Salomon Trail Series Studley Park: you are a winner!

It was the first weekend of school holidays, and the kids had told me in very clear terms: “We don’t want to go to your stupid race.” My husband said something about supporting one another as a family, to which my seven-year-old replied, “What does ‘support’ mean?” Fair enough. They’d all spent a long time supporting me in the North Face 50 just six weeks ago. I understood.

Still, come race day, they were up early anyway, my five-am risers, and after a few ‘hurry-ups’, we drove off right on time. Well, five minutes late, but that was ok. Except that we got ten minutes down the road before I realised I’d left my Garmin behind. My lifeline; my everything; my Garmin. At first, I said, keep going, but a moment later, I said, with a kind of desperation, “No, turn back, please”. We got back, I raced in the door, scared the cats, grabbed the watch, and jumped back in the car. My pre-race nerves on high alert now, as we were twenty minutes past departure time, and I knew we’d miss the pole-position parking I aim for. The kids were noisy, playing Slap-Taxi, and Spot the Yellow Car, and my exhuberant husband joined in with enthusiasm. I willed quiet to settle, but only found it in my breath.

On arrival, we parked well up the road, and I was advised by my family to go on ahead, as there were many snacks and race-time entertainment items to prepare. Not one to miss the offer of an open gate, off I bolted down the hill, Salomon pack flapping in the wind, enjoying the feeling of running after two rest days. I darted around families, testing my agility, enjoying the moment to myself, but at the bottom, a woman runner, said, “Oh there you are! I wanted to tell you, you dropped a gel back at the top of the hill. I left it on a bench – you were going too fast to shout you.” Darn. Well, at least I’d packed three; that left two for a 15k race. A moment later, I ran into Claire, who was proud to display her new Garmin that had come as a early birthday present. How lovely to get a hug from a friend, just when I needed it. It also helped to bring me back into the moment, and let go of the silly gel.

I went on to do the usual pre-race stuff: visit the toilet several times; look for friends – I found a few Dandenongs Trail Runners members and chatted; I found my family and dragged all of us to the starting line. There, I realised it was warmer than I expected, and stripped off the thermal top and North Face running gloves, and was back to my ten-year-old orange long-sleeved t-shirt, an old friend that has seen me through many adventures. Pack on, amused by the antics of the Race Ambassador, and somewhat gleeful I had not won that role, because I could never be that cool before a race, and moments later, after an I-love-you sign language display with my family, the countdown began, and we in the “Fast” group were off.

Last year, I recall questioning which group I should be part of, what to wear, what to carry. This year, I was quieter, more confident in my choices. Perhaps it was making it through the North Face 50 six weeks ago, but I wasn’t scared this morning.

We began on the road, and I couldn’t go fast enough. I knew this was a short race for the distances I’d been training, and I simply didn’t hold back. It felt strangely wonderful. The pace was certainly quicker than my training pace, clocking 4:30 km’s and less, but I felt good. I won’t bore you with the details of the terrain we travelled – those of you who did the race know it, and I can never really remember all the various trails well enough to describe them.

What struck me in this race, though, were a few things. First was the pace. Having run more slowly of late to go very long distances, the open-up-the-throttle pace felt incredible. I held nothing back. The race photos will not show my usual smile; I didn’t even have the ability to look up to see the photographers, I was going so fast. I had to be one-hundred percent in the moment on the rougher tracks, of which there were many, to go fast, and be agile enough not to trip and face-plant. It takes enormous discipline for me not to get into races with other runners in these sections, because many are faster than me there. I have to let others by, and I hate that, but keeping myself injury-free is far too important to risk it by racing. However, I do find that on flat terrain and downhills, I often make up the distance and catch the runners who have passed me, so that’s okay.

The second thing I found – which sort of belies what I just said – is that I felt oddly competitive in this race. Maybe it’s because I get passed on the rougher stuff, but a few times in this race, I got passed, and then the passer seemed to, well hang around, like right next to, or right in front of me. This bugs me. I feel the need to pass back then, and I ended up playing cat-and-mouse with one woman several times, before I got really fed up with her running three inches from me, and kind of blew away down the trail. I never saw her again. I fear I took out some frustration on her that had nothing to do with her, like I just wanted to be alone for a little while, and there she was. I do like the ability to bolt away, to let out the little bit that is always in reserve. Strangely, I didn’t do this at the finish line, but only when other runners seemed too close. I suppose I have gotten used to the running solo in the Dandenongs for hours on end, and perhaps having other runners so close simply feels wrong.

The third thing was just how fast 15k goes when you’ve been running 30, 40, 50k’s. It was like taking the runs I’d been doing, and showing them on TV at triple-speed. I wanted more time to enjoy it all. Instead, I spent most of the race watching my feet. Good thing I love my shoes! And the simply being in the moment that such pace requires.

I pounded and pushed, and finished the race strongly in 1:16, well under my planned 1:30 – 2 hour time-frame. This was the first I’d run this particular course, so that doesn’t say so much, but I felt faster than usual. We left to come home shortly after the finish, the kids restless. It wasn’t until much later in the day, through a Facebook friend, that I Iearned that I’d come third in my age category. That hasn’t happened once since I’ve lived in Australia, so I was absolutely delighted.

Also, today I can walk. Nothing is really sore. I promised myself a rest day, and yet, I could have run. All the long runs and extra training is truly paying off.
…………………………………………………….

Having delayed posting this by one extra day, I can also tell you post-race recovery is going well. I ran 5k with my son today, then an additional 15k for myself. I was up on a cliff in Barwon Heads at dusk, just as a big, black storm was rolling in from the sea. It was raining over the water, but a glorious golden sky over the land. In between were the blackest of clouds. I was absolutely alone, awestruck. Running fast and racing is glorious; of equal joy is the solitude of a long, empty trail.

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