Sunday, March 27, 2011

Running in Wagga

Moving out to Wagga Wagga (5hrs drive to the southwest of Sydney) at the end of 2007 had some immediate and direct benefits for my running. Firstly, we moved to a house conveniently located next to a lake with a smooth gravel trail the whole way around it - the perfect running route, flat and traffic-free!

Second, I became something of a big fish in a small pond, since the running community in these parts is fairly small. Being pregnant for most of 2008 meant racing was out, but I didn't miss much: there are unfortunately only two major running events in this area, namely the Wagga Wagga Trail Marathon in August and the Lake to Lagoon in September.

By August 2009 I was raring to go, though, so I entered the 10K race associated with the Trail Marathon. It was a rainy day so the course was a very muddy and slippery out-and-back along the Murrumbidgee River - I ran it in 46:03 which to me seemed very slow but was enough to get 3rd female finisher. I think I won a pair of socks - thrilling - but really all I wanted to do was to get home and get dry!

In September that year I ran my first Lake to Lagoon, a 9.5km race from the lake near our place to the lagoon in central Wagga. Did I mention how much I hate late starts? The race began at 10:30am on an unseasonably warm September day - by the time the gun went off it was already almost 30C (86F). Worse still, the whole first half of the course was uphill.......and when I finally reached the crest of Lake Albert Road - the rest of the course being mostly downhill - I realised there was now a rather strong headwind to contend with. Aaaaargh!!

I finished in 40:52 as the 4th female - clearly I was not the only one struggling with the conditions, as there were several people actually passed out on the river-side path towards the end - and was moderately chuffed to find I was the fastest local woman. Not chuffed enough to feel inclined to enter again in 2010, though!

In August 2010 I did however feel that the Trail Marathon and its associated races were worth another try. This time I entered the half-marathon and was looking forward to the relatively flat trails where it is usually held.

But the weather, it seemed, had something else in mind for me. Four days before the race, an enormous downpour dumped 2 inches of rain on Wagga in the space of 10 minutes, which when added to the already soaked ground (we were in the midst of our wettest year on record) created flooding over many parts of the intended marathon/half-marathon course. A sudden course change was in order!

A punishing out-and-back course was laid, starting by the Lake at the Boat Club and climbing to the top of Red Hill (ouch!) before snaking along the top of Willans Hill (double ouch!) and out towards the Olympic Highway, somewhere I had never yet ventured. But all that was about to change.

On the morning of the race I jogged the 1.5 miles over to the start in nice cool weather and arrived to find a small crowd of runners waiting by the lake. I quickly spotted my main competitor in the half-marathon field - she was the only person there wearing compression socks - and chatted with her until we were ready to line up at the start.

The gun went off and I was quickly out in front, somewhat to my surprise. I was planning to run the race as a long run, since I was now in training for the real thing: my first marathon some 3 months away. But perhaps I could be persuaded to race after all, particularly if I had a chance of winning!

The course at first was flat and fairly fast - but then we turned up Red Hill Road. I had run over this hill many times before and found it hard but not impossible; I did not realise that a fair chunk has actually been cut out of the hill to allow the road through, and that the running path would continue steeply upwards long after the road had levelled out. Yikes - by the top I was still running but only just. My Garmin tells the story of how hilly the course proved to be:

The huge hills - and their accompanying downhills - made for a wildly swinging race pace. The graph at the bottom shows the course's elevation profile - and for those used to miles per minute, I started out around 7:00 but between 4 and 5km dived to 8:30 before speeding up again to around 7:00 pace, then back down to 8:40ish, and so on. You will see that in the final stretches I even sped up to 6:50 at one stage, but that's another story, and it comes back to my friendly rival in compression socks.

As the first half of the race progressed I knew I was in the lead and I possibly got a bit cocky, thinking I had put a fair distance between myself and the other women in the race. At the turn-around I got a nasty shock: Ms Compression Socks was only 40 seconds behind. Oooops. It was time for a rethink - but the hills were killing me and after a short downhill we were once again climbing and climbing as we came back up the side of Willans Hill. I tried to pick it up but wasn't succeeding too well.......and then something really dumb happened.

I mentioned before that the course had been hastily re-laid on the two days beforehand, due to flooding. A consequence of this was that in some places - where the bush was thick and the track unclear - it was pretty hard to know which way to go. Being out the front did not help in this regard, and around the 16km (10 mile) mark I briefly lost my way. I found myself heading down towards a road, and thought "I don't remember this from the outward leg...."

By the time I realised and headed back up the hill, it was too late: I spotted a runner and lo, it was Ms Socks, now in front of me. All together now: BUGGER!

I now put the pedal to the metal and sure enough managed to catch and pass her on the steep uphill to the crest of Red Hill - but the effort spent meant that I could not hold onto my lead for very long. Within a kilometer - the one run in 4:13 - she was on my tail, and with around 2.5km left she passed me at last. I crossed the finish line just 30 seconds behind, in a time of 1:39:20, for second place. Who knows if those 30 seconds might have been mine, had I not taken the wrong turn when I did?

It was slightly galling that she won a swag of cool stuff (gift vouchers and such) when all I got was this mingy little trophy, but I had learned two important lessons:

1) Never, ever underestimate the competition;

2) Compression socks make you look like you mean business.

I would remember both these points for my first full marathon experience later that year.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

SMH Half-Marathon May 2010

In planning my strategy to once again break 1:30, I followed the advice of a marathoning friend and decided to follow a formal training plan for the very first time. I can't remember how I settled upon Hal Higdon, it may well have been by Googling "half marathon training plan" (very scientific) but however it happened, it was a great fit.

I chose his most advanced half-marathon program and soon found myself running long runs of up to 2 hours on Sundays, with shorter easy runs during the week and a variety of speed workouts thrown in for good measure. In retrospect, it wasn't a tough program, but I did find myself improving my paces throughout the training.

At the end of the 12 weeks I found myself once again lining up for the same race which had been my debut half marathon in 2001, but a lot had changed in the 9 years since I ran that course in 1:26:24. The start was in a completely different place - much more convenient, actually - and although there were some small alterations to the actual route, it was still 2 laps through the Sydney CBD with a murderous ascent up Hunter St during the final 5km of each.

Once again I travelled up to Sydney the day before the race, but this time with a very excited 3 year old son in tow. We spent Saturday riding around on public transport (heaven for small boys) and ate an early dinner with Pop and Nona before retiring to our hotel, where DS wriggled and kicked and was generally too overexcited to fall asleep until we had been lying on his bed together for at least an hour. Thankfully there was another bed for me to creep into and get a much better sleep than I would have if we had shared one all night!

The day of the race was beautiful, crisp autumn air and a bright blue sky. We walked up to the start and were met by Pop, who had been drafted to babysit for the duration of the race. This was when I started to feel quite emotional, in large part because I had used my time from the previous September to get preferred runner status for this race. I had been given preferred runner status for 2002 but had then been so badly injured and was devastated to miss out on taking up the offer. Now, I was finally getting to enjoy what I had first earned so many years ago - warming up out front, lining up behind the elite runners - and it felt GREAT!

The gun went off and I was running at what felt like a comfortable pace, not too fast - so I was surprised to find myself going through the 5km mark in under 20 minutes - 19:51, to be exact. I was definitely off to a good start!

I stayed fairly well on pace even despite the Hunter St hill to finish the next 5km in 20:16, and hear the announcer saying "These people are on pace for an 85-86 minute finish" as I made the turn to start lap number 2. That sounded pretty good to me - but could I hold the pace?

At first the answer was yes: I ran the 3rd 5km in 20:53.......but then I hit Hunter St for the second time around.

Groan - it was awful - and my pace took a huge hit. Around me people were stopping, walking, looking like death. I felt like joining them, but made it to the top of the hill still running and was relieved to turn down into the Domain for the last 4km. My split for the 15km-20km section was a shocking 23:19, almost 3.5 minutes slower than my first 5K split. As we rounded Lady Macquarie's Chair and headed up the final hill to the finish, I heard someone yelling to his friends "We have to pick it up if we're going to break 90 minutes, come on!".

This was like a red rag to a bull. I put my head down, ignored the protest from my legs and lungs, and ramped it up as far as I could. I rounded the final corner and went into the chute like I was being chased, crossing the line in 1:29:48 with a huge beaming smile: I did it!! Not much under 90 minutes, but under just the same.

It would be the only time in 2010 that I would run a half in under 90 minutes, but that was in part due to another, new goal: the full marathon.
Watch this space......

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

2009 - another comeback, or maybe not.

Towards the end of 2007, I had really made a strong comeback to running. But other priorities were weighing on my mind, namely the idea of expanding our family. I have never been one to listen too carefully to the ticking of my biological clock, but on the other hand I had always wanted 2 children and I figured, why not get it all over with sooner rather than later??

The first thing this meant was running less. I somewhat reluctantly eased back on the mileage during November and December, and was rewarded in January (on the day before my birthday) with a positive pregnancy test that heralded the September arrival of our small daughter. As with my first pregnancy, I ran most days right up to the end. In fact, I was only dissuaded from running in a local 6 mile fun run the day before my scheduled C-section by the horrified look my obstetrician gave me when I mentioned that I might do it. I did run 10km - privately - that day just to make my point that it would have been fine!

For various reasons I decided not to push the running until I was done with breastfeeding this time around, and of course small daughter decided that bottles were just too YUCK to be tolerated, so this put me out of racing for a full 12 months after she was born.

Because I'm me, though, I did enter and train for (in a haphazard sort of fashion) the Blackmores Sydney Half-Marathon in September 2009. Before my injury and for my return to racing in 2007, I had never followed a proper training plan and really hadn't bothered to run particularly long runs during training. I had just done whatever I felt like on the day, covered a variety of distances, and had never formally done any speedwork. Somehow this had never seemed to hold me back......until now.

The day of the race was bright and clear. I had travelled up to Sydney the night before the race, my first night away from the children in, um, ever. But despite the lack of disturbance - or perhaps because of it - I had an awful night's sleep before the race. And I was still coughing a bit from a cold that had gone on most of the winter, on and off, courtesy of my germ vector son. But I thought, whatever, I'll be fine. The 2007 race had been the scene of my PR since returning to racing, so I was confident I could run a similar time. Or so I thought.

The start was self-seeded (which I always hate) and although I lined up in the appropriate place, I was there with many over-optimistic runners who made the first mile or so an obstacle course for those who belonged up the front. Never mind, by the time we were heading across the Harbour Bridge the crowd had thinned somewhat and I was hitting my stride.

I ran the first 5km in 20:14 and the next in 20:43, putting myself on pace for a sub 1:28 finish. So far, all seemed to be going excellently well.....but then the wheels began to threaten to fall off.

By the 15km mark I had slowed to a 21:55 split. I held myself on the same pace (around 6:55 min/mile) for a 21:40 split at the 20km mark, but then the unthinkable happened. I got passed by the 90 minute pacers. SHOCK HORROR!

Even if I hadn't just taken a major hit on my confidence, I had nothing left in my legs to go after them. In fact, my pace over the final 1.2km took a nosedive down to 4:40 min/km (7:27 min/mile) from my initial 4:02 (6:28 min/mile). Crossing the finish line, my legs almost went from under me and in the video footage - which I am not going to share - I can be seen wavering off to one side, unable to even walk in a straight line. Needless to say, a major re-think of my training strategy appeared to be in order.

My official finish time was 1:30:39, good enough for 8th in my AG and 26th female overall. But for me, to have lost 3 minutes in speed over only 2 years - after losing just 90 seconds between 2001 and 2007 - was a huge blow. Whether it was the after-effects of another pregnancy, the lingering cold or just a sign that I was now 2 years closer to middle age, I will never know. Off I went home, to think about things and plot my next move. Pretty soon it was obvious: 2010 was going to be The Year of The Plan.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Running Around The World

The year in Edinburgh marked my return to both recreational and competitive running. It had been 5 years since I had raced AT ALL, but once I was back into my stride, I found myself raring to go. The UK has a large and active running community with plenty of race opportunities, and it was a great pleasure for me to take advantage of this whilst we were living in Scotland.

The first race I took part in was a 10 miler at Dundee, Perthshire, in early November 2006. My baby son was still tiny but I had made a strong return to running and managed to clock a time of 74:25, which pleased me no end. The weather was great for running - about 10C/50F and overcast - a typical Scottish day, in fact. If only their summer would have actually had some warm weather, I might have never wanted to come home again.....

Next up was another 10 mile road race, organised by the Lasswade Athletic Club. It took place near Edinburgh but on the other side of the UK winter, in early March 2007. Despite the season officially being spring, it was only 4C/39F at the start - I was freezing.

DH was waiting to take my photo at the finish but I surprised him by taking almost 6 minutes off my Templeton time, finishing in 68:38. DS was also waiting for me, all rugged up but glad to see his running Mama again.

The running season started for real in April. My first half-marathon since my big injury took place on April 1st in Edinburgh: the Forthside Half Marathon. It started near Leith in the northern part of Edinburgh and wound along the Forth of Firth, a picturesque and mercifully flat course.

I was thrilled to finish with a time of 1:27:01, only 90 seconds slower than my last pre-injury half in 2001 - and I won my age group! What a pity my small son was too impatient to allow me to stick around for the presentation........

The next two races were part of the Great Run series - these are held all over the UK and we participated in both the Great Ireland and Great Edinburgh Runs during our year in Scotland.

The Great Ireland Run - on April 15 2007 - was the perfect opportunity to pop over to Dublin for the weekend. I enjoyed the run although it did not start until 1pm, which was the latest I have ever started a race, and meant that it was uncomfortably warm by the finish (only by UK standards, not Australian!) I ran it in 41:04 and managed to come 2nd in my age group, a fact I was unaware of until they sent me my prize a few weeks later: a Nike heart rate monitor. Cool!

The Great Edinburgh Run took place on 6 May 2007 and was a very different experience. I was nervous at the start because I was seeded in a very fast group and I knew that my usual strategy of starting relatively slowly would put me very quickly at the back of the pack. I did not want to feel (or look) like an imposter, so I was feeling both apprehensive and reluctant as I lined up right up the front.

The weather was sunny and the course took in many of the historic sights of Edinburgh, but like the rest of the record number of entrants, I was too busy fighting the monstrous headwind to take much notice of the scenery...... the spectacular sight of the Castle as we rounded the corner onto Princes St.......

.....or the beautiful Palace of Holyroodhouse, where Mary Queen of Scots lived in 1561 and where the current Queen officially resides when she ventures up north.

Still, I ran the windy 10K in 42:17, which to my great surprise was again enough to come 2nd in my age group and become the happy recipient of a Nike watch several weeks later. Awesome!

Somehow, 3 weeks later I was roped into being part of the Hairy Haggis Team Relay at the Edinburgh Marathon - this may have been my husband's doing, actually - and in freezing rain and howling wind (yes, spring in Edinburgh, ha ha) I ran my 9 mile leg in exactly 1 hour.

The full marathon entrants were all running at their marathon pace, so I spent the entire run zig-zagging madly around other runners; as a result my Garmin thought I had run almost half a mile further than the official distance!

In late June 2007 we drove to Glasgow for me to run the East Kilbride half-marathon. Once again, a fairly flat course made for quick times and I finished in 1:27:49. Here I am valiantly holding off a bloke who had been trying to pass me for at least the last 2 miles. Sucker!

In the end I was the third female finisher and won £100. Who knew that running in the UK could be so rewarding?!

We returned to Australia mid-August 2007 and I was happy to be able to make up for my disappointment at missing the City to Surf (yet again) by entering the half-marathon that was a part of the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival in September.

The day of the run dawned bright and clear, but at 6:30am (the official start time) it was pretty darn cold. My Scottish experience had hardened me to such things, though, and for me the running conditions were perfect. Despite self-seeding options at the start, many people ahead of me were none too fast and the start was therefore quite frustrating as I found myself constantly having to side-step and avoid slower runners. Pretty soon though we were heading across the Harbour Bridge and the crowd began to thin out.

As with so many of my overseas races and runs, this half-marathon took in some of the most famous and iconic Sydney landmarks, from the start beneath the Harbour Bridge (which we crossed in the first 2km) to the finish in front of the Opera House.

In a fitting return to the country where my love of running began, I finished the race in 1:27:02 (1:27 appears to be my lucky running number for 2007) and came 3rd in my age group.

It felt wonderful to be home again and back in top running form. I had proven my pessimistic ortho boss wrong and was every bit the competitive runner I thought might never return.

But there was more to life now than just running, and I was about to voluntarily put things on a type of hold again.......a much better type of hold.

Run Baby Run

This is, of course, primarily a running blog, but it would be incomplete without an ode to how much I love the internet. Up until that day in December 2005 - as I sat staring wide-eyed at that positive pregnancy test - the internet had been useful to me chiefly for study/work and for emailing far-flung friends. This was all about to change, but in a very cool way.

I was going to say that the first thing I did when the shock wore off was to Google "running pregnant", but on reflection I think I did one other thing first, which was to take the photo that appears at the bottom of the post below this one and email it to my now-fiance, with the subject title "DO NOT OPEN THIS EMAIL UNTIL YOU ARE ON THE PHONE TO ME". He of course ignored this advice.....but that's another story altogether.

The second thing, then, that I did was to type "running pregnant" into my browser - I had only just gotten back out there, really, and although actually quite pleased to be expecting (in an "ok, well, I guess I wanted to do this sometime, why not now?" kind of a way) I was absolutely aghast at the idea of not being allowed to run for 9 more months.

The Google search led me to this website and this sounds awfully trite, but it totally changed my life. Not only was I allowed to keep running, I found I was not the only woman who wanted to keep exercising while pregnant. I kept going and even ran an 8km race for Mothers' Day 2006 - 26 weeks pregnant at the time - and managed to still beat a certain competitive husband although my time was obviously far from my best!

(said husband formally retired from racing against me about 10 weeks later, after beating me home for the first time on a weekend morning run, retiring of course as the reigning champion.)

Ultimately I found myself posting on a thread called "Third Trimester Runners" (yes, really) and this led to a particularly 21st century phenomenon: internet friendships, or Imaginary Friends as I like to call them.

Although there were quite a few people posting on that thread, over time we became a group of just 6 and as our babies were born and we each found our way back to running, we became a kind of mothers' group to each other: daily posts about sleeping (or lack thereof), feeding and baby milestones became as common as posts about how far we were running. For me, having stopped work, had a baby and moved overseas - away from all my family and friends - all in the space of 6 weeks, these imaginary friends were very real, and an absolute lifeline of support and encouragement.

All this led in 2007 - when our babies were all around 7 months old - to a very memorable first meeting in Washington, DC (since everyone bar me was American and I was more than happy to travel over from the UK!) where we also ran a 10K race together.

That race was memorable for me in another way: it was the scene of my all-time 10K PR, 39:54.

Maybe I will better that time in May 2011, when I am planning to run the same race again, but maybe not. What I'm sure of is that at least some of my imaginary running friends - both old and new - will be there to share the day with me again, and that they will still be my friends when our babies and grandbabies are the ones doing the running....we'll be the seniors trying for entry to the wheelchair division, probably.

Time Passes Me By


Not a lot can be said about 2002 in terms of running. Around November, when I am still walking with a limp so marked that at least one colleague (who also happens to be my future husband, but that's another story) thinks that I have cerebral palsy, I go to a physiotherapist to see if she can stop me limping and somehow get me back to running. It will still be a while before I realise that all the exercises in the world won't make bone heal faster, but to her credit she does help with the limp and even encourages me to try a little jogging on the treadmill at my gym.

Fast limping is what it should have been called. And someone should have stopped me before I got addicted to it, but no-one did, so that leads us to....


Off to Darwin for work. Long work hours and relative isolation mean that my ability to limp fast on the treadmill becomes something of a driving force in my life. Drum roll...........stress fracture in my left femur. Back to the bike, daily swimming (tropical climate is good that way) and down into a deep depression about possibly never running again. X-ray still shows a clear fracture line all the way round the tibia, and a butterfly segment on the medial side. Not healed yet.


Back to Sydney and back to the treadmill after 6 months no running/fast limping at all. I'm being very conservative by now, but I can't do more than 1-2km because of pain. On the bright side, I once again meet and now start dating my future husband, who is surprised at how much my cerebral palsy has improved and impressed with the fact that I no longer look like a depressed skeleton.

The year ticks on like this, not really running, until at some point I start wondering about the sharp, shooting pain that is my main problem when trying to run. It feels very much like it might be neurological - so I swipe some local anaesthetic from work and inject it around where the nerve injury should be. My gym is a weird place, full of bodybuilders and steroid heads, so I don't actually stand out with my needles and syringes in the change room......and then once again I attempt to run.

Better! Not great, but enough that I can convince my new orthopaedic surgeon to explore around the scars on the inside of my leg, and sure enough he chops out a moderate amount of neuroma, or damaged nerve tissue. And thus the year ends, with my x-ray still looking much the same.


Finally, things are starting to look up. Future husband is a runner and with much coaxing, he gets me back out on the road in early January. We run 5km together at a snail's pace and I start to think, this guy is definitely marriage material!

I get seconded to country placements all year AGAIN (now doing formal training in General Surgery) and 6 months later in Orange the same thing happens again......not much else to do = too much trying to run --> stress fracture, this time in my pelvis. The metal rod in my right leg is screwing with my biomechanics and there's nothing I can do about it. More bike and stepper at the's the story of my life.

Finally, in September the x-ray shows almost complete union of my right tibia! I'm still side-lined by the pelvic stress fracture, so it seems like a good time to get the huge metal nail removed from my leg. This operation leaves me in a surprising amount of agony afterwards. But by now I have started to learn that when it comes to healing, nothing is as simple as it sounds. Off to the gym once again.

In early November I decide it's time to try again, and I venture out into the quiet streets around where I'm now living in Canberra. By December I'm running 4-5 km at a time, just gently, and loving every second.

Then something unexpected happens.

Oh. My. GOD.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shattered Leg, Shattered Dreams

May 2002 is a month I will never forget. The scars on my right leg, the numb patch down the inside, the fact that it is half an inch shorter than my left - these are permanent reminders of what happened to me one afternoon in early May.

It was a Sunday; I was training for the SMH half-marathon that was 3 weeks away. That morning I had done a long run and in the afternoon - bored, with little to do until work began the next morning - I hopped on my Trek road bike with its computer, aiming to measure out the run from that morning. These were the days before Garmin GPS running watches, so I had only a vague idea how far I had run, but of course I wanted to know more precisely. So off I set.

Towards the end of the ride, the sun was setting as I went speeding down a long hill on my way back to the resident accommodation where I was living. I had no idea that the sunset behind me made me invisible to the driver who was stopped waiting to turn right across my path. At the last second he suddenly turned and all I could do was squeeze the brakes and close my eyes: a collision was unavoidable.

I never lost consciousness but with closed eyes I don't know exactly what happened - the next thing I knew I was on the bitumen on the other side of the car, a new joint in the middle of my right tibia, blood streaming down my leg. My first thought? "This CANNOT happen to me, I'm a RUNNER."

But it had happened: a compound, comminuted mid-shaft fracture of my right tibia. My fibula was in 3 pieces and there were wounds on the inside and front of my leg. I was in deep, deep trouble. My running career was most likely over.

The paramedics were kind enough to give me enough IV morphine to kill a small horse (40mg, almost 1mg per kg at that point) in order to scrape me off the road and transport me to the hospital, where my boss was called and told "Your resident is on a stretcher in here, please come." He arranged to have me sent to my parent hospital - St Vincent's - in Sydney and kindly gave me even more drugs before my leg was put into a temporary plaster, such that I have no recollection of the event and in fact slept for about 8 hours afterwards.

At St Vincent's I was delivered into the care of an excellent orthopaedic surgeon, who spent most of the night putting my leg back together with extreme attention to detail and alignment - I am forever grateful to him for that - and left it looking something like this. He also put me into another plaster, pumped me full of intravenous antibiotics and made me stay in hospital for a week.

The bruise that came up on the back of my leg had to be seen to be believed:

After a week I was free to go home - not to my previous life, but to the care of my mother, since I was still fairly immobile. Also, you can't carry a plate when you have to walk with crutches. It's the little things that are so annoying.....

I look fairly happy/optimistic in this photo outside Mum's place, probably because I still think it's all going to heal up in 6 weeks (the textbook time frame that doctors quote whenever patients ask how long something is going to take to heal) and that I'll be out there running again in no time at all. How wrong I was.

Over 6 months later, I started to come to grips with the fact that my leg was not healing at anything like the pace I expected - and wanted - it to. I was still limping like a wounded soldier. I still could not run and my exercise options were the stepper at the gym or an exercise bike I had rented to use at home in order to preserve my hard-won fitness. At least I got the driver's insurance company to pay for that, but I hated every minute I spent on it. Minutes I wanted to spend RUNNING.

30 months post-accident, this was my x-ray. The fracture line is still clearly visible all the way around the tibia. I was still in pain all day, every day, and had also developed a painful neuroma from the cutaneous nerve that had been severed by the bone on its way out through the skin.

Some time about a year before this x-ray was taken, my original treating surgeon and I had an explosive difference of opinion about what should be done about the incredibly slow pace of healing - he was technically an excellent surgeon but had the people skills of an autistic badger - and we parted company. I went to see one of my bosses at the time (I was doing orthopaedics) for a second opinion, and he was reassuring that it would eventually heal, but as I was leaving said in an off-the-cuff manner, "You know, most athletes with this sort of injury would never be able to compete again."

I remember thinking, if not saying, "Well, I will prove you wrong then" - but it would take a long, long time for me to finally keep my word.

The Glory Year (and a half)

From August 2000 until early 2002, I thoroughly enjoyed my glory days of running. At the time I had no idea this time would be so short - if I had known, I might have trained properly or harder, or gotten myself a coach to make the most of my potential - but of course I didn't, so all I did was run and enjoy the thrill of being fast.

I finished my first half-marathon in May 2001 in a time of 1:26:24. During the race, on the second lap of the hilly CBD course, I was running close to another woman. A bystander was calling out positions and to us he said "12th lady, 13th lady...." My companion (clearly someone elite) said "Oh geez, that's not very good!" but I could only laugh - I was thrilled!

Later that year I again ran the City to Surf, taking over 4 minutes off my time and earning myself a Certificate of Merit, as well as a preferred runner start for the following year. Preferred runners get to turn up half an hour before the start, warm up out front and then line up right behind the elites. As opposed to lining up 3-4 hours before, cramming in with the other 79,999 participants, and then fighting to make it over the line within 10 minutes of the gun going off.....why, I'll take it!

The second half of 2001 was a fantastic time for me and my running. I was seconded to work a surgical term in Armidale, a university town in the northern part of NSW, where I found myself sharing a house with the medical resident, a fellow exercise fanatic named Saar.

Together we turned a potentially lonely and difficult work placement into a kind of triathlon boot camp, swimming squads at a local high school during the week, riding our bikes for hours on the weekend and joining a mad bunch of local doctors for long rambling runs every Sunday morning. It was fantastic fun. At one point we trekked over to a neighbouring town called Dorrigo to run a 13.5km (8.3 mile) race in extremely hilly terrain........

............where my time of 54:03 was enough to give me 4th place overall and 1st female finisher.

Turns out the race was sponsored by a local producer, so my prize was $50 and a 20kg (45lb) sack of potatoes from Dorrigo Potato Farm!

Everyone in my family got a huge bowl of potato salad from me that Christmas, needless to say.

My presence in Armidale was good for the local doctors in another, non-work related area: I ran in a relay race with them and my time over 8km (5 miles) of 31:14 helped us to win the Coyote Cup, much to the dismay of the local emergency services who made up the other teams.

My first two overall placings also happened in half-marathons run during the latter half of 2001. The Lake Macquarie HM was the first; I ran 1:25:40 and was third female finisher. It was a glorious out-and-back course along the lake, and I was excited to see Steve Moneghetti (a legendary Australian marathoner) running back while I was still on my way out - he went on to win the race and I got to shake his hand!

Next was the Central Coast HM, where I ran my PR for this distance, 1:25:24 and placed second. I was actually in first place most of the way but had another female runner positioned like a pilot fish at my shoulder - as we set off from the start I heard her coach yell at her to follow me, and she did so with very little room to spare. I think at one point I asked her to please stop breathing down my neck, which she eventually did at the 17km mark by kicking into top gear and leaving me in the dust. Thanks, that made me feel great.

2002 started with great promise, including preferred runner status for both the May SMH half-marathon and the August City to Surf. Little did I know that it was all about to come crashing down.......

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Back story

In 1978 I made my cross-country running debut by finishing 3rd - on no training at all - in the annual cross-country race at our primary school athletics carnival. I don't actually remember much about what transpired next, only that I was pressed into what seemed like not very much training at all, before being required to run cross-country at a regional carnival. The course was a difficult loop on a bushland trail, I didn't do spectacularly well, and that - as far as I can remember - was that.

In high school a similar scenario repeated itself. Called upon to run a couple of laps around the school (it was HUGE and set on an enormous block) I surprisingly came 4th and once again a vague desire to run and get fit was born. I probably lasted all of two or three weeks attending "Fitness" at 7am - in my defence, this meant a 5am start for me since I lived over an hour's commute from school - before retreating again into relative inactivity.

It would be quite a long time before running would become a regular part of my life. I do remember very clearly how it happened: stuck in Alice Springs, in the very middle of Outback Australia, I was doing an elective term in my final year of medical school. I had been bothered for a few years about having put on weight during my studies and - slightly bored and without my usual distractions - decided to do something about it. A classmate had been going out to run most mornings so one day I decided to join her, despite being worried about being way too slow to keep up, given that I had done no running for many years.

My worries turned out to be unjustified - although my friend was by no means creepingly slow, I found myself having to run circles around her in order to not leave her behind in the dust. For someone who has always sucked at most team sports or anything requiring hand-eye coordination, this was a major revelation: hey, I'm good at this!

(also, the scenery was sufficiently spectacular as to distract me from the difficulty of some runs, such as up Anzac Hill - great for building fitness but awfully steep and long).

A little under a year later, I ran my first City to Surf (14km from Sydney CBD to Bondi Beach) in 59:52 and an obsession was born.