Thursday 16 December 2021

Coastal Classic 2021

Well well well. It’s been a while between posts. Obviously some kind of Covid thing has been a problem, but there has also been so much more on top of a puny pandemic. Add in family dramas and work stress and we have a winning combo. Not to mention excess alcohol consumption, depression, and complete lack of time, energy, and motivation to exercise. All too good.

Early March 2020 saw me massively dissatisfied with work. It was affecting all areas of my life. There was also a growing awareness that my Mum’s dementia was worsening, as well as my Fathers lessening ability to accept, comprehend, and deal with it. I had discussed the matter with The Lovely Cait many times, and we both agreed that it was a train wreck, but nothing could be done until the train crashed.

March 5, 2020, the train crashed.

Coming home from work I was greeted by The Lovely Cait saying “sit down here” as she patted the couch, as #1 son opened a beer.

“You know how you’ve always said it was going to fall apart at some point...”

Non driving Mother with dementia had found the car keys and driven away. Eventually located by neighbour who (thankfully) worked in dementia respite care and was aware of the situation. She arranged short term emergency care. Most importantly she knew enough about the deteriorating situation enough not to simply take her back home.

The next two weeks were a blur as I arranged dementia specific residential care. Whilst also dragging Mum off to visit lawyers to transfer Guardianship and Power of Attorney from my Father to me. And repeatedly dragging Mum to Centrelink to restore her Pension which in her dementia she had lost. She was now identifying as both Aboriginal and New Zealand. Which she isn’t. She has dementia. So much fun. Dragging her to her bank to sort out internet banking. More fun. Service NSW to organise an identity card (because she had no license) and Disability Sticker (because she couldn’t get walk more than 25 metres without collapsing). I couldn’t leave her because she kept trying to get on buses. It was two weeks of pure happiness as I also rang every care facility in existence, getting no joy.

Finally an offer of a room at a lovely lovely place with loving caring staff to whom I will be forever grateful.

I must say that during this period I met with mostly nothing but love as people speaking to my Mum quickly twigged, gave me a look, tore up the rule book, and got down to simply being human and helpful. It was heart warming. 

Although there was the long drawn out saga of restoring her pension. Centrelink loves to request you upload documents. Endlessly. Needlessly. Finally I uploaded a letter clearly stating that we are in the middle of a pandemic, and their endless requests for my Mother with dementia to keep fronting up was both cruel, and was going to get her infected and killed. I also added a few other bits I won’t publish here. 

A lovely boy called Michael called me. He waffled. I was brutally honest. She got her pension. Backdated. 

In 2 weeks I performed miracles. My Mother was finally safe. I had control of her wishes and finances.

Let the games begin.

At this point insert 6 months of abusive phone calls from my Father accusing me of destroying the family and calling me all the names under the sun. Endless phone messages at all hours. The angry do not sleep. Especially when they try to invoke Guardianship to bring wife home and discover son has changed legal arrangements. Sound of shit hitting fan.

Eventually we arranged home visits which sucked the life out of me.  Taking Mum back to residential care became an exercise in managing an angry Father who poured guilt all over me. My Father has only two emotional states - anger and self pity. Work became a crushing chore. The Lovely Cait took on board a whole pile of stuff above and beyond. Literally a life saver.

Father’s macular degeneration was a new surprise. Apparently he can hardly see. Still wants to drive and pick up Mum. As her legal Guardian, I  refused to let him. Sound of more shit hitting the fan. However he actually managed to drive and “kidnap” her one day. Lovely end to a Hunter holiday away as distraught staff called apologising because Dad had picked her up and taken her home. Not a surprise for me. This is what he does. Mum had a meltdown and wanted to go back to her residential care. Dad called in a panic. She was sobbing and hysterical.  I had to come and get her - except I couldn’t come get her immediately and he was stuck until I could pick her up. I was actually glad when the second lockdown arrived and he couldn’t get in to cause problems.

No time to run, no time to relax. Never ending phone calls filled with anger and self pity. One minute a Counsellor the next a whipping boy. Plenty of time to drink. Too much.

I am a tiny fellow. My once 60kg slowly went to 66. I felt it every day in every part of my body. Even my face hurt. I just ached. Physically and emotionally. 

Family tradition is my making pizza every Sunday. I remember looking at a 1kg bag of flour and thinking “I have six of those on me”.

Let us talk about Ted.

Dad loves to talk about Ted. As a boy, we went to many BBQ with Dad and all his mates. Ted would turn up in his 1970’s Adidas shorts, all long lanky legs and blond hair. He would run to these parties from somewhere far far away. I remember the fat beer bellied blokes giving him grief.  To this day Dad talks about him being an idiot, he died early because he ran too much. 

I loved Ted. I wanted to be like Ted.

Before the second lockdown ended in about October? (lost track) we had some big changes at work. I also had some time off in September. I began walking with The Lovely Cait, then some running. Which hurt. So much. Those bags of flour  were heavy.

Regular 10km Wifey walks were wonderful. Lots of deep conversations with the greatest listener ever. Then I added 10km slogs to the mix. 20km days make a huge difference to fitness (and weight).When I returned to work I managed to sneak in morning walks and 5km runs to the train. It all added up. Then clocked up 10/20km days on the weekend. Then I got a bunch of late shifts which made consecutive 10km morning runs possible. On a roll.

By mid October work was not such a soul crusher, I had reduced my drinking (a bit), I was running regularly. I began to lose some flour. Shout out to my running club and friends who kept me inspired and sane on social media. You all made a difference more than you can ever know.

Parents were still a huge time commitment and emotional drain, but at least some things were improving. 10km runs were no longer smashing me. “The Feeling” was back. Suddenly the idea of entering “an event” seemed an option.

An “event”. In the world of normal people, this is probably something you might do a few times. Or once. Or never.

For nut jobs like me, it is some sort of validation. It may be a solitary personal challenge (like run 45km from home to Bondi Beach) or something you pay good money to do with many others. It is a lifestyle. Until my life fell apart I was constantly looking for a physical challenge that would somehow give my life deeper meaning. Without running, without exertion, putting on weight, losing fitness, it made all the other stresses worse.

An “event” is also the chance to do something that means nothing to anyone else. It is totally your choice. If things go wrong, you don’t have to care, you don’t have to apologise or justify. You can quit anytime, or just battle on through whatever error riddled mangled mess you have created. If you do well, no one cares. If you screw up and crawl to the finish, or maybe not even finish, no one cares. Very liberating. I love this feeling that no one cares but me. I give up - no one cares. I suffer immeasurably- no one cares. 

An option to go on a wait list for The Coastal Classic popped up. It is the Coastal Track in The Royal National Park. About 30km. In years gone by I ran it by myself for fun, or with other crazies. To do it now though... Should I shouldn’t I...

Eventually the voice of reason (The Lovely Cait) prevailed.

“Just fucking do it stop talking about it”

So wise

Was a bit scaredy pants as put my name on the wait list 

*ping* entry available. Scaredy pee pants now.

*tap* *tap* *tap* pay money.

Event entered. Off to wee.

But getting to Otford start line at the crack of dawn? No problemo. The last two years have made me a master of problem solving.

The Lovely Cait had a Girls Night cruise on Friday the night before. Took RDO, booked hotel in North Sydney to have relaxing day off, swim in the rooftop pool, pick her up after cruise, early night, early morning, run 30km.


I arrived at hotel to find weather changing from hot and sunny to cool and windy. Don’t care. Paid good money. In for a swim.

Relaxing afternoon reading. Bought some $5 closing restaurant meals.  One for dinner, one for post race. Sat in park munching happily. Life is good.

Wobbly wife called to say she was staying longer. Calling an uber. Pissy wife (her words!) arrived and we sat talking for hours. True love *sigh*

Plan A. 4am alarm. Up, make coffee, shower, gel for breakfast, lube up, out the door. 7am start. So streamlined.

Roadworks everywhere, get hopelessly misplaced, miss train to 7am start.

Plan B. Arrive for 8am start. 

I had looked over old stats (that’s what running nerds do), and guesstimated 4 1/2 to 5 hours. Start at 7, finish at 11.30/12 o’clock. Suddenly reassessing for a possible 1pm or later finish. Wanted to throw my toys out of the cot with my dummy *waaaaah*. I will be running all by myself *waaaah*

Stop being a baby time.

Standing in the gloom of Sutherland Station car park at 6.30am applying Vaseline. Running is so glamorous. At the station tall skinny runner is looking at timetables. Like many others, he has missed the 5.50 train. He looks like he will finish in under 3 hours.

Later train arrived Sutherland, we put on our masks, got to Otford by 7.30. Put on my Big Boy Pants, showed my double vaxxed passport,  registered, collected my race bib, nervous wee, and lined up at the (later) start. Actually quite a large group. I won’t be alone.

Before the start I met Mark the race organiser. I have met him several times before, and done quite a few volunteer stints.

As I walked towards him he smiled. “Mark” I said. “Rob Sharpe” he said. “Wow, good memory I said”. “It’s on your bib” he said.

But he did remember me. Then he hurled my finish bag with $5 post race rice and veggies into his truck with a mighty plastic takeaway container smashing crash. 

Of course once I started just after 8am, it was fun time. How good to be out running again and all nervous about the outcome.

The Coastal Classic is indeed a classic. Rocky rainforest sections, rough trail, rocks and tree roots, exposed  cliff edges with endless views, long sandy beaches and sand slogging. Big winds creating reverse waterfalls along the way, lovely water courses. Once upon a time this track was an eroded mess, now it is lovely boardwalks and carefully masoned sandstone. And lots of hills and climbing. I heard so many saying “I didn’t know there would be so many hills”. Lots of climbing.

A runner in front asked “have you done this before. Is it all like this? When do we get to the beach?”

The Coastal Classic sells itself with all it’s inspirational photos of running along golden beaches. There are lots of beaches. It doesn’t take long to learn that it is actually hard to run on loose sand. You can adopt a weird looking forward lean that lets you drop your foot down than almost fall forward. Then repeat. A thousand million times. Most just give up and walk/slog as they dream of rainforests and rocks. Then you climb another hill.

Before the event my GPS watch died. To avoid complications (like being late for work) I kept to the same 10km route. With no hills. I was a bit worried about A) the extra 20km and B) the hills.

No worries. My plan had 2 parts. Reach Wattamolla (halfway), assess how I felt, then plan how to proceed. I expected to reach there at about 11ish and slog away. It was 10.30 when I arrived there. Yes, I  was pushing a tad, but not too hard.  I was letting experience take over from lack of km’s in training. When to walk, when to run. Keep the fluids and calories trickling in. It sounds so knowledgeable, but experience also told me that riding this fine line between cruising and collapsing was a payment I was going to pay later. Big time. Which I did. Sunday/ Monday were agony. The lovely cool weather helped though. At times a huge southerly wind was blowing us along and up the hills. What a gift.

As I run I hear my phone pinging. Guess who.

The last aid station. About 5km. I usually hate this bit, the sand is leg suckingly horrible, but today the sand was not so bad. At some point, the realisation that I was going to finish hit me, and the last two years overwhelmed me. Got a bit emotional.

The last beach section, the last km, tall skinny missed the train guy is with me. I let him run ahead. I am not in race mode today, and I am stoked I finished in his postcode.

I cross the line. 4:12. Only 12.15pm. I lie down. Tall skinny guy comes to shake my hand. I am done. Kind lady asks if I’m OK. I look that good.

Open my finish bag. Rice and veggies intact. Nommy nommy. So hungry, but the thought of eating made me sick. Had some water instead. Running is so glamorous. Eventually ate my meal in dark car park at Sutherland station where only hours ago I had been applying lube.

Running is so glamorous 

Check my phone. Messages from Dad.

Life goes on.


  1. Wow! I'm speechless! We firstly for all the pain you went thru with your folks (my Dad has dementia too and is FINALLY in a care home) and your detailed running info! You're amazing!

  2. Hopefully things will get better in 2022, but that is what I thought this time last year.

    Organising nursing homes can be difficult. My dad ended up with extremely poor mobility. After several respite stints someone helpfully told us that he was qualified for a permanent bed, because the social worker forgot to tick a box. Fixed within a week.

    Centrelink are a pain. All I want from them is a Low Income Health Card. There computer worked out that I already had a customer reference number, so filled in my last details from 14 years ago when I had Sickness Benefit. Their software is revolting. I deleted things but they stayed there. They didn't ask me about some things. I had to go into Centrelink to prove who I was, but anyone who had access to my myGov account wouldn't have that much trouble being me. Now it is taking 4 weeks and I will probably be asked more questions.

  3. Yep. There is a whole lot more behind my blog. It was for friends as much as for anything else as a summary. Since posting a whole bunch of other stuff has happened. Am in the process of organising residential care, myGov, myagedcare, Centrelink...etc. Like my Dad has all his faculties and an IT degree