I first read Haruki Murakami’s book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, some months before the car hit me. My ‘vehicle vs pedestrian” accident occurred on 28 October 2010, on Ann Street in Brisbane.
Only 38 days before that, on 19 September, I had run the Sydney Marathon, my first in over thirty years, when I ran my third Boston Marathon. I think I was smiling for the whole Sydney marathon, running over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, around Centennial Park, and finishing in front of the Opera House.
In his book, Murakami described running a 100km ultra-marathon in Hokkaido. I decided to put that down on my “to do” list.
When another car collided with the car that hit me, the second car accelerated out of control and jumped the kerb onto my footpath. The car became airborne and flew straight at me at 60 kph. In seconds, my “to do” list changed radically, not that I was thinking about it.
I lost consciousness in the ambulance to the Royal and Women’s Brisbane Hospital. I’m sure it appeared that way to my saviors, those supremely calm and capable paramedics. Yet I felt that I was always conscious, just hallucinating totally out of control (shock? the morphine?).
The police, when they came to my hospital bed weeks later to interview me, remarked, “You were very lucky. One second different and you would have been dead.” I replied, “Yeah, and a second different, the car would have missed me entirely.”
But for the odd broken bone (shoulder, ankle), most of my injuries were in and near my left knee. Friction burns near and below my knee required a couple of debridement operations and five skin grafts. Twice, the burned bit right under the knee refused to accept its graft. By the time the graft finally did take (third time lucky), it was too late to clean up the damage to the ligaments and tendons around the knee, or reattach any of the snapped hamstrings.
When my two-month hospital stay came to an end, the knee had frozen straight and solid by the the spider web-like scar tissue pervading the area. “The Leg” was no longer mine. There had been too much pain down there for it remain a part of me. The knee, of this leg that was no longer mine, worked no better than if the leg had been made of a single piece of wood. That was just before Christmas 2010.
On 2 November 2014, I completed the Carcoar Cup Marathon in about 5 hours and 22 minutes. I had run my 2010 Sydney marathon nearly 1 1/2 hours faster. The Carcoar course is more difficult, but not by 90 minutes. Still, I did finish.
I’ve been receiving with gratitude, congratulations from many of my friends. “What an accomplishment!”, they tell me. I told Ralph, my decades-long shakuhachi friend, that doing something one enjoys is not really such a big accomplishment. It only takes time.
I needed four years to do this marathon. After the accident, I told everyone that I’d run another one in only three years time. Hah. Still, I did, finally, complete the 42.2 km run. One orthopaedic surgeon really tried to discourage me from running again. He asked me why I would even want to jog and was incredulous when I mentioned marathons.
In contrast, my plastic surgeon team of burns specialists encouraged my marathon dreams. I think they encourage anything that might take one’s mind off of the pain.
I always knew that attempting to do another marathon would motivate me more than having the goal of just ‘running again’. The first task was accepting that “the leg” was my leg, long-suffering and doing its job as best it can, and obviously better than anyone expected.
I found the Carcoar Cup Marathon on the internet. The course is entirely in some of NSW’s most beautiful countryside. Half of it is on unpaved roads. The event is small – a lucky 83 runners did the marathon this year. I finished in 77th place.
A month or so before the event, I was thinking that maybe I wasn’t going to do it after all (lots of excuses). Fortunately, Patricia stepped in and became my coach/task master/travel agent. She even organised friends to come too, to make a weekend of it.
I’m now ready to improve my running. That way, next year I will better enjoy Carcoar Marathon’s beautiful course. I was in too much discomfort to pay much attention this time round. Patricia has already booked our accommodation. Maybe I’ll see you there.
One year (certainly not next), I might even try doing Carcoar’s 60km ultra-marathon – perhaps as a warm-up to Murakami’s 100km run in Hokkaido.