Resilience

I love one word summarizations of feelings, state of being, and calls to action. I also can be quite loquacious depending on my mood, surroundings, and cosmic rays of infinite displacement. Today I celebrate both parts of myself: the incorrigible pragmatist and the incompressible adventurer.

I awoke to a sense of dread and calamitous weight like I had arrived at the midpoint of a hike [tramp in NZ terms] realizing my pack weighed about 20 pounds [9.09kg] too much and I had to choose what to leave behind so that I could make the return. No longer in New Zealand as a temporary visitor on holiday and no longer able to excuse my lack of action as culture shock or difficulties adjusting to a new country, I resolved to push myself out of my passiveness. I don’t expect some of our readership to understand, but I am a distance runner primarily because of the intertwined physical and emotional well being that I associate with the endorphin release that hits somewhere between the 60-90 minute mark during a run.

It was yesterday that the clarity hit and I knew I must negotiate the time for a long run and plan for my (still lower than usual) responsibilities. Janel and I discussed and decided on using the afternoon block so that each of us could get a run in before dark (daylight here is approximately 8AM-5PM). Although the locals beg to differ, the 40F degree weather is quite amicable for running. And so it was set: I could take the kids to an event from 9-10, work on campus from 10-12, have lunch at home 12-1, run 1-3:30, Janel could run 3:30-5, I’d cook and eat dinner 5-7, and work from home 7-9. Having a plan in place set my mind at ease and allowed my creative, anticipatory adrenaline to dream: what distance and where should I run?

The plan began bold. I wanted to see the Port Hills district (which overlooks Christchurch from the south and includes several nice running trails as well as views over Governors harbor). I wanted to see downtown. I wanted to run for hours. I wanted to push the pace. I wanted to feel the community. After reviewing some online running routes, I set a basic trajectory and told myself I would double back when I started to feel tired.

My first leg of the run was down and through Hagley Park (which contains the Christchurch Botanical Garden). I’ve run this before and it will probably become a staple (since it is a 1.75 mile one way and the park itself has about 20 miles of trails/loops that are off road). It is completely flat and mostly through residential neighborhood so there isn’t much to say about it on this run other than my internal resolve starting to form — yes, I would be capable of a much longer run today. My legs felt good, my music was fully charged, and my psyche was in challenge-yourself mode. And then I burst through the park into the zombie apocalypse:

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Chirstchurch City Center. Building and street construction typical of at least half of the downtown area.
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Cathedral square monuments and art installations.

Before I get too far into the run, I want to briefly share my experience from this morning’s official welcome from the University of Canterbury administration and HR to new employees (which I attended). The vice chancellor is the chief administrator and did the normal staid welcome and PR spiel, but then quickly relaxed into a highly charitable fellow. He exuded the fighting spirit of many local kiwis who love Christchurch: the earthquake was devastating but they are more than up for the task of rebuilding. UC lost 6 major buildings on campus to the earthquake and has already replaced 3 of them with the others on the way. Their current growth plan and enrollment data has them reaching pre-earthquake levels by 2019. He also added to my accumulated knowledge of the devastation wrought by the 2011 earthquake and the rebuilding efforts: 1850+ buildings destroyed/required demolition in the downtown area alone, over 30 billion dollars allocated to the urban rebuild (the largest amount worldwide of any urban project in the last decade, including the olympics and world cup venues), and a worldwide shortage of industrial building glass (because Christchurch is importing so much!!). And if that wasn’t enough, they are struggling to save one of the most iconic Christchurch buildings, the cathedral:

2015-07-07 15.08.09
Christchurch cathedral reconstruction.

I am sad about the destruction of the beautiful downtown I remember from our 2004 trip, but the dedication and resilience of the New Zealand people is truly a wonder to behold. The downtown area is covered now in temporary art installations from various local artists and brings a colorful and optimistic message that shines over the ubiquitous cranes, fences, scaffolds, and orange cones:

2015-07-07 15.08.20
Christchurch visitor center and artist renderings on construction fencing.

Even though my running pace slowed tremendously through center city due to all of the construction detours and traffic patterns, I felt a lightness of being and determination that I would make it to the hills looming in the distance. I dodged cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and the occasional building/sign that tried to jump out and smack me down. I had to veer off my preset route several times because of closures, but nevertheless made it down Colombo Street through the plethora of Chinese restaurants, coffee shops, flower shops, empty/rubble lots, and giant discount warehouses to the base of Port Hills. A convenient roundabout indicated that now was the time to turn back. I looked at my watch and I was 55 minutes and just under 6 miles in (I paced at 8:00 or under the whole run but there is a lot of stopping and waiting at intersections in urban running).

I had told Janel that I was aiming for a 1:30 run, to expect me back within 2 hours, and start to worry if I wasn’t back in 2:30. At this point I mildly considered the rational self: doubling back would be at best 1:50, probably slower because my legs would be tired, what if my legs actually gave out and I needed to walk?, and wait… the road up into the hills is about a 20-30% grade climb which would definitely wear me out. However, I am no longer entirely sane and rational. I am sure that I will introduce my alter ego Jerry in some other blog post, but suffice it to say I had no compelling reason to answer no when he asked “why not another 5 minutes, just to see what is up there?”

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View down Dyers Pass Road looking back over Christchurch.

Not much to see 5 minutes into a hill climb. Too many trees and houses to block the views. I spied a steeple ahead and 5 minutes became 10. 10 minutes in and I was rewarded with this view:

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View over Christchurch from St Augustines

I couldn’t quite see the expanse of the city, so 10 minutes became 15.  I am glad I pushed myself up the hill — the final views were worth it:

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Near the intersection of Dyers Pass Road and Hackthorne Road overlooking Christchurch.

At this point I had reached 1:10 and 7 miles into the run and for a second had a sense of panic that I might not make it back within 2:30 before Janel contacted the local police authorities. As I ran back down the hill I began to feel the exhilaration of the running soul and show the smile of maitri again. I cut corners, I picked up my pace on straight-aways, I reached out with my gaze to drivers and ran through traffic (like most of the locals were doing) instead of always waiting, I ran through the botanic gardens instead of around it, and I arrived home at 2:17 with 13.4 miles of urban running under my belt.

One day I will attain other ways to soar the currents of my world and paint it with greens and blues. For now, I run.

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