Race 2, Smiths Gully, 11 July 2021
Oh it was fun – I mean, I think it was fun. It was so long ago, I can only go by photos. A lifetime, and a few lockdowns have drifted by. The well of my creativity dried up and the dust blew away, leaving clenched teeth, and a sense of holding on by fingertips. Race 2 at Smiths Gully. Did that really happen?
Ah, yes. It did happen.
I remember: I was overjoyed: feeling bouncy and alive, running strongly on technical terrain. Congratulating myself on a new strength. Hubris. At about 3k, someone passed me. Carefully and politely. I glanced at them instead of the ground, and smack! – it rose up to meet me: I’d done a full frontal face plant, including my chin, hands and forearm, courtesy of a tree root I’d not seen. It was on a downhill section, so there was further to fall to the iron-hard ground. It hurt much more than falling off a horse in a riding arena (I knew, because I’d recently done this too). “Are you ok?” other runners called to me. I got up, I declared I was (lie) and stumbled on.
There was a long way left to go. But I was bleeding and pissed off and upset I’d lost that moment, that elusive moment, of flow. Twists and turns and hills so high, trees to climb over. I ignored my knee, hand and elbow, focusing on technique, lifting my feet, watching with care. It became clear this wasn’t going to be a PB but I was going to finish it. I’m nothing if not determined. It seemed to take forever, but finally, I flew down the last gravel hill, laughed at the sprint section, and made it, still bleeding, over the finish line.
Someone suggested the first aid people, and I treated myself to some excellent care, wounds washed much better than I’d usually do, band aids, sympathy. Gratitude. I was not alone there – there were several people in a line behind me. We chatted. Trail runners are a funny breed – it’s never “I had a fall”; instead it’s a “faceplant”.
Bandaged, I compared faceplants with friends, shivered in the coldest place on earth, watched the presentations.
A nice part of the memory – I drove to Warrandyte and had a lovely solo brunch in the sun, then went to watch our son play soccer. I remember a full-length down jacket and hood. It was a cold, glorious day, all in all.
The next week, still wounded, I taught Bodypump and promptly threw out my back – it was hard to stay aligned with my cut hand, I couldn’t type a blog; couldn’t sit in a chair. Time went by. I planned to write about the race the following week.
Then the doors slammed shut! We were locked down again, literally four days after the race. How was that even possible? It was to be a five day, short, sharp lockdown. We opened up again (joy, freedom!) and we locked down again again for seven days – okay, really, from August to October. Remember that long, long seven day lockdown? Yup. The miracle workers at Rapid Ascent kept trying to put on the series. Time went by. So slowly.
For me, it involved lots of solo bitumen running. A few strangely fun virtual events (ever run with a squeaky dog toy and take photos of it on the way to share with online strangers – The Bubble Bird Freedom Run?). Then there was the Make a Strava Heart Run. And the MM Virtual Run from Mildura to the MCG. Fun, entertaining, and a way to connect while apart.
A virtual ultra from Mildura to the MCG
And then BOOM, we were free again! I drove to the Dandenongs the next day, called Freedom Friday. The radio was playing every single freedom song ever written and the DJs were as elated as I was, as all of Melbourne was. As the hills of the Dandenong Ranges came into view, a song by Kelly Clarkson, called Breakaway moved me to tears:
”I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly, I’ll do what it takes til I touch the sky, and I’ll make a wish take a chance make a change, and….break away…”
It stills gives me goosebumps. That feeling of liberty after being locked in a 5K radius, fighting for survival every single day: I know you felt it too, if you lived through that time with me.
Ah: remember the season though? If you lived through the storms of that time, the howling winds, the crashing sounds: it was The Spring of the Falling Trees. Giant tree were torn from the earth, their rootballs sideways to the ground; massive, immovable objects suddenly, impossibly, on their sides, across the trails. Some lying in piles, as tall as me, that had already been cut up and stacked. Scary wind, sideways trees, anxious heart. We’d survived lockdowns; now would we be crushed by our friendly trees?
Race 3 – Sylvan (Original date 17 October 2021; Actual date 14 November 2021)
I barely remember. I know I woke early. Drove the familiar roads that, unbelievably, after two years away, still existed. The drive onto Stonyford Road, like visiting an old friend, grown strange with age. Trees down but not a breath of wind. Even the familiar course altered. No hill-from-hell – oh, I was grateful, as there are no hills in bayside, and I’d run once on hills since lockdown.
I lowered my expectations of myself, then dropped them a few more notches. Even so, those hills knocked me out. Where had I got to – was I now a Bitumen runner? I was only fast on the road. Every technical bit, I was passed by literally everyone. It’s hard not to beat myself up when this happens. It was worse because I was just so freaking afraid of the trees falling on me. It didn’t seem irrational:; fallen trees were everywhere, and the wind began to blow. The medium course was enough this day. No podium for me, but a deeper joy and appreciation for the woods. And seeing the dear friends I had missed so much, watching the joy of other runners.
Race 4 Werribee Gorge (Original date 19 September 2021; Actual date 12 December 2021)
Ha ha ha ha! That’s all I can think. Right before Christmas. The silly season on steroids, because covid and lockdowns and freedom.
Sadly for me, it wasn’t the only event on in bayside that early morning drive. I left with plenty of time – about 5:30 am I think. Getting to Beach Road, I find it closed for a triathlon. No worries, I think. I know these roads – I mean I KNOW them – I’ve spent the last four months crafting long runs here. Turn right, turn left, Nepean Highway, straight to the bridge.
Oh. Um. Melbourne Marathon? Surely not the same day? Oh yes. Every.single.left.turn closed to traffic. Im panicking now. I’m on Punt (freaking) Road in a traffic jam. I’m teaching my son to drive this year – he’s home asleep right now – so I do an illegal U-turn, thinking he’d better never do this, praying I don’t die.
My car navigation is, however, terribly confused. Turn back, turn back, it says. I enter the freeway. I have no idea why- it’s going East – the bridge – the race – is West! Mutter swear. Exit here, navigator says. I do. I’m in the side streets of Richmond. This must be a nightmare. I’m going to wake up and it’ll be 2 am.
Nope. Go up big scary bridge – am I even in the right lane? – enter TUNNEL! Tunnel? Where the hell does the tunnel go?? My heart might just stop. I drive on, like James Bond, if he were really terrified, and see daylight and then I’m somehow on the freeway, headed to the Westgate Bridge. How? How??
I just drive, clenching the steering wheel, checking the time, surely I’m going to miss this race. A sign: all lanes exit Smith Road. What the A.F.? Nooo. I need the M80. More swearing. Teeth clenched. Nothing to do. Drive on. Magically, the M80 appears and on I drive. Easy now. I’ve been here before for a training run.
Ha ha ha ha! I’m laughing like a maniac, all alone in my car.
Down and down the bitumen, then corrugated dirt road. All the way down. Jesus. How far! To the bottom. Then the guy with the direction thing waves me right, up the impossibly steep dirt hill. Noooo, I cry, but yes, he says, so up I go, thinking surely, surely this is a dream. But nope. I stop the car, get out, and everyone else is all normal and stuff. Just an average race start for trail runners. Except the portaloo people bagged out, so we’re left with two toilets for the entire race field. Men are advised to find a tree. Some women do too.
The race – incredible! Worth every second. The hills up and the single track swooshing down. Well, the other people swooshed. I picked my way carefully and got passed again and again. Oh, so what. I was there! I picked my way, determined to keep to my feet.
The longest 8.5 km course ever, wasn’t it? I got to the bottom, by the river, onto beautiful single-track. Hot. Sunny. Zero visibility of my feet. Did someone say snake? I was very, extremely careful. Seems I kept getting to the front of a group of people, then I had to do the snake clearing so they could zooom along behind and then past me. Yeah, ok, a lot of things scare me!
Oh but that gorge with the wire to hold onto! That was so glorious, I’m glowing thinking about it. The placing of feet, the strength in my hands and arms. The fun fun fun of it. Racing? No. Just joy.
At the end. A smooth runnable track. I zoom. Pass someone. A man stands there, cautions us to be careful on this section and I laugh out loud – this is nothing compared to the rest of the course.
Something came next. I can’t remember. But there was a finish line, and I’m 9th in my age category, and this seems good compared to how I felt. An unforgettable experience.
Race 5 – Anglesea (Original date 8 August, 2021 – postponed and rescheduled maybe three times? Actual date 5 February 2022!)
Christmas and New Years have come and gone. A lot of surfing and boogie boarding. Two Bays training. Covid scares, a head cold, no RATS, huge lines for PCRs. Sense of doom renewed. I’m unfit. Less strong. Hills hurt. But I finish Two Bays 28k, even with the finger I crushed in the car door just before Christmas.
Now Anglesea looms. The last in this incredible, tumultuous, unforgettable series. School starts. We debate going to Anglesea as a family. My fitness sucks. But I can do 14k. Hot hot hot summer. Training indoors on the treadmill. Nearly passing out after 13k run outside.
Wednesday before Anglesea. RATS come home with kids from school. There’s a case I my son’s class. We test him. And see the thin red line of doom – he’s positive. I can almost hear bolts slamming shut. Gates closing. Drawbridges rising. We’re in isolation – or iso, as the cool kids are calling it.
No Anglesea for me. No end of the trail series. No Series podium. Thankfully, my son has no symptoms and the rest of us are negative. I pace my house. A great friend delivers a treadmill to my porch!!! I make a plan with Andrea – she’ll call me during presentations so I can be there. Happiness. The time comes, 11:15 Sunday morning. But there’s a glitch, she can’t call after all. I’m so sad. Lonely. Despondent.
Then she calls! Just in time, we listen to the results over the loudspeaker, she shows me the crowds. Video calls – I’m oh so grateful, it’s like I’m there!
My age category is called – I’ve won second in the series! She goes to claim my place on the podium and Sam says, are you getting the award for her – and she holds the phone up and he sees me and I’m full of joy when he’s full of joy that I’m there, even if I’m not there. He has Andrea go onto the podium and says hang the medal on her – I laugh and laugh and cry just a little.
When she hangs up, I feel just as if I’d been there and I’m so very grateful.
For a few minutes, anyway. Then I just feel like I missed out. Instead of grumping, I do what I planned on doing: a solo iso triathlon in my home, using a borrowed treadmill, a mountain bike on a bike trainer, and our 8 metre pool. It certainly gave me a smile and I kind of felt like I had a Race 5 after all. I took first place overall! First time ever!
That’s a wrap
And that’s it – a wrap of the strangest but most powerful of all the trail series. Unforgettable. A roller coaster ride of joy and despair, blood and tears, beautiful friendships and glowing memories.
Tomorrow, we come out of iso. I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly…
Again and again and again.
Because trail running is all about flying free, right? Thanks to the team at Rapid Ascent. You showed us what resilience really looks like! See you for The Trail Running Series 2022, in, like a few months!