I still fall on my face sometimes…

Ah, Jessie J, you’ve got it so right tonight, I had tears streaming down my face as I listened to your wonderful song.  It gets to the heart of things.

There are confidences I cannot give away whilst blogging, and this makes it so hard to tell the truth.  Suffice it to say it has been a tough day.  One of those days where the dark cloud seemed to follow me around no matter how I tried to blow it away.  There are good reasons for the darkness, reasonable reasons, and yet, how I Hate IT.

So, when I’m sitting at home after finally getting the kids to bed after cooking two separate dinners and waiting for the third one to finish in the oven, well, everything seemed to sort of suck.  I’m too tired to come up with a poetic way to put it.  Everything sucked.

I spent three months renovating my home office so I could have a great place to finally write my masterpiece, but in the renovation, my computer got filled with dust, the internet broke, and I could no longer print to my printer.  In between, I spent a week in New York far-welling my elderly Aunt, a week in Sydney celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary, and lots of time soul-searching.

There is a book in me that is itching to be written.  I’ve started it three times, in three ways, and am now trying to merge them together to make a masterpiece.  What with family, and work, and pets, and laundry, it is so hard to find the time.  I keep falling on my face.

I think we’re doing okay, then a day comes like today, or yesterday, and pulls the rug out from under me, pulls me under like a rip-tide, and I know if I went for a run I’d run way too far to just run away from this black dog at my heels.

Instead, I’m going to breathe and blog, and accept that today was just one day.  I’ve had plenty of bad days, bad weeks, bad months, but I’ve always come through.  The dark I live in today will power my writing in the future.

I still fall on my face sometimes.  But it’s okay.  Because Jessie J does too, and she writes masterpieces that move me to tears.  I’m just going to dust myself off, put on Rachel Platten’s Fight Song, and get on with thinking about my new masterpiece.

Running?  It’s going okay.  But that’s a blog for another day.

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.

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.

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!


A sixty-minute beach run: of quicksand and coastal rocks

Running along the beach, I’d just found my stride, taking short quick steps, feeling good for the first time in the thirty minutes I’d been running.  I was contemplating this good feeling, glancing at the waves rolling in off the bay, when BAM! I came to an immediate halt and fell flat on my face.

I swore, loudly.  It took me a second to realise that I had sunk into the sand, almost up to my knees.  The knees that I’d landed hard upon.  I pulled my feet out quickly, checked that I wasn’t bleeding anywhere, then thought to look back for the deep footsteps I must have left behind.  Only there weren’t any footsteps!

The sand – just like before I’d run across it – was smooth and flat.


On the beach in Sandringham.  Who would’ve guessed!  I looked up the beach to the offending storm-water drain and the pool of water that wasn’t linked to the tide as it sometimes was.  I had forgotten about the drain, and I hadn’t been paying enough attention to my surrounds.  I was now fully awake.

I ran on.  At least this sixty-minute sand run was proving something of an adventure.  The day, like many lately, hadn’t started well.  And I was all alone on this long stretch of beach.  So, like a lunatic (or perhaps just like a mother), I shouted into the wind about how awful everything felt, how that stretch of quicksand seemed just about right for the way my day had been going.  The wind took my words and swept them away.

I ran on.

The trouble with a sixty minute beach run where I live is there is no continuous stretch of beach.  I knew this when I set out, so I’d had a plan, courtesy of satellite view on Google Maps.  I would run from home, do a stretch of the Coastal Track, then drop down to the beach at Trey Bit Reserve by the Sandringham Yacht Club.  From there, I could see a long-ish stretch of beach, and I would run it as far as I could.  The sand was soft and slanted and it hurt to run on.  I kept sinking and wondering why I was doing this, but I get determined, and I keep going.

I came to the rock shelf where my son and I used to look for Dinosaur fossils when he was younger, and climbed up.  It felt good to challenge my stability, to be there in this wild spot alone.  I ran to the end of that shelf, where I intended to jump off and continue along the next stretch of beach, but the tide was in, so that was it, end of the line.  I turned around, but this time, I decided I’d try to stay on the beach until Hampton.

And that’s where the fun really began.  First, the quicksand. Once I’d brushed myself off, I continued along the beach towards home, with my eye on the road I’d run down by Trey Bit Reserve to get to the beach.  But I was bored with that route.  I glanced to the left, at the yacht club.  There seemed to be a concrete barrier between it and the sea – perhaps there was a small path there?  I’d never looked before.

I got close, and sure enough, a thin stretch of old broken bitumen ran there.  I expected it to connect to the beach on the far side.  I jogged along it, marveling that I’d lived here for six years, but never tried this trail.  The sea crashed a few feet below.  I was complimenting myself on my bravery when the path came to an abrupt end at some small coastal rocks.  I glanced down at them.  I’ve covered many a coastal rock in adventure racing, but always in an organised event.  I didn’t know where these rocks led.

Still, I found myself taking the first tentative steps onto them.  I went cautiously, alone, aware that I had no phone and no one knew where I was.  The rocks were small and would shift easily.

I swayed between two thoughts.  One, that this was a good stability challenge for my ankles, a good training exercise; the other, that this was remarkably like that movie 127 Hours (that’s the movie about the guy who gets stuck under a rock in the middle of nowhere for 127 hours).

Except the guy in the movie had water.

I had $50 and my house keys.

I stepped carefully, not putting my feet between any rocks.  It was about then that I saw the shoe.  The black shoe, wedged down between rocks.  I nearly laughed.  I stepped carefully around the gap.  Glancing forward, I couldn’t see where the rocks would end.  I checked the waves to the left, but they were far enough away not to be a worry.  The rocks grew larger, and I clambered on, using my hands for balance.

To the right was a grassy cliff and beyond it I could see the yacht club buildings.  I knew I could climb up that cliff if necessary but I didn’t want to.  I was scared of snakes in the grass.  And I wanted to see where these rocks ended.  Silly, stupid, crazy, but I was craving adventure.  It felt good to trust myself again.  A few steps further, and I came onto the continuation of the gravel path.  “Ha!” I said out loud.  “Take that beach!  Take that coastal rocks!  I’ve gotten through!”

It felt symbolic.

I jogged along the now-clear path behind the yacht club, slightly concerned by my isolation and the graffiti on the back of the building but still elated.  I looked for the upcoming beach.

It was then I realised that my track was leading out to sea!  I’d found my way onto the marina seawall.  If I continued on, I would end up in a lovely scenic spot, five-hundred meters out to sea, with no way but back to swim.

It looks less adventurous than it felt, but those are the rocks I ran along

The marina wall I was running along

Darn!  I turned back, reluctantly, and wondered what to do next.  I didn’t want to go back along the coastal rocks.  I didn’t want to climb over the building (yes, I did contemplate whether I’d have to).

Luckily, a few minutes later, I found the trail connected to the car park as well as the coastal rocks.  Normal people might just park their car and walk down this path to the boats.

I ran up the path, then in front of the yacht club onto the dog beach.  A few dogs played in the sunshine, chasing sticks and ignoring their owner’s calls.  At the end of that beach, I had to scramble over a rock wall (more fun!) to get to the next section.  From there, it was a nice, soft-sand five minutes out and back along Hampton Beach.

There were people around now, couples walking, children playing, people having a normal beach-side morning.

Me?  I was feeling elated by my unexpected adventure.  It felt like I had arrived on this beach from some other primitive, wilder world.  A world full of danger and thrills, where I could test myself, and prove myself worthy.

Take that, bad morning!  Take that, feelings of sorrow and anxiety!  Today, I topped you with one great adventure, and reminded myself of who I really am.


The downs and the ups.

It has been an up-and-down roller coaster sort of a week since I last wrote, with a few more downs than ups, to be honest.  But running, as usual, has kept me hanging on through the steeper dives.

And running – well, thanks to my new running coach, Shaun Brewster – running has felt like a completely new sport.  I clocked 53 kilometers last week, my largest in quite a while, but I don’t really feel like I ran all of that because of the massive diversity in training.  Monday was an 18k long slow run up on Mount Dandenong, amongst the fern trees and eucalypts, with just mud for company.  Tuesday was a fast 10k along my Bayside Coastal Track.  Wednesday I taught two BodyPump classes back-to-back, which nearly killed me, so Thursday I only ran with the kids (1k with my daughter; 3 with my son) before driving us all to Ocean Grove for a short family holiday.  Friday I learned about Fast Downhill training, racing to the base of a steepish hill on a cliff in Ocean Grove, and walking back up, maybe 12 times, followed by 20 minutes of flat-out fast running.  Saturday, I ran 25 minutes fast, then practiced uphill running, driving up the cliffs on the bluff above Barwon Heads, running up as hard as I could, jogging down.  It all added up to 53 kilometers, but it didn’t feel like it.  And that was the joy of it.  It wasn’t any hard slogging down trails I didn’t enjoy; it was fast and fun and diverse, and just what my heart, soul, and body had been craving.

That’s the running part of last week.  And the running certainly helped me cope with the nose-dives of bringing young, emotional children to a different house.  I could share the downs that came with those emotions, but rather than focus there, I’d like to tell you about the ups.

There’s Leila, our seven-month-old Labrador Kelpie.  You might recall we adopted her from Labrador Rescue back in February, and I was a tiny bit dubious about the decision.  How wrong I was.  She’s the light of our lives.  Last week in Ocean Grove, she spent many hours off lead down at the beach, and if ever you want to see absolute joy, that’s where to look.

Leila loving the beach

Leila loving the beach

She loves every dog and every human she sees, so much so, that she tends to follow whichever dog happens along, in whatever direction it happens to be going.  Her whole body wags and is full of enthusiasm for the simplest of things.  A stick – oh my God – a stick!  And look – seaweed!  Do you see it?  Seaweed!  Dogs!!  People!!  Dogs!! We spent a lot of time walking back and forth along the same stretch of beautiful coastline in Ocean Grove, with the ongoing call of Leeillaa.  Sometimes she’d come running back to us like a racehorse, tongue hanging from the side of her mouth, joy in every inch of her body, as she buzzed us, and kept running.  If hungry though, she’d drop into a sit directly in front of me and fix me with her lovely brown eyes saying treat, treat, look I’m sitting, treat…

Then there were the cats, Jakie and Mini.  Both black-and-white, like Leila, though Jake is fat and lazy, and Mini is, well, Mini.  Fast, skittish, but hugely affectionate, standing on her back paws and reaching up to be petted.  I found them curled up together on our sofa, a picture of contentment on a cold Ocean Grove day.

Mini and Jakie content

Mini and Jakie content

They even get along with Leila now, which is a staggering thing to see after the initial fear they had of her.

Oh, and then there were the four of us, in a rare moment of family harmony, playing Scrabble on our small oak dining table, me noting how well my daughter is able to spell, and how clever my son is at using strategy to score extra points.  And how patient my husband is with our young children, under all circumstances.  The simple pleasure of no electronics, just family, playing an age-old board game.

The hours after the kids bedtime, where my husband and I curled up with books and beer and Leila, with the warmth of the gas heater filling our tiny living room, the curtains drawn, and rain falling on the tin roof.

The absolute beauty of the shoreline in Ocean Grove, which mesmerized me as I did my downhill running at sunset, watching the sky change color, the waves roll in, the surfers gather in the last of the day’s rides.  The wildish view from the top of the Bluff in Barwon Heads, with storm clouds in the distance, mist in the air, large waves rolling onto wild shore as far as the eye could see.  The green of the grass and yellow of the wildflowers.  The white of the crushed shell underfoot, and the small undulations and curves of the trail that made me be present.


Ocean Grove from the picnic spot where I did my downhill training

Ocean Grove from the picnic spot where I did my downhill training

And finally, the great joy of arriving home just one hour before dark, and my husband saying, I’ll empty the car, why don’t you go for a run.  My running clothes hanging dry in the laundry room, my watch charged.  I bolted out the door, ten minutes easy, then 7 intervals with 2 minutes fast, 1 slow, then 25 minutes of moderate (ok, fast as I could) running to return home, elated, and to notice that my average pace was faster than it has been in years.  And that it hardly felt like I had run at all, it was so much fun.

Now, my whole body is saying ouch, that’s a lot of running in two days, and I’m delighted that the kids are in bed, the dog is in her basket by me snoring as I type, the cats have curled up somewhere warm, and my husband has gone to the gym.  I have had one golden hour to share with you, reflecting on all that’s been good for the last six days.  Downs? I can’t seem to recall any downs anymore.


Running in the dark.

I’d been waiting all day.  And it’s school holidays, so a day can be a very long thing indeed.  All I needed was one short hour, and yet, it was hard to find.  I didn’t want to miss the trip to Waves that my husband had suggested (the local swimming pool), because such trips will be the things of memories in a few years.  Even though it was frigid cold and the last thing I wanted to do was strip off any of the four layers of wool I had on and get into a swimming pool.  So I tricked myself (yet again).  I got changed in our super-heated laundry room/drying room, and double-tricked myself by packing my running gear to change straight into after the pool.  We set out at 2:30 pm, and I was doing the calculations in my mind, okay, if I’m out running by 4 that will be just enough daylight to squeeze in my hour…I can do that…

At the pool, it struck me again how much the kids have grown, how waves in the wave pool that used to be terrifying, now seemed calm and easy to manage.  Both my kids have had swimming lessons for years, and my son in now in swim squad.  They can bob in the water without danger, and my daughter has the knowledge to be afraid of the appropriate things.  I was glad I’d gone.  My husband played with our son in the deep water, and I shared time with my daughter, laughing in the shallows, hopping in the waves.

The car ride home was ugly though, with tired children and spitting and nasty words directed my way.  Like most moms, I become the target when things go awry.  I held it together, as I’ve done many, many times.  But it is tiring.  And it hurt.  Despondency crept in and sat with me in the front seat.  I stared out the window and noted it was already growing dark.  The clock on the dashboard read 4:43.

Yet I was determined.  And a little bit angry at the way things had turned out.  We got home, and I bolted from the car, raced in the door, changed to my running shoes, got my cap, and found the head torch I’d bought for the North Face 50 but never had cause to use.  I tested it; it still worked.  It was 4:45 and with an hour’s run, it would be well dark on my trail on my return.  But I was upset and frustrated, so I went anyway.

Oh, the freedom.  Even though I’d run 18k in the Dandenongs the day before, my legs felt fresh and bouncy.  It was meant to be an easy run, but I was wound up and didn’t feel like going easy.  I pushed the pace, in pursuit of a calmer self, and also conscious of the orange sun setting over my shoulder.  If I made it out fast, it might not be totally dark on the way back.

The kilometers flew by, my stride was short and strong.  I was alert to tree roots and rocks but I knew the placement of most of them on this, my usual trail, so I could still run fast.  I switched on my head torch early, thinking it would lull me a bit as the darkness increased, that it might not seem so scary as sudden darkness.  At the halfway mark, up on the cliffs on Red Bluff, I stopped for only a moment to stare at the horizon, then sprinted back down the way I’d come, taking care on the steep set of stairs.

By this time, dusk had gathered and I had five kilometers between me and home, along a narrow, wooded trail.  I felt strangely unafraid; somehow my headlamp reassured me.  It lit up the trail well in front of me, and I thought any bad guys would be simply blinded by the light, and that would give me time to get away.  I also figured I would make an unappealing target, moving fast, and with assurance.  And I just loved the freedom of being out there.

Night came quickly, and I noticed how my feet became more sensitive to the earth, feeling their way on undulations and rocks.  I felt more stable than I’d expected.  Running in the dark on a trail felt glorious, I discovered, similar to running in the fog on Mount Dandenong.  I had a sense of being cocooned somehow, and safe.  A woman ran by in the other direction, and commented that my head torch was a great idea, and I smiled and thanked her.  I agreed.

Though the run was meant to be easy, I made it back in 57 minutes, one of my faster efforts on that particular trail.  I’m not sure whether it was emotion or fitness or fear that enabled my feet to fly a bit more than usual.

Returning home, all the gunk that had built up over the long, long day had suddenly disappeared.  I was calm and content, and I wasn’t up for a fight with anyone at all.

Running in the dark had somehow brought me back out into the light.

Where I went…a tale of two dinners.

After my “Telling the Truth” post, I bet you were wondering if things had gone pear-shaped in my home.  Well, they did, but not in the way you might have expected.  It began with a steak…an ordinary steak.

My iron was low – I could tell because my hands kept turning white on mild days, and I’d be the only one at my son’s football match wearing a down jacket.  So we bought some steaks, because that tends to fix the problem pretty quickly for me.  I’m of Irish roots, so I cannot physically have steak without some form of potato.  Which is where it all came undone.

The first time I had my Mom to dinner when we were newlyweds, she arrived with a lovely house-warming gift.  It was a book called “Cooking for Absolute Beginners (or How to Cook a Six-Minute Egg)”.  Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mom.  She was right though.  I’d never learned to cook.  To be fair, my Mom could only make spaghetti with sauce from a jar, and, oddly, Thanksgiving Turkey.  That’s it.  There was no cooking role-model to follow, and no one cared about teaching or learning this cooking stuff.  I was from New York; not cooking was a badge of honor, and an unnecessary skill in one’s late twenties.  My first apartment had no kitchen, and this was fine.

Now, flash-forward twenty years or so, and spot me here in our suburban Australian kitchen.  I’ve got two kids, and I’ve taught myself to cook (we were all very hungry) through YouTube, trial-and-error and the help of kind-hearted domestic friends (“What does cream the butter mean?”.  But – and here’s the part where you have to not laugh at me – I’d never learned to clean an oven.

Here’s my excuse:  we’ve moved a lot.  Three countries; twelve or so homes.  And not a lot of cooking happened in most of those homes.  We never had to clean the oven; it had never got dirty.

Until now.  Six years we’ve lived here.  I’ve contemplated moving, renovating the kitchen, going out to eat more; I’ve not contemplated cleaning the oven.  I’ve hated our oven since year 1, when it filled the house with smoke on Christmas (yes, all by itself).  And then it burned four cakes I was making for my son’s tenth birthday.  I had it in for this stove; I wanted it gone, and if I waited long enough, surely I’d replace it before I’d have to clean it.

One day, a domestically-oriented friend gloated (oops, I mean told me) that she’d cleaned her oven.  It looked really nice, she said.  I felt inspired.  After Googling how,  I tried it.  Baking soda and vinegar, they said, but that oven sneered at me, and wouldn’t let go of its burned-on bits.

I bought a can of Oven Cleaner.  I carted it home, and read the large, wordy warning label on the back.  It scared the life out of me.  May eat the skin off your hands if sprayed.  Will kill all your pets and fill your home with toxic fumes.  Will blind you if you even touch this can. Back away slowly and lock the cupboard.

I left the oven as it was.  It didn’t matter because this cool oven had a nifty half-oven thing, so the burned bit on the whole oven didn’t see the heat anyway.  That is, until the steak night a month ago.

I put the potatoes in to bake (using the idiot’s cookbook my Mom bought me to make sure I did it right, and using the WHOLE oven).  My husband was at the gym; the kids were in bed; the cats and dog were sleeping.  I had an hour to blog while those potatoes baked.

Except I didn’t.  Because the house rapidly filled up with toxic white smoke (I’d removed the handy half-oven thing like a fool, and the burny bit was, well, burning).  Of course I Googled toxic smoke from the oven right away, flung open all the doors and windows, and checked on the kids and cats eighty-two times.  Then my husband came home, found me in panicked tears, and suggested tuna sandwiches.  He’s a paragon of patience.

I threw out the toxic-smoked potatoes, and the out-of-date steaks a few days later (terrible wastage, I know).

But I wasn’t giving up.  I am not a giving up sort of person.  Hence, the ultra-marathon running.  I tried again the next week, with the half-oven thingy in.  Potatoes back in the oven, vegetables cut up and ready to be steamed.  Surely it would be okay.

Nope.  It was like the movie Groundhog Day!  The same exact thing happened, only it was colder out, so I shivered throwing out the toxic potatoes and eating my tuna sandwich.

Now, I am not a quitter.  But I have to confess that if there had been an iron bar of any sort in the house, that oven would be history.  I pictured its mangled remains on the nature strip as I searched for the price of a new oven online.  But I was too tired (and iron-poor) so I just swore a lot.

The next day, I studied the Oven Cleaner can again.  Yes, it might kill me.  But so would the toxic smoke from the oven.  And iron-deficiency could too, one day.  I got on the biggest, thickest rubber gloves I had, put on my reading glasses (sigh) to both read the stupid can, and then to protect my eyes, put all the animals out, held my breath and sprayed.  Then I ran from the room.

I waited thirty toxic minutes, then held my breath, and dove in with a damp cloth.  Some of the burny bit came off.  A lot didn’t. I repeated the performance several times over the next week, as the Thursday steak night approached.  Eventually I attacked the burny bit with a plastic tool that came with a bunch of kiwis (“I don’t care if I scratch the enamel – I hope I scratch it and can throw this oven out!”).  But a miracle occured:  the burny bit, like a dead monster, came away.  Scrape, scrape, scrape.  The animals wanted to come in; my kids would be home soon.  I was sweating and swearing and scraping but I would have my steak.  I would have it!

Thursday came.  I wrapped the potatoes in foil and put them on a baking sheet.  I’d be damned if they were going to drip on that clean oven floor ever again (and yes, I poked holes in them so they didn’t explode).  I waited; I checked.  No smoke.  No toxic smell.  I danced in glee around the living room and the dog watched me with loving eyes.  My husband returned, gingerly, from the gym.  I was smiling; he still looked scared.  When the potatoes were done, I set them aside in their little tin-foil wrappers, and put the steaks on to grill.  I did them perfectly.  Perfectly.

I have never tasted a better meal.  It took three weeks, and a lot of time I could have spent blogging, but I can now say, at age 48, that I have finally cleaned my first oven.  Who knew the racks were silver?  I would have sworn they were gold.

I promise I’ll write about running next week, as the Salomon Trail Series is about to kick off.  I’ve been working on my speed training, which is absolutely glorious, and I’ve hired my first-ever running coach to see if I can improve a bit.


Telling the truth.

How funny.  I never have writer’s block.  But I’ve started this post three different ways, and erased all of them.  I keep starting and stopping, staring at the blank screen, trying to think of the right way to put this.

Six years ago I returned to Melbourne with our young family.  The kids were 3 and 4 then, and I knew, even back then, something wasn’t quite right.  It has taken those six years to finally get a diagnosis of what the problem is with one of my children.  I won’t share the label/diagnosis here, or the gender of that child, because that is private and it is not mine to share.

What I will share is the impact those six long years has had on me.  Because it’s the truth, and not telling the truth is making me leave big, vacant holes in my stories, holes that make me feel inauthentic, and holes that need to be filled.

The first few years back in Australia, I was very near the edge.  I couldn’t see a way out, a way forward.  Each morning, I woke up to blackness and despair.  Was it post-natal depression?  Post-traumatic stress?  I don’t know.  It was probably both.  My husband had finished work and had been diagnosed with a spinal tumor.  The surgery left him with a permanent limp, and a tendency to fall over.  Instead of working, I was home with my kids for the first time.  So was he.  We’d had two domestic helpers in Hong Kong; now it was the two of us, and I didn’t know how to do this role.

One of my children was wonderful, loving, smart, all the things a parent could want.  The other, who I tried desperately to love, would greet me with, well, would greet me with violence.  They had no words.  They were severely speech-delayed.  But they did have fists and feet, and they used them on me; I was the punching bag, and I had nowhere to run because I was Mom and alone in this foreign country.  My parents had died; I was born in New York but had left there fifteen years ago; our friends in our small town in Australia were new, and I couldn’t share the truth with them.  It was me and my husband facing this battle, and though he did his best to help, he couldn’t fix what was wrong.  I was the target for the aggression, and I couldn’t explain how bad it made me feel.  I felt I’d done something wrong as a parent, and that I deserved it.  On the darkest days, I’d hold onto the fence of the level crossing as a train went by, afraid of myself, afraid I’d step in front of it if I let go of the fence.

I took my child to various doctors but was told the same things I already knew: speech delays; behavioral difficulties; an inability to express emotion or to empathize.  A child psychologist was suggested but they were an hour’s drive away, and my child screamed during every car ride, and took off their seat belt.  Nothing could get them to put it back on.  It was impossible.  I went on; we went on.

It took me two years but I found a caring psychologist who supported me, who helped build me back up.  She was perplexed by the behaviors I described in my child and saw how difficult my life had become.  She let me cry, and told me I was courageous.  She stood by me, and listened.  But she was not a child psychologist, so a piece of the puzzle was missing.

One day, the Salomon Trail Series was announced.  I missed trail running deep in my soul.  It had been my passion while living in Hong Kong, and suddenly there seemed a light here in Melbourne, a hope.  I began to run towards it.

Since then, I’ve kept running.  Through three Salomon Trail Series, a few half-marathons, adventure races, a marathon, and finally the North Face 50km Ultramarathon last year.   Each step, each trail run, has brought me peace in the face of the disaster that much of the rest of my life, periodically, seems to become.  The strength I found through running helped me finally seek the support of a child psychologist, and find some answers.

I can’t lie.  Some days with my child are just so hard.  I get told “I hate you”; I get spit at; I get rocks thrown at me when we go for family walks; the child whispers things in my ear so my husband can’t hear and scold her, whispers horrible scalding words that make my eyes fill with tears.  We didn’t travel for five years because we were too afraid our child would sneak out of a hotel room and disappear.  We have to hide things in our home because boundaries are meaningless and unenforceable.

Some days, I want to run away and I study airplane flight schedules.  During school holidays, I take an extra hour in bed to shorten the day.  I look in the mirror and I wonder where the self I worked so hard to create has gone.  The PhD in psychology, the two books I’ve published, the classes and seminars and radio shows I’ve done.  I long to see joy in my eyes, for my husband and I to stop snapping at each other because we’re both under such stress.

I hold on.  I try to notice flowers and autumn leaves.  I pet my cats and take our dog for walks.

I run.  Sometimes I’ve run too far and injured myself, and my last bastion of support and strength has crumbled beneath me and I have to hold on by my fingernails to survive.  I am teaching myself to play piano because I find I can lose myself in the music and this also acts as a salve.

The dark days have become less regular, but they are no less dark when they do occur.  School holidays brings on a lot of them, because there is a lot more time for conflict to occur. I go quiet then on my blog, because the truth is hard to share.

I study the label that has been applied to my child by several psychologists now and see some truth in it, but I know that people change and that this label may not fit in the future, and I don’t want to stick my child with it forever because then that child may feel they have to live up to it somehow.  I keep seeking help for us, through Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, Psychologists, through aid at school.

I am not alone in this battle.  Hundreds of parents face it.  This I know.  I hope by sharing my truth of how hard it has been, I help one of you.  I get knocked down.  Regularly.  But I’m going to keep right on getting back up.

Trail running is one place I go to salve my wounds, to fill my soul, to howl the tears that need to be howled.  Sometimes I go quiet.  Please know that it is hardest to write when times are most dark.  I am still here, fighting the good fight, and I will write for you again.  I will tell you stories of joy and running, of battling, of courage in the face of great disasters.

And I will tell you the truth.


“Drop that Garmin!” and other fun moments in running life with a puppy…

I knew it the moment I saw it sitting on my desk.  That’s not where I left it, I thought.  I’d just gotten home from riding the kids to school, so I knew it wasn’t their shenanigans.  I didn’t examine the running watch too closely, simply put it back on to charge, and silently thanked my husband.

The same husband who later at lunch told me with an unspoken “you big dummy” in his voice that the puppy had (again) got hold of my Garmin.  She’d been quiet for a few minutes – never a good sign, he said.  He’d found her contentedly chewing on my watch in the playroom, and had saved it from sure demise.

I was grateful, of course.  But I wasn’t surprised.  I knew that smelly black Garmin, caked in salty sweat, would be damn near irresistible to the puppy, so I’d shoved it under a bookshelf to charge.  She’d nosed it out.  Apparently a few times.

The last three weeks have taught me that any item left on the floor will be chewed, and, if not quickly confiscated, completely destroyed.  On the weekend, I bought Leila (that’s the puppy’s name) a new toy to chew – it was a rope thingy with two rubber balls attached.  One ball is gone already.  Gone.  There are dog-sized holes on the back lawn.  And each night, she takes one of the sofas for her very own.

But she’s a great dog, and I’m not complaining.  That wagging tail when I come in the front door?  No one has ever greeted me with such fervor.  When she settles down to go to sleep she kind of sighs, and wiggles her head side to side like a child.  She’s got several blankets with paw-print designs that she carries around the house to curl up on.  And she is learning how to walk by my side on a loose lead, which seems somewhat miraculous.  When I say, “Sit”, she sits!  It has been years since anyone responded to me with such immediate compliance.  And she does it whilst wagging her tail.

Leila on her sun lounger

Leila on her sun lounger

Running, you ask?  It has been progressing, but somehow with less obsession of late.  The puppy and the piano, the kids, life in general – all of it seems to be shifting back to the center, and running is taking a nice steady side track.  It’s a good thing.  I feel calmer and more myself than I have in a couple of years.  In pursuit of really long distance, I had let a lot of the balance slip from my life.  I was a bit like Forrest Gump I think, running because I needed to.  Now, thankfully, I don’t need to in such a huge way anymore.

At Mount Dandenong on Friday last week, I managed my first 15k run in four months.  I did bits of the Roller Coaster Run course, with a few detours to shorten it to the right length.  The fact that I know the trails so well delights me, that I can run where I like alone, navigate, dance the trails, and take care of so many elements of myself at once, well, that is pretty perfect.  I’m secretly targeting the real Roller Coaster Run in three weeks time, depending on how well I run the longer distance.  Today I dropped back to the 21k instead of 43k option, which seems quite far enough now.  I’d pretty much given up on doing the race at all, but now I’ve got a bit more hope.

RollerCoaster Medal

The Buffalo Stampede Marathon I’d planned for April I’ve had to declare impossible.  The North Face 50k in May remains to be seen.

It is great that, while important, these races are not everything.

The love that surrounds me?  That is everything, and I’m feeling pretty blessed at the moment.

And now I’d better go and see what Leila has eaten while I’ve been busy writing…