Marathon Dad

Hills are just an excuse to run faster!

I’m talking uphill, not downhill of course because that would be crazy. I did it once. Tearing like a startled jackrabbit down the embankment at Moore Park where people used to grass ski, I hit the pavement at the speed of sound. My knee went backwards, my face went forwards and my head held a groundbreaking ceremony sans the ceremonial shovel.

Don’t worry dear reader I was fine, if just a little dirty. A mouthful of sod has many nutrients that the body requires as well as a uniquely crunch texture. Like peanut butter if it were made out of the shells instead of the kernel within.

But I digress.

The good thing about running uphill is the way your body reacts. Your heart gets a workout pumping oxygenated blood to your muscles, your lungs heave and expel the old stale air, your body sweats out all the toxins that accumulate from eating and drinking the wrong things, and your mind clears. I’ve not always been able to do this though. Eighteen months ago I weighed over 104 kilograms, and no, that was not muscle. A year or so before that I had had a little ‘scare’. Chest pains at forty are more frightening than a good zombie movie and a night in Prince of Wales Hospital with electrodes stuck all over your person is THE wakeup call to take notice of. Thankfully it was a false alarm but I decided to see a specialist anyway and see what sort of condition I was in.

The first test was to jog on a treadmill for fifteen minutes to see how my heart would react. After two minutes I was drenched with perspiration. Five minutes later I could no longer talk to the nurse. Within seven minutes my nipples were chafed and my lungs were screaming. By the eleven-minute mark I was hallucinating and had to stop. Not good at all. My heart recovered well – for a sixty year old man.

The second test was a blood sample and an x-ray of my neck. Thickened arteries – bloody hell.

The verdict: I was overweight, that was a given. My fitness level was a dismal failure though and that worried me, especially with five children, so I made a decision to get well.

I won’t bore you by repeating my initial escapades. If you would like to read about my first foray into jogging and the subsequent attack on my person by Tolkien’s Ents and Shelob the spider, click the image of the arachnid. Go on, I’ll wait for you 🙂

Suffice to say I had to do something and running for my life sounded like the best course of action. As I got fitter and the weight began to fall off, I found that I could push myself to longer distances. I did the Blackmores Bridge Run last September, a nine kilometre trip across the harbour and around the Domain to finish in Hyde Park. Beautiful!

Ten kilometres became fifteen. Fifteen became twenty. I began to run the coastal route from north Bondi to south Coogee and back. The stairs at Gordon’s Bay seem to go on forever and the hills around Clovelly and Tamarama are just plain vicious. My body responded well though and the fat cells continued to depart in droves.

Then I got cocky and decided to have a go at the half marathon.

This would be a test of endurance for a forty something year old that hadn’t exercised properly since his twenties and with daylight saving time now over it was becoming increasingly more difficult to find an opportunity to run the distances required to maintain my stamina. The outside track at Centennial Park was the nearest and best option however, although running the park in the dark is creepily cool, it is also a little unnerving. It is also very difficult to see the humongous piles of equine excrement at the Lang road exit. I don’t care if they are vegetarians, horse poo stinks!

As the distances shortened and the big day approached I started to worry, then I did something really stupid. After returning from work one evening I decided to test my mettle. The concept was simple, run from Erskineville train station to Centennial Park, two and a half times around the outside track and back again. The distance would have been between twenty three and twenty four kilometres and my stupid male pride would have been satisfied.

I made it there.

I made it around.

I didn’t make it back.

Somewhere in the dark, silent streets of Redfern my legs gave up on me. The cramping in my hamstrings was excruciating and my calf muscles felt as though they were about to liquefy. I could not walk more than a few steps before having to lie down on the footpath and I was getting cold. Foolishly I had left the house without a mobile phone or any money to catch a bus and so I ended up practically crawling home, my entire body shivering uncontrollably and frozen to the core. It took my physical being several days to recover, but the damage to my emotional and mental state was a lot worse. Running was no longer fun. It had become a painful chore and I was making up excuses to avoid it. With the half marathon only two weeks away, my campaign had ground to a halt.

Feeling more than just a little down in the dumps about my predicament, I headed over to my parents house for a few beers and a home cooked meal. As I passed by Booralee I saw an old friend whose name I never knew. The brunette with a bob haircut was still plodding her way round the park, looking fitter and faster than I remember. She had that smile on her face that a runner gets when they have conquered their demons and she looked like she was exercising for fun, and not because she had too.

Watching her I began to recall those feelings too. The sunrise over Wedding Cake Island. The silence of Waverly cemetery. Flocks of huge Puddle Ducks crankily quacking at me in Sir Joseph Banks Park. Rabbits, kookaburras, magpies, peace, solitude, tranquility.

I got my groove back.

I managed one more run before the big day. Thirteen kilometres. My legs were fine and my smile had returned.

I completed the half marathon a little slower than I would have liked. Twenty one thousand five hundred metres in two hours, one minute and one second. I felt fantastic.

A week later I headed out from Erskineville train station again.

I made it there.

I made it around.

I MADE IT BACK.

I’m still getting passed by blond hotties and bald dynamos, but I’ve beaten my demons and achieved something I never thought I could.

iDad did it and so can you.

iDad’s Guide to Fitness

Are We Jogging?

Or so said the eccentric mystic from the movie ‘Jewel of the Nile’ as he, Joan Wilder and Jack T Colton fled across the desert, pursued by Omar the charming, yet ruthless dictator. I often wonder the same thing in the twilighty minutes before sunrise as I dodge past garbage trucks, lonely taxis and yapping dogs.

For several weeks now I have pounded the pavements and parklands of Botany in an effort to get fit and lose some of my well-earned middle age spread. It was a conscious decision I made late December when my talking scales told me I was the perfect weight, for a bull walrus. As I frisbeed my digital tormentor out of the bathroom window I turned to look into the mirror and realised that the computerised jester may have been right.  With Reeboks on my feet and an iPod strapped to my arm, I took to the street to rid myself of the unwanted kilograms.

Ground Zero!

Initially the going was tough and waking up at six am was the first obstacle to overcome. My friend the ‘snooze’ button got more of a workout than I did in the early stages. Eventually though I managed to convince myself to move the alarm clock across the room, thus forcing me out of bed to make the beeping menace stop.

Being a man who doesn’t need directions and has never read an instruction manual, meant that there would be no ‘taking it easy’. So what should have begun with a brisk walk was more like a heaving plod as my forty something body tried to convince itself it was still only eighteen. Then I arrived at the park, six hundred meters up the road, and promptly coughed up my left kidney.

Lap 1

The first lap hurt. My shins ached, my knees creaked and my lungs were on fire. Luckily though there were other people in the paddock so I had to keep pushing myself to save face – foolish manly pride. A brunette with a short bob-style haircut ambled towards me. We smiled, waved and said ‘hi’ as we passed. Running in opposite directions meant that we would see each other five more times during the course of the three laps I intended to do. I wondered who would bail out first.

A bald blur shot past me at a great rate of knots. This guy was short, stocky and incredibly fit. I briefly entertained the idea of using him as my pace car but when I realised that he has run almost one hundred metres in just over ten seconds, I reconsidered. Minutes later he was gone from view and my new brunette friend was jogging up to me for the second time. Once again we managed a couple of words of encouragement in passing.

Rounding the third corner of the park I ran into an unexpected obstacle. Between two Norfolk pines a spider had decided to set up base camp. It’s sticky web, encrusted with half-sucked bodies of captured cabbage moths encased my head, shoulders and torso. Arachnid excreta and mummified moth has a uniquely pungent flavour that inspires a strong gag reflex, but it was the frenzied removal of the gluey fibres and not the retching that brought about my undoing. A large tree root leapt out of the soil, grasping my ankle as if it were one of Tolkien’s Ents, and threw me down onto my face.

I struggled back to my feet, spitting sod as I stood and began the second round.

Lap 2

Thankfully no one had seen my face-plant, or my erratic behaviour with the spider web, so I was able to resume my regimen with little embarrassment. The bobbed brunette toddled toward me and as we went to exchange pleasantries her eyes shot open in horror. Bewildered by her response I began to check my body for signs of damage. Sure my shirt was dirty, but that wasn’t enough to elicit such a response. I wasn’t bleeding from my fall and all the web had been removed, or had it. I ran my hands through my hair and felt what I though was a squash ball attached to my head. With a dawning comprehension of what was happening to me, eight hairy legs proceeded to run down over my ear and onto my neck. It was a humongous, grey orb weaver’s nest I had violated and now he was extracting his revenge. The spider crawled under my shirt and started down my back where I could not reach him. Thankfully they are harmless but that doesn’t stop the fear. Once again I was on the ground, this time rolling left and right frantically trying to squish the fuzzy molester. I felt his insides smear themselves across my lower back and was relieved – shirts can be washed.

Returning to my run was a little more difficult than my previous interruption. The iPod had suffered its last indignity and was refusing to play anything at all and to make matters worse I failed to notice the huge, steaming pile of dog poo in the grass ahead of me until my right foot was planted ankle deep inside it. The alleged culprit was a large white poodle being walked by its elderly owner – who just so happened to have the same permed hairstyle (its amazing how some people grow to look like their pets). Luckily for them they were over on the other side of the park and out of reach of my verbal abuse.

The brunette shuffled past once more. No words were exchanged this time but I could see her face desperately scanning me for any trace of the spider.

Lap 3

The pain was excruciating. Muscles I didn’t even know I had were burning with lactic acid and my eyes stung with sweat. I could no longer hold up my arms and my jaw hung open, allowing the little swarm of gnats I had just stumbled through to fly down my throat. They tasted rather tangy and slightly more piquant than the spider web.

The brunette and I passed each other once more. There was no wave, no hello, no acknowledgement of any kind. Just two exhausted souls trying to convince their bodies that no pain really did mean no gain.

Just as I considered quitting the run and talking the long walk of shame back home, a young blond caught up to me from behind and ran by. She had short blue bike pants, a white midriff top, and boy could she move. Instinctively I kicked my pace up a notch. Stupid, stupid man. Three strides later I was barking like the marine mammal my bathroom scales thought I was and I’m sure the council workers painting the lines on the football field heard my lungs burst.

That was it. Two and a half times round the park was the best I could do. My knees felt like jelly and my stomach wanted to barf, but I had begun the journey to fitness and weight loss.

Four months later and I’m running at least three times a week. I have given up fried, fast and junk food and lost over eleven kilograms. I feel fitter, happier and more alert (most of the time) and there have been no more spider, dog poo or Lord of the Rings incidents. I never did catch up to the blond hottie or the bald dynamo, and none of my clothes fit me anymore, but these are minor inconveniences for the improved quality of life I am enjoying.

You should try it 🙂

Booralee

Booralee

The early morning dew twinkled from the orb weaver’s web like a thousand tiny rhinestones in a disco cowboy’s jacket. The remnants of last night’s meal hung lazily by a single sticky strand, the mummified remains no longer resembling a fat and juicy moth. With grey clouds threatening to disgorge their voluminous contents the ants scurried about in a frantic attempt to dissect their breakfast, a long brown earthworm that was too early for the birds.

The gentle precipitation that sprinkled softly onto the grass failed to dampen the Magpies spirits as the monochrome marauders perched low in the tree, daring each other to steal a sausage from the sizzling grill. Brightly coloured Rosellas argued with the Rainbow Lorikeets for a space on the dry branches and the old mother possum discreetly moved her babies to a safer place in the hollow trunk.

Pig flesh popped and spattered while the blunt butter knife scratched it’s wad of low-fat yellow chemicals over freshly toasted bread and the noise of human chatter began to drown out the gentle sounds of nature. Children, in jumpers as garish as any parrots plumage, gathered in giggling groups as the lone adult fruitlessly explained once again the importance of protecting the little leather ball.

The ants hid deep in their hole.

Load, colourful humans continued to invade the solace. One by one their large metallic pets arranged themselves in symmetry whilst simultaneously belching forth a poisonous stench that overwhelmed the aroma from the greasy hotplate. The magpies gargled in derision at the offensive mammals as the cacophony of verbal pleasantries and mobile ring tones silenced the Lorikeet’s debate.

The baby possum coughed.

Pointed, leafless weapons of mass destruction tore at the spider’s home, dispersing the sparkling jewels and dislodging the Bogong’s coffin. Hairlike threads, for their weight as strong as steel, repelled the assault as best they could until a third of the arachnid’s masterpiece became adhered to the toddler’s hand. His mother led him away. Admonishing the little boy in a high pitched squawk, not for the carnage that was wrought upon the orb weaver’s home, but for the dog faeces squished into the grooves of his shoes.

Then, as the little pea splintered and exploded from the tin whistle, nature left Booralee.

For hours on end herds of multicoloured minions battled their way up and down the paddock. Sauce splattered, eggs shattered and the empty bottles of isotonic sports water choked the over crowded bins. Orange slices, lightly seasoned with grass clippings and sand, were consumed in vast quantities. Adults questioned the pea blower’s decisions as the clash of tiny bodies brought forth tears and cheers.

Mechanised noise from the soulless devices increased throughout the day. Water churned and spat from large silver drums and was mixed with the dust from ground brown beans. Translucent sarcophagi regurgitated a cooling mist as they displayed their gruesome contents of ground beef, reconstituted fowl and flavoured bovine excreta. But it was the digitised plastic receptacle that was kept busy the most. Constantly expelling its tongue to eat the paper and tin offered to it in exchange for the goodies stored in the human’s den.

Gradually the clatter began to subside.

Autumn leaves of yellow, red and orange danced in the breeze with the chocolate wrappers and empty chip packets. The round-footed flatulent beasts broke wind once more as they departed and, finally, the electronic commotion ceased.

With the sun dipping well below its zenith, nature began its migration back to Booralee. The ants had found a new prize in the discarded sausage skins and bacon fat. Their queen would feast tonight. Old mother possum had graciously accepted some sweet Valencia from a generous little girl with only a small nip and a slightly bloody finger as payment. The Lorikeets and Rosellas returned to their nests fat and happy from a banquet of nectar and the fruits of the nearby date palms; and the Magpies laughed at the flightless four-wheeled Falcon that was caked in seeded excrement. With the temperature dropping the orb weaver left his sanctuary under the paperbark and began repairing his web.

All was back to normal at Booralee, at least until tomorrow.