12 Jan 2022
I was never much of a runner growing up. As a child, I was always encouraged to play sport and went through phases, picking up every ball, racket, or uniform out there. Some stuck, while others were put down just as quickly as they were picked up. Although most sports I took a liking to involved running in different forms, it was never something I was really interested in.
The first time I went down to the athletics track I was about 13 years old and had been encouraged to join the local running club my mother had joined. The youth athletics coach took one look at me and classified me as a sprinter. Maybe it was my muscular build that determined that decision, or the fact that I couldn’t run a kilometre without frantically having to gasp for air and intermittently slow down to a walking pace.
The love-hate relationship I formed with sprinting lasted a couple years. Though I made massive progress with my speed and fitness my interest with the sport soon fizzled out. I stayed connected with the club through my mum's evolvement. Standing on the side of the track reminiscing all the times I used to finish my speed sessions then waiting while her training group continued their session running lap, after lap, after lap. They were a completely different breed to all the powerful sprinters I would spend my nights chasing up and down the back straight.
It was only after I took a step back from my own sprint training that I really started to notice my mother's running endeavours, becoming gradually more aware of the trail running world that she lived in.
Sometimes I would find myself waking up on the weekends with mum nowhere to be seen. Hours later she would quietly shuffle through the front door and humbly go about her weekend house work. Tucking away any evidence of a race bib or participation medal. I was honestly oblivious to exactly how she had spent those hours away from home that morning.
When I was 17, I recall waking up ridiculously early one weekend, jumping into the passenger seat of our car still half asleep, waiting as mum finished packing for the trip ahead. Still not entirely sure what I had agreed to outside of volunteering to support her on a weekend run. We drove a couple hours down the freeway to You Yangs national park arriving in at dawn. As we pulled up to the event car-pack, she explained that it may be a long day of waiting around, and casually mentioned that the she had signed up for a 50km trail running event. With my limited experience of distance running, I had no idea how long that would take or what would be involved. I knew that 50km was a serious distance, frankly anything above 5kms was a long way to me back then.
The next thing I found myself standing over a campfire feeling the crisp morning air and trying to stay warm at the event site. It was exciting to watch all the distance runners fuelled by adrenaline and caffeine weave their way to the start line and only moments later they were all gone, dashing off into the early light of the new day.
Waiting for mum to pass through the checkpoint, I hiked my way up to the top Flinders peak. There was something in the air that morning that had me excited and has stayed with me to this day. Was it the magic of being in the You Yangs at dawn, the rock formations, the thought of running on the beautiful trails within the national park. While I waited and watched and enjoyed the race festivities, I absorbed that beauty of this place and knew that one day I just had to come back and explore its trails for myself.
Although, I continued my running casually, and supported others, including my mum, during ultra-trail running events. It wasn’t until I became a mum myself, I found myself pulling the runners back on.
When my first daughter was born, I was diagnosed with postnatal depression and it was suggested that I find an outlet to assist with managing my mental health. It started with walking, the only activity I was able to do with my little girl. Soon, our walks together turned into runs. Eventually those pram runs, turned into solo runs.
It was at this point that I really started to understand why my mum had so much appreciation for running. Not only was it time for yourself to get out of the house and get your body moving. It was time for you to breakdown all those things that had been troubling you throughout the day and give them true perspective. The repetitive action of the continuous footsteps striking the pavement, moving forward, and your rhythmic breathing - it is somewhat meditative.
I have since participated in a variety of running events, including full and half marathons and a few obstacles course races. More recently dipping my toes (and runners) into trail running. Not only have I found pure joy in getting out and losing yourself amongst the tracks, connecting with the land and exploring some of the most enchanting places. I have also experienced successes in achieving personal goals, both in time and distance, establishing a fantastic group of running friends along the way.
It is now eight years since that morning I was standing over the campfire on the top of You Yangs national park as support crew. This time I am standing at the same start line mum had stood at all those years ago, waiting in the early morning light for my turn to run through the tracks of the 15km course around the national park.
As I was running along the beautiful trails, I couldn’t help but reflect on the journey that brought me here. The feeling of (almost literally) following my mum's footsteps and the ability to share this experience was overwhelming. While the importance of being a mother myself, staying strong, resilient and healthy, providing a positive role model for my daughter was equally important. For me it was a very rewarding experience and the start of a long journey with trail running.
All my training and mental preparation had paid off - crossing the finish line as the first female. Although mum wasn’t with me that morning, she was there guiding me through the trails!
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