I gave back my Christian ticket many, many years ago. I have nothing against Christians - or any organised religion for that matter. I have many Christian beliefs (other than the central tenet that Jesus Christ is my personal saviour), I believe in God or something higher out there, but I can't do the Jesus thing - it's never really sat well with me. I don't insist people believe what I believe - how boring would that be.
Today, I pledge allegiance to a new religion. A way of life that appears to make me happy, controlled, content, driven, striving always to be better. A religion that gives back just as much as you put it - if not more. A religion that will not fail you. It will test you, batter you, make you want to give up on it just as much as it will nuture you, strenghten you and make you feel whole.
My new religion is running.
Most of you know that I'm a novice runner. I truly am a novice. I started running at the age of 40. Slowly and surely, I built my running up. I started on the couch potato to 5 kilometre plan, then went from there - albeit very slowly.
Stupidly, bouyed along by my dear friend Reindert, I participated in the Adelaide Half Marathon in August 2009, run/ walking the 21.1 kilometers in two hours and forty minutes. I say stupidly as it was only in the May 2009 that I ran my first four kilometre run - the Mother's Day Classic, which I trained up for with Emm from the gym.
Last year, I did the Run for the Kids in March - a hot day, I'd taken a break from training - 14.38 kilometres in an hour and 53 minutes. I ran the eight kilometre Mother's Day Classic last year with Kitt - dragging her round the Tan track in a few seconds over an hour. The Williamstown Half Marathon was the pinnacle of my current running career - 21.1 kilometres in just over 2.5 hours. I was absolutely stoked at the acheivement.
Then I got sick - and injured, needed surgery - and running had to take a back seat until earlier this year.
Well, today, it was Run for the Kids day once again. Kitt and I entered early, both of us intending to train. I did - Kitt's circumstances changed and she didn't. I was also aware of a nagging knee injury - it's not been totally right since I went trail running with Reindert in October. New shoes, lots of weights and being very kind to it has strengthened the leg, but it's still problematic. I was limping on the treadmill on Tuesday night. Walking is fine. I've been keeping it strapped at work, doing lots of stretches - it's still not quite right, but it's calming down.
So this morning, at 7.30, Trin, my new running partner, friend and all around good chick, as well as two others, Kel and Peta, from the 12wbt posse left from my place for the race. All of us were doing the 14.38 kilometre course. Kell is training to be a personal trainer - and she's known as "the Whippet". Peta's not far behind her. Trin and I know we run about the same pace, but with my knee, and Trin having a bout of food poisoning earlier in the week, we had a plan - no time constraints (though under two hours would be good), and run the first five kilometres, after which, run three minutes, walk two for the rest of the course.
We lined up with the other 33,000 people doing the run - the gun goes off, the timer gets set on the heart rate monitor as I cross the blue mats of the start line - and there we go.
I know of no other activity that makes me so happy. I love timed street runs - when else to you get to run on the road and not get into trouble? I love the camaraderie of big races. I love the giveaways you get at the end. I love that really, though you may be surrounded by many, you're on your own. It's just you and the road.
Trin and I sort of deserted the plan. We ran the first six kilometres, then averaged a run five, walk two intervals until the end. Trin is a superlative running companion. She has doof doof music in her earphones and keeps shuffling away. Me - I don't do things in my ears, so I just go wandering off with the fairies, looking at the scenery, avoid the stupid walkers and strollers who get in the way, occasionally throwing Trin an encouraging word or two - she really is incredible. I loved knowing she was nearby, but felt no need to talk to her all the way.
The first amazing thing for me - I can run and talk very easily. I don't even get that breathless. I know I'm breathing a bit heavier, but I'm not out of breath. That is sooooooooo cool. Secondly. I had to concentrate on my foot strike to ensure my knee held up. Heel, toe, heel, toe, keep your foot even. It appeared to work. A very cool mantra.
Today's route took us through the Domain Tunnel, down the Westgate Freeway, over the Bolte Bridge, through the Docklands and back through the streets to the Botanical Gardens.
Trin and I stopped at the top of the Bolte to take a photo or two.
Please note the soppy smile on my face. I'm have to admit to being truly, incomprehensively happy. (I'm also checking out my deltoid definition...)
I also realise that if we didn't stop to take these, our time would be about two minutes faster...
Coming through the Docklands I was pulling up well - Trin was starting to flag. There was a rousing three hundred meters where they were pumping out "Eye of the Tiger" on permanent replay - which stirred me on.
After what is known as "The Last Bastard Hill" just at the top of Bourke Street, it was all down hill. Trin was struggling, but I kept her in my sight - we'd done this together - we'd finish it together.
This is part of the runner's code. If you desert your partner, make sure you have it known you may do it. If not, don't let your partner down.
Then there is nothing better than the last few hundred meters. The 14 kilometre sign was just outside the art gallery. 400 metres to go. Trin was a bit behind me, but not that far. I upped the pace a little. There was still a bit in the tank.
An hour and 46 minutes later - I pass the finish line. A clear seven minutes faster than last year - my knee still carrying me, and really, not breathless - breathing hard and steady, but no breathless.
Nothing in my life gives me more joy, more pride, more self-esteem than running. I know Trin and I ran at around a pace of 7.20 per kilometre - it's fine. I'm not a fast runner. I'm slowly getting faster, but I am not fast. I never will be. But I'm consistent. And strong. And determined. And able. Words I'd never use to describe myself until I found running.
However, I am a runner. Long may I remain one. The road is my church. My shoes and heart rate monitor my bible. The others who run with me, in front of me, behind me and most importantly next to me, a part of my brethren. How cool is that!
I am one of those mad people who pounds the pavements, gets sweaty, trundles along looking concerned and joyous all at once.
I am at my very happiest when I'm running.
What more can you ask for from a religion?
(p.s. The Catholic patron saint of running is Saint Sebastian - a pretty youth, shot full of arrow, looking skyward thinking, "What the hell am I doing?")