Ah, winter in Melbourne. Some days are glorious, the blue sky and warmer-than-average temperatures making running a joy. Then, there are the other days. Here’s my tale of several runs while on school holidays in Ocean Grove…
A fast 10k? After running the trails in the Dandenongs for the last few months, the minor bumps along my favorite Ocean Grove trail are eat-up-able. Where I used to struggle and swear and grunt my way up these small inclines, now I relish them, feeling the muscles that I didn’t know I needed to develop suddenly fire and fly me up, seemingly without any effort on my part.
That’s how it was last Thursday. The tide was high, so the beach was out of the question. It was me and my TrailRocs on the fine gravel path instead, with a distance so short, compared to my longer runs of late, that I could really let go. Running, singing aloud, immersed in the solitude of my one hour alone. There were dark clouds on the horizon, it was raining out at sea, but around me was sunshine lighting me golden. I was heading into the last stretch of the trail, high on a cliff above the pounding surf, knowing there would be rainbows.
But here’s the thing – when the rainbow appeared, I swear I was just at the end of it. It sort of fell into the ocean, but from the ocean, I’m sure it was falling directly on me. I ran there, in that rainbow’s end, laughing, thinking how far I’d come since arriving on these shores five years ago. I ran and ran, down along the rest of the trail, in rainbow-land, watching white gulls hover on the wind, thinking it couldn’t get any better than this.
And then, as if God had heard me, and said, I can top that, let me show you, a second rainbow appeared. Only now there was one on each side of my trail and I was running, all alone, right into the gap between the two rainbows. I laughed out loud, at the wonder of it all, at the beauty, at being the only witness to this magical moment.
Then there was Friday. It was the day of my long run. I didn’t really want to go. I’d had trouble deciding the course, as my long runs have all been up in the Dandenongs of late. In Ocean Grove, I run out of trail when I try to run far. And the storm that had been brewing the day before had whipped the wind into a frenzy, a bitingly-cold frenzy. But I’d studied the tidal charts, and knew low-tide was at 2:39 pm in Point Lonsdale, and that meant a long, empty beach just for me, and lots of lovely kilometres to Point Lonsdale, around the hook of the lighthouse, and along the way to Queenscliff. My 25k would be glorious.
I should have known when I saw my friend Anna on the beach. She was wearing a heavy down jacket, with the hood up, and her back to the wind. She took a look at me, said, “You’re really going to do this? You’re brave!” It was forbidding: this is her beach; she knows. Still, I smiled, and tried to speak but the wind tore the words away.
But it would be okay; the tide charts said so. Only they hadn’t reckoned on the winter tide in Ocean Grove. There was only a thin sliver of soft sand left, and it was constantly threatened by strong waves. The wind blew me forward, and I watched as, underneath me, the sand flew away from beneath me in a thin wave at my feet, ghostlike. Still, I had this long run to do. I ran on, slipping in the deep sand, dashing from the waves, glancing often to my right as the waves thundered in.
It reminded me of my tidal wave dreams, where I’m often alone on the beach, thinking this doesn’t feel right, and then this big wave comes and smashes me. And I always think, in the dream, this is not a dream, this is real. Just like I was thinking then.
Anyway, I got close to the lighthouse, about 200 metres away, but the wind and the waves the rapidly decreasing width of the beach, and some inner wisdom which I always listen to – all of these things said, “No, turn back.” What I said out loud was a bit more graphic, but that was the gist of it. So I did. I turned back to run smack into that hard, cold wind in my face, that wind that would scald me for the next, oh, 10k or so, as I had to adjust my running plan.
There were glorious bits of it, up on the Bluff near Barwon Heads, staring down the coast that always reminds me of Scotland, with the wind and the sea, and the isolation of it, the wild. But that wind. It blew and blew and blew, and when I turned around where the trail came to an end, finally, with utter joy, it blew me all the way home. I only made 20 of the planned 25k but they were hard-fought for.
Finally, the run with my son, who is training for his first ever 5k race, Run Melbourne, that will happen in two weeks time. He ran my trail with me (my trail, my son, this boy who is now nine that I have raised from an infant, who can now run 5k with me!) for the first time. It is hard to put the magic into words, to describe how he flew up the steepest of hills, and I watched him as he went. How he sprinted the last block to home, faster than I have ever seen him run, his arms pumping, him glancing back only once to make sure I was still behind him. My boy, a runner now.
Each run has its own mood, its motive, its highs and lows. Some are about the glory of rainbows and the white of the gulls, and others are about the pain of facing into the wind, finding the guts to go on when everything in you says stop. But the best one of all was the joy of watching my young child run off into his very own future.