To Sleep Perchance to Dream – Namaqua Quest Day 2

So if expectation did not meet reality on Thursday, today was much more so!Before I complain, I’d like to give a shout out to all Sanparks people. You do amazing work and you make our nation proud. Thank you to the rangers, the volunteers and the good people who run these beautiful parts of our country, making them accessible to us and visitors from across the world.Goegap Nature Reserve is spectacular. What I discovered today is the ocean that I spoke about yesterday was actually a glacier. The mountain face we climbed up today gave us the clues about the glacier and the striations on the rocks provided grip for our shoes as we climbed.

The glaciated volcanic mountains

The rocks are really impressive and the quiver trees peppering the almost barren landscape are a true delight. We saw some springbok….so close to Springbok. Although, talking to some people after the race, we may have imagined those! Quiver trees are really quite unusual. I was reminded of the Joshua Trees in the Mogave desert. It seems the most unusual trees grow from the barren desert.

Helen and I didn’t know how close the finish was at this halfway photo stop!

There was not much time to see anything else because the race, sold as a 10km, like this blog, ended too soon at 6.7km.

Yours in the barreness.

SlowCoach

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They Grow Where They Are – Day 1 of Namaqua Quest

I was disappointed and little bit pissed off as I turned into the race village on Thursday. I had expected to drive up to the hotel with swathes of flowers on the left and right of the road. There had been a few little patches of flowers here and there and a few threadbare carpets, but nothing like the brochure! Mother Nature had not dished up the desert I had ordered.

There have been 3 sustained years of severe drought in Namakwa, an arid semi-desert region in the northern part of South Africa, close to the border with Namibia. Flowers don’t really like droughts and so there we were, in the desert, in the sun, in Spring. Where else could we want to be?

The 4 of us: EP, Luisa, Simon and I have been training reasonably consistently on really challenging terrain for the past 3 months for this race. We’ve been running up and down Westcliff Stairs. We’ve been running in Klipriviersberg nature reserve on tough technical routes. In our taper month we’ve been spending time in Cradle Moon and Delta Park, soaking up some elevation on more mundane trails. So we were ready for the flat, rocky, daisy-clad trails of Namakwaland. If Friday’s run was anything to go by, then we were ready for something that was not Namaqua Quest.

The massive lava mountains must have, at some point been covered by ocean and since emerging from the sea have spent eons being battered by a very angry wind. Fascinating rock formations on massive mountains and smaller, more palatable koppies as well as thick treacle-like beach sand on the lowlands are the result. We ran that!

The beauty of the Namakwaland daisies, I have found, lies not in their carpetness, but in their individual prettiness. I know that the whole appeal of the area appears to be their carpet-like appearance, but, as I ran along the treacle beach sand, I got to notice the individual beauty of each flower, growing exactly where it found itself. It really is quite peculiar how every flower grows wherever it is.

There’s no, this flower grows better in sand, while this grows better on the rocks. They just grow where they are. And they’re happy and beautiful where they are. It was a good reminder for me. Sometimes we’re driven to be somewhere else. Somewhere new, somewhere different. Somewhere that isn’t where we are. We hope that we will find the peace, the joy, the beauty we want for ourselves where we aren’t, rather than being the most magnificent version of ourselves where we are. In a world where you can be anything you want, be a Namakwa daisy.

The race started on a beach sand road, uphill. And as always, everyone fucked off into the distance while I was left, treading through the loose sand somewhere at the back. I wondered how much everyone else had trained to be buzzing off into the distance like that. So I took that as the sign that, in the absence of carpets of flowers, I’d enjoy the beauty of each individual flower I saw. And what a wonderful, joyful experience it turned out to be. I must have seen more than 200 different flowers. And not even several colours of the same flower, there are hundreds of different flowers. Some succulents, some bushes, some shrubs, some pretty little, flimsy stand alone flowers. All growing exactly where they are.

I can truly recommend getting off the beaten track when you come here and taking a walk through the beach sand, volcanic rock and hard-packed sand. Get to all the flowers.

Be warned that you may face some headwinds, growing where you are, but choose to be your most beautiful you, exactly where you are.

It’s in the trails that we find the meaning of life.

Yours exactly where I am.

SlowCoach

Hills and Views

You see the most beautiful views after the most challenging of mountains. I wonder if the view is so beautiful because you know the challenge you overcame to get to see it. If the challenge wasn’t as big as it was, would the view be so beautiful?

Inside me

I’ve got a race coming up. I’m so excited about it. Actually, it’s turning out that it’s having to be the big holiday for the year because it’s getting quite expensive. The race itself and the accommodation and food at the race venue (it’s in the middle of the desert) is about R4000 each. We whinced about it when paying, but hey, we only live once and this is a 3 day stage trail race in the Namaqualand right about the time the flowers bloom there. *holding thumbs*.

So R4k for a race is good in theory, except this race is at the arse end of Africa, in a remote desert in the middle of Nowheresville. To get to Nowheresville from my house by car would be a 12 hour drive without a toilet break. So I’m not doing that the day before a 3 day stage race. The other alternative is to fly to Nexttonowheresville and drive for 4 hours in a hired car to Nowheresville. That would cost about R10k more.

The other option is to fly to Cape Town and drive in a hired car for 6 hours to Nowheresville. That would be slightly cheaper, and at least it would be Cape Town, which although not my favourite place on Earth, would be a whole lot better than Nexttonowheresville. And of course you can’t fly and drive 6 hours so you’ll have to stay over in CT for a night. Chiching! Then you have to come back to CT after the race so you may as well make a holiday of it and take 10 days instead of 5 days and holiday somewhere on the coast, say Nearlynowheresville. Chiching! Chiching! Chiching!

Yeah! So Namaquaquest is the big holiday and big race of 2019. Which I’m still really excited about.

When I entered Namaquaquest earlier this year I was so lazy. I’d like to blame work, and any normal person could blame my work because I work crazy hours and expectations are high. But, you know my motto? No! Not “don’t die, don’t come last”! The other motto! “You find time and money for those things that matter to you.” And so I can never blame work because now, suddenly, as the race gets closer, I suddenly have time to leave the office on time and get to gym and get to time trial. Amazing how that happened!

In reality, I’m in panic mode. I had fantasised, when I entered the race, that I could do well in the shorter race, like a top 10 even. I knew I was stronger than I had been before. My body was a stronger body. I was just unfit and all I had to do was get fit. And because I have this tiny, but very effective saboteur that lives inside me, I find myself now weaker than I was back then and still unfit.

When I started writing this blog in 2013, I was a couch potato who, by some cosmic anomaly managed to run the Comrades Marathon. But since then, I’ve become stronger. I’ve strengthened this couch-loving skeleton and without too much effort, am able to run a marathon or a less than shit time on a race. Maybe I am related to my athletic family after all. Inside me, there may be a genetic athlete who has lived long and well on a couch. Inside me, however, is my little saboteur. I should name her so I can blame her. Blaming her would be so much easier than calling out my couch potato self for having spent so much time avoiding and in some cases, ruining my genetic predisposition to be a good athlete. I wonder why I do that. I wonder why, even though I think I may have so much potential, I allow myself to be mediocre. At work I’m not like that. At games and arguments and my new business I’m not like that. In fact, I’m the opposite. I have to win and have to be the best and have to be seen to be the best at those other things. But with running…

I suppose I ran the Comrades Marathon which is not being shit. It’s being the opposite. But if I had trained better, I could have done better. Now if I trained at all, I could be semi-decent. I think that maybe it’s about external expectations. No-one expects me to be great at running. It wasn’t a sport my family excelled in – they excelled at everything else – and I did run the Comrades Marathon, so surely that’s enough? Even writing this blog has helped my little saboteur. With a blog like this, I don’t have to excel. I don’t have to be the best or be seen to be the best. I don’t have to win. In fact, you might be disappointed if I wasn’t so highly mediocre any more. And then, would this blog matter? Would any of it matter?

Holy shit! Am I having a mid-life crisis right now? I think I might be!

Inside me, I know that I can run a sub-4 hour marathon. I know that to do that, I will have to spend the next year at least dedicated to the gym, with a good biokineticist, who will help me build a strong, resilient body. I will have to run, at least 4 times a week. I will have to enlist the help of a coach like Illuminati Michelle. I will have to get a sports massage once a month. I knew all of this 3 months ago. Have I done any of these things? No, I haven’t! And now my race, not the marathon, is just 2 months away and I’m still unfit and highly mediocre.

It’s going to take a goal so abnormally unachievable for me to get off this metaphoric couch I have slipped back to, that I can do naught but be who I am born to be. I think the sub-4 marathon will be a good start. Now all I need to do is choose the marathon and place the stake in the ground.

Thank you for being part of this next installment of what is clearly a very drawn out mid-life crisis! Thank you for coming this far with me on this journey.

I am still not sure why my running saboteur is what she is. I’m not sure why I don’t choose running as the thing to excel at because it probably gives me more joy than my job….except for the whole running part! If you have an answer, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. I suppose the answer is inside me already.

Yours in this throws of mid-life crises.

SlowCoach

The Comrades Marathon Medals

Are you confused by the medals at Comrades? Don’t be, silly! Let me break it down for you with the times required to get these medals.

The Gold Medal

If you want a gold medal, then you need two things:

  1. Be born for this,
  2. Work your ass off.

If you want a gold and don’t have number 1, then be prepared to do two times number 2. You ask Belinda Waghorn, she has a gold medal and claims to not have much of number 1. While her fellow gold medalists were running 130km per week, she was running 230km per week leading up to that Comrades gold. To get a gold you have to be among the 10 best male or female runners on the day. That doesn’t mean you have to be in that pack from the start. The Comrades Marathon race only really starts at 60km. As a woman, you have to run the race at an average pace generally of between 4:05 and 4:20 minutes per kilometre (obviously depending on who else arrives for the gold medal on the day and depending on whether you’re running up or down). To stand a chance of having a stab at this medal, you’ll need to have run a marathon in under 2 hours and 50 minutes in the 6 months leading up to your gold medal attempt. As a man, if you want a gold medal, then you’ll need to lift that game a bit and run somewhere around 3:30 to 4:00 minutes per kilometre average. Are you vomiting yet?

This year, I helped one of the runners in the top 20 by running behind him and spraying his hamstrings. I looked at my watch while I ran next to him and I was running at 3:20. And he wasn’t in the top 10! So be prepared. To even stand a chance of being one of these men, you have to have run a marathon in under 2 hours and 30 minutes in the 6 months prior to Comrades. The numbers put it into perspective, right?

The Wally Hayward Medal

This is a cool medal. This is for men who don’t make it into the top 10, but still run under 6 hours. It’s pretty difficult to get one of these, and until just a few years ago only a handful of people had this medal. But with a more open society and more capable runners having access to the race, we’re seeing more and more men get this medal. It fills me with joy when I think of that. Yeah, so Wally Hayward. To get a Wally Hayward, you need the following:

  1. You have to be a man.
  2. You have to run 89.2km in under 6 hours.
  3. Don’t be in the top ten.

You’ll need to be able to run 89.2km at an average pace of 4:02min/km. How you liking your shot at that Wally Hayward now? It’s best to have run a sub-2:45 marathon the six months prior. You can do it!

The Isavel Roche-Kelly Medal

This medal was introduced this year in 2019 and the first recipient of that medal is my dear friend, Yolande Maclean. She adds it to her 8 gold medals. The Isavel Roche-Kelly medal is half gold, half silver for obvious reasons. To get one of these medals, you need the following:

  1. You have to be a woman.
  2. You have to run 89.3km in under 7 hours and 30 minutes.
  3. Don’t be in the top ten.

To do number 2, you have to run the whole distance at an average pace of 5:02 minutes per kilometre. The whole way. All 89.2km! Essentially, with the introduction of this medal, women can no longer get a silver medal at Comrades. To get this medal it’s probably beneficial to have run a sub-3:10 marathon the 6 months prior to Comrades.

The Silver Medal

That medal to which mere mortals could possibly aspire! Previously, all runners who came in under 7 hours and 30 minutes would be eligible for a silver medal. This has changed recently because women who achieve this feat now get the Isavel Roche-Kelly medal. But you men could possibly aspire to get this medal if you can run the full 89.2km at an average pace of 5:02 minutes per kilometre. Nice! You’ll have a better chance at it if you’ve run a marathon in under 3 hours, but at least a sub-3:10 marathon will give you a good head start at getting a silver medal at Comrades.

The Bill Rowan Medal

This medal was introduced in 2000 and is named after the winner of the first Comrades Marathon in 1921. He won the marathon in a time of 8 hours and 59 minutes and to get the medal, you’ll need to do the same. A sub-9 hour Comrades marathon will require you to run 89.2km at a minimum of 6:03m/km for every kilometre. Go get that medal! If you can run a marathon comfortably in 4:03, you’ve got a chance of getting one of these cool medals. I said “comfortably”!

The Robert Mtshali Medal

Made of titanium, this medal can be worn by those who manage to get over the finish mat between 9 and 10 hours after the starters gun goes off.

This medal was named after Robert Mtshali who was the first unofficial Black runner in the 1935 Comrades Marathon, finishing his race in a time of 9 hours and 30 minutes. His efforts were not officially recorded as government and race rules of the time stipulated that, in order to compete in the Comrades Marathon, you had to be a white male.

That really talented runners can now participate in our country’s greatest race, is really encouraging. That every young person can dream of doing the Comrades Marathon and that the dream can become a reality fills me with love and pride. We owe Robert Mtshali a debt of gratitude for that.

To have the privilege of owning one of these medals, you’ll have to run the full route at an average of 6:09min/km. That’s a marathon time of 4 hours and 13 minutes to give you a chance at earning this medal.

The Bronze Medal

I know that all of this seems easier and easier as we go on, but the Comrades Marathon is very difficult. Very difficult. I fully expected to get a bronze medal on my last one because I had an amazing 4:11 marathon time. So a Bronze medal was well within the realms of possibility for me. I snuck over the mat panicked half to death in 11:50, only just earning my copper Vic Clapham medal.

I fully expected to be able to get in between 10 and 11 hours. All I had to do was run at an average pace of 7:23min/km the whole way. I didn’t come close on that day. The only time I ran anything like that was for the last 17 kilometres. The up run is particularly difficult.

So although I will now tell you that a marathon time of 4:20 should get you home in time to get this medal, I have personal evidence to suggest that even a 4:11 marathon won’t help you achieve this. Of course, I have that head injury thing going for me where my head just gets in the way of success. So if you don’t have a head injury, then 4:20 should be fine.

The Vic Clapham Medal

I am the proud owner of two of these little copper medals. To get these medals, all I had to do was finish the Comrades Marathon before the gun went off at 5.30pm, 12 hours after I had started running. It seemed easy when I started. Neither time was it easy. The first time (a down run) I had run a sub-4:40 marathon. The second time (an up run), I had run a sub-4:20 marathon. Both times, I crept in with less than 20 minutes to spare. The Vic Clapham medal was introduced in 2003 when the time limit for completion of this great race was extended from 11 hours to 12 hours.

Vic Clapham established the race to commemorate the South African soldiers killed during the World War I. Run for the first time on 24 May 1921, it has been run more than 90 times since then and is now run by over 20,000 people annually.

To stand a chance at getting one of these medals, the qualifying criteria of a sub-4:45 marathon will not be enough to get you over the line in time. You have to run the full 89.2km at an average pace of 8:04min/km for every single kilometre. Seems like a lot, but I am living proof that this is a mammoth task even with a good marathon. Hwever, if I can, then you can.

The Back-to-Back Medal

I also have one of these medals. It is awarded to novice runners who complete an up or down run in succession. This means that your first Comrades finish and the subsequent run in the opposite direction both completed in under 12 hours will qualify you for a back-to-back medal. This medal was only introduced in 2005, but if you completed a back-to-back before then, you can apply to buy your back-to-back medal.

The Comrades medal is a tiny medal. about as big as a R5 coin and twice as thick. It was quite a surprise to me when I received my first one. All that for this, I asked? It is evidence to prove that size doesn’t matter. Those 3 medals are my most prized medals. They represent an achievement in my life that will be very difficult to match.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of the Comrade Marathon medals.

Yours in the love of humble little medals.

SlowCoach

Yoga Schmoga Part II

Yeah, anyway. I thought I’d give it a chance because, by now I’m a bit more grown up, I’ve run the Comrades Marathon which pretty much means I can do anything I set my mind to and my body is a bit stronger than the time that impossibly good looking woman was swanning between impossible poses on my new TV. My TV is older now and I’ve discovered Netflix. So I’m regaining my couchness again which is comforting. I’m still running, slowly, but I’m running small distances.

I’m sure you’re wondering how I ended up in a fucking flaming hot yoga studio. So am I. As I type this, I can’t really remember how EP talked me into joining yoga for a month. I think it had something to do with my paying for our RAC membership and so if she pays for a month of limitless. Limitless yoga, then we’d be square. That’s a whole year of limitless running versus a month of limitless yoga. Fuck it! I’m such a moron!

We signed up at a place called The Yoga Republic. An entire hippie place filled with very serious hippie yogaists. That’s not a word and I’m sure I’m coming back for another round of earth life for making that word up. Everyone is very serious about the yoga art/sport/practise/life. I think I just don’t belong there.

Anyway. EP signed us up for one month . There’s a calendar of all sorts of yoga classes. There’s Hot 26+, Air Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Yoga Shred inspired class, Kundalini Yoga, Ashtanga, TRE and the non-descript list goes on. I, like you, still have no fucking idea what I’m signing up for when i read those words. There are two classes that have names which tell you what you’re going to get, and would you know it, those are the two classes I’m really enjoying. I can’t do half the shit in the class, but I’m enjoying them. The one class is called Restorative Yoga and works with your parasympathetic nervous system. Perfect for handkerchief on the sleeve, me! I cried in the first class which is apparently quite normal. The second time, I had my shit together and I was able to do some of the poses. Long, slow and deep / Yin yoga was not as erotic as it sounds, but it was good for my stressed runners body. I got a laugh out of the instructor for this one when she described some ridiculous pose, akin to checking for a tennis ball that’s rolled under the bed, but without putting your hands on the ground. I was struggling to get into the pose and she walked over, and nodded knowingly. “Yes, do you have a shoulder injury?” Clearly having seen this problem before on someone. “Not yet,” I confirmed. At least I got a laugh out of someone yogaey. EP sniggered next to me.

Many of the classes are done in a hot studio. Apparently, the studio hasn’t been hot enough for the past few weeks as there is something wrong with the heating mechanism. I won’t be going back if they fix the heating because I’ve run a marathon in the desert in summer and I’ve never been as hot as I was in that fucking studio today. Some moron yogaists complained that it was cold. Chops! EP and I were faint and nauseous from the heat. EP looked at me at one stage today and said, “Should we just go?” I stayed, mainly to see how much I could take, and of course because I’ve run the Comrades Marathon so I could do this. Although, I must admit that today, I probably only did 10 percent of the poses. At one point i looked at a guy in the class and wondered where the fuck he’d put his head in one particular pose. At another time, I looked up from the pose I had only barely managed to get into and everyone had turned into magical tea sets hanging in the air. I wondered how they had morphed into levitating teasets while I looked like Mildred the Hippo, sitting with my knee hanging over my shoulder by my ear. I mean, I managed to get my knee hanging over my shoulder by my ear and that wasn’t good enough? I was supposed to “flow” from that into levitating tea set, instead of grunting and plomping onto my side, unable to “flow” my shoulder out from under my arm. I shall not go back for Hot Flow Yoga!

I’ll tell you what I’ve got out of yoga. I am more relaxed. Seriously, either work has lightened up significantly, or I’m just feeling more relaxed. I’m learning how to breathe. My lung capacity is getting larger and I’m breathing better. I’ve only done 4 classes, but I’m feeling lighter and calmer. It’s a good feeling. I dread the classes because the stretching is just horrendous and of course the humiliation factor is still dialled all the way to the right. But I’m feeling better for the yoga. I still prefer running and I still prefer the couch over all this silliness, but I’ll keep at it for the remainder of the month because hey, I ran the Comrades Marathon. I can do this!

Namaste

LongSlowDeepCoach