PERHAPS it was running beside the river which meanders through the botanic gardens.
Or perhaps it was the fact that the hamburger contained near-perfect medium rare sirloin and the chips were crisp.
Or perhaps it was when the most pleasant waitress in a week of indifference left behind in Hobart spilled the iced water over the table. Then, with unembarrassed humour turned that little accident into a graceful exhibition of table preparation.
Whatever — sitting in a riverside Christchurch restaurant with Sue and Tom on the first night of a wonderful NZ southland visit (last January) — I was suddenly ricocheting of a wondrous experience of just weeks before.
New, fresh or stimulating moments can do that — send you wildly off on a tangent of thought or memory. And the waitress, steak and run (not in that order) took me instantly back to Big Bend.
The wind was howling, to the mind deranged by 19kms of uphill torture it was positively katabatic. And the Point to Pinnacle 22km of narcicisstic over-indulgence was reaching its peak (pun intended, but immediately apologised for).
But could the ageing, toxin riddled body make it.
Then came the inspiration which carried the old bones into a pain-free zone of sheer opioid rush. For, suddenly at my elbow, was a vision of beauty and wonder …
This is madness
Must be dreaming. I had passed her 15 kilometres previously. In fact there had been two of them. Tall, elegant, early 30s women running purposefully past me towards Mt Wellington’s faraway peak in this, the 2004 101st Point to Pinnacle. God, they look fit, I thought. Heavens, I wish I felt as good as they appear. What am I doing here? This is madness. I am going to die.
There were good reasons for these fears. Committed, self-flagellating over-indulging, endorphin-seeking runner and cyclist that I am — Praying Mantis with S&M tendencies — the Far Side, Dark Side is always my athletic companion.
And preparation for the 2004 Point to Pinnacle taper had, as usual, suffered a severe out-left-field disruption.
I could blame Al. But I’d organised the bloody lunch. OK, Blue Skies, Friday. But, Al I have to be moderate. Point to Pinnacle on Sunday.
Glass of pinot? … oh, OK. Just one. Another? Yeah alright. Just two. Oh, why not make it a bottle …
And so on, and so on, and so on as the conversation, the food, the waitress, the Tassie sunshine rippling off the sparkling Derwent work their predictable, wondrous magic.
Post-prandial champagne at T42? Oh, OK. Post-champagne beer and pool at Al Cerny’s now lost, loved Hope and Anchor. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Okayyyyyyyyyyyyy …
So, it’s now Saturday morning and the waking has begun. I don’t feel well. I am dehydrated; things ache, not desperately, but enough. That’s OK … until I remember that tomorrow I am running, uphill, 22kms.
As I lie there in a cold sweat I think of all the injunctions against post-indulgence exercise … the higher blood pressure, the risk of stroke, the dehydrated soft tissues and extremities.
I’ve gotta withdraw. Then the memory of the bragging kicks in: I’m doing the Point to Pinnacle; god I’m good.
Death is better than loss of face …
There is no turning back
So Saturday is spent on a massive rehydrate. A Lake St Clair’s volume of orange juice, Powerade, Gatorade, even water is poured into the flagellated body in a bold attempt at some form of belated physical redemption.
And the bed is taken too at a ridiculously early hour — at least it saves me having to endure The Bill — but sleep is fragmented by the hourly trips to offload the excessive hydration.
I wake at 5am, ready to face the firing squad organised by myself. There is no turning back.
At Wrest Point it is chilly and there are an awful lot of fit, clear-eyed, warming up athletes simply leaping out of their skins. My skin feels wrinkled; I put on dark glasses and pull the black beanie further down in the hope of remaining unrecognised.
Then it’s the milling start … and the words of the Spartan wives to their war-bound husbands ring in my ears:
Come back with your shield. Or on it.
I get into a rhythm. Things don’t feel too bad. As it’s Sunday I’m hoping ABC FM will courteously play Beethoven’s Song of Joy through my little belt radio as inspiration — or requiem. Doesn’t happen, but something pleasant with violin is on and I’m beginning to feel okay.
The Tall Elegant Ones sweep past … and I notice on their backs they have a large photo of a little baby and the words: Running for Rowan.
That’s the last I see of them until the sharp rise near Richard’s former emergency domicile in Davey St.
I pass them. Have they slowed … or have I speeded up. Much to my astonishment I begin to pass others; some who on other fun runs I see at the start and never again.
What is going on here.
Time passes. The rhythmic beat of one foot-in-front-of-another becomes wondrously mesmeric. I feel OK. I’m not going to die. Yet. Then it’s onto the long straight before the turn with a view just before the Springs.
Real torture test
And I think I see David up ahead. Can’t be. He’s normally finished fun runs by the time I’ve re-laced my shoelaces for the third time. But it is. Disbelieving, I draw up beside him and he says: “I’m struggling”. I’m too astonished to say anything.
On we go. And then begins the real torture test. For about 6km or so from the Springs to Big Bend is one monstrous slog. It’s seriously straight uphill: All you can do is put one put in front of the other at a consistent pace … and hope.
It is pretty hard, but hey, I’m feeling OK. In fact the endorphins are seriously kicking in and there is no place on earth I would rather be.
Then I see Mark, and he appears to be wobbling. In fact he wobbles to a walk and I’m so embarrassed to be passing someone who normally finishes streets ahead that I pull the beanie even lower and look right at the wondrous view down to Hobart so he doesn’t recognise me.
I pass the hut and just beyond a serious wind hits: full on, in our faces. This is the lead into Big Bend and the Antarctic has decided to send the Katabatic.
This is hard; I notice leg and body aches from all that pounding on the bitumen; and for the first time, I wonder if I can get to the finish. I wonder if the poor soft tissues so assaulted on Friday will rise up in sudden revenge: This is the crumple zone.
Around Big Bend I struggle … then I sense someone at my elbow.
I glance across and someone is smiling. It’s one of the Tall Elegant Ones. Sparked by whatever chemical hits in moments of stimulation, I spontaneously quicken my pace.
So does she.
And we are running in complete unison. Stride for stride. Faster and faster.
The katabatic wind is at our backs and we are flying, pushed by the gale and a sudden unity of purpose. This is mesmeric … and wondrous.
We turn to face the gale right on top as the finish line looms and despite a galant attempt to persuade her across the line first, we cross … still in lock-step.
*Deborah and her mate were running in memory of a friend’s baby, Rowan, who died at 10 months of a cancer. They also raised more than $1000 to aid cancer sufferers through their joyful assault on the mountain.
On Sunday is the 102nd Point to Pinnacle. The narcissistic Praying Mantis with S&M tendencies is skipping it in favour of the following weekend’s Bruny Island run (64km). A very, very long lunch is planned for next Friday.