The odds of being eaten by a shark

Due to my engineering background, I understand risk analysis. I do risk assessments all the time in the laboratory where I do my research. Anyone who has done a risk assessment will understand the risk matrix which sets the consequence versus the probability to determine the risk. Anything with a high probability and high consequence (i.e. death, permanent disability etc) is a no no. In fact anything with a high consequence is generally ruled out in the lab, even if the probability is unlikely.

Strangely, risk analysis is not something I consciously do in my normal life, despite the fact I do many risky things. I snowboard, mountain bike, commute by bike, I go running by myself in the dark among other things. The risk is high in many of these activities with very high consequence, as I recently found out when I gave myself a concussion falling off my mountain bike, not to mention the 4 stitches in my shoulder (which had to be scrubbed under anesthetic to get rid of the dirt…).

Overconfidence = stitches

Overconfidence = stitches

But actually, when I think about it, I actually DO assess risks constantly. When on my mountain bike, I will walk sections I am uncomfortable with or not ready for, I will slow down when trying a new trail, I take compression bandages (for snake bites), always have my phone and make sure I tell someone where I am. My fall was a result of overconfidence and doing something I knew to be pretty silly (trying a large, for me, jump). When I run by myself, I am usually with my dog who is pretty scary looking, although harmless as a kitten (maybe a bit more harmless than a kitten, those things have sharp claws while the worst Melvin would do is lick you…). I also run in well-lit and populated areas. When I snowboard I wear a helmet and try to scope out new, possibly difficult runs from the chair lift. I also wouldn’t snowboard by myself and don’t let myself get out of control while boarding.

I can’t eliminate the risk without completely stopping all the things I love, so instead I try to bring it down to an acceptable level.

On that note, a friend has recently asked me to come open ocean swimming and I am considering the possibility. She goes with experienced ocean swimmers and she recounted her first time out to me. First, they look for a rip. Not to avoid, but to use to get ‘out the back’ behind the surfers and waves. Then they swim, often from one beach to another along the headland. It. Sounds. Terrifying. But also….exhilirating. She said it is incredibly beautiful and uplifting thing to do. But like, what about sharks? I’m not going to lie, the thought is so terrifying to me I may not be able to go through with it. BUT If I think about the risk assessment matrix the probability is so low it is practically non-existant…let’s look at some facts.

There have been 202 shark attacks in NSW in the last 100 years. According to the same website, the risk of a fatal shark attack was calculated to be 1 in 292,525 (0.0003%) based on ocean use and population statistics.

In comparison, 369 people were killed in NSW in fatal car accidents in 2012. According to stats in the ‘Road Traffic Crashes in NSW, 2012’ report, this is 0.74 fatalities per 10,000 licence holders – a percentage of 0.007%, which is a 1 in 13,514 chance.

So I am 21 times more likely to die in a fatal car accident than be killed by a shark.

My calculated risk of death is therefore much higher in the drive to the beach than the swim at the beach. Numbers crunched. Logically then, if I accept the risks to drive a car, I should be able to accept the lower risk of swimming in the ocean. Logical decision making says yes.

Emotional decision making…still on the fence. Stay tuned.


Queen of the Mountain

I LOVE Mountain bike riding. Since investing in my kick-ass bike in September (a Specialized Camber Comp 29er, dubbed ‘The Saint’) I have been tearing it up (kind of) in any and every MTB park I can find. I have been LOVING. Every. Sweet. Second.

My Camber, also named 'The Saint' (it is the St Kilda football team colours, you're welcome dad)

My Camber, also named ‘The Saint’ (it is the St Kilda football team colours, you’re welcome dad)

MTB riding and Snowboarding

How to explain the thrill of MTB riding? If you snowboard, it is very similar, I think, to boarding in several ways.

  • Being a beginner is HARD – there is a steep learning curve with both
  • Some runs are better than others
  • You finish each run on a high
  • You have to pick your line carefully when going down a trail, some lines are better than others and some are easier than others
  • Doing jumps starts off as something scary and accidental and ends up being a thrilling part you try to incorporate into every run.
  • You often fall off, or ‘bail’ as I like to say. Risk of major injuries is high and you are likely to come away – even on a good day – with a few scrapes and bruises.
  • ADRENALINE. Hello friend.

The similarities end on the ascent which, in snowboarding, is a relaxing glide to the summit. In MTB riding…it requires somewhat more effort.


MTB riding gets you FIT. Depending on the type of trails you ride, the fitness involved can vary but is always at a high level because the focus changes. Cross Country is fast and flowing, all mountain has fast and slow bits (ascents normally are slow) but also should flow on a good run. Downhill is another kettle of fish and one I have not had any inclination to try. This is the type where you need a full face helmet, body armour and people tend to cracks bones with astonishing ease. My husband has a downhill bike and all the gear and I always worry about him. He showed me the downhill track when we did some all mountain riding at Ourimbah and it scared the bejeezus out of me.

You won't see this little fat duck on that berm track...

You won’t see this little fat duck on that berm track…

For a beginner, fitness is something I struggled and still struggle with. It is very different to running fitness and uses different muscles with pressure in many different places over the body. Sometimes, the climb is so hard it can make the descent not seem worth the slog. Certainly gets the heart rate up. Mostly I think though that effort is fairly even across the ride. You can catch your breath on a downhill section, but muscles still need to be braced and can even end in cramps on descents. On a particularly steep descent I tend to grip the handle-bars a wee bit too hard and end up with sore hands and wrists. Generally my thighs ache by the bottom from being braced in ‘attack’ position and using my body as suspension – depending on the length of the segment.

Nature and its Charms

The beauty of the Australian bush is hard to describe. One of the places I ride (Glenrock) is particularly stunning as it also has ocean views and wild, ‘untamed’ bush vistas. Sometimes you will be riding through close bush and then sweep down into a gully across a creek and over a small bridge, or through a path strewn with old and beautifully patterned rocks.

Part way through a track I have dubbed 'Fern Gully' in Jesmond

Part way through a track I have dubbed ‘Fern Gully’ in Jesmond

The trail head at Awaba

The trail head at Awaba

Glenrock after a fire went through.

Glenrock after a fire went through.

Most MTB parks are situated in state forests and, although you do tend to make quite a bit of noise, the wild life is still there. I have seen a goanna, frilled neck lizard and a wallaby on my rides. My husband has seen an echidna and even stopped once to shoo one off the trail.

Nature also has somewhat of a downside – I often shudder as I shoot through a spider web or have an adrenaline spike when I see a snake-like stick on the trail…I have started to carry pressure bandages and often GPS track my ride in the case of a snake bite – but fear is not going to stop me from riding.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

There are a myriad of MTB parks in the vicinity of the Newcastle area, the best of which is Glenrock as it is close by and very beautiful. The trails there are All Mountain, meaning a blend of up and down hill as well as some cross-country type trails thrown in. In organized and well maintained parks, generally the trails are named, just like in snowboarding (another similarity). I like the name of the track Seuss land – but it is a horrible up hill climb. Another soul destroying ascent is called ‘Snakes and Ladders’ while the randomly named ‘Kenny’s’ and ‘BJ’s’ are two of my favourite. Other excellent MTB parks less than 2 hours’ drive away include Taree, Ourimbah and Awabah – all of which I have had a crack at.

Another area to ride is Jesmond, it is not a state forest so Melvin can come along for the ride. The down side is that the tracks aren’t maintained and can be covered in sticks or washed out from the rain – it’s a bit touch and go. Jesmond is also pretty much a one hill pony, big climb up followed by a descent and repeat. So I find it to be more exhausting than Glenrock or other MTB parks which have a bit more cross country riding (which tends to be flatter to encourage speed).

I also like the idea of a MTB holiday, similar to a snow trip but instead of loading up the boards we load up the bikes. I would love to ride in Canada, the Rockies would be spectacular and Tasmania also has amazing MTB riding. It really opens up a whole new world of exploration and is a special way to see the world and appreciate its beauty I think.

Boys and Their Toys

Those of you who know me may also know I get a bit of a thrill from doing things generally considered to be more the dominion of men. Engineering and snowboarding are two prime examples. MTB riding is also very much in this category. If fact you only need to look at stats on Strava (the App) to see where the majority lies (although this could also suggest Strava is mostly used by men, but I don’t think that is the case). When you ‘Strava’ a ride, your progress is tracked via GPS. When you complete a pre-determined segment, your time taken to complete this segment is logged and compared with other riders. Anyone can create a segment and a single loop can be made up of several overlapping segments. When you are first in a segment, you are named ‘King or Queen of the Mountain’. I am Queen of the Mountain in a few tracks no other women have Strava’d (winner!) which is awesome, but also sad that more women aren’t getting out there. Here is an example of a ride I Stava’d.

Unfortunately men do tend to dominate in this arena, their times are considerably and consistently faster than women on Strava. I’m not sure why, although I have heard it said that men and women assess risks differently, which is why guys tend to proliferate in extreme sports. I suppose in general that may be true, but I don’t see why it would make men better MTB riders since the best riders are always in control and risk plays a role only when there is the chance to lose control…I would think.

I can say however that I don’t think the men of MTB riding are DOMINANT necessarily; in fact every single person (man or woman) I have come across in the bush has been incredibly friendly and even supportive. I had a somewhat embarrassing moment of making it to the top of a particularly steep incline and shouting out ‘Wohoo! I did it!!’ to Hubby, who was in front of me, when a guy rode past a said ‘Great Work!.’ Perhaps the support stops once you pass the beginner/intermediate level since right now I am not challenging anyone (literally no one) with my speed. In any case, it is nothing like surfing from what I have seen. The culture is much more inclusive and less territorial – where I have been riding.

The Lone Wolf

One of the things I love about MTB riding is how in the moment it makes you feel. You can’t be distracted or thinking about anything else, only the trail and the response of your body. It is incredibly cathartic to go out for a ride by myself. Sometimes I don’t even see anyone (depends when I go). It can make men feel like, even though I know I’m in the middle of suburbia, I am out in the wilderness.

The Lone Saint

The Lone Saint

I also love going riding with my husband. I used to feel guilty for making him come with me as I am far, far slower (he has been riding since he was a kid). Luckily, recently he told me he likes to go with me for the breaks he gets (needless to say, I basically don’t get breaks when we go together)! I also like taking my dog, Melvin along for the ride. I can’t take him to Glenrock (it is a state forest, no dogs allowed) but he can come to Jesmond with me and he LOVES it, possibly even more than I do. He races ahead, tongue lolling and gets really excited when he sees me putting my bike in the car.

I have done one ride with a group and enjoyed it as well, but it can be difficult to find people to ride with at your level. It’s all very well going out for a ride with my husband and slowing him down, but going out for a ride with someone else who wants to go faster…might be uncomfortable. I am pushing myself though and improving, maybe one day soon I’ll be ready for a faster group ride.

You can expect many more posts on this topic, it really is an amazing sport and I am slowly but surely being consumed by it entirely. I am trying not to forgo runs in place of rides all the time, but it is certainly happening more frequently. What can I say other than….they see me rollin’. They hatin’.

Am I losing weight…or just my mind?

If I told you to stop thinking about chocolate, could you do it?

Personally, if I think about cutting myself off from chocolate cold turkey it becomes ALL I can THINK about. In fact I’m a step away from racing out the door to pick up a sneaky Kit-Kat.

Weight loss in particular and changing habits in general is, I feel, as much of a mental game as running.  80% mental effort, 20% physical (or some split of the sort).

I have a couple of tricks I picked up last year (probably not originally my idea but picked up from Women’s Health or similar) which help me flex that will-power muscle. It doesn’t always work but even 3 or 4 times out of ten ain’t bad.

1. I imagine how sick I would feel after eating something unhealthy

Ever had a sickening sugar high? Or a queasy stomach after a greasy bucket of KFC or Big Mac? Massive need to drink buckets of water after eating pizza? I know I have, and thinking about how crap I would feel PHYSICALLY helps my willpower overcome my craving. This is particularly helpful for my hot chip ban, I think about that gross oily coating I get in my mouth after eating too many hot chips. Blerk.

2. It’s not that I CAN’T have it, it’s that I don’t WANT it

This one is classic. I think it’s probably why I failed at Weight Watchers. Knowing I couldn’t have something because I had exceeded my points balance for the day already meant I really REALLY wanted it. Thinking that actually I can eat whatever I like, whenever I like perversely makes me think about it a lot less. For example I went last week without chocolate and I didn’t even notice (this is highly abnormal for me). I indulged in a row of dairy milk after I realised but felt no need to eat any more. Win.

This may seem counter to my hot chip ban but I find focusing on banning just one thing makes it a challenge rather than a deprivation.

3. I don’t weigh myself every day

I have read that weighing yourself every day can be helpful and keep you motivated, but I don’t find that works for me. What I did last year, and am starting again, is weighing myself monthly. Weight loss for me is a long-term goal and is secondary to my aims for better health. In any case fitness goals are much more short-term and just as easily measured and compared, i.e. lift slightly more weight, run or ride just a little faster or longer. I take my measurements weekly to make sure I’m still on track (waist, stomach and hips), but I avoid those scales like the plague.

On a side note I may actually be losing my mind.

After my spin class today I went to get the disinfectant to wipe my bike over for the next person (gym etiquette 101) and…couldn’t remember which bike I’d been on. It wasn’t until I was walking out the door I realised I had wiped down the wrong bike…not five minutes later I walked out to the car park and couldn’t remember where I parked. I literally walked around for 5 minutes before realising I was on the wrong level.

Yep, I’ve lost it big time. I thought working out was supposed to improve mental clarity?!