Updated: May 23
Day 1 Leg 1. (Saturday August 3, 9:00am).
I’ve just had a sneaky Parkrun and popped down to Rond Terrace. Bit early. The plan is to start here with Tony, and link up with Nei-kiewa at the foot of Red Hill. Easy. I haven’t met Tony, so I’m relying on him to find me. Should be okay. I’m the only one here.
On the terrace above where I stand, a fella runs past yelling and waving an arm in the air. I have no idea what he’s saying, so I just smile and wave back figuring that must be Tony. 10 minutes later he’s back. Of course it’s Tony. We chat a bit and at 9am we move out. The pace is steady, and quick enough to make good ground. Tony tells me about his life in Breadbo where he and his wife recently moved following his early retirement. They’ve got a house, 13 acres, dogs, and a hill out the back. It all sounds very, very pleasant. Tony tells me why he runs. He’s someone with goals: weight goals, speed goals, distance goals. I like that. We pass the Nara Peace Park, if I weren’t doing this I’d be joining a park maintenance working bee there. The ‘Shika-no-Tomo’ (translates to ‘Friends of Deer’, anyone who’s been to Nara will know why) guys will have to manage without me today.
Some tourists ask us how to get to Parliament House, I tell them the easiest way is to follow the bike-path they are on. I can see them weighing this claim against the facts: it's a dull morning of 5 degrees and this bearded guy is in sunnies and shorts. They squeeze together the openings in their heavy coats and scuttle off in a different direction.
So we run. We skirt around the west corner of the Parliament and follow Melbourne Avenue. On route to Red Hill my working-class soul cringes at the sight of the Stratford-upon-Avon trimmings of the grammar school.
Nei-kiewa is waiting, and after a brief stop we’re moving. The route follows the base of the hill, and we climb from the west. At the top we’re in the mist and we pause for a moment to acknowledge the Country we are on. At the Mt. David trig marker we take photos then momentarily I lead in the wrong direction, but I realise we should be going down not up and we correct. Alongside Hindmarsh drive I’m looking to the left for the tunnel and we follow a trail over the top of it. Things start to look very wrong, so we backtrack and realise my mistake. No problem, we carry on. Through the tunnel and the scrub we find our way to the Isaacs Ridge trail.
Somewhere here Tony announces “I’m done”. He will take a direct line back to his car where he will wait for us and “listen to podcasts”. Sometimes there’s a podcast you can’t wait to listen to.
Nei-kiewa wants to continue, and we do. We chat about how weird economists’ brains are, about gender bias in the design of everyday things, about the struggles of underemployment. We bag the Isaacs trig marker and follow the downward hook that brings us to the tunnel under Yamba drive. We traverse the Farrer Ridge mostly in silence. On the east flank of Mt. Taylor we’re aware of closing in to the end of the leg. But between there and here is a mountain. Climbing higher the view over the Southern end of the Bush Capital and the Tidbinbilla Range is grand. Finally the fog is lifting. We bag our third trig marker and for a couple of minutes our knees complain as descend the steep and unforgiving asphalt.
We high five at the checkpoint location, but keep the pace up out to where Tony is waiting in his car on Waldock Street. He’s smiling about having completed his 3rd longest run ever. Nei-kiewa runs circles to round up the digits on her GPS watch.
I leave them and pop over Oakey Hill to jump on a bus on Melrose Drive. The bright sun and solid blue sky say the black cockatoos on Isaacs Ridge are jokers.
Before the second practice I put in some solo time on the course. Thursday the 8th I head out for my daily run and see an Echidna at the base of Mt. Majura. Then, just because it feels good to run, I follow the leg 4 route to the War Memorial before heading home.
On Saturday the 10th I follow a plan to recce the new leg 2. I want to make sure I don't take the group the wrong way. I lay down the kms to get the course off the map and into my head. I finish feeling strong, and not at all worried about the 30km run on the next day.
Day 2 Leg 3 (Sunday, August 11, 10am).
Mutsumi and I sit in the car at Dickson College car park looking at each car that arrives. ‘Is that him?’ we wonder. What kind of car would a man like Brendan drive? Bang on 8:30 a white wagon pulls into the carpark: it’s him. We jump in and go. Brendan is someone I’m aware of. I see his long runs on strava, I know he’s done the Buffalo Stampede, and he beat me and Matty G. at last year’s Bush Cap. 63km. But all in all I’ve not spent more than a couple of minutes actually talking to him.
What kind of man is Brendan? His driving is zippy, no nonsense. His eyes are bright, his speech clear. His shoe of choice is the Inov-8 Trailroc. He says he might skip the final section because he’s “ou fait” with that. He’s the kind of man who says “ou fait” all nonchalant-like. Boom. Mutsumi is smiling, nodding. The hairs on the back of my neck sense the thought ‘what the fuck does that mean?’ slide through the third circumvolution of her brain, in Japanese.
We get to Coombs and alight. In seconds signals from three orbiting bodies have traversed the stratosphere and located our wrists. I take a moment to acknowledge the custodians of this ancient land. We go.
O’er the Molongolo and into the pines, Brendan tells me about his work as a recruitment data analyst. Here’s a chance to get some tips about how to get my job applications past the A.I. sorting software I’ve heard about. He tells me that no, the A.I. isn’t that smart yet. It’s the recruiters deciding I’m not good enough. Oh.
We follow the Arboretum Boundary track. Close to the main building we stop again to peer back over the snow-covered Brindabellas. On the descent towards the cork oak forest, Brendan asks me about my doctorate. “Yep” I say. “I wrote about a period of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure’s career that had been overlooked in the literature. I was able to establish that the origins of the concept of the Language Mechanism - a central component to his theory of general linguistics - lie in a collaboration he undertook with the psychologist Theodore Flournoy.” I explain Flournoy’s concepts of cryptomnesia and teleological automatism and how they impacted Saussure’s observation of trance-state attempts of Catherine-Elise Muller to speak in Sanskrit, a language she claimed to have never learned. I keep it concise because there’s running to be done. We run.
We leave the Arboretum behind and cross under William Hovall drive. I recall that Hamilton Hume’s diary is a sustained meditation on the uselessness William Hovall. Over the fence in Frost’s Hollow we see that the path is now marked with stones. That helps a little. Through here the topic of conversation is workflow and productivity and the value of lunchtime runs. Mutsumi runs strongly through the Aranda Bushlands. Focused. The route bends back to the south for a long lead-up to the only hard ascent in leg 3.
On the Black Mountain descent we take a moment to admire the view, then take a photo in which Brendan resembles the Ironman.
When we cross under Barry Drive Brendan announces that it’s time for him to take a line back to his car instead. We say our goodbyes and carry on in opposite directions.
Mutsumi is keen to finish the route properly, so we stick to the Centenary Trail section leading to Bruce Ridge. The asphalt traversing the ridge is quickly dispatched and we pass the boulders back onto the dirt, tacking a northward line to the ridge’s end. Now it’s the town section: roads and bike paths. We take the canal under Northbourne. This year in addition to cars there are trams. Who can wait for that? The bike path leads us back to Dickson College. It’s not been an easy run, but we toughed it out. Ironman Brendan has already returned to his car and uploaded his data.
Time for home, a shower, calories.
Day 3 Leg 4 (Saturday, August 17).
Today we start a little later. Why? Parkrun. Kids’ soccer. It’s hard to get out of bed. The reasons are many and varied. It’s 10am and five of us - Ian, Tim, Matt, Scott and I - are standing around at Dickson College.
Allie turns up, Miriam will meet us a little further along. We’re waiting on David. I message him but there’s no reply. I acknowledge Country, describe the route, hand out a special treat: home-baked energy bars. At 10:05 we move out.
We head south, following the canal, and ride the top of the bank till the short ascent I call the Ainslie parkrun kicker. Then we swing left to head north on the undulating high track. Allie and Peach keep a good pace out front. Allie is a vet, mostly treats horses, clinic in Murrambateman, only took up running a couple of years ago, plays state level field hockey for the ACT.
I drop back to run with Scott who is playing sweeper, to “give the other guys a kick if they slack off.” Good job, Scotty. He tells me about what it was like in the AFP: you’re always at risk of being suspected as a security threat, anyone can accuse you, so you’re compelled to declare any conversation about illegal activity (real or imagined) to save your job. The organization also encourages you to remove yourself from social groups to reduce the risk of “inappropriate influence”. I’m reminded by this line of reasoning of something I heard about North Korean life called the ‘public criticisms’. Each week communities are required to come together to accuse each other of crimes against the state, so that it is impossible to develop bonds of trust with your neighbours - because bonds of trust can lead to subversion of the state.
We reach the Majura power lines track. This is a chance to get the heart rate up. I run to the top of the powerlines, no hiking. Then I grab my camera and take a photo of Scotty, who also did not break his stride. True story.
We get to the top. Miriam is waiting. We enjoy our energy bars.
Scott takes the lead on the descent. He wants to turn short of the true route and take the single track. “Through the gate” I yell “through the gate, and to the right.” We descend.
I run ahead to make sure we catch a short single track section: no deviation from the data.
Hackett ridge is good, but most are walking on the hill. I hang back, then run ahead to make sure we catch the single track segue to the Mt. Ainslie east-flank section. Suddenly there’s discussion of a short cut to Mt. Ainslie summit. Ian, Scott and Tim make a beeline for the "back-door" ascent.
4 of us stay on the route down the farside loop. There are a couple of missable turns on the way back up the mountain, so I make sure we’re all hitting the route.
Tim, Scott and Ian are waiting at the summit. They’ve revived themselves on coffee. We snap a couple of photos before the team heads back to their cars.
I continue alone on the concrete descent. It’s horrible: one of two short sections on the whole course that I find impossible to enjoy (the other being the descent of Mt. Taylor). I put on the pace past the war memorial and push on down ANZAC parade. A group of maybe 50 runners with packs is coming towards me. IB training, no doubt. I make the loop under Parkes Way and finish on the grass of Rond Terrace. It’s hot. I’m tired and thirsty, but the legs are ok. I sit for a bit and take in the view before plodding out the 6km home.
Day 4 Leg 2 (Sunday, August 25).
It’s been a rough week for a runner like me. The day following last week’s practice I did the 6 hour Woden Metrogaine with Mutsumi and Greg and Elena, and their 4-year-old, Alex in a child carrier. After 3.5 hours I offered to carry Alex so Greg could have a break. This was a lesson in how tough Greg is. I finished the rogaine in a poor state, and went straight to bed when I got home. I don’t know if that’s what did it, but beforehand I had a hamstring niggle and since my whole left side has felt twisted. I still run, but only manage about 80km for the week. I probably should have kept the pace off at parkrun. Shoulda, coulda, didn’t. Now it’s time for a long run.
Mutsumi and I swing by Coombs to pick up Mal, then we find Sheryn on Eucumbene st. We’re strangers so we chat about work on the way to Waldock St. and park on the edge of the Mt. Taylor reserve.
I acknowledge Country, describe the course, and we move out. It’s good to be a group of 4 so we can travel in pairs. Here and there I give pointers about the route. Sheryn and Mal will both actually be running this section on the day, Mal for Mutsumi’s team ‘I am Emu MaGun’.
We skirt Mt. Taylor’s west flank before peeling off to run the edges of Kambah. The route follows gully, then footpath, then road, and we’re back in a nature reserve. The line over Cooleman Ridge is new this year.
The line up Mt. Arawang is direct, and then we follow the ridgeline. Sheryn is telling Mutsumi about a recent nasty ultimate frisbee hand injury. We're preparing for a race: let's avoid breaking any bones.
The views over the Brindabellas are always great from here. We move off the Ridge and join the BNT for a spell before catching a sneaky single track through the grass. Then it’s out to the edge of the burbs again before jumping a fence and skirting round the back of Narrabundah Hill. We climb and descend to Eucumbene Street, where we reach Sheryn’s bail-point.
We part ways and three of us continue on to Mt Stromlo. This is where things start to get hard for soloists in the race, and probably for some of the leg 2 runners, too. There’s not much interesting about this climb, it’s just a dirt road you’ve got to grind your way up. The views back across the city are good, if you’ve got time to look. At the top, the ruins of the old astronomy facility remind me of my twisted leg. No point being dramatic, there’s running to be done. We fill our bottles at the summit water fountain and head for the descent. Mutsumi keeps step as Mal spots the turns from last year. We’re back down to Stromlo HQ, then cross a short stretch of single track which leaves us on a disused stretch of Uriarra Road, where we take the centre line. A concrete path leads use under John Gorton Drive. Finally we angle our trajectory between holdens creek and Molonglo river through to the old Coombs Parkrun start point.
It’s been a tough run and we’re glad to finish. Mal gives us a lift back to Waldock Street.
I’m en route to a second consecutive month of over 500km of running, a feat I have never achieved before. But it won’t happen. In a couple of days I will finally have to admit that I have an overuse injury. What started as a tight hamstring has developed into pain in the knee, hip and plantar fascia. So I will rest and risk losing some fitness and hope that I’m healthy by race day.
Thanks to all who turned up for the practice legs: Nei-kiewa, Tony, Mutsumi, Brendan, Allie, Ian, Tim, Scott, Matt, Miriam, Sheryn and Mal.
Now there’s just one week to go. Who’s ready?