Two Bays 2018: can a trail mend me?

If I had tried to write this blog a few days ago.  Well.  Suffice it to say that when everyone else is annoying, it really is nothing to do with anyone else but me.  Perspective and time have taken the edge off the strongest of the emotions, along with a strangely calming session of acupuncture on my tender calves.  So here goes…

It was to be my third Two Bays 28km Trail Run.  My first, in 2013, was an adventure, the longest distance I’d ever run, and magical in the way that all new adventures are.  In 2015, I was unprepared, sucked into entering by a Facebook demon, whereupon I went for a 20k training run to prove to myself that December was not too late to begin training (it was), jumped into my pool overheated and fully clothed and wearing my (now dead) iPhone in a running belt.  I completed the 28k run that year in 3:09, grimacing in pain as my feet and calves cramped from about 22k, all the way through to the finish line.

2018 was about redemption.  And intelligence.

I had learned much since I began.  Trained and completed many arduous events.  I was going to do it right this time.  I began training in September, plotting out a plan that would see me strongly through the holidays, to peak at just the right time.  There were soccer weekends away I had to account for, there was the Marysville Half-Marathon smack bang in the middle of my plan, and there was, of course, the mayhem of Christmas with two young children.

I won’t give you the details of the plan- it would be boring, and my plan is not your plan.  I’m a 52-year-old woman who loves to cross-train, teaches Bodypump and swims twice a week.  I’ve also got floaters in both eyes (this means grey shadows that at times block a lot of my visual field, and make technical terrain a whole lot more hit-and-miss).  So what I do is probably not what you’d want to, need to, or should do.

In a nutshell though, my plan was to fight against cramping  by training on hills and over the full race distance.  In the Dandenongs, I managed three 28km runs, and on 25km run that lasted over four hours due to the elevation gain.  Here is a selection of training run photos – that’s the joy of training for long distance events – the magic of the trails happens a lot more often.

I also trained for flatter and faster, down on the Surfcoast Trail, mainly because we were in Ocean Grove for the two weeks prior to Two Bays.  I was nervous but more confident at the end of training than any year prior.  I did lots of tempo and interval runs as well, but swapped out some distance for swimming and weight training, averaging about 50k for many of the weeks.

Yes, I had trained well.  Physically, I was ready.

However, I’d forgotten about the other big issue in my life: stress.  One of my children has some severe developmental/behavioural challenges.  Sometimes things are kind of ok; sometimes they are a tsunami of a nightmare.  The day before Two Bays – well, the month before, to be honest – was a tsunami time.  Lots happened, but the peak of it was Saturday, the day before Two Bays, when a soccer ball was kicked, as hard as possible, straight at me and into my knee and upper thigh, by my child.  To say it hurt is silly.  That does nothing to explain the pain of what felt like a conscious attack by someone I love most in the world.  I screamed in pain, shouted words I won’t repeat here, and lost it completely for the rest of the day.  My world was black and ending and everything I had done to this point in my life had been an utter and complete mistake.

That night, I couldn’t sleep.  At all.  Not pre-race insomnia.  Not like usual.  This was stare-at-the-ceiling-and-evaluate-my-life awfulness.  I was almost grateful when our dog went nuts at 4 am, as I was awake anyway.  I was up and dressed by 4:30, driving off in the dead of night by 5.

The darkness was a blanket, and the drizzle felt appropriate and grey.

I was not tired; I was too nervous driving to be tired, as I had a new navigator in my car that I was unsure of.  It coached me for the hour’s drive, most of which I knew well, and told me where to get off the road for Permien Street, Dromana.  Except this was not the exit I knew.  The navigator said turn left, and I said where?, and turned in the wrong place and got immediately lost in some strange suburb.  The horror of it.  Alone.  In the dark.  Trying desperately to get to the race headquarters for six am.  I was breathing fast and my hands were gripping the steering wheel in a death-grip.

I pulled back on the highway, thinking I was heading the right way, but the next exit was not Dromana, it was Rosebud.  It was like one of those nightmares where things get worse and worse.  I drove on, finally letting the navigator have the wheel, afraid I’d be routed to Sorrento and back.

Imagine – just imagine! – my relief when I recognised the road.  It was the road I knew from the Two Bays Run, the one we run up right at the start.  In fact, the race crew was out putting up event signs as I drove downhill, elated, knowing where I was.

Now, perhaps this doesn’t seem the most auspicious start to a trail run requiring some navigation.  But I forgot about it immediately after I parked.  I got out of my car, caught my breath, and gazed at the bay.  It required my presence more than race headquarters.  I made my way there and stared at the still waters.  Waters that I wished I could be more like.


Still waters

I turned away: there was a race to be run, regardless of how I was feeling.  I knew, as well, the quickest way out of the quicksand of dark emotions: it was a trail, running full pelt for hours and hours and hours.


Sunrise above Arthur’s Seat, Dromana

The time prior to a race is always the same.  Joy at seeing friends, nerves at what we’re about to do, general restlessness and preparation of my gear.  I saw Andrea and shared a quick hello, but quickly lost her in the crowd.  Found some fellow Dandenong Trail Runners and had a short chat.  Did some warm-up jogging.

I noted that I wasn’t afraid.  It was odd, as the first time I’d run this race, I’d been terrified, felt completely out-of-place and overwhelmed by the lean athletes surrounding me.  That was something, anyway, that quiet confidence, even though the weight of doom regarding my family life hung heavy.

We lined up in the starting chute.  All was ready.  I took a quick photo to remember the moment, checked that my Garmin was ready to go.


Ready to go!

The crowd of us runners were so noisy, I couldn’t hear the countdown, and only knew to begin when the runners in front of me started moving forward.  We were off!

The race begins uphill on a road.  I love uphills; I eat hills for breakfast.  I found myself dodging around other runners, powering up the hill.  I was elated; this felt easy.  The Dandenongs hill training was really helping.  In no time, in much shorter time than I recalled in other years, we were at the trail head at Bunurong Track, forming a single line of runners to work our way up Arthur’s Seat.

Up and up and up we went, on the widish dirt trail.  It was punctuated with stone steps and riddled with tree roots and rocks.  We played hopscotch with one another, sometimes passing, sometimes being passed.  I knew this terrain well from training runs, and let the memories play over of talks I’d shared with friends about music and piano, about kids and grandkids.  I glanced now and again at the blueness of the bay, being sure to immerse myself in this magical landscape, all the while trying not to trip over my own two feet or the many roots and rocks that wanted me down.


This might be Arthur’s Seat descent. Photo courtesy of Supersport Images.

We got to the top, and began the long, fast descent.

That bit about other people being annoying?  Yep.  It began here.  And it wasn’t them.  It was one-hundred percent me, and my aggro mood.  Still.  There was the runner who ran with elbows out, who seemed magnetically drawn to me, who seemed to find the exact line I was aiming for on the steep, slippery gravel, and then ran at the same pace as me.  If I sped up, she sped up; slowed, she slowed.  It would have been comical if I weren’t clenching my teeth and swearing in my head so loudly.  We didn’t crash, amazingly, and I didn’t say a word of what was going on in my head.

Soon, we were down by McLaren’s Dam, and I was too busy watching for snakes to wonder about any of the other runners (though by a video posted the next day, I would have been better watching for kangaroos trying to cross the path).

We ran along some suburban roads, then onto a section that had been full of thigh-high grass several weeks before.  It had been mown and was no longer a terror-filled snake pit!  There were dozens of happy, smiling, dressed-up volunteers, children to high-five, and a lot of passing and being passed by the same runners, some polite, some not so much, and before I knew it we were in the Greens Bush Section, a wonder world of beauty and nature.


Happy on the trail. Photo courtesy of Supersport Images.

Oh, but here was another one of those irritating other people!  This time it was someone behind me, and the tinny sound of their iPhone music, played loud without ear phones.  I could not believe it.  I had hungered for the peace of the bush, the sounds of nature, even the hush of the footfalls of runners.  Instead, I heard Emimem, angry, volatile, judgmental: You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you better never let it go go, you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow cause opportunity comes one in a lifetime…

I love this song.  I’ve played it hundreds of times teaching Bodypump, I’ve run to it, cycled to it, cried to it.  However, in that moment, in Two Bays, in Greens Bush, I hated it.  I wanted to grab the offender’s music device and smash it on a rock.  I wanted to smash him on a rock.  I wanted to run faster or slower or grab a helicopter out because I couldn’t bear it.  I couldn’t get away, though, bolting forward or slowing down.  He played the music loudly and chatted even louder to his friend.  Finally, I called out behind me: could you please turn the music down mate?

Me!  I said that.  Like an angry fishwife.

Please, fellow runner, accept my apology, and thank you for not responding out loud, and for simply turning down the music.  It wasn’t you; it was me.

Phew.  The dragon had reared its head.  I took a deep breath and ran on.


Getting a bit technical.  Photo courtesy of Supersport Images.

This is where the run got tricky.  I was fit and fast and I could run the uphills without any issue.  But when the trail turned technical and dark and downhill, I was doomed.  I simply couldn’t see well enough to run fast, and I got passed by every runner and their dog (if dogs were allowed) and I began to wallow in the woe-is-me-I’m-so-slow-and-old-and-blind pit.  I let people by and passed them again on the uphills.  I fought hard to keep a place in the tribe of trail runners but I felt I was losing it, losing the joy and the ability to do this thing I had loved for so long.  I swiped at my eyes, and swallowed hard.

Then my foot began to cramp.  I gobbled down some gel, a few salt tablets, and consoled myself with the fact that we were already at 20km.  A fast girl ran past me and assured me we were nearly home, and I bit back the words I don’t want to go home, and ran on.

I’d planned to bolt at 23, to really race the last five to the finish.  That didn’t happen.  Instead, I kept my foot on the brake, trying to hold off the impending cramps, and instead focusing on the breathtaking views of the other side of the bay that appeared.  Some high-fives for children, and soon the finish arch was in sight.  Past me at speed ran three other runners; I did not chase.  I ran across my own finish line in 3:06, which I thought was three minutes slower than my target from 2015,  but in fact was a PB for this course.

Afterwards, I stared at the views of the bay, elated, sad, happy, tired, but no longer in that dark place from which I’d started.

When my friend Cissy invited me to join her group of friends for lunch, something I’d usually avoid because I’m shy around strangers, I decided it was time to try something new.  Even though I couldn’t get phone reception and I was alone and had to navigate somewhere I’d never been before I went.

Even when the outside of the place looked odd and like an industrial estate rather than a restaurant, in I went.

I sat with this group of runners, and chatted, and suddenly, I felt alive again, at home, and no one was irritating, and I was okay, I did make good choices, and I could do anything or be anything I wanted.  It was all going to be all right.

Sometimes the trail seems way too far, the world seems full of aggravating others, and then you simply put on your trail shoes, and run and run and run, and when you are done, the world has put on a brand new coat and looks shiny and beautiful again.

I got home and hugged my child and gave them the present I had bought them, and promised myself to add more joy to my running for the rest of 2018.

Thank you Two Bays, for reminding me why I run.

Hoka One One Studley Park: Slippery When Wet

I had become airborne.  This was not something I’d intended.

The mighty, rain-swollen Yarra River flowed strongly on my right, just down below me, just a small slip away down the narrow hillside.  My arms flailed the air, as if I were doing some crazy dance move from the 80s.  The mud-slicked path was below me, a single-track studded with rocks and tree roots, the trail where I had witnessed numerous runners bite the dust.  Through the first five kilometres of this eleven kilometre course, I had been cautious, but I had been getting annoyed at being passed by other, more courageous runners.

So I sped up.  That’s about when I came to the slickest corner yet, slid around it, and became airborne.

Thankfully, the wild waving of my arms balanced me, and my feet landed solidly back on the muddy trail.  I laughed aloud and kept on running.

I did slow down a bit though: the vision of me sliding down the hill into Yarra River was strong.  I reminded myself (again) to run my own race.

It hadn’t been easy to get to the start line today.  Over the last few days, my youngest had begun swearing and throwing things at me again.  I had hoped we were beyond these things, and having them return brought back a surge of painful memories.  I knew the reasons for the behaviour, but it still hurt to be the target.  This wasn’t the ending I had planned, or how I’d imagined family life would turn out.  The night before the race I hadn’t slept well, and had woken with a feeling of despair about where things were at in my home and family, about the ongoing challenges of raising my particular child. And today, because of soccer commitments, I was going alone to this race.  My family couldn’t even come this time.

Race headquarters

Race headquarters

As I was doing the medium course (10.8 km), my race didn’t start until 9:45.  Having been here many times before, I knew if I came an hour before the race, I’d never get a decent park, so I opted for an early arrival, which meant around 8 am.  The trouble with this strategy was the waiting-around time.  On a good day, I’d enjoy this, watching the other runners, soaking up the atmosphere.  But today was not a good day.  Today I felt lonely and alone, sad that my family wasn’t there, bereft at the trouble at home. I wandered around, picked up my series t-shirt, smiled a forced smile, and contemplated running the long course just to get going.


Early morning fog and gum trees


Views from the Studley Park Boathouse










In time, I ran into an acquaintance who took my mind off my own problems.  He told me he was having chest pains.  I didn’t tell him my father had died of a sudden heart attack, just listened, and hoped the Medics, when they turned up, would tell him to go home. Thankfully, they did, and even better, I heard from him later that all was fine, which was a huge relief.

The time came for the long course to start, and I watched them go from the other side of the river.  It was a view I’d not seen before, having always done the long or short course.  The colours of the racers shirts moving between the fog and gum trees was stunning.

Time passed.  I ate a banana, drank from the metal water fountain, and gradually began to remove layers.  I had arrived in a ski jacket, beanie, gloves, wool jacket, icebreaker, long-sleeved t-shirt and running tights.  Little by little, I stowed these layers in my backpack, checked it into the baggage check area, and was set to run in my singlet and tights, still wearing my wool jacket to throw in a tree at the last-minute at the Start.

The Yarra from the wobbly bridge

View of the Yarra River from the wobbly bridge

I wobbled my way across the bridge, noting the fog, the serenity of the kayaks, the gum trees.  There was plenty of time.  I remembered all the times my family had come to cheer me off at this race, good times, bad times, there was no grey.  I ran back and forth on the road near the start line, marvelling at how good my legs felt, how springy and alive after two rest days.

I approached the Start.  A loudspeaker was going, innocuous pop songs; I hardly heard them.

Then, a familiar tune began.  I could feel my knowledge of this song, how it had made me feel in the past.  The lyrics took a while coming, then, “Right here, right now, right here, right now…”.

I let the words echo in me, bring me right into the present moment.  Right here; right now.  Right here; right now.  It was all that mattered.  I let the stuff from home drift away, noticed where I was, began to feel a sense of peace and joy.

Race start approached.  I stowed my wool jacket in a rain-soaked tree, and enjoyed the cold, enjoyed how it felt elemental and real and made me feel alive.  The drizzle began as we did a warm-up in the start chute.  It felt fitting and right.

The countdown came all of a sudden, the last ten seconds, and then we were off!  I went Too Fast, of course, bolting behind the people towards the front, okay with the pace until I glanced at my Garmin to see 4:25, and then I backed off.  It wouldn’t do to blow out.

I’d run this course every year for the last six, but each year, it felt new.  The concrete path, the turn-off to the left.  The wide trail.  The grassy bits.  The bits along the empty road and across the highway.  I tried to notice things but was pushing the pace too hard to be able to sight-see.

It wasn’t long before the first man slipped.  I’d noticed him behind me, passing me in road shoes, noted that he was a big, tall guy.  He was fast, but he didn’t seem to understand or to respect the terrain.  This always made me nervous.  I ran past him when I could, playing it safe, not wanting to get taken out by him if he fell, and it wasn’t long before I heard the swear and thud of him slipping and falling on the slick, muddy trail.  I turned back and shouted, you okay?, but he was up again, looking abashed, saying he was good.

We ran on.  I put some distance between me and him, and kept my eyes out for others who weren’t wearing trail shoes.  On a normal, dry day, road shoes would be fine here.  But today wasn’t normal: today was a “Slippery When Wet” sort of day, and all around me, runners sloshed and fell, slipping, swearing, crashing.  I was grateful for my Brooks Pure Grit with the big lugs to hold me upright as I ran, but still wasn’t super-confident.  This was slick mud, on slick rocks.

I kept my pace slow, let others pass, passed some who were a bit less confident than me.  We ran across the pipe-bridge by Fairfield Boathouse, and there, I had no grip, and feared my feet sliding out from under me.  It wasn’t helped by the cyclists crossing the bridge, nor by the hiker with the gigantic backpack.  I made it across, then thankfully, turned off onto the narrow trail to the left.

That’s where the fun really began, the 5k along the river, on single-track.  The character of the mud was ever-changing, sometimes deep and sticky, other times, thin and slippery.  The path was full of large puddles, which could hide anything; I skirted them.  Kept my eyes on the trail, looking for the best ways through, navigating tree roots and rocks, puddles, and patches of mud already slicked by the slips of other runners.

One lovely man behind me coached me.  It seemed he ran there regularly and several times suggested the best route among a few choices (“go left here, it will be much easier”).  Usually, I rebel at others guidance, preferring to trust my own choices, but I trusted his kind voice for some reason, and each choice he made for me was spot-on perfect.  I never got to see his face; at some point he stopped guiding.  I’m not sure whether he passed me or I got further ahead, but I wish I could have thanked him for his kindness.

At this point, I was sure we were nearly done.  I hadn’t dared glance at my Garmin, for fear of looking away from the muddy trail and wiping out.  When I finally was able to, I was gutted to see we were only at 7.5 km.  Okay, I told myself, this is tough, but it’s not really far.  It was harder than usual, as I had been recently doing longer distance, slower paced races.  This felt like a full-on sprint for an hour.

I kept running.  Glanced now and again at the swollen river.  Felt the mud stick in my shoes.  The field had spread out by now, and there wasn’t much passing going on.  I was running my pace, and then someone passed me again.

I’d been passed by so many.  I didn’t like it.  So I sped up.

I came around a slick corner, sliding, then both my feet were suddenly off the ground, there was a full moment of silence as I hung in the air, and just as suddenly I had slammed back down onto my feet and ran on.

That’s when I laughed out loud.  Came back into my body, felt the joy of being on this trail, alive and agile and able to run.  Right here, right now, I told myself.  This was the joy of trail running, this having to be fully present, right in this moment and nowhere else.

A short road section appeared, I passed the runner who had passed me (ha!, I said to myself), but couldn’t catch any others.  I was hoping the road led to the finish but there was a final trail section. I had plenty in the tank to sprint but didn’t have the confidence in the slick mud, and before I knew it we were heading into the finish.

58:01, the time read.  Was it good or not?  Who knows?  It’s hard to evaluate race times on different days.  There is no such things as a PB that’s meaningful to me in racing.  My pace adjusts according to conditions, so a PB just means ideal running conditions and little more.

Though at the awards, my time was a good enough to earn me 2nd place in my age category.   Looking through my prize bag, I noticed they’d given me a tube of pain relief cream.

Perhaps this was a joke?  Perhaps they thought the oldies like me needed this pain relief cream?  (Okay, so they’re right.)  But then I noticed the bag itself said 60+ and realised they’d given me the wrong prize (I’m only 50).  I save the bag as a little trophy, so went to exchange it for the 50-59 category, hoping perhaps that it might contain a different prize (maybe a speed-me-up cream or a Gel or something performance-related).  But it still contained the pain relief cream.  Perhaps it’s any category over 40?  I wanted to know, wanted to ask the other younger runners if they’d gotten pain relief cream too, but it seemed too sad to do that.  The Hoka One One shoe bag – now that’s one thing I’ll be using loads, traveling to and from the rest of the Series.

Oh, I didn’t tell you the best moment.  How could I have forgotten?

There was a live singer with a  guitar.   Just as I walked by him after crossing the finish line, breathing hard, dripping sweat, feeling around inside for how I was feeling, he sang some impossibly appropriate lyrics about how “it was all going to be all right, it would just take some time”.  I wish I knew the song.  I would love to hear it again.

My eyes teared up, and I suddenly felt so very happy and sad and grateful and lucky to be here in this muddy, beautiful, rainy finish area.  I shared a stretching tree with another runner, joking about how we were both trying to push it over from opposite sides.

I wasn’t alone.  And this wasn’t the end.  Just another new beginning.


I love mud! So does my wild puppy just to the left in this picture, leaping at me in joy


Footprints in the mud


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.

Crumbling (that’s the way the cookie)…

I was oh so optimistic.  I was going to “roll with it”, not worry about the Two Bays 28k Trail Run, just build slowly and conservatively, focus on remaining injury-free.  It sounded so good and balanced and wise.

Trouble was, I forgot who I am.

Forgot that if I dangled a goal in front on myself, the little gremlin inside of me wouldn’t let it go quite so easily.  I also forgot the challenges that awaited me during school holidays, and neglected to think how I was going to cope with them.

So, a week or so after my last blog, when I posted on Facebook asking my friends in the Dandenongs Trail Running Group for advice, I was really seeking permission.  Permission to up the distances further than was wise, to close my eyes to potential dangers, and to try to make that elusive race.  To give myself something great to look forward to.

And like all (insane) runners, I took the advice that most suited what I wanted to hear, and tried a quick 13k.  (Someone had said if I could run 21k, I’d be able to complete 28k.  I kept hearing that in my mind.  It was almost a subconscious thing.)  The day I went for the 13k run, I told my husband I wasn’t sure if I was going to run 8, 10 or 12k.  But we all knew what I was going to do, didn’t we?

Not 21, that was out of reach at the time.  But 13?  That was just over the bridge, to the end of the concrete path by the Barwon River.  It wouldn’t even take me up onto the Bluff.  A short, little 13k.  And if I didn’t admit out loud or to myself that that is what I was up to, I could ignore the dangers.  Stick my head in the sand.

Oh, it felt good at the time.  It felt wonderful.  To nail that distance after so many weeks in recovery.  To come alive again to the runner within.

The punchline?  Well, you can guess the punchline.  Two days later, my right heel started to niggle.  Of course, I stopped running straight away and iced it, rested for a week.

Yeah, right.  I did one of those “it feels better after a little bit, so it must be okay” things.  Because Two Bays (that I was so calm about) was still impending.  I kept noting “right heel pain” in my training diary, until it was so constant that I stopped even writing it down.  And yet, I hadn’t pulled out of Two Bays yet.

I ran and it hurt; I ran and it hurt.

It was school holidays; the gyms were closed; my kids got ill with a terrible flu, and then got well, and then got monstrously irritable.  I was quickly losing my mind being at home.  I ran to stay sane, even though I knew I was doing damage, even though every single step hurt.  Sometimes I cried as I ran because of the pain in my foot and the pain in my gut for the way life was going.  It sounds melodramatic here, but at a deep level, my soul was howling for the pain to stop, and I was stopping it the only way I could.

Finally, two weeks later, I saw the physio, who knew me well enough not to tell me to stop running.  He gave me advice and ultrasound, and I kept on running.  The gyms opened again, and I began the slow process of rebuilding my foot and glut strength.  It began to hurt (a little) less to run, except the pain had now shifted to my right ankle and left Achilles.  I continue physio and trying to improve and staying sane and driving my family nuts.

It makes me sigh to think how little I have learned in my 49 years.  Except at least I know why I am doing this, why I have done this.  To cope.  Because life can be so painful, the downs like the plummet off a cliff without a parachute, unexpected and scary, and sometimes the only way I can catch an updraft to save myself is by running, even if it hurts.  Because it hurts less in my heart and soul then, even if my foot hurts more.

The Roller Coaster Run is coming up.  I’ve managed to run 18 of the 21 kilometer course at Mount Dandenong, my usual training ground.  It hasn’t been pretty.  But there was this exceptional moment.

I had climbed the Dodd’s Track section of the run, run uphill to School Track, and had begun a lovely descent through (possibly snakey) long grass.  I hadn’t been here for at least a year.  There is a clearing part-way down this trail that I call my soul-place.  I don’t know why, but it takes my breath away.  It is like my cathedral, and I had been so long away.  So long, that I’d forgotten exactly where the clearing was.

Suddenly I was there!

I came to a sudden halt, and my eyes filled.  This place I’d dreamed of (I always see it in my mind as filled with wild horses) – I was there.  Alone.  The sky was the bluest of blues.  The gum trees bordered the clearing and made it feel magical and safe.  I was there!  After surgery; after being unable to walk around the block alone; despite all the turbulence and pain and tears of the last year; despite my foot hurting.  I was there.  Home.


My soul place

My soul place

I stood still and soaked up the moment, twirled in a circle with my arms overhead.

In the midst of recovery, of physio and rehab and pain and icing, of trying on every one of the seventeen pairs of trail shoes I have and finding running hurts in all of them, I hold onto that moment.

Because running is about joy.

It is my religion and my cathedral and it saves my life and makes the tougher moments bearable.

It is the clearest pathway I know to peace of mind.

Salomon Trail Series 2014: Anglesea Race

The track was narrow and studded with rocks and tree-roots.  I’d been running alone for fifteen minutes.  The pack had really spread out in the later stages of this 23k run.  I watched for the pink ribbons that marked the course to make sure I stayed on the right trails.

The track became more technical and turned downhill.  The words of my neighbor ran through my mind:  “Keep your wits about you,” she’d said, coaching me about the race.

I was, I thought defensively, taking her comment in a broader sense than she’d intended.  Through all the ups and downs and turbulence of raising my young children.  Through the tantrums and the throwing things, the swearing and “I hate you’s”.  I was keeping my wits by running, sometimes alone in the Dandenongs for hours, sometimes bolting along the Bayside Coastal Track.  It was hard, and I often wanted to continue the bolt long after the run was done, to run away from the pain and the continuous and daily nature of the challenges that had become my life.

I was keeping my wits about me, dammit!  Now I was going to focus on this trail.

A moment later, BAM!

Like many times of recent years when I’m pushing the pace hard on technical trails and get lost in my thoughts, I went flying through the air and smashed hard onto the ground.  My troublesome left calf cramped into a tight knot.  I glanced at my elbow – it was grazed and bleeding.  Jumping to my feet, I checked my painful left knee (the one I’d torn open a few months ago in a training run in the Dandenongs).  Of course, I’d landed on same exact spot.  But this time, there was no blood and my tights weren’t torn.  Silent cheer.  My palms stung where they’d caught my fall, and I was covered with dirt from head to foot, with a large smear on my new Dandenongs Trail Runner singlet.

It took just a couple of seconds to make this assessment.  I spoke out loud.  “You’re okay.”

I started running again.  I glanced at my Garmin.  I had run 15k; I had only 8 to go.  The calf, surprisingly, loosened right away, but the knee was hurting with each step.  I slowed a bit, and took more care on the rough terrain until it felt better.

We’d started this 23k trail run on the beach over an hour ago.  I had decided to go out moderately fast, knowing this was risky on such a long race, but I wanted to avoid the bottlenecks I anticipated on the tougher sections.

I'm the one with the great big smile!

I’m the one with the great big smile!

This worked really well, especially when we came to my favorite bit of the race at about 4k, where rocks covered the beach from the cliff-tops to the ocean.  They were about 5 meters high, rough and uneven.  There was a slight back-up of runners carefully climbing up one by one.  It was a great chance to catch my breath.  It was not an easy climb, and required caution.  I love the challenge of rocks like these, but I’m not fast on them.  They test much more than running ability.  They test guts, thinking, and balance.  I made it safely over, climbed down carefully, then dashed off down the beach after the pack.

A while later, the hard sand softened and the going became harder.  The early morning sun glare off the sea hurt my eyes.  I checked my watch.  We were nearing the exit at 7k off the beach at Point Addis.  I slipped and slid in the deep sand, making my way to the wooden staircase that took us up.  It was a tough, breathless climb.  From there, he course led up a slightly uphill road, and then turned right onto the true trails.  I’d decided to try hiking the hills in this race instead of attacking them, saving my speed for downhill sprinting.  It didn’t hurt as much, and I had more fun, and probably more speed later in the event.

Unlike the other events in this series, the pack really did spread out on the course.  Running alone, I didn’t feel pressured to any particular pace, but ran solely at the sweet spot I find when speed and agility come together.  I was breathless and running hard, but just hard enough.  Once in a while, I’d glimpse another runner in front of me, but not very often.  On the downhills, I flew.  Clumps of sharp grass lined the trail around eye height.  I often couldn’t see further ahead than the next two or three steps  This was 100% in-the-moment-or-fall-over running, and I loved it.

Until I did my face plant.  Then I loved it, for a moment, just a little bit less.

But I’d been there before, tripping over both in actual races and in training runs.  I knew my body well enough to keep pushing.  I plowed on, hurting, but determined to finish strongly.  Both my left calf and my left foot began cramping at some later stage, and at one section of boardwalk, my foot curled itself up so my toes were curled under, and I was really worried I’d have to walk.  I downed a second salt tablet and a third GU Gel, and that forced the cramps away.

I finally hit the stretch I’d been longing for, the long red trail with the view of the sea to the left, and wildflowers to the right.  I wanted to speed on this section, to fly with abandon.

And fly I did.  I was passed by some, and I passed others, and because all three race distances came together at this stage, I couldn’t tell who were competitors of mine, and who weren’t.  I decided to run my own race, and didn’t set out to chase anyone.

Finally, we came to the road that circled the caravan park, and I knew we were close to the finish.  I tried to open up the throttle but there wasn’t much left in the tank.  So I just kept on.  I ran down the ramp to the beach, jumped onto the hard sand and made for the finish.  This year there was no coastal river to splash through.

Where's the finish line?

Where’s the finish line?

I got close, encouraged another runner who was struggling to run on, then paced it on up towards the finish chute.  I heard shouts of “Go Patricia!”  a few times, and I was overjoyed to be known.  I couldn’t see who was shouting but waved and tried to sprint with what I had left.

Oh, there it is!

Oh, there it is!

I crossed the finish line in 2:14, coming in 7th in my age category, which was a huge improvement from the last few races, and fifteen minutes faster than I’d expected.

The finish of the race came together as always:  finding my family, feeling euphoria, stretching, chatting to running friends, sharing war stories.  We laughed at the dirt that coated me head-to-foot.  I stayed for the presentation, where heroes of every age and description got to stand on the podium.  It was inspiring to see the winners, to hear the cheers, to see the camaraderie of this wonderful group of trail runners.

I stayed until nearly the end when my family and our puppy finally called time.  Then, like every year since this terrific series began, we loaded up the car and began the drive away.  It is always a bittersweet feeling to see the Event Headquarters being dismantled, and the riverside being returned to its usual self.  It is as if a home I’ve grown to love is being torn down, like when Christmas is over and the decorations have to come down.

What a wonderful series it has been.  From the trees, the Yarra River and the pipe-bridge of Studley Park; the mud and river crossings of Plenty Gorge; the fog, frigid cold and beauty of Olinda; and finally, the bright sunshine and blueness of the beach at Anglesea.

So many challenges overcome, so much joy gathered up in a simple pair of trail shoes.

Thanks to my fellow runners, volunteers, and to Rapid Ascent.  You’ve put on a great show for all of us this year, and I’m going to be soaking in the memories for quite a long time.  Thanks to my family for letting  me get out and do what I love.

Next event?  I’m signed up for Two Bays 28K in January 2015 but I’m sure some other races will creep onto my calendar between now and then!


…how big your brave is…

The words of the song “Brave” have been playing through my mind this afternoon.  I haven’t visited with you for a while because I’ve been trying to find my “brave”.

I won’t lie; it has been a tough few weeks.  The reasons are private as they involve young children – what I want to write about is how I’ve coped, how I’ve found my “brave” to be able to face what I have to face.

First, there was the soft-sand beach run.  Melbourne has been putting on quite a winter for us, with every single run requiring some sort of bravery.  Last Thursday at 3:20 pm, just as I was about to set off, I noticed the blackest of clouds out my window.  I knew what they meant; I’d seen the weather.  Rain, hail, high winds.  I had a plan – 20 minutes of hill reps, followed by 25 minutes of soft-sand running.  I figured I had a narrow window before the heavens opened.

I was wrong – they opened about one block from home.    So what, I said to myself.  It’s rained every single time I’ve done hill reps.  The wind picked up.  Gusty, branch-dropping, tree-falling sort of wind.  I began on the gum-tree side of the street, switching to the side with smaller trees periodically.  The rain poured; the wind lashed me.  I watched the big trees cautiously, ready to duck and weave if they dropped a branch or themselves.  I ran up and down and up and down.  Eight reps.  The rain grew, if anything, heavier.  But the wind was the real enemy.  I ran to the beach.

There, the bay had been whipped into furious white waves.  They threw themselves over the sea wall.  They pelted me as I ran along the path.  The sideways rain drenched me.  I began to laugh.

No one was there but me.  I entered the beach, began my soft-sand run.  Rain and howling wind, but nothing to be blown or dropped on me, so I felt safe.  The sea was half-way up Hampton Beach, the widest beach I’ve ever known had been reduced to maybe four-feet across.  I ran, my feet sinking into the sand.  Crossed the rocks onto the Brighton side of the beach, where the sand was thicker.  I stopped for a moment to watch huge waves crash into the sea wall, froth and foam in the air.  I wondered how the sea wall could survive such an onslaught.

I made one lap that took fifteen minutes; I’d planned two, but was so cold and wet, that even I realised there was a virtue in being flexible, so I counted the ten minutes I had to run home as part of the soft-sand run.  A kite-surfer appeared just as I was leaving the beach, the first person I saw in that hour.  We grinned at each other, and I felt more alive than I had all week.

The second brave came on Saturday.  I’d had to miss my favorite Dandenongs run on Friday, due to hail, high tree-knocking-down winds, and thunderstorms, so had saved it up for Saturday.

Saturday was cold, blue-skyed, light breezes.  In short, glorious.  The dusting of snow from the day before had melted and all around me were extra streams, glimmers of water, life returning with the promise of spring.  The golden wattle was in bloom, with its signature scent that says home to me.

I was playing “attack the hills”, a fun game designed by my running coach, where you run up the hills at 80%, then the last twenty-five meters, you bolt up at 100% and then keep running.  I ran up hills I had never managed to run up before in two years of trying, and was delighted and exhausted, and elated.  I saw no one for two hours, until I came to the final three kilometer downhill.

There at the top, was a lone mountain biker staring out at the view.  He seemed deep in thought, so I remained silent as I ran by.  I remember thinking it was cool that we were both there, sharing this wondrous place.

The downhill was steep, gravelly, slippery, but I was focused on short steps, not committing too much to any one step, and feeling faster and more confident as a result.  I’d finished a couple of sections when I heard crashing far behind me.  It was subtle at first, and I thought it was either a wallaby or the mountain biker.  I was focused on my footing and waited a moment to turn, ready to clear the trail.

When I turned, I was stunned.  The mountain biker was flying towards me, all of three feet away.  I’d already begun moving to the right.  In the split-second it took to see him, I heard him begin shouting but didn’t have time to make out what he was saying.  It was all said too late and he was coming way too fast and we were going to collide.  We both reacted instantly, me shifting slightly to the left, him arcing around me in a terrifying slide to the right.

He came so close to ending me.  So close to ending both of us.  But he missed me with the final slide and continued slaloming down the hill, never once braking, shouting over his shoulder, “F…ing idiot!!” which scared me more than anything, but still I shouted back, “Yes, you are!!”

Of course, moments later, shaking, I realised that a woman alone in the woods near dusk should probably not shout out things like that to a lone man on a mountain bike.  So I spent the next few kilometers watching his bike trail in the mud, waiting for him to jump out of the bushes and bash me.  He didn’t.

Still, I was angry, and terror-stricken at how vulnerable I suddenly felt, at how quickly the joy of running could have been sucked from me.  But it wasn’t.  That’s what I kept saying to myself on the way down, it didn’t happen.  It didn’t happen.  It didn’t happen.

Third and final brave:  last night we went out for our 19th wedding anniversary to Chapel Street, South Yarra, home of the trendy and well-dressed.  I’m an Icebreaker and wool jumper sort of gal, so I was already feeling a bit out of place.  But we chose the trendiest of pasta places, one we’d visited maybe 12 years ago, on a last night out prior to leaving Australia to move to Hong Kong.  This restaurant held precious memories, and though we hadn’t booked, it was a cold winter night in Melbourne on a Monday.  It felt like the right place to go.

I went first, to face the Maitre d’.  I stood up to my tallest 161 cm, feeling my red three-quarter length jacket hug me, and tried to project my best Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“Are we too late for dinner?” I said, smoothly (ha!).

“No, Signora,” the boy young enough to be my son said.  He had great teeth. White and straight.  “Do you have a reservation?”

“No,” I said sadly (still aiming for Audrey).

He looked around.  Then he smiled, and pointed to the best table in the entire restaurant right up the front.

“May I take your coat?” he said.

He took our coats, sat us down, and I felt like a cool New York woman again, I’d done this, got us this great table.

Except the next waiter – let’s call him Owl Man – he did not have a good smile.  He looked at me like a freak of nature with his head turned to the side (hence, Owl Man), couldn’t understand my wine order (which I stumbled over because he made me forget how to speak), and when he brought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc instead of Cabernet Sauvignon I panicked and said, yes, that’s right, and it took my husband to notice that, no, this was certainly not what I ordered.  I felt a fool, but he must have felt a fool too, because after he got the right bottle, he proceeded to drip it in my water glass and onto the table as he poured.  And he never once commented on it.

From that moment, I was afraid of Owl Man.  He had seen through my Audrey Hepburn.  When he came to describe the specials, he began by saying they had a bruschetta (“Do you know what that is?” he said, his head cocked to the side, eyeing me as if I were ten, or a complete buffoon); we have a penne (long tubes of pasta, he said).  By this point, I’d gotten the giggles and could not look up at him.  I had to pull the hair at the base of my skull to stop the laughter that threatened to over-run me.

He finally went away, and the gorgeous boy with the straight teeth served us from there on.  The food was beautiful but I was never able to summon my inner Audrey back.

So three braves in the face of a couple of extremely challenging weeks.  Facing the storm at the beach; saving myself from the killer mountain biker; and entering a Chapel Street restaurant without a reservation.

It helps to find these moments of brave to face up to the rest of life.  Then I can look back and say, if I did that, surely I can face this…

And that’s really what it’s all about.  Finding those brave moments to teach us that we are, in fact, brave.  Brave enough.


The downs and the ups.

It has been an up-and-down roller coaster sort of a week since I last wrote, with a few more downs than ups, to be honest.  But running, as usual, has kept me hanging on through the steeper dives.

And running – well, thanks to my new running coach, Shaun Brewster – running has felt like a completely new sport.  I clocked 53 kilometers last week, my largest in quite a while, but I don’t really feel like I ran all of that because of the massive diversity in training.  Monday was an 18k long slow run up on Mount Dandenong, amongst the fern trees and eucalypts, with just mud for company.  Tuesday was a fast 10k along my Bayside Coastal Track.  Wednesday I taught two BodyPump classes back-to-back, which nearly killed me, so Thursday I only ran with the kids (1k with my daughter; 3 with my son) before driving us all to Ocean Grove for a short family holiday.  Friday I learned about Fast Downhill training, racing to the base of a steepish hill on a cliff in Ocean Grove, and walking back up, maybe 12 times, followed by 20 minutes of flat-out fast running.  Saturday, I ran 25 minutes fast, then practiced uphill running, driving up the cliffs on the bluff above Barwon Heads, running up as hard as I could, jogging down.  It all added up to 53 kilometers, but it didn’t feel like it.  And that was the joy of it.  It wasn’t any hard slogging down trails I didn’t enjoy; it was fast and fun and diverse, and just what my heart, soul, and body had been craving.

That’s the running part of last week.  And the running certainly helped me cope with the nose-dives of bringing young, emotional children to a different house.  I could share the downs that came with those emotions, but rather than focus there, I’d like to tell you about the ups.

There’s Leila, our seven-month-old Labrador Kelpie.  You might recall we adopted her from Labrador Rescue back in February, and I was a tiny bit dubious about the decision.  How wrong I was.  She’s the light of our lives.  Last week in Ocean Grove, she spent many hours off lead down at the beach, and if ever you want to see absolute joy, that’s where to look.

Leila loving the beach

Leila loving the beach

She loves every dog and every human she sees, so much so, that she tends to follow whichever dog happens along, in whatever direction it happens to be going.  Her whole body wags and is full of enthusiasm for the simplest of things.  A stick – oh my God – a stick!  And look – seaweed!  Do you see it?  Seaweed!  Dogs!!  People!!  Dogs!! We spent a lot of time walking back and forth along the same stretch of beautiful coastline in Ocean Grove, with the ongoing call of Leeillaa.  Sometimes she’d come running back to us like a racehorse, tongue hanging from the side of her mouth, joy in every inch of her body, as she buzzed us, and kept running.  If hungry though, she’d drop into a sit directly in front of me and fix me with her lovely brown eyes saying treat, treat, look I’m sitting, treat…

Then there were the cats, Jakie and Mini.  Both black-and-white, like Leila, though Jake is fat and lazy, and Mini is, well, Mini.  Fast, skittish, but hugely affectionate, standing on her back paws and reaching up to be petted.  I found them curled up together on our sofa, a picture of contentment on a cold Ocean Grove day.

Mini and Jakie content

Mini and Jakie content

They even get along with Leila now, which is a staggering thing to see after the initial fear they had of her.

Oh, and then there were the four of us, in a rare moment of family harmony, playing Scrabble on our small oak dining table, me noting how well my daughter is able to spell, and how clever my son is at using strategy to score extra points.  And how patient my husband is with our young children, under all circumstances.  The simple pleasure of no electronics, just family, playing an age-old board game.

The hours after the kids bedtime, where my husband and I curled up with books and beer and Leila, with the warmth of the gas heater filling our tiny living room, the curtains drawn, and rain falling on the tin roof.

The absolute beauty of the shoreline in Ocean Grove, which mesmerized me as I did my downhill running at sunset, watching the sky change color, the waves roll in, the surfers gather in the last of the day’s rides.  The wildish view from the top of the Bluff in Barwon Heads, with storm clouds in the distance, mist in the air, large waves rolling onto wild shore as far as the eye could see.  The green of the grass and yellow of the wildflowers.  The white of the crushed shell underfoot, and the small undulations and curves of the trail that made me be present.


Ocean Grove from the picnic spot where I did my downhill training

Ocean Grove from the picnic spot where I did my downhill training

And finally, the great joy of arriving home just one hour before dark, and my husband saying, I’ll empty the car, why don’t you go for a run.  My running clothes hanging dry in the laundry room, my watch charged.  I bolted out the door, ten minutes easy, then 7 intervals with 2 minutes fast, 1 slow, then 25 minutes of moderate (ok, fast as I could) running to return home, elated, and to notice that my average pace was faster than it has been in years.  And that it hardly felt like I had run at all, it was so much fun.

Now, my whole body is saying ouch, that’s a lot of running in two days, and I’m delighted that the kids are in bed, the dog is in her basket by me snoring as I type, the cats have curled up somewhere warm, and my husband has gone to the gym.  I have had one golden hour to share with you, reflecting on all that’s been good for the last six days.  Downs? I can’t seem to recall any downs anymore.


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.

Telling the truth.

How funny.  I never have writer’s block.  But I’ve started this post three different ways, and erased all of them.  I keep starting and stopping, staring at the blank screen, trying to think of the right way to put this.

Six years ago I returned to Melbourne with our young family.  The kids were 3 and 4 then, and I knew, even back then, something wasn’t quite right.  It has taken those six years to finally get a diagnosis of what the problem is with one of my children.  I won’t share the label/diagnosis here, or the gender of that child, because that is private and it is not mine to share.

What I will share is the impact those six long years has had on me.  Because it’s the truth, and not telling the truth is making me leave big, vacant holes in my stories, holes that make me feel inauthentic, and holes that need to be filled.

The first few years back in Australia, I was very near the edge.  I couldn’t see a way out, a way forward.  Each morning, I woke up to blackness and despair.  Was it post-natal depression?  Post-traumatic stress?  I don’t know.  It was probably both.  My husband had finished work and had been diagnosed with a spinal tumor.  The surgery left him with a permanent limp, and a tendency to fall over.  Instead of working, I was home with my kids for the first time.  So was he.  We’d had two domestic helpers in Hong Kong; now it was the two of us, and I didn’t know how to do this role.

One of my children was wonderful, loving, smart, all the things a parent could want.  The other, who I tried desperately to love, would greet me with, well, would greet me with violence.  They had no words.  They were severely speech-delayed.  But they did have fists and feet, and they used them on me; I was the punching bag, and I had nowhere to run because I was Mom and alone in this foreign country.  My parents had died; I was born in New York but had left there fifteen years ago; our friends in our small town in Australia were new, and I couldn’t share the truth with them.  It was me and my husband facing this battle, and though he did his best to help, he couldn’t fix what was wrong.  I was the target for the aggression, and I couldn’t explain how bad it made me feel.  I felt I’d done something wrong as a parent, and that I deserved it.  On the darkest days, I’d hold onto the fence of the level crossing as a train went by, afraid of myself, afraid I’d step in front of it if I let go of the fence.

I took my child to various doctors but was told the same things I already knew: speech delays; behavioral difficulties; an inability to express emotion or to empathize.  A child psychologist was suggested but they were an hour’s drive away, and my child screamed during every car ride, and took off their seat belt.  Nothing could get them to put it back on.  It was impossible.  I went on; we went on.

It took me two years but I found a caring psychologist who supported me, who helped build me back up.  She was perplexed by the behaviors I described in my child and saw how difficult my life had become.  She let me cry, and told me I was courageous.  She stood by me, and listened.  But she was not a child psychologist, so a piece of the puzzle was missing.

One day, the Salomon Trail Series was announced.  I missed trail running deep in my soul.  It had been my passion while living in Hong Kong, and suddenly there seemed a light here in Melbourne, a hope.  I began to run towards it.

Since then, I’ve kept running.  Through three Salomon Trail Series, a few half-marathons, adventure races, a marathon, and finally the North Face 50km Ultramarathon last year.   Each step, each trail run, has brought me peace in the face of the disaster that much of the rest of my life, periodically, seems to become.  The strength I found through running helped me finally seek the support of a child psychologist, and find some answers.

I can’t lie.  Some days with my child are just so hard.  I get told “I hate you”; I get spit at; I get rocks thrown at me when we go for family walks; the child whispers things in my ear so my husband can’t hear and scold her, whispers horrible scalding words that make my eyes fill with tears.  We didn’t travel for five years because we were too afraid our child would sneak out of a hotel room and disappear.  We have to hide things in our home because boundaries are meaningless and unenforceable.

Some days, I want to run away and I study airplane flight schedules.  During school holidays, I take an extra hour in bed to shorten the day.  I look in the mirror and I wonder where the self I worked so hard to create has gone.  The PhD in psychology, the two books I’ve published, the classes and seminars and radio shows I’ve done.  I long to see joy in my eyes, for my husband and I to stop snapping at each other because we’re both under such stress.

I hold on.  I try to notice flowers and autumn leaves.  I pet my cats and take our dog for walks.

I run.  Sometimes I’ve run too far and injured myself, and my last bastion of support and strength has crumbled beneath me and I have to hold on by my fingernails to survive.  I am teaching myself to play piano because I find I can lose myself in the music and this also acts as a salve.

The dark days have become less regular, but they are no less dark when they do occur.  School holidays brings on a lot of them, because there is a lot more time for conflict to occur. I go quiet then on my blog, because the truth is hard to share.

I study the label that has been applied to my child by several psychologists now and see some truth in it, but I know that people change and that this label may not fit in the future, and I don’t want to stick my child with it forever because then that child may feel they have to live up to it somehow.  I keep seeking help for us, through Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, Psychologists, through aid at school.

I am not alone in this battle.  Hundreds of parents face it.  This I know.  I hope by sharing my truth of how hard it has been, I help one of you.  I get knocked down.  Regularly.  But I’m going to keep right on getting back up.

Trail running is one place I go to salve my wounds, to fill my soul, to howl the tears that need to be howled.  Sometimes I go quiet.  Please know that it is hardest to write when times are most dark.  I am still here, fighting the good fight, and I will write for you again.  I will tell you stories of joy and running, of battling, of courage in the face of great disasters.

And I will tell you the truth.


The dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Perhaps.

On Wednesday last week, after two months of searching, learning, exploring and deciding, a twelve-week old puppy arrived on our doorstep.  She was in the care of a foster mom at Labrador Rescue up in Queensland, having been saved from a shelter.  I knew she was the one the moment I saw her photo and I pursued her, well, like a Labrador pursues anything.  Doggedly, until she was ours, and we were hers.


She flew from Brisbane to Melbourne in the care of Jet Pets, and was handed to me (me who had never held a puppy before) in front of my house at 3:42 pm.  The kids got home at 4:00.  The cats?  They were seen once or twice shaking their heads in dismay through the windows.  I quickly captured and brought them in, so they wouldn’t disappear.  They cowered in their laundry room, disbelief in their eyes.

Leila, the pup, is good as gold, and behaving exactly as a puppy should behave.  In other words, peeing on the floor, crying for half the night, terrorizing the cats, and eating everything in sight.  She is like a living vacuum cleaner with no off switch.

Of course she is adorable and her ears as soft as silk, her wagging tail a delight to behold.

But here’s the thing:  life was already a challenge.  My youngest child has some serious learning issues, and does not respond well to change.  This means that the week we had of peace in my home – the first week of peace in eight years – has been suddenly replaced by dog toys being thrown at my head, and chants of “You’re a loser” copied direct from some TV show.  Saturday morning, I cleaned the kitchen and did six loads of laundry.  This is never a good sign.

A good friend found me walking the neighborhood on Saturday (I’d needed a breath of fresh air), pulled her car over, and said, “You look like you need a drink!”  I didn’t go with her – that would be a Pandora’s Box for sure, but my tight shoulders said she was right.

Monday has come, and the kids are at school.  Our little pup had a tummy ache but a race to the vet proves it is nothing too serious, and she settles down for a nap.

And I, after two sedentary days following this pup around my house (did I mention she can’t leave for another two weeks because she needs another vaccination?), I got my running shoes on.

Somewhere along that 7k of solitude, I found the strength to continue on.  My head cleared; I felt a sense of hope.  This is not the end.  This is only the beginning.  My cats and my children and I will all stretch a bit to accommodate this new creature.  I will open my heart and love her.

So…is it the dumbest thing I’ve ever done?  Ask me in a year, when my new Labrador/Kelpie is able to run with me.  Ask me in six months when she comes to the beach to chase balls.  Ask me later today when her whole body wags when she sees me.

I suppose great things do not come without great risks.  A lesson I have had to learn yet again.

I’ve also re-learnt the lesson about running, how it puts things in perspective and makes sane the crazy in me.