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.

 

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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

All You Need is Love

I have always maintained that the worst days in one’s life are, in fact, the best days because it is on those days, where you feel at your lowest, where it seems things couldn’t possibly get worse, that you realise your strength and your resilience. You learn about new skills you suspected you had, but had never used. You begin to understand your resourcefulness and you break down barriers which you had unwittingly allowed to exist in your life. Sunday 31 May will go down, therefore as one of the best days of my life, because Sunday 31 May will go down as one of the worst days of my life.

I’m not entirely sure why that is. Thinking back, I can’t actually pinpoint what was wrong about the day. Physically, my legs kept going forward, reasonably pain free. I didn’t get cramps. I wasn’t nauseous. I wasn’t so exhausted that my body began collapsing. I did feel like sleeping at one point…but hey, it was 12 hours of running, who wouldn’t want to sleep? But on Sunday 31 May, I hit the absolute lowest point I can remember hitting.

I had some difficulty trying to find the best place to start this piece because the Comrades Marathon up run 2015 is one long blur of tears and love and hills and hugs from random strangers and friends and sun and horror.

A good place to start, I suppose, would be with the first love I found. Sponono and Doctor who had run with me on the most significant races of my life so far were in the same starting pen as me and I was overjoyed to see them as I arrived. I was also overjoyed to see Werner, my friend from track, a Running Junkie just like me, sitting next to them. Werner and I had run the last 10km of Colgate together. He had stood patiently by as I had nearly coughed out my aorta that day. What a friend! Then would you know, Janine, my fellow fund raiser for Sekolo Sa Borokgo and Ian who had kindly paced me on ELE in preparation for my first Comrades marathon came bounding up to Werner and I. It was Janine’s birthday too so I was just surrounded by people who love me and who I love dearly and there was an air of love around the place. When I first cried, it was because of the national anthem. I always cry when I sing the national anthem, whether I’m alone in my car or at a rugby match or at the start of a race. I really love South Africa and our national anthem is a symbol of how many people compromised and sacrificed and came together to give us a country that is beautiful in its diversity and in its imperfections. Some parts of the anthem stick in our throat, partly because they’re in a language that we can’t speak, partly because they’re in a language that we associate with oppression or violence, partly because they’re in a language that is difficult to understand. But we sing it. All of it. Even the parts that stick in our throats. So the national anthem always fills and overfills me with emotion. So there we are, Brenda, Werner, Janine, Ian, Sponono and Doctor and 16500 other people singing the national anthem and I’m already crying.

From there we started and headed out of town. We were going a bit too fast and Werner and I soon lost Janine and Ian who were racing ahead. I was going for a sub-10h20 and Werner was going for a sub-11.

We went up and up and up and up. Then we went up a bit more. A little down, landed me in the arms of Lisa and Bronwynne and my love tank was filled up again. That was enough to get me up the start of Field’s Hill.  I joked with everyone that they should be on the lookout for my sense of humour because I had lost it somewhere on this hill last year.  By the top of Field’s Hill, not only was my love tank depleted, but my ankle was swollen and throbbing and my sense of humour was gone again, never to return.  I felt emotional. All the time. I kept weeping. I think Werner must have thought I was losing my mind. I thought I was losing my mind. And then it occurred to me. The feeling that was causing all the emotion was fear. I once ran down and up Polly Shortts for fun when I had been working in the area. It was a tough hill to run up then and now I knew it was waiting for me at the end of what was already proving to be quite a treacherous route. I was terrified that this was already so hard and we were only a third of the way and that the Polly Shortts end was waiting for us. We were at the top of Field’s Hill and my ankle was already swollen and sore. But I remembered how my butt had ached at 30km into last year’s race so I figured the ankle thing would disappear in just a few kilometres. (It didn’t disappear. Not even at the top of Polly Shortts, I should just add.)

Hillcrest seemed to go on forever. We caught up with Isabel and Carl. Carl was nauseous. Isabel went ahead reluctantly and we took on caring for Carl. It didn’t last long. Carl was really not feeling well. Werner didn’t want to leave him, but I thought that he was on the verge of stopping so I told Werner that he was looking awful and we should go forward. Then I saw Leslie. He was bailing. At 30km he was bailing. I wouldn’t have it! Leslie is a great runner, but he’s been lazy. Admittedly, he’s been ill this past month, but before that, he hadn’t been trying very hard. This Comrades thing seems to come so naturally to him. I pulled him off the pavement and told him that he would not be giving up if I had anything to do with it. I dragged him along by the hand and Werner, Leslie and I soldiered on. I could feel how Leslie was scanning the surrounds constantly for his escape route and two water points later he took a gap in the water point chaos to escape my eagle eye and bail. I had seen him do it, but I decided it was no point dragging a person along who had already decided the night before that he didn’t want to be there. And through all this, it was still Hillcrest. Where am I, I asked? Hillcrest. What seemed like two hours later, “Where am I?” Hillcrest. What the fuck? How big is Hillcrest? We’ve been here the whole day! Werner kept looking out for the next big named hill. This must be Botha’s. This is huge. This must definitely be Botha’s. Nope not this time. Hill after hill after hill after hill. This must be Botha’s then. Nope. Not Botha’s. How could there possibly be so many treacherous hills and no-one’s named them? How could it be? I’m going to make it my personal quest to name them!

Hill after hill after hill buffered us like violent waves on a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. They just kept coming.  Thank you to those of you who recognised me as SlowCoach and thanked me for my blog. I’m overwhelmed by the love that you gave me. Thank you. You were my real words of affirmation for the day and, in so doing, you filled up my love tank which, when you arrived, was always at an abysmal low. Each one of you made me cry! I got each of your names, but the near lobotomy has made me forget all but one of them. I’m so sorry. Please get in touch and let me know who you are. You had a significant impact on my run on Sunday and I’m very grateful. Marlene from Secunda, when you ran away from me, I was so pleased for you. I so wanted you to go and get your novice medal and I was so afraid that I was not going to make it. I’m glad you made it in time. You must be over the moon about your medal. Well done! You ran the Comrades Marathon. Nothing compares.

We were heading towards half way. I knew that Chrissie and Lizle and Lehlohonolo would be just before half way waiting with a hug. I desperately needed a hug. My love tank was empty after getting my hug from Bronwynne and Lisa at Westville and using up the words of affirmation from my blog readers along the way. I needed those hugs more than water. So I told Werner I’d run ahead to the RAC table to, amongst other things, reapply the strapping to my knee. I knew that just before the RAC table was a water point. We got to the water point and I told Werner I’d meet him at the RAC table. I raced off…it was a rare downhill. I had misjudged, however and I was still about 3km away from the RAC table. There was still another water point between me and the table and there was still another hideously treacherous hill between me and the table. How could I have been such an idiot? How could there be more hills? When was this relentless battering going to end? I had to keep running fast because Werner would be catching up and I didn’t want him to have to wait around for me at the table. As I got to the RAC table, the availability of love just overwhelmed me and I called out, “I just need some love, please.” Chrissie obliged and for a good two minutes, I hung on her shoulder, sobbing my eyes out. I sobbed, “This is too hard. Just too hard.” She just held onto me, letting me have my moment of drama and filling up my love tank. She then took me to my halfway pack, I took out my strapping and sorted out my knee like a pro. (Not exactly like a pro, according to photographic evidence supplied later.) Learning from last year’s mistake, I took what I needed (forgot to reapply sunscreen) and headed off again after a hug from Lizle and Lehlohonolo. Somewhere there, Werner ran past me, but I didn’t mind because my love tank was filled euphorically to the brim. That fuel was soon to be used up after Drummond as we started climbing the back of Inchanga.

It felt good to be a South African on Inchanga. Inchanga is spelled incorrectly. It should be spelled Intshanga. The way it is spelled means that is should be pronounced with a click sound where the “ch” is. So as we headed up the hill, I said out loud, “Yep. Intshangaaaa!” People around me groaned. A man behind me laughed and pronounced it “Inchangaaaaa”, complete with clicking sound. At which everyone laughed. Then a man next to me said, in a very English accent (he was probably not an English first language speaker), “Nkandlaaaa!” The entire group struggling up Inchanga erupted with laughter. Only South Africans would understand why that was funny. And, what’s even funnier, is that there were probably several different reasons why that was very funny to the people in that particular group. I was enveloped in the common love we feel for our country and our country’s diversity and how easily we can laugh at our collective selves. As we rounded the next corner, Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley was calling out from a car on the side of the road. It was appropriate that many of us sang along. I shouted out that I was a proud African. I was proud as I undertook this unbelievable journey with compatriots and comrades from South Africa and around the world. When I remembered this moment, it was when Ntutu asked me how I managed Inchanga. I asked him, “Which one was Inchanga? Was it before or after half way?” I really couldn’t remember. The hills melted into one another and it didn’t matter what the name was. Polly Shortts was still coming and that is a notorious soul destroyer, so it didn’t really matter where we were or what the hill was called. The worst was yet to come and with that thought came another wave of tears.

After Inchanga things changed. The hills had softened, but they were replaced by something much more daunting. The trees disappeared. The hills became long, winding roads through sparsely populated and meanly supported scenery which was in part agrarian and in part industrial. It was depressing. It was lonely. It was hot. I needed love. I needed a hug. I needed sunscreen. I needed something. In hindsight, my desperate search for sunscreen had nothing to do with sunscreen. (By the way, people who manage support stations, sunscreen is a good thing to have.) When I finally found someone with sunscreen, I was again moved to tears as she rubbed a little on my arms and shoulders with the compassion of Mother Teresa, filling my love tank with much needed fuel. I got a hug from the Nedbank table at 60km and some ice cold Rehidrat. What kindness to have remembered me. Thank you Simonne and Jo. Thank you for remembering my whimsical request. You not only saw to my hydration, you refilled my love tank. I got hugs from the Standard Bank table. Thanks Noleen. I got more hugs from a random stranger who was shouting about how much he loved each one of us. I thanked him as I ran past and then thought I may as well capitalise on his words. I turned around and asked him if he really meant what he was saying. When he nodded, surprised, I asked if i could have a hug, he obliged and I cried with joy at my love tank getting topped up by this kind (and very good looking) stranger on my journey. Just after I left the Nedbank table, electrolytes and love tank filled up, I felt somewhat buoyed.  I saw Tamryn and she took some abominable photos of me. I looked like Quasimodo, I was so hunched over. My back was sore. She gave me a hug and topped up my love tank even more. (These photos would provide the evidence that my strapping technique sucked.)

And then no-one. The supporters thinned out. It was round about that point, as the last sub-12 hour bus pulled up to us and swept past us like a street sweeping vehicle that pushes debris into the storm water drain, destined never to make it to the end, that I felt the oppressiveness of the hot day. There was a silence amongst the runners now. No joy. No camaraderie. Heads were bowed. Feet were dragging, sweeping up the dust into our lungs. There was that fear again and in some, I could sense that they had lost hope. I can’t imagine how low the point is in life when one loses hope. I am a realist, but I’m an incredibly positive person who believes that inevitably good will prevail. We will have good things happen to us. Good people will know peace. Good people and good experiences are all around us.  I never ever lose hope and Sunday was not going to be the day to start. But this was such a hopeless situation. Lifting my legs became nearly impossible. I can’t remember that they were sore. They were just tired, exhausted, sad. I looked at my watch. I had 3h20 to go to the cut off and I had 21km to run including the infamous Polly Shortts and the less notorious, but allegedly as brutal, Little Pollys. My maths brain had suddenly repaired itself and I realised that, although my usual 21km is an easy 2h10, I would have to put my legs into a new gear if I was going to make it in time. What was keeping me back at that point? It’s easy for me to think that my head was in the way, but really, I was exhausted. I wanted to give up. I wanted to stop. I wanted to take my right shoe off. I wanted to have a sleep. My knee hurt. I wanted to just give it a break. I wanted my love tank filled up by a hug or a touch of compassion or just someone telling me that I was a winner. Can I tell you what someone told us? You won’t believe what some spectators will say, thinking that they’re helping. “Keep going.” (Okay, well that’s a good idea.) “Don’t give up.” (I hadn’t planned to until just then when you suggested it.) “The 12-hour bus is ahead of you. You need to hurry up.” (Thanks. They weren’t exactly tiptoeing when they passed me, but thanks.) “You people will never make it. The 12-hour bus went by 10 minutes ago.” That one really got to me and I stopped and shouted at the guy, “Listen here, my brain is fried, but I didn’t have a fucking lobotomy on this race. That bus is NOT 10 minutes ahead of us and saying so is very cruel, you nasty shithead.” Then I burst into tears and hobbled away in what felt like a run. Poor guy. I’m sure he was just trying to help. But really! Can people not tell when morale is at an all-time low? Is that the way to lift spirits? I prefer the drunk supporters in Westville than the drunk supporters in that God-forsaken place I was in with 20km to go. Hmmm. Just looked at the map. Good people of Camperdown, you really need to work on your pep talking. Your village will be the better for it, I promise.

It’s a hard race this Comrades up run. Physically, not nearly as brutal as the down run, but emotionally, it can kill the most interminable spirit. Looking up is eventually not an option because all it does is demoralise your soul. There is little respite from the relentless hills and when the respite from hills finally comes, the road is lonely, boring, hot and the support is sparse. I’m not kidding. If you look at the times of the majority of the runners, the flattest part of the route is their slowest, some slowing by as much as 2 min/km over that stretch. That’s how you know that this race is not only about what your body can do but also about how your mind can cope with the relentless onslaught of one after another of the biggest hills imaginable and then deal with the loneliness and the boredom of the route. Yolande Maclean’s words rang true in my head, “You can run as far and as fast as you let yourself.”

Just after that nasty man, I came upon Michelle Stowell. I’m not sure if I ran up to her or if she ran up to me, but we met. We had met earlier when her and her newish husband, Ashley, had been struggling along together. Ashley had not been feeling well and they were taking a walk/run strategy. I hadn’t kept up because their running was too fast and their walks were too frequent and too slow. Our timing just didn’t align. Now, as Michelle, now alone, and I faced this horrible fate, I asked her how she was doing. She told me that she was struggling because her ITB was giving her trouble. My knee and ankle hurt, but they didn’t. I’ve run with more pain than I had at that time, but for some or other reason, I wasn’t going forward very well. I prayed out loud, “I know you want me to finish this, and I’m still not sure why, but please could you help me?” It wasn’t in my usual petulant shouting that I do to God. It was just a little cry for help. It was at the bottom of a hole, with no clear way out, begging for a little mercy. My very own Domine, quo vadis moment. I reached into my pouch in front of my vest and pulled out my timing chart. On the back of my timing chart was a little card with words that were sent to me by my colleague, Vernon. They were innocuous words sent to me with love and I had promised him I would carry them with me on the day. I hadn’t looked at them once, but now they begged to be read.

“Your biggest challenge isn’t someone else. It the ache in your lungs, the burning in your legs and the voice inside you that yells, ‘I can’t!’ But you do not listen. You just push harder. Then you hear that voice fade away and start to whisper, ‘I can.’ That’s the moment you discover that the person you thought you were is no match for the person you really are.”

Those words lightened my feet and I started running with purpose. I told Michelle she’d catch me later. I came to the 20km to go mark. Looked at my watch and told myself, “You are not going to miss this. You are not going to be cut off. You will not give up. You will not resign yourself to this fate. You can still stand, so you can still walk. Get a move on because you are never going to come back here to redeem yourself.” I started running. Properly. I knew Polly Shortts was coming and that was going to slow me down so I had to hurry it up. I passed people who I shouldn’t have passed. They were better runners than me. They had worked harder than me. They were more experienced than me. I tried to help some of them, but they didn’t want this to be over as badly as I did.  I overtook the last sub-12 hour bus and then I made it my mission to increase the distance between them and me with every step. They were on a very wise run/walk strategy as they had been the entire day, but I just wanted this to end. I prayed again. “This is really hard. Thank you that you’ve helped me, but I still need help.” I thought I had taken all my energy gels, but glanced down and remembered the one in my cleavage. I took it out and wolfed down the cappuccino taste. Nom nom. It kicked… like it does and I hurried forward a little more. The praying became a conversation in my head, with my imaginary friend and I realised why I had come to this place at this time and why I was feeling this way.

Then it happened. Little Pollys. It is waaaay worse than Polly Shortts. It’s shorter, but it’s very steep. But I was determined. I was not going to let that bus catch me. I was not going to get cut off at Polly Shortts. I was not going to miss the end by a few seconds or minutes. I was not coming back. “Please can I ask for your help again?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was Carl! A comeback like the Rolling Stones, he was! Carl was in front of me! When I had left him in Hillcrest, he looked destined, in the short term, to vomit and, in the longer term, to quit. But here he was. In front of me. Well done Carl! You are my hero of the day. Truly, you showed such amazing grit and determination. We ran walked together for a short while, but I was in a hurry now. I was so inspired by Carl’s determination. I encouraged him to hook on to the bus that was just behind us and I was going to go ahead. I could see the next sub-12 hour bus in front of me and I suddenly became afraid that I might get stuck in the traffic of these two busses in the final stretch and miss the final gun. I ran all the way up Polly Shortts and, as I crossed over the timing mat and looked at the big incriminating timing car sitting there, waiting to mercilessly cut people off, I smiled because I knew that I had recovered and made up lots of time and this was almost in the bag now. But this was no time for complacency. I prayed again. “Thank you. Thank you. Please just keep me going.” I had heard about a few sneaky hills near the end and I was afraid that, with my love tank running on empty again, I would lose my mind and give up on one of them. So I carried on racing. The crowds were shouting and encouraging me.

Would you know it, the rumours had been true. Jesmond Rd. This was when I called out in anger. “Why? Why would you do this to me? Why can’t I just get a break here?” I wailed, loudly. Really loudly.  As I hurtled down to the bottom of Jesmond Rd, running under 6min/km, I bawled out in tears, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t go on. This is horrible. I hate this race.” I’m sure that the people watching on the side of the road must have thought I’d gone insane or my dog had died or something. I was wailing out loud. I could barely see where I was going through the tears streaming down my face, salty and hot. It was all very dramatic! Why was I wailing? Well, for starters, I was hurtling down this road on a knee and an ankle that didn’t want to be attached to my leg any longer and the steep downhill of Jesmond Rd had an equal and opposite uphill to get into the main road of the stadium. It was an horrifically cruel sight as I turned into Jesmond. I could hear the stadium. I could smell the stadium. I could hear the second sub-12 hour bus in front of me but I still had a veritable mountain to climb before this horrible horrible horrible day was over.

I was determined now. I was done. Jesmond was over. The bus was in front of me and I was hurrying. They were “And we’re walking in 3..2..1!” walking. Walking? Do you people have watches? This is not the time to be 3..2..1 ing. Get a move on! And of course, they were spread right across the road. I pushed down the side of the bus and carried on hurrying. A man came running from behind me and pushed through the front row of walkers and I took the gap he made, apologising to the people as I snuck past them. They shouted at me about how rude Joburg people were. I just said, “Listen, some of us have somewhere to be and I apologised to you.” He didn’t hear me. I didn’t care. This misery was nearly over. I caught up with Ian. That took my breath away. He must have had the worst day imaginable if I was catching him. Ian is a terrific runner and my day had been horrendous. If I was catching him, how much more horrendous must his day have been? Ian, you too are my hero. We ran together for a bit, but the speed humps (I’m not using a metaphor here, they were just little speed humps that one drives over when one is being slowed on purpose by the road builders) were very taxing on our legs and feet. We groaned as we went up. We groaned as we went down the other side. I had a little laugh at our collective groans on these insignificant little molehills. Ian told me to go ahead. I did.

You know, all I felt was gratitude. I didn’t feel relief. I didn’t feel a sense of achievement. I didn’t feel impressed or amazed by my achievement. I didn’t feel that euphoria I felt last year. All I felt was gratitude. 31 May 2015 was one of the hardest days of my life. I think it may be the hardest day I can remember. I know that I have had lower moments in my life, but on 31 May I didn’t lose hope. I came close, but by the grace of God, or sheer stubbornness, I didn’t lose hope. There were people that lost hope that day. My heart aches for them because I had a fleeting moment where I knew what that might feel like.

I am loved. I really am loved. I have a loving family. I have two beautiful sons and a wonderful niece who love me. I have friends, colleagues and staff who don’t just like me, they love me. I’m very loved. If you’ve ever read or been made to read Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, you’ll understand how I found out on Sunday, 31 May that I am a Physical Touch and Words of Affirmation love language speaker. The love I received on that day, in person and remotely from all those watching my timing updates with excitement, horror, desperation, relief and joy will remain a lesson to me forever. 31 May 2015 changed me. Last year I ran the Comrades Marathon. This year I met the Comrades Marathon. The SlowCoach that lined up for Comrades 2015 is dead. Today I can still walk, but I have had a significant spiritual, physical, emotional personal experience. An experience which has at once unlocked a person who I suspect always existed, but upon whom I’d never really had to call and which has forever set that person free. It’s been a funny week since Comrades because life, for the rest of my world, has continued as normal, but I am a changed person. I have to realign my surroundings with this newly found me. During that long chat with my imaginary friend, I realised things that I need to do in my life and the fact that I am not going to be doing Comrades in 2016 will give me time for these things. A new life emerged for me on 31 May 2015 and I got two coveted medals.

I am forever grateful for the love and encouragement I received in so many forms from friends, family and strangers alike. All I really needed all along was love. Without it, who knows how this story would have ended? All any of us really need is love, from others, from ourselves. What a beautiful world it would be if the world were like the Comrades Marathon.

Run Down

Egads I’m tired. But who, training for Comrades, isn’t?

This blog is not about me. This blog is for Haley Ryan. I put a post script in one of my blogs to a lady from Roodepoort who had recognised me as the SlowCoach and that was pretty cool. Her name is Haley. Since that day, we’ve seen each other regularly on the road. It turns out that we run at similar paces. She’s good on uphills. I’m good on downs. So although we don’t run together, we see each other and we always joke about her being a SlowCoach or my being a SlowCoach. I like Haley a lot.

Okay, so this piece is about me…..

Last time I wrote, I was sick as a dog. Totally depleted. Totally run down. I was hoping to run Wally Hayward. It was not to be. I could have run Wally, but that would have put me back a bit because i wasn’t quite well enough. (Top Deck won the Wally marathon with very little fanfare. I’m very proud of you Top Deck. You’re going to totally rock this next race!) I really wanted to run Colgate because last year Colgate beat me. Last year, I entered the 32km, but gave up at the split and ran only 15km that day. I disappointed myself, but I know that it was probably the right decision on the day. I was injured, so… So I wanted to go and redeem myself this year at Colgate. Their goodie bag is the best goodie bag in the country! It was also going to be good to see @gosharpshooter and Illuminati Michelle wanted to run it in spite of her torn hamstring….wait for what I tell you about that later. She really is in a class of her own.

So now who is this blog about again? Ah yes….Haley….

Michelle and I almost arrived late. Well we arrived early, fully expecting our usual pre-race nap in the car. But at 6.20, Michelle looked around and asked, “Why is the car park so empty? I thought you said this race starts at 7?” “Yeah. that’s what is said on the website I went to .” Oops! The race started at 6.30. When we realised my faux pas, we jumped out the car, ripped off tracksuits and did a very swift warm up sprint to the start. Lol. Sorry Michelle. Lesson learned. Winter races start at 6.30. My bad. So we had no wait whatsoever at the chilly Boksburg start. The start for me was very slow. I was stuck at the back and it took me something like 4 minutes to cross the start line, but I was soon passing people. I was coughing occasionally and slowing blowing through all my tissues. I passed Haley and her friend, Shawneez (sp) on a downhill and Haley shouted to me that I should remove the SlowCoach from my shirt. I laughed. I never really have a retort to that because I’m still friends with the likes of Illuminati Michelle and Illuminati Paula and Top Deck so I could live to 79 years old and still be considered a SlowCoach. Colgate is not a bad route except for the fact that we have to go past the Colgate factory which everyone told me about last year, but I didn’t see it. Admittedly, they put a water point right in front of the entrance so you don’t actually see the factory because you’re just thinking about the water point. They really should change that route. The Colgate factory is in an industrial area on a large main road. The race is a double lapper and the second lap starts at the turn off for the 15km. Oh crumbs. I was going to have to face that saboteur of mine at the 15km mark and not give up, but keep running to run the full 32km.

Just after the Colgate factory, I turned into another fairly wide road and I heard a commotion about 100 metres ahead of me. Two speeding cars were driving down the road, dangerously close to the runners, people were screaming. Runners were running down the road screaming for us to stop the car. As they passed me, I realised that the second car, a Jeep, was attempting to stop the first car, a blue golf. Someone was screaming “No No this is terrible someone is dead there.” I didn’t know what to do. I turned around and started running towards the runners coming around the corner I’d just come round because these two cars were going to crash into them. The Jeep managed to overtake the speeding golf and cut him off right on the corner where a bus of runners were coming round. A Roodepoort runner came running past me from up the road. He thrust open the driver’s door of the Golf and started pulling at the driver’s head. The adrenalin fuelling him was making him furious and I just turned away because, although I had begun to realise what had happened, and I could possibly understand the adrenalin fuelling the runners involved, I did not want to witness or be part of mob justice. I also thought that I’d probably be able to help more at the site of whatever had happened. I hoped and prayed I wouldn’t see a dead person on the road. It had dawned on me that the Golf had struck a runner and the driver had carried on driving. The driver of the Jeep, driving behind, had seen what had happened and had aprehended him. As I ran closer, I saw the person lying on the floor was dressed in red. I was suddenly filled with horror because I knew what had happened. It was Haley, my fellow SlowCoach. Obviously on the uphills she and Shawneez had passed me and were now in front of me.

It was Haley. There were many people around now. Many and I looked on helpless. Haley lay frozen on the road, conscious, but clearly very very shocked and in pain. Someone had stabilised her neck and she was being kept still. Her shirt was slightly lifted and I could see a large cut across her abdomen. Shawneez was crying, clearly totally traumatised by what she had just witnessed. I considered the value I could add and realised that I had nothing to add to this situation, except maybe prayer. And so I turned and walked away slowly, praying that she would be okay. A short while later, we heard the sirens and we heard a helicopter. What a terrible thing. A runner was run down by a reckless driver (it is alleged that he was drunk). Haley was run down. In a race. There were hundreds of us on that road. How could this happen? This is the third person in this year that I have heard of being knocked over while running. What the fuck is wrong with the drivers on the road?

Megan was knocked over on her morning run by an unlicensed driver texting. Mr Letseka was driven over by a lady in a hurry at a traffic circle and, as a result, was unable to submit his PhD thesis when he had planned to. And now Haley was run over by a reckless driver. We should be allowed to stone cars that hit runners or cyclists!

The accident demoralised me somewhat and I started coughing a lot. I pushed on past the 15km mark in spite of my coughing and spluttering. With 10km to go, Werner caught me and we ran the rest of the way together. On the route, I met Lynn who had run with me on Comrades.  On the second lap of the race, the Metro cops were just finishing up their preliminary assessments and marking the scene of the accident. There was a human body drawn around the spot where Haley had been lying when I saw her. The was a big pool of Haley’s blood there. It was traumatic to see and I wondered if she had survived. I didn’t know how to feel. I just felt defeated. What a terrible thing to happen. Haley was ready to run her back-to-back, just like me. She had worked just as hard as me and she was as fast…or as slow….as me. We would have finished Comrades probably at the same time. And now that was ruined. Some reckless drunk had ruined Haley’s chance.

Haley was airlifted to Union hospital where she is on the mend. She had many broken bones and requires quite a great deal of rework. It will be a while before she runs, but she’s a trooper and she’ll be back running as fast….or as slow….as me in no time at all, of that I’m sure. I will write to the Comrades Marathon Association to ask them to give Haley dispensation on her back-to-back until she is ready for another up run. Haley, you still cannot call yourself the SlowCoach because you used outside intervention to become slower than me. So get better and get running again because I will expect to be passed by you very soon.

I was going to tell you about Illuminati Michelle, right? Well, Illuminati Michelle, with the torn hamstring, came second in the ladies veteran race, but, because of the rushed start, had not put her age category numbers on her vest and so did not win a prize. She is an amazing athlete and because of that,

I remain, forever yours

SlowCoach.

32 More Sleeps and I’m Just Chilling

Yes I am! You’re all out there running ridiculously long runs and tracking and easy 90 minuting and doing all these crazy things in honour of hell week which is in preparation for The Comrades Marathon on 31 May 2015 and I’m sleeping in. Okay, I ran Loskop almost 2 weeks ago and the week after that I worked my ass off at track. But then I was struck down with that dreaded of all lurgies, flu!

I’ve started to stress because I’m missing the big runs. So much so that I had my first Comrades nightmare the other night. The dream started out very well. I was having a blinder of a run. I was an hour ahead of schedule at the 60km mark. So Chrissie met me in town and we decided to go drink a beer at a nearby pub. But when I looked down at my shirt, I realised that I didn’t have my race number pinned on me. In the dream, the race number had the timing chip and so I realised that my fabulous time would not have been recorded by the various timing mats along the way. I don’t remember much else about the dream, but I think we drank beer. Wait….I remember carrying on and following people through the streets of this little town. So I have been struck down. For an entire week. I really am sick. I thought it had been years since I felt this sick, but as it turns out, it is exactly one year, to the day, since I felt this sick. How do I know? Because exactly one year ago, I wrote a blog telling everyone how sick I’d just been. So I’ve reached this conclusion: The Couch Potato in me lives and breathes! It’s really cute because I’ve worked hard the last 11 months. It’s good to know that at a subconscious level the rebel still exists.

I did a comparison in an attempt to satisfy my neuroses and because the Comrades dream has me worried. I compared last year from 1 March to 29 April to this year from 1 March to today, and what do you know? I have spent 59 hours running 495 kilometres since 1 March compared to the 56 hours running 344 kilometres in the same timeframe last year. Whew! First of all, that’s a shit load of running in just 2 months. Secondly, it turns out that I have been running well this year. Imagine if I manage to totally harness my Couch Potato? Lol. Well, at least I could avoid feeling so shitty whenever I increase mileage significantly. But I could probably also be a really good runner.

So think of me. I’m hoping to be better by the weekend so that I can run Wally 42.2 on Friday and/or Colgate 32 on Sunday and/or Jackie Mekler 25 on Saturday next week. Actually, I’m just hoping to be better tomorrow so that I can go to work.

Enjoy your hell week. I’ll just sit on this couch.

Yours in the love of getting better.

Slow Coach

Something New

Do you know what I realised yesterday when Michelle asked me if that Loskop was a personal best for a 50km? I realised that I have never run a 50km race. In fact, I have never run anything further than 48km. Well, except for that whole Comrades Marathon thing. When all the ultra marathons were happening last year, I was injured. Admittedly, I ran Kosmos 3-in-1 and I ran the Randburg Easter 100, but neither of those contain an actual 50km or more single run. So yesterday I ran my first 50km race. Cool hey?

Run Loskop, Brenda. It’s a lovely race, Brenda. Great downhill run, Brenda. Beautiful downhill race with a little sting in the tail near the end, Brenda. There is really no end to the lies runners will tell.

Michelle and I left at 2.30am yesterday morning to go run Loskop. Yes, I said 2.30am. Race is a point to point, starting in Middelburg and ending at the beautifully picturesque Loskop dam 50km away.  I arrived at the race with apathy.  I’m not sure why apathy. I guess because I felt strong and well prepared. Easter 100 had boosted my confidence immensely. This was just 8km more than a marathon. I was finding marathons easier these days so what was an extra 8kms on a marathon? It didn’t even occur to me then that I had never run a 50km. Michelle had kindly worked out a timing chart for a sub-5.30 race. I didn’t even know if that was feasible, but I’ve run a sub-4.20 marathon so an extra 8km in 1 hour seemed possible. I wore the pacing chart on my wrist. The first 10km were supposed to be run at 6.45/km. This seemed achievable. I’ve been managing 6.30/km on my easy runs so this should be fine. Should have been, except my apathy at the start had me standing at the back with people who were clearly out for a long day on their legs.

Ha! A politician got up at the start and gave a speech in which she told us, “Today I am just one of you. I am running this thing today.” I laughed at how in that simple sentence lay the root of many of our problems with South Africa today. But, that is a different blog written by someone else. The starter set us off and we didn’t move. Then we ambled and then we shuffled. Then we stopped. Then we shuffled and before I knew it, I had done 2km in just 14 minutes. I panicked. I was now 30 seconds behind schedule in just 2km. I picked up the pace and started passing people as quickly as possible. I think I kind of lost my mind. 3rd km was 6.03. 4th km was 6.07. 5th km 6.22. 6th km 6.19. 7th km 5.13. Leigh-Ann and Dave came running up. It’s Leigh-Ann’s birthday today so I wished her and told her I was starting to have a bit of a tough time. But 8th km 5.26. 9th km 7.08. I heard a breaking spring sound. 10th km 7.32. A bolt shot out the top of my butt. It fell on the floor and made a faint metallic sound. 11th km 7.07. Steam came out of my head. A door handle fell off. 12th km 7.13. A tyre fell off the bottom of my leg and rolled down the hill we were now moving up. I should tell you that at this point, there had been one downhill on this downhill route. Admittedly, some had warned me that the first 21km were difficult and from then it was going to be downhill. But that didn’t matter right now.  We were now 13km into the race and my chassis had fallen apart. I slowed down. The long day on their legs crowd came sauntering past me. Some of them I recognised as people much slower than myself. I kicked a stone…on purpose. I knew that I had to get home at some point and I still had 37km to go on a race in which I had already burnt out. I cried. Yes I did. Then I prayed. I’m not sure what I prayed. I just prayed. I prayed that my son would get a job. I prayed that our country would be better. I prayed that it would rain. I prayed that the wind would change from the freezing headwind that it was into a tailwind of sorts. I prayed that I could be a better person. I prayed for wisdom. Only one of those prayers has been answered so far but I’m none the wiser. I cried some more and I kicked another stone.

Like the angel that gets sent whenever I most need her, I heard Sponono call out my name. I didn’t turn around because I didn’t want her to see my tears. But she and her friend came running up to me. They passed me because I was walking. And then I cried some more because Sponono had passed me and what if I wasn’t able to catch her? I thought I should at least try to catch her. I lifted my aching knee. The top of my glute started to shoot stabbing pains up my back with every step, but I battled forward trying to catch Sponono. Eventually at around 15km I caught up with her and we carried on running. Her friend dropped back slightly and she told me that we were going too fast. I realised that my speed has improved significantly since Sponono and I ran together in 2013, when she patiently and kindly helped me to qualify for Comrades at Kaapsemoer. My foot felt like I had plantar fasciitis. I didn’t know if I should limp for a while to make it go away, so I just carried on running forward. Families had come out to the road to support us. It was wonderful. We were being cheered and there were loads of children supporting us. It lifted my spirits somewhat and I cheered up slightly. What also kept me going was my knowing that at 21km, this hellish race would get better because a bunch of lying runners had told me that. It didn’t get much better. One or two unnoticeable downhills came and went. Many uphills and some uphills cleverly disguised as flats came and went. I walked a bit. Cried some more. Prayed a bit. This was turning into quite the spiritual experience. I considered going to the toilet at 21km. I don’t go to the toilet on runs. I would never bush pee even if my life depended on it. I don’t use the portaloos because they’re always revolting and there’s always a queue. So I pulled off the road at 21km, spotted the queue and decided to spare myself and carried on running. I didn’t really need the toilet after all. I only wanted to do something that would change the way I was feeling. That was miserable, in case you hadn’t picked that up yet.

I was managing sort of sub-7.30 minute kilometres. I can’t really remember kilometre 24, but I know I kicked another stone…on purpose and the evidence from my Garmin seems to indicate that kilometre 24 took 9.32. The water points on this race are fantastic. Especially the one at 25km. The portaloos were named Executive Toilets. How fantastic! Those toilets appeared just like Sponono out of the horizon. There were steps up to the door. The toilets were white. They were clean. There was 2-ply. Admittedly, they were on a slope, which made moving around in the cubicle somewhat of a challenge. But, they gave me a little reprieve. Sponono had run past me as I was climbing the stairs to my delightful little reprieve and I waved at her promising to catch up to her a little later. So the liars hadn’t totally lied. For a short while after 25km, the route improved slightly. I caught Sponono and ran with her for a short while.  I was feeling a little better and I wasn’t sure how long this mood swing would last so I pulled away from her. Some undulating, slightly picturesque terrain. A sign that said “Hier Kak Ons Af” at an entrance to a farm. And then the 36km mark happened. Not one single liar told me about the 36km mark. The signs read, “Hou bene hou.” and “Keep that legs moving forward.” At least I was still able to notice funny things. Even if I didn’t find them funny. The hill was steep but over the rise, the hill was steep in the other direction. From 37km to 40km the downhill was beautifully steep. Most people didn’t like it, but I loved it. I threw everything I had into that steep downhill. I knew that I was 17 minutes off the pace for a sub-5.30 and it didn’t matter if I walked to the end after this hill. I didn’t know how long this downhill would be. What I did know is that there would be a “slight sting in the tail” from 46km. At 40km there was a lovely water station. I asked someone for the time because my watch had died as I started on the downhill. 4.31. I looked at my pacing chart and, will you know it, I had made up a whopping 7 minutes and was now only 10 minutes off the sub-5.30 pace. I didn’t know the nature of the sting in the tail, but I live in Northcliff, how stingish could the sting be? I mean are we talking hornet, wasp, bee or scorpion here? I could have a blinder of a final 10km and come in under 5.30. I had maintained the mood swing, so I pulled myself together and started racing. I had no idea how fast I was running. I just ran as fast as I could.

I still hadn’t realised that I had never actually run this far before except for Comrades almost 1 year ago. So it didn’t occur to me that my tyres and chassis falling off at 10km might come back to bite me at 48km. I raced. And then I walked because I just didn’t believe I could do this. At 42.2 I asked for the time. 4.44. My brain couldn’t do calculations, but it sounded like I had taken a lifetime to run a measly 2.2km. So I walked. If there had been a stone, I would have kicked it. There was an uphill in front of me and I thought that was the start of the legendary sting in the tail. I ran towards it and up it. At the top of that little hill, I beautiful view unfolded in front of me. The dam, nestled coyly amongst the rolling mountains, glistened in the late morning sun. If you ever run this race, at this point, don’t get carried away. Don’t enjoy the entire panoramic of this view. DO NOT LOOK RIGHT AND UP. I did. The term sting in the tail does not even remotely describe the size of the hill from 45km to 48km. There is no metaphor for this “slight sting in the tail”. I’ve searched for one, but really, there is no adequate metaphor for this hill. The nice thing about it is that it bends three times so you’re never fully aware of the magnitude of the treachery ahead of you. Oh my word! What I didn’t realise was that on the third bend of that hill, the coolest thing was about to happen to me.

Earlier on in the day, I had seen a guy from FFA running club and he had greeted me. He was super hot. He had the most astoundingly beautiful body and as I checked him out, I was most surprised to see the 55 age category sticker on his shirt. It crossed my mind that he was cheating because he looked no older than 35 and he was running like a 25 year old. Anyway, as I took a stroll up the treacherous hill, the hot 55 year old and a few of his friends ran past me. Again, the hottie greeted me. As they passed me, I saw a sign at the top of the hill which read “Only 2260 metres to go”. Something bit me. I was done with this race. I was tired. I couldn’t feel my legs or back any more so I wouldn’t even have known if I was sore. I knew at the sign, I could expect a downhill to the resort entrance and I needed a downhill. I ran past hottie 55 and his friends and the hottie told me that I was looking strong. I laughed a wordless retort. As I rounded the top of the hill, the downhill beckoned, but the actual sting in the tail is a 250m uphill before the resort entrance. The downhill was awesome and I raced down. Momentum carried me up the real sting in the tail and I entered the resort, noticing the 500m to go mark on the road. I felt a bit deflated that I still had half a kilometre to go on this dreadful day, but it was a wonderful winding downhill and the crowds were cheering and shouting. What a wonderful finish! I saw Michelle and shouted at her for lying to me about the fantasticness of this race that she had now completed 9 times. I looked up at the clock and saw 5:41:38. Yeah! It wasn’t sub-5:31, but I was glad it was over and I had finished. Didn’t die. Didn’t come last. Not by a long way. I picked up my race goodies. Awesome goodie pack and shirt and you get a bag of oranges and a can of coke! Cool hey? Michelle showed me where to pick up my tog bag. As we were walking around, hottie 55 came up to me and smiled. He said to me, “Well done out there. You showed real guts in your race.” I smiled a polite thank you. Michelle and he glanced at each other with a hint of recognition and he looked back at me. He continued, “Please tell Vreni that Israel Morake says ‘Hi’.” My jaw dropped open. Michelle smiled and yelped, “Israel! You came and visited me when I was in hospital!” “Oh yes!” remembered Israel. (That is an incredible story about an amazing human being, but for another day.)They embraced and carried on talking about Israel’s current goings on. My mouth was hanging open. I was totally star struck. Not only was he super hot, he was Israel Morake. For those of you who don’t know, take a look here or here. That was so cool. An icon of South African long distance running had told me that I had shown guts in my running. And he was hot! And he was so lovely and awesome and humble and just lovely. I’m still star struck, can you tell? What a great day!

I realised that I can run 50km. I can recover from a total blow out and come back stronger. I can run awesome downhills and still put my head down to run treacherous uphills and still find more fuel to finish a race with a powerful run. I can be a good runner. 5:41 is far from being a star, but I can be a good runner. I feel like I’m just starting. I’m learning really important lessons now. Not that all the previous lessons weren’t important, but now I’m learning lessons about actually racing races, not just not dying and not coming last. Real focussed racing.

In a week’s time, I will forget how unfun that race was for me and I, like all running liars, will be the new brand ambassador for Loskop Ultra Marathon, but I will never forget meeting Israel Morake. I’m going to work hard so that one day in the not too distant future he remembers meeting me.

Yours in the love of learning something new.

SlowCoach