Left Foot, Right Foot, Stumble, Butt Slide, Left Foot, Right Foot, Repeat.
It was a cool and crisp winter morning as I drove my car along the same route I’d travelled year after year to work. Mindlessly letting the fields, tractors and occasional rogue cow roll past my window, whilst not really listening to another comedy series podcast that was well past is used by date. My thoughts were further afield, specifically to the half marathon I had signed up for which was to take place in a few days time. Sure I’d stepped in to running as a natural progression from walking, but never thought I’d entertain actually sticking to it, let alone paying to punish myself over 21.1km.
The training had been going well. Rolling out of bed at 5am four mornings a week to pound the pavement. Even my efforts at parkrun had been approaching the 30 minute mark. What wasn’t to like? A new wardrobe every few months, meeting new people and weighing in under 100kg for the first time since my 16th birthday. But I couldn’t help feel there should be something more to this running caper. Something’s missing.
Then a bug hit the windshield. Whilst I marvelled that the last thing to go through that bugs mind was its arse, the guest on the podcast I was listening to was asked “What do you do to relax?”. The response to that question started a long series of late nights binge watching YouTube and falling in love with the most challenging activity I never thought I’d entertain.
The answer to the question involved two things I could understand. Cheap wine and Netflix. The response to the question - “I like to curl up on the couch with a glass of wine and watch The Barkley Marathons.”
“Hey Google, add The Barkley Marathons to my Watch List”.
Fast forward a few months, much beer & wine, an epic YouTube watch history of Run Steep Get High, The Ginger Runner and (my favourite) Dan Whitehead later, and I’m stalking trail running clubs on Facebook. LTR seems logical as it’s close to home, but growing up on the Peninsula draws me to something else. These other mad bastards posting photos from a Saturday night on the Two Bays trail of snakes seem scarily more appealing just as it was horrifying. Surely they’d also run in the daylight too? Best keep an eye on them.
In 2017 I finished the four half marathons I set out to cross the line for, each one slightly better than the last. If anything it was to be something for my kids look back on and maybe draw strength and inspiration from. But I was still left feeling was it enough? Not the distances, not sticking to something, but is there a form of running activity that has adventure? An activity that takes you places far more interesting than 50 Shades of Bitumen?
On the day registrations opened for the 2018 Melbourne Marathon I signed up. Surely that will be the pinnacle of a short running career motivated initially by weight loss, just like the thousands before me. The training ramped up from the start of 2018. Every run needed a purpose. Every event was training for the next event. Every cold raining morning needed a killer excuse not to run. Still, it wasn’t enough. Am I wrong to think this is...boring?
Through those cold lonely mornings heel striking around Cranbourne in the dark, I had another realisation. Whilst it may seem normal to expect people who lose vast amounts of weight to be suddenly confident & the life of the party, it actually isn’t. Did being “the new me” instantly make me an extrovert? Did it cure insecurities of being accepted after an adult lifetime of being “the big fella”? Yeah, naah. So why bother, why am I still running?
Because I’m not training to be the best runner, I’m training to be the best me (probably stole that one from somewhere).
Road running just wasn’t cutting the mustard. Whilst charity events are always fun & worthwhile they seem few and far between. I also didn’t want to repeat 2017’s events. Give me something new. With that in mind, I pressed “Submit” on something called “The Trail Series - Westerfolds Park”. Even being trails, Westerfolds looked fairly tame and 15km seemed reasonable even if I only had road shoes (later realising that a canoe would have been a better choice). That trail running club I’d been avidly stalking for months mentioned in a post it was a good first run for a newbie. I guess they know what they’re talking about. Perhaps I should sign up with them? At least I’ll have someone to talk to at the race, assuming “the new me” wasn’t in introvert mode.
My first evening with PTR was a frosty Thursday night at Langwarrin. Showing up early, I wasn’t sure if I’d fallen for a Facebook scam luring potential victims for the local axe murdering social club quarterly soirée or The Greater South East Swingers by Torchlight weekly warm up. Maybe the bug who’d hit my windshield the year before got off easy. Still, the bearded guy in the flannel shirt with the dog stumbling out of the bushes just shy of 8pm was startling. Apparently “Fluffy" the Pug liked to watch.
The first order of business was merchandise from the boot of the chief axe swinger. One did want to look the part, and this head torch needed a soft bed for stability. Besides, a PTR THIR would sure look authentic when this whole ordeal is re-enacted on CrimeStoppers.
With that we were off. Rolling around the Flora and Fauna park like a bunch of strangers in bush with torches, because we were.
From that night onwards something became clear. Running is just the common language on a journey to something greater. Whilst road running has its merits and popular appeal (just ask Nike and its share holders), trail running connects the soul to our natural world (even if it is inhabited by The Bible Guy at The Pines). Being able to share that on a trail with whomever you’re with transcends individual ability, motives, politics & taste in sensible trail knitwear.
I continue to participate because I’m excited to get out there and enjoy it. I look forward to many years putting one foot in front of the other on the trails. I’m still a newbie, an introvert & learning how “normal” differs from the opinion I have garnered over 32 years of being well rounded.
That said, how is running through the dark surrounded by strangers, insects, snakes, spiders and Pugs called Fluffy normal? What would the bug think?