Race Report from Susan Marshall – Solo Female race winner
There was good reason to cancel the marathon and marathon relays this Sunday. Storms in Sydney had flooded the ground and the weather forecast predicted rain, mud, sludge, low visibility, blisters, cold and general misery for runners and helpers alike. Feeling a little tired from long runs and a long couple of weeks, I found myself hoping that the promised communication from the Race Director, upon inspection of the course on the eve of the race would bring the message “Race Cancelled.” No one wants to pull out of a race, but if someone makes that decision for us, well, what can you say?
But instead – with a slight change to the route we were all advised to lace up our shoes and report to the start line, ready for 7am. As I waited in the dawn just after 6 in the rain that dripped upon the crowd, I had to force myself to cheer up and not resist the wet weather. The enthusiasm of the runners gathered was revealed when a gentleman took the opportunity to thank the Race Director for going ahead, and everyone broke out in applause. There I saw the necessity of events like these ones. They bring us together, we offer our mutual inspiration, enthusiasm and encouragement. Even though we run alone, we achieve things we could never do independently.
Start time unhesitatingly entered the arena with the confidence of a force that unconditionally proceeds, ambivalent to those of us forever chasing it. Fortunately we were ready. Each participant had put weeks and months of planning, commitment and dedication into this day. Teams were organised and ready to run, strategies calculated and team spirit accumulated. Soloists had snacks and supplements carefully measured, water and drinks apportioned and stashed under trees. After the moment of silence customary at all Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team events we were off. Teams fired out their first runners and they galloped forward with colourful batons. Over the course of the day I saw these batons stuffed in to shorts, wedged under straps and clenched in hands as they were passed around, the field changing constantly as runners rotated their shifts. Faster runners flashed by, slower runners provided food for the chase as we battled the growing tension of that invisible elastic anchoring us to our starting point.
The course, surprisingly to me at least, was actually pretty dry. We danced tight margins around craters lakes that had formed on the track, calculating the distance and speed of oncoming runners to pick the path around or through, gambling the route of least resistance against the chance of a head on collision. One runner leapt a quick gap on me and cheered me with a cheeky “just made it!” It was also quite beautiful. Huge palms looked alien and enchanting against the quaint sports field, fronds forming canopies over us, gateways before unseen footpaths. The giant lakes and lily ponds on either side of the track plucked the raindrops that fell, that strange osmosis through which the Earth invites the sky beneath it. The colours melded in the dark light and all washed in to the landscape, with runners bright shirts, shorts and batons spilt onto the scene.
One unusual challenge I faced was with my glasses. They are on their way out, already pieced together with wire, and several times whilst wiping off the raindrops and sweat I popped the lens. Twice it fell on to the gravel and I bumbled along trying to negotiate it back in to a loose frame. Giving up, I dropped them on the team at the finish line, asking, “Please fix,” and “See you in a lap.” Seeing their self giving and willingness to help others I resolved to contribute to the race positively in the way that I could, by being unconditionally happy with however the race went. Whether I did well or failed in my body or mind, I hoped that I could offer to others something that might uplift, encourage and inspire them.
To help keep my mind peaceful, I picked out favourite sections and made sure to value their unique offering as I passed through. The best was about a kilometre from the start line, along the white wooden horse fences. The ground was extra firm and I seemed able to fly for about 30 metres, the hard earth throwing my weight back off it, instead of absorbing it, the clay soaking up my steps like all the more blood and matter for its rewrite of land’s forms.
As our lap tallies grew, those of us circling the 4k loop started to recognise each other. Runners are a friendly bunch and I really marvel at how even when they are suffering and struggling themselves they will still take the time to hearten each other on. I know from experience that as a spectator you can feel like a broken record chanting the same “Go, Go!” and “Looking Great!” but as a participant I can tell you these sweet lies make you feel so good. As the final runners chosen from each team to pull in the finish line neared, all members would join them, charging over the timing mats in final whoops of joy and achievement, the team spirit and character all the more pronounced when viewed as a unit complete.
Towards the end my own energy was dwindling. There are many pieces in the puzzle that makes a good race. Training, hydration, nutrition, your mindset, even details like your glasses contribute to your overall finishing time. We are more than just bodies clocking up kilometres, we are an amalgam of thoughts, feeling and history that energises and is transformed by every experience. Once while running a multi day race, struggling with injuries and not dealing with it very well, a friend said to me, “Miles you forget, it is the inner experience that stays with you.” So while my goal in every race is a faster time, I try to remember that my reason is to create a feeling of peace and satisfaction, from having explored new avenues, from looking and listening for what really works, from making honest and sincere efforts and in the process discovering more about myself and about life. Experience fluctuates and changes but the life that accompanies us along the ups and downs can be forgotten if we search for it only at the peaks. And this is the experience of all runners, of anyone who tries for anything. Just as the finish line inevitably comes to those who start the marathon, life’s road gives us the way forward, often choosing the way, if we open our eyes and start moving.