Running Down Under by Emmett Delaney


Running Down Under
The British Navy explored the South east coast of Australia in the late 1700's, etching a permanent imprint on this sunny continent. While on a recent family visit to this part of the globe, I signed up for the Mornington Half marathon which follows the markers that renowned British explorer and cartographer, Commander Ned Flinders, left along the Melbourne Bay shoreline.
Australians in general are dinkum physically active, spending much of their free time outdoors swimming, running and cycling as well as assorted team sports. This is probably due to a temperate climate, generous vacation time and a healthy work/life balance. Despite the late-winter temperatures (40F - 50F), every morning I saw people swimming in the ocean without wetsuits, cycling along the shoreline and running the trails and paths.
The dramatic switch from the sweltering Northern hemisphere summer to the chilly Southern Hemisphere winter had its pros and cons. My hands felt the cold the most as I had skillfully omitted packing gloves. I was determined to wear my Reston Runners singlet and was consequently under-dressed. Perhaps a little rashly, I had also shaved my head the day before my trip. On the other hand I felt stronger and breathed a little easier in the cold, rich air.
Race day found me at the start area about 6.30am for a light warm up. Some race day staples are universal in any accent and any hemisphere: pre-race nerves, last minute shoelace checking, unwanted and persistent coaching from know-it-all's, slow runners at the very front of the start area, and the playing of the national anthem (Advance Australia Fair). Other things were different: distances in kilometers, temperatures in Celsius, running to the left of the cones and kangaroos along the way (not really).
"Go" and about 250 of us sprang off in the early dawn umbra. Other runners racing shorter distances left in later waves. The temperature was about 40F, air still and skies overcast. Our route was an out-and-back along the Mornington Peninsula. This Peninsula wraps around the eastern shore of Melbourne Bay, making it a well sheltered body of water and consequently a busy sea port. The ferry to Tasmania is a frequent sight in the bay.
The road undulated gently with alternating rugged cliffs and golden beaches separating us from the waveless ocean.  A common feature in this area is the small, brightly colored storage units lining the upper strand where locals store their beach furniture and gear. These vividly painted sheds compete like a Van Gogh painting for your eye’s attention. A faint whiff of salt water hung in the air and the only sounds I heard were the cries of the circling gulls, the slap-slap of shoes on the tarmac and my own breathing. Our course skirted a small harbor and I saw fishermen preparing their nets for the day. Contrasting with idyllic coastal scenery on my right were the lovely homes lining the road on the left. I found myself quite transported with the abundant natural beauty and wondered what Ned Flinders would have had to say about Melbourne now (the main rail station is named for him).
After a pel-mel start, I found myself drafting in a comfortably paced cluster and enjoyed the banter that middle-of-the-pack runners are prone to. The throng, mostly male, was a typical blend of weekend warriors, college athletes, triathletes and middle-aged men. I wanted to soak up everything about this special race and allowed my legs to drift through the early miles. It took a few near misses with returning runners for me to realize I was running on the wrong side of the cones. I guess Australians run as they drive - on the left. Regular aid stations kept me hydrated and my Garmin GPS watch (carried carefully from Reston) kept me on pace.
At about mile 11 I awoke from my trance, left my posse and burst ahead. It felt great to have some solitude the last 2 miles. I finished in a surprising 1hr 33 minutes; a time with which I was well pleased. Overall the race was a ripper, a fun and novel experience to run in the steps of Ned Flinders, and the British Royal Navy.


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