An extraordinary thing happened down on Four Mile Beach. Strangers became friends. Lovers embraced. Children were subdued. Crowds broke into spontaneous applause as clouds parted. Or simultaneously booed at the same scudding clouds. They grinned foolishly. And gushed unashamedly at nature in all her kick-ass glory. Until thousands were silenced. The stars even came out during two short minutes and three seconds of mesmerising totality during a total solar eclipse.
Then we ran. For quite a long time actually. Some for much longer than others, surely going well beyond the pain barrier competing in the Solar Eclipse Marathon Though some like ultra runner Mike LeRoux needed barely more than three hours to complete the challenging 42km course, looking intimidating and fit as he claimed victory. Or ladies marathon legend Inez Haagen who was less than 20 minutes behind LeRoux. Also looking rather trim I might add, making me feel comparatively bibulous when I sidled up to congratulate her. In case you hadn’t noticed, long distance runners are a pretty lean lot. It’s a no-brainer that the lighter you are the easier it is to run.
But long after the elite runners had cooled down, recovered and mentally moved onto their next challenge, others were still coming home. Indeed long after many of us had started celebrating our achievements with friends and family, the last runners were still slogging it out doggedly eight hours later. Anybody who lines up for an endurance event has my absolute admiration: it’s a big commitment to put your body on the line for the starter’s gun. Even more so those who do it tough towards the back of the field, relying on pure determination and guts to finish what they started. It’s said that everybody has a story worth telling and you can be sure that every one of the 377 runners who ran through the start line on Four Mile Beach on Wednesday has a story worth listening to.
I heard a couple of them as we eased into the half marathon on Old Port Road beneath a sun still partially eclipsed. While the going was relatively easy and euphoria from the galaxy’s finest moment was still dominating our thoughts, runners chatted amiably. Some had downgraded from a full to half marathon after coming back from injury or interrupted training schedules. Hailing from 20 countries, many had travelled far. Some were doing their first half marathon having made a commitment to give up smoking or lose weight. Or both. Still others were local fitness enthusiasts, thrilled to have such a splendid event land at their well-worn feet. Some like me had taken up running as a tool to help deal with emotional stress, using the meditative benefits of long distance running to gain mental clarity.
With the temperature forecast in the low 30’s and humidity rising, half marathoners had a much easier morning than those doing the full marathon distance. The briefing notes advised marathoners they had the ‘pleasure’ of running The Bump Track up the ranges behind Port Douglas. A 21km run compared to a marathon should be a walk in the park, right? Wrong. The blisters, swollen toes and weary legs days later attest to that.
The course meandered through steamy cane fields devoid of cooling breeze, along pitted and potholed tracks beyond the hamlet of Craiglie at the base of the ranges. Half marathoners turned for home while the going was still relatively level while the marathoners headed ever upwards onto The Bump Track. A steep incline up a rough trail, for many this section was either a deal maker or breaker. Attempting my first half marathon, I was more than happy to avoid that pleasure and return to the Capt Cook Highway and Port Douglas beyond.
By the time we had knocked off 17km’s the morning was warming up with heat and humidity seriously sapping energy levels. Running past QT Resort Port Douglas and the king size bed I’d vacated mere hours before, I was tempted to call it quits and end it right there. Through the palm fronds I could see the lagoon swimming pool and I’m certain I heard it calling my name. But by this time I had a buddy who had crept up beside me (or more likely I had slowed down and was being overtaken) keeping the same pace which was enough incentive to carry on. Defeat was never really an option though I’ll admit.
I’d written a couple of motivational reminders on the palm of each hand for when I faded towards the end of the run. On my left hand in large black ink ‘keep cool & carry on’ reminded me to stay focused. With most of the distance behind me, the word on my right hand seemed totally ludicrous, far-fetched and unachievable. ‘Enjoy’ I’d ambitiously written pre-dawn in large black permanent marker. Perhaps if I hadn’t made the dreadful error of leaving my earphones at home I might have been enjoying myself a little more with music as a distraction. Passing the cemetery with around 3km’s to go, I was almost envious of those supine beings when faced with another 20 minutes of running. Enjoyment was far from my mind as my feet morphed into bleeding stumps. I was certain I was leaving a trail of blood behind me as my shoes seem to shrink, toes swelled and blisters competed to outdo each other.
But the funny thing I’ve learnt about running since taking it up two years ago is that it’s actually my mind not my body that determines how far I can run. Sure, an element of fitness is required which I’ve gradually built up over time. But during the lead up to the Solar Eclipse Marathon, slogging out the miles in training runs a couple of deceptively simple words stayed with me. ‘The hardest thing about running is putting your shoes on,’ a friend once said. I was reminded of this regularly, dragging my sorry arse out of bed at dawn when a sleep-in was preferable. With the first km behind me however I was invariably pleased I’d made the effort, revelling in an endorphin-fuelled buzz.
Standing on the beach beneath a total solar eclipse watching the stars appear was the highlight to date of my runner’s journey. As day briefly turned to night and the stars shone rather bizarrely post-dawn, amidst thousands of others who wandered down to the beach that morning, the moon’s journey across the sun captivated us all.