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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.