Yes, I know I'm misquoting Descartes, but there is something very intrinsic about my identity, my psyche, my being and the fact that I am a runner.
Running is very zen.
Running is completely and totaly about headspace once you have the mechanics sorted out.
Running demands a generosity of spirit.
Running can make you feel better than the bestest poo and the bestest orgasm rolled into one (there is nothing as underated as a good poo), especially after you stop.
Running is fairly uncomplicated, yet strangely harrowing - a divine paradox.
Most of all, running provides part of my identity - but only a small part of it - and it hinges on many other bits of me.
And days like today make me love running even more.
(Okay, non-runners, roll your eyes now - I know, another diatribe about running. Joy, joy, happy, joy.)
Two years ago, almost to the day, Reindert and I set off on the five kilometre Grape Run, up in the Yarra Valley - a lovely short jog though the grape vines. Another colleague, Dan, was also with us. It was Dan's first timed run - my fourth. Reindert, a veteran of too many marathons, split his time between us, making sure we were doing okay. Dan finished a minute or so in front of me. Reindert, on that day, ran his slowest ever five kilometres ( or 4.2 kms by both his and Dan's Garmins)
Today, I set off alone on the 13.5 kilometre version of the event. I've become used to running as part of a posse. I normally run with Trin, who, though her natural pace is a little slower than mine, lets me run and enjoy the event rather than getting all super-competetive with myself. Kez was supposed to do the event, but she's done her knee. Another of the group, Leah, was also supposed to join me, but she's also been banned from running for medical reasons. So today, I was on my lonesome.
So, I rose early, dressed, cleaned my teeth, got in Neville, drove to Healesville, where I parked Neville and alighted a bus for Yarra Glen with a few hundred other nutters.
First job, set my Facebook Status.
Pandora Behr. 9.30 a.m. "Reminder to self. I is da running fairy. I piss off everybody when I run cos I smile and sing and run. I is a gazelle, albeit a lumpy one. It's only 13.5 kilometers. JFDI. Moosh moosh, Pand. ( guess who's had her first gel...)"
At Yarra Glen, I found my tummy number (573), attached my timing tag to my shoe, joined the loo queue for ten minutes, did some mild stretching and waited for the starting gun with the rest of the rabble - from the looks of the crowd at the country oval, around five hundred of us. Slightly worrying is the ache in my right temple. A headache. Just what I need!
One bad thing about running events - portaloos. Fine before the events. Shocking after. Portaloos are never pretty, but they're an unfortunate necessity. The appear to be a bit better if only females use them - something about the knowledge that things need to be left how you found them, but we won't go into that here.
At ten a.m., the starters gun goes bang and we're off. Running down a long country road to the next town some thirteen kilometres away.
The first rule in my head kicks in - don't start off too quick. I'm dreadful at this, but I'm slowly learning to pace myself. I set myself near the back of the pack - it's where I run. I've also got to somehow try and forget the headache that's beating away. Rather than dwell, we do. Just get on with it. Moosh moosh, Pand.
I'm not a fast runner by any stretch, but I am consistent. Being alone, I get to look about, relax and just get on with it. Tits out, shoulders back - do it early and it stops the hunchies mid-race - learned this one over time too.
There's nobody else to worry about but me. Nobody to coach through hills and breathing stress and the stitch. Just me, and the road, and about five hundred other barking mad sods.
Just after the first kilometre I meet another running wombat (wombats - "chunky" runners - more muscle than bone - don't look like they should run but they have the stamina of a Himalayan Sherpa) Garry had bikie beard, tattoos, obligatory Ramones t-shirt, an incisor missiing and a skull encrusted bandana on his probably bald head. He appeared to be struggling a little.
"Your first run?" I asked.
"Yep. Furthest I've run is 8 kms. My first big run."
"Cool. Why are you running?" I like to ask this - you get some great responses.
"Gave up smoking 18 months ago (mandatory high five), and my kids, eight and five, are on the cross country team. I want to keep up with them."
"Cool. Now what's your strategy? How are you going to get through this?"
"Buggered if I know - just keep running."
Hmm. That will see him in an ambulance.
"Can I make a suggestion. Try this. Make sure you drink at every water station - it's warmer than you think. Slow down going up the hills - and a word of warning - between kilometre nine and ten is a great-big-fuck-off-hill. Don't let it beat you. Walk it if you have to."
"I wish I met you at the start of the race."
"You did. You're running faster than me, run on - I'll see you around kilometre eight."
I ran on in the shadow of Garry. Gorgeous day, sunshiney and breezy, surround by gentle hills and farm animals. The Yarra Valley reminds me of where I grew up. It's just a joy to run in the countryside. Blissful. Around two or three degrees warmer than like to run in - but the gentle head wind made things bearable. I just pushed on. When then uphills got a bit much, I walked, and ran the downhills and flats. I drank at the water stations. It was all in the plan. Nobody to beat. Nobody to coach. Nobody waiting for me at the end of the race. This was for me.
My game plan - have a gel at the 8 km mark and try and finish in around an hour and forty. After the City to Surf I thought this realistic. The 14 kilometre City to Surf was the worst race I've ever run, even though I ended up enjoying it. I came in in an hour and fifty minutes. Not a great time, but under the circumstances, fine.
My run and occasionally walk a bit routine put me on pace with a woman of about my age running in a CanToo shirt. I'd walk, she'd pass me. I'd run and pass her again. This kept happening. We'd acknowledge each other as we passed.
I took my gel at the eight kilometre mark with a cup of water. Ping. It's the return of the running fairy!
At the nine kilometre mark the great-big-fuck-off-hill started. Two years ago this was nearly my undoing. I remember I wanted to cry. Today's strategy - scout run it. Run twenty steps, walk twenty steps. Attack it that way. It's just a bloody hill as I'm fond of telling anybody who complains about them. Hills happen. Hills are good for you. Hill training is the best way to improve your running. Wish I'd listened to Reindert years ago. I regularly do hills now as a part of my training.
My philosophy about running up hills. One foot in front of the other. Don't let them freak you out. It's just a bloody hill. Just like life. It's just there to be overcome. Don't be frightened. Take it in your own time.
My friend in the CanToo t-shirt caught up with me.
"You're a freaking inspiration." I told her.
"So are you. You keep walking and then you pass me again."
"Yeah - sorry about that. Hi, I'm Pandora."
"Hi, I'm Brigid."
Brigid, it turns out, is also training for the Melbourne Half Marathon. At 50, she was also fairly new to running. We chatted. Took our mind off things. We do similar things in corporate land. Brigid's husband set up CanToo. She was telling me about what is referred to as the "Mid Life Marathon". I can sort of see where she's coming from. I'm hoping to do my mid-life marathon next year in New York.
Once the big-fuck-off-hill was finished, there was only three kilometres left. My watch was saying we'd been at it for an hour and ten. What! I'd clocked the nine kilometre mark at an hour and one minute. Okay - calm Pandora.
Today wasn't supposed to be about time. Today was a race to enjoy, look at the pretty grapevines and check out the odd male rear end. That is all.
I was running free. Running at my true pace. The pride swelled. This is what it's about. Doing your best. Getting on top of things. Getting out there and showing yourself what you can do. How often do you get that?
Coming into Healesville around the twelve kilometre mark, we catch up with Garry - plodding along, but still going.
"You said you'd see me around kilometre eight."
"Well, I'm seeing you now. How are you travelling, Garry?"
"I've run all the way. Some walkers passed me going up that great-big-fuck-off-hill, but I still ran it."
"Thanks for the advice."
"My pleasure. Now I'm going to do a very unladylike thing and sprint to the finish. See you in a minute or so."
And I took off. There was enough in the tank.
13.5 kilometres. An hour and thirty two minutes and a handful of seconds. Over undulating hills (with one big-fuck-off-hill at the nine kilometre mark.)
In the words of Blur. WHOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOO!
Okay, I'm training properly. I'm not injured. I didn't have my step-sister doing her best angle grinder impression in the next bed during the night. I was well rested and ready to go, but still. Doing a pace of around 6.30 minutes a kilometre, over hills, over distance - I could not be prouder of myself.
Brigid and Garry arrived a minute or so later. Obligatory high fives. It's great to have somebody waiting at the end for you.
Timing tag retreived, showbag found, water imbibed, long stretches - I was feeling fantastic. My legs had no pain. The headache had gone.
After a quick stop at the chemist for some ibuprufen (take two after a long race and it help keep muscle pain at bay - great tip, Kez) I climbed into Neville and made my way home.
A few hours on, I'm still on a high.
The only very minor downside to this run. My bra rubbed to the point of bleeding once again. I'm not as lucky as men, who just have to stick bandaids over their nipples and they're fine. My poor girlie fun bags are now covered in bandaids and will be for a week or so, such was the chafing. The offending brassiere in now in the bin, a new one ordered off ebay already.
I've beaten myself. I've faced a few fears. I've shown me, and the world, what it is I can do, on my own, with nobody around to push me too far and fast or slow me down. It's shown my determination, courage and strength.
If running isn't the perfect metaphor for life, I don't know what is.
Pand xxx (AKA The Running Fairy)