The Trail Running Series, Silvan 2019: sliding in the mud!

‘Watch it there – that’s gotten super-slippery.’ The rain-soaked volunteer gestures to the slick bit of red mud that’s pretending to be a trail.

I glance down. ‘Yes, I see that, thanks!’ I quickly switch over to the side of the track that has a little bit of gravel. The runner behind me slides down through the mud. A second later, we’re on the same grassy hill, both upright. He takes off in front of me, leading the way.

It’s pouring rain and I’m utterly soaked; I couldn’t be wetter if I were swimming in the ocean. I laugh out loud. I follow down the trail as it winds between tall conical trees, splashing downhill in the grass. I open my arms wide in elation, overjoyed at the realness of it all, the rain, the grass, the mud, the movement.

It’s the 15 km medium course of The Trail Running Series, Race #3 at Silvan in the Dandenongs. And I bet it’s the only place in Melbourne on this cold, wet, winter’s morning where you can find hundreds of people laughing and smiling and high-fiving like little kids.

Race Headquarters in the early morning fog

Our race began up a great steep slippery hill. We were like soldiers going into battle, trudging upwards. I was testing some new trail shoes to see how they were in these conditions, so wasn’t confident yet. Choose the grassy edges or the smoother centre red mud? Runners were spread the width of the hill, some power-hiking, a few jogging, most laughing. I went everywhere I didn’t see slip-marks from other runners, criss-crossing the trail, driving up, breath hurting. With 15km there was no need to get out in front. I knew this course well, having run it many times. I waited until the downhill and then opened it up.

Loving the downhills

After four bouts of laser eye surgery to zap the floaters, my eyes are the best they’ve been in years, and though I was still passed downhill my confidence is growing.

Funny how moments go in races. The friendly battles with other runners, going faster up, being passed in the downs. It was less congested than it sometimes is, and I found myself alone a few times, as if it were a solo training run on a Sunday. Lovely to be amongst the trees in the fog. Nothing to think of but pace and foot placement, watching for course markings. Lulled by the rain.

Imagining I’m all alone amid the ferns and gum trees

Until the moment the man behind me asks, “What colour are the course markings for the medium and long courses?” I tell him, then feel a bolt of panic – is he saying there was an intersection? I didn’t see one – did we miss it? My heart thunders. It feels silly and panicky to ask so I don’t, and then I find I’ve left him behind so can’t ask and do panic. So, oh the relief when I see a green ribbon a few minutes later. Phew. Especially because the course has been slightly different this year, routed down an unfamiliar trail.

And so it goes. Passing; being passed. Playing leapfrog with fellow runners. Running by the nests of dragons and not noticing (as below!).

Here there be dragons…

It happens over a fallen tree. I’m climbing over on the left of the tree when a woman decides to climb over on the right, to pass me at the same exact moment. She steps into the only open spot right where I’m about to step and I feel my right calf cramp in protest. “Oh, sorry,” she says, as if she’s just realised she’s broken a trail rule (Don’t pass where it’s Dumb to pass, rule #849). “It’s ok,” I lie as she runs off.

My calf relaxes but I’m suddenly angry. Really? She had to pass me right there and not in the other 15km of the course? I study her from behind, memorise her hair and outfit, and paint a (perhaps unfair and grumpy) target on her back. See you before the finish, I think to myself.

I put the emotion away, and run on. Hugged by trees, shoes sinking into the mud. Joy and joy and fast-flowing down challenging trails and my body at 53 still able to do this well, my vision good and I’m agile again. We climb and climb until finally we turn onto the red clay downhill next to the fence: my nemesis. I’m better than previous years but it’s slippery so I’m cautious. Passed by a few people. Let them go. I know we’re coming to my favourite bit.

We hit the dirt road two kilometres from the finish and I put my foot down. Zoom-zoom like my Mazda! Ha! There she is – the girl from the tree incident! In my sights. I floor it, chase her like she’s the prey and I’m the big bad wolf! Fly by her for no real reason but it feels sooo good. I pass a few others who passed me on the technical downhills and give a silent cheer.

I’m burning out my legs with the pace and I pretend to myself that this road leads right to the finish, like I do every year, and every year, it breaks my heart when we turn right into more single track. Passing/passed, legs burning, stepping not jumping over little tree trunks. I hear cheering, see the car park, the finish cones, I go go go, forget everyone, then I hear someone cheer my name and I smile hugely, then Chris And Ella shout me too and I run to high-five them just after I cross the line.

Pouring rain at the finish
High-five that made my day!

The race photographer stops me to chat about my run and blog, but I’m frozen in my singlet and I can’t speak properly, slurring my words with the cold. Embarrassing and funny, all at once.

I grab my wind cheater from the bag check and then stand around listening to the man playing guitar and singing.  The rain is cold but I don’t really feel it as I squish and slide in the mud back to my car. In the Ladies, several of us women change at once and we chat while not meeting eyes, talking frozen nonsense while we battle our way out of soaked clothing.  I morphe back into a soccer mom with eighteen layers and wool-lined hiking boots.

Hiding under marquees, waiting for presentations, several people mistake me for staff and question me about the Surfcoast Century. I kind of feel like staff so I answer their questions.

Standing in the mud and rain in my eighteen layers, warm in the freezing cold, I listen to the live guitar and the great singer. I’m alone for a while, so I can just stand and observe. Everywhere, people are laughing and smiling, pride showing on the faces of parents, friends hugging, people standing close and talking. A small miracle how this little place in the woods brings out the smiles and camaraderie.

Presentations are smaller then usual with the cold conditions but I’m delighted to get third in my age category, and to see Dean Jackson take first in his.

It’s hard to put into words what these events have meant to me. They led me to the woods when I first returned to Australia, when I was too afraid to run solo in the Dandenongs. Now these woods feel like home to me. I know the courses like an old friend, and love them in all their many moods, from sun to wind to rain.

I didn’t slip and fall in the mud. And yet I did. It was two weeks back: I’d anxiously been awaiting an email from a literary agent for my new book. It didn’t come. No message equaled no interest. Knowing that was likely to happen did not lesson the blow.

But I anticipated it, just like I might anticipate slipping in the mud. The Friday before, I emailed my book designer and asked them to get started on a cover: I was going to self-publish again. Because within me, like within every runner out there on Sunday, there’s a person who doesn’t back down just because it’s cold and rainy and winter and the agents and publishers don’t like my book enough to take a risk.

I’ll take the risk and the falls and the puddles and the mud, because that’s who I am. That’s who we are.

I’m delighted to share with you the cover of my next book. The design was completed yesterday.

I’m sure I’ll take some falls along the way in this publishing game, just as I did on my first two books. But in the end, you’ve got to enter the race, stick with it even in the rain and wind and mud, and soak up all the joy along the way. I’m aiming to have it out in mid-October 2019. And yes, one of the main characters does love to run in the Dandenongs!

Which cover for my new book??

After a long and agonising wait from both agents and publishers, and the echoing silence as I shout, ‘would you please publish my terrific book’, I’ve decided to publish it myself. Would you like to help choose the cover?

It’s a novel, called Dog Park Days. It’s a book about belonging, and how we make our place in what can be a hard world. I’d love some help to choose between two compelling covers designed by Working Type (Luke Harris), who also did the cover for Akilina, my first novel. Here they are – I’ll call them 1, and 2:

Here’s the back cover blurb (very first draft) so you can see what it’s about:

None of them knows how it feels to belong.

Victoria is new to Australia, and at 52, has forgotten how to make friends.  Except with dogs.  She’s great with dogs.

Thomas, 23, lives in his car and is trying to avoid a life of crime. But local dog thieves have other ideas for him.

Lucy, also 23, knows she should dump her boyfriend.  Her flatmates know it.  Even her rescue puppy agrees.

When their lives intersect at a local dog park, these three strangers might finally find a place to belong.

But first they must defeat the dog thieves, and to do that, they must bring an entire community together.

A heart-warming novel about Australia, destiny and dogs

(and a little bit of crime).

Which is your favourite?

If you don’t want to post an answer on WordPress, just drop me an email at

I’d love to hear your opinion!

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!

Runner’s World Magazine: oh my!

Waiting in the schoolyard for my kids, I heard the distant sound of church bells.  How pretty, I thought.  As always, I’d forgotten that was the ring tone of my cell phone, and it chimed away in the distant reaches of my handbag until I remembered.  Too late to catch the call, I studied the number I didn’t recognise, and quickly called voicemail before the bell rang for school dismissal.

It turned out to be Adele from Rapid Ascent, the race organisers of the Salomon Trail Series (amongst other massively wonderful events).  They were calling to let me know they’d put my name forward to Runner’s World Magazine, based on my blog about their races, for the “What it takes to…” section.

Runner's World magazine, published by Rodale s...

Runner’s World magazine, published by Rodale since 1971 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Say what?!  I was just reading that section, poring over the photos and the details of these real people overcoming amazing obstacles to do life-affirming things through running.  I was going to appear there, amongst them?  Really?

My smile stretched ear-to-ear and I felt like dancing a little jig in the schoolyard.  I didn’t because I already feel a bit of a freak there, imagining the other moms saying, in soft whispers, behind their hands, there goes that mom who is always running, what’s wrong with her?  Why does she run so much?  So I did the jig inside, and then told a few good friends the exciting news.

Here’s the thing:  I’ve been thinking, and planning, and thinking, and wondering where to go next in this great big wild adventure that has been my mission (career seems too little and limiting a word for what I do).  Should I be doing more coaching? Go back to Personal Training?  Teach BodyPump or stop?  Write the next book, and if so, should it be a memoir (too revealing) or fiction (possible but it would be a memoir anyway with character names substituted for real names)?  What could I do to earn a bit more money to support our family?  Organisational Psychology jobs on LinkedIn make my blood run cold, and no one seemed to be advertising for a maverick with a short attention span who didn’t like to be bossed.  Hmm.  What to do?

I’ve always believed that the world opens the doors that are meant to open for us, but only once we’ve been banging against them for a really long time.  I’m not really into the “send the message to the Universe and then wait around” school of thought, because you can be waiting around for a very long time, with lots of other sad people who were once filled with hope.

So I’ve been banging against lots of doors, throwing pebbles at windows, digging under fences, doing all I can do make this mission of mine bear fruit.  From blogging and speaking, Twitter and Facebook, standing on a stage dripping sweat and lifting weights with groups of twenty-five, I’ve been doing everything I can to “prime the pump”, as Zig Ziglar used to say.  My work all has the same aim, that of inspiring others.  Helping them live up to all they can be.

I get scared sometimes.  Of course I do.  The questions come late at night or after reading an unforgiving review of someone else.  How can he/she/they think they are inspiring, that little evil voice goes.  How can you?

Shut up, I say in my head.


Funny, just as I was writing this, I hit a brain freeze…

And still.  A few moments later.  It won’t go away.

Funny how when you give the inner gremlins an inch, they take a mile.  They stop fingers from moving on keyboards and play a sad, lonely song in our heads.

Shut up already.


So…when Runner’s World emailed me this morning (a few days had gone by since the initial phone call, and I’d started thinking maybe I wasn’t going to be in the magazine after all), asking for a few more details, suburb, occupation, well, I nearly jumped for joy.

If I can inspire one person to get up, to run a trail they would not otherwise have run, I count my career as a success.  I count my mission as having been achieved.

What do I do next?  For me, it is always the next.  It is very hard to be present with success because I’m always thinking what’s next.  So here’s what’s next:  keep banging on doors, writing what flows freely with abundance, shouting my message through whatever medium is available.


That word just popped into my head.  It sometimes turns up in songs when I teach BodyPump or in literature that I am lost within.  It always makes me itchy, angry, jittery.  It always makes me want to kick something over.

Here’s the thing:  limits are there until we jump over them.  Once we do, they turn to us, and, with a shrug of their skinny little shoulders, they walk away.  They disappear, as if they were never there in the first place.

Runner’s World Magazine.  Who would have thought!

Salomon Trail Series 2012: Anglesea Race, smiling all the way

Salomon Trail Series 2012: Anglesea Race, smiling all the way

Oh…and this weekend is the race that started this amazing journey: the Surfcoast Century 100km.  This year, it falls on the same day as my son’s most important soccer tournament, so I have to miss out.

But the next day is the 15km Anglesea Race which is part of the same Salomon Trail Series.  I’ll be kicking up my heels in joy at that one, and thinking about the days when the limit of my longest run was 10km.

Runner’s World Online

Rapid Ascent and the Salomon Trail Series

Life’s a roller coaster – running eases the drops.

Two weeks and one day ago, I sprained my ankle. I have spent the time since in full rehab mode, first resting, then stretching, then strengthening. It helped to have a race goal to focus on – the Salomon Trail Series Silvan 21k Trail Race on 25 August.

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Great Joy at last year’s Silvan Reservoir Race

Today, I managed to run for twenty minutes on the treadmill, pain-free. I ran in my monster feet (Vibram Five Fingers), and was conscious of each step. So conscious in fact, that I changed treadmills three times before I settled (like Goldilocks – this one is too angly; this one has a toe-catching hole in the belt; this one is Just Right). I wondered what the other people in the gym thought of me (nothing – no one in a gym notices much except themselves).

So I began. I put the treadmill on 5 km/hour, then jumped it to 8, 9, 10. Ten was as far as I got on Friday before the ache began in my ankle, and I was forced to walk again. Today, it didn’t ache. I pushed up .2 every minute, until I hit 11. Eleven is my usual recovery pace when I do interval training – I was thrilled to be there again. I held it at 11 for a minute, then cautiously, testing, pushed it up to 11.2, stayed there for 2 minutes, then 11.4. Ah, delight; it did not hurt. Bon Jovi, my running partner of many a treadmill session, was with me, an old friend, singing all my favorites, lifting my feet for me. I was cautious though, acutely aware that a mis-step would be deadly. When I hit twenty minutes, I noticed I’d also covered 3.45 km, so of course, had to keep going until I hit 3.5. Because I am ready to start adding up the km’s again.

Did it feel good? It felt scary. Knowing what running means to me (freedom; power; the opposite of depression), I was afraid to hurt myself by doing too much too soon. It is a fine line between recovery and re-injury. Thankfully, I did not cross it today. The stability work I’ve been doing (eccentric Achilles work; standing on a dura-disk on one foot with my eyes closed; ballet-toe walking back-and-forth across my office) has been paying off.

You might rightfully ask, why all this focus on running? In the two weeks I have been unable to run, I have found I can be peaceful without it, but I think this peace is mainly because I still have a goal – recovery.  And peaceful is one thing; inspired, elated, joyful, well, that’s entirely different. I only get there through fast runs on solitary trails, and God, I have missed it.

In the meantime, I have used the extra time to get a new host for my website, to finally get my PayPal system working, and to figure out how to put photos of my books and a way for people to buy them on my blog (because my website designer told me he didn’t know I had written any books, and that the header on my blog looked just like a pretty picture – duh, that should have occurred to me). The thing is, I am against the hard-sell, the “buy now, last in stock” stuff. I don’t want to hit people over the head with the fact that I’ve written a couple of books, though it would be nice to sell some. My goal is to inspire, through my writing, through my coaching, through media work when it comes my way.

And anyway, last week, I was nearly frightened into silence by a mean-spirited post on Facebook about how narcissistic everyone is, how much of what we write is of little interest to anyone but ourselves. What an effective way to silence voices. It made me pause; made me quiet for a day or so.  I won’t reprint the post here; I don’t want to give it more airspace. Because I don’t want to contribute to silencing a single voice.  Here’s what I thought later.  The people who climb Mount Everest, who cross the ocean in a one-person boat, who trek across the desert for charity – they are inspiring, for sure.  But sometimes these things are so out of reach to the average person, it doesn’t inspire them, they just think of the others as superhuman, and turn the page, and don’t do anything themselves.  To read about a single dad’s first attempt at a 10k; a person overcoming the challenge that to most would seem rather un-extraordinary, but to that person is an Everest. That is what inspires me.  So please keep writing – we need to know that normal people can do things beyond their own comfort zones, so we will too.

I have yet to decide if I’ll make it to my race goal in thirteen days time.  In some ways, it seems dumb to attempt it.  But I won’t make that call yet.  Because many things I have done in the last ten years have seemed out of reach, until I went for them.  Here’s the race profile – it looks similar but easier than my usual weekly 21k, but I’ve not been out there for a month.

This year’s elevation profile for Silvan.

In the meantime, I am aiming for my first twenty km week this week, after two weeks of notching up 0 and 3 kms.  Little steps; baby steps.  Soon, I will be running.  And the lows on the roller coaster of life won’t seem so low then.

And the highs?  On the highs I can see forever.

seeing forever

seeing forever (Photo credit: DanielJames)

What’s next? After the 50…

Ah, that is the question.  Three weeks or so after the North Face 50km race, and my recovery is finally coming along.  It took some strong words from the Dandenongs Running Group to get me back on track, to realise I needed to slow down and heal, as I had come out pretty fast and hard.  The irony – in formulating my question the group, I almost laughed out loud:

“Okay experienced ultra-runners, can you help? It’s been nearly 3 weeks since North Face 50 and I am still so tired. I spent the first week after recovering and only ran 7k in total, last week I ramped it back up to 47k plus teaching 2 pump classes and 1 weight training day. This week I’m only up to 30k and 2 pump classes, and exhausted. What do I do? Should I be recovered yet? Feeling a bit of a dummy and wondering whether I am doing this right. (oh, and trying to gently train for the Surfcoast Century that will happen in September too). Any advice?”

Duh.  Slow down, they said, loud, kindly, and in unison.  I guess I kind of knew that, but somehow having real ultrarunners to validate my tiredness enabled me to take three days off running, to do a yoga session, and to finally, finally leap out of bed in the morning with a spring in my step.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m still going slow for the next couple of weeks, with my only real challenge the first race in the Salomon Trail Series, a 15km romp in some lovely woods near home.

But my heart and soul are calling out for the next goal.  And I don’t just mean running.  I have been contemplating the fact that it is June already, and that novel, my second, that I’d promised to get started, well, I haven’t got started.  I’ve already written a non-fiction book, and a novel about a woman lost in the woods.  This third book has been harder to birth.  It began as a book called White Bird of Freedom, about a woman whose marriage had dissolved.  It featured a cowboy named Jake Wyoming (a hottie of course, and very good with horses), and lots of soul-searching.  The trouble was, I set out to write it as a call to environmentalism (the husband was the bad guy, destroying the environment while the wife wrung her hands in despair before he left her), and it became kind of talking-headish.  At least the bits that weren’t a love story did.  The bits about Jake and Carol sung.  I don’t want to leave those characters, but I can’t write about the environment, just like I couldn’t write a book about Life Coaching.  I can only write what I know.

Lately I’ve been contemplating making one of the characters an ultra-runner.  But where is the conflict?  And that is where my fingers stop moving, and I can’t go forward.

Similar to my choice of my next serious event.  I feel the ideas simmering (Two Bays 56km; Surfcoast Century 100km; Roller Coaster 43km; events in New Zealand) away, but find it hard to unleash them, to let them flow away from my control.

Perhaps, like the autumn here in Melbourne, things are astir under the soil, getting ready to bloom.  Like when we bought our lovely home, and the first spring, these wonderful bulbs burst forth that I hadn’t known were there.  They were bluebells, and they were everywhere.

Perhaps White Bird of Freedom is like that.  I need to let it simmer, and eventually it will flow freely.  Or maybe I need to start writing.  Build in some time when the kids are at school, lock my husband out of my office and find my soul-space again.

The words, just like the words of my blog, do not sing except in solitude.  And being a wife and a parent makes that solitude hard to come by.

Truth or excuses.  I found the time to train for a 50km trail race.  I think the truth is I am afraid to birth a book in today’s world without an avenue to sell it.  But that is not why we write – we don’t just write to sell.  We write because what we say needs saying, for both our spirit and the spirits who find the words just when they need them.  I’m going to write anyway, scared or not, just like I run.  The words will come.  It will take some work, but I am going to sing this book into life.  Just you watch…

Biggest Strength

“For the icebreaker activity, find a partner, and try to discover their biggest strength.”

Heaven help me. I’m here in the city, tongue-tied, at a meeting of the College of Organisational Psychologists. The theme is Coaching Skills. I’ve been a coach for twelve years, I tell myself in my head. I am a registered psychologist.  So how come, when Martin and I begin talking, I blurt out, “My biggest strength is I can do lots of push-ups.” I want to sink into the floor.
“How many?” he asks.
I pause. “I don’t know. I’ve not tested myself lately. Fifty, maybe?”
Where do we go from here? I wonder.
He says he’s not going to enter a push-up contest with me. We both smile.
I ask him of his work as an organisational psychologist, and I ponder the path I left in 1999. All around me, there is talk of selection tests, performance management, leadership. It is my world, yet it is not my world.

When the time comes for Martin to introduce me to the group, the first thing he mentions is I teach BodyPump. Heads turn, a murmur fills the room. They are surprised too. I smile and nod.

What I am really thinking is: I don’t belong here. Just like at the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychologists meeting in Montreal when I was still in graduate school, pursuing a Ph.D. My claim to fame at that event was not my research, but the fact that I won the women’s 5k race. There weren’t many women psychologists who ran.

At this event here in Melbourne, I shift uncomfortably in my seat. How do I explain who I am, what I do, to this group? I stumble over the words in my head. I am an inspirer, my Facebook Page says. I’ve written books. I coach. I speak. And yes, I teach BodyPump, three times this week in fact. Because BodyPump allows me to say what I came here to say: you are more than you think you are. And I can prove it to you. Come, lift this barbell, do this push-up, yes, on your toes, prove it to yourself. This is not theory. This is not talking about exercise adherence or motivation. This is front-line stuff, sweat and guts and tears. How do I explain about adventure racing and the woods, and how they informed my writing, how my books take people into the dark to show them the way back to the light?

We sit in the room on Queens Street in Melbourne, and talk about motivation theory. Self-determination. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The speakers are passionate but their words don’t resonate in me. Not like the words scapular retraction and rotator cuff. Not like the words mountain biking, trail run, boogie board.  I listen, and wait, reflect on similar lectures back in New York City a lifetime ago.

Then we come to the coaching section, where I coach, with another participant observing. This frightens me, being observed. What if I am awful? What if I’ve forgotten how to coach? But when we begin, the person I am coaching somehow opens. The observer is there, but I’ve forgotten him. I become absolutely involved in this woman’s problem, in hearing her, in searching for the threads of her speech which contain her answer. She is effusive, hands waving, voice lifted, eyes shining. At one point, I stop her. “So this new work, this is like your dream, then?” Our eyes meet. I see tears in hers. “Yes, it is my dream.”

In that moment, I know I am in the right room, the right profession. Theory informs; I am here simply to gain some extra theory to underpin my work, to provide an extra scaffold on which to hang my questions.

But beneath that, I am here to remind myself who I am, what I do. Someone asks me later if I’ll be drawn more into work as an organisational psychologist. I look away. I will always be a maverick, wearing more than one hat, shifting and changing, hard to still. “No, I don’t think so”, I reply, after a long pause.  In my head, I’m realising that I’ve carved out an ideal path, the path that lines up perfectly with who I am.

At the end of the workshop, I tell the woman I have coached I’d like to continue to ponder her problem – it bothers me that we haven’t had time to fully address it tonight. She looks surprised. “You do this because you really love it.”
“Yes,” I say. “I do.”

New Oceans

I set out to run 13 km this morning, using my Garmin watch to get the exact distance to the halfway point.  What I didn’t realise was where that would take me.

I’ve run this trail dozens of times, but not so far, and not from this starting point.  It was a cold day, one of the first I’ve left my orange long-sleeved top on.  But after the first two kilometres, I was warm and content.  The Coastal Trail requires attention, criss-crossed as it is with tree roots, studded with small ankle-twisting rocks.  There are a few minor downhills that allow me to dance, reminding me of Hong Kong trails but on a smaller scale.

I run and run, racing my fears, my worries, outdistancing them in a pair of Asics and a jog-bra.  I am happiest when the trail requires one-hundred percent attention, when getting caught up in the rumblings of my own mind would mean a face-plant.  I’ve done that before, lulled by an easier section to relax my vigilance, suddenly tripping and slamming face-first into the dirt.  Nothing makes me wake up like this, reminds me to focus on the now, and not on when the car insurance is due.

Today, when the watch beeps just five kilometres, I realise I’ve hit the end of the trail I know, and keep running.  It is a mini-adventure now.  Moments later my lovely track ends, and I am funneled onto the concrete bike track that runs beside the busy road.  Despair. But surely it can’t continue like this.  I have faith, keep running.  Two hundred metres on, there is a gap in the fence, a set of steps down.  I follow them, dancing downwards.

At the bottom, I arrive at the beach, look around, and see a sign that reads Rickets Point Marine Sanctuary.  No way!  I’ve driven here, cycled here, but never ever thought I could run here, run this far.  The waves break on the beach, white foam and joy, for me and one single walker with a brown dog.  I continue on until I hit my 6.5 km turnaround, and spin on the spot to sprint back down the beach.

I’ve just dedicated the rest of this run to adventure, to new trails, to new sights.  I don’t climb back up to my usual trail.  Instead, I run along beaches I’ve only seen from cliff tops, thick sand shifting away beneath me.  A coastal rock section recalls the terrain of the Lorne Adventure Race, and I move carefully in my thin running shoes.  When my son was five, we walked this rocky section, looking for and finding dinosaur skeletons in the rocks.  I smile at the memory.  I’ve never taken the time to run these rocks before.

The sand is thicker on the next beach, testing my endurance as I hit the ten kilometre mark.  I spot a steep uphill, leading back to my tree-lined track and dash up it, calves aching.  Compared to the sand, the dirt track feels easy now, and I increase my pace.  My eyes are drawn to the peace of the harbour, as always.  I let a familiar phrase run through my mind, from a poster I bought shortly after moving to Australia:  You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

Today, the new ocean has been just a few footsteps further along the trail.

How often this is true.

At a crossroads

As I prepared my talk for the book signing last weekend, I had the chance to contemplate why I wrote Akilina: Out of the Woods.  At first, I thought I would tell everyone about myself, then about how Akilina came to be.  I ran through the talk aloud a few times, but though the words were all true,  something was wrong in the telling of it.

It wasn’t as if I had created this book — it was more like this book had created me.

One day, in 2003, I’d sat down in Starbucks on Caine Road in Hong Kong, as I often did.  Staring out the window at the traffic, at the people hustling by, I contemplated my path.  Then I opened my notebook and began writing.  I was “practicing” my writing, going deep inside to write about what I was feeling, but writing about it in the third person (she was feeling this, she was feeling that).  I only wrote one page that day.  It was about a woman who was alone at the end of a trail, who didn’t know where to go next.

That woman was me.

You see, I’d created a successful personal training business in Hong Kong, was known as an inspiring BodyPump instructor, and was meeting everyone’s needs but my own.  For years, I’d worked to combine the physical and mental nature of my work — I was both a psychologist and a personal trainer, but somehow, I had lost the psychology side of my work.  This was my crossroads.  I didn’t know where to go next, how to continue my quest to inspire large numbers of people, while being true to both of my passions.

So I began to write about it.  To write myself out of it.  I wrote of dreams I’d had, frightening experiences, uplifting experiences.  I wrote of what I knew — running in the woods, scrambling up waterfalls, facing down my darker side and learning how to let it works it’s power in positive ways.  I wrote to free myself from where I’d gotten stuck.  And I wrote to free others, by sharing what being stuck felt like.  To figure out how to break free.

I wrote the first draft of my book in three months, and then we adopted our children.  Having tiny babies, I suddenly saw just how self-absorbed the heroine in my novel was — perhaps how self-absorbed I had been myself — and rewrote the book to turn around the fate of a baby lost in the woods.  As my babies grew, my book grew.   It began as a 90-page novella and ended as a 364 page novel.

Reading the final draft before sending it to the printer, I saw that this book was all I was — hugely physical, a combination of dark and light, with a large dose of self-doubt and what I hoped was a larger dose of courage.

The book complete, I looked around myself, and realised I was no longer stuck.  Through my writing, I had forged a new path for myself, as coach, writer, and inspirer.

So to tell you how I came to write Akilina is really to tell you how I came to write my own life.  Now, a mother of two, a wife, content at the place I have reached, at the ability to once again motivate both mind and body, I see this novel for what it was: a pathway forward.

What I hope, when I look deepest within myself, is that this book forges pathways forward for all who read it.  Sometimes, when readers approach me with a certain look in their eyes, a look which says, thank you, now I feel less alone, I feel I have achieved this.  Helped them find their path again, as writing this book helped me find my own.