Oxfam Trailwalker 2017

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It was a tough day out on the trails yesterday. A 6am start was a new experience for us and we’re not sure whether we like it! The new route meant that we could move our way up the field before the single track stuff started so we didn’t get stuck behind slower teams.  After that, though, apart from the ‘Aussie Boys’ and ‘Dad’s (Dodgy) Army’ who we played tag with, we were pretty much on our own. It was a bit lonely, especially in the dark, so checkpoints were a very welcome sight. A 7am start in the past has always meant that we were in amongst other teams, we had targets to aim for, people to joke with, chat with, share the journey. On the other hand, we saw the sun rise over Ohope – a beautiful pink glow in the sky rising to full sunshine and a hazy blur over the ocean as we walked along the beach.

The new course promised to get most of the hills out of the way in the first 50kms, but 1500m of ascent is quite a lot and it was not all over! The remainder of the course included plenty of ups and downs on uneven terrain in the dark on tired legs. But that is Oxfam Trailwalker and that is the challenge!

The weather this year was so much kinder than last year! But it was hot and exposed, especially along the beach and over to the airstrip where there was no shade. This certainly had an impact on us.  As is always the case, we all hit walls of varying sizes at different stages of the walk but we worked together to support each other through the bad patches.  Sadly, Jo had to make the painful and very difficult decision to retire after 65km as she suffered some dizzy spells and we were about to walk into the darkness and into an area with no cell phone coverage and no road access.  So just three of us set off from Rewarau Road, after a tearful goodbye, determined that we would see it through.

Feet covered in blisters – Jo and Shelley had adopted the stylish sandals and socks fashion statement early on to reduce the pressure on toes and heels! – sore hips, knees, calves, shoulders… (we are a set of old crocks!!) we trudged on. Our mantra was “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”. One foot in front of the other in the pool of light from our headtorches.   I think at one point Shelley counted a thousand steps to estimate when the next KM marker was, just to focus her mind on something other than the pain! I know I sang the CORE waiata in my head to keep my rhythm and momentum up. Kilometres went by in silence as we focussed on our own battles in our own heads (especially up the hills) and then someone would say something and spark a conversation which kept us going for another few kms.

Our chant as we entered each checkpoint was as much to rally our own spirits as to announce to our support team that we had arrived. We think it also raised other people’s spirits as everyone commented on it.  The line “We are strong and we are keen” was changed after we lost Jo to, “We are running out of steam” as we definitely didn’t feel strong or keen at that point!

We also found it useful to set ourselves a target – there was a danger when Jo had to retire that we would lose momentum as she is such a motivator in our team.  So we focused on a time by which we really wanted to be off the course, worked out if it was realistic given the terrain and the speed we could physically manage at that point, and kept it in mind as each kilometre passed.  We had two targets – an ideal which was probably slightly unrealistic, and a fall back which was more realistic.

It worked. We were buggered but we did it thanks to the good pace we had set when we were a full team of 4 with Jo and the sheer bloody mindedness, determination and just a hint of craziness of the whole team from start to finish. There is no “I” in TEAM, there may be a “ME” but “MATE” is the whole thing. And mates work together, look out for each other, laugh together, cry together, know when to be quiet and when to cajole and when to tell it like it is.

Not sure if we will embark on another Oxfam Trailwalker – between us we have done more than 10 with different people. We make regular donations to Oxfam as monthly donors, so we may bow out and turn to different challenges. It was a gruelling and very emotional 20 hours 54 minutes. A big shout out to our support team, Rob, Nigel and Nathan who kept us fed and watered, put up with the tears, the frustrations and the demands we made of them.  They are as much a part of the success of completing 100km as we are.  A shout out too to the teams who supported us with their banter, encouraging words, kind words, and understanding when they could see we were struggling.

Oxfam Trailwalker is a test of friendship, teamwork, coping with uncertainty, frustration, and digging deep inside yourself to find reserves you didn’t know you had.  But it also brings out the best in people; in times of adversity (and this year was not the first time we have had to deal with adversity on an Oxfam Trailwalk) we learn how to support each other, we give –  not just things, but ourselves, our emotions, our energy, our passion.  I think we left everything out there on the course in Whakatane yesterday, like many other trailwalkers, and we are better people because of it.

Thank you Jo Munn, Shelley Mackay and Paula Klein. I am proud to call you my friends, sisters in arms, fellow adventurers, mischief makers ….

Photo by Photos4Sale Thank you

Photos in slideshow by Anne Robertson and Photos4Sale Event photographers  CC-BY-SA

100km and still walking ….just!

Four female walkers at the start of the Oxfam Trailwalk event.  It is dark as it is early in the morning.
Counting down to the start – a hurried photo!

I did it!  WE did it! The much blogged about Oxfamtrailwalk NZ 2015 is done and dusted bar the sore feet and blisters. It was not uneventful – nervousness, excitement, pain, tears, frustration, disappointment, disaster, elation, adrenalin, determination – just to name but a few of the emotions we felt as we journeyed from Whangamata Road Landing strip to Taupo Domain.

Our first tears and frustration came when we got lost on the way to the event!  Then the adrenalin rush as the countdown was on and we were still in the loo; 7 we ran out, 6 still re-arranging our knickers, 5 held hands and 4, 3, 2 wove through the throng  and 1, we were officially off.  We picked our way in the half light of a chilly March morning over the uneven ground, passing teams on our way, “Skirts coming through!” “Mad women, on their way!” shrieking and laughing in near hysteria that we had actually made it!  As we reached the mountain bike track and the path narrowed, going was a little slower but the passing protocol was cheerfully adhered to.  “Passing on your right!”  “You go girls”, “Good luck”, “Have a great day” “Love your skirts, so cute!” (from the chicks) “Nice skirts, girls” (from the guys – with a look and a tone that went with it!) “What’s your team name?” “Cool, nice one. Catch you later!”

As the field thinned out we found ourselves amongst teams going a similar speed to us and started playing team tag.  We were feeling great.  My quads were screaming as we pretty much ran the first leg but it trended downhill and we knew that we wanted to get a good start and make the most of the Grade 2 legs early on to have some time in the bag for the harder legs to come.

The sun had come up and it was going to be a beautiful day;  the promised rain didn’t come until the next day and boy, were we thankful for that!  Then, CRASH!  Jo went down like the proverbial! She was behind me as we ran and picked our way over the roots on the baked sandy path and tripped and fell headlong.  It didn’t look good; she was twisted on her back holding her neck.  But, no, all good, she turned over, dusted herself down gave herself a shake and took off. Adrenalin was clearly pumping as we could hardly keep up!

We met our support team at Kinloch, 22km in.  A quick massage, some blister care for Debbie, take on some food – peanut butter and honey sarnies for me – some electrolytes and we were on our way again.  The 16km on the mountain bike track over to Whakaipo Bay winds its way over the headland and down again in the bush.  We ran and walked in equal measure staying cool in the trees despite the sun getting ever hotter.  Glimpses of a glassy Lake Taupo’s deep blue waters at high points reminded us that there was a world outside our challenge!  Our support crew were a welcome sight in Whakaipo Bay but just a quick refuel and then we were off again.

4 female walkers at the highest point of the Oxfam Trailwalk. Clouds in a sunny sky.
At the trig point Leg 4

Over the hills and far away.  Less running now, uneven ground, across fields, uphill to the trig point, downhill on the Scoria Road, through the quarry and into Taupo.  It was more of a battle but we had passed some milestones; a quarter of the way, a third of the way and now the halfway point had been reached.  Jo was really starting to struggle though.  She hadn’t mentioned it at the time but admitted during Leg 4 that she had been very woozy during Leg 3 following her fall.  Her knees were sore and she took to her walking poles for Leg 5 (so did I as my quads were complaining!).  Leg 5 took us along the river to Huka Falls and a checkpoint with no support crew.  Jo was finding it hard going, her knee was hardly bending and every downhill stretch was painful for her. We were worried. Camaraderie from other teams kept us going.  The support out there was fantastic.

4 female walkers walking along a gravel road. cloudy sky
Half way point on Scoria Road

As we ventured into the pine forest that would lead us to the Wairake Resort and Checkpoint 6 there was an eerie silence.  The ground of dead pine needles was soft underfoot and our feet made no sound as we marched across it.  The trees towered tall and sombre above and around us as the sky between grew dark.  No birds sang and we could neither see nor hear any other teams.  The path took us up and down, looping through and back on ourselves and seemed to go on for ever.  We grew weary of the silence, of the darkness and we were increasingly worried about Jo. Eventually she stopped.  Nauseous, sleepy, in pain but still determined to keep going.  Frustrated, disappointed.  We had to make a call.

We waited as night fell in forest.  Jo wrapped in warm clothes and survival blankets, drifting in an out of half consciousness as I kept her talking, Debbie and the other Jo directing teams around our friend as they caught us up and went past.  We were getting cold too and still rescue didn’t come.  Conflicting emotions; on the one hand real worry about our friend and the time it was taking to get help to her, on the other frustration at the time we were losing.  It isn’t easy to face up to those selfish thoughts but we had worked so hard and we had done so well so far and were easily on time for our sub 18 hour target.

An hour later, after several phone calls with Oxfam Support, Civil Defence and our support crew and still no sign of rescue, Jo’s husband arrived.  We left them in sombre mood, cold, damp and hungry, picked ourselves up and jogged in the darkness to Checkpoint 6.  Hot food, more fluids and a bit of a pep talk to get our heads back into a good space.  Up until now we had sung our way into every checkpoint.  Our skirts and our song were becoming a feature!  Not this time, we were just too flat.  Fleeting thoughts of packing it all in came and went.  Jo would have been mad as hell if we didn’t continue.  So we forgot the 69km we had already done.  This was a 30km walk.  We’d done plenty of those in training.  Get up and get out there!

The 18km of Leg 7 was interminable.  Darkness and not actually knowing where the hell we were made the kilometres pass by very slowly.  We prayed that we had missed a km marker or two and that the next one would say we were a couple of kms further on.  But no.  We felt like we were making a good pace and we were passing the teams that had passed us in the forest but those kms didn’t seem to be going down and we seemed to be going round in circles.  And don’t mention the swede fields!

We sang our way into Checkpoint 7, loud and heartily.

“We are the Pat and Posties Team.

We are strong and we are mean.

Walking the trail in our little skirts.

‘Cos we know the hundy hurts!”

(US Army marching style, me leading the others repeating!)

Nearly there.  I, for one, was tearful.  We had had to dig deep for that leg.  Last refuelling – my boys had made me a hot cup of coffee – never has a coffee tasted so good!

Final leg. 12.3km.  Grade: Easy.  There is nothing easy about a final leg of a 100km walk!  Once again we were directed across fields, stumbling in the dark on uneven, wet grass searching for the glowsticks that were like candles in tin cans that marked the way.  It was heartening to have other teams to walk with at times and we provided mutual support in the darkness of the night. The lake front was a welcome sight – 4km to go – and there was Jo in the car with Doug!  So happy that she was ok.  What an adrenaline rush – come on, we can do it girls!  Our support crew had organised a staged re-entry for us! Paul and Aonghas along the lake front (and the runaway campervan!) spurred us on to go up a gear,  Lachlan met us as we rounded the corner for the last set of steps (cruel, cruel trick!) and the rest of the team were reassembled as we came into the finishing chute.  “We are the Pat and Posties team…..”  Once more as loud as we could!

A bitter sweet ending.  So glad that we finished.  So sad that we didn’t all make it all together.

Thank you “Pat and the Posties”; Postmaster General; Debbie, Courrier Post; Jo M, Fast Post; Jo P, Digi Post; Anne

And thank you to our support crew – we couldn’t have done it without you!  Paul, Rob, Doug, Lachlan and Aonghas.

#28daysofwriting Day 18: On language, grit and absurdity

Last night we contributed to the cause of redressing our work-life balance and went to see Eddie Izzard at Claudelands Event Centre.   There is nothing quite so good for releasing feel-good endorphins than having a really good laugh.  He really is a “Force Majeure”;  witty, intelligent, incisive humour that has a healthy splash of schoolboy, pythonesque absurdity and a strong sense of social justice. Just brilliant!

But there are two things about yesterday’s show that prompted me to write; one is his complete support and passion for learning languages.  He can present his show in French, German and Spanish and is planning on learning Arabic next.  It is not just learning the language though, it is being able to reach out and connect with the culture and the nuances of language and understand the psyche of a people and what makes them laugh.  Somehow he can do that.


The other thing is his down-to-earthness (not sure that is a word!), his sense of realism, of humanity, of social justice.  I was surprised just how much of himself he revealed in snippets during the show.  There were moments of very personal reflection amongst the silly noises and the insightful observations of life.  In his Q & A session after the show he was asked about how he trained for his challenge of completing 43 marathons in 51 days to raise money for the charity Sport Relief.  He said that he trained for only 5 weeks prior to starting and that the first 10 marathons were training for the next 33!  But his comment that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything struck me most.

We talk a lot about “grit”, about perseverance, resilience in education now.  But where does it come from, that picking yourself up after you’ve fallen down and keeping going?  Can we teach it? Can we learn it? Can we change the way that we are?  Is the ability to persevere an innate quality or can we develop it?  There are plenty of articles out there, if you google “teaching grit”.  In this Tedtalk Carol Dweck talks about how we can shift our mindsets, how our own beliefs about our abilities affect the way that we learn and approach life.

We hear the cliche about being able to do anything if you put your mind to it all the time but I believe it is true.  Anyone can put one foot in front of the other but there has to be a desire to start, and then a determination to succeed and a doggedness to keep going when the going gets tough.  But maybe you also need a sense of humour and just a little dose of absurdity?  I will put that theory to the test on 28th March! 

#28daysofwriting Day 6: Rest Day

Hot on the heels of post 5 which was late, I am playing catch up with post 6!  The last one ended up taking me far more than 28 minutes because of distractions so I am determined to keep this one short!  It is an unashamed plug  and demand for money too!

Today is a rest day.  Not just a rest from work since it is Waitangi Day, but also a rest from walking.  This week (starting from last Saturday)  I have walked 85km.  I have a blister under my little toe which is sore.  Any advice on healing blisters fast gratefully received.  Tomorrow I will walk 20km and on Sunday we are walking 30km along the Waikato River Trails.

Why? I think I mentioned in my first post that I have committed myself to completing the Oxfam Trailwalk on 28th March.  I might also have mentioned it again in Post 3.  And in Post 4.  No apologies – training is taking up quite a lot of my time, energy and thoughts at the moment.

I am building up plenty of resilience (Post 5) and I think I am going to need it.  Big style!

poster from Human Rioghts Commision showing a child jumping in a river and with the words "Everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rightsBut the people we are raising money for have to show far more resilience than we in western developed countries can even imagine.  For us, it might be grappling with new approaches in teaching and learning, it might be managing that awkward class last lesson on a Friday afternoon.  It might be getting our own kids off to school, tidying the house, hanging the washing out, getting the car to the garage before we can get to work.  It might be grumpy colleagues, or it might be that idiot pulling out in front of us at a roundabout.  Of course, I am being a little frivolous and there are plenty of people in western countries who have to deal with serious issues at any time in their lives.  I am not saying that we don’t have to deal with family members or close friends with debilitating and life-threatening illnesses, or that people in western countries all have roofs over their heads and enough food in their bellies.  I know that there is poverty and need in all countries.  But I have travelled to some developing countries and I have seen poverty on a completely different scale.  All the things we take for granted; clean water, shelter, health care, education, safety from persecution – things that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are not necessarily there for people in other parts of the world.  Oxfam works to provide aid but also sustainability, training young people, giving them lost skills which are culturally appropriate and consistent with the environment in which they live so that future generations can thrive.

So, and here is the plug – please consider supporting us as we walk 100km in good shoes and warm clothes, supported by friends and family to help those who often have to walk long distances in extreme weather conditions to collect water, food, go to school or escape persecution.

Here is the link to donate (you can even offset it against your tax!)

Our team for the Oxfam walk.  4 ladies.
Pat and The Posties

#28dayofwriting Day 5: Keeping it Real

First week of school for 2015 over!  Fortunately a short week, but a busy one.  I love meeting students for the first time. They are all excited and nervous and eager and reluctant all at the same time.  I wonder if they realise that their teachers often feel the same way?  What does the year hold?  What will I learn?  What will I achieve?  How will I fail?  Will I cope?  Will I inspire my students?  Will they inspire me?

Every year we have a theme for the year.  Last year was “Kotahitanga” which means ‘united” or “together”.  In fact for the last couple of years we have had a Maori word as our theme.  But our theme for this year is “Keep It Real”; Developing Resilient, Enterprising, Authentic, Learners.

logo for school them of the year "Keeping it Real"

Resilience (or resiliency) is a buzz theme at present in education, isn’t it?  Sometimes called grit, determination, picking yourself up, failing forwards, pluck.  Thesaurus.com gives these synonyms for resilience;  elasticity, bounce, flexibility, spring, stamina, staying power.   Then of course there are synonyms for each of those words but the idea of being able to adapt, to problem solve and to persevere is constant.  A necessity for living in the real world beyond school.

This year we have made the decision to go compulsory BYOD.  We also decided that we would not mandate a type of device except that it had to be equal to or larger than a 10″ screen.  Devices also have to be capable of using Google Apps as we are a GAFE school. Phones are permitted and welcomed in school for learning but have to be a secondary device.  This decision was made after two years of experimentation and exploration when students could bring devices if they wished.  Feedback from both students and staff was clear;  laptops and full sized tablets were much easier to manage for learning than smartphones.  Older students preferred laptops whilst younger students would rather use their smaller devices.  Some of the issue around handheld devices is that blurry line between whether a student is using the device for social and personal use or education and learning.  Teachers who are not comfortable with tech themselves are understandably unsure about how to handle it when students have their phones out in class.

hands holding smartphones to take a video of a pronunciation activity on a laptop screenSo my first full day of teaching was Year 9 ICT induction.  A day spent delivering the same lesson to 5 different eager Year 9 classes, with a mixture of devices; some shiny and new, some borrowed, laptops, tablets, Apples, Androids, Windows.  Some girls knew how to use their devices, some clearly did not!  First message; “Go home this weekend and learn how to drive your device!”

A fair degree of resilience was required, for all of us!  But we got there, working together.  I loved the way that they helped each other.  We have “Techy Angels” at school who run the techy stuff in Chapel for our Chaplain.  We also talk about “Digital Angels” in our induction lesson.  How can you help others who don’t know how to create a Google Doc or share a video or email a recording to a teacher?  How can you help a teacher who may not know as much as you and is feeling a little nervous about using technology?  There were plenty of “Digital Angels” ready to spread their wings last week.  Very heartwarming!

But it isn’t just our students who we are encouraging to “Keep it Real”, it is us too. The teachers.  In a high achieving school such as ours, with ambitious students, parents and teachers, the pressure is to succeed and that often leads to a non-risk taking approach.  The balance is difficult to reach – you can experiment but you also have to succeed. It was great, then, to hear our Principal giving the message to both staff (in our first meeting of the year) and to the students in their first assembly about aiming high but also being prepared to fail to move forwards.

A friend sent me a link to a paper written by “ETAG” The Education Technology Action Group chaired by Stephen Heppell.  I haven’t had time to read it in its entirety but this paragraph resonated loudly with me.

“This is an area (integrating technology into education and learning) where we would seek to shout out loud and clear that faced with the certainty of uncertainty and the constancy of change, the greatest risk, the most reckless course, lies in trying nothing new. We would and should expect occasional failure. Properly observed, professionally managed, collegially shared, a little failure is a necessary step in progress. Which is not to say that constant and abject failure is tolerable or useful. But in, for example, quality assuring an institution, an element of risk and discovery – of research – would surely always be a pre-requisite of the highest quality of practice in an educational organisation?”  

So, if you are feeling a little nervous at the start of a new year, with new initiatives, new students, new courses, take heart that it is ok to fail and “Keep it Real”.