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

The Reason

What does this mean? What does any of this really mean?

What does this mean? What does any of this really mean?

Our Running Junkies coach, Ringmaster Dave, has a new white board. He thinks he’s very snazzy with his white board. He has the same affliction as me in that his handwriting is illegible. I’ve typed it up very nicely for you up there, but it didn’t look like that when I returned from the warm up which felt more like a sprint to the finish. This is what I imagined in my head:

Each type of running junkie would get either 1. , 2. or 3. as their session which they would have to do 3 times. I figured, ag, I’m a SlowCoach, but there’s that whole Comrades Marathon runner thing which immediately puts me in a different league to other idiots who arrive at track sessions. So I reckoned I’d get the 3 x 300m which I could manage. Turns out I didn’t understand quite correctly.  Turns out that 1., 2. and 3. are the 3 sets. I was going to have to do all of those.

Dave asked, merely to hear the sound of his own voice, if we knew what “R pace”, “I pace” and “F pace” are. He started by describing R pace which is “a relaxed fast pace”. So the Illuminati would be running the 300s at 38km per hour and I would be running them at 4.6km per hour.  Dave told us to focus on our form during the 300s. I did for the first 300m and then I focussed on not dying and not vomiting up my own aorta. I had left my watch at home today which always puts me in an instant bad mood. So I found myself running with a B-teamer Suzanne. She was hellishly fast over the 300s and I clung on by freshly clipped toenails so that I would have a proper 2 minute break. Oh mein God! Just three three hundred metres. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Those three three hundred metres may as well have been a marathon. Then we had to jog. Slow jog. Its tough to slow jog with vomit blocking your wind pipe. And then we started the two hundreds.

I just couldn’t come up with a good enough reason tonight. Why the fuck was I doing this? Suzanne asked me if I was going to run another Comrades. I laughed. I told her she should have asked me that 5 minutes before I started the warm up. As I stood there at the end of the third 200m, I just didn’t know. I didn’t know if I wanted to keep doing this to myself. And it’s so weird because it’s not like my legs get sore. It’s not like my chest gets sore. It’s some stupid emotional response I have to lactic acid build up. I just want to give up. I just want to stop and trudge to my car with my middle finger in the air to everyone at track. They’re all such fantastic athletes and I just suck

ALL

THE

TIME!!

It’s kinda like the mining strikes. Why should I work as hard as the CEO if I only end up with a fraction of the salary? Okay, the miners have a different view: Why should I only get a fraction of the CEO’s salary if I perceive myself to be working as hard as him/her?

I really couldn’t think of a good enough reason for me to carry on….and yet I carried on. I must be a very stupid person. Thankfully, Suzanne has a reasonably near-term goal. She wants to run Kaapsehoop. I told her not to read my blog about Kaapsehoop before she runs it but to take recovery shakes for 3 weeks before and to beware of the last 3 kilometres and the road camber. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth about my Kaapsehoop or the aftermath. She was also struggling tonight and so we muddled along together. I didn’t give up tonight partly because I knew that my misery had company and I knew that Suzanne has a goal. I have a goal but it’s only a year away and it’s just another Comrades Marathon so what’s the big deal?

At the end of the two hundreds, Suzanne and I embarked on our 4 minute slow jog which started as a slow amble but then Ringmaster Dave made us run. So we jogged. It was not unlike trudging through a Cambodian rice paddy, but it must have looked like a jog because Dave stopped stalking us.

What is “F pace”? I asked, not really wanting to know the answer. “Fucking fast!” said Suzanne. Dave tempered it with, “It’s almost almost flat out pace.” I think he only said that because with Illuminati and the SlowCoach in front of him, it was difficult to define it as fast or slow. There is such a vast cavernous divide between Illuminati fast and my fast. As far as Suzanne and I were concerned, we knew we had to run the one hundreds fucking fast. “How fast is fucking fast for a one hundred metre by a SlowCoach?” You might be asking. I think at our best, Suzanne and I managed about 21 seconds. That is more than double the time the Olympic champions take. The would run 100m, turn around and come back and we’d finish at the same time. How humiliating. But I swear, I felt like I was running Olympic times on some of those 100m sprints. I nearly vomited twice. I had an asthma attack once (it felt like an asthma attack). I had angina at least twice.

And then right at the end, the Ringmaster barked at us to do push ups immediately. His exact words were, “You can catch your breath later, right now do push ups immediately!” He tried to make it better by telling Suzanne and I that we had done very well and it was an excellent session. But then he proceeded to make me cry. Admittedly, I had been on the verge of tears since three hundred metres back, but Dave just opened the tap up. He told Suzanne and I that the only thing that would come between us and our being great is ….well….us, of course.

I cried because I know this all too well. It is very difficult to every single day fight the demon inside me, that saboteur of saboteurs. “Give up!” it shouts. “You’ll never be good enough! You’re a failure! You will always suck at this so you may as well just give up!” And the saboteur doesn’t only shout that about running. It’s everything.  There’s stuff that I’m very good at, but the saboteur finds shitty stuff to say to me even about the stuff that I’m very good at. “Give up! You’re a failure! You’re lazy! You’re just wasting your life here! Go back to bed.” And the saboteur is very clever. “Give up! You’re too clever for this gig! Time to move on because you’re bored, frustrated. You deserve better than this! JUST! GIVE! UP!”  Sometimes its quite difficult to fight that saboteur because its often a very persistant and very persuasive and very pervasive voice in my head. But tonight I did. Mostly. I didn’t do the cool down run, but I don’t care. I did those three fucking terrible sets and I did so mostly without losing my sense of humour.

Am I going to run Comrades next year? Ask me tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll have the reason.

Yours in not giving up.

SlowCoach

Wind up! Wind down!

Caution! Tapering!Tapering. That’s the word on everyone’s lips at the moment. I’m seeing all sorts of funny clips and jokes about runners tapering. Tapering is supposed to mean slowing down or getting less intense, right? Everyone claims that tapering is what the month of May is all about. Talk is cheap in this liar-ridden community of runners. According to two-time American Olympian Pete Pfitzinger “the taper should be preceded by your last long run. But now, when you’ve run races of 160km (100 miles) or 90km or 42km, what is considered a “long run”? Its ludicrous what people are doing. Anyway. I’m going to tell you what my tapering has been looking like. You remember that I was sick and injured while all other Comrades hopefuls were running all over the place and running and running and running. I was sitting and crying and moping and recovering. So I panicked when I came back and promptly ran the Randburg Harriers Easter 100km. That’s 100km over 3 days. that having been accomplished, I was satisfied that I had completed my “last long run” and I could now taper. Apparently not. I decided that, during my taper, I would increase my attendance at track. You’ll be reminded that I had only been going to track once a week, not wanting to win Comrades and all that. But, still a little concerned about my speed and so my ability to complete Comrades in the alloted 12 hours or the self-imposed 11 hours (10:55:55 to be exact), I decided to up the track. I’ve really got a lot faster since I started track so a couple extra sessions per week wouldn’t hurt.

Bwahahahaha! “Hurt” is exactly what they did. Oh my gracious. God left me. Abandoned me. Just six days after the Easter 100, I returned to track. And Boom! 3 x 1200m at 5km race pace with 2 minutes break in between. I still had that awful flu that I acquired the day after Easter 100 and so I’m sure a piece of my pleura is still lying in the grass at track. Illuminati were given 4 sets and they lapped me….wait for it…..6 times! I was lapped 6 times in 3 kilometres. Running is such a humiliation. And they never even break a sweat. I lose weight at track.  And not just pleura weight, real weight. They saunter around the track and I hear them whoosh past me as they go. Six times. So humiliating. I’m sure they make it a competition amongst themselves to see how many times we can lap Brenda today! And, as if those 3 humiliating kilometres weren’t enough, I was then sent out into the wilderness to run a 5km time trial. My coach Dave is a sadist. And he got worse after this.

The next Monday, Illuminati Michelle wasn’t at track, but Illuminati Tebogo was. When Sadist Dave dished out the sessions, there were Illuminati, “normal” Comrades like me (okay, I’m the only normal Comrade, everyone else is Illuminati) and other normal runners, Illuminati trailers, Illuminati Iron Men and triathletes and other very fast people. I’m always at the back. Always. The faster I get. The faster they get. Anyway. Dave singles out Tebogo and myself as Comrades and he smiles sadistically. 1600m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute break 2000m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute break, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute break, 600m @ 5km race pace, 1 minute break, 600m @ 5km race pace. Tebogo and my mouths dropped open. Surely Dave is joking. Everyone else stared pitifully at us. I didn’t hear anything else. I went deaf. Tears filled my eyes. I stopped stretching. I stared at Tebogo waiting for him to start laughing hysterically.  He mouthed at me with tears in his eyes, “Why the 2 x 600m?” Why the 2 x 600m? What the fuck? That’s the problem for you? The 2 x 600m are the problem in that whole session? I mouthed back feeling vomit start to rise in my oesophagus, “Why….did I come here?” Everyone took pity on us. You could see how relieved everyone else was to be them at that point in time and not us. It was so awful that they didn’t even laugh at us. Usually we laugh at those who get the toughest sessions. Not tonight. Everyone was humbled into silence by what Tebogo and I had been given. I meekly asked Dave, “What time do they turn off the floodlights?” He smiled sympathetically. I know he doesn’t get that I’m funniest when the suffering’s the worst. I was only lapped 4 times by Tebogo and together we managed to encourage each other through this horrific ordeal. I’m tapering.

Horror of horrors, Illuminati Michelle arrived at time trial the next day and, without my permission, began to pace me through the 5km route. I was dying. I wanted to run away from her, but she would just have kept up with me. I wanted to faint and pretend to die, but she would have made me get up and carry on. This was brutal. She left me with about 350 metres to go at a pace which would have seen me run a PB 5km time trial and, as soon as she was around the corner, I stopped running, thanked God that she was gone and ambled to the end of the time trial. I was still only 20 seconds off my PB, but it just showed me what a lazy couch potato I can still be given the right incentive! Michelle shook her head at me when I told her how I goofed off as soon as her back was turned. I am tapering, after all!

The next day, being a Wednesday, was a track day and I loooked forward with trepidation to the evening’s events. Ah, my dear friend, Bruce arrived. Bruce is not a running friend and so it would be cool to hang out with someone that knew me as something other than just a total underachiever. Bruce is also an uber athlete who goes at everything he does 128%, so I was sure it wouldn’t be too far into the session before he was lapping me. We ran the warm up together and he took pity on me and ran slow as a snail with me at the back. I know he was itching to race forward with the Illuminati, but friendship prevailed and he loitered at the back with me. 800m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest, 1000m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest, 1200m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest 1000m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest, 800m @ 5km race pace, 1 minute rest, 4 x 200m @ threshold pace with 2 minutes rest in between. “What’s threshold pace?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “The pace you’d run 1500m.” “Six minutes per kilometre?” I joked. I would run 1500m the same as I run everything else. Slowly. As it turns out, that’s not entirely true. The session was brutal. I cried during the last 800m but quickly pulled myself towards myself. And then how is this? I was so overwhelmed by the kindness of my Illuminatii Tebogo and Michelle. They finished all their brutal session (same as mine) and then waited for me so that they could run the 200m sprints with me. It was very cool and terrifying all at the same time. Tebogo was running behind me shouting instructions about my style and Michelle ran next to me pushing me to beat her to the 200m mark. I reckon if Comrades were 80 metres, I’d have a chance! It’s the 89.12 kilometres that are my downfall. I ran a couple of those 200m sprints in 3:30/km. That’s fast hey? It nearly killed me. But I’m tapering.

Michelle had told me at time trial that Saturday’s session was going to be ELE (Extermination Level Event). She told me to bring an energy drink, a lot of tissues and a bucket. A bucket? I don’t want to know. Dave had joked about the bucket when I was lining up for my 200m sprints. Surely not? A bucket? I arrived on Saturday with a lump in my throat. I hadn’t slept the night before because of the anxiety. I was so worried. Extermination Level Event. I anticipated death. If natural selection was something that was a factor in an extermination level event, then I was surely the one that was going to die. Surely, if Darwin is to be believed. In hindsight, I think that session where Illuminati Tebogo and I cried together was worse than ELE, but ELE was horrific. Especially because I never got the memo about the easy 5km route. I did the difficult 5km route in this session: (by the way, all track sessions are preceded by a 2.5km warm up which always makes me smile because there was a day not so long ago when that was the furthest I’d ever run.) Warm up, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute rest, 5km @ marathon pace, 1 minute rest, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute rest, 5km @ marathon pace, 1 minute rest, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 15 push ups (also a feature at the end of every track session). Illuminati then had to run for 70 minutes. I don’t remember what happened to me after that. Seriously, I don’t remember. I was faint. I felt like I had a head injury. Which is how one is supposed to feel when one is tapering, right? Do runners understand the nuances of the English language? this was not tapering. Torture, maybe. Tanking, maybe. Terrifying, maybe. Tapering? Not so much. And the next day I was supposed to run a 32km race. Fuck that! I turned off at the 15km mark and moped my way back into the stadium for a personal best 15km time! This tapering thing might be working for me.

The subsequent track sessions have been shit, but not as awful as that week. I’ve missed one (okay two now) this week because I’m working in purgatory, I mean Bloemfontein. Oh ja, on the weekend, I ran a personal best time for a 25km race. Okay, so I’ve never run a 25km race before but, I also beat my 21km time at that race by….wait for it….21 minutes! Doesn’t that totally rock? 21 minutes off a 21km time! You do the simple maths on that. Can I get a whoop whoop? But wait, that’s not all. Illuminati Michelle won the ladies veteran race and came 6th lady overall in that same race. In so doing, she also became the fastest veteran lady over 25km in South Africa this year. Awesome hey? And if only you knew how kind and generous with her talent she is and how humble she is. If you meet her, you’re luckier for it, trust me.

So seriously now, that’s my last “long run”. This track/tapering thing seems to be working. God-willing, it’s going to go well for me in 18 days’ time. If I can survive this tapering thing, I reckon the Comrades is going to be a breeze.

Yours in the terror of tapering.
Slow Coach.