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Remembering a Run in Christchurch, New Zealand

A bird's eye view of Christchurch's Hagley Park, bisected by the Avon River, pre-quake

A decade ago, my husband, Jack, and I were fortunate enough to get to travel around the world on an extended honeymoon. As I say in the book , I chose monuments and museums over miles. If I had insisted on carving out time for daily exercise, I might have come home divorced (again!) instead of newly wed. But I was able to slip in a few runs here and there. I traversed the trail-laced grounds of Malahide Castle outside of Dublin. In Budapest, I explored Margaret Island, the surprisingly bucolic oasis sandwiched in the middle of the Danube River. And in Christchurch, New Zealand, I loped around Hagley Park.

Every so often, I recollect these runs, letting sun-dappled memories transport me when I’m stuck in traffic or folding laundry. (A runner's version of a Calgon-take-me-away respite.) This past week, jarred by news reports of the devastating earthquake in Christchurch, I’ve been reliving my NZ run with renewed acuteness.

Photos, New York Times articles, and radio coverage about natural disasters are always heartwrenching—in 2008, I sobbed in the shower listening to NPR’s Melissa Block interview grieving parents whose children had died in the earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province. But having spent time in a place—eating a delectable pumpkin salad and sipping a local sauvignon blanc in a bistro; learning about Antarctic explorers at the Canterbury Museum; punting on the Avon River; laughing over “Snatch” at a movie theatre—brings the disaster closer to home. And there’s something about having run there that ushers it closer still.

Dappled sunlight on the river's bank

Prior to New Zealand, Jack and I had sweat profusely while marveling at the temples of Bangkok, then shivered in the frigid snow falling on yurts in Mongolia’s capital of Ulan Bator. So to arrive in Christchurch in their late spring (it was early December) was hitting a weather jackpot. Our B&B was mere blocks from Hagley Park, the charming city’s largest greenspace. I had no planned route on the trails that traversed the grassy landscape. Upon entering the park, I turned right, running under an allee of trees and past some older gentlemen out for a fitness walk. Emerging into full sunlight near the golf course, I headed into the center of the park and flanked the banks of a small lake dotted with ducks. I crossed a wooden bridge to explore the botanical gardens. The flowers—scarlet

A tulip as bright as my memories

 tulips, pink azaleas, and early yellow roses—were familiar, but much of the greenery had a slightly prehistoric look. My endurance had dipped dramatically—funny what several months of only tourist-speed walking will do to cardio fitness—so I used the intriguing flora as an excuse to walk a bit and explore. Eventually I resumed running and circled part of the park perimeter again. Heading out of the park near the museum, I spied an appealing sidewalk café and made a note to return there with Jack.

I can see it all so clearly in my mind, and it nearly breaks my heart to imagine how it all must look now—and how emotionally ravaged the residents of Christchurch must be. Here's what I’ve come to realize this past week: Where the heart has beat faster, the heartbreak pounds harder, too.

16 responses to “Remembering a Run in Christchurch, New Zealand

  1. Thanks for sharing your memories. My husband and I spent some time there as well, in 2003. I remember Christchurch as being a lovely town, with friendly people and a beautiful, lively downtown. My heart goes out to all of those suffering through this tragedy.

    1. New Zealanders were incredibly welcoming and friendly. Almost like how I imagine people/life must have been like in 1950s in U.S. A more innocent, caring way of life, in a way.

  2. You paint a beautiful picture, Sarah. Most definitely a place takes on a new meaning when you run through it’s streets and along it’s beaches. We spent our honeymoon in Australia traveling for a month. We’d run a few times each week and those were some of the best runs— slow, really looking around at the sights and stopping to soak it all in, making note of places to come back and check out further. Some of my fondest memories of our trip are those runs.

  3. Thank you for writing this post, Sarah. The Kiwis and all of NZ, but especially Christchurch, hold a special place in my heart. My husband and I lived/traveled there for five months in 2003. It wasn’t our honeymoon, but it was a part of fulfilling our dream to travel around the world (pre-children). While I wasn’t a runner at the time, I have hiked nearly every Great Walk in that country and feel intimately familiar with the people, the landscape and the All Blacks (national rugby team). My thoughts and prayers are with the people of NZ and Christchurch. I have no doubt that the Kiwis will recover from this disaster a stronger nation.

    1. Your time in NZ sounds wonderful. Jack and I spent a week traveling around the South Island and it wasn’t nearly enough time. We plan on returning when our children are older. I, too, know the country will come out stronger.

  4. It is so hard to hear about the natural disasters or destruction of places we hold so dear to our hearts. It makes us sad to think of the places that are stilled in our minds as tainted and forever changed…but at least we have had these moments. Thanks for sharing such beauty.

  5. I spent almost a year in NZ about 20 years ago. Such a beautiful beautiful place. My heart aches, too. I discovered my running self there and completely agree that you see, smell and experience a place so differently when you run it. There is no better way.

  6. I felt the same way when the tsunami hit American Samoa. I haven’t been there since I was just 7, but that is the place I started running. And to see it under water and what little there was there destroyed was hard to handle. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

  7. Beautiful! My husband and I spent a week last year in Ireland and ran almost everyday. The sights and sounds of the country side stick with you when you experience it in that way.

  8. Sarah, that’s beautiful. I can just picture it. The pictures today are so, so sad. But your post reminds me how we spent our honeymoon in Greece and my husband really wanted us to run together while we were there. But that was almost 15 years ago and I did NOT run then. He said he would only go if I went with him. But I didn’t, so he didn’t. You see a place in a totally different way when you’re running. NOW I get it. Maybe we’ll go back for our 20th…..and bring our running shoes.

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