Great hopes and tremendous expectations

Quite a title, I know.

And not for any particular reason, other than I was paging through an old book I bought while in graduate school (Positive Thinking Every Day, by Norman Vincent Peale), and this was the inspiration of the day.  The book is old now, water-damaged, the spine breaking in places.  And still…


Once upon a time, I was a poor graduate student in a tiny studio apartment in Times Square, New York.  I was twenty-three.  I had so much still to learn about love and life and the way of the world.

And I was so afraid.  Of everything.  The subway frightened me so much that I walked everywhere, for miles and miles and miles.  I would leave my apartment on 44th Street and 6th Avenue, and walk to graduate school down on 18th Street and Park.  I would only walk on Broadway, because I knew the way.  In the evening, before dark, I would walk back.

Afraid of being robbed (that was a valid fear in New York City in 1990), I didn’t carry a purse.  Instead, I wore a thick winter jacket with a zipper pocket high on the sleeve.  I placed my student ID and the little cash I had in that pocket, and felt safe.  No one would think of finding my money there.

In the pocket of this decidedly unfashionable olive-green ski jacket, I carried a small Walkman.  Cassettes were the thing in those days.  And batteries.  The music comforted me as I walked those lonely streets, searching for my path.  Mariah Carey: Hero.  Garth Brooks: Maverick.  Songs long-forgotten that, when I hear them, can make me tear up in memory.

Back then, I had lots of textbooks.  Enough to fill quite a few bookshelves.  But my furnished student housing didn’t contain bookshelves, just a bed, a desk, a broken wooden chair, and the industrial kind of grey carpeting that hurt the soles of your feet if you were brave enough to take your shoes off.

And wildlife.  It contained wildlife in the form of gigantic, New-York-oversized waterbugs.  Picture a cockroach on steroids that’s been pumping iron and you’ll get the idea.  My apartment wasn’t dirty; this was simply the way of things in New York, Times Square.

Once, in my tub, I found a small mouse.  It must have come up from the drain.  It couldn’t get out of the tub.  It would jump and slide; jump and slide.  It broke my heart.  That mouse reminded me of me.  Small and alone, and not really getting anywhere fast.  Instinct said to kill it, but I can’t kill anything without great regret.  I pondered that mouse and what to do.

I remembered how my Dad used to capture spiders and set them free.  A container on top; then a thick piece of cardboard gently slid under to lift them into the container; then flip it over (and make sure the make-shift lid didn’t slip off in the process or all hell would break loose).  Presto – a captured spider that could be set free in the garden.

So that’s what I did with the mouse.  Trouble was, I was twelve stories up in an apartment building.  I had no garden.  There was no way to release this little, scared mouse.  I sat down with the container and thought about it.

Then I left the apartment, took the elevator downstairs, holding my mouse-containing container, walked down 44th Street to 6th Avenue, crossed a few streets and entered Bryant Park, a small oasis in mid-town full of trees and gardens (and, in those days, drug users and thieves).

Carefully, I knelt down, placed the container on the ground and took the lid off.  The little mouse was huddled at the bottom.  I stared at its little pink paws; it stared back at me for a moment.  Then it scurried out into the park, disappearing into the bushes.  It was September, still warm enough for that mouse to be okay for several months before it had to find a new indoor hide-away.  I went back upstairs to study.

That was my home: mice and waterbugs and a bookshelf made from six yellow milk-crates stacked one-upon the other, because the $129 the real bookshelf cost was an impossible, laughable figure for me.

This small book I have just re-discovered – in 1990, it cost $9.00; back then, I could afford this.  I needed those affirmations.  Much time has passed since those days.  I’ve married, lived in many homes and several countries, published two books, adopted two children, numerous cats and a dog.

Then, seven years ago, we moved into our wonderful home in Australia.  The first home we ever owned.  I chose this room at the front of the house for my home office.  I had bookshelves; we’d bought IKEA ones years ago, and the movers shoved them into the wardrobe and filled them, as quickly as possible, and that was it.

For seven long years, I planned to fix it, to re-arrange my precious things, to paint the room something other than the mustard yellow that hurt my eyes and my heart.

For years, when I opened the wardrobe doors, I would gaze in despair at the mess of who I had been – all that schooling and work and writing and life  – all mixed up together, all lost in the chaos of mothering young children and just keeping life going.

Once, during a writing group, I invited another author into the office to show her where I worked.  She looked; she pronounced judgment: “You don’t take your work seriously, do you?”

As it was...

As it was…

She was right.  But that comment hurt.

I couldn’t back.  Not back then.  It was impossible, just as, in 1990,  buying a real bookshelf in Times Square was impossible.

But in 2015, this year, I was ready.  I was ripe for change.  Like that mouse in my long-ago tub in New York City, I was going to set myself free.  After seven long years, I got the guts up to renovate my home office, to make those hopes and expectations of so, so long ago come true.

It took six months.  Several quotes.  Some standing up for myself.  I hired a man to come tear out the wardrobe, chose a new color scheme, and found a wonderful bookshelf designer.  In its way, this was all as scary to me now as the subway was when I was 23.

And now it is done.


My new soul-place, disguised as a bookshelf

This little book that I bought so long ago (in a day when all I could do was dream of the day I could be who I am now) holds a place of honour on my new shelves.  It reminds me of where I came from, how far I had to travel to get to where I am now.

Way back then, I had great hopes and tremendous expectations, kind of like that little mouse I set free.

Today, in this moment, I sit in gratitude for all the blessings that life has delivered me.

“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.

Shall I run?

Rain pouring down at 4:15 pm on a cold Melbourne winter day. The puppy, cats, kids and husband are curled up inside and the heat is on.

I stand under cover on the porch waiting for my Garmin to find the satellites and will the rain away. It gets harder and starts blowing sideways. I count to ten. Then thirty. Then ten again. The rain lightens for a moment, then, as if it was just catching it’s breath, comes down in abundance. I glance at the door, hear the kids laughing. I’m near to reaching for my key, but I don’t. I wait ten more seconds, then step off the porch into the rain. As I open the gate, I say the required swear words that are the underlying truth behind Nike’s “just do it” and begin.

Funnily, it isn’t raining as heavily once I’m moving. Cars pass me, headlights on, wipers moving fast. I can’t see anyone as I run downhill to Service Street.

There, I begin my hill reps, running up the 200 meter hill, jogging down. I’d anticipated 12 reps, but it took me 14 to use up my planned 35 minutes. The rain came and went, gusting, then calming. Halfway through a man without a raincoat or umbrella came up the street. He looked at me. I was soaked, rain dripping down my face, my legs, into my eyes. “It’s raining,” he said. I guffawed. “Yes, it is!” I kept running down the hill, passing him twice more on the next reps. He seemed gob-smacked each time, asking me how far I was going but never quite getting out the words are you insane?

After the hills, I ran another 25 minutes at moderate pace (
Thanks, Coach!), skirting home by various sidestreets.

It was on the homestretch I finally began to laugh out loud, completely soaked but warm and fully alive.

So if you are facing a day like this, well, I assure you it will be worth it. Wet shoes dry; we don’t melt; and there is no better feeling than stepping back through your door at the end.

That was one of the toughest mental challenges I’ve faced with running lately. Thanks Melbourne!

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.


An appropriate title: both myself and my neighbor’s house got smashed last week.

First, the house.  I knew the wrecking crew were coming, as I kept seeing them outside my house, while walking my dog, or returning from long runs.  The neighbors had moved out to another property, so I was relying on the crew for information.  My cats like to visit the derelict house, coming home coated in dust and spider-webs, so I had to know when to keep them in.  “Friday”, they said, “Friday”.

Friday came.  “Victorian Demolitions,” my daughter read from the side of the wrecker hunkered down next door.  We watched from our second-story window, mesmerized, as the big yellow claw began to swing, to attack the white timber two-story home.  It was extraordinary to see how quickly a home could be destroyed.  The power in that claw:  I wished I was sitting behind the controls, smash, smash, smashing things.

First went the entrance-way, then the front room.  I was worried about the second story, which seemed destined to fall atop our garage.  But in the end, the claw guided it to fall inwards on itself.  Pink insulation appeared; walls autographed by the young children who had lived there until last week; the shower stall.  The floor came away in a single timber slab.  The spectacle lasted about an hour, at which stage, most of the house was rubble.

That’s when sadness hit me.  That huge pile of smashed boards: it was the broken dreams of the couple who had sold their house with its beautiful garden only two years ago.  Who had planted the flowering plum trees that flamed golden in autumn.  I felt for the trees.  I knew their destiny from the plans.  This morning, I heard the tell-tale sign of a power-saw, and I knew they were gone.  Strange how sad it made me to see those trees lying on the rubbish pile – they already had buds and were ready for spring.  A few remain, which give me hope.

The demolition, in the end, is the creation of a blank page on which to build again. Hopefully, it will pave the way for another family love story, a new home arising from the rubble.  I’m coaching myself to be patient with the change, with the noise, and trucks and building.  It is nothing like New York or Hong Kong, where pile-drivers had to smash into bedrock to lay a foundation.  Hearing the noise of the house being demolished, I said out loud, “Is that all you got?  That’s not so bad.”

Now, me getting smashed.  That’s another story.  I’ve hired my first ever running coach, which feels very odd at age 48.  Shaun Brewster, of Brewsters Running, whose comments on Facebook impressed me every time he wrote.  He had the knowledge, he was a minimalist runner, and he seemed to be able to diagnose things from a distance (he’s also a physio, which adds hugely to his knowledge base).

I met Shaun for the first time on Monday for an assessment and some running coaching.  It was great to have confirmed that my calves are flexible enough for minimalist running, that my form is good.  Sure, I clench my fists and swing across my body, but I can fix that, right? (wonder what the clenched fists are all about, hmmm).  I’ve also learned I had the right idea to increase my speed (leaning forward from the ankles).  Though Shaun warned me that I’d just keep going faster and faster if I kept leaning.  I kind of liked that idea – like Road Runner of something.  Oh, and apparently my left leg is the reason for my face-plants; my right leg swings up a bit higher.  I’ve learned that the niggling pain in my ankle which began from blocking a soccer ball kicked by my son is now, after eight weeks, deemed “chronic” and I’ve got some exercises to fix it.  Besides just running on it, which, strangely, hadn’t fixed it.

I began my first week of training designed by Shaun as well: Hill reps for thirty minutes, followed by a 20 minute moderately paced run.  I never do hill reps.  My attention span, my husband likes to remind me, is that of a gnat.  I get bored even thinking of doing hill reps; I’ve done them once in thirty years of running.  I run hills during long training runs, so I’ve always counted that as my hill training.  Real hill reps was a mental challenge.  Cleverly (not) I squeezed them in tight between lunch, a sick child, and school pickup for my other child.

I chose a hill called Service Street, which I’ve measured at 200 meters.  I ran up and down that thing eleven times.  The first few were great; I was really using the hill-climbing technique I’d been practicing.  By the time I got to five reps, I was getting tired.  The rest passed by in a blur of pain and swearing, and an elevated sense of self-consciousness as I passed the same people again and again (“Nut case,” I’m sure they were thinking).  I was conscientious though; I did all the reps plus the twenty minute run, came home, and wanted to die.  Not for long, just for a bit.  Next time, I won’t squeeze lunch in so close to a hill rep run.  I had to shorten my long run the next day, I was that smashed (smashed, like the house).

I learned something about myself (again) on that long run by the bay the next day.  I don’t like running long and slow.  It makes me want to cry in frustration and boredom and I count every kilometer, willing them away.  For a while in the last few years, I did love long running; I used it to find inner peace there when the noise around me at home was deafening.

But now that noise has calmed, and I have calmed, and there are other things I want to fill myself up with.  Like my piano, like taking our puppy to the dog park to play, like sitting with a cup of tea and observing our garden.  I want more balance, more speed, and a healthier-feeling body.

This knowledge means some changes are in order.  I’m going to focus on health and balance in the coming year, shortening my long runs, choosing events more in line with what I enjoy.  Because its nuts to do anything else.  When I run fast and shorter (by shorter I mean 10 – 15k) I’m elated, I’m dancing, I’m endorphined and joyous.  So that’s where I’m headed.

I suppose in the end I’m a bit like the neighbor’s house.  I have to tear down what I’ve built up for a while (long running) to make room for what I want to do now (short, fast and sharp running).

It makes me smile to picture it, me rising up from the rubble like the Road Runner, and dashing off down the road…


Into the fog.

He stood at the side of the trail, silently, beckoning me.  He was the first living thing I’d seen in over an hour.  I welcomed him.  The fog was thick, blanketing us together in this moment.  I stopped and stared.  “You want me to follow you, don’t you?” I asked quietly.  He stared back and didn’t say a word.  I glanced at the thin, overgrown trail behind him, leading up the mountainside.  It looked perilous; there might be snakes.  I was afraid.  But drawn.

Suddenly he turned and moved off, glancing behind him only once.  I remained still.  “But that would be insane, to follow you up there,” I murmured, still, taking a step forward, keeping him in sight.  “Insane.  But kind of fun too…”  My voice was wistful.

But by this time, he was gone, swallowed up by the bush as if he had never been there.  I was alone again.  This fog could hide all manner of things, me included.  I had noticed it from a distance, as I drove up to the mountain this morning, and was elated.  My olive-green mountain, topped with tendrils of cloud that extended halfway down its flanks; I would be sure to be enveloped in it when I climbed to the top.

When I’d arrived at the car park, there was not another car in sight.  It was raining slightly, and I stood under the back of my four-wheel drive’s rear door, trying not to get wet as I got my pack ready, and realized how silly that was, as I was going to be running in the rain for nearly three hours.  I stepped out from shelter and began.

Within moments, I’d seen two wild rabbits dart across the trail.  I smiled, greeting them.  I was not lonely.  I had been longing for this solitude.  Further on, a wallaby hopped quickly across the trail.  I was tired from a hard training week, but as I covered the trails, danced among rocks and roots, I felt the tiredness lifting, borne away by the woods.

I had contemplated changing routes today, as I thought running the same tracks was getting boring, but I couldn’t bear to miss any of my favorite sections, so went as usual.  This made navigating easy, and I could be fully in the moment.  Every one in a while, though, it occurred to me that I was all alone in these woods, and I glanced around, frightened, but soon forgot danger, and got lost once more in the footfalls and movement.


As I ascended, the fog grew thick.  Silence held me.  I could hear myself think in that silence.  I prayed the fog lasted, that it continued to hold me in its silence, a welcome relief from the chaos of home and young children.  I was almost at the top of the mountain when I saw the beckoning wallaby, the one who, like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, seemed to want me to follow him.  I could see myself doing it, that’s the strange thing, just for the adventure of it.  Because life in the suburbs can seem so dull and risk-free; because I like the edge.  I liked thinking about following him, and being led into some other strange world that had different rules and new challenges, that would require me to be, I don’t know, fuller, somehow.

I let him hop away though, and continued through the fog on my own.  And I contemplated it, how sometimes we just have to go through the fog, to not be able to see so clearly, and that too is okay, the fog is just another part of life.  The rain that came with it, I welcomed.  It felt elemental and real, and the clothing and shoes, and everything about me was perfectly suited to the rain.  I was glad it didn’t change the fog though.


I had seen no people for an hour, when, out of the mist, I saw the outline of a vehicle, a work truck, parked to side of the trail.  No workers were visible and all was silent.  I’d noticed over the previous months that they were grooming the trails with large loads of dirt, gravel, and pebbles, and was not surprised to see a load of yellow dirt on the trail.  Except as I approached I realized it covered the entire trail and was six feet high.  I stared at this barrier, assessed ways around (there were none), contemplated turning back (no way!), and finally scrambled over the top of it, giggling to myself. It felt naughty and fun, and as if the wallaby would have been cheering for me.  I scrambled down, and continued on, where, about twenty feet away, was another six-foot-high pile, this time of gravel.  I slipped and slided my way up and down it, and fell in love with this wilderness, this wildness, all over again.

Traveling through the fog: it took time; it takes time.  It was the run of the wallabies that day – I counted seven or eight of them, and it seemed the longer I ran, the bolder they became.  They didn’t hop away, but kept eating at the undergrowth, just lifting their heads to see me.  I ran and ran, over the peak of that mountain, shrouded in white, and finally turned down its backside.

It happened as suddenly as the sun coming out from behind cloud; five feet of descent and the air was suddenly clear.  Twenty feet down, and color had returned to the world.  The greens were vibrant, shimmering in the sudden sunlight, damp with dew where cloud had touched them.  The track down was fast and steep, and I took small, quick steps, trusting my body to be agile and fast.  It was like coming back to life.  I wanted to run back up hill to do it all again, to relive the feeling of life returning.

Down at the bottom of the hill, back in the car park, all was clear and fine, as if none of my adventures or the fog had ever happened.  Indeed, when I arrived back in Bayside an hour or so later, the ground was dry, and my husband reported that it had not rained there.

I smiled, and held my adventure close to my heart.  How blessed I was for those hours on the mountaintop, in the fog and the rain, with the wild.

Going fast.

Ahh, that felt good.  And I mean really good.  The best running has felt for me in quite some time.  It was simple really: a 15km run, starting with a 2k warm-up, then 1k intervals at my fastest, and 1k recovery intervals at my marathon/long-slow-run pace.  Suddenly, the euphoria returned.  I was dancing over tree roots and rocks, up stairs, down stairs, like my legs had remembered who they were.  Like I had remembered who I was.  The funny part was how sllloooowww the slow intervals felt, how much I felt like an old, dragging donkey.  No surprise then, that with the majority of my running at that slower pace, I’d been losing the plot a bit.

With speed, there is no sense of time dragging, no wondering when it will be over, no think-think-thinking about my or the world’s problems.  There is only my watch and my legs, turning over as fast as I can turn them, the terrain, and my breathing.

While I transitioned to minimalist footwear and ultra-distances, I’d put speed on hold.  In doing so, I lost an essential element of running.  Intensity.  That has been my driving force since I was a teenager, when I realised it was central to who I am.  I need speed for running to give me joy.

Now I have a great, big smile. And sore legs!

“One day you will be domesticated,” she said.

Early on in my marriage, one of my new family members said to me, “One day, you will be domesticated.”

Old Egyptian hieroglyphic painting showing an ...

Old Egyptian hieroglyphic painting showing an early instance of a domesticated animal (cow being milked). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I’m American by birth, and I’d married into an English family.  I knew this phrase must mean something different from what it seemed to mean to me.  This well-meaning relative must have meant I’d learn how to cook and clean better, how to be a good mom and wife.  Still, my hackles rose.

To me, the word “domesticated” meant “tamed”.

For an Aquarian Fire-Horse like me, the most freedom-loving of all creatures, this idea was, well, not terrifying, but somehow unlikely.  Me, tamed?  Ha!  Me, of the wild dreams, of the adventure sports – me, who was sure I’d never have kids.  Me, who didn’t even have a kitchen in my New York apartment, just a hot plate, and lots of deli options.  Me, who sang songs of liberty at the top of my voice in the shower…

For five years, I’ve lived in the suburbs in Melbourne, Australia, with my young children, two cats, and a loving husband.  I’ve learned how to cook and clean, how to parent, how to garden.  I’ve examined myself up against the sound images of some strong domestic role models, friends, woman who I turn to when I don’t know how to do things like, “cream the butter and the sugar together”.  During this time, I’ve thought often of my own mother, and her path in life as an executive assistant in one of the largest New York City ad agencies – she never learned to cook. And I’m sure being “domesticated” never even occurred to her.

As a woman, there is a fine line between being domestic/domesticated and being tamed.  Wait.  I’ve got that wrong.  It is not a fine line.  It is a big, fat broad line.  I’ve discovered this line is so broad, we can run trails along it, waving our hands freely in the air, and singing our favorite songs.  We can be domestic, without being domesticated.

This morning in the gym, while lifting weights, I heard that phrase again, in a rap song on the radio.  The rapper was Robin Thicke and the phrase, “…tried to domesticate you, but you’re an animal…”…

I know, I’m a Bon Jovi girl really, but that phrase, as I bench-pressed my twenty-pound dumbbells, followed up with a set of push ups, and a set of triceps extension with that same twenty-pound dumbbell – well, it was kind of perfect.  “Tried to domesticate you…”

And failed.  I am nowhere near domesticated.

Last week, in that same gym, I was the sole woman in the free weights area at 10 am on a Monday morning, and I was surrounded by young men from a footy team working out.  I had to fight hard not to feel intimidated by the overwhelming testosterone, to know that I too belonged there in that world of steel and muscles.  To be tamed would mean this area no longer belonged to me; I stayed.

This morning, when the rapper was singing, I was in the free weights area with just one other woman nearby, and I could listen to the words, and reflect on them.

“Tried to domesticate you…” 

It is the passivity in the phrase that gets to me – the idea that someone or something else is taming us.  For the stray cats among us women, for us with holes in our jeans torn from climbing trees, for the ones without makeup, for the rebels, it is essential that we remain untamed, even in the suburbs, even in the boundaries of our own homes.  I’ve learned to cook from YouTube videos rather than a cooking class, and I’ve shied away from any attempt by friends or family to tell me the “right” way to be a woman, a mom, a homeowner.  We all find our own way; I love having a home and a family, but I am sure I’ll never be tamed.

Running, long-distance running, ultra-running, is, for me, the ultimate act of “anti-domestication”.  Out in the woods, it is just me and my backpack, for hours and hours, all alone.  My only fuel, little packets of GU gel and salt tablets, the mud my best friend.

There, the idea of being tamed does not occur to me.  I sing the Savage Garden Animal Song loudly as I run:

“…Cause I want to live like animals
Careless and free like animals
I want to live
I want to run through the jungle
the wind in my hair and the sand at my feet…”

Domestication, bah.  Now I’m off to make my children dinner.  Wild and free.

Overtraining, broken washing machines, and Norton Anti-Virus

English: Nelson, a local cat, Mordiford Lookin...

English: Nelson, a local cat, Mordiford Looking very grumpy and keeping well away from humans on this patch of open ground. Two local ladies remarked that he always looks miserable. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had planned on writing tonight all about my excitement about the start of the Salomon Trail Series this weekend, the first race for me a 15k in Studley Park.  In fact, I sat down with my journal this morning (my private one, where I really let loose), and started to write those very words.  Then I realised I was not telling even myself the truth.  I was just writing what I thought I should be feeling, what I usually feel when a big trail race is coming up.  The truth is, I am not excited.  Just tired.  And grumpy.

So imagine the sense of irony, when, flipping through the latest issue of Runner’s World, I came across this mini-article called “Brain Drain”.  It had a horrific checklist, on which I checked four of the five items, so apparently, I’m meant to “hold off and review my training load”.

At least I can sit back and heave a great sigh of relief – I’m not just getting stupid, clumsy, and irritable.  Well, I am – but because I’ve been doing too much.  Here’s how I know:

My Norton Anti-Virus came up for renewal.  Always a joyous moment.  I soldiered on, paid the bill, downloaded the massive file, and got the expected message of, “Your operating system is out of date so this was all a big waste of time.  And get prepared to waste more time, because you have not downloaded the 850 security updates over the last three years because you have been overtraining you idiot! Oh, and your house needs a vacuum, especially the stairs.”  Well, it didn’t really say all that, but it might well have done.  So I spent the last two days fixing all that stuff, feeling my neck muscles tense and my patience, always slim, dwindle to nothing.  Stupid security updates.  Stupid giant security updates.  Stupid stairs.

Then I decided it was high time to soak the smelly dish towels in white vinegar, because my husband (who can’t smell anything!) was complaining about them.  It seemed a great solution that I discovered via Google: soak the towels in white vinegar in the washing machine.  (Not as good as my original plan to dig a big hole and bury them in the back garden, but more economical).  I even read the washing machine’s instructions for how to soak.

One of the 1st washing machines of Constructa

One of the 1st washing machines of Constructa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But after I soaked, I noticed that the towels were only half-wet, and wait, why wasn’t the stupid machine going around now that I’d turned it on to wash out the vinegar?  After learning how to disconnect the filters, flooding the floor of the laundry, realising just how much dirt trail running gathers in filters, and swearing under my breath for three hours, I was sure I had it fixed.  Really sure!  So sure I ran the stupid dish towels through the vinegar again, and guess what, the machine still didn’t spin.  Arrgggh.  I caved and called the washing machine service people, who claimed that a Siemens machine is really a Bosch now, claimed this in a very strange accent spoken softly as if they were telling me something even more secret than Wiki-leaks, but that they will fix it, sometime between 9 am and 1 pm tomorrow.  But they don’t want to know the model number because they don’t want to buy the wrong parts.  Um hm.  We’ll see.

Finally, there were the plants.  The long, lush liriopes that had been a feature of our front garden since we moved in.  My lovely husband had cut them back to be able to mow the lawn (several months ago), when I like them lush and long and wild.  I noticed today, and had a very dishonorable hissy-fit that makes me blush and think the words “fish-wife”.  Ungrateful.  Bratty.  Irritable.  Stupid plants.  (note how many times I’ve used the word stupid already).

SO back to that checklist:  irritability (check); Grumpy Owl

poor short-term memory (check – did I mention that I’d left my credit card at the restaurant when I went out for coffee last week?  Nnope, must have forgotten); struggling on runs I used to blast through (check, if that means I’m slower than an old donkey); persistent joint soreness (check, but only when I train).

Darn.  I hate when the experts are right.

Looks like a bit of extra rest is in order, so I’ll have to blog about my excitement about the trail series later in the week, when I’m really telling the truth.  And I promise I’ll tell you about training my 9-year-old son to run 5k – a most amazing experience!

Sweet dreams to you all.  And may all your appliances and software updates function like a dream….and may you never make the mistake of training too much. Or at least learn more quickly than me if you do!

Recovery (the restlessness of a caged tiger)

So, the North Face 50km is over.  Saturday, 18 May, the day I ran my first ultramarathon.  We stayed up in the Blue Mountains for two more nights, with the idea that I’d have mental energy to enjoy the holiday after the race.

Sunday morning was comical.  We went to the buffet breakfast in our hotel, which had been fully booked out by runners the night before.  You could pick the runners out very easily from the “normal” folk.  They were the ones who grimaced when they stood up, and moved very, very slowly towards the buffet, if they moved at all.  Some lucky few, like me, were waited upon by their spouses, who delivered wonderful coffee, as well as the best bacon, eggs and toast I have ever tasted.  Watching all of us, I had to laugh.  We were hungry, stiff, sore, but elated.  There was an air of celebration at that breakfast buffet.  And not much food left at the end. I even ran into an old running friend from Hong Kong, Jeremy, with whom I had attended an Adventure Race training weekend in 2003.  He was looking fit, lean, and content; he had completed the North Face 100.  I felt slightly weak admitting I’d only done the 50.

That day, we drove back to Echo Point, and I was mesmerised by the remaining blue arrows and pink ribbons that had not yet been removed.  Did I really run there? I thought to myself.  With stiff legs, I explored with my family, showing them some of the trails. This couldn’t last long though, as my daughter quickly remembered the “run at cliffs to scare Mom” game; I hadn’t really noticed the potential drop-offs the day before.  We fled the scene quickly, kids intact.

Monday was quieter in Katoomba, less stiff runners, less exuberance.  The time had come to begin the long journey home.  I enjoyed the sitting still in the car very much – the drive from the Blue Mountains to our home in Melbourne takes about ten hours in total, and I was happy as a lark not moving for most of that time.

So, I managed three days with minimal exercise after the race.  I was recovering well, listening to my body, being smart.  Of course, when we arrived back in Melbourne, and the kids went to school on Wednesday, things were going to change.  I went straight to the gym, and found to my wonderment and delight that my 5k run on the treadmill was still possible – I could still run!  I did light weights as well, stretched, and was mightily relieved that I’d not broken myself.  Thursday was a slow, meandering bike ride with my husband for a couple of hours.  Friday I planned a great big trail run up in the Dandenongs, 20k would be easy.  Surely I’d be recovered enough by then, was my reasoning.  It would be six whole days after the race.

Well, as Thursday evening drew to a close, I reassessed myself.  I was exhausted.  So tired that even filling my CamelBak seemed too hard.  I reluctantly accepted that I’d have to miss the trail run, that it was stupid to push so hard so soon.  Perhaps I’d run an easy 10k down at the beach instead?  Except my hips were aching, my calf hurt, and my neck felt like fire when I turned my head.  Just about then a Facebook Ad popped up from Muscle Fix, the massage place that does “serious massage”.  Quicker than lightning, I traded the run for a muscle fix, which did, indeed fix all my muscles.

I was fixed, so I planned to run in the Dandenongs on Sunday morning.  Except – guess what? – I was still too exhausted to get up at 5 am, and slept in instead.  Seeing a pattern here?  I was.

My poor family.  I spent the weekend pacing the house like an angry, captive tiger, my claws on show for everyone to see.  Growl, roar, growl.  Or maybe like a dragon, with wisps of smoke curling all around me.

I know running hard requires recovery time.  I know.  I googled it several times to see what smart people recommended after running 50km of trails.  I just hate that it applies to me too.

I did manage to get the gym today, did my 5km on the treadmill and heavier weights.  The hip pain has gone, the neck now turns, but my left calf is still twingy.  So it will still be a slow recovery week this week.

Heaven help my family.


Oh, and the obsessive exploration of what the next big thing is going to be is not helping.  100k?  45k?  The Six-Foot Track?  New Zealand? No goal at all?

My husband said to enjoy this phase, that it is part of racing.  He is very wise.  I will try.