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!

And the Reason is You

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the spirit of giving.

Slow Coach

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

Are We Having Fun?

Yes indeed! Running is fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the fun of running
Slow Coach

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

Illuminati to Cool – The Starting Pens at Comrades

I’m so confused now. I just shouldn’t read. I’m less confused when I muddle along ignorantly. But I’ve been reading and now I’m confused. Yesterday I ran the 20th Sasolburg marathon. Not MY 20th Sasolburg Marathon. Just Sasolburg’s 20th Sasolburg Marathon. Sasolburg is so named for the petrol-derived-from-coal industry which exists there. Sasol is the name of a company in South Africa which began as a fuel manufacturing business, manufacturing fuels from the rich coal deposits in the surrounding areas. Truth be told, it’s a pretty crap place, air-wise. Grey smog covers the whole place and from the highway, as you approach the town, you notice an enormous furnace producing noxious smoke which spreads like a blanket over the entire area. The people are incredibly polite in Sasolburg, in spite of the poison filling their lungs and homes all the time. A couple of observations from my marathon yesterday:

  1. They have low walls around their houses. For the most part, the houses have low walls which is a beautiful contrast to the high walls and electric fences visible in Joburg. The only thing I really hate about Joburg is the wall around my house which imprisons me. Not a problem in Sasolburg.
  2. People obviously don’t need their shoes in Sasolburg. There were many abandoned shoes on the road as I ran along. It was quite noticeable. I saw at least 20 shoes. Okay, it was a double lapper (sort of), so I probably saw only half that number, but still. It was a very peculiar phenomenon and I was reminded of the horse shit which was similarly abandoned at the Kaapsehoop Marathon.

So why am I confused? Well, this whole Comrades seeding and medals thing is very confusing to me. I always tell my students, if you are confused about a topic when you’re studying, try and teach someone else and that way you’ll understand it better. So here goes:

At the start of Comrades, there are 9 batches. You have to qualify to run Comrades. One way to do that is to run the previous year’s Comrades Marathon. If you simply use last year’s race as the qualifier, you get dumped into the crappy batch H-group, no matter how you fared in the race. The other way to qualify is to run a qualifying marathon. There are several all over the world. So there are 9 batches: A-H. You see! You’re also confused now. Let me break it down like this (sounds like an old-school hip-hop song):

  • H (Hope to finish) – batch: These are people who, as I explained, either use last year’s Comrades as the qualifier or who run a qualifying marathon in less than 5 hours, but more than 4:40. The average pace for the qualifier must be less than 7:06min/km.
  • G (Getting better) – batch: These are people who run a qualifying marathon at an average pace of less than 6:38min/km or under 4:40 but more than 4:20.
  • F (Flipping fast) – batch: These are people who run a qualifying marathon in under 4:20 but more than 4:00 or at an average pace less than 6:09min/km.
  • E (Elders) – batch: This group is reserved for the Green Number Club which is made of those people who’ve completed 10 or more Comrades Marathons. A very well respected group of people of which I will never be a member. Never!
  • D (Diabolical pace) – batch: Qualifying marathon pace = less than 5:41min/km (a pace at which I would be haemorraghing by 4km into the race) or 4 hours for the marathon. 4 hours for 42.2km. I’m getting nauseous just thinking of it.
  • CC (Charity) – batch: Not “Charity” as in “We feel sorry for these people.” “Charity” means people who’ve raised over R5000 for any of the various charities supported by The Comrades Marathon Association by 2 May. Also known as the Amabeadibeadi Race4Charity group. (Essentially, you can buy a spot higher up in the rankings.)
  • C (Champions) – batch: So these are the people who Chrissie and I refer to as the A-team. 5min/km required to finish their qualifying marathon. I run 100m at full sprint at about 5min/km! Their average speed is 12km/h for the full 42.2km. On 1 June when you see them go, you’ll know that at some point during the preceding year, they ran a marathon in under 3:40.
  • B (Best) – batch: These are people who work and run and nothing else. People like Justin. They run a ridiculous number of kilometres every week. For example: Justin is, as I type this on the Sunday after a marathon which he ran in a comfortable 3:22, out for an easy 15km. I have my feet in a foot massage thing hoping the fire will leave them soon. The Best Batch run a qualifying marathon in less than 3:20. I’m thinking about that and I think I should go lie down now. Average pace for the marathon? 4:44min/km for the whole 42.2km.
  • A (Illuminati) – Group: Marathon time of less than 3 hours. Pace = 4:15min/km. I’m not going to say much more about this except to add that generally, these people have 3 training sessions per day. Often, an average daily run for a Comrades runner in this group can be 30km. Hahahahaha! Imagine! Running 30km per day. Just imagine.

This table is a breakdown of the various qualifying times. Comrades allows you to use other races longer than a marathon as a qualifying time as detailed below.

Comrades Marathon Qualifying Races.jpg

So what’s with the seeding batches? We found out yesterday the real “Why?”. Seedings are there to stop early birds who are walkers or just really crap like me from going and lining up at the front of the race, only to be run over and trampled by the masses behind them as the race starts, thereby injuring themselves, endangering, holding up and frustrating the much faster runners behind them. We found this out in Sasolburg. Chrissie, Janine and I ambled up to the start from the parking yesterday. We though we were at the back and just early. We were, in fact, in the front, facing the wrong way and early. As we became aware that we were standing surrounded by A-teamers and Illuminati, we became nervous and laughed at ourselves. Unfortunately, by the time we realised, we were trapped inside that heaving mass of sub-3s and had to come up with a strategy to get the hell out of the way as soon as possible as the race started. When the gun went off, Janine and Chrissie managed to do that. I squealed girlishly and tried to make myself very small by putting my head down, holding my arms as close to my body as I could and running at break-neck speed for 200m. I’m not joking. That’s what I did. My aorta shrieked and eventually the marauding mass thinned out and I could edge over to the side as we’d agreed to do. Chrissie and Janine caught up with me and we carried on together at an abnormally fast pace of 5:15m/km. Janine then sped off towards achieving a 4:10:59 for the marathon.

This time I had a timing chart on my arm so that I could check my progress towards a 4:20. That’s a ridiculous stretch, but I thought I should aim really big and see how I did. My confusion comes from thinking that G-group had a qualifying marathon time of less than 4:20. So that’s why I was aiming for 4:20. I knew I wouldn’t achieve it in Sasolburg, but I had to have a stretch goal. I had to try and be in a better group than H because H group starts Comrades, on average, 12-15 minutes after the gun goes off, leaving you 12-15 minutes less to finish that 89km between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. A handicap I could certainly do without, knowing what I know. So on Friday night, when I was putting together my timing chart, I aimed for 4:20, knowing that I had to work harder to get closer to that higher batch number. Knowing what I know, I scheduled my first two kilometres for 7:00m/km, giving myself a little time to warm up. With the marauding masses and Chrissie and Janine, the first two kilometres flashed by in under 10 minutes.

I’m a Project Manager by profession, but generally keep the planning nonsense out of my private life. This time I had planned. And if I had planned, the world was just going to bloody well stick to that plan no matter what! (The first lesson I learned from this planning was: Timing Chart goes the other way around on your arm. Oops!) Unfortunately, I didn’t send out the memo to the Illuminati at the start of that race, nor the Cool Kids, Chrissie and Janine. I whimpered: “I’m going too fast,” to Chrissie. Nothing changed. Half a kilometre later I whined again and still nothing changed. So I grew up and took responsibility for myself and told Chrissie to run ahead, I’d catch up later. I needed to slow down or face burning out at 36km. As I slowed down, a lady came running up next to me and started running with me. She told me she was going too fast. Having something in common, we carried on together. And so began a mutual Angel relationship. Chantel and I ran the entire first half together. She was such a blessing to me and so much help. She kept me focussed on the timing as I had planned. She claims I was the same to her as she was returning from recovering from an operation. She was behind in her preparation for her first Two Oceans Ultra, but she’s doing well. She was also a real trouper. She was struggling with sore feet, but she kept running according to my timing chart, not wanting to affect my timing for the marathon. By the time she turned off for her 21km finish, we had drifted 3 minutes behind my schedule, but I was happy. We had run a very fast 21km, with Chantel crossing the line in 2:10:36. That’s by far my fastest 21km. Even faster than the mineshaft, Kaapsehoop.

As I ran through the 22km mark, someone or something pulled up my handbrake and for 8kms, my legs felt like they were running through treacle. And I was hungry. These days, I’m always hungry. I dewormed myself the other day cause I thought there’s no way I can be eating all the time and still be hungry all the time and still be losing weight. I’m told this is normal. I’m told this by Illuminati like Megan and Michelle so I’m being circumspect with the word “normal”.

The rest of the race was largely uneventful except I kept falling behind schedule. Not too badly and it didn’t demoralise me because I knew that I was going to kick my Kaapsehoop time in the butt! That was more important to me than G-batch. Everyone had told me that Kaapsehoop would be a fast downhill marathon. Having qualified with only 3 minutes to spare, I kept telling myself that I hadn’t really qualified. I knew that Sasolburg was a respectable marathon and I was going to make sure that I did my best for 42.2km to comprehensively beat 5 hours! I crossed the 32km mark in 3:25:30 which was a whopping 35 minutes faster than my fastest 32km race. I punched the air and gave myself a high five and a whoop whoop. I ran my best 32km in 4:01 at Tough One in November. (You know, November which was the other day!! November 2013!).

Several of the remaining stories I have about this race begin with: “I came up behind this guy…”, or “I was running past this woman…”, or “As I ran past this couple…”. The second half of the second 21km was very tough, but I know I ran the last 5km faster than I had run any of the preceding 5kms in the second half so I’m very chuffed. I passed a very Iron Man-looking guy at about 40kms who had beautiful legs (as Iron Men tend to do). As I passed him I complained, “I wish I wasn’t passing you because you have very beautiful legs.” He laughed and said, “I just wish they’d work!” “Well they’re still taking you forward, so they’re still doing okay,” I reminded him. I hope I never lose the perspective I have now. I am so lucky to be running. I know that a thoroughbred couch potato lives in this skin. The fact that I can run a marathon means that anyone can run. Really! Anyone can run if I can run. I will remain grateful for every step I’m allowed to take. I was buoyant as I approached the very nasty beach sand in the last 500m. As I came running into the stadium, I looked down at my watch. 4:38:50. Kaapsehoop, KISS MY ASS! Chrissie and Justin were standing just beyond the finish and they were cheering me on.

And this is why it’s important to know what the batches are about….

Seeing my buddies, I relaxed and hopped down the last 50m, dancing and cheering with them, ecstatic that I’d beaten my PB for a marathon, but blissfully unaware that I was about to miss the cut-off for G-batch or rather that I was about to upgrade my Comrades seeding to G-batch! I looked up at the clock: 4:39:30 (official time is 20 seconds less than that so finish must have been earlier). Justin and Chrissie greeted me with as much excitement as I owned at that moment. They are such great friends. They appear to derive immense joy out of other people doing well and improving. I love them for that and so many other things. Justin proclaimed the news to me that I had improved my seeding for Comrades by coming in under 4:40. I burst into tears! Lol! And since then I’ve been giddy with joy and excitement. Justin, as I said, had finished the marathon easily in 3:23:46 and Chrissie (who did the Half Iron Man the weekend before) finished in 4:22:18. One day I might be cool like that…

And if all that awesome news wasn’t enough, I won the shoe draw at RAC Time Trial on Tuesday. Today I went and got the proper size. I now have a great pair of brand new running shoes to add to my new pair which I bought on Friday (yes, I ran a PB marathon in brand new shoes! Sometimes I just can’t do rules.) Thank you The Sweat Shop and Adidas and Asics.

I’m still going to try for under 4:20 at Kosmos 3-in-1 in March, but my focus for that day is not speed but distance. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Gratefully yours
#SlowCoach

P.S. Internet issues have prevented me from finishing this in one day, so although the first part was written on Sunday, I finish this off on Thursday! Better planning for next time. 😉

Speed Kills

There is me. Then there are the cool kids. Today I discovered that there is another level above the cool kids called the Illuminati. They made me cry! I’m trying to be calm about this and see it all in perspective because, hey, last week I ran 60km. The week before that I ran 68km. The week before that I ran 80km. Admittedly, I took about as long to run all of those as it would take a normal endurance athlete to run 14300km. But I’m a decent runner. How many of you reading this can say the same about your last 3 weeks? Okay don’t answer that. I forgot about all you cool kids. Anyway.

Yesterday I ran a 23km club run. We took it easy and finished in 2:48:23. Afterwards, I was loitering around being my totally uncool self, trying to look like one of the cool kids, when I spotted Francis (cool kid), chatting to a lady I recognised as one of the totally coolest kids, Michelle. I’d never actually met her, but her reputation preceded her and everyone had told me I’d do well to meet her. I would NEVER ever have dreamed of speaking to her. She was near deity from the way everyone had spoken of her. Here’s a clue: When I got back from my 23km along which I had been patiently dragged by Romy (Nedbank cool kid) and John (Northcliff /RAC cool kid) after 2:48:23, Michelle had probably been sitting at that table for 1:25:23 and she also took an easy run. You do the maths.

She was helping Francis with a training regime. They seemed almost done when Francis introduced me to Michelle. Knowing what I know now, I should have fallen to my knees and kissed her toes, but I smiled shyly. I explained my dilemma that I could run for days, but I’m totally shit because I’m slower than a sloth. Michelle smiled with an empathy that clearly had no idea what I meant, but she seemed too kind to ridicule me. She and Francis encouraged me to join them tonight (traditionally couch night) for speed training at “the track”. I was scared, but Michelle explained that quality is better than quantity when it comes to preparing for Comrades. She’d probably know better than me, but I had to agree that something had to change for me to get faster.

So this afternoon I stretched and prepared well for “the track” session. I was quite nervous because although Michelle was nothing but sweet and kind, she looks as though she could beat me at an arm wrestle in nano seconds. She’s tiny, but she looks . . . . better at arm wrestling than me. I got to “the track” which was nothing more than a well kept cricket outfield. You know how I loooove running on grass. I arbed around uncoolly early and waited for any face I would recognise. Eventually I decided to go back to my car and play Candy Crush. As I got to my car, Francis and Michelle arrived. Damn! I was so hoping to get past level 23 of Candy Crush. It was not to be. I was here to become a super athlete, not a super couch potato. You know, at heart I think I’m still a couch potato. I must just prefer real medals to virtual medals. (Only couch potatoes would catch that joke.) Francis and I headed off on a warm up run of 2.5km. I can almost remember when that was the furthest I’d ever run in my life. It still scares me that 2.5km is warming up and not enough to earn a hot chocolate with marshmallows and a piece of cheesecake. While we were warming up, the Illuminati came running in a pack towards us. Good Lord! They were impressive. God had in them created magnificent specimens. To all you cool kids, you’re cool, but this is most certainly the Illuminati.

While Francis and I were waiting for them to return, I met him. That wielder of the tazer. That shambok bearing ringmaster. That. . . .coach, Dave. I was still unaware of how this thing was going to go. I thought Michelle was going to be tazer holder, barking orders at us. It turns out that, as Illuminati as she is, she’s also just one of Dave’s circus animals. Dave is a jolly guy. Somewhat rotund and quite unassuming. The pack of Illuminati returned from their warm up, which had lasted about 4 minutes, even though they too had run 2.5km to warm up. We all gathered in a circle. One of the aforementioned Illuminati, a lady by the name of Paula, who was wearing a very menacing shirt that read: “DEATH BEFORE A DNF*” (I’m not making this up) and who reminded me somewhat of Jeremy Irons’ girlfriend in Die Hard with a Vengeance, took us through what would have been a mild stretching regime. I say “would have been” because either her or Ringmaster Dave thought it was a good idea to squeeze in one minute of planking near the end. I have a grass burn on my cheek from that. If you don’t know what planking is, I can’t explain it to you, because verbalising what I did there is against my religion. I cursed. But. I hadn’t vomited yet and I hadn’t cried. So far. So good.

Ringmaster Dave then had us hopping and jumping and skipping up and down the field. He gave a lengthy explanation about why he was doing it. Something about learning your own natural rythm or something. My natural rythm as well as my name and country of origin were forgotten by the start of the third leg of what was to come next. Dave split us into groups which can best be described in my terms as:

ILLUMINATI
At 10km race pace do 600m, walk 100m, 10km race pace do 800m, walk 100m, 10km race pace do 1000m, walk 100m, 10km race pace do 800m, walk 100m, 10km race pace do 600m and immediately do push-ups.

COOL KIDS
Something like the above, but smaller distances.

US (Francis, not wanting to be seen as totally uncool like me, referred to her lot – which included a 7-year old and a 9-year old – as COOL KIDS A and myself and two other ladies who were also first timers as COOL KIDS B)
8 laps of 400m at 10km race pace with a 2 minute break between each lap.

I looked up at the setting sun and wondered if they were going to put on the floodlights when I was on my fourth lap. Did Dave understand what he was saying when he told me to run at 10km race pace? Did I even know what he meant? Do I even know how fast I run a 10km race? How fast is “Don’t die. Don’t come last”? I figured I better run like I was been chased by lions. I did. Thankfully I wasn’t being chased by lions because apparently lions can run very fast for more than 300m, which they wouldn’t have needed to do to have me for dinner. At 300m I was wheezing and blood was filling my ears and nasal passages. The 400m mark appeared just before my aorta left my body through my neck. I rested for 2 minutes as instructed and set off again with COOL KIDS A. I mostly kept with them for the next 400m. They only rested for a minute, but I couldn’t go with them because I was waiting for the blood to drain from my ears into my throat. So I waited my 2 minutes and set off again. My posture was all a thing of the past. My “natural rhythm” was not unlike that of a warthog. My speed was back to sloth and I wanted to vomit. 400m went by in a day. Dave was running in the opposite direction, regularly shouting encouragement to me. He’s a liar. Maybe he wasn’t lying. Maybe he was genuinely surprised to see me alive each time. I was pretty surprised about that too. At the end of each lap, I didn’t know how I’d manage to go again. The track started to get bigger and bigger. 400m started to feel like 9km. I got to 6 laps and even Ringmaster Dave took pity on me. He told me I could stop and do my pushups if I wanted. I wouldn’t hear of it. I went round one more pathetic time. The Illuminati were all regimentally doing pushups and situps and hand stands and bench pressing one another as I finished off. I managed a magnificent total of 3, count them 1, 2, 3 pushups before I once again buried my face in the allergy-inducing track. Fuck I hate grass! That’s when I cried. Luckily, to spare me further embarrassment, Francis dragged me off for our cool down run of 2.5km.

It was like this was the first time I’d ever run. My legs were weak and had hurt while I was running. I thought I was becoming cool. I thought I was becoming a runner. Sometimes I think I’m just always going to suck at this. It terrifies me that I have to do a session like this ever again if I want to finish Comrades in under 12 hours. I don’t know if I can face that again. Michelle told me I should come on Wednesday again, but I just don’t know if I can. I feel like I’m starting from scratch again. Like I’m going out the door and vomiting 200 metres later. The logic me says: Slow Coach, when change is needed to improve on the status quo, suffering must happen. The couch potato me says: Ag, just give up. Just keep plodding along. You’ll be fine.

Who will win on Wednesday? I’ll let you know.

Yours in status quo.

The Slow Coach

*DNF = Did Not Finish

Don’t Dis Me!

In my preparation for running the Comrades Marathon, for which I have already qualified, (can I get a whoop whoop?)I have been in the enviable or unenviable position of becoming friends with and running partner to total legends when it comes to running. Chrissie (my favourite of these legends) has been nagging me to join her Northcliff morning group. Just the mention of some of the names involved in that group makes my eyes fill with tears. Speeds for 21.1km races range from 4:50m/km to 6:33m/km. So I’ve politely told her “No thanks, Chrissie.” rather than the much more honest “Hell, no Chrissie!”. But on New Year’s Day, I was happily running along with John. John asked if I was the Slow Coach that Chrissie had been trying to enlist in the Northcliff group and I admitted that yes, I was her. I politely waved him away with a “No thanks, John.” He bravely stated the case that I am not, in fact, the slowest person on the planet and that, seeing as I was running at roughly the same pace as he was on this bright New Year’s Day, I should be able to keep up with the majority of the group which wanders around Northcliff and Fairlands most week days for 10 or so kilometres. (By the way John and Graham, how many points do I get for enlisting people via this medium?) At the time, I think John was hungover. I, not being a New Year’s reveller, was not hungover, I was just grumpy…..as usual. So I considered it, John added me to the Whatsapp group and on the next Friday he and I set off on a roughly 10km run. It was pleasant. I had a momentary thought that maybe I could be one of the cool kids and join this group. I’m starting to realise that I’m just not one of the cool kids, no matter how I look at it.

You know when people send out mails to the whole crowd and then some kind Samaritan in the crowd forwards it on to you because you were forgotten off the mailing list? You know how a mail goes out inviting the crowd to an event and each addressee gets a separate mention in the mail, but you’re not mentioned, although you’re on the mailing list this time? You don’t? Then you’re obviously one of the cool kids. Blech!

But, it seemed with the Northcliff group, I had an iota of a chance of being in a group of cool kids. So on the Tuesday, we all set out. For the record, that day started out abysmally. We’d had a power surge raging through our neighbourhood from the night before which was still going when I rushed off to run. I hadn’t slept much as a result and I had left the house early in the morning, worrying about the extent of damage which had been wreaked on my home by the cable theft criminals. So I set off with these new cool friends a bit stressed out. The stress on my mind was soon forgotten because the cool kids in this group are simply delightful. The stress on my mind was also soon forgotten because the massive coronary which began to rage in my chest was taking up all my thinking ability. I had missed the memo that we were attempting PBs on this route today. I would have slept in or stuck my finger in the power surging plug hole if I’d known this was what I had signed up for.

Tanja and Lethabo made pleasant conversation and chatted merrily as we raced along. I wheezed mono syllables in return. Chrissie and Graham and Duncan regularly had to turn around to come and fetch me, making their run twice as long and filling me with guilt and shame. Feeling totally uncool, I struggled forward. They would all get to the top of one of the disgusting hills and either walk or wait for me and so were nicely rested by the time I joined them barely managing a trudge. They’d all take off again, strong as anything after their brief rest and I’d have to carry on muddling along behind them. The more experienced members of the team assured me that my times would only improve by running with cool kids like them. Oh just shoot me now! I am just never going to be cool. Never! Ag!

I signed up for Dischem 21.1km. So had they. In fact, this was to be Tanja’s first 21.1km race in several years. So we all fussed over her and made sure she was prepared. The Whatsapp group gave her some tips and ideas and then they went quiet. They probably didn’t go quiet. They probably continued their cool kids conversation without me on another medium. So when I arrived for Dischem today, unbeknown to me, we were seeded in the same group and we started off together. I should just tell you that cool kids can be bald-faced liars. All my cool kid friends told me that Dischem is a “nice” run. Undulating, with a terrible hill near the end and then a very steep downhill to the end. I usually don’t look at race profiles before a race because that just scares me, but I believed my cool kid friends and arrived as a very unsuspecting idiot to Dischem this morning.

This is the treachery that awaited me

Dischem Elevation

Dischem Elevation


I should also mention that the number with which I had been issued was a painful reminder of the potential underlying cause of my decision to run Comrades.

My Dischem 21.1km number: a not so subtle reminder of why I shouldn't expect to be a cool kid

My Dischem 21.1km number: a not so subtle reminder of why I shouldn’t expect to be a cool kid

Which meant, that like a 54-year old man dating a 23-year old performing arts student, I really shouldn’t be doing this. My therapist says not to call it a crisis!

By 2km into this race, I knew it was a crisis. My cool kids from the Northcliff group had set off at a surreal pace of 6:30/km. In my defence, I’d like to mention that I ran 19km yesterday. I hadn’t intended it to be a hard run, but it ended up with my being so finished after that run, that I immediately slept for 2 hours and then proceeded to eat my own body weight in food from midday to bedtime. I had a hunger that overcame me like a heroine addict’s first hit in 3 years. You know what I say: “You’ve only had too much when you vomit!” Well I nearly overdosed last night and nearly puked from all the food I ate. It was ugly, I tell you. Just ugly! I think the food probably helped me until 19km, but more about that later.

I tried to keep up with the cool kids from Northcliff, I really did. Oh! I forgot to mention that there were Northcliff kids who were not seeded with us. They were finished when I hit the half-way mark, total underachievers that they are! But I was trying to keep up with the other cool kids. I was wheezing now. That familiar looming coronary from a week ago was trapped in my chest, threatening to break my rib cage open and spew itself out onto the tar and the other runners around me. I hadn’t cried by the 9km mark, but I was close. Look back at that route elevation profile. More than one person told me this was a “nice” run. They’re probably the heroine addicts I referred to earlier. Someone who hasn’t run it before asked me earlier, what was it like. “18km uphill, 2km cavernous drop down hell’s throat, then a flat 1km along which to drag yourself, 500m of which was on grass.”

You just go up and up and up and up and upper and up again and then upper again and then up. All the time, I’m praying: “God, I know that I have to get back to the stadium. I’m afraid of flying and of skydiving and of parachuting. I’ve no other fucking idea how you’re going to get me down from here, but please don’t let it involve me throwing myself from an unholy height as I didn’t pack a parachute.” So it made sense, therefore that the strains of Depeche Mode were playing in my head as I reached the top of the notorious Fisher’s Hill. My knees were sore from the previous day’s outing, and I had a stitch. Why did I have a stitch? I’ve read that a stitch could be caused by a contracting liver or spleen. This could be a plausible explanation considering all the shit I ate yesterday. Only alleviated by rest is what they say. Hmmmmm….. okay so 50 paces down Hell’s throat I stopped. I never stop. I walk and I cry and I trudge and I stroll, but I never stop. I stopped. I put my hand on my right side and I bent forward in agony. Not once, but 4 times, down that mine shaft of Fisher’s Hell. I mean Hill. You cannot find anything good about Fisher’s Hill on the Internet, except people wanting to sell their property and move away from there. That’s what I wanted, but my knees and my liver/spleen were the only things able to do that for me. I nearly gave up. Seriously. I nearly gave up. This was a 21km race. I run these things every week. Sometimes 2 a week! I just couldn’t go forward. I was in excruciating pain, I didn’t know if it was appendicitis or a coronary or knee replacement surgery that was waiting for me at the bottom of that hill. I cried. And, as usual, when I wanted to cry alone, an angel appeared next to me. And he was so young and pretty and so well suited to my mid-life non crisis, that I couldn’t help but try and keep up with him. He’s doing the 70.3 (Half Iron Man) in two weeks’ time and was taking it easy on this one. We ran together for the last kilometre which was flat flat flat. My legs were really giving everything they had for that last kilometre. I was astounded. This is exactly how I’d felt at the end of Kaapsehoop and that was double this distance and way more treacherous. What the hell?

A steep ramp rodeoed us into the stadium where another 500m on grass (you know how I love running on grass) lay between us and the end of this hideous affair. I clicked my tongue at the longevity of the grass section and then I was done. I finished in a time of 2:28:something, 5 minutes behind the Northcliff cool kids. That’s not a totally disrespectful time. It was better than the 2:40s that I’ve been managing lately but it wasn’t a comfortable 2:28:something at any point in the race.

I hobbled to the car like I hobbled to the car the day after Kaapsehoop and you’ll remember that I couldn’t walk the day after Kaapsehoop, never mind walk to the car. What was this? I’ll tell you what this was not! This was not a cool kid. This was not the cool kid shuffle. This was a race that I can say “Been there. Done that.” I’ll never have to do this again. Later this year, when I’m swept up with the competitive spirit to get a Dischem entry before everyone else, remind me of this day and remind me to not try so hard to be a cool kid because I just am not! Blech!

Yours in the love of running
The Slow Coach (not one of the cool kids)

My Hope for Kaapsehoop

While I’m still doing a very convincing impression of a paraplegic and my son is driving us back to Jozi (a place I really love), I thought I’d write this blog about my latest marathon on my road to the Comrades Marathon.

“So are you hoping to qualify for Comrades on Saturday at Kaapsehoop?” wrote Mike.
“Nah! Probably just same as usual: Don’t die! Don’t come last!”

On the one hand, I’m a realist. My personal best time for a marathon is 5:47:54. Yes, the lying runners I know all spoke about the fast downhill route that is Kaapsehoop Marathon, but 47 minutes is a shed load to take off a time over 42kms. More than a minute per km faster for the entire race. In addition, my shoes are not quite right yet. I’ve had abominable pain in my hip since April and, now that I’ve taken the orthotics out, my ankle pain and ITBS are back. So the realist in me recognises that I’m still broken and I’m still quite slow. On the other hand, the optimist and eternal romantic in me (you tell anyone about this quality and I’ll kick your teeth in) hopes, wishes, dreams that all those frikken glute and hamstring exercises done at 4am and the yoga schmoga are miraculously turning me into a runner. So every marathon is an opportunity to perform a miracle and run a sub-5 hour. The realist me is actually laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of that romantic dream.

I’ve really been looking forward to this marathon. I registered for it the day entries opened. The lying runners I know told me that Kaapsehoop is an awesome race: wild horses, beautiful forests, long fast downhill route. So oooh wow! What a great marathon to run! I asked my son, Frantz and his beautiful Bronwen if they wanted to come with for a nice weekend out in a pretty place and support me at the same time. They were keen and so we booked some accommodation and were good to go.

I’m not entirely sure why I want to run the Comrades Marathon. I’ve watched it every year since I can remember it being televised. Yes, I’m old enough to remember a time before TV. (Just cried a little there.) I’m always amazed by the magnitude of the race. It’s a very stupid undertaking, but every year, more and more stupid people descend en masse on kwa-Zulu Natal to run and walk in the footprints of people who used to run the 91kms between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in nothing more than a pair of Tommy takkies or All Stars! But two years ago, almost to the day, I had a mid-life crisis and announced my intention to run this Ultimate Human Race. The sceptical looks I got only made me more determined. And now I find myself on an emotional journey which far outweighs the physical one.

Today’s race was not lacking one atom of emotion!

Yesterday we took a drive up….and I do mean up….to the start of the race at Kaapsehoop Town because that’s where I had to collect my race pack. (Nah nah nah! I got a T-shirt cause I entered on day 1 and I got race number 99. Aren’t you consumed by jealousy?) Lol! I was aware, while we were driving UP, as I’m always aware, that downhill runs are not all downhill and uphill runs are not all uphill. I was aware that there were some pretty repulsive uphills in store for me. Just how repulsive was sneakily hidden from me in the beautiful forests! There were wild horses, one of which stuck his head in my open car window, gave my entire steering wheel a healthy lick and then turned his very smelly tongue towards my face. Listen horsey! No kissing on the first date! In addition to the very friendly wild horses, there were also wildly shagging dogs. Just a delightfully quaint wild and raw little place. It really is a delightful little village.

We also visited the finish at Mbombela stadium which was a very amusing sojourn. We weren’t allowed on the grass. Ever! Even today at the finish, we ran in, along the concrete in front of the stands and out the other side. A very burly Puma rugby dude yelled at us when we walked onto the pitch. Harumph! The change in altitude between Kaapsehoop and Nelspruit? 812 metres! This was bound to be a lot of downhill notwithstanding what I know about downhills.

Bronwen and I outside Mbombela Stadium - No Giraffes

Bronwen and I outside Mbombela Stadium – No Giraffes

Is that a Giraffe behind you?

All 3 of us outside Mbombela with Giraffe in the background

Frantz and Bronwen inside the Mbombela Stadium. Stay off the grass!

Frantz and Bronwen inside the Mbombela Stadium. Stay off the grass!

Let me tell you a bit about Evan. Evan has now, as I type this, run 107 marathons in his life. He’s in the 45+ age category (which makes him very old). He ran his first 25km race at the ripe old age of 13. WTF? I hear you say. Today he ran his 95th sub-3 hour marathon. So, essentially, when the majority of people are approaching the halfway mark, he’s finishing a marathon. The world record for a marathon is 2:03. So he’s not far off that ever! He has run 13 Comrades and says that’s enough. I think he’s also a lying runner, because these multiple Comrades runners can’t give up. They always swear blind this is their last and they’re NEVER EVER doing that to themselves again. At worst they take a year off and then they’re back again for the whole torturous affair! Evan is coach to many great runners. A real coach, certainly not a slow coach.

Evan slept on top of me last night. Wait! Did I just say that? What I meant to say was: I met Evan in the dining room of our accommodation (I will not openly advertise them here because they have these infernal birds which shriek day and night unabated!!) And it serendipitously turned out that Evan had the room directly above mine. So he slept in the room on top of mine last night. We joked about what a funny story it would make if he fell through his floor and my roof during the night, but, alas, it was not to be…the funny story I’d hoped to have. Evan and I were kept awake not by falling floors or ceilings or anything nearly as exciting. We were kept awake by peacocks in mating season. They sat on the roof of his room and every five minutes belted out this screeching sound which ripped us from any dream we might have managed to be having. So at 3.30am, Evan and I got up and were incredibly grumpy going to the start. Bronwen and Frantz kindly offered to drive the two grumps because their room was on the ground floor and they’d heard nothing the whole night. And so we headed off.

Brigadoon is what I was reminded of. I swear! I started a race in Brigadoon today. It was simply delightful. We sat in the car for a bit because it was rainy. Not rainy like Joburgers know rainy. It was a fine misty rain that kind of made you wet but not really. There was a thick mist that, although thick, did not feel heavy. How do I explain this? It was misty. It was great running weather because the mist didn’t lift for almost 2 hours and then, when it eventually lifted, it was overcast and cool. We got to the start a little early because I’m neurotic about being late and there appeared to be only one road in and out of Kaapsehoop. Evan joked in the car like he was a pleb runner like me. I just want to reiterate: 95 sub-3 hour marathons!! We’re in different leagues. If he’s in the A-team (which he would be), I’m in the M-team (which I would have been in in school had I got off the couch back then!). I dropped him off at the start in the front row and I squeezed my way into the back part of the crowd. Just enough to be sheltered from the nippy breeze, but not squashed enough to be trampled at the start. And would you know it, the start started us going further up that bloody hill!! The first 2km of the race were sheer uphill. But I’m good on the ups so no complaining there. I know that all those liars runners had told me that this was a downhill race so I was sure to get some downhills soon. There wasn’t a damn wild horse in sight. The whole way. I saw and had to dodge a whole lot of horse shit, but no horses. Frantz and Bronwen claim they were around, but I never saw them. I made a point, this race, to look up and enjoy the scenery, but no horses. The scenery in this race is particularly beautiful. We contemplated our fortune for having been born in South Africa several times during our run. For the first hour or so, there was just mist. I chuckled to myself every time I saw someone dashing off into the forest for a toilet break (don’t you people do this at home?) I couldn’t help thinking “Gorillas in the Mist”.

We went up the hill, turned around and came back down the hill. The advantage of that kind of thing in the beginning of the race is you get to see the leaders and see who, from your band of mates, is in front of you. Evan passed by. He wasn’t the first-placed RAC runner but he was very near the front. We ran past the village and I heard someone call my name. I didn’t look back, thinking that all the mythical mistiness had me hallucinating, but then I heard it again. “Brenda, is that you?” I turned around and there appearing out of the mist, like the angel she was before, was Sponono. What an immense joy to see her! You’ll be reminded of our first meeting at my first official marathon here. She is waaaaay faster than me, having already run two Comrades marathons, but she was waiting for a friend who had also done a Gorillas in the Mist stop to catch up so she was just trundling along next to me.

Before too long, we veered off the downhill into the forest. I may have met God in person on that detour. That was an absurd uphill and it was another one of those detours like the start, up the one side and down the other. There was a bit of chaos with front runners almost running us over as they crossed the road to go back to the downhill main road. This uphill was ridiculous and I cursed the liars. I cursed them. I yelled out loud. You know who you are: Justin and Megan and Chrissie. You’re liars! We just went up and up and up and then just when I thought we’d reached a plateau, my dear sweet angel, Sponono, advised that there was another upper up just ahead. Evan says that he had to stop on that uphill and rub his calves. Let me tell you that, for a runner to actually stop moving forward, there’s trouble. At worst, most people walk when they’re in pain, but to have to stop and stretch or rub pain, there’s a problem. And we were at most 9km into the race. He wasn’t the only one. Many people stopped there and stretched or rubbed their legs. I didn’t cry or stop. I shouted out to God and I shouted at the liars (I hope your ears were burning), but I didn’t cry and I didn’t stop. And then we were going downhill. It was steep, I tell you. Steep steep. We actually had to be quite cautious. Running cautiously is hell on your legs. As opposed to other running which is dead easy.

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

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

My brain reacts strangely to running. The emotion and philosophy centres get all the oxygen and the arithmetic and logic get sweet bugger all. 2kms into any race, I can’t add. I’m so irritated at races where they have the “kms to go” number instead of the “kms run” number because then I can’t figure out how far I’ve run and pat myself on my back. I really pride myself on being able to add and subtract and multiply and divide swiftly in my head, but 2kms into a run, boom! All functionality switched off. But I can consider the magnitude of the undertaking or I can contemplate the meaning of the “We Are One” written on another runner’s shirt and I can make a direct link between the shirt and the poignant meaning of it in terms of life and running and of course, I can weep with joy and fear and love and guilt and anger and disappointment and excitement and pride and and and. Whilst that is really lovely and probably makes this a decent piece of writing, it doesn’t help much when you’re trying to figure out if you’re going to blow a gasket at the 32km mark. And so God had sent me my angel, Sponono. She rocks! She had it all figured out as we ran along. Her friend, Doctor, eventually caught us and we all raced along at breakneck speed, up the hills and down the hills. I was getting worried. We went through the 10km mark at 1:03 which was a personal best for me and then Sponono and Doctor hurried me to half way by 2:16 which was another PB. I was worried that I was going to blow a gasket before the end at this pace. But I kept up with them. I walked more than they did, but I utilised the downhills better than they did and caught up with them whenever I’d walked. Sponono was holding back for me, but still watching the clock. She was amazing. Doc eventually hurried off because he was having to fetch someone or something and Sponono and I trundled along at a pace which she said would help us qualify, and we could work on our seeding at other events. What an angel she was. I struggled from 18km to 23km and she struggled from 24km to 25km where we met Frantz and Bronwen. Frantz came out and ran with me for a while. He is so lovely. I am so proud of my son. He is such a good human being. Everyone should strive to be like him.

Sponono kept checking in with me and checking on the times. There were times when we got quiet because it was getting tough. The uphills were long and dreary. The downhills were steep and long and the road camber was very steep from right to left which had you not only hurtling forward pounding your knees, but your ankles and knees were having to adjust all the time to correct your balance. It was very tough on us. There were times when you could hear our biting down. But whenever we were feeling down, we looked up and the forested scenery cheered us up. Sponono regularly spoke out loud to God which comforted me somewhat. She’s way more reverent and gracious than me. I generally yell “Why?” to God when I’m running. She’s not as petulant. The difficult maths km markers gradually became lower and lower numbers and, before we knew it, the 15km to go mark appeared below our feet. Sponono very factually told me that we were now at 15 to go and that had taken us 3 hours exactly which left us 2 hours to complete 15km. Could we do it? I had no response. I considered her words for at least a minute. She kept glancing at me, but I kept looking forward. Could this be a reality for me? Could Sponono have led me to a point where I could qualify for Comrades? I started to cry. She waited for a response, but all I could do was cry. What if a dream came true for me? What if I got what I wanted? What if I achieved something great? What if I qualified for Comrades? There would be no more excuses. What if I qualified for Comrades? What if I ran a sub-5 hour marathon? What if I didn’t fail? For 200 metres, tears fell from my eyes. I nodded and choked out quietly, “We can do it!”

With 10km to go, we had 1 hour and 20 minutes left. That seems like a lot for 10kms, but at the tail end of a marathon, it’s tough going. We both realised it, but our legs were finished. We did a bit of fartlek running and counting paces. But I was hurting. My heart and lungs were still in great shape, but every inch of my legs were hurting. My hip flexors were shrieking like those peacocks at the lodge and my calves….my calves. With 4km to go and 40 minutes to qualify, we hit an uphill straight from the fiery depths of hell. I tried not to look up, but Evan’s words from a Comrades talk last year echoed in my ears as they do on every uphill, don’t bend over when you’re running uphill because you’ll starve your body of oxygen and you’ll limit your lungs’ ability to help you. So I was running upright and the sun still wasn’t shining so I hadn’t needed to put my glasses on. All I saw in front of me was a steep hill. It was so demoralising. We were running less and walking slower. As we rounded the corner at about the 3km to go mark, I gave up. I told Sponono to go ahead and I’d catch her. I didn’t want my giving up to affect her ability to qualify because I knew she still had some meat in her fridge, but I was all out.

I began to trudge. That hill was so steep and it still went on for 2kms. at about 2.5kms to go, I could see Frantz and Bronwen waiting for me. I looked down. I said “Fuck what Evan says! Fuck what Sponono just spent the last 4 hours doing! Fuck everyone! And everything! Fuck this Comrades rubbish!” I bent over and trudged up that hill, crying big tears onto my running shoes that aren’t right yet. I knew I now had to go at 9 minutes per km to get to the stadium in time to qualify. I was walking at 11min/km and I just couldn’t run. I also knew that I would get into the stadium at 5:02 or something equally as cruel which would mean I just wouldn’t qualify and I would have to do this all over again some time before 1 May next year when the last qualifier is run. I just cried and cried. And the sight of my son didn’t help. How disappointed he must be to see me walking. Each time he’d seen me before on the road, I’d been running and mostly smiling. Here I was so close to achieving something great and I’d given up. I must be such a disappointment to him. He got out the car and ran over to me. “What’s with the walking?” he asked cheerfully, “Don’t make me take off my belt!” he joked. I laughed. I laughed away my tears and told him I was done. I just couldn’t run any more. “Yes you can! You’re nearly done. Don’t give up now.” And we ran together. Him in his flipflops and me in my shoes that aren’t quite right yet. Bronwen drove the car ahead a bit and Frantz and I chatted. I shouted at God one more time. “Why do I have to finish this?” I apologised to Frantz and told him he shouldn’t talk to God like that. He laughed. I’m sure God laughed too. Frantz had watched as Sponono and I caught up to and overtook other runners and he said there was a lady in a green shirt that I should be able to overtake if I hurried a little. Hurry? You’re kidding right? We’re talking about survival here and you’re saying hurry? I had to hurry, though. With 2kms to go, I was 17 minutes away from the stadium finish. It seemed like an impossible task, but Frantz kept going with me. Finally, with 1km to go, the uphill ended and a downhill to the stadium unfolded before me. That 1km still seemed like an insurmountable task, but my child was next to me. Then many little school kids were running beside me. I love young people. I love their positive spirits. I love their joy. I love the endless possibilities that they represent. I love the potential greatness that lies within each one of them. And I realise that my brief interaction with them may change their world. So I try to interact with them meaningfully and with love when I encounter them in life. I sprayed them with a water sachet I had in my hand and I laughed at them when they gasped. It passed the time but I was running at 6.15min/km with them at my side and we were happy. Frantz had taken his flipflops off (because now we were speeding! Kind of.) and he was running barefoot on the tar. Ouch! But he didn’t stop. He just kept with me, encouraging and laughing. And then we got into the gate of the stadium. He asked if I was okay or if I still needed him. Time was 4:46:45. I told him I’d be fine and thanked him with a kiss. As I approached the stadium entrance, my heart sank. It looked like I still had to do a lap on the grass and I just knew my legs wouldn’t get me there in under 5 hours. But then, because of the big burly Puma guy not wanting us runners running on his pristine grass, it wasn’t like that and I crossed the finish line in 4:47:18. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I had qualified for Comrades. I don’t know how to explain how this feels. It seems such a silly thing to get emotional about, but I know I can run Comrades. I know I have the mental will power to run Comrades, but I just never thought I’d be able to qualify because I’m just too slow. Just last week I got so depressed because I believed I’d never be fast enough and so all this running would never amount to a Comrades marathon. I believed that I just didn’t have the musculoskeletal system to support a sub-5 hour marathon.

Many people who had been part of my race as I made my way from Brigadoon to that place where thou shalt not run on the grass, greeted me and congratulated me at the finish, but all I did was cry and nod my gratitude to them. I searched for Sponono who had come in about 2 minutes ahead of me and I thanked her through my crying. I’m still crying, by the way.

We’re nearly home now and Frantz just broke about 70 traffic laws to get us out of a traffic jam on the highway because we have my sister’s black tie 40th birthday celebration to attend. I’m not crying because we’re breaking the law or because I have to put on a dress and high heels shortly. I’m getting a horrible fever because we’re breaking the law and I have to put on a dress and high heels shortly. I’m crying because the pressure is off for now. The constant berating myself for not being fast enough is gone for now. The resignation that Comrades will forever remain something I watch other people do is gone for now. The saboteur in me who wants me to fail so that I can believe that I’m a loser is back in her box. Those monsters are always there, voicing their incorrect opinion, but for now they’ve been silenced. I’ve qualified for Comrades. Piep piep! In addition to that, I’ve improved on my marathon time by 50 minutes in just 7 months. Granted it is alleged that it’s a fast downhill course and the weather was ridiculously perfect for runners so I could have expected a 30 minute improvement at best because of course conditions, but I’ve improved. I can feel how my muscles and bones have changed. I can feel how much stronger I’m getting. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you take and then acutally implement the advice of an expert like my physio, Clare-Anne.

I suspect that my paraplegia might be slightly worse tomorrow, but I’ve taken all the recovery stuff and I’m drinking loads of water so holding thumbs.

Yours in the love of running and overcoming.
The Slow Coach

Stolen with no permission whatsoever from Graham Baird Photography. Click the pic to visit his website.

Wild Horses in the Kaapsehoop mist

Also shamelessly stolen from Sharon Senior's website. Click on the pic to visit her site.

Kaapsehoop Village

One Ninth of a Comrades

I don’t usually write about my home training runs because, essentially, they’re boring. Don’t get me wrong. I learn something about myself and my running on every home training run, but mostly, they’re rather mundane. Today was different. When I left the house, I had no idea where I was going to go. I didn’t feel like doing my usual 5km or 10km run because well, they’re boring. So I went right instead of left and headed out towards the hills. The big hills of Northcliff. I live in Northcliff on the southern side of the hill and so heading west or north from my house, there are huge hills.

As I headed out from home, I decided I’d run to the top of Northcliff Hill and back. In the car, the hill seems about 3km away which meant that I would have a 6km run for the day which was good enough. On my feet the distance appeared and was further than 3km. In fact, it was exactly 5km away from my home. How fortuitous. From my house to the top of Northcliff hill is 5km and it’s not all uphill. From the top of Northcliff hill to my house is 5km and it’s not all downhill, as I was about to find out.
One 9th of a Comrades Marathon lurks outside my front door

I ran all the way to the top of Northcliff Hill. All the way. It’s hellishly steep for 2 long kilometres and there are other 200 or 300 metre ridiculously steep hills. The run home is much more difficult, however. The downhill 2km from the water tower to Frederick drive was hell on my knees and quads and the steep hills on the way home were way steeper than those on the way to the top of the hill. At one hill, on the way home, the hill was so steep, a car stalled as it stammered past me on the hill! That’s how steep it was. My average pace was 8:34 minutes per kilometre and at some points in my run, I was running at 5:36 minutes per kilometre. Lol! I know exactly where I was when I looked down at my watch and I was running at 11:34 per kilometre! I laughed out loud, because everything about my body was telling me I was running, but my watch told me I may as well have been strolling up that hill.

I imagine that my run today was a small taste of Comrades. The hills were preposterously steep, up and down and were merciless on every part of my legs.

I’ll add today’s route to my usual training routes because it’s just slightly over 10km which makes for an excellent run. Let me know when you want to join me on a one ninth Comrades training run.

Click on the link to learn more about this beautiful landmark

Lillyloompa has some interesting facts about the Northcliff Hill landmark

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.
B