Tuesday, September 21, 2010


The main questions/ideas raised in one of my subjects, Politics of theory in Latin America, are what is Latin America?, What is the 'Latin American condition'? and in what way do the geographical/natural features of the continent shape the political landscape and the character of the people?

One notes that a sort of continental identity has arisen from the pain, mistakes and struggles (of all kinds - social, economic, political, physical) that all of the nations have suffered at the hands of the Spanish, the Caudillos and modern despotic rulers (atleast according to Jose' Marti'). It seems to have brought a sense of pride to the nations, that they have endured (or been shat out the other end, depending on how you look at it) and continue to exist.

As a result, I fell into a deep reverie on Australia. What is Australia? What is the 'Australian condition' (if it actually exists)? Here are my opinions, embellished in a pseudo-Sarmientine manner.

The autochtonous people of this country, who once were made of the land have been massacred, and those who survived were torn away from it, like a newborn from the arms of its mother, and placed in front of a stern Colonel, who 'educated' them, and taught them how to live. Rightfully, some wail and scream of the injustices that were done to them, while others sleep in chemicals to distill the pain. Lo and behold, the sumptuous fruits of modernity and colonial ambition! They have been marginalised to such an extent that they are considered disfunctional from birth by the government, and are therefore given the funds necessary to support themselves. Thanks to our forefathers, they make up very little of the current Australian population, and have an equally minimal effect on our national identity. But these people know the land better than any cartographer, better than Flinders or Simpson, for once they were the land.

The heterotochtonous people have undergone very few 'National' struggles - the Japanese in Darwin is the only example that comes to mind, Gallipoli seems secondary. From whence comes such a strong identification with a nation that has existed for three generations? The struggles of those first convicts who arrived on boats seems plausible - they were oppressed by the harsh hand of the law, which had fallen rightfully upon them. When convicts are released, they will immediately seek out sensual pleasures - they believe that they have the right to, as they have been deprived for so long. To this day, we are a nation of consumers - probably second only to the US. The traditional man sits idly watching footy with a beer in one hand and a pie in the other. He commutes for more than an hour a day in a four-wheeled drive that could run down a Rhino. If his beer is spilt, he looks for a fight. If someone asks him to catch the train instead of driving he is indignant, he feels deprived of his God-given right as an ex-convict to extravagant consumption. He was imprisoned in the past, and now he quietly imprisons his wife; dismissing her and demanding that she meets his desires. But (I would say thankfully) our national identity has been diluted, owing largely to immigration and the all-destroying monolith that is American pop culture. Culturally, we are now, in my opinion, 5% indigenous, 20% true blue Aussie, 10% English, 40% American and 25% foreign (Indian, Asian, etc...) Culture is dynamic. So Australian culture and the Australian identity is no longer comprised of Utes and footy, but of a combination of a complex range of influences. This lack of solidity may be troubling and confusing to some, but to me it just confirms the real answer to the question of "What is Australia?".

Australia will always be defined by its geography. It is the grandfather of the continents, withered by time, looking scornfully upon the young bucks of the world. America, with it's jagged peaks and violent volcanoes is but an angsty and troubled teen, looking to prove its worth in impressive geological features. Old man Australia sits in his rocking chair, as flat as a pancake, smiling whimsically upon the silly white figures that tickle his edges, convinced of their dominance over him. His heart, Uluru, has been touched upon by people, but there has been no colony established on top of it, or even near to it, except for the purposes of harbouring tourists who look in wonder at the core of this unconquerable being. And all around it is desert, most of which could never independently support human life. It is guarded by ruthless reptiles and unendurable weather; Like many old people, he has become obsessed with home security. Crocodiles wait in the rivers of the North, and sharks circle the continent. To the South, in case Antartica gets any ideas, he has placed the Nullarbor plain. Shrub, dirt, salt lake - the groaning landscape continues like this for thousands of kilometres. The human inhabitants are there to prove that it is possible to live in such an environment, and their only source of water is a train that comes from Adelaide or Perth. The old man distracts the people with his abundant exterior, keeping his insides to himself.

I now smile when I think about how I slipped over while atop Mount Beerwah a few weekends ago. We don't own this continent, it owns us.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Setbacks and MORE Recurring Lessons

So I went out for a half hour run on Friday morning, to see if my metatarsal had healed. I cycled up to the Chapel Hill Road (CHR) trailhead, and broke into a good rhythm as soon as I had gotten off the saddle and on to my feet - it was as if I had not taken any time off at all. I ground up the first climb on wide fire-trail, and then entered the single track which heads up to the CHR trail. My body warmed to the task, and the climbing was surprisingly easy (easy being a relative term); I was only really working in the final 100 or so metres. I debated power-hiking to the top of Mount Coot-tha from there, but thought it better to just hit the road for a few minutes to round out the run. As I descended CHR trail, I saw a wallaby shoot into the bush - the first that I have seen on Mount Cootha or even in BFP. At this point, I was starting to be reacquainted with my body, listening attentively to every little pang of pain, following the rhythm of my breath, and ensuring that my form was tight. If for nothing else, this run was valuable just for that reason. It helped me to remember another reason why I enjoy running - to achieve a level of intimacy with my own body that is impossible in any other discipline, mental or physical - for me at least. I saw some single track to my right that I had not touched before after descending a little more, and turned on to it. This is definitely a contender for best trail on Mount Coot-tha - it was technical with rolling hills, allowed me to pass by groups of beautiful, singing Currawongs and even gave me a view of Mount Barney at one point. All of this, in just 20 minutes, and my metatarsal had not said a word!!! Imagine what it will be like when I get back to 2-hour long outings! I can just do half an hour of this per day to build fitness now, I thought - and started, as is my usual habit, to make training plans for the future.

Alas, all was not well in the realm of my body though. I first noticed a small twinge on the top of my knee, and then to the side, especially as I was climbing. I was focusing on my form, but the pain persisted and worsened when I exited the trail on to the hard top to get back to my bike. I went up a gradual incline, and it became a lot worse. I then looked at my watch - it said 30 minutes - so I decided to walk the final 100 metres to my bike to prevent myself from worsening the problem. About 50 metres from the bike, I saw a group of walkers, and in my foolish pride, I ran the final bit back to the bike. That made it unbearable. It is very likely that it is an ITB problem, as there are very few other causes of lateral knee pain.

Here are the factors that I think may contribute to the pain:
- Being undertrained for Flinder's Tour but still running it, and causing a similar problem,
- Returning to training too soon after flinders tour,
- Reducing the amount of hip and glute excercises as a result of substituting gym with climbing,
- Cycling alot, especially on hills out of the saddle, thereby overdeveloping the lateral component of my quads - causing poor form when running uphill,
- and Running with soft and uneven shoes.

From this, effective remedies can be extrapolated as follows:
- Resting from running if necessary, then building up slowly,
- wearing flat-soled shoes,
- strengthening my glutes and hips,
- stretching my quads and ITBs,
- desisting from cycling where possible and trying to stay in the saddle when I do cycle.

I will be seeing Ann (the physio) on Tuesday to get some advice from someone who really knows what they're talking about.

It seems fairly simple, but my motivation to do anything but just get out there and run at the moment is fairly low. Seeing as I am currently quite sick as well, I am considering a week-long exercise hiatus. It may do me some good - allowing ALL connective tissue to heal, my endocrine system to recover, and my motivation to return. I have been flirting if not engaged with burnout and overtraining for basically the whole of the past two and a bit years since I stopped playing rugby and started getting fit. This has especially been the case since I started ultrarunning. My strategy in the past was to take on a training load that was well beyond my capabilities and hoping not to get injured or sick, but for my body to make the necessary adaptations to handle such a load after three or four weeks. This worked when I was training for the 11km birthday swim and the canoe trip, and it worked for those beautiful five weeks earlier this year when I was training for the Glasshouse 50 mile. However, in the first instance, I succumbed to extreme endocrine fatigue after the second day of my supposedly three-week-long canoeing trip in Spain, and was barely able to walk a kilometre for the next two weeks without having an emotional breakdown, after having given up the trip on the fourth day. In the second instance, I had actually managed to make the adaptation, and was in brilliant mental and physical shape after Yurebilla; nevertheless, I had adapted so well to running slowly over hilly terrain, carrying a few litres of water and a few snacks, that when I made the error of doing speed training and running to uni with a backpack on the Monday after that 56km beauty, I managed to injure my calf - putting me out of consistent running for five weeks, and warranting a DNS for Cook's tour. I am starting to see a pattern here.

A better approach will be to build up slowly, placing periods of recovery into my training program, and trying to remain content with the amount of running that I am doing at any given time. To this end, I have employed the services of a coach, who has written an eight week program for me that I may begin once I have built up to 1 hour of running, five days per week.

As always, the key word is patience: patience in allowing myself to heal, and in performing the necessary exercises to rehabilitate my injury; and patience in building up slowly and allowing myself to recover when necessary.

Some people would quit running if they kept getting frustrated like this. Aside from the fact that I enjoy running too much to do so, if one analyzes the root cause of any problem in which one finds themself, it is ultimately one's actions and one's perception of reality that are the causes of the problem, or the causes of them viewing a potentially beneficial situation as a problem. I acknowledge that all my injuries have been my own fault, and WILL correct my mistakes now. That's another reason why I love running; for the lessons that it provides and the virtue that it instills in the practitioner.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


So I ended up moving to Chapel Hill today; my place is about 1.5kms from the Russel Terrace/Chapel Hill Road trailhead. Being injured but eager, I have devised a route for a sweet bi- or tri-weekly run that I would like to build up to when I get healthy. It involves going over Cootha to Matt's place, and back the way that I came. It would involve 300 metres of gain and 300 of loss and would be 12.5km long, with all of the climbing and descending occuring after 2km of relatively flat road (and therefore finishing before the final 2km), which would allow me to get my legs warm first. It looks like the perfect run for building fitness, once I am able to run again. Obviously, this is all just speculation, as it doesn't look like I'll be running for the next few weeks.

What I can do, however (touchwood), is paddle. I have been hitting up the Brisbane River for between 60 and 90 minutes for the last five days, and my body is starting to enjoy it. The plan is to build up to 12 hours-per-week of canoeing, and then when I can run, slowly replacing that time with running and then ultimately doing 2x1 hour of canoeing and one climbing session per week, with about 140km of running - 70kms over the weekend, and 70kms through the week. This would be the ideal situation for me, and I know I can build up to it, over about 15 weeks. It will take some almighty patience though, something which I have generally lacked in the past.

It seems that the "determination" and love of running which get me out the door every morning is the same thing that causes me to push too hard. I need to learn to wait - I should always err on the side of caution.