“I feel glorious, glorious, a chance to start again. I was born for this, born for this. It’s who I am, how could I forget. I made it through the darkest part of the night and now I see the sunrise. Now I feel glorious, glorious. I feel glorious, glorious.” I’m singing along with Macklemore as I drive alone down the freeway at dawn on my way to Anglesea, to the start of The Trail Series Race 4.
It’s true: the glorious bit. I wasn’t sure I’d even make it to the start line of this run a few days ago. The sun is just rising, and these words might have been written just for me.
Last Saturday I ran my favourite Bayside trail, an easy recovery run after the Wonderland 20k Trail Run in the Grampians. I felt it when it happened, after just two kilometres; the “ouch” sensation sent a chill through me. Surely not, I thought. That twinge in my left calf will go away after I warm up. This is not an injury.
I kept running, as you do. I finished the 10k run, even though I knew that the ouch had not faded. Not one little bit.
It was exactly six days after I’d completed Wonderland, and another eight until I’d stand at the start of the fourth race in The Trail Series at Anglesea, a 15k beauty.
I waited until Tuesday to try running again. Another 10k; another ouch. I’m not really a learning creature. I taught my pump classes, swam, changed nothing except for limping a little. I booked a physio, then squeezed in one last run and weights session at the gym (6k on the treadmill, ouch ouch ouch), before confessing to the physio how utterly stupid I had been. She was kind. Compassionate. She gave me heel lifts to put in my shoes and prescribed isometric calf raises 3x a day; she was very clear that if I raced without the heel lifts, I’d be at risk of further injury. Worried, I asked if I should trial them before the race. Yes, do 1k with them in, she said, certainly. Dutifully, I did my exercises, wore my heel lifts, felt taller and wobblier as a result. I tried the 1k the night before The Trail Series. All was good, until half an hour later, when my foot hurt so much I couldn’t walk. After a desperate message to my physio at 7 pm on Saturday (yes, she’s that good), we decided risking my foot was too dangerous. I wouldn’t wear the heel lifts, choosing to risk my Achilles over my foot.
I was worried, not a good mental state the night before a trail run. Add to this that my husband had been very ill for two weeks, and the kids had their final soccer on Sunday, so I was going to have to drive alone to Anglesea and back (two hours each way) on race morning; I was a bit of a wreck.
It was a good thing that our bedroom clock was twenty minutes fast. I got up on race morning, thinking it was 4:50 am, but really it was 4:30 and I had all the time in the world. I drove alone on the M1 from Hampton; I chose my mantra after I noticed my hands were growing numb from gripping the steering wheel too tightly. I said it aloud now and again – “I am capable” – because I get scared driving alone to new places.
It was dark when I set out; halfway there, somewhere near Bacchus Marsh, the sky was growing light. That’s when Glorious came on the radio, and I awakened to the fact that I was going to make it, at least to the start line.
I feel glorious, glorious…
Oh the joy when I arrived, just at 7 am, and got my favourite parking position, right by the race headquarters.
It was cold and empty and I was delighted by the serenity. I began to wander, soaking in the quiet and the sunrise. I meandered by the river to the beach, where the sun was just kissing the cliffs golden below the lifesaving club. The surf rolled in, unconcerned about my calf and this race. I was there before the start line flags were up, when the dog walkers still owned the place. A lone runner jogged back and forth from the sea’s edge up to the soft sand; another man stood and watched the sea. I didn’t make eye contact; this was soul time, alone time, and I treasured it. If all I had done that day was this, it would have been enough.
Time passed. I tucked these personal moments away to savour later, and began my circuit between race headquarters, my car, and the toilets. Amazing how an hour can disappear. I found Cissy and Les and Tony, who I had been looking forward to seeing, chatted, and allowed myself to slowly wind up to race pace.
It didn’t seem long at all until we made our way to the beach to watch the long course runners go. Moments later, we gathered for the Medium Course and I stood to the side with some friends as the more limber runners did a terrific warm up. Bouncing up and down was beyond me this morning; I was saving all the bounce my calf had for the 5k on the beach.
We set off, racing down the beach and around the flag. I kept the pace conservative, testing how my ankle felt without the heel rise. Before long, we were splashing our way across Anglesea River, and I was relishing the cold, numbing water.
Ah, the beach run; how to describe the beauty of running below the towering cliffs, the sun just rising, runners stretched as far as I could see into the hazy distance? It was magical.
Of course, there were those rocks to dash to earth all of the beauty-talk, all of this airy-fairness. They were eminently trip-able, and I danced between them with care, following the smooth tracks worn in the sand by runners over the last two days. I pondered the other runners who ran just below the cliffs where it was more rocky; I stayed on the firmer sand by the sea. Each runner has their happy place, and I’ve learned not to follow others. I didn’t care if the tide washed over me; others did.
We climbed a few rocky outcrops; I was slow but it was fun. We were faced with a choice at this stage: soft sand running, or the steeply angled harder sand where the tide was rolling in. I opted for seaside and played dash-away from the waves, but soon all the hard sand ran out and we were left bogged down in soft sand making our way onto the largest rock crossing It reared up with two potential paths; I was confused but it seemed both paths led to the same trail that led off the beach and up the hill. I chose the left track and up I went.
Now, hills and I have a deal. I win the ups and they win the downs. Going up only takes strength and determination, not courage, and I can go up all day long, because I’m nothing if not determined. My best friend used to say I was like Monica in Friends, the one who could get stuck on something crazy and be unable to let it go. Yes, highly offensive and absolutely true. That’s what hills are like for me; stick one in front of me and I’ll keep climbing it as fast as I can until I die.
So I enjoyed the climbs up to the 12k point. There were a few descents thrown in for good measure, and on the more technical ones of these, I gave way, as usual. On the smoother ones I did my usual bolt-and-burn to catch up with those awful people who had been able to pass me.
Only today, because my calf was still saying ouch, I couldn’t go quite as fast. Well, I could. I decided about ten kilometres in to just go. If I was going to be injured, I might as well enjoy this last race before I had to focus on rehabilitation. So I let loose. If the calf hurt, I fed it a gel or a salt tablet, tried to keep my stride light and short, and just went for my life.
My blow-by-blow of the course gets lost in my head, because I spend so much of these runs trying not to fall on my face. I had a beautiful glimpse of the sea once; there was a lot of yellow wattle in bloom; the grass trees went swish like water as I parted them whilst running; the tree roots captured my attention, crisscrossing the paths with ankle-breaking regularity, keeping me in the moment; the two men in blue who I kept passing and who kept passing me; the woman in the pink singlet who I couldn’t catch; the woman who asked how far we had gone because I had a Garmin on and I had to tell her to wait a minute because I couldn’t look at my watch without face-planting just then; the man I said hello to who I only then realised I knew, who told me he’d just had a fall and was a little shaken up then ran fast away; the final section. Beardy Runner, fellow blogger, was that you? You were so fast, I wasn’t sure.
Oh, I always remember the final section; it’s engraved in my memory from many, many events.
We run near the caravan park on a path that is trail to the left and rough bitumen to the right. I’ve stayed on the trail side in past races, in a bitumen-is-boring purist attitude, but today I lapped up the bitumen, blazing myself as fast as I could along that path, making up the places, then up the yellow hill, along the final flat section, down to the staircase, and onto the beach. The guy next to me kept getting too close on the beach, driving me to the softer sand, so I upped the pace and blazed past him too. We splashed across the river a final time, me thinking about holes in the seabed and going cautiously.
Then, like in a nightmare, the soft sand reappeared. It was miles and miles long but it was only ten meters. My shoes sunk in and my Achilles screamed in foul language and the guy I had just passed blazed by me and kids were playing on the river and I was afraid they’d step in front of wobbling me and I’d fall over them but I tried to step lightly and ignore the ouch in my calf and I finally got onto that wonderful little bit of concrete path and people were cheering but not for me so I decided I would grab the cheers for their friend and have them anyway, and I ran my heart out to get over that finish line.
The man at the mic said my name and said he thought I’d got second in my age category, and I have to admit I was disappointed because I hadn’t seen the woman who usually beats me that day and was hoping she’d stayed home, but now I knew she hadn’t and she had won again!
No matter, I was telling myself, when this lovely woman named Kate came up and told me she loved my blog, and that made my day, even as I gasped and tried to catch my breath to thank her. We chatted and later I found some friends and we shared our race day stories.
Afterwards, my feet cramped and I was all limpy and gimpy and I didn’t care one bit. I had made it here to the party of the year, where the Surfcoast Century and The Trail Series come together to make a phenomenal weekend of trail joy for so many people.
All around me, I saw warriors dressed as runners, some nursing sore legs from 50 or 100km runs the day before, some carrying wounds like sprained ankles, or cuts and bruises, but all wearing the elated expression that comes from these wonderful races. The outdoor eyes of athletes who have just had an extraordinary experience in the wild of our world.
I got to chat with the number 1 winner of my age category – we’ve become friends – and to laugh about how far behind her I was today. On the podium, I smiled, quietly thrilled that even though I was a little broken, I was still able to compete well.
Now, a day later, I’m still feeling, frankly, glorious. Though this is my desk view as I work, with physio exercises staring me straight in the eye.
The heel raisers have not way their way back into my shoes though. I taught a body pump class last night in my minimalist shoes, and oddly, my calf felt better afterwards.
This week is rest and recovery, and hopefully getting this injury gone.
In the meantime, I will continue to live like this lovely dog below, on the edge, enjoying the views and every wonderful moment that the trails throw at me.
Which reminds me, it’s only a few weeks until Race 5 in The Trail Series, where we take to the technical single-track above the Yarra River in Studley Park, in the dark!
I’m smiling, just thinking about it. I must get a theme song sorted for the drive there.
Thanks again Rapid Ascent, for a glorious day out at Anglesea!
Oh – one more thing – I’ve just finished the first draft of my third book, a novel called Running Wild, and will be coming out soon! It’s a wilderness adventure story of four women who go to compete in a 50km trail run in the Blue Mountains, and what goes wrong.