From August 2000 until early 2002, I thoroughly enjoyed my glory days of running. At the time I had no idea this time would be so short - if I had known, I might have trained properly or harder, or gotten myself a coach to make the most of my potential - but of course I didn't, so all I did was run and enjoy the thrill of being fast.
I finished my first half-marathon in May 2001 in a time of 1:26:24. During the race, on the second lap of the hilly CBD course, I was running close to another woman. A bystander was calling out positions and to us he said "12th lady, 13th lady...." My companion (clearly someone elite) said "Oh geez, that's not very good!" but I could only laugh - I was thrilled!
Later that year I again ran the City to Surf, taking over 4 minutes off my time and earning myself a Certificate of Merit, as well as a preferred runner start for the following year. Preferred runners get to turn up half an hour before the start, warm up out front and then line up right behind the elites. As opposed to lining up 3-4 hours before, cramming in with the other 79,999 participants, and then fighting to make it over the line within 10 minutes of the gun going off.....why, I'll take it!
The second half of 2001 was a fantastic time for me and my running. I was seconded to work a surgical term in Armidale, a university town in the northern part of NSW, where I found myself sharing a house with the medical resident, a fellow exercise fanatic named Saar.
Together we turned a potentially lonely and difficult work placement into a kind of triathlon boot camp, swimming squads at a local high school during the week, riding our bikes for hours on the weekend and joining a mad bunch of local doctors for long rambling runs every Sunday morning. It was fantastic fun. At one point we trekked over to a neighbouring town called Dorrigo to run a 13.5km (8.3 mile) race in extremely hilly terrain........
............where my time of 54:03 was enough to give me 4th place overall and 1st female finisher.
Turns out the race was sponsored by a local producer, so my prize was $50 and a 20kg (45lb) sack of potatoes from Dorrigo Potato Farm!
Everyone in my family got a huge bowl of potato salad from me that Christmas, needless to say.
My presence in Armidale was good for the local doctors in another, non-work related area: I ran in a relay race with them and my time over 8km (5 miles) of 31:14 helped us to win the Coyote Cup, much to the dismay of the local emergency services who made up the other teams.
My first two overall placings also happened in half-marathons run during the latter half of 2001. The Lake Macquarie HM was the first; I ran 1:25:40 and was third female finisher. It was a glorious out-and-back course along the lake, and I was excited to see Steve Moneghetti (a legendary Australian marathoner) running back while I was still on my way out - he went on to win the race and I got to shake his hand!
Next was the Central Coast HM, where I ran my PR for this distance, 1:25:24 and placed second. I was actually in first place most of the way but had another female runner positioned like a pilot fish at my shoulder - as we set off from the start I heard her coach yell at her to follow me, and she did so with very little room to spare. I think at one point I asked her to please stop breathing down my neck, which she eventually did at the 17km mark by kicking into top gear and leaving me in the dust. Thanks, that made me feel great.
2002 started with great promise, including preferred runner status for both the May SMH half-marathon and the August City to Surf. Little did I know that it was all about to come crashing down.......