Flushed with embarrassment

I feel I need to apologise to people who were (admittedly until now) unaware of my scorn.

I need to apologise to North American users of portaloos. Porta pottys. Shitboxes. Cabinets of doom. Portable toilets. Plastic shitters.

You see, I would read on Reddit and Facebook and other forms of expression the abject horror people would feel when they were faced with using a portaloo. I thought: “Yeah, they can get a bit stinky, particularly at race startlines with all the nervous shitters, but jesus! It’s just for a few minutes!”

I just didn’t understand the general revulsion until the other week when we were cycling round Stanley Park in Vancouver and stopped at a small park playspace. The park authorities were renovating the public washrooms there, and had put in a bank of hired portaloos. Until then, I didn’t know that North American portaloos aren’t like Australian portaloos. They aren’t the same design.

My Australian friends, North American portaloos DON’T HAVE A BOWL.

Seriously. It’s just a wide mouthed toilet seat and lid, atop a large plastic box with a big hole, filled with blue liquid. (And floating used toilet paper, bobbing like jellyfish). At least with the classic Australian long drop bush toilets there’s a good metre or so between your arse and the pile of poo, but here, there’s not even that. Maybe 15 centimetres, max, between you and a small lake of blue liquid.

That this was not a one off was semi-confirmed last week when we were in Seattle (maybe it’s a Pacific Northwest thing, but still, two different countries). We were heading into an exhibit, and they had a bank of portaloos set up outside. I needed to go, and was a bit curious as to whether my horrific discovery was an aberration, but no – a big old hole again.

The portaloos back home have a seat, a bowl and a flap at the bottom of the bowl connected to a foot operated pump that allows you to blue water flush your waste away into the plastic box, leaving the bowl, if not semi-pristine, at least not completely loaded up with the aftermath of the human digestive system. There is also a small sink with running water (attached to a smaller, foot operated pump) and usually some spray soap in a dispenser so you can wash your hands.

It wasn’t until this trip that I realised that Australian portaloos are relatively civilised.

Australian portaloos give you the ability to pretend that if you were to accidentally drop something into the bowl – a mobile phone, or an energy gel packet – that it would be salvageable. I mean we all know that if anyone actually dropped their iPhone X into a portaloo toilet bowl that they’d immediately be calculating how they feel about disposing of A$1000, but you still get that choice! In North America you don’t get that choice: one poorly angled pocket emptying moment and it’s goodbye device.

So please consider this an apology to my North American brethren; your revulsion is completely understandable.

Doing things that make you happy.

Back in January one of the pieces of advice the GP gave me was “do things that make you happy”. This was at the back of my mind when back in November I decided to withdraw from this year’s Six Inch.

I had signed up through FOMO (fear of missing out) instead of desire back in July when entries opened. While we’d been trail running for training, I hadn’t been enjoying it like I used to. For the first time ever I’d had a negative voice in my head – it had three specific chatty lines:

“Ooh, you won’t be able to keep up that pace on race day – that’s way too fast if you want to survive 47km.”

“Ooh, you want to be a bit careful here, you might wreck your ankles again on that surface. Better slow down.”

“Ooh, that pace is a bit slow, you won’t make the cut-off for the aid stations at that pace. You need to be a tiny bit faster.”

Marry those three lines together, and you have the funnest vicious circle ever!

It came to a head when we ran a training run on Yaberoo Trail near Yanchep National Park, and I had a tiny cry when I realised I needed to withdraw. We got to the National Park, and Vince, Didi and Jez ran on and did the Ghosthouse Trail, while I sat down under the trees at one of the tables and composed my email to Dave Kennedy, withdrawing from the race and offering my services as a volunteer.

I hit send, and instantly felt simultaneously relieved and stupendously excited – if I wasn’t doing Six Inch, then I’d be on fine form in February to do the Busselton Half Marathon, and then the new Runningworks Thornlie Half Marathon. After the last time I did Six Inch it took me until past April to do anything over 10 kilometres.

A couple of weeks later we did a loop of the Munday Brook trail in Karragullen and I loved every minute of it, and happily ran along without that chatty negative voice in my head. I’d done 29km on the Six Inch course with Marnie a couple of weeks before the Yaberoo run and in amongst that were some amazing downhills that I sped down and thoroughly enjoyed, but this time that joy was throughout my run. It was inspiring.

Dave gave me a few options for volunteering, and I accepted the finish line assistance role, which it turned out was being the presenter of finishers medals to everyone who had raced. This was just what I needed – I got to see everyone finish, and for the first time ever I got to see the fast guys run further than the trail dogleg at Aid 2. It was a surprisingly cold and wet December day, and Scotty Hawker and Nera Jareb both managed new course records – Scotty coming in in 3 hours 15 minutes, and Nera coming in 3 hours 42 minutes. I stood at that finish line for four hours, handing out medal after medal to the half and full marathon finishers, and enjoyed every minute.

One person crossed the line at 6 hours 53 minutes which was my finish time in 2014. I remember thinking while watching him barrel down the finish chute “That’s a really bloody long time to be out on course. It is definitely time to work on speed.”

So that’s my goal now – I need to be faster, probably over all distances, but definitely on trail. The negative voice in my head might have technically been correct, but now I have more of a concrete plan which has definitely quieted the negative spin. Jeremy is fully supportive of this plan – I have lots of road race plans this year, including my personal Kimetto Challenge, which is to get a half marathon time of 2h02m57s (or less!) because that’s the World Record time for the marathon and would make me half as fast as Dennis Kimetto. I also need to get out on trail and use Bickley and Munday Brook trails to give me 12 months of trail running practice, not the inevitable “four months before Six Inch” push. (Assuming I enter in 2018).

Interval sessions are also on the horizon – with one fun bonus that I had been previously vaguely conscious of, but unaware of official confirmation. Every time I’ve ever done intervals in the early morning I have felt wildly cheery afterwards. I thought it was just the inevitable early morning smug “I’ve totally exercised already, bitches! I don’t have to do anything more today!” feeling that you can sometimes feel, but no! It’s actually brain-derived neurotrophic factor!

We were at the launch of Yokine parkrun and our friend Sarah came along. We were talking afterwards and she mentioned that interval sessions are like DIY antidepressants (Sarah’s a psychologist). She later found me this Journal of Applied Physiology article: High-intensity interval training evokes larger serum BDNF levels compared with intense continuous exercise which explains it all, but how cool is that?

So I have a bit of a plan, inspiration, and a pretty positive outlook. And I intend to keep following my GP’s advice “do what makes you happy”, because if it doesn’t make you happy, why try and force something?