If A Woman In A Run Club Falls In The Forest, Does Anybody Hear?
Most Wednesday nights I go to Run Club, a casual lycra-and-sneakers get-together organised by the owner of a local shoe shop.
Running is often a solitary pastime, so it’s nice to do it alongside other people for a change (plus, the 6pm start time means somebody else has to cook the dinner).
The majority of the Run Club members are stringy men who dash up mountains in their spare time and own both “training” shoes and “race” shoes, whatever that means. I’m not quite as quad-tastic -- I find the Wednesday runs so hard that I have to excuse myself at the end for a private dry retch.
It’s not so bad when we run around town. The slopes are gentle, the footpaths are smooth, and I can generally keep up. But every second week we hit the trails. That’s how you say it if you’re a serious runner: “Hit the trails”. This means: let’s throw off the constraints of modern society and channel our inner prehistoric spirit.
During winter, we have to wear headlamps -- yes, we are so trendy. Bystanders no doubt say to each other, “Why are those miners running to work?” I bought the cheapest headlamp possible, of course, so it lights up basically my own nose and that’s it. I’m okay if I’m in the middle of the running pack -- it’s like daylight in there -- but if not, well.
One Wednesday evening in mid-June, Run Club met at a local park that backs onto a mountain-bike track. The first 200m of the run followed a gravel path -- easy as! -- then we turned abruptly into AN ACTUAL FOREST.
The “path” was covered in puddles and sludge, crevasses and rocks. We were basically just weaving in and out of the eucalypts, leaping over fallen branches and listening to the squelchy harmonies of our muddy sock choir.
After 20 minutes of this, several parts of my body began to deteriorate. My pace decreased. I dropped away from the group. The main Run Club rule: call out if you can’t keep up. Um, but calling out is EMBARRASSING and also ADMITTING DEFEAT.
I stayed silent and watched the white glow of the expensive headlamps gradually recede. As I was gobbled up by the darkness I started thinking about which materials I’d use to build a humpy, and what kind of small native animals I’d trap in order to avoid starvation.
I have to say, picturing yourself eating a rat sure helps boost determination! So I ignored my burning thighs and exploding lungs, stopped paying attention to the uneven surface beneath my feet, and picked up the pace.
Then I fell over.
If a woman falls in the forest, and no-one is around, does she still make a sound? Yes -- she goes CLONK. Because that is the noise of a skull hitting rock.
Ah, how ironic: I hit the trails, and then I literally hit the trail.
Luckily, the closest men realised I’d gone down and came to laugh at the silly lady offer me assistance. “I am fine!” I lied, leaping up. “I absolutely do not require a … a … one of those siren-y things.”
We still had about two kilometres to go. Maybe three. Blood was running down my face, but nothing seemed sore. In fact, I had this strange, almost euphoric, feeling of being famous and mortified at the same time, which gave me the strength to finish the run.
The next day, however, the extent of my injuries became apparent. My right side was unscathed, but my left leg looked like it’d been in a scrap with a mildly annoyed possum. My cheekbone was cut and bruised, I couldn’t lift my left arm, and my entire skull felt like it was pressing on my brain. I had a headache for five days.
Running in the dark, I surmised, is a bastard.
And then I met Barry.
A few months ago, we started our own exclusive Run Club -- a Tuesday morning event that involves doing six steady laps of a footy oval. No eucalypts, no slippery rocks, no hills.
As soon as I see Barry, I grab his hand, get out my tether -- a piece of calico with a knot at either end -- and off we go. He stays on my right so that I’m on the inside of our anti-clockwise running circle. Whenever I turn, the tether goes taut, signalling him to turn too.
Barry has four percent vision in his right eye and no vision in his left. Unlike me, he has no choice -- he always runs in the dark.
Sometimes when we jog I think about how scared I felt during that night-time trail run. And then I look at Barry -- relaxed the whole time, chatting away, not a care in the world -- and I think, maybe running in the dark isn’t such a bastard. Perhaps I could channel my inner prehistoric spirit again. I just need to make a new Run Club rule: if your headlamp’s shit, bring a piece of knotted calico.