Is it to be or not to be…the Roller Coaster Run. A trip along the Surfcoast Trail…

I’ve been quiet.  It’s hard to write when all I seem to be doing is whinging and crying about my sore, injured body all the time.

It’s as if my body is trying to tell me something.  And it keeps turning up the volume.  At the physio last week, it was almost comical.  “How are you?  What hurts?”

“Um, my right heel, right calf, left achilles, and my neck.”  I sighed, thinking of the psychological pain, but didn’t mention it.  “Where do we start?”

We started at my neck and worked our way down.  At the end of the session, which included every sore part as well as my liver somehow, we agreed I’d try a long 18k run on Friday.  If I could handle this, I could handle the Roller Coaster Run 21k in two weeks time. Good plan.

When Friday came, though, my feet were so sore from a 10k on Thursday, I couldn’t even contemplate running (well, I could – I’m aware that my 10-year-old son has more sense than me, so I asked him his opinion, and he told me to stay home).  So I stayed home.  And growled and groused and cleaned the stupid house.  Did eight loads of laundry and didn’t go for a bike ride.

We drove down to Ocean Grove for the long weekend.  Me, with a sore foot, without my long run on a long weekend in a small beach house with two young kids, a puppy, two cats, and a very patient husband – ugly stuff.

I lasted until 2 pm on Saturday, at which point I decided that my foot didn’t hurt anymore, filled up my water backpack with gear, and bolted out the door.  My family seemed to be encouraging me to go.  I was headed to Torquay, half an hour up the road.  I Google-mapped it, and planned a cool, easy back route, memorizing street names on the fly.

Part-way there, I saw a sign reading “Bramlea” and, as I was aiming for Bramlea Road, I turned.  I found myself on a corrugated dirt track.  I bumped along slowly, pebbles bouncing off the sides of my car, dust rising, for about 300 metres.  Then I swore loudly, and did a quick u-turn back to the main road.  Darn!  So much for short cuts.

A few minutes later, I came to the paved version of Bramlea Road, and turned again.  In twenty minutes, I’d pulled up triumphantly (yes, these things seem important to me) to the playground at White’s Beach, where I’ve run from before.

My foot hurt by now, but I really didn’t care.  It had been a rough morning with one of my children trying out every form of abuse they could dish out (“I hate you.  I wish you were dead, etc ect”, followed by spitting, kicking, and again, etc etc).  I needed this run.

Off I went.  Except my Garmin had switched itself to telling me how many calories I was burning, instead of how far I was running!  Not so useful.  I needed to know when 9k was up so I could turn around.  If I could still run at that stage.  A few battles with “Settings” ensued, and I finally had it right.  On I ran, watching for snakes, not fully awake to my surroundings yet.  Quickly, I was too hot.  I stopped to take off my long-sleeved t-shirt, when I heard someone shout, “Hey, Patricia!”

What a delight!  A friend from Hampton was holidaying in Torquay and happened to be parked by the path.  And this friend is a runner.  AND he was going to have a run in a few minutes, he just had to race home to change!  We made a plan – he’d park further up the long trail I was running, and we’d meet partway.  It seemed unlikely but cool nonetheless.  I ran off smiling, wondering if we’d meet up again.

My mood had lifted with that chance encounter.  Sometimes other people seem to see me in a way that I don’t see myself.  They smile and seem excited to see me, and that can blow away the blues quicker than anything.  It is always a puzzle though, especially when I’ve been feeling down. So a double-dose of delight, a running friend and a friend who was glad to see me.

I ran on.  Noticed each change in coastline.  I’d run the beach below during my 23k in the Surfcoast Century.  Today I was up on the cliff on the Surfcoast Walking Trail and the views were breathtaking.  I knew this coast intimately after a few races here, and a few training runs.  I felt independent, competent, alive.

Looking back towards Torquay

Looking back towards Torquay

And a few times scared.  When the crowds thinned and I was alone on the trail, bounded by fences on both sides, and worried about bad guys, but I ran on.

Along the trail

Along the trail

Bells Beach came just before my 9k turnaround so I explored further than I’ve gone before, making my way by accident down to the beach.  What an uplifting moment, to be there in the sunshine, watching the surfers roll in on the massive waves.  I hadn’t expected to get to the beach.  I went on a little further (chasing that 9k), and turned back at 9.1.

Bells Beach

Bells Beach

Back to Bells Beach, and who should I meet but my slightly breathless friend from Hampton,  He’d chased me down.  I was overjoyed!  A friend to run with in this most beautiful of places.  And he was happy to run at my slow, injured pace, and kept me entertained with stories of his life, which were different from my life, and a wonderful reassurance that everyone has their own challenges, even when they seem chirpy and light.

Back at White’s Beach, we said farewell.  My foot hurt like hell, but I didn’t really care.  I was sweaty and happy and alive again.

The drive back seemed effortless, like floating.

“So the dentist says, if I punch you in the face, it will induce healing inflammation…

and your tooth won’t hurt anymore,” my husband giggles. “We won’t even have to drill it.  Imagine what they’ll say about this type of therapy in twenty years.”  I see the humor.  But I can’t giggle — I’m too frustrated.

I’ve just been telling him about needling, a technique I tried at physio today to help my plantar fasciitis, sore posterior tibialis, and struggling Achilles tendon.  That was the explanation the physio gave me – that these structures are poor at inflaming themselves in response to injury, so by jabbing a needle into the right spot in my foot, it would induce healing inflammation.  It certainly induced tears.  She hadn’t said anything about wiggling the needle around once it was in my foot.

My husband was less than convinced.

Me?  I’d try anything to be able to run pain-free at the moment.

In fact, I have.  I ran in my old Asics that I ditched three years ago in pursuit of minimalist running.  I managed 600 meters before I turned back to home, and got my Inov-s back on.  This morning, I tried heel lifts in my minimalist shoes.  The thinking goes something like, it will unload the underfoot and Achilles to lift the heel up a bit, so I can continue running while I heal.  Heal. Heel. Hell.

I managed 2km with the heel lifts in, at which point I sat down on a bench alongside the Coastal Track, tore off my shoes, and left the heel lifts under a bush.  The next eight kilometers were bliss.  I could feel my feet working the way they want to work.  The hip and knee pain, which came back nearly instantly upon lifting my heels, magically disappeared.  My gluts fired up the hills, and my footstrike became lighter and quicker.  My thinking:  I don’t want to cause a different injury by changing my gait at this point.

What has been working nicely is taping.  I’ve got a cool patterned tape that my kids say reminds them of Minecraft – it is a great conversation starter too.  “Oh, Patricia…are you injured again?  Poor thing…”  (though I put in the subtext, “You idiot.  You obviously are getting too old to run so far.  Slow down.  It’s your own stupid fault.”).  Several times in the school-yard, I have the same conversation, which I usually finish by dashing off to complete another hobbling run.

I miss myself.  I miss running pain-free, signing up for races with abandon.  I miss walking around barefoot in my home without pain.

I remind myself that I had major surgery on 27 October last year, which is not even four months ago, and that I only began running again on 1 December.  It’s now 17 February.  Obviously I went out too fast. Though I tried so hard to be conservative.  I expect the muscles in my feet and hips atrophied much quicker than I anticipated, and that’s the source of all this.  I can feel things getting stronger and more stable as I lift my heavy weights again, and even though running hurts, it is helping.

I’ve been thinking lately of what will soothe me (me being the dragon that keeps breathing fire on my family).  Playing piano works.  Cleaning (strangely) does too.  Letting my dog run free in the dog park helps.

And those very brief moments in my running where my body feels like it used to – those moments soothe me the most.

They are the moments I’m trying to string together to finally have a joyous 10k run again.  In pursuit of this, I’ll let strangers stab needles in my feet.  I’ll try (and discard) heel lifts and more structured shoes.  I’ll do eccentric Achilles training and endless clam-shells.

And I will learn the lesson that this experience has come to teach me: going slowly is okay.  Healing takes time.  There is no magic answer.  There will always be another race.

And most importantly:  I want to be healthy and strong again, and this is the goal I am going to pursue for 2015.

Crumbling (that’s the way the cookie)…

I was oh so optimistic.  I was going to “roll with it”, not worry about the Two Bays 28k Trail Run, just build slowly and conservatively, focus on remaining injury-free.  It sounded so good and balanced and wise.

Trouble was, I forgot who I am.

Forgot that if I dangled a goal in front on myself, the little gremlin inside of me wouldn’t let it go quite so easily.  I also forgot the challenges that awaited me during school holidays, and neglected to think how I was going to cope with them.

So, a week or so after my last blog, when I posted on Facebook asking my friends in the Dandenongs Trail Running Group for advice, I was really seeking permission.  Permission to up the distances further than was wise, to close my eyes to potential dangers, and to try to make that elusive race.  To give myself something great to look forward to.

And like all (insane) runners, I took the advice that most suited what I wanted to hear, and tried a quick 13k.  (Someone had said if I could run 21k, I’d be able to complete 28k.  I kept hearing that in my mind.  It was almost a subconscious thing.)  The day I went for the 13k run, I told my husband I wasn’t sure if I was going to run 8, 10 or 12k.  But we all knew what I was going to do, didn’t we?

Not 21, that was out of reach at the time.  But 13?  That was just over the bridge, to the end of the concrete path by the Barwon River.  It wouldn’t even take me up onto the Bluff.  A short, little 13k.  And if I didn’t admit out loud or to myself that that is what I was up to, I could ignore the dangers.  Stick my head in the sand.

Oh, it felt good at the time.  It felt wonderful.  To nail that distance after so many weeks in recovery.  To come alive again to the runner within.

The punchline?  Well, you can guess the punchline.  Two days later, my right heel started to niggle.  Of course, I stopped running straight away and iced it, rested for a week.

Yeah, right.  I did one of those “it feels better after a little bit, so it must be okay” things.  Because Two Bays (that I was so calm about) was still impending.  I kept noting “right heel pain” in my training diary, until it was so constant that I stopped even writing it down.  And yet, I hadn’t pulled out of Two Bays yet.

I ran and it hurt; I ran and it hurt.

It was school holidays; the gyms were closed; my kids got ill with a terrible flu, and then got well, and then got monstrously irritable.  I was quickly losing my mind being at home.  I ran to stay sane, even though I knew I was doing damage, even though every single step hurt.  Sometimes I cried as I ran because of the pain in my foot and the pain in my gut for the way life was going.  It sounds melodramatic here, but at a deep level, my soul was howling for the pain to stop, and I was stopping it the only way I could.

Finally, two weeks later, I saw the physio, who knew me well enough not to tell me to stop running.  He gave me advice and ultrasound, and I kept on running.  The gyms opened again, and I began the slow process of rebuilding my foot and glut strength.  It began to hurt (a little) less to run, except the pain had now shifted to my right ankle and left Achilles.  I continue physio and trying to improve and staying sane and driving my family nuts.

It makes me sigh to think how little I have learned in my 49 years.  Except at least I know why I am doing this, why I have done this.  To cope.  Because life can be so painful, the downs like the plummet off a cliff without a parachute, unexpected and scary, and sometimes the only way I can catch an updraft to save myself is by running, even if it hurts.  Because it hurts less in my heart and soul then, even if my foot hurts more.

The Roller Coaster Run is coming up.  I’ve managed to run 18 of the 21 kilometer course at Mount Dandenong, my usual training ground.  It hasn’t been pretty.  But there was this exceptional moment.

I had climbed the Dodd’s Track section of the run, run uphill to School Track, and had begun a lovely descent through (possibly snakey) long grass.  I hadn’t been here for at least a year.  There is a clearing part-way down this trail that I call my soul-place.  I don’t know why, but it takes my breath away.  It is like my cathedral, and I had been so long away.  So long, that I’d forgotten exactly where the clearing was.

Suddenly I was there!

I came to a sudden halt, and my eyes filled.  This place I’d dreamed of (I always see it in my mind as filled with wild horses) – I was there.  Alone.  The sky was the bluest of blues.  The gum trees bordered the clearing and made it feel magical and safe.  I was there!  After surgery; after being unable to walk around the block alone; despite all the turbulence and pain and tears of the last year; despite my foot hurting.  I was there.  Home.

 

My soul place

My soul place

I stood still and soaked up the moment, twirled in a circle with my arms overhead.

In the midst of recovery, of physio and rehab and pain and icing, of trying on every one of the seventeen pairs of trail shoes I have and finding running hurts in all of them, I hold onto that moment.

Because running is about joy.

It is my religion and my cathedral and it saves my life and makes the tougher moments bearable.

It is the clearest pathway I know to peace of mind.

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.

IMG_2080-0.JPG

Back in the club!

No, I didn’t die.  It’s just that for the past six weeks, I’ve felt too bad and sad and miserable to blog.  I didn’t have positive things to say, and I had to focus every bit of energy on healing from the voluntary surgery that knocked the wind from my sails.

Instead of running my usual 50km weeks, for the last six weeks I could only walk.  My pace started at a slow, painful 16 minutes per kilometer a week after varicose vein surgery.  I know, because I strapped on my Garmin and used it to record every painful step.  Walking the dog (which I couldn’t do for 2 weeks) counted; making my way to Hampton Street and back – that really counted; even picking up the kids from school counted (I couldn’t do this for three weeks).  I had no idea I would be so disabled by surgery.  It is a strange and terrible thing to go from super-fit, able and active, to completely disabled in one short hour of surgery.  I was startled by it, and still feel traumatized by the experience.  The weeks that have gone by seem dreamlike and strange, as if my body were no longer mine.

The hardest thing of all was about three weeks after surgery.  The pain had receded somewhat, I was walking more normally,  The bandages had come off.  I had running in my sights.  I went to lunch with my husband, and one of the un-stitched wounds, which had scabbed-over, opened up.  I leaked blood for two full days, despite compression bandages, steri-strips salvaged from my trail-running supplies, and a call to the surgeon.  The surgeon was an hour’s drive away, and wanted to see me Friday – but the wound opened on Tuesday.

It wouldn’t stop bleeding, no matter what I did.  Those few days were the worst.  I couldn’t stand up without bleeding; I couldn’t do anything.  I sunk into a dark place.  I felt like giving up.  Thankfully, my husband held me up, and the stubbornness in my character that I prefer to term determination kicked in.  I called my local doctor, begged for a single stitch to close the wound, and was given it by a lovely, compassionate doctor.

It worked; the bleeding finally stopped and I could begin healing again.  But I was shaken and scared.  And I was left with that stitch for 10 days, and still couldn’t run.  After those long ten days, I went back to the GP, who removed the stitch and suggested I wait another 7 days to run!  I couldn’t believe it.  I wanted to cry.

But deep inside, I felt a change in me.  I felt calmness returning, a sense of acceptance that all would be okay.  I decided to be conservative, to listen to my body, to walk, to slowly start to lift weights at the gym.  I didn’t push.  I let it be.  For one of the first times in my life, I allowed my body to determine what it needed.  It was wonderful.

Last week, the day I was to see the surgeon for a follow-up in fact, I finally ran.  For the first time in six long weeks, I ran!  My logic?  If the wound opened again, at least I had a doctor’s appointment!

It was a terrifying, joyous, hard, slow run.  I had this great plan – I’d been building it for weeks.  I was going to be sensible.  I planned on 1 minute run, 2 minutes walk, to do a total a 3k.  I started well – I walked the four minutes to my trail.  Then I began to run.  I meant to walk after one minute, I really did, but my body wouldn’t.  It just kept running.  It didn’t hurt.  I ran slowly.  Listened carefully for danger signs.  But there weren’t any.  It was simply all right.  I kept running for 4.6 glorious kilometers.

Was I elated?

I was scared.  Scared the wound had re-opened under my running tights.  But it hadn’t.  I waited a few days.  Then I ran 6k.  Waited a day. Ran 6.5.  Nothing hurt.  I was slow, of course, but I was okay.  I ran 17.1 kilometers that week!

Today, six weeks after surgery, I took myself to my favorite trail again, this time in my Five-Fingers.  I planned on 5k.  Partway to this goal, I ran into a friend who’d been following my surgery story.  She was as thrilled as me to see me running.  We chatted (I stopped my Garmin and didn’t feel restless!), then we ran our separate ways.  A few minutes later, I saw two other friends.  I ran with them for the next few kilometers, sharing with them the joy of moving again. Sharing the laughter.  Sharing the trail.

And it occurred to me:  I am finally back in the club.  The club of fitness and health and well-being.  Of running.  Of weight-training.  The gym and my bicycle and walking without a limp, and the whole wide world feels like a big, giant playground, and I am more grateful for this comeback trail than I can express with mere words.

It has been a long, hard six weeks.  It didn’t turn out as I’d expected or planned, and I am still healing.  But I have learned that by being compassionate with myself, I can heal.

I am not sure yet where my trail will take me, what distances I will aim for in the coming months.

For now, it is enough to run with joy again, to be back in the club.

Ouch! 9 days post-surgery blues.

This is the first time I’ve sat at my desk in more than ten days.  It hurts already.  I can’t straighten my left leg yet, or bend it either, for that matter.

I’ve been trying to be positive post-surgery, trying to see the light in the dark, searching out all manner of motivational sayings on the internet using my phone.  As I sit, sit, sit.  Between sitting and resting, I’ve been walking.  The surgeon ok’d up to two hours a day; of course, that quickly became a “must do – goal time” kind of thing, which I’ve yet to achieve.  I made it 85 minutes today, in two separate hobbles about town.

My pace?  A turtle-ish 15 – 16 minute kilometre.  Yup.  And that’s when I’m trying to go fast.  The doctor also ok’d running after 7 days – I waited until 8 days but could only manage 5 jogging steps (think Cliffy) and then had to walk.  I repeated this until I couldn’t do it anymore.  Until it hurt more than I could take.

I failed at my goal distance of walking to the beach three times (it is a 3k round trip walk).  On three separate walks I quit; I wouldn’t have made it home.  Extraordinary.

Today I did make it (it took 25 minutes to get there on what is usually an 8 minute run).  I stood and stared at the bay.  My leg throbbed.  I remembered all the wonderful runs I’ve had along this coastline, the adventures and the wind and the rain, the hot sun, the cap-fulls of water I’ve dumped over my head – all of it, I remembered all of it, and it brought tears to my eyes because I can only just shuffle now and I don’t know how long that’s going to last, or when I’ll be able to run free again.

I know surgery was the right thing to do.  I was worried about blood clots from my damaged vein – my Mom had suffered several mini-strokes in her later years, and I know how this disabled her.  It was right to have this operation when I am young and strong and able to recover well.

But it is so hard.  It hurts every moment of every day, and more at night.  I haven’t slept a good night in 9 nights.  My leg is black from mid-thigh to below my knee.  I can’t even climb up stairs.

It is hard to stay positive, to take friend’s kind words that this is a short thing and will be over before I know it.  Time has slowed to a terrible crawl; I have slowed to a terrible crawl.  If I told you I felt positive, I’d be lying, and I told you I’d tell you the truth, even when it was hard.

The truth is this is a horrible place to be.  I’m bereft and feel purposeless because I can’t even stand up long enough to make school lunch for my kids.  I want to howl and cry and throw things.  I want to run free in the woods but I can only do this in my memory right now.

Here’s what I know for certain though, beyond the emotions.

I will fight my way back. I’ve already begun.  I’ve walked every day since surgery last Monday, starting on Tuesday with 60 minutes (3×20 minutes), then 75, then 90, then 100.  I scaled back for the weekend as I was shattered, but got back up to 90 today.

This will not break me.  But it has changed me.  It has given me great compassion for older people, for the injured.  I will not look the same way at crossings roads ever again.  When I entered the hospital last Monday, I knew I was setting my healthy, strong self aside for a while.  I entered knowing this.

I can’t stay with you longer tonight as it hurts too much to sit and type.  I’d love to leave you with words of wisdom but I am still discovering what this has to teach me.  For now, I’ll leave you with the title of my favorite Bon Jovi song of the moment:  The Fighter.  I sing it quietly as I hobble right now.

Hope to see you on the trails soon…

Recovery

I’m alive! That’s the first thought I had upon awakening from surgery to have a bad varicose vein removed yesterday. The second was delight that I had not actually experienced any surgery. Haven’t not had surgery before, I was certain that some part of me would have been aware of what was happening. So delight on two fronts.

I’m home now and facing a few slow weeks of recovery. The surgeon had said I must walk a minimum of 30 minutes a day this week. To which I quickly replied, what’s the maximum? She remembered me then as “the runner” and allowed me up to two hours!

Today I’ve managed 3 x 20 minute walks, which feels terrific and gives me hope that the Two Bays 28k race in early January may still be in reach.

I put off this surgery so many times because great races just couldn’t be missed. It is a huge relief to have it done.

I’ll leave you with a couple of impressions. My anaesthetist reminded somehow of  Robin Williams; this was strangely reassuring. Food and coffee are wonderful things, especially after fasting. Nurses should never push wheelchairs quickly down crowded corridors when patients have leg injuries. Recovering from surgery is a bit like training for an ultramarathon. Rest is a hard thing to sink my teeth into, but it is part of recovery and I must do that too.

Best news of all? The doctor told me I can run again in just seven short days! So I’m off to enjoy some rest while I can!

 

 

Surgery!

Please excuse my long absence – school holidays came and went, along with the usual chaos/fun they involve, followed by two weeks of cleaning up the mess.  I did lots of great running meanwhile, including a beautiful 21km run from Torquay to Bells Beach and back along the Surfcoast Walking Trail

image

Views along the Surfcoast Walking Track near Torquay

 

a few great ones up at Mount Dandenong on my favorite roller coaster loop

A fallen tree near Mount Dandenong

A fallen tree near Mount Dandenong

and a wonderful adventure down on the Two Bays Trail last Friday.

View from Arthur's Seat on the Two Bays Trail near Dromana

View from Arthur’s Seat on the Two Bays Trail near Dromana

Which brings you kind of up to date.

And me just one week (gasp!) away from surgery.  Voluntary surgery, no less.

I’ve had this vein-gone-wrong in my left leg (okay, lets call it what it is, a varicose vein) since I was 32.  I remember the day I noticed it.  A lump appeared down low on my thigh.  I was convinced it was cancer.  In complete panic, I called my then-Doctor, got in to see him straight away (these were the days I worked in a suit in Melbourne and went to city doctors!), and found out I wasn’t dying.  That was a great relief.

But to be told I had a varicose vein?  Suddenly, I felt very, very old.  Now, varicose veins are genetic.  I hadn’t somehow caused it by walking or exercising too much, the doctor assured me.  But that didn’t matter.  Old people had varicose veins; therefore, I was old. Old.  At 32, that belief mattered.  It crushed me for a bit.

It took a couple of months, but I got over it.  Decided that as long as I was fully functional, so be it, I had a vein-gone-wonky.  That has worked a treat for the last sixteen years.  But during those many years, the vein grew and grew, became twisted and began to work less and less well.  I started to trip up more often on trail runs, always on that leg.  I got terrible cramps in that calf at night, that would wake me up and keep me up for hours.  And not-so-kind people began to comment (“Oh, look at your leg.  That must hurt.  It looks awful!”), so I started to hide it in long running tights.  I’m not about looks, I’m about performance.  But I’m human too.

Last year, I finally got the guts up to see a Vascular Surgeon, and she suggested all was not well.  And not just visually.  Such a messed up vein could cause blood clots.  And serious bleeding if I cut it (like, perhaps, by tripping over in the middle of a long trail run).  These things were important.  I planned to have surgery the next month, September 2013.  To address this thing once and for all.

Except I didn’t.  There were too many cool races to complete.  There was Marysville and Lorne and Two Bays and the Roller Coaster Run, and the Buffalo Stampede.  North Face too.  I didn’t make all of them due to a knee injury, but I did a lot.  These were followed swiftly by the four races of the Salomon Trail Series.  Where to fit surgery requiring four weeks off running?  I decided quietly in my head that September 2014 would be it.  Just before the whole thing kicked off again, in an endless, thrilling cycle of trail racing.

Just prior to the last race of the Salomon Trail Series (23k down in Anglesea) in September, 2014, I finally called the surgeon.  I wanted surgery right away, I’d decided ages ago, I said (thinking about the 28km Two Bays Trail Race I’d already booked for January, 2015).

“Perhaps you should have told me…” the receptionist/surgery booker replied.  I laughed and admitted I’d been putting it off for rather a long time.  She tried to squeeze me in before the surgeon’s next holiday, which was a week off.  While this did seem a bit risky (perhaps she’d be thinking of margarita’s instead of veins?), I gave the go ahead, but it didn’t work out anyway.

Instead, we arranged for 27 October.  Which seemed ages and ages away at the time.  For the last month, I’ve been kicking up my heels in joy along every trail I’ve run, like I’ve been given an extra month of freedom.

But now here I am, a week away from something I’ve put off for, oh, fourteen years or so.

While I can be courageous when I’m controlling the risks (long trail runs alone but fully prepared), when someone else is in charge my inner wimp climbs right out of the back seat and plonks herself down firmly in the front.  And makes me think about everything that could go wrong.  I’ve Googled all the surgery risks (mistake), examined posts in Forums about surgery gone wrong (bigger mistake), driven my husband nuts talking about the chances of me dying (he’s a very patient man).

Finally, I’ve come to terms with it.  Kind of.

Here’s the good stuff that I’m trying to focus on:  perhaps I’ll trip over less frequently.  My leg won’t be swollen and cramp at night.  I will wear shorts to teach again without feeling self-conscious.  Most importantly, I won’t be worrying about a potential blood clot having some serious impact on my life down the track.  Or bleeding out on a solo trail run (not that I worried much about that, but humor me please).

All that said, please send me some kind thoughts next Monday because I’m sure to be a little bit of a scaredy-mouse come the actual surgery.

The rest of this week holds some terrific training to get me in my final peak shape before Monday, and I’m going to soak up every little bit of it, starting with a couple of hours in the Dandenongs tomorrow.

 

Salomon Trail Series 2014: Anglesea Race

The track was narrow and studded with rocks and tree-roots.  I’d been running alone for fifteen minutes.  The pack had really spread out in the later stages of this 23k run.  I watched for the pink ribbons that marked the course to make sure I stayed on the right trails.

The track became more technical and turned downhill.  The words of my neighbor ran through my mind:  “Keep your wits about you,” she’d said, coaching me about the race.

I was, I thought defensively, taking her comment in a broader sense than she’d intended.  Through all the ups and downs and turbulence of raising my young children.  Through the tantrums and the throwing things, the swearing and “I hate you’s”.  I was keeping my wits by running, sometimes alone in the Dandenongs for hours, sometimes bolting along the Bayside Coastal Track.  It was hard, and I often wanted to continue the bolt long after the run was done, to run away from the pain and the continuous and daily nature of the challenges that had become my life.

I was keeping my wits about me, dammit!  Now I was going to focus on this trail.

A moment later, BAM!

Like many times of recent years when I’m pushing the pace hard on technical trails and get lost in my thoughts, I went flying through the air and smashed hard onto the ground.  My troublesome left calf cramped into a tight knot.  I glanced at my elbow – it was grazed and bleeding.  Jumping to my feet, I checked my painful left knee (the one I’d torn open a few months ago in a training run in the Dandenongs).  Of course, I’d landed on same exact spot.  But this time, there was no blood and my tights weren’t torn.  Silent cheer.  My palms stung where they’d caught my fall, and I was covered with dirt from head to foot, with a large smear on my new Dandenongs Trail Runner singlet.

It took just a couple of seconds to make this assessment.  I spoke out loud.  “You’re okay.”

I started running again.  I glanced at my Garmin.  I had run 15k; I had only 8 to go.  The calf, surprisingly, loosened right away, but the knee was hurting with each step.  I slowed a bit, and took more care on the rough terrain until it felt better.

We’d started this 23k trail run on the beach over an hour ago.  I had decided to go out moderately fast, knowing this was risky on such a long race, but I wanted to avoid the bottlenecks I anticipated on the tougher sections.

I'm the one with the great big smile!

I’m the one with the great big smile!

This worked really well, especially when we came to my favorite bit of the race at about 4k, where rocks covered the beach from the cliff-tops to the ocean.  They were about 5 meters high, rough and uneven.  There was a slight back-up of runners carefully climbing up one by one.  It was a great chance to catch my breath.  It was not an easy climb, and required caution.  I love the challenge of rocks like these, but I’m not fast on them.  They test much more than running ability.  They test guts, thinking, and balance.  I made it safely over, climbed down carefully, then dashed off down the beach after the pack.

A while later, the hard sand softened and the going became harder.  The early morning sun glare off the sea hurt my eyes.  I checked my watch.  We were nearing the exit at 7k off the beach at Point Addis.  I slipped and slid in the deep sand, making my way to the wooden staircase that took us up.  It was a tough, breathless climb.  From there, he course led up a slightly uphill road, and then turned right onto the true trails.  I’d decided to try hiking the hills in this race instead of attacking them, saving my speed for downhill sprinting.  It didn’t hurt as much, and I had more fun, and probably more speed later in the event.

Unlike the other events in this series, the pack really did spread out on the course.  Running alone, I didn’t feel pressured to any particular pace, but ran solely at the sweet spot I find when speed and agility come together.  I was breathless and running hard, but just hard enough.  Once in a while, I’d glimpse another runner in front of me, but not very often.  On the downhills, I flew.  Clumps of sharp grass lined the trail around eye height.  I often couldn’t see further ahead than the next two or three steps  This was 100% in-the-moment-or-fall-over running, and I loved it.

Until I did my face plant.  Then I loved it, for a moment, just a little bit less.

But I’d been there before, tripping over both in actual races and in training runs.  I knew my body well enough to keep pushing.  I plowed on, hurting, but determined to finish strongly.  Both my left calf and my left foot began cramping at some later stage, and at one section of boardwalk, my foot curled itself up so my toes were curled under, and I was really worried I’d have to walk.  I downed a second salt tablet and a third GU Gel, and that forced the cramps away.

I finally hit the stretch I’d been longing for, the long red trail with the view of the sea to the left, and wildflowers to the right.  I wanted to speed on this section, to fly with abandon.

And fly I did.  I was passed by some, and I passed others, and because all three race distances came together at this stage, I couldn’t tell who were competitors of mine, and who weren’t.  I decided to run my own race, and didn’t set out to chase anyone.

Finally, we came to the road that circled the caravan park, and I knew we were close to the finish.  I tried to open up the throttle but there wasn’t much left in the tank.  So I just kept on.  I ran down the ramp to the beach, jumped onto the hard sand and made for the finish.  This year there was no coastal river to splash through.

Where's the finish line?

Where’s the finish line?

I got close, encouraged another runner who was struggling to run on, then paced it on up towards the finish chute.  I heard shouts of “Go Patricia!”  a few times, and I was overjoyed to be known.  I couldn’t see who was shouting but waved and tried to sprint with what I had left.

Oh, there it is!

Oh, there it is!

I crossed the finish line in 2:14, coming in 7th in my age category, which was a huge improvement from the last few races, and fifteen minutes faster than I’d expected.

The finish of the race came together as always:  finding my family, feeling euphoria, stretching, chatting to running friends, sharing war stories.  We laughed at the dirt that coated me head-to-foot.  I stayed for the presentation, where heroes of every age and description got to stand on the podium.  It was inspiring to see the winners, to hear the cheers, to see the camaraderie of this wonderful group of trail runners.

I stayed until nearly the end when my family and our puppy finally called time.  Then, like every year since this terrific series began, we loaded up the car and began the drive away.  It is always a bittersweet feeling to see the Event Headquarters being dismantled, and the riverside being returned to its usual self.  It is as if a home I’ve grown to love is being torn down, like when Christmas is over and the decorations have to come down.

What a wonderful series it has been.  From the trees, the Yarra River and the pipe-bridge of Studley Park; the mud and river crossings of Plenty Gorge; the fog, frigid cold and beauty of Olinda; and finally, the bright sunshine and blueness of the beach at Anglesea.

So many challenges overcome, so much joy gathered up in a simple pair of trail shoes.

Thanks to my fellow runners, volunteers, and to Rapid Ascent.  You’ve put on a great show for all of us this year, and I’m going to be soaking in the memories for quite a long time.  Thanks to my family for letting  me get out and do what I love.

Next event?  I’m signed up for Two Bays 28K in January 2015 but I’m sure some other races will creep onto my calendar between now and then!

 

What do I do now?

I’ve spent most of today playing avoid-the-computer and I suspect I have something to say that I don’t want to say, so I’m sitting down now, at 8:04 pm just after the kids are in bed, and I’m going to say it.

Ah, but what is it?  A gnawing sense of “it’s not fair”?  The North Face 50 (TNF 50) trail race is happening this weekend, and like the Two Bays 56k in January, and the Buffalo Stampede 43k, it will be happening without me.  I’ve known that for ages, but I somehow kept hoping.  Hoping that despite the knee injury I suffered in November last year, the calf-strain in January, and the face-plant a week ago, that I’d get the mileage up to be able to do it.  I’ve done the math again and again (and again) and such an outing would no doubt lead to injury.  My biggest week since November has been 44km, and my longest outright run 23km.  That’s far short of what TNF 50 requires.

So it stinks.  And it isn’t fair (well, it is really, no one can hurt us but ourselves).  Last year’s TNF 50 was life-changing for me and my family.  We hadn’t stayed in a hotel in five years; we hadn’t traveled anywhere other than our beach house and back.  I finally managed to break us out of that pattern, by booking a race that required us to break it, and suddenly the world opened up for us again.

But part of me, to be honest, didn’t see the sense in returning to do it again.  It was a challenge I’d conquered already.  I had learned what the race had to teach me, and put the lessons into play by seeking the help I and my family required.  I’d seen what I went there to see.

Right after the race, I decided I needed an even bigger adventure, and planned that it would be racing somewhere in New Zealand.  There were places there that were calling me, vistas I longed to see.

Somewhere I’d love to see in New Zealand…3 ASICS Kepler Challenge 60K trail race in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park.

 

But I never sought out the races.  I got scared.  Time slipped by.  It seemed too big of a stretch.  And I’m a creature of habit; I tend to sign up for races I’ve done before, simply because I know them.  When TNF 50 registrations came up, I was one of the first to enter.

I’m at a funny place in my running, and I was even when I signed up for the events of the last year.  I’m not really enjoying the super long-distance stuff and I’m missing my speed.  For me, running has always been about an endorphin blast.  Today, I ran for 5k on the treadmill for the first time in ages, and did my favorite speed workout, one minute fast, one minute recovery, getting faster in speed by .2 for about 10 cycles.  I’d been too injured to do it recently.  My new “normal” pace has been 6 minute kilometers: that’s the one I’ve used for my long, slow distance, and it is comfortable and easy.  But my body doesn’t like it.

And when I translate that into the numbers I’m used to on the treadmill, I want to cry.  I used to run at a speed of 12 as a baseline and went only up from there.  This pace is more like 10.  Numbers matter to me; speed matters.  Today, I crept back up to 12, then did my one minute intervals, increasing by .2 up to 13.8, with rest intervals of 11 in between.  And suddenly, I came alive again.  The cadence felt right, my feet were flying, and I’d found the flow that has been absent for so long.

Now the question weighs heavy on me: what do I want to do?

I’ve signed up for the Surfcoast Century 50k (SCC 50) in September, but the thought of it fills me with dread.  I don’t want to run slow; I want to sprint like a Cheetah.  I’ve also signed up for all four long courses in the Salomon Trail Series, but “long” tops out at 23km, which is just a nice distance.  I’m planning to be fast in those, so that’s fine.  But do I do the SCC 50?  I’ve seen half of it already, having done the first amazing leg as part of a relay team; will the second leg and the extra time add so much?

I’ve been debating this question since the Marysville Marathon, when I declared at about 38k that it sucked and I was never going to do that kind of distance again.  I haven’t.  Due to injury.

Now it comes down to choice.  I think that is what I’m struggling with.  Not so much despair at the race I’m going to miss on Saturday, but where I’m going to next.

The other thing I did at the gym was lift some big heavy weights, to try to wake up the muscles that have disappeared from my arms.  It seems I’ve burned them off, an unwelcome side-effect of running far.

Where to next?  A question I’ll be contemplating carefully in the coming weeks…

Do I run far or fast or can I do both?

Funny, I thought the sense of unease I was feeling all day was about not doing the TNF 50 this weekend.  Really, that was the line I’d drawn in the sand to call an end to the ultra-running.  Because I don’t get to jump over that line, it seems I’ve drawn a new one in September.  Do I really want to do it though?

No answers right now, just questions…

And here’s the other thing:  I’m afraid the followers I’ve built up through my blog and other social media won’t find me interesting or inspiring if I cut back on my distances. That’s a hard thing to admit.