Tag Archives: running

Starting Blocks

Photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net
Photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net

The first time I realized I could run was when I did sports at school.  Before that, I did a lot of walking, and maybe ran around the backyard with my sister and cousins as we played ‘chasey‘ and ‘hide and seek‘, but it wasn’t until I got older and involved in school sports that I discovered the delight of a ‘real‘ run.

What I loved about running wasn’t that I was able to beat anyone else who ran with me in getting to the finish line first.  It was the way the wind whistled in my ears, the way the coolness of it flowed over my face, the way the blood pumped so hard through my body, and the way my whole body exerted itself to the utmost to try to find its very top speed.

Most of all, I think I was fascinated by the way I could create the wind by running, that the whistle in my ears came from me moving at speed through space, rather than me standing still as air moved past me.

My mother was soon impressed by my running.  She came to watch my races, and loved to brag about my wins.  I did love getting ribbons but they weren’t my reason for running.  I just loved the opportunity to do it.  You couldn’t go running along the streets in those days like you can do, now, without people thinking you were ‘loony‘.

Not that I was ever that sort of runner, anyway.  Once I started running, my mother regaled me with all sorts of stories about my relatives.  Apparently, my biological father was quite a runner, especially in cross country events, though I never really knew him.  My great-grandfather had also been a marathon runner who won a lot of races.  (This only came out after I began to run).

I wasn’t a marathon runner, though.  I wasn’t a long distance runner.  Later on, after I joined an amateur athletics club, my coach tried to get me to do longer runs, like 400 and 800 meters, but I wasn’t so good at those.  I was a sprinter.  I ran 100 and 200 meter races.

Now, being a sprinter means that you have to go as fast as you can in a very short time, to cover that actually very short length.  When I was in school, I used to stand at the starting line, and I ran in bare feet.  I liked that sort of running.  It agreed with me.  I liked the contact with the earth that my bare feet had.

After I joined the amateur athletics club, my mother bought me ‘spikes‘.  I loved the way the soft, thin leather hugged the shape of my foot, but the undersole of spikes was hard plastic, so you could screw the metal spikes into the embedded holes.  They were actually hard to walk on, at least on floors or pavement.

It was a fascinating set up, and I loved the little tool that came with them, that allowed me to tighten the spikes up, or remove and replace them.  Having a little tool of my own somehow made me feel important.

Spikes did help me run faster, especially on grass or gravel, or tarred lanes, but they weren’t the same as bare feet.  There was no sensual contact with the earth.  (Even though you tend to run on your toes and the touch is light at speed, it’s still there and registers in your mind when you run in bare feet).

The other tool used to help me run faster were starting blocks.  Most athletes running races, then, used starting blocks.  My coach insisted that using them was the only sensible and correct way to go.  But then, she was trying to get our club to be the top club amongst those competing  at the inter-club meets at Royal Park in Melbourne on the weekends.

Starting blocks, to me, were like braces on teeth, or even perhaps those metal gadgets dentists used to use to hold your mouth open so they could work on your teeth.

For me, they were clunky.  I never really got the hang of them.  While I could position myself well, put my body over my arms, raise my hands on their fingers, arch my bum into the air and look to the lane ahead in anticipation of the starting gun going off, when I jumped my body out of those blocks I was always the last to leave…

My coach tried to train me on exactly how to do it.  Apparently, it all happened in the first three steps.  If you couldn’t push those first three steps into the ground hard enough to break turf you were never going to be ahead of the crowd.

My Dad got a Navy friend to come give me extra pointers.  He had trained recruits at the Naval depot my Dad also taught at, then.  Naval recruits had to be very fit and did a lot of exercise.  My Dad’s friend had some very good lessons to teach me, but it made no difference when I encountered the starting blocks.  And with the ‘lost ground‘ from being last out of them each race, it was a miracle that I won any at all.  It was only by sheer determination and from pumping my arms and legs as fast as I could make them go that saw me pass my competitors to actually win some races.

My coach shook her head, though.  All she saw was how many more races I could win, if only I could learn to use the starting blocks effectively.

My time in amateur athletics brought me in contact with many great racers.  In my own club at Frankston, the future Olympian, Debbie Flintoff King, was my peer, only a year or so younger than me.  When I was there, I actually ran faster than she did.

I also met the Olympian, Raelene Boyle, when I went to the weekend meets.  She belonged to the Brunswick club, which my cousin also belonged to (though she was a swimmer).

I used to wish I could win the Olympics.  I think it was more of an attraction to Raelene, who cut a tall, willowy figure, just like her two afghan hounds that she paraded on a leash around the outskirts of the Royal Park oval.   She seemed so self-assured as she stopped to talk to people.   I was always a bit shy with people, then, so maybe I thought that being an Olympian meant you could smooth out and be more interactive.

Of course, I know better today.  Olympians are as human as the rest of us.  They get stressed and break down, too.  Plus, the hard work of pushing their bodies so much to be top athletes in their youth often rebounds on them in old age, with arthritis and all sorts of health disorders.

My ideas of being an Olympian were short-lived, however, once my asthma set in.  It was undiagnosed at the time, but I got very frightened by the level of ‘no breath’ I had after each race, so in the end I chose to not go any more.  Luckily, my future husband came along by the time I was sixteen, anyway, so I had plenty of diversion and didn’t really miss it.

Today, there are many life experiences that I can measure in terms of those starting blocks.  At the time, I really thought that athletics was the path for me.  It certainly ate up a lot of my energy and focus, then.  But not being able to handle the starting blocks, and not being able to figure out how to use them effectively, made me doubt my ability to ever achieve the same levels as the heroes I dreamed of becoming.  It got under my skin, that sense that I could not amount to ever fully being a winner because I could not master those starting blocks.

My life took quite a divergence after I met my future husband and not only my athletics but a lot of other things I had been invested in were set aside to follow him.  For a long while, people shook their heads and thought I had given up too much, and wasted too many natural gifts.

What actually happened, though, was that I found new directions.  The same creative energy and will to enjoy life to the fullest (which was what running actually was for me) just came out in other ways, later on.

I ended up achieving a heck of a lot with my life, after quite a hiatus of bringing up my family (well, it actually began while I was bringing up my family).  I just did things my way, and waited till my time was right, though I didn’t know that was happening at the time.

For a while, I let my doubters and naysayers get under my skin, (the starting blocks were happening all over again), and I lost faith in myself and my life.  But it didn’t take much to get me back on track, finding other things that were just as fun and fulfilling to do, and that also tested my skills to their limit.

What I learned was that I’m a slow starter.  I don’t like forced beginnings.  I am never going to be able to do three hard paces to the ground at the beginning of anything.  I like to stand and feel the earth beneath my feet, get a sense of my surroundings, and then shoot off when my heart feels ready.

Once I get going, though, watch out!  If you’re already on the track, I just may pass you by…

My motto?  Never let a poor start stop you from winning, and if you can’t win, at least enjoy the race.  It can be quite a breeze.


Lilipily Spirit – Empower Your Life, Connect with the Divine




Photo courtesy of freepik.com
Photo courtesy of freepik.com

I was born with what the doctor called ‘flat feet.’

What are ‘flat feet’ you might ask? Well, they are feet that never formed a support arch. The soles of flat feet do not show the characteristic indentation in footprints that most people have. All parts of the sole of the ‘flat’ foot touches the ground at the same time.

The doctor told my mother that I would get sore feet as I grew older and that I would not be able to run like other children.

There was no prescription for my ‘flat feet’. It was simply a genetic aberration. The only advice was to get strong and supportive shoes to wear to school, but to not wear shoes at all whenever that was possible, because apparently a bare foot works harder and can develop what is called a ‘false arch’ if the muscles are worked hard.

If you look at my feet today, I have an arch. I didn’t have one as a child. Instead, I spent most of my childhood barefoot when I wasn’t at school.

The bad thing about a ‘false arch’ is that it doesn’t do what an arch you are born with does for your foot. That is, it doesn’t support the foot properly. So people with ‘flat feet’ and ‘false arches’ get sore and tired feet as often as those with just ‘flat feet’.

The doctor was wrong about one thing, though. Having ‘flat feet’ never stopped me running. Hell, having ‘flat feet’ never stopped me walking extremely long distances, either. I loved doing both.

I had strong legs. They would drag my ‘flat feet’ along with them anywhere they wanted to go.

I became an athlete with my ‘flat feet.’ I ran and won races at school regularly. I joined an amateur athletics club in my pre-teens and was as good as some girls who were my peers in the same club, who actually went on to become Olympic athletes in later life. I won many races in inter-club sports events on weekends. I gathered lots of ribbons. When I left athletics behind in my teens, it wasn’t my ‘flat feet’ that stopped me. It was ineffectively diagnosed and untreated asthma. At the end of each race, I had no breath left. That frightened me, so I stopped going, and my mother just accepted that I stopped. No questions asked.

That was just the days I lived in, as a child. People were not as intense about things as they are today. So long as there was no obvious emergency, my mother didn’t bother too much.

She did have to bother when I adventured on demolition lots in my bare feet. I had a preference for balancing on planks of stacked wood, only the planks had rusty nails still in them and those rusty nails would end up in my feet almost every time… After that, the pain would get bad within hours, so she had to take notice and get me to the doctor.

I never really learned to stay away from planks with rusty nails, and tetanus shots were a feature of my childhood. You didn’t get tetanus shots automatically in those days – no preventative medicine like today. You got tetanus shots after you had already begun to feel the effects of infection.

My mother did warn me not to go back to the demolition lots once. So I started balancing myself on our neighbor’s low brick fence. I pretended it was a tight rope. I imagined I was sure-footed, like a mountain goat. I thought I could do anything with my body that I wanted to. I stopped balancing on our neighbor’s brick fence when I slipped and fell with one leg down either side of it. Bricks bashing the sensitive area between my legs were a very powerful teacher, much better than rusty nails…

I was always walking and running, jumping and climbing as a kid. Nothing kept me down. I was up at the crack of dawn, listening to the bird song, and couldn’t wait to go outside to see what the world was up to.

When we lived with my Nanna in my earlier years, I would take long walks with my sister and cousins through the suburban city streets on weekends and holidays. Sometimes, we would walk all the way from inner city Brunswick into the center of Melbourne – a long way for little legs and feet, (and just as long for adults), but this is what we did, then. There were trams we could have caught, but trams cost money and we didn’t have much of that, so we walked. (It was the days before I owned a bicycle).

Sometimes, we would walk all the way to the city zoo, (the entry fee was much cheaper back then), spend all day walking around looking at the interesting animals, and then walk back home. (The city zoo was near the center of Melbourne, too).

Sometimes, we would walk to Merri creek down near the brickworks with their smoking chimney stacks (stopping a while to talk to the brick-makers and watch them making bricks), and try to see where the water went to (we never found out where it went to because it went too far even for us, and muddy creek banks were much harder to traverse than city kerbs).

Sometimes, we walked to the formal park that was blocks away from my Nanna’s house and played ‘chasey’ and ‘hide and seek’ for hours behind the huge clipped hedges that bordered the dense green lawns. (We had to be quiet whenever we saw the gardener because he didn’t like us playing behind his hedges).

All these areas were a long way from my Nanna’s house. We had wonderful exploratory adventures, but mostly along roads full of traffic that had very few trees and lots of pavement.

Even when we explored just the streets local to the one in which my Nanna lived, there was lots to see. In an environment so devoid of other greenery, the front yards of people’s homes were fascinating. We sometimes picked the flowers hanging through the fences, to take home to our Nanna. A lady caught us doing that, once, and asked us why we wanted her flowers. When we told her they were for our Nanna, she got some secateurs and cut off some very beautiful roses for us to take home.

On hot days, then, we were not as organized as kids today may be on such outings. We did not take snacks or water bottles. If we got thirsty, we would knock on someone’s door and ask for a glass of water. If we were lucky, the house-holder would give us a biscuit or a sandwich, too.

We lived in an era of relative innocence, when even city people were friendlier and had more integrity. While I know today that kids sometimes went missing or had bad things happen to them, then, we didn’t know that at the time. Nor did our family. Going on these little adventures were just part of ‘growing up’.

At the end of the day, we would arrive back home in time for dinner, exhausted, but my ‘flat feet’ did not feel pain much then. My legs would ache, though. My mother said I was suffering from ‘growing pains.’

On Saturdays, my mother would slip us a half-penny and my sister and I would walk all the way up to Sydney road from Nanna’s house, to go see the matinee movies at the cinema. After dinner on many nights in summer, the whole family would go for the long walk to Sydney road, blocks away from Nanna’s house, to walk past the closed shop windows and nod and talk to the neighbors as they promenaded with their families on the same street.

Even after we no longer lived at Nanna’s house, whenever we returned to stay there during holidays, my cousins would join us for walks in the streets. Sometimes, we’d go into blocks of flats and knock on all the doors and run away. It was such fun to make people come to their doors, only to find no one there, or to hear people say, “It’s just those bloody kids!”

I never lost my love for walking. After I married, we, too, would often walk into the town center after dinner, taking along dogs and children.

Many of the holidays we went on after I had a family of my own involved hiking in the country, exploring whatever paths, trails, caves, hills and mountains there were to see. We climbed paths in the Grampian mountains with our young family, once, and reached an outlook over distant valleys at a point where a stony spire called ‘The Needle’ sat. I was standing with my children taking in the view, (and too scared to go too close to the edge), when my husband spontaneously decided it would be the perfect thrill to jump out onto ‘The Needle’.

This was a spire hundreds of feet in height. It barely had a flat area at its top of six feet. He jumped across the eight feet gap to that flat top before I knew what was happening. I’m sure I heard an audible gasp from all the other hikers taking in the scenery, there.

I watched him get up from the crouch of his landing. It was hard for him to even turn. The space surrounding the spire was breezy. All I could think of was am I going to become a widow? (Actually, I voiced that, since my children had seen him jump there, too). I joked, deadpan, “That’s right, make me a widow in front of my children…”

The kids thought it was a joke. It wasn’t. My husband knew it, too, once he was out there. While he’d landed well, when he was actually on that dizzy tip he realized that he did not have the room for a run up to jump back that he had on the jump out. Eight feet of air over a possible many hundred feet fall is not so exciting when you may actually miss a landing. (I wish he had thought about that on his way out).

Luckily, his feet did make it back to the safe side of the gap. We returned down the mountain but I was a bit moody by then, so I didn’t take it well when he continued playing around in front of the children, walking right at the edge of the narrow track where the hill rolled away in a severely steep drop. I did not think it was a very good example for a father to give, and that was reinforced when he balanced on a log embedded in the edge and the log slipped out and fell down the drop, nearly taking him with it. Once again, his feet found sure ground, just in time.

My ‘flat feet’ didn’t really become a problem until I was in my mid-twenties. Then, I had to get special insoles for my shoes because it felt like I was walking on the bones of my feet all the time. The inflammation and swelling in my feet was almost unbearable. I really developed a sympathy for the poor little mermaid I read about in stories as a child, who swapped her tail for legs and feet, only to be cursed with every step feeling like she was walking on knives. I knew what that was like.

I’m not a person who ever lets such things keep me down for long. I don’t believe in molly-coddling myself, (although I will take ‘time out’ and a rest when I need it). That possibly came from my Nanna, who also had many health problems to deal with throughout her life. Nothing ever stopped her for long, either. People were always telling her to slow down and take a rest. Her reply was, “I’ll get plenty of rest when I die.”

So I took up acting and dancing on stage. I was good at the acting, not so good at dancing on stage. Stages can be slippery, sometimes, especially when you’re in high heels and climbing up and down steps. I slipped badly on stage, once, and had my ankle bound for months. It took nearly a year to fully recover from that very bad sprain. I stopped doing musicals and concentrated on comedies and dramas after that. (Sometimes, when you refuse to recognize your limitations, life has a way of making you face them).

I also loved to dance at parties with my husband. I could dance for hours and hours without ever having one alcoholic drink to ‘warm me up,’ because I just loved to dance. At the end of these activities, though, my feet really felt it. By the end of a night of dancing, I was hobbling on my way to bed. I was lucky to have a husband who enjoyed giving me foot massages. By golly, he is the most superb foot massager I have ever known. He can keep on massaging my feet through hours of movies on television. He sometimes falls asleep while he his massaging, he just goes on so long, and the funny thing is that he wakes up and keeps on massaging as if he never stopped. I call him my maintenance man. I’m lucky to have him.

If I ever feel that my feet are getting really bad, though, I think about what my son has to put up with. He became disabled in a traffic accident when he was only thirteen. The outcome was that he still has partial paralysis in his body, today.

Have you ever had your foot ‘go to sleep’ on you? Have you ever tried to walk on a foot that has ‘gone to sleep?’ My son does that every day. One of his legs is in a constant state of partial paralysis. He can’t walk at all without that ‘sleeping’ foot hitting the ground with a heavy thud. Instead of walking, he hobbles, swinging his leg along because he can’t feel it properly. He does that all day long. (I don’t know how he does it!)

Yet he has inherited my love of walking. He takes his little dog for hours of walks each day. Sometimes, he does complain that he has pain in his feet and legs from walking (when he feels pain, you know it’s bad), but it doesn’t stop him going out again. He just enjoys the movement, and he enjoys being alive.

There are many different kinds of pain to deal with in life. We can either let them seize us up and make us afraid to do anything again for fear of that pain, or we can move through the pain, deal with it, accept it as par for the course, and never let it keep us down.

My son and I choose the latter. 
(Albeit, for me, with a little help from my hubby…)


Lilipily Spirit – Empower Your Life, Connect with the Divine