Putting the dragon to rest: running in the Dandenongs

The Dandenongs

The Dandenongs

Freedom.  That morning, I was looking for freedom.  It had been a long time building, this mounting-volcano-of-a-feeling.  I had missed my long run due to injury the week before, and without my running – when I am facing the stress of the life that I currently live – I am not pleasant to live with.  I am rather like a dragon without my running, singeing anyone who comes too near.

I knew this of myself, so I put out a call to members of the Dandenongs Running Group, asking if anyone would join me on that Friday morning.  Truth is, I was scared to go alone – scared to get lost, scared of who might be lurking in the hills waiting for a lone female runner (that is a legacy of being a New Yorker; there are bad guys on every corner).  Weekends were too hard; I saved them for racing usually, and I was too tired from kids’ activities and I feared cancelling again.  Friday morning, the kids would be at school.

I got some bites from the group.  We played around with times, ranging from my hopeful 9:15 am to the painful “when it is still dark”.  We settled on 7:30 am.  I suggested a place where I had parked before, hoping to lessen my fear of driving to a new place, but this was rapidly suggested away by others, with calls for Sky High in the Dandenongs (the actual start of the Roller Coaster Race), but when we realised there would be no parking there, a place called Kalorama became our meeting point (an unknown place to me – even the name worried me – was it a road?  A mountain?  A town?).

But that morning, after printing out Google Map directions, and placing every map of the Roller Coaster Run I had into my CamelBak, along with my compass, first aid kit, four GU gels, and a space blanket for emergencies (I like to be prepared), I set off.  It was 6:00 am.  Unlike Sunday morning, there was traffic.  I hate traffic, except when it makes me drive slowly and reduces my fear.  My route took me onto the Eastern Freeway, which meant driving very fast, when I had learned to drive on the other side of the road.  I talked to myself as I approached that road of terror, and just before turning onto it, I saw the sun, a large orange ball, rise above the horizon.  It gave me courage.

Gripping the steering wheel with a death grip, I entered the freeway and made my way.   Though I drove faster than I would have liked to try to be on time, when I came to Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, I had to slow down.  I had never driven this twisty, turny, scary road, with its steep drop offs on the left, its warning signs of high crash areas at the start of every bend.  I was too fixated on the road to even look in the rearview mirror for the first five kilometres and when I finally did, there was an angry driver behind me who began tooting his horn.  I couldn’t pull over right away, but when I did, he continued tooting till he was long by me.  The song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Guy Sebastian played briefly in my head, but the tooting horn didn’t help my nerves.

So it was with great delight that I saw a group of three runners waiting in a very obvious parking area a few moments later.  I pulled in, but I didn’t want to get out of the car.  I was still shaking from the drive, and I needed a moment to compose myself.

A minute later, I got out and we introduced ourselves, names flying overhead but not settling in yet.  I was so kerfuffled, I nearly ran off in my driving shoes, but remembered at the last moment to switch to my Inov-8 Trail Rocs and grab my Camelbak.

Before I knew it we were running down a narrow, rocky single track, the most technical trail I’d run since Hong Kong.  Matt mentioned he liked my blog, and I thought that was really cool, and wished I had the ability to talk to him, but I was too busy trying not to fall on my face just then.  Bryan scampered ahead like a mountain goat (something that would continue for the next twenty or so kilometres!) and we all chatted as best we could.  I noticed Rachel’s Gel Kayana’s and wondered how they’d do on this sort of trail.  Shortly, we came to Sky High, and Bryan told us we had just climbed up what would be the finish of the race – gasp!  That was a steep climb!  The views were a bit hazy that morning, but we could still see for miles.  Then he mentioned that this was just the beginning of our run!

View from Sky High in the Dandenongs on a clear day

Where our race will begin and end

I pictured the grass we stood upon on race morning, with hundreds of racers milling around.  I tried to picture myself finishing the 43km event there but the image was elusive.

And so we ran on.  I won’t bore you with the details of the trails.  Here are the most memorable moments:

– the dozen sulfur-crested cockatoos on a mountain house, and finding a single while feather on the trail that I saved (I’ve always called these birds White Birds of Freedom.  I love their raucous, naughty nature.).

– Learning what Matt does for a living,and talking about minimalist running, training techniques, how to fix what’s wrong, and how the universe brings what you ask for.

– Being floored by Rachel’s courage in tackling this course for charity, and her plans to do the North Face 100 km race after just beginning to run in April 2012. I had mentioned in an earlier draft of this blog that she was doing the 50 km race, like me, but shortly after publishing this blog I got this correction from fellow runner Matty Bell:

Rachel (Rachel Gordon) is actually entered to do 100km at The North Face 100 – to raise money for the Royal Women’s Hospital’s NICU department! Thanks for sharing and should you, or anyone reading the blog be interested in following Rachel’ (and four other runners) journey to TNF100 – go to http://www.thewomens.org.au/themilkrun We would love all the support we can get!!! (Rachel started from her longest run being 7km’s to two bays in January and onto The Roller Coaster in April (double) and then TNF100!!!).”

Now I am even more impressed – please do pay them a visit and lend your support to a very worthy cause.
– Bryan’s ability to run for three hours on one sip of water and no food at all.

– How quickly a group of four strangers can become friends, can rely upon one another in a four-hour journey through the woods.

– How good it felt to hold the trail map in my hand and navigate again.

– How surprised I was when I ran out of water after about three hours (I had brought 2 litres and I’ve never run out before).

– The call of the laughing Kookabura.

– Tree ferns, stately gum trees, mud and rocks and huge up and down-hills.

The Roller Coaster Run - one of the many trails in the Dandenongs

Did I find my freedom?  Yes, for four sweat-soaked hours.  I found it in the white feather, in the trees, in my ability to run twenty-three kilometres.  I found it in that round ball of the sunrise.  When I watched that same sun set many hours later, as I cooked dinner, peace filled me.

The volcano sizzled and went out; the dragon curled up in a ball and fell asleep.

Me?  I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

Rachel, Matt, myself, and Bryan out for a Roller Coaster run.

Rachel, Matt, myself, and Bryan out for a Roller Coaster run.

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3 thoughts on “Putting the dragon to rest: running in the Dandenongs

  1. Hey Patricia Bowmer! Great blog, and great to hear you out and enjoying the Dandenongs! One corrrection – Rachel (Rachel Gordon) is actually entered to do 100km at The North Face 100 – to raise money for the Royal Women’s Hospital’s NICU department!
    Thanks for sharing and should you, or anyone reading the blog be interested in following Rachel’ (and four other runners) journey to TNF100 – go to http://www.thewomens.org.au/themilkrun
    We would love all the support we can get!!! (Rachel started from her longest run being 7km’s to two bays in January and onto The Roller Coaster in April (double) and then TNF100!!!)

  2. Pingback: Superman and the Roller Coaster 21.5km Run | patriciaabowmer

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