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


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!

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.

Trials and Tribulations

Tonight I ran a time tribulation. That’s like a time trial, only much worse! I had a really crap day. I was totally unproductive. My boss was in a bad mood. She then pissed me off as I was walking out the door. I left my running kit at home so I had to make my way home in peak hour traffic and then rush to the club for the time trial. I disappointed my son on the way out the door and then I forgot my Garmin watch at home! So as I hurried up to the start of the time trial, I was in a dreadful mood. On top of it all, Chrissie had to work late and so I was embarking on this time tribulation on my own. I like to run on my own, but it’s great to run with Chrissie because she helps to chat all my cares away. What a great friend!

So, I’m there. I’m sulking. And then I was running. I hate running on grass. Always have. Always will. RAC’s time trial route starts and ends on about 300m of grass. I bitch about it every week when I run with Chrissie. Tonight I had no-one to bitch to, but by the time the grass ran out and the gravel began, I was done. I’d had enough of this day and I was going home.

Yeah! This is how I felt!

Yeah! This is how I felt!

I moved over to the left, out of everyone’s way, stopped, turned around and began strolling back to the clubhouse. Then I stopped and stared at the gravel. I stared at the next part of the time trial route. I stared at the gravel. I stared at the car guard. I watched as the last of the back markers passed by and I stood vacillating. And then I started running again. I wasn’t happy. I was still grumpy and I was still intent on giving up. But I was catching up with some of the people that had passed me as I stood vacillating. And then I heard him. Tapping up behind me. I hate that sound. I hate the quick small footsteps of a running machine coming up behind me to just obliterate me. And this particular machine has done this to me several times. I think he seeks me out and relishes the humiliation he dishes out. Unbeknown to us before a few months ago, we’ve actually had a connection for many many years. You see his parents play bowls with my parents. He went to the same school as my brothers and he played hockey with one or both of my brothers. So technically, we’ve known each other forever. The first time I encountered Duncan was on the very first day I started my journey from the couch to Comrades. I was running down a hill outside my house and I heard the tapping coming up behind me. He was running with a CamelBak on his back so obviously he was on a pretty lengthy run. Where I live is probably on the tail end of that long run and he was running faster than my fastest run even now. And tonight that familiar tapping came up behind me. Duncan greeted me and sped past me. I was demoralised and started walking. I wasn’t even on the bloody road yet and I’d managed to give up once and walk once. Not even 500 metres into a time trial and I was in an abysmal mood. I started running again, grumbling to myself and almost took the short cut back to the club house.

And then I ran. I ran all the way except for a 50 metre downhill. I ran all the treacherous hills and I ambled along nicely on the flats. I should tell you, however, that there are no real flats in the RAC time trial. I have heard a well respected running nutrition expert – and a respectable ultra-maronther in his own right – refer to the RAC time trial as “the worst fucking time trial in the country”. I ran a great time of 33:20 for 5km, including the vacillating. That’s pretty close to my best 5km time so I’m very chuffed. My day has improved drastically. My son has forgiven me and prepared a fantastic meal of steak, egg, chips and peri-peri (the well-respected running nutrition expert would mostly approve).

Yours in the love of running and the overcoming of tribulations.

All The Other Kids……

The recent events at the Boston Marathon have left an indelible mark on the runner psyche. I witnessed this today as I joined my club mates from RAC and a few thousand other people to run the RAC 10km. For those of you who have run this route, you’ll know that it starts on an impossibly steep Jan Smuts Ave in Bordeaux outside Old Parktonians sports club. You continue up for about 1.5km with little respite. I started off fast up the impossible hill because I wanted a personal best for this run. I’ve been running lots of marathons and half marathons recently with my main aims being: don’t die and don’t come last. I had largely succeeded with those two goals. But now, with Comrades 2014 a real possibility for me, I have to lift my game in the speed department. I had decided that I could really push myself on this shorter 10km run. I’d forgotten how shitty the route is.  I swear that I don’t know how we ended up where we started because we just seemed to be travelling uphill the entire way.

Last night I was listening to Foster the People’s song “Pumped up Kicks”. I considered what a cool running song that would be. All the other kids with the pumped up kicks. You better run baby run, outrun my gun. All the other kids with the pumped up kicks. You better run baby run,  faster than my bullet. And so it was that I was humming this to myself as I rounded the top of the impossible Jan Smuts hill and started the descent along Republic Rd. All the friends caught up with me and overtook me on the downhill (as usual). My running buddy, Chrissie and Megan D chatted as they ran ahead of me. I walked a bit. Really hate down hills. As we reached the 2km marker, crackers went off ahead of us. I was acutely aware of how the entire group with which I was running slowed. We slowed, as if our clockwork suddenly began to wind down. A nervous disbelief murmured through the crowd and the chitter chatter stopped. It was eerie. More crackers. More crackers. I thought that this was pretty bad taste to have crackers going off randomly at a marshalling point. I’m all for festivities, but maybe crackers weren’t the best choice, considering the recent events in Boston.

The next thing I saw was Kumar (who is always waaaaay ahead of me in races) waving his arms and shouting for us to move out of the way. We were running on a piece of road which had a grass embankment next to it, so we poured into the ditch hurriedly. I screamed for people to get down and more people poured into the ditch, feeling horrified, but not knowing what was going on. The crackers were still going off and, although still not knowing what was happening, we knew were running into a very dangerous situation. I honestly had no idea what was going on. South Africans know all too well the sound of gun fire and so, as the reality dawned upon us, I became aware that a shoot out was in progress. What frightened me immediately was the realisation that my friend, Chrissie, had sped past me just shortly before and so she could be hurt. Obviously some sort of robbery had been intercepted by guards or other people with guns. The shooting died down and we were given the go ahead to carry on.  I got up with my only intention being to see if I could find Chrissie. (What has subsequently occurred to me is that there were many people who didn’t bail into the ditch when Kumar told us to get down. I’m all for curiosity, but how dumb can you be to hear something like that, get told to get down and get out of the way and still stand staring in the hope that you can witness something exciting. For the love of everything, people! When a person shouts at you to get down when you’ve just heard what could be gunshots, just bloody well listen and get out of danger.) All of us chatted nervously, still unaware of what was going on, as we scrambled out of the slippery ditch. I started walking forward hurriedly, hoping to see Chrissie and Megan ahead. And there they were. I was incredibly relieved. Chrissie was not keen to go on, but the rest of us were confident that the danger had gone away. We started up again and continued on the ridiculously uphill route. As far as the news goes, no-one was injured in the shoot out. A gang of seven robbers stole money from a cash pickup van and highjacked a nearby vehicle in order to get away.

Can you spot the point where I was lying in a ditch?

Can you spot the point where I was lying in a ditch?

The rest of the route was largely uneventful, but today I met a very funny person. Funny, ha ha, not funny peculiar. Although…..she may also be very peculiar. I think she thinks I’m the peculiar one, however.Chrissie and Megan D had a few friends with them at the start. Chrissie, Megan D, Nats (I’m sure that’s not her full name, but because everyone introduced her as Nats, I’ll call her that until I know her real name), Megan H, Lizle and Claudia met me at the start because Chrissie had my race number with her. As it turned out, Claudia had been carrying my number around with her until I saw them. Thank you Claudia. You carried me. I hope I returned the favour. Just after the shoot out corner which was at the corner of William Nicol drive and Republic Rd, there was an abominable hill up William Nicol to the first water point at 3km. I happened alongside Claudia, walking up. I urged her to come along (it’s easier for me because I like abominable hills, it seems). So the two of us trudged up William Nicol and lost each other at the water point. Claudia must have passed me at some point because I happened upon her again up another hill. We chatted briefly. She’s hilarious. So am I, but she’s even more hilarious. I know! Can you imagine? Anyway. We got separated again somewhere and then she sidled up next to me when my legs went on strike on the only flat on the route. Something she said (she claims it was a voodoo-like threat to break my kneecaps) got my legs out of strike season and back running again, and we ambled along chatting. Then I ruined the friendship by saying that I saw a movie last week that I thought she would enjoy. (That wasn’t the part that ruined the friendship, this was!) Movie’s name is Seven Psychopaths.  It’s hilarious. She ran right a bit and slowed down a bit, then claimed she was going to walk up the next hill. All of that would not necessarily have led me to believe that my words had ruined the friendship, but then she yelled at the man running next to me: “Watch out for her Mister. I’m just saying.” This making friends thing is just too complicated for me!

After we had run past, police started arriving on the scene. Picture courtesy of Eyewitness News.

After we had run past, police started arriving on the scene. Picture courtesy of Eyewitness News.

Claudia and I laughed about it afterwards. She laughed nervously. I laughed suspiciously. Then we all ate pancakes and drank coffee and a good time was had by all.

Hey! I almost forgot to tell you! I did run my personal best today even after lying in the ditch for a couple of minutes. On a very tough route, I ran my PB for a 10km. 1:08:02. Not one kilometre was over 7 minutes!   I reckon the shootout creeped me out a bit….although, not as much as I creeped Claudia out….that I was too afraid to walk in case they were coming for me……mwahahahahahahaha

Yours in the love of running.