When you run on the earth and with the earth, you can run forever
The alarm was ringing. Was it really time to get up already? I checked my phone – 4:30am. Yes, it was time to get up.
I went down stairs and put the kettle on. I was so tired. This was really unusual for me. I’m not really one much for sleep, I find it a real hindrance. Ordinarily I get up around 3:30am for a race and it’s never an issue. Today’s race was my local so I could afford the extra hour sleep, yet I was so tired.
I was worried that this was a bad omen for the day ahead. Maybe I had pushed myself too far? This was after all, my third race of a marathon distance or more in three consecutive weeks.
I was all out of whack. Normally I have everything out ready to go before my race. Today I just couldn’t think straight.
I sat down to eat my usual pre-race breakfast – kamut sourdough with sunflower seed spread, mashed banana and chia seeds. All of a sudden it was gone and I couldn’t recall eating it. Did I just sleep eat my breakfast?
Then I did something very uncharacteristic, I put the TV on. I wasn’t really paying attention, but the commercial for Live Below The Line was on. I was having a great deal of difficulty with my injinji socks – too many toes for 4:30am! I heard her say something about eating on $2 or less a day and something else about not taking things for granted. Jeez, my fancy kamut sourdough was $6.75 alone.
Socks were finally on, so it was time to head up the mountain.
I was still half asleep sitting inside the restaurant at Sky High Mount Dandenong with my race number in place when some guy started chatting.
“You racing alone?” he asked me. That seemed like an odd question. Don’t we all race alone?
Me: “I suppose so.”
“I raise a lot of money for charity.” Nice. Good for you.
“What’s your goal for today?”
Me: “Well I’m actually shitting myself that I’m not going to make the cut off’s.”
“You’d have to be pretty slow to not make cut offs.”
Me: “I’m doing the double loop. I ran a marathon last weekend up a volcano and an ultra marathon in a cyclone the weekend before.”
Unimpressed: “You’d have to be pretty slow.” Ok.
“You need to learn to run hills properly.”
Me: “You’ve done this course before.”
“No, it’s my first trail run, but I’ve run Great Ocean Road Half Marathon. I’m amazing on hills. You should see me descend – it’s magic, I’m so fast.” Get fucked dick head!
Me: “You been up Dodd’s Track before?”
“No, but I’m fantastic on hills. I’m amazing.”
I smile and walk away toward the start line.
There’s a woman standing on the steps clutching at a tissue so hard her knuckles are purple.
“You look nervous,” I say to her.
She explains that she registered last year but was so nervous she couldn’t even turn up to the start. This is her first trail run. I tell her to not worry about anyone else today. This is her day to enjoy her beautiful surroundings, look around, look at the trees, breathe in the fresh air. Turn off the Garmin if that’s causing stress and just enjoy spending the morning out in nature. She smiles and I can see she is a true trail runner at heart. She starts to look excited, I’m excited for her.
As I welcome my new friend to the world of trail running, I start to remember why I love this sport so much. Sure I’m going to run 44km. Sure it’s going to hurt at times, but I get to spend most of the day outside, with nature, running on the earth and with the earth.
I have been gas bagging to anyone I vaguely know and before I know it, it’s time to run. We’re off.
I know I’m going to struggle to make cut offs so I have to make the most of the down hill.
Cut off is 3:15 for the 22km loop. Last year I only ran one loop and finished in 3:05. I hadn’t run a marathon and an ultra in the weeks prior. Today wasn’t looking good.
I just kept my feet moving and my mind focused and ran.
In no time we were at Dodd’s Track. Last year I foolishly tried to run as much of this hill as I could and was overtaken by walkers and then was so gassed when I got to the top that I just couldn’t recover. This year, I power hiked early. I was overtaking person after person. This was already starting to feel different.
When we got to the top, I made a new friend, I think her name was Bronwen. What a bloody champion. I told her I was afraid I wasn’t going to make cut offs. She was incredibly positive and sensible. She spoke in facts – she knew the course and she knew I was making good time. I was going to make it. She was sure of it.
As we rolled up and over the hills, I thought of that Live Below The Line Commercial. I was running in these hills for leisure. I had paid to enter this race. How bloody lucky am I to live a life where I can do this for fun? There was no whinging or complaining as I ascended, I just kept moving, feeling incredibly grateful for the wonderful life I have been gifted with.
At 17km I met a dude who was munching on some dried fruit. I had a feeling he was a vegan. Any trail runner is a friend of mine. Any vegan trail runner is a buddy! We were talking so much that I got to the top of Mt Dandenong before I knew it.
2:52 and I was heading out for my second loop. I couldn’t believe it. I had smashed my expectations of myself, my time last year and my fears that I wouldn’t make the cut offs.
The second loop was not as easy as the first loop. I was sweating more than I have ever sweat before. I wondered whether this had anything to do with pushing my body to extremes because I ordinarily barely sweat. I thought my hydration bladder had leaked my shirt was so wet but then I realised I was soaked through and it was all sweat. I was still wasting time with loo stops so I figured I was hydrated enough, but it was pretty gross.
Second time up Dodds Track was going to be tough, I knew it, but the volunteer who was stationed at the bottom of that hill was a bloody legend. He gave me a smile and some words of encouragement before I set off to tackle that bastard a second time around. Mr Vegan had caught up again and we shared some words of encouragement.
For the rest of the race it was Mr Vegan, Ms Determination and myself – alternating between leaders but the other two never too far behind with a few words of encouragement.
The last 1.5km leading to the finish line are pretty brutal. Straight up up and up! I was able to keep powering up and overtake Mr Vegan and Ms Determination.
Eventually, I got to the finish line with my two new pals finishing only moments later. We all congratulated one another.
I had to walk away pretty quickly from the finish line. I was really over whelmed with emotion.
I remembered reading a fellow BRR 2013 runner’s comment about her recent 100km run at Northburn, Sharon Weir, in which she reflected how much she liked the person she became when she was out running these crazy races. That was what I felt at that moment.
I know to many people who know me, it’s hard to imagine me depressed but I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar because I’m a full time barrel of laughs. The downers are horrible and the self loathing unfathomable. So to have finished the Roller Coaster Run and be moved to tears because of my own will, determination, strength and willingness to help my fellow runners, well that was a big moment for me.