I’ve Been Running and Running

I’ve been running. I know. I’m usually injured, but earlier in the year, I took up a class with a trainer. I have come to refer to said trainer affectionately as Satan’s Sister because of her uncanny and yet obvious genetic link to Lucifer, himself. Satan’s Sister was tasked to help me to run without pain. So far, I’m running with less pain, but now I can’t sit without pain. I can’t bend without pain. I can’t lift my arms to brush my hair without pain. All because I’m getting my money’s worth from Satan’s Sister.

So because Satan’s Sister is doing such a great job, my running has improved. I find myself regularly running Parkrun under thirty minutes and on Sunday I ran a really tough ten kilometres in just 56:30. (And I limped for the last two kilometres, but more about that just now.)

I ran Old Mutual Two Oceans Long Trail in April! They turned the route around this year and it was so much harder than last year. Eighteen kilometres of climbing, half of which was actually climbing stairs! I only cried once however and amazingly enough, that was as the downhill finally arrive. I managed to beat last year’s time by half an hour so I was mighty chuffed with that. Cape Town is still a shit place and the fucking weather was bipolar on that race. It was freezing, then it was raining, then it was sweltering hot, then it was raining, then we nearly got blown off the mountain, then it was sunny, then it was freezing. And it didn’t take me 15 hours to run the race. All that happened in just 4 hours! Stupid place!

The next week I was off to Mpumalanga for my favourite ultra, Loskop 50km! If you do one ultra distance road race in your life, it should be Loskop. It is a truly beautiful race and I can’t tell you why. You will only understand when you actually do it yourself. Please do. But don’t go out too fast. I have. Twice. Out of the twice that I have run the race. I started off wanting to run under 5.40. I went out for the first 15km running at 5.15 pace. I carried on in much the same vein until 30km when I proceeded to run my fastest kilometre of the day up one of the steeper hills on the race. At 31km I  started walking. At 36km I sobbed all the way up Buggers Hill. I walked for the majority of the rest of the race and came home in a dismal 6.10. Lol. I certainly hope I’ve learned my lesson this time.

The next Thursday was Freedom Day and I went out for a lovely day of running around Gauteng  running 9 Parkruns. Really, do this one next year. You don’t have to run all 9. You can run just a few. But what an awesome day out. Obviously, by Parkrun 7, my legs were finished from the massive distance I’d put on them over the two weeks and they started to get sore….like injured sore, not just sore.

But I kept at Satan’s Sister classes and stretching and doing all the runs I’m supposed to do. I was coming top 10 on all my Parkruns and I was achieving times I had never before run. And this week it all caught up with me. I’ve been unable to do some of the exercises SS gives me because my back has been sore. And after every session, she stretches the crap out of my previously non-existent hamstrings and I’m getting stretchier. But the stretching on one end, I think has led to the non-stretch elastic band pulling tight on the other end. I went to my best friend, the physio last week Wednesday because my ITB has been getting more and more painful going down stairs.  Clare-Anne told me it wasn’t ITB so much as a tight, very tight quad muscle and the pain I didn’t feel before I went there was my calf and Achilles. She loosened all those up and said she’d get to my back this week.

And like magic, I could go down stairs again, But my back was sore and it got worse and worse. When I ran the RAC 10km on Sunday, the entire elastic band finally gave up and at 8km, I got an excruciating and debilitating pain in the top of my foot. I ran with a limp for the last two kilometres. I went to the chiro yesterday for the neck and back that are in spasm. On Friday I have another appointment with Clare-Anne and as I type this, I can’t walk or run unless it’s in high heels. 

If you want me to explain why this is like this, I can, but suffice it is to say that I am that human body picture you see in doctors’ and physios’ and bios’ rooms. I am that song we learned in nursery school, Dem Bones. I am walking (in high heels only) proof that it is all connected. 

So now I am not running because, well because I can barely walk. And this is because I am injured. But I feel good. I feel like this is just a temporary healing time for my body to begin it’s next realignment to the new world order that is my machine, slowly turning into a runner.  I’m injured, but I haven’t felt this good about my running for years now. My body is excited about being strong and healthy. I feel very fortunate to be on this journey to becoming a “real” runner. 

Yours in the love of becoming a runner…

SLOWCOACH

Couch time

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

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

Goodnight!

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

Caved In

You know I live in the most beautiful country in the world. I’m a real city slicker, I confess. I can’t help it. I hate the smell of farms. Cows chase me. I’m afraid of horses. Peace and quiet unnerves me. I was built for the city. Admittedly, getting away for a couple of days to farmy places is good for the soul, I’m sure, but just for a few days. I can’t handle much more than that.

Deciding earlier this year that I didn’t want back on the Comrades conveyor belt of Joburg and Pretoria races, I discussed alternative races that I’d never run before with Illuminati Michelle. She recommended the Cango Caves marathon. Apparently a fast downhill route. Runners are liars and remember that Kaapsemoer was downhill and, I’m yet to believe, fast but it leaves runners broken. I really want to run a sub-4 marathon. Big ask, considering my personal best marathon time, run in March last year at the Kosmos 3-in-1, is a paltry 4:24. What am I talking about? 4:24 is a very good time for a marathon, I just wanted a sub-4. I tell you, if I run a sub-4 marathon, I can give up running because I’ll know then that it can’t get better than that. Crumbs! Every step is a miracle, never mind a sub-4 marathon. *cue tinging bells and angel light shining down from heaven* A fast route was just what I would need to try for my sub-4. As long as I don’t screw things up in training and go out too far too fast too much, then I should stay relatively injury free and be in good shape to run a sub-4. That’s what I thought, anyway. Michelle and I decided that Cango Caves marathon was exactly what we were going to do. She would go for her sub-3 and I would go for a sub-4.

What is Cango Caves? Cango Caves is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. And I’ve seen Michelangelo’s Pieta! And you should see my sons! Really. Cango Cave is the most beautiful anything. It’s a network of caves consisting of stalagmites and stalactites and what was that other thing we saw…..um…flowstones, that’s right. Flowstones. The caves are an extensive system of tunnels and chambers over 4km long in the Swartberg Mountains. More about them later. What is the marathon? It’s a relatively undulating, downhill route from the entrance of the Cango Caves to the infantry school in Oudtshoorn. Where is all this? In the desert! I’m not joking with you. Michelle and I were going to try respective PBs for a marathon in the desert…in summer. Average high in February/March is 30 degrees celsius. It’s a fast route, as long as you don’t die from heat stroke on the way down the mountain!

So Iluminati Michelle and her wife, Michelle and I headed off for Oudtshoorn at the tail end of summer. I’m not sure what I expected of Oudtshoorn. It’s famous for Ostrich farming. Ostriches are indigenous to the area and at some point ostrich feathers were all that and the farming industry there boomed. Since then, a bout of avian flu wrecked that industry, but the town remains a hub of wine and dairy farming and of course, there’s the infantry school. It’s such a lovely place. I really will go back, notwithstanding my city slickerness tendencies. The people have these old school values which make them both serene and friendly. And sheez! That place is so clean. No litter anywhere, except for Meiringspoort. More about that later. Oh! I suppose Meiringspoort isn’t Oudtshoorn. My guess is that the army base has something to do with the spirit of Oudtshoorn. It’s a lovely place.

We flew to George on Friday afternoon, picked up a car with a very wet back seat, picked up a car with a dry back seat, and drove the hour and a half journey to Oudtshoorn. George was also way too friendly to be a real city. My back’s sore. Have a I told you? My hip flexors are frozen in a seated position due to my job which has me sitting on my ass sometimes for 9 hours in a day. I’m really not exagerrating. There have been days when I’ve stood up from my chair, groaned and realised that I’d been sitting in that chair in that position for 9 hours. Yes. I don’t need to go to the toilet often. I ran a 12-hour Comrades Marathon and didn’t go to the toilet once. Judge me if you like. I might not have a Comrades medal if that weren’t a predisposition of mine. Anyway, so my job has buggered up my hip flexors, but I’m out there running marathons and doing speed work and the like so something’s gotta give, right. It was, as Clare-Anne had predicted, my back’s turn next to be a pain. So my lower back had been in spasm for two weeks as I approached Oudtshoorn. Sitting on the flight. Sitting in the car. Sitting sitting sitting. My back was buggered. I’d had an emergency appointment with Francis just before heading off to Oudtshoorn and she’d given me some stretches which I still can’t do but which helped. They helped, but all the sitting didn’t. Urgh! When am I ever going to be a real runner?

So Friday we got to our beautiful little organic farm with…fuck, I don’t remember, some fancy cows that the owner of the farm seemed very pleased about because these fancy cows had just had a baby. I was just thinking, you people sell organic beef. Don’t be excited about the birth of an animal that you’ve sentenced to either sexual slavery or death, but I digress. Like I said, city slicker vegetarian tendencies. The farm – De Kombuys – was so tranquil and picturesque and beautiful. Michelle and Michelle had a nap and I went to look around. The farm owner had told us to go and look, but to close gates behind us. I walked towards the cows, unhooked the gate and spent the next 10 minutes trying to get the fukcing gate closed again. And then the cows started moving in my direction. I had visions of being trampled in a mad cow stampede as they smelled the smell of imminent freedom beyond what was usually a closed gate. The only thing in between them and their freedom at this point was my skinny arm holding the gate closed. Panic overwhelmed me and I whimpered. I thought of calling out for help, but acknowledged even in my panicked state that that would be pathetically city slickerish of me. The fancy cows started moooing at the “ordinary” cows that were seeking their freedom. Probably because the freedom-seekers were getting too close to the fancy pants baby that had just been born. The freedom-seekers stopped heading towards me and regarded the fancy pants cows with bemusement and a certain amount of what seemed like disdain. This gave me time to try and figure out to latch the rudimentary gate lock. By using my big toe and all my might, I was able to pull the gate, pull the lever, bend down (with frozen hip flexors and spasmodic back and everything), hook the latch over the bottom of the pole and then realise that I’d have to do it again because I was still inside the freedom-seekers’ enclosure. Unhook the latch with my big toe, unhook the lever, unwind the wire, catch the gate as it fell over, jump out the enclosure, hold the gate up as it fell over the other way, pull the gate, pull the lever, bend down, pull the pole down, use my big toe to hook the latch over the pole, wind the wire around the gate, unwind the wire because it was supposed to go the other side, wind the wire around the gate, hook the lever and pull the wire over the lever. Not a word of this is made up!

Does this count as my pre-race 20 minute easy run, I wondered to myself. Not that I’d run, but I was sweating and my heart was racing. I was exhausted. Michelle and Michelle got up and we decided to go first to check out the Cango Caves and then on to the Infantry School to pick up our numbers. We’d run our 20 minute easy pace run at the infantry school and then head out to supper, we decided. Illuminati Michelle’s Michelle wasn’t going to run this weekend so she was the designated driver.

The desert is very hot! The caves were cool. I can’t actually explain how magnificent the caves were. Photo’s just don’t do it justice, but I’ll post some of the pics that Michelle took. Suffice it to say, it just got onto your bucket list. Trust me. No runner liars on this one. I’m saving the word “spectacular” for later. After watching some of the cricket highlights, we headed off to the Infantry school to pick up our numbers and to do our pre-race easy run. Please note my liberal use of the word “easy”. I really have to find other friends.  The number picking up thing was delightfully festive. It seemed like the whole town of Oudtshoorn had come out to do the fun run and join in the lead up to the marathon. Just wonderful! There was pannekoek. Yor! I love pannekoek. Only Afrikaans people are allowed to call something pannekoek, I’ve decided.

Michelle and I changed and we trudged towards our “easy” run. Both of us have largely sitting jobs and so we’re both prone to stiff hip flexors aka sore butts and tight quads, so the idea of starting a run never fills either of us with enthusiasm. But we knew in 20 minutes, which is no time at all, this would be over. Oh my God! Michelle set off at her easy pace. Oh my God, is exactly how my prayer began. Many people were still coming in to finish the 5km fun run and we were running at Illuminati pace in the opposite direction. I had forgotten my sunglasses which upset me because now people could see the horror of this experience etched in those windows to my soul, which was just about where I could feel the etching taking place. Michelle was chatting. I was close to tears. I was gasping for air and we were basically at sea level. I couldn’t stop and whine about giving up or walking or slowing down. There were all these people looking on in awe. Someone even shouted, there go the winners of the marathon. Little did they know, that for one of us, that could have been the case. I had kept up this “easy” pace for three hundred metres and I wanted to walk home to Joburg. I felt like tripping Michelle or just pushing her into the desert dirt. Six minutes went by and I felt like my life was ending. I felt like I had but three minutes left to live. And was this the way I wanted to spend the final three minutes of my life? At least I was spending it with my friend, but fuck! I didn’t like her much at this point. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to be funny or if she thought pushing me to breaking point would be good for my personal growth or maybe she thought I would in this way become an Illuminati overnight and she’d have some company for her sub-3 the next day.  Whichever it was, my praying continued, but at a much more spiritual level. 8 minutes. This watch must be broken. How can we only have been doing this for 8 minutes? When is the 20 minutes going to be over? I don’t want to run a fucking marathon! I want to go have dinner. I want pannekoek. I want the other Michelle. I just want this to end. I’m going to die. Currently, I am supposed to have been dead for 2 minutes and I’m still here. Fuck this place! God has left me. There is no god in the desert. 11 minutes into the torture, Illuminati Michelle took pity on me and told me she would run ahead. You mean you’re going to run faster than this? God bless you. Don’t come back to fetch me, please. You go ahead. Let me die with some dignity on my own here. I swear, I’m never running with Illuminati Michelle again. You hear? I’m never running with her or her kin ever again until I’m 80. Oh no!! She turned back to fetch me. God, please help me. Isn’t this an earthquake region? Now would be a good time. Please save me from this final damnation. 13 minutes and the torture continued. At least this was a downhill. It wasn’t, but by now my legs were going so fast that I had no control over their motion so it felt sort of like a downhill. Into the home stretch, I misjudged the distance to go and I decided to simply run flat out because I just wanted this to be over and 20 minutes wasn’t arriving fast enough for me, but the Infantry school was so I could end this. I misjudged and I felt the springs attaching my heart to my skeleton starting to break off. I’m sure I even heard a “sproing” sound. 16 minutes. Could this 20 minutes be any longer? Yes, it could. I was filled with horror. And the end was up a hill. I tried to run away from Michelle because that seemed like the most practical thing to do, but of course that was not only not possible, but also terribly stupid. What if I’ve broken myself before tomorrow’s marathon? What was even more horrific was the realisation that I would be expected to run not much slower than this for 42.2km tomorrow. That’s the worst thing I could ever imagine happening. The 20 minutes ended mercifully on 19:58, only because I had caused a change in the weather with the sweat pouring from my body and it was likely that they’d ask me to leave because I was scarring and scaring small children. Sweat poured from my head for the next 3 hours.

We had appallingly slow service at the Ocean Basket in Oudtshoorn, but the waitress was a lovely young girl. I didn’t really notice because I was still in a critical state of trauma. But the out of body experience I was having was both compassionate to me and useful to divert my friends’ attention from the fact that I had, in fact, undergone some kind of traumatic accident on the streets of Oudtshoorn. I was trying to be cool about the whole thing, but I was concerned that I had done myself a disservice on this eve of a marathon which, with my back spasm, was looking to be less and less achievable.

I had three plans:

  • Plan A – Sub-4:00 which would mean a D seeding for Comrades. Remember?
  • Plan B – Sub 4:10 which would be a PB and a F seeding for Comrades
  • Plan C – Sub 4:20 which would be a PB and a F seeding for Comrades
  • Plan D – Qualify for Comrades with a sub-5:00 which would be the worst case scenario and if this came to pass, I would know that an ambulance would be involved.

I knew that I had trained for Plan A, but my back was getting worse as the evening progressed. I had packed 2 anti-spasmodics and 2 Panados for the race, but painkillers sometimes make me sluggish so I wasn’t very keen on using them. When I lined up at the start of the marathon, I was amped and excited and ready to go for Plan A. This is possibly my favourite marathons to date. I loved it. Even when my back spasmed at 9km, I loved it. Even when it spasmed again at 24km and then I got stitches all the way down my abs, I loved this race. At no point, even when I knew I was 12 minutes behind schedule to achieve Plan A, did I stop trying for Plan A. It was just a fantastic race. The mountains are beautiful, the army’s efficient organisation was unrivalled. The people of the Western Cape are lovely. I’ll go back a thousand times. I ended up running a 4:16 which I did with a huge smile on my face at the end. Michelle had a wobbly at 24km, just like me and managed to finish one hour ahead of me. Neither of us achieved what we went there to achieve, but we got something else entirely and so it was the best marathon I’ve ever run.

I’ll tell you more about the rest in a while. Your bucket list now includes the Cango Caves (the marathon too if that’s your thing). In a little while, you’ll get another bucket list item.

Okay, gotta run.

I’ll chat to you later.

Yours in the love of discovering

SlowCoach