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?
Of 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.
This 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…
The race photographer captured these amazing moments. Sharee encouraging me across the finish line in her amazing costume.
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.
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.
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.