today i ran 4 km.
for the past 6 weeks i’ve been living with my mum up north, on the central coast of queensland. she lives cliffside above 2 bays. to the left, looking out across the sea to the keppel isles, is lammermoor beach. to the right is statue bay and then further around is rosslyn bay, with its ticky tacky houses for millionaires and its marina full of sleek fishing boats and yachts. it is here that the boats leave for the islands, and it is here that my father died, in the carpark of the island ferry fleet. he died on a fairly hot day, with the paper under his arm, in the deserted carpark. cause of death was a caved in skull, from head meeting unforgiving ground. hard. i mean it’s more complex than that, in terms of cause and effect, but effectively it was as brutal as that. i’m not sure of the exact wording on the death certificate.
mum continues to live in the home she shared with dad above the bays. today it is 3 years, 8 months and 8 days since his death, “but who’s counting?” says my mum, and laughs. i’ve visited here often, while dad was still alive and since. this visit is different, though. i’ve committed to caring for mum for a while. she is usually cared for by my older sister, but my sister’s partner is undergoing treatment for a glioblastoma which is a pretty aggressive brain cancer. we don’t know what will happen. so, i am here in the interim. being the good daughter has never been my strong suit. i figured it was time to try that one on for size and i have found it to be both challenging and rewarding.
my mum is a 79 year old woman who went blind about 18 months after my dad died. she went blind fairly rapidly due to bleeds and the resultant scarring below the macula, or wet macula degeneration. hence her need for care. although perhaps i overstate her need for care. “companioning” is a term i prefer, since my mum is bright, fit, active and autonomous and has a wide circle of friends and extended family who have taken her to heart. but blindness is a bitch. while mum is extremely capable, the world is made for sighted people, and she needs assistance navigating such a world, sometimes with the simplest of tasks.
one thing which is a constant feature of mum’s life is walking. she walks at least 6km most days, sometimes more. she walks down the hill behind her home, following a makeshift path my dad cut into the side of the hill. she exits this path onto a busy road. to the right is a blind corner. and the the left, a blind corner. she walks to the middle, between these two corners and stands, listening, until she hears nothing at all, and then crosses the road to the beach. she walks to the end of the beach and back, a distance of six kilometers, and people call out to her along the way, “hello sue!”. often she has no idea who is talking to her, but gaily replies and waves her white stick. she doesn’t always carry her white stick. a friend up the road modded it for her so that it sports a flashing red light. her disco stick.
since i have been here, i walk with mum to places she can’t go on her own. a favourite walk is “round the bluff”, a pretty and challenging walk up to the top of the bluff at kemp beach. the walk meanders through native bushland, along a well-kept path with stone steps and natural features. we walk at a brisk pace, mum navigating the steps and uneven topography with ease. she knows this path well, but keeps an ear on my rhythms in front of her and if it is a sunny day, she can see some high contrast features. nobody would guess she was blind. we pass slower walkers breathing hard, moaning about the steep climb and reach the top breathing easily, ready for the downward path. i marvel at my mum’s resilience, fitness and strength.
on most days i rise well before mum, so that i can go for a run along lammermoor beach, the 6km beach. i do this so that i can be present with my mother when we walk, and not be wishing i was running instead. walking with a companion is a luxury for my mum, who is most often alone, though not lonely, when she walks. still, she is alone with her thoughts and i know that to be relieved of the constancy of her inner narrative is a blessing. so we take to the beach together, or the bush, and as happens when the legs move and the body follows and there is forward and meandering motion, talk flows.
alot of my companioning has revolved around these walks, and a good part of the day is devoted to the daily constitutional. my sister has started walking with us, and she sometimes brings a friend. an old family friend will occasionally meet us on zilzie back beach and my friend frank and his dog katie walks with us too, when they can. so with this motley crew, we walk and talk. mum often complains to me that the others don’t walk fast enough. it is the same complaint she has about audio books. “they read so slowly! i just wish they’d get to the point!”. as a voracious speed reader when she was sighted, she finds the dramatisation, the pausing – everything that makes an audio book an apparently enjoyable experience – intolerable.
i’m not a natural athlete. running is hard work for me, and painful. i have never managed to grow stronger, to run faster, to find my ease with running. nevertheless, i have been running for years; as an antidote to depression and anxiety, as a way to live well, as a way to unravel knotty conundrums, and as a way to simply move forward into the day.
at home, the running is all road running. my current domicile is in the heart of hippy land. in the hills of tuntable creek, near nimbin. if i turn right out the front of my house it’s a good few kilometers of gradual ascent, with a few steep inclines thrown in. if i turn left it’s a good few kilometers of knee, hip and spine jarring downhill running. using the knees as brakes doesn’t leave them in great shape.
here, at my mum’s place, i have the luxury of a 6km beach at my doorstep, which i can turn into a 12km beach by simply doubling that turnaround. if i want to add on some hill running, i simply take a turn around the neighborhood, running up to the watertower (calves screaming) before winding my way back down to the beach, kicking off my shoes and settling into the beach run.
on most of my visits here in the past, when i’m walking with mum on the beach, we will pass beverley, mum’s neighbour, running along the beach, doing her requisite 6 or 12km run. beverley is in her mid-late 60s and is a veteran marathoner. she is always training for something. this time it was the gold coast marathon, she had entered the 10km run and as it happens she won her age group. on the day of her run i decided that i’d run 10km here, to honour her amazing spirit and endurance and to rehearse the thing which i may well do myself in 12 months from now. i ran the 10km in a very poor 1 hour and 10 minutes. beverley ran the course in 52 minutes.
soon after i arrived to stay with mum, beverley asked if i’d like to join her for her daily 6km training run. she has a schedule which includes road running with the local running group, hill training around the ‘hood, and track trials on a wednesday night. i felt trepidatious about doing the run with beverley, since i don’t think of myself as a runner, but rather as someone who runs. perhaps that is beginning to change. my trepidation was unfounded, and i found it easy to complete the 6km, running at a conversational pace, barefoot along the beach. beverley gave me some tips about pace, technique, and generally relaxing into where i am at. she keeps an eye on time, and we usually do the 6km in an easy 35 minutes or less.
beverley loaned me her book “on running” by dr george sheehan. written in the 70s, i can forgive the absence of references to female runners, and the primacy of “he” as a referent throughout the book, for it is full of eccentricities and before-its-time philosophical approaches to running, sports medicine and well-being in general. i think i warmed to him when he remarked “spectators have small, shriveled hearts”, which seemed to me to be applicable to leading a creative, politically engaged life at so many levels. this is how i think now. running is not just running.
and so i began to join beverley on the 8km road run on a tuesday morning, climbing the steep ascent to the water tower and pounding the pavement (though we do less pounding and more tip-toeing i guess – more on heel strikes and so on later…) around the brick veneers of the local ‘hood. the final leg, coming up to the water tower from the east is grueling. beverley has a song she sings to herself at such times. we don’t talk during this leg of the run. sometimes i walk for the final 50 steps or so, though i hate to resort to the walk. beverley waits patiently up the top of the hill, with her timer turned off. then we run home easily downhill and sprint for the last minute or so up the driveway.
on sundays i join beverley for a 12 km beach run. moving my running skills forward has been very rewarding. stuck between 4km and 6km for the last inconsistent decade, i never imagined a shift from that pattern. running further than i thought i could has had the ripple-out effect of setting me up for success with other challenges. in this case, writing. and in particular, writing my thesis.
and so i bless my blood blisters, my aching calves and beverley for turning me from someone who runs into a runner. and now to write…
running in nature