Ethiopia calling

Probably the greatest long distance runner in history (not considering the history that Eliud Kipchoge is currently making) is Haile Gebrselassie. He won two Olympic gold medals over 10,000 metres and four 10000 metre World Championship titles. He won the Berlin Marathon four times in a row and the Dubai Marathon three times consecutively. In 2001 he was the World Half Marathon Champion.

Gorgeous to watch!

Haile is my age and hails from central Ethiopia. If you’ve ever watched him run, you’ll be aware that he’s always chatting to his opponents. He loves competition. When he was at the top of his game, there was little competition for him and so he would coach and encourage and possibly cajole his opponents in races. What an amazing thing to do! His sportsmanship always filled me with admiration and watching him race filled me with joy. And I wasn’t even a runner then. I was joyfully watching and admiring him from my couch! Around the tail end of his illustrious career, I was working for the government of Ethiopia on a project which was run from Johannesburg. I was young and stupid and starry-eyed and I don’t think I was very good at my job, but I was helping to develop young people and I was getting to broaden my horizons by meeting people of a cultural group I’d never known before. It was mind-broadening stuff.

Ethiopia at the time was dichotomous. The African Union headquarters had recently been established in Addis Ababa (it’s actually pronounced Abhebhah and so the English spelling is shit! Colonialists are often lazy linguists!)  As a result, loads of development was taking place and infrastructure was being upgraded. Haile himself had contributed to the building of highways and malls and other infrastructure, humbly giving back to the land of his birth. The poverty, however, was everywhere. In South Africa, poverty location was legislated for decades and so poverty is mostly localised to certain areas, largely invisible to the middle and upper classes. In Ethiopia, no such arrangement exists and the poverty and wealth intermingle, creating a stark and jarring contrast. And there’s a lot of poverty. Real poverty. People who think South Africa is a 3rd world country know nothing of 3rd world things or else there is a 5th world. Aside from the less obvious lessons that my love affair with Ethiopia taught me, there are two that have stayed with me since then and that I think of often.

1. Who am I?

Our company worked with an Ethiopian agent named Akalu. Akalu and I became friends. In Ethiopian culture, it is customary to call someone for example Mr Akalu or Mrs SlowCoach or Mr John or Mrs Mary. Akalu had recently become engaged to Lidet. So Mr Akalu was engaged to Mrs Lidet. This was interesting to me because at some point, according to prevailing Western culture at the time, Mrs Lidet would become Mrs Akalu in theory. But those are first names. How would it work? So I asked Akalu what people would call Mrs Lidet once she got married. He looked puzzled and said that people would call her Mrs Lidet. I laughed and said, that if I were to get married to him, I would go from being Miss Taylor to Mrs Mamo, explaining the Western norm. He contemplated that for a moment and by way of explaining, I said, “Where I come from, when a woman gets married, she usually changes her name.” He replied, “Why? Where you come from does a woman forget who she is when she gets married?” It was such a poignant commentary on “Western” “civilisation” and I’ve never forgotten it. Now I also look puzzled when women change their names when they get married and I always wonder if they’ve maybe forgotten who they are.

2. Two days’ bread

The project I worked on required that we employ mainly Ethiopian nationals living in South Africa. One of the positions was for a cultural advisor. It was a well-paid position and a specific amount was allocated to this role. We interviewed a number of people and Lidetu got the position. (Lidetu is the male form of Lidet and the name means the birth of Christ or Christmas. It’s quite a common name in Ethiopia.) Lidetu was a humble man, like most Ethiopians I’ve met. A good man, dedicated to education and to experiencing the world.  When it came time to negotiate salary with Lidetu, the amount I offered was more than he was willing to accept. This was a concept I’d never had to deal with before, but he was emphatic. “I cannot accept that much money, please.” “I’m sorry, Lidetu, but I have to pay you this much.” “That is too much.” “How much is too much?” I asked, tongue in cheek. And then Lidetu silenced me with words that I have been forced to consider regularly ever since. “My God says I should only have enough money for two days’ bread.” I’ll let you think about that for a moment. My God says I should only have enough money for two days’ bread. Imagine a world where that was a guiding principle. Just imagine! Lidetu and I came to an agreement. He took his two days’ bread as salary and the remainder I transferred to a Danish university, where he went and studied something in the humanities. I hope he is well. I hope he found love. I wish the world was full of Lidetus. I wish I was more like Lidetu. I wish two days’ bread was the way we lived. Do I live a two days’ bread life? How would I even start?

I have never fallen out of love with Ethiopia. In marathons, even when Eliud or Wilson Kipsang are racing, I secretly always root for the Ethiopians. Kenya dominates these days, but the humility and goodness of the Ethiopian people I’ve met and who’ve impacted my life always makes me wish that we could once again see a humble star like Haile rise again. I’ve never been back to Ethiopia since those days, but I still follow their news with keen interest. I would love to return again to see if it’s still the beautiful, humble, dichotomous place I fell in love with before I was this jaded, teenager-beaten, worn out Comrades runner I have become.

It’s calling me.

Yours in the pursuit of two days’ bread.

SlowCoach

Garmin 2020 – resilience, risk management, communication

Garmin is down! Their financial results are due for publication on Wednesday. I’m interested to understand their market share of the fitness watch market, because I have a lot of angry running friends. But I also have a lot of friends who are clearly not Garmin sports watch users. Those are the people whose Strava has been as busy as usual since Thursday. Us Garmin users appear to have been on the couch because, since Thursday, when Garmin allegedly became the victim of an alleged Ransomware attack, we have not been able to sync our watches with our various fitness apps, including Strava and Training Peaks.

The entire outage has fascinated me because, aside from a tweet and the standard “We are down for maintenance. Please try again later” message, they’ve been incredibly quiet. Whether it is a Ransomeware attack or not is just speculation in the media because Garmin has been conspicuous by their absence since Thursday. You see, managing outages like this is one of the roles of the job I perform at the bank and I have found the following things interesting

1. I work for a bank. We are governed by many laws about protecting data and obviously, people’s money. We really cannot afford to have people penetrating the bank electronically by for example a Ransomeware attack. What is a ransomware attack? Ransomware is a type of virus which hackers insert into your computer system which then encrypts all your data, rendering is unreadable or inaccessible. Oftentimes, the hackers will demand a ransom for the unencryption of the data, hence the name. The bank can be fined 10% of annual turnover for putting people’s private data at risk.

Garmin, although perhaps governed by data privacy laws, is not necessarily governed by such punitive laws and so maybe their focus is on innovation, more than on stemming a tide of relentless hacking attempts. Garmin also doesn’t look after people’s money and so has no real moral obligation to safeguard attacks on people’s bank accounts. What Garmin does have, however, is geographical movement data, not only of people, but of maritime vessels and, more ominously, of many airlines. Imagine the value of that on an espionage market!

The bank is also required, by many laws to make sure it is limiting and managing it’s risk. (It is also required by law to hold capital in return for the amount of risk it tolerates in it’s operations. Shareholders do not like the bank having to hold capital unnecessarily which incentivises the bank to limit its risk.) Imagine for a second, a hacker got into the bank’s systems undetected and took R1 out of every account. The hacker would stand to get millions of rands without anyone noticing. So security is tight in the bank’s systems. The bank even pays hackers to find any vulnerabilities in their ecosystem.

2. The job I do has an element of disaster management to it. So, in the event of oh, I don’t know, let’s say a pandemic, we can put measures in place to ensure we can still provide a reasonable service to our customers and also manage the risk related to the bank’s activities. Or, if a data centre in London where some of our systems might be located, were to be suddenly struck by lightning, we’d have to be able to bring all our systems back online within 4 hours. Another element of my job, and possibly the most important part is, in the event of an incident, getting technical people to 1. Get organized and 2. Communicate communicate communicate. I’m getting the feeling, Garmin, at this point in their history could seriously use a me.

The CEO of Garmin is an engineer. A software engineer. His whole life has been dedicated to software development and, under his stewardship at Garmin, they’ve seen some unbelievable innovation. I mean, who doesn’t find something new on their Garmin watch every now and again, proclaiming, “Oh wow! Check it out! My watch can also do xyz!” Garmin are all about the latest innovation. They do not think risk management first, innovation, close second. Banks have had to embrace this reality of late and have had to become more innovative, but their number one deliverable is always safety first. Garmin will now have to confront the same reality only they’ll now have to become safer whilst still delivering on their number one priority of innovation.

They have been down for 4 days so far. They haven’t told us anything that might allude to the magnitude of the problem, to the expected duration of this outage, thereby managing customers’ expectations. There is much speculation in the media, making people nervous. Are airlines in danger now? Are flights in danger of being cancelled or delayed as a result of this? If there is a delay, how long will it last? Will I get my fitness points from Vitality/Momentum/etc? When will my coach be able to update my programme? Does some international terrorist organisation now have the ability to track my movement? (Look, hypothetically speaking, one might be concerned about this!)

Garmin have not shown that they have the ability to restore their service within a reasonable time frame. They have not shown that they have any resilience built into their systems. They have not understood their customers well enough to know their communication needs. They do not appear to have enough safety nets built into their systems to minimize the blast radius of a malicious attack.

I cannot wait for their results presentation on Wednesday. I hope someone had it on a powerpoint presentation saved outside their network!! Imagine!! How do you suppose that results presentation will commence? “Good morning to you all on this magnificent 2020 summer morning. Let me start off by saying, ‘We need a SlowCoach!'”

Yours in the spirit of resilience!

SlowCoach

Garmin 2020 – resilience, risk management, communication

Garmin is down! Their financial results are due for publication on Wednesday. I’m interested to understand their market share of the fitness watch market, because I have a lot of angry running friends. But I also have a lot of friends who are clearly not Garmin sports watch users. Those are the people whose Strava has been as busy as usual since Thursday. Us Garmin users appear to have been on the couch because, since Thursday, when Garmin allegedly became the victim of an alleged Ransomware attack, we have not been able to sync our watches with our various fitness apps, including Strava and Training Peaks.

The entire outage has fascinated me because, aside from a tweet and the standard “We are down for maintenance. Please try again later” message, they’ve been incredibly quiet. Whether it is a Ransomeware attack or not is just speculation in the media because Garmin has been conspicuous by their absence since Thursday. You see, managing outages like this is one of the roles of the job I perform at the bank and I have found the following things interesting

1. I work for a bank. We are governed by many laws about protecting data and obviously, people’s money. We really cannot afford to have people penetrating the bank electronically by for example a Ransomeware attack. What is a ransomware attack? Ransomware is a type of virus which hackers insert into your computer system which then encrypts all your data, rendering is unreadable or inaccessible. Oftentimes, the hackers will demand a ransom for the unencryption of the data, hence the name. The bank can be fined 10% of annual turnover for putting people’s private data at risk.

Garmin, although perhaps governed by data privacy laws, is not necessarily governed by such punitive laws and so maybe their focus is on innovation, more than on stemming a tide of relentless hacking attempts. Garmin also doesn’t look after people’s money and so has no real moral obligation to safeguard attacks on people’s bank accounts. What Garmin does have, however, is geographical movement data, not only of people, but of maritime vessels and, more ominously, of many airlines. Imagine the value of that on an espionage market!

The bank is also required, by many laws to make sure it is limiting and managing it’s risk. (It is also required by law to hold capital in return for the amount of risk it tolerates in it’s operations. Shareholders do not like the bank having to hold capital unnecessarily which incentivises the bank to limit its risk.) Imagine for a second, a hacker got into the bank’s systems undetected and took R1 out of every account. The hacker would stand to get millions of rands without anyone noticing. So security is tight in the bank’s systems. The bank even pays hackers to find any vulnerabilities in their ecosystem.

2. The job I do has an element of disaster management to it. So, in the event of oh, I don’t know, let’s say a pandemic, we can put measures in place to ensure we can still provide a reasonable service to our customers and also manage the risk related to the bank’s activities. Or, if a data centre in London where some of our systems might be located, were to be suddenly struck by lightning, we’d have to be able to bring all our systems back online within 4 hours. Another element of my job, and possibly the most important part is, in the event of an incident, getting technical people to 1. Get organized and 2. Communicate communicate communicate. I’m getting the feeling, Garmin, at this point in their history could seriously use a me.

The CEO of Garmin is an engineer. A software engineer. His whole life has been dedicated to software development and, under his stewardship at Garmin, they’ve seen some unbelievable innovation. I mean, who doesn’t find something new on their Garmin watch every now and again, proclaiming, “Oh wow! Check it out! My watch can also do xyz!” Garmin are all about the latest innovation. They do not think risk management first, innovation, close second. Banks have had to embrace this reality of late and have had to become more innovative, but their number one deliverable is always safety first. Garmin will now have to confront the same reality only they’ll now have to become safer whilst still delivering on their number one priority of innovation.

They have been down for 4 days so far. They haven’t told us anything that might allude to the magnitude of the problem, to the expected duration of this outage, thereby managing customers’ expectations. There is much speculation in the media, making people nervous. Are airlines in danger now? Are flights in danger of being cancelled or delayed as a result of this? If there is a delay, how long will it last? Will I get my fitness points from Vitality/Momentum/etc? When will my coach be able to update my programme? Does some international terrorist organisation now have the ability to track my movement? (Look, hypothetically speaking, one might be concerned about this!)

Garmin have not shown that they have the ability to restore their service within a reasonable time frame. They have not shown that they have any resilience built into their systems. They have not understood their customers well enough to know their communication needs. They do not appear to have enough safety nets built into their systems to minimize the blast radius of a malicious attack.

I cannot wait for their results presentation on Wednesday. I hope someone had it on a powerpoint presentation saved outside their network!! Imagine!! How do you suppose that results presentation will commence? “Good morning to you all on this magnificent 2020 summer morning. Let me start off by saying, ‘We need a SlowCoach!'”

Yours in the spirit of resilience!

SlowCoach

COVID-19 Diaries Saying Goodbye

This is not a running blog. Today, we (many of us) bade farewell to EP’s dad, Dave Pierce and my dear friend, Kara. I felt COVID-19 brutally this past week. On Wednesday morning, EP woke up to a very early phone call. I could hear the call down the passage and it sounded like someone had died. EP’s gran, Hugga, is 98, so a quick statistical assumption on my part called out a concerned, “Is it Hugga?” She laughed which was a weird reaction in hindsight because the correct answer was, “No. My dad died.” It was a startling piece of news. EP’s father has suffered from Alzheimer’s for a decade and, in all the time I’ve known her, I’ve stood by helplessly wishing it could be different for her and him and her sisters. Seeing a person with Alzheimer’s is just awful. I assume seeing your own parent with Alzheimer’s must be horrendous and so unfair.  I think a weight lifted off her shoulders. The burden of watching her dad suffer and having to keep visiting and caring for the physical shell that was once a loving father was immediately lifted from her. In its place was the permission to grieve a loving father who had simply and slowly disappeared from her. At times I could see how his death overwhelmed my usually stoic partner and for once I wasn’t a bag of used tissues. I was able to just be there and just let her be. Be there to veg on the couch and, in place of actually running, check out by overanalyzing Garmin watch types. (My  God! She is never going decide on a watch!!)

At the same time that Dave was bidding farewell to the world, my dear friend, Kara, who I’ve known for about 20 years, gave up her fight and succumbed to a heart attack. What a shock! Kara had valiantly fought cancer for almost 3 years and on Tuesday, as her cancer finally turned a corner and she was given a clean bill of health, her heart gave up the fight. I am trying to find meaning in all of this, really I am.

Dave’s girls couldn’t arrange a funeral because of COVID-19 restrictions and their living all over the world. Kara’s daughter Demi had to do the almost cruel job of deciding who, of Kara’s friends, got invited to her memorial service of less than 50 people. You’ll be surprised how quickly 50 spaces fill up in a list of family and friends for someone as lovely as Kara. I was invited to the funeral. What an honour, in these times, to be counted among someone’s 50 closest people. (What a bizarre thing, to be invited to a funeral. I think I should make a list now of people who should and should not be invited to my funeral in 50 years time!) I don’t take that honour lightly and I’ve pledged that Kara’s daughter, Demi, will never have to walk alone on her path now that her best friend and Mother has gone from this Earth. Many of us there today did the same. Kara single-handedly raised Demi from a tiny baby to a beautiful, poised, unique and well-loved 21 year old. Everything she did, was either with Demi or for Demi. What an amazing person! We owe her for giving this world a lovely Demi. This contrived and unnaturally cruel situation into which COVID-19 has us thrust is amplifying our duties and obligations to one another.

COVID-19 restrictions are also forcing us to come up with creative ways to be “normal”. Today, on the day of Dave’s cremation, his daughters, around the world, set up little cenotaphs with his photo, candles, flowers and few of his favourite things and they shared this with one another remotely over WhatsApp. It was impromptu and beautiful and a loving way for the sisters to comfort one another as they said goodbye to their dad.

Dave Pierce, loving father to Janine, Nicola, Maryanne, EP and Jessica. May his soul rest in peace

Today was a very sad day. I feel very sad for EP. I feel very sad for her sisters. I feel very sad for Demi. I feel very sad for Kara’s mom and dad and sister. And I feel very sad for me. I’ve lost a lovely friend who was a shining example of motherhood.

Today, I have been a bucket of used tissues. And with every used tissue, I felt bad because fucking COVID-19!

Kara, dear friend to me. May her soul rest in peace.

Goodbye.

SlowCoach

Let The Rocks Define You – Namaqua Quest Day 3

It’s overdue, I know. Day 3 was a week ago, but after the race, with the prize-giving being way too long for my goldfish attention span, we hurried back to the hotel, showered, packed, checked out and started the next leg of our trip to Nearlynowheresville for our do nothing holiday. I’m only getting to reflect on Day 3 now.

Day 3 of Namaqua Quest was missing something. It missed a credible pre-race briefing. We found this out as EP and I, together with a group of very confused runners wandered up and down a hill trying to figure out where to go. We found it out when we passed one of the locals merrily collecting route markers off our route. I found it out when I ran tentatively down a hill for an entire kilometre without seeing a marker, constantly worried that I had gone wrong somewhere. I hate going down hills slowly. It’s such a waste of time and energy. Day 3 missed a credible race briefing. Which is in contrast to Day 1’s briefing, which was so verbose, a blind person could have run the route!

I love rugged, difficult, technical terrain when running trail runs. The less path, the better! So when I sign up for a trail run that is combined with a mountain bike race, I have to spend months mentally preparing myself for mundane, very runable (for normal people who can actually run) and quite unremarkable terrain. Day 3 delivered accordingly. We ran up a bit and then down a bit and then this gravel road opened up in front of us along a long stretch of rickety farm fencing. The people I’d been running with disappeared into the distance as my head injury dragged my bored body through frequent walks along this brown, mundane, eternal, dusty road. I was reminded that the road does not define me as a runner. It’s the rocks that define me! I like technical stuff. I like doing stuff that asks more of me. I have proven I can run. I ran the Comrades Marathon, so I can run. I want to prove something else. I’m not sure what I want to prove and I’m not sure to whom I’m trying to prove it, but I like rocks!

Where I grew up, in the Western suburbs of Johannesburg, the area where we lived was still developing and so our entire neighbourhood was a mix of half-built homes and majestic quartzite mountains. I spent large parts of my childhood running and walking and sitting and playing in the rocks around our home. I guess running through the rocks always takes me back to that time and I feel young and playful again. Maybe I’m not trying to prove anything. Maybe I just don’t want to be a grown up. Maybe the trail running gives me a little moment in life where I don’t have to be a grown up.

And here I was, just before the first water point – the flimsy pre-race briefing had not been clear about the number of water points we could expect – living as an adult on this very responsible and safe terrain in the desert, next to a rickety farm fence. It occurred to me that the race organisers could have made a very simple deviation off the road and through the flowers and desert shrubbery with very little effort or stretch of the imagination. They are probably responsible adults who don’t need to act like children on the weekends.

The water point was manned by the state veterinary services and they had a beautiful Staffie helping them. The water point was at about 6km into what we expected to be a 15km route. I had not drunk much of my hydration up until that point and didn’t need to fill up. I ran off, after giving the dog a cuddle and thanking the vets on duty for the valuable work they do, taking care of animals. And then my wish was granted! I got rocks! Lots of them! There were 3 discernible climbs on the route profile. We had started a rocky climb early in the race, followed by the responsible adult part of the route and now the massive 2nd climb was underfoot. I loved it. I passed a few people, but the markers were scarce and poorly placed. Added to this, the wind had blown some of the markers into the bushes they were on, making them invisible to the runners. I helped those behind me by untangling those markers as I passed them on my climb up this rocky hill. Then I came to a crossroads and there was not a marker to be seen anywhere. I’m actually quite a good marker spotter and I often sing a line from the song, Thrift Shop, when my spotting tags game is on point! (If you get it then you get it! I’m just a dork!) It’s so irritating when you’re in the front of a group or on your own and the tags are not clearly visible because you keep having to slow down or stop to search for a tag. I chose the downhill, hoping that I was now at the top of climb number two. I had last seen a tag about thirty metres back, so I could go forward down the hill a few more hundrd metres without a tag before I’d have to turn back to the last tag I saw. As I dropped down the hill, in the distance on the other side of the valley, I could see runners and so, either we were all on a very wrong road or they had seen something I had missed. Because I kept worrying that maybe we were all on a very wrong road and I was suddenly running low on water and God had dialled the temperature dial all the way to the right, I ran down this somewhat technical terrain with my handbrake on. Imagine how cross I was when, after a kilometre of handbrake running down what was ordinarily my favourite part of the race, the part where I get to be a kid, I finally spotted a tag. And it was so, at the bottom of the next climb, my sense of humour left the building and I started to trudge up the hill. It was flaming hot in the desert now and I didn’t know where or if we would get another water point. We were 8 kilometres in when Helen passed me and some other adult passed me. I was a petulant toddler whose toys had been taken away. I cursed the race organisers. I cursed myself and I became infatuated with the idea that I was going to run out of water and die of dehydration. Luckily for every up, there is a down and at the top of the 3rd climb, I threw myself most recklessly down shale-laden trail, jumping and sliding over and down the rocks. When I looked up, I seemed to have almost caught up to a lot of people and they were all wandering around, pointing and gesturing. I ran back to the last tag I could see and looked for another tag. When I pointed to it, we all semed to see it at the same time and we started to converge on it, only to discover that we had been here, running in the opposite direction earlier in the day near the start of the race. I would definitely have expected that to have been part of the race briefing. The fact that you go back along the same path you went on at the start. We were still unsure of whether we were correct or not when we spotted a man collecting the route tags. (Apparently, the locals take the tags as souveniers, not waiting until the race is over to do so!) A section of very technical rocks let me pass the adults, who then passed me as the rocks came to an end and we ran along a responsible path and a tar road.

Day 3 of Namaqua Quest was very beautiful. The Namakwa Desert is so gorgeous, I suspect even without the flowers. It’s so far from anything, but somewhere everyone should visit at least once. Day 3 showed off Namakwaland in all its complexity. The route was peppered with little trailer homes and run down houses where families, abandoned when the local mine closed, try to eke out an existence. There are shrub-filled plains and large volcanic, glaciated mountains. There is dust and dirt as well as tenacious little flowers. There are Quiver trees, which are a type of desert aloe and there is nothingness. It is a place for poetry and poets. I loved it there. The wind would drive me mental, but I loved it. Life is simpler there. Life is quieter there. Day 3 showed me that. I loved Namaqua Quest Day 3!

Yours, reliving childhood.

SlowCoach

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

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

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