School holidays. With a seven and nine-year-old, who were grumpy and overtired from a very long term. What better way to begin (as a Mom) than to disappear into the woods for a trail race.
That’s what I was thinking at about 4 am, when the hammering of the rain on our tin roof woke me. Good news, I thought, I’ve still got a couple more hours sleep, and maybe it will rain itself out. Come 6 am, the rain still pounded but I had high hopes, and truth be told, running in the rain wasn’t so bad. At least it was a short race.
A short race: 15 km. That’s what’s become of me. Just last year, I ran 15k for nearly the first time, in an ill-founded battle with my new Garmin watch. Before the Garmin, I thought I was running 12k in about 60 minutes, roughly five minutes per kilometre. Then my husband bought me that Garmin for Christmas, and I quickly realised I was running both slower and shorter than I’d thought. Darn.
Of course, as any runner would, I began to chase the time and distance I thought I’d been running. I finally caught up with at least the distance (the pace still eludes me) but I hadn’t realised how addictive an extra .2km here and there could become. Before I knew it, I was running 15 and then 16km. As I’d gone minimalist at the same time, I was finding the extra distance no longer hurt, the hip and knee pain had vanished, and I began to play a little game with myself: just how far could I go?
Stupid game; it turned out I could go really, really far. Participating in a relay team for the inaugural Surfcoast Century in 2012, I ran my first half-marathon. It was remarkable. And fun. I spent days on a high, then crashed hard when I realised it was over; this great quest I’d begun was over.
Sitting in our beach house later that week, I learned that addictions can be easily fed with the click of a mouse, and I signed up for the Marysville half-marathon. Later that same year, that same mouse led me to the starting line of the Two Bays 28km trail race, the 21km Roller Coaster Run, and finally the North Face 50 in the Blue Mountains.
Suffice it to say that I have run a lot of kilometres since the last Anglesea Trail Race in 2012. But in 2013, there was the small matter of the Marysville Marathon looming nine weeks away. I spent the week before Anglesea this year agonising over the conflict between my long run for marathon training versus tapering for the 15k race. In the end, I decided to run the planned 60km week, but to break up the long run into a 10 on Thursday and a 12 on Friday. Good plan, I thought.
Sunday morning, I stood on the beach in Anglesea, waiting to run, hoping my legs wouldn’t feel too heavy. I’d seen some friends already, Bryan and Lachlan, who were running in the 15 as well. I set off towards the front of the Fast Start Wave, feeling more confident in my recently sprained ankle than four weeks ago at Silvan. The race began, and we sprinted along the beach and around a flag. Returning past the start, I kept an eye out for my family, and made sure to high-five both my kids and my husband as I ran past. A quick splash through the tidal river, and we were really off!
It wasn’t long on the beach, and then we all darted up a concrete ramp, some choosing to leap up the steeper side, wimps like me going up the slanty bit. This is where it first occurred to me that the pace was mighty fast. I checked my Garmin – we were about a minute faster per km than my typical training pace. It hurt. I was gasping for air with my mouth wide open, but I was unwilling to slow. So on we went, along a wide coastal track, and though the elevation change was nothing really, it hurt.
I knew there was a steep climb near some footy oval but hoped that my Mount Dandenong training would make it seem easy. It didn’t. I hadn’t reckoned on the fact that we were racing, and that I’d need to keep the pedal down to not be passed. It hurt the entire way up. From there, I have memories, probably not in the right places, of lots of single track that was meant to be flowing, but I wasn’t flowing. I was fighting. My ankle was feeling a bit at risk from lots of rocks and tree roots, and I was very conscious of finishing this race safely. That was reinforced when a man ran past me around a sharp turn, and his feet slid right out from under him, landing him hard on the ground. Three or four of us shouted out, “Are you okay?”, and he said he was, got up, brushed off the dirt and ran on. I’ve been there myself, that would have hurt.
There was some technical downs where I stood aside to let runner after runner go by, only to power my way past them on the uphills afterwards. “You may be braver than me,” I thought, “but I’m strong.” The same runners were around me the entire way, so I think it worked out that way.
I recalled a section from last year where the trail marking had been vandalised, and a group of us nearly went astray, and waited for it expectantly. It was the last long, straight stretch up on the cliffs between wildflowers, where it had rained on me last year. It seemed to take forever to get there, and I was so hot, I would’ve loved rain. I was working super-hard, dancing where I could, slowing where I had to, passing and being passed. We finally hit that section, and I opened the throttle, powering along with all I had. I fumbled in the front pocket of my pack and popped out a salt tablet, sucked down a long drink of water, and felt the cramp that was threatening in my left hamstring ease.
The photos of races where I’m working as hard as this one are invariably painful to look at, so I try to turn my grimace into a smile just before the race photographers. This works okay sometimes, but I had to laugh out loud when I put on such a smile for what turned out to be a blackened tree trunk on the side of the trail. Only one hour in, and it seemed I was hallucinating photographers.
The laugh was what I needed. I felt my shoulders soften, and finally began to feel the flow I love in trail running. It was just in time, as we were nearing the final two kilometres. I flowed down the long downhill, passing a few women, smiling at the children running with their mothers, and then we were onto a thin bitumen track. This was it, I thought, if I was going to open things up, this was the place to do it.
I felt my body shift gears, and I burst ahead of a bunch of runners, enjoying the feeling of stability in that sprint. Down the ramp towards the beach, noting the five runners carrying someone on a running stretcher thing, I leapt with care onto the sand, and sprinted down the beach. The water was frigid across my feet, but I didn’t care, I just watched out for the undersea rocks.
Then it was the final sprint. My kids were waiting near the end, and my son started to run with me, but quickly gave up. My daughter, though, began to sprint. I reached down, caught her hand, and on we ran. “Can we walk?” she asked. “No way, come on!” I smiled down at her, and we dashed our way past the crowd (“Go Patricia!” someone shouted) and we crossed that line together.
1:17 was our finishing time, fast enough to make me fifth in my age category. I’d picked up a couple of places since Silvan where I’d placed eigth, I reminded myself, and this was the medium instead of the long course.
The shorter races are actually a lot harder than the longer ones for me these days. There is a much greater focus on short, sharp speed. Marathon training doesn’t really prepare me very well for that sort of effort, so it felt a whole lot harder than I was expecting.
After a brief rest on the beach, I wandered up to the finish area to find some friends. Claire and Anthony, Scott, Sarah and Jordan, and Adam, were all gathered, all with great big smiles. Standing with them, it occurred to me how very lucky I was to know them all, all friends I’d made since just last year, all making this Anglesea race feel very much like home.
Like last year, my family and I hung around until the race organisers began clearing away the finish area. It was a bittersweet feeling, after the joy of the last four months of racing. I felt that familiar sense of sorrow that it was over, combined with the joy of having competed in these four glorious races. Studley Park; Plenty Gorge; Silvan; Anglesea. The names rolled across my thoughts, and made this country feel like home.
Unlike last year, I’ve got my next few races already lined up. No time for a sense of sorrow. I was out Tuesday for my next 15k training run, with the full knowledge that my first true marathon is only nine weeks away!
What a glorious season of trail racing; what a wonderful life!