The Trail Running Series Virtual Race 2: we’ve been travelling over rocky ground.

I could write as if I were surrounded by rainbows and unicorns, eating fairy-floss and laughing, whilst in the midst of the second wave of a global pandemic. Or I could tell the truth. I’ve opted for the truth.

I was in the gym. It was Tuesday, and I had just completed a weights session, my second heavy lifting session since the gym re-opened in June. My muscles were growing back, and with them, my spirit. I saw a member I knew and babbled: hello, how was he, how had he survived without the gym, how great was it we were back.

He looked at me glassy-eyed: had I seen the news on the gym televisions? We were going into lockdown again. It was a gut punch.

I was not surprised. In a way, I was even relieved: I’d spent my workout obsessively wiping down gym equipment with cleaning wipes:,the grips of dumbbells; the screen of the treadmill; the floor where I placed my hands to do pushups. It was exhausting and frightening. Even before this, I’d sensed we weren’t done with this virus. I’d even kept my livestream Bodypump teaching equipment set up in my home office, just in case. Then I went out and bought a heap of heavy weight training gear (thanks 3D Gym Equipment https://www.3dgym.com.au/)

We went into lockdown. It took a few days to sink in. The detailed reports of numbers of cases of Covid, of deaths, of hospitalisations. We were advised to maybe wear masks, like we had some set aside. This was Thursday. The second race of the (Virtual) Trail Running Series was coming Sunday.

Oh. And there was the small matter of my ankle sprain. Two days after the last virtual race, I went for an ill-advised training run. The only trail section was in Dendy Park, a smooth path with slight inclines and no technical sections to speak of. That’s why I was drawn to the one tree root on the left of the trail – I practiced my agility there, skipping between the three or four roots, saying to myself, this will help me. There is always a big puddle right on the trail, and each time I run, I can choose either the smooth right-hand side of the puddle, or the tree-root side on the left. I chose the left that day. Off I skipped, 3k into a 12k run.

I don’t even know what happened, except suddenly I found myself on the ground. Embarrassed, I moved myself onto the grass and sat, examining my painful right ankle. Someone walked by and I willed them not to ask if I was okay (I wasn’t, and they didn’t). Then I got up, moved a bit, and decided that it hurt, but not that much. Off I ran. I should have gone home, but you know I didn’t; my logic was it wasn’t swollen yet, so I might as well finish what would be my last run for a little while. It was only footpaths, after all. Runner logic, warped but effective.

Thankfully, I’d turned the ankle opposite to normal (an everted sprain), which healed much quicker than my usual sprains. I was running again within a week (runner logic again), and though it hurt some, I maintained my fitness.

So there we were on the Thursday before the race, in lockdown, iffy-ankled, kids home and fighting and an extra week of school holidays.

I had a personal trainer once. He smashed me without mercy, and one day he remarked that whenever the training got extra-hard, I always laughed. He wondered why – I didn’t have the answer.

Fast-forward to race morning, and I’m on Zoom with Sam. He asks me how I am, and I burst out laughing. Man, how am I? I just laughed.

But here’s the thing: have you ever been out running in the winter in the woods around Melbourne? It’s grey and foggy, the air is damp and cold, you’ve maybe just run through a muddy puddle and have wet feet. You’re alone, breathing hard, feeling the mercilessness of a big hill eating away at you. Maybe you’ve got some personal issues weighing you down, an injury, a fight with someone that’s making you want to cry. And there, on the edge of the trail, is the wattle, glowing yellow in the winter sun? Suddenly, you’re filled with a soaring sense of joy, the knowing there is still light in this darkest of worlds?

That’s the virtual Trail Series, that sense of yellow lightness. It came from seeing the enthusiastic smiles of all the runners doing the series. Their videos and photos, their trails in the hills, in places I’ve been or not. Watching a runner make his way along a fern-lined single track. Seeing rocks and distant views. Hearing laughter and seeing the smiles of strangers and friends, hearing cheers. The camaraderie of an event run together, apart. A light in the dark.

I ran in Bayside again, 15 km. This time, I chose a more footpath-based route, because there were so many people out walking the coastal track.

I zoomed from home up Bluff Road, into and around Dendy Park (nowhere near the evil tree root),

then bolted out downhill on Dendy Street. The footpath made for easy footing, and I flew.

Fast running on footpaths!

I crossed Beach Road, onto the bitumen bike path with the bay on the right, then onto a short section of coastal track.

Bikers and walkers were everywhere, enjoying the beautiful sunny winter’s morning. I ran up Jetty Road, across Beach Road again, then up what I thought of as the adventurous section, Abbot Street, where I’d not run before. It took about three minutes before I realised that Abbot Street was the street we parked most days to go out to lunch, so it was a short adventure. Few people were out, and I put on my fastest pace, because, why not? It was a race, after all. Uphill, past sleeping houses, up onto Bluff Road, then a quick bolt to my last street, where I thought I’d hit 15k but didn’t so had to run (fast) around the block. Phew! At the finish line, my husband and daughter were pulling out in car to take the dogs out. My daughter shouted, you’ve got a medal, and I did indeed, hanging from the front gate: I’d taken out 1st!

My Finisher’s Medal!

Afterwards, I zoomed again with Sam and watched the other runners come in. I chatted with Andrea on the phone, and saw where she’d run. And I spent the rest of the day watching other runners photos be posted, smiling at their videos.

The dark clouds closed again shortly afterwards, and the unicorns flew away, and like Bruce Springsteen sang so aptly, ‘we’ve been traveling over rocky ground…’. It’s tough to come down from the joy of connection, to see races cancelled and numbers increasing, to fear the future and order face masks. It’s difficult to keep my eyes turned to the light and keep depression from swamping me in its dark mists.

But I keep my eyes fixed on the local wattle, and revisit photos of the woods and races of the past. I say to myself, this too shall pass, and try my best to accept that these are tough times, and it is okay to feel exactly what I feel. I tell you all this because I think we all need reassurance that we are not alone when we struggle. That others are struggling too, but when one of us feels better briefly, in that moment, we can be the bright yellow wattle for someone else. We can shine our light in their dark, and then borrow their light when we need it.

Thank you for sharing the light of your joy with me in this virtual race. Nothing is normal. But if Iook closely, I can still see our light.

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