Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Race Report: River Run 100, 2015

The Caboolture 48 Hour Race had been a sterling event for me. Sure, I hadn’t achieved much in the athletic performance sense, but I’d certainly hit new heights in the hippy zen kind of way. In my ongoing enlightened state, I wisely decided to sign up as a late entry in the River Run 100, a local charity event that lets runners nominate their own start times, so we all finish together.

I was looking forward to spending some time with my audiobook, and alternating laps to Toowong (10 km) and Kangaroo Point (5 km) along the beautiful Brisbane River. I should’ve read the fine print—solo 100 km runners were only doing the long loops. Oh well, at least it would make counting laps easier.

With a cut-off time of 3 pm and the earliest start at midnight, I knew I was going to struggle to finish in the 15 hours. It was strange to think that just a few months back I’d done the same distance, faster, on technical trails, and that just over a year ago I’d done it in about two-thirds of the time on road. I started to wonder if I was being too hard on myself; maybe I could do better. Maybe I should aim for something faster…

Reality check, Tamyka: last weekend, you did it much slower.

A fair point. So, in the spirit of keeping it fun, and not taking myself too seriously, here’s how I prepared:

  • I downed a pint of beer and a pint of cola at the pub with my boyfriend, Raj, and some of his mates, and watched the rugby.
  • Then I went to a restaurant and downed a big serve of duck curry with rice.
  • I lazed around on the couch watching TV when I should’ve been napping.
  • I threw gels, cookies, soft drink, and sunscreen into a cooler bag. I also threw in a few comfort items, like an iPod and a hat, but not my sunnies. Oops.
  • I did one serious thing: I taped the toe that always blisters.
  • I donned a pretty white running dress with pocketed purple shorties (because a girl needs her phone and some cash) and pink, knee-high compression socks. Hey, it matters.
  • About 45 minutes before the event started, I got my boyfriend to drop me off just down the road. Close enough, right?

I needed to average 90 minutes per lap, which is a brisk walking pace, or a slow jogging pace. So I chose the former, walking my first lap with Cassie Smith, who had started at 3 pm and was going to run for a full 24 hours with a target total of 100 miles. She’d already hit 65 km by midnight, which was ahead of schedule, but wasn’t (as another competitor calculated) an average pace of 5:30.

Goodwill Bridge

We were pleasantly surprised by how warm it was, with just a cool breeze blowing over the water. Faster runners vanished into the distance, but we knew they’d be back soon—the benefit of a lap course—and new runners were consistently sneaking up on us. Cassie and I had several months of life to catch up on, but there was another benefit of sticking together: it was less scary.

Despite the course being well lit, it didn’t feel safe. Everyone on the Bicentennial Bikeway was, let’s face it, a little odd. That includes us, of course. There was a guy out running and shadow-boxing, a few drunks, a large group of youths having play-fights, a few more drunks, and us. I was a little worried about the table of water cups at the turn-around: did it look like an oasis to drunks making their way home from the city? Would they drink our water? Or…do other things to it?

Kurilpa Bridge from the Bicentennial Bikeway

Coming in from our first lap, Cassie and I mentioned this to the event staff and volunteers, and they immediately sent more safety cyclists out on the course with us, which was a wonderful response. We also wanted a quick toilet stop, but the nearby restaurant staff had locked everything up (which wasn’t expected). The only open toilets were the ones at the beach, we were told—over 300 metres away!

But when you need to go…so we took the detour, only to find that those toilets were also closed, and just the disabled toilet doubling as a parents’ room was open. By the time we got back to the start line, we’d lost 15 minutes! Good thing I wasn’t planning on setting a record…but I was planning on cutting it very fine at the finish line. I couldn’t afford to lose so much time.

At the turnaround on the second lap, Cassie sent me off on my own way. Walking was hurting me: I’m not fit for walking, and the camber was upsetting my shins. I was also a little anxious: I needed to move faster, both to keep warm and to make up for the 15 minutes we’d lost.

William Jolly Bridge from the Bicentennial Bikeway

As soon as I started running, I felt connected again. My legs felt strong, and I had a lot of energy. I made up a good chunk of time on the next couple of laps, and then reverted to the original plan of just keeping my laps under 90 minutes. I didn’t want to use the iPod while it was still dark, because it seemed important to be able to hear what was going on around me. I remained quiet with my thoughts, except when I was chatting to another runner or one of the safety cyclists.

Brisbane River at dawn, from the Goodwill Bridge

I’d had in mind that I’d celebrate the sunrise and the completion of 40 km with a small double shot flat white from the Café on the [Goodwill] Bridge. But there was a queue, and it was hard to tell how many people were ordering coffees and how many were just standing around, enjoying the view. Maybe it wasn’t worth waiting. Maybe it was.

CBD sunrise, from the Bicentennial Bikeway

I quizzed the staff, and the barista insisted he’d be quick. Gesturing to the race bib on the front of my pink thermal top, I countered that I needed him to be a little more specific. He came back with two minutes, which was good enough for me, so I dug some sweaty cash out of my running bra and handed it over.

I waited patiently for the two minutes (or thereabouts), enjoying the rest, and was soon rewarded with a hot cup of motivation. I walked the remaining few hundred metres to the timing area so I could really appreciate the indulgence, and I made sure to thank the café team as I headed back past them over the bridge. It was a seriously good coffee, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone (not just those running ultramarathons).

Double shot flat white and a very happy runner

The course was getting busier now, both with participants and the general public, and the day was getting warmer. Intermittent cloud cover kept me from getting too steamy, but it also made it really hard to judge when I should lose a layer of clothing. Some parts of the course were still quite cool, particularly when the breeze was in my face.

Rather than dwell on it, I just ditched my warm top at the 50 km mark and hoped for the best. I realised my error in wearing my pretty white dress: exposed shoulders. I carefully applied sunscreen to all the uncovered bits…except for one part of my back, which was a lovely shade of red by the end of the race.

By that stage I was really starting to get into the rhythm of running. As I saw the same runners lap after lap, a camaraderie formed, even though we only ever had a few moments to speak. We briefly touched each other’s joys and sorrows and then passed by. This is the spirit of the ultra, felt at every event, but felt strongest at those events where you see the other participants regularly.

I didn’t need music, an audiobook, or a companion. I just needed to run. I was having a wonderful time, and felt like I could run forever…except maybe for that little blister I could feel forming where it almost always does. I suspected the tape had slipped off my toe earlier, bunching up and creating extra blistering stimulus. I also suspected I hadn’t noticed it soon enough, and it was probably too late to do much about it. At any rate, I couldn’t be bothered fighting my way out of my compression socks. They’d been hard enough to get into in the first place.

At 60 km, a woman who was crewing for another runner asked me if she could “help with anything”. It wasn’t the first time—when she had asked at the start of the race, I’d explained to her how I just wanted to look after myself. And I’d repeated that message a few laps in. So when I declined again, I took the time to explain that I really wanted a no-fuss, self-crew sort of experience. She looked a little crestfallen, but I really didn’t need her help (except maybe with my sunscreen application—I could’ve done with some help there, apparently).

I didn’t really understand her reaction. If I offer help to someone—whether it’s giving them my seat on the bus or cooking them a meal or driving them home—I try to remember they’re allowed to decline. And if they genuinely don’t need my help, then I’m even happier than if they needed help and accepted it. I think that also applies when I volunteer to help at an ultramarathon.

But crewing at an ultramarathon is the next level: I’m not just helping any runner, I’m dedicated to my runner. Any help I offer to another runner is secondary. And, given that ultrarunning can be an intensely confronting personal experience, I understand if they decline, even if they’re blunt about it. No, I wouldn’t want a stranger in my face if I was vomiting on my shoes or applying pawpaw ointment to my butt crack, any more than I would want someone else’s husband to come over and hold my hand, wipe my brow and tell me to push if I was in labour.

In some races I demand help all the time. On that day, in that race, I needed to look after myself, which is why I hadn’t arranged for crew. I was perfectly justified in declining the help offered…but maybe I felt a little shitty about that crestfallen look on the woman’s face, because my next lap wasn’t so good. (Or maybe I was just fading.)

Bicentennial Bikeway, looking towards Toowong

It wasn’t until my eighth lap that I realised I hadn’t seen Cassie for hours. Another runner told me she’d switched to the 5 km loop (wait—we can do that?) because there were more bubblers and more toilets on that course.

It was a good point—there was only one toilet block on the 10 km course and it was right near the transition area. (At least it was open now.) Once the urge hit me just a few minutes after I’d passed the toilets on the way out. I spent the next 80 minutes learning just how far 10 km can feel.

The boredom of having already seen the course so many times in the daylight didn’t help, but a quick chat with Craig Mottram did. I called out as he flew past, heckling him for not signing up for one of the ultramarathon events. He slowed down briefly, and explained he was just running a couple of extra laps after his 10 km race. But I think the real reason is because he can’t count—every time he passed me after that (and it felt frequent!) he asked how far I had to go.

Rail bridge between Roma Street and South Bank, Brisbane

Raj arrived with a cheese and tomato toasted sandwich for me, just after I had headed out on my ninth lap. He texted me to let me know he was in position, as promised. Even though he was exhausted, and even though I was just running for fun—he’d come. I felt overjoyed that he’d made such an effort for me.

(Raj insists that boyfriends are generally expected to support their girlfriends and that his behaviour is quite normal. He says I’d recognise this if my ex hadn’t set the bar so low. That one usually only rocked up at the end of my races, and once went to the pub mid-race when he had said he’d meet me at a checkpoint to mix a drink for me.)

It was torture. I wasn’t sure I could wait another eighty minutes for that cheesy goodness. (And the sandwich. Har-dee-har-har.)

I texted back that I’d be there as soon as I could, and that I was pretty sure the toastie would make my last lap super-fast. That, of course, makes no sense. I’d be walking to eat it, and then I’d be slowed down by digestion. But it actually was a fast lap, despite the walk, and despite a toilet break to wash my hands before collecting my delicious toastie.

Competitors and spectators alike hassled me about my food choice: “Is that a pie?” “Have you got pizza?” “Mmm, is that a kebab?” I felt protective. It’s not “just” a toastie. It’s my delicious cheese and tomato toastie, prepared by my boyfriend, with bread I baked just yesterday.

I felt loved, so I ran hard.

Mottram saw me and asked how far I had to go: “What’s that, a lap and a half?”

“Half a lap.” He high-fived me, and I ran harder.

At the turn-around, I paused to enjoy my water, and thank the volunteer. I told him it was my last lap, that I had just five kilometres to go before my day was over. Just one more time over the Goodwill Bridge, my twentieth time that day. I continued to share the news with the other runners as I headed to the finish.

But it wasn’t until I was back under the Riverside Expressway that I realised, if I pushed hard instead of sticking to my usual shuffle, I might sneak in under 14 hours.

Could I do it? Only one way to find out…

And that’s how I came to cross the finish line looking like this, in 13 hours, 59 minutes and 13 seconds:

Racing to finish the River Run 100
(Photo by Trevor Ross)

Friday, 5 June 2015

Well, that was stressful…

That was the most horrendously stressful race preparation I've ever botched!

Let's look quickly at the different types of race preparations I do:

Short runs I barely bother with. I generally throw a gel in my pocket and away I go.

Track ultras are the best. I throw all the clothes and shoes into one tub, and all the food and gear into another tub, and I'm ready to go.

Road ultras are slightly more difficult because I need to distribute my gear. However, there are usually not too many checkpoints and they are generally regular, so it becomes a simple problem to solve.

Trail ultras are a little more difficult again, just because they tend to be slower and require more gear, and checkpoints may be irregularly spaced. Of course, there are some exceptions. The Alpine Challenge is one of them, but the checkpoints are far enough apart that I just figure I need to carry everything everywhere, and go with that.

Rogaining is usually over a set time window, making it easy to plan nutrition, even if I don't know where the hell I'll be. And, seeing as I have no option but to carry all my gear anyway, it's a no-brainer.

The thing all these races have in common is that there's only one element you lack full information about, and that's weather.

And then there are adventure races

In these races, you have some idea about what legs you're doing, but not how far each leg will be. You don't know whether you'll be kayaking once or ten times. You don't know how many times you'll want to change gear. You don't know how many pairs of shoes you'll need. You don't know whether you'll be cycling, kayaking or running through the middle of the night, so you don't know which lights to pack. Before you even leave home, you have no idea if you've got the right gear. But then you have to wait until 3.00pm the day before the race to know what gear to pack into what tubs. Then you might find out you don't have all the gear you need, and some of your gear hasn't dried from the competency checks in the afternoon.

And I found out that I worry WAY too much.

Fortunately I had Clive on hand to help me sort out my gear, though I won't know until tomorrow if I've got all the right stuff in the right places.

That said, I'm realy looking forward to the actual adventure race itself tomorrow. Enough of this prep nonsense — let's get down to business!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

I'm so excited!

This weekend marks my return to racing. I'm not running, but it's an endurance event anyway: the Half GeoQuest. It's my first long adventure race and I don't really know what to expect except for a healthy dose of sleep deprivation and way too much freezing!

I'm also not sure how my ankle is going to hold up. It's feeling a lot stronger, but with Sweden just seven weeks away I don't want to take any chances, so I'll be wearing my ankle brace. I've been doing some longer runs recently so maybe it will be ok. 

With Carol making a return as my crew, and her cousin and frequent adventure leader Clive on the team, I know I'm in good hands. Yep, even though I only met Dan last week and Howard tonight. We'll be fine! I won't be able to take my phone out on the course, so the photos won't be forthcoming (sadly), but I'll try to snap a few more before and after the race.

Tomorrow we've got gear checks and some competency tests. If they'd seen Susannah, Carol and my performance last weekend at the rogaine they wouldn't let us anywhere near the map and compass! I'm not looking forward to the cold weather and especially the cold water, but I'll make it.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

"Is he kind?"

You ask: "Did he hit you?"

I cringe. I close off. Your question completely misses the point.

I know it's awful that two Australian women die every week at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. But do you know what else is awful? It's awful that the continued focus on physical acts of violence implicitly questions the legitimacy of non-physical forms of abuse. Or even physical forms that aren't striking, like pushing and shoving.

I've been asked that question so many times: "Did he hit you?" As if that very act of physical violence is the one that defines an abusive relationship. 

I wanted to answer: "It doesn't matter." But it does matter.

It matters because that's the invisible line so many of us draw—those witnessing from afar, and those in abusive relationships. I hear it on radio interviews, and I read it in articles, and they are the words from my own mouth, too: "If he ever hits me, I will leave." These words disempower us. 

These words disempowered me. He simply watched me draw that line and determined never to cross it. He pushed me, shoved me, deliberately startled me, and punched the wall next to my head. He made me fear for my safety, and question my sanity. But he never hit me.

Outside the realm of domesticity, someone pushing us, shoving us, or taking action to deliberately scare us so that we fear for our lives—those things are all considered assault. And the same should be true within the home. And I don't understand why that's not obvious and universally understood.

Asking "Does he hit you?" serves no purpose other than to reinforce the abuse victim's believe that she's not entitled to complain or escape unless he does. So don't do it. But don't say nothing, either.

Instead, try the question my doctor asked: "Is he kind to you?"

I was in a healthy relationship at the time, and happily answered, "Yes." But I also immediately recognised I could never have answered "yes" about my ex. I could've told you what a great guy he was, and how everyone thought he was such a catch. But I could never have honestly said yes to that one magical question. (Which is why she had asked me, of course.)

So maybe ask that question next time you're worried about someone's relationship.

And, for bonus points, maybe ask yourself that question right now.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Time flies, but not always to where I want

Early last week, a colleague asked me how my ankle was, and if I was back to running yet.

I told him, 'No, but it feels really strong. I have an appointment with my physio this afternoon, and I'm confident she'll say just another week or so.'

Perhaps I was a little optimistic.

It seemed like I had already been off running for a long time. A really long time. Surely my prescribed eight to twelve weeks was already up?

But when I counted back the weeks, there were only six…and that included the week immediately following the injury, during which I did very little first aid and virtually no rehabilitation—which Mimi said did not count.

She was pleased with my progress, but still wanted me to hold off until the full eight weeks. She hammered the point home by cupping my shins, and then drilled it in further with a few carefully placed (agony-causing) needles.

The good news is, it's only another week or so until I'm allowed to give my ankle a little test run. 'Just 50 metres,' Mimi said, 'in a straight line. And only if you can perform twelve calf raises on that side as well as you do on the other side, and only if you can hop in all directions.' (Never mind that I don't think I've ever been able to hop in all directions.)

It's really tempting now—I find myself dashing across roads and looking wistfully at other runners' shoes as I walk briskly around town. And I'm cutting it really fine for my race.

But I am regularly reminded that I'm asking a lot—rolling my ankle on the walk to work, a sharp pain when compressing the joint while rockclimbing up a chimney. And I'm cutting it really fine for my race.

It's a careful balancing act because if I return too soon, I will probably re-injure my ankle and it won't be rehabilitated in time for my next race. But if I leave it too long, I will not have enough time to build and taper for the race.

In the mean time, I guess I'll just entertain myself with other forms of exercises, such as the climbing I just added to my repertoire.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

So, how was it for me?

I've spent the last couple of weeks watching others do things I wanted to do. Or at least, they were things I thought I wanted to do.

It wasn't as tough as I expected, and there are many logical reasons why that might be the case. It might be because the weather conditions at both the ANZAC Ultra 2015 and the Coburg 24 Hour were horrendous. It might be because I was acutely aware that my ankle still occasionally bothers me as does the probably-associated foot tingling. It might even be because actually being at Coburg made me feel like I was still a legitimate contributor to the whole running scene—even if I only had a real effect on the performance of one runner.

But I suspect the real reason is far less complex: it's probably just because I didn't want those things so badly after all.

Now it's just a simple matter of figuring out what I do want…

Monday, 13 April 2015

True friends

So my last post wasn't about running, or even about not running. Some of you noticed this. I wasn't sure how it would go down and I'm pleased that (so far) I haven't been publicly slammed for it. I'm a little disappointed in the response, though.


Well, despite having way more hits than most of my recent posts, I got fewer comments across all social media sites. Some of you private messaged me, and I felt torn—touched by your concern, but angered by the silence that persists.

Let me be clear: I am not angry with anyone, or disappointed in you. I'm grateful for each one of you who got up the courage to think about my post and especially for those who commented, 'liked' or shared my post, even in private. It scares me to make these stories public, but your support makes it worth the risk and gives me the courage to keep speaking.

I am angry that abuse affects so many people, but we are too scared to talk about it—scared of the repercussions, scared of losing people we love, scared of disappointing others, scared of being exposed with only our words to protect us. At least, I think we're too scared. I know I was too scared, otherwise I would've spoken out sooner.

I guess some of you might also be upset at the prospect of hearing how I was treated, perhaps by someone you know, maybe even by someone you like. You might be questioning your assumptions. Or you may have just rejected my words because you've always been treated well by the same person.

I know it's a difficult subject. I know that for many people it becomes a case of 'he said—, she said—'. But I didn't ask anyone to side with me. I didn't ask you to break off your other friendship. I just stated in non-negotiable terms that I wouldn't accept the blame.

Despite this, a few people felt it was their place to placate me, to encourage me to move into a space that would fit with what they already 'knew'. To make comments like, 'Sometimes two of the nicest people just don't gel.'

I felt awful about the way I responded, but it needed to be said:

…it's comments like that I don't need…nice people don't call their girlfriends fat. They don't call their girlfriends cunts. They don't complain about everything their girlfriends do. They don't blame everything on their girlfriends.

By suggesting that this is just two nice people failing to get along you are doing what he does: you are telling me I deserve some of the blame and you are saying that his behaviour towards both me and [his previous ex] was perfectly acceptable, and that's not right.

That attitude is why one woman a week dies at the hands of a current or former intimate partner in this country.

It's good that you're not judging, but by not judging his behaviour as wrong, you are implicitly judging me as being deserving of those actions…

What many people don't seem to understand is that true friends don't shy away from issues like this. Or, to steal from a major Australian campaign against drink driving: mates don't let mates abuse their partners.

True friends recognise that an abusive partner probably didn't set out to be a bad person who hurts the people he claims to love. True friends believe the abuser probably doesn't like that part of himself, and would want to change if only he could recognise his problem.

So a true friend speaks up, and says, 'Mate, you're tops alright and I know you'd never want to hurt anyone. But there's a bit of a pattern here, right? Something's going wrong in your relationships if these women think you're hurting them. Maybe we can do something about that. Maybe we can talk to someone who can help you understand why these women might feel like that, so you can avoid it in future.'

Note that this approach has no prerequisites other than genuine concern about both parties involved. You don't need to take sides. You don't need to believe his actions were deliberately or even unintentionally abusive. You just need to believe that his partner has genuinely been hurt by his actions, and that if he's a good person he won't want that. (And if you don't believe that, why do you even want to be his friend?)

Could you be that true friend? Could you start that difficult conversation?

I think some of you could, and right now I'm going to shout out to a close friend I greatly admire, who has just stated her commitment to speaking up: Mandy-Lee Noble. Mandy is a fierce thinker. She constantly seeks new knowledge, questions the validity of the assumptions underpinning her world view. You may have seen her comment on Facebook or Google Plus:

Tamyka, I think this a brave post. We need to ask ourselves who we are trying to comfort when we trivialise mistreatment and then place it in the context of the positive aspects of the abusive person.

Wow. In just a few lines, she's not only nailed my point but completely hammered it home. But offline, she said so much more:

…it highlights a silent but strong sexism…If a woman is being mistreated it is because of something she did. I hear this all the time. 

When setting expectations about behaviour within an intimate partner relationship, the woman is expected to consider the man's entire life experience and how it may affect his behaviour, and the woman is also expected to consider how her behaviour may affect him. The reverse does not apply. It is everywhere and insidious: 'She must have done something to warrant it' or 'but I know him to be such a nice guy'…  

I do not know the circle of friends who are directly involved with the post,  and yet I am aware of some of the details which are not nice but were told to me by people who continue to be in a friendship with the person in question…In the past I have seen people treat others badly and continued my relationship with them because they were not treating me badly.  

In future I will be speaking up.

And that is the greatest thing any of you can do to help me. As I said earlier, I understand this is an uncomfortable subject. But if you feel brave enough (and safe enough) to make a comment publicly on FB or on the blog post itself, or share this post somewhere that others can see it, I would greatly appreciate your contribution to breaking the taboo.

Friday, 10 April 2015

It's not me, it's you

Warning: this post contains some confronting material and, while I'll avoid using names, if you know me personally then there's a good chance you'll know some of the people and events I've mentioned.

This isn't intended to cause offence or embarrassment—I'm just recounting events and my interactions with some people who just don't get it. Yes, it's subjective, but all human experience is subjective, and it's best we recognise that. It's ok if you come up with a different interpretation from mine, but if you recoil from what I've written here then I hope you interrogate that feeling and its source. I hope you will apply your critical thinking skills: is your conclusion logical? Are you equitably processing the evidence presented? Or are you buying into culturally perpetuated myths and the practice of victim-blaming?

Over the past week or so I've been faced with making the awful decision about whether or not to attend a friend's party. I want to go, but it will mean seeing someone whom I really don't want to see, whose face now makes me feel sick because of the way he betrayed my trust and disrespected me. I don't want to be anywhere near him.

But more than that, I really don't want to hear yet again that I've misunderstood him, that I should be sympathetic and understand his perspective, that his behaviour was perfectly reasonable or acceptable given his upbringing and cultural influences and the way I was acting.

What I mean is:

I will not let you blame me.

Somehow, because I was abused before, you see a pattern. You see a common thread and that thread is me. You blame me. You justify it with the many stories that shape your world view, stories you've heard both from him and from the cultural environment you were raised in, stories you believe are an accurate representation of reality.

I don't tell you any stories, because you silence me with your tacit and sometimes vocal support for his behaviour, his generally being a great guy.

You do not see the other fabric linking these two chapters of my life, the one that is no mere thread but rather a smothering woven blanket: our society teaches men that it is acceptable—expected, even—to disrespect and hurt women.

You believe there must be a simple reason for his treating me this way and you turn a blind (willingly ignorant) eye, believing it's best left 'behind closed doors'. You believe that it was something I did that made him call me names, threaten to hit me, and continually tell me all the ways in which I was inferior to him, simply because—what? Because he has a penis?

You believe that, because he didn't hit me, it 'wasn't that bad' and he didn't really hold any power over me in the relationship. You believe that I wouldn't stay if it was that bad, because you believe I always had the power to leave.

When he did things that hurt me, I acknowledged the possibility that I might be overly sensitive because of my personal history. I gave him many chances, always reassuring him that I knew he didn't mean it, always making the excuses for him when he didn't make them himeself. It was never enough—I always disappointed him.

You believe him when he turns my words around, and tells you that I was oversensitive and I always took what he said so personally, that I always thought the worst of him and read into the innocent things he said and did.

You believe him when he tells you that I was manipulative, selfish, demanding, unloving. That he loved me so much, and I never really cared for him or gave him what he needed, even though he asked for so little.

You believe him when he tells you he was scared of me and my irrational behaviour.

You believe him when he says he doesn't understand why I want nothing to do with him, why I won't even speak to him.

You believe all this, and I know you do, because I believed all this about his ex-girlfriend. So I understand your ignorance, and I forgive you.

But I will not be subject to your opinions that perpetuate victim-blaming. And I will not listen to your narratives about this relationship or this man until you show willingness to correct your culturally embedded ignorance. There is only one common thread here, and it has nothing to do with my relationship history and everything to do with his.

Monday, 6 April 2015

So lucky

So I didn't get to run the ANZAC Ultra 2015.

But I did get to cycle 66 km with Susannah, and stop for a coffee (and cheesecake!) with Ruth and Verity, on a stunning day in South East Queensland when it was meant to be miserable and wet. We had bright blue skies, smooth roads and no nasty headwind.

Susannah checks our navigation.

Not a bad consolation prize.

My ankle is getting stronger and I'm optimistic about what Mimi will say on Wednesday. I've been cleaning a lot of the clutter out of my life (and currently working on my wardrobe) and I feel happy knowing that I've only got three races on the calendar for the rest of the year, and plenty of time to build for them.

Today is one of the good days, I guess. I've had more wins than losses, so when I check the runners' progress on Facebook, it's exciting rather than upsetting. I make no promises that this mood will continue into next week—it might vanish with my last bites of Easter chocolate—but  I thought it was worth documenting because it's part of the process of healing, and of living.

It's that day

I wasn't really sure how I'd feel when this day rolled around. The day before the day I was meant to start a very long run. The day before the ANZAC Ultra 2015.

When I started typing this post, I still wasn't sure how I felt. So I did that thing where I avoided thinking about it and got super productive instead. Today's theme was out-with-the-old, so I started sorting through the 100 running tops I own. Yes, I have really acquired that many over the years. It's not cool. But of course, it's still something to do with running, and I ended up thinking about the race again. It's taken me all day and the clock has just ticked over to the next day, the one where the runners actually start.

So, how do I feel?

Yesterday I joked that I went for my first run back—five metres when the lights changed as I crossed the road. But I also walked almost 7 km on both Friday and Saturday, so that's significant progress, in my not-so-humble opinion. It's still a long way short of 450 km, so I'm not sorry to be staying at home—it's the best decision I could've made. But I am sorry that I won't be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime event.

I'm also very, very excited for the runners who have made it to the start line, who are about to embark on this adventure and learn new things about themselves, and I wish each and every one of them a wonderful experience out there. I will be watching from afar and sending my happiest running vibes!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

From fear to frustration

Words just can not even come close to describing how much I want to run right now. I will try anyway—

The setting sun paints the clouds as a slash of pink against a fading blue sky. I drive through the escaping streams of rainwater water that wash the hillsides clean. The air is crisp and dry now after the earlier downpour. I've been seated all day and still I sit, caged in this mechanical beast as it lumbers toward the forest. At last I am free. I step out, curl my toes in the dirt, and run. The sweat beads on my forehead and at my temples; it collects at the nape of my neck and trickles down my spine, tickling like a feather…perhaps one of the Powerful Owl feathers I found on the very same trail some months back. I run until my legs hurt and then I keep running until I can't feel them any more. Then I run a bit more, because I can.

It won't happen. It can't happen.

I've been doing pretty well so far—the jealousy is fading away and being replaced by a genuine excitement for the participants who get to run the ANZAC Ultra. It probably helps that I managed to ride to work yesterday, and home again. It was only a total of 26 km, but that's 26 km without pain. I even managed a short stint out of the saddle. (And I'll also confess: I had to brace myself for unclipping my right foot when I dismounted.) I can almost walk normally, and bear weight properly on my right ankle, and go down stairs with only a little trepidation. I'm starting to see how I will be able to run again, like I used to. It's not just a dream anymore—it's something that will probably happen for real.

But now race day is fast approaching, and I'm feeling frustrated about not running. I've hit that time when I should be frantically packing all my gear and writing up a race plan for my crew, who probably won't even look at it because they'll know I'll change my mind anyway. The race team is emailing us regularly and I can't even peek at Facebook without seeing a stream of posts relating to the event. And instead I'm cancelling flights and thinking about what chores I might get done over Easter.

I was due to fly Friday. So, I reckon the next few days are going to get really tough.

Bear with me.

Friday, 27 March 2015

So low

I thought long and hard about whether I should publish this post, which I drafted last night. I'm torn between not wanting my friends to worry about me, but still wanting everyone to know that it's not all roses and cinnamon doughnuts. That even though I have a great strategy for dealing with the disappointment of being injured and missing out on races, and even though I've found a positive approach to dealing with my negative self-talk, those thoughts still come to me. I still get down, and I do my best to deal with it. 

So I've decided to share this, to let you see the full story, and maybe to give you a bit of courage to face down your own uncharitable thoughts. But I also want you to know, before you read on, that I'm ok today.

I felt really shit tonight. Shit to the point where I briefly considered checking myself in somewhere. It started when I left work, having worked my arse off all day but leaving with a bigger to-do list than I’d started with.

I drove away thinking about how much I desperately wanted to run, and wondering if maybe I could strap my ankle firmly and go for a small trot in the forest. Maybe no one would know. But I didn't, because I know I shouldn't.

So I went to my guitar lesson where I played better than I have for months, because I actually had time to practise this week, only I still felt like I played terribly.

Then I went home and decided to try defrosting the fish on a small dish resting on a hotplate on the stove's lowest heat setting. It worked really well, but I still felt awful, like I was somehow failing.

That feeling got worse when my boyfriend told me the dates he'll be away. I already knew he was going away around that time, too, so there actually wasn't any surprise, and I just noted it down in my calendar. But then I went to my bedroom and lay down on the bed cried for a few minutes, because…well, because why not? Tonight is getting to be just all too much.

And when I got up from the bed I had a strange headache at the crown of my head. It persists, but I can't even be bothered taking a painkiller.

I want someone to do something nice for me, to make it all better. And I know on a logical level that’s not possible, because no matter how kind someone’s actions, they aren’t going to fix my ankle or my mood. I know they can’t but I want it anyway, so I’m disappointed. In effect, I’m disappointed by nothing, by no one. It’s silly, and I can identify and declare that it’s irrational, but I seem helpless to do anything beyond that.

I don't know whether I'll share this yet.

Maybe I will, because I’ll bet my injured friends (such as Katherine, Jennifer, and Susannah) go through exactly the same lows. I’d say other people feel like this, too, and maybe if I accept that it’s ok for me to feel this way, maybe it’ll make it easier for others to accept their own feelings, however negative they are. Maybe that will make them feel less alone.

See, I am suffering, and it's over something so small, so temporary, so damn frivolous that I’m quite sure I have no right to even feel like this. But I do feel like this: so maybe it should be on the record.

Maybe I should put it there, on the record; maybe that’s something I can do. I can show the world that I’m not some superhero who is always positive and happy, and that even though I’m putting on a brave face, I still go through those patches where it all seems like a conspiracy against me. So right now I feel like shit, and that the only thing that is going to fix it is the thing I can't do.

I've saved this, offline. Well, sort of. It's on Dropbox. Maybe I should share it instead of posting it on my blog. Maybe I should screen capture it so you can see the ugly plain font I didn't bother changing because it so perfectly matched my mood.

Now I see: I was wrong.

Because running is not the only thing that makes me feel better. Words do, also.

These words make me feel better because they are powerful. Kept inside, they weighed me down, they dragged me under, but now that I've let them out they no longer burden me.

And this is why I choose to see myself as a lucky, lucky person. Because other people don’t have the good fortune to be able to release their burdens like this.

In case you were wondering how it worked out for me, I actually had a pretty shit morning, too. I had a completely disproportionate reaction to a rude driver, and then I flipped out at a work colleague who was just trying to start a conversation that happened to interfere with my getting to the gym. (She's an elite athlete who understands exactly what I'm going through, and she forgave me before I even got a chance to apologise—what a legend.) 

I felt a lot better after a brief gym and swim workout, but then dropped my bundle when I dropped my home made bircher muesli all over the floor. But that's justified, right? I mean, I grated that apple and hand-squeezed those oranges!

In the end, though, it worked out ok. I'm feeling good, and I'm looking forward to a weekend, so please don't worry about me. I'm sharing this post not as a cry for help, but as a war cry for you to be kind to yourself, and accept that we all get like this at times, and that's not ideal but it's ok.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Time out!

I spent a chunk of my weekend writing out a list of all the bookings I need to cancel. I'm only going to get a tiny fraction of my money back, which won't even come close to covering the cost of the physio and sports doctor appointments and the MRI, even after private health cover claims. And, to think—it all could've been so easily avoided.

'But, wait,' you say. 'Wasn't it an accident?'

Yes, to an extent. I stepped on a rock and rolled my ankle, which involved an element of chance. It also involved a failure to concentrate on the trail or maybe a foolish decision to run faster than I could manage on the trail. But, more significantly, I must accept the actions I took—or failed to take—in the days and weeks leading up to that 'accident' made me more susceptible to injury. So why wasn't I getting regular massages, trigger pointing my muscles, training my proprioception, resting and recovering, and eating the right foods?

I've wracked my brain and all I can come up with is that I subconsciously sabotaged my race plans.

I discussed this theory with a close and thoughtful friend. He found it highly improbable that I'd deliberately injured myself, especially when I couldn't have predicted when or where I'd sprain my ankle. He makes a fair point, and I'm inclined to agree. But I also can see only one plausible reason for my failure to look after my running body: I didn't prioritise it. I needed a break and didn't accept that. I wasn't committed to the races I'd lined up this year. I failed to admit that, and it cost me a lot of money.

It sounds mightily silly when you think about the adventurous plans I'd laid for April and May, but less so when you consider what a massive year 2014 was for me: a 100 km personal record, a solid 48-hour despite illness, a huge distance personal record with 624 km at the Adelaide 6-day race, and finally—finally!—finishing the Alpine Challenge 100 mile race.

Now I need to accept this: if I'm going to achieve the challenges I've set out for the end of 2015 and early 2016, I'm going to need to be strong and fresh.

So even though it's tempting to punish myself for being so stupid, I'm opting not to. Instead, I've rewarded myself with a swim and gym membership at the Valley Pool, a new guitar stand so my guitar is always within arm's reach, some new novels, and some quality time with my friends. I'm eating well and sleeping more. I'm looking after my body and my mind.

And I'm not in any rush to get back to running. My heart said no and I ignored it long enough that my body had to speak up in a most painful way. So I'm listening, now—I'm not returning to this sport that I love until my heart tells me it's time (and my physio seconds the opinion).

Friday, 20 March 2015

"I don't know how you can run at all, let alone those distances…"

Mimi's words were both friend and foe: my physiotherapist had just slapped me with her praise, or perhaps raised me up onto a podium constructed of dog poop. She was impressed by my right ankle's improvised functional stability given its appalling lack of structural stability.

She held up the films and pointed out several images with bright white patches where I had newly torn the calcaneofibular ligament. She then pointed out the anterior talofibular ligament that the report claimed was "chronically deficient" and explained how my peroneal tendons were overworked from the effort of holding my ankle together.

The verdict:
  • I need to take 8–12 weeks off running;
  • I should be on crutches for two weeks, keeping the weight off my foot as much as possible;
  • I can swim and cycle, and will soon be able to water run;
  • I should see an orthopaedic surgeon in case he or she recommends surgical intervention.
I've always found running injuries hard to deal with because they hit me twice: I miss out on something I thoroughly enjoy doing (running) and I also miss out on the endorphins that boost my mood every day and leave me feeling stronger, more resilient, and more able to deal with the disappointment.

Within days of my injury I recognised how much my identity is tied to running—at some point I've internalised this idea that running is what makes me interesting, what makes me me. Without running, I've noticed irrational thoughts creeping into my mind—perhaps my friends won't want to hang out with me now, perhaps my boyfriend will seek an upgrade, perhaps everyone will forget about me…

I'm grateful here for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques, because I can actually catch and interrogate these thoughts. On a logical level, I recognise that these doubts are all nonsense, that I'm a multifaceted individual, that the wonderful group of friends I've built up over the years love me because of I'm me, not because I'm a runner. But the doubts still creep in, and I have to keep addressing them.

So while I'm gutted to miss out on the ANZAC Ultra 2015 (a once-in-a-lifetime event), I'm taking this enforced time-out as an opportunity to reflect on what else is important in my life and to address how I became injured in the first place. 

I'll accept that some injuries are truly accidents, such as tripping and falling in a race, but I don't think that was the case here. I think my body was more vulnerable than usual because I haven't looked after myself since the Adelaide 6 Day race last October. I never gave myself the time to recover properly because I was greedy: I was running fast and strong, so why stop?

I rolled my ankle as I cornered on a trail where I've never even come close to hurting myself before, and I did significant damage. Normally a little ankle roll wouldn't even slow me down—I'd have the weight off it in an instant and no damage would be done. So why did those super-strong peroneals not hold up? 

Have I been eating well enough? 
Drinking enough water? 
Getting enough sleep? 
Doing enough trigger pointing? 
Getting enough massages? 
Probably not.

Fortunately for me, Mimi is also a life coach, so she's been able to offer some interesting perspectives as I work through my intellectual and emotional responses to this injury. She seems surprised that I'm so keen to rest and heal up properly, even though it means more time off. But I have a very long term goal that always helps me keep things in perspective: I want to be running in my eighties. I have to take care of myself.

I'm going to spend my rehabilitation period not only fixing my body, but also doing the other things I love. One of those things is writing, and I'm going to blog regularly about how I'm coping, in the hope that maybe it will help others who are dealing with their own injuries and negative thoughts.

I may not be running right now,
but I'm still a runner.

Monday, 2 February 2015

I don't do this often enough

Within a couple of days, Adrian had blogged about our adventure. Me, not so much.

I do all these amazing things and even though two of my favourite activities are writing and storytelling, for some reason I rarely get around to doing them.

So you haven't heard about my trip to Melbourne, where I ate All The Food and ran 55 km in a sequinned dress. And you haven't heard the gory details of my first six day race, or the glory of the long-awaited Alpine Challenge finish, or the fun of my birthday adventures in Mt Barney National Park, or my quad-trashing Hong Kong discoveries, or my Poor Man's Bogong to Hotham in D'Aguilar National Park, or all my crazy-hill adventures with Carol, or…

And maybe you don't want to. But I should write about them anyway, and all the upcoming adventures, because writing is something I enjoy, even if no one will ever read it.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Today's trail lesson

With my recent trail adventures—the Alpine Challenge 100 Mile race, my birthday adventures on Mt Maroon and Mt Barney, my guided tour of Lantau—I've noticed a disturbing tendency to stare at my feet. It's something I've pulled others up on frequently, though mostly in an uphill context, and a habit that's been building over months of road running.

So I went out on today's tiny trail trot (the run I do when I'm not feeling well, but still really want to run) with the intention of just running for half an hour, but I ended up working on my gaze—looking further down the trail instead of at my feet. I also found a new-old-overgrown singletrack that veers off from the main Maccas trail near the first bitumen track, and then parallels it all the way to the gnarly descent.

But the trails won, because I ended up running for an hour. Today's lesson: the spiders always win.