Couch time

I miss being a couch potato. I always hated exercise. The only reason i started exercising in the first place was because I was stupid enough to tell people that I would run the Comrades Marathon. Now I’m trapped in this underground life of running and sit ups and push ups and reverse crunches (fuck! I really hate those) and bicep curls and all manner of torture that up until that midlife crisis, I had hated and so avoided. Now I still hate them but do them 7 days a week. 7 days a week! I’m not even joking here. I participate in any number of activities that until just 4 years ago, I had abhorred, 7. Days. A week!

I’d like to explore the “why” of that phenomenon, but I can’t right now. Why is that? Well, because I’m too tired from being up at the arse end of dawn for a biokinetics class with Jekyll and Hyde and I’m meeting the Cool Kids for a run at the arse end of dawn tomorrow. So I have to go to bed.

Goodnight!

Via Dolorosa

I know. Several of you have complained. Last time I blogged was in November when I ran a marathon for no reason and qualified for a race which I have no intention of running….this year. It might help you if I explain this writing process of mine. I can’t write on demand, which is why I work in a bank and am not lounging on my patio all day, perched at a laptop, sipping a fine Chianti while I churn out this nonsense. The blog piece always starts forming in my head when something about a run strikes me. It might be the sunrise. It might be something poignant that someone says. It might be a tree. Something strikes me and the inspiration is sparked. From there, the piece evolves in my head as I trundle along. That’s why you very seldom read about my training runs. Not much time to build a narrative in that short time. So the reason I haven’t written in a while is because I’ve mostly been training on trails for the Old Mutual Two Oceans 22km Trail Run. And although the training runs have been in some pretty places, they’ve been difficult and not very inspiring. Just biting down training.

I’ve also been injured. I know, right? You’re always injured. I know, right? That’s because, as you may recall, I’m not really supposed to be a runner. I’m supposed to be a couch potato. And I have the perfect body for couch potatoing, complete with a hint of scoliosis of the spine and one leg shorter than the other (I suspect the two are related). Jekyll and Hyde confirmed it to me recently, when at my wits end, I went to see her, a biokineticist, about the myriad of suffering I was enduring. She said, “I’m not sure how you’re actually managing to run because you really don’t have any leg strength at all.” Luckily she told me that just three days before I left for Cape Town to run the longest trail I’ve ever run in my life. Luckily the race was billed as “For experienced trail runners only”. But I’ve run the Comrades Marathon, right? How hard could this be?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Cape Town is a really shit place. That fucking wind could put me in a mental assylum. It’s very pretty and the transport system is quite good, but the people are so laissez-faire, it takes forever to get anything done and then, before you know it, it’s 10pm and bed time! So I really don’t like Cape Town, but I was very excited about the race. I knew it was going to be tough and I thought it would elevate my status as a silly Parkrun-type trail runner to a hard core trail runner. Today, as I type this, I find myself hung somewhere between the two. Erica and I had done some pretty appalling training runs in heat and wind and dust and hills and sun and misery so I think we were pretty much ready for anything. We had handled the training runs so badly, however, that both of us were worried that we were in no way prepared for this run. Erica had never run 22km before…on road or on trail. I think I was shitting myself more for her than for myself. At least I knew how deep I could dig after last year’s Comrades. Her petulant temper tantrum on our last training run and her total inability to pep talk herself or to allow herself to be pep talked had me worried that she might not be able to do this. But she’s got loads of chutzpah, that one, so I knew that she’d finish. She also has the advantage of a fantastic homing pony that kicks in as soon as she smells the finish. I kept having to remind her that all runners are liars and trail runners are the worst type of liar because I’ve never ever run a trail run that was the distance that was sold to me. I knew that Two Oceans would be no different. It turns out that the race was not, in fact 22km. It was 23.8km. I kept telling Erica and myself to get our heads around 25km. Luckily I did that or I might have stumbled upon a very angry and defeated Erica at some point near the end of the race. I didn’t and she finished half an hour ahead of me!!! Well done Erica.

The trail race is the first race of the Old Mutual Two Oceans marathon racing weekend. It is run on Good Friday. Good Friday has always been and will always be a deeply spiritual day of reflection for me and I struggled with the notion that I would be doing something I love and find so fun on a day meant for contemplation and mournful reflection. Co-incidentally, along with the lack of creativity in my life, I have struck a pothole in my spiritual life. I haven’t been going to church. I haven’t been praying. Even during Lent, this most holy time of fasting, reflection and self-sacrifice, I have been living far removed from my usual ethereal life. And it was with this realisation, on kilometre three, which was as steep as kilometre one to three, that this piece of writing began to take form.

The start of the race was unremakable, although it was very cold and our gear was checked like our hem lengths in high school by a troop of class prefect-type people. We had been advised with our entry that the following gear was compulsory:

  • a hydration pack (or something similar) with a minimum of  2 litres of water. Go get a 2litre bottle from your fridge, now strap it to your back and imagine running 22…er 25km with that,
  • a hat (I never run trails with a hat because I’m afraid I won’t see low-hanging branches and then end up knocking myself unconscious. To meet the requirement, I donned peak cap back to front which gave me the appearance of a lanky, over the hill skateboarder),
  • a whistle,
  • a space blanket (I detest the sound the thing makes. It’s made of that fine crinkly silver foil and sounds disgusting when it moves),
  • a rain jacket,
  • a windbreaker,
  • Food
  • A cell phone, charged with the race’s emergency number stored (oh shit! I just realised that I forgot to put in the emergency number into my phone. Lucky I didn’t need it then, hey? Oops!)

So you start the race with a shit load of extra baggage….and I’m not even talking about the stuff I usually start with in my head.

The first 4.5km are steep uphills into the rising sun. The views are lovely, but the road is walkably steep. You can try run, but I think only the elites would have managed that. It was at the 3km mark that I got a small thorn poke through my shoe and into my sock. I was suddenly reminded that it was indeed Good Friday and this was a day on which I usually sat in reflection of that most horrific of murders, the death of Jesus Christ. That little thorn irritated me. I could move my foot around in my shoe so that the thorn didn’t poke my toe whenever I put my foot down, but then doing that for the next 19km would do a lot of damage to the rest of my legs. So I just kept tolerating it until it went away. I kept thinking about the thorn in Jesus’ head from the crown of thorns. How absolutely agonising that must have been. I wondered if the pain eventually just went away like the pain in my toe. At about 5km, we started climbing. Now, when runners talk about climbing they are usually talking about this:

steep climb

For the purposes of this particular blog, the term “Climb” shall refer to this:

rock-climbing3

I know you’re thinking that I’m joking. Not even. I looked up at someone about three people ahead of me at one point and saw this:

rock climb

Except this woman has equipment! I thought, “Holy shit! If she lets go now, she will fall to her death. I’m sure one should have equipment for this kind of thing.” I considered my compulsory gear list, and thought, “Did I skip the bungee cord and D-ring altogether when I read that list?” It was quite something. All I can say is thank goodness I have been doing all those bicep curls with my enormous 1kg weights because there is no ways I could have pulled myself up some of those rocks if I hadn’t had the little arm strength I have. It was brutal. At one point, I couldn’t find a place to grab, so I grabbed a piece of bush and a thousand little thorns bit into me. Deceptive little fucker! Immediately, a thousand little bubbles of blood peeked out of my fingers. I shouted to everyone below me, “Don’t touch this little bush. It has teeth!” Once again, I was dragged from my horror to remember the horror of that walk upon which Jesus had embarked all those years ago. I wanted to tap out. I wanted to get my whistle out of my bag and just blow it to get a marshal to come and help me down the mountain. But I was too afraid to let go of the rock and so I couldn’t get my whistle out of my bag. Alas, this way of sorrow was set to continue. The guy behind me, who was now being held up along with about 400 other runners by my pathetic progression up this cliff face, told me that I couldn’t tap out because I had run Comrades and this was just a walk in the park compared to that. Just those words were like Veronica’s compassionate gesture to Jesus as he struggled along. I considered that Jesus too must have wanted to tap out at some point. Must have wanted to blow that whistle. I suppose He had the power and authority to do so, but He didn’t. Those words helped me up the next climb which had been deceptively hidden around the corner from the current climb. We climbed into a cave where a very kind marshal was telling us we were nearly there. “We’re nearly there at the top of this climb or we’re nearly there at the end of the race?” I thought to myself. We were neither. I wonder if anyone said that to Jesus on his way.

That climb was 2km. We climbed literally for 2km. My quads and arms were finished. Now, 7km into the race, I was finished. I almost cried. At 8km, I saw several marshals standing around, looking busy. There was a runner, looking forlorn standing to the side of the narrow path. I greeted her. It looked like she had tapped out. And then I fell. Just out of sight of the small gathering dealing with the forlorn runner. It was a strange fall between two boulders. I must have tripped on a frond of a plant by stepping on one side and hooking the arch made by that with my other foot. I stumbled forward, grabbed the two boulders and almost sighed in relief that I hadn’t fallen, but then I carried on falling and I fell on my good knee. My left knee stung and I jumped up and limped forward and out of the way of any runners behind me. I felt embarrassed until I realised that there was no other runner. No-one around to witness the fall. I cried a little because it was my good knee. My not good knee was so sore from the climbing and now my good knee was also a not good knee. My hands started to bleed. Jesus fell, we believe three times on his journey with the cross. I cried out loud, “Please don’t let there be two more falls waiting for me. Please!” I wonder if, when Jesus fell, he also stumbled, steadied himself or just lurched forward and fell. How humiliating for him. I wonder if he wanted to just jump up and shout, “I’m okay! No worries. Just a scratch.” I wonder if he just wanted to lie in the path, face down and not get up. I wonder if he got up and carried on forward because he knew that at the end of all this treachery, at least he would be home with his Father.

I looked at my watch. 8.5km. I felt like I had been running for days and we were only 8.5km into this race. Moreover, I had already fallen. My newly not good knee started to swell. Blood covered my hand. I washed it down with some of the water which, although icy cold when I started this race, was now starting to warm up.When I looked again, I was at the 12km mark, I had stumbled a few times and berated myself to concentrate and said a small prayer of thanks that I hadn’t fallen and a smaller prayer of please don’t let there be two more falls. I’d had to pass under an overhanging rock because going on the outside of the overhang would take me too near to the precipice of the mountain and I was afraid of plummeting to my death. There were several spots like that. Looking down is not an option on this race. Neither is looking up. If you’re afraid of heights, this one is not for you.

Twelve kilometres and I’d been “running” for two hours and twenty minutes. I am not kidding you, folks. Two hours and twenty minutes. And I wasn’t even last! Not even in my category! Seriously, it was that tough. Of course, at the precise time that I was crossing over the 12km mark, the winning lady was crossing over the finish line which was allegedly 10km hence. On the road, I’m usually finished my 5th cup of coke at the finish of a 21km after two hours and twenty minutes. Here, I was half way! But the kilometres between the fall at 8km and this 12km seemed to have flown by. That cheered me up a bit, but then I wondered, how long the walk from the Praetorium to Golgotha was. Well, upon Googling, I’ve established it wasn’t 25km. Or even 22km. Still, I wasn’t running in the desert. Nor did I have crowds jeering.  In fact, there were times when there didn’t appear to be another human on that route. Sometimes I waited till another person came along because I was certain I had taken a wrong turn and got lost. I also didn’t have someone pushing me along hastily to get the whole ordeal over with. You know if someone had been doing that to me as I ran along, I would have become so angry, I would have smashed their head with one of the many rocks that I was rambling over. Yeah. I can’t imagine Jesus doing that either.

And then I had run 17km. I was in pain, but I was still enjoying my run. Some idiot ran past me and announced, “Downhill to the end now!” With that, we turned off the little downhill we’d just had onto an abomination of an uphill. I called out to him, “What have you done? What have you said?” He was so embarrassed, and I think a little afraid, that he sped off up that hill never to be seen again. The marshal who had just directed us up that hill told me to catch him and hit him. I might have tried if my knees weren’t so stuffed. I was quite surprised how my legs had been holding it together so far in the race. I was grateful for that. I’d been in excruciating pain for two weeks before the race. Lower back, knee, ITBs, searing glutes. But now, at this point, all that was really hurting were my knees, one from the fall and one from overuse. A truthful marshal advised that the route was not 22km. I knew it, I told him. I’m aiming for 25km. He told me to keep aiming for that because that was much closer than 22km! Although self-righteously I was glad I could say, “I knew it! I just knew it!”, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit deflated that I still had 8km to go, when I should have had just 5km to go. But then I reminded myself that I had run the Comrades Marathon so this was just a literal walk in the park.

It was really beautiful scenery. We were running through magical forests and jumping over bubbling brooks. We were having to clamber up hills and do climbs, but it was really picturesque running. At no point did I kick a single stone in anger. And then I came into a clearing. I was running downhill and my knees were sore. I almost cried, but then I saw a photographer and pulled myself together. Then I was on the road to the homestretch. That’s when I cried. Four and some hours I had been out there. That’s usually a marathon for me. Here I was just finishing 23.8km in that same time. What a bittersweet feeling. I had done things that day that I never imagined I’d be able to do. I had hauled myself over rocks and boulders, crept along precipices, fallen, got up, and finished the hardest race I’d ever done in my life. It wasn’t as tough, mentally, as Comrades, but I finished feeling exactly as I had felt at the end of my first Comrades down run. I also finished with a real sense of accomplishment, more so than either of my Comrades marathons. I felt like I had experienced something truly grueling and challenging and I had accomplished it. Maybe that’s how Jesus died, with a deep sense of accomplishment. We are told that he sighed, “It is accomplished,” at the moment of his death. I’m not comparing my silly little trail run with a selfless act of that magnitude or more specifically, being crucified, but I had a fleeting sense of how Jesus might have felt as he gave his last breath in that manner.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt a sense of purpose on that horrible journey. He told a group of women who were crying to not cry for him but for themselves and their families. I hope I too can be a person of empathy always. I have found that there is no more poignant way to get close to God than to run out in nature. It is a gift which has been given to me which I treasure. And even though I shout and complain and groan at times while I’m out in nature running, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the gift of running and for the gift of our beautiful country and for the gift of lovely people who I meet along the way.

And at those moments when I feel like I’m being pushed from behind by a faster runner breathing down my neck, I know that God looks on and removes all stones from my reach.

Yours in the love of God and nature and running

SlowCoach

 

 

Forteeee Twoooooo! Yor! Yor! Yor!

I woke up yesterday with the stark realisation that I had run a marathon for no reason other than it was there. I had a private school education. I was a clever child. Prone to bouts of laziness (boredom/apathy) and daydreaming so I never amounted to much at school, but everyone knew I was one of the clever kids in the class. It seems, however, that as my forties have dwindled away from me, I have become a stupid person who would voluntarily run 42.2kms on the most anorexic training regime for no reason whatsoever.

Look, I’m not going to bore you with the details of Kaapsemoer again. The route was similar to the one I described here. I’m also not going to bore you with the details of how I’m feeling right now, because, interestingly enough, even though I have run two Comrades Marathons and several other stupid distance races, i feel exactly the same as I did two years ago when I wrote this. I’ll tell you a bit about the few peculiarities of this race compared to that one two years ago.

  1. I didn’t train much for this marathon. I have been injured for a while and I’ve been racing short trail runs. I managed to squeeze in a 21km about five weeks ago and an 18km about a month ago. Other than that, I’ve been patiently waiting for my knee to stop swelling and I’ve been racing these silly little trail runs. (I should just tell you that I’ve been getting podium places on said trail runs, but they’re very short and not too difficult mostly, so not exceptionally good marathon training.)
  2. I had entered the 42.2km in March when entries opened, but two weeks ago had resigned myself to doing the 21.1km…my being so undertrained and all. I was doing a brutal training session 10 days before the marathon and I was coping maginificently so an aneurism set in and I decided, hey! If I can do this 16km training session without dying and I managed an 18km long run the other day, why don’t I just do the marathon? What a fucking great idea! Devoid of any scientific reference or evolutionary process whatsoever, I resigned myself to doing the marathon. I am such an idiot!
  3. In my defence, however, the start of the 21.1km race at Kaapsehoop is not that inspiring. The start of the marathon has occasion to be really beautiful. This year was no exception. Because the race has grown so much (I like to think since I wrote a blog telling everyone how it totally fucked my body up for over a week) that they can no longer start it in the tiny town of Kaapsehoop. So we started in the “peerboord” up the road from Kaapsehoop. It’s about 800m up the main road. The nice thing (for me and one or two others only) about this start is that the first kilometre was all trail running. Everybody whined and bleated and complained. I was skipping along having a merry time. I really love running trails. The start was also very congested and the congestion generated a substantial amount of dust which made people complain. Runners are such complainers. About 1.5km into the race, a herd of wild horses crossed the road and ran through the herd of runners. It was a very cool thing to witness. All of this, I would have missed if I’d done the 21.1km.
  4. There were people that recognised me as SlowCoach and greeted me. A nice lady told me that I was the reason she was running the marathon. I felt like I should apologise. She must not have understood my English when I wrote about it!
  5. The road into the forest at about 5km has been resurfaced and is much easier to navigate. However, the congestion is still chaos at the entrance and exit to the forest. They really should have  fences or cones or something there to force everyone in on the left and out on the right. The poor elite runners nearly got injured slamming into a few lost back markers where Siobhan (Chev) and I were. Actually, Chev and I weren’t doing too badly as we turned to come back out the forest. We were probably in the middle of the pack somewhere.
  6. At 10kms I felt a twinge in my calf which escalated into a rugby ball growing out of my leg by 13kms. I told Chev and Joseph, who had caught up with us, to go ahead because my calf was blown. 29kms to go and my calf had blown up. It literally felt like a rugby ball was hanging off the back of my leg. It also felt like it was holding onto my achilles by a small very irritated nerve. Just as I was about to complain about it, I passed a lady from CSIR who was taking a walk. A man ran up behind her and told her, “Come on CSIR. This is early on. Pain is temporary.” And to those words I clung for the next 29kms and to which I continue to cling today as I type this.
  7. Ringmaster Dave had recommended that I take a run walk approach to the race because I was so drastically undertrained for a marathon. Run 5kms, walk for 3 minutes. I decided that 3 minutes would leave me bored (lazy) and so told him I would take 2 minutes instead. It’s quite a tough strategy to maintain and there were times when I cried because I wanted to walk but it wasn’t time yet and there were times when I cried because my two minutes was up and I wanted to carry on walking. But I was very disciplined, stopping twice only; once during a running lap to get a hug from Willy Jay at a water station and once on an uphill to get a hug from Justine. She stopped her car next to me and called out as I was trudging hunched over like Quasimodo, up a hill. She asked, “Are you okay?” I stared back through vacant eyes and asked, “Compared to what?” “Can I get you anything?” “Just a hug please.” She was quite surprised by that, but kindly got out of her car and gave me a hug. Love tank filled, I motored up the rest of the hill. Thanks Willy Jay and Justine.
  8. I had the lowest moment in my running to date at the 23km mark. At 21kms, I wanted to give up running. At 22kms, I wondered out loud why I had entered this Godforsaken race again and at 23kms, I wept, “Why didn’t you just let me die in my sleep last night?” At 26kms I realised that I had experienced my lowest moment in running 3 kms back and it could only get better from then onwards.
  9. I ran the whole last 5kms. I stopped briefly at 42kms to put my hand on my knees because I thought the race was finished as there was a man shouting out times as we passed him. Very strange. But I did. I ran the last 5kms, even the hellish hill that I gave up on last time, where I cried big ploppy tears onto my pink running shoes. I ran all the way up that hill this time and then I sprinted down the last kilometre mostly because I just wanted it to be over.
  10. My legs collapsed. I’ve never experienced that. It was very weird. I felt fine. I was knackered, but I felt fine. It was just my legs that wouldn’t obey my brain. It was such a silly feeling. I ended up in the medical tent because I kept falling over, but I felt fine. I was quite amused by this new running experience. Afterwards when we were all sitting on the grass chilling and relaxing, I would stand up and ready, aim, walk but my legs would go off in a different direction, much like a drunk person.
  11. After the race, someone said to me, “Did you qualify?” I stared at them for a moment, not knowing what they were talking about and then it ocurred to me that they were asking if I had run under 5 hours. I had, but I hadn’t done that in order to qualify for anything. I’m never running a race that requires a marathon to qualify. Again. That’s just insanity. Let me run a race for which, in order to prove you can run that distance, you have to run a distance that no other normal people would attempt. Just insane!

Having taken the remainder of the week off, knowing what i knew, we did a bit of sight seeing around Mpumalanga. We’ve got a really beautiful country. Erica made me hike for hours on end because she did the 21km and so wasn’t acutely aware of every single muscle in her legs and she merrily skipped from rock to stair to rock to hill to bony outcrop to all manner of naturally occurring instruments of torture, but I endured them for her. What a great, patient, tolerant friend I am! We saw some truly magnificent views, however. I am now securely perched at my laptop with my feet up and ice packs under my calves. No-one has been allowed to touch me yet. I’m still waiting to find out exactly what “temporary” means.

Oh yeah, one other really funny thing happened on the way back from the race. We stopped to eat at the Spur. As I was leaving (I was still dressed in my running kit and I was wearing my medal) a man stopped me and asked, “Are you a runner? I am also an athlete. I run too, but I come from Pretoria.” “I come from Jo’burg, but I was here for a race today.” “Oh! What race?” “Kaapsehoop marathon.” “A MARATHON? Yor! Yor! Yor!” he exclaimed hitting his forehead with his palms on every Yor! “Forteeeeee twoooooo! Heh banna! Take a picture of us athletes. Yor!  This lady! Forteeeee twooooo!” What an awesome moment! He usually runs 21kms races in Pretoria. I don’t think he would have been as impressed had he seen my Quasimodo impression for most of the forteeeeee twoooooo.

Yor!s in the love of running and temporary things

Slow Coach

Jekyll and Hyde

I know I should be working and not writing this, but I can’t concentrate. Why can’t I concentrate? Because I’m sitting upright. I know, strange right? Usually, you can find me hunched over my desk or slumped in my chair, butt glued firmly in a non-running friendly pose. So you’re sitting upright and now you can’t concentrate. What’s the correlation? The correlation has something to do with a young lady who, at first glance seems kind and serene, but is, upon closer inspection, a sadistic slave master who delights in other’s suffering. I’ll tell you how I came to know this Dr Jekyll and Miss Hyde person.
You’ll remember that I’m injured. I know, I’m always injured. But seriously. I’m injured. Injured to the point of not being able to walk down stairs or bend down to pick up my grandson or anything normal people with normal knees are able to do. And what have I been doing about this injury? Well I’m running less. I’m walking instead of running, but I’m not walking with any amount of commitment or enthusiasm. And I’m complaining a lot. My colleague told me to go get my injury sorted because I was a grump as a result of not running.  I think Illuminati Michelle got tired of my complaining and she scheduled a course for her and I and a few others with a biokineticist. She’s recently had hamstring issues and has also been walking…a lot so the course would be good for both of us. If the truth be told, I think she just gets a kick out of seeing me suffer.
In parallel to this, I went to see Francis, my other physio. She sent me for x-rays and it turns out I’m old and there are signs that I’m getting osteo arthritis. Can you believe that? How disgusting! If that weren’t enough, I noticed that my eyesight was blurry when I was reading something on my phone on the weekend. How could this be happening to me? Francis gave me an exercise that is so difficult to do, I wept when I attempted them in her rooms. She stopped only marginally short of telling me to stop whining like a Stuart Hodge  drama student.  Since then, I’ve been weeping without an audience every night in my bedroom while attempting these awful exercises.
Illuminati Michelle set up the course for Monday mornings at 6am and Friday afternoons at 5.30pm. Well that’s how my brain heard it anyway. So on Thursday evening, I packed my bags for the next day very excited to be attending my first biokinetics class the next afternoon. I was tired so I went to bed early and thought I could get a good night’s rest in and get to work early. I set my alarm for 5am, all set to get to work early. I snoozed it. And I snoozed it again. I snoozed my second alarm too. And I snoozed that a second time too. And then my phone rang. I work in the type of job that might attract a 5.38ish phone call and so I sat up and answered the phone trying to sound coherent.
Hello. It’s Brenda speaking.
The voice on the other end whispered, Brenda where are you?
I beg your pardon?
Where are you? You have class.
Who is this?
It’s Michelle.
What class?
Class?
But that’s only tonight?
No. It’s now.
But you told me 5.30pm.
No. It’s 5.30am.
……………long pause. Okay, well start without me. I’m on my way.
I got dressed (In the clothes that were packed in the bag) and made it to class which is normally 15 minutes away from my house in the space of 10 minutes. I walked in to the class, still asleep, greeted everyone embarrassed and sat down and started doing whatever I was told to do. The nice lady on the mat next to me was trying to help, but I was so fast asleep and my being untimely plucked from my slumber, was starting to manifest as irritation. My self-preservation lobe in my brain was not yet awake and so I simply did whatever I was told. I smiled politely at everyone when I left and went back home to shower and start the day over. About 15 minutes into my drive to work, I woke up. I woke up and realized that my abs were on fire. In fact, I had difficulty even reaching for my gear lever. Oh my word!! What had I just done to myself?
The rest of the weekend I spent feeling like I was strapped into a corset of Elizabethan proportions. I couldn’t cough. I couldn’t bend. I couldn’t stabilize myself in a vehicle without groaning. I sneezed and yelped only 4 times. After that I determined I should simply stop breathing through my nose so that I wouldn’t sneeze. The amount of pain I was in, I fully expected to see a chiseled 6 pack of bricks staring back at me from the mirror. Alas, a 6 pack of muffins is still attached to my abdomen, reminding me of how far I have to go.
And now it’s Monday and 6am has come and gone and I’ve experienced Fatima in all her Jekyll and Hydeishness. And this time, sadly, I was fully conscious. She laughed at least 3 times at my suffering. Thankfully, Illuminati Michelle was also in pain. After one of the exercises, Michelle asked, “What muscle is this supposed to be working, because everything’s on fire?” Fatima Hyde laughed at that. Fatima Jekyll asked “Are you okay?” several times, but I got that feeling she was only asking that because of some kind of professional legal obligation rather than having any sort of compassion for my pallid complexion and my watering eyes. I became a clock watcher. I couldn’t wait for 6.45 to appear on the clock. This was torture. I’ve been punched in the ribs and I’m sure my spine is bruised. A rabid dog has taken a bite out of my right butt and there is a furnace smoldering in both my calf muscles. I’m not entirely sure if I’m starving hungry or if this is just a muscle that is attempting to leave my abdomen.
Friday is coming and I don’t think I can face this. I may accidentally amputate my toe so that I don’t have to face Jekyll and Hyde again on Friday.  I have, however, been able to walk down stairs today without pain for the first time in about 3 months. I am sitting upright without much effort and I can feel that I’m standing up straighter. Nice. This Jekyll and Hyde thing might be working. All the complaining wasn’t. So maybe I’ll just brave it one more time on Friday and then stop torturing myself.
Yours in the love of ……look, I’m struggling to find the joy in this, but I’m sure its coming. I’m liking going down stairs at least.

Slow Coach.

 

My Journey From the Couch to The Comrades Marathon…and Back to the Couch

Andrew laughed at me the other day. “How much longer till you’re back on the couch, SlowCoach?” 31 May cured me. It cured me of my long distance thing. Whatever the “thing” was because it was far from a love affair. More like an obsessive compulsion to prove no-one in particular wrong. I’ve found myself liking “long” runs less and less and in the past 4 months my definition of “long” has gone from thinking long meant 89km, to thinking that an ultra is way too long, to thinking that a marathon is totally inconceivable, to thinking that 21km is too fucking far for a normal person, to thinking that 10km is very far, to thinking that I can barely keep my sense of humour in tact for the duration of a 5km run. There are three likely reasons for this somewhat swift shift in “thinking”:

  1. Comrades was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life;
  2. I’ve taken to trail running and that requires almost double the effort over the same distance as on road;
  3. I’m injured.

Injured? Again? I hear you judge. I can hear your judgement. You think I’m like a soccer player (or a Samoan rugby wing as the case may be), rolling around on the floor, hypochondriatically. Yes. Injured, okay? You might remember that I ran Comrades with a pathetic self-applied strapping. That’s because my knee was sore, caused by a combination of ITB and shocking hip flexors. I’m guessing running 90kms with those two irritations probably didn’t help matters. But I took the obligatory two weeks off after Comrades, returning to running only because I had sold my soul to Comrades and so no longer had any friends unless I was running. If that weren’t a thing, I may have given up running altogether. So I returned to running and was happy to be mediocre. But I was sore.

Variety. Cross training. Coach, Ringmaster Dave, recommended I do a little bit of Cross Country running to get a bit of variety to help with the pain. I had missed the cross country entry deadline. There’s some funny pre-entry requirement for the season. I’ll find out next year. I’d missed the cut off so I decided I’d try a trail run. I didn’t have the pre-requisite gear, more about that in a bit, so I entered the Spur Winter Trail Series, seeded myself in the back batch (because I’m so slow) of the shortest distance available. The long distance allergy had already started to manifest itself.  Trail series hey? I know that Francis and Mike and Chrissie all rave about trail running. Pfsh! What nonsense, I thought. Trail running! Bunch of fucking tree hugging hipsters, wandering around outside in the bush, smelling the daisies and daring to call that running. I was certainly over road running and now I had no normal friends so I thought I better try something new. Enter Spur Trail Series.

My first trail race was the first in the Spur Trail Series. I went with Mike who turned into a pothead at some point on the drive there, waxing lyrical about the beauty of nature and Cape Town and how lucky we are to live here and the mountains and and and. I was like, Thank God I’ll be coming back to the city after this. The fresh air makes people nutty. We arrived. Early. Early enough for a cup of coffee. There was a toilet, complete with brick walls, toilet paper, a ceramic seat and a door that closed securely. I was impressed. I’m probably listing things in order of importance here. There were very good looking people. Crumbs! Bodies like real athletes were the norm rather than the exception as in road running. There is a whole other sub-species of runner at trails, I’ve come to realise. It’s a totally different vibe. Totally different culture. These trail runners look very impressive. They’ve got gear. They’ve got compulsory gear. I’m not joking here. For trail running, you have to carry a cell phone. You have to carry hydration packs (for certain distances). There is also non-compulsory compulsory gear. A buff is not in the rules, but you shouldn’t be seen without a buff. You just shouldn’t. A buff, as I always say, is a very versatile garment. You should, however, wear it on the outside where everyone can see your buff as it is a non-compulsory compulsory iteam of gear. Gaiters (I know right?) are not compulsory, but if you have gaiters, you’re hard core trail. (I had to look up the spelling of “gaiters”). Gaiters are a protective covering of cloth or leather for the ankle and lower leg. Gaiters keep snow and stones out of your trail shoes and burs off your socks. I got gaiters yesterday. I’m that hard core!

At the first race, I wasn’t so hard core. I had ordinary long running leggings, my Comrades shirt, my road running shoes and socks. I think I had a buff, but only because it was still winter and very cold. I felt a bit under dressed. I met Lisa and Shaun. They’d run this stuff before (tree hugging hipsters) and so looked way more the part than I did. They had buffs. I met Kirsty. She’s Illuminati now so she always looks the part wherever she goes. Off went the batches. Lisa and her friend and I were seeded in the back batch so we waited and saw everyone else off. And then it was us. I don’t know why, but I ran fast. It’s not like I got faster than I had been, it’s just that I was able to go faster on the trail than on the road. I would run ahead of Lisa and her friend and then wait at the next corner for them. Then I would run ahead again and wait. I’m usually a similar pace to Lisa, but on the trails there was something different. I fell. In a forest. I fell over nothing. I was in a queue so there was no time to roll about on the floor like a Samoan soccer player. I fell in slow motion and jumped up swiftly. Limped two steps and carried on running. This is going to sound weird, but it was fun falling. I felt like a little kid falling while I was playing. In fact, the entire race felt like playing. I fully expected to look up and see my brothers running and laughing next to me. We grew up in the mountains and this felt like being a kid again, even the falling. I fell in love. There were no long horrible hills that stretched in a straight line in front of you, reminding you that you’re nowhere and you have still to battle Goliath before you can go home and sleep. The route was winding and undulating and there were rocks and streams and roots and trees and all sorts of cool stuff to run over, through and around. I felt 25 years younger. I know. That would put me at minus 1 years old, right? Anyway. I had so much fun and I realised that not only was it fun, but I was also kinda good at it. I’m still trying to figure out why I’m better at trails than I am at road running. More on that in another blog.

The second race in the series I was the 43rd lady home out of 244 and I was 11th in my age category out of 68. Illuminati Michelle had also raced that day and she had come 5th on our age category. We had both been caught up in traffic on one part of the trail that was congested because it was single track, so we both knew we could have fared better if we’d been seeded in a higher batch. Things were looking good. I went and invested in some good quality trail running shoes and dug out my buffs. I could get into this trail running thing. But my knee was sore. Even more so since my fall in the forest….if a slow coach falls in the forest and there was no-one to see….

Come the third race, I knew the morning drive out drill and I had become a pothead hippie like Mike.  We weren’t actually smoking pot, but we didn’t need to. We were permanently euphoric from the time we crossed the N14. This time Mike decided to race some supercars on the open road which led to our near death and the near death of several other drivers and bikers on the road, but that’s for a different blog. By the time the race started, I was amped up on ridiculous levels of adrenalin from the near death drive and I was so excited to be out playing like a kid again. I had a strategy this time. I was going to get past as many of the higher batch runners as i could so that I didn’t get caught in any traffic. I ran. I ran with glee and reckless abandon. I just skipped from rock to path to grass to rock. I was breathing like a steam train, but I was having so much fun. You want to hear something really cool? We’re standing at prize giving and we’re watching all the winners. Impressive athletes all of them. I had grabbed my pyjama top (a red well worn hoodie) on my way out the door in case it got a bit cold and after the race I’d gone to the car to put it on. So the announcer is calling out the names of the winners, Women’s Veteran’s section in 3rd place, SlowCoach. I was like, “Wow! There’s someone with the same name as me. What a crazy coincidence.” And then I realised that it was in fact, me that had come 3rd in the veteran’s race. The lady that came 1st had already left which left me and 2nd place on the podium. I came 18th overall.

Podium Pyjamas and Podium Pants

Podium Pyjamas and Podium Pants

We stood together on the top step of the podium for the photos. I looked at her jacket and smiled to myself. There I was standing in my pyjama top and she had on a Gauteng Hockey jacket. It was a funny moment, but it felt good. I felt like I’d got a small reward for all the hard work I had been putting into running. I still didn’t feel like a real athlete, largely because of my pyjama top, but I felt like I was doing something I liked and I was getting some recognition for it. My knee was even more sore now.

The final race in the series. Now I felt a bit competitive. I was a lot less relaxed and I was very focussed. This was going to be a long race by comparison. 9km. (Don’t laugh!) Oh my word! It was a brutal course. Long steep uphills, short, steep, raggedy, technical downhills, but I was doing okay. Then I fell. I really fell. I was racing a downhill at about 4:30m/km, thinking that if I fell on these loose rocks now, I would probably die. Turns out, I wasn’t thinking straight because I fell and I didn’t die. I knew I’d fallen hard and I was hurt, but I was racing and my ego was in charge instead of my brain. I got up, whimpered as I limped forward 5 steps and then carried on racing with a big, fuck you, attitude. By the time I got to the finish, the blood was seeping through my pants on my not sore knee and my knee (the sore one) had given birth to a round swelling the size of a tennis ball. I came 6th in my category and 21st lady overall. I was a bit disappointed, but I was happy that I could still walk, that I’d had a fall and still managed 6th place and that I’d carried on when I should have quit, 1) If I had a brain and 2) If I’d felt all Samoan sorry for myself.

Since then, I haven’t been running much. Every time I run, my knee gives birth to a tennis ball.  But I’ve come 2nd lady in a trail race and my knee has got worse and now my achilles is complaining and my glutes are permanently on fire. I’m starting to feel sorry for myself and I still don’t have any brains, but I haven’t quit running yet. I have not got back on the couch…probably only because I still don’t have any non-running friends.

Yours in the love of running and trails and daisies and mountains and gaiters and oh look, a trail race!

SlowCoach

Hi! I’m Gavin’s Sister

Siblings say that the youngest has it the easiest. The youngest gets spoiled. The youngest gets away with stuff the other siblings were never allowed to do. Yeah yeah! This is the part they don’t realise about being the youngest.  By the time the youngest comes along, everything has been done. It’s probably why allegedly, the youngest is often the most rebellious. It’s pretty hard to come up with an identity of your own when your older brothers and sisters have already been there and done that!
How much more difficult then, is it to be the younger sibling when the older or oldest is a total legend? I’m….look, I’m a veteran category runner. That’s reasonably old. I am a relatively competent mother of two grown-up men. I am a grandmother. I own my own home and I have a car that is paid for. I have two dogs and a cat. And I’m Gavin’s sister. I’m not kidding you. At least once a month, someone calls me that. In fact, a while ago, a girl I WENT TO SCHOOL WITH all her and my life said “Hi, you’re Gavin’s sister, right!” Really? I went to school with you (and I wasn’t a fucking a wallflower at school) and you only know me in the context of Gavin? I’ll admit, Gavin is a total legend. What’s worse, he’s not my only older sibling. I have another even older brother who is also a total legend. Luckily, he’s so old that I very seldom meet people who know him (I don’t hang out in retirement villages) and so I don’t have the added displeasure of being referred to as Graham’s sister. When people, who know how I feel about this, introduce me to others, they do it like this.

Polite smiles.

This is SlowCoach

Handshakes.

Nice to meet you.

Nice to meet you.

Polite smiles.

Awkward pause.

Pregnant silence.

Waaaaait for it.

She’s Gavin’s sister. 

Sigh of relief from speaker.

Look of recognition from stranger.

Sigh of irritation from SlowCoach

SlowCoach walks away annoyed.

So I was telling you that Gavin is a total legend. It was his birthday yesterday. He really is a legend. He’s just one of those people that makes the room a better place to be when he walks in. He’s kind. He’s funny. He’s loud and gregarious. He will sell you your own jersey if you give him half a chance! He is good at every sport he tries. Like every sport he tries. Luckily, he hasn’t tried running. That’s probably part of the reason that I had to run the Comrades marathon. If I was going to do a sport, it had to be pretty fucking huge to be even marginally noticeable compared to Gavin’s sporting abilities. When I lamented this to someone a while back, the person very kindly said, why don’t you excel at something dumb, like darts? Gavin has provincial colours for darts! I’m not even joking here. In addition to all that, just in case you were starting to think Gavin is a male Mother Teresa, he has also been known to drink six beers in a minute. Sorry, did I hear you say, “WHAT A LEGEND!”? You gotta know what he’s like when I’m NOT the gregarious one in the family. I’m cleverer than him, but that doesn’t rate very high on the coolness scale….alas. Don’t tell him I said that. He’s a Leo.  He thinks he’s the clever one.

Anyway. So I’m Gavin’s sister. The younger sibling of a legend. You can call me SlowCoach.

And wouldn’t you know that I’m not the only younger sibling of a legend. I’m also not the only one that suffers from this affliction.

I marshalled at Wits 21km on the weekend. Afterwards, I felt obliged (introvert as I am) to go to the helpers braai. Ntutu was kind enough to hold my introvert hand throughout the ordeal of meeting 190 strangers. He doesn’t know my legendary brother. So he introduces me to this lovely looking couple who looked like they stepped of the cover of Hello! magazine. “This is SlowCoach. This is Chris.” No pregnant silence. No awkward pause. No waaaaiting for it. “He’s Caroline’s brother!” Imagine my surprise. I have met Caroline Wöstmann. She is legendary. She won this year’s Two Oceans and Comrades Marathons. That’s legendary if ever there was. I have met her. I met her in the Engen on the way home from Comrades. I totally humiliated myself and acted like a stalker. But I’ve never meeeeeet her. I’ve never actually had a conversation with her. If she ever saw me, she might vaguely remember my face as a stalkerish person to be avoided at all costs. But I don’t know her to be able to say, Hi Caroline. Ntutu has. He runs and works with her. But he introduced me to Chris like Caroline and I were old buddies and now I was just meeting her younger, slightly less legendary sibling, Chris. Oh! YOU’RE Caroline’s brother. I’ve heard so much about you. She speaks about you fondly. Yeah! Exactly! I scolded Ntutu and told Chris. Look, I’ve met you first so technically, when I meet Caroline, I’ll refer to her as Chris’ sister.

 Last night I got angry about this situation happening again. Only because the sibling that was introduced is totally legendary too.

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Name: Christine Kalmer Age: 29 Status: Legend

First, I want you to look at the personal bests of this lady. 

Personal Bests
1000m 2:55.7h Cape Town (RSA) 17.12.2011
1500m 4:20.65 Bellville (RSA) 06.04.2001
Mile ind. 4:42.95 Fayetteville (USA) 09.02.2007
3000m 9:21.40 Bellville (RSA) 06.04.2001
3000m ind. 9:10.62 New York (USA) 03.02.2007
5000m 16:11.77 Palo Alto (USA) 02.05.2009
5000m ind. 16:35.05 Fayetteville (USA) 06.03.2009
10,000m 36:00.62 Gainesville (USA) 15.05.2009
3000mSC 10:25.33 Durban (RSA) 10.04.2011
5 km Road 16:38 Albany (USA) 31.05.2014
10 km Road 33:53 Paarl (RSA) 14.08.2010
12 km Road 41:36 Cape Town (RSA) 17.05.2015
15 km Road 54:45 Soweto (RSA) 02.11.2003
Half Marathon 1:15:23 Cape Town (RSA) 26.08.2012
Marathon 2:39:16 Wien (AUT) 12.04.201

Legendary, right?  Yes. She is legendary. She is currently one of the dominant runners at the Spar Grand Prix series. She is on a podium every single weekend. Unfortunately for our lovely Christine Kalmer, she is the younger sister of Rene Kalmer. I made that sound worse than it is. I know Christine and Rene will forgive me. Last night I was very fortunate to be part of something called #runwithrene. Rene Kalmer is very kindly going around the country, sharing her experience and knowledge with aspirant runners. Last night, it was the Running Junkies’ turn and we showed up en mass. Because our track is quite close to where Rene and Christine live, Christine also joined us. Paula introduced them to us as follows:  This is Rene from Modern Athlete. She is here to share with us blah blah blah. Christine is also here. She is Rene’s sister. She will also be running with us. I was furious. (Only because of my own baggage, really.) Those time above are Christine’s PBs. That is not the profile of say a Gavin’s sister. That is the running profile of a running legend. In her own right. And she’s only 29, so she’s probably got a whole lot of even better PBs ahead of her. Look at her marathon PB. She’s still getting into optimal marathon age category. Watch this space! Christine is not just a “Rene’s sister”!

So what about Christine’s sister, Rene?

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Name: Rene Kalmer Age: 34 Status: Legend

Well, for starters, Rene Kalmer has the fastest marathon for a South African woman.2:29:27. (7 minutes faster than the next fastest by a South African woman, but just 10 minutes faster than her younger and up and coming sister) Rene won her debut marathon at Soweto Marathon in 2009! She has competed in the Olympic Marathon where she came 35th . She has dominated the Spar Ladies 10km series for years. She still owns the 1500m, 3000m (until February this year) and 5000m track record for women in South Africa. Here’s a list fromwww.All-athletics.com of Rene’s personal bests.

Personal Bests
Event Result Venue Date
800m 2:03.51 Nijmegen (NED) 23.05.2000
1000m 2:46.78 Rustenburg (RSA) 22.01.2001
1500m 4:06.71 Madrid (ESP) 05.07.2008
1500m ind. 4:16.96 Gent (BEL) 14.02.2010
3000m 8:44.17 Montreuil-sous-Bois (FRA) 08.06.2010
3000m ind. 9:01.41 Doha (QAT) 12.03.2010
5000m 15:35.00 Durban (RSA) 17.03.2007
5000m ind. 15:45.40 Stockholm (SWE) 10.02.2010
5 km Road 16:12 Albany (USA) 31.05.2014
10 km Road 32:27 Durban (RSA) 26.07.2009
15 km Road 51:11 Germiston (RSA) 07.04.2013
10 Miles Road 55:11 Portsmouth (GBR) 25.10.2009
Half Marathon 1:10:37 Birmingham (GBR) 11.10.2009
Half Marathon 1:10:13 South Shields (GBR) 16.09.2012
Marathon 2:29:27 Berlin (GER) 28.09.2014

I know. Uber legend, right? Imagine how proud their parents must be! Rene and Christine, you are both legends!

Christine and Chris. You are my legends. You inspire me, not only because you’re great, but because you too are the long-suffering younger sibling of uber legends. Just think fondly of me. At least you guys have darts!

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Name: Gavin Taylor Age: Flipping Older than me Status: Legend

Yours in the love of running and siblings.
SlowCoach