Summer In Mudgee | My Quest To Be The Fastest Runner In The World

Around the summer of 2006, I lost 14kg. In between my bestie, Laura, and I drinking our body weight in beer and my confusion about how many calories were in the 3 for 1 cookie deal at Subway, I managed to give myself some unwanted stretchmarks. Let’s just say, I was forever grateful that “jeggings” were a thing back then.

Through a combination of walking everywhere, teaching dance at a summer camp and attending every kickboxing class at my gym, I managed to get down to a respectable and healthy 57kg. Feeling like I was basically a blonde and nicer version of Jillian Michaels, I enthusiastically signed up for a sprint triathlon because some of the lifeguards at camp were going to do it too. The fact that they were division 1 collegiate cross-country runners at the University of Florida didn’t worry me. They were encouraging and convinced me that I could do it even though I had never run more than a mile in my life, had never ridden a road bike or swum any significant distance in a body of water.

To prepare, I borrowed my friend’s dad’s road bike, which was approximately double my size and painted in vibrant splatters of red, yellow and orange. Riding it was kind of like balancing on Naomi Campbell’s clavicle while she strutted down a runway. I had my mom, Donna, follow me in her car so that she could rescue me in case I fell off while, “training.” I did pretty well, but honestly, I am the opposite of what I would call an athlete. I tend to move at a glacial pace even when I think I’m in a full on sprint. Basically, I do nothing to help my gender’s stereotype when it comes to ball throwing and speed.

However, I’m not sedentary either. I really do have the energy of a new puppy with a Christmas tree full of breakable ornaments to play with and enough confidence to compete in a triathlon that required skills I didn’t really have. BUT I did it. I swam (swallowed an unhealthy amount of saltwater), I biked (without changing gears) and I ran (in a manner similar to Jan Brady.)

Even though I looked like a special needs chicken trying to outrun a fox, you best believe I bought those professional race photos. You know what else I did? I won. I got first place in my age group. (Maybe if I make this font small enough, you won’t see that there were only two people in my age group.)

It didn’t take long for me to become addicted to running. I started devouring books like, Ultra Marathon Man and watching Prefontaine on repeat. The only issue – I had the gait of a tortoise. Still – I wouldn’t give up. I kept running and running and celebrating those 28-minute 5k’s. After a couple of years of (slowly) running for my uni’s cross-country team, I signed up for the Kona Half-Marathon. After months of training on the icy streets of Boston, I set off from the starting line in Hawaii with great speed. Around the 10k mark, I started thinking that maybe I had Kenyan in my background. It was the only way to explain the fact that I was still maintaining a decent pace. (By “decent pace” I mean I wasn’t walking or crawling.) I honestly couldn’t believe that I was even passing people. Before I could ponder my new found athleticism further, my legs turned to lead and finishing became harder than the time I tried to make over-sized hoop earrings work in high school.

My triumphant crossing of the finish line was followed by some light dry heaving and then a burst of endorphins. After rehydrating and updating my Facebook status to “Half-Marathon Finisher” my running mates and I sat around the awards stage. As we re-hashed the race, I heard someone start to announce the 16-21 Women’s age group winners. 2nd Place: Summer Land. I was shocked! How?! How had I won SECOND PLACE? Maybe it wasn’t me. We were in Hawaii after all – if I were ever going to meet another Summer Land it would be here.

Nope – it was definitely me. I thanked my inner Kenyan man and then proudly took the stage where I was presented a medal by the beautiful Miss Kona Coffee. When I went back to my seat, I felt less like Summer Land and more like Summer Sanders when she won the Gold Medal at the 1992 Olympics. A little later I went and checked the results print out for my time. And there it was in black and white. 16-21 Women’s Age Group competitors… once again there were only two of us. I got 2nd place and last at the same time. But it’s okay. The thing that I love about running is that everyone is so encouraging and nice. It’s also like this weird drug where the hangover happens while you’re doing it and the high comes after.

So who’s doing the Mudgee Running Festival with me?!

Get a signed copy of Summer Land’s memoir, Summerlandish, from summerlandauthor.com