After the Roller Coaster (Run)…

The 2016 Roller Coaster 21k Trail Run: why has writing of you eluded me?  Did I love you, as I have in the past?  Or is our affair growing tenuous and thin?

The Sunday after the run, which I completed in 2:41 (six minutes faster than last year), I spent five hours cleaning my very dirty home.  We have two dogs, two cats, and two kids.  My husband does more than his fair share, and it was fair to say I’d been too tired to be much use around the home lately.  I’d completed a series of three half-marathons (Marysville 21k; Two Bays 28K; Roller Coaster 21k) in four months; the guilt over the dirty carpet had finally caught up with me, and I cleaned like a whirlwind.

On Sunday night,I sat back on the sofa, exhausted but feeling I’d accomplished two great big things in one weekend – an awesome trail race, and a clean home.

Monday, I awoke with a sore throat, a harbinger, a canary-in-the-coalmine.  Still, I taught my 7:30 pm Bodypump class.  It was too late to call for a fill-in instructor.  And really, if I was going to get sick, I figured I might as well go out with a bang.

On Tuesday the flu took me down at the knees.  I was sick for a full week.  No-exercise sick.  Don’t-even-contemplate-walking-down-the-road sick.  I got a fill-in instructor for my Wednesday class.  I slept in some, coughed a lot, and Life Went On.  It was recovery week anyway.

The second week, I gradually recovered.  Taught three Bodypump classes, swam, ran a total of 15k.

Now, in the third week post-race, I’m still coughing, still tired, but I’m world’s better than three weeks ago.  I’m back to my usual fitness schedule.

So why haven’t I written up the Roller Coaster Run?  Was it the illness?  Or something else?

Here’s the thing.  I’ve been listening to myself say the same things over and over since November last year:  I want my feet to feel great again;  I want speed and power;  I want to be able to jump high in the air and land without hurting.  I want to do something different.

And yet, I kept signing up for half-marathons.  The Roller Coaster Run was the last one I’d signed up for.  In a way, it was my line in the sand.

Did I love it?

21.5K Burkes Lookout-186Of course I did.

What I loved most is that I let go of expectation.  I don’t know why.  Suddenly it occurred to me, about five minutes into the run, that I had nothing to prove.  I didn’t want to kill myself running flat-out for three hours.  I wanted to push my pace, push my best, but I didn’t want to race anyone.

In my head, I was saying, I’m a 50-year-old trail running woman.  I’ve got nothing to prove.  I’ve run more than sixty trail races.  Adventure races.  Up and down mountains.  I’ve swam across tidal rivers the day after a typhoon.  Climbed waterfalls in a thunderstorm. I’ve navigated alone in the dark on trails.  Nearly stepped on snakes.  Abseiled down cliff faces on outlying islands in Hong Kong.  I’ve got nothing left that I have to prove.  I just want to run for the sheer pleasure of it.

And suddenly, running down the side of Mount Dandenong, I realised I wasn’t competing.  I wasn’t racing.  I was flying down my favourite trails, agile, confident, quick feet, no pain, and all was right with my world.  It didn’t matter if I got passed or if I passed someone.  I could afford to smile, to chat with volunteers, to high-five the kids cheering with the support crews.  Yes, the uphills were deadly tough.  That wasn’t a surprise.  I had the gels and salt tablets and water and confidence.  I’d run the whole course alone two weeks before.  I was going to be okay; I was going to be joyful.

My favourite moment of all in the run?  At about the 13k mark, right about where I tripped and flew threw the air during my first Roller Coaster Run, I saw a man stumble.

I was ten feet behind him, and watched him trip, then fly sideways through the air, and land hard.  Well, I thought he’d landed.  Just as I was shouting, “Are you okay?”, he, to my utter astonishment, continued rolling, all the way through, until he’d come around, landed on his feet, and simply kept right on running.  He is who I want to be when I grow up.

It turned out I’d met him a couple of weeks earlier on a training run (Ben and Brian were doing three loops of the Roller Coaster to my one that day), so when I caught up with him and congratulated him on his spectacular trip-and-roll-to-his-feet, it was like meeting up with an old friend.  That’s how this race is, how this mountain is.  We are all – in one instant, old friends.

21K KALLORAMA-156This photo was taken at about 20k into the run.  I can picture the section, right after a steep climb up gravel.  It’s where I’ve run alone so many times, staring at autumn foliage, or hidden by thick fog.  Usually, I’m elated that I’ve done the hard part of my training run (I typically start at the bottom of the mountain and it’s mostly downhill from this stage).

At this stage of the race, the 43k runners were headed back out in the opposite direction to us, and every now and then one of the front runners would bound by, mountain-goat-like, taking the downhill with greater speed than I could ever imagine.

But here, right in the moment this photo was taken during the Roller Coaster Run, I’m deep inside my head, feeling the flow of my feet on the single track, knowing the way I’m going intimately, because I’ve run it so many times.

On such a run, the oddity is the other runners everywhere, where usually I run in solitude.

And then there was the finish…

IMG_2650The race photographer captured these amazing moments.  Sharee encouraging me across the finish line in her amazing costume.

IMG_2651

And in the true spirit of the run, and her wonderful supportive nature, here she is, directing me homewards.  Kudos to the race photographers for capturing this moment.

IMG_2652

In the end though, we are all alone with our thoughts as we cross the finish line.

There is a moment, before we cross under the arch, before we collect our medal, where we know fully what we’ve just achieved. The challenges we’ve overcome to complete a big, gnarly mountain run.  I’d like to hold onto the sense of self this moment gives me, to take it out in challenging times in regular life, to say to myself, if you could do that, of course you can do this.  I’d like us all to hold onto that feeling.

Afterwards, after the changing of clothes, the brunch at Sky High sharing a table with seven women I’d never met who were celebrating a 40th birthday, after the elation, I stayed longer than I usually do.

I explored this wonderful secret garden, all alone.

IMG_3189

 

I felt a sense of calm descend on me that I hadn’t felt in a long time.  A sense of certainty that everything was going to be okay.

Since the run, now that the flu has abated, I have finally done what I said I am going to do.  Got back to the gym to lift heavy weights.  Started interval training to regain my lost speed.  Not signed up for any more races.

Will I be back?  Of course.  Mount Dandenong calls to me.  It speaks to me of home.

 

 

 

Ready to ride the 21k Roller Coaster Run?

Planning the year.  What a great idea.  Not being swayed by social media and offers of reduced entry fees for Early Bird registration.  Creating a periodised training plan with only one or two peak races.

Did I mention planning the year?

Such good advice.  I read it last week in an expert coach’s approach to his clients’ race plans.

If only I’d read it six months earlier.

It’s been six weeks since the 28k Two Bays Trail Run.  And this Saturday is the 21k Roller Coaster Run (RCR).  Planning?  Not so much.  My only justification is that the RCR was traditionally in late March, so I assumed I’d have enough time between events when I jumped on board the Fairy Floss Special price six or eight months ago.

Only this year, the RCR is hot on the heels of Two Bays, which was already uncomfortably close to the Marysville Half-Marathon in November 2015.  Within four months, I’m doing three half-marathons.

Is it any wonder I’m a little tired?

However, I’ve been very careful in the last six weeks to adequately recover from Two Bays, as well as train enough for RCR.  Given the base I’d built, I only took one real recovery week with a 12k long run, then went back to a 20k long run, followed in the next two weeks by 18, and 21.5 (the full Roller Coaster Course) two weeks ago.  I’ve kept the total km’s per week at between 35 and 40, supplementing running with two 2k swims each week, and teaching three Bodypump classes per week as well.  All in all, I’ve held up ok.  My feet have been sore, but they’ve been sore for more than a year.  And I’ve been a little tired.

I’m feeling quietly confident for this RCR, given I’ve completed the whole course many times over.  Yes, it is steep, hard, unforgiving.  Yes, I’m going to take the downhills slowly, as I always do, and push hard on the uphills.  Without much flat terrain to worry about, my pace won’t be fast, but that’s okay.  This is my first race in the 50-59 age category.  I’m not worried about pace – I want to complete this event injury-free and elated.

This is, after all, more than a race for me.  Over the last few years, Mount Dandenong has become my soul-place.  I used to pine for the woods, saying each weekend, “I wish I could go to the Dandenongs.”

I had young children and a husband who could not hike.  I was afraid it wouldn’t be safe alone.  But I finally opened up that door, with the help of some trail running friends, who showed me the trails, which I eventually got courageous enough to run alone.

I drive up alone, often after school drop-off or late in the day on a weekend. The drive takes an hour, and is one of the few hours of solitude I have in my busy family life.  After not driving for six years in Hong Kong, that drive gave me back my driving confidence, and opened many other roads to me.

I often run just the top loop of the Roller Coaster Run.  My companions are the wallabies, the sulphur-crested cockatoos, and Fern Trees.  Once in a while, I see echidnas.  Sometimes people out riding horses or hiking, but not very often.  More often, there are brilliant orange butterflies or blue and red Rosellas.  Kookaburras laugh at me.  I sweat my way uphill, and fly on the downhills.

IMG_3103

A friend on the trail

 

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

IMG_3143.JPG

Tree ferns in dappled sun

I have spent solitary hours here singing in joy, and others howling in despair, when life has seemed to much to bear.  This mountain has sheltered me under its blanket of fog, and warmed me with the winter sunrise.  I have been scared senseless by the boom of its thunderstorms, lost on its flanks, and challenged to keep going when I wanted, more than anything, to stop.

I am a little lost for words, trying to say what the Roller Coaster Run itself means to me.  I suppose it is but one chapter in my long relationship with this mountain, and will be one of the few occasions I push myself to run fast here.  It is also one of the few times the mountain is peopled with friends, with laughter, with adrenalin.  The contrast is always a surprise.

Then there is the matter of my goals for the rest of 2016.  I want pain-free running.  Speed. Power. Agility.  After this race, I’m re-jigging my training to get all this back.  I’m not succumbing to any offers of cheap early-bird entries for several months, at least.  I’m heading back into the gym to lift big heavy things, and do some plyometrics.

But this weekend, I intend to fly.

And to feel this happy at the finish line…

IMG_3122

Leila enjoying a roll…

 

Great hopes and tremendous expectations

Quite a title, I know.

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

image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As it was...

As it was…

She was right.  But that comment hurt.

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

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

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

And now it is done.

image

My new soul-place, disguised as a bookshelf

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

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

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

I still fall on my face sometimes…

Ah, Jessie J, you’ve got it so right tonight, I had tears streaming down my face as I listened to your wonderful song.  It gets to the heart of things.

There are confidences I cannot give away whilst blogging, and this makes it so hard to tell the truth.  Suffice it to say it has been a tough day.  One of those days where the dark cloud seemed to follow me around no matter how I tried to blow it away.  There are good reasons for the darkness, reasonable reasons, and yet, how I Hate IT.

So, when I’m sitting at home after finally getting the kids to bed after cooking two separate dinners and waiting for the third one to finish in the oven, well, everything seemed to sort of suck.  I’m too tired to come up with a poetic way to put it.  Everything sucked.

I spent three months renovating my home office so I could have a great place to finally write my masterpiece, but in the renovation, my computer got filled with dust, the internet broke, and I could no longer print to my printer.  In between, I spent a week in New York far-welling my elderly Aunt, a week in Sydney celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary, and lots of time soul-searching.

There is a book in me that is itching to be written.  I’ve started it three times, in three ways, and am now trying to merge them together to make a masterpiece.  What with family, and work, and pets, and laundry, it is so hard to find the time.  I keep falling on my face.

I think we’re doing okay, then a day comes like today, or yesterday, and pulls the rug out from under me, pulls me under like a rip-tide, and I know if I went for a run I’d run way too far to just run away from this black dog at my heels.

Instead, I’m going to breathe and blog, and accept that today was just one day.  I’ve had plenty of bad days, bad weeks, bad months, but I’ve always come through.  The dark I live in today will power my writing in the future.

I still fall on my face sometimes.  But it’s okay.  Because Jessie J does too, and she writes masterpieces that move me to tears.  I’m just going to dust myself off, put on Rachel Platten’s Fight Song, and get on with thinking about my new masterpiece.

Running?  It’s going okay.  But that’s a blog for another day.

The Injured Runners’ Swimming Club

Seems like every second thing I read from a friend these days has to do with a running-related injury.  We’ve all been pushing the limits, testing them, finding them.  The trouble comes when we have to accept that we have over-stepped the line.  How are we to know where the line is, if we never over-step it?  I’ve done my share of over-stepping in the last year or so, and I know well the emotions that stalk the injured runner.

For me, it starts this way:

Oh, that was an odd little niggle.  Ouch.  Not so sure about that pain.  I think it will go away if I keep running on it a little longer.  And it does.

The next run.  OUCH.  It hurts again.  Maybe I’ll try shortening my stride.  Increasing the cadence.  Ah, the pain isn’t so bad.  I’ll keep running.

Two weeks later.  I’ve become accustomed to this pain.  It happens every time I run.  If I wait it out, maybe in 5k it will lesson.  Ow, ow, ow.  Now it’s gone numb.  That’s better.

Three weeks later.  OW!  How come it hurts to cook my kids’ dinner?  I’m not even running!  Maybe if I balance on one foot whilst cooking, it will challenge my stabilisers and fix things.

Three months later.  It hurts all the time.  Okay, maybe I’ll change shoes.  Still hurts.  Where are the anti-inflammatories?  Oh good, a large box.  That’ll last me a bit.

Six months later.  La la la.  If I sing loud enough while I run, maybe I won’t notice that every step is agony because my goal race is coming up and I can’t miss my goal race.  I wonder if I have a stress fracture?

Eight months later.  My physio says I should take some time off running and do some cross-training.  He/she’s obviously not a runner.  And an idiot.  Both, non-runner and idiot.  I hate him/her now and will have to find a new physio.

Eight and a bit months later.  How come all the physio’s don’t get it?  They seem to think I can just STOP running and be okay with this?  Time to Google this injury and really get on top of it.  Must be some YouTube videos on how to fix it instantly.

Finally, I meet a running-oriented physio who doesn’t tell me to stop.  She gets it.  In fact, she’s training for a big race herself.  And she gets injured.  And stops running.  It’s after she’s helped me hobble my way through my goal race, to achieve what I’ve set out to, that she stays stop.  And I do.  Because if someone like her – a runner, who has run herself into injury – if she says stop, I know I must.

So I do.  And I don’t even miss it!  That’s the irony.  It’s a relief to not have to run in pain anymore.  I miss my mountain trails and the woods, but it’s okay.  I realise this is needed, necessary, vital, this rest.

Fast forward: eight weeks later.  I’ve taken seven solid weeks off running.  I’ve begun swimming twice a week, and can feel my strength and speed sky-rocketing.  There’s power in me I forgot about.  I’m back to lifting heavy weights at the gym.  I’d forgotten how meditative weight-lifting can be.  I’ve downloaded a mindfulness App to my phone and am meditating in five minute intervals, three times a day.  I’m playing piano better than ever, and my foot doesn’t hurt to press the pedals anymore.  I’m happy.  Content.  Healthy.  With a vitality (and muscles) that had gone while I was running too far for my body.

Here’s who I don’t want to be anymore: a runner who can’t stop running even when injured.  Who uses running to meet all these super-important mental-health and physical-health needs, all whilst not noticing that running has actually become a problem in itself.  An out-of-balance runner who loses perspective on health in pursuit of a race goal.

With time off, I have found a new perspective.

Last week, the physio told me I could run again, for  up to 3k, 2 minutes running, 1 minute walking.  And I was scared.  Scared I’d go right back to who I was, running too far, running over injuries, forgetting that my health is my most sacred value.  So I kept the brake on for a few extra days, to remind myself that it is me who is in charge of when and how I run.  That running is an add-on to an exceptional life, and not the key to it.  I want to run mindfully, and notice what hurts, and respond to it, instead of trying to mask it or wish it away.

I ran my 3k.  My foot hurt afterwards.  Then felt better.  So I tried again on the treadmill last night.  It began to hurt at 1.5k.  I stopped the treadmill.  I got off.  I listened.

There is wisdom here.  I can feel it.  When I stop long enough to hear what my body – indeed, what my mind – is saying.  Stop, it is saying.  Rest.  Please.  Listening and responding to this wonderful machine that I live in feels so much better than pounding it into the ground.

The future?  Balance.  Running with mindfulness.  Running without pain.  And doing other cool stuff too.

I joke with my running friends that I have started a new club, called the Injured Runners’ Swimming Club.  It is growing rapidly.  But somewhere along the way, I discovered something.  I like swimming.  And cycling.  And weight lifting.  The world is a much bigger place than it was eight weeks ago.  And I’m going to keep it this way.

Is it to be or not to be…the Roller Coaster Run. A trip along the Surfcoast Trail…

I’ve been quiet.  It’s hard to write when all I seem to be doing is whinging and crying about my sore, injured body all the time.

It’s as if my body is trying to tell me something.  And it keeps turning up the volume.  At the physio last week, it was almost comical.  “How are you?  What hurts?”

“Um, my right heel, right calf, left achilles, and my neck.”  I sighed, thinking of the psychological pain, but didn’t mention it.  “Where do we start?”

We started at my neck and worked our way down.  At the end of the session, which included every sore part as well as my liver somehow, we agreed I’d try a long 18k run on Friday.  If I could handle this, I could handle the Roller Coaster Run 21k in two weeks time. Good plan.

When Friday came, though, my feet were so sore from a 10k on Thursday, I couldn’t even contemplate running (well, I could – I’m aware that my 10-year-old son has more sense than me, so I asked him his opinion, and he told me to stay home).  So I stayed home.  And growled and groused and cleaned the stupid house.  Did eight loads of laundry and didn’t go for a bike ride.

We drove down to Ocean Grove for the long weekend.  Me, with a sore foot, without my long run on a long weekend in a small beach house with two young kids, a puppy, two cats, and a very patient husband – ugly stuff.

I lasted until 2 pm on Saturday, at which point I decided that my foot didn’t hurt anymore, filled up my water backpack with gear, and bolted out the door.  My family seemed to be encouraging me to go.  I was headed to Torquay, half an hour up the road.  I Google-mapped it, and planned a cool, easy back route, memorizing street names on the fly.

Part-way there, I saw a sign reading “Bramlea” and, as I was aiming for Bramlea Road, I turned.  I found myself on a corrugated dirt track.  I bumped along slowly, pebbles bouncing off the sides of my car, dust rising, for about 300 metres.  Then I swore loudly, and did a quick u-turn back to the main road.  Darn!  So much for short cuts.

A few minutes later, I came to the paved version of Bramlea Road, and turned again.  In twenty minutes, I’d pulled up triumphantly (yes, these things seem important to me) to the playground at White’s Beach, where I’ve run from before.

My foot hurt by now, but I really didn’t care.  It had been a rough morning with one of my children trying out every form of abuse they could dish out (“I hate you.  I wish you were dead, etc ect”, followed by spitting, kicking, and again, etc etc).  I needed this run.

Off I went.  Except my Garmin had switched itself to telling me how many calories I was burning, instead of how far I was running!  Not so useful.  I needed to know when 9k was up so I could turn around.  If I could still run at that stage.  A few battles with “Settings” ensued, and I finally had it right.  On I ran, watching for snakes, not fully awake to my surroundings yet.  Quickly, I was too hot.  I stopped to take off my long-sleeved t-shirt, when I heard someone shout, “Hey, Patricia!”

What a delight!  A friend from Hampton was holidaying in Torquay and happened to be parked by the path.  And this friend is a runner.  AND he was going to have a run in a few minutes, he just had to race home to change!  We made a plan – he’d park further up the long trail I was running, and we’d meet partway.  It seemed unlikely but cool nonetheless.  I ran off smiling, wondering if we’d meet up again.

My mood had lifted with that chance encounter.  Sometimes other people seem to see me in a way that I don’t see myself.  They smile and seem excited to see me, and that can blow away the blues quicker than anything.  It is always a puzzle though, especially when I’ve been feeling down. So a double-dose of delight, a running friend and a friend who was glad to see me.

I ran on.  Noticed each change in coastline.  I’d run the beach below during my 23k in the Surfcoast Century.  Today I was up on the cliff on the Surfcoast Walking Trail and the views were breathtaking.  I knew this coast intimately after a few races here, and a few training runs.  I felt independent, competent, alive.

Looking back towards Torquay

Looking back towards Torquay

And a few times scared.  When the crowds thinned and I was alone on the trail, bounded by fences on both sides, and worried about bad guys, but I ran on.

Along the trail

Along the trail

Bells Beach came just before my 9k turnaround so I explored further than I’ve gone before, making my way by accident down to the beach.  What an uplifting moment, to be there in the sunshine, watching the surfers roll in on the massive waves.  I hadn’t expected to get to the beach.  I went on a little further (chasing that 9k), and turned back at 9.1.

Bells Beach

Bells Beach

Back to Bells Beach, and who should I meet but my slightly breathless friend from Hampton,  He’d chased me down.  I was overjoyed!  A friend to run with in this most beautiful of places.  And he was happy to run at my slow, injured pace, and kept me entertained with stories of his life, which were different from my life, and a wonderful reassurance that everyone has their own challenges, even when they seem chirpy and light.

Back at White’s Beach, we said farewell.  My foot hurt like hell, but I didn’t really care.  I was sweaty and happy and alive again.

The drive back seemed effortless, like floating.

“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.