The Trail Running Series returns! Race 1, 2021

How are you? Feeling a little uncertain? Like we’ve been in four lockdowns, the last of which ended two days before our big race? Forgetting what day/week/month/year/season we’re in? Are we wearing masks and keeping within 5k? 25k? Regional Victoria? Am I even allowed out of my house this long?

Man. My mind won’t shut up…shut up…shut up.

So The Trail Series is happening, two weeks after it’s first schedule. Hooray! Of course, I’d not really planned it out. What with the uncertainty and a surgery on a family member and online school and my next-door-neighbours house being bulldozed.

Ok. We’re racing. I’ve done this one before, many times. We start at the boathouse by the Yarra. I do a quick Google map search for it, refresh my memory of the drive, and get my (very minor) gear packed. I’m doing the medium course. At 10.3 km, I don’t even need a pack.

So here I am, 8:20 on Sunday morning, walking from the Studley Park Boathouse to the start, stoked by my terrific parking position. I’d thought it would be busier. I stroll. My wave start isn’t until 9:55. I wobble across the swingy bridge, take photos of the sunrise,

turn left, walk a few hundred meters and Don’t See the Event Centre! Nothing. No one. Not even a bird. It’s not quiet though.

I can hear Sam, the Race Director, on a megaphone, somewhere in the distance. Ok. Other side of the oval. Just out of sight. Heart pounding, I walk along the road, towards the voice. Ten minutes, maybe? Around the curved road, to the other side.

No Sam. No event centre. Just the disembodied voice through the trees. I panic. Pull out my phone. Pull up the Event Program, the tiny map. Deep Rock Road! Google map it. Oh man! That’s not where I am! Where the heck is it?

That’s when I see a quick-walking woman with a number plate coming around the bend. Yes, she’s racing. 8:40 start. No, she’s not sure where to go. We bolt together, as if we’re already crossing the start line. Around a corner, down a hill, across the river. There’s a trail, the voice, we’ve found it! She’s off to make her wave start, and I start to breathe again. It’s 8:30. I pause. Think. Take a photo so I can find my way back to my car later!

The way back to the car. Just in case!

Wow. It’s good I have an hour to settle. Though I’m not meant to be here – the rules state clearly not to arrive until 20 minutes before our start time. I hang out in the grass, staying away from people. This is all so strange, with QR code’s and hand sanitizer and face masks. It’s meant to be fun and it is, but a sort of uneasy fun, an edgy-hope-we-don’t-die fun. Did I mention the Astra Zeneca shot I had on 10 June? I’m right in blood clot alley until 30 June, and the government just back-pedalled on over 50s like me even having it.

I’m surprised I’m even wearing shoes. My head spins with all this clutter.

But suddenly, as if I breathed in once and the time went in with that breath, it’s 9:55 and I’m at the start line. There are 15 people in a wave. We greet one another, stay apart. I say hi to Sam, who I last saw on my phone during the Virtual Race last year.

We count down, then boom, we go. We’re a tiny pack racing each other. I love it! Love how we can spread out, see the ground. There’s no one pressuring me on the technical bits. I race three women. We play leapfrog, passing, then being passed, over and over. I know them by their colours – rainbow tights and purple shirt and pink singlet.

It’s familiar and not. I realise this is the course I’ve mainly run at night in recent years, so I couldn’t see it. The Yarra is full and abundant.

Trails widen then narrow, smooth, then rocky, muddy and gravel.

Dancing in the rocks

Because it’s spread out, I really get my zoom on, using my road-honed speed. Oh I love the speed. The adrenaline. The race between our small group. Because we’re more spread out, following the right course becomes more interesting, more vital. This adds a nice zest to being front of the pack, moving quickly but carefully.

Finally we hit the downhill road section where I love to fly. In my head, I yell, go go go, pretend there’s an over 50s woman right there, catch her, earn your podium! Don’t hold back, it’s a race!

I start to reel in the women I’ve been racing. Carefully. One at a time. See you rainbow tights. Bye purple top. Great run, pink singlet but I’m bitter you passed me that last time, so eat dirt! Zoom!!

We turn off the road onto the last little trail section, not far to go now. But hey. No. Wait. The Finish Line is also not where the Start Line wasn’t! So instead of my 500 metre sprint, it’s more like 2kms. I don’t twig onto this until about 1.5, when I’m tiring. Still, I push the pace the entire way, afraid I’ll get caught by my wave buddies I passed on the road.

Close to the finish, normal people are out walking dogs, playing with kids, holding hands. We tear by them like lunatics (politely) and bolt for the Finish. Flying, heart and lungs searing I cross that line.

Full of joy, laughter, love for my racing friends, who I greet as they cross the line and thank for the race. What an absolute blast. What an antidote to the last year!

I find my car eventually, and at 8 pm settle on my chair for presentations. Dean has taken first in his age category, Andrea has scored a second, Chris third, and his daughter Ella first! I’m managed a third in my age category, which is nice, as I’m 55 and not at the start of the 50-59s anymore. But really, we’re all on the podium together, because that’s what trail racing is about. It takes guts to get out there, to tackle technical terrain, and sometimes, in these crazy times, even getting to the start line can be an achievement!

By the way, the course was marked perfectly, and the whole event, as always, run with such professionalism and passion. Thanks Rapid Ascent. Be assured my navigation errors were mine alone. The course maps and instructions were perfect, as always. See you in a few weeks for Race 2 at Smiths Gully!

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