 20:45 and 1:10:24 respectively but was disappointed with my run (54:42). It’s only a mild disappointment though because I know I gave 110% in every leg of the race and didn’t leave much in the tank after the swim and bike (I thrashed myself in each). I also know that the long slow runs had a lot to do with the slow running speed (I have been training at 6:00 – 6:30 pace).

I’m now taking a few days off before refocusing on the last 3 months of the season and setting new goals because I have already achieved my original goals (completing both a sprint distance and an Olympic distance triathlon).

I’m proud of my achievements, particularly given where I started and that I only train 5-6 sessions a week, most of which would not be considered ‘quality’ sessions by the more serious triathletes.I’m also pleased that I’m consistently finishing my races in the top half of the field.

Rest day reflections (1 July 2011)


The last day of 2011 seems like a good time to reflect on my first training session of this triathlon journey I started six months ago tomorrow.


I wake at 5am on my first day of training. I feel excited at the change in lifestyle I’m about to embark on. It’s still dark outside on this mid-winter morning and the air is cold. I left my togs and clothes ready next to my bed the night before so I don’t have the opportunity to procrastinate.

It’s cold as I ride my motorbike the 25km to the swimming pool. I get stuck in traffic on the highway and make a mental note to take the back roads in future. There are quite a few cars parked in at the pool despite the chill and darkness. It gives me courage.

I pay my $4.50 entry to the pool and buy a pair of goggles. In the change rooms I strip down to my togs and wrap a towel around my shoulders against the cold. Outside steam is rising off the pool as the warmed water meets the cold morning air. It’s beautiful. Swimmers’ heads bob in the water as keen people swim their laps.

I select a lane and slide my body into the water. It’s not as warm as I had hoped and I flinch. Pushing off the wall I decide that the best way to warm up is to get moving.

The pool is 50m long and by the half-way point my shoulders and lungs are having a competition for who can scream the loudest. It becomes apparent that it’s going to take me a while to get swim-fit enough for my first triathlon, which will involve me swimming at least 400m, if not 750m.

I manage to swim four 50m laps with rests at each end. I swim freestyle half of each lap and breast stroke the other half. My legs wobble as I walk from the pool to the change rooms and pull on my running gear. I’ve not yet started to run barefoot so I have to pull on my shoes, which I find quite an effort in my exhausted state.

Despite my exhaustion I run out of the pool, telling the counter staff that I’ll be back after a run. I turn left down the hill towards the main road. My legs stop wobbling within 100m and start hurting instead. After running downhill for 500m I can’t run any further and, frustrated, I stop. I’m absolutely shattered after what I’m sure is the shortest training session in history.

I want to give in right here and now. I will never be able to do a triathlon, let alone enjoy it. I turn around and walk back to the pool complex; on my way I decide not to give in just yet. I just have to take things slowly.