Any time I’m struggling through a run – to get up a hill say, or finish some speed work – I remind myself what I went through to get Emma. You can do this! I tell myself. You pushed for two and a half freaking hours! You thought you were going to split in half! If you can do that without drugs you can get up a freaking hill!
The problem with this kind of motivational talk is that the reward for getting up the hill (i.e. getting up the hill) is not nearly as motivating as the reward for pushing for two and a half hours (i.e. Emma). This is why you can never get men to go through pain like childbirth – like these guys tried to do. Of course they could get through it, if you held their baby out in the corridor and told them they only got the baby once they were finished with the pain. Women don’t get through childbirth just because they’re awesome. They do it because a) their baby depends on it and b) at some point, the process is completely out of their hands. Babies come out, somehow, whether you’ve given up or not. This is not at all like running up a hill, as it turns out.
The Deep Space run was held by the Mountain Running Association – the same folk who brought us the semi-disastrous Bush Capital Bush Marathon back in July, when we ran through hail. I was feeling more positive about this one. The setting was great – out in Namadgi National Park, running between the Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral tracking stations, a beautiful spot half an hour’s drive out of Canberra. And it wasn’t the middle of winter – even though in 2009 runners had run through snow, that was an anomaly at this time of year.
The email detailing the courses had mentioned the ascent levels for the marathon and half marathon, but not for the 10km or 5km, erroneously leading me to believe we didn’t have an ascent worth mentioning. I’d be running with both my sister and my friend Helen, who I’d met through baby-related activities and had enjoyed many pram-laden runs around the lake with. I’d tried and failed to follow a Runkeeper program to do 10km under 60 minutes, settling on a two-runs-a-week routine that was just enough for a non-runner with limited leisure time to deal with. I wouldn’t be breaking any records, but I was feeling okay. It was looking good for my last run of the 2013 season.
The first sign that all was maybe not well was the email a few days out from the run. The weather forecast was in. Overnight low of five degrees. High probably of rain. ‘Come dressed for wet, windy, cold weather,’ the email concluded, gloomily.
Jude and I briefly discussed going to the coast for the weekend instead. But we decided to stick it out. It couldn’t be any worse than July, surely, we told ourselves. Helen comforted herself by reasoning the cold would keep away the snakes she was nervous about. Closer to the day, the weather forecast got marginally more promising. Less rain, anyway.
Jude picked me up at 6.30 am and we got to the course start line at 7.30, at which point the second sign we were in trouble appeared. Although it was super chilly, the rain was holding off and we were feeling positive until we got into a conversation with a race veteran – 6 years he’d been doing this run, he said. Someone asked him about hills and he laughed.
‘The worst one’s in the first bit,’ he said. ‘Then the way back’s a bit better, but there’s a few before the finish line, just enough to break your heart.’ He told us that after six years he still walked 2km worth of the course every time, and then someone asked him how the worst hill compared to the saddle behind Mount Ainslie.
‘It’s maybe one and a half times as long,’ he said.
I was starting to wonder what I’d got myself in for. The saddle behind Mount Ainslie is pretty tough. I can run the whole thing but it’s pretty awful and I hate it and I hate myself until I get to the top and then I feel okay again and forgive myself. But then another part of me wondered how bad it could really be. The email hadn’t even mentioned an ascent! People were doing a marathon over this course! Maybe the old guy was a pretty crap runner! Have I mentioned I pushed for two and a half hours!
My goals with my fun runs have always been pretty humble: to not walk, and to finish before the van goes around picking up the stragglers. The only times I’ve walked were during my pregnancy when I was trying to keep my heart rate down, and I’ve always been finished in plenty of time before the sad wagon heads off. I was about to be humbled by my extremely humble goals.
Jude and I managed the first two hills together, in our slowest gear. Lots of other people started to walk on the first hill and I inwardly scoffed at them. Then on the third hill I felt like I was going to throw up and maybe pass out, so I started walking. Jude kept going and I was really jealous until she started to walk on the next hill and I caught up to her. After that the seal was broken, as Jude put it, and there was no reason to kill ourselves by actually running this ‘fun’ run. We even stopped for a drink at the drink station, which was about 3 km in – yes, we had already walked in the first 3km. Our new goal was just ‘to finish’. I’m not even sure this race came with a sad wagon – they would have needed a pretty serious 4WD to get all the way through.
From the drink station it was far more bearable – mostly flat and a bit downhill to the 5km mark, at which point we turned around and headed back.
The second half was far more bearable – partly because we knew what we were up against, and took it really easy. The nice thing about the bush running folk is how friendly everyone is – all the marathoners would smile and say hello, even though they were surely in even more pain than we were. (We could barely grunt out an acknowledgement.) It doesn’t feel competitive, it just feels like you are out on a Sunday morning with some nice people who like being in the bush. The setting was also beautiful, of course – you felt like you were a million miles away.
The rain hit just as we got back to the drink station, so we still had 3km to go – but it didn’t seem to matter, not really. We were on the home stretch, we were slow and oh so sore but we were going to finish, somehow.
Jude is usually much, much faster than me (and you’ve probably guessed by now Helen was miles ahead of both of us) but the nice thing about this run is we did so much of it together. It’s nice to have company and I’m sure she kept me moving faster than I would have otherwise. I think I finished about 30 seconds after her which is better than the usual several minutes.
The rain stuck around and those heartbreaker hills right at the end did their job, so when I saw the roof of the toilet block through the trees I was so thrilled. My time was 1:12:52 which is appalling for someone who regularly runs 10km, but I didn’t care. We’d finished and we had our free mugs to prove it. (Massive shout-out to Helen who was the second woman over the finish line with a brilliant sub-55 minute time.)
Funny things happen after a run like that. I was immediately sure I would never run again, even though Jude and I were immediately planning how to prepare better for next year’s run. I’m also in the process of losing a toenail. I thought I wouldn’t exercise for weeks but there I was running around the base of Red Hill four days later. Sucker.