Category: Lifestyle

I can teach you to run (well…I taught myself).

Disclaimer: I have never been, nor do I claim to be, an expert in the field of fitness or health. I’m telling my story in the hope that it will help others in a similar position to me.

I’ve struggled with running for as long as I can remember. As I kid I had asthma, but even in my 20’s I would end up red-faced and gasping for air after about 200 metres.

It wasn’t that I was unfit. At the ripe age of 20 I could cycle for hours, interval train on the cross trainer like a champion, and row myself to oblivion. I could yoga, Pilates and pump weights with the best of them. That’s not to say I was perfect in any way – I was a gym junkie with a borderline eating disorder for a year. That’s a story for another day, but the point is I HATED running.

As a teenager, I was always told “you’re either a runner or you’re not”. I think many people are told this myth, and I’m not sure why. Maybe those people who don’t want to run need justification, or maybe those who have always run for exercise want to place themselves in a special group. It may be both, but I certainly fell into the former. I couldn’t count on two hands how many excuses I came up with for not running. “I have bad knees. I used to have asthma. Running isn’t that good for you. It’s raining a little”. Sound familiar?

Over time I came up with excuses for exercise in general, and I found myself in my mid-20s having put on 10 kilos and all over just stuck in a rut. I quit my job and started travelling (again another story), and the walking certainly helped, but on those days where my step count didn’t hit 20,000, I realised that I needed to start doing two things: high impact toning that I could do with no equipment, and cardio that I could do with no equipment.

The toning solution was easy – HIIT workouts get your blood pumping and you can be done in 20 minutes. I will be writing a post about HIIT later, but I knew for the outdoor piece I was going to have to face my greatest nemesis: the act of moving forward where your second leg leaves the ground before the first leg has returned. RUNNING.

So now the part you’ve been waiting for. How did I do it? Well I can’t take all the credit – the advice came from a colleague in my past-life career. I hadn’t decided to listen to it at the time, but at this crucial juncture in my life I remembered what she said. So here it is:

“Choose how long you want to be able to run for”. For me this was 20 minutes. She said, “run at a walking pace if that’s what it takes to keep you running for the whole 20 minutes. If you can feel that you’re not being challenged at any point in the run, increase the pace slightly. If you lose your breath again, come back to jogging on the spot if you must. Just don’t stop running, no matter how slow you end up going”.

So, I did exactly that, and I felt mortifyingly stupid. Have you ever tried running at a walking pace? To say that it feels clownish is an understatement. You feel like a terrible actor trying to slow motion run to a toilet at a casting for a non-speaking role in a commercial for adult diapers.

Ok it’s not that bad, but you do find yourself wondering what other people think of you, especially other runners. Here’s the kicker though.

IT. WORKS.

Sure, you might run at this sluggish pace for a few days, and you might get sore because even at this pace your body is not used to the movement. Then after a week or so you find that at intervals you can run a little faster before returning to a snail’s pace, and then those intervals keep increasing, and then after a month you look back and wonder how it is you managed to get so far in so little time.

The trick: no matter what, just don’t stop running for that time you have set yourself.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m no marathon runner. I run 2-3 times a week and on a good day, I run 3kms in 20 mins which means I’m clocking 9km/hr. On a bad day, I don’t even run 2kms in that time, but that’s ok, because week on week I still improve, and that’s the only thing I can ask for. I don’t hear my own excuses anymore, because I know I can do it; I’ve given myself that confidence by doing the thing I was so sure I couldn’t do.

Thanks for reading. This method worked for me, and I hope others out there benefit from it too.

ADDED: I always use music, and this was my running schedule for the first two weeks because when I became sore I would rest until I was completely healed:

Day 1 – Run | Day 2 – Rest | Day 3 – Rest | Day 4 – Rest | Day 5 – Rest | Day 6 – Run | Day 7 – Rest | Day 8 – Rest | Day 9 – Rest | Day 10 – Run | Day 11 – Rest | Day 12 – Rest | Day 13 – Run | Day 14 – Rest.

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Truly a Winter Wonderland: 6 days in Niseko.

There’s nothing in the world that brings out your inner child like dry, powdery, perfect snow, floating down to create literal mountains of endless fun. Speak to anyone in the snow-sports scene and they will tell you the best snow in the world can be found in Hokkaido, Japan.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to snowboard, and I did give it a red-hot crack once for a single winter day a few years ago. I enjoyed it, but it was difficult. The snow in Australia was more like ice and I fell A LOT. After that I subconsciously gave up the idea, but maintained an optimistic front and kept it on the bucket list.

Fast forward to three years later and I’m planning my endless travels, including a three-week leg in Japan in March. Trawling through the bucket list (which is how I plan most of my travels), ‘learn to snowboard’ catches my eye once more, so I booked a part of my trip as a snow holiday in Hokkaido, where I was lucky enough to stumble upon a deal that took me to a small village named Hirafu, located in the Niseko area.

View.

I found myself in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Hirafu Village sits at the base of Mt Niseko-Annapuri, and is the central spot for snow activities all over the mountain and at its base. The main road points directly up the mountain, creating one of the most spectacular winter views I have ever seen, especially at night when lights are projected against the towering slopes and the roads are dotted with gold.

The main street of Hirafu Village.

Pictures don’t do it justice. It was truly enchanting. A walk or a bus ride around the local area revealed other incredible sights, but the night view of the village was the one that took my breath away.

Snowboarding.

My attention was quickly stolen by the number of snow activities packed into this small area. There’s snowboarding, skiing, tobogganing, sledding, tubing, trekking, snow rafting and many more outdoor goings-on; none of which will break the bank! One of the other marvelous things about this part of the world is that compared to places like Verbier, Switzerland or Perisher, Australia, Japan gives much more value for money. As I had set out to learn to snowboard I had booked five days of lessons with Niseko Base Snowsports, who gave me a great package deal. The first few days were shaky but I went from spending 90% of the time on my behind, to about 30% by the end of the five days. I would call that a success!

In the beginning.

By the end.

Eat. Drink.

At the end of each day, when I was all worn out from the excitement of the snow, Hirafu Village’s offering of restaurants and bars were a welcome reprieve. My favourite places to eat were Tozanken Ramen, Niseko Pizza and Izakaya Restaurant. For drinks after dinner I would head to Bar Gyu (aka The Fridge Door Bar), or for something a little lower down the price scale there was always Tamashii or Monty’s. I was also recommended a place called Amaru however didn’t get time to go.

Entrance to Bar Gyu via the “Fridge Door”.

Relax.

It is difficult for me to select a favourite thing about this holiday, but if I had to, it would be learning of the existence of Onsens. An Onsen is a Japanese hot spring with very specific rules and traditions. The main one is that you can’t wear anything…at all. You’re completely nude as per the regulations.

The wonderful thing about it though, is that no one cares! The baths are separated into male and female, and being nude around other women doesn’t carry the same stigma as in western culture. There’s no one judging you or comparing – everyone is just there to relax.

And you will relax. The baths vary in temperature but generally sit between 38-42 degrees Celsius. Many have both indoor and outdoor pools, and let me tell you, an outdoor 40 degree hot spring in the middle of winter is an experience in itself. Obviously I have no pictures that I took myself, but here is a stock picture of one of the Onsens I got to visit.

Hilton Niseko Onsen

In my eyes no trip to Japan is complete without having a ‘zenned’ out experience in an Onsen. I had about ten! The best ones were Hilton Niseko Onsen and Hakone Yuryo Onsen (near Tokyo). Regardless of whether this is your “thing” or not, if you’re thinking about making a winter trip to Japan, Niseko is a must-see/must-do. There’s something there for everyone.

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