The Trail Running Series, Silvan 2019: sliding in the mud!

‘Watch it there – that’s gotten super-slippery.’ The rain-soaked volunteer gestures to the slick bit of red mud that’s pretending to be a trail.

I glance down. ‘Yes, I see that, thanks!’ I quickly switch over to the side of the track that has a little bit of gravel. The runner behind me slides down through the mud. A second later, we’re on the same grassy hill, both upright. He takes off in front of me, leading the way.

It’s pouring rain and I’m utterly soaked; I couldn’t be wetter if I were swimming in the ocean. I laugh out loud. I follow down the trail as it winds between tall conical trees, splashing downhill in the grass. I open my arms wide in elation, overjoyed at the realness of it all, the rain, the grass, the mud, the movement.

It’s the 15 km medium course of The Trail Running Series, Race #3 at Silvan in the Dandenongs. And I bet it’s the only place in Melbourne on this cold, wet, winter’s morning where you can find hundreds of people laughing and smiling and high-fiving like little kids.

Race Headquarters in the early morning fog

Our race began up a great steep slippery hill. We were like soldiers going into battle, trudging upwards. I was testing some new trail shoes to see how they were in these conditions, so wasn’t confident yet. Choose the grassy edges or the smoother centre red mud? Runners were spread the width of the hill, some power-hiking, a few jogging, most laughing. I went everywhere I didn’t see slip-marks from other runners, criss-crossing the trail, driving up, breath hurting. With 15km there was no need to get out in front. I knew this course well, having run it many times. I waited until the downhill and then opened it up.

Loving the downhills

After four bouts of laser eye surgery to zap the floaters, my eyes are the best they’ve been in years, and though I was still passed downhill my confidence is growing.

Funny how moments go in races. The friendly battles with other runners, going faster up, being passed in the downs. It was less congested than it sometimes is, and I found myself alone a few times, as if it were a solo training run on a Sunday. Lovely to be amongst the trees in the fog. Nothing to think of but pace and foot placement, watching for course markings. Lulled by the rain.

Imagining I’m all alone amid the ferns and gum trees

Until the moment the man behind me asks, “What colour are the course markings for the medium and long courses?” I tell him, then feel a bolt of panic – is he saying there was an intersection? I didn’t see one – did we miss it? My heart thunders. It feels silly and panicky to ask so I don’t, and then I find I’ve left him behind so can’t ask and do panic. So, oh the relief when I see a green ribbon a few minutes later. Phew. Especially because the course has been slightly different this year, routed down an unfamiliar trail.

And so it goes. Passing; being passed. Playing leapfrog with fellow runners. Running by the nests of dragons and not noticing (as below!).

Here there be dragons…

It happens over a fallen tree. I’m climbing over on the left of the tree when a woman decides to climb over on the right, to pass me at the same exact moment. She steps into the only open spot right where I’m about to step and I feel my right calf cramp in protest. “Oh, sorry,” she says, as if she’s just realised she’s broken a trail rule (Don’t pass where it’s Dumb to pass, rule #849). “It’s ok,” I lie as she runs off.

My calf relaxes but I’m suddenly angry. Really? She had to pass me right there and not in the other 15km of the course? I study her from behind, memorise her hair and outfit, and paint a (perhaps unfair and grumpy) target on her back. See you before the finish, I think to myself.

I put the emotion away, and run on. Hugged by trees, shoes sinking into the mud. Joy and joy and fast-flowing down challenging trails and my body at 53 still able to do this well, my vision good and I’m agile again. We climb and climb until finally we turn onto the red clay downhill next to the fence: my nemesis. I’m better than previous years but it’s slippery so I’m cautious. Passed by a few people. Let them go. I know we’re coming to my favourite bit.

We hit the dirt road two kilometres from the finish and I put my foot down. Zoom-zoom like my Mazda! Ha! There she is – the girl from the tree incident! In my sights. I floor it, chase her like she’s the prey and I’m the big bad wolf! Fly by her for no real reason but it feels sooo good. I pass a few others who passed me on the technical downhills and give a silent cheer.

I’m burning out my legs with the pace and I pretend to myself that this road leads right to the finish, like I do every year, and every year, it breaks my heart when we turn right into more single track. Passing/passed, legs burning, stepping not jumping over little tree trunks. I hear cheering, see the car park, the finish cones, I go go go, forget everyone, then I hear someone cheer my name and I smile hugely, then Chris And Ella shout me too and I run to high-five them just after I cross the line.

Pouring rain at the finish
High-five that made my day!

The race photographer stops me to chat about my run and blog, but I’m frozen in my singlet and I can’t speak properly, slurring my words with the cold. Embarrassing and funny, all at once.

I grab my wind cheater from the bag check and then stand around listening to the man playing guitar and singing.  The rain is cold but I don’t really feel it as I squish and slide in the mud back to my car. In the Ladies, several of us women change at once and we chat while not meeting eyes, talking frozen nonsense while we battle our way out of soaked clothing.  I morphe back into a soccer mom with eighteen layers and wool-lined hiking boots.

Hiding under marquees, waiting for presentations, several people mistake me for staff and question me about the Surfcoast Century. I kind of feel like staff so I answer their questions.

Standing in the mud and rain in my eighteen layers, warm in the freezing cold, I listen to the live guitar and the great singer. I’m alone for a while, so I can just stand and observe. Everywhere, people are laughing and smiling, pride showing on the faces of parents, friends hugging, people standing close and talking. A small miracle how this little place in the woods brings out the smiles and camaraderie.

Presentations are smaller then usual with the cold conditions but I’m delighted to get third in my age category, and to see Dean Jackson take first in his.

It’s hard to put into words what these events have meant to me. They led me to the woods when I first returned to Australia, when I was too afraid to run solo in the Dandenongs. Now these woods feel like home to me. I know the courses like an old friend, and love them in all their many moods, from sun to wind to rain.

I didn’t slip and fall in the mud. And yet I did. It was two weeks back: I’d anxiously been awaiting an email from a literary agent for my new book. It didn’t come. No message equaled no interest. Knowing that was likely to happen did not lesson the blow.

But I anticipated it, just like I might anticipate slipping in the mud. The Friday before, I emailed my book designer and asked them to get started on a cover: I was going to self-publish again. Because within me, like within every runner out there on Sunday, there’s a person who doesn’t back down just because it’s cold and rainy and winter and the agents and publishers don’t like my book enough to take a risk.

I’ll take the risk and the falls and the puddles and the mud, because that’s who I am. That’s who we are.

I’m delighted to share with you the cover of my next book. The design was completed yesterday.

I’m sure I’ll take some falls along the way in this publishing game, just as I did on my first two books. But in the end, you’ve got to enter the race, stick with it even in the rain and wind and mud, and soak up all the joy along the way. I’m aiming to have it out in mid-October 2019. And yes, one of the main characters does love to run in the Dandenongs!

Which cover for my new book??

After a long and agonising wait from both agents and publishers, and the echoing silence as I shout, ‘would you please publish my terrific book’, I’ve decided to publish it myself. Would you like to help choose the cover?

It’s a novel, called Dog Park Days. It’s a book about belonging, and how we make our place in what can be a hard world. I’d love some help to choose between two compelling covers designed by Working Type (Luke Harris), who also did the cover for Akilina, my first novel. Here they are – I’ll call them 1, and 2:

Here’s the back cover blurb (very first draft) so you can see what it’s about:

None of them knows how it feels to belong.

Victoria is new to Australia, and at 52, has forgotten how to make friends.  Except with dogs.  She’s great with dogs.

Thomas, 23, lives in his car and is trying to avoid a life of crime. But local dog thieves have other ideas for him.

Lucy, also 23, knows she should dump her boyfriend.  Her flatmates know it.  Even her rescue puppy agrees.

When their lives intersect at a local dog park, these three strangers might finally find a place to belong.

But first they must defeat the dog thieves, and to do that, they must bring an entire community together.

A heart-warming novel about Australia, destiny and dogs

(and a little bit of crime).

Which is your favourite?

If you don’t want to post an answer on WordPress, just drop me an email at

I’d love to hear your opinion!

Big book give-away at Salomon Trail Series Anglesea 2015

Rocket fuel for the soul.

Rocket fuel for the soul.

So we’re all ready to run a fantastic trail race down at Anglesea this weekend, right? I’ve got a surprise for you – finishers in the Salomon Trail Series Race 4 will be handed a free copy of my first book (well, every third finisher across the finish line)!

I’m going for the medium course myself, 14.6k of trail goodness that I cannot wait to re-visit.  Some of you are going longer – much, much longer.  As in 100 km in the Surfcoast Century, or 50km, or working in a relay team and doing more than a half-marathon on these same trails.

Others (and some of the same from Saturday) will join me for Race 4 of the Salomon Trail Series, with distances ranging from the long course (22.7km), the medium (14.6 km) and the short (and speedy 7.6km).

Here’s the thing: when the Salomon Trail Series came along several years ago, it came at a time when I really needed it.  I had moved to Melbourne from Hong Kong with two young children.  In Hong Kong, I had fallen in love with Adventure Racing and trail running, losing myself in the mountains around that vast city several times a week, and thus finding myself.

But in Melbourne, I didn’t know the woods.  I didn’t know if it was safe for a woman to venture there alone and in my new circle of moms, there were no trail runners.  I was bereft; I missed my woods and trails.  I missed the sense of freedom I had found in Hong Kong alone in the wilderness.  I looked and looked for Adventure Races and trail runs, but couldn’t find what I was looking for.

Then one day, I saw the first mention of the Salomon Trail Series.  I think the slogan back then was “Bitumen is Boring”, which made me giggle aloud.  I signed up for the series of races within moments.  I’ve done so every year since.

Those races saved my life.  I had fallen into post-natal, post-immigrant, learn-how-to-cook-and-be-mom-after-expat-life depression.  Life was dark.  Really dark.  I couldn’t find my way out of it.  But suddenly, after the first series of races, I could see some light; I knew I could save myself back on the trails.

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Those first races, I drove out alone, navigating in the dark, getting lost, getting found.  I played Bon Jovi loud on the car stereo and sang songs about hope and freedom.  I climbed mountains and ran single-tracks, tripped and fell and skinned my knees, dusted myself off again, and came back the next year, and the next.  I re-learned how to drive, where the roads go, how to be alone with myself.  I found my voice and my writing again.

Over time, I began to know faces, then names.  I joined a relay team for the Surfcoast Century and ran further than I’d ever run before.  On Facebook, I found a community of runners who I could meet for longer runs, and I discovered that I could run safely alone in the Dandenongs, using the trail series trails, and maps from other trail races I ran.  My world opened back up again.

This year has been a year of injury and recovery.  Sadly, I have only managed the first race of the series, with the short 5k option at Studley Park being my longest run in months.  The elation I felt in being back out there is hard to put into words.  Travel to New York to say farewell to a relative meant I missed out on Plenty Gorge, and my 20th wedding anniversary meant Olinda was out too.  But I watched you all run the trails in photos and Facebook feeds, and felt the elation, the pain, the thrill.

I’ve built up very gradually from injury to manage a 15k run two weeks ago in the Dandenongs, and given myself the green light to complete the medium course in Anglesea this weekend – hooray!

I will be forever grateful to the Salomon Trail Series organisers and sponsors for showing me the way out of the dark, back to the trails I love.  I want to give something back to the trail community, and it seems fitting to make the give-away happen at a Rapid Ascent event.

So I’ve decided to give away 400 copies of my first book, In Pursuit of Joy: Life Lessons from Exhilaration.  Rapid Ascent and Salomon have teamed up to get the book down to Anglesea, and will be handing it out at the finish line of the Salomon Trail Series Race 4 on Sunday.  I believe their plan is to hand one to every 3rd finisher, so watch out for the bright orange book coming your way.

I hope you enjoy this gift from the trail.  The stories I share in the book are ones from my world of sport that shaped me, and the lessons that they taught me.  Please follow my blog for more news about my third book, which is shaping up as I type.  This one will be another novel – about adventure, of course, running, most certainly, and life-changing through trail racing.

See you on the trails this weekend if you are headed down to Anglesea – give me a high-five or shout-out if you are following my blog.  I’d love to say hello!

Runner’s World Magazine: oh my!

Waiting in the schoolyard for my kids, I heard the distant sound of church bells.  How pretty, I thought.  As always, I’d forgotten that was the ring tone of my cell phone, and it chimed away in the distant reaches of my handbag until I remembered.  Too late to catch the call, I studied the number I didn’t recognise, and quickly called voicemail before the bell rang for school dismissal.

It turned out to be Adele from Rapid Ascent, the race organisers of the Salomon Trail Series (amongst other massively wonderful events).  They were calling to let me know they’d put my name forward to Runner’s World Magazine, based on my blog about their races, for the “What it takes to…” section.

Runner's World magazine, published by Rodale s...

Runner’s World magazine, published by Rodale since 1971 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Say what?!  I was just reading that section, poring over the photos and the details of these real people overcoming amazing obstacles to do life-affirming things through running.  I was going to appear there, amongst them?  Really?

My smile stretched ear-to-ear and I felt like dancing a little jig in the schoolyard.  I didn’t because I already feel a bit of a freak there, imagining the other moms saying, in soft whispers, behind their hands, there goes that mom who is always running, what’s wrong with her?  Why does she run so much?  So I did the jig inside, and then told a few good friends the exciting news.

Here’s the thing:  I’ve been thinking, and planning, and thinking, and wondering where to go next in this great big wild adventure that has been my mission (career seems too little and limiting a word for what I do).  Should I be doing more coaching? Go back to Personal Training?  Teach BodyPump or stop?  Write the next book, and if so, should it be a memoir (too revealing) or fiction (possible but it would be a memoir anyway with character names substituted for real names)?  What could I do to earn a bit more money to support our family?  Organisational Psychology jobs on LinkedIn make my blood run cold, and no one seemed to be advertising for a maverick with a short attention span who didn’t like to be bossed.  Hmm.  What to do?

I’ve always believed that the world opens the doors that are meant to open for us, but only once we’ve been banging against them for a really long time.  I’m not really into the “send the message to the Universe and then wait around” school of thought, because you can be waiting around for a very long time, with lots of other sad people who were once filled with hope.

So I’ve been banging against lots of doors, throwing pebbles at windows, digging under fences, doing all I can do make this mission of mine bear fruit.  From blogging and speaking, Twitter and Facebook, standing on a stage dripping sweat and lifting weights with groups of twenty-five, I’ve been doing everything I can to “prime the pump”, as Zig Ziglar used to say.  My work all has the same aim, that of inspiring others.  Helping them live up to all they can be.

I get scared sometimes.  Of course I do.  The questions come late at night or after reading an unforgiving review of someone else.  How can he/she/they think they are inspiring, that little evil voice goes.  How can you?

Shut up, I say in my head.


Funny, just as I was writing this, I hit a brain freeze…

And still.  A few moments later.  It won’t go away.

Funny how when you give the inner gremlins an inch, they take a mile.  They stop fingers from moving on keyboards and play a sad, lonely song in our heads.

Shut up already.


So…when Runner’s World emailed me this morning (a few days had gone by since the initial phone call, and I’d started thinking maybe I wasn’t going to be in the magazine after all), asking for a few more details, suburb, occupation, well, I nearly jumped for joy.

If I can inspire one person to get up, to run a trail they would not otherwise have run, I count my career as a success.  I count my mission as having been achieved.

What do I do next?  For me, it is always the next.  It is very hard to be present with success because I’m always thinking what’s next.  So here’s what’s next:  keep banging on doors, writing what flows freely with abundance, shouting my message through whatever medium is available.


That word just popped into my head.  It sometimes turns up in songs when I teach BodyPump or in literature that I am lost within.  It always makes me itchy, angry, jittery.  It always makes me want to kick something over.

Here’s the thing:  limits are there until we jump over them.  Once we do, they turn to us, and, with a shrug of their skinny little shoulders, they walk away.  They disappear, as if they were never there in the first place.

Runner’s World Magazine.  Who would have thought!

Salomon Trail Series 2012: Anglesea Race, smiling all the way

Salomon Trail Series 2012: Anglesea Race, smiling all the way

Oh…and this weekend is the race that started this amazing journey: the Surfcoast Century 100km.  This year, it falls on the same day as my son’s most important soccer tournament, so I have to miss out.

But the next day is the 15km Anglesea Race which is part of the same Salomon Trail Series.  I’ll be kicking up my heels in joy at that one, and thinking about the days when the limit of my longest run was 10km.

Runner’s World Online

Rapid Ascent and the Salomon Trail Series

I get knocked down…and I fight back.

My blog today has two parts: one that concerns getting into the arena when we may well lose.  The other concerns violence on the trail, and our response.

Part 1.  Ever had this happen?  You throw your hat into the arena, say, “please, choose me”,  and everyone involved says “nope, not this time”.  It’s happened to me a few times recently.  I volunteered to be interviewed for a fitness magazine about motivation and running: nope.  Be interviewed as part of the North Face 50km Race: nope.  Be a race ambassador for the Salomon Bitumen is Boring Series: nope.

I get knocked down; we all do.  When the “nope” arrives, it always shakes me for a bit, makes me doubt myself, wonder if I am trying to do something hopeless in my mission to inspire others.  Maybe I’m not good at this.  Maybe no one even cares.  Like the water going down a drain, there is a deep, deep vortex-like pull that threatens to pull me down with it.

I only let myself sit with these feelings for a very short while: disappointment, anger, sorrow.  All black and negative.

Then I dust myself off and go for a run.  Sing the songs aloud that make me believe in myself.  Today I ran 15k along my favorite coastal track.  My feet were fast, my Inov-8 shoes gripping like claws, pulling me along.  I had tucked a gel into the waistband of my running tights.  I saved it until 45 minutes in, and by then it had warmed up, and flowed smoothly, a wonderful hit of sugar, and I flew through the last half of the run, doing 100 metre strides towards the end, hitting my fastest pace in ages.

By the time I got home, I’d forgotten all about the disappointment.  I’d run to a better place.  A place where I can see with absolute certainty that, if the door does not open, it is not meant to.  I am someone who has always carved my own trail.  Perhaps linking myself to one event is not where I am meant to go.  Perhaps I was too darn inspiring and the race organisers and magazine editors thought I’d swamp the event/magazine with my positivity.  Or – perhaps here’s the real truth – they didn’t select me, because they can’t know me.  They can’t know the battles I’ve faced, the challenges I’ve overcome.  Some battles are deeply personal, they involve others, and to share them would be unfair.  So to say “select me to tell my story” becomes rather difficult.  Some stories are private.

So instead of being a race ambassador, I am a running ambassador.  My mission is to show through my own action that what we consider impossible one day, the next day can become possible.  Even, well, easy.  Last year, I couldn’t begin to contemplate running twenty kilometres.  This year, that is a kind of short training run.

My message:  I get knocked down.  But that’s only because I keep stepping into the arena.  I’ll keep stepping in anyway.  Because I know I’ll always, always get back up again.

That’s what running has taught me; to get back up again.

Part 2.  Here’s the other battle I’ve been fighting.  Last Monday at 3 pm, a woman was sexually assaulted on my favorite trail.  She was pulled into the woods, and, with the help of a passer-by, managed to fight off her attacker.  The man ran away.  He has not been caught.  I run this trail alone three times a week.

I was frightened; I am frightened.  But, more deeply, I was furious, furious that this woman had been attacked simply because she walked alone; I pray she is healing.  But my fury went deeper.  I was outraged that this trail was now a dangerous place.  This safe soul-place where I find my peace of mind had been violated.  I debated whether to run on Tuesday; I couldn’t sleep Monday night thinking of ways to repel a violent attack.  After a long debate, I found a small bottle of insect repellant (I know, I don’t have pepper spray or anything, but I thought this would do in a pinch), and carried it with my finger on the spray nozzle for ten kilometres, ready to spray it into an attackers face if necessary.  I was tight as a spring, incredibly tense and jumpy, looking behind every rock and tree, ready to pounce on the man if he appeared.  I got to my lookout, the one pictured,

Red Bluff

Soul Place

where I often stand to gather my “chi” and the feeling of violation was immense – the woman had been attacked right near this spot. I stood there alone, and said these words: “Evil be gone.  This is a soul place.  You cannot  have this place.  Evil be gone.”  

It was a strange moment.  I felt those words coming from a deep place in me, a place that was outraged that our freedom should be threatened, that our places of beauty damaged.  I didn’t even know those words were in me.

I ran on down the trail, and every now and then, I repeated the words.  It was almost like I was cleansing the trail for all the women who would run and walk it later.  I was so angry I was close to tears.  I didn’t see any boogeymen, and there were other women out there walking and running, some with headphones, some alert and cautioning me not to run where the attack happened.

And so we have  choice.  Do we fear, do we give up our freedom, do we give into the darkness?  I have run my trail three times since, vigilant, fast and alert.  I notice that all the women runners I speak with feel as I do – they’d almost like to meet this man to give him a good hard kick, and make him go away.

There are many battles we face.  As you meet yours, I wish you courage in the face of darkness, light to give you hope, and fast feet to ignite your belief in yourself if it ever fades.

Laughter and Decisions and What About Now

Tonight we read “The Bad Book” by Andy Griffiths for my son’s bedtime story.  He just turned nine, and I am re-discovering all the awful, hysterical humor that goes with that age.  But the story that made me burst out into soul-filling, loud, raucous laughter – the very best one of all – was called something like, “Bad Mummy and the Very Hungry Lion”.

Every mom I know has these days, where she goes, “I’m the worst mom ever, because I…” and you can fill in the blank with shouted, smacked, made a bad dinner, forgot the groceries, forgot to pack school lunch, forgot about the excursion…”

The list goes on and on (and on).  I do it to myself, when my lovely children say those cutting words, “I want a different family.”  How do they know the words that hurt most?  Like blades, they are.

Anyway, reading about Bad Mummy and the Very Hungry Lion kind of put it all into perspective.  Then there was Bad Mummy and the Very High Cliff.  You get the drift.

My son and I had tears in our eyes we were laughing so hard.

And laughter, after a difficult decision of reducing my race distance from 43km to 21km for my upcoming Roller Coaster Run this Saturday, that laughter was like salve on a burn.

Suddenly, the world is okay again.  And I just cleaned the kitchen to Bon Jovi’s new song, “What About Now” and woke up to the fact that I’ve got a lot to say, and I’m the only one who can say it.  So I’m going to get to work on the two books I’ve had on hold for a little while.

Because maybe there is someone out there who needs my books just as much as I needed The Bad Book tonight.

What about now, indeed!

Adventures on the trail from 2012 – what a great year it has been!

I was reflecting on goals last week, having bought my 2013 Mi Goals Diary, having a look back at what I said I wanted to have happen by the end of 2012, and what actually did.

My number one goal was to get my second book, Akilina: Out of the Woods, online.

Order Patricia A Bowmer's compelling new novel today on or as a paperback or eBook.

My second book, Akilina: Out of the Woods

But what I really wanted to achieve was to sell 10,000 books.  Somewhere in the course of the year, I upped this number to 3,000,000, just to choose a random, huge figure.  Did I achieve that?  Well, I got my book online, on, but, sadly, my US bank account, where I’m meant to get paid for the millions of books I’ve sold, is not accepting money.  So good thing I didn’t quite hit the 3,000,000 mark.  But I’m mighty pleased at how well the book has done, at the media profile it helped me generate, at the talks I got to do for Southern FM radio and appearing at the Bayside Literary Festival on a really scary stage.  For book club talks, and talks to writing groups, and talking to friends in the school playground, and forming a blog that seems to inspire others.

I think it is so important to celebrate what goes well.  Luke, of Chameleon Designs, did a fantastic cover and interior design for the book, and was helpful in finding me an e-book designer, so I could sell that way too.

Goal 2 – get my coaching business started again.  I was a coach for ten years before we moved back to Melbourne, but I’d taken some time out to raise my young children.  I wasn’t sure about going back to it after all this time, and I sort of forgot about this goal in all the book excitement.  But I did it in the end, with the help of the lovely business cards designed by (you guessed it!) Luke, of Chameleon Designs.  I completed a coaching course in the middle of the year, to remind me of why I coach, to see if I was still good at it, and to test whether I wanted to do it again.  It was with great delight that I welcomed my first clients again towards the end of 2012.  It was like coming home again to a skill set that is really who I am.

One of my other big goals, which I’d forgotten I’d even written was to “complete a series of personal and spiritual adventures”.  I’m not even sure what I meant by this, as I didn’t add the specific detail, other than to tick the categories of adventure, health/fitness, and travel.  Well.  This one I nailed.  It began with the Run Melbourne 10km race.

Run Melbourne

Just after Run Melbourne

Granted, travel was only by train to Melbourne, but it is always an adventure when my family meets me for a race.  And the joy of running fast on bitumen when I’d been training solely on twisty trails – well, I loved it!

Shortly after this was the Salomon Trail Series run by Rapid Ascent.  What tremendous joy it brings me, remembering the four races of that series.  Studley Park, close to suburbia, but a world away.

Studley Park with a new friend hot on my tail!

Studley Park with a new friend hot on my tail!

Plenty Gorge, where we were meant to cross some flooded rivers, but instead waded through a world of mud.

Plenty Gorge Race

Plenty Gorge Race

Silvan Reservoir, the hills that took my breath away but gave it back in exhilarating downhill.

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Oh, and meeting Scott and Ben and Chris and Adam and Dan and Stu, who would become Team Inspiration, as well as friends.  Together, we lived the greatest adventure of all, the Surfcoast Century Ultramarathon, that 100km monster that four of us tackled as a relay team, and finished.  That was the beginning of Team Inspiration, which just keeps growing, our mission to inspire others to get out there and live life.  After the Surfcoast Century, some of us tackled the last race in the Salomon Trail Series the next day at Anglesea, just to finish it off.

Team Inspiration: Dan, Patricia, Ben and Scott

Team Inspiration: Dan, Patricia, Ben and Scott

My leg of the Surfcoast Century, 21 km along the beach from Anglesea to Torquay

My leg of the Surfcoast Century, 21 km along the beach from Anglesea to Torquay

Anglesea Race, smiling all the way

Anglesea Race, smiling all the way

I sorrowed when that series ended, hit the expected down that comes after huge work and highs.  So I quickly signed up for the Marysville Half-Marathon, and felt my pulse lift again, and in November, I found my friends again two-and-a-half hours from the city, in the woods and near the waterfall.  Scott, Ben and Claire all competed in this one, and again, my family braved the long, wonderful day out.

Happily running in the Marysville Half-Marathon.  Thanks for the photo!

Happily running in the Marysville Half-Marathon. Thanks for the photo!

And then, just when I thought the year was wrapped up, we finally gained a swimmer for Team Inspiration and were able to complete the Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne, a relay event for our team with Mick swimming, Warren kayaking, me running and Ben mountain biking.  And yes, my family came along again.  We got up at 4:15 am to get to the start on time!

Me, Ben, Warren and Mick of Team Inspiration at the Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne

Me, Ben, Warren and Mick of Team Inspiration at the Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne

To say it has been a big year is an understatement.  It is a year in which I came alive again, a year when I drew a line in the sand, and reminded myself this is my one and only glorious life, and I had to grab it with both hands and live it.

Some of the adventures were smaller and more intimate, but rewarding in a different way.  Hikes in the Dandenong Ranges with my family, boogie boarding in Ocean Grove, holding my husband’s hand as we sat at Fairfield Park Boat House, on an “adventure date”.  And making a Princes Castle Cake for my 7-year-old daughter.  Cheering my son onto his soccer final, and watching him save goal after goal, to win the championship.  Oh, and adopting two kittens.

Baby Jake

Baby Jake

Baby Jessica

Baby Jessica

It has been an immense year, full of joy, challenge, sometimes heartbreak, and most often exhilaration.  I will be winding down, as we all are this time of year.  For me, the end of the year is a time to reap of the joy we have sown, and to plant the seeds we want to grow next year.

So here’s to 2013 – bring it on!

Biggest Strength

“For the icebreaker activity, find a partner, and try to discover their biggest strength.”

Heaven help me. I’m here in the city, tongue-tied, at a meeting of the College of Organisational Psychologists. The theme is Coaching Skills. I’ve been a coach for twelve years, I tell myself in my head. I am a registered psychologist.  So how come, when Martin and I begin talking, I blurt out, “My biggest strength is I can do lots of push-ups.” I want to sink into the floor.
“How many?” he asks.
I pause. “I don’t know. I’ve not tested myself lately. Fifty, maybe?”
Where do we go from here? I wonder.
He says he’s not going to enter a push-up contest with me. We both smile.
I ask him of his work as an organisational psychologist, and I ponder the path I left in 1999. All around me, there is talk of selection tests, performance management, leadership. It is my world, yet it is not my world.

When the time comes for Martin to introduce me to the group, the first thing he mentions is I teach BodyPump. Heads turn, a murmur fills the room. They are surprised too. I smile and nod.

What I am really thinking is: I don’t belong here. Just like at the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychologists meeting in Montreal when I was still in graduate school, pursuing a Ph.D. My claim to fame at that event was not my research, but the fact that I won the women’s 5k race. There weren’t many women psychologists who ran.

At this event here in Melbourne, I shift uncomfortably in my seat. How do I explain who I am, what I do, to this group? I stumble over the words in my head. I am an inspirer, my Facebook Page says. I’ve written books. I coach. I speak. And yes, I teach BodyPump, three times this week in fact. Because BodyPump allows me to say what I came here to say: you are more than you think you are. And I can prove it to you. Come, lift this barbell, do this push-up, yes, on your toes, prove it to yourself. This is not theory. This is not talking about exercise adherence or motivation. This is front-line stuff, sweat and guts and tears. How do I explain about adventure racing and the woods, and how they informed my writing, how my books take people into the dark to show them the way back to the light?

We sit in the room on Queens Street in Melbourne, and talk about motivation theory. Self-determination. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The speakers are passionate but their words don’t resonate in me. Not like the words scapular retraction and rotator cuff. Not like the words mountain biking, trail run, boogie board.  I listen, and wait, reflect on similar lectures back in New York City a lifetime ago.

Then we come to the coaching section, where I coach, with another participant observing. This frightens me, being observed. What if I am awful? What if I’ve forgotten how to coach? But when we begin, the person I am coaching somehow opens. The observer is there, but I’ve forgotten him. I become absolutely involved in this woman’s problem, in hearing her, in searching for the threads of her speech which contain her answer. She is effusive, hands waving, voice lifted, eyes shining. At one point, I stop her. “So this new work, this is like your dream, then?” Our eyes meet. I see tears in hers. “Yes, it is my dream.”

In that moment, I know I am in the right room, the right profession. Theory informs; I am here simply to gain some extra theory to underpin my work, to provide an extra scaffold on which to hang my questions.

But beneath that, I am here to remind myself who I am, what I do. Someone asks me later if I’ll be drawn more into work as an organisational psychologist. I look away. I will always be a maverick, wearing more than one hat, shifting and changing, hard to still. “No, I don’t think so”, I reply, after a long pause.  In my head, I’m realising that I’ve carved out an ideal path, the path that lines up perfectly with who I am.

At the end of the workshop, I tell the woman I have coached I’d like to continue to ponder her problem – it bothers me that we haven’t had time to fully address it tonight. She looks surprised. “You do this because you really love it.”
“Yes,” I say. “I do.”

At a crossroads

As I prepared my talk for the book signing last weekend, I had the chance to contemplate why I wrote Akilina: Out of the Woods.  At first, I thought I would tell everyone about myself, then about how Akilina came to be.  I ran through the talk aloud a few times, but though the words were all true,  something was wrong in the telling of it.

It wasn’t as if I had created this book — it was more like this book had created me.

One day, in 2003, I’d sat down in Starbucks on Caine Road in Hong Kong, as I often did.  Staring out the window at the traffic, at the people hustling by, I contemplated my path.  Then I opened my notebook and began writing.  I was “practicing” my writing, going deep inside to write about what I was feeling, but writing about it in the third person (she was feeling this, she was feeling that).  I only wrote one page that day.  It was about a woman who was alone at the end of a trail, who didn’t know where to go next.

That woman was me.

You see, I’d created a successful personal training business in Hong Kong, was known as an inspiring BodyPump instructor, and was meeting everyone’s needs but my own.  For years, I’d worked to combine the physical and mental nature of my work — I was both a psychologist and a personal trainer, but somehow, I had lost the psychology side of my work.  This was my crossroads.  I didn’t know where to go next, how to continue my quest to inspire large numbers of people, while being true to both of my passions.

So I began to write about it.  To write myself out of it.  I wrote of dreams I’d had, frightening experiences, uplifting experiences.  I wrote of what I knew — running in the woods, scrambling up waterfalls, facing down my darker side and learning how to let it works it’s power in positive ways.  I wrote to free myself from where I’d gotten stuck.  And I wrote to free others, by sharing what being stuck felt like.  To figure out how to break free.

I wrote the first draft of my book in three months, and then we adopted our children.  Having tiny babies, I suddenly saw just how self-absorbed the heroine in my novel was — perhaps how self-absorbed I had been myself — and rewrote the book to turn around the fate of a baby lost in the woods.  As my babies grew, my book grew.   It began as a 90-page novella and ended as a 364 page novel.

Reading the final draft before sending it to the printer, I saw that this book was all I was — hugely physical, a combination of dark and light, with a large dose of self-doubt and what I hoped was a larger dose of courage.

The book complete, I looked around myself, and realised I was no longer stuck.  Through my writing, I had forged a new path for myself, as coach, writer, and inspirer.

So to tell you how I came to write Akilina is really to tell you how I came to write my own life.  Now, a mother of two, a wife, content at the place I have reached, at the ability to once again motivate both mind and body, I see this novel for what it was: a pathway forward.

What I hope, when I look deepest within myself, is that this book forges pathways forward for all who read it.  Sometimes, when readers approach me with a certain look in their eyes, a look which says, thank you, now I feel less alone, I feel I have achieved this.  Helped them find their path again, as writing this book helped me find my own.

Photo shoot for Bayside Literary Festival


In two hours, I am scheduled to be photographed with a group of writers for the Bayside Literary Festival.  Imposter Syndrome is hitting hard!  Yes, I am a writer.  Yes, I’ve published two books.  Written for newspapers and magazines and talked on the radio.

And yet…

First of all, I’m not sure what to wear.  That’s me up above…that’s what I wear in real life…when I’m doing my true passion, adventure racing  And that’s the passion that has driven my writing — the link between physical and mental, between body and soul.  I suppose I’ll have to go in gym gear, but does this undermine the serious nature of my work?  I tried getting dressed up in “smart casual” clothes for a Bayside Business Network meeting.  I looked the part, but I felt a stranger to myself.  Luckily, I don’t own any high heels, so I couldn’t make the mistake of wearing those.  By nature, I move fast.  I’m like the kids in the playground at school who run everywhere they go.  I can’t do that in heels.  And I have to ride my bike to the photoshoot.  So gym gear it is.  At least that’s decided.

I’ll tell you the truth.  My real dread is not the clothes.  My real dread is that someone will say something about grammer — like that time someone in my writing group said, “he uses too many adverbs”, and my mind went kerchunk and I was back in High School English, bored to tears, and writing stories in the margins of my notebook as the teacher discussed that horrible little white grammar book that still sends shivers up my spine when I see it in writing sections in bookstores.  I love words, shaping sentences to convey meaning — I just don’t want to box my sentences in with rules.  I want them to run free, and wild, and a little out of control.  Like me, I suppose.  So yes, worrying about grammer is giving me the shivers too.

An aside.  I submitted a book to a writing center for feedback once.  The editor, the critic, the bearer of scary english-teacher words stalled my work.  I had handed over my power, asked if the work was good enough and when she said no, I ran away trembling for a year.  I think we’re all afraid our work is not good enough.  But somewhere we have to draw a line in the sand.  Do the absolute best we can.  Then become that kid who says, “Yes it is!” when the critic says, “No it’s not.”  Because is the end, saying nothing is worse than saying it a little wrong.

Back to the photoshoot.  The smile for the camera thing is worrying me too.  I can climb a mountain, scramble up a waterfall, abseil down a rockface.  But I can’t smile on cue.  My face re-arranges itself into some strange shape, that I think should resemble a smile, but when I see the photo it doesn’t.  I want the photographer to hide out in the woods, to catch me on the trail, where I’m lost in the heart of the moment, and the smile is coming from deep inside.

Well, here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to wear my gym clothes, ride my bike fast into the wind, let the wind blow away all these scary thoughts.  Then I’m going to go have this photo taken of me exactly as I feel in that particular moment.  I think people come to me for authenticity.   Not for grammar.  For guts.  Time to find them again.

Funny how the little things can be scarier than the big ones!



Ah, the irony — all the other authors seemed just as nervous as I was.  And the most nervous of us all?  The photographer!  She had a new camera that she wasn’t sure how to work.  I’ll post the good photos when I get my hands on them…