Walking Into Reality

The original name of this post was supposed to be “Running On More of THE Road” as a follow up to my blog a year ago called “Running On THE Road” about the Great Ocean Road Half-Marathon I ran. ‘More of THE Road’ meant running from Lorne to Apollo Bay, the length of the 44km Full Marathon.

“Supposed” to be?

Yeah. Guess what? I didn’t run it.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I possess a very wide stubborn streak. I don’t like giving up. Admittedly, sometimes when something is very challenging I will have a meltdown and declare I can’t do it but usually the melting down also melts down the stress and I pick myself up and get on with it.

And that is exactly how it originally went. One might suppose that scheduling a three week trip to Nepal, closely followed by completing a 100km charity walk and then giving myself six weeks to train for a full marathon was perhaps overdoing it a tad but, you know, shiny things….

Predictably, limited training due to travel and a focus on long-distance walking and then a week’s wait for blisters to heal, did not leave me in prime running condition when I picked up marathon training halfway through the program.

I was slow. Like, a full minute or more per kilometre than I was used to. And an attempted 3.5 hour training run ended after 2.5 hours when I just couldn’t go any further.

Did I consider giving up? You bet. And I think I would have. I could have easily dropped back to run the half-marathon instead except…. well …. been there, done that, got the medal. So nothing for it but to push on.

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Got one of these already

So I did. Slowly my pace picked up and the following weekend, I successfully completed that 3.5 hour run. I was feeling confident again I’d make it to the finish line. Maybe not in a spectacular time but you get the medal whether you’re first or last as long as you finish so no biggy.

But then my body had other ideas.

Getting up off the couch in the early morning after a wee hours insomnia-induced movie watching session, I suddenly felt pain in the left side of my chest and my shoulder. I thought I must have been lying awkwardly. Or maybe it was another version of a similar problem I had three years ago that turned up nothing. So I got on with my usual day.

Yeah, yeah, before you lecture me, I’ve already had that lecture from the doctor. “Next time, if you have pain in your chest and arm, you call the ambulance or get to an emergency department!” Okay, okay.

Two days of pain in my chest and two days of pain in the neck hassling from friends and family sent me off to the doctor only to be told there there was nothing wrong with my heart or lungs and it was muscular. Take some anti-inflammatories and wait for it to get better.

“Poor health is not caused by something you don’t have; it’s caused by disturbing something that you already have. Healthy is not something that you need to get, it’s something you have already if you don’t disturb it.” ~ Dean Ornish

Which it kind of did. Until it didn’t.

A week after the first lot of pain, a new development began. I was now accompanied by a silent, invisible assassin who would stab me in the lower left of my back at random intervals. He/she especially liked cuddling up to me in bed and sticking in the knife every time I moved.

It took me five days to go and see a doctor. I know, I know.

I had to dedicate a whole morning to blood tests, a urine test, ECG and a chest x-ray. I threw in some pre-poll voting while I was at it since it was in the same vicinity and I was going to be away the day of the coming federal election. Such a productive day.

By 5.00pm I was in the Emergency Department. One of the blood tests had indicated the possible presence of a blood clot. The admitting nurse and the consulting doctor both reacted as if my GP was an over-anxious parent with a cold-ridden child convinced she has pneumonia and declared that as I had none of the physical indicators of a clot and the blood test was notoriously often false, I was probably wasting my time. But as I’d been sent there, they had to give me a CT scan.

They found a small blood clot in my left lung. Also inflammation and a small amount of fluid. How embarrassing.

And how mysterious.

Fortunately, a hospital stay was not required and I was sent home with a prescription for blood thinners and an appointment with a haematologist the next day.

The haematologist was just as mystified. I am a fit non-smoker and have not had a virus or an injury. There were no signs a blood clot would be lurking at the bottom of my lung. All he could do was confirm the emergency doctor’s instructions to take blood thinners for three months and I’d be retested at the end of it to see what happens.

“No running for a month,” I was told.

“But I have a race on Sunday! What about…,” I pleaded. “What about I walk the half-marathon? It has a six and a half hour cut off. That’s like less than 5km/h!”

He grudgingly agreed. I had to promise not to run and also not to push too hard and to pull out if I felt unwell.

Yep. Definitely going to do that.

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Goodbye Full Marathon Bib, Hello Half-Marathon Walk Bib. This helped because I told myself I couldn’t run because it was against the rules.

I didn’t run. But I did walk kind of fast. By accident. I swear. It was a lovely day and a stunningly beautiful route and I just got kind of excited. Truly.

I finished in 3 hours and 16 minutes. That’s an hour longer than it took me to run it last year. Under the circumstances, I can be happy with that.

(Those circumstances, by the way, included a migraine the night before the race and almost having to push my way off the bus when we got to the start line because I was about to be sick. One of the tough things about the Great Ocean Road races is that you have to sit on a bus for 30-60 minutes on a windy road to get to the start line. Most challenging race start anywhere, I reckon.)

Unsurprising to other runners who understand, at the end of the race I felt the best I’d felt in weeks. Even during the race, as I found last year, the sheer joy of running¬†walking along one of the most scenic roads in the world lifted my spirits and made me feel whole again.

 

Who wouldn’t want to beg their medical specialist to be allowed to traverse this road?

 

Postscript 1: The day after the race, an ultrasound found a blood clot behind my left knee caused by the combination of a varicose vein and an overseas flight (it is assumed). This provides something of an answer to the mysterious clot in my lung. It also appears that this will be an ongoing problem so there are more doctors, tests and procedures in my future.

 

Postscript 2: I’d like to dedicate this post to my friend Rachel who moved to New Zealand via Apollo Bay so we could enjoy this last run together. She also kindly looked after me when I was being a misery guts.

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Two happy half-marathoners

 

 

 

 

Running On THE Road

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The Great Ocean Road is one of the most iconic stretches of tarmac in the world.

Built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932, it is both a testament to human endeavour and a striking memorial to those who lost their lives in the First World War.

The Road is featured in many a Top 10 traveller list and thousands of tourists traverse it every day in buses, cars, campervans and motorcycles.

What they can’t do, if they value their lives, is travel the road on foot.

Except for one special day in the year.

The Great Ocean Road Running Festival is a two day event in May incorporating races for everyone from the 1.5km Kids’ Gallop to the 60km Ultra Marathon. There are also multiple distances for walkers.

The shorter races are held around the township of Lorne on the Saturday and has quite the party atmosphere.

But it’s the Sunday that is special. On Sunday, the Great Ocean Road is closed to traffic between Lorne and Apollo Bay and thousands of runners and walkers line up to complete the 23km Half Marathon, the 44km Marathon or the 60km Ultra Marathon. (Yes, they run the Half and Full Marathons hard here, tacking on an extra couple of kilometres.)

With a 24km run on the training schedule, it seemed logical to run the GOR Half Marathon instead. Run much the same distance and gain some bling at the end? Easy decision.

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Very nice bling it is, too.

I think because I only saw it as a training run, I didn’t really take the run all that seriously. I didn’t chase up accommodation, choosing instead to travel from home on the morning. The night before, I was wondering about the wisdom of that decision as I was facing a 5am departure. Meh. Who sleeps before a race anyway?

The Marathon and Ultra Marathon both kick off from Lorne and finish in Apollo Bay (the Ultra taking a detour or two off the road to add the extra distance). The Half Marathon starts (predictably) half way at Kennett River. Shuttle buses run from both Lorne and Apollo Bay to the start line.

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Kennett River – Not a bad place to start a race

For some, this is not the optimum start to a race. The Great Ocean Road is a very windy road and those of a travel sickness disposition can find the bus ride to the start a bit unsettling. Hard to face 23km of running when you feel like you’re going to throw up at the start line.

We’ve been having some unseasonably warm and sunny days this Autumn but typically, Mother Nature decided to pull out a cold, misty and windy day for Race Day.

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I loved it. I am most definitely a cold weather runner. I am also a winter beach person. I would much rather a walk beside a wintry, wild ocean than a warm, crystal blue lagoon.

I had registered in the 2.5 hours plus group since I’ve only just got back into a proper training program and it being a bit further than a normal half marathon.

I surprised myself and finished in 2:15:17. I had a great run. So much so, that I actually got a bit of a shock when I reached the 18km aid station. I was beginning to wonder if I’d miscounted the stops until I saw a walking track sign saying “5km to Apollo Bay”. Only 5km to go? Sweet!

Now, that time of 2:15:17 is the actual time it took from the start line to the finish – my “net time”. My “official” time is more than two minutes longer than that.

Results

This is the injustice of the humble runner. You put yourself at the back of the group and then it takes you several minutes to reach the start line when the gun goes off. I noticed a runner on the list who crossed the finish line a few minutes after I did but her official time was almost the same as her net time. This means she stood right on the line at the start but took longer to run the race than I did. Sometimes I wish I had that level of nerve. You can see the difference the time makes in the rankings between the two times.

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Feels like a half marathon just to get to the start line

Of course, it must be confessed that as a white-bibbed more-than-2.5-hour runner, there was some measure of psychological boost whenever I overtook a red-bibbed less-than-2.5-hour runner who got to start closer to the line than I did. There’s always a silver lining.

The Great Ocean Road Marathon is included in the book “50 Place to Run Before You Die” and I can definitely say it’s a run to be experienced. Of course, the great thing is that you don’t even have to run it. With the option to walk 5km, 10km or the Half Marathon (or, if you’re a bit sneaky and can walk fast, even the full Marathon), it’s an experience open to more than marathoners. Put it on your bucket list.

 

 

 

Now, what else is in that book….?