Rain Dancing with Sir Joseph Banks

Tuesday 22nd November – Evening – Botany / Banksmeadow Area

The incessant yet gentle precipitation had left me feeling mildly depressed. My Monday morning jog had been washed out and the Tuesday morning raincheck was, well, rainchecked again. On top of that the exercise bike was broken, which tends to happen when you plug the incorrect transformer into the socket. I knew something was wrong when the digital display began smoking like a peer-pressured teenager. Riding was no longer a possibility.

All out of options, and feeling a little stodgy from the weekend excesses, I hit the road in the rain for a seven kilometre dash.

K1

The first kilometre was reasonably uneventful. My Nike GPS application on the iPhone was reminding me of my pace whilst shuffling through my playlist of motivational songs. Richard Clapton sang ‘Get Back to the Shelter’ as the Telstra truck clobbered the puddle in front of me. It was like wading into a cold, muddy ocean. First your calf muscles get goosebumps. Then your hamstrings begin to shiver. Finally your undies soak and creep up into your crutch. I was destined to spend the next six thousand metres with a very wet wedgie. Perhaps Mr. Clapton had a point.

K2

Traversing Botany Road is always a scary experience. For some reason the semi-trailer drivers don’t believe in pedestrian crossings and when the guy in the BP tanker finally saw me it was all I could do to get out of the way. A blast on the air-horn, and a verbal assault from the shadowed cabin, left me in no doubt that I had made him late for whatever life-saving appointment he was due to attend. How dare I use the zebra crossing.

In spite of British Petroleum’s attempt on my life, I eventually made it to the park with its peace and saturated tranquility. Tiny droplets danced across the pond as the concrete gorilla glistened in the gloom and the empty swing set swung silently in the breeze. Large grey eels slithered through the murky water while giant carp gorged themselves on the soggy bread crusts that were floating on the surface. The only sound out-of-place was the thwack and cheer from the dedicated golfers on the fifth tee of Royal Botany Golf Course. Seriously guys – golf in the rain?!? You’re crazier than I am.

Traffic on Foreshore Drive was at a standstill, which probably explains why the eighteen-wheelers were tearing through suburbia and not on the expressway. An A380 lifted lazily into the air on its way to Singapore or some other salubrious destination and a plump of swamp hens honked at me as I interrupted their bath.

K3

By the third leg of my journey I was in the zone. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Trampled Underfoot’ offered a raucous testament to the growing death toll of snails that kept finding their way below my Reeboks. A drenched Kookaburra perched on an old fence post looking more like a drowned rat than a kingfisher. I laughed at him. Is that ironic?

Water dripped from my wet hair as another wet hare shot out into the path in front of me. Perhaps he had been flushed from his warren by two days of deluge. Maybe he had been routed by one of the mangy foxes that are sometimes found lurking near the golf course. Possibly he was just late for the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Either way, he was certainly not expecting to run into a large bipedal mammal in this weather and almost collided with my right leg. I watched on amazed as the brown bunny zig-zagged across the track. His ability to change direction with such a tight turning circle was incredible and after a couple of 90s, several 180s and a full 360 degree backflip, he was gone.

K4

As the Nike app noted the completion of three kilometres I came across the only other person I would see in the park. An elderly lady with a floral dress and matching umbrella wandered up the wrong side of the bike lane. Her face was hidden, her shoes were tattered and I briefly wondered if she was a local, or lost. Before my thoughts could dwell on her I rounded the corner and there, sticking up out of the grass ahead like a signpost for addiction, was a syringe – needle down into the soil. I paused mid-stride and stooped to pick up the dangerous object. It was the third time I had found a needle in the park and I knew I would have to carry it with me until I could find a garbage bin.

After a fruitless five minute search for more sharp objects I resumed my run. Unfortunately I had begun to cool down and now my ankles were aching. As my Achilles spontaneously combusted I briefly entertained the concept of quitting, until I remembered the pothole in the pathway up ahead. In all this rain it resembled a little lake and my feet achieved nirvana as they plodded through the cold water.

K5

My pace was terrible! I really should remember to pause the app when I pause my run.

The gentle sprinkling had now become much heavier and a mist was rising from the grass. Small birds had stopped singing and the larger ones were nest bound or grounded. The family of marauding magpies that usually pecked at my ears as I jogged through their trees, were feasting on fat, juicy worms. Shiny black and white parents with their gangly grey offspring were so engrossed in their meal that they didn’t even pay me the slightest attention. A flock of large Puddle Ducks waddled across the road. White feathers, orange beaks and no fear of human beings made them an interesting obstacle, so I was left with no choice but to plow right through the middle of the brace. As the Catatonia song ‘Road Rage’ began playing through my speakers, Jemima let out a loud hiss and nipped at my knee. Perhaps she was related to the man from BP.

K6

Leaving the Sir Joseph Banks Park brought me back to reality. My floral friend was still meandering her way around the grounds in a wide arching loop. She had a bag of bread crumbs for the birds and I figured that she was a local after all. I found a bin for the dirty hypodermic and, frankly, I was glad to be rid of it. There are many isolated spots to seek solitude, but collecting thoughts and clearing your mind are not the only things people do there.

The Steggles van on Botany Road also pretended not to notice the pedestrian crossing and only missed me by the narrowest of margins. Live ducks, dead chooks, something fowl was out to get me. The sun was setting, light was getting dim and I picked up my pace.

K7

Suburbia was silent and still. Christmas lights twinkled from the windows of early decorators and wreaths hung in the closed doorways, but the families had settled in for dinner and the houses were locked up tight. There was no yoga at the cafe, no tai chi in the reserve and nobody to welcome me home except a battered old tom cat wanting his dinner. I think I’ll have leftovers tonight.

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 🙂