Do you know what I realised yesterday when Michelle asked me if that Loskop was a personal best for a 50km? I realised that I have never run a 50km race. In fact, I have never run anything further than 48km. Well, except for that whole Comrades Marathon thing. When all the ultra marathons were happening last year, I was injured. Admittedly, I ran Kosmos 3-in-1 and I ran the Randburg Easter 100, but neither of those contain an actual 50km or more single run. So yesterday I ran my first 50km race. Cool hey?
Run Loskop, Brenda. It’s a lovely race, Brenda. Great downhill run, Brenda. Beautiful downhill race with a little sting in the tail near the end, Brenda. There is really no end to the lies runners will tell.
Michelle and I left at 2.30am yesterday morning to go run Loskop. Yes, I said 2.30am. Race is a point to point, starting in Middelburg and ending at the beautifully picturesque Loskop dam 50km away. I arrived at the race with apathy. I’m not sure why apathy. I guess because I felt strong and well prepared. Easter 100 had boosted my confidence immensely. This was just 8km more than a marathon. I was finding marathons easier these days so what was an extra 8kms on a marathon? It didn’t even occur to me then that I had never run a 50km. Michelle had kindly worked out a timing chart for a sub-5.30 race. I didn’t even know if that was feasible, but I’ve run a sub-4.20 marathon so an extra 8km in 1 hour seemed possible. I wore the pacing chart on my wrist. The first 10km were supposed to be run at 6.45/km. This seemed achievable. I’ve been managing 6.30/km on my easy runs so this should be fine. Should have been, except my apathy at the start had me standing at the back with people who were clearly out for a long day on their legs.
Ha! A politician got up at the start and gave a speech in which she told us, “Today I am just one of you. I am running this thing today.” I laughed at how in that simple sentence lay the root of many of our problems with South Africa today. But, that is a different blog written by someone else. The starter set us off and we didn’t move. Then we ambled and then we shuffled. Then we stopped. Then we shuffled and before I knew it, I had done 2km in just 14 minutes. I panicked. I was now 30 seconds behind schedule in just 2km. I picked up the pace and started passing people as quickly as possible. I think I kind of lost my mind. 3rd km was 6.03. 4th km was 6.07. 5th km 6.22. 6th km 6.19. 7th km 5.13. Leigh-Ann and Dave came running up. It’s Leigh-Ann’s birthday today so I wished her and told her I was starting to have a bit of a tough time. But 8th km 5.26. 9th km 7.08. I heard a breaking spring sound. 10th km 7.32. A bolt shot out the top of my butt. It fell on the floor and made a faint metallic sound. 11th km 7.07. Steam came out of my head. A door handle fell off. 12th km 7.13. A tyre fell off the bottom of my leg and rolled down the hill we were now moving up. I should tell you that at this point, there had been one downhill on this downhill route. Admittedly, some had warned me that the first 21km were difficult and from then it was going to be downhill. But that didn’t matter right now. We were now 13km into the race and my chassis had fallen apart. I slowed down. The long day on their legs crowd came sauntering past me. Some of them I recognised as people much slower than myself. I kicked a stone…on purpose. I knew that I had to get home at some point and I still had 37km to go on a race in which I had already burnt out. I cried. Yes I did. Then I prayed. I’m not sure what I prayed. I just prayed. I prayed that my son would get a job. I prayed that our country would be better. I prayed that it would rain. I prayed that the wind would change from the freezing headwind that it was into a tailwind of sorts. I prayed that I could be a better person. I prayed for wisdom. Only one of those prayers has been answered so far but I’m none the wiser. I cried some more and I kicked another stone.
Like the angel that gets sent whenever I most need her, I heard Sponono call out my name. I didn’t turn around because I didn’t want her to see my tears. But she and her friend came running up to me. They passed me because I was walking. And then I cried some more because Sponono had passed me and what if I wasn’t able to catch her? I thought I should at least try to catch her. I lifted my aching knee. The top of my glute started to shoot stabbing pains up my back with every step, but I battled forward trying to catch Sponono. Eventually at around 15km I caught up with her and we carried on running. Her friend dropped back slightly and she told me that we were going too fast. I realised that my speed has improved significantly since Sponono and I ran together in 2013, when she patiently and kindly helped me to qualify for Comrades at Kaapsemoer. My foot felt like I had plantar fasciitis. I didn’t know if I should limp for a while to make it go away, so I just carried on running forward. Families had come out to the road to support us. It was wonderful. We were being cheered and there were loads of children supporting us. It lifted my spirits somewhat and I cheered up slightly. What also kept me going was my knowing that at 21km, this hellish race would get better because a bunch of lying runners had told me that. It didn’t get much better. One or two unnoticeable downhills came and went. Many uphills and some uphills cleverly disguised as flats came and went. I walked a bit. Cried some more. Prayed a bit. This was turning into quite the spiritual experience. I considered going to the toilet at 21km. I don’t go to the toilet on runs. I would never bush pee even if my life depended on it. I don’t use the portaloos because they’re always revolting and there’s always a queue. So I pulled off the road at 21km, spotted the queue and decided to spare myself and carried on running. I didn’t really need the toilet after all. I only wanted to do something that would change the way I was feeling. That was miserable, in case you hadn’t picked that up yet.
I was managing sort of sub-7.30 minute kilometres. I can’t really remember kilometre 24, but I know I kicked another stone…on purpose and the evidence from my Garmin seems to indicate that kilometre 24 took 9.32. The water points on this race are fantastic. Especially the one at 25km. The portaloos were named Executive Toilets. How fantastic! Those toilets appeared just like Sponono out of the horizon. There were steps up to the door. The toilets were white. They were clean. There was 2-ply. Admittedly, they were on a slope, which made moving around in the cubicle somewhat of a challenge. But, they gave me a little reprieve. Sponono had run past me as I was climbing the stairs to my delightful little reprieve and I waved at her promising to catch up to her a little later. So the liars hadn’t totally lied. For a short while after 25km, the route improved slightly. I caught Sponono and ran with her for a short while. I was feeling a little better and I wasn’t sure how long this mood swing would last so I pulled away from her. Some undulating, slightly picturesque terrain. A sign that said “Hier Kak Ons Af” at an entrance to a farm. And then the 36km mark happened. Not one single liar told me about the 36km mark. The signs read, “Hou bene hou.” and “Keep that legs moving forward.” At least I was still able to notice funny things. Even if I didn’t find them funny. The hill was steep but over the rise, the hill was steep in the other direction. From 37km to 40km the downhill was beautifully steep. Most people didn’t like it, but I loved it. I threw everything I had into that steep downhill. I knew that I was 17 minutes off the pace for a sub-5.30 and it didn’t matter if I walked to the end after this hill. I didn’t know how long this downhill would be. What I did know is that there would be a “slight sting in the tail” from 46km. At 40km there was a lovely water station. I asked someone for the time because my watch had died as I started on the downhill. 4.31. I looked at my pacing chart and, will you know it, I had made up a whopping 7 minutes and was now only 10 minutes off the sub-5.30 pace. I didn’t know the nature of the sting in the tail, but I live in Northcliff, how stingish could the sting be? I mean are we talking hornet, wasp, bee or scorpion here? I could have a blinder of a final 10km and come in under 5.30. I had maintained the mood swing, so I pulled myself together and started racing. I had no idea how fast I was running. I just ran as fast as I could.
I still hadn’t realised that I had never actually run this far before except for Comrades almost 1 year ago. So it didn’t occur to me that my tyres and chassis falling off at 10km might come back to bite me at 48km. I raced. And then I walked because I just didn’t believe I could do this. At 42.2 I asked for the time. 4.44. My brain couldn’t do calculations, but it sounded like I had taken a lifetime to run a measly 2.2km. So I walked. If there had been a stone, I would have kicked it. There was an uphill in front of me and I thought that was the start of the legendary sting in the tail. I ran towards it and up it. At the top of that little hill, I beautiful view unfolded in front of me. The dam, nestled coyly amongst the rolling mountains, glistened in the late morning sun. If you ever run this race, at this point, don’t get carried away. Don’t enjoy the entire panoramic of this view. DO NOT LOOK RIGHT AND UP. I did. The term sting in the tail does not even remotely describe the size of the hill from 45km to 48km. There is no metaphor for this “slight sting in the tail”. I’ve searched for one, but really, there is no adequate metaphor for this hill. The nice thing about it is that it bends three times so you’re never fully aware of the magnitude of the treachery ahead of you. Oh my word! What I didn’t realise was that on the third bend of that hill, the coolest thing was about to happen to me.
Earlier on in the day, I had seen a guy from FFA running club and he had greeted me. He was super hot. He had the most astoundingly beautiful body and as I checked him out, I was most surprised to see the 55 age category sticker on his shirt. It crossed my mind that he was cheating because he looked no older than 35 and he was running like a 25 year old. Anyway, as I took a stroll up the treacherous hill, the hot 55 year old and a few of his friends ran past me. Again, the hottie greeted me. As they passed me, I saw a sign at the top of the hill which read “Only 2260 metres to go”. Something bit me. I was done with this race. I was tired. I couldn’t feel my legs or back any more so I wouldn’t even have known if I was sore. I knew at the sign, I could expect a downhill to the resort entrance and I needed a downhill. I ran past hottie 55 and his friends and the hottie told me that I was looking strong. I laughed a wordless retort. As I rounded the top of the hill, the downhill beckoned, but the actual sting in the tail is a 250m uphill before the resort entrance. The downhill was awesome and I raced down. Momentum carried me up the real sting in the tail and I entered the resort, noticing the 500m to go mark on the road. I felt a bit deflated that I still had half a kilometre to go on this dreadful day, but it was a wonderful winding downhill and the crowds were cheering and shouting. What a wonderful finish! I saw Michelle and shouted at her for lying to me about the fantasticness of this race that she had now completed 9 times. I looked up at the clock and saw 5:41:38. Yeah! It wasn’t sub-5:31, but I was glad it was over and I had finished. Didn’t die. Didn’t come last. Not by a long way. I picked up my race goodies. Awesome goodie pack and shirt and you get a bag of oranges and a can of coke! Cool hey? Michelle showed me where to pick up my tog bag. As we were walking around, hottie 55 came up to me and smiled. He said to me, “Well done out there. You showed real guts in your race.” I smiled a polite thank you. Michelle and he glanced at each other with a hint of recognition and he looked back at me. He continued, “Please tell Vreni that Israel Morake says ‘Hi’.” My jaw dropped open. Michelle smiled and yelped, “Israel! You came and visited me when I was in hospital!” “Oh yes!” remembered Israel. (That is an incredible story about an amazing human being, but for another day.)They embraced and carried on talking about Israel’s current goings on. My mouth was hanging open. I was totally star struck. Not only was he super hot, he was Israel Morake. For those of you who don’t know, take a look here or here. That was so cool. An icon of South African long distance running had told me that I had shown guts in my running. And he was hot! And he was so lovely and awesome and humble and just lovely. I’m still star struck, can you tell? What a great day!
I realised that I can run 50km. I can recover from a total blow out and come back stronger. I can run awesome downhills and still put my head down to run treacherous uphills and still find more fuel to finish a race with a powerful run. I can be a good runner. 5:41 is far from being a star, but I can be a good runner. I feel like I’m just starting. I’m learning really important lessons now. Not that all the previous lessons weren’t important, but now I’m learning lessons about actually racing races, not just not dying and not coming last. Real focussed racing.
In a week’s time, I will forget how unfun that race was for me and I, like all running liars, will be the new brand ambassador for Loskop Ultra Marathon, but I will never forget meeting Israel Morake. I’m going to work hard so that one day in the not too distant future he remembers meeting me.
Yours in the love of learning something new.