Ethiopia calling

Probably the greatest long distance runner in history (not considering the history that Eliud Kipchoge is currently making) is Haile Gebrselassie. He won two Olympic gold medals over 10,000 metres and four 10000 metre World Championship titles. He won the Berlin Marathon four times in a row and the Dubai Marathon three times consecutively. In 2001 he was the World Half Marathon Champion.

Gorgeous to watch!

Haile is my age and hails from central Ethiopia. If you’ve ever watched him run, you’ll be aware that he’s always chatting to his opponents. He loves competition. When he was at the top of his game, there was little competition for him and so he would coach and encourage and possibly cajole his opponents in races. What an amazing thing to do! His sportsmanship always filled me with admiration and watching him race filled me with joy. And I wasn’t even a runner then. I was joyfully watching and admiring him from my couch! Around the tail end of his illustrious career, I was working for the government of Ethiopia on a project which was run from Johannesburg. I was young and stupid and starry-eyed and I don’t think I was very good at my job, but I was helping to develop young people and I was getting to broaden my horizons by meeting people of a cultural group I’d never known before. It was mind-broadening stuff.

Ethiopia at the time was dichotomous. The African Union headquarters had recently been established in Addis Ababa (it’s actually pronounced Abhebhah and so the English spelling is shit! Colonialists are often lazy linguists!)  As a result, loads of development was taking place and infrastructure was being upgraded. Haile himself had contributed to the building of highways and malls and other infrastructure, humbly giving back to the land of his birth. The poverty, however, was everywhere. In South Africa, poverty location was legislated for decades and so poverty is mostly localised to certain areas, largely invisible to the middle and upper classes. In Ethiopia, no such arrangement exists and the poverty and wealth intermingle, creating a stark and jarring contrast. And there’s a lot of poverty. Real poverty. People who think South Africa is a 3rd world country know nothing of 3rd world things or else there is a 5th world. Aside from the less obvious lessons that my love affair with Ethiopia taught me, there are two that have stayed with me since then and that I think of often.

1. Who am I?

Our company worked with an Ethiopian agent named Akalu. Akalu and I became friends. In Ethiopian culture, it is customary to call someone for example Mr Akalu or Mrs SlowCoach or Mr John or Mrs Mary. Akalu had recently become engaged to Lidet. So Mr Akalu was engaged to Mrs Lidet. This was interesting to me because at some point, according to prevailing Western culture at the time, Mrs Lidet would become Mrs Akalu in theory. But those are first names. How would it work? So I asked Akalu what people would call Mrs Lidet once she got married. He looked puzzled and said that people would call her Mrs Lidet. I laughed and said, that if I were to get married to him, I would go from being Miss Taylor to Mrs Mamo, explaining the Western norm. He contemplated that for a moment and by way of explaining, I said, “Where I come from, when a woman gets married, she usually changes her name.” He replied, “Why? Where you come from does a woman forget who she is when she gets married?” It was such a poignant commentary on “Western” “civilisation” and I’ve never forgotten it. Now I also look puzzled when women change their names when they get married and I always wonder if they’ve maybe forgotten who they are.

2. Two days’ bread

The project I worked on required that we employ mainly Ethiopian nationals living in South Africa. One of the positions was for a cultural advisor. It was a well-paid position and a specific amount was allocated to this role. We interviewed a number of people and Lidetu got the position. (Lidetu is the male form of Lidet and the name means the birth of Christ or Christmas. It’s quite a common name in Ethiopia.) Lidetu was a humble man, like most Ethiopians I’ve met. A good man, dedicated to education and to experiencing the world.  When it came time to negotiate salary with Lidetu, the amount I offered was more than he was willing to accept. This was a concept I’d never had to deal with before, but he was emphatic. “I cannot accept that much money, please.” “I’m sorry, Lidetu, but I have to pay you this much.” “That is too much.” “How much is too much?” I asked, tongue in cheek. And then Lidetu silenced me with words that I have been forced to consider regularly ever since. “My God says I should only have enough money for two days’ bread.” I’ll let you think about that for a moment. My God says I should only have enough money for two days’ bread. Imagine a world where that was a guiding principle. Just imagine! Lidetu and I came to an agreement. He took his two days’ bread as salary and the remainder I transferred to a Danish university, where he went and studied something in the humanities. I hope he is well. I hope he found love. I wish the world was full of Lidetus. I wish I was more like Lidetu. I wish two days’ bread was the way we lived. Do I live a two days’ bread life? How would I even start?

I have never fallen out of love with Ethiopia. In marathons, even when Eliud or Wilson Kipsang are racing, I secretly always root for the Ethiopians. Kenya dominates these days, but the humility and goodness of the Ethiopian people I’ve met and who’ve impacted my life always makes me wish that we could once again see a humble star like Haile rise again. I’ve never been back to Ethiopia since those days, but I still follow their news with keen interest. I would love to return again to see if it’s still the beautiful, humble, dichotomous place I fell in love with before I was this jaded, teenager-beaten, worn out Comrades runner I have become.

It’s calling me.

Yours in the pursuit of two days’ bread.

SlowCoach

Yoga Schmoga Part II

Yeah, anyway. I thought I’d give it a chance because, by now I’m a bit more grown up, I’ve run the Comrades Marathon which pretty much means I can do anything I set my mind to and my body is a bit stronger than the time that impossibly good looking woman was swanning between impossible poses on my new TV. My TV is older now and I’ve discovered Netflix. So I’m regaining my couchness again which is comforting. I’m still running, slowly, but I’m running small distances.

I’m sure you’re wondering how I ended up in a fucking flaming hot yoga studio. So am I. As I type this, I can’t really remember how EP talked me into joining yoga for a month. I think it had something to do with my paying for our RAC membership and so if she pays for a month of limitless. Limitless yoga, then we’d be square. That’s a whole year of limitless running versus a month of limitless yoga. Fuck it! I’m such a moron!

We signed up at a place called The Yoga Republic. An entire hippie place filled with very serious hippie yogaists. That’s not a word and I’m sure I’m coming back for another round of earth life for making that word up. Everyone is very serious about the yoga art/sport/practise/life. I think I just don’t belong there.

Anyway. EP signed us up for one month . There’s a calendar of all sorts of yoga classes. There’s Hot 26+, Air Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Yoga Shred inspired class, Kundalini Yoga, Ashtanga, TRE and the non-descript list goes on. I, like you, still have no fucking idea what I’m signing up for when i read those words. There are two classes that have names which tell you what you’re going to get, and would you know it, those are the two classes I’m really enjoying. I can’t do half the shit in the class, but I’m enjoying them. The one class is called Restorative Yoga and works with your parasympathetic nervous system. Perfect for handkerchief on the sleeve, me! I cried in the first class which is apparently quite normal. The second time, I had my shit together and I was able to do some of the poses. Long, slow and deep / Yin yoga was not as erotic as it sounds, but it was good for my stressed runners body. I got a laugh out of the instructor for this one when she described some ridiculous pose, akin to checking for a tennis ball that’s rolled under the bed, but without putting your hands on the ground. I was struggling to get into the pose and she walked over, and nodded knowingly. “Yes, do you have a shoulder injury?” Clearly having seen this problem before on someone. “Not yet,” I confirmed. At least I got a laugh out of someone yogaey. EP sniggered next to me.

Many of the classes are done in a hot studio. Apparently, the studio hasn’t been hot enough for the past few weeks as there is something wrong with the heating mechanism. I won’t be going back if they fix the heating because I’ve run a marathon in the desert in summer and I’ve never been as hot as I was in that fucking studio today. Some moron yogaists complained that it was cold. Chops! EP and I were faint and nauseous from the heat. EP looked at me at one stage today and said, “Should we just go?” I stayed, mainly to see how much I could take, and of course because I’ve run the Comrades Marathon so I could do this. Although, I must admit that today, I probably only did 10 percent of the poses. At one point i looked at a guy in the class and wondered where the fuck he’d put his head in one particular pose. At another time, I looked up from the pose I had only barely managed to get into and everyone had turned into magical tea sets hanging in the air. I wondered how they had morphed into levitating teasets while I looked like Mildred the Hippo, sitting with my knee hanging over my shoulder by my ear. I mean, I managed to get my knee hanging over my shoulder by my ear and that wasn’t good enough? I was supposed to “flow” from that into levitating tea set, instead of grunting and plomping onto my side, unable to “flow” my shoulder out from under my arm. I shall not go back for Hot Flow Yoga!

I’ll tell you what I’ve got out of yoga. I am more relaxed. Seriously, either work has lightened up significantly, or I’m just feeling more relaxed. I’m learning how to breathe. My lung capacity is getting larger and I’m breathing better. I’ve only done 4 classes, but I’m feeling lighter and calmer. It’s a good feeling. I dread the classes because the stretching is just horrendous and of course the humiliation factor is still dialled all the way to the right. But I’m feeling better for the yoga. I still prefer running and I still prefer the couch over all this silliness, but I’ll keep at it for the remainder of the month because hey, I ran the Comrades Marathon. I can do this!

Namaste

LongSlowDeepCoach

A Box Full of Knives

I got what I deserved this weekend. 4.16 is my personal best time for a marathon. I like to think that’s a pretty decent time for a marathon. Of course, when you’re friends with women who run marathons in 2.47 or thereabouts, you just always feel like a loser! “You’re not supposed to be comparing yourself to Comrades gold medallists,” snapped EP. Anyway, personal best 4.16. So when I crossed over the finish line at Kaapsehoop Marathon on Saturday in 4.58, one would think I’d be a bit disappointed. But I did a little air punch, smiled, bowed my head in gratitude and, of course, started crying.

When EP entered me into the Kaapsehoop Marathon on 3 June this year, we knew I needed a totally unachievable goal to get me off my couch and back out onto the road to recovery. The majority of my injury was over. I was still experiencing pain going up and down stairs, but I could run when the moment inspired me. I had put on almost 10kgs and I was breathlessly unfit. Getting onto the road was demoralizing and frustrating. But now I had something ridiculous that I had to train for and it had an end date to it. Amazing how student syndrome can be inspiring. How was I going to go from barely managing a 35 minute 5km time trail to a marathon in just 5 months? You just have to start somewhere. So I started. In a poetic twist, I started the day before Comrades in Durban. I was going to run Umhlanga Parkrun and maybe a little short warm up beforehand. I told EP and Lehlohonolo I’d do the warm up with them on their easy run. I won’t do that again. The little warm up was over 9km, run at pancreatic-failure speed. I wanted my 300 Parkrun points so I went from 5km time trial to PB 15km as a start to my marathon training. I really do try to be normal most of the time. It doesn’t come easily to me.

I had started my road to Kaapsehoop and it wasn’t as bad as one might have imagined. My broken knee and foot were a little sore after that run, but I rested it until I got back from helping at Comrades and started again….A little more circumspect this time. For the most part, I did my running return on my own except for a few lovely runs hanging on by my fingernails to EP and meeting some beautiful, almost long lost friends along the way. It was good to come back, slowly but surely.

EP fell early in August and tore ankle ligaments which had me having to get myself out of my bed and onto the road while EP snoozed away. It was tough on some of the colder days, but as Kaapsehoop’s date drew nearer, it became easier to haul my ass around the various neighbourhoods on runs.

Illuminati Michelle has turned coach and set up coaching sessions at RAC on Mondays and Randburg Harriers on Wednesdays. (You can join us on either evening from 5.30pm) I joined her for track when my foot was ready and started slowly. Work was crazy, so I only really got to track once every second week and both weekend long runs. I was getting stronger from the focussed programme my new bio had given me and things were looking positive for Kaapsehoop. I foam rolled. Every. Single. Day. I became very disciplined and focussed as October rolled around and I started planning for my date with my nemesis.

On the day, I was really terrified. I felt under-prepared. I had a plan which would see me finish in just under 5 hours, but really I would have been happy to get to the stadium in under 5.30 or even just get to the stadium. But I knew the treachery that was about to unfold on my still fragile legs. As I emerged from the forest near Kaapsehoop, just 9km into the marathon, I had my first cry and it was a cry of fear. I saw the downhill roll itself out like a red carpet in front of me and I couldn’t imagine how I was going to manage this. And then this calm enveloped me. A little voice said, you have nothing to prove. You have nothing to qualify for. You have nothing but yourself and your best and that’s what you will be today. You won’t be this race’s best. You won’t be your friends circle’s best. You won’t be any best except your best and you won’t even be your best ever best. You will be your best today. And that’s exactly what I did. I ran the race I planned. I forgave myself when I was behind and high fived myself when I was ahead. I was being the best me I could be on that day and I had a really wonderful run.

You know, running is like a gift of a box of knives. It’s a gift, but it has really sharp and painful edges to it. It teaches lessons that are usually quite unwelcome when the teacher arrives, but the lessons are gifts in every sense of the word. I received a huge gift from my favourite little knife this week. Thank you Kaapsehoop for the sharp stabbing pains in my calf today, but thank you for reminding me how to be my best, not by forcing myself forward, but rather just by being myself.

I ran most of the race in my own little bubble. I ran a few kilometres chatting to a lady who runs marathons for fun and I spent a poignant few minutes with Ingrid who I know is an amazing trail runner and was struggling at the end of her first road marathon. I was so inspired by her finish on Saturday. Truly inspired. I was also inspired by my own race. I managed a sub-5, just as I had planned….to the minute! I am less broken now than in previous post Kaapsemoer years.

Buddha says that when the student is ready, the master teacher will arrive. We sometimes like that master teacher. We more often dislike that teacher intensely. I now know why I’ve kept going back to my little box of knives in Nelspruit. Make no mistake, this marathon is almost beyond compare in it’s beauty. It is also almost beyond compare in it’s physical brutality and it’s mental torture in the last 8km. I have loved and hated this marathon and now I know why. I am the student and I was not ready.

Thank You for my box of knives. Thank you, Kaapsehoop Marathon, my favourite knife in the box.

Yours in the love of the gift that is running

SlowCoach

P.S. On our annual detour home from Kaapsehoop this year we met this amazing family who I know are just another little gift I get from running. Nice to meet you, Buxy and Mohammed!

The Tortoise and The Hare is an Actual Thing

Yes it is! Check it out here.

The Tortoise and the Hare in Real Life

I found that funny and somewhat comforting. Anyway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in achievable milestones.

SlowCoach

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

Forteeee Twoooooo! Yor! Yor! Yor!

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

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

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

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

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

Yor!s in the love of running and temporary things

Slow Coach

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

 

 

 

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.

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

The Comrades Marathon 2014 – Slow Coach-style

If I were to choose a personal theme for Comrades 2014, it would have to be: You Shouldn’t Do Life Alone. I’m not going to bore you with the details of the journey down to Durban and then the journey to Pietermaritzburg or the church service the night before or the shared sleeping arrangements the night before or dinner or anything else leading up to my standing in the “pen” for G-batch, but those too consist of my not being able to do it alone. Remember I explained the batches previously in the blog about the starting pens at Comrades? It shall suffice to say, however, that I was way out of my comfort zone and my routine was thrown out of the window the night before Comrades. Except for the Catholic church. You can always count on McDonalds and the Catholic church to remain the same wherever you go in the world! Very comforting. So luckily I had a bit of Catholic church the night before Comrades.

I would have slept. Everyone says you don’t sleep the night before Comrades. I would have slept if it weren’t for the lady in the room next door talking on her phone the whole night. I would have slept if it weren’t for the fireworks at the Royal Show down the road at midnight and the person who got up at 2am to get ready for the race and the person who was texting next to me from 2.45am and the people who decided to get up at 3am to get ready for the race. I would have slept if it weren’t for them. But I managed to get about 4 hours sleep on and off so I was okay. I had slept well during the week so I was ready when eventually Caroline, Joseph, Phyllis and I decided we may as well join them because we couldn’t beat them.  I hope our laughing and chatting woke up the lady next door. I was giddy with excitement. I was going to run the Comrades Marathon. Seriously! I was going to run the Comrades Marathon. All the preparation the year before and the diet and the early mornings and so on faded into insignificance because I was going to run the Comrades Marathon.

The setup at the start was a little like a rugby match or a rock concert where, depending on the block name on your race number, you were allowed to go into certain gates and walk around. We had to walk a few blocks down to get to our pleb starting pens. But then I was standing there. And I was all alone. Over the past few months, I’ve been training hard to get faster and faster and so all my usual running buddies were either those Illuminati from track who were in A, B or C pens or they were Cool Kids or K(ak)-Teamers like I used to be and were in H batch. I didn’t recognise anyone in G batch. So I stood there in the dark, cool Pietermaritzburg street alone, surrounded by hundreds of other people who were also excited to be running the Comrades Marathon. (I should but shouldn’t mention at this stage that I am aware that I was standing with some people who had registered their qualifying times incorrectly and had been seeded in G-batch but they hadn’t actually qualified to run Comrades at all….makes me sad, but I know that to get to G-batch you have to work really hard which I had and to finish after being in G-batch, you have to be prepared to work hard for another 12 straight hours in order to finish. I hope they also realise that now.)

The Comrades Marathon is nothing like you see on TV. TV is unable to capture the Comrades Marathon. Not even a little bit. That start is electrifying. The national anthem always brings me to tears. How much more so as I stood there surrounded by South Africa. The South Africa that I love. The South Africa that is not about colour. The South Africa that is many people from different backgrounds and differents cultures and different languages and different religions and different colours all in love with going forward in harmony. Running is a beautiful metaphor for everything that South Africa is at heart. I remember how we felt when we hosted the world for the FIFA World Cup. I feel that every time I line up for a race. Even more so now as I lined up for the most beautiful race in our country. The Comrades Marathon. What a privilege to experience that in my life. I wish that feeling at that start of that race on everyone I love. The national anthem was followed by Shosholoza which was fun and we all started ambling forward as the barriers between the batches were dropped. And then came the strains of Vangelis. The pure physical experience of that song booming off the buildings around you and up your legs into your rib cage is chilling and warming and enthralling and exhilirating and stupifying all at once. Then suddenly a scratchy vinyl cock crow sounded and the cannon blasted and we were off. I had started the 2014 Comrades Marathon. It still seems surreal to me.

I had befriended Karen at the start but during the ambling process we lost one another and I ran forward slowly and cautiously in this mass all alone. I ran cautiously because people get there at 4am and eat their breakfast and read the newspaper and wear a plastic bag to protect them from the cold and when they stand up, they just leave everything on the bloody floor. In the dark morning and surrounded by bodies, you could easily trip on something and fall before even going over the start line. For about two kilometres I ran slowly, cautiously. I met Wesley from Midack and we ran together cautiously for some time. I ran down Polly Shortts. Seriously! I ran down the Polly Shortts. My knee alerted me to that fact. My knees still hate the downhills which did not bode well for me on this, the down run Comrades. Just before the Lion Park timing mat at 17km, Wesley met up with friends of his and they ran ahead. They were going much faster than I would have been comfortable with at this point. I was already 10 minutes ahead of my timing band and I was mostly comfortable so I didn’t need to overdo it. So I was alone again. But that’s okay. I can run alone for hours if need be.   The chicken farms stank, more so for me because, not only am I the quinessential city slicker, I was also very good at couch potatoing before this whole “run the Comrades Marathon” nonsense. There are no chicken farms near my couch.

And something about the chicken farms made my legs decide that this was not something they really wanted to be doing and they’d much rather prefer to go back to the couch. What? What do you mean “back to the couch”? We’ve got another 70 kilometres to run! Get a move on! Nope! Just like that. 20kms into the race and my legs had decided not to. I felt like Quasimodo dragging my hunch behind me. I ran a 25km race the other day. I’d run further than this. What was happening? Why wouldn’t my legs just get going. How I wished I could see my family. I knew they were going to be on the route and I prayed, as I followed the many signs to Camperdown that they would be there. And just around the corner, there they were. I wish I had a photo to show you what a beautiful sight they were to me. This will have to suffice.

How awesome are these beautiful people? No-one on that race had a better support crew. I was overwhelmed when I saw them. One time too much so!

How awesome are these beautiful people? No-one on that race had a better support crew. I was overwhelmed when I saw them. One time too much so! From left to right: Ayrin, Melissa, Frantz, Bronwen, Christien, Gavin, Kirsten, Gavin (the dad), Johnny. Saskia is taking the picture.

So you can just imagine the joy I felt as I rounded this ungodly corner under a highway somewhere out in the Kwa-Zulu Natal nowhereland and saw this waiting for me. I ran towards them tearful and threw my arms around Ayrin, thanking her and God for being there.

This is what Thank God you are here looks like

This is what Thank God you are here looks like

(Oh ja, Frantz, Bronwen, Kirsten and Johnny weren’t at this first stop. They met me later.) My love tank all filled, I struggled forward. Still my legs were having a service delivery protest and my butt started to spasm. As I was running along the highway just after Camperdown (I ran through the Camperdown), I spotted Greg from Jeppe and I waved hello. He was taking a photo of a lady and he asked the two of us to pose for a pic. We did.

Lynn and I Posing for Greg's Photo

Lynn and I Posing for Greg’s Photo

And there I met Lynn from Germiston Callies.  Lynn and I would run the following 30 kilometres together, largely in silence. We simply took care of one another. Both of us were struggling with legs that just wouldn’t work and we both seemed to get over it at the same time. At Cato Ridge, Johnny and Kirsten surprised me by being at Comrades. What lovely friends to drive down from 2am that morning to follow me as I ambled along at a snail’s pace through the streets of the UmGungundlovu district and  eThekwini. And I had no idea they’d be there. Everyone on the planet knew except me. Lol! They were at Cato Ridge with Frantz and Bronwen and Christien and again I was greeted with love and hugs and kisses and Frantz (my wonderful son) ran with me for a short distance to make sure I wasn’t dying.

Lynn and I carried on going. The “manual” I had read says, “As you reach the back of Inchanga, the party is unfortunately over.” But I live in Northcliff. Lynn and I ran up most of Inchanga. Drummond, however, brought us to a grinding halt. We walked ran most of that. Lynn was focussed on running. I was focussed on stopping. Wait! That made me sound lazier than I am. What I meant was, Lynn would always get us going after a walk. I would pick a spot in the distance for us to start a walk so we weren’t just stopping abruptly whenever we felt like it, but rather pushing ourselves when we felt like our legs were getting tired. I got some love from Joe from Golden Reef which filled up the love tank and I got to dance a bit to Love Me Two Times by the Doors. People laughed at my dancing, but what the dancing does is relax me and also engage other muscles while stretching some muscles which, while running, tend to get a bit stiff and short. In addition, it endears the crowds to me, further filling up my love tank. A Comrades runner does not live by GUs alone. At halfway, I saw Floris running in the opposite direction to me on the pavement. I called him. Floris is an Illuminati at track. I asked him what he was doing. He told me he was going back. He was done. I started crying. He had worked as hard as me. Was his race truly over? What hope was there for this Slow Coach if Illuminati like Floris had stopped going forward?

The hills of Inchanga and Drummond were not too daunting because I knew that just after the halfway mark after Drummond, Chrissie and Lizle and probably my whole family and support crew would be waiting for me at the RAC support table at Alverstone. They were and they went mad for me. So mad for me that chaos ensued and I rummaged around in the pack I had left with Chrissie and took ….. nothing. I took nothing. I had lost all focus and I took nothing. Nothing to replenish my stores as I went forward for the second half of the race.

Very focussed on absolutely nothing.

Very focussed on absolutely nothing.

I have no idea what I was doing when this photo on the right was taken because it looks like I’m concentrating. Again, Frantz ran with me to make sure I wasn’t dying. He had seen me running this far at Kaapsehoop and I was close to death. Now I was 8km further than that and I was smiling. He was concerned that my smiles might be the quiet before the storm. Botha’s Hill was hard but Lynn and I were helping one another.

Lynn running silently alongside me as I run joyously towards my peeps

Lynn running silently alongside me as I run joyously towards my peeps

We never said a word, by the way. I know her name is Lynn. I know her mom and kids were at the stadium waiting for her. She knows my name is SlowCoach and that a whole entourage of people came to support me. The only other thing we know about one another is that we hate running with people who talk all the time. We would take turns getting water from the water points for one another and we’d help one another along. I think we ran along together until just after Hillcrest where she told me to go ahead. I’m not sure if that was because my regular surprised shout outs to the crowd to “Look at me! I’m running the Comrades Marathon!”  or my constant asking her where we were, were irritating her or because she needed a break and I was feeling strong at that point. Either way, I ran ahead alone. Again.

And this time it was awful. I cried as I ran along. I felt so emotional about doing the Comrades Marathon. I felt moved by my family and friends supporting me in the way they were. I felt like this was too hard for me. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of work that it had taken to get me even this little way. I felt that there was still such a long way to go. I felt like I’d never manage. I knew that Field’s Hill was still coming and my legs were already complaining. I felt afraid. A bus beckoned. Not a running a bus. A giving up bus. How would I let all those family and friends down if I got into that bus? I remembered Jenny and my words to each other at the Easter 100. “THE BUS IS NOT AN OPTION, SOLDIER!” At times it seemeed like a bloody good idea, even though it wasn’t an option apparently. There were times when I was running forward sobbing great big tears into my sunglasses as I looked down embarrassed to show the multitudes of supporters how pathetic I was being. At one point I shouted at God, “I know I’m supposed to get to the finish, but would you help here!!”

The three kilometre drop down Botha’s Hill had torn my legs to shreds and they were barely hanging in there as I ran/hobbled on through Hillcrest and Gillitts. The crowds supporting were now somewhat drunk, but were being helpful. I was lucky enough to spot Nigel and Dean in Hillcrest and I got my love tank filled up again. Actually, I don’t really know where I was when that happened, but I think it was somewhere between Hillcrest and Kloof. (Dean, you really should stop smoking!) All I was worried about was that Field’s Hill was coming and I hadn’t taken anything from the halfway table. I had no Rehidrats. I had no GUs. I had no food. Nothing. Luckily, Nedbank’s table with surely the most attractive women on the route happened at that start of the Nedbank Green Mile and the beautiful Romy, Simonne and Willow filled up a bottle of ice cold water with Rehidrat and gave it to me. I thanked them and enjoyed the sights in the Green Mile. Actually, I think the Green Mile was on a lunch break when I went through because nothing much was going on. The same thing with the Kearsney Boys. While I was running along, a guy came up next to me and he was covered in salt. I looked at him horrified and asked, “Dude! Are you okay? You look like you’re dehydrating.” He agreed. I had taken two sips of the Rehidrat, but he definitely needed it more than me so I passed it to him and told him to keep it. I know he was really grateful.

And then it happened. Field’s Hill.  I’d had sleepless nights about Field’s Hill in the run up to Comrades. After my brush with death at Kaapsehoop, I’ve dreaded meeting similar hills. Everyone had warned me about it. It was as shit as everyone had said! Hill was steep. Camber was treacherous. My butt cried out. My quads squealed. My knees collapsed every tenth step or so. But I carried on running. I had to. I had 4.5 hours to do 28kms. That’s plenty! Until I ran into a brick wall. I looked around me surprised. Everyone was walking. Everyone. “What the fuck is this?” I shouted out loud to no-one. I apologised to the family standing on the right and told the young girls, “Never use language like that unless you’re running the Comrades Marathon!” Sheepish. Someone who clearly had more runs than me on this treacherous route announced emphatically, “This, my dear, is Cowie’s Hill!” Well, I may as well have tied cement bricks to my shoes. It’s a steep hill in a super hot humid shady little area. Just over one thousand people live in the area known as Cowie’s Hill and I’m sure 364 other days of the year it’s quite a lovely place. On this day it was an abomination. I walked like everyone else. 19 minutes per kilometre at times. 19 minutes per kilometre! Holy shit! Was I crawling on my hands and knees? Almost! Oh, how I needed my family now. How desperately I needed my empty love tank filled even just a little. Jonathan from RAC helped a bit. I whined to him about how I had made the stupid schoolgirl error of leaving everything at halfway and how I didn’t think I would make it without anything. He promptly whipped out a GU and returned the Rehidrat favour. There’s another one of those metaphors for life again…thank you Jonathan. You were a great part of my journey. We ambled along together and I told him how lucky I was to have the family and friends I have and how I was hoping to see them soon. And as soon as I put it out there, there they appeared. I ran up to them crying. My legs were so sore after Cowie’s. So incredibly sore. I ran into the open arms  of Melissa and cried onto her ample and well positioned bosom. And an angel descended from heaven in the form of a Christien and sprayed the miracle drug onto my legs while I sobbed into Melissa’s chest. I gave kisses and a word of reassurance to my poor suffering son who thought that surely this was the end of my life. All were crying at this point. All were wondering why the fuck I would do this to myself. All were wondering what they would write on my tombstone. My love tank was full. My legs had received a shot of miracle drug and I ran away like I was setting off on a picnic in a beautiful green meadow. Pinetown is nothing like a beautiful green meadow and the crowds were now either drunk and shouting inappropriate comments or they were bored into comatose silence. But still so sweet and kind and generous. The people on this route are fabulous. The spirit that greets you as you suffer along lightens your load and fills you with energy and love. I hope they realise this and never stop supporting the way they do. Even the drunk and comatose ones.

After Pinetown, most of the race is run on the highway. You run on the highway. And the highway is steep, either up or down, it’s steep both ways even when you’re on the down run. It was in Westville, with just over 20kms to go that Warren ran up to me. He was running his fourth Comrades, but had spent a large part of the afternoon cramping. He had recovered and now ran with me. He kept telling me how awesome it was that I was doing so well. We both were. Just over 20kms to go and we still had three and a half hours to cut off. An easy task by any measure. Or so we thought. We took an aggressive lamp post approach, choosing targets in the far distance to walk from and starting to run at very close by targets. We were doing okay, but the distance markers were ticking past agonisingly slowly. With just 17kms to go, Warren told me to run ahead because his legs were cramping. I assured him he would catch me later.  I picked up my free hug from the lady on the side of the road advertising free hugs and all her friends gave me a noisy hand or ten.  It took forever to get to the 15km to go mark which is where I happened upon my dear dear friend, Doctor. Doctor and I had run together at Kaapsehoop when he and Sponono had so kindly helped me to qualify for Comrades. Remember?

Me, Doctor and Sponono emerging from the Kaapsehoop mist, probably around 15km

Me, Doctor and Sponono emerging from the Kaapsehoop mist, probably around 15km

He was wearing a yellowish number from a F batch. What was he doing here? Doctor explained that he was attempting his green number again because last year he had missed out on it. He explained that he had been running with Sponono most of the way, but was concerned about not making it and so ran ahead of Sponono. We agreed to help one another as we were both struggling. He told me to take the lead. How could I? Here was this incredibly experienced runner who had run this thing 9 times more than I had asking me to take the lead. The thought terrified me because it placed so much responsibility on my already whiplashed shoulders. What if I failed us? Both of us? At least if I just took responsibility for myself and failed, I would only fail myself (notwithstanding my huuuuge support crowd, waiting ever so patiently at the stadium). Here he was placing his green number chances in the hands of a total loser like me! He must have been dehydrated to the point of delirium. The thing about collective leadership is…(that’s for another blog, but you get my drift, right?)

Doctor and I carried on the lamp post approach. Before long, we were joined by Bra Zakes who had helped me out in Katlehong in December as we dished out sweets to the local children. Teacher Zakes is what I call him. He was also going for his green number. He joined us, accepted my lead and then proceeded to drive Doctor and I forward like donkeys. Warren caught up with us and the four of us sped forward. Doctor complained. So did I and so we told Teacher Zakes to run ahead. He did. He caught the first sub-12 hour bus. We didn’t. We let it pass us, but we were all starting to panic. Electricity and expectation were in the air as we got closer to Doctor’s green number and my first Comrades medal and Warren’s triumph over significant adversity. Warren was strong and so for the last while he took the lead. We ran over Mayville mat on a ridiculous hill at 10:46:38. It was there that I passed Karen that I had met at the start in Pietermaritzburg. We shared in each other’s joy at seeing one another so close to finishing. Doctor, Warren and I now had over an hour to finish just 8kms. Just 8kms. That’s a time trial. That’s just 55 minutes worth of running on a bad day. Ha! As we headed onto the main drag through Durban, the tendon on top of my left big toe started back to Joburg. We had been following a steady lamp post strategy, managed mainly by strong Warren, but with 2 kilometres to go he suggested we run from a point 100 metres ahead of us. My toe suggested I go back to Joburg or risk losing it forever. I chose the latter option and told Warren, “I’m sorry. I’ve got nothing more. My toe has left my shoe.” His disappointment was audible. Doctor was limping next to me. His relief was audible. We just couldn’t. But we walked steadily forward. The crowds were awesome and we couldn’t help but lift our arms triumphantly even though our athleticism at that point was anything but triumphant-like. I couldn’t believe it. I had spent 11:20 on the road from Pietermaritzburg and now I was going to finish the Comrades marathon. And I was going to finish it with good people who had been a source of fun and joy and enthusiasm and for whom I had been a source of excitement and determination and hope.  My family waited and waited and waited. The sub-12 hour bus came in and they worried that, either I was dead because I was taking so long or that they had missed me in the mass of the bus that had just passed them.

I don’t know when it was that my legs involuntarily started running. I think it was as we turned the last corner immediately before entering the stadium. We smiled at the cameras and we cheered one another on. When I look at the photos today, there were many people around me on that grass as I ran (ran I tell you, my toe had triumphantly returned to the cheering masses) towards the finish, but I felt like it was just me. Those crowds, thousands and thousands of people were screaming and cheering for me. I was a hero. I had done something that no-one else in the world had ever done. I was a champion. I was awesome. I was a Comrades runner. I saw Chrissie screaming for me. I saw my beautiful beautiful support crew who had lived every atom of emotion of this day’s journey with me. I’m only getting overwhelmed now. At the time I was so filled with excitement and joy. What’s most surprising to me is that my joy wasn’t only about my medal, but also about Doctor and Warren’s medal. It made such a difference to me that I had crossed the line with those two champions. I will love them and love that moment for the rest of my life. Really. I’m overwhelmed now.

Comrades Finish Line with Doctor and Warren

Comrades Finish Line with Doctor and Warren

I ran the Comrades Marathon. No-one can change that about my life. If I die tomorrow, I will have run the Comrades marathon. One day I got off the couch and I ran the Comrades Marathon. This has been the 2nd most spiritual journey upon which I have embarked and the journey was not from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

My Very Own Vic Clapham Medal

Slow Coach’s Very Own Vic Clapham Medal

Trust the Process

When someone says to me, “Trust the process, Brenda”, they’re usually a brain-injured hippie or they’re an asshole. So when the voice in my head said it to me on Saturday, which was it? I think all the track has made me into a brain-injured hippie and so that’s probably what it was. I’m supposed to be tapering, for the love of Pete! Not running until my eyes bleed! I had a “tapering” track session the other night and I had gone deaf in both ears before I even finished the flipping warm up. Illuminati Michelle apologised for the pace of 5:10/km for the warm up. I don’t even run my fastest 5km at that pace and here I was warming up. That session was another ELE. But this time, instead of a 1 minute break between treacherous intervals, we were mercifully granted 45 seconds break.

You want to know the funny part, however. At the end of my final 5km interval, the Illuminati were on their cool down and our paths crossed. Actually, they sauntered up to me while I was running the end of the 5km which was supposed to be at my marathon pace. It was at my marathon pace until they caught up with me. Not only was I afraid of what was now a dark night, but I was also kind of afraid of looking like a total loser as these Illuminati ran next to me. So I ran at a nosebleed pace. And then they “helped” me through the last 1200m which was akin to being dragged semi-conscious through the jungles of Vietnam by a Jeep in 1964. But enough about me! Imagine that they felt exactly the same dragged-behind-a-Jeep-in-the-jungle feeling after their last 1200m. But still, they came back, pushed me through the end of my 5km and then started another 1200m. All for me! This is The Comrades Marathon. Maybe this is running everywhere, but wherever I go, when people hear that I’m running my first Comrades Marathon, it ignites in them a candle of warmth and caring that it not matched elsewhere in my world. People who just want to see me do well. Here are these sometime total strangers who lovingly care for me. And I’m so slow. It must be so frustrating for them to have to amble along this road of mediocrity with me, but they do. How awesome is that? How has God rained down so many beautiful people on my head? My gratitude to them could never be expressed appropriately. Never!

With 7 more sleeps until Comrades I’m extremely excited. Many of the people I run with are nervous, but I feel excited more than nervous. I’m so lucky I can run. Do you know how I was not a runner just two years ago? I was a couch potato. There was no way in hell that I would ever have dreamed I could do the Comrades Marathon. I’ve watched from my couch and I’ve imagined how wonderful it would be to be part of that crowd of sufferers. I’ve imagined that I would never be able to do something as crazy and awesome as that. But here I am. In 7 more sleeps I will be one of those people that stand in a dark and chilly Pietermaritzburg to hear the national anthem and hear Vangelis and the cock crow and the gun go off. I will run along something called Polly Shortts and Inchanga (and I can say that word properly!) and Drummond and 45th Cutting. All these mythical places will become real to me I will feel what they feel like. In just 7 sleeps, I will experience what every runner who has attempted the Comrades Marathon has felt. I’ve imagined pieces of the race and what they will feel like to me now that I am a runner. I’ll know the answer to the question, so how steep is Botha’s hill? How long is this Inchanga (a Zulu word that I know how to pronounce properly!) If you’ve ever seen the French movie, Amelie, and remember the scene where Amelie figures out the mystery of the guy in the torn up photo booth photos, you’ll know how I will be feeling in just 7 sleeps’ time.

Written on the envelope are all the reasons why I got there and all the reasons I will get to the end.

The pack that Chrissie is going to keep for me at RAC’s halfway table

This week I’m still tapering. Apparently. Sadist Coach Dave told me on Saturday that I should run an easy 10-15km on Sunday, track (for 200m strides which are already making my eyes water) on Monday, 30 minutes on Tuesday, 5km on Wednesday (which is also 30 minutes. He was only making the distinction for the Illuminati and A-Teamers), 30 minutes on Thursday, nothing on Friday and 20 minutes at 5.30pm on Saturday. I had “planned” (using no scientific reference, mind you) to do 20km on Sunday and then sit on my backside on the couch until Sunday. When I told him about my plan, he was quiet. He is not a quiet man. He was quiet. He began to explain to me why I should do it his way with the Illuminati standing there as his Exhibit A when the voice in my head shouted out loud, “Trust the process, Brenda! Trust the process!”. That voice is an asshole!

So today I ran 17.8 kilometres at a lightning pace of 6:03m/km with Illuminati Michelle and Cool Kid Chrissie and A-Teamers Megan and Guy and other people who seemed to be hanging on by their toenails like me. I have cancelled dinner plans for a TV dinner with a friend so that I can do eye-watering strides tomorrow night. I’ll do my 5km on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then I will be allowed to sit on the couch until Saturday evening when I will run to get sushi, drink my protein shake and wait in anticipation to find out how Amelie felt that day and how tens of thousands of people before me have felt as they transversed those mythical South African institutions.

Yours in the hype and excitement! Can’t wait! Just can’t wait!

Slow Coach