I find running a good metaphor for life.
I also find that under some conditions, it's a near religious experience. I learn more about myself when I'm running than at any other time - well it feels like it anyway.
Today was the Melbourne Half Marathon. Well, I was supposed to be participating the the 21.1 kilometre event, but a long round of low grade illness stuffed my training in June and July - the time I should have been ramping up - that and some major work disruptions - there went any thought of running the longer distance. On the other hand, running 10 kilometres seemed like an okay thing to attempt. Ten kilometres equates to a bit more than an hour of my life.
Last week, however, the thought of getting up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning to join a couple of thousand other idiots didn't appeal to me at all. I even tried to flog my entry on facebook on Friday, such was my disinterest in running. I would have much rather gone to Pump and Combat at the gym. After all, I was doing my normal psycho two hours on the Saturday - an hour of spin class followed by an hour with Pinochet. Why test myself again? What was the point.
It took a very special person to lift the funk.
I met Bobbie on the road. Literally.
The Melbourne Half Marathon 2009. At about the four kilometre mark I came up behind this woman and as I was looking for a pacer, I ran up beside her and asked if I could run with her for a bit. We ran 10 kilometres together on that occasion. We found out that we were both from Adelaide originally, both in IT, both in our mid-late thirties and both of us were fairly new to running at that stage. I left her at the 15 kilometre mark, she was flagging and I was going well. We managed to contact each other after the race, but thought not much more about it.
Two years later, at the four kilometre mark of the Melbourne Half Marathon, ahead of me was this rather short woman with a loping gait.
Once again, I ran up beside her. We were thrilled to see each other. This time I only ran with her for ten minutes or so before running on. I managed to run a 2.21 half marathon - thrilled at my time. Bobbie shaved a few minutes off her time too which was great.
The Run for the Kids this year. Four kilometre mark...
"I know that gait anywhere!" I yelled behind her.
"Thank goodness you're here!" she countered. "This is the last place I want to be."
So we ran a good six or seven kilometres together before I went off ahead of her. She's learned to tolerate my annoying "Running Fairy" mode. This kicks in around the five kilometre mark when I get the first rush of endorphins. From there, I'm impossibly cheerful, I smile and I get faster. I'm told it's very annoying for regular runners.
Since then, we've trained a few times together - which has been good. Bobbie's great to have about. She's a real inspiration - a testament to the underdog - and she gets what it is to be happy at the back of the pack.
It was Bobbie who contacted me Friday night and said that we should run the event together.
Having a friend for the road made all the difference. For the first time in months I was finally happy to be in this event.
Another annoying thing about me and running. I'm dreadfully grumpy before events. This morning, after not a great night's sleep thanks to a neighbour with a noisy party, too much Mexican food, new runners, it being too early, too cold and Dora the freaking Explorer on the telly (most annoying telly show EVER) it was obviously going to be a great day. The grumpier the better. Leaving home at 6.40 am, I walked the distance to the starting line at the MGC. I only had myself and my trusty personal items belt, containing my phone, some money, keys and a couple of gels - no need to queue at the bag storage or the portaloos.
I found Bobbie and her posse at the designated spot near the starting line. Five minutes later, we started running. Just the way I like it (no hanging around, no waiting, not too much jostling by the crowds)
As neither she nor I had been training much, the goal of the 10 kilometre run was to enjoy it - walk if we had to and not worry about time. At the three kilometre mark we realised that we were running better than we thought. At the four kilometre mark I demonstrated the fact that I can run and sing. I like running and singing songs from "The Sound of Music."
Bobbie hung back a bit and I promised not to sing any more.
I'm really fortunate with my running in one aspect. My cardio strength is such that I can run and talk easily. If I'm at cruise pace, talking isn't an issue. According to my sister, I can talk underwater with a mouth full of marbles. This is exaggerating somewhat, but talking and running is a good thing - it always astounds me that most people can't do this. Over the ten kilometres, I got to find out about Bobbie's plans to eventually move back to Adelaide and her personal training business - which has put an idea in my head too. Pandora Behr - personal trainer... hmm, it's a thought...
At the six kilometre mark we walked for a hundred metres after the drink stop. The only other time we walked was up William Barak Bridge near the MCG - a kind of last laugh of the running planners - a bitch of a last hill neither of us felt like tackling. Why bomb out the heart rate so close to the end?
The best thing about this run - the last 200 metres are run on the oval of the MCG. It is a truly magical feeling running around the hallowed football field.
Joining hands for the last few metres, Bobbie and I run across the mat - 73 minutes later. For two untrained women, a very respectable time. Actually, it was brilliant. Four minutes slower than Bobbie's personal best over the distance - and a lot better than I thought I would do.
We both admitted that if the other wasn't there we would have been a lot slower, would have walked a lot more and generally would not have had as good a time.
After a drink and a bit of a rest, I bid my farewells to Bobbie and her friends and walked the three kilometres home, stopping for breakfast on the way.
And my lessons learned from the day - other than having a friend makes light work of what you see as a chore.
Well, I'm stronger than I think I am - I do forget this a lot.
Also, for all the pain, the time, the training - this is something that I really love - I'd forgotten this and look forward to getting back into running training. I also forgot that receiving the medal at the end of the run still feels wonderful. Runs where you get a medal are the best.
And lastly, and probably most importantly - I am not what I once was. I will never be the person I was before I took up running. In running I look for balance, for peace, for endurance and for joy. Nothing else in my provides this.
Long may it remain.