BEST OF 2022: Running can help you find your feet in paradise

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People running on beach

Gillian discovered the fantastic bush trails and coastal paths of the Far South Coast. Photo: Gillian Stapleton.

Year in Review: Region Media is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2022. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2022. Today, Gil Stapleton tells us how she found her feet on the Far South Coast.

I grew up on the South Coast of the United Kingdom. Today I find myself living on the NSW Far South Coast. It is similar in name and nature with breathtaking coastlines and sandy beaches.

But moving to a regional location has been humbling, heart-warming and hard work. It’s given me space to breathe, a slower pace, solitude and stars.

These are some of the many reasons I love where I live but it wasn’t love at first sight.

I travelled up and down the highway to the city every week. A mere four-hour commute each way, giving me time to chat with friends and listen to excellent books and podcasts. I had it all, with a city apartment, a busy career during the week and a little piece of paradise at the weekend.

Then came the bushfires that circled our newly renovated house for weeks. Constant evacuations and smoke-filled furniture left a fear deep in me that tested my resilience and stole my slow love for the Far South Coast.

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I headed up the highway after Australia Day in 2020, after four long weeks of constant anxiety, towards my small Sydney apartment and called my husband, who was still at the house, and said that we should sell. I was done. It was too confronting and a challenge I was not up for. My old life in the busy city with its restaurants, theatres and nightlife was calling.

Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and a matter of weeks later I had closed the office and was working from home back on the South Coast. As we all went into the COVID coma and a stay-at-home existence I was forced to plant my feet firmly in the country town that I found myself in 24/7.

I was no longer a fly-in-fly-out resident and I missed my city life of cafes and cinemas, my weekly runs with mates and the shopping. But then so did everyone. Slowing down was a challenge and weirdly eerie.

Work was crazy with hours in front of a computer monitor and I launched myself into a self-imposed pandemic productivity challenge.

At the end of the days there were no open cinemas or restaurants. No catch up with friends after work.

I felt somewhat lost and a little cut off as I’m sure most of the country did. Netflix became my new friend and I got cosy with too many wines and too much home cooked food.

Months passed and I needed to come out of isolation (or iso as the Australians like to call it).

The iso cocoon was a time spent running. I’ve been running now for over 10 years and found that wherever I am in the world I can lace up the shoes and head out for a run. It has been my solace.

As a marathon runner I was usually working towards the next race but with the world in a coma there were no face to face events and the virtual ones just were not inspiring me. So, I took to trail running.

Running in the city was around the streets and suburbs, but on the coast, I started to discover a new joy: the fantastic trails in the bush and along the coastal paths. Running solo and walking the fantastic beaches, I started listening to my podcasts and books again.

I also spent time trying to discover if I had green fingers. I don’t.

I slowly discovered the beauty around me and felt so privileged to be on the South Coast where I could do this. Others were not so lucky.

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As I emerged from this iso state, I started to reach out to the local running community and gingerly joined a group, knowing no one.

Confronting and challenging myself again, I was out of my running distance depth on that first Sunday. I circled the lake; the bellbirds were calling, the blue lake was sparkling and the oyster beds were spread far and wide, but I could run no further.

At the 20 km mark my husband was there in the car, just in case and I bailed out.

Crossing the beautiful old rickety bridge over a creek where some kids were playing, I just couldn’t keep up with the new group and thought that would be the last time I saw them. The shame of not completing the run would have stopped me from returning the following week.

Runner at marathon finish line

As a marathon runner Gillian was usually working toward the next race – but COVID-induced isolation changed the nature of her passion. Photo: Gillian Stapleton.

That’s when I met Ren for the first time. She had stopped as well. A total stranger, she also jumped into the car and said, “Thank goodness. I need a ride to the finish”.

This made me drive to the finishing point and not straight home, helping me feel included.

Welcomed by the running group at the trail’s end, we sat by the water eating locally caught fish and chips – another reason to live where I live. The chatter was refreshingly normal and inclusive and I finally began to breathe.

As I embraced this local community I discovered the beauty of the running trails that ran along the coastline – local coffee spots and hidden cafes away from the hustle and bustle of city life, whales that swam close to the coastline and seals that lived on the local rocks. I formed friendships founded on the shared anxieties of recent events, fear and fun in a weird period of history.

From sharing a ride with one runner to running the Canberra Marathon with a crew from the South Coast, I found my wings again.

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Family dinners with new friends on a Sunday night are now a part of life. We may not be blood relatives, but our adopted community is a new family that joins us and we join them for casseroles or a barbie.

Light the fire pit and the neighbours are there. I had always dreamed of that neighbour you could call on for a cup of sugar and I found Leesha, living on the South Coast.

When life gets in the way, you will find baked goods and a few lemons on your doorstep. Everyone seems to be able to grow a lemon tree except me.

Dropping the shackles of city life for country town living has been a metamorphosis into paradise. Ocean swimming is a new passion for me, much like developing green fingers is a work in progress. Two chickens have turned into a brood with the help of a crazy cockerel.

Seeing the Milky Way from your own backyard will never get boring.

But by far the most amazing thing about my neighbourhood is in the heart of the people. The community surrounding me is the heart of soul of the Far South Coast.

Gillian is CEO of Direct Selling Australia, an industry body representing the direct selling channel that allows thousands of women across the country to run a home based business. She finds time to run for fun – and she runs long distances. With 12 marathons under her belt, the most recent one in Canberra, she now manages to work remotely on the Far South Coast and enjoys all the beautiful trails it has to offer.

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Wonderful story and true about the south coast. Love this place.

In a world where so many run away from things; it’s always refreshing reading a story of those who dare to run towards something and expand their world in the process.

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