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The Three Hour Run

Bogong High Plains near Mt Fainter
Nothing beats that post-run feeling of breathlessness, sweatiness and accomplishment.  I am very happy to be running again.  Even though it's only been 5km a day this week, I feel unfit, my right arch still hurts, and I have a few niggles (traceable, I believe, to wearing the new insoles), my outlook has swung to positive.

Since there's not much to talk about with respect to my training at present, I thought I would include an article I wrote for the Kew Camberwell Newsletter about a long run I did with Chris Wardlaw on the Bogong High Plains in early 1984.  My club, Kew Camberwell, hired a lodge in Falls Creek for a week or two in January each year, and we spent our time running, eating and playing board games.  Other running clubs did the same and the tradition continues to this day, of athletes training on the High Plains during summer.

Chris, who I've mentioned in previous posts, was a famous figure in Australian athletics.  He had represented Australia in the marathon in the Moscow Olympics, where his performance was possibly compromised by the lead he had taken in opposing, ultimately successfully, the Australian Government's attempt to boycott the Games in protest at the USSR's venture into Afghanistan.  Our paths had crossed at Melbourne High School Old Boys Athletic Club, Monash University and various running events over the previous fifteen years.

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THE THREE HOUR RUN


Bogong High Plains
When Chris Wardlaw asked me whether I was interested in a “three hour run” the next day, I initially declined.  I had already arranged to travel down from Falls Creek with the rest of the Kew Camberwell crew to compete at Albury, and I hadn’t run for longer than 1.5 hours at a time for six months because of a back injury.  However, I found the idea very tempting because there’s nothing I like better than a bit of a run in the bush.

When I saw Chris later on I asked what pace the run would be and who else was going.  The pace was to be “slow” and he was going with Danny, a local identity and former 2:21 marathoner, and “the only man to ski from Crackenback to Hotham……..and survive”.  I was hooked, and arranged to meet them at 9:00am the next day.  Megan, Ian and Barb were to come the first few miles, before heading off on a different 18-mile loop whilst we were to continue to Tawonga Hut, on over Mt Fainter, and then descend to Bogong Village where we were to be picked up by Chris’s girlfriend.

Next day, the weather was abysmal.  It was raining, foggy and very windy, not to mention cold.  Ominously, the “Crackenback to Hotham survivor” failed to show, but after a quick glance at a map, Chris and I resolved to go anyway.  Also ominously for me, the first two or three miles were uphill, and Barb and Megan, and then Ian, dropped off the “slow” pace whilst I tried not to think about the hours ahead.  The wind was at our backs, somewhat masking the foul conditions, while we batted along at near six-minute mile pace, discussing Olympic prospects (not mine), female marathoner pregnancies, and the rescue of Robbie Morgan-Morris’s training group the previous Sunday in similarly foul weather conditions.

After an hour we climbed over the top of Ben Cooper and then descended on a rocky trail down a valley and on to Tawonga Hut.  The weather was deteriorating.  From the Hut, there was a fire-trail and a narrow foot track leading off in different directions.  We were unable to decide which was correct and eventually resorted to asking a hiker (who was spending the day in his tent!) which we should follow.  He suggested the narrow foot-trail, but said it was difficult to follow.  Off we went, climbing steeply up out of the snow gums onto open plains, where we succeeded in losing the track almost immediately.  The weather was still deteriorating.  We decided to continue up onto the top of the ridge in front of us and then follow it to the right to Mt Fainter where we expected to pick up the track again.

Myrtleford Ski Lodge, where we used to stay when
training at Falls Creek
On the ridge, the weather was appalling.  The rain was now mixed with hail, which because the wind was so strong, was blowing horizontally, visibility was down to 100 metres, and it was freezing.  We continued cross-country along the ridge occasionally having to bash our way through stretches of wiry matted waist-high scrub, all the time getting colder and colder.  We skirted a couple of craggy peaks, hoping we were staying on the right ridge until confronted with a rocky peak with no obvious way around.  We stopped briefly, both now shivering violently and having difficulty talking, to discuss the situation.  The unanimous decision was that we had to get off the ridge.  My guess was that we should head down to the right whilst Chris wasn’t so sure, thinking we may have gone round in a circle when rounding one of the peaks.

We went down to the right.  As we descended the shallow valley the scrub became thicker and thicker, and we were now both fairly badly scratched and soaked to the skin.  We were still above the tree-line and exposed to the elements.  After twenty minutes, not a lot of forward progress, and a number of falls into holes and a creek, another brief conference was held (in mumbles).  Chris was more doubtful about our direction and I was concerned about our slow progress.  We decided to continue, but after another fifteen minutes the scrub was up to shoulder height, progress was even slower, and our physical condition deteriorating.

Chris looked pretty bad – shivering violently, bluey-white, and almost unable to talk.  He was wearing a pom-pom hat and waterproof jacket as protective clothing, neither of which were of much benefit.  I was wearing only shorts, a T-shirt, and a singlet.  I knew hypothermia was setting in and started to examine myself for symptoms.  The extreme fatigue, violent shivering and clumsiness were all there, but I still did not feel disorientated.  From memory, shivering was supposed to stop in serious hypothermia cases, and I certainly hadn’t reached that stage.  However, we were still over an hour away from shelter at best, assuming we were going in the right direction, and I was seriously concerned about our chances of survival.

Another garbled conversation ensued, and in the face of Chris’s increasing doubts about our direction (he trains on the High Plains every summer) and some uncertainty on my part, we decided to try and retrace our steps, at least back to Tawonga Hut.  The prospect of returning to the ridge was not at all pleasant, but at least it would be nice to run again and maybe get the circulation going.  The climb back up was frenzied as we both went as fast as we could, crashing though the scrub, falling over, grunting and cursing.

The Ben Cooper cairn on a fine day
Once back on the ridge, we tried to follow our original course, peering through the fog for familiar landmarks and looking for faint footmarks in the muddy parts.  It was freezing, my leg muscles were feeling strange, and my knee caps and head were aching with cold.  We stumbled onwards, found a bit of a path, but couldn’t pick where we should descend to Tawonga Hut.  Rather than descend into another scrubby valley, we kept on along the ridge and then, “joy of joys”, through a brief break in the fog, saw the blurry outline of Ben Cooper with its distinctive cairn about a kilometre away to our left.

The spirit was willing, though the flesh was weak, as we battled towards it directly into the face of the roaring gale.  Once there, we picked up our track and headed for “Falls” as fast as we could go – not very fast.

All I could think of was getting back to shelter, and as I struggled up hill after hill into the wind, just kept muttering “Hot Shower, Hot Shower” as a mantra, over and over to myself whilst avoiding the thought of the distance and mountains in between.

Falls Creek in winter
Eventually we descended into Falls Creek and arrived at the bottom of the 100 metre sharp hill up to the lodge.  At this point, my legs decided they had had enough and the hill was negotiated very slowly in a drunken stagger.  We had been out for four hours.

Once I reached the lodge, I stumbled through the door muttering incoherently.  Barb pulled off my shoes and wet gear and pushed me into a hot shower where I was still shivering violently twenty minutes later.  After a bowl of soup and other goodies, my body began to revive and the adventure was over.

I visited Chris that evening in his lodge to find him lying flat out on the floor under a quilt still trying to get back to normal.  He confided that he too thought we were “goners” in the middle stages and wondered who was going to survive, the “fitter” or the “fatter”.

Lack of patience



I featured on the advertising poster for the
1980 Whyalla Marathon
I ran another 5km round the streets of Copa this morning, a little faster than yesterday, which was a little faster than the day before.  The sore arch is still lingering in the 3 out of 10 pain range, but maybe getting marginally better.  There's a specific point on the arch where the pain is sharp, but not intense.  More like the pain you would get from a blister.  I hope I'm not on the slippery slope, where I'm so enjoying getting back to some running, that there's a temptation to ignore the pain and keep going.

At least I'm not as bad as 30 years ago when, once I got quite fit, I could not bring myself to pass up opportunities to win races and accept any related travel, despite carrying significant injuries.  In the first half of 1980, I incurred what was initially a minor knee problem, diagnosed as a small tear in my patella tendon.  A few weeks off, once I realised it was more than a passing niggle, would probably have fixed the problem.  But I was on a high after running my first sub-2:20 marathon a year earlier, was very fit, and wanted to "cash in" on my heavy training investment.

The [Euroa] Gazette, 15 April 1980
In particular, I was very keen to take up an all expenses paid trip to Whyalla for the Whyalla Marathon, which I had won the previous year, and to do well in the Australian Intervarsity Championships in Hobart, representing the University of Melbourne where I was doing my Masters part-time.

Initially, I took anti-inflammatories to reduce the pain and enable continued training, but when this didn't do the job, I had a cortisone injection in the offending knee from my sports doctor.  I was warned to train less in the days following the injection, but my definition of "less" involved 120 kilometres of running, including a 15km race, in the ensuing five days.  It was less than I had been doing, but probably not "less" by the doctor's definition, and I paid the price.

Extracts from my 1980 Training Diary
I managed to get through the Whyalla Marathon, coming a disappointing second in 2:30, but a month later, needed another cortisone injection to get me through the Intervarsity week.

Despite two weeks of rest after Intervarsity, my knee wasn't improving and I ended up having surgery to stitch my patella tendon back together and clean out all of the scar tissue.

It was another couple of months before I could begin running seriously again, which in retrospect, seems a fast recovery.  But the reality was that I lost more than six months of my prime running years because of this injury, instead of six weeks if I had managed it conservatively.  Of course, I had some wins and great experiences during this period, but it doesn't compare to what I might have achieved if I had heeded the early indicators of knee trouble and had some time off.

Patience and persistence

Maitland Bay in the nearby Bouddi National Park
Another 5km around the streets of Copa went well on a beautiful mild sunny winter's morning.  I'm getting more optimistic about my running, though there is still pain, and will take it day-by-day for a while.  It would be nice to run a bit further in the near future, but maybe I'll leave it until the weekend.

Just as I was finishing my run, I met fellow Terrigal Trotter and Copa resident, Judy, complete with Camelbak, heading out for a long run to Killcare through Bouddi National Park.  I was very envious.  Some of the trails in the Park are rough and slow, but the scenery is breath-taking and you could be a million miles from civilisation.


Part of the Bouddi Coastal Walk
Judy is a late-comer to running, though with plenty of outdoor adventuring in her past.  She has become a keen trail-runner who planned to run The North Face 50km a few months ago, until badly tearing a calf muscle leaping a creek during a Club training run in March.

I'm sure Judy won't mind me saying that she exemplifies a number of my club-mates at Trotters who are ordinary people finding themselves doing extraordinary things.  Starting with some short slow runs, their confidence in their capability has grown to the point where they are now tackling events that would have seemed unimaginable to them ten years ago.  A club, such as Terrigal Trotters, helps this progression through a providing a supportive environment and the opportunity for shared experiences with like-minded people.

It was encouraging to see Judy out tackling a long run, not only because I'm happy to see she has recovered from her serious injury, but because it is confirmation to me that with patience and persistence, I'll be able to follow her example and be back to fitness in the not-too-distant future.

Realising potential

Scene from the Hunter Valley marathon
I took a chance this morning, and jogged 5km through the streets of Copa for my exercise.  My arch was a bit sore the whole way, maybe 3 out of 10 on my pain scale, just short of needing to scale back training.  The new insoles are definitely helping, but are not eliminating the pain.  Nevertheless, I'm a bit more optimistic about my running and will try another 5km tomorrow.

One consequence of wearing the new insoles is that they have an impact on my running gait, and I need to be careful not to get any other injuries.  Last night, I was jolted awake by a severe cramp in the arch of my left (good) foot and my quads have been aching this afternoon after what was a very short run this morning.

After the Trotters Saturday morning run yesterday, I was talking to one of my club-mates who was quite disappointed with his debut marathon time the previous weekend at Hunter Valley and his subsequent soreness.  I knew he had an interrupted preparation and also picked a tough course for his debut, and told him he should not be too hard on himself.  In my view, the interrupted preparation not only made the race harder for him, but meant that it took more out of his under-prepared body, increasing his post-run soreness.

A gap has opened between the best and the rest in marathons
I'm sure he will do much better at his next attempt, and voiced my opinion that to really get the best out of yourself in a marathon, you need to pick a race three or four months into the future and then train for it, ignoring the temptation to do well in every race that appeals to you in the interim.

There are many marathon and ultra trail and road races to choose from these days.  They are well organised and offer interesting and challenging courses.  Race anticipation and camaraderie is heightened by social media, making them immensely appealing and hard to resist.  Consequently, many runners like to compete in as many as possible.  I have tended to do the same myself in the twilight of my career, so would not criticise those who do the same.  However, I think this approach represents a cultural change in the running population, and means that many of today's runners, both elite and journeymen, never find out how good they could really be.

One result has been that, although more people are running long-distance events these days, the average performance standards have dropped.  At the "pointy end", the best athletes are running faster than ever and continue to improve, but a gap has opened between the elite and the rest of the field.  I think this may be because the runners with potential to fill this gap are more interested in the various running experiences offered, than in seeing just how good they could be, and applying the focus and training necessary to realise their full potential.  This is not a criticism, but I feel a certain sadness that many runners will never find out just how good they could be.

Enough is never enough

Aerial view of The Haven
After managing to jog a kilometre yesterday at the end of my walk, I decided to do something similar today.  It was Saturday, so the usual early start on a very cold morning at Terrigal.  The skies were clear with a bright half-moon and an icy breeze that brought a significant chill to the 100 or so runners standing around chatting before the regular end-month 10km time trial started at 6am.

After the runners set off, I walked the half kilometre along the beachfront to The Haven with fellow injured clubmate, Brian, and we jogged a couple of laps of the 500m road loop before Brian left to finish his session on the grass rugby field.  Originally, that was as much jogging as I had planned for the day, but although my right arch was sore, I didn't feel like I was aggravating the injury.  So I decided to do another two laps, and then some walking.  After those two laps I decided I could handle another two before walking back to Terrigal.  And after those two laps, I decided I might as well jog the 500m back to Terrigal.  So, in the end, I jogged about 3.5km.

This little exercise in gradualism illustrates a challenge I always struggle with during come-backs.  When you can't run at all and are putting on weight and losing condition, you tell yourself that, if you could just jog a few kilometres a day, life would be good.  You might not be able to race, but who cares.  Your fitness and weight might stabilise and you could at least work up a bit of a sweat.

Then, after two days of jogging a couple of kilometres, you start thinking, if you could just manage 5km a day, that would be really good, and so on.  Before long, it's 10km per day, and maybe the Trotters Saturday morning run.

Sometimes this approach works for me, but not always.  More often, you get to running the 5km per day, and after a few days, the injury starts hurting a little more.  At the same time, with those couple of runs under your belt, you feel a little fitter and don't want to believe that you have overdone it.  Maybe it's just some scar tissue hurting, or an atrophied muscle struggling with renewed running.  Before you know it, you have to accept that the injury has worsened, it's time to back off the running, and you have set yourself back a week or two (or worse).

I feel like I may have started down that slippery slope with the last two days of jogging, even though it was only for short distances.  I now have to be alert for any deterioration in the troublesome arch and be ready willing to cut back or stop if that occurs, regardless of the temptation to keep going.  It will be a bit easier to make that decision, if necessary, now that I have given up on the idea of running the Melbourne Marathon in October.  The new, very tentative plan, is to run the Hobart Marathon in January assuming I can get back to full training during September.  I will revise my training program when I'm confident I am over the injury.

Canine challenges

I'm occasionally bailed up by dogs when running from Copa
to McMasters across the green-marked sand bar.
After walking for 4km this morning, I finished off with a kilometre of slow jogging.  There remains some weakness and tenderness in the arch but the new insoles seem to provide sufficient support to avoid aggravating the injury.  I was not confident about trying to run, but it seemed to go OK and I might try a similar work-out tomorrow.

As often happens on my walks and runs on the Central Coast, I encountered people out walking their dogs.  We never had pets when I was a child, apart from the odd canary and hamster, and I never developed an affection for dogs.  At best, I tolerate them, and when running, I don't like them.

Until recently, I had never been bitten by a dog while out running, but have had numerous unpleasant encounters over the years.  The first instance I can recall of actual physical harm was when out running in the late 1970s with a small group of friends from my home in the inner Melbourne suburbs.  We were running across a park at twilight when I was brought down by a dog careering into my legs from behind without warning of any kind.  I remember hitting the ground hard, sustaining some minor cuts, abrasions and bruises, and banging one knee quite hard.  The owner was very apologetic, but this has not always been the case.

Occasionally, when running across the sandbar between Copa and nearby McMasters Beach, I have been bailed up, pawed and slobbered on by dogs.  It is an "Off Leash Area", but dogs are still supposed to be under their owner's control.  I find it very annoying to be told that it wouldn't happen if I hadn't been running, and have had a few short arguments on the subject with the offending dog's owner.  My usual response is that, if it happens again, I'll be reporting them to the Council, but without the means of identifying accurately the dog or the owner, that's unlikely to happen (and they know it).  In these cases, which have happened in plenty of other places during my running career, I know the dog is usually just being over-exuberant, but that doesn't excuse the dog's owner's lack of control, which is interfering with my activity.

I stayed away from the Beatties Road access to Kincumber
Mountain for five years after being challenged by savage dogs.
Encounters with malicious and/or territorial dogs obviously carry more risk.  One of my good running friends, Keith, and his wife, accepted assignments as teachers in the newly independent Zimbabwe in 1983.  Keith was a very handy runner and tells the story of being the only white runner in the leading bunch of a 10-mile road race through the streets of Harare.  White residents tended to keep guard dogs on their properties that were very antagonistic towards black Africans, and when a couple of these managed to escape their compound as the runners passed by, Keith suddenly found himself in the lead on his own as his fellow competitors scattered.  A couple of them rejoined him in the lead a kilometre or two later, but the others were not seen again.  The corollary of this story is that when we visited Keith and his wife in Zimbabwe in 1985, I joined Keith for a run with some of the students from the poor black school where he taught.  He often paid them a small sum as encouragement to run with him after school, and some of them even ran in their school uniforms ("At least take your tie off!").  Our route took us through the poor African village where most of them lived and the sight of us running generated shouts of delight ("white man running" in the local language) from the village kids as well as unwanted attention from the village dogs who left the black kids alone while defending their turf against the white intruders.

Both towns I lived in while working in the US did not allow fences around houses but required dogs to be restrained or invisible fences (buried boundary wires that generate a radio signal that triggers deterrent unpleasant electric shocks in the receivers on the dogs' collars) installed.  I could never quite get over the expectation that one day, one of the dogs I often saw hurtling towards me across the lawns of a house I was running past was going to burst through the invisible fence and get me.  Apparently it can happen, but it never did to me.

If I am bailed up by dog with malicious intent while out running, I usually do a fair bit of yelling, pick up a stick or stone and act in a threatening manner while slowly moving away.  So far I haven't been bitten in such a situation, but have had some very scary encounters.  Some were so worrying that I have avoided those roads in future.  Locally, there is a nice run up onto the scenic trails of Kincumber Mountain that I didn't use for more than five years after being confronted by two large savage dogs on one occasion.  An old running friend, JB, had mastered the art of letting savage dogs get close to him and then giving them a swift kick under the chin.  I have never been quite brave or confident enough to employ this method.


Blue Heelers are also good at rounding up runners.
In recent times, I have become more cautious around dogs on a lead.  A year ago, as I skirted around a lady walking a large dog in the same direction I was running, it suddenly turned around and launched itself at my throat.  I managed to get my forearm up quickly enough to protect my throat but was knocked sprawling on to the road with scratches on my chest from its front paws.  The owner reacted quickly enough to drag the dog away before it got to me while I was lying on the road, but it was a frightening experience.  Of course, the owner was apologetic and insisted that it had never done anything like that before.  The same excuse was proffered six months later by another owner when their small dog, being walked on a lead, suddenly jumped up and sank its fangs into my thigh as I walked past, drawing blood.  Nowadays, I try and stay out of leash range when passing dogs.

On a lighter dog-related note, another old running friend, Pratty, used to bring his Blue Heeler cattle dog, Bung, with us on some of our long runs.  The dog, which always got very excited when Pratty put on his running shoes, would spend the whole run rounding us up, making sure nobody got ahead, dropped off, or strayed laterally.  It constantly got under our feet and how it did not get run over by a passing car is beyond me.  It is a testament to the strength of our friendship with Pratty that we ever tolerated Bung on our runs.  Ironically, later in life, Bung used to run away whimpering and hide whenever he saw Pratty put on his running shoes.

Brushes with fame

John Walker wins Gold at the 1976 Montreal Olympics
After supervising the regular Thursday morning track session at The Haven this morning I walked a 5km loop wearing my new insoles with arch supports.  It is definitely more comfortable walking with the arch supports, and there is less pain.  It's tempting to try running, though I can tell, when I move my foot in certain ways, that the problem remains.  I don't believe the walk did me any harm, so I'll try the same again tomorrow morning if nothing changes.  Maybe I'll get the bike out on the weekend for some additional exercise.

When relating the tale of my attempt to run the Milford Track in New Zealand in a recent post, I was reminded of another humorous running anecdote from the same trip.  As mentioned, in January 1979, we were a group of four couples on a sightseeing and camping tour of New Zealand in a minibus.  The males in the group were all serious runners and we looked for opportunities to compete in local events wherever possible.  Towards the end of the trip, we managed to talk our way into participating in a high-profile evening international track meeting at Hamilton on the North Island.  It was part of a summer circuit in New Zealand and I suspect we got in more because we were Australians, than because of our talent.

Rod Dixon went on to an exciting and close win
in the 1983 New York Marathon
The Mile was the feature event and New Zealand boasted some of the best Milers in the world at that time.  Two of them, John Walker (Gold Medal 1500m, 1976 Montreal Olympics) and Rod Dixon (Bronze Medal 1500m, 1972 Munich Olympics), were running, along with several other New Zealanders and Ken Hall (Australian Champion 1500m, 1977).  Two of my friends, JB and Pratty, managed to inveigle their way into the Mile field (much to Ken Hall's amazement).

The pace was hot in the Mile and the field well spread out with a lap to go.  John Walker cruised to a win in 3:56 with Rod Dixon second and the rest of the field trailing behind.  Poor Pratty, who wasn't even into the home straight when Walker finished, found himself weaving through fans who had poured on to the track to congratulate their hero, for the last 100m to the finishing line.

Keith and I didn't have the credibility to get into the Mile, but were happy to get a run in the lower key 3000m event.  I finished in 8:37, somewhere in the middle of the field, and later walked back to the changing rooms.  As I approached the door, I was flattered to have an autograph book thrust in front of me by a young track fan until he opened his mouth and asked "Can you please get me John Walker's autograph?"

Army influences

I
This exit from the Hume Highway was very familiar to
me in 1971/72.
drove the 1,000 kilometres back from Melbourne to Copa today and didn't manage to squeeze in any exercise.  Whenever I drive to or from Melbourne along the Hume Highway, the first 100 kilometres up to Seymour and the Puckapunyal Army Camp turn-off, evokes strong memories.
One evening in late 1970, I was helping wash the dishes in my family's kitchen and listening to the radio when they broadcast the lottery in which marbles marked with all of the dates in the latter half of 1970 were drawn.  If you turned twenty in that half year, and the date of your birthday was drawn out of the barrel (22% chance), you were destined for two years of National Service in the Australian Army.  My birthday marble was drawn.  I was finishing my second undergraduate year at Monash University and could have sought a year's deferment, but I was living at home, riding a Honda 50cc motorbike (hardly a "chick magnet"), and perennially short of money despite various casual and vacation jobs.  The Army offered generous tertiary education support for ex-serviceman, and I wasn't philosophically opposed to the Vietnam War at the time, so I didn't seek a deferment and started my military career in April 1971.  I hoped to continue my running, but didn't really have any idea how practicable this would be.


Mug shot on arrival at the Officer Training Unit (OTU),
Scheyville, in April 1971 (I'm the one in glasses!).
The first two weeks of basic training, with about 3,000 other recruits in the 2/71 Intake, involved multiple haircuts, tedious chores, hours of marching and drill, and scary guard duty armed only with a bayonet.  It also included an officer selection process and I was picked to join 180 other recruits at the Scheyville Officer Training Unit (OTU) west of Sydney for a very intensive six-month training process.  There was a new intake every three months, so a senior class was already in residence.  On the second day at OTU, they had their quarterly cross-country race.  Despite not having run at all for nearly three weeks, I won the race easily and equalled the course record, despite stopping numerous times to wait for following senior classmen to show me the way.

Some of my fellow OTU classmates after we had returned
exercises in what is now Wollemi National Park
I have found right throughout my life that distance runners are a respected group in society.  Maybe this is because most people have competed in distance running events at some point in their lives and have a good first-hand appreciation of the discipline and effort that success requires.  My win immediately made me the best known recruit in the whole of the OTU and this proved to be of great benefit, so long as I didn't screw-up.  Cadets were continually assessed by all of the OTU staff who were required to carry around notebooks and allocate comments and ratings in different categories, such as "Cool Under Stress", on everything they saw.  Since they all knew my name right from the start, and because I believe there was a positive view of me after the race win, I think I got a head start on my classmates (although we never knew the results until the end of our course).  The pressure on the cadets was immense and continuous, and I quickly learned valuable lessons about personal organisation and concurrent action, which have stood me in good stead ever since.  There was another cross-country race three months later when the next intake arrived, that I also won, but my time was slower.  I'm sure I was the only cadet who ever finished their six months training less fit than when they had started.  I did get special dispensation to leave the camp area for occasional training runs, but we only had 30 minutes of free time each day, so 5km was about as far as I could go.  I was 4kg heavier by the time I graduated six months later, eighth in my class.


My OTU Class Graduation Parade, October 1971
The Vietnam War was winding down, and no graduates in my class were to be posted overseas.  Like many of my colleagues at the time, I was disappointed.  I didn't want to kill anybody, but I did want to know how I would handle the pressures and challenges of leadership in a combat situation.  I wanted to test myself.  Since an overseas posting wasn't possible, I requested a posting near Melbourne so I could resume my running career with my club and friends.  The Army, who thought I was a better athlete than I really was, tried to be accommodating and I was posted to a Transport Training Unit at Puckapunyal, 100 kilometres north of Melbourne.

Graduation from OTU
As a very green twenty year old Second Lieutenant, I was put in charge of seven NCOs and fifty recruits, and I often look back with embarrassment at how I handled my responsibilities (or didn't, as the case may be).  I was arrogant, self-centred, over-confident, immature and made many errors of judgment, though fortunately none serious.  I didn't really take the Army seriously.  I avoided tasks I didn't like, if I possibly could, and failed to lead by example in others.  My uniform was less than stellar, I took off to Melbourne on Wednesday afternoons "for a run", while the rest of the battalion participated in compulsory sport, and I couldn't be bothered getting my truck licence, despite leading a driver training platoon.  I was elected "Mess Member" at the Officers Mess, with responsibility for meal and wine selection, and couldn't care less about either.  I didn't drink alcohol or "party" (one reason I was put in charge of bar supplies), to the chagrin of my fellow junior officers, and once had twelve stitches inserted in my brow after being punched by one of them for resisting an incursion into my room with a fire hose.  I used to drive between Melbourne and Puckapunyal several times a week, often at high speed in my new bright orange Datsun 1600.   The police once booked me for averaging 102 mph over a 5 mile stretch (got off with a fine, unbelievably) and I had one serious accident in which my car hit and rolled a turning minibus full of construction workers (fortunately, no serious injuries or police charges).

Program extract from my Battalion's
Athletics Carnival in Puckapunyal.
The Army did gradually knock me into shape, and I credit them with teaching me several valuable life lessons, particularly the need to lead by example and not ask anybody to do anything you wouldn't do yourself.  On several occasions, I had to deal with the relatives of soldiers who had been killed in exercises or traffic accidents, and one time was base duty officer when a fellow officer attempted suicide in his barracks.  Later in my time at Puckapunyal, I was made Admin Officer for the Company and, among other things, had a roll in resolving the personal problems of 300 recruits and NCOs.  It was a real eye-opener for a middle-class boy from the suburbs, and gave me a much greater understanding of the lives others live, and their complications.

I did manage to get more serious about my running career, often training on the tracks and hills of the tank training range, or out along minor country roads, in the evenings.  I can also remember regularly dragging my platoon out for 5km morning runs.  I won races ranging from the 110m Hurdles through to the 5,000m in various divisional championships within the Armed Forces and represented them against the Universities.  On most weekends, I also ran in Victorian competitions with my club.

The length of National Service was cut to eighteen months from two years by the incoming Labor Government while I was on duty and I left the Army in October 1972, a little bit older and wiser than when I entered.  I was surprised to be asked to stay on in the Army when the time came for my discharge, but I had had enough and was keen to finish my degree and get back to serious running.


Massage, or not

Flexibility was never one of my strong points.  Here I'm
comparing capabilities with friend, Bill, after a long run.
An accomplished marathoner, and fellow Trotter, Melanie, has suggested on several occasions that massage might help my arch problem.  She has been suffering from a similar injury and found that deep massage of the arch has made a difference.

I have had mixed experiences with massages over the course of my running career.  The earliest experience I can remember was a positive one.  I had developed a painful knee while living and running in London in the mid-70s and a visit to Ted Chapple (sp?), a well-known sports masseur, was recommended.  He manipulated the knee, and had me adopt various positions to test the pain levels.  He then asked whether I had been doing any slow running. In fact, I had been encouraging my then wife, Barb, to tackle some longer distances in her running and we had been jogging up to 25km together on some evenings.  Ted worked on my quadriceps for a while and suggested I increase the pace of my running.  I did, and the pain disappeared almost immediately and didn't come back.

My next experience of massage was less positive.  I had been trying to manage chronic Achilles tendon pain in my left heel and was getting desperate.  Friends suggested I make an appointment with a well-known sports masseur, which I did.  It turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.  The masseur located the most painful spot on my heel and proceeded to vigorously massage it with his thumbs and fingers, telling me that he had discovered a knot which needed to be broken down.  I almost had tears in my eyes by the time he finished and I later learned that there was a calcification on my heel which was rubbing on the tendon, inflaming it and the bursa.  The masseur had been pressing on the calcification, and there's little doubt in my mind that he made the injury worse rather than better.  I later heard that the same masseur had been working hard on the site of another runner's injury, causing him excruciating pain.  The runner begged him several times to stop, which he didn't, and the runner finally sat up and punched the masseur!

Since that time, I have tended to avoid therapeutic massage unless recommended by a doctor.  My view is that any injury that appears to be chronic or structural needs to be assessed by a doctor, probably with the use of appropriate scans, before enlisting the aid of other health professionals.  This is the course I have followed with injuries over many years.  I have benefited from the services of masseurs on a number of occasions, but rarely make them my first port of call for injuries.

On the other hand, I don't have any problem with massages designed to relax muscles and tendons as part of a training program or post-race recovery.  It's more the use of massage to promote the repair of specific injuries that I avoid without first getting a doctor's recommendation.  This is just my personal opinion, and I have many athlete friends who happily rely on masseurs or physiotherapists for the treatment of injuries and tightness and are pleased with the results.

I walked about 3km this morning, wearing my new insoles, and did feel less discomfort and a little more positive that I could continue walking for exercise while waiting for the injury to heal.

Shoe therapy

Hoka Shoes
Many of my friends in Terrigal Trotters have recently been switching to Hoka shoes which have thick cushioned soles.  They certainly have been building a loyal following and have enabled a number of runners with chronic foot problems to begin running again.  There is plenty of good-natured banter within the Club about the benefits of the shoes and the Luddites who have refused to switch.  Certainly there are those who think it would help me with my current foot problems.  I'm somewhat sceptical that will solve my particular problem but accept that they have made a big difference to some of my club-mates.

Vibram Five Fingers Minimalist Shoes
At the other end of the spectrum, there are still some runners at the Club wearing minimalist shoes and I often dream of the days when I could comfortably run track and beach sessions on grass, and even occasionally on concrete footpaths and roads, in bare feet.  I would love to be able to run in bare feet again, but am rational enough to know that those days ended around the age of twenty and I think there is sufficient evidence now that such minimalist shoes are risky for many runners, especially if they are switching from shoes with raised heels.

Off-the-shelf insoles with moulded arch supports
There are also many Terrigal Trotter advocates of professionally made orthotics, and these have also been suggested as a solution to my arch problems.  I'm reluctant to spend significant amounts of money on custom orthotics, primarily because I don't think the benefit will justify the cost.  During my army days, I did develop a significant arch problem and began wearing an off-the-shelf plastic orthotic which, eventually, did seem to do the trick.  Similarly, I learnt to deal with chronic Achilles tendon injuries by constructing heel raises out of old rubber thongs and wore these for many years during my prime.  I still ended up with a number of surgical operations, but believe these cheap heel raises enabled me to run many miles in training and races with less pain.

My arch was still a little tender today after yesterday's abortive run, and I didn't go for a walk or run.  Instead, during the afternoon I visited a very large mall nearby to see whether I could find some shoe insoles that incorporated good arch support.  Eventually, in a Nike store, I found some excessively-priced arch supports which I purchased (I'll be looking for cheaper online versions when this new pair wears out).  I do feel they are supporting the injured arch, but will withhold judgment on whether they will enable me to resume running more quickly.  I'll try walking a couple of kilometres tomorrow morning and take it from there.

Despondency

Central Park, Malvern
Sadly, it was evident to me after a few hundred metres of jogging this morning that my right arch is still not right.  I feel a weakness in the arch that causes me to slap my foot down more than I would like, so the problem remains.  It was very tempting to keep jogging, which I could have easily done, but common sense finally prevailed, and I walked the remaining 3km of my loop in very cold conditions, cursing my bad fortune.  Even crossing Malvern's Central Park near the end of my walk didn't raise my spirits.  Thirty years ago, I used to run along the eastern border of this small suburban park during one of my favourite mid-week long runs after work.  It was a source of inspiration then, and now, knowing that one of my childhood heroes, John Landy, spent many hours training there.

John Landy leads the Mile in the 1954 Empire
Games in Vancouver
It's hard to explain to someone who is not a runner how much you miss it when you can't run.  The warm and sweaty glow, the breathlessness, the tired limbs, the feeling of physical capability and power, and the sense of having done something worthwhile all contribute to a sense of well-being.  I have tried cycling, kayaking and swimming as substitutes when injured previously, but none of them quite fits the bill.

I came home from my walk and devoted an hour or two surfing medical websites trying to match my symptoms and work out the best rehabilitation plan.  Of course, I could go and see a doctor, get scans, orthotics, etc., but I do feel the injury is repairing, but it's slower than I hoped.  After looking at various possible diagnoses, the one which most matches my symptoms and seems the most probable is a minor strain of the Posterior Tibial Tendon.  The suggested treatment is rest and an arch support, and the pain is likely to last three months or longer.  The treatment wasn't very different for the other foot injuries that shared my symptoms, so there doesn't seem to be much point in pursuing medical help at this stage.

However, another three to five weeks of rest will certainly rule out any chance of a good performance in the Melbourne Marathon, so I need to reassess my goals and change my plans.  I do need a goal to give my recuperation and running a focus, but there's no need for a hasty decision.  I won't design a training program for another marathon, perhaps Hobart in January, until I'm sure that I will be able to train free of pain.

In the short-term, I do need to get my diet back "on the wagon", and work out whether I want to try cycling while the arch heals.  The argument for cycling is that it will give my cardio-vascular system a work out, but the arguments against include the inconvenience and my view that cycling builds leg muscles I don't need for running and will slow my comeback when I begin running again.  I'll take another few days to think about it.

Compensatory eating

When cycling all day, as was the case during my Round Australia
record attempts, the "Big Breakfast" was a daily feature of my
diet, with no weight impact.
The last three weeks of no running has been a test of my dietary willpower, and I'm starting to lose the battle.  I have never been someone who is naturally thin.....and I like my food.  In my teens and twenties, I didn't worry about what I ate at all.  Youthful musculature and plenty of miles, was enough to keep me at a good running weight.  When I reached my running peak, I began to take more care with what I ate but my best racing weight remained around 64kg, with the lightest I ever remember recording being 61kg.

In my latter years, I have considered 66-68kg to be my desirable running weight, but on occasions, have been as high as 76kg.  If I stop running and eat what I feel like, I can rapidly gain those 8kg, and it takes much longer to lose them again.

A few years ago, it became obvious to me that even when running 80-100 kilometres per week, if I didn't watch what I ate, my weight stabilised around 72kg, too heavy to run really well.  In a somewhat obvious epiphany, I realised that my body was no longer able to support the running necessary to bring down my weight, and that if I wanted to maintain a reasonable running weight and stay healthy for my remaining years, I was going to have to cut down on my eating.

Since then, with the exception of hiking and biking trips, I have adhered to some fairly simple dietary rules - no snacks, no desserts and no second helpings.  As a further measure, I limit the size of my breakfast (usually one slice of toast with peanut butter plus a large fruit juice) and eat it as late as possible, and limit the size of my lunch to one sandwich.  Dinner tends to be larger, but limited to one plate only.  I don't drink alcohol or sugared soft drinks, but do drink a lot of diet cola.  Limited treats (maybe chocolate or corn chips) are allowed after long runs or during trips to the cinema.  I try not to beat myself up if I stray occasionally, and permit limited dietary holidays for Easter, Christmas, etc.

This regime has worked well to keep my weight in the 66-68kg range for most of the last three or four years, but I always struggle a bit when I have to stop running because of injury, and that has been the case this week.  One factor is despondency about my injury and its impact on my Melbourne Marathon ambitions.  Another is the change to my daily routine because of my trip to Melbourne.  It has become very easy to have a biscuit for morning tea, or some dessert after dinner.  Partly, it's because I like my food, but partly it is driven by the need for a "feel good" replacement for the running I am missing.  Of course, the "feel good" part only lasts for a few minutes, while the physical consequences can last a lot longer.

I didn't find time to do my scheduled 5km walk today, but still plan to run and walk 5km tomorrow.  It will be the first running I have done for three weeks.  Normally that would be enough time for a soft tissue injury to repair, but I fear I may have walked a little too much in the first week I had off running.  Time will tell.  I'm confident that if I can resume regular running, then I will find it easier to resume my dietary discipline.  If still hampered by injury, then I will have to give myself a good "talking to" about my deteriorating dietary habits.  It's hard enough to come back from injury.  If you are carrying extra kilograms, it not only becomes even harder, but the risk of other injury increases because of the extra weight you are carrying.

Melbourne evocations

Melbourne High School with the sports ground in the
foreground where our favourite MHSOB track sessions
was "quarters 'til you chuck".
I walked 5km again this morning, trying keep my weight on the outside of my right foot and thus limit any stress on my injured right arch.  I got through the walk pretty much pain-free, but am still quite anxious about the arch's recuperation.  I'll try another 5km walk tomorrow, and then some jogging and walking on Sunday if all is well.

Melbourne, where I am staying for a week, is inextricably tied to my running career.  Almost everywhere I drive, run or walk through the suburbs evokes memories of my early running life.  I did run some cross-country races in school, but it was really only when I graduated from Melbourne High School, enrolled at Monash University, and joined the Melbourne High School Old Boys (MHSOB) Athletic Club, that my serious running career began.

Getting changed (me in foreground) after a run in the
dunes and a swim at Cape Schanck
Although I had just joined MHSOB, where I ran lower grade middle distance events with the likes of future Olympian, Chris Wardlaw, it was the friendship I established at Monash with JB, a fellow Economics 101 student and excellent high school athlete, that really set me on a distance running path.  Apart from introducing me to the exceptionally talented distance running fraternity at Monash University, where JB had much more credibility than me, he lived near me and we began training together.  JB also belonged to a different athletic club, YMCA, whose membership included a number of distance runners with whom I began to train regularly. 

In retrospect, it is obvious that during this period (my late teens), the exposure I had to elite athletes, the running friends I made, and the very modest success I enjoyed, set the course for the rest of my life.  My training was somewhat erratic and experimental, but I was learning by observing and doing.  Some extracts from my training diary are illustrative of my life during this time (with comments in italics).

11 Oct 69 -  Pre-season Trials 1 Mile, Dolamore Oval, 4:51.0, unplaced
I have memories of running at Dolamore Oval with Chris Wardlaw for MHSOB and this may have been one of those times.

8 Feb 70 - YMCA Club Championships 100 Yards, 11.2, 5th; YMCA Club Championships 220 Yards, 25.5, 5th
I wasn't yet a member of YMCA, but they let me run in their Club Champs.

16 Mar 70 - 10am. Freddy's warm-up, 10 X 50 Yards fast.  Tired.
Fred Lester was a German refugee and a renowned eccentric figure in Australian running, founding the Victorian Marathon Club (VMC) and coaching YMCA athletes.  He often set our session training programs, though we didn't always follow them.  As I recall, his warm-up was 8 laps striding the straights and jogging the bends.

19 Mar 70 - 9pm.  10 Miles on the road with JB.  Tired.
JB and I frequently trained at 9pm at night.  I can remember, on some hot nights, we climbed over the fence into the (closed) local public swimming pool to cool off after our runs.  We lived about one mile from each other and later, when John got his car, we would often drive somewhere different on those nights and run there for a change, enjoying the liberation of having our own transport.

22 Mar 70 - Sprinting in sand dunes.  Tired.
We stayed at a YMCA club-mate's family holiday house in Rye back beach for a training weekend.  There were also very competitive games of cricket and volleyball, and games of cards lasting long into the night.

4 Apr 70 - 2pm.  Wimmera AC Meeting 880 yards, 2:06.6, unplaced, 220 yards, 25.7, 5th (against Peter Norman!).  Felt sick because of lack of sleep and bad food.
We drove up to Horsham late on the Friday night from Melbourne, after a volleyball game, and camped at the oval where the running was held the next day.  Peter Norman had won an Olympic silver medal in the 200m in Mexico less than two years earlier, so lining up against him over 220 yards was quite a buzz.

11 Apr 70 - Strathmerton Country Meeting, 2 X 880 yards, 2:09.0 and 2:05.5, unplaced, 3 mile jog.  Tired.
We drove up to Strathmerton late on Friday night, after a volleyball game.  We camped next to the track and fellow athletes included Olympic athletes, Raelene Boyle and Ray Rigby.  The latter, a shot putter, was also astonishingly good at the sprints and high jump.

15 Apr 70 - 3pm.  Represented Universities vs Armed Forces in 800m at HMAS Cerberus, 2:04.5, unplaced.  Exhausted.
I was just making up the numbers for the Universities, and anybody could run.  Monash University, which I was attending, had a number of national and international standard athletes and I was just an also-ran.  Ironically, two years later, I was representing the Armed Forces at the same event, after being conscripted to the Australian Army, and running against some of my former team-mates.

1 May 70 - 1:30pm.  2 miles of Monash University Championships 10,000m.  Not very tired.
I can't remember this race, but suspect I was totally outclassed by the other runners and chucked it in.  Symptomatic of my lack of success over 10,000m on the track, which I always found to be a very tough race.  It made me suspect my toughness when the going got tough.

8 May 70 - 5pm.  Jog 1 mile, 4 X 100m sprints.  Slightly tired. (Hard game of volleyball at 10pm.)
Most of my running friends were very good all-round athletes and we played many seasons of Friday night volleyball at the Balwyn YMCA competition and sometimes on other weeknights in other competitions.

15 May 70 - No training - on way to Brisbane - heavy cold.
I had no car and often hitch-hiked to Brisbane to visit my grandparents and other relatives during university vacations.

6 Jun 70 - 11pm.  10 miles easy.  Very tired, came out in a rash.
I can still remember this run up towards Templestowe late on a Saturday night, probably indicative of my social life at the time.  It was an easy run but I came out in a strange rash when I got home and can remember showing it to my father who was a bit bemused as to why anybody would be out running at 11pm on a Saturday night (in heavy fog) anyway.

13 Jun 70 - 3pm.  APSOB Half Marathon, Yan Yean, 85:54.0 (6:33 per mile, beaten by Dick).  Exhausted.
During this time, I considered myself fortunate to be welcomed to many APSOB (Association of Public Schools Old Boys) events because of ex-Marcellin School friends in the YMCA Athletics Club.  I wouldn't have been happy about being beaten by Dick, who was a friend and reasonable runner in the YMCA Club, but someone I would have expected to beat.  This is probably unfair to Dick and a reflection of my ambitions rather than ability at the time.

20 Jun 70 - 3:30pm.  2½ miles of VAAA 10,000m CCC, Cranbourne.  Pulled out because of knee injury (however, not serious).
Perhaps another example of me chucking it in when the going got tough.

5 Jul 70 - 11:30am.  8 miles orienteering.  Tired.
I remember competing in some of the first orienteering events in Victoria and this may have been one of them.

16 Jul 70 - 11am.  16 miles from Monash University.  Not very tired, but wet, frozen and miserable.
I can still remember arriving back from this run, which was along exposed roads through the windswept hills and paddocks of Melbourne's southeast, to the changing room at the Monash Sports Centre much to the amusement (and, I hoped, admiration) of two star Australian distance runners - Chris Wardlaw and, I think, Bruce Jones - who were about to set off for a shorter training run.

22 Aug 70 - 1:30pm.  VAAA Marathon Champs, Werribee, 2:44:55 (6:17 per mile), 7th.  Exhausted (20 - 24 miles was the worst), suffered from blisters near the end.
I can still remember sprinting some guy off in the last 100m to capture 7th place and the elation that I felt at being in the top 10 in a State championship.  I don't think I had any expectations as to time, but was pleased with the placing.  Afterwards, I felt that this must be my distance.

The Hume



The Murray River at Albury
In the late morning, I stopped off at Albury for a walk on my journey to Melbourne.  There are some nice bike paths along the Murray River, which marks the border between the states of Victoria and New South Wales, and it's a good place to take a break from the long drive and get some exercise.

I make the trip from the Central Coast down the Hume Freeway four or five times a year, as my parents, siblings and daughter live in Melbourne, and have become very familiar with the road and services (especially bakeries) along the way.  It is a long drive, freeway all of the way, so it's important to take breaks to avoid driving fatigue.

Trail at Chiltern - Mt Pilot
National Park
Generally, I stop for a run somewhere along the way, and have found a few good locations.  Ideally, I don't want to drive too far off the road and want a place with toilets, good trails, and somewhere safe to leave the car.  Albury has become a recent favourite because of the beautiful parks, bike paths and a couple of good hills with trails.  But I have also enjoyed the trails and hills in Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park near Wangaratta and Reef Hills Park near Benalla.

I always plan for the driving day to be a training recovery day, so there is no pressure to do more than 10-12km, saving time and avoiding too much fatigue for the subsequent driving hours.



Today, I just walked for an hour, or about 5km.  I could still feel discomfort in the arch, but not much else to report.

Nearing Melbourne

Drugs

Chris Wardlaw leading a race in his prime.
Drugs are a topical subject at present, in the news, and for me personally.

Asafa Powell and Tyson Gaye have just failed drug tests and won't be running in the upcoming World Championships.

Personally, I have been struggling with respiratory problems for a couple of years and had my latest medical appointment yesterday.  I had been using a prescribed asthma medication, Symbicort, and have now been switched by my doctor to Seretide.  Following a few recent respiratory issues, my doctor had also prescribed Prednisolone for a limited period.  However, as is my habit, I Googled the medications prescribed for me before taking them and discovered that a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) is needed for Prednisolone if competing in sport.  Symbicort and Seretide are permitted, though the former must not be used excessively (700% more than prescribed).  I didn't bother filling the Prednisolone prescription.

Some argue that performance enhancing drugs should not be banned so that there is a level playing field for all athletes.  I think this is a flawed argument.  I believe there would be a race to the bottom and many vulnerable athletes would suffer permanent damage, and possibly death.  There are already celebrated cases of cyclists and runners dying in mysterious circumstances, possibly associated with the use of performance enhancing drugs.

A related question is the appropriate definition of performance enhancing.  An argument, made by a great Australian runner and coach, Chris Wardlaw, with whom I used to occasionally train and play golf in my younger days, was that anything that enabled an athlete to train harder, especially when injured, was a performance enhancing drug.  His view was that an important determinant of an athlete's competitiveness was the amount of training they were able to absorb.  If medical intervention was required to allow an athlete to continue to train or train harder, such as taking anti-inflammatories (even over-the-counter), because of a muscle tear, or similar, then Chris argued the anti-inflammatory was a performance enhancing drug.  I always thought Chris had a valid point, though it might be hard to draw the line.  For instance, what about knee surgery that ultimately gets an athlete running again, when otherwise, their career would be over?

I spent a lot of time mulling over Chris's argument, and agonising over my own occasional use of prescribed anti-inflammatory medications as I became a more serious runner.  I wanted to be ethically squeaky clean, but also thought the line Chris wanted to draw was too draconian and perhaps too blurry.  Ultimately, I came to the view that any drug or medical procedure that would make no difference to the performance of a healthy fully-trained athlete, was not performance enhancing.  This seems to be the principle underlying the WADA prohibited list as well.

I walked another 5km this morning, and will do the same tomorrow and start jogging a little on Friday.  There is still some minor discomfort in my right arch and I'm certainly not confident that I'm over the injury.  Fingers crossed!

Side benefits

My running career started a long time ago.  First win, in
a low-key school's race in London's Richmond Park (1967)
Yet more walking for exercise this morning.  Just 5km around the streets of Copa and still some discomfort in my right arch, so not particularly encouraging.  I risked a 50m jog at the end of the walk and there was no real problem, so I'm still planning to resume jogging later this week.

While attending to some desktop chores today, I watched a DVD called It's Not That Hard, produced by an ultra-running friend, Ana.  It featured interviews with many Australian Ultra-runners I know, each of them explaining what they get out of trail ultra-running.  Many of the comments struck a chord with me.  Of course, long-distance running has the obvious benefit of improving health and well-being (except when you get injured!), but it also provides great lessons for life.

Knowing that you can accomplish physical feats and be significantly healthier than your demographic, through the application of planning, preparation and discipline, gives you a belief in your abilities that extends beyond running.  It has given me the confidence to take on formidable challenges in my private life and career knowing that if I apply the same principles I will most likely be successful.

The earliest race certificate in my
running file.
Another lesson has been that the more you train, the better you will get.  With respect to running, your body adapts to make you a more efficient and accomplished runner.  Your muscles build and fine-tune, your posture changes, your stride length increases and your cardio-vascular system becomes more efficient.  I know that my heart size and lung capacity are in the top few percent for my demographic, whilst my pulse rate and blood pressure match those of athletes many years younger.  Adaption, through repetition has even helped me overcome injuries.  Everybody has physical idiosyncrasies, some inherited and some through injury.  I believe that my body has dealt with past serious chronic injuries through subconsciously adapting my running style to reduce the impact on those injuries.  For example, my feet have splayed over time to deal with chronic Achilles injuries by marginally shortening the length the tendons need to stretch while running.  Training, repetition and adaptation have also benefited me outside of running - in work tasks, household chores, and such things as public speaking.

Most of the time, the planning and preparation is as rewarding as is success in the goal event.  All runners I know, savour much of the training that they do and the environments in which they run.  I have many more happy memories of training runs than I do of races.  Nothing beats the feeling of running well along a bush trail or strongly up a hill or with a group of friends.  It's important to enjoy these good times and not to be solely focussed on a target event, which may not always be as rewarding as hoped.  This "smell the roses" approach has increasingly influenced my life outside of running.  Retiring from work as soon as I thought I could afford it was, perhaps, the biggest instance.  (Not that I didn't enjoy my work, but there were many things on my bucket list.)  We all know people who have been suddenly struck down with serious illness, or worse.  There's a balance, of course, but I have definitely become an advocate of "live for today" as opposed to saving yourself for a luxurious retirement.

Maybe most importantly of all, dealing with the derailment of best laid race plans in my running career, has helped me build the skills and experience to deal with the vicissitudes of life.  Over a running career you learn that such calamities loom large at the time, but just become bad memories in retrospect.  Everything is cyclical in running, and in life.  There are cycles within cycles, and bad days are followed by good days, bad months by good months, and so on.  Perhaps the biggest lesson from running for me has been to keep things in perspective and have faith that you will get over those bad times and have more good times.