The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Niall Ste­wart Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

It’s a story as old as time; a young woman and an older man. It started in­no­cently enough. She was a for­mer stu­dent of mine, now study­ing for a PhD. I men­tioned that I was run­ning on the week­end, train­ing for a moun­tain run in the north of Tas­ma­nia. I knew she was ath­letic and had of­ten spo­ken of her de­sire to run when she had time. Be­fore I knew it we were run­ning at lunchtimes, pound­ing the paths along the River Der­went, oc­ca­sion­ally ac­com­pa­nied by dol­phins cut­ting through the choppy wa­ters.

Th­ese lit­tle runs led to longer, more se­ri­ous ad­ven­tures. Three-hour ex­pe­di­tions along the trails of Mt Wellington, through for­est and over scree slopes, drink­ing from moun­tain streams and dodg­ing tiger snakes on warm days. Next was a two-per­son re­lay on the 64km Bruny Is­land ul­tra­ma­rathon — 32km each. That would have been the time to rest on my lau­rels, but with typ­i­cal hubris I en­gaged in what the Amer­i­cans so quaintly call “mis­sion creep”.

Be­fore I knew it I had agreed to train for two solo ul­tra­math­ons, the Bruny Is­land and an­other. The mem­ory of my con­di­tion af­ter 32km had faded; the sore back, the dizzi­ness and nau- sea, the knees that creaked and popped in an alarm­ing man­ner for days af­ter­wards. My part­ner was more re­al­is­tic about my run­ning com­pan­ion: “She’s 30 years younger than you, you’ll never be able to keep up with her, for God’s sake. She’ll break you!”

The harsh re­al­ity came as quite a shock, but a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. The daily runs in­creased in length, nig­gling pain be­came a con­stant com­pan­ion that not even postrun beers could elim­i­nate. I started to do week­end runs by my­self, cul­mi­nat­ing in a fool­hardy at­tempt that re­sulted in my part­ner pick­ing me up 45km from home, de­hy­drated, starv­ing and slightly deliri­ous. That night, as I ate pizza and drank beer (nu­tri­tion is im­por­tant in long-dis­tance run­ning), I hatched a plan for an­other long run the next week­end. The noise in the back­ground was the Greek cho­rus singing the demise of one whom the Fates de­spised.

On Mon­day, the young woman and I met for a short 10km run. It started as a slight nig­gle in the lower back, then a sharp pain in the right hip, fol­lowed by the knee be­gin­ning to buckle. I fin­ished the run, then fell into the car for the ride home. By the time I reached the front door I could hardly move. The fol­low­ing morn­ing I was fin­ished; my back was bug­gered and my hip had seized. Ten long, long weeks later I man­aged to walk with­out seiz­ing ev­ery 10 steps or so. The young woman now reg­u­larly runs ul­tra­ma­rathons while I drink beer and con­tem­plate the folly of age — and the in­vi­ta­tion from a young fe­male phys­io­ther­a­pist who has taken up cy­cling and is look­ing for a train­ing part­ner.

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