One of the strongest memories of my childhood is standing in the kitchen having an after-school snack of apple and cheese with my mum and sister, singing-yelling the anthem of the Barcelona Olympics (surely one of the best Olympic anthems ever?) and watching Sally Gunnell in the hurdles. The northern hemisphere summer was in full swing – I remember hazy golden rays beaming through the window behind us and birds tweeting in the trees outside. Although in saying that, all of my memories of English summer weather feature hazy golden rays of sunshine… And that obviously can’t be true because English weather is shit, so maybe I added the rays of warmth and light to the memory, for effect.
Sunny or not, my mum was a uni student at the time so in my memory she is perched at the end of the dining table, mid-sentence of a hand-written essay (because nobody had computers in 1992, of course) and as the gun goes and Sally sets off, mum leads the screaming and cheering that my sister and I enthusiastically copy, becoming absorbed in the excitement of athletic glory.
As I have mentioned, I grew up in the UK so obviously I remember mainly the British heroes, like Sally, Kris Akabusi and Johnathon Edwards, the long jumper. Names that are etched into my memory forever, even though I can’t remember what day of the week it is today.
We were vocal supporters of the Australians too, as most of mum’s family were already living in this exotic land (a fact I was immensely proud of) and I knew my Uncle was something of an athlete, so I imagined he was probably great friends with the healthy-looking tanned people that occasionally appeared in the track events wearing the vibrant green and gold that looked so much cooler than the red, white and blue of my compatriots.
As an adult, I still love to watch the Olympics. Along with the child-like thrill of the competition and medal winning, I have a deeper appreciation of the other aspects that make it a wonderful event. I love to see the looks on the faces of the coaches and parents. In the replays, especially those in slow motion, I look for the members of the crowd whose hearts are in their mouths. Even seeing the volunteers and helpers, getting up close to their idols and earnestly doing the best they can at the task in hand, feels special to see.
I have often thought I would like to be a dog in another life. Especially one like Matilda the dog, who has an idyllic lifestyle of regular walks through the streets of Burpengary, sniffing poops and weeing on a variety of lamposts, then sleeping and dreaming of those walks for the rest of the day until it is time to do it for real again. Oh, and there is food at times there, too, and treats from an over-generous Grandpa who thinks Matilda is ‘like an avocado’ – the good kind of fat.
But watching the Olympics makes me glad I am a human and not a dog. And I am proud to be part of the human race. The Olympics is proof that we can come together for good things. Great things, even. In a world full of chaos and hate, the unity of the Olympics is reassuring and grounding.
So it is that I spend most of the Olympics in tears – I have it on in the background whenever I can and watching any sport, any country, any result (win or lose) my emotions easily get the better of me and I find tears of joy and sadness escaping from my eyes continuously.
I realised the other day that this bizarre reaction to the Olympics has been handy for letting out some of the sadness, guilt, pain and anxiety I have felt about deciding what to do with the Sunshine Coast Half Marathon.
Because I am really, really, inescapably sad that I wont be competing on Sunday.
Look, I know it is only an injury and I should try to be a bit braver. But this was an important event for me.
There are a few reasons I really wanted to do this race, some of which I have already touched upon in the blog – see here and here. But the main reason that this particular Half Marathon (no other) mattered is that I was at the race the a few years ago with my little sister, Willow. Yes, she has a fantastic name, although it is much more common now than it was thirty years ago. Back then it was frankly weird, but also pretty and breathtaking which suited my sister perfectly, thus helping people in the eighties to accept the weirdness.
Like most sisters growing up together, Willow and I really didn’t fight much, unless we were actually attempting to kill each other, which was approximately every five minutes. I spent years as a grown-up feeling so ashamed of the fights we had. When I moved to Australia I wished I could go back and tell my younger self that I didn’t have much time to spend with her and I should spend every moment appreciating her, not fighting. But that is soppy adult talk and I don’t think anything could have prevented our murderous intents at the time.
While I was pondering this post in Aldi this morning, I remembered that for Christmas one year Willow and I gave my mum the present of ‘not fighting for a week’ and we managed it and my mum loved it. That is a true story. Remembering it made me burst out laughing in the middle of the supermarket. Merry Christmas, mum, this year we give you peace on earth.
Anyway, a few years ago, my sister and I did the 10km race held as part of the Sunshine Coast race day festivities. Willow and her family were visiting from the UK and as part of her birthday present, I thought she’d like to do a sporting event with me. I’d recently done an obstacle race with my mum and was planning on doing one with Grandpa. If it had been possible, I’d have booked Willow in for an obstacle race too (because they are easier for someone who can’t run well such as myself) but there were none available in the time-frame she was visiting. So it had to be a real running race.
For me, 10km was a big ask. I was no runner (and had not yet learned the art of running pain free) so I trained on the cross trainer/elliptical and resigned myself to struggling around the course. On the day, I surprised myself by being fitter than I’d realised, but spent the three days after the race almost entirely unable to walk.
Luckily, it was totally worth it to do something great with my sister. It was our Olympic moment, with our family cheering us on and the chaos of jet-lag, frenzied schedules and emotional strains forgotten for an hour while we gave it all we’d got on the course. I often look at the medal I got that day and feel connected to Willow. The pink hat I wear for every run and every triathlon is the one I bought with my sister for our 10km trot, because she was wise enough to know we’d need a hat and she made sure we chose a lightweight, easy-dry one made especially for running.
My completion of the Sunny Coast Half Marathon this Sunday was going to be (in part) an ode to Willow. I didn’t know how I was going to get that message across, so I am finding it difficult to explain here. Especially now that it’s not happening (because yes I’ve pulled out, in case that wasn’t clear)
My sister drives me crazy and yet makes me insanely happy. She annoys me yet I am very proud of her. We shared a childhood. She is my past, present and future. But the fact that she knows me so well makes it infuriating that she sees right through most of the crap I say and write. Our relationship is both maddening yet easy. I could tell her anything, yet I end up telling her nothing more often than not and our relationship is no different. She still knows me better than anyone else does.
Willow is a good runner and will be doing her own half marathon in a few weeks’ time. She is also an excellent mum to two gorgeous girls and an employee at her local high school and a university student. I would say she is an inspiration but it doesn’t really seem to do her justice. I feel as though she does not require our admiration or emulation. She is simply magnificent and will always continue to be so.
I am immeasurably sad that I can’t run in honour of her on Sunday.
For those of you wondering, I went to see the Physio last week and he was adamant that I would not be able to run the half marathon. I didn’t believe him, but that is what he said. I held out hope that I would make a miraculous recovery.
Everybody else I spoke to and messaged also agreed I shouldn’t attempt it- it wasn’t worth the risk of injuring myself for Noosa, they said. I understood this argument, but I also don’t believe in it. I feel as though this half marathon and the Noosa Tri are governed by two totally different fates: If I am meant to do The Noosa Tri, the half marathon would not be able to stop me; If I am meant to get injured for Noosa, it will happen whether I run on Sunday or not.
If I stopped doing things in order to preserve myself for Noosa, I’ll have to stop training too!
So I still held out hope. I am not an elite athlete. I didn’t have to get a good time in my first half marathon. My story is about trying things, not about doing well at things. I only needed to get to the point where I could complete the race.
On Tuesday last week Shane came home from a work meeting with a bottle of magic potion that he had procured from his boss’ wife, who is a Naturopath. This was possibly one of the most romantic things Shane had ever done for me. After I had recovered from the shock of realising he had actually listened to me complaining about my hip to various people and that he cared enough to discuss my predicament with someone he thought might help, I rubbed the strange liquid all over my right leg and on my back as well (because the Physio believes my hip problem is actually caused by a back problem)
With the potion applied, I continued to hope.
On Sunday I was finally able to talk to my mum properly. After some mildly heated ‘discussion’ she accepted that I was still hoping to run the race, and laid down the law: I had to run 5km before Sunday otherwise I had to pull out.
For some reason, this seemed like a fair and reasonable way to decide my fate. I felt sure I could run 5km.
So last night, I decided to run. I spent about twenty minutes warming up carefully, doing extra amounts of every move I know to ensure maximum chance of success. I started slowly, walking a hundred metres gently before striding out into a run. I ran. I hobbled. I stumbled. And I stopped. I could not run 100 metres.
I thought I’d have another go tonight. But I realise, reluctantly, it is futile: The choice has been made for me.
I am out of the half marathon. I physically can’t run it.
As some strange consolation, I found out that the women’s Olympic Triathlon is on at midnight Saturday night (Brisbane time) so instead of having an early night to prepare for an epic race in honour of an epic woman, I can have a late night crying and cheering and crying again as I watch some heroes achieve amazing things. There may or may not be beer involved.
It’s a wonderful time to be a human.