14 Oct 2019
I’ve been reflecting a bit on my running journey as (holey moley!) it looks like I might actually finish this thing called Run Down Under. I’ve been watching it grow steadily over the last few years. I think it’s an amazing concept and I’m thrilled to be part of it. I love how it’s so inclusive, managing to challenge everyone from the ultramarathoners to the once a week parkrunners and everyone in between.
Several members of my extended family were runners, but I always thought the running gene had passed me by. Years of coming last at compulsory age races throughout primary school, while not quite scarring me for life, also reinforced the idea that running was not for me. I had been aerobically fit a few times in my life, but then it would lapse as the gym closed, or I was too busy to get to the step class or whatever. I even tried running a few times but gave up puffing and gasping after a few hundred metres.
Then in 2015 I was casting about for something iconic to do in 2017, my 60th year. Something that would be completely out of my comfort zone and totally out of character for me, something for which I could maybe get a t-shirt as a memento. At this point a little devil sat on my shoulder and whispered ‘run a marathon’. What?? I tossed the idea around for a while, then let it slip to my sister, Josie, who had done two marathons already. She immediately said she would do it with me, and the deal was done. I downloaded the C25k app, dragged my twenty year old joggers from the back of the wardrobe, and away I went.
Well the first thing I learned was that the twenty year old joggers weren’t going to cut it. After a couple of weeks I was hobbling around like a drunken sailor and could barely walk, let alone run. After advice from my running family, I invested in a couple of pairs of decent shoes and after a few weeks of recovery I was off again. Terrifyingly, C25k wanted me to run for twenty minutes without stopping. Could I do it? Yes, yes I could. Slower than some people walk, but still. I persevered, and by Christmas could more or less run that 5km without stopping. Amazing!
At a Christmas family get together Josie suggested I join Run Down Under, which she and her daughter had been enjoying for a year or two. So I signed up, and to celebrate we did a 21km run/walk (okay, mostly walk - one of us gliding along effortlessly over the many hills and dales, the other panting along sweatily in her wake) along one of the most scenic stretches of coastline in the world, in Esperance WA, our home town. I decided on the Goldfields Pipeline Marathon in Kalgoorlie as the event I would do, which would be in July 2017. With 18 months to go, I concentrated on increasing my running distances and came to understand why runners have so many pairs of shoes! I also learned that toenails can, and do, turn black and fall off, and it’s incredibly easy to end up sprawled on the ground for no apparent reason.
Meanwhile RDU was ticking over in the background, and before I knew it, it had taken me to Sydney, and then Brisbane was looming. Somewhere between Sydney and Brisbane I did my first ever parkrun - Crissy Field in San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge as a stunning backdrop. My primary school years came back to haunt me though as it was a new and small parkrun with not even a tail walker, and I came last. However the experience taught me a valuable lesson about how supportive the running community is. Josie ran back to encourage me for the last kilometre and the other runners cheered me across the finish line and congratulated me for bringing parkruns across the world to a close for that day. (Crissy Field being the easternmost one in the world at that stage and therefore the last one to finish.) These days coming last is the least of my worries. I know there are far worse things, like injuries, or cruel and heartless diseases such as cancer.
My first real running event was the Perth City to Surf 12km, where I collected my first ever medal for any sport, ever. Fantastic! By now my RDU journey was taking me across Queensland. I was thoroughly enjoying getting emails every time I arrived at a destination, and loving learning about all sorts of places that I had never heard of. Gosh Queensland is a big state though, and I felt like I was going to be slogging through there forever!
As 2016 drew to a close the marathon, which had been lurking in the background all this time, started to push its way front and center. I finally got to the Queensland border and zinged across the Northern Territory as marathon training began in earnest. Well the marathon wasn’t pretty, but I did it. A friend said to me that the second half of a marathon is twice as long as the first, and it certainly seemed that way to me! By the end of the day though, I had achieved my goal and yes, I got the t-shirt and even a nice big medal as mementos. So that was it - job done, mission accomplished. I could put the running shoes away and go back to the occasional fitness class and enjoy a scenic walk every now and then. Except - I now loved running. Getting up and out just before dawn is a magical experience, I was enjoying the longest period of sustained fitness I’d ever had in my life, plus I had this map of Australia to finish!
There have been so many highlights in my running journey I can’t pick a favourite. I watched from afar as my niece Jodie become the first female finisher of RDU1 and then RDU2, and celebrated with Josie at the finish line when she completed her RDU1. I’ve ticked off two big bucket list items - the Cape to Cape Track in southwest WA and running around the Central Park reservoir in New York. An amazing experience was completing the inaugural Margaret River Ultra as part of a team, and getting to share the course with ultra marathoners. I am in awe of the discipline it must take to get through something like that. I’ve developed a whole new appreciation for event organisers and volunteers. They are absolute heroes, the lot of them.
I’ve done parkruns in four different countries and helped to start one in my town. We’re heading for Event #9 next Saturday, and the community has embraced it beyond my wildest expectations. I’ve got a rack full of medals, for goodness sake, and I’ve worn out about eight or nine pairs of shoes. I’ve been sidelined for three months with an ITB injury and bounced back. I’ve spent hours and hours running or walking on my own on crisp, still mornings with just birds for company and have lost count of the spectacular sunrises I’ve seen.
My constant companion and motivator in chief through all of this has been Run Down Under. I never doubted I would finish it, but in the early days back in 2016, my finish date was so laughably far in the future it wasn’t worth thinking about. Anyway I had more pressing things to focus on, like learning to run well enough to get through a marathon. As a mainly solo runner who doesn’t do a lot of events, I love setting mini RDU challenges for myself. Having been holed up in WA for so long, I wanted to get into South Australia before the end of this year, so I’m pleased to say I’ve knocked that one out of the park.
Now I’m seriously looking forward to going through some smaller states and learning more about this massive country we live in, while contemplating which map I’ll start on next. Yes I have a specific finish date in mind for this trip, but I’m keeping that to myself for now.
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