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

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Emily
New Brighton Library

Students Avon River Bike Race: Christchurch Photo Hunt 2017

Photo Hunt 2017: Plains, Port Hills & Peninsula – Finding our way

This year the theme for Photo Hunt is Plains, Port Hills & Peninsula – Finding our way. However, the photos you submit are not limited to this theme. We invite you to share any of your photos and help grow the city’s photographic archive. All entries must be received by 31 October.

Christchurch City Libraries has produced a set of four postcards promoting the competition which are available from your local library. Each week during October we’ll be featuring one of the postcard images on our blog.

Students Avon River Bike Race by kevinkemp. Kete Christchurch. Avon_bike_race.  Licensed under a CC BY 3.0 NZ License.

Avon River bike race for University of Canterbury rag day.

About Kete Christchurch

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Hang gliding – Port Hills: Christchurch Photo Hunt 2017

Photo Hunt 2017: Plains, Port Hills & Peninsula – Finding our way

This year the theme for Photo Hunt is Plains, Port Hills & Peninsula – Finding our way. However, the photos you submit are not limited to this theme. We invite you to share any of your photos and help grow the city’s photographic archive. All entries must be received by 31 October.

Christchurch City Libraries has produced a set of four postcards promoting the competition which are available from your local library. Each week during October we’ll be featuring one of the postcard images on our blog.

Hang gliding – Port Hills. Kete Christchurch. Hang_gliding_-_Port_hills_2966945852_o. Entry in the Christchurch City Libraries 2008 Photo Hunt. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

Unknown group hang-gliding on Port Hills.  We were passing by and saw them.  It was a relatively new sight in Christchurch in 1976.

Photograph by Irene Absalom.

Date: 1976.

File Reference: HWC08-SO100

Entry in the Christchurch City Libraries 2008 Photo Hunt.

About Kete Christchurch

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Life is just better on roller skates

Just over two years ago I started training for roller derby – at about the same time that I started working as a library assistant. I’m still working on the roller derby and in the library.

Roller Derby is an athletic and strategic full-contact sport, played on quad skates with two teams competing against each other or a flat track. Mention it to most people and they think of some sort of chaotic cat-fight and conjure up scenes from the movie Whip it (and just to clarify a whip is a term for assisting a team-mate – usually a jammer on the track to get past opposing blockers).

What is less well known is that Christchurch has two roller derby leagues: Dead End Derby Christchurch Rollergirls – whose All Stars team are currently ranked number one in New Zealand and Otautahi Roller Derby League.

Cover of Derby girlNew Zealand has more roller derby players per capita than any other country. The library even has books on the subject from the award winning children’s graphic novel, Roller Girl by derby player Victoria Jamieson (the novel that “Whip it” was based on), Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, to practical non-fiction guides like The Roller Derby Athlete, to books to help you to develop mental toughness as an athlete such as Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code. As roller derby is a journey of highs and lows these are really invaluable resources.

Cover of Roller Girl

Roller Girl is a fantastic read for girls who struggle to fit in and discover who they are. It also explores the ups and downs of friendships as interests and priorities change. A visit to Jamieson’s website also leads to a downloadable e-book about the making of “Roller Girl” with helpful info about real-life derby girls. FYI, girls and boys aged 8-14 can also join junior derby in Christchurch.

For an inspirational read about fearless athletes who have had to jump farther, run faster and fight harder to prove themselves in the athletic arena, then look no further than Women in Sports. This is such a motivating read that will hopefully empower lots more athletes.

Win tickets to DED All Stars vs Northland

We’ve been lucky enough to have a double pass for a lucky winner to go and experience a top class derby bout in Christchurch on Saturday 30th September as DED All Stars take on Northland in their only home game of the season. To win, we want to know, what would your derby name be? (Most derby players chose a derby name that they are known by. Sometimes these are puns or reference derby in some way).

Email competition@ccc.govt.nz with your derby name and contact details by 5pm, Wednesday 27th September.

Find out more

Review: The Fox and the Ghost King

Cover of The Fox and the Ghost KingWhat do you get when you cross foxes with football and the ghost of King Richard III?

Give up?

Well, I’ll tell you. You get Michael Morpurgo’s The Fox and the Ghost King, that’s what. It’s a pretty odd sounding combo, I know, but the result is a really sweet against-the-odds, underdog (or should that be underfox?) story.

It’s a little bit of fairy-tale blended with a little bit of history, and a whole lot of pluck.

Cover of The Tale of Jemima PuddleduckI don’t know any foxes personally, but think they have a bit of a bad rap. They are usually portrayed as villains – the Sandy Whiskered Gentleman in Jemima Puddleduck, for example.  But they are so darn cute, I’m sure they don’t really deserve it, do they? The fox family in this story are definitely on the cute side, anyway.

What I didn’t know about foxes is that they are football fans. And no matter where they live, their favourite team is Leicester City, otherwise known as The Foxes (naturally). Now, what I didn’t know about foxes is far surpassed by what I didn’t know about football. I know now that Leicester City have long been the underdogs of the Premier League, till in 2015-16 when a little bit of magic turned things around for them. This bit of the story really is true. The other bit of truth in the story is the discovery of Richard III’s body – under a carpark if you recall.

The magical bit is the way that Michael Morpurgo weaves these threads together, telling the tale through the eyes of a cute and cheeky little fox cub. Odd combo it may be, but it definitely makes a fabulous read for a small person.

Further reading

Te Rerenga Kōrero – Wheowheo ana te haere!

Kia ora. To encourage the use of Te Reo Māori Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori – The Māori Language Commission publish weekly Māori phrases that can be used to support or cheer someone on.

Wheowheo ana te haere!
They went at full speed!

akina te reo rugby

Te Rerenga Kōrero – Koirā!

Kia ora. To encourage the use of Te Reo Māori Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori – The Māori Language Commission publish weekly Māori phrases that can be used to support or cheer someone on.

Koirā!
Yes, that’s the one!

akina te reo rugby

Te Rerenga Kōrero – Mau mau ana!

Kia ora. To encourage the use of Te Reo Māori Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori – The Māori Language Commission publish weekly Māori phrases that can be used to support or cheer someone on.

Mau mau ana!
Caught! Nabbed!

akina te reo rugby

Winter Sports in Canterbury: Ice Skating

At first glance there seems nothing remarkable about the swampy scrubland which lies in the shadow of Mount Harper on the northern banks of the Rangitata River. Separated from the valley road by the braided course of the river, it is easily bypassed by tourists, as they journey further inland to visit Mount Sunday, the filming location for Edoras in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is only when you closely examine the area using Google Maps satellite imaging that you notice an unusual circular patch of land. Long since overgrown, it shows signs of having been altered by human activity at some stage in its past.

A physical journey to the site, itself a difficult undertaking unless you are in possession of a boat or a 4WD, would offer more clues. There you would find the ruined remains of concrete culverts, causeways, bund walls, machinery, and buildings. These are the only reminders of a facility which, at one point, attracted up to 3,000 people in a single day; the Mount Harper ice rink.

Colonial pastime

Even at the beginning of the twentieth century, ice skating was already a well established pursuit for those who lived on the remote back country stations in the foothills of the Canterbury mountains. For early settlers in the nineteenth century, the winter months could be bleak and gloomy. One of the means of passing the time for those residing in the high country was ice skating. Newcomers to the region were told of lakes set further inland, which froze so hard during winter that a team of bullocks could be lead across the surface. Lake Ida, near Lake Coleridge, was one such popular destination for the sport.

http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/heritage/photos/collection22/02358.asp
Ice at Lake Ida [ca. 1953]. File Reference CCL Photo Collection 22, Img02358.
In the 1860s, the owner of the Lake Coleridge run, Charles Harper, used to organise week long skating parties in which people from surrounding stations would be invited to participate. Each day the group would meet at his station and ride out to the Lake Ida, where they would enjoy a day of skating. In her account, Station Life in New Zealand, Mary Anne Barker, describes the setting of one such outing:

“On either hand rose up, shear from the water’s edge, a great, barren, shingly mountain; before us loomed a dark pine forest, whose black shadows crept up until they merged in the deep crevasses and fissures of the Snowy Range.”

Weekends in the mountains

Prior to the construction of the Mount Harper rink in 1931 and 1932, ice skating in Canterbury had largely been confined either to these high country residents (some of whom made their own private rinks), or members of winter sports clubs (in 1930 the Canterbury Winter Sports Club began construction of an ice skating rink and toboggan run on Mount Cheeseman at the foot of the Craigieburn Range).

Although it was a pastime which couldn’t be so easily undertaken by the average citizen of Christchurch, it was still popular enough for a local industry to arise. By 1934 Ice skates were being manufactured locally at the firm of P. and D. Duncan who used boots made in Christchurch by Duckworth, Turner and Company Limited. It was in this same year that a synthetic ice skating rink opened in Christchurch on Kilmore Street opposite the Caledonian Hall (it is possible that it was not feasible to operate, as by 1936 it appears to have become a roller skating rink).

That outdoor skating was a popular activity for the people of Christchurch can be seen by a 1937 article in The Press which estimated that up to 600 people left the city every winter weekend to find suitable locations for skating.

http://ketechristchurch.peoplesnetworknz.info/site/images/show/23068-at-lake-ida-for-an-ice-skating-get-together#.WTCyHOuGPcs
At Lake Ida for an ice-skating get together by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

The Mount Harper ice rink

The Mount Harper rink was constructed by Wyndham Barker (1886-1958). The son of a Rangitata farmer, he developed a passion for ice skating while living abroad in Europe. Upon returning to Canterbury, it seems he had a desire to raise the profile of the sport in New Zealand. His rink would differ from other rinks in that it was the first purpose built public ice skating rink in Canterbury, and possibly the southern hemisphere.

The rink was set on land leased from Mount Possession Station, in a cold location which remained without sun between the months of May to August. After the first rink failed to prove satisfactory, another was constructed. The number of rinks expanded until there were at least eight (though not all were successful at forming ice). Buses would bring visitors all the way from Christchurch, and after crossing the Rangitata River on a punt, they would initially take in their surroundings from the warmth of the ‘skate shed’ (in reality more of a clubhouse and cafeteria) before venturing out onto the ice. There they could enjoy not only skating but tobogganing, curling, and ice yachting. Floodlights were also installed for those who were willing to brave the chill and skate at night.

Perhaps the most significant sport performed at the rink was ice hockey. In 1937 Barker established the Erewhon Cup, an ice hockey tournament which continues to this day.

The Mount Harper rink continued to provide the people of Canterbury with an array of winter sport activities until it was finally closed to the public in the 1950s. Left to fall into ruin, it is now located within the Hakatere Conservation Park and administered by the Department of Conservation.

Skating in the city

Skating In North Hagley Park by Kete Site Admin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

Despite the closure of the Mount Harper rink, the ice would soon come to Christchurch. When Victoria Lake in Hagley Park froze in 1945, it was followed by calls for a permanent artificial ice skating rink to be established in the city. In 1952 Centaurus ice rink opened at what is now 12 Centaurus Road, Cashmere. The rink operated until 1982 when it closed and was demolished. The location of the former rink became the site of Torvill and Dean Lane, which was named after British skaters, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Winter Olympics for ice dancing.

In 1985 the Alpine Ice rink opened on Brougham Street. Today, the venue is the home of the ice hockey team, the Canterbury Red Devils (formed in 2005).

Do you have any images of ice skating in Canterbury or of the former ice skating rinks which you would like to contribute to Kete Christchurch?

Find out more

Te Rerenga Kōrero – Purere ana te oma!

Kia ora. To encourage the use of Te Reo Māori Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori – The Māori Language Commission publish weekly Māori phrases that can be used to support or cheer someone on.

Purere ana te oma!
Ran like a flash!

akina te reo rugby