Parkrun may have cost me a pyjama day on the lounge, and some serious toddler treat negotiations with Little so I did not have to actually parent. Hell, it will probably cost me an entire weekend, but the cognitive overload and exhaustion was oh so worth it.
Guess who challenged her crazy self to a solo Parkrun with nothing but a sketchy mental map, a white mobility cane with a rover wheel adaption for ease of use, a buzzy thing known as a Mini Guide, and a Bow Tie Running Rope guide tether on her hip in case she made a friend along the way?
Chosen for its flexibility, yet not too close not too far apart design, this Running Rope would give me and my fiction the freedom to synchronise our movement, but forgive us our just getting to know one another form. In fact, one of our inspirations behind this particular Running Rope was the Parkrun format with its frequent routes along shared pedestrian and cycle paths.
And Away We Go
I was excited about my first foray into racing solo since my youth, and not within the safety, predictability, and comfortable confines of an athletic track no less. Hats off to Paul Sinton-Hewitt who founded the movement in 2004. A free five kilometre time trial run through local parks and bushland every Saturday morning all around the world.
This is awesome, I thought, as it simultaneously dawned on me that this was madness, utter madness, and that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. That was when I began to get nervous, and question the question mark of capability I had been living with for quite some time.
Road racing alone has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and the weight of it was really beginning to hamper my recently renewed sense of self, or the self I one day hope to be.
What can I say? Regular exercise has a lot to answer for. It has this way of making the impossible seem very and utterly completely plausible. You wonder why you had not considered the deliciously daring bad arsery stroke of genius possibility as doable before. Sure, this was not a real road race, but it was as close as I was going to get, and I could definitely live with that.
Prepared For Anything
The truth was I had to be prepared for this to fail. I had to accept that maybe this would not be possible after all, and that if it were not, that did not make me less of a person. All I was doing was going for a run along a predetermined pathway with approximately one hundred and seventy nine people I did not know.
Okay, so technically I was not alone, as my amazing sister and handsome husband were on the course, along with a handful of volunteers. This was probably just as well given how inaccurate the construct of my know it all narrative was regarding the route. I had only done the course once before earlier in the year, and back then I was not in the space to comprehend anything. So why I thought my carefully constructed intellect of how things were could be trusted is somewhat ridiculous.
All I had to do was get around that first one kilometre loop, and the rest was pretty much a straight out and back. It was nice and even, nice and flat, with no twists, no turns, and no forks in the road to tempt me with their promises of adventure, or so I thought.
I spent much of my run having no idea where I was, confused about what I didn’t know, relying on the shadowy shapes of the world, whispering of the wind, the footsteps of others, and faith in my madness and mobility skills to guide my path. This meant that passing the blue shirt in front, for example, was a risk, because what if I missed the next turn?
This of course I totally did on almost every occasion. I say almost, because surely by the grace of running I must have gotten one of them right, even if it incidentally happened to be the corner nearest my husband, whom I am so familiar, is like a part of me.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Every stride was fraught with dilemma, and was a fight against evolution. What if I fell? What if I ran the wrong way? What if I got lost and could not find my way back? What if I crashed into someone? I just kept going, because this was seriously way too much fun.
My slightly modified mobility cane bounced awkwardly in front of me, while the buzzy thing which vibrates when it detects obstacles within a particular range proved useless. I wanted to ditch them both, because they were making a mockery of my technique and slowing me down. However, if I indulged in my desire to push the envelope of expectation and accomplishment that little bit further, and see if I could read the road with nothing but my footfall and the subtle echo off my visor, how would people know to give me a little more room, or more understanding?
Sometimes using a white mobility cane is not about me. Well it is, but sometimes it is more about others, and the allowances we each need to make for one another. Therefore, I continued to hold my cane out of respect for my fellow participants.
The Charles Bonnet hallucinations kicked in at the 1500 metre mark, and that’s when things got interesting. God bless that man who in 1760 put a name to the craziness experienced by people with kick arse vision loss. Apparently it did not hit the English speaking realm of understanding until the 1980’s. Basically it involves seeing things that are not really there, be it flashes, colours, patterns, people, and all manner of strangeness. Most of the time I know they are not real, but I do confess to almost tripping over my feet when the lion appeared on the path. Personally, I experience them most frequently when my brain and body are under strain or stress. However, they can occur at any random moment, regardless of my state of being.
But still I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and wondered why it felt so hard and heavy, when in my head I see myself as moving easily.
In a gallant move, I pick up the pace, and immediately become entirely distracted regarding what to do now I had overtaken the coloured shape in front I had been diligently following for the last kilometre. I had been wondering if they would keep me on track for my sub-thirty-minute aspiration.
Not wearing a watch means that I am at the mercy of my body instead of a beeper, and something told me I needed to pick it up. I felt I had already spent everything on the basics such as not running into the shrubbery, and I was not even half way through this very bad, terrible, horrible, oh I love it, best thing ever idea.
What was I supposed to do without a lighthouse to guide my ship? I felt vulnerable and unsure.
It did not help that others had not verbally answered my cheery good morning as I had passed. I can only assume they were wearing headphones and did not hear me speak. At least that is what I hope happened, rather than the alternative universe where they were too embarrassed to speak to me because of my disability so said nothing.
Should I stop? Nah, because that would suck! I thought with a giggle.
Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Surely the turnaround point is approaching. This hurts. I am not fit enough. I do not remember this part. This is more complicated than I thought. Everything looks the same. Nothing looks the same. Because yeah, I know how things look, right? Where am I? Bla bla bla!
I was pulled from the white noise of my mind when my trusty white mobility cane failed at the 3500 metre mark. I was just considering whether or not to fold it up and run without it, or… umm… actually there was no or. I mean how hard could it possibly be, right? Sure, I had no idea where the finish line was, or in fact, where I was in relation to my ambition, but I had this, and this was awesome!
The Good Samaritan
And that is when it happened. That is when I finally made a friend.
Sure, other runners had occasionally spoken to me as the race progressed, but this was different. This was not a typical just passing and thought I would say hi temporary type exchange. This was a let us bring this baby home together solid interaction.
Charles, you are a giant among men. Your approach was beautiful. Nothing pretentious, patronising, or condescending about it. A simple question from one runner to another. “Can I run with you?”
I practically melted with a relief I could barely articulate or acknowledge. I folded up my white mobility cane and unhooked my Bow Tie Running Rope guide tether from my Black Utility Runner’s Belt. I handed him one end, grabbed hold of the other, and off we went.
The Home Stretch
Before I knew it we were at the 4700 metre mark and I was almost sorry it was going to be over. Where had the distance gone? We had casually chatted for the duration, only stopping once to hand my now null and void mobility aids to my amazing sister as we passed. It was all I could do not to hug her.
As we crossed the finish line at that illusive 5000 metre mark, I was happy and fulfilled. I had finally triumphed over my self-judgement. Sure, my time was not what I had hoped, and nothing had been what I had imagined, but that was because it was too busy being something even greater.
I have no desire to run a Parkrun, or any kind of race alone again, but in perhaps the biggest gift of all, the experience has uncoupled me from the indoctrination of thinking I was missing out on something special by not being able to run alone. As it turns out, for me, the magic is made when I have a good guide runner by my side.
Obviously a humble thank you to all the walkers, runners and volunteers who provided directions when I inevitably needed them. You will never know how your simple acts of humanity helped to release me from the burden of low self-confidence I had been carrying.
How do I tell you that your gentle hand on my back in order to navigate me safely past those bollards, which because I can’t see them surely don’t exist, made a meaningful difference in my world? How do I tell you that your repeated instructions about turning left reacquainted me with the present and kept me grounded for the rest of the run? How do I tell you that your very participation contributed to my dream of independence and rock-out running fierceness coming true?
So whether you nodded, smiled, waved, thought a happy thought, or did not even notice me, please accept my thanks for making me feel welcome and included as part of the Parkrun community.
Shall we do it all over again next week?