Beyond the Marathon – ultramarathoner Vajin Armstrong

Christchurch’s elite ultramarathoner Vajin Armstrong talks about his training, meditation, and of course, his favourite books.

Have you heard of ultra running? If a marathon just isn’t far enough, here is the new holy grail of running – the ultramarathon. The word ultra means “beyond” in Latin, and these extreme endurance races, commonly referred to as ultras, are certainly beyond what most people would consider physically possible. Perhaps that’s why Vajin Armstrong, one of New Zealand’s elite ultra runners, finds his success lies not only in intense physical training, but also in a strong spiritual practice.

Christchurch born and bred, Vajin has raced all around the world and has placed on the podium in numerous ultras in America, Australia, Europe and Asia. Among his most notable achievements are three consecutive wins of New Zealand’s premier mountain race, the Kepler Challenge in Fiordland. Normally a challenging 4-day hike, Vajin’s best time over the 60km course (which is not only pretty far, but also involves running over a mountain) is a mind-blowing 4 hours 55 minutes.

The 2017 Kepler Challenge is on this Saturday 2 December and once again Vajin will be lining up with the world’s top athletes.

Vajin, after three Kepler Challenge wins, what are your thoughts coming into the race this year? Is winning important to you?

For me the competition is not my primary motivation. My goal during training and racing is to enter the space where I’m completely immersed in the task at hand. At those times where you become totally one with the simple act of running, the rest of your life ceases to exist, there is no past, no future all that exists in that moment. For me this experience of being completely present, totally alive and free is more fulfilling than any outer accolades. The human in us can only do so much, but when we reach that point where we think we can go no further, this is when our inner strength comes to the fore to help us keep going. Ultra running is a great way to experience and explore this incredible frontier. In my life I always feel so happy when I can go beyond my own perceived limitations. Transcending our limitations in any field gives us such joy.

 

Describe a typical training week.

I regularly run between 160km and 200km per week, I enjoy the process and discipline of it. For me it’s enjoyable and fulfilling to have the opportunity to work hard every day towards my goals.

With such a high volume of training to fuel, do you follow a special diet?

I’ve been a vegetarian for my entire adult life and I have found that a plant-based diet is really conducive to both my running and my life in general. A lot of the top trail runners are vegetarian or vegan.

 

CoverThe highly successful vegan ultramarathoner Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run is a cross between a fascinating autobiography and a vegan recipe book.

What inspires you to keep training at a high level?

When I run I feel the most alive, the most free and the most connected to the world around me. And there’s the self-discovery – beyond the very extremes of fatigue and distress we can find a great calm and power that we never dreamed was there, sources of strength never discovered at all because we never dared to push on past the obstructions.

What are some things running ultras has taught you?

 For me trail and ultra running is all about self-transcendence, freedom, simplicity and exploration. Our modern world is so obsessed with the search for comfort and ease that having this outlet, which gives me the chance to put myself in challenging situations and to explore and have adventures, is so balancing. Having the opportunity to spend a whole day out in nature for me is very meditative and fulfilling. You find you begin to value anew the simple pleasures of life, a beautiful sunset, drinking from a mountain stream, good company and natural foods.

How does your meditation practice relate to your training and racing?

 For me the practice of meditation and the practice of running are completely interrelated. Through running I develop concentration, discipline and determination while from meditation I get peace, stillness and tranquility. It’s always important to have a balance between the outer aspect of our lives and taking the time to develop and connect with the deeper inner parts of our being. At a certain point the physical body gets exhausted and that’s where the mental and spiritual dimensions kick in – we’re finite, but we can connect to the infinite. I learnt meditation many years ago from the Indian teacher Sri Chinmoy. Sri Chinmoy spoke a lot about sports and meditation and inspired countless athletes. He talked about the cosmic or inner energy, and how when you can connect with this through meditation, your potential is boundless.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

CoverWhile running, especially in long events, I try and use the skills I have developed from meditation to make my mind still and calm and to be present in the moment. Very often when we are attempting to do something really challenging it is our own mind that can become our worst enemy. Our doubts, worries and insecurities can all attempt to hold us back. Having the ability to quieten the mind and focus on the task at hand is an invaluable skill.

 

What are the coolest places you’ve ever run?

CoverThe Canary Islands, the Sahara Desert, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and the Himalayas in both India and Nepal.

 

Any books you’d like to recommend?

CoverSome books I’ve been reading lately and enjoying are Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and anything by Malcolm Gladwell.

 

Books on ultra running

CoverCoverCoverCoverCover

Emily
New Brighton Library

Most Popular Weekly eMagazines from RBdigital

Here is the list of top twenty weekly eMagazines from RBdigital – is your favourite on the list?

These are only our most popular titles. Check our full list of RBDigital Magazine titles [228KB PDF] for more monthly, and weekly mags.

The Gig Guide: December 2017

Planning on attending a concert, show, or gig in Christchurch? Then why not take a look at what we’ve got of that artist’s back catalogue?

Comedy

Music

Christmas

Special performances incorporating festive music.

Popular music

Theatre & Dance

What gigs are you looking forward to in the near future? Anything we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments.

Most popular monthly eMagazines from RBdigital

Check out the top 20 monthly magazines from RBdigital Magazines – Is your favourite here?

These are only our most popular titles. Check our full list of RBDigital Magazine titles [228KB PDF] for more monthly, and weekly mags.

Take a trip down Twelve Mile Straight: Eleanor Henderson

The Twelve Mile Straight is as Southern as fried chicken.

Two babies are born at Cross Roads Farm – one mulatto, one white.

People come from miles around to view the babies – a miracle of nature. Born to a white woman, Elma, the children are said to have two fathers – one white; her fiancée, Freddie Wilson, – one black, believed to have been forced on her by Genus Jackson.

Genus Jackson is lynched without trial at the beginning of the book. Will those responsible get away with it?

Juke Jessup is hiding a still. His intentions towards Nan, the house girl, are less than fatherly. His own daughter Elma, is “fixin” to be wed to Freddie Wilson, the local cotton mill owner’s son. But when the twins are born, all hell breaks loose.

Cover of To kill a mockingbirdLike Light in August and To Kill a Mockingbird, this is a story of injustice for all. Racial segregation was still prevalent in 1930s Georgia, where African-American people were barely removed from slavery.

To say that women in this story get a raw deal is an understatement. Even the man pulling the strings in town, George Wilson, is not spared from the sufferings he hands down the pecking order.

Each character has a tale to tell in this riveting book. And they all have secrets. Dreams too – sometimes their dreams are all they have.

Nan has grown up on Crossroads Farm after the death of her mother, the housekeeper Ketty. She dreams of the return of her father, Sterling, but never loses sight of stark reality even while she fantasizes about the future:

She had long had a picture in her mind of his homecoming: he would come up the driveway in an automobile, a Pontiac or Chevrolet, with a licence plate that said MARYLAND. The dogs would go out to greet him first and she’d step out onto the porch. He’d be wearing a Sunday suit and a wide-brimmed hat, which he’d tip up to get a better look at her, and then he’d take off the hat and hold it over his heart, and his eyes would see and see her. And then she would know. She would recognize him. She would recognize her own face in his.

But she knew nothing happened the way you imagined it. That was how she knew it was real.

It’s not a question of whether the truth will out, it’s when – it slowly but surely leaks through the holes in the characters’ stories, gathering together to a flow as large as the local creek.

Eleanor Henderson writes with feeling, strong historical influence and an eye for a poetic phrase. Despite most reviewers’ perception of this as a tragic story, I was pleased with its conclusion.

I got lost on The Twelve Mile Straight. You will too.

Twelve Mile Straight
by Eleanor Henderson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008158699

Find more in our collection:

It’s just around the corner…

No, not Christmas – AFFIRM.

A what? AFFIRM!

What the flimflam you ask…

AFFIRM is a family festival ACTIS (Aranui Community Trust Incorporated Society) delivers to provide health choices, education, training opportunities and careers information in a fun-filled family day with laughter, entertainment and activities for Aranui and the surrounding communities of Christchurch to get together and enjoy.

2017 is its 16th year.

Do you care? It would be cool if you did. I do, mainly because I’ve been volunteering on the committee for this event since I was 19, but now, because of my chosen career path, I have another avenue for which to encourage community to get involved with the library and vice versa.

Christchurch City Libraries first had a presence at AFFIRM in 2009 and then the following year with the Mobile Library in attendance and a whole tent dedicated to the promotion of libraries in general but highlighting the upcoming build of Aranui Library.

Library tent
Library tent at AFFIRM, 4 December 2010. Flickr File Reference: CCL-2010-Affirm10-DSC03470.

From then, Aranui Library has tried to maintain that presence through special activities on the day of (run at the library), over the mic announcements, free book giveaways, a Storytime session and this year, a colouring competition.

If you didn’t know, now you know. Spread the word, get involved.

16AFFIRM
Wainoni Park, Hampshire St.
9.30am – 4pm, Saturday 2 December 2017

Find out more

Ebony, 
Library Assistant, Aranui Library

Korean Day 한국의 날 – Saturday 2 December

K is for all about Korea

Do you like kimchi? How much do you know about Korea and your Korean neighbours? It’s time to meet and experience Korean culture!

Korean Day 한국의 날
When – Saturday 2 December 2017, 11am to 3pm,
Where – Cathedral Square

The Korean Society in Christchurch will be hosting Korean Day 2017. This event showcases traditional and modern Korean culture. There will be a variety of Korean foods stalls, as well as Korean traditional floor activities going on during performances. The main performers will be coming from Korea – the international Youth Arts Troupe. They will show us not only traditional performance but also the fantastic art of B-boying. There are also going to be plenty of other events offered to fill you up and provide a breathtaking cultural experience.

Enjoy a variety of Korean dishes and floor activities! Bring your family and friends.

Korean Day Gala Show – part of Korean Day
When – Sunday 7pm 3rd December, 2017
Where – North city Church

If you want to know more information please contact the Christchurch Korean Society.

Korean items in our collection

You can find books in Korean at:

Mango Languages – Mango is an online language learning system that can help you learn a variety of selected languages. It also contains instructions on how to learn English if Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian or Spanish is your first language.

OverDrive – Free downloadable eBook and eAudiobook collection.OverDrive includes a number of eBooks in Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Tagalog.

PressReader – gives you same-day access to more than 2,000 newspapers and over 500 magazines from around the world. Each newspaper and magazine displays as a full page in traditional format and layout, and includes complete editorial content, graphics and advertising. Over 60 languages are represented.

Information for new settlers in Korean.

New residents brochure in Korean

Be cyber smart this week (and every week)

Do you think much about your cyber Security?

27 November to 1 December 2017 is New Zealand Cyber Smart Week.

It is being promoted by CertNZ, an agency that exists to understand and advise both government organizations and New Zealanders about threats to their online security and how to minimize and respond to them.

They work closely with organizations such as the Police, NetSafe and Internal Affairs.

Like many things, prevention is better than cure. So, whether it is an offer that is too good to be true from a Nigerian Prince, or the fact that your password is – ahem – password, take a moment this week to think about how you can take a few simple steps to protect yourself and your family.

Cover of Internet security made easy Cover of Future crimes Cover of Understanding the digital world

Find out more

Simon
Digital Library Services

Cool stuff from the selectors: Designer dogs, Dickens and decluttering

9781910552773The Art of Winnie-the-Pooh: How E.H. Shepard Illustrated an Icon.  By James Campbell

The collaboration between the writer A.A Milne and illustrator  E.H. Shepard was unheard of at the time, and led to an iconic series of books where story and illustration became synonymous with our enjoyment of Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin, Eeyore, Tigger, Rabbit, owl, Kanga and Roo.  This is a lovely book of whimsy and memory, including examples of how the illustrations developed, descriptions of the life and family of Shepard and his relationship with A.A. Milne.

9781910636107The Scottish Bothy Bible: The complete guide to Scotland’s Bothies and How to Reach them. by Geoff Allan

Bothies were originally built as rudimentary accommodation for bachelor farm workers, and the vast majority of them were abandoned but have now been renovated by the Scottish Bothies Association.  They are randomly found across Scotland, are free, and often nowhere near attractions or national parks, however the nature of their existence and local make them an attraction in themselves.  These are not luxury 5 star huts, they are basic…”the two low benches can be edged towards the hearth, but there is a strange absence of chairs”. “Not available during stag stalking”. “No stove or fireplace” or “bring your own fuel”.  The views, landscape and the sheer out-of-the-way nature of these places however make up for the lack of home comforts.  Detailed descriptions of how to find them are included along with beautiful photographs of the hut and surrounding areas.

9780847860906At Home with Dogs and Their Designers: Sharing a stylish life  by Susanna Stalk

Coal, a yellow Labrador retriever is owned by Interior Designer Jeffrey Alan Marks.

“Coal travels with me a great deal, so her things are held in a navy leather tote bag that matches not only the car but also the navy leash I designed for her”

The dogs in this books live a charmed life, surrounded by opulent furniture, luxurious soft coverings and well clad owners.  They generally tone in well with surroundings and exude a certain smugness as they lounge beside their owners.  If you have a love of dogs and good interior design then this book will certainly not disappoint.

9781925322330The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter  By Margareta Magnusson

The author puts herself somewhere between the age of 80 and 100, so death is not an abstract idea, but she stresses that this is not a sad book.  Certainly clearing away all that clutter accumulated over a long life, alongside making decisions about the precious to alleviate family arguments, and perhaps dealing with things that you would rather people didn’t pore over after your demise is not a bad idea.  These are all practical suggestions, but this odd little book is as much about ideas on how to declutter as a memory of a life well lived.

9781910463338A Passion for China: A little book about the objects we ear from, live with and love by Molly Hatch

In complete contrast to decluttering is an ode to the past, a collection of beautiful objects with memories attached, this little book is a celebration of the everyday.  It is a mixture of history and art with beautifully painted renditions of old china and ceramics that the author remembers from her childhood, alongside family stories and interesting detail about some of the history behind these beloved pieces.

9781782494492Dinner with Dickens: Recipies inspired by the life and work of Charles Dickens by Pen Vogler

This is a book that celebrates the food of nineteenth century England and includes many of the dishes described in the books of Charles Dickens, including recipes and detail about the history of the time. Pete Evans of Paleo fame would no doubt enjoy Bone Marrow pudding, (apparently Queen Victoria had bone marrow every day so he is in good company), however French plums appealed more to me, alongside a good Leicestershire pork pie featured in Great Expectations. Many of the recipes are surprisingly appealing and are made even more interesting with a good dash of history and an even measure of literature.

Watch this space: Lindsay Chan maps Christchurch street art

The bare walls of our busted city are a canvas for something beautiful. Since the earthquakes, a lot of us think: “Christchurch street art is ka rawe”. Here’s a mere sample of what is happening right now:

Detail of Yikes’ Alice art on the wall of Alice Cinemas, 22 November 2017.
  • You can vote on Facebook for which Enliven places street mural you’d like painted on the side of the Ibis Christchurch. Voting closes Monday 27 November, so get in quick.
  • Superlot 9 is opening on 2 December at 122 Lichfield Street and is going to have street art bedecking giant spraycans.
  • Fiksate Gallery in New Brighton has an exhibition of street art, illustration and urban contemporary art on until 17 December.
  • YMCA Christchurch in association with PAINT (Pushing Art in New Zealand Trust) presents Street Prints Otautahi 2017. Large scale murals will be painted in the central city, New Brighton and Lyttelton, plus there’s a range of events and activities for all ages between 21 December and 29 December.

Street art can be ephemeral, as murals are painted over, blocked out, or the building canvas demolished. But there is a particular little leap of happiness in the heart when you spot something happening. It’s a buzz. Our street art is tied up with memories and possibilities, and with hope. I spoke to Lindsay Chan who since 2015 has been playing an important role documenting Ōtautahi’s street art and facilitating new artworks via the website Watch this space:

Why do you think Christchurch has become such a street art hub?

Christchurch always had talented muralists and graffiti artists, but it was the earthquakes that brought their talents to the forefront. The city became a blank canvas with empty buildings and buildings waiting to be torn down. George Shaw from Oi! YOU together with the Canterbury Museum and then the YMCA brought in internationally renowned artists to paint large-scale murals across the CBD. Combined with the amazing local talent and visiting international artists keen to make the most of the post earthquake landscape, Christchurch started making a name for itself in the international street art scene. Did you know it has its own chapter dedicated to Christchurch in Lonely Planet’s first ever street art dedicated guidebook, Street Art ?

Art by Flox - Spectrum Street Art Festival, YMCA. December 2015. Flickr IMG_1889
Art by Flox – Spectrum Street Art Festival, YMCA. December 2015. Flickr IMG_1889

How did Watch this Space get started?

When I moved to Christchurch a few years ago, I went on one of Frocks on Bikes free bike tours. That day they showed us around the different street art works. I was surprised to see all this amazing art work in the very city that I live in and bike through all the time. The bike leaders pointed out so many different art works that I had never noticed. I asked Connie, the leader from Frocks on Bikes, how she had decided the route, and she said it was actually quite a lot of work because none of the information was centralized. It was scattered across individual newspaper articles and maps were often incomplete and not kept up to date. Not to mention, Frocks on Bikes is a group of volunteers, so I thought it was a bit crazy that she ended up having to go through various newspaper articles and websites to decide a route and find out the details of each artist and work.

I work in geospatial information systems (GIS). We make maps and visualize data. We take number data and put them into an easy to understand format, usually into maps. I’m always looking for ways to learn new skills and thought this could be a great opportunity to put my skill set to use with something I’m really interested in – street art and create a resource that can be used now by the city and as a legacy item once the city is fully rebuilt.

What does your role involve day-to-day?

Well, my “real” job is working as a geospatial analyst at the Department of Conservation (DOC). I do Watch This Space stuff outside my regular work hours and have gotten others involved too because we think it’s something the city and the visitors to the city need. We are now a charitable trust and have five trustees who are a big help with sharing the day-to-day duties.

Day-to-day, we try to keep up to date with where the latest murals and graffiti are coming up in town and share that through our website and social media so other people can know about it too. We take photos, research the artists, chase down funding, and meet with all kinds of different people to try and convince them that the graffiti and murals in Christchurch are truly amazing and something that the city needs to make space for in “new” Christchurch.

Do you have any favourite artworks in town?

That’s a hard one Donna. I have many favourites. One of the things that draws me to graffiti and murals is the stories behind each of these. I like the paste up of Tony Fomison and the tags that cover it. This one is located on the corner of Manchester and High. The paste up was put up after the earthquakes as part of Christchurch Art Gallery’s Outer Spaces project, but they put it over a tag. Later that artist came back to mark his territory and tagged over the paste up. I think it’s a great dialogue between outdoor and indoor art and the different forms of art that exist in Christchurch.

No! Tony Fomison. Image supplied.
No! Tony Fomison. Image supplied.

My other favourite was a portrait of Ikarus by Wongi . It was on the corner of Manchester and Welles. I like how graffiti is something friends go out to do together. I think it’s even cooler that Wongi did a portrait of one of his good friends and the works around it give it a nice touch too. It shows that a lot of different artists had been out to that spot.

Ikarus by Wongi Wilson. Image supplied.

How can Christchurch people and visitors help grow Watch this space? What are the features of the website they can use?

We want Watch This Space to be a project for the people by the people. The website is set up so people can contribute their own street art images, so if you see something new come up, take a photo and send it in. If you notice a building getting torn down or an art work getting covered up, take a photo and send it in. If you’ve taken photos pre-earthquake, send it in. Watch This Space can only cover so much ground, so please, we’d love to add your images to the map. The best way for this project to be sustainable is if the community gets involved, and we’ve created some easy to use tools so you can.

Other than mapping and creating and accurate, up to date resource, we also want to support paid opportunities for artists. If you’d like to get a mural commissioned, we can connect you with the right artist.

You can also donate to our project to help cover developer fees, writing articles, and just our general time we put into this to make it happen.

How do you work with artists and building owners to activate walls with art?

We have steadily been building ties with the local artists as we add their works to the map and write about them in our blog. People around town are starting to come across our resource and contact us from time to time for help connecting with artists. We recently helped ChristchurchNZ in their search for wall space for the David Kidwell mural on the corner of Lichfield and High as well as helping Christchurch City Council find artists for the Enliven places street mural project.

Mr G at work on his portrait of David Kidwell, October 2017.
Mr G at work on his portrait of David Kidwell, October 2017.

Artists can fill out this expression of interest form on our website, and businesses or local organisations who want to commission a mural can fill out a form, where we’ll help to connect them with a local artist.

There’s a lot that happens before we actually see the mural on the wall, which many people don’t see or understand. That’s where we can step in and help make it easier on both parties.

I think one of the great strengths of Watch this Space is that you also list the artworks that are no longer viewable, whether they are on buildings that have been demolished, or sites that have been built up. Do you have a sense of the work having a role to play in our history?

I think it’s extremely important to follow street art as it gets decommissioned. Many people see the beauty of street art as being ephemeral. I agree that is an aspect that contributes to its beauty, but art isn’t just about beauty. Throughout history, art has been used as a form of expression and commentary on the current climate. Graffiti, murals, and street art are a record of what our city is, what it was, and what it could be.

Take for example Daek Williams’s mural that used to be on the corner of Colombo and Peterborough Street. He made that for the Rise festival, and the mural is based on his impression of the residents of the Red Zone and how they stayed and did not leave Christchurch.

Home is Where the Heart is by Daek William. Image supplied.
Home is Where the Heart is by Daek William. Image supplied.

Dcypher’s mural on the side of the Roxx climbing gym on Waltham Road is the artist’s interpretation of Christchurch’s urban landscape prior to the earthquakes. Following street art as it gets covered up and torn down is also preserving piece of history and the memories individuals attach to different works.

Dcypher art on Roxx/Clip n Climb. Image supplied.

Do you use libraries?

I went to the library a lot as a kid. I read a lot growing up.

What are you reading/watching/listening to now?

CoverI have to admit, I’ve been watching the Marvel series on Netflix. I used to love reading as a kid, but when I entered high school, there was so much required reading and analysis and essays about what we were reading, I haven’t been able to get back into it. I recently heard an interview by the author of Nevermoor on RadioNZ. It reminded me of the Harry Potter series, which I was a big fan of growing up. Nevermoor sounds pretty awesome. I might have to go check that out..

Watch this space …

From Friday 24 November, we’re starting to guide tours on Fridays and Saturdays for the rest of the summer. They will go from 11am to 12:30pm, at a cost of $25 per person. Proceeds from the tour will go back into Watch This Space to help cover developer fees, the interviews and editorials on our blog, and be put aside to commission a mural in the future. Find out more and book your tour.

Looking at street art on Madras Street. Image supplied.
Looking at street art on Madras Street. Image supplied.

Watch this space and Christchurch street art

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