There was a reason I became a distance runner there for a time.
The biggest reason of all - I hate participating in the bog standard 5 km foot race, hate the 5 km distance with a passion. I really don't like anything about the 5 km race at all. Yesterday I reminded myself of this.
The five kilometre (or three mile) track is a distance that most people of what every fitness level can walk comfortably in an hour to an hour and a half without having a coronary. For recreational runners, the five kilometre track can be conquered in around half an hour to forty minutes.
It's an accessible race, which makes it open to every man, woman, child and their dog, pushchair, wheel chair, crutches and team unicorn onesie... The five kilometre race, unless strictly banded, which it never is, is a schemozzle of the highest order. Always has been, always will be.
It's a race full of over-enthusiastic teenagers, of mothers with children, old people, charity groups who think that there is nothing madder than to set themselves off on an hour walk through parklands, only to start whining at the first kilometre mark that it's all so hard, that they need a drink, that their plantar fasciaitis is playing up or that they think that this is a stupid thing to do.
For any semi-serious runner, this is like nails on a blackboard. Any serious runner looks and the whiners and the lollygaggers and wants to slap them across the back of the head. You run around these people, risking a twisted ankle as you're normally forced into the gutter, onto the nature strip or right into a stinking mound of dog crap.
Once past the kilometre mark it gets somewhat easier. You've passed the ventolin-inhaling charity runners, the families and the groups in dayglo wigs and you can get on with the job of taking yourself around the course. You will, at times, encounter groups of slow pokes who were way to far ahead of the pack when they started. Of course at about the three kilometre you meet the recreational runners who a slowly running out of puff, searching for a gel or a jelly bean to see them through. By this stage, the crowd has thinned a bit and you're moving well.
My other problem with the five kilometre distance is that it takes me five kilometres to warm this aging body up. It's at the five kilometre mark that I found my stride. The first three kilometres are always hard as you struggle to regulate your breath, your feet and most importantly, your head. At the five kilometre mark, you reach your peak. you're in the zone.
When you get to the finish line, you feel robbed. Where's the rest of the track?
On Sunday, I walked the Run Melbourne. I walked the four kilometres to the track, timing my arrival with the start of the race. Still, we had to lollygag around for about ten minutes. There I was stuck behind the flouro wigs, the first time charity walkers, the teams of kids, the pushchairs and the people with dogs.
My hackles started to rise.
Of course, by the one kilometre mark I'd made so many trips into the gutter, dodging the dog poo, the pushers and the hyperventilating charity runners I was ready to move on.
It did get better. Even better when 51 minutes later I walked across the finished line, had my timing chip removed, grabbed a bottle of water, an apple and a medal and proceeded to walk home, perplexed as thy why I was feeling somewhat sad.
It came to me as I was walking through Fitzroy Gardens on the way home. It seems sad to me that we live in a society where for all of our riches we have to walk, run, ride, crawl for money to help the sick, the ill, the frail and the disenfranchised. You pass every sort of charity runner, from those looking for support for carers, asylum seekers, sick children, the elderly...
To me it feels so unfair that we have to get out there in force, as a community, in essence begging for assistance for those who are less fortunate. In some cases, people feel the need to humiliate themselves to attract enough attention to a cause.
The Mother's Day Classic, held every year on the second Sunday of May is testament to this. It's a bittersweet, harrowing, joyous yet devastating schlep around the Botanical Gardens track. It's a walk or run of hope, yet it's an event filled with sadness and loss. Then you think about how many people are helped by the funds raised by the event - which once again leads to conflict.
These were the thoughts in my head as I walked the four kilometres home.