This morning, I sat down to write an inspirational blog. I was going to focus on the Run Melbourne 5K Race from last weekend, and yesterday’s wonderful Plenty Gorge 17.6K Trail Race. I began writing, reporting the details, but I couldn’t feel my usual exhilaration. My voice was missing.
After the race yesterday, I decided to take my son for a quick 5k run, to have some time to bond with him, to reinforce that we still run together even though his big race is over. I knew it was a bad idea to run again after such a big race, but it was only a short run.
I was tired from Plenty Gorge. We had run 17.6km on gorgeous single track, much of it technical, some of it muddy, a lot of it punctuated by short, sharp hills. The course included four river crossings, where ropes were strung across for us to hang onto, and we waded across against the flow of the current. Wonderful, muddy, slippery, alive moments. I planned to give you a blow-by-blow of the race.
But, in the course of that silly little 5k run with my son later that same afternoon – on a smooth, wide track down by the bay, on the only slightly technical section on the whole run, while coughing, listening to my son describe Clash of the Clans, and running down the stairs – I managed to sprain my ankle.
You know how it happens, kind of in slow motion? A false step, a twist, a sense of oh no, and then the falling as the ankle gives way. I swore out loud, not because of the pain, but because I knew what it would mean. Weeks of recovery, without my life-sustaining running. For a moment, I thought it wasn’t too bad, but I couldn’t run on it, could barely walk the 2k we had to get home. Limp, limp, limp. Here is where you’d expect to see a photo of my swollen ankle, but you’ve seen those photos before and they are gruesome. It is sprained. That is all.
So, when I sat down to write this morning, I was feeling sorry for myself. Poor me. Can’t run. Can’t carry the laundry basket up the stairs. Can’t run. Ow, it hurts. Can’t even go to the gym. I began to write, but got so fed up with that pitiful voice in my head that I gave it up.
Here’s what I did instead. I cleaned my daughter’s bedroom. Threw out the accumulated trash of the last three years. Emptied her dresser and vacuumed it. Moved the furniture, and cleaned it all, all the surfaces, vacuumed the carpet. I got rid of the baby clothes that were far too small, that had been used within an inch of their lives. I put her precious jewelry and hair ties in neat boxes on her newly cleaned dresser, and marvelled at how lovely her room had become.
I planned to sit down and blog then. Only my neighbor called. She was offering to buy me groceries, offering to help if I was completely incapacited. She laughed when I told her what I’d been doing. Fairly predictable, what sort of patient I’d be (an impatient patient!). For a change, I wasn’t too busy to see her, wasn’t at the gym, or coaching, or out for a run. She came over for a cup of tea, and we talked, something I haven’t made time for in a while.
After lunch, the sun was out. It was spring-like, and the roses I hadn’t cared for all winter called to me. I went to prune them, but under the profusion of weeds that had sprouted in my absence, I could barely find them. I spent an hour uncovering them, balancing precariously on my good ankle, pulling weeds, discovering that my tulips were indeed coming up but had been hidden by all the other growth. It was kind of like uncovering myself. My hands were full of mud, and fertile dirt. Once pruned, the roses looked poised, ready to spring into life for their summer blooming. The tulips, when they finish growing, will now be visible, in their vibrant reds and yellows. My cats circled me as if to question my presence in their garden after all this time, as if to welcome me home.
I came back inside, and noticed I was happy.
My ankle is still sprained. I still can’t run for a while. But the time-out has given me the space to be at home today, to re-awaken to some of the things I have been missing while running so far. So, with a clearer heart, I will tell you of these two races.
Run Melbourne was my first race with my 9-year-old son. It was magic. We’d spent four months training together, me teaching him about hill repeats and pacing, running shoulder-to-shoulder and talking in a way that was impossible at other times. We ran the race together, ducking and weaving around the hundreds of other runners, following our race plan. My son finished in 26:33, his faster 5k ever. I was slightly slower, because I wanted to be behind him to see him cross that finish line. The sight of him, sprinting off, passing grown-ups, giving his all for that final burst of speed, is a sight that will stay with me forever.
And Plenty Gorge? That was one of the hardest races I’ve run in a long time. I’ve forgotten how to run slowly on these medium-distance races. For long periods at the start, I was going so hard, I couldn’t catch my breath. But I wanted to go that hard. I wanted to sprint and chase, to dash, to go as hard as I could. I don’t know why. I made sure to glance up to see the gorgeous gum trees, but not often, because much of the trail was treacherous, and required absolute attention. The sharp cold of the river crossings lingers with me, the feel of mud slipping away under my fingers as I climbed ashore.
No matter how often I passed, or was passed, the same three or four people were clustered together. I seemed to be faster uphill, and they were faster downhill. All went to plan until one of the volunteers shouted to me, at about the 15k mark, that I was in the top twenty women. Wow! Me? But I didn’t want to know this; I was running as fast as I could, and I felt this meant I needed to chase down some of these other women. I suddenly wanted to be in the top 15. It was hard going. I could see two women in the distance, and they were fast. I passed one, then she passed me, but the final uphill allowed me to get ahead.
Then the man I had played cat-and-mouse with for most of the race passed me one more time. Most who pass in trail races do so with words of encouragement, and thanks, allowing plenty of room, and running far into the distance. But this man passed, every time, with an air that I was in his way, damn it, and I should move. I only passed him again anyway, on all the uphills. Never once did he acknowledge me, and he never really pulled in front. Perhaps he was shy, or out of breath, but in the heat of the last kilometre, I didn’t really care what he was feeling, just how I was feeling about him, so I blasted by one last time, and because I was chasing the women, I finally stayed ahead of him. I always tell myself to run my own race, that if I am faster than someone, that is just how it is, and there is no sense in pushing it. But I felt slighted by this man, judged on the downhills when he huffed by me, and it was with a great sense of delight that I noted I finished several minutes ahead of him.
Now that I am back to myself, I feel I should apologise. Perhaps I was in his way; perhaps I read more into his scowl than was really there. Perhaps he felt the same way about me as I did him. Blah blah blah. I’m still glad I beat him. And I’m glad most trail runners are so polite. In reality, I don’t think he even noticed me. I said, “well done” to him when I saw him at the finishing area and he didn’t seem to even know who I was. Go figure.
When the results came in, it turned out I had come third in my age category, and the 16th woman overall.
Which brings me back full-circle to this injured ankle. Will it come right fast enough to allow me to run the 21k Sylvan Reservoir Race in August? I really hope so.
In the meantime, I am going to enjoy what is, and try to lean into this temporary set-back and let it teach me what it will. When I have sprained my ankle in the past, it has always been at a time of emotional upheaval, a time when things were changing very quickly, or I was dealing with some dark emotion. This is true of this injury as well. There is much healing going on in me at the moment, at many different levels. But that is a blog for another day.
There are still some rooms I have yet to clean in my home, and it is time to put my ankle on ice for a little while.
Oh, and I’ve just read an article about AlterG treadmils, how they can allow you to run at reduced gravity when injured. Hmmm. Obsessive? Me?