Mark J. Keenan
Two halves make a whole
Last year, I had planned to run the “whole truth” - a 50 kilometre, double loop, trail event held in Jarrahdale called Truth and Consequences. I didn’t. Instead, I ran the single loop event, changing my entry to the 25 kilometre course after four weeks of ankle pain.
Really, I shouldn’t have run the event at all. And I definitely shouldn’t have kept training afterwards, and then run the City to Surf as well.
But that’s how it was last year. Caught up in the excitement of completing a couple of ultramarathons, I thought I was unstoppable, until I found out I wasn’t.
This year, I was determined to complete the “whole truth” and I took a more measured approach; to both training and recovery.
Using a training plan created for me by my mate, Ian Dunican, I ran, walked, climbed Jacobs, performed kettle-bell exercises, did functional training workouts. And, I rested, taking ten days off after both Bloated Goat and the Pemby Ultra. Just walking and doing some foam rolling and functional fitness classes to keep moving, while my body recovered.
It all worked well. Apart from a few niggles, there have been no acute issues. And, I’ve really enjoyed the mix of training.
Starting the final six weeks to Truth and Consequences, I was feeling really good. I’d spent a week in a cabin at a writers centre located just five minutes from John Forrest National Park. I would spend the day writing then head out for a trail run. The day I checked out coincided with the Eagle and Child run in the same national park. It was a perfect lead up.
Eagle and Child is one of my favourite runs. It has a wonderful mix of fire-trail and single track, long and slow climbs, fast and technical descents.
The downhills are awesome. Tailor made for getting you air-borne or, as I’ve discovered in previous years, dusty and bloody. This year I kept my feet and it felt great. I’m not fast, and I always get overtaken on the flats, but I always seem to be able to pass a few people on the descents. While I’ll never be a podium contender it’s always a nice feeling to catch some of the runners who sped past you earlier.
There were a lot of walkers on the trail this year. Some large groups too. And they all seemed to be going in the opposite direction to us runners. They were all awesome, stepping off the trail to let us race past, often with a word of encouragement. One even commented on how we all “looked so happy”. I think they may have only seen us going downhill though.
After the run, and a week of creative writing, I felt good; relaxed and focused; ready to keep working on my manuscript, and to keep up my training for the “whole truth”.
Life, however, had other plans.
I’ve heard it said “difficult paths often lead to beautiful destinations”.
I like this quote. It’s life, and trail running, all wrapped up together.
After all, the view from the top of the hill just wouldn’t be as inspiring if we’d been carried there, would it?
But, sometimes, you just wish the hill was not there, and the rain would go away, and you were home on your couch, sipping a cup of tea, and watching Netflix.
It’s okay to feel that way. And when you do, you need to be kind to yourself about it. Be patient and compassionate. Let go of your anxiety. Then take a few deep breaths and get on with it; climb the hill or mountain which has appeared in front of you.
So, we did. All of us. My incredible and amazing family.
Jolly Jumbuck was the run last year where I realised I’d overdone things. After the second climb my left ankle started playing up and it got progressively worse as the race went on.
It’s an awesome run, with a nice climb directly up the hill the event is named after. When I say nice, I mean slippery. And when I say directly, I mean steep. This year I had a head cold, which made the overcast and cold weather less welcome, but my ankle was fine. At least until the two thirds mark. I’d scaled Jumbuck Hill twice and was on the way down the other side when I managed to lose my footing and roll the other ankle.
Started with a cold, finished with a sprained ankle. Still, I made it and for the second year in a row, I gingerly ran over the finish line. Maybe next year I will be luckier?
As the date of Truth and Consequences approached, I started to think about the ultra distance. I knew I was ready physically, I was ready and I could achieve what I planned and complete the event which last year I had missed out on. But something was making me question whether I wanted to do it.
My youngest son was completing the 25 kilometre run. It would be the furthest he had ever run, and by far his longest time on a trail. If I was doing the ultra, I wouldn’t see him start, and I wouldn’t see him finish either.
I made the decision to switch to the half-truth. And I am so glad I did. We started the race together, running the first three kilometres into Kitty Gorge, before we reached an incline where I passed a group of people. He didn’t follow and that was okay. We had talked about it and we would run our own pace, and see how things panned out.
As I splashed through the puddles, and the flowing water coming down some of the single track, I wondered if he’d catch up with me at a later point. He’d never run a distance like this before so I didn’t have any benchmark for his pace and endurance.
At around the seven kilometre point, just as you run down to follow the Serpentine River, I heard footsteps behind me and looked back to see him smiling at me. He seemed pretty pleased to have caught “the old man”.
We stayed together, more or less, for the next section until we passed the aid station and started up Baldwin’s Bluff. He clearly had more energy than me at this stage, and the higher we went, the further he got ahead of me. He wasn’t the only one. I think at least ten people got the drop on me before we reached the crest.
Luckily, for me, what goes up, must come down; I caught, and passed, him on the descent.
It had been overcast from the start of the race, but there hadn’t been any rain. At least until we reached the Three Steps. As we hiked up the hill, feet already slipping in the mud, the sky opened up and the rain came down. It was quite an experience, clambering up the hill, getting pelted with icy cold droplets of water. Everyone was smiling and laughing. Trail runners are a strange lot!
Sometime after the Three Steps, as we started descending, my son dropped behind again. It wouldn’t be for long however and, despite my request that he be held hostage at the final aid station, he managed to catch up on the final climb back up towards the finish line.
As we approached the last kilometre, I thought about my decision to run the 25k event. I felt great about it. I’d had time on my own on the trail, as well as the opportunity to run with my son. And soon I would get to cross the finish line with him. It would be a wonderful end to an awesome day.
Clearly, he had different thoughts to me.
As we ran towards the final corner, he picked up speed and moved ahead by a few metres. I was spent. We’d been out there for more than three and a half hours. I just wanted to coast to the end.
But I didn’t.
I was having my dream end to the run and that was all there was to it! We crossed the line together. Me, out of breath. Him, with a huge smile on his face.
It was a beautiful destination, the finish. Not because of the amazing views, but because of the company and shared experience I had while getting there. That’s trail running. And that’s life.
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