Ever felt like you’ve been on Struggle Street? Like you really should have rolled over and not gotten out of the car, let alone out of bed?

I think you all know what I’m talking about  – there’s going to be times when you’re winging it on less than ideal preparations and you know exactly what you’re in for.

Those are the days that all you can do is trust your intuition, have faith in what you’ve done before, realise that you could be in for a rough day and know that what doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger (one way or another!).

In my part of the world it’s unseasonably cold right now, wet and more like winter than ‘spring’ (If the Northern hemisphere is looking for some snow, come see me – I know where to find some).

Last week a few of the crew had admitted to putting in an entry to the annual end of November AK47 hurt-fest through the Nevis Valley (you might as well be sprayed by a machine gun as this is what you may feel like).

I was sitting on the fence on this one – I simply had not spent enough time back in the saddle and having done it last year and almost passed out from exposure over the climbs I knew what I would be in for.

Friday rolled around and so did a severe weather warning of rain and gale force winds with a freezing level dropping to 800m.

But it’s amazing what your friends can talk you into….and before I knew it I was in the kitchen getting my baking on whipping up my customary post-ride baking favourites for the team…and deliberating about what to wear to stave off the cold as not only do you climb over two mountain passes, but you cross a river close to 30 times and that was is coming straight off the snow further up.

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They come in their droves year after year for another dose of southern spring punishment from Mother Nature

I’m not sure what draws the crowds to this particular race as it’s more a battle with your mind and the elements than against other people falling into the category of ‘to finish first, first you must finish’, but they come in their droves every year. You also could ask yourself why people turn up to Tough Mudders to be electrocuted ……obviously people like to satisfy their inner masochist.

Within 2km of the start you hit the first hour-long climb. Straight up and over you go, gales in your face at every switch back.

To put it in perspective, I think I’ve ridden one decent hill since getting home and sure as shit – it was not at race pace.

I’d been feeling fairly average all morning and knew that I would likely be in for ‘one of those days’.

20minutes in and my thoughts were confirmed.

My lower back was aching, I was debating if I’d gambled on the right selection of clothing layers and I could feel the every ounce of the 3L of fluid and safety gear that was weighing my pack down as people flew by me (for those that have ridden with me they know that this is usually the opposite way round). There was a large roster of big hitters out in force and I was very much there to make up numbers and support a local Central Otago event.

What I did know is that this race is never won in the first half of the climb.

As we made our way further up, I started to find some rhythm and started to reel people back in.

On this particular course this is where’s it’s a bit of a gamble – do you go out hard and try to to descend with a bunch to ride through the valley with company, or do you ‘self preserve’ and hope you’ll find a buddy to ride through with?

My lack of preparation and average-ness necessitated the latter.

As I crested the plateau along the top of the range, I unrolled my sleeves back up my arms, pulled on my wetsuit gloves and tried to suck as much fluid on the descent as I could.

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The view looking south of the Nevis Valley. It’s a public road only open in the summer months and was the scene of a major gold rush in the 1800s

It’s a bone chilling descent into the Nevis Valley and as soon as you hit the valley floor, you  hit your first river crossing.

If you weren’t cold yet, you’re now cold, wet and freezing.

If you’d over done it on that first climb over the Hector mountain range you’re now about to suffer through two hours of no-man’s-land through the valley straight into a bone chilling head wind.

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The final crossing of the Nevis River is a welcome sight – and one which you don’t have to ride through

As I came off the hill, I clicked down my cassette and aimed for the wheels I could see in front. I caught them and hoped to find some company but blew through as they didn’t heed my call to jump on my wheel.

Now I was in the place that you never want to be – no man’s land, all by yourself.

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Thankfully about quarter of an hour into the valley a big guy came hurtling from behind. Hell no was I not going to lose that wheel!

It ended up being more of a ride side-by-side with a steady stream of banter and chit chat as we picked off rider after rider as the km’s ticked over, each time expecting our group of two to grow as we rode through the remnants of the first climb that were now scattered through the valley, but no-one jumped on (that first hill takes scalps of epic proportions).

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The gorge which offers up a nice few ‘pinches’ precisely when you don’t want them

As we encroached on the head of the valley and the end of the ‘flats’ the final climb stretches far beyond what the eye can see up and over the Carrick mountain range before it drops over the other side into Bannockburn.

Rather than weaving to the contours of the landscape, it’s more a series of steep straight grunts that result in pinch-after-pinch through a maze of never-ending blind corners that lead to yet more pain-inducing suffering as you hit the each pitch riding at anything up to sixteen degrees of gradient.

Throw in some gale force side winds that whip your front wheel out from underneath you and it’s more a test of mental fortitude than physical that will get you to the top.

When you have bugger all deposits in the training bank, you have to spend your pennies wisely.

Having been in a few situations like this, I knew that if I just kept turning over, respected my heart rate and used every easing of the gradient to click up a gear and keep the speeds constant, I’d ride myself up to the guys in front. And sure enough 3/4s of the way up I caught them.

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The top of Duffers Saddle and it’s (almost) all downhill to the finish

That’s also the point where it all starts to get a bit sketchy. With temps at freezing level on the top, gale force winds and an 8km descent ahead of you, what ever internal heat you  generated on the climb just got released straight into a blast chiller.

You’d think an 8km descent would be all-sorts-of-awesome come this point in the ride, but no – this is (and was) a descent of survival, attempting to lean into the wind from your right side while maintaining enough weight on your front wheel to avoid losing it in a gust.

Add in corners and corrugations and by the time you reach the sealed road for the final stretch to the finish you’re greeted with a blasting headwind and a couple of pinching rises just to well and truly finish you off.

And yes, there was a guy lying in a ditch having been taken out by the forces of mother nature on the descent (he may have been rethinking his choice to ride a cross bike at that very point).

As you crest the final brow to the finish I’m not sure what you’re more excited about. The thought of hot chips and free beer at the Bannockburn pub, or getting out of your damp shoes and manky riding gear to toast your ass in some fresh clothes beside the fire. What I do know is that you’re bloody thankful to just make it to the finish.

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Even back in the day there were riding to the pub for a pint

It’s one thing to finish near the pointy end of an event like this (and somehow I’d ridden myself into second for the second year in a row) but what’s fascinating (and inspiring) is the amount of people that turn up to ride through some country few will ever see and yes, some of these people are out there for the best part of 6-8hours….which is a totally different battle of the mind and body to those of us who finish in half the time.

With a significant field of heavy hitters hailing from mountain bike, road and multi-sport including our resident world cupper extraordinaire Kate Fluker who rode like a demon to win there’s no lack of talent in these parts as they all build into their summer seasons – most of which they dominate (this is one of those parts of the world there must have been a mutation in the genetic code giving unnatural human physical abilities out if you drank the water) making local events extremely competitive raising the bar all around which is awesome.

So this time next year, if you think you may be in need of a good dose of ‘harden-the-freak-up’, I might know a ride you’d like to lock in. You will probably hate me for it half way through, even more so at the end – but I’m betting you’ll thank me for it a couple of months later.

In case  you’re wondering what my choice of gear was for a ride like this – here’s what I used (and it was a marked improvement in the comfort stakes on last year). Hands down I’d rock the same combo next year or for any other ride through the mountains that you may experience extreme weather conditions.

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What happens with you walk into a room full of women from all works of life that have collectively kicked ass at what ever they set out to pursue?

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Just some of the 30 of the 2016 Next Woman of the Year Girl Squad

….You get a spine tingling sensation to get up the next morning and get very busy turning your visions and dreams into actions and reality, that’s what.

As women we often talk about the need to ‘rise together’, that we ‘have power in numbers’. But all too frequently the stories of those who have gone above and beyond have go unrecognised or untold.

But this is not one of those stories.

This is chapter and verse about a girl squad who have collectively taken on the impossible, become the bumble bee that flew, said ‘no’ to a life of status quo and who boldly announced ‘game on’.

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A judging panel who lead by example: broadcaster extraordinaire Toni Street, Minister for Women Louise Upton and magazine/publishing mavens Sarah Henry and Rachael Russell

Why? For no better reason than ‘getting on with the job’. Head down, butt up, most have hardly had a chance to come up for air, given the rate they have been kicking life goals by the dozen.

Cue Next Magazine and their annual Woman of the Year Awards recognising and celebrating of women from all walks of life, society and industry who are quite simply setting records at the game of life.

They’re sisters on a mission; their motivations diverse and their measures of success anything but conformist.

Celebrating 30 women across the fields of Arts & Culture, Business & Innovation, Community,  Education, Health & Science and Sport; The Next Woman of The Year awards dig deep to uncover and shine light on women who are forging the way and shining the torch in their chosen fields. The result? An eclectic collection of the known, the unknown, every single one of them inspirational.

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Such events fast become a humbling experience listening to the snippets of people’s journeys which often lead you gagging to find out more.

If one person can affect many people with their actions and leave an everlasting impact the people that have been touched by what they done, they have done something very special indeed.

Meet Billie Jordan, 2016 Supreme Winner who is exactly that.

A refugee of the Christchurch earthquake who transplanted herself on Waiheke Island, rounded up a gaggle of the island’s over 70’s brigade and turned them into a gang of world beating hip hop dancers.

They took on NZ….then they took on the world in Las Vegas.

Their story was turned into a documentary, now they’re being made into a feature film – Hollywood-style, telling the story of the lady to proudly blames herself (tongue in cheek) for creating the world’s oldest dance troupe.

With no previous dance experience and no funding, Billie simply believed and went about it dragging her gang of golden oldies along with her.

Billie’s was just one fine example of what these awards are all about and trust me, there was a room bursting at the seams with stories equalling as compelling.

To Next Magazine, Bauer Media and the partners who made this event possible – THANK YOU for recognising the value of creating a platform to celebrate the kiwi women who are forging these untrodden paths. It’s their stories that make others start to believe that they too can become all of their potential.

To find out more about the #girlsquad of 2016 you can click here

I’d highly recommend parking up with a pot of tea and in a comfy chair and watching Billie Jordan’s TedX talk that lead to her being hunted down by Hollywood.

As the home straight of the year is almost upon us and all the fun, madness and chaos that is brings, how about taking a moment to laying the foundations to set up 2017 to be your best yet, to kicking ass at the game of life, lighting fires and blazing trails where ever you set your intention.

Harness the challenge and embrace it understanding that to rise above, you have to ride the joy ride of the ups and downs that come with the path less traveled.

Thank you to the brands and companies that partner to support initiatives like this. It is your belief and support that empowers many more to take the step, make the plunge and aim higher than they ever thought possible.

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Ever had that sense that you may have had too much of a good thing?

Feeling a little ‘fatigued’ but not really sure why?

The clocks have turned and it’s dark at early-o’clock.

Welcome to the dearth of the “Off Season” and taking scalps the world over.

While the lands down under are emerging from winter hibernation, the harsh realities of the winter are about to unleash on our northern comrades

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While the temperatures may be plummeting this can be the time to embrace and welcome a whole new world of fun and games you never knew existed.

They say a change is as good as a holiday and the change of the seasons is exactly that.

But while many will extol the value of working on your weaknesses or what you need to be doing in your “off” season (no matter what your sport, job, passion, hobbies or pursuits), I like to take a different approach – and it all starts with mind set.

Regardless of the season, I start to make lists along the lines of ‘if anything was possible, and time or money were no barrier’ what would I want to do? And I’m not talking about sport – I’m talking about life in general.

It’s a pretty powerful statement and it can be pretty intriguing looking at what you write down.

Once you’ve conjured up your list (this comes recommended to do this over a fine brewed drip of caffeine or decent glass of fermented grape juice) the fun really starts and the jigsaw of how to incorporate these things into daily life begins.

A sucker for trying to pack too many things in, I invariably end up with a list that I know is completely unachievable – but by jotting it down I know that at the very least I have acknowledged the things that has been lurking in the depths of my subconscious.

I revolve on a yearly schedule that is fairly unusual, and being someone who thrives on routine and structure, I have to exist in a world which allows little of either.

But what I can do is section out the year – and yes, I hollow out an ‘off season’ and guard it with my life.

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In years gone by, I’ve succumbed to the lure of either pleasing other people or foregoing my own sanity to do what I felt others wanted and needed me to do.

The result? A pretty decent dose of mental fatigue, elements of burn out and starting to hate the things I liked to do. (I’ll temper that statement with the reality that at certain points in your career – no matter what it is, you’ll have to go above and beyond if you really, truly want to make your mark).

So for the 3rd successive year, I have officially declared ‘the off season’.

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A period of recovery, rejuvenation and reconnection with the things that really matter. It’s unstructured (yes, that still challenges on many levels), there are no rules but there is a massive emphasis on doing many of the things I miss doing during the year.

Simply put, there’s a mental, physical and emotional triangle that needs to be put back into equilibrium.

It’s an evolutionary process and one which I find myself changing and adapting each year depending on what feels out of balance.

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Having grown up around many different environments of high performance sport and people who have reached momentous feats in many different walks of life, I’m fascinated with what makes them tick and what allows them to consistently perform to levels of greatness.

One of the things I recognise in those that have to spend large amounts of time away (as you do when you have to travel prolifically for work or sport) is that these people are fiercely protective of their ‘off’ time – be it an ‘off season’, time with family, a vacation or something far removed from what they have to engage in for majority of the year.

So where am I going with this and what is my point?

Embrace your ‘off’ and don’t be afraid of it.

The more you do something, the more important it becomes.

On a personal level, this means coming home. Back to the mountains and to relish the opportunity to do things I don’t get to do much of throughout the year. Depending on how unbalanced my triangle of equilibrium is (mental, physical, emotional) – I use this to guide what this time entails.

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It’s a time to debrief and to plan with absolute objectivity. It’s a time to rebuild and repair from the bottom up. It’s a time to go and be humbled in the most humbling of ways (this happens frequently when you hail from a village of super human athletic specimens).  It’s a time to challenge the status quo and re-evaluate.

I’m not going to lie – it can be a challenging time.

Be it the end of your season, a staleness in your career, a dissatisfaction at work or the imminent challenge of SAD (seasonal affects disorder) as the grim realities of winter set in – embrace the opportunity to do things differently.

Here’s cheers to the off season – may it be as epic as the rejuvenation, challenge, change, growth and excitement it may bring.

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To find out how I’m embracing my “OFF” follow  my Instagram and Facebook pages.

 

If someone tapped you on the shoulder and said you’d drawn the golden ticket to spend a fortnight on a tropical island, it’s quite possible you’d be jumping for joy, bouncing on beds and swinging from the rafters.

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Sun, sand, warmth, possibly even some waves!

Sounds Ah-mazing right? Possibly even a tan to boot…pack that bikini now girl!

For most, this is precisely the image that is conjured up – it’s one heck of a sell. “Who” wouldn’t want to escape to paradise, you’d be positively nuts not to.

When you got home, there was a letter. It detailed everything about the trip and what to take, but it didn’t say when.

Each week you checked the mail, hoping for another letter with some more information about this ah-mazing golden ticket to paradise.

You’d told all your friends, promised to send pictures to your mum, the anticipation was building, but you still didn’t know when you were going.

After weeks of waiting you called the number on the golden ticket and got the answer phone. You left a message. Actually, you left messages every second day in the hope of getting something other than the answer machine.

As the weeks rolled on and the information didn’t come, life threw you a couple of curve balls. That early excitement was fast starting to fade into low level anxiety when combined with all the other things that were lining up in your life.

All of a sudden you got the information you’d been waiting months to receive…and you could feel the pressure of all the balls you were trying to juggle starting to mount.

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I’ll cut a long story short – this is a some what accurate analogy of the build up to this year’s ISA Prone and Paddleboard World Champs.

Months came and went and we still didn’t have information about where it might be. Fiji was mooted and finally announced as the host months after the initially schedule dates of the event while any other information was scarce to find.

The dates were set, the dates were changed. Given a small amount of information as to where it might be be held, this then changed again.

Having won the NZ Nationals for the 6th consecutive year in both the distance event and the surf racing event . I accepted my position on the team as the female representative for SUP racing  based on what I knew I would be able to commit to back in February….fast forward a few months and my world got a little turned upside down and shaken around.

While there is not need for the details of my world being turned upside down and all around to be aired for public consumption, it definitely began to affect the decisions I was making and it necessitated a reconsideration of my plans and schedule. Was any of this in my control? Only the decisions I was making in the wake of the information I was faced  with.

Fast forward to October and I made it home with all my gear in tow prepared for anything and everything. I was fit, I’d just finished up a season highlighted with some incredible highs and I finally had the chance to get my head around the planning and execution of this ‘fortnight-in-paradise’ that was fast turning into a nightmare-covered-in-chocolate.

While the proximity of Fiji seems relatively close to NZ, the reality soon began to be anything but. As I costed everything out, it soon became apparent that this little jaunt to the South Pacific was rather to be a rather pricey affair.

At the same time, some other, shall we call them ‘life commitments’ started rolling in at 100% over budget with a time line coinciding with the dates of Fiji.

Time was running short and it time for some fast decisions to be made.

As with any decision you make, there is always the cost of what you’re not doing. And often what you’re not doing is a hard pill to swallow.

Looking at the facts objectively as to what was best for me (not what was best for others) the decision was simple.

And as with all decisions, there is always the potential ramifications and fallout of the decisions that you make. Good or bad, you take it on the chin and roll with the punches.

But when some of those punches come a little below the belt, are of the red card variety, and the hits at your chin miss leaving you with a bloody nose and the start of a black eye – it’s probably time to take stock of the situation and yes, there were a few cheap shots sent in my direction.

Gotta love a good round of chinese whispers in the era of Facebook eh? Nothing like a bit of banter eh? What, someone took a screen shot of what you just posted? Yes people – don’t be the person about to give themselves a MEGA PALM FACE…..

There are a number of reasons that contributed to the decisions I made a week ago. Some were concerns surrounding the event (which instead of debating publicly, I raised directly and constructively with the ISA) as I was more than aware that others shared similar concerns.

Asked why I had not gone down the route of crowd funding to assist in covering some or all of the expenses associated with attending this event, it came back to personal values.

While crowd funding and the likes of give-a-little are a powerful medium and most definitely have their place, I struggle with the deeper meaning of asking people to hand over their hard earned cash for my me to spend a couple of weeks in paradise.

Maybe I’ve always had to earn it, but I value just how hard it can be to earn a dollar. So when you ask for a dollar, there’s always some kind of ‘transaction’ be it in the form of a good, a service or an emotional deficit. A sense of ‘owing’ to those that have stumped up.

Quite simply, I didn’t feel comfortable asking for handout. I know of many others that are more than comfortable doing this and good luck to them. I’m more of the ilk that you save that kind of trump card for a time of serious emergency when the shi*t really hits fan and you are in desperate need of help or assistance. A fortnight in the South Pacific didn’t really fit the profile for me on that one.

So there you have it. This is not a decision I took lightly and it is DEFINITELY not for the reasons that some people have aired.

I take seriously the responsibility that goes with representing myself, my family, my friends, my sport(s) and my country which I do week in, week out for a large portion of the year and hold myself to the highest levels of personal delivery. I also have goals and ambitions both inside and outside of sport.

Like all things I do – I see it in the context of ‘winning the game of life’.  It’s a privilege to be having to make decisions where many will never have the opportunity to have either choice.

Good luck to everyone attending the ISA World Champs in Fiji later this month.

May you be safe, may you make your country proud, may you play to the best of your preparation and may you rise to the occasion.

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