I’ve Been Running and Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the love of becoming a runner…

SLOWCOACH

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Couch time

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

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

Goodnight!

Forteeee Twoooooo! Yor! Yor! Yor!

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

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

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

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

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

Yor!s in the love of running and temporary things

Slow Coach

Jekyll and Hyde

I know I should be working and not writing this, but I can’t concentrate. Why can’t I concentrate? Because I’m sitting upright. I know, strange right? Usually, you can find me hunched over my desk or slumped in my chair, butt glued firmly in a non-running friendly pose. So you’re sitting upright and now you can’t concentrate. What’s the correlation? The correlation has something to do with a young lady who, at first glance seems kind and serene, but is, upon closer inspection, a sadistic slave master who delights in other’s suffering. I’ll tell you how I came to know this Dr Jekyll and Miss Hyde person.
You’ll remember that I’m injured. I know, I’m always injured. But seriously. I’m injured. Injured to the point of not being able to walk down stairs or bend down to pick up my grandson or anything normal people with normal knees are able to do. And what have I been doing about this injury? Well I’m running less. I’m walking instead of running, but I’m not walking with any amount of commitment or enthusiasm. And I’m complaining a lot. My colleague told me to go get my injury sorted because I was a grump as a result of not running.  I think Illuminati Michelle got tired of my complaining and she scheduled a course for her and I and a few others with a biokineticist. She’s recently had hamstring issues and has also been walking…a lot so the course would be good for both of us. If the truth be told, I think she just gets a kick out of seeing me suffer.
In parallel to this, I went to see Francis, my other physio. She sent me for x-rays and it turns out I’m old and there are signs that I’m getting osteo arthritis. Can you believe that? How disgusting! If that weren’t enough, I noticed that my eyesight was blurry when I was reading something on my phone on the weekend. How could this be happening to me? Francis gave me an exercise that is so difficult to do, I wept when I attempted them in her rooms. She stopped only marginally short of telling me to stop whining like a Stuart Hodge  drama student.  Since then, I’ve been weeping without an audience every night in my bedroom while attempting these awful exercises.
Illuminati Michelle set up the course for Monday mornings at 6am and Friday afternoons at 5.30pm. Well that’s how my brain heard it anyway. So on Thursday evening, I packed my bags for the next day very excited to be attending my first biokinetics class the next afternoon. I was tired so I went to bed early and thought I could get a good night’s rest in and get to work early. I set my alarm for 5am, all set to get to work early. I snoozed it. And I snoozed it again. I snoozed my second alarm too. And I snoozed that a second time too. And then my phone rang. I work in the type of job that might attract a 5.38ish phone call and so I sat up and answered the phone trying to sound coherent.
Hello. It’s Brenda speaking.
The voice on the other end whispered, Brenda where are you?
I beg your pardon?
Where are you? You have class.
Who is this?
It’s Michelle.
What class?
Class?
But that’s only tonight?
No. It’s now.
But you told me 5.30pm.
No. It’s 5.30am.
……………long pause. Okay, well start without me. I’m on my way.
I got dressed (In the clothes that were packed in the bag) and made it to class which is normally 15 minutes away from my house in the space of 10 minutes. I walked in to the class, still asleep, greeted everyone embarrassed and sat down and started doing whatever I was told to do. The nice lady on the mat next to me was trying to help, but I was so fast asleep and my being untimely plucked from my slumber, was starting to manifest as irritation. My self-preservation lobe in my brain was not yet awake and so I simply did whatever I was told. I smiled politely at everyone when I left and went back home to shower and start the day over. About 15 minutes into my drive to work, I woke up. I woke up and realized that my abs were on fire. In fact, I had difficulty even reaching for my gear lever. Oh my word!! What had I just done to myself?
The rest of the weekend I spent feeling like I was strapped into a corset of Elizabethan proportions. I couldn’t cough. I couldn’t bend. I couldn’t stabilize myself in a vehicle without groaning. I sneezed and yelped only 4 times. After that I determined I should simply stop breathing through my nose so that I wouldn’t sneeze. The amount of pain I was in, I fully expected to see a chiseled 6 pack of bricks staring back at me from the mirror. Alas, a 6 pack of muffins is still attached to my abdomen, reminding me of how far I have to go.
And now it’s Monday and 6am has come and gone and I’ve experienced Fatima in all her Jekyll and Hydeishness. And this time, sadly, I was fully conscious. She laughed at least 3 times at my suffering. Thankfully, Illuminati Michelle was also in pain. After one of the exercises, Michelle asked, “What muscle is this supposed to be working, because everything’s on fire?” Fatima Hyde laughed at that. Fatima Jekyll asked “Are you okay?” several times, but I got that feeling she was only asking that because of some kind of professional legal obligation rather than having any sort of compassion for my pallid complexion and my watering eyes. I became a clock watcher. I couldn’t wait for 6.45 to appear on the clock. This was torture. I’ve been punched in the ribs and I’m sure my spine is bruised. A rabid dog has taken a bite out of my right butt and there is a furnace smoldering in both my calf muscles. I’m not entirely sure if I’m starving hungry or if this is just a muscle that is attempting to leave my abdomen.
Friday is coming and I don’t think I can face this. I may accidentally amputate my toe so that I don’t have to face Jekyll and Hyde again on Friday.  I have, however, been able to walk down stairs today without pain for the first time in about 3 months. I am sitting upright without much effort and I can feel that I’m standing up straighter. Nice. This Jekyll and Hyde thing might be working. All the complaining wasn’t. So maybe I’ll just brave it one more time on Friday and then stop torturing myself.
Yours in the love of ……look, I’m struggling to find the joy in this, but I’m sure its coming. I’m liking going down stairs at least.

Slow Coach.

 

All You Need is Love

I have always maintained that the worst days in one’s life are, in fact, the best days because it is on those days, where you feel at your lowest, where it seems things couldn’t possibly get worse, that you realise your strength and your resilience. You learn about new skills you suspected you had, but had never used. You begin to understand your resourcefulness and you break down barriers which you had unwittingly allowed to exist in your life. Sunday 31 May will go down, therefore as one of the best days of my life, because Sunday 31 May will go down as one of the worst days of my life.

I’m not entirely sure why that is. Thinking back, I can’t actually pinpoint what was wrong about the day. Physically, my legs kept going forward, reasonably pain free. I didn’t get cramps. I wasn’t nauseous. I wasn’t so exhausted that my body began collapsing. I did feel like sleeping at one point…but hey, it was 12 hours of running, who wouldn’t want to sleep? But on Sunday 31 May, I hit the absolute lowest point I can remember hitting.

I had some difficulty trying to find the best place to start this piece because the Comrades Marathon up run 2015 is one long blur of tears and love and hills and hugs from random strangers and friends and sun and horror.

A good place to start, I suppose, would be with the first love I found. Sponono and Doctor who had run with me on the most significant races of my life so far were in the same starting pen as me and I was overjoyed to see them as I arrived. I was also overjoyed to see Werner, my friend from track, a Running Junkie just like me, sitting next to them. Werner and I had run the last 10km of Colgate together. He had stood patiently by as I had nearly coughed out my aorta that day. What a friend! Then would you know, Janine, my fellow fund raiser for Sekolo Sa Borokgo and Ian who had kindly paced me on ELE in preparation for my first Comrades marathon came bounding up to Werner and I. It was Janine’s birthday too so I was just surrounded by people who love me and who I love dearly and there was an air of love around the place. When I first cried, it was because of the national anthem. I always cry when I sing the national anthem, whether I’m alone in my car or at a rugby match or at the start of a race. I really love South Africa and our national anthem is a symbol of how many people compromised and sacrificed and came together to give us a country that is beautiful in its diversity and in its imperfections. Some parts of the anthem stick in our throat, partly because they’re in a language that we can’t speak, partly because they’re in a language that we associate with oppression or violence, partly because they’re in a language that is difficult to understand. But we sing it. All of it. Even the parts that stick in our throats. So the national anthem always fills and overfills me with emotion. So there we are, Brenda, Werner, Janine, Ian, Sponono and Doctor and 16500 other people singing the national anthem and I’m already crying.

From there we started and headed out of town. We were going a bit too fast and Werner and I soon lost Janine and Ian who were racing ahead. I was going for a sub-10h20 and Werner was going for a sub-11.

We went up and up and up and up. Then we went up a bit more. A little down, landed me in the arms of Lisa and Bronwynne and my love tank was filled up again. That was enough to get me up the start of Field’s Hill.  I joked with everyone that they should be on the lookout for my sense of humour because I had lost it somewhere on this hill last year.  By the top of Field’s Hill, not only was my love tank depleted, but my ankle was swollen and throbbing and my sense of humour was gone again, never to return.  I felt emotional. All the time. I kept weeping. I think Werner must have thought I was losing my mind. I thought I was losing my mind. And then it occurred to me. The feeling that was causing all the emotion was fear. I once ran down and up Polly Shortts for fun when I had been working in the area. It was a tough hill to run up then and now I knew it was waiting for me at the end of what was already proving to be quite a treacherous route. I was terrified that this was already so hard and we were only a third of the way and that the Polly Shortts end was waiting for us. We were at the top of Field’s Hill and my ankle was already swollen and sore. But I remembered how my butt had ached at 30km into last year’s race so I figured the ankle thing would disappear in just a few kilometres. (It didn’t disappear. Not even at the top of Polly Shortts, I should just add.)

Hillcrest seemed to go on forever. We caught up with Isabel and Carl. Carl was nauseous. Isabel went ahead reluctantly and we took on caring for Carl. It didn’t last long. Carl was really not feeling well. Werner didn’t want to leave him, but I thought that he was on the verge of stopping so I told Werner that he was looking awful and we should go forward. Then I saw Leslie. He was bailing. At 30km he was bailing. I wouldn’t have it! Leslie is a great runner, but he’s been lazy. Admittedly, he’s been ill this past month, but before that, he hadn’t been trying very hard. This Comrades thing seems to come so naturally to him. I pulled him off the pavement and told him that he would not be giving up if I had anything to do with it. I dragged him along by the hand and Werner, Leslie and I soldiered on. I could feel how Leslie was scanning the surrounds constantly for his escape route and two water points later he took a gap in the water point chaos to escape my eagle eye and bail. I had seen him do it, but I decided it was no point dragging a person along who had already decided the night before that he didn’t want to be there. And through all this, it was still Hillcrest. Where am I, I asked? Hillcrest. What seemed like two hours later, “Where am I?” Hillcrest. What the fuck? How big is Hillcrest? We’ve been here the whole day! Werner kept looking out for the next big named hill. This must be Botha’s. This is huge. This must definitely be Botha’s. Nope not this time. Hill after hill after hill after hill. This must be Botha’s then. Nope. Not Botha’s. How could there possibly be so many treacherous hills and no-one’s named them? How could it be? I’m going to make it my personal quest to name them!

Hill after hill after hill buffered us like violent waves on a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. They just kept coming.  Thank you to those of you who recognised me as SlowCoach and thanked me for my blog. I’m overwhelmed by the love that you gave me. Thank you. You were my real words of affirmation for the day and, in so doing, you filled up my love tank which, when you arrived, was always at an abysmal low. Each one of you made me cry! I got each of your names, but the near lobotomy has made me forget all but one of them. I’m so sorry. Please get in touch and let me know who you are. You had a significant impact on my run on Sunday and I’m very grateful. Marlene from Secunda, when you ran away from me, I was so pleased for you. I so wanted you to go and get your novice medal and I was so afraid that I was not going to make it. I’m glad you made it in time. You must be over the moon about your medal. Well done! You ran the Comrades Marathon. Nothing compares.

We were heading towards half way. I knew that Chrissie and Lizle and Lehlohonolo would be just before half way waiting with a hug. I desperately needed a hug. My love tank was empty after getting my hug from Bronwynne and Lisa at Westville and using up the words of affirmation from my blog readers along the way. I needed those hugs more than water. So I told Werner I’d run ahead to the RAC table to, amongst other things, reapply the strapping to my knee. I knew that just before the RAC table was a water point. We got to the water point and I told Werner I’d meet him at the RAC table. I raced off…it was a rare downhill. I had misjudged, however and I was still about 3km away from the RAC table. There was still another water point between me and the table and there was still another hideously treacherous hill between me and the table. How could I have been such an idiot? How could there be more hills? When was this relentless battering going to end? I had to keep running fast because Werner would be catching up and I didn’t want him to have to wait around for me at the table. As I got to the RAC table, the availability of love just overwhelmed me and I called out, “I just need some love, please.” Chrissie obliged and for a good two minutes, I hung on her shoulder, sobbing my eyes out. I sobbed, “This is too hard. Just too hard.” She just held onto me, letting me have my moment of drama and filling up my love tank. She then took me to my halfway pack, I took out my strapping and sorted out my knee like a pro. (Not exactly like a pro, according to photographic evidence supplied later.) Learning from last year’s mistake, I took what I needed (forgot to reapply sunscreen) and headed off again after a hug from Lizle and Lehlohonolo. Somewhere there, Werner ran past me, but I didn’t mind because my love tank was filled euphorically to the brim. That fuel was soon to be used up after Drummond as we started climbing the back of Inchanga.

It felt good to be a South African on Inchanga. Inchanga is spelled incorrectly. It should be spelled Intshanga. The way it is spelled means that is should be pronounced with a click sound where the “ch” is. So as we headed up the hill, I said out loud, “Yep. Intshangaaaa!” People around me groaned. A man behind me laughed and pronounced it “Inchangaaaaa”, complete with clicking sound. At which everyone laughed. Then a man next to me said, in a very English accent (he was probably not an English first language speaker), “Nkandlaaaa!” The entire group struggling up Inchanga erupted with laughter. Only South Africans would understand why that was funny. And, what’s even funnier, is that there were probably several different reasons why that was very funny to the people in that particular group. I was enveloped in the common love we feel for our country and our country’s diversity and how easily we can laugh at our collective selves. As we rounded the next corner, Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley was calling out from a car on the side of the road. It was appropriate that many of us sang along. I shouted out that I was a proud African. I was proud as I undertook this unbelievable journey with compatriots and comrades from South Africa and around the world. When I remembered this moment, it was when Ntutu asked me how I managed Inchanga. I asked him, “Which one was Inchanga? Was it before or after half way?” I really couldn’t remember. The hills melted into one another and it didn’t matter what the name was. Polly Shortts was still coming and that is a notorious soul destroyer, so it didn’t really matter where we were or what the hill was called. The worst was yet to come and with that thought came another wave of tears.

After Inchanga things changed. The hills had softened, but they were replaced by something much more daunting. The trees disappeared. The hills became long, winding roads through sparsely populated and meanly supported scenery which was in part agrarian and in part industrial. It was depressing. It was lonely. It was hot. I needed love. I needed a hug. I needed sunscreen. I needed something. In hindsight, my desperate search for sunscreen had nothing to do with sunscreen. (By the way, people who manage support stations, sunscreen is a good thing to have.) When I finally found someone with sunscreen, I was again moved to tears as she rubbed a little on my arms and shoulders with the compassion of Mother Teresa, filling my love tank with much needed fuel. I got a hug from the Nedbank table at 60km and some ice cold Rehidrat. What kindness to have remembered me. Thank you Simonne and Jo. Thank you for remembering my whimsical request. You not only saw to my hydration, you refilled my love tank. I got hugs from the Standard Bank table. Thanks Noleen. I got more hugs from a random stranger who was shouting about how much he loved each one of us. I thanked him as I ran past and then thought I may as well capitalise on his words. I turned around and asked him if he really meant what he was saying. When he nodded, surprised, I asked if i could have a hug, he obliged and I cried with joy at my love tank getting topped up by this kind (and very good looking) stranger on my journey. Just after I left the Nedbank table, electrolytes and love tank filled up, I felt somewhat buoyed.  I saw Tamryn and she took some abominable photos of me. I looked like Quasimodo, I was so hunched over. My back was sore. She gave me a hug and topped up my love tank even more. (These photos would provide the evidence that my strapping technique sucked.)

And then no-one. The supporters thinned out. It was round about that point, as the last sub-12 hour bus pulled up to us and swept past us like a street sweeping vehicle that pushes debris into the storm water drain, destined never to make it to the end, that I felt the oppressiveness of the hot day. There was a silence amongst the runners now. No joy. No camaraderie. Heads were bowed. Feet were dragging, sweeping up the dust into our lungs. There was that fear again and in some, I could sense that they had lost hope. I can’t imagine how low the point is in life when one loses hope. I am a realist, but I’m an incredibly positive person who believes that inevitably good will prevail. We will have good things happen to us. Good people will know peace. Good people and good experiences are all around us.  I never ever lose hope and Sunday was not going to be the day to start. But this was such a hopeless situation. Lifting my legs became nearly impossible. I can’t remember that they were sore. They were just tired, exhausted, sad. I looked at my watch. I had 3h20 to go to the cut off and I had 21km to run including the infamous Polly Shortts and the less notorious, but allegedly as brutal, Little Pollys. My maths brain had suddenly repaired itself and I realised that, although my usual 21km is an easy 2h10, I would have to put my legs into a new gear if I was going to make it in time. What was keeping me back at that point? It’s easy for me to think that my head was in the way, but really, I was exhausted. I wanted to give up. I wanted to stop. I wanted to take my right shoe off. I wanted to have a sleep. My knee hurt. I wanted to just give it a break. I wanted my love tank filled up by a hug or a touch of compassion or just someone telling me that I was a winner. Can I tell you what someone told us? You won’t believe what some spectators will say, thinking that they’re helping. “Keep going.” (Okay, well that’s a good idea.) “Don’t give up.” (I hadn’t planned to until just then when you suggested it.) “The 12-hour bus is ahead of you. You need to hurry up.” (Thanks. They weren’t exactly tiptoeing when they passed me, but thanks.) “You people will never make it. The 12-hour bus went by 10 minutes ago.” That one really got to me and I stopped and shouted at the guy, “Listen here, my brain is fried, but I didn’t have a fucking lobotomy on this race. That bus is NOT 10 minutes ahead of us and saying so is very cruel, you nasty shithead.” Then I burst into tears and hobbled away in what felt like a run. Poor guy. I’m sure he was just trying to help. But really! Can people not tell when morale is at an all-time low? Is that the way to lift spirits? I prefer the drunk supporters in Westville than the drunk supporters in that God-forsaken place I was in with 20km to go. Hmmm. Just looked at the map. Good people of Camperdown, you really need to work on your pep talking. Your village will be the better for it, I promise.

It’s a hard race this Comrades up run. Physically, not nearly as brutal as the down run, but emotionally, it can kill the most interminable spirit. Looking up is eventually not an option because all it does is demoralise your soul. There is little respite from the relentless hills and when the respite from hills finally comes, the road is lonely, boring, hot and the support is sparse. I’m not kidding. If you look at the times of the majority of the runners, the flattest part of the route is their slowest, some slowing by as much as 2 min/km over that stretch. That’s how you know that this race is not only about what your body can do but also about how your mind can cope with the relentless onslaught of one after another of the biggest hills imaginable and then deal with the loneliness and the boredom of the route. Yolande Maclean’s words rang true in my head, “You can run as far and as fast as you let yourself.”

Just after that nasty man, I came upon Michelle Stowell. I’m not sure if I ran up to her or if she ran up to me, but we met. We had met earlier when her and her newish husband, Ashley, had been struggling along together. Ashley had not been feeling well and they were taking a walk/run strategy. I hadn’t kept up because their running was too fast and their walks were too frequent and too slow. Our timing just didn’t align. Now, as Michelle, now alone, and I faced this horrible fate, I asked her how she was doing. She told me that she was struggling because her ITB was giving her trouble. My knee and ankle hurt, but they didn’t. I’ve run with more pain than I had at that time, but for some or other reason, I wasn’t going forward very well. I prayed out loud, “I know you want me to finish this, and I’m still not sure why, but please could you help me?” It wasn’t in my usual petulant shouting that I do to God. It was just a little cry for help. It was at the bottom of a hole, with no clear way out, begging for a little mercy. My very own Domine, quo vadis moment. I reached into my pouch in front of my vest and pulled out my timing chart. On the back of my timing chart was a little card with words that were sent to me by my colleague, Vernon. They were innocuous words sent to me with love and I had promised him I would carry them with me on the day. I hadn’t looked at them once, but now they begged to be read.

“Your biggest challenge isn’t someone else. It the ache in your lungs, the burning in your legs and the voice inside you that yells, ‘I can’t!’ But you do not listen. You just push harder. Then you hear that voice fade away and start to whisper, ‘I can.’ That’s the moment you discover that the person you thought you were is no match for the person you really are.”

Those words lightened my feet and I started running with purpose. I told Michelle she’d catch me later. I came to the 20km to go mark. Looked at my watch and told myself, “You are not going to miss this. You are not going to be cut off. You will not give up. You will not resign yourself to this fate. You can still stand, so you can still walk. Get a move on because you are never going to come back here to redeem yourself.” I started running. Properly. I knew Polly Shortts was coming and that was going to slow me down so I had to hurry it up. I passed people who I shouldn’t have passed. They were better runners than me. They had worked harder than me. They were more experienced than me. I tried to help some of them, but they didn’t want this to be over as badly as I did.  I overtook the last sub-12 hour bus and then I made it my mission to increase the distance between them and me with every step. They were on a very wise run/walk strategy as they had been the entire day, but I just wanted this to end. I prayed again. “This is really hard. Thank you that you’ve helped me, but I still need help.” I thought I had taken all my energy gels, but glanced down and remembered the one in my cleavage. I took it out and wolfed down the cappuccino taste. Nom nom. It kicked… like it does and I hurried forward a little more. The praying became a conversation in my head, with my imaginary friend and I realised why I had come to this place at this time and why I was feeling this way.

Then it happened. Little Pollys. It is waaaay worse than Polly Shortts. It’s shorter, but it’s very steep. But I was determined. I was not going to let that bus catch me. I was not going to get cut off at Polly Shortts. I was not going to miss the end by a few seconds or minutes. I was not coming back. “Please can I ask for your help again?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was Carl! A comeback like the Rolling Stones, he was! Carl was in front of me! When I had left him in Hillcrest, he looked destined, in the short term, to vomit and, in the longer term, to quit. But here he was. In front of me. Well done Carl! You are my hero of the day. Truly, you showed such amazing grit and determination. We ran walked together for a short while, but I was in a hurry now. I was so inspired by Carl’s determination. I encouraged him to hook on to the bus that was just behind us and I was going to go ahead. I could see the next sub-12 hour bus in front of me and I suddenly became afraid that I might get stuck in the traffic of these two busses in the final stretch and miss the final gun. I ran all the way up Polly Shortts and, as I crossed over the timing mat and looked at the big incriminating timing car sitting there, waiting to mercilessly cut people off, I smiled because I knew that I had recovered and made up lots of time and this was almost in the bag now. But this was no time for complacency. I prayed again. “Thank you. Thank you. Please just keep me going.” I had heard about a few sneaky hills near the end and I was afraid that, with my love tank running on empty again, I would lose my mind and give up on one of them. So I carried on racing. The crowds were shouting and encouraging me.

Would you know it, the rumours had been true. Jesmond Rd. This was when I called out in anger. “Why? Why would you do this to me? Why can’t I just get a break here?” I wailed, loudly. Really loudly.  As I hurtled down to the bottom of Jesmond Rd, running under 6min/km, I bawled out in tears, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t go on. This is horrible. I hate this race.” I’m sure that the people watching on the side of the road must have thought I’d gone insane or my dog had died or something. I was wailing out loud. I could barely see where I was going through the tears streaming down my face, salty and hot. It was all very dramatic! Why was I wailing? Well, for starters, I was hurtling down this road on a knee and an ankle that didn’t want to be attached to my leg any longer and the steep downhill of Jesmond Rd had an equal and opposite uphill to get into the main road of the stadium. It was an horrifically cruel sight as I turned into Jesmond. I could hear the stadium. I could smell the stadium. I could hear the second sub-12 hour bus in front of me but I still had a veritable mountain to climb before this horrible horrible horrible day was over.

I was determined now. I was done. Jesmond was over. The bus was in front of me and I was hurrying. They were “And we’re walking in 3..2..1!” walking. Walking? Do you people have watches? This is not the time to be 3..2..1 ing. Get a move on! And of course, they were spread right across the road. I pushed down the side of the bus and carried on hurrying. A man came running from behind me and pushed through the front row of walkers and I took the gap he made, apologising to the people as I snuck past them. They shouted at me about how rude Joburg people were. I just said, “Listen, some of us have somewhere to be and I apologised to you.” He didn’t hear me. I didn’t care. This misery was nearly over. I caught up with Ian. That took my breath away. He must have had the worst day imaginable if I was catching him. Ian is a terrific runner and my day had been horrendous. If I was catching him, how much more horrendous must his day have been? Ian, you too are my hero. We ran together for a bit, but the speed humps (I’m not using a metaphor here, they were just little speed humps that one drives over when one is being slowed on purpose by the road builders) were very taxing on our legs and feet. We groaned as we went up. We groaned as we went down the other side. I had a little laugh at our collective groans on these insignificant little molehills. Ian told me to go ahead. I did.

You know, all I felt was gratitude. I didn’t feel relief. I didn’t feel a sense of achievement. I didn’t feel impressed or amazed by my achievement. I didn’t feel that euphoria I felt last year. All I felt was gratitude. 31 May 2015 was one of the hardest days of my life. I think it may be the hardest day I can remember. I know that I have had lower moments in my life, but on 31 May I didn’t lose hope. I came close, but by the grace of God, or sheer stubbornness, I didn’t lose hope. There were people that lost hope that day. My heart aches for them because I had a fleeting moment where I knew what that might feel like.

I am loved. I really am loved. I have a loving family. I have two beautiful sons and a wonderful niece who love me. I have friends, colleagues and staff who don’t just like me, they love me. I’m very loved. If you’ve ever read or been made to read Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, you’ll understand how I found out on Sunday, 31 May that I am a Physical Touch and Words of Affirmation love language speaker. The love I received on that day, in person and remotely from all those watching my timing updates with excitement, horror, desperation, relief and joy will remain a lesson to me forever. 31 May 2015 changed me. Last year I ran the Comrades Marathon. This year I met the Comrades Marathon. The SlowCoach that lined up for Comrades 2015 is dead. Today I can still walk, but I have had a significant spiritual, physical, emotional personal experience. An experience which has at once unlocked a person who I suspect always existed, but upon whom I’d never really had to call and which has forever set that person free. It’s been a funny week since Comrades because life, for the rest of my world, has continued as normal, but I am a changed person. I have to realign my surroundings with this newly found me. During that long chat with my imaginary friend, I realised things that I need to do in my life and the fact that I am not going to be doing Comrades in 2016 will give me time for these things. A new life emerged for me on 31 May 2015 and I got two coveted medals.

I am forever grateful for the love and encouragement I received in so many forms from friends, family and strangers alike. All I really needed all along was love. Without it, who knows how this story would have ended? All any of us really need is love, from others, from ourselves. What a beautiful world it would be if the world were like the Comrades Marathon.

Run Down

Egads I’m tired. But who, training for Comrades, isn’t?

This blog is not about me. This blog is for Haley Ryan. I put a post script in one of my blogs to a lady from Roodepoort who had recognised me as the SlowCoach and that was pretty cool. Her name is Haley. Since that day, we’ve seen each other regularly on the road. It turns out that we run at similar paces. She’s good on uphills. I’m good on downs. So although we don’t run together, we see each other and we always joke about her being a SlowCoach or my being a SlowCoach. I like Haley a lot.

Okay, so this piece is about me…..

Last time I wrote, I was sick as a dog. Totally depleted. Totally run down. I was hoping to run Wally Hayward. It was not to be. I could have run Wally, but that would have put me back a bit because i wasn’t quite well enough. (Top Deck won the Wally marathon with very little fanfare. I’m very proud of you Top Deck. You’re going to totally rock this next race!) I really wanted to run Colgate because last year Colgate beat me. Last year, I entered the 32km, but gave up at the split and ran only 15km that day. I disappointed myself, but I know that it was probably the right decision on the day. I was injured, so… So I wanted to go and redeem myself this year at Colgate. Their goodie bag is the best goodie bag in the country! It was also going to be good to see @gosharpshooter and Illuminati Michelle wanted to run it in spite of her torn hamstring….wait for what I tell you about that later. She really is in a class of her own.

So now who is this blog about again? Ah yes….Haley….

Michelle and I almost arrived late. Well we arrived early, fully expecting our usual pre-race nap in the car. But at 6.20, Michelle looked around and asked, “Why is the car park so empty? I thought you said this race starts at 7?” “Yeah. that’s what is said on the website I went to .” Oops! The race started at 6.30. When we realised my faux pas, we jumped out the car, ripped off tracksuits and did a very swift warm up sprint to the start. Lol. Sorry Michelle. Lesson learned. Winter races start at 6.30. My bad. So we had no wait whatsoever at the chilly Boksburg start. The start for me was very slow. I was stuck at the back and it took me something like 4 minutes to cross the start line, but I was soon passing people. I was coughing occasionally and slowing blowing through all my tissues. I passed Haley and her friend, Shawneez (sp) on a downhill and Haley shouted to me that I should remove the SlowCoach from my shirt. I laughed. I never really have a retort to that because I’m still friends with the likes of Illuminati Michelle and Illuminati Paula and Top Deck so I could live to 79 years old and still be considered a SlowCoach. Colgate is not a bad route except for the fact that we have to go past the Colgate factory which everyone told me about last year, but I didn’t see it. Admittedly, they put a water point right in front of the entrance so you don’t actually see the factory because you’re just thinking about the water point. They really should change that route. The Colgate factory is in an industrial area on a large main road. The race is a double lapper and the second lap starts at the turn off for the 15km. Oh crumbs. I was going to have to face that saboteur of mine at the 15km mark and not give up, but keep running to run the full 32km.

Just after the Colgate factory, I turned into another fairly wide road and I heard a commotion about 100 metres ahead of me. Two speeding cars were driving down the road, dangerously close to the runners, people were screaming. Runners were running down the road screaming for us to stop the car. As they passed me, I realised that the second car, a Jeep, was attempting to stop the first car, a blue golf. Someone was screaming “No No this is terrible someone is dead there.” I didn’t know what to do. I turned around and started running towards the runners coming around the corner I’d just come round because these two cars were going to crash into them. The Jeep managed to overtake the speeding golf and cut him off right on the corner where a bus of runners were coming round. A Roodepoort runner came running past me from up the road. He thrust open the driver’s door of the Golf and started pulling at the driver’s head. The adrenalin fuelling him was making him furious and I just turned away because, although I had begun to realise what had happened, and I could possibly understand the adrenalin fuelling the runners involved, I did not want to witness or be part of mob justice. I also thought that I’d probably be able to help more at the site of whatever had happened. I hoped and prayed I wouldn’t see a dead person on the road. It had dawned on me that the Golf had struck a runner and the driver had carried on driving. The driver of the Jeep, driving behind, had seen what had happened and had aprehended him. As I ran closer, I saw the person lying on the floor was dressed in red. I was suddenly filled with horror because I knew what had happened. It was Haley, my fellow SlowCoach. Obviously on the uphills she and Shawneez had passed me and were now in front of me.

It was Haley. There were many people around now. Many and I looked on helpless. Haley lay frozen on the road, conscious, but clearly very very shocked and in pain. Someone had stabilised her neck and she was being kept still. Her shirt was slightly lifted and I could see a large cut across her abdomen. Shawneez was crying, clearly totally traumatised by what she had just witnessed. I considered the value I could add and realised that I had nothing to add to this situation, except maybe prayer. And so I turned and walked away slowly, praying that she would be okay. A short while later, we heard the sirens and we heard a helicopter. What a terrible thing. A runner was run down by a reckless driver (it is alleged that he was drunk). Haley was run down. In a race. There were hundreds of us on that road. How could this happen? This is the third person in this year that I have heard of being knocked over while running. What the fuck is wrong with the drivers on the road?

Megan was knocked over on her morning run by an unlicensed driver texting. Mr Letseka was driven over by a lady in a hurry at a traffic circle and, as a result, was unable to submit his PhD thesis when he had planned to. And now Haley was run over by a reckless driver. We should be allowed to stone cars that hit runners or cyclists!

The accident demoralised me somewhat and I started coughing a lot. I pushed on past the 15km mark in spite of my coughing and spluttering. With 10km to go, Werner caught me and we ran the rest of the way together. On the route, I met Lynn who had run with me on Comrades.  On the second lap of the race, the Metro cops were just finishing up their preliminary assessments and marking the scene of the accident. There was a human body drawn around the spot where Haley had been lying when I saw her. The was a big pool of Haley’s blood there. It was traumatic to see and I wondered if she had survived. I didn’t know how to feel. I just felt defeated. What a terrible thing to happen. Haley was ready to run her back-to-back, just like me. She had worked just as hard as me and she was as fast…or as slow….as me. We would have finished Comrades probably at the same time. And now that was ruined. Some reckless drunk had ruined Haley’s chance.

Haley was airlifted to Union hospital where she is on the mend. She had many broken bones and requires quite a great deal of rework. It will be a while before she runs, but she’s a trooper and she’ll be back running as fast….or as slow….as me in no time at all, of that I’m sure. I will write to the Comrades Marathon Association to ask them to give Haley dispensation on her back-to-back until she is ready for another up run. Haley, you still cannot call yourself the SlowCoach because you used outside intervention to become slower than me. So get better and get running again because I will expect to be passed by you very soon.

I was going to tell you about Illuminati Michelle, right? Well, Illuminati Michelle, with the torn hamstring, came second in the ladies veteran race, but, because of the rushed start, had not put her age category numbers on her vest and so did not win a prize. She is an amazing athlete and because of that,

I remain, forever yours

SlowCoach.

32 More Sleeps and I’m Just Chilling

Yes I am! You’re all out there running ridiculously long runs and tracking and easy 90 minuting and doing all these crazy things in honour of hell week which is in preparation for The Comrades Marathon on 31 May 2015 and I’m sleeping in. Okay, I ran Loskop almost 2 weeks ago and the week after that I worked my ass off at track. But then I was struck down with that dreaded of all lurgies, flu!

I’ve started to stress because I’m missing the big runs. So much so that I had my first Comrades nightmare the other night. The dream started out very well. I was having a blinder of a run. I was an hour ahead of schedule at the 60km mark. So Chrissie met me in town and we decided to go drink a beer at a nearby pub. But when I looked down at my shirt, I realised that I didn’t have my race number pinned on me. In the dream, the race number had the timing chip and so I realised that my fabulous time would not have been recorded by the various timing mats along the way. I don’t remember much else about the dream, but I think we drank beer. Wait….I remember carrying on and following people through the streets of this little town. So I have been struck down. For an entire week. I really am sick. I thought it had been years since I felt this sick, but as it turns out, it is exactly one year, to the day, since I felt this sick. How do I know? Because exactly one year ago, I wrote a blog telling everyone how sick I’d just been. So I’ve reached this conclusion: The Couch Potato in me lives and breathes! It’s really cute because I’ve worked hard the last 11 months. It’s good to know that at a subconscious level the rebel still exists.

I did a comparison in an attempt to satisfy my neuroses and because the Comrades dream has me worried. I compared last year from 1 March to 29 April to this year from 1 March to today, and what do you know? I have spent 59 hours running 495 kilometres since 1 March compared to the 56 hours running 344 kilometres in the same timeframe last year. Whew! First of all, that’s a shit load of running in just 2 months. Secondly, it turns out that I have been running well this year. Imagine if I manage to totally harness my Couch Potato? Lol. Well, at least I could avoid feeling so shitty whenever I increase mileage significantly. But I could probably also be a really good runner.

So think of me. I’m hoping to be better by the weekend so that I can run Wally 42.2 on Friday and/or Colgate 32 on Sunday and/or Jackie Mekler 25 on Saturday next week. Actually, I’m just hoping to be better tomorrow so that I can go to work.

Enjoy your hell week. I’ll just sit on this couch.

Yours in the love of getting better.

Slow Coach