It is a dark and crisp early winter morning in Swan Hill and all is calm and eerily silent. Most residents are deep in slumber, and apart from the odd flicker of premature light and the billow of smoke being dispelled from the darkened houses, the streets remain dormant in the early hours.
However, not everyone is asleep. Apart from the occasional hum of a distant car or early morning shop preparation, there is one sound that infiltrates the mysterious Mallee air. If you listen carefully over the crackle of the fire or whir of the heater, you may briefly hear the quick and gentle pitter patter of spontaneous runner’s footprints as they dash from street to street – rapid and undetected – as they set off on their challenging quest for sanity and fulfilment.
If you are blessed with a sharp eye, you might catch a glimpse of these mystifying shadows in the night – bonded by their love of running. Or you may hear the subtle murmur of their voices as they try to solve the world’s problems before sunrise, while running on an adrenaline high.
Intermittent barking of aggressive dogs may indicate their bearing presence as they move swiftly through the back streets like packs of nocturnal animals – two, or three, or even four or more abreast – hunting their personal bests and marathon targets.
This is the harmonious sound of Melbourne Marathon training in the Mallee; the popular MCG event that has hoards of Swan Hill runners regularly pounding our streets recently in pursuit of the ultimate running goal on Sunday.
This is the normal scene from 5am in Swan Hill nowadays, but ten years ago – when I returned to live in the Mallee – it was a very different scene. I vividly remember spying a runner for the first time – sun kissed shoulder blades and a distinct ironman visor – trudging the Mallee dirt tracks as the desert sun projected its unforgiving rays down upon her. My longing face devoured the car window like a yearning child in a candy store and I pinched myself in disbelief. I wonder if she will talk to me? Or even run with me?
These days it is different. In fact, last week alone I counted almost 30 different people that I had the pleasure of running with over the week. Any more runners and we will have to start closing the roads. The running bug has certainly bitten.
But what is it about running that brings people together from all walks of life to undertake the ultimate running challenge and sacrifice? I had a chat with some of our inspiring ‘Run with Voyage’ tribe and other Voyage Fitness entrants about their passion for running and the upcoming Melbourne Marathon on Sunday…
When I think about my own running journey, the first thing that comes to my mind – and the mind of almost every other runner who has been blessed with a run in the company of others – is the associated friendships. The desolate roads of the early morning have the uncanny ability to claw out our innermost feelings, and after hours of running we certainly become well-acquainted with those who run alongside us.
Michelle is testament to that. As someone who previously ran alone, with nothing but ear phones, she now loves the camaraderie. ‘I started to run with Hollie, who until four months ago was a complete stranger. We hit it off straight away and now I love running with the girls and solving the world’s problems.’ Lining up for her second half marathon, Annalie also agrees that ‘it is the best time to chat and properly listen.’
Jemma, who is running the full marathon with her closest running friend Chantal, feels lucky to have her. ‘Everyone should have a running partner or a running group in their life.’ Even though it been quite a challenge for them (with many weekends being taken up with long runs), Chantal cherishes the entire journey. ‘Running in the pitch black at 4am, the magpies, the sore legs- have all been worth it for the laughs, the therapy sessions, and most of all the companionship that comes with running with a friend for hours on end.’
Bianca and Rob, regular members of our running group, both concur. Bianca says, ‘it is a great chance to run with some awesome people, laugh and be social.’ While Rob explains, ‘I don’t enjoy running on my own, but love participating with a group. Our group is amazing!’ Although, she does admit to what we are all thinking, ‘I love collecting medals.’ Who doesn’t love a bit of silver to add to the collection?
However, one of the most common themes amongst the mothers in our group is the resultant ‘me’ time and the flexibility that running provides while their kids are young. Bec claims, ‘I think I’m more excited about getting away kid free for the night than the run,’ while Mel explains, ‘I run because I just love it…it’s time outside (away from nagging kids), it clears my head and I just feel so much better after a good run.’ Sam’s love for running was also ignited by her longing for ‘me’ time. ‘I started running four years ago because I needed something to do when the kids were little.’
Becoming a mother is what coerced Emily to join the running ranks. After her second child she decided to give it a try. ‘I needed time out as a mum, and whether it was ten minutes or two hours, running just seemed to have the flexibility I needed.’ Another world peacekeeper on her group runs, she says, ‘we will solve the world’s problems; mostly home life rants…if only the roads could talk!’
However, Emily had to gradually work at it. ‘Some goals were not major- make it to the next tree, get to the top of the next hill, keep moving, beat it by five seconds etc.’ But after a tedious journey to the start line (pregnancy and life just getting in the way), and breaking her toe almost three weeks ago, this mother of three is determined to make her third attempt at a half marathon a reality this Sunday. ‘To say I am excited is an understatement.’
These inspiring mums are also acting as positive role mums for their own children. Jemma says she also runs for her kids. ‘I want to show my kids that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. Train hard and never give up.’
On a personal level, many runners claim that running has given them the mental strength to tackle life’s obstacles, and for one runner, it has completely transformed her life. Chantal started running after living with post-natal depression for six years. ‘I had exhausted most medical treatments with no success. I had been told for years about the benefits of exercise in treating depression, but it took me to hit rock bottom before I gave it a go.’
A journey that would inspire the most unlikely of runners, Chantal says, ‘there was no better feeling for me than that alone time out on some back road with my music and wide open space to connect back to myself.’ When she ran her first 10km event in 2010, she says, ‘it was the first time in ten years that I felt proud of myself and what my body could do…those endorphins are far better than any tablet I was ever prescribed!’ Lining up to do the 42.2km this weekend with her friend Jemma, she certainly has a lot to be proud of.
For some runners this weekend’s Melbourne Marathon is all about a personal challenge. Jess was never a runner, but has recently reaped the magical benefits that running provides, and is eagerly lining up on the start line for the 10km. ‘I love that every time I run I’m accomplishing something I thought I’d never be able to do. It is just as hard mentally as it is physically, and to know I am strong enough to overcome that is quite liberating.’ Jess also knows that her comfort zone is unexciting and dull. ‘I haven’t gotten where I am today by being “comfortable.”’
Annalie’s decision to enter the half marathon was initially driven by her need for motivation. ‘I remembered how good I felt and how much I loved my first run. I’m so glad I found my love for running again.’ While nothing compares to that magical feeling of crossing the finish line in the MCG, there’s no denying that the post-run food is equally as satisfying (if not better). Annalie says, ‘I can vividly remember the smell and taste of my meal after my first half marathon. Man it was good, even if it was subway.’
While some people enjoy the motivation that the event brings, others also like to prove the cynics wrong. As our passionate running group member Lauren prepares for her first half marathon this Sunday she confesses, ‘I’ve been told that some bodies aren’t made for running. Typical me saw this as a challenge!’ Anyone and everyone who runs realises that body shape is no indication of fitness or athletic ability, and although there are some physical benefits, the real reason we run roots so much deeper than our exterior. Passion and determination overrides any physical appearance and once a runner has discovered that connection, they are runners for life.
So why enter this week’s festivities at the Melbourne Marathon Festival? After a year of running group and a good base of dedicated training Stacey has decided, ‘this is the year I’m going to stop making excuses,’ while Bec says, ‘being able to run on to the MCG will be amazing.’
Inspired by last year’s runners from Swan Hill, Renee thought she might attempt the ultimate goal of the half marathon this year. ‘I remember thinking at the time, “oh as if Renee, you are no chance, you’d never do anything like that,” and I guess I wanted to prove myself wrong.’ That self-doubt will be cowering with fear in the stands as she powers into the MCG for her final lap on Sunday. ‘I’m excited to run, knowing I’ve trained my best, and that if I can do it, anybody can!’
As Swan Hill prepares for one of its biggest Melbourne Marathon entries yet (I lost count at 60), I contemplate the running boom that is dominating our streets. Humans were born to run; studies confirm this. Humans come in all shapes and sizes and should be proud of their unique traits. Human are also social beings; our lives depend on other humans. Combine all three (or any exercise for that matter) and you’ve discovered the secret formula for happiness and health.
So as the gun signals the start on Sunday morning, take a deep breath and be proud of your journey. While crossing that finish line is an incredible feat and one that you will never forget, nothing compares to the friendships, fun and personal discovery that you have gained along the way. Hold your head high and be proud. But remember the journey does not end here…
You too can join the Swan Hill running revolution. Provided you are injury free, all you need is a pair of sneakers, perhaps a buddy or two, the space to run and an open mind. Now, go out there and get high on some endorphins…
If you want to know more about the Melbourne Marathon head to the website www.melbournemarathon.com.au