Sonia O'Sullivan: Good coffee and the right café make a good run
Running, like golf, is a sport you can play forever no matter what level you are at
“Wherever I go it’s equally important to have a good coffee spot as well as a good training venue. They go hand in hand.”
The Village Bike café sits on the edge of the mountain at Falls Creek. It appears on the horizon, just as you pass through the Falls Creek welcome gateway.
Just like most things on the mountain, it’s a simple set-up: a shipping container in a car park overlooking the summer green ski slopes. As you sit back and look up at the obviously steep black runs you can only wonder what it would all look like, all covered in snow.
This is mountain life in the Australian summertime. The ski slopes and connecting trails have been taken over by mountain bike riders and distance runners, and where there are riders and athletes along the aqueducts like that there always needs to be a café. Not just any café but one with the best coffee on the mountain.
In the many years coming here we have sourced coffee in one form or another on the mountain, but it seems runners’ needs were not met as quickly as the bikers. Then the café finally arrived, complete with bags of beans from the St Ali roasters in South Melbourne. The mountain bike park is just over four years old, and the café just over two years.
My favourite style of coffee has changed over the years too. My current favourite is a Magic, which is made perfectly each day by the expert barista in the pop-up café on the mountain, especially when I bring my own glass-keep cup.
Most days I don’t even need to ask; just hand over the cup and the cash. And the other day a young dust-covered mountain biker was standing in front of me, baggy shorts and shirt and complete with knee and elbow pads and camelback water pack, sheepishly asking for a Magic, while I was gently giggling behind knowing that’s exactly what I’m going to ask for once he steps aside.
A Magic is basically a double espresso macchiato, or for those outside of Europe, a three-quarters cappuccino, definitely with no chocolate . . . More coffee than milk is the secret.
Meanwhile I’m perfecting the aeropress style coffee at home and on the road, complete with hand grinder and weighing scale. I wouldn’t be pretentious at all about coffee, although I am still rationing my all-time favourite coffee beans roasted in Dublin by 3FE, picked up just before Christmas, originating from the Pacamara coffee estate in Nicaragua, El Salvador.
That makes for a black coffee in the morning, a white Magic in the afternoon, the same every day. And that’s my two cups done for the day.
And one of the best parts of the day at Falls Creek is sitting under the canopy of this makeshift café, a temporary summer set-up, with the continuous flow of bikers coming and going. This is the mountain bike hub where all the trails start and finish, where you can rent a bike, though most bring their own.
You can also buy a day pass so that you can get transport by the mini bus and trailer at the base of the Flowtown Trail, and get driven back up, to quickly zip back down again; or take a lift all the way to the summit and weave back down through the Frying Pan, High Voltage, Wishing Well and on to Flowtown, all downhill trails of varying degrees of difficulty.
Talk of these downhill trails are just some the conversations I overhear while sitting alongside the café – the thrills and spills and exhilarations of another world to the road cycling that I’m more used to.
For as long as I can remember now, wherever I go it’s equally important to have a good coffee spot as well as a good training venue. They go hand in hand.
The one good thing for cyclists is the designated coffee stop along the route. One of my favourites at home is in Shanagarry, when cycling around East Cork, far enough away from Cobh to warrant a coffee stop, equally as long to get warmed up on the ride back home.
It’s funny how differently the coffee stop and destination slots fit into the runner’s day and cyclist’s day. For runners, it’s always been that slump in the afternoon, when you need a pick me up, but also a relaxing time to gather yourself before getting ready for the second run of the day or gym session.
Here at Falls Creek, the coffee stop is just one more focal point for athletes away on training camp, as there’s not really a whole lot else going on between sessions in a ski village, most of which is just partly open in summer.
It’s not all blue skies and sunshine to keep the motivation going either. Earlier this week the clouds rolled in and dumped some golf ball-size hailstones, with a pretty impressive lightning show in the background, as we packed up for the following day’s departure.
When I woke up, with just one more run to do, there was still a cloud over the mountain. I’ve seen it before and it always looks much worse that it really is. I had already packed away most of my gear so headed out bravely in my shorts and singlet. To get a run in just makes the rest of the day flow better, even with the looming pack up and long drive to Melbourne ahead.
One of my favourite podcasts to listen to while running is the Sunday newspaper review, so this week I had Pádraig Harrington and Paul Kimmage for company. When you just run around and ride your bike for enjoyment and fitness at 5,000ft altitude it can still wear you down, and those final days on the mountain top I didn’t find myself jumping out of bed to lace up my shoes; more like dragging myself out to get the final few runs in, knowing as always that I’d feel better afterwards.
Then the topic of retirement arose on the podcast, and Pádraig defiantly answered that he would never retire and would always see himself in touch with the golf course.
In a way golf and running are similar like that, sports that you can continue to do forever if you wish; play for life, run for life. Maybe not at the same level or speed or efficiency, but still getting out there and doing the thing that connects your body and soul with everything else that goes on in your life.
It’s impossible to retire from something that is such a big part of your life, something ingrained in your soul, and that you know is something you can never let go of – even as I was struggling along the village aqueduct, through the mist and damp morning air.
Then I got to watch over some of the younger runners, on their final run too, having given up a small part of their summer holidays to seek out some of the mountain magic that may one day lead to a career in athletics. Or at the very least a lifelong love of sport.
Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!) and Get Healthy for 2018.
First, pick the programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: This programme is an eight-week course that will take you from inactivity to being able to run 30 minutes non-stop.
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Best of luck!