Race Report: The Bush Marathon

A mid-winter running event is always going to be asking for trouble. But the Bush Marathon, organised by the ACT bush runners club, is always on the last weekend of July and apparently the weather is always great. Canberra does generally have lovely winter days – cold, sure, but also sunny and clear. ‘Champagne air’, dad calls it. Perfect for running.

Dad and I did a few training runs around the base of Mt Ainslie to prepare. The week before we went out at 12.30pm – fun run time – and I’d overheated. We were doing about an hour five minutes, which isn’t too bad considering we’d chat most of the way and my stride is roughly half the length of his. It was shaping up to be a great day.

The forecast got worse the closer the day got. By Friday night it was predicted to reach 6 degrees. With rain. This was unexpected, and less than inspiring. What to wear? Did it matter? Our greatest fan – mum – even decided she wouldn’t come to cheer us on. This was serious – there’s not much that would stop mum from cheering anyone, at any thing, ever. The email we received from the organisers assured us that there was no ‘weather permitting’ disclaimer on this event. The show would go on and if you had any balls, so would you.

So we were determined. We’d paid a whole $18 for this! We’d already received our numbers! (Written with texta on a piece of paper, sent in the mail.) We were due a free mug!

We arrived 45 minutes early, as instructed via email. Of course this was unnecessary because not many people showed up so parking was plentiful. There was also nowhere to shelter so we stood out in the open doing little jumps and jogs and agreeing that we needn’t have worried about clothing as this weather didn’t care.

Some little kids did their 2km fun run and I was completely jealous and wondered why I hadn’t signed up for that. Or at least the 5km. Why oh why did I have to choose 10km in the middle of winter. Once they’d finished it was time for our security briefing, which was when the weather decided to get serious.

Sideways rain? Check.

Wind to rip caps off? Check.

Black storm clouds with the promise of snow? Check.

Rain that actually now you look at it, is either big bits of snow or tiny bits of hail? Check.

The guy in charge stood in front of us all huddling around the tents which were powerless against the forces of nature, his dryzabone flying in the wind, holding his Akubra down with one hand as he explained the course to the small group of runners. “Don’t worry!” He yelled over the wind. “It’ll pass!!”

We laughed nervously and begged to be allowed to start. At this stage we were wet and freezing and I think everyone just wanted to get this shit over and done with. The start line – created on the ground out of long pieces of bark, in the primitive spirit of bush running – was beckoning.

“Three more minutes!” He yelled.

I got my iPod out and realised my specially created bush marathon play list hadn’t been copied onto it. I shook my fist at the angry sky. How was I to run without exactly the right music at exactly the right time? Everything was just wrong.

We lined up behind the bark. The wind whipped up and ripped Jude’s cap off her head. She ran after it and when she turned around I could see on her face she was *this close* to giving up completely. Jude likes life and she likes it to be comfortable and pleasant and this was decidedly unpleasant. Why am I here, I could see her fuming to herself. But, that’s the point – she was here, so she might as well run. The cap went back on just in time before we were finally allowed to start running.

It is hard to run through snow up a muddy hill that’s just been nicely tenderised for you by the speedy feet of small children, dodging rocks and puddles and straining to hear your motivational running music over the sound of the wind. Jude and I brought up the rear of the pack at first as we focused on not breaking an ankle. When we saw the ‘1 km’ sign I groaned. I felt like I’d been running an hour already and I was colder than I’ve been in a long time, probably since being on the motorbike in similar weather.

But then, miracle of miracles. The man in the Akubra was right. By the time we hit the ‘2 km’ sign the rain had cleared and I was running alone. It was like any other Saturday run since there were so few people there. My asthma kicked in – probably due to the snow – so it wasn’t the most comfortable run, but I stuck a few feet behind another woman and we trudged through the bush. Dad passed me first, heading back towards the finish so quickly I realised how much I’d been holding him back on our training runs. Then Dave, then Jude finally passed me. I high-fived them all, as well as the mountain biker standing at the half way turnaround point because I was so happy to see him.

By the time I passed the finish line – only a minute or so slower than my last fun run – the sun was out. I felt like I’d just completed a kind of training montage in a movie – starting off slow in awful weather, and finishing on top of the world. The nice thing about coming last in your family is that you have people to cheer you over the finish line. I thanked the girl who’d been my pace buddy most of the way, and realised at that point I knew her from somewhere else, but we didn’t get a chance to figure out where. The main object at that time was to get warm, and of course collect the free mug we’d all come for.

Mum had been slaving away at home so we got hot soup and homemade pies and sausage rolls as a reward, which was totally worth it and we forgave her for not cheering us on. We were very proud of ourselves for pushing through. We were real bush runners!

Photo: Cold and damp bush marathon runners with their mugs.



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