Thursday, January 29, 2015

The great escape: some easy Hong Kong hikes

Day 1 - High Junk Peak

Since December J has been back Stateside to spend Christmas and New Year with his family, and get settled in to his new lab/ grad programme, so I've been flying solo since then while waiting (and waiting, and waiting, and waitingggg) for my spouse visa. (Which, frankly, leaves me in a pickle: how do I clean my ceiling fan and change the kitchen light bulb that's on the fritz? I really am not keen on falling off a chair.)

So to get away from it all, I took a quick jaunt to Hong Kong two weeks ago with Holly for some cooler temperatures, gorgeous hikes, and good eating.

Hong Kong is an intense city; everything is taken to extremes. The urban part of Hong Kong is way built-up - from the AirBnB hostel we stayed in, we had a lovely view of...neighbouring blocks' air-con compressors and neon street signs. I was just glad to have a window. On the other hand, because of the city's steep, hilly geography, all the urban area is concentrated in a few spots, with some suburbs perched on hillsides and on the outlying islands, and the trail part of Hong Kong is...well, it's beautiful.

At 23 weeks pregnant I wasn't going to do anything ridiculous, and both of us were lugging along work and deadlines anyway, so we ended up doing probably three of HK's easiest hikes, half a day each or less including travel time. All of these are suitable for a reasonably in-shape beginner walker and I did them in regular old running shoes, with one of those stupid uncomfortable string nylon backpacks - I forgot I'd shipped my usual daypack. If you are a newbie hiker, take it slow and steady with photo/ drink breaks.

Day 1: High Junk Peak, Kowloon

Our flight got in about 6am, and we started the day off with breakfast (not pictured) and a bit of an adventure getting (in)to our hostel*, followed by conking out for a nap.

- Get to security-code-enabled front door at 8am. Ring the number provided. No one picks up. (Repeat 7-8x.)
- Message AirBnB host, who turns out to manage/ own a number of different hostels, each with an on-site property manager. Host is tremendously responsive online, but we still can't get in because the property manager isn't picking up.
- Wait an hour. This preggo lady needs to peeeeeeeee. Look longingly at trash bin in stairwell. (What? I'm a runner. I pee in the woods. Someone who isn't opening the front door despite multiple phone calls arguably may or may not deserve to have their trash bin peed in.)
- A couple of tourists emerges from front door, whereupon we walk in
- And make ourselves at home in one of the empty rooms - they are empty after all, and we have paid. - Wake up from nap and ring property manager again.
- A very drowsy property manager arrives to officially check us in and give us keys and security code.

By now, we were starving. What better to fuel up with than a hearty lunch of roast goose and rice?

And some pretty views, although at the end of the above spit you can just about make out the fancy-pants golf club.

Day 2: Dragon's Back, Hong Kong Island 

Dragon's Back is perhaps one of the most famous hikes in all of Hong Kong, and with good reason - it's lovely! The trail goes up up up for a good half hour, but then is almost flat along a long spiny ridge that goes south-east. 
Above: Looking north-ish towards the city bits of the island. 

Goofing around on the trail. (Not pictured: Holly yoga selfie - newly minted yoga instructor, had to take yoga selfie. I did not follow suit for fear of overbalancing and falling off the hillside.)

The trail ahead

With a chaser of dim sum. This was a mere fraction of the spread we had: fried dumplings, steamed dumplings, steamed rice cake, lotus seed paste and custard buns, baked char siew rolls, congee, and pan-fried rice rolls with sweet sauce and sesame-peanut sauce... 

After running some shopping errands for my mom I had some work to do to make a deadline, so I fairly rolled back to the hostel in a food coma while Holly trundled off to the museum, and we got dinner after she got back. 

The first portion of this was up all the way for a good half hour, but it's lots of stairs, nothing crazy. We saw plenty of little old ladies and tourists doing it. Views: definitely more urban skyline than bucolic countryside. The link above says it's 'difficult' and takes 5 hours; I found it relatively smooth sailing and we took about 3.5, I think. (There is a slightly tougher option to actually ascend Lion Rock, but we skipped that to climb Beacon Hill and see the 'lion' from afar on the way down.) There are longish flat sections, and the ascents and descents mostly involve paved steps like these:

City view at a wee pavilion en route, looking south towards the bulk of urban/ residential Kowloon. 

A view of Lion Rock - the tallest peak is the top of its head, and it's looking towards the right, sphinx-like. 

After all these stunning views it was of course time for lunch; we decided to go hunt for Vietnamese food and found some in a basement food court right near the hostel. Pho and pomelo soda! 

In the evening we went down to the Kowloon waterfront, where the Avenue of Stars is (if you are a HK movie/ pop buff, that's where the stars' handprints are, just like Hollywood's Walk of Fame - Tsui Hark, Bruce Lee, Gong Li etc. One day many millennia in the future, aliens will land and wonder if that's where we buried our dead celebrities) but it was kind of hazy and thus really funny to see tourists try to take photos with the blurred neon skyline. 

Later, I went for hot pot with some friends who live in Hong Kong. Good times and lots of laughs. (In the pot: vegetables, pork bones, fish maw, corn, fish paste, sliced shabu-shabu beef, mushrooms, glass noodles, etc etc etc etc, all simmering away to make this rich umami stew-ness.) 

That was the last night of vacation; we flew out at 7.30am the next morning. Feel free to ask me where else/ what else I ate!

And yes, work has been kind of crazy with interviews and deadlines, which is why it's taken me two weeks to post these photos.

What's running like at 23-25 weeks? I am SO SLOW these days, and my runs are peppered with walk breaks. (Sometimes my walks are peppered with run breaks?) It's kind of like an inverse training plan: you get heavier and heavier and slower and slower as things progress. In other words: still not very exciting, sorry guys. The highlight of last week was running a whopping 6km without stopping to walk.

This is me at 23 weeks; there is definitely a bump going on. Said bump has since expanded. 

And I'm trying to cram as much time in as possible with this little squish before I leave for the US (still don't know when, but at least I have a visa interview date). <3 #favouriteniece 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

How to stay motivated when you're not training for anything

I'm not doing a highlights of 2014 post because it's already late - hello, mid-January! hello, all my deadlines! And my highlights are fairly obvious: tackling the adventure, joy and terror of growing a tiny human, learning to drink while riding a bicycle, visiting the husband's Italian relatives and eating our way around parts of Italy, and whale-watching the day before setting an extremely embarrassing new marathon PR

Anyway, I was talking to another runner friend who's expecting, and we agreed that we get a little wistful hearing about all the exciting goals and running adventures that everyone has planned for the year. Running through pregnancy is treating me fine, but it's not the most exciting thing - it just is. And sometimes, whether it's due to pregnancy, getting over an injury, or some other life circumstance, there are phases in the life of a runner when you're healthy but you just aren't training for something. So - how to stay motivated? 

- Know why you're running 
'To keep fit' is not a powerful enough reason. I run with my doctor's blessing because I know that mothers who are in good cardiovascular and musculoskeletal shape tend to have fewer pregnancy discomforts and a lower risk of preterm labour. And I run because I like being outside, because I like the visceral sensation of motion that nothing else replicates, and because I invariably feel better, physically and mentally, after a run than I did before. 

- Do some gym classes 
I work from home and if there's anything that absolutely needs to be done each day I do it in the morning.  So  some days if I don't schedule my run, it just doesn't happen. But if I commit to a class, like the 6.30pm Tuesday spin class or early morning yoga, if I'm going to be there anyway, I might hit up the treadmill for a half-hour  beforehand and then actually stretch afterwards. 

I can't tell you how useful I've found my gym, even though I'm probably about the farthest that anyone can get from gym bunny. When I was focused on running it was a place for things that complemented the running, like strength and yoga classes. When I was training for the triathlon the spin classes kept me accountable before brick workouts, yoga kept me flexible, and then it was also a nice place to stretch and do my glute and TRX exercises. I don't like to go to the gym for the sake of going to the gym, I prefer to go because it fulfills a specific need for me at a specific point in time. If you are in the no-gym camp, if you have space and a DVD player (we have neither), I know folks who swear by workout DVDs.

- Mix it up
Trails. Road. Different routes. The other day I was so bored of doing laps up and down the canal path that I did something I pretty much never do: I drove to a run. I ran through part of the Botanic Gardens, stopped by the track where my team was doing a workout, and did my pseudo-speedwork there with them (1.2km, 800m, and a halfhearted 400, all at the exceedingly zippy pace of 11 minutes a mile). 

- Get social 
And sometimes I meet up with a friend for pancakes. I mean, a short trail run or park run, followed by pancakes. Bonus: I get to hang out with her toddler; we have the same mental age so we get along very well. 

- Bribe yourself 
Monsoon season is just wrapping up around here. Sometimes when it's pouring I go to the gym and get on the treadmill with a podcast, or my tablet and an episode of Gilmore Girls (which I am finally watching. As the world's slowest TV watcher I calculate it will take me approximately 3 years to finish the series.)

- Plotting for the future 
I've mentioned this to a couple of friends, but I think I'll be spending the rest of the year postpartum plus 2016 focusing on the 10K distance. I've had endurance-sport ADHD for too long - triathlons! marathons! half marathons! - and haven't really focused on 10Ks in a while. How long? My PR is from 2012. 10Ks won't take me away from family on half-day training runs, but are still a good challenge and one of my favourite race distances. 

- You don't need to be motivated all the time
Life is too short. Take a snow day or a week off. Enjoy yourself. Bake some cookies, cook a nice meal. Play outside, have coffee with friends, play boardgames, sit on the couch with a book. Then come back refreshed to run again another day.