The long road to Marysville Half-Marathon 2015

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

That’s what I’m telling myself a few days before the Marysville Half-Marathon.  And oddly, it’s not even the running that has me scared.

It’s the two-hour solo drive.

I wish I could be one of those fearless people who just do things.  Like drive solo to a trail race without terror.  But I’m not from around these parts.  I’m from New York.  Place names and road names don’t mean as much and navigating alone to a new place is hard for me.

But so what?

I’ve been aiming at this race ever since the Roller Coaster Run Half-Marathon back in March.  Back then, I was running with a bad case of heel and calf pain, and right afterwards, I commenced a six-week break from running.  The plan was to cross-train and get strong again, in all the ways I had lost over my last two years of long-distance running.

A very gradual build from a 3k walk/run in late April has finally got me to the 20k mark, and relatively healthy.  My heel still hurts now and again, but the strength has returned to my gluts so I can power up hills in a brand-new way.  I managed my favorite run at Mount Dandenong two weeks ago, for 20k in 2:47 (heaps of elevation, though I was consciously going slow, I say defensively).  So I’m ready.

But always, at the back of my mind, there are these niggling doubts. Which hydration device to use?  Will there be snakes around and will I step on one?  Is Red Hill as bad as I remember from the Marathon a few years ago?  Will the roads be twisty and windy and scary to nagivate?  Will the cars back up behind me and beep and force me to go faster than I want?  Was substituting two swims a week for two runs a good cross-training plan or utter stupidity? Blah, blah, blah.

Usually, my family would go with me to Marysville.  My husband would drive, and I’d relax and nagivate.  This year, we’ve added a ten-week old Cavoodle to our home, an adorable puppy named Billy (a Cavoodle is a poodle and King Charles Cavalier cross – he looks like a tiny black teddy bear with sharp teeth but he thinks he is a Labrador-Kelpie because that’s what his sister is). He was going to the source of a blog called “The Stupidest Thing I’ve ever done: Part 2” but I’ve been too busy cleaning up after him, and laughing at the antics of the two dogs playing to write.

Anyway, strangely, my husband doesn’t fancy shepherding the two kids and two dogs around Marysville while I gallivant in the woods for a few hours. Go figure.

So I’m on my own (except for all the cool trail running friends I can’t wait to see!).

Trouble is, those cool friends won’t be in my car with me to tell me where to turn.  And where not to. So I’m going to have to harden up and do this on my own.

Screw my courage to the sticking place.  That quote is from Lady Macbeth, according to my Google search.  If I recall my Shakespeare from college correctly, that story didn’t turn out so well .

Perhaps I’ll think of this other old favorite from Mark Twain, that I’ve borrowed from

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.  Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave.  ~Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar, 1894

Please be kind if you see me on the road (I’ll be the one backing up traffic), and know I’m summoning up all my courage to get to the start line.

“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.

 Surf Coast Century- my first 100km event by Belle Campbell

A terrific write-up of a first-timers 100 km journey. What an inspiration! I hope you enjoy reading her story…

After 6 long months of training, race morning was upon me! My alarm went off at 4:30am after a very restless night sleep. I got up & had my usual pre-event breakfast of coffee & peanut butter toast, then checked through all my mandatory gear for the millionth time!

We left the house for the start line & arrived about 5:45. The energy in the cold, beachside air was absolutely amazing, even at this early hour!! The race announcer was already pumping up the crowd & before I knew it, we were at the 30 second countdown! I kissed my hubby goodbye til the first checkpoint & headed into the starters chute. We were off!!!

Leg 1- Anglesea-Torquay-0- 21km

After about a km race nerves had settled & I’d found a comfortable, consistent pace. We had to climb over a few sets of rocks which slowed things a little, but…

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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 to begin…healing, Bon Jovi, and a one kilometre run.

Ever notice when you can’t run that you sweat the small stuff a whole lot more than usual?  It becomes hard to even see what’s big and what’s small because it all seems big.

Yesterday’s big went like this: my young daughter grabbed the key for the window locks and ran off giggling.  No big deal, right?  I didn’t react – I knew that’s what she was looking for, having played such “let’s make Mom shout” games in the past.  Just when I was feeling all smug about not taking the bait, while simultaneously avoiding Sunday-at-home-hell by playing on Facebook on my phone, she came running through the house, threw the key at me, and it hit me right on the side of my head.  It HURT like hell.  Like a little tiny missile, a sharp, pointy missile.  I howled in pain, and then burst into tears.  And I kept crying, hiding in the pantry while big, heavy sobs ran through me.  It was the unprovoked nature of the thing that got me, the shock of it, after walking on eggshells all day because she is prone to such attacks at the moment.  I was hurt, furious, angry and hysterical all at once.

Would I have reacted that way had I gotten a good 30k run under my legs this weekend?  I doubt it.  Should I have reacted that way?  Who knows?  Who can say what is small and what is big, the size of the straw to the particular camel that is carrying a lot of straws.

Suffice it to say we made up and all is fine twenty-four hours later.  But jeez.  The small stuff can grow large.

Here’s the good news though – my swollen knee is growing smaller!  After two visits with Tim the wonder-physio at, some taping, a new tibialis posterior exercise, and some self-control, I can now walk down the stairs without pain.  Today I ran for the first time in 14 days – a whopping 1 kilometre on the treadmill at a slow pace – but I ran.

And in that run is embedded hope.  In the meantime, I’m trying to keep my sanity by lifting lots of heavy things (barbels; dumbbells) as well as entertaining myself on the cross-trainer with Bon Jovi.

Who, I have to tell you, I saw in concert on Saturday night.

It is always worrying to see a personal hero in, well, in person.  What I admire about Bon Jovi is two-fold.  First is his music, of course.  The lyrics lift me when I need it – he writes of fighters, of overcoming odds, of how tough life can be for every single one of us, of the value of staying the course, and of love.  Second is his humanity.  Of course that may be an act, but, if so, he does it very well.  He supports the homeless through the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation (, he supported New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy last year, as well as flood relief efforts here in Australia after his 2010 tour, and he fights for the underdog and the downtrodden in his music and in real life.

So to see him in person – well, he has a lot to live up to.  The concert was at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne to a full house.  I was close enough to see him smile in real life, but also to see that the smile, unlike during his 2010 tour, was not quite reaching his eyes.  The passion was there, the music was there (the music was amazing), but I seemed to be seeing my hero in some sort of pain – perhaps it was projection, or jetlag, or a long, long tour, or just my imagination, but it saddened me.

Don’t get me wrong – the concert rocked, and I loved every moment.  But Bon Jovi has written in several of his songs about crawling out of the dark to shine the light.  He does that for me, and for so many other fans – shines the light when we need it, through his passion and his lyrics.  So, if there was pain there, this single fan is sending back a message – sending some of the light he has given to the world straight back to him.  Because even heroes sometimes need a hand.  As part of my ticket package, I received a leather-bound journal with the words “Because We Can” embossed on the front cover – I think I’ll use it to begin writing my next book, and shine some of my own light for others.  Because he helped to spark that flame.

I’ll also be getting back to my own heroic journey when my body has fully healed.  I’m not holding out much hope for the Two Bays race on 12 January, but as someone much smarter than me mentioned on my Facebook Page, it is best to heal without aiming for a particular race.  Wise words indeed.

Each step is one step closer to healing, if I do this right.  I’m glad I have Bon Jovi to remind me on my iPod that “everybody’s broken – it’s all right, it’s just life…”, and to help me get a few steps closer to being unbroken again.

Of cleaning windows and clearer vision.

The windows were wide open, and like my cats, I was sniffing at the fresh air.  So much so that I couldn’t sit down and write this afternoon – the outdoors drew me.  But I’m not one to lounge around.  And the windows at the back of the house –  well, no one had cleaned them in a very long time.

I got together the bucket, the long squeegee (I usually use it at a pretend bar to practice BodyPump), and a whole lot of paper towels.  From the garage, I took down the giant ladder, and silently thanked the world that the time when I didn’t know how to do this silly job, when we didn’t have the ladder or the tools or the skills, was over.

Five years I have lived in this home.  Transformative years; years where I lost and then found myself.  Years where I ran in pain, in tears, in fury, and finally, finally, in joy.  The windows of my home hold some of the memories.  The first year, staring out of them in despair, wondering how I had come to be living in this suburban house near all these other suburban houses.  Sure it was a beautiful, but wasn’t there something sinister about all these pretty little houses, all these gardens, all these individual families cooking dinners and caring for their children.  I had said I’d never live my parent’s life; yet here I was.

That year, 2008, I bought a book called “Speed Cleaning” because I had no idea what I was doing.  In fact, I had so little idea, that I’d question women who seemed knowledgable in the most obscure circumstances.  In the department store where I was buying sheets, I queried the sales clerk, in a low voice, as if I was asking about buying drugs, about how to clean the glass in the shower.  The baking soda and vinegar trick from my new book just didn’t seem to work.

“Jif,” the kind woman replied.  “Jif, and a sponge.”  She didn’t make a face like I was an idiot or anything.

“Won’t it scratch the glass?” I asked softly.

“No, it will be okay.”

I never forgot her kindness.  You see, ever since we’d been married, we’d had a cleaner.  Even before we got married, my husband-to-be had a cleaner, and I decided that he was not going to give her up simply because I was marrying him.  No way.  Then we moved to Australia and were both working full-time so again, a cleaner made sense.  Ditto for Hong Kong.  Oh, and there was this moment in my early 20’s, when my boyfriend of the moment criticised the way I cleaned a pot – I’ve never forgotten this – and I said, “I’m going to have someone to do that stuff for me anyway” with all the defensiveness of a twenty-three year old who feels judged and stupid.  I let that line play in my head for years when I had made it come true.

But finally, after six years in Hong Kong with a live-in domestic helper, I found I didn’t want anyone else in my home.  I wanted to know how to do things for myself, finally.  I suppose I wanted to be a grown-up.  And I wanted to be able to teach my kids how to do these simple things.

In my new book, I read about window cleaning, something about methylated spirits, vinegar, newspaper.  I tried it, only belatedly reading the bottle of methylated spirits and realising it was actually a paint thinner.  I didn’t want to admit what I’d done to my husband, but reflected on it each time I looked at the damaged window sill paint.

My mother-in-law came to visit and I asked her advice.  Fairy liquid (washing-up liquid) and hot water, she said.  Silly woman, I thought, it couldn’t be that simple.  How would I rinse them?  That year, and for two years after, I just averted my gaze from the windows.  There was simply too much else to learn.

Well, I took care of the bits by the childrens’ dinner table, where the milk splashed when it spilled, where my daughter teased me by wiping dirty hands on the window and giggling.  I would say (impotently, knowing I didn’t mean it), “You’re going to clean that up, not me.”  But she knew better and just laughed.  I cleaned it after she went to bed.

But today:  today the sun was out and it was spring and there was the scent of jasmine in the air.  Jasmine I had planted, jasmine, that, overcoming all odds, had sprouted deep roots, stayed alive, and was in full bloom.

“I’m a survivor,” said my jasmine.

I hung the sheets out to dry, noticing that, unlike in winter, the sun was now falling on the clothesline again; I inspected the garden (weedy, needing attention); I watered the one pot plant (a purple-flowered cyclamen that had returned to life with the spring, surprising and delighting me); and then I stopped and stared at the windows.

My cyclamen returns to life...

My cyclamen returns to life…

Without a conscious decision, I began.  Got the tools, all of them handy and easy to use.  I put the fairy liquid in the bucket and filled it half-way with hot water (my mother-in-law was right, and it doesn’t need rinsing).  Then I cleaned off the several years worth of grime and dirt, uncovering the beauty of the home that has been hidden.

I began 2013 with an idea that this was going to be a year of dramatic change for me, but I just didn’t know how – that’s what the Chinese Zodiac predicted, and it had always been right for me.

This morning, it occurred to me that it had been right again.  It wasn’t changing countries or homes or returning to studying.  It was finding myself in the right place.  Just where I am.

On the treadmill at the gym this morning, for the first time in six weeks, I ran fast.  I had my favorite Bon Jovi tunes on the playlist, the ones I’ve only played while making school lunches in the intervening weeks.  As I cranked the pace up higher and then higher, as I felt the stability and strength that have returned to my ankle since spraining it five weeks ago, as I heard my songs, well, that too was a sort of coming of spring.

So today, I sit in contentment with my clear windows and clarity of vision.  I was right about this year; I have moved; I have changed.  This place that once was so strange and so foreign and so wrong, well, it is finally right.

How I love spring.  And returning to life.

Salomon Trail Series Studley Park: you are a winner!

It was the first weekend of school holidays, and the kids had told me in very clear terms: “We don’t want to go to your stupid race.” My husband said something about supporting one another as a family, to which my seven-year-old replied, “What does ‘support’ mean?” Fair enough. They’d all spent a long time supporting me in the North Face 50 just six weeks ago. I understood.

Still, come race day, they were up early anyway, my five-am risers, and after a few ‘hurry-ups’, we drove off right on time. Well, five minutes late, but that was ok. Except that we got ten minutes down the road before I realised I’d left my Garmin behind. My lifeline; my everything; my Garmin. At first, I said, keep going, but a moment later, I said, with a kind of desperation, “No, turn back, please”. We got back, I raced in the door, scared the cats, grabbed the watch, and jumped back in the car. My pre-race nerves on high alert now, as we were twenty minutes past departure time, and I knew we’d miss the pole-position parking I aim for. The kids were noisy, playing Slap-Taxi, and Spot the Yellow Car, and my exhuberant husband joined in with enthusiasm. I willed quiet to settle, but only found it in my breath.

On arrival, we parked well up the road, and I was advised by my family to go on ahead, as there were many snacks and race-time entertainment items to prepare. Not one to miss the offer of an open gate, off I bolted down the hill, Salomon pack flapping in the wind, enjoying the feeling of running after two rest days. I darted around families, testing my agility, enjoying the moment to myself, but at the bottom, a woman runner, said, “Oh there you are! I wanted to tell you, you dropped a gel back at the top of the hill. I left it on a bench – you were going too fast to shout you.” Darn. Well, at least I’d packed three; that left two for a 15k race. A moment later, I ran into Claire, who was proud to display her new Garmin that had come as a early birthday present. How lovely to get a hug from a friend, just when I needed it. It also helped to bring me back into the moment, and let go of the silly gel.

I went on to do the usual pre-race stuff: visit the toilet several times; look for friends – I found a few Dandenongs Trail Runners members and chatted; I found my family and dragged all of us to the starting line. There, I realised it was warmer than I expected, and stripped off the thermal top and North Face running gloves, and was back to my ten-year-old orange long-sleeved t-shirt, an old friend that has seen me through many adventures. Pack on, amused by the antics of the Race Ambassador, and somewhat gleeful I had not won that role, because I could never be that cool before a race, and moments later, after an I-love-you sign language display with my family, the countdown began, and we in the “Fast” group were off.

Last year, I recall questioning which group I should be part of, what to wear, what to carry. This year, I was quieter, more confident in my choices. Perhaps it was making it through the North Face 50 six weeks ago, but I wasn’t scared this morning.

We began on the road, and I couldn’t go fast enough. I knew this was a short race for the distances I’d been training, and I simply didn’t hold back. It felt strangely wonderful. The pace was certainly quicker than my training pace, clocking 4:30 km’s and less, but I felt good. I won’t bore you with the details of the terrain we travelled – those of you who did the race know it, and I can never really remember all the various trails well enough to describe them.

What struck me in this race, though, were a few things. First was the pace. Having run more slowly of late to go very long distances, the open-up-the-throttle pace felt incredible. I held nothing back. The race photos will not show my usual smile; I didn’t even have the ability to look up to see the photographers, I was going so fast. I had to be one-hundred percent in the moment on the rougher tracks, of which there were many, to go fast, and be agile enough not to trip and face-plant. It takes enormous discipline for me not to get into races with other runners in these sections, because many are faster than me there. I have to let others by, and I hate that, but keeping myself injury-free is far too important to risk it by racing. However, I do find that on flat terrain and downhills, I often make up the distance and catch the runners who have passed me, so that’s okay.

The second thing I found – which sort of belies what I just said – is that I felt oddly competitive in this race. Maybe it’s because I get passed on the rougher stuff, but a few times in this race, I got passed, and then the passer seemed to, well hang around, like right next to, or right in front of me. This bugs me. I feel the need to pass back then, and I ended up playing cat-and-mouse with one woman several times, before I got really fed up with her running three inches from me, and kind of blew away down the trail. I never saw her again. I fear I took out some frustration on her that had nothing to do with her, like I just wanted to be alone for a little while, and there she was. I do like the ability to bolt away, to let out the little bit that is always in reserve. Strangely, I didn’t do this at the finish line, but only when other runners seemed too close. I suppose I have gotten used to the running solo in the Dandenongs for hours on end, and perhaps having other runners so close simply feels wrong.

The third thing was just how fast 15k goes when you’ve been running 30, 40, 50k’s. It was like taking the runs I’d been doing, and showing them on TV at triple-speed. I wanted more time to enjoy it all. Instead, I spent most of the race watching my feet. Good thing I love my shoes! And the simply being in the moment that such pace requires.

I pounded and pushed, and finished the race strongly in 1:16, well under my planned 1:30 – 2 hour time-frame. This was the first I’d run this particular course, so that doesn’t say so much, but I felt faster than usual. We left to come home shortly after the finish, the kids restless. It wasn’t until much later in the day, through a Facebook friend, that I Iearned that I’d come third in my age category. That hasn’t happened once since I’ve lived in Australia, so I was absolutely delighted.

Also, today I can walk. Nothing is really sore. I promised myself a rest day, and yet, I could have run. All the long runs and extra training is truly paying off.

Having delayed posting this by one extra day, I can also tell you post-race recovery is going well. I ran 5k with my son today, then an additional 15k for myself. I was up on a cliff in Barwon Heads at dusk, just as a big, black storm was rolling in from the sea. It was raining over the water, but a glorious golden sky over the land. In between were the blackest of clouds. I was absolutely alone, awestruck. Running fast and racing is glorious; of equal joy is the solitude of a long, empty trail.

I made a promise…

I told you I’d write again when I was feeling stoked about the upcoming Salomon Trail Series, Race 1, in Studley Park.

Studley Park Boathouse in Yarra Bend Park, Mel...

Studley Park Boathouse in Yarra Bend Park, Melbourne, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Am I stoked?  I’m getting there!

Here’s what’s been happening (note, I just got the kids into bed moments ago, it’s Friday night, the first night of school holidays, and my husband will be shortly opening the door on his return from the gym, so this may be short!):

First, the washing machine is fixed!  It was like a dream-come-true: the service people turned up on time, discovered what was wrong (the carbon brushes were worn out from overuse – sound familiar?), and then tucked my nice little machine up in their truck.  They claimed it would be back on Thursday, and just as we, collectively, pulled on our last pair of clean clothes, it returned, was plugged back in, and to my great delight, spun when I said, “spin”.  Well, I’m not Harry Potter, so I did have to use the knobs and stuff, but it worked.  I have since summited Mount Laundry, rebuilt Mount Iron, and I actually have clean gear for the race on Sunday (which is what I was really worried about).

Second, the Microsoft updates (all 6000 of them) eventually loaded properly, my Norton Anti-Virus smiled at me, and all was well in computer-land.

And finally – most importantly – I rested.  Well, as much as I ever rest.  I shortened my 15k run to 10, skipped the run I usually do after teaching BodyPump on Thursday morning, and took today completely off.  It is an odd and lovely feeling to have a bit of energy.  My husband commented that I was cleaning tonight, and I wasn’t even grumpy (I usually only clean when I’m grumpy!).  I was smiling, singing even.  So rest is good, and I have committed to support my body more intelligently in the coming months by incorporating some yoga, some cross-training, and a bit of extra sleep.

Back to the Salomon Trail Series, you say…am I excited?

I can’t really get my head around it, to be perfectly honest.  After running so very far in the last few races, with 28, 21, and 50k goals, to run 15k seems oddly anti-climactic.  I know I’ll love the woods and the trails, as I always do, the challenge of keeping my balance, running fast on technical trails.  I’m just not sure I know how to do short anymore.

When I first did this trail series, it was as a step towards freedom.  Before we moved back to Melbourne, I had spent years running the trails in Hong Kong, where I could walk out of my door, and be in the woods in five minutes.  Here, I pined for those trails, felt a bit of my soul shrivelling up without the majesty of the woods.  But I was scared; could women run alone here?  If so, where to go?  I studied maps, but did nothing but run up and down the Bayside Coastal Track.

When the Salomon Trail Series was announced, I signed up immediately.  But during those six years in Hong Kong, I didn’t drive, so the big challenge for me was not the running, but the driving alone to the start of the races.  Navigating in the dark, my knuckles white, scared to death because I’d really lost all my driving skills, and I didn’t know the roads, or the landmarks, and it was all so different from where I’d grown up driving.  Back on Long Island, things said East or West, North or South; here, signs used the names of nearby towns to direct me, and I didn’t know where those towns were.

It makes me nearly cry to remember the emotions I felt in those days, the fear, the elation when I’d successfully arrive at race headquarters, and finally feel at home with myself again.  The solitude of those times, when my children were six and four, was a balm to my soul.  I knew no one and no one knew me, and I’d often spend the hours of the race without speaking to a single other person.  But there was my car stereo, and the music that followed me around the world on my travels (yes, Bon Jovi), that made every place feel of home somehow.

Tonight, I feel more a sense of quiet contentment.  I am in my forever-home and the jonquils I planted three years ago are coming up and beginning to bloom.  I know this garden and I know the streets and I know the way to the races, and I will even recognise many of the trails.  On the Dandenong Trail Runners Facebook Group, someone asked who was going to this race.  I quickly replied, and so did at least thirteen other runners, and we are going to meet up.

I am no longer alone; I am at home.

The Salomon Trail Series was a springboard back into my self.  As if, three years ago, I stepped up, jumped down onto the trail in the Studley Park Race, and landed back in my trail shoes, running fast, and feeling alive, surrounded by love, and the majesty of the woods.

Perhaps it is not about the distance at all; perhaps it is about the homecoming.

“Your running is a bit over the top,” she said.

“Really,” she continued, “you ran fifty kilometres?”  She was perplexed, that was obvious.  And questioning my motives.  Was I simply running to escape?  To hide from my emotions, to mask them and make them go away?  Perhaps I should try something calmer, like sitting still and smelling a eucalypt leaf.  Not give up the running, no, but slow it down some.

I wanted to cry.  Here was this woman who was meant to be helping me, just not getting it.  I didn’t have the time to explain – our session was just about to end, so I nodded, stammered something about it being a “great experience running 50km” and left feeling unheard.

So I’m going to speak now.  I promise I’ll send her a link to this blog so she gets it too.

Why did I run 50km?  Why did I train to run 50km, which took a lot more hours than the actual fifty kilometre event?  It was not to escape my feelings.  It was to give them room to be.  Each time I trained, I was alone for hours and hours, running in the wilderness, proving to myself again and again and again that I could overcome my fear of getting lost, my fear of strangers attacking me, my fear that my body simply could not do this.  I had so many fears inside that facing them felt so very powerful, a shout out to my highest, strongest, best self to step forward and be with me again.

I ran (I run) to become one with that strongest self, to give it room to breathe.  Instead of fleeing, my flight becomes a lift-off, an awakening.  I allow myself to cry as I run sometimes, to sob out the pain that being a parent can bring.  I also sing aloud in abundant joy, and sometimes as a call to arms.  I imagine, once in a while, that there is someone feeling lost, feeling sad, on a trail nearby that I can’t see – that they hear me singing my songs of hope, and that the words feel as if they are being sung for them.  Never give up, never give up, never give up, I sing.  Coming out of the dark, I finally see the light….  We weren’t born to follow, come on, get up off your knees, when life is a bitter pill to swallow, you gotta hold on to what you believe…

I often run the same series of trails, but they are never really the same.  Early in the morning, they are darkish, roots and rocks hidden and requiring care.  In the rain, the trails become muddy.  But not just muddy; there are a multitude of different kinds of mud.  Some is slickly red and forces me to the leaf litter on the side of the trail so I don’t fall down; other mud is dark, thick, and oozy, and fills the cleats in my trail shoes, making me heavy for a few moments; still others mud is thin, watery, splashy.  It all matters; it is all noticeable.  After a strong wind, the trails are littered with small branches from gigantic gum trees, or sometimes entire trees have fallen across the path.  I look upwards at the trees then, and am thankful they fell when no one was present.  Sometimes the sun lifts just above the horizon after I have run for an hour in the pre-dawn – I am lit up golden, and think this is how being born must have felt.  Other days, all is fog and mist; on still others the air is acrid with the smell of a planned burn that has been extinguished.  Animals bolt about, rabbits and wallabies, skinks and goannas  From the tree-tops, kookaburras laugh, and sulfur-crested cockatoos cavort, and sometimes leave me a single white feather to take home.  In summer, I sweat and pant; in autumn the leaves become golden or red or a startling yellow; in winter, I am forced into long sleeves.  Once in a while, I pass a walker or another runner.  One day, in the pouring rain, I saw no one for three-and-a-half hours, then one lone man appeared as if from nowhere.  I said hello, and he looked at me as if I were insane, and then I thought he might be insane, and I ran away down the hill, away from him, whispering under my breath, “Catch me if you can.”  Once in a while, I join other runners and we go shoulder-to-shoulder, talking of nothing, of the runner nonsense which bonds strangers more closely than family.

The fifty kilometres that seemed a “bit over the top”, that started this reflection on why I run so far?  Ah, the Blue Mountains, the North Face 50 race that I’d trained for over the last eight months.  It was not a run; it was a quest.  A way out of the box called family that had kept me in Melbourne for years and years, a kicking down some barriers that I had allowed to be built around me.  Which I had helped build.  Was it over the top?  Of course it was – all great things are.  Because they involve staring down limits, kicking them down, saying limits be damned, I am going to do this.

Running from emotions?  No.  Running towards life.  Towards friendships forged in the most challenging of circumstances.  Towards a self-belief that carries me through the more difficult moments of my life.  Towards nature and my best self.  To suggest those who run far are simply running away is to miss the point entirely.

I do not sit to meditate – it makes my flesh crawl, and makes me picture scary people sneaking up on me.  Instead, I dance in joy or despair or both down the trails of the world.  I allow the movement of my body to bring my soul back from whatever dark place it has wandered off to.  I sing it back to me, breathe it back to me.

Sitting has its place; I do it in the car on the way home, with my music turned up loud and the sweat drying on the back of my neck.