I’m running down the wide gravel bike trail, feeling nearly airborne. It’s been years since I’ve run this fast, years since it hasn’t hurt. Flying, I pass the runners who left me behind on the steep uphill, as well as the ones who blew by me on the rough downhill. I don’t mean to pass them. I’m simply running free for the first time in two years.
Still, we’re only four kilometers into the 21k Marysville Half-Marathon, and I think to check my pace. I gasp: I’m running a 4:10 kilometer! My training pace varies from 5:30 for my fast intervals, to 8:30 on the steep hills. What in God’s name am I doing, running this fast! I tell myself to slow down, to conserve my energy for the many kilometers to come.
But I don’t; not right away.
I continue to run just as fast as I can because it feels so tremendously – so life-affirmingly – good.
There’s a lot of water under this bridge.
I’m 49 years old. At the top end of my 40-49 year age category. I began this category Adventure Racing in Hong Kong, a lifetime ago. Now, nearly ten years later, I’m back in Australia, and my passion is trail running. It’s been good to me.
But since 2013, since my last Marysville Marathon Festival, in fact, I’ve been injured in various ways. I hurt my knee the week after the marathon, then my ankle, then my foot. I had a bit of surgery to remove a dodgy vein in the middle of all that, and thought I thought all had healed, it hadn’t. I ended up with a severe case of Plantar Faschiitis, and a damaged Posterior Tibialis.
After doing the 2015 Roller Coaster 21k Run in March, I took a break. Though I completed that race, I did it the hard way, in pain most of the way, and just dragging myself over the finish line.
Since, I’ve cross-trained, rehab-ed, grown stronger, and hopefully grown smarter. And I’d set my sights on Marysville for my comeback run. On the way, I had the joy of the Salomon Trail Series in the middle of the season, where I did a 5k as well as a 15k race, loving both, feeling my strength and speed return.
Marysville though, felt elusive. Things kept hurting as I went longer, until about two weeks before the race. Then, during a 20k solo training run in the Dandenongs, I felt it all come together. My gluts woke up (ha, funny the way runners talk!), and I found myself running with much shorter, faster, powerful strides.
But in the clever way I have of adding a stir to the pot just when it is setting and cooking nicely, I decided to bring home a new puppy three weeks before Marysville. So what, I hear you say. What does a puppy have to do with a half-marathon?
Well, here’s the thing. If you read my last blog, you know that I wasn’t afraid of running this time. I was afraid of driving! (See https://patriciaabowmer.wordpress.com/2015/11/05/the-long-road-to-marysville-half-marathon-2015/
The puppy meant my husband and children weren’t coming; he wasn’t driving. I was.
Turns out my fear of the drive was well-founded. I missed the first major turn off of East-Link and drove through a strange, long tunnel I didn’t even know existed, practically crying, as I thought I’d never find my way back. I talked to myself aloud all the way through that tunnel, telling myself it would be ok, I’d find my way back, and I did.
The trip to Marysville, though, involves a two-hour drive for me, with the last 15k of that on a single-lane twisty-turny terrifying mountain road. That was the bit I was most worried about. I did ok. But still, cars backed up behind me, tailgating, forcing me faster than my confidence allowed, and I was often too scared to even pull over to let them pass. When I did, I would count one, two, three, maybe ten cars go by, and then I’d pull back on the road to drive alone for a while. But I made it there, with white hands from gripping the steering wheel so tightly!
The actual race I remember in the moments.
The flying downhill at the bike trail; Red Hill being just as horrible and painful as I remembered from the Marathon in 2013; passing and being passed by the same three or four people again and again.
There was the mean woman, who when I politely asked to pass, snarled at me and said, “Sure, you can pass”, saying clearly, “if you are able to” and being unwilling to let me by on the rough single track where passing without her stepping slightly aside was impossible. That saddened me; that doesn’t tend to happen in these friendly country races, that degree of nasty competitiveness. We all want to run our own pace; I always let people by, stepping to the side, knowing the joy in moving at one’s own best on whatever terrain we can.
Forget her, though.
There was the delight of children cheering me through by the oval, and my ability to run up the steep road (short stride, gluts firing, power in me I’d forgotten), and the utter joy when we turned off into the woods, unlike the first year I’d run here, when we ran all the way up the road to the falls.
Coming back on the road, steep uphill, fighting to keep running, being told how well I was doing by others, pushing and pushing, knowing the top was coming soon, then the turn-off to the waterfall, stopping a moment to gaze at the water flowing, to say a quiet, I love you to the waterfall, because I was just so thrilled to have made it there.
The last 3k to the finish line. The downhill gravel track, where two years ago, my feet were hurting so badly I could barely run, where I just couldn’t wait for it to be over.
Today…God, today. My white singing hour of joy. I flew down that trail. My feet found their way. Nothing hurt. Not my knee or my foot or my ankle. I had plenty left in the tank. I felt unstoppable and alive and young and free.
There was a final stretch through the woods. After being surrounded by so many people as the different race distances had converged, I was surprised to find myself alone, with perhaps one kilometer to go. I could hear the crowd at the finish, cheers and cowbells and music, but I was utterly alone in the green of the trees. I began to sing, Bon Jovi, of course, “I don’t wanna be another wave in the ocean, I am a rock, not another grain of sand, wanna be the one you run to when you need a shoulder, I ain’t a soldier but I’m here to take a stand, because we can…”
That’s how good I felt.
Right before the finish, I saw the girl in pink shorts in front of me; we had passed each other a hundred times during the race. I suddenly wanted to catch her. So I bolted. I passed her, and it took me a little while to realise that this wasn’t the finish line. I had to keep right on bolting for the full 3/4 lap around the oval and I don’t even now know where the finish line was! I do believe I stayed in front, though I can’t be sure.
All I know is I found my one white singing hour of joy. My moments of delight that come from dancing in this glorious body, fully well, feeling courageous and full of light.
By the way, the poem I began this blog with is called Barter, by Sara Teasdale. I memorised it in college when I was 21, and often recite it to myself when I run. Funny thing though – I was looking up the original poem for this blog, and realised I’d altered some words in my memory. She says, “one white singing hour of peace”. I say joy.
I utterly love the last two lines:
“For a breath of ecstasy, give all you have been, or could be.”
Thank you, Marysville, for my breath of ecstasy.
Here’s the full poem:
Life has loveliness to sell, All beautiful and splendid things, Blue waves whitened on a cliff, Soaring fire that sways and sings, And childrens’s faces looking up Holding wonder in a cup. Life has loveliness to sell, Music like a curve of gold, Scent of pine trees in the rain, Eyes that love you, arms that hold, And for your spirit’s still delight, Holy thoughts that star the night. Spend all you have for loveliness, Buy it and never count the cost; For one white singing hour of peace Count many a year of strife well lost, And for a breath of ecstasy Give all you have been, or could be.
This poem is in the public domain.