Monday, May 21, 2012

Landscapes, Limitations and Lesbians

The drive was long but in no way ardous, a solid 200 kilometres down to Apollo Bay. Leaving Melbourne around 2.30 in the afternoon, the only issue was the normal Richmond football traffic that held up Burnley Street. After that, it was a clear run down the highway to Geelong, then down to Anglesea and the Great Ocean Road. The first and only time I’d been down here was with Glen Waverley a couple of years ago – keen to drive like a lunatic we set off for the Twelve Apostles early one Winter morning. He disgraced himself badly on that trip playing the Bloodhound Gang's Discovery Channel song down Apollo Bay high street, cranked up to eleven with the top down on the MX-5.

I’d been looking forward to this weekend for ages, though I was viewing it with some trepidation. Covering 23 kilometres of the Great Ocean Road wasn’t something I was ready to run. I’m trained up for 14 or 15 kilometres on the flat no worries – 23 kilometres of hills was another matter.

Arriving at Lorne to drive the last 45 kilometres down to Apollo Bay, my folly was soon apparent. Taking Neville, my trusty Mazda 2 around some pretty serious hairpin bends, up hills, over dales, I was feeling some nerves grow in the pit of my stomach. Arriving at Kennet River, I looked at the huge hill in front of me.

Driving on, the voice in my head was yelling at me. The start of this race is 5 kilometres of uphill slog. WAAAHHHHH. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I pulled up the car at Cape Patton, the highest point I could see and stopped at a lookout. The light was fading. Gloria and Gaynor were expecting me half an hour ago, but I had to get out and have a look. It appeared that the hills were starting to abate. And this is what I saw.

It was then it struck me – I was going to haul my carcass over this road in the morning. How honoured was I? How often do you get to do something like that?

I also knew from that moment that running the distance wasn’t an option. Gaynor and I had discussed it in the week. I know that I’m happy to run a ten to fifteen kilometre race on the flat at a steady pace. Gaynor, fresh back from a holiday in India and in the middle of report writing had done two ten kilometre runs in the last six weeks. Running this road untrained was sheer stupidity. Walk/running the distance was going to be the way to go. Stuff the time – we were here to have fun. And keep safe and uninjured.

Arriving in Apollo Bay twenty minutes later, I landed at the house that Gloria and Gaynor had booked for then night. When I put myself down for the race, I was made aware that they would be sharing with a group of women from the FrontRunners of Melbourne – a running club for Melbourne’s GLBITs (Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, intersexuals and transsexuals - Gloria explained it to me once). I’d asked Gloria if me being there would be an issue – which she said no. They were a friendly mob she’d told me. They take friends of GLBITs in the group too so I'd be made most welcome.

And she was right.

I was greeted by ten of the most fun and interesting women I’ve met in ages. Lovely people, and I was set right at ease. I’m normally not great among people I don’t know – pretty shy in all, but I was made to feel very much at home. They were waiting on two more to arrive before Gloria put on dinner – a large batch of Spaghetti Bolognaise, garlic bread, salad and various nibbles – a feast for twelve that could have fed twenty easily.

It seems there was another fish out of water in the group who arrived about an hour after I got there. Last year, the group were asked if they had room for one more in the house. They were happy to take on Sam on spec – a friend of a friend, another runner doing the half marathon looking for a place to stay. They were a little perplexed when Sam was not a Samantha, but a Samuel, all six foot three rugby scrum-half  physique with the demeanour of a Labrador puppy. Glorious man is Sam.

Talking to Gloria amongst the group the subject of how I came to be in the house came up.
“I go to dreams with Gloria.” I told them. “She's a friend from way back.”
“You’re not a FrontRunner?” somebody asked.
“No, not affiliated, but I’ve run round the Tan and had breakfast with the group on occasion.”
Gloria then piped up, “Yeah, she bats for the other team, too. Firmly on the other side.”

First time I’ve ever been described that way. It made my night.

So Sam and I were the tokens – token gay bloke and token straight girl. The night was set. There was lots of talk of running, of personal bests, of races run, of life in general. Lots of laughing and enough food to make sure we'd all carbed up properly and feed half a small city. Haven't had such a good night in ages.

The five of us setting out for the half and full marathons at six in the morning got had a fairly early night – we had to be up at five to get to the designated starting spots. I was on a trundle bed on the floor, bunking  in with Gloria and Gaynor. Sleep was patchy. Gloria snores. (Then again, I’ve been told so do I)

Waking, dressing and trying to be quiet when you’re preparing for a long run is next to impossible - especially at five in the morning when you're half asleep. Sam and another, Lynn, were doing the full marathon. Gaynor, Jill and myself were doing the half. We tried our best to not wake the house, but failed miserably. Gloria, grouchy and sleep deprived waved us off to the bus at ten to six in the morning.

It was now that the magic happened. From out of the darkness, people came out of the darkness. It was like a scene from Harry Potter, strangely dressed folk appearing from under street lights walking towards a common point - in this case, the service station where we were to board buses to our final destinations. For Sam and Lynn, a bus ride to Lorne. For Gaynor, Jill and myself, a shorter trip to Kennett River, where we were unceremoniously dumped by the roadside in what felt like the middle of nowhere with two thousand others to wait for the start of the run.

After the obligatory toilet stop, we gathered with the throng and waited.

What they don't tell you about runners. They're not the most fashion-conscious bunch. The MAMILs are the worst (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra).

Jill made the comment, "It might be my persuasion, but there is nothing attractive about men in lycra."
"I agree, and I'm on  the other side of the fence. Some things are best left to the imagination. Willies are one of those things. "
Jill looked at me puzzled. "You're not gay?"
Gaynor looked on, laughing, only just managing not to spit take on her gatorade.
"Nope. This weekend I'm an honorary lesbian."
"Oh, I just presumed by the company you kept."
"No, but I'm flattered that you thought that. They're great people we're with."

The comments didn't make the men in lycra tights with no shorts over the top go away. There was also the obligatory man with a microphone making banal comments and somebody found a personal trainer to hoist themselves up on a flatbed of a truck to take the warm-up, a talk by Steve Monaghetti about the joys of running and the even sponsor, the poorly named Trevor Fagg (titter, titter, titter) to wish us well.

At 8 am, we were off.

I have to let you in on something. I hate hills. I really hate hills. I know they're good for me, but I hate them. Gaynor, as untrained as she was, felt similar, so we fell to the back of the pack and developed our strategy. Run the downhills, walk the uphills and scout run the rest.

This is what the gradient looked like:

Turned out to be the best strategy we could have adopted.

I was a brilliant event to take our time and look around. The course is one of the most beautiful marathon courses in the world. There were times when we could have just stopped and looked out to sea. We were excited to see koalas in the wild. We weren't that excited to find a dead one on the side of the road about a kilometre on.

The three hours and 22 minutes it took us to walk/run the course went quickly. There was a five minute, rather terrifying portaloo stop about halfway, about the time the first pesky Kenyan came flying past like the Roadrunner zips past the Wiley Coyote. By the time we were getting close to finish, my right knee was hurting on the bits we ran (which normally came down to one of us saying "run to the next road sign" and the other saying "Yeah, that'll do" when we got there.")

Both Gaynor and I were pretty fresh when we arrived in Apollo Bay, buoyed by the cheering crowds as we ran down the main street to the finish line. Best of all, our house mates were there in a group to see us in. Jill had run a wonderful 2.35 over the hilly course, 45 minutes faster than us - a brilliant effort.

After obtaining a bit of ice from the ambulance people to put on my knee and a good stretch, we waited to see Sam and Lynn in. Lynn arrived around the 4.20 mark looking as if she'd done a walk around the block - not a 45 kilometre run. Sam, was proving a little more elusive.

"Has anybody got Sam's Mum's number - she thinks the lovely lesbians are looking after him?" somebody asked.
"Oh dear, there will be hell to pay. She's really worried."

Thankfully, Sam came in at the 4.30 mark, tired, but thrilled at completing his first marathon. A superb effort.

All of us came back unscathed - thank goodness. Tired, a little worn, but uninjured. A fantastic result.

Leaving Apollo Bay after a quick lunch, packing the car, tidying the house and and saying goodbye to this group of wonderful people, I was thankful that I'd brought my compression tights for the drive back. Stopping for coffee at Anglesea  had a walk around also helped to stop my legs seizing up. An hour later, I was found on Blarney's couch, cat on my lap, cup of tea in hand watching the last of the Crows vs Carlton match, where I saw my beloved team thump the Blues.

In all, a brilliant weekend - and it's given me something to strive for. My next race is the Run Melbourne 10 kilometre race - where I'm still bent on trying to get my time under an hour. There's also the Melbourne Half Marathon to train for as well as the City to Surf in Sydney in August.

And best of all, Gloria said they'd have me back - so I can do the Great Ocean Road Half Marathon again.

It's a race that I will hard pressed to forget.


Kath said...

Thanks for sharing that with us - sounds like a terrific way to spend a weekend.

Love your definition of MAMILs!

The Elephant's Child said...

Oh wow. That sounds truly incredible, the run, the scenery and your companions. I hope your knee has settled down to an uncomplaining state.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

I want to put this on record.

As a Middle-aged man myself, I will NEVER wear lycra. I repeat NEVER!

I shall succumb to the temptation to become a MAMIL.

I wouldn't want the world to see THAT!