Wednesday night’s training session is the second longest of the training week. The basic formula is 16km: but, for those who run to the Club, mileage can creep up to 18km or more. In times of intense and consistent high volumes, runners are welcome to push the distance up to 20km, pending – of course – approval from Neil.
The terrain of the run is varied. We travel east along Highett Street and then head north through backstreets before reaching the heavily trafficked Victoria Street. There is a small public park and a café (generally not open at evening running time). The dense traffic and the long cycle of the traffic lights affords runners excellent views of the Walmer Apartments set against a backdrop of greenery and the din of a dozen idling Mazda3s.
Runners cross the narrow bridge: at the fore of which is a sign to warn hoons on bicycles and perhaps absent-minded smart phone users with dogs attached by leads. Cyclists, walkers and us runners reluctantly fall into single file to let those travelling south assume priority on the east side of the narrow – but not without charm – bridge.
There is a brief ascent before we take the downwards path to the left. A black diamond suggests degree of difficulty and is reminiscent of ski slopes but is no doubt for the mountain biker looking for adventure in inner suburban Melbourne. The path is windy and occasionally there is a breeze here, too. Over the summer months it grows dusty as the last remnants of moisture become absorbed or have long since evaporated.
We run along the path, and the slowness of the course, makes it easy to have conversation as we bunch together before Joji stretches his legs as the path opens up. As we near the Abbotsford flats, along a low-lying stretch, we smell the hops. The borderland of Richmond-Abbotsford retains its brewery, beery character. Before the next bridge: humans let their dogs frolic and gambol as we dodge PitBulls and Mastiffs who may be friendly and genteel but whose appearance suggests otherwise. Sometimes a wild and random whippet is enough to put a runner off his or her gait.
The next bridge to Collingwood is usually crossed without fuss and incident. Junk gathers at the back of the Salvation Army Store as do the leaves from the peppercorn tree. There are steps and a gutter for bicycle wheels so cyclists can descend, slowly but assuredly. A barrier divides left from right so one is not confused about which side one must be on. We runners then break out into a proper jog and head passed the Convent (problematic history, anyone?) and the Childrens’ Farm (where childrens are educated about the natures of animalias): don’t feed them, says the sign on the fence: the animals are, like us runners should be, on a strict diet.
The Birrarung or Yarra as Settlers call it thins out over summer. Dights Falls, post-heavy rain, is an engineering landmark and a site for kayakers to perform their watery acrobatics. Here can be found the first water fountain. But, as Engineer Lachlan James suggests, ‘don’t sate your thirst here, wait until the one yonder, upstream where the water is fresher’. A fork presents itself to the runners: some veer right for the shorter course, the mainstream however chooses north to follow Merri Creek in the south-eastern corner of Hills Cliftonia. We pass cricket nets and apartments and curated native greenery. There is a rotunda under which walkers sometimes sit when it rains. On the left is Engineer Lachlan’s preferred water fountain: its roughly half-way and the water is well-projected from its tubular spout.
The route goes right and across the busy road is Collingwood’s track which is curiously located well-outside the limits of Black & White Vertical Stripes Country. A few more corners, fields and bridges and us runners make it back on the path which follows the bends of the River. There are hazardous rocks and branches and in a quiet spot, a game of canoe-water-polo sometimes breaks out. The path is then interrupted by the sudden emergence of an infrastructural development and we head up to the road of Kew Boulevard, and reach the min-peak of Wurundjeri Lookout. Cyclists rest here to change their tacked-tyres, look at the view and to tell each other how far and fast they’ve been riding.
Here we follow the road and it passes higher and sometimes lower. There is the freeway over which we pass upon a broad bridge. The city is to our right and the hills are to our left. We pass through the Truth-Bomb Zone during which Lachlan tells it how it really is. We keep going and do not take the road which leads to the Studley Park Boathouse, home to many Glorious Richmond Harrier achievements on Saturday morning Park Runs (highly encouraged). We pass under the road coming from Kew and tread cautiously onto the path so far un-ameliorated by landscape designers or engineers. It is at the edge of the golf course and falls out of someone’s jurisdiction: not my job. We pass an oblong field with oblong goals with the oblong buildings of the centralised business zone in the background. Here magpies warble and pick amongst the needles and tees.
I saw some black cockatoos not far from here once; most of the time it is rainbow lorikeets, magpies, and magpie larks. But please Joji: no more lark ascending.
The smell of hops returns which means we are almost home. There is the last hill and cyclists come down it with vigour, both on the footpath and that reserved for motorised vehicles. And then another water fountain: around which there are can sometimes be found bees. Another lorikeet. We go south along aforementioned Narrow Walmer Street Bridge and get back amongst the back streets of Richmond. We turn left and right where Beyonce filmed a clip, or may have, or might do one day, and we pass the leftover goods from Marie Kondo inspired decluttering. The kids play on the new basketball courts of the new high school and then we push open the door, careful not to cut ourselves on the dilapidated wire screen.
Inside there may be a committee meeting in preparation: the plastic chairs are out and it is all sombre and serious and respectful in anticipation of the arrival of the President. Wednesday nights: sometimes busy with runners and sometimes clashing with the busy-ness of runners’ other obligations, opportunities and vocations.
Andy Fuller joined the Richmond Harriers in 2018. He runs Reading Sideways Press.