Just sent the first draft of my next new book off to the printer. It’s called Dog Park Days, and is a tale of destiny, redemption, dogs (and a little bit of love)!
Just sent the first draft of my next new book off to the printer. It’s called Dog Park Days, and is a tale of destiny, redemption, dogs (and a little bit of love)!
I dance the fine line of the trail, on the razor’s edge between pleasure and pain, between racing my best self and racing those around me. The single-track through the woods weaves and undulates, fast, studded by rocks and tree roots. It picks me up and throws me back down; I breathe it in, and it, in turn, breathes me out. Who I am when I run these trails is completely different to my everyday self. Here, I am a warrior, thundering fast, muscle and sinew, breath and courage and life. Here, I am my best me.
It is elemental and real and there is no after-image which can capture these moments of freedom. Here, in these woods, I am amongst kindred spirits; I am come home.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We hadn’t even begun.
It is the second race of The Trail Series (I’m in for the medium course again, at 13.6km), and we are at a new venue called Smiths Gully, and something called the Rob Roy Hill Climb. I get the general gist of things – that this 700 metre bitumen hill was purpose-built for cars to race, and that we will be running up it. Cool. I wish I had read the course description better several weeks ago though, as I’d not twigged onto the four-hundred or so meters of elevation gain. I’d been training for a flat fast half-marathon (the Surfcoast Half-Marathon) that I’d done just two weeks before, and hadn’t been up in the hills for about six weeks. No matter, I told myself. Muscle memory. And surely the heavy squats I’d been doing in the gym would help. Other runners were doing the short course (7 km) and the long course (18km); all three groups would have big hills to contend with.
I took the precaution of warming up, running up the gravel track to check out the hill with dozens of other runners. I stared up the steep road, feeling the tightness in my calves. After two rest days, they worried me. Would the tight muscles go snap when tested, like a rubber band pulled too hard?
Still, the hill made me laugh. Bitumen and all. I couldn’t see the top, just that it was steep, and that it curved around a bend so I couldn’t see how far it went. In the distance, my dog barked her “come back” call. I gave the hill a nod of respect, and jogged back down the gravel hill towards the event centre.
My family had come with me to the race today, a rare occurrence with the ongoing conflict between their soccer matches and my Sunday races. It was even more unlikely because it was school holidays, the time of epic battle in my home.
I’m a creature needing solitude; without it, my fuse grows shorter, and my sensitive nature becomes attuned to all manner of unreal digs and hurts. With exercise, I can keep the dragon inside at bay. But when tapering for a race, even for a day or two, a big wide abyss opens up inside me. Call it depression, moodiness, over-sensitivity. I see it coming, and duck and weave and run and swim, but during school holidays, the feeling curves over me like a giant wave, and sometimes we all get smashed in the white-water.
That was my week leading up to the race. It is somewhat better though, because my husband convinced the kids (11 and 13) somehow to come along and support me. He will take care of them and our two dogs while I disappear into the woods.
Again, like the last race of the series, I joined in with the warm-up at the start line, doing my own bounce-in-place thing as I couldn’t do many of the warm-up moves on a good day at the gym. I half-listened to the race briefing, as I’d studied the course closely this time (four hills, the race ending in a nice big descent that I’d like).
I glanced down at my waist in disgust: the issue was my stupid water carrier. I’d brought the waist pack which I swore I’d never run with again, but had trialed during the week’s training run. It went well, no bounce, but here, as soon as I strapped it on and began warming up on the gentle inclines, it bounced, irritating me, and I swore at it. I asked my husband’s opinion – should I run with it – and didn’t listen to his answer (bad wife), then carried it to the warm-up. Just before we took off, though, I abandoned it, strapped it to a bench like a naughty animal. I couldn’t bear it; I’d get water at the water stop at 8.5km and I tucked my two gels into the waistband of my running tights. I felt rebellious and wild and light and glad, seeing that stupid pack left alone there. Maybe someone would steal it.
Then off we went. Follow the green tape, I reminded myself. We turned up the Rob Roy Hill. I laugh, remembering. Up and up and up. I ran. The whole way. The incline was near exact to that going to the top of Mount Dandenong. It felt familiar and my muscles knew exactly what to do with it. Bitumen. Easy. Some walked; some ran. It didn’t really matter. I just did what my body enjoyed best. At the top (I think), we climbed over a strange wall made of milk crates and flat planks of wood that was an unusual puzzle, but fun at this stage in the run.
Just before we started, I’d noticed my favourite race competitor. I’d checked the competitor list earlier and thought she wasn’t running today, so was surprised (and dismayed) to see her – she ALWAYS beats me.
I didn’t see her when we started, but just after we got to the top of that mighty hill, someone came up behind me, said, “Well done on running the hill!” and blasted by me. Ah, there she was. I gave chase, trying to keep her in my sights, shouting out a “Well done to you too” as an afterthought. We were only one kilometre into the 13.6 km run. It was not time to race. But I didn’t want to let her out of my sight. I kept up for a few kilometres. Each time it turned technical downhill, though, I got left behind. I constantly battle between racing others and running my own race. Because I know this woman is in my age category, it is hard not to chase her. We’re both competitive. We joke and laugh at the finish and start, but on course, we both go hard. I have come undone in such situations in the past, ending up with sprained ankles, so I am terribly conscious of running to my strengths.
As always I go strong up, scaredy-cat down. I keep with the same group this way, don’t lose or gain ground, but I always want to be faster on the scary bits. It takes a lot of self-talk to protect myself. My vision isn’t good anymore, so with fast rough terrain I have to be careful. So she disappeared into the distance. I had to let her go. In a way, I was glad. I could focus on just the run now.
Those fast curving single tracks. They pulled at me like magnets and I flew.
We flew. I stayed with the same small group of runners, being passed downhill when it became technical, passing on the ups and the smooth downs. I counted the hills, one, two, three but somehow lost track and wondered was this the third or the fifth hill.
I kept those green ribbons in clear view, negotiating the trail splits until one awful moment I was alone on a small section and saw a single blue ribbon and thought I’d gone wrong but moments later re-joined a rainbow trail of red, green and blue. All the way, I was singing Bon Jovi in my head. My race refrain today was Have a Nice Day. If you don’t know it, it goes like this, “Why you want to tell me how to live my life, who are you to tell me if I’m wrong or I’m right…la la la…when the world gets in my face, I say HAVE A NICE DAAAY, Have a nice day…”
And so on. I’m not sure who I was singing to, but it made me run fast. And that felt glorious.
At 8.5 km, I drank down a full cup of water in one fast gulp, downed a get, and felt energy glowing through me. I’d been training for half-marathons; there was plenty in my tank. Boom, I ran. I can’t recall where the hills and single-tracks and bitumen and gravel sections were; it all blurs together into a glorious race between myself and myself, and all the great runners who pass me, and I pass back, or not. My body feels alive and I thunder along, every part of me alert and aware. Once, an errant tree root grabs my left foot and I stumble and nearly fall but right myself and run on, gleeful but more careful. I hear a man discussing me from behind: “That woman is very consistent,” he says. I think this is a compliment and soak it up.
By 13.5km, I hunger for the final downhill, which I assume will be down the bitumen road. Despair hits me when it is a gravel track and my feet threaten to cramp. I am passed by a bunch of runners here, and being passed on this kills me but I remind myself to run my own race. I have no water to fight cramp so have to listen carefully to my body.
Down we fly, coming to the “wall” again, which I had missed hearing of in the race briefing. I clamber over like I am 85, my bounce gone, reminding myself to train more for this sort of obstacle for the Wonderland run in August.
No matter. We make it over, then blast downhill on bitumen then onto the gravel where I had warmed up. I was not racing anyone, just flying across the line with joy.
Moments later, my family finds me. The dogs are gleeful, as if I’d been gone for months. My daughter is ready to shop for buffs and whatever else she can. My son is hungry and ready to go, and my husband ever-patient.
The MC mentioned my blog as I crossed the line, which was fun and odd and wonderful. It made me smile when he quoted the blog and I had to find him to try to explain that it was not him or his beard that were scary, but the details of the race he described before the start, which I always embellish in my imagination (the wall becomes the Great Wall and is seven feet high and studded with glass shards, that sort of thing).
He also mentioned I was provisionally third in my age category, which made the pain of chasing my competitors more worthwhile.
The after-party was, as always, magical. There is something about the shared experience of trail running that makes friends of strangers. Everyone seems to glow with joy and accomplishment, and the small things like egg-and-bacon rolls take on a new significance. The man sings and plays acoustic guitar and they are always songs I know and love, and seem to take on particular meaning in the moment, and then I forget what the song was later and wish I’d written it down.
We stayed for the awards ceremony, and I got to cheer for Cissy coming 2nd in her age category, and to stand on the podium for third. I’m delighted when Sam mentions my blog and wish again I was less socially awkward so I could introduce myself to him. One day.
Two terrific runs in The Trail Series done. Three remain. I am endlessly grateful for these moments of freedom.
And happy to report that school holidays has taken a turn for the better, with the dragon in me quieted and calm. Today, I had an eight kilometre recovery run in Ocean Grove, feeling the gravel trail beneath my feet, chasing a teenager on a bike who happened to be on the same trail.
Next up, Silvan 15km in four weeks time. Oh, and in seven weeks, the 20km Wonderland Run. I guess I’d better focus on recovery – if only I could convince our puppy that my spiky ball is mine and not his!
A few hundred racers were huddled together on the sand, awaiting the start of the Surfcoast Half-Marathon. We had just been advised to move back from the shoreline in case of a surge.
“What’s a surge?” the runner next to me said.
I glanced at him; the waves just off-shore were four feet high. They were the things of nightmares.
“The ocean…” I said, gesturing.
I moved fast uphill, away from the shoreline. A few moments later, the waves rolled in. A bunch more runners dashed up into the dunes amidst general nervous laughter.
This was looking interesting.
Here’s what the FAQ section said on the race website:
“Do I have to cross any rivers or roads?
No, the only section of the course that is bitumen is a short stretch leading up to the car park at Point Addis and there will be course marshal at this section. There are no rivers to cross, nor mountains to climb (beyond your own mental ones). There are a few car park entrances to cross – please do so with care. They will all be marshalled for runner safety.
What about beach sections?
There will be several beach sections to run on, and depending on the tides and what time you reach particular sections, the tide may be high. There will always be sand to run on, although if tide is high, the sand will be softer and present more difficult running conditions. Beach sections are:
The Surfcoast Trail Marathon (SCTM) held in Victoria, Australia has been on my list of awesome races to do for a couple of years. It is held the week after start of The Trail Series, so in past years I’ve missed it.
This year, I decided to do it anyway. I needed a half-marathon qualifier for the Wonderland 20k, and this event was perfect. Though I had just run the first race of The Trail Series (10.6 km) six days earlier in a near PB time, I convinced myself that the SCTM would be an “easy” half-marathon, full of fun. Compared to my last half-marathon on Mount Feathertop which took nearly five hours, this seemed reasonable.
The slogan for the SCTM is “Where the Wild Things Run”. That has drawn me to the event for years: I’m wild (well, mildly); I was raised seaside; I run the surf coast for fun, but I’d only seen the Torquay to Anglesea sections. This race would give me some new terrain to see, from Point Addis to Fairhaven. I’d wanted to see this area for a long time.
There, I was convinced this was a rational decision, to race two weekends in a row.
My family and I drove down to Point Addis Saturday morning. Not early enough to score a parking space, so they dropped me at the start and drove away.
I explored the raised wooden viewing areas with delight, taking photo after photo, but being sure I actually stopped and saw the views as well. The sun glinting off the ocean; the waves rolling in to high cliffs; the other runners laughing and taking selfies; the odd tourist looking bemused by the group of hundreds of runners lining up to register; the marathon runners going by to great cheers.
At 10:27, I was waiting for the 10:30 race briefing on the top of the cliffs when it occurred to me that it might be down on the beach. I asked and quickly made my way down the steep wooden staircase, feeling doomed, as I thought we had to climb back up as the race start (should’ve read the course description better).
Down on the beach, I joined the huddle of runners. I eyed the waves; they were big. Really big. Much larger than I’d expected, even though I knew the race would be taking place at high tide.
I noticed another woman runner then, who looked a bit nervous standing alone, so I started to chat with her. It was her first trail half. I reassured her that this was a good, easy one to start with. Nothing too difficult, and a great crowd of people. A few Dandenong Trail Runners arrived, looking resplendent in their singlets (Chris and Lauren, with John as support crew), and Chris from Bayside; we chatted, shared laughter. I kept one eye on the surf, as anyone raised by the beach tends to do.
Shortly after the “step back from the water” warning, another wave rolled in, and the runners darted higher up into the dunes.
It was race briefing time. A tall man stood on the dunes and spoke to us. I confess: I blacked it out. Something about the waves coming into shore. Arg. Okay. People racing move to the front. I was; I did. I asked the woman next to me, do we run out and back on the beach? We only ran one way she said, and continued on to the trail from there. A relief that we didn’t have to climb the steep stairs to the start then.
We lined up, then, bang, we were off.
The beach? It was a few feet wide. Some of the way. I quickly found myself darting away from the encroaching tide, trying to make sure I had no one running to my right to block a dash away. This beach section didn’t last long, maybe a kilometre. After only a few minutes, we climbed up to a gravel track. It was easy, fast running. For a few kilometres, I dropped below my target of 5:30/km and felt really strong. Except on the horrible stone staircase, where I inexplicably began singing Stairway to Heaven in my head, even though we were running down the stairs. That song that would accompany me for many kilometres.
It was when we came to Anglesea that the fun began. I’d read the course description. We would run on the bitumen path. I was used to slogging across the river in other races, and was slightly disappointed that we’d go bitumen this time. Except when I got there, the course seemed to be going straight across the wide, tidal river. Usually, runners would just get their shoes wet. Today, the water went up to my knees. I laughed the entire way across – it was the absolute highlight of the day. Though I still wonder – was I meant to go the bitumen way? Never mind.
The rest gets a bit hazy in my memory. I can’t give you a blow-by-blow course and race description. Because suddenly it became, as one friend described it, more of a duathlon.
Those soft stretches of sandy beach?
From Guvvo’s to Urquahart’s beach was meant to be about four kilometres.
Really? It seemed further. Perhaps it was the moments when I dove face first into the dunes as the waves rolled under my feet? Or the water washing relentlessly over my shoes? Soft sand became small, wobbly coastal rocks, which finally became a “watch the wave go out then run as fast as you can on the beach until the next one comes in” – a game I call Mickey Mouse with my kids – you shout Mickey Mouse as the wave comes at you and you run to not get your feet wet. I played that game for about three of the four kilometres – awesome fun!
I don’t know where the staircase was. But I remember it well. There was a kind volunteer on the staircase, talking to me about timing my run to the waves, going under the stairs and then along the fence. It felt wild and reckless and fun and insane and the best thing I’ve done in years.
I got to the bottom of the stairs, ran, just beat the wave, and then ran under the staircase. We followed the inside of a small fence as the waves licked at the ledge that kept the sea at bay, and then as they broke over that ledge. My shoes were full of sand and water and after a while I didn’t really care if the waves rolled over me or not. The fence gave me this false feeling of security, like if a big wave came, at least I was on the far side of the fence and it would keep me from being washed away. Except the fence ended and there were still some kilometres to go. So we went.
Finally we climbed up to the “winding fun trail weaving through heathland and clifftop landscapes all the way to Split Point Lighthouse and Airey’s Inlet”.
The only trouble was, by this point, my body had been trashed by the soft sand running. My feet suddenly decided to cramp up into tiny balls, with the toes tucking under, and my pace dropped to a seven-minute kilometre, Ouch! I could barely walk. I tried water, salt tablets, gels, swearing, stretching.
Eventually, I just ran on my silly cramped-up feet and told them to loosen up and they finally did, though I was very conscious that I might not be able to finish this mad run if they really cramped badly so I held back on the pace.
The views coming into the lighthouse went straight to my soul. I’d once visited the Great Ocean Road, many years ago, as a newcomer to Australia. I vividly remember being depressed and lonely and that these magnificent views could not get through to me.
Today they did; today, those views were home and I smiled and laughed and kept right on running, straight towards them.
With 1.5 km to go to the finish line at the Fairhaven Surf Lifesaving Club, I tried to pick up the pace. But I’d given all I had on those beach sections, and could only succeed in moving a little quicker. Seeing the finish arch at the top of a set of stairs made me kind of want to cry. Another runner and I began climbing together. I said, let’s finish together okay, but when we got to the arch he gestured me through first, and I said, no, and reached out a hand, and we went across together. Tremendous. Everything about it was a tremendous run.
I’d targeted a finish between 2 and 2:30 and came in at 2:18.
The party at the finish was like what I imagine a party would’ve been like when peace was declared after a big, gnarly war. Runners were there with their shoes off, eyes glazed, big, hazy smiles. Laughter was everywhere. The Fairhaven Surf Lifesaving Club was heaving with runners eating and drinking and sharing stories of waves and oceans and king tides. Somewhere a band played, but me, I made my way straight to Shane’s massage tables, and made a big donation for the lovely Mill to massage my feet out (“How long did you have your shoes off?”she asks with concern. I glanced back. “Why? Are my feet blue? Don’t worry. They’re always blue.”). It was painful bliss but finally the cramps began to subside.
Afterwards, my daughter and I bought t-shirts (hers was to be a nightshirt, Run Like a Tiger, it read. Mine was Where the Wild Things Run. I’m wearing it right now). I gathered myself a vegetarian turkish bread, which ranks as almost the best thing I’ve ever eaten, topped only by the cheese toastie with salt at my last race. We watched the presentations and I marvelled at how fast the winners were – how do they do it?
That’s how I’d sum up the Surfcoast Trail Half-Marathon. The king tide really made it adventurous and super-fun, which is how I like my runs to be. Thanks to Tour de Trails, Chris Ord and the awesome volunteers who kept the waves from washing us out to sea. I’ll be remembering this one for many years!
“Mount Feathertop?” he says. “That doesn’t sound very scary. Be downright embarrassing to die there. It’s like what a mountain would be called on The Wiggles.”
I fight back the laughter, and try to tell him how scary this feather-topped mountain is going to be. How I have to be able to navigate my way back by an “alternative route” if necessary. How the map reveals how many times this particular landscape has been burnt up by bushfires. Watching out for snakes. Running for ten kilometres above the tree line on a narrow rocky ridge.
When I’ve scared myself enough, I shut up, and reflect on the fact that he’s right: the name Mount Feathertop is actually quite funny.
I remind myself that I’ve trained the 22km distance for the last three weeks, twice up the flanks of Mount Dandenong to get elevation gain right, and once along the Bayside Coastal Track to make sure I’ve got some speed in my legs.
Just before Christmas,there was something going around from Runner’s World Magazine, asking runners to reflect on what they’d enjoyed the previous year, to help set goals for 2017. For me, the outstanding moments were the night trail runs I’d done. They were new, challenging in a novel way, and their distance was perfect for the fast running I’d been enjoying. In selecting my goals for 2017, I tried to keep this in mind. I skipped both Two Bays and the Roller Coaster Run, two of my favourites, to have the form to try out some new terrain.
After perusing lots of options, and figuring out where exactly places like Mount Baw Baw and Mount Buffalo were, I came across the Razorback Run. I quickly dismissed it as too terrifying. Twenty kilometres along a narrow ridge; navigating; scary-scaries in the race description. Then Sally messaged me and asked me, just after New Year’s, if I was up for a new adventure.
Of course I said yes. Slowly. Contemplating and planning for two weeks, and then finally finding the guts.
Now I’m eight days away from testing out these guts! And the nerves are starting to kick in. I’ve got the gear, the waterproof trousers and jacket, the beanie, the gloves. I’ve found my head-torch and changed the dead batteries. Ordered a portable phone charger to keep in my pack for emergencies. I’m geared up and trained up and getting scared half to death studying the contour map and trying to plan for emergencies like bushfires and snake bites.
But underneath it all, I have the sense that I can do this. I will do this. The next adventure is waiting for me on the razor’s edge of Mount Feathertop. I respect this mountain – it is the biggest one I’ve climbed to date, and I hope it will be kind to me on the day.
Good question! And one I find difficult to answer. I’ve been here, trying to focus on writing my next book, getting stuck, distracted, starting again and again. Worried that blogging was gobbling up my writing time and energy, so I stopped for a bit.
And that “bit” grew and grew until I forgot I blogged with passion and commitment, until writing itself began to slip away.
I’ve kept running, but changed focus after yet another injury. I rejoined a gym and began lifting heavy again, rediscovering my strength and muscles. I’ve focused on speed – tempo training and intervals, dancing lightly on trails rather than plodding.
I meant to blog about the wonderful 12km Afterglow Trail Run, but the week before that event we were robbed and I lost my voice and my confidence and my sense of safety.
And now months and months have gone, and my voice feels stale and atrophied and I want to write as I did before but like a weak muscle, I must retrain myself.
I ran with a new friend today, who spoke so kindly of my blogs. I’m grateful she recalled them for me.
And as I ran the last 4K of our run solo (she was up for 18, me 22), it occurred to me: perhaps I don’t have a novel to write right now. Perhaps I have a running/life memoir. Maybe one woman’s journey through the woods can reflect other’s, and perhaps shine light in the dark.
In any case, I’ll keep this short today. It’s simply a “hello” and an explanation of sorts.
More next week..
The 2016 Roller Coaster 21k Trail Run: why has writing of you eluded me? Did I love you, as I have in the past? Or is our affair growing tenuous and thin?
The Sunday after the run, which I completed in 2:41 (six minutes faster than last year), I spent five hours cleaning my very dirty home. We have two dogs, two cats, and two kids. My husband does more than his fair share, and it was fair to say I’d been too tired to be much use around the home lately. I’d completed a series of three half-marathons (Marysville 21k; Two Bays 28K; Roller Coaster 21k) in four months; the guilt over the dirty carpet had finally caught up with me, and I cleaned like a whirlwind.
On Sunday night,I sat back on the sofa, exhausted but feeling I’d accomplished two great big things in one weekend – an awesome trail race, and a clean home.
Monday, I awoke with a sore throat, a harbinger, a canary-in-the-coalmine. Still, I taught my 7:30 pm Bodypump class. It was too late to call for a fill-in instructor. And really, if I was going to get sick, I figured I might as well go out with a bang.
On Tuesday the flu took me down at the knees. I was sick for a full week. No-exercise sick. Don’t-even-contemplate-walking-down-the-road sick. I got a fill-in instructor for my Wednesday class. I slept in some, coughed a lot, and Life Went On. It was recovery week anyway.
The second week, I gradually recovered. Taught three Bodypump classes, swam, ran a total of 15k.
Now, in the third week post-race, I’m still coughing, still tired, but I’m world’s better than three weeks ago. I’m back to my usual fitness schedule.
So why haven’t I written up the Roller Coaster Run? Was it the illness? Or something else?
Here’s the thing. I’ve been listening to myself say the same things over and over since November last year: I want my feet to feel great again; I want speed and power; I want to be able to jump high in the air and land without hurting. I want to do something different.
And yet, I kept signing up for half-marathons. The Roller Coaster Run was the last one I’d signed up for. In a way, it was my line in the sand.
Did I love it?
Of course I did.
What I loved most is that I let go of expectation. I don’t know why. Suddenly it occurred to me, about five minutes into the run, that I had nothing to prove. I didn’t want to kill myself running flat-out for three hours. I wanted to push my pace, push my best, but I didn’t want to race anyone.
In my head, I was saying, I’m a 50-year-old trail running woman. I’ve got nothing to prove. I’ve run more than sixty trail races. Adventure races. Up and down mountains. I’ve swam across tidal rivers the day after a typhoon. Climbed waterfalls in a thunderstorm. I’ve navigated alone in the dark on trails. Nearly stepped on snakes. Abseiled down cliff faces on outlying islands in Hong Kong. I’ve got nothing left that I have to prove. I just want to run for the sheer pleasure of it.
And suddenly, running down the side of Mount Dandenong, I realised I wasn’t competing. I wasn’t racing. I was flying down my favourite trails, agile, confident, quick feet, no pain, and all was right with my world. It didn’t matter if I got passed or if I passed someone. I could afford to smile, to chat with volunteers, to high-five the kids cheering with the support crews. Yes, the uphills were deadly tough. That wasn’t a surprise. I had the gels and salt tablets and water and confidence. I’d run the whole course alone two weeks before. I was going to be okay; I was going to be joyful.
My favourite moment of all in the run? At about the 13k mark, right about where I tripped and flew threw the air during my first Roller Coaster Run, I saw a man stumble.
I was ten feet behind him, and watched him trip, then fly sideways through the air, and land hard. Well, I thought he’d landed. Just as I was shouting, “Are you okay?”, he, to my utter astonishment, continued rolling, all the way through, until he’d come around, landed on his feet, and simply kept right on running. He is who I want to be when I grow up.
It turned out I’d met him a couple of weeks earlier on a training run (Ben and Brian were doing three loops of the Roller Coaster to my one that day), so when I caught up with him and congratulated him on his spectacular trip-and-roll-to-his-feet, it was like meeting up with an old friend. That’s how this race is, how this mountain is. We are all – in one instant, old friends.
This photo was taken at about 20k into the run. I can picture the section, right after a steep climb up gravel. It’s where I’ve run alone so many times, staring at autumn foliage, or hidden by thick fog. Usually, I’m elated that I’ve done the hard part of my training run (I typically start at the bottom of the mountain and it’s mostly downhill from this stage).
At this stage of the race, the 43k runners were headed back out in the opposite direction to us, and every now and then one of the front runners would bound by, mountain-goat-like, taking the downhill with greater speed than I could ever imagine.
But here, right in the moment this photo was taken during the Roller Coaster Run, I’m deep inside my head, feeling the flow of my feet on the single track, knowing the way I’m going intimately, because I’ve run it so many times.
On such a run, the oddity is the other runners everywhere, where usually I run in solitude.
And then there was the finish…
The race photographer captured these amazing moments. Sharee encouraging me across the finish line in her amazing costume.
And in the true spirit of the run, and her wonderful supportive nature, here she is, directing me homewards. Kudos to the race photographers for capturing this moment.
In the end though, we are all alone with our thoughts as we cross the finish line.
There is a moment, before we cross under the arch, before we collect our medal, where we know fully what we’ve just achieved. The challenges we’ve overcome to complete a big, gnarly mountain run. I’d like to hold onto the sense of self this moment gives me, to take it out in challenging times in regular life, to say to myself, if you could do that, of course you can do this. I’d like us all to hold onto that feeling.
Afterwards, after the changing of clothes, the brunch at Sky High sharing a table with seven women I’d never met who were celebrating a 40th birthday, after the elation, I stayed longer than I usually do.
I explored this wonderful secret garden, all alone.
I felt a sense of calm descend on me that I hadn’t felt in a long time. A sense of certainty that everything was going to be okay.
Since the run, now that the flu has abated, I have finally done what I said I am going to do. Got back to the gym to lift heavy weights. Started interval training to regain my lost speed. Not signed up for any more races.
Will I be back? Of course. Mount Dandenong calls to me. It speaks to me of home.
Bear with me please. After an awesome run last Saturday, and a full day of cleaning my very dirty home Sunday, Monday saw me laid low with the flu! Surprise, I know, that after three great races in four months, at the end of it all, like after university exams, my body shouted “enough!”.
I’ll have to give you the full report next week when I’m not sick, but here are a couple of my fave photos in the meantime…
And now I’m off to rest.
Hope all of you are keeping well!