Trust the Process

When someone says to me, “Trust the process, Brenda”, they’re usually a brain-injured hippie or they’re an asshole. So when the voice in my head said it to me on Saturday, which was it? I think all the track has made me into a brain-injured hippie and so that’s probably what it was. I’m supposed to be tapering, for the love of Pete! Not running until my eyes bleed! I had a “tapering” track session the other night and I had gone deaf in both ears before I even finished the flipping warm up. Illuminati Michelle apologised for the pace of 5:10/km for the warm up. I don’t even run my fastest 5km at that pace and here I was warming up. That session was another ELE. But this time, instead of a 1 minute break between treacherous intervals, we were mercifully granted 45 seconds break.

You want to know the funny part, however. At the end of my final 5km interval, the Illuminati were on their cool down and our paths crossed. Actually, they sauntered up to me while I was running the end of the 5km which was supposed to be at my marathon pace. It was at my marathon pace until they caught up with me. Not only was I afraid of what was now a dark night, but I was also kind of afraid of looking like a total loser as these Illuminati ran next to me. So I ran at a nosebleed pace. And then they “helped” me through the last 1200m which was akin to being dragged semi-conscious through the jungles of Vietnam by a Jeep in 1964. But enough about me! Imagine that they felt exactly the same dragged-behind-a-Jeep-in-the-jungle feeling after their last 1200m. But still, they came back, pushed me through the end of my 5km and then started another 1200m. All for me! This is The Comrades Marathon. Maybe this is running everywhere, but wherever I go, when people hear that I’m running my first Comrades Marathon, it ignites in them a candle of warmth and caring that it not matched elsewhere in my world. People who just want to see me do well. Here are these sometime total strangers who lovingly care for me. And I’m so slow. It must be so frustrating for them to have to amble along this road of mediocrity with me, but they do. How awesome is that? How has God rained down so many beautiful people on my head? My gratitude to them could never be expressed appropriately. Never!

With 7 more sleeps until Comrades I’m extremely excited. Many of the people I run with are nervous, but I feel excited more than nervous. I’m so lucky I can run. Do you know how I was not a runner just two years ago? I was a couch potato. There was no way in hell that I would ever have dreamed I could do the Comrades Marathon. I’ve watched from my couch and I’ve imagined how wonderful it would be to be part of that crowd of sufferers. I’ve imagined that I would never be able to do something as crazy and awesome as that. But here I am. In 7 more sleeps I will be one of those people that stand in a dark and chilly Pietermaritzburg to hear the national anthem and hear Vangelis and the cock crow and the gun go off. I will run along something called Polly Shortts and Inchanga (and I can say that word properly!) and Drummond and 45th Cutting. All these mythical places will become real to me I will feel what they feel like. In just 7 sleeps, I will experience what every runner who has attempted the Comrades Marathon has felt. I’ve imagined pieces of the race and what they will feel like to me now that I am a runner. I’ll know the answer to the question, so how steep is Botha’s hill? How long is this Inchanga (a Zulu word that I know how to pronounce properly!) If you’ve ever seen the French movie, Amelie, and remember the scene where Amelie figures out the mystery of the guy in the torn up photo booth photos, you’ll know how I will be feeling in just 7 sleeps’ time.

Written on the envelope are all the reasons why I got there and all the reasons I will get to the end.

The pack that Chrissie is going to keep for me at RAC’s halfway table

This week I’m still tapering. Apparently. Sadist Coach Dave told me on Saturday that I should run an easy 10-15km on Sunday, track (for 200m strides which are already making my eyes water) on Monday, 30 minutes on Tuesday, 5km on Wednesday (which is also 30 minutes. He was only making the distinction for the Illuminati and A-Teamers), 30 minutes on Thursday, nothing on Friday and 20 minutes at 5.30pm on Saturday. I had “planned” (using no scientific reference, mind you) to do 20km on Sunday and then sit on my backside on the couch until Sunday. When I told him about my plan, he was quiet. He is not a quiet man. He was quiet. He began to explain to me why I should do it his way with the Illuminati standing there as his Exhibit A when the voice in my head shouted out loud, “Trust the process, Brenda! Trust the process!”. That voice is an asshole!

So today I ran 17.8 kilometres at a lightning pace of 6:03m/km with Illuminati Michelle and Cool Kid Chrissie and A-Teamers Megan and Guy and other people who seemed to be hanging on by their toenails like me. I have cancelled dinner plans for a TV dinner with a friend so that I can do eye-watering strides tomorrow night. I’ll do my 5km on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then I will be allowed to sit on the couch until Saturday evening when I will run to get sushi, drink my protein shake and wait in anticipation to find out how Amelie felt that day and how tens of thousands of people before me have felt as they transversed those mythical South African institutions.

Yours in the hype and excitement! Can’t wait! Just can’t wait!

Slow Coach

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Wind up! Wind down!

Caution! Tapering!Tapering. That’s the word on everyone’s lips at the moment. I’m seeing all sorts of funny clips and jokes about runners tapering. Tapering is supposed to mean slowing down or getting less intense, right? Everyone claims that tapering is what the month of May is all about. Talk is cheap in this liar-ridden community of runners. According to two-time American Olympian Pete Pfitzinger “the taper should be preceded by your last long run. But now, when you’ve run races of 160km (100 miles) or 90km or 42km, what is considered a “long run”? Its ludicrous what people are doing. Anyway. I’m going to tell you what my tapering has been looking like. You remember that I was sick and injured while all other Comrades hopefuls were running all over the place and running and running and running. I was sitting and crying and moping and recovering. So I panicked when I came back and promptly ran the Randburg Harriers Easter 100km. That’s 100km over 3 days. that having been accomplished, I was satisfied that I had completed my “last long run” and I could now taper. Apparently not. I decided that, during my taper, I would increase my attendance at track. You’ll be reminded that I had only been going to track once a week, not wanting to win Comrades and all that. But, still a little concerned about my speed and so my ability to complete Comrades in the alloted 12 hours or the self-imposed 11 hours (10:55:55 to be exact), I decided to up the track. I’ve really got a lot faster since I started track so a couple extra sessions per week wouldn’t hurt.

Bwahahahaha! “Hurt” is exactly what they did. Oh my gracious. God left me. Abandoned me. Just six days after the Easter 100, I returned to track. And Boom! 3 x 1200m at 5km race pace with 2 minutes break in between. I still had that awful flu that I acquired the day after Easter 100 and so I’m sure a piece of my pleura is still lying in the grass at track. Illuminati were given 4 sets and they lapped me….wait for it…..6 times! I was lapped 6 times in 3 kilometres. Running is such a humiliation. And they never even break a sweat. I lose weight at track.  And not just pleura weight, real weight. They saunter around the track and I hear them whoosh past me as they go. Six times. So humiliating. I’m sure they make it a competition amongst themselves to see how many times we can lap Brenda today! And, as if those 3 humiliating kilometres weren’t enough, I was then sent out into the wilderness to run a 5km time trial. My coach Dave is a sadist. And he got worse after this.

The next Monday, Illuminati Michelle wasn’t at track, but Illuminati Tebogo was. When Sadist Dave dished out the sessions, there were Illuminati, “normal” Comrades like me (okay, I’m the only normal Comrade, everyone else is Illuminati) and other normal runners, Illuminati trailers, Illuminati Iron Men and triathletes and other very fast people. I’m always at the back. Always. The faster I get. The faster they get. Anyway. Dave singles out Tebogo and myself as Comrades and he smiles sadistically. 1600m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute break 2000m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute break, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute break, 600m @ 5km race pace, 1 minute break, 600m @ 5km race pace. Tebogo and my mouths dropped open. Surely Dave is joking. Everyone else stared pitifully at us. I didn’t hear anything else. I went deaf. Tears filled my eyes. I stopped stretching. I stared at Tebogo waiting for him to start laughing hysterically.  He mouthed at me with tears in his eyes, “Why the 2 x 600m?” Why the 2 x 600m? What the fuck? That’s the problem for you? The 2 x 600m are the problem in that whole session? I mouthed back feeling vomit start to rise in my oesophagus, “Why….did I come here?” Everyone took pity on us. You could see how relieved everyone else was to be them at that point in time and not us. It was so awful that they didn’t even laugh at us. Usually we laugh at those who get the toughest sessions. Not tonight. Everyone was humbled into silence by what Tebogo and I had been given. I meekly asked Dave, “What time do they turn off the floodlights?” He smiled sympathetically. I know he doesn’t get that I’m funniest when the suffering’s the worst. I was only lapped 4 times by Tebogo and together we managed to encourage each other through this horrific ordeal. I’m tapering.

Horror of horrors, Illuminati Michelle arrived at time trial the next day and, without my permission, began to pace me through the 5km route. I was dying. I wanted to run away from her, but she would just have kept up with me. I wanted to faint and pretend to die, but she would have made me get up and carry on. This was brutal. She left me with about 350 metres to go at a pace which would have seen me run a PB 5km time trial and, as soon as she was around the corner, I stopped running, thanked God that she was gone and ambled to the end of the time trial. I was still only 20 seconds off my PB, but it just showed me what a lazy couch potato I can still be given the right incentive! Michelle shook her head at me when I told her how I goofed off as soon as her back was turned. I am tapering, after all!

The next day, being a Wednesday, was a track day and I loooked forward with trepidation to the evening’s events. Ah, my dear friend, Bruce arrived. Bruce is not a running friend and so it would be cool to hang out with someone that knew me as something other than just a total underachiever. Bruce is also an uber athlete who goes at everything he does 128%, so I was sure it wouldn’t be too far into the session before he was lapping me. We ran the warm up together and he took pity on me and ran slow as a snail with me at the back. I know he was itching to race forward with the Illuminati, but friendship prevailed and he loitered at the back with me. 800m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest, 1000m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest, 1200m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest 1000m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest, 800m @ 5km race pace, 1 minute rest, 4 x 200m @ threshold pace with 2 minutes rest in between. “What’s threshold pace?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “The pace you’d run 1500m.” “Six minutes per kilometre?” I joked. I would run 1500m the same as I run everything else. Slowly. As it turns out, that’s not entirely true. The session was brutal. I cried during the last 800m but quickly pulled myself towards myself. And then how is this? I was so overwhelmed by the kindness of my Illuminatii Tebogo and Michelle. They finished all their brutal session (same as mine) and then waited for me so that they could run the 200m sprints with me. It was very cool and terrifying all at the same time. Tebogo was running behind me shouting instructions about my style and Michelle ran next to me pushing me to beat her to the 200m mark. I reckon if Comrades were 80 metres, I’d have a chance! It’s the 89.12 kilometres that are my downfall. I ran a couple of those 200m sprints in 3:30/km. That’s fast hey? It nearly killed me. But I’m tapering.

Michelle had told me at time trial that Saturday’s session was going to be ELE (Extermination Level Event). She told me to bring an energy drink, a lot of tissues and a bucket. A bucket? I don’t want to know. Dave had joked about the bucket when I was lining up for my 200m sprints. Surely not? A bucket? I arrived on Saturday with a lump in my throat. I hadn’t slept the night before because of the anxiety. I was so worried. Extermination Level Event. I anticipated death. If natural selection was something that was a factor in an extermination level event, then I was surely the one that was going to die. Surely, if Darwin is to be believed. In hindsight, I think that session where Illuminati Tebogo and I cried together was worse than ELE, but ELE was horrific. Especially because I never got the memo about the easy 5km route. I did the difficult 5km route in this session: (by the way, all track sessions are preceded by a 2.5km warm up which always makes me smile because there was a day not so long ago when that was the furthest I’d ever run.) Warm up, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute rest, 5km @ marathon pace, 1 minute rest, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute rest, 5km @ marathon pace, 1 minute rest, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 15 push ups (also a feature at the end of every track session). Illuminati then had to run for 70 minutes. I don’t remember what happened to me after that. Seriously, I don’t remember. I was faint. I felt like I had a head injury. Which is how one is supposed to feel when one is tapering, right? Do runners understand the nuances of the English language? this was not tapering. Torture, maybe. Tanking, maybe. Terrifying, maybe. Tapering? Not so much. And the next day I was supposed to run a 32km race. Fuck that! I turned off at the 15km mark and moped my way back into the stadium for a personal best 15km time! This tapering thing might be working for me.

The subsequent track sessions have been shit, but not as awful as that week. I’ve missed one (okay two now) this week because I’m working in purgatory, I mean Bloemfontein. Oh ja, on the weekend, I ran a personal best time for a 25km race. Okay, so I’ve never run a 25km race before but, I also beat my 21km time at that race by….wait for it….21 minutes! Doesn’t that totally rock? 21 minutes off a 21km time! You do the simple maths on that. Can I get a whoop whoop? But wait, that’s not all. Illuminati Michelle won the ladies veteran race and came 6th lady overall in that same race. In so doing, she also became the fastest veteran lady over 25km in South Africa this year. Awesome hey? And if only you knew how kind and generous with her talent she is and how humble she is. If you meet her, you’re luckier for it, trust me.

So seriously now, that’s my last “long run”. This track/tapering thing seems to be working. God-willing, it’s going to go well for me in 18 days’ time. If I can survive this tapering thing, I reckon the Comrades is going to be a breeze.

Yours in the terror of tapering.
Slow Coach.