I Left My Potato on the Couch

I did it. I went back. I braved the track session and I went back. I had a pork sausage stuck in my stomach from a meeting before (don’t ask me what type of client serves pork sausages at meetings) so I probably didn’t do my best, but I did it and I didn’t cry and I didn’t vomit and I didn’t give up and I may have been slightly cooler than I think.
This is what The Comrades Marathon is to me. I’m not going to do something because it’s easy. That’s not me. I like to do tough things. I like to do things that other people don’t do because they think it’s too difficult. Give me a blanket to crochet or a short story to read and chances are I’m going to give up because those things are just too damn easy. The tough stuff is what keeps my life interesting. 2014 Comrades slogan is “Hard is What Makes it Great”. Hard is why I’m in this!
Hard is What Makes it Great!

I’ll see you at the track on Saturday morning 6am.

Yours in the spirit of going back when you’re afraid to.
Slow Coach.

Speed Kills

There is me. Then there are the cool kids. Today I discovered that there is another level above the cool kids called the Illuminati. They made me cry! I’m trying to be calm about this and see it all in perspective because, hey, last week I ran 60km. The week before that I ran 68km. The week before that I ran 80km. Admittedly, I took about as long to run all of those as it would take a normal endurance athlete to run 14300km. But I’m a decent runner. How many of you reading this can say the same about your last 3 weeks? Okay don’t answer that. I forgot about all you cool kids. Anyway.

Yesterday I ran a 23km club run. We took it easy and finished in 2:48:23. Afterwards, I was loitering around being my totally uncool self, trying to look like one of the cool kids, when I spotted Francis (cool kid), chatting to a lady I recognised as one of the totally coolest kids, Michelle. I’d never actually met her, but her reputation preceded her and everyone had told me I’d do well to meet her. I would NEVER ever have dreamed of speaking to her. She was near deity from the way everyone had spoken of her. Here’s a clue: When I got back from my 23km along which I had been patiently dragged by Romy (Nedbank cool kid) and John (Northcliff /RAC cool kid) after 2:48:23, Michelle had probably been sitting at that table for 1:25:23 and she also took an easy run. You do the maths.

She was helping Francis with a training regime. They seemed almost done when Francis introduced me to Michelle. Knowing what I know now, I should have fallen to my knees and kissed her toes, but I smiled shyly. I explained my dilemma that I could run for days, but I’m totally shit because I’m slower than a sloth. Michelle smiled with an empathy that clearly had no idea what I meant, but she seemed too kind to ridicule me. She and Francis encouraged me to join them tonight (traditionally couch night) for speed training at “the track”. I was scared, but Michelle explained that quality is better than quantity when it comes to preparing for Comrades. She’d probably know better than me, but I had to agree that something had to change for me to get faster.

So this afternoon I stretched and prepared well for “the track” session. I was quite nervous because although Michelle was nothing but sweet and kind, she looks as though she could beat me at an arm wrestle in nano seconds. She’s tiny, but she looks . . . . better at arm wrestling than me. I got to “the track” which was nothing more than a well kept cricket outfield. You know how I loooove running on grass. I arbed around uncoolly early and waited for any face I would recognise. Eventually I decided to go back to my car and play Candy Crush. As I got to my car, Francis and Michelle arrived. Damn! I was so hoping to get past level 23 of Candy Crush. It was not to be. I was here to become a super athlete, not a super couch potato. You know, at heart I think I’m still a couch potato. I must just prefer real medals to virtual medals. (Only couch potatoes would catch that joke.) Francis and I headed off on a warm up run of 2.5km. I can almost remember when that was the furthest I’d ever run in my life. It still scares me that 2.5km is warming up and not enough to earn a hot chocolate with marshmallows and a piece of cheesecake. While we were warming up, the Illuminati came running in a pack towards us. Good Lord! They were impressive. God had in them created magnificent specimens. To all you cool kids, you’re cool, but this is most certainly the Illuminati.

While Francis and I were waiting for them to return, I met him. That wielder of the tazer. That shambok bearing ringmaster. That. . . .coach, Dave. I was still unaware of how this thing was going to go. I thought Michelle was going to be tazer holder, barking orders at us. It turns out that, as Illuminati as she is, she’s also just one of Dave’s circus animals. Dave is a jolly guy. Somewhat rotund and quite unassuming. The pack of Illuminati returned from their warm up, which had lasted about 4 minutes, even though they too had run 2.5km to warm up. We all gathered in a circle. One of the aforementioned Illuminati, a lady by the name of Paula, who was wearing a very menacing shirt that read: “DEATH BEFORE A DNF*” (I’m not making this up) and who reminded me somewhat of Jeremy Irons’ girlfriend in Die Hard with a Vengeance, took us through what would have been a mild stretching regime. I say “would have been” because either her or Ringmaster Dave thought it was a good idea to squeeze in one minute of planking near the end. I have a grass burn on my cheek from that. If you don’t know what planking is, I can’t explain it to you, because verbalising what I did there is against my religion. I cursed. But. I hadn’t vomited yet and I hadn’t cried. So far. So good.

Ringmaster Dave then had us hopping and jumping and skipping up and down the field. He gave a lengthy explanation about why he was doing it. Something about learning your own natural rythm or something. My natural rythm as well as my name and country of origin were forgotten by the start of the third leg of what was to come next. Dave split us into groups which can best be described in my terms as:

At 10km race pace do 600m, walk 100m, 10km race pace do 800m, walk 100m, 10km race pace do 1000m, walk 100m, 10km race pace do 800m, walk 100m, 10km race pace do 600m and immediately do push-ups.

Something like the above, but smaller distances.

US (Francis, not wanting to be seen as totally uncool like me, referred to her lot – which included a 7-year old and a 9-year old – as COOL KIDS A and myself and two other ladies who were also first timers as COOL KIDS B)
8 laps of 400m at 10km race pace with a 2 minute break between each lap.

I looked up at the setting sun and wondered if they were going to put on the floodlights when I was on my fourth lap. Did Dave understand what he was saying when he told me to run at 10km race pace? Did I even know what he meant? Do I even know how fast I run a 10km race? How fast is “Don’t die. Don’t come last”? I figured I better run like I was been chased by lions. I did. Thankfully I wasn’t being chased by lions because apparently lions can run very fast for more than 300m, which they wouldn’t have needed to do to have me for dinner. At 300m I was wheezing and blood was filling my ears and nasal passages. The 400m mark appeared just before my aorta left my body through my neck. I rested for 2 minutes as instructed and set off again with COOL KIDS A. I mostly kept with them for the next 400m. They only rested for a minute, but I couldn’t go with them because I was waiting for the blood to drain from my ears into my throat. So I waited my 2 minutes and set off again. My posture was all a thing of the past. My “natural rhythm” was not unlike that of a warthog. My speed was back to sloth and I wanted to vomit. 400m went by in a day. Dave was running in the opposite direction, regularly shouting encouragement to me. He’s a liar. Maybe he wasn’t lying. Maybe he was genuinely surprised to see me alive each time. I was pretty surprised about that too. At the end of each lap, I didn’t know how I’d manage to go again. The track started to get bigger and bigger. 400m started to feel like 9km. I got to 6 laps and even Ringmaster Dave took pity on me. He told me I could stop and do my pushups if I wanted. I wouldn’t hear of it. I went round one more pathetic time. The Illuminati were all regimentally doing pushups and situps and hand stands and bench pressing one another as I finished off. I managed a magnificent total of 3, count them 1, 2, 3 pushups before I once again buried my face in the allergy-inducing track. Fuck I hate grass! That’s when I cried. Luckily, to spare me further embarrassment, Francis dragged me off for our cool down run of 2.5km.

It was like this was the first time I’d ever run. My legs were weak and had hurt while I was running. I thought I was becoming cool. I thought I was becoming a runner. Sometimes I think I’m just always going to suck at this. It terrifies me that I have to do a session like this ever again if I want to finish Comrades in under 12 hours. I don’t know if I can face that again. Michelle told me I should come on Wednesday again, but I just don’t know if I can. I feel like I’m starting from scratch again. Like I’m going out the door and vomiting 200 metres later. The logic me says: Slow Coach, when change is needed to improve on the status quo, suffering must happen. The couch potato me says: Ag, just give up. Just keep plodding along. You’ll be fine.

Who will win on Wednesday? I’ll let you know.

Yours in status quo.

The Slow Coach

*DNF = Did Not Finish

Don’t Dis Me!

In my preparation for running the Comrades Marathon, for which I have already qualified, (can I get a whoop whoop?)I have been in the enviable or unenviable position of becoming friends with and running partner to total legends when it comes to running. Chrissie (my favourite of these legends) has been nagging me to join her Northcliff morning group. Just the mention of some of the names involved in that group makes my eyes fill with tears. Speeds for 21.1km races range from 4:50m/km to 6:33m/km. So I’ve politely told her “No thanks, Chrissie.” rather than the much more honest “Hell, no Chrissie!”. But on New Year’s Day, I was happily running along with John. John asked if I was the Slow Coach that Chrissie had been trying to enlist in the Northcliff group and I admitted that yes, I was her. I politely waved him away with a “No thanks, John.” He bravely stated the case that I am not, in fact, the slowest person on the planet and that, seeing as I was running at roughly the same pace as he was on this bright New Year’s Day, I should be able to keep up with the majority of the group which wanders around Northcliff and Fairlands most week days for 10 or so kilometres. (By the way John and Graham, how many points do I get for enlisting people via this medium?) At the time, I think John was hungover. I, not being a New Year’s reveller, was not hungover, I was just grumpy…..as usual. So I considered it, John added me to the Whatsapp group and on the next Friday he and I set off on a roughly 10km run. It was pleasant. I had a momentary thought that maybe I could be one of the cool kids and join this group. I’m starting to realise that I’m just not one of the cool kids, no matter how I look at it.

You know when people send out mails to the whole crowd and then some kind Samaritan in the crowd forwards it on to you because you were forgotten off the mailing list? You know how a mail goes out inviting the crowd to an event and each addressee gets a separate mention in the mail, but you’re not mentioned, although you’re on the mailing list this time? You don’t? Then you’re obviously one of the cool kids. Blech!

But, it seemed with the Northcliff group, I had an iota of a chance of being in a group of cool kids. So on the Tuesday, we all set out. For the record, that day started out abysmally. We’d had a power surge raging through our neighbourhood from the night before which was still going when I rushed off to run. I hadn’t slept much as a result and I had left the house early in the morning, worrying about the extent of damage which had been wreaked on my home by the cable theft criminals. So I set off with these new cool friends a bit stressed out. The stress on my mind was soon forgotten because the cool kids in this group are simply delightful. The stress on my mind was also soon forgotten because the massive coronary which began to rage in my chest was taking up all my thinking ability. I had missed the memo that we were attempting PBs on this route today. I would have slept in or stuck my finger in the power surging plug hole if I’d known this was what I had signed up for.

Tanja and Lethabo made pleasant conversation and chatted merrily as we raced along. I wheezed mono syllables in return. Chrissie and Graham and Duncan regularly had to turn around to come and fetch me, making their run twice as long and filling me with guilt and shame. Feeling totally uncool, I struggled forward. They would all get to the top of one of the disgusting hills and either walk or wait for me and so were nicely rested by the time I joined them barely managing a trudge. They’d all take off again, strong as anything after their brief rest and I’d have to carry on muddling along behind them. The more experienced members of the team assured me that my times would only improve by running with cool kids like them. Oh just shoot me now! I am just never going to be cool. Never! Ag!

I signed up for Dischem 21.1km. So had they. In fact, this was to be Tanja’s first 21.1km race in several years. So we all fussed over her and made sure she was prepared. The Whatsapp group gave her some tips and ideas and then they went quiet. They probably didn’t go quiet. They probably continued their cool kids conversation without me on another medium. So when I arrived for Dischem today, unbeknown to me, we were seeded in the same group and we started off together. I should just tell you that cool kids can be bald-faced liars. All my cool kid friends told me that Dischem is a “nice” run. Undulating, with a terrible hill near the end and then a very steep downhill to the end. I usually don’t look at race profiles before a race because that just scares me, but I believed my cool kid friends and arrived as a very unsuspecting idiot to Dischem this morning.

This is the treachery that awaited me

Dischem Elevation

Dischem Elevation

I should also mention that the number with which I had been issued was a painful reminder of the potential underlying cause of my decision to run Comrades.

My Dischem 21.1km number: a not so subtle reminder of why I shouldn't expect to be a cool kid

My Dischem 21.1km number: a not so subtle reminder of why I shouldn’t expect to be a cool kid

Which meant, that like a 54-year old man dating a 23-year old performing arts student, I really shouldn’t be doing this. My therapist says not to call it a crisis!

By 2km into this race, I knew it was a crisis. My cool kids from the Northcliff group had set off at a surreal pace of 6:30/km. In my defence, I’d like to mention that I ran 19km yesterday. I hadn’t intended it to be a hard run, but it ended up with my being so finished after that run, that I immediately slept for 2 hours and then proceeded to eat my own body weight in food from midday to bedtime. I had a hunger that overcame me like a heroine addict’s first hit in 3 years. You know what I say: “You’ve only had too much when you vomit!” Well I nearly overdosed last night and nearly puked from all the food I ate. It was ugly, I tell you. Just ugly! I think the food probably helped me until 19km, but more about that later.

I tried to keep up with the cool kids from Northcliff, I really did. Oh! I forgot to mention that there were Northcliff kids who were not seeded with us. They were finished when I hit the half-way mark, total underachievers that they are! But I was trying to keep up with the other cool kids. I was wheezing now. That familiar looming coronary from a week ago was trapped in my chest, threatening to break my rib cage open and spew itself out onto the tar and the other runners around me. I hadn’t cried by the 9km mark, but I was close. Look back at that route elevation profile. More than one person told me this was a “nice” run. They’re probably the heroine addicts I referred to earlier. Someone who hasn’t run it before asked me earlier, what was it like. “18km uphill, 2km cavernous drop down hell’s throat, then a flat 1km along which to drag yourself, 500m of which was on grass.”

You just go up and up and up and up and upper and up again and then upper again and then up. All the time, I’m praying: “God, I know that I have to get back to the stadium. I’m afraid of flying and of skydiving and of parachuting. I’ve no other fucking idea how you’re going to get me down from here, but please don’t let it involve me throwing myself from an unholy height as I didn’t pack a parachute.” So it made sense, therefore that the strains of Depeche Mode were playing in my head as I reached the top of the notorious Fisher’s Hill. My knees were sore from the previous day’s outing, and I had a stitch. Why did I have a stitch? I’ve read that a stitch could be caused by a contracting liver or spleen. This could be a plausible explanation considering all the shit I ate yesterday. Only alleviated by rest is what they say. Hmmmmm….. okay so 50 paces down Hell’s throat I stopped. I never stop. I walk and I cry and I trudge and I stroll, but I never stop. I stopped. I put my hand on my right side and I bent forward in agony. Not once, but 4 times, down that mine shaft of Fisher’s Hell. I mean Hill. You cannot find anything good about Fisher’s Hill on the Internet, except people wanting to sell their property and move away from there. That’s what I wanted, but my knees and my liver/spleen were the only things able to do that for me. I nearly gave up. Seriously. I nearly gave up. This was a 21km race. I run these things every week. Sometimes 2 a week! I just couldn’t go forward. I was in excruciating pain, I didn’t know if it was appendicitis or a coronary or knee replacement surgery that was waiting for me at the bottom of that hill. I cried. And, as usual, when I wanted to cry alone, an angel appeared next to me. And he was so young and pretty and so well suited to my mid-life non crisis, that I couldn’t help but try and keep up with him. He’s doing the 70.3 (Half Iron Man) in two weeks’ time and was taking it easy on this one. We ran together for the last kilometre which was flat flat flat. My legs were really giving everything they had for that last kilometre. I was astounded. This is exactly how I’d felt at the end of Kaapsehoop and that was double this distance and way more treacherous. What the hell?

A steep ramp rodeoed us into the stadium where another 500m on grass (you know how I love running on grass) lay between us and the end of this hideous affair. I clicked my tongue at the longevity of the grass section and then I was done. I finished in a time of 2:28:something, 5 minutes behind the Northcliff cool kids. That’s not a totally disrespectful time. It was better than the 2:40s that I’ve been managing lately but it wasn’t a comfortable 2:28:something at any point in the race.

I hobbled to the car like I hobbled to the car the day after Kaapsehoop and you’ll remember that I couldn’t walk the day after Kaapsehoop, never mind walk to the car. What was this? I’ll tell you what this was not! This was not a cool kid. This was not the cool kid shuffle. This was a race that I can say “Been there. Done that.” I’ll never have to do this again. Later this year, when I’m swept up with the competitive spirit to get a Dischem entry before everyone else, remind me of this day and remind me to not try so hard to be a cool kid because I just am not! Blech!

Yours in the love of running
The Slow Coach (not one of the cool kids)