Life’s Little Ups and Downs

Coming back from injury can, at times, be a frustrating process and, at times, be a cause for celebrating small wins. That was this week. I’ve been injured for about a year, starting with a stress fracture in May last year and moving forward very slowly with very little progress. In the last two months I have made significant progress due, in part, to the injection I got in my knee, a new biokineticist who is a professional purist and daily excruciating rolling of my ITB. It has not all been fun. But like I said, I have made significant improvements and I’m starting to see my running improve. Little kudos and comments on Strava from people also recognizing my little achievements have also helped me see my improvement.

This week has been a mixed bag for me. On Tuesday, I was tired and my legs were sore, so my hills session was cut short after I started to feel my ITB complaining just before I was finished. I was okay with just stopping after 4 repeats instead of the planned 6 repeats. Due to my caution on Tuesday, I ran a good time trial on Thursday, seeing a time on the clock at the end that I haven’t seen in what feels like years. Today was not the same.  Fresh off the high of the most improved student time trial on Thursday and an all-about-me birthday celebration yesterday,  I arrived at My Road Less Travelled’s Mark White Nissan Trail Run eager to see how far I could stretch this getting better streak. I’ll admit, I was a bit tired when I arrived there. People had left my house late last night and my grandson had slept over, but he’d coughed from about 3am so I hadn’t slept well, but I was excited about running what I knew would be a super technical trail. It was good to be out running again.

Three hundred metres in, around the first corner, I tripped over nothing and went sliding forward on my arms and thighs. I had got some funky new shorts for my birthday and they provided absolutely zero protection from the stones and rocks and sand and gravel that paved my sliding way. I lay there with my face on the ground. Kind people hopped over me asking if I was okay and I just lay there, “Jaaaa. I’m fine.” So I lay there for about 20 seconds and then hauled myself to my feet and limped forward two steps. I stepped off the path and the remainder of the tiny field of runners poured past me. I vacillated. I stood and contemplated my three options. And thus began another spiritual journey courtesy of this running that I hate love. The conversation between the various voices in my head went something like this:

“Fuck this shit! I’m right at the start. I’ll just walk back and sit in a chair and wait for EP to come back.”

“But EP has the car key and it’s fucking cold and I’ve got the tiniest pants on.”

“Okay, well just go back and get someone to help and then you can start again.”

“Ah fuck! I came all this way. I may as well just do this.”

“No! Fuck it! I’m going back.”

“Remember that time you fell near home and you carried on? Remember how the blood was pouring down your legs, but you were so proud of yourself? Just carry on.”

Round about then, I started to sob. I wanted to give up and I didn’t want to give up. So I sobbed. Out loud. A run/walk for life person went race walking past me and asked if I was okay and I stood on the side of the path wailing out loud. “I’m okay. Waaaaaaaaaaail!” A lady walked past who was clearly the last person on the road. She asked me if I was okay and then gave me two tissues. Thank you ma’am. You really helped. A lot. “Waaaaaaaail!” I dabbed the tears away and carried on running. Every now and then I cried a little, but I carried on running. The route was very technical and I soon realized that if I carried on crying, I would not be able to see the path and I’d fall again, so I stopped bawling.  Then I came around the corner and Richard was there, patiently waiting for me with his camera. He looked a bit alarmed, but I managed to squeeze out a grimace for the camera! Another corner and there was Alain. “Waaaaaaail! I fell. Coming back from injury just sucks!” “Well just take it for what it is.”

You always have choices in life. Life has ups and downs. Check out this route!!

 

The downhills were as crazy as the uphills.

 

Strava snippet. 333m elevation over 10km. Lol.

How’s those ups and downs? When falls happen in life, you can go back to where you were and stay there. It is safer that way. You can go back to the start and try over with your new knowledge. Or you can go forward a little bit more cautiously than before, but still going forward. You’ll find that if you go forward, it is sometimes scary and you fear that the same fall could happen again and you’re still sore from the last fall. But you’ll become more confident as you go along. Then, when you feel you’re recovered, you give it your all. You be the best new version of you that you can be….even if the new version is a little bit broken. Alain was right when he said “Just take if for what it is.” The fall was the fall and my knees and elbows were sore, but the rest of the race was there to do with whatever I chose. So I took it a bit cautiously and then it got quite scary and dangerous, but I kept going forward courageously. I little bit more cautious than I like to be, but I was being kind to myself and trying not to be a total moron by falling again. Although, admittedly, there were more spectacular places I could have fallen instead of the rather innocuous flat piece of path which I fell on. But I didn’t fall again. I took it easy and I ended up having a really awesome run.

I won’t lie, it was a very tough route, but I was disciplined in my approach to the uphills by counting steps and only walking my 50 step allocation each time. By making sure I had gone at least 80 steps before walking again, I slowly passed a few people who had stepped over me as I lay in the path earlier. I wasn’t giving up. Not then and not at all during the rest of the day. I had committed to the team to run the RAC cross country race later in the afternoon. After I finished the trail run, I was sore. Everything was stinging and I was stiffening up. EP asked me if I was still going to do cross country. “No. I’m too sore.” Ten minutes later she asked me again. “Yes. I said I would. I will.” I think I might be mentally ill. But, I lined up at the cross country race this afternoon, tired and sore. I ran at the back because, like others I know, I like to start slow and then oh fuck it! I didn’t die and I didn’t come last. But that’s no great shakes, because the people that came behind me were over 60 years old. Lol.

Just a reminder, I did go up an age category yesterday. It’s been a tough week, like I said!

Another lesson in life dished out to me by running. Thank you My Road Less Travelled for a beautiful and incredibly difficult and challenging race. Thank you Mark White Nissan too. I might trade in my Jeep for that Navara I saw at the top of the top of the top top hill! 😉

Yours in the ups and downs of life.

Slow Coach.

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The Tortoise and The Hare is an Actual Thing

Yes it is! Check it out here.

The Tortoise and the Hare in Real Life

I found that funny and somewhat comforting. Anyway!

Hey! Today I ran further than I have run in 5 months. How far is that? 7km. Remember when I joked about going from Comrades back to the couch? My Journey From the Couch to The Comrades Marathon…and Back to the Couch Well truth may be stranger than my non-fiction. Last time I really ran a race was in May (that’s when I hopped the last 2km of RAC 10km race). I also ran the Take 5 relay in June, but I really shouldn’t have because I couldn’t walk at that point and it was just a few weeks later that I became imprisoned in a moon boot, with the horrifying news that I would not be running SOX, my goal race for which I had paid an obscene amount of money. I could still go to SOX with EP, but I couldn’t run. I couldn’t even take a leisurely stroll in the forests. I hobbled a bit into forests in my moon boot, but that was about it. So I was very diligent while I was in the moon boot and I went swimming. While others were running, I was swimming. But swimming is so fucking boring, I was starting to hate my life. And so I turned to that ultimate comforter, food, snacks, coke, chips, biscuits, CUPCAKES. If it’s on a dietician’s list of things to avoid, I ate ’em! And lots of them! It made me feel better about things, okay! I was still going to Satan’s Sister for gym, but what with me confined to my boot, there were only some things that I could do. And so I ballooned. I now weigh the same as what I did before I started training for Comrades 6 years ago.

So the moon boot came off and, even though I had been swimming, I was totally unfit. and , what’s even worse, I was still in pain! I could hardly walk, never mind run. So I decided to do something different. I had heard good things about a physio in Fourways. (I know it’s hard to believe any good can come from Fourways) But if he was good enough for an 8 times Comrades gold medallist, then I was sure he’d be good enough for me.

I’m quite open-minded, having studied iridology and always been interested in homoeopathy and other quantum sciences, but I was still amused at what greeted me at my first ‘physio’ appointment with Adrian Stevens. He drew me a picture of my body. Well it wasn’t my body, but a decent fascimile of my body showing it all curvy. It was not curvy in the picture because of all the cupcakes, although in real life it was curvy because of all the cupcakes. It was curvy because, well basically, my alignment was FUBAR! So Adrian sat down in front of me with his legs crossed like a 6 year old listening to the teacher read a story. He did all these tests on alignment by pressing and pulling and pushing and going “Aaah” and “okay, strange”, and “aha”. Then he pulled out a telephone directory and a pair of scissors and some sticky tape and proceeded to fashion a wedge for my shoes. It was literally like watching a 6 year old. Then he told me to lie on the plinth and he proceeded to shake and pull and push and flick various parts of me, but not my actual foot that was sore, strangely enough. I will say that it was an unusual experience, as have been the 3 or 4 subsequent appointments, all complete with telephone directory and sticky tape and scissors.

But today I ran 7 kilometres which is 7 more than I was running 2 months ago and 5 more than I was running 3 weeks ago. This week I ran 17 kilometres in total which is a lot more than I have run in the past 4 months. Yesterday I ran the very difficult Albertsfarm Parkrun in just 33 minutes. I realised, as I volunteered after my run and as many people came rushing over the finish line in 50 minutes and more, how very fortunate I am at this very time in my life. I can’t run far and running is very hard because I’m carrying my extra bag of dog food (which looked like cupcakes when I picked it up) and I’m just basically unfit. But all the gym I’ve been doing and the disciplined return to running and my kindergarten physio has clearly been beneficial and I can look forward to even longer distances and faster times.

Another thing I realised while I’ve been getting fatter recovering: We have a ridiculous benchmark in South Africa. I’ve had so many people say that they recently ran a race “But it was only 5km/10km/21km.” I get very sad when they say that. 5km, 10km or 21km are incredible achievements. They are all distances which most people will never run. People say “only 21km”! People actually say that! I challenge you to get in your car and drive 21km and then imagine running that far. That’s very far! Especially to run. The Comrades Marathon has given our country such an unfair benchmark by which we judge ourselves as runners. It’s a stupid distance run by stupid people and although every South African should run the Comrades Marathon, no-one should run the Comrades Marathon. I want to say to you today, if you are reading this and you’ve run a Parkrun or any 5km (but really run it, not strolled around like a loser looking for your Vitality points), you’re an amazing athlete and you can be proud of your achievement. If you’ve run a 10km, keep at it. Keep trying to get your 10km time faster. Many people in other less crazy places in the world will train their entire lives to achieve a 10km race. If you’ve run a 10km, Well done! That’s a remarkable achievement. If you’ve run a 21km, I am humbled by you. Half a marathon is a ridiculous distance which most athletes will never attempt because it’s really far to run and it makes a person dig into human reserves which go way beyond the physical.

I truly appreciate these thoughts now as I can only just manage 5km or 6km without pain. And I really respect people who go out to strive for a goal that isn’t the Comrades Marathon because I realise how hard it can be to run 5km or 10km or 21km. By the way, 21km seems totally inaccessible to me at the moment, but I have one or two more sessions with my kindergarten physio, so I’ll keep it in the back of my mind. Right now, I hope to one day be able to run 10km. That seems like a reasonable stretch goal for me.

Yours in achievable milestones.

SlowCoach

Oh by the way, on a somewhat related note, today I saw a baby goat riding on a tortoise’s back. Yes I did!

Trail Runners FFS

I feel like I ran a marathon today. I only ran 15km today. My feeling might have something to do with the fact that the 15km race I ran was called The Beast and, when we set off at 7am, the temperature in Pretoria was already at a balmy 23°C. Sold as the toughest race in Pretoria, it is an incredibly tough trail race up and down rocky slopes with little shade and, as you can imagine, sweltering conditions. But I’m not here to tell you about Pretoria’s toughest race. If you want to find out how tough it is, then come run it next year.

What I’m here to tell you about is trail runners. They’re a funny bunch, actually. I think I’ve spoken about this before. Trail runners have gear. Lots of gear. They have buffs and trail shoes and gaitors and go pros and fancy watches and compasses and maps and hydration packs and all sorts of gear that road runners just don’t need or care to drag with them on any race. Aside from the gear, trail running seems to attract people with little to no communication skills whatsoever. When you run a technical trail, you can kind of understand because there’s no real opportunity for conversation. For starters, the trails usually don’t allow people to run two or more abreast so you’re either in front of someone or, as is usually the case with me, you’re behind someone (or some many). This means that you can very seldom hear the person in front unless they’re shouting. Added to that, you really have to concentrate when you trail run. You can’t zone out and chit chat and day dream on trail runs. I daydream occasionally and that’s usually about the time I find myself eating red sand. It’s always red in South Africa! You have to concentrate because there is all manner of obstacles in the path. Stones, rocks, tree roots, grass fronds, lizards, snakes and grasshoppers all lie in wait, trying to catch your toe and send you flying. So it’s often not a good idea to be chit chatting away to your friends on a trail run. That then appeals to a strange type of person who can run for hours on end with no-one except the voices in their own head with whom to “chat”.

This becomes a problem for me. Because Trail running attracts people who are less inclined to be chit chatty, they’re less inclined to be chit chatty about important things. Today, I swear I wanted to punch some people. There were 3 races on the go today. There was The Beast which was 15km. There was something slightly less Beasty which shared 10km of the 15km route and there was a mini Beast which was 5km. By the way, my buddies came 1st, 2nd 1st and 3rd in the 15km (Well done Thabang, Tranquil, Maphuti and Fiona) and my buddy came 2nd in the 5km (Well done Nina. Hope you feel better soon) You’d think that with all these great buddies, I would suck less. Sadly, not.

Where was I? Oh yes. I wanted to punch people. The 15km and the 10km shared the same route and the 10km started 15 minutes after the 15km. 10km races are much faster than 15km races and soon, front runner 10km runners were looking to come past us 15km runners at the back. The first few got out the big girl, and boy panties and shouted, “Coming through on your right!” before they were breathing down my SlowCoach neck. And then came others. I’m not sure what’s wrong with them. There was a girl who ran up behind me and then stuck on my tail for about 500m (which is a long way in trail running) without saying a word. Eventually, I helped her and said, “Let me know if you’d like to pass.” She whimpered meekly, “Yes, please may I come past?” For fucks sakes!!! By this time, all her fellow 10km runners had caught up with her and there was a stream of traffic behind her waiting to pass me and it looked like it was my fault, when all she had so do was whisper in her meek, pathetic voice, “Coming through on your right”. That’s another thing, trail runners. Don’t shout “Coming through!” or “Left” or “Right”. How the fuck must I know what that means? How do I know from any of those what your expectation of me is? You’re behind me, I can’t see what you’re thinking! I can’t see what your body is doing! Be specific. Say, “Please move to your left.” Or “I’m passing on your right.” Or “Coming through on your right.”. That tells me everything I need to know. I know what you’re about to do and I can gather what you expect me to do from those statements. And then for the love of all things traily, say “thank you”. You won’t die if I move to the side for you (even if you didn’t ask) and then you gasp a “thank you” as you go past. I promise, you won’t die!

I met a lovely lady called Robyn today as we both moved to the side for 10km runners who all took advantage of our kindness and didn’t even give us a sniff, never mind a thanks! Really, trail runners. You really have to up your communication game. I’m not asking you to strike up a small talk conversation or to debate the merits of existential studies. I just need you to communicate your expectations so that we all have a nice run. Where you’re not bearing down on me so heavily, forcing me to run faster than I need to and I’m not holding you up from your PB or special placing. And say thank you. It will make you seem nicer and not so fucking weird.

Yours in the love of communicating clearly,

SlowCoach

Parkruns, PRs and Point Status

I know it shouldn’t matter, but it does. I know it doesn’t look like much, but it is.  A whole lot. “PR” said Strava. A PR (Personal Record) for a segment it calls “parkrun Alberts Farm 5th km”. There’s so much wrong with that segment name, I clearly didn’t create it!  Get your head out of your retentive ass and tell us what the PR was, SlowCoach! 6:27. Yes, that’s right. 6:27 for a kilometre of innocuous grass (and mud at the moment, thank you God for the rain) just down the road from my house. What’s so great about that?

6:27 for one kilometre. It’s hardly a stretch, now is it? Let me tell you about this little stretch of grass. First of all, it’s the last kilometre of a 5km Parkrun. It’s probably on a slight incline, some of it. There’s a little steep piece over thick grass (I hate grass), but it’s hardly a challenging incline. All in all, the elevation gain for Albertsfarm Parkrun is 86m. This piece represents maybe 5m of that 86m so really it’s nothing great. The mud isn’t slippery or syrupy. The grass is only really thick and without a path for 100m of that kilometre, so really it’s a very simple piece of running for most people. Sad thing is, it’s at the end of the Parkrun. And the last kilometre of a 5km Parkrun sees my demon is in full flight. “Give up!” “You can’t finish anything!” “You’ll never be any good because you just can’t finish!” “You’d be great if you didn’t daydream/talk/sleep/think/procrastinate so much!” That monster talks to me like that, like it has for many years, all the time. It always tells me to give up, usually just as I’m about to do something really spectacular. Now you know why I cry so much. I’m always arguing with this monster who is very persuasive and it’s very difficult to not give in to its persistence.

You remember I rode 94.7? Oh yes! I forgot to tell you that I rode and completed the 94.7 it was a good day out, but cycling is….I don’t know…..it’s not running. In 2016, running and I had a terrible relationship. I hated running and running hated me. I didn’t want to train because I was always sore or tired. Work was so crazy last year and I was always so stiff and tired from sitting at a desk for 8 to 12 hours a day, that I just didn’t have the mental energy to face training. I ran Num Num (the watered down version). I ran Two Oceans way back in the beginning of the year, but mostly, 2016 was an abomination of a running year. So I rode 94.7 which turned out to be good cross training in the hope that my love for running would miraculously reappear. It didn’t and the year ground to a close with my entire body shutting down in an ear, nose, throat and everything infection. Blood pressure tanked to an almost unmanageable 85/50, forcing me to stay in bed for an entire week. It was very alarming for me because I am very seldom sick. Last time I took antibiotics was before many of you were born so for me to capitulate and actually ingest antibiotics, you’ve got to know how sick I was. As a result of my illness, ITB that just won’t go away and a general “fuck running” attitude, my times tanked like my blood pressure. I wouldn’t even bother looking at race results, because there was no way to find the joy in coming top 5 in my age group when only 6 of us ran. I was seeing times almost as slow as when I started running 5 years ago.

Getting sick was the best thing that could have happened to me! What a wake up call I got. Turns out, I actually had to rest. I had to take care of myself. I took a long deep breath thinking about life and made some key decisions:

  • I’ve always been a Discovery Vitality member, but I’ve never even once bothered to look at my Vitality status. So I started to investigate and there are some really great benefits to be had. Admittedly, I am in the process of swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction and I’ve become obsessed with earning points. I am so competitive and so A-type, it’s really quite pathetic.
  • I made a healthy choice to not sit at work for hours on end.  Technically I can’t sit too much at work now because otherwise I don’t make enough steps for the day and then I won’t get my smoothie. Lol. I’ve achieved 3 smoothies so far and I haven’t even gone to get one of them. For me, it’s not about the smoothie. I am winning some challenges on GarminConnect, however. That matters.

What was I saying? Oh yes.

  • I’m leaving work in time to go run.
  • I bought new running shoes. It appears my running shoes were the source of my ITB. I had my road shoes since my last Comrades Marathon in 2015 and, because I’d been mostly trail running, I just never considered the number of kilometres on the road shoes. They were quite literally pieces of shit by the time I replaced them.
  • I’ve got a personal trainer. I know. A personal trainer. So I’m getting used to the idea that I will be in physical discomfort for 4 days out of every week and will recover only just in time to go for my next session! The things I do for love. Of running, that is.

And that’s what’s so great about that 6:27. It was the fastest I’d ever run that segment. I’ve only run it about 8 or 9 times, but I always walk. I kick stones. I curse myself. I curse my demon. I curse running. I give up every single time. Not this time. Not this day. Last Saturday, I ran that entire Parkrun without walking once. More importantly, I ran that last kilometre without walking. It was a slow kilometre. My shoulders were bent over and I was mumbling little curses under my breath, but I just kept telling myself, don’t walk. Only your head is hurting. Your body is still able. If you walk now, it’s only because your head is in the way, so just keep going. I was barely lifting my feet, but I was running and I was kind of enjoying it. I wasn’t hurting like I have for so long now. I was also earning my 300 Discovery Vitality points fair and square. I see some people go there and they amble along for over an hour on that 5km and they earn 300 points just like the guy or girl who does it in under 19 minutes. (Well done, Top Deck on your first sub-19 minute Parkrun at Gilooly’s Parkrun. Momma Bear is very proud!) So I pushed myself to earn my 300 points and I think I gathered those points with dignity. In case you were wondering, I did not finish the Parkrun in under 19 minutes! Hahaha! I did it in a most respectable 34 minutes. Way off my personal best for a Parkrun, but I seem to be on an upward trajectory. At least I’m running and at least I’m running that piece of grass without walking.

Where to next? Well, here’s the funny part. Thinking that my upward trajectory needed a bit of a nitrous oxide injection, EP and I entered The Southern Trails 15-20km trail run in Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve. Holy Shit! What a wake up call for us.

We did this!

 At some point during he first 5km, both of us  realised the gargantuan task ahead in order for us to be ready for Two Oceans trail again this year. I took just on 3 hours to finish that fucking 17.6km race. My legs are not as strong yet as I would like and so with 4km to go to the end, on an open, flat piece of trail, I tripped over nothing, didn’t bother to put out my hands to break the fall and fell flat on my face in the dirt. I probably had one arm across my body at the time and I suppose my brain attempted some kind of tuck, drop and roll manoeuvre, but all that happened was I landed my solar plexus on my fist and I winded myself. I lay in the foetal position groaning like a flu-ridden man, trying to get air into my chest so I could get up, recover my dignity and finish this fucking race! Alas, witnesses arrived, most concerned. I tried to wave them away by gasping, “I’m absolutely fine, I’ve just winded myself!” I could have had a broken arm, for all I know, but I just wanted to get air into my body and them to disappear! They made sure I got up okay and, fuelled by the adrenalin and humiliation of the fall, I ran off into the sunset and finished those last 4 kilometres about 5 minutes ahead of the nearest concerned citizen. Thank you to those who helped me up. We even laughed about how humiliated I should be feeling as I sat there trying to side-eye the nothing that I tripped over.

I think I might be back. I’m being cautiously optimistic, but the fact that you’re reading this, might mean that I’m back. I’m trying to temper my pendulum by missing the 400m speed sessions at track so that I don’t undo all the good fixing that the personal trainer is doing, going balls to the wall on 400s because I think I can. I’m getting my points and committing to Parkruns and anything that will help me get to silver status on my Vitality. I know, I fell into their trap. Shame on me. I’m leaving work on time most days and going to run and train as often as my energy levels will allow. I’m trying to get enough sleep. I’m trying to rest more. I’m eating much healthier. I love my new Asics DynaFlyte. I call them my mermaid Asics.

Wish us luck, running and me, as we tentatively try to repair our relationship.

Yours in the slow burn of lasting love.

SlowCoach

And the Reason is You

The question has continued to plague me recently. Why do I want to do this? Why do I want to run this Comrades Marathon again? Yes, I know. There’s that whole Back to Back medal thing and I can’t get the back to back medal any other time except on 31 May this year. 3 medals for the price of 2. Only doing this for the back to back would mean that I had become a victim of the Comrades pyramid scheme. And that would just burn me to know that I had been duped by a transparent and legal pyramid scheme.

Ask and ye shall receive and all that led to my finding the reason. I have a dear friend that I met one year ago at the Sasolburg marathon. Janine and I nearly got run over by Illuminati at the Sasolburg marathon and we’ve been friends ever since. 10 months ago I became a grandmother to a beautiful little boy. Since my son has come back to live with me, I of the never-had-a-baby-in-my-life variety of mother, had not a single item of baby paraphernalia in my home. Babies are absurdly expensive. We needed a baby car seat urgently so that my son could see his son occasionally (which was proving to be a challenge already) by picking him up and taking him out. I put a question out there on social media and my dear friend, Janine, responded with kindness and generosity beyond anything I could have imagined. And then I had a sit down with her and realised that her kindness was not just a gesture. Janine is goodness to her marrow. She’s a high school teacher at Sekolo sa Borokgo which is a non-profit school in Bairgowrie. She’s amazing! When she talks about her students, love comes out of her eyes.

And so it was when Janine posted a very sweet request to her friends to support her reason to run Comrades again on her Facebook, I was hooked. I had found my reason. A real reason this time. A perfect reason. This school is tiny. It has no sports fields. It has no library. What is a school without those two things? Only a semi-school. So, if you’re reading this, then I’m sure you’re going to be very excited to help me help Janine, help Sekolo sa Borokgo, help many more children become wonderful products of our beautiful country. I’m so excited about this project, I’ll even commit (yes, I said commit) to be a victim of the Comrades pyramid scheme.

Please do me a favour. Click here and donate whatever you can afford. Even R100 or $10 or £7 will help us to build these beautiful, full of potential, young people a library and a sports ground.

I’ll be shamelessly marketing my reason and telling anyone that will listen about my “Life Lessons From My First Comrades Marathon” at Rand Athletics Club (RAC) on Tuesday, 17 February at 7pm after time trial. It will be lovely to see you there.

Yours in the spirit of giving.

Slow Coach

P.S. To the lady from Roodepoort who spoke to me before Sasolburg yesterday, you made my day. Thank you very much. I might get to writing about the race.

Are We Having Fun?

Yes indeed! Running is fun.

It has come to my attention that this might not be the case for everyone. Running races are especially fun for me. It seems that races are even less fun for these poor buggers for whom running appears not to be so much fun. Who are these poor creatures for whom running is not so much fun? The poor creatures who are not having so much fun are, in fact, the Illuminati. I know, right? How could the Illuminati not be having fun? What wouldn’t be fun about lapping your fellow runners multiple times at track? What wouldn’t be fun about winning a prize for running? What wouldn’t be fun about taking a nice easy run and still averaging a pace of 4:05/km.

The first time I heard of this ludicrous concept of an Illuminati that might not find this whole thing fun was when I was talking to a Grand Master South Afrian champion. She is invited to run all over the world. Her entries are paid to all the best races in the world. Even in her 60s, she’s winning money and getting admired everywhere. But she told me a while back that, with her sponsorship comes an obligation to attend press conferences and stay behind at races for hours after she’s finished and showered and dying to get home to her couch or family just so that she can have her photo taken with the sponsors’ logos and brand ambassadors and so on. Okay, I got how that might make me a bit grumpy. But still. That’s a small price to pay for the accolades and privileges that come with the territory of professional sport.

The real reason, however, became apparent to me last week as I stood in the parking lot after track. I was talking to the Illuminati about running Spirit of Flight. Now, as far as running goes, this race is fun. It’s fun, damnit! Allegedly, you run 10km on the runway of a military airport. There are old army planes and trucks and hangars around the place and it’s flat and fast so you can manage a PB if you try even just a bit. Doesn’t that sound fun? Yes. It sounded fun to me so I was going to run it. I asked them if they were going to join. One was keen and the other was less than impressed with the suggestion. She told us that she’s not at her best yet and someone else will be there and they’ll beat her and she can’t handle that because she’s already getting enough abuse from her running friends for her “out of shapeness”. And that would be terrible. I wondered for a tiny moment if she has such friends who would mock her about her “out of shapeness” (she still laps me 4 or 5 times at track and I’ve improved tremendously!) or if that was the voice in her head beating her up. My friends would never make fun of me for being in bad shape… because…my shape couldn’t get much worse than it is so it would be like crying in the rain. What I’m trying to say is the Illuminati should get other friends or different voices.

I walked away from that conversation with a heavy heart and I felt guilty. You know how I’ve been whining about not loving running so much any more? I suddenly realised that my running is a much nicer illegal marriage than the Illuminati marriages. I asked one of them why they hate racing so much and this is how they explained: At Illuminati level, you’re always on show. You’re always competing. Your best is never good enough if on the day someone else’s best is better than your best. My running is hard because it’s against me. When I do a crap time it’s because I did a crap time all on my own. My own voices made me walk. My own saboteur arrived on the day. But I’m only competing against myself and a clock. Even when Illuminati do a good time, it might not be good enough and there’s no-one to blame for that except… well… you’re just not good enough to beat the best on that day. I would hate to be married to their running.

And so, because I view it as my personal mission to fix everyone’s life (I’m especially good at fixing marriages), I told the Illuminati that they shouldn’t run Spirit to compete. They should run it for fun. Ringmaster Dave, the coach, frowned upon that and came up with a most elaborate plan to have them compete first, have fun later. The plan sounded unfun on all fronts and he ruined my attempts at making this a fun event for at least the Illuminati. My plan had them arriving at the race and telling their fellow Illuminati that they would not be racing but that they would be pacing some of us to get personal best times for the 10km and then, if they felt like racing, they still could do so, but without any pressure, knowing, of course, that if they decided to race, they would leave all of us half-bakeds languishing in the doldrums without a clue.

They both seemed like they took the bait. When we (Christien, Liezel and Illuminati Michelle and I travelled there together) arrived at the race on Saturday, one Illuminati had a pacing chart for me and a big smile. One was already standing at the front, frowning and bouncing nervously from one foot to another. She did not look like she was about to have fun. Other Illuminati came running up to us all similarly uniformed and looking famous and intimidating. I wasn’t impressed…because I didn’t care. Even if I stripped 25% of my personal best time for a 10km I still wouldn’t have a hope in hell of beating any of them. That’s hilarious when I type it like that. Hilarious to me. I’m sure they must have looked menacing to the other Illuminati there.

I’ll be honest. I did not enjoy running this race. I did not have one single ounce of fun. The route was changed the night before because of an important military vehicle which had to land on the airstrip and so we found ourselves running a trail run, not on a pristine potholeless runway as expected. Add to this the ludicrous hills that peppered this short 10km route and the fact that I was afraid of disappointing Illuminati pacers and several people who were expecting me to run a PB, I was not having fun. There was also a very sneaky, deceptive finish. To be fair, I ran my little toes right off the ends of my feet and so it is to be expected that I might not have been enjoying the running because I was at the edge of my ability. The Illuminati helped me to run a personal best 10km of 53:01. It was probably more than that because the route was actually 9.63km long and not a full 10km, but I’ll take it anyway. I’m going to pretend I didn’t have a fancy Garmin bossing me around, making me feel shit about myself. I ran a PB 10km in 53:01.

Everyone ran PBs and not because the route was 370m short, but serious PBs – 10 minutes faster than their previous PBs, some of them. One of my Illuminati came 2nd and, when I finished, both were smiling like they’d had fun. We all were. So during the run I didn’t have much fun, but that was only 53 minutes of my life that were not fun. Everything before and everything since has been fun. I didn’t lie awake the night before stressing. Okay, that’s a lie. I stressed because I felt like I had to do 53 but thought I was only capable of 55 so sleep was restless. But I didn’t feel the pressure that the Illuminati seem to feel. I had fun standing waiting for the race to start. I had a laugh as we crowded round the first corner and got squashed against a gate. I made a joke about a hangar/er. I smiled as we turned a corner and I got to see all those people who were behind me in the race. I had Illuminati encouraging me all the way. I had fun ambling forward chatting the few monosyllables I could gasp out as we lined up in the medals queue at the end. And of course, there was that PB. I had fun!

I’m going to keep getting better and maybe one day I’ll be able to compete with really phenomenal runners. That’s my 2053 Octogenarian Games plan, anyway. But I will first ensure that I always have fun. I will make having fun more important than winning. Maybe I can say that with conviction because, until 2053, I won’t win, but I don’t want to win at all costs. Running must be fun for me. I know I’ve been whinging lately about not having fun, but I realise now, that I have been having fun and I’ll keep having fun until 2053 when I must get serious about this stuff and stop having fun!

Yours in the fun of running
Slow Coach

P.S. Illuminati reading this, I hope you find the fun that I find in every race.

Dear Running, It’s Not You. It’s Me.

Recently I’ve been in the most fortunate position to be introspective. I hate introspection. Introspection for me is always the question, “Why did I react so strongly to that.” All of the reasons for my current instrospections are the same. I hate being labelled. Which, when one does the full Ishikawa diagram leads to “Labelling me takes away my freedom to change.” If you tell me I’m a girl, you take away my freedom to leave my washing lying all over the floor and not giving a shit about the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. If you tell me I’m skinny, you take away my freedom to lose weight or to put on weight. If you tell me I’m a runner, you take away my freedom to become a pole dancer. If you label me a project manager, you take away my freedom to become a singer. You get my drift, right. So I really hate labels. Not because I hate labels, but because I love my freedom to change.

I love love affairs. I love intense, passionate, SHORT love affairs. Commitment has always been a problem for me. So much so that the one time when I bothered to place myself in a committed relationship, I ended up with depression and a subsequent eating disorder. Commitment is another way in which one’s freedom can be eroded. And relationships are sneaky in that you’re filled with euphoric endorphins which make you think that you’re having a good time, when in fact, your freedom is slowly being usurped by this entity called a relationship.

And so I find myself re-evaluating this love affair I’ve been having with running. This label “runner” that I’ve been wearing.

I like running. I really do. We have fun. Sometimes. Running has been good to me. I have great friends because of running. There are a few special friends who have been able to transcend talk about running and Tim Noakes to be more than “running friends”. Running has made me healthier. Running has shrunk me a dress size or two. But running requires commitment. And I just don’t know if I have that commitment in me. I keep telling myself that running is good for me. That running will teach me commitment. That running will give me a goal. That running is the reason. I’m just not so sure any more. But I’m addicted to running now and being fit and healthy and fitting into size 8s instead of size 12s and challenging myself to run every race a little faster than the last time.

So essentially, I’m screwed! I’m in this relationship with an entity I’m not sure I even like any more, never mind love. I’m suffering abuse (the recent 15 day lay off due to a stupid injury that no other working women get from work shoes, only running women, being case in point) at the hands of my lover. Running makes me cry at least once a week. The relationship is now a stale and routine and somewhat less than passionate love affair. But I’m stuck with it!

Oh my word! I’m married to running! How did this happen? I didn’t even get a fucking diamond ring. I feel like someone married me without my permission. And I didn’t get the diamond ring or the sex!

So now I have to do what every married couple has to do at some point in their marriage, I have to either get divorced. I’ve had my eye on pole dancing for a while now. Or I have to find the love I once had and rekindle the fire. I’ll start where I started 3 years ago this month, not injured, but by getting up early and doing my glute and hamstring exercises. (Minus the scoffing a tray of caramel horns. Hey, I’ve learned something from this abusive relationship.) And then I’ll look at running again on Wednesday and see how I feel. I might try out the pole dancing too, just to be sure.

Yours in the love of the slow burning passion of commitment to running. Blech!

SlowCoach