Big book give-away at Salomon Trail Series Anglesea 2015

Rocket fuel for the soul.

Rocket fuel for the soul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!


I made a promise…

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

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

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

Am I stoked?  I’m getting there!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am no longer alone; I am at home.

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

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