My greatest childhood sporting achievement was coming second-last in a running race at a sports carnival in Year 3. Unfortunately, a false-start was declared and the race had to be re-run and it wasn’t even me that false-started! I came second-last fair and square! Of course having used every ounce of strength in the first race, I came dead last in the re-run. The saddest part is that I thought it was probably for the best, imagining how bad that other kid would’ve felt coming last to me!
On the other hand, I naively believed that what I lacked in speed on the track, I made up for in the playground. On the rare occasions that I would be invited to join in a game of ‘catch and kiss’, I thought I was the fastest thing on two legs because no-one ever caught me… *sigh*… at least I only realised the truth of that situation in hindsight so as I experienced it, I was fleet of foot and could run like the wind…
Perhaps the same wind that I would feel years later in P.E. class at high school, flapping at my sports skirt as it unwrapped itself, unbeknownst to me, as I ran with all my might around the oval. Not only did I expose myself to my immediate peers but also to the 4 classrooms that looked out in horror at the sight of me running around in my daggy-old-threadbare-undies. I can still feel the sting of humiliation when I looked down to see why everything suddenly felt so breezy! It was soon after this traumatic event, and perhaps because of it, that I was pre-emptively appointed as a “time-keeper” for all future school cross-country events.
And so I formed a belief that I couldn’t run, a belief that became further entrenched and unchallenged until many more years later when I joined a gym and signed up for personal training sessions. My trainer put me on the treadmill to see how far and fast I could run. I was as dumbfounded by his assumption that I could run at all as he was by my alleged inability to do so. He humoured me and allowed me to walk to my limit and then turned it up a notch until my legs did this weird thing… they ran! I hadn’t realised how deep the delusion of my inability was until it was proved wrong. By the time I used up all my sessions, my trainer had me running farther and faster than I ever had before, which was one whole kilometre with him shouting and screaming encouragement all the way. It may not be far by comparison to the norm, but for me it was a marathon effort.
That was about three and a half years ago and I haven’t beaten my personal best since, nor have I had much inclination to do so. None the less, I thought I ought to give it another go as an obvious addition to a list of physical challenges. Unlike me, my sister Rachael has always been a natural athlete. She was Sports Captain in High School, became a personal trainer for a while and has generally kept fit in one way or another over the years. When I suggested I might give outdoor running a go, she was quick to volunteer her services.
We made a date and time and I hoped Rach would forget or postpone but she did neither and called at 6.45am on the appointed day to make sure I was ready… or not, she was on her way! We walked to the end of my street to the only road busier than the highway at the other end and started running! 2 minutes on, 2 minutes off until we reached a nearby oval. Although I was glad to be wearing well-fitting track pants this time, I struggled to find a rhythm with my breathing or to get breath in at all. We backed it off to 1 minute running, 2 minutes walking for a few more laps until I could take no more. It wasn’t that I was in any pain, I hadn’t even broken much of a sweat, I just couldn’t seem to get the air in. I felt relatively fine as we left the oval but by the time we reached my house, I felt the urge to run again… straight to the bathroom to throw up! I didn’t but only by sheer determination not to. To be honest, I felt pretty hardcore that I’d run until I almost puked!
Having made a start on April’s physical challenge, I’d also made time that day to return to January’s mission – bike riding. Although I had already declared ‘mission accomplished’ on this one, it was only by the slightest technicality – much more practice and guidance was needed for me to truly be able to ride a bike in a functional way and luckily my friend, Steve, was on hand to provide it. He rode around and started the lesson with the simple skill of how to walk my bike to avoid whacking myself in the legs and ankles as I had been. We found a seemingly quiet cul de sac which later proved to be almost as busy as the street I’d run on that morning. At one point an ambulance driver pulled up and seeing my fledgling efforts, assured us we could call on him if need be!
Steve patiently propped me up, pushed me along and expertly explained the dynamics of riding a bike. He got me to the point where I was pushing off on one pedal and gliding along with that momentum and the slight inclination of the road. I started to wonder if I might be able to just put my other foot up on the other pedal to see how it felt… I could… I did… I said to myself “PUSH!!!…I did… and I did it again… and again… and again… I was properly, actually, undeniably riding a bike!!! I couldn’t believe it and by the time I got the end of the street, turned around and saw the look on Steve’s face, I don’t think he could believe it either! Neither of us were expecting that to happen, not that day anyway!
I was so elated I stopped to explain to a woman and her two young sons passing by that they were witnessing a miracle. One of the little boys explained to me that it was most likely because they’d done a lot of work resealing the road recently and it was now very good for bike riding. The ambulance driver emerged back out from his home and seeing me now actually riding, good-naturedly, coughed “helmet!” under his breath which reminded me that I hadn’t even thought to put it on, so low were my expectations of actually riding that day. I put it on and rode down and down the street (I couldn’t ride it back up yet) until it was time to call it a day. We pushed the bikes back home just in time to avoid a torrential downpour. Giddy with the days achievements though, I was very tempted to go out in it for a swim just so I could be a triathlete for a day, albeit the world’s worst one!
In the time since, I’ve tried running again on the treadmill at the gym but have to admit that I lacked the motivation and will power to stick with it. I don’t enjoy it at all and for the time being think I may be better served with a lower-impact form of cardio at least until I’m in better shape. Nonetheless, I’m truly appreciative of Rach’s loving guidance and encouragement.
As for the bike, I took my 10 year old nephew back to the cul de sac to show him what I’d learnt and like his father before him, he patiently and intelligently encouraged me to go further still, showing me how to turn corners and coast without pedalling. He even showed me how tight my helmet should be, explaining “I don’t want to see you getting hurt”. I was as impressed by the maturity of his teaching ability and compassion as he convinced me he was of my riding skills.
Late last week, Steve returned to ramp up the lessons (literally) down at Sydney Park where I rode further than I have before, negotiating bends, getting half-way up hills and not hitting a single moving target! I did however manage to run over my own foot whilst riding and fall off at a complete stand still! None of this would have been possible without Marlon, Madiba and Steve’s patience, kindness and excellent senses of humour! To you all, I owe a great debt of gratitude.
Coming soon: May presents a double challenge. I don’t want to say too much but the first involves getting back in the ring and the second, well, I’ll just leave you with a famous cinematic quote to whet your appetite: “My name is Inego Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”