Hoka One One Trail Series, Silvan 2016: coming home

We were playing cat and mouse; I just wasn’t sure who the cat was yet.

I eyed her yellow waist pack, this time from behind her.  It was different from the ones I’d grown accustomed to here in Melbourne, the Nathan’s and the Salomon’s, the backpacks and four-bottle waist belts.  The shape, colour and size or her pack was memorable, and I was going to keep my eye on it as we raced, so I knew I was still in the same place in the line of runners as before.

The trail began to climb, and once again, I edged in front of her (I have to use the uphills to gain ground, because I lose so much on the downhills).  We ran for a while.  Then, as always, the trail again descended, becoming rocky, rutted, lined with tree debris.  I slowed, and she politely make her way to the front again.  Cat?  Mouse?

Time would tell.

Except it didn’t.

Because what happened was more wonderful than the usual race high jinks.  At some particularly scenic spot, I came up behind her, surprised that she’d stopped to take a photo (I’d been looking at my feet, not the view).  She called to me, and waved to encourage me to join her photo.

It was kind, and utterly unexpected.  We spoke for the first time, smiling, exchanging names as we jogged on.  When she said her name, I paused, and looked at her more closely.

“Do I know you?  From Hong Kong?” I said.

I don’t know why I said it.  I had left there eight years ago, and it felt like a different world.  Except her face, and her name, and that waist pack.  She burst into a beautiful smile.  I was right!  We talked, and discovered we used to do Action Asia races together, the Sprint Series of Adventure Races that brought us all over the Hong Kong countryside.

How do I say this?

Finding I knew her, that I had known her in that long-ago time before my life had changed here in Melbourne…it was like finding a long-lost friend, even though we hadn’t really been friends, had just run the same races together.  But I knew her, and she knew me.  We chatted, elated.  Eventually, she ran ahead (another downhill), after asking me to find her at the finish for a photo.

That’s how this race was for me.  A day where new friendships began.

2013 was the last time the Silvan race began at the Silvan Reservoir.  I should call it what it is today:  the Hoka One One Trail Series, a series of five awesome trail races, with short, medium and long courses, in particularly beautiful trails about an hour’s drive from Melbourne.  The slogan way back in 2013 was Bitumen is Boring.  It was perfect; and the races were just what my soul longed for.

Back then, I was living a very different life.  Just surviving.  Using running as a band-aid for all of life’s challenges.  That year, I’d done my first ultra marathon, 50k in the Blue Mountains.  The (then named) Salomon Trail Series long courses had seemed short in comparison.  So short, in fact, that I had underestimated their challenge, done the Plenty Gorge 17.6km long course, and later that day, went for a 5k training run, where I promptly and definitively sprained my ankle.  I spent four weeks doing some serious recovery work on the ankle, and managed to do the 2013 Sylvan 21km race.  I felt unstable and scared, but I was determined to finish out every race of that series.  And so I did.

Fast-forward to 2016:  for the first time in many years, I am leaving on race morning, and all is right with my world.  There have been no fights with my young children, my husband and I have just returned from our 21st-anniversary night away in Olinda (our first trip without kids in many years), the dogs are grown enough to be trouble-free, and I know the way to Silvan.

The part of me that sits beside me observing my life while I live it claps and cheers for this wondrous time.  I am content; more than this – I am happy.

Driving alone, I navigate the roads I have taken to my training runs at Mount Dandenong so many times.  The route to Silvan is not so different, and I console the scaredy-cat driver in me with the reassuring thought that this drive also takes me past Grant’s Picnic Area in Sherbrooke Forest (I’ve driven here several times alone), and I’ve also driven this very road to Silvan in 2013.

That works, until the twisty-turny part of the road – the beautiful part when others are driving – comes up.  Of course, I drive too slowly, and someone, a big four-wheel drive with jutting metal crash bars, comes up right behind me.  Ok, drive my way, I tell myself, except he gets right up behind me, nearly nudging my bumper.  A cyclist appears; I slow; the jerk behind me honks; I swear.  It is the usual, twisty-turny road dialogue.  Eventually, the road widens and he blazes past me, and I breathe deeply in relief.

I arrive at race headquarters despite all this, where I am directed to drive my car up onto the curb to park.  I don’t know how to drive my car up on the curb without a driveway.  I should know how, but I don’t, and I’m all grown-up now and can refuse politely, so the race official kindly lets me drive further on, and park more easily on the road.  It’s ok to live within my own limits, I tell myself.  After all, the limits I set for me would be pretty challenging for some others.

Race Headquarters

Race Headquarters

I’ve signed up for the medium series this year, which is a perfect, delightful distance.  Today’s event is 15.5km, and I’ve been training up to 18k in my long run on lots of big hills to make sure I have enough in my tank to get me through strongly.

I’ll tell the truth here: at Plenty Gorge this year, I came in first in my age category.  First!  I was so excited I jumped up on the podium, clapping my hands in glee.  Later, I was too jet-lagged and troubled by this to even write a blog about that race.

I coach myself to always run my own race, to not race others, because when I’ve done this in the past, it’s ended in disaster (sprained ankles; falls; etc).  I do this right up to the point the race results come in, where I get obsessed about what place I’ve come by overall, gender, and age categories.  Winning my age category is awesome – for a minute or two.

Then I start this endless internal chatter: I wonder if I trained harder, if I might take first place again at the next race?  Maybe if I do more tempo runs?  More hill training?  More pilates?  I get stuck in this silly, unhelpful groove where winning becomes more important than the pleasure of the run.  Of course, I did all of this “more” stuff in the four weeks between Plenty Gorge and Silvan, so the night before Silvan, I found myself snappish, stressed, aware of this silly dialogue I was having.  I sat down at the piano.  Played Chopin, which I’ve been trying to master in my Very Easy piano book.  The music soothed me, reminding me I am not just a runner.  I do not have to judge my value by my placement in this race.

Back to race headquarters.  Here we are at the start of Silvan 2016.  We lined up for a wonderful warm-up, the best I’ve had in a race start, and I felt my sleeping muscles awaken.  Then, Boom – we were off.  Too fast, of course, as always.  But I kept my foot on the brake, knowing this to be the risky bit, the overcrowded start where it was hard to see the uneven terrain.  We had 15k; plenty of time to make up places.  I let the bolters bolt, and settled into my pace.

Quickly, we began ascending the “Hill from Hell”.  Not so hellish really, not after all the Mount Dandenong climbing I’d been doing, but I didn’t try to run it, just power-hiked it. I knew my body, my limits, my weaknesses and my strengths.  It didn’t matter if I got passed on the downhills; I’d pass again on the uphills, and stay with the same group anyway.

Up and up and up we went.  I knew we’d be climbing for nearly 8k, but this was all right, I was used to climbing.

There was this moment in pilates a few weeks ago.  I’ve not been doing this discipline for long, just eight weeks or so, in an attempt to cure the foot and hip pain that have been plaguing me for a couple of years.  I’m strong.  This is a simple fact; relative to most women, I can lift much heavier things.  Woop woop.  This talent comes in handy when I’m teaching Bodypump or helping move stage sets for my son’s production in Primary School.  Not really anywhere else.  But I like it and I rely on it.  So the fact that this simple lie-down-on-the-bed-and-shove-the-platform-away Reformer Pilates hurt – this was really odd.  So odd, the hurt, the challenge, that I began smiling, laughing silently.  The instructor noticed, and said “You’re smiling?”, puzzled.  “It really hurts,” I said, laughing out loud now.  “That’s an interesting response to pain,” she replied, and started smiling too.

But that’s me: when it gets hard, I laugh.  Because suddenly, there’s that enemy to stare down.  I recognise it, remember the battles I’ve fought, and I laugh.  The enemy of studying physics (briefly) at university; the one that said Central Park is too cold to run in winter; when the wind blows too hard, and the trees threaten to fall on me atop a mountain, there it is; when my child says, I wish you were dead, you’re not part of this family; when the rain begins mid-run, sideways, cold rain, and I’m forty-five minutes from home; in Pilates, it seems.

And today, at Silvan.  When the hills got so steep I had to walk instead of run.  There’s that pain, that enemy, that friend and foe, here again to teach me about my strength.

I had my gels, water, salt tablets.  I had trained enough.  I stared that enemy down and was satisfied.

But for me, the main challenge is always more technical downhills.  We had about 7k of these coming right after the uphills.  These days, I have floaters in both eyes (grey shadows in the centre of my visual field).  This makes running fast on technical downhills challenging, as its hard to make out the detail of what I’m stepping on, especially at speed.  I’m slower than I’d like to be, slower than the rest of my body could go if I could see properly, but that’s ok.  Its another enemy to stare down, in time.

The terrain details – which hill was where, the single tracks, the hairy-scary descents – they all merge together in my mind into a three-word course description: brutal but beautiful.  Some uphills were of my favourite sort, studded with rocks, genuine and ungroomed.  Downhills that reminded me of hills I ran in England’s Bradgate Park, grassy, with only a slight camber, easily runnable with eyes wide open.  Uphills through thin, tall trees, where I felt like I was in a line of soldiers climbing silently and breathlessly into enemy territory. Straggly, thin strips of tree bark ready to strangle my ankles and send me flying.  I didn’t look up much to see the scenery, except to grimace at photographers, because looking up usually means falling down.

A little like flying

A little like flying  (photo courtesy Supersport Images)

The last downhill of red clay near the fence line I always find memorable.  In 2013, with that four-week-old sprained ankle, I recall picking my way down in terror, committed to the race, but wanted to get home in one slightly broken piece. Today, 2016, I flew down it.  Not as fast as the three or four men who passed me, for sure, but flying for me.  But I hungered for Stonyford Road, the flat dirt road where I could open up and really let my legs go, where I could pass the people who’d passed me.

When I finally got there, though, everyone who had passed me had already disappeared.  It floored me.  I love to chase and there was no one to chase!  I was alone, like in a solo training run up Mount Dandenong.  I willed my legs to go faster, knowing each second counted in finish times, if nothing else.  Still, no one to chase.  Then I heard the footfalls behind me, and realised that this time, I was the prey.  Someone was hot on my heels.  I was having none of this, and I turned it up a few gears, and bolted away from them as fast as I could go.  I wouldn’t be passed here on flat ground!

We were near the finish.  I could hear the crowd cheering.  My legs were burning, tired, but I knew it was easy from here.  Except it wasn’t – the course turned up into the trees for one final fling of the enemy at me.  Just before I climbed up, I let Mr. Speedy go past me, knowing he would need to on the rougher trail.  More tentative, I heard another runner behind me, offered to let them pass, but they didn’t want to. On we ran, not for long, before the car park and the finish cones appeared.

When the tall, thin fast man flashed past me just before the finish line, I didn’t give chase.  He wasn’t a 50-plus woman.  I ran my own race, right across that beautiful finish line, puffed, panting and elated, and pressed stop on my Garmin.  1:38, I noted.  Respectable on such a tough course.

Friends from Dandenong Trail Runners had gathered in a group.  I joined them for a photo.

Dandenong Trail Runners!

Dandenong Trail Runners!

Seeing the “cat” from our cat-and-mouse game, I quickly joined her and shared a hug.  Somehow, seeing an old running friend from Hong Kong made this mountain run in Australia feel like home to me.  We exchanged laughs and phone numbers, made plans for future runs, and promised to catch up soon.

A friend from Hong Kong

A friend from Hong Kong

The singer with the acoustic guitar kept playing all my favourite songs.  I wanted to sit by him and just listen, but I was drawn to the results screen, where I saw I’d come in 2nd in my Age Category, to my great glee.

Wandering, I noticed the wonderful looking Mexican Food, Richie’s Fresh Salsa.  I can’t usually eat after races, but this looked just perfect.  And in my post-race euphoria, I was no longer shy, was able to make conversation with the couple running the stand, exchanging business cards with Richie, who turned out to be from America, and I suspect will turn out to be a friend.  Indeed, we spoke the day after the race, and he said something that sounded so familiar to me, about how finding people from ‘home’ was always wonderful.  I noted how we could speak the same language.  We made plans for a run and a coffee, to talk business and America.

And I was thinking, hang on, Australia is my home, yet I was elated to find an old friend from Hong Kong because that too is my home, and now here’s this American, and that’s home too.

And it occurs to me.  Home is not a place.  It is not where the heart is.  It is trail running. That’s my home.  The single-tracks and the hills, the trees and the reservoirs, the authentic smiles from all my fellow runners.

So, 2016 Hoka One One Trail Running Series at Silvan, thank you for bringing me home.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rolling with it.

Ah, big plans. They make me laugh. Like the seaside holiday this year that’s been postponed day after day by sick kids with the flu.

Strangely, this postponement has me feeling more peaceful than I have all year. Perhaps it’s my 2015 “Diary for a Lady” which arrived yesterday, and reminded me of times gone by, when my biggest goal was peace of mind. Or maybe it is having time to play piano. Today, I played a simplified version of a Chopin Étude I have loved for years. Me! I played that. After teaching myself for the last year. I was astonished when I recognised the tune I was playing.

Then there is (was) my big Two Bays 28k goal. I’ve been chasing it since surgery on 27 October, trying so hard to be at the starting line. I ran 12k for the first time last week, and have since let go of the Two Bays goal this year. And it is okay.

I think I am rolling with things a little better of late, stressing less, grasping less. It is as if I have been running with clenched fists for a couple of years, and have finally shaken my hands out and relaxed.

I’m not sure what 2015 will bring but I have a new target in mind. It is being present, calm, following my body where it wants to go. I intend to grasp less and laugh more. To plant flowers and play piano. To write moving, honest words that resonate with others, to help them feel less alone in their battles. I will watch our young dog play, pet my cats, hug my children, and love my husband. I will run healthfully and with joy through the woods on leaf-strewn trails.

And I will roll with what life brings.

Here’s to a 2015 filled with all the beautiful things your life can hold.

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Into the fog: Salomon Trail Series 2014, Olinda Race

“Because I’m happpy…” , la, la, la, something “…a room without a roof…””

I’m careening downhill, and I can finally feel my feet again at the four kilometer mark of this winter half-marathon.  I’ve even managed to strip off my running gloves and stow them in my pack. I feel more agile than usual, and the sections that frightened me on this course last year seem tame and easy.  I let the playlist in my head stick on the Happy song, and enjoy the feeling of flying.

Fast forward a couple of hours, and I’ve got a new song on auto-repeat.  “Army of One”, by Bon Jovi.  “Never give up, never give up, never give up, never forget where you’re from (New York, I think to myself), never give up, you’re an army of one…”

We’re 18.2 kilometers into the 21k course, and I’m sure my Garmin has stopped working.  How else to explain the fact that it doesn’t seem to be measuring the distance I am covering?  And I am covering it.  Like a worn-out snail.  On a hill.  A steep, single-track hill.

I’m one in a long line of other snails, colorful in running gear and water backpacks.  We plod upwards, breathing heavily, occasionally groaning.

It must be the cold/flu I’ve been battling, I tell myself, that’s what making this seem so endless.  My left calf is threatening to cramp because I’ve been training to run up hills rather than walk.  I tell myself firmly (again), no excuses, don’t let this cold be an excuse to be soft.

“Can I pass please?” I say.

The person in front of me glances back with a look that says I am obviously insane, and steps graciously aside.  I plod up a bit faster, jogging where there is room, before falling into the snail line again.

A bit further on, a woman mutters under her breath, “Who are these crazy people running?”

I pass again, and I try to increase my pace beyond my slow plod to run, to be one of the crazies.  I engage my gluts, drive up, enjoy the sensation.  I steal a glance at my Garmin: 18.5 km.

No way!  It’s been ages since I last looked.  I try to do quick mental arithmetic to see how much is left of this race, but the .5 has my slow brain flummoxed.  I work it out.  About 3k left.  Yep.  Three.  One gel remains in my pack; I aim to ignore it because I want the Protein Revival at the finish line more.

It began, this big hill, last Wednesday.  That was when I caught the cold/flu my daughter brought home from school, the same day I had two back-to-back BodyPump classes to teach that evening.  I practiced for the classes as a large truck ran back and forth over my body, the world looking slightly askew.  Choreography wouldn’t stick in my head.  I turned the music extra-loud to hear the beat, as my ears weren’t functioning.  Later, I turned to my husband for advice:  “Should I get a fill-in for my classes tonight?  Do I seem sick enough for that?”  He said the equivalent of “don’t be soft”, so I wasn’t and I believe I taught those two classes.  It’s all a bit foggy now.

The next three days I took off exercise to cough, sneeze, make school lunches, and stand in drizzly soccer fields watching my son play in his under-10s team.  I guzzled Berroca like it was beer and slept with nighttime cold medicine.  By Saturday, my husband had contracted the man-flu version of the illness, and decided it would be smarter to stay at home with the kids than to drag them up to Olinda to cheer me on in the cold.

Me?  I decided if I was going to be sick anyway, I might as well be sick while running an amazing race.

“Can you see the start?” I said.

“Nope,” said Kim, with her customary nonchalance (she’s the friend with whom I’ve done this whole series, driving off monthly to race, leaving with our husbands our 5 children, 3 dogs, and 2 cats).

“It’s meant to be just over there, about twenty meters away.”  I held my hand up to shade my eyes but could see nothing.  “Never mind, let’s just follow these people.”

To say the fog was thick would be an understatement.  It was as if there were nothing left in the world but us, and the line of people we followed into the mist; the rest of the world was only fog.  The air was frigid, and though we’d parked close according to the map, we could barely see our feet, let alone race headquarters.  We huddled in together for a photo, and I was hugely grateful for my down jacket, beanie, and gloves.  Not ideal running gear, but perfect for an early morning race start in the town of Olinda, at a high point in the Dandenong Ranges, in the midst of a long, cold winter.

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Where is race headquarters?

For years, I’ve held onto a race in Hong Kong as my Gold-Medal-standard of the coldest start ever.  It was an adventure race in Repulse Bay that began, mid-winter, with a jump off a pier into the sea.  Whenever I’m cold at a race start, I think of that, and decide it’s not as cold as that was.  That was ten years ago; nothing has even come close.

Until Olinda.  It was colder in Olinda.

At the start

At the start

Through the fog, my friends from home appeared.  They were all running their first trail race, and I wondered if I should have suggested warmer clothing for the start.  We shivered briefly in each others presence, and then they fled to their car to rearrange race gear.  Kim and I made several trips to the porta-potties, as you do, and waited until the last possible minute to strip down to race gear

I love race starts on cold days.  The crowd of people generates, unconsciously, a delicious group heat.  While I battled to keep my Garmin from losing the satellite connection, I soaked up the warmth.  Still, I shivered freely, and when I tried to speak, I couldn’t form words.  I can’t recall the countdown, but somehow I pressed Start on my watch and ran across the starting line.

It was a long race, and I wasn’t worried about passing or being passed yet.  There were plenty of ankle-snapping holes in the grassy downhill, so I mainly focused on not stepping in them.

Ten minutes in, feeling had returned to my feet, and I had stripped off my running gloves.  That’s when “Happy” began playing in my head.  I was happy, just to have made it out onto this glorious course.  As we moved downhill, we ran out of the fog and the day cleared.  I found myself on a wide track, lined with autumn leaves.  I was home, and I felt more alive than I’d felt since the previous Tuesday.  Sick?  So what.  I was running in my favorite woods on earth.

I’d planned out gel, salt tablet, and drinks strategies.  But I was tiring early, so at the 5k mark, I was already sucking down my first gel, and feeling the welcome surge of energy it brought.  That helped me enjoy the downhill section by a fence, which had been on the way to the finish the year before.  I’d sprained my ankle four weeks prior to that event, and spent the race terrified of re-injury.  Then, this section has seemed very frightening, with lots of potential ankle-twisters.  Today, it felt easy and I was delighted by the progress I’d made.  I was gutted, though, when we turned onto Stoneyford Road.  In my mind, this was the way to the finish line with just a k or two to go.  That had been the course for the last two years.  This year, we were only 10k in!  Still, I love downhill on roads, and I leaned forward and flew.

The technical bit near Silvan was littered with logs to jump (for those tall and brave enough to jump); I stepped over.  Smaller obstacles like tree roots and rocks proved fun to navigate, and I was faster than I’d expected.  Somewhere, I downed a salt tablet, glugged some water, and ate a second gel.  The race continued in a blur of passing and being passed by the same three or four runners, which happens in all races, and always makes me laugh.  I was surprised when someone said we were at 11.5k; it had felt like no time at all had elapsed.  It had felt easy.

That was about when we joined up with the medium course runners, who were doing 15k today.  All of a sudden my familiar running mates were swamped by new people, and I had a hard time knowing if I was on pace or not.  Would the 15k runners be going faster than the 21’s?  I didn’t know.  I could only go by effort.  That worked well until we all hit the narrow single track that climbed the hill.  I’m not sure exactly where it began to go wrong, but it was somewhere in here.

It became most obvious to me at about 18.5k.  We’d become, as I said earlier, a line of very tired snails.  Every now and then, one would bound forward like the snail in Turbo, and disappear.  I tried to be Turbo a few times, but by 19.5k, it became obvious it was going to be either me or the almost-cramped calf.

I hadn’t planned a second salt tablet or a third gel, but that’s what it came down to.  There wasn’t much distance left, but then, there wasn’t much of me left either.  After succumbing to both salt and gel, I bolted off (I say bolted; what I really mean is shuffled faster).

We were in the Arboretum by then and I reminisced on having stones thrown at me there by my young daughter (ah, fond memories), and that helped me find a tiny bit more pace.  For the fourteenth time, I passed the girl in green who was running with her boyfriend  (they’d passed me thirteen times), and I could hear people clapping at the finish.

Then I could see it, the sprint to the finish.  Around me, stronger runners flashed past. “Go for it, sprint!” I cheered them.  I was not racing them.  I had no sprint today.  What I had was slow-burning determination to get across that line in one piece.  I finished in 2:22, and I was grateful it was a new course so I couldn’t compare my time to any prior year’s result.

I was breathless and elated, and quickly found some running friends to share the joy of the moment with.  We shivered together and took photos.

Friends at the finish line!

Friends at the finish line!

 

Happy

Happy!

The fog had lifted and the world was full of exhausted, joyous, shell-shocked runners.  It was like a giant party in the coldest place on earth, and it mattered not that I was still sick or that I hadn’t run as fast as I would have liked.

What mattered was I’d made it to both the start and the finish line.  And I had a new gold standard for the Coldest-Race-Start-Ever to use for future mental-toughness games.

Thanks Rapid Ascent, Volunteers, fellow racers and friends.  It was a glorious day out, and strangely enough, my cold seems much better now.

“You’ve got your strangling hands on,” he said, jokingly.

I snorted; it was a perfect storm.  It was school holidays – long before we could consider them drawing to a close; I hadn’t been able to run due to injury; we’d had four back-to-back days of 40 degree plus weather, meaning no exercise at all was possible; I had a chest infection that was making me cough and cough; the kids were bouncing off the walls and each other; and we were making lunch together in our too-small kitchen.

I stepped away from the counter space where my husband was working – where I wanted to be working – and shook my hands out.  Strangling hands indeed!

I’d hurt my knee way back in November, after my first true marathon.  I’d expected a week to recover but that had stretched into six weeks.  Then I’d messed up my post-injury recovery by going out too fast, and hurting my other leg.  So I’d had to pull the plug on running for another week.  I was grumpy, sickish, in desperate need of solitude and writing time, hungering for the woods that heal me when I run.  And none of the things I needed were available.

Out of nowhere, my eight-year-old daughter declared she wanted to run around the block.  She never runs; she hates to even walk.  Before we got to seize this wonderful opportunity, she got angry though.  My son was going to run with her, and he strapped on the training watch I’d given him that came with my new Runner’s World subscription.  She wanted one too!  It wasn’t fair!  She stormed around shouting until my son found an old watch for her to wear, and only then could they get shoes on (my son ran in thongs, a true minimalist).

Watched and shod, off they ran.  My husband and I waited at the top of the hill for them to reappear, and they did, charging.  They were puffed, but my daughter wanted to go again.  So she did, with my husband beside her on a bike.  My son saved himself for our planned 1k around the streets, trying to rebuild his fitness from his 5k race back in July last year.  Later in the day, I finally made it, all by myself, to the gym.

Riding my bike down the hill, it occurred to me that it had been days and days since I’d been alone.  I felt the wind in my face, felt freedom, felt glad to be alive.  The treadmill at the gym rewarded me with a 2k run, with no pain, and my heavy weights, well, they made me feel strong and warrior-like.

I rode home, contemplating how to fix the mistake of not giving my daughter a running watch too.  Perhaps I had an old one she could borrow?

As soon as I walked in the door, my son ran up to me.  “She wants to run around the block again!”  I was too tired by then to join her, and determined to stick to my 3k plan for the day, so I let the rest of the family do the run.

In the meantime I found a Training Diary that had also come with my subscription.  As my daughter ran towards me, completing her third lap of the block, I held it out to her.  Her eyes lit up.  She grabbed my hand, pulled me inside to my office, and we sat down to record the details of her three laps around the block, including time, feelings, and the course. For her good night story, we read about hydrating drinks, and talked about how important sleep is to recovery.

She’s gone to sleep with her new training diary next to her pillow, and is already planning her next run.  My son is planning to do a 10k race this year.  And me?  I’m planning to get injury free, and then fly like the wind on my favorite trails.

Getting on my high horse about high heels.

I was happily running on the treadmill this morning, doing speedwork in my green monster feet (Vibram Five Fingers)

when on the television in front of me appeared a horrific scene:

At the end of an impossibly long red carpet, waiting expectantly, was a gorgeous Australian bachelor.  I watched, mesmerised, as one by one, a series of black stretch limousines pulled up.  The camera angle tightened each time to the door opening, to a slim leg appearing, the sheer fabric of an elegant dress.  But here’s what caught my eye:  the shoes.  The crazy shoes!

Milaoo-6-High-Heel-Fuchsia-Red-PVC-Sexy-Platfo...

Milaoo-6-High-Heel-Fuchsia-Red-PVC-Sexy-Platform-Mules-7456-1 (Photo credit: AviviJ)

The foot reached towards the ground tentatively, as if there might be lava there.  Slowly, it touched down.  Then, smoothly, with great poise, one by one, these gorgeous women emerged from their private limousine.  They stood unsteadily, wearing huge smiles, but looking sort of like a deer in the headlights.

Mr. Gorgeous awaited them at the end of that long, long red carpet, and the camera followed their every step, their every forced smile.  Sometimes the camera moved to Mr. Gorgeous’s face, so we could try to judge whether he liked what he was seeing.

He smiled hugely for each one with his perfect, gleaming white teeth.  His eyes even crinkled in the right places.  But there was something else in those eyes that wasn’t just appreciation for their beauty.  That something, I think, was fear.

The audience (well, me) and Mr. Gorgeous watched these women make their way awkwardly up that red carpet and feared sprained ankles, stumbles, at the very least some whispered swear words, for really, what were these innocent women wearing on their feet and why were they wearing them?

The poor woman in the platforms scared me the most.  I mean platforms on the front of the shoe, and high heels at the back.  I saw a woman take a fall onto train tracks wearing those once.  Not pretty (she was okay, there was no train).  I’m sure there’s a proper fashionista term for that style of shoe, but, oh, it looked painful.  I watched in fear, and somewhat in anger.  By now, I was up to 14.2 on the treadmill, focussing on a quick cadence and light footfalls; the woman in the platforms was just trying to stay upright, and to attract Mr. Gorgeous, and God help her, but the step off the red carpet after she’d hugged him – onto what must have been cobblestones – was nearly her undoing.  Even Mr. Gorgeous gave her a look of sympathy as she hobbled away.  Back with the other super-gorgeous woman in the assembly area, she looked very relieved to sit down.

How was he to choose between these equally gorgeous but painfully poor choosers of footwear?  For that was the theme of this show:  to get him a woman.  As if he’d have trouble with that.  I was thankful the sound was not on; I was thankful that my thoughts could not be heard.

For really, what in the world are we doing to ourselves?  How is it beautiful to be unable to walk?  To take this amazing machine we are and to cobble it like one might cobble a horse?  I kept wishing one of the ladies had turned up in Monster Feet and running gear, and whisked Mr. Gorgeous off to a trail somewhere.  Somewhere that smiles were genuine and nothing was glamorous and it was all very real.

These sights sadden me.  They sadden me because women see them and think that is how we should look.  Even my young daughter wants high heels.  She wants me to buy some for myself and wear them.  I struggle to find the words to explain why I don’t want her to have to wear them before her time, why I will never again buy a pair.  My Mom wore high heels every day of her life, commuting to New York City to work in an amazing office job.  She also suffered from Hammer Toe.  And when she was seventy-two, some doctor convinced her to have the toe broken and reset.  The toe that had been damaged by years and years and years of heels.  It never healed properly.  She was forced to retire before she wanted to, and could never walk well again.  Does that make me angry?  It makes me furious.

Maybe, by chance, when my daughter is old enough, women will have said enough already, and she might hit that tiny trend where women wear flats and are allowed to be fast.  Or maybe, like her rebellious Mom, she will say, no way to that, and wear what she pleases regardless of trends.  I can only hope.

Glamour.  Pah.

Give me speed, strength, agility, and a feast of power for our bodies.

I hope that Mr. Gorgeous finds the woman of his dreams, and I hope that she too gets to throw out all the high-heels she’s ever bought.

“One day you might not be able to run,” she said…

“What will you do then?”

She sat back and eyed me.  I shifted in my seat.  It was as if she were prophesying disaster.

Last Sunday, her prophecy came true.  I sprained my right ankle during a routine training run with my son.  I’ve already told you about the sprain in last week’s post (see the link below if you missed it), but here comes the surprise.

For the first time in my life, when unable to exercise, I was calm.  Though other runners suggested swimming as an alternative, I knew it would just delay healing; doing anything involving my ankle would delay healing.

And yet I was calm.  Sedentary and calm.  Unbelievable!  I have been trying to put my finger on why, and I believe that the answer lies in a mental shift that happened without me even really noticing.

Once upon a time, like many women, I exercised for body shape.  I pursued that elusive idea of feminine perfection for mind-numbing lengths of time, on Stairmasters, treadmills, rowing machines, even those strange rollerblading machines from the early ’90s.  I lifted weights three times a week, three sets of 12 repetitions on every single machine I could find.  It took hours.  When I couldn’t exercise back then, it was a BIG deal.  I would do all sorts of crazy stuff to fit in my workouts, from swimming with pull-buoys with a seriously sprained ankle, to doing sit-ups while in a back brace recovering from a compression fracture of a vertebra.  I was seriously obsessed.  I wouldn’t have admitted that then; it would have been way too threatening.  I look around the gym today, and see lots of women doing the same things I used to, and it saddens me.

Because now, dialing the clock forward something like twenty years, I see the world and myself completely differently.  I focus on function rather than form; it is how I coach others, and what I have come to believe really matters.  Sure it stinks not to be able to run, to be sedentary for a week while I heal.  But I have not felt that strange compulsion that I used to.  I know that a week off won’t change anything: I learned this when I became a personal trainer; I learned it by teaching myself.

So last week, I rested.  And, to tell the truth, it did change me.  It allowed my ankle to heal.  It gave me time and space to clean my home (whoever thought plantation shutters were a good idea should have considered the problem of dust more carefully); it gave me time to calm, to watch the rain fall, to simply be.  Without the adrenaline of my usual life coursing through my veins, the world seemed quieter.  My cats came up for pets and sat on my lap.  My temper was not so short.

After three days, I started doing the physiotherapy exercises that years of ankle sprains have helped me perfect.  I have all the gear: the elastic bands, the dura-disk, the step, the instructions memorised from many a physio.  I walk back and forth in my office on my tip-toes like a ballet dancer and will the weaker ankle to keep up with the stronger one.  I begin eccentric Achilles training, practice my single-leg squats, and work on recovering flexibility.

And I am okay.  Perhaps that is what this time has been meant to teach me.  That running is a part of me, but I am no longer fleeing.  I am no longer chasing perfection.  I sit within my own skin, calm and certain.

Today, I went to the gym for the first time in a week.  I couldn’t go all-out; that would have been foolish.  I set the treadmill on a gentle incline, and gradually increased it to 11% (if that is what 11 means on the incline button).  I did not let myself run; I held on to the notion that I am aiming at this half-marathon in three weeks time, and to get there, I must be smart.

And perhaps therein lies the answer to my lack of agitation over this injury.  It is just another part of training, recovering from injury, using my learning to strengthen what went wrong, to fix the bits that are temporarily broken.

I see myself, in several weeks time, running along my favorite trail in the Dandenongs, the light filtering through the trees.  I close my eyes and I am there, smelling the sweet smell of the woods, watching for the wallabies that may cross my path, hearing the kookaburras chortle after me.

It is without compulsion that I run.  And that makes my running, when I can do it again, all the more sweet.

And to answer the question – what would I do if I could no longer run?

I would find solace in a different activity, perhaps in playing the piano, or painting beautiful pictures, or in doing Tai Chi.  There are many, many paths to soul.  I think, really, that’s what my friend was trying to remind me.

Overtraining, broken washing machines, and Norton Anti-Virus

English: Nelson, a local cat, Mordiford Lookin...

English: Nelson, a local cat, Mordiford Looking very grumpy and keeping well away from humans on this patch of open ground. Two local ladies remarked that he always looks miserable. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had planned on writing tonight all about my excitement about the start of the Salomon Trail Series this weekend, the first race for me a 15k in Studley Park.  In fact, I sat down with my journal this morning (my private one, where I really let loose), and started to write those very words.  Then I realised I was not telling even myself the truth.  I was just writing what I thought I should be feeling, what I usually feel when a big trail race is coming up.  The truth is, I am not excited.  Just tired.  And grumpy.

So imagine the sense of irony, when, flipping through the latest issue of Runner’s World, I came across this mini-article called “Brain Drain”.  It had a horrific checklist, on which I checked four of the five items, so apparently, I’m meant to “hold off and review my training load”.

At least I can sit back and heave a great sigh of relief – I’m not just getting stupid, clumsy, and irritable.  Well, I am – but because I’ve been doing too much.  Here’s how I know:

My Norton Anti-Virus came up for renewal.  Always a joyous moment.  I soldiered on, paid the bill, downloaded the massive file, and got the expected message of, “Your operating system is out of date so this was all a big waste of time.  And get prepared to waste more time, because you have not downloaded the 850 security updates over the last three years because you have been overtraining you idiot! Oh, and your house needs a vacuum, especially the stairs.”  Well, it didn’t really say all that, but it might well have done.  So I spent the last two days fixing all that stuff, feeling my neck muscles tense and my patience, always slim, dwindle to nothing.  Stupid security updates.  Stupid giant security updates.  Stupid stairs.

Then I decided it was high time to soak the smelly dish towels in white vinegar, because my husband (who can’t smell anything!) was complaining about them.  It seemed a great solution that I discovered via Google: soak the towels in white vinegar in the washing machine.  (Not as good as my original plan to dig a big hole and bury them in the back garden, but more economical).  I even read the washing machine’s instructions for how to soak.

One of the 1st washing machines of Constructa

One of the 1st washing machines of Constructa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But after I soaked, I noticed that the towels were only half-wet, and wait, why wasn’t the stupid machine going around now that I’d turned it on to wash out the vinegar?  After learning how to disconnect the filters, flooding the floor of the laundry, realising just how much dirt trail running gathers in filters, and swearing under my breath for three hours, I was sure I had it fixed.  Really sure!  So sure I ran the stupid dish towels through the vinegar again, and guess what, the machine still didn’t spin.  Arrgggh.  I caved and called the washing machine service people, who claimed that a Siemens machine is really a Bosch now, claimed this in a very strange accent spoken softly as if they were telling me something even more secret than Wiki-leaks, but that they will fix it, sometime between 9 am and 1 pm tomorrow.  But they don’t want to know the model number because they don’t want to buy the wrong parts.  Um hm.  We’ll see.

Finally, there were the plants.  The long, lush liriopes that had been a feature of our front garden since we moved in.  My lovely husband had cut them back to be able to mow the lawn (several months ago), when I like them lush and long and wild.  I noticed today, and had a very dishonorable hissy-fit that makes me blush and think the words “fish-wife”.  Ungrateful.  Bratty.  Irritable.  Stupid plants.  (note how many times I’ve used the word stupid already).

SO back to that checklist:  irritability (check); Grumpy Owl

poor short-term memory (check – did I mention that I’d left my credit card at the restaurant when I went out for coffee last week?  Nnope, must have forgotten); struggling on runs I used to blast through (check, if that means I’m slower than an old donkey); persistent joint soreness (check, but only when I train).

Darn.  I hate when the experts are right.

Looks like a bit of extra rest is in order, so I’ll have to blog about my excitement about the trail series later in the week, when I’m really telling the truth.  And I promise I’ll tell you about training my 9-year-old son to run 5k – a most amazing experience!

Sweet dreams to you all.  And may all your appliances and software updates function like a dream….and may you never make the mistake of training too much. Or at least learn more quickly than me if you do!