Over the last few years I’ve come to really enjoy running. I typically run three or four times per week with one of these runs being a long run, at least 21.1km. After my first marathon I agreed with my family that I’d not spend such of my weekend doing long runs and formed a habit of getting up very early on a Friday morning for these runs, usually with a couple of my Merri Creek Running Club friends.
This week, we’ve driven from Melbourne to Yulara in the red heart of Australia. I got out for my habitual runs on Monday (in Adelaide) and Wednesday (in Coober Pedy) and have been looking forward to my Friday Long Run from the tourist resort to watch the sunrise over the majestic monolith that is Uluru, enjoying twenty-odd kilometres of serenity along the way.
The run started off well, a little earlier than planned, at about 5:15am and I saw a warming campfire at the edge of the resort. It was about 8°C, still and dry: perfect running conditions! As I hit the Lasseter Highway, the soft street lighting of Yulara faded into darkness and a spectacular starscape opened up in front of me.
Running alone in the dark was a strange experience. My head torch illuminated enough of the road ahead of me to pick out any unevenness in the road and my Million Mile Lights ensured I was visible to the couple of passing vehicles along the way but I had no peripheral vision.
Approximately 2.5km into my run I thought I heard a tapping sound behind me. I turned around and the light from my head torch bounced off the eyes of a small animal on the other side of the road. I quickened my pace and heard the animal do the same, so I stopped. And it stopped. I turned and was faced with a black and tan dingo. Aware that most wild animals are as afraid of humans as we are of them, but equally aware that I could be on the menu, I motioned to the animal that I intended to carry on in the direction of Uluru and that I would leave them in peace. The canine didn’t take the hint and continued to pursue me from the other side of the road. The beam from the head torch seemed to act as a nonphysical barrier beyond which the creature wouldn’t step, but I didn’t get the feeling that it offered any real protection. I continued to trot along the highway with the torch now in my hand to keep the dingo at bay. It followed along on the other side of the road keeping parallel with me for about a kilometre but I become increasingly aware that my long run was not going to go anything like I had planned, I couldn’t take my eyes off my new companion for long enough to look at my running watch, but I knew my heart-rate was elevated and my pace was erratic, there was little chance I was going to make it to meet my brother-in-law at the Sunrise Viewing Area at the time we’d agreed last night.
And then, after about a kilometre, the dog moved in front of me on the same side of the road, facing me. I stopped and slowly crossed the road. It crossed the road too, still facing me. I said, “this is clearly your territory, I’m going to go back to my home now and you can go back to yours!” and I turned slowly and began to walk back to the resort, keeping the torch beam on the dog.
It followed me.
I part walked – part jogged back along the Lasseter Highway, using the beam to keep a distance between us. A vehicle approached, heading for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and I warned the dog to get out of the way. Despite being scared of this animal, I wanted no harm for it. After the vehicle passed the dog sat facing me and growled a deep, menacing growl. I became increasingly concerned for my safety and tried hard not to show any signs of fear. I again told the dog that I was going back and it should go on its own way but it remained unconvinced and continued in pursuit.
It wasn’t long before the street lights of the resort at Yulara welcomed me back into civilisation but the mutt was undeterred by these and followed me regardless, getting closer and closer. A delivery vehicle went past and the driver must have seen me shining the torch on the dingo. I’m not sure what they were thinking but they tooted their horn. After the van had gone, I was left face to face with the seated dingo. I backed away slowly.
A tour bus approached and the driver saw a similar sight to the delivery driver but slowed down. In a moment, I flagged the coach down and walked slowly over to the passenger door, torch beam on the animal at all times. The driver kindly opened the door and invited me aboard. He said he’d seen that dingo a few times over the past few weeks but never on the resort ground, when he’d seen me there he knew I was in trouble! The driver was picking folks up from the first hotel on the resort for a sunrise tour of the national park and advised me to tell the hotel receptionist that there was a dingo on the resort so that they could “deal with it”. I couldn’t find any staff members at the reception area and after the coach load of tourists were on their way for a fun morning, I sent my brother-in-law a message to say not to expect me at Uluru and headed off back to our hotel. As I left the first hotel’s car park and started to cross the road, I heard familiar paw-steps across the road. I shined my torch and the eyes of the hound reflected the light back at me. I headed straight back through the brightly-lit car park into the reception area. This time there were a few people in reception and two behind the counter. I made my report to one of these who said they’d inform maintenance and I had a drink of water before setting off in the other direction to make my long, illuminated way back to bed.
I was utterly, utterly unprepared for what I might meet in Outback Australia and will certainly not be making the mistake of attempting to run alone in the outback again, I can tell you! Still, I’m unharmed and have what I think is a great holiday tale. I’m looking forward to running with my mates back in Melbourne in a few days and continuing my training towards my fourth Melbourne Marathon on 14 October.