The Injured Runners’ Swimming Club

Seems like every second thing I read from a friend these days has to do with a running-related injury.  We’ve all been pushing the limits, testing them, finding them.  The trouble comes when we have to accept that we have over-stepped the line.  How are we to know where the line is, if we never over-step it?  I’ve done my share of over-stepping in the last year or so, and I know well the emotions that stalk the injured runner.

For me, it starts this way:

Oh, that was an odd little niggle.  Ouch.  Not so sure about that pain.  I think it will go away if I keep running on it a little longer.  And it does.

The next run.  OUCH.  It hurts again.  Maybe I’ll try shortening my stride.  Increasing the cadence.  Ah, the pain isn’t so bad.  I’ll keep running.

Two weeks later.  I’ve become accustomed to this pain.  It happens every time I run.  If I wait it out, maybe in 5k it will lesson.  Ow, ow, ow.  Now it’s gone numb.  That’s better.

Three weeks later.  OW!  How come it hurts to cook my kids’ dinner?  I’m not even running!  Maybe if I balance on one foot whilst cooking, it will challenge my stabilisers and fix things.

Three months later.  It hurts all the time.  Okay, maybe I’ll change shoes.  Still hurts.  Where are the anti-inflammatories?  Oh good, a large box.  That’ll last me a bit.

Six months later.  La la la.  If I sing loud enough while I run, maybe I won’t notice that every step is agony because my goal race is coming up and I can’t miss my goal race.  I wonder if I have a stress fracture?

Eight months later.  My physio says I should take some time off running and do some cross-training.  He/she’s obviously not a runner.  And an idiot.  Both, non-runner and idiot.  I hate him/her now and will have to find a new physio.

Eight and a bit months later.  How come all the physio’s don’t get it?  They seem to think I can just STOP running and be okay with this?  Time to Google this injury and really get on top of it.  Must be some YouTube videos on how to fix it instantly.

Finally, I meet a running-oriented physio who doesn’t tell me to stop.  She gets it.  In fact, she’s training for a big race herself.  And she gets injured.  And stops running.  It’s after she’s helped me hobble my way through my goal race, to achieve what I’ve set out to, that she stays stop.  And I do.  Because if someone like her – a runner, who has run herself into injury – if she says stop, I know I must.

So I do.  And I don’t even miss it!  That’s the irony.  It’s a relief to not have to run in pain anymore.  I miss my mountain trails and the woods, but it’s okay.  I realise this is needed, necessary, vital, this rest.

Fast forward: eight weeks later.  I’ve taken seven solid weeks off running.  I’ve begun swimming twice a week, and can feel my strength and speed sky-rocketing.  There’s power in me I forgot about.  I’m back to lifting heavy weights at the gym.  I’d forgotten how meditative weight-lifting can be.  I’ve downloaded a mindfulness App to my phone and am meditating in five minute intervals, three times a day.  I’m playing piano better than ever, and my foot doesn’t hurt to press the pedals anymore.  I’m happy.  Content.  Healthy.  With a vitality (and muscles) that had gone while I was running too far for my body.

Here’s who I don’t want to be anymore: a runner who can’t stop running even when injured.  Who uses running to meet all these super-important mental-health and physical-health needs, all whilst not noticing that running has actually become a problem in itself.  An out-of-balance runner who loses perspective on health in pursuit of a race goal.

With time off, I have found a new perspective.

Last week, the physio told me I could run again, for  up to 3k, 2 minutes running, 1 minute walking.  And I was scared.  Scared I’d go right back to who I was, running too far, running over injuries, forgetting that my health is my most sacred value.  So I kept the brake on for a few extra days, to remind myself that it is me who is in charge of when and how I run.  That running is an add-on to an exceptional life, and not the key to it.  I want to run mindfully, and notice what hurts, and respond to it, instead of trying to mask it or wish it away.

I ran my 3k.  My foot hurt afterwards.  Then felt better.  So I tried again on the treadmill last night.  It began to hurt at 1.5k.  I stopped the treadmill.  I got off.  I listened.

There is wisdom here.  I can feel it.  When I stop long enough to hear what my body – indeed, what my mind – is saying.  Stop, it is saying.  Rest.  Please.  Listening and responding to this wonderful machine that I live in feels so much better than pounding it into the ground.

The future?  Balance.  Running with mindfulness.  Running without pain.  And doing other cool stuff too.

I joke with my running friends that I have started a new club, called the Injured Runners’ Swimming Club.  It is growing rapidly.  But somewhere along the way, I discovered something.  I like swimming.  And cycling.  And weight lifting.  The world is a much bigger place than it was eight weeks ago.  And I’m going to keep it this way.

A time to recover.

I’m finding it hard to tell you.  Hard to say.  You’ve known what running means to me.  I haven’t held back in detailing how it heals me, allows me to cope with what life throws at me.  How the woods bring me back to life and give me the room I need to howl out in pain when necessary.  How I feel most myself, most alive, when running free on a wooded trail.

And that’s gone.  All gone, for now.  For three weeks and one day, and for many more days to come.

Until I heal.  Until I can honestly run pain-free.  Because my method of coping in the last 12 months has been so unhealthy.  It has led to me walking in pain every single day, snarling like a bear with a thorn in its paw.  I knew what I was doing was nuts, but I told myself it was my only way of coping.  I was wrong.

After the Roller Coaster Run, I ran twice.  The pain had not changed (funny that!).  Even after I bought a new pair of running shoes.  So I agreed to take two weeks off running.  To allow my plantar faschia and tibialis posterior the time they needed to heal.  To strengthen myself.

So, instead of running 50km a week, here’s what I’ve been doing. Swimming 1k twice a week.  Teaching 3 BodyPump classes.  Doing cardio on the Elliptical Trainer or my bike twice a week.  I’ve been doing lots of calf raises, single-leg squats, and exercises to strengthen gluteus medius and the gluts.  I’ve felt healthier than I have in ages.  I can feel my muscles coming back, the ones that had been eaten away by too much running.

Do I miss it?  I miss my woods and trails with an ache I am unwilling to study too closely.  But I don’t miss every single step hurting.  I don’t miss feeling obsessed and willing to run through injury.  I don’t miss forcing myself out when my body really has had enough.

Running had overtaken me.  Instead of being a cure, it had become an illness, or, at least, a pathway to illness.

So this period of my life is about healing.  Healing mind and body, and coming back strong, stable, and light on my feet.  This is strangely (at times) okay.  I’m playing the piano more, thinking about writing my next novel, and trying to be a little more aware of the sane voice inside my head that says, ”no”.

I know I’ve been quiet since the Roller Coaster Run.  For the first time in a while, that quiet hasn’t been a whitewater.  It has been a calmness.  A centering.  A trying to feel myself again, to hear myself and what my body needs.

In time, I will run free and fast again, but that time is not now.

This is a time to recover.

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Roller Coaster Run 2015: the elusive start line

It was dark when we arrived: head-torch dark; can’t see your feet dark.  Luckily this year I had remembered my head torch, and I could shine the light for my friends Kim and Damian as we made our way to registration.  It was a few minutes after six, and I needed every layer I had – the thermal leggings, the down jacket, the wool icebreaker underneath it all.  The air was still and dry.  I stood in front of the registration desk and asked for my number, half-asleep but keen to remember every single moment of this cold dawn.

Cold dawn at the Roller Coaster Run

Cold dawn at the Roller Coaster Run

It had taken a lot of work to get here.  Back in 2013, when I did this race for the first time, I was training for the North Face 50.  It was a lead-up to the bigger event, and I’d dropped back from the 43 to 21k option a few weeks before the race.  I certainly had the miles in my legs to complete it.  In 2014, I was recovering from a knee injury, and this race was a much bigger deal.  I was several minutes slower than 2013, but finished (with no face-plants too).

2015?  I was five months post-surgery, carrying plantar fascitis and posterior tibialis tendon troubles.  The last three months, nearly every step I’d run had hurt.  I was being held together with Rock Tape and mental commitment.  This was going to be a whole new run.

Still, I was feeling somewhat confident, having completed an 18k along the Surfcoast Trail from Torquay to Bells Beach two weeks prior, and a 20k circuit around Lysterfield just the previous Friday.  However, neither of those routes had much elevation to speak of, and this was the Roller Coaster 21k we were talking about – there was hardly a flat section in the whole course.  I knew – I trained out here once a week (when uninjured).  Some of the hills had to be walked/power-hiked, and the whole event was one of the toughest I’ve done.

But my only goal was to complete the course, and arrive home uninjured.  I was handed my registration envelope, and noted the yellow sticker.  I had been placed in Wave 2.  For a moment, a Zen moment that I never am able to hold onto, this seemed nice.  There would be less pressure for a fast pace; it would fit my goal of simply finishing to not start with the fastest of the pack.

But of course I’m a Wave 1 sort of runner, stressing about getting stuck at the back, competing even when I’m not meant to be competing, checking my Garmin for pace and lap time.  While the idea of starting slower was nice, I knew in my heart I’d slip into the back of Wave 1 (which was allowed in the rules), and take off with the fasties.

Before the start, there was the joyous time of finding friends from the Dandenong Trail Runners.  They were resplendent in their green singlets, fit bodies, and gigantic smiles.  Someone calling for a group photo, and we all tried to sneak over into the front of the gigantic arch.  The race director, who was giving a very important race briefing at the time, took it well – “Now we’re going to pause while the Dandenong Trail Runners take their pre-race photo…” he joked.  “…thanks for supporting this event in such great numbers!”  We quickly took the photo and scurried back to our places, feeling rather embarrassed.

Dandenong Trail Runners before the start (thanks for the photo DTR!)

Dandenong Trail Runners before the start (thanks for the photo DTR!)

Before the start (yes, I did sneak into Wave 1), I took myself to the back of the pack.  I wanted no pressure, especially on the first four kilometers of downhill running.  I’d been there before, and no pace in that section would make up for a sprained ankle so early in the race.

It was hard to hear the countdown with the nervous excitement around me, and I just caught the 5,4,3,2,1 before we were suddenly moving, through the gigantic mouth, onto the paved downhill road.  I knew we turned sharply to the left down a steep rocky slope, and I steeled myself.  I’m not courageous on downhills – I accept this, but it still bugs me to get passed.  I continually have to tell myself to run my own race, and let people go. That I make up for it on the uphills where I’m strong and don’t have to be brave.  It happened as usual, I got passed, but I accepted my speed with more grace than usual.  I was just happy to be there.  And happy also that it was so cold that my feet were numb!  I wasn’t feeling the heel pain that had dogged me for the last three months, and I was loving the freedom of running my favorite trail.

A blow-by-blow of the course can make for dull reading.  Here are my highlights:

  • Finding myself, throughout the whole event, with the same group of five or six runners.  There was the “Where’s Wally” woman in the red-striped shirt reassuringly in front.  And Five-Finger Man who ran lightly and well, with a big smile.  There was the loving couple who could not bear to run in front or behind one another, who took some work (and teasing) to get around.  Oli from DTR, who said he liked my blogs (that was a lovely moment).  And my friend Kim – of course Kim.  We’ve raced together many times – our paces are nearly identical.  So we kept coming back together throughout the run, with one or the other of us going forward on certain sections.  I didn’t see Damian at all, but I knew he was far in front of me.
  • Flying down Channel 10 track after the first few minutes of worry, realising that my foot didn’t hurt – it was too cold to hurt – and laughing aloud that I’d make it across the start line.
  • Sweat dripping down my face on Dodd’s Track, forcing my legs up the massively steep rock-strewn trail, loving every moment of it.
  • Hearing the kookaburras and thinking of all the wallabies I’ve seen on the trails.
  • Knowing the way the entire run without looking at the trail markers, having run it alone so very many times.
  • The strangeness of so many people being out on “my” mountain.  Often on my Friday runs, I’ll go three hours without seeing a single person.  This was a whole different place.
  • Realising at 15k that I was going to make it.  Remembering what the feeling of achieving something terribly difficult felt like.  Soaking it up with joy.
  • Singing Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” in my head, instead of out loud as I’d usually do.  Feeling oddly compelled to ask others to sing with me but fighting it, and laughing inside at the impulse.

When, at 19k, my foot finally started complaining, I thought it was fair, justified, but was able to ignore it.  I began the day aiming at 3:15 for my finish time.  I hadn’t been looking at my elapsed time, until about that moment; it was then I realised I wasn’t far off my PB for this course.

Then the battle began.  I had to stay safe, but that elusive PB pulled at me.  I resisted, went conservative, but still faster than I’d intended.  I managed to save myself for the last 2k’s, which I knew were the hardest of the entire run, being nearly straight uphill.

And those last 2k’s didn’t disappoint.  They hurt just as much as I remembered, but this year, I’d kept enough in the tank to jog a bit.  When one of the volunteers said, “Look, there’s someone sprinting!” pointing at me, I was pretty chuffed.  I was jogging, really.  And the jog quickly slowed to a power-hike up the hardest final rocky slope.

Up and up and surely there must be a top in sight, but there wasn’t.  Around me, the other runners battled on and looked how I felt.  Knowing we were almost there didn’t help.  It was just going to hurt until we made it.  With a final push we were on the uphill paved road, the one we’d started on, staying inside the traffic cones.  That’s when I tripped on a cone with my left foot and nearly face-planted, but in a delightful change from the status quo, I kept my feet!

From there, it was only 100 meters.  I could see the finish.  I ran.  I saw Andrea Jackson and she cheered me and inspired me, and I pounded across that line in 2:47, nearly half-an-hour faster than I’d planned.

I won’t lie – I had tears in my eyes as I was in that final stretch.  I had made it.  Five months after surgery, despite injuries, I had crossed the line and I was okay.

How I felt at the finish

How I felt at the finish

Is there any better feeling than the way you feel after completing an event like this?  The elation; the emotion; the rawness of the physical pain; the sense of accomplishment.  All of this, with the delight of being with friends, and like-minded strangers, sharing the moment.

Myself, Damian and Kim, representing Hampton at the Roller Coaster Run!

Myself, Damian and Kim, representing Hampton at the Roller Coaster Run!

We settled into a lovely, warm brunch in Sky-High, but I couldn’t really eat anything.  I spoke with my friends and soaked up the blue sky and the views from the large circular windows.  I noticed the warm glow of contentment coming from the other runners.  The happiness; the glory of making it through a very tough event; the stiff walking and the smiling, and the laughter.

It had been a roller coaster ride just getting to the start line this year, but I finished on a huge high, and spent the rest of the day watching others photos being uploaded onto Facebook, reliving the glory of the experience we’d all shared.

Huge thanks to the race organisers, the volunteers, the other runners, and my family for making this all happen.  What a terrific day!

The future?  Some rest and recovery.  Some cross-training. Getting strong and fit and healthy.  I just had my first 5k post-race run and felt pretty terrific, so the long-term outcome is even better than I could have hoped.

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.