Inside me

I’ve got a race coming up. I’m so excited about it. Actually, it’s turning out that it’s having to be the big holiday for the year because it’s getting quite expensive. The race itself and the accommodation and food at the race venue (it’s in the middle of the desert) is about R4000 each. We whinced about it when paying, but hey, we only live once and this is a 3 day stage trail race in the Namaqualand right about the time the flowers bloom there. *holding thumbs*.

So R4k for a race is good in theory, except this race is at the arse end of Africa, in a remote desert in the middle of Nowheresville. To get to Nowheresville from my house by car would be a 12 hour drive without a toilet break. So I’m not doing that the day before a 3 day stage race. The other alternative is to fly to Nexttonowheresville and drive for 4 hours in a hired car to Nowheresville. That would cost about R10k more.

The other option is to fly to Cape Town and drive in a hired car for 6 hours to Nowheresville. That would be slightly cheaper, and at least it would be Cape Town, which although not my favourite place on Earth, would be a whole lot better than Nexttonowheresville. And of course you can’t fly and drive 6 hours so you’ll have to stay over in CT for a night. Chiching! Then you have to come back to CT after the race so you may as well make a holiday of it and take 10 days instead of 5 days and holiday somewhere on the coast, say Nearlynowheresville. Chiching! Chiching! Chiching!

Yeah! So Namaquaquest is the big holiday and big race of 2019. Which I’m still really excited about.

When I entered Namaquaquest earlier this year I was so lazy. I’d like to blame work, and any normal person could blame my work because I work crazy hours and expectations are high. But, you know my motto? No! Not “don’t die, don’t come last”! The other motto! “You find time and money for those things that matter to you.” And so I can never blame work because now, suddenly, as the race gets closer, I suddenly have time to leave the office on time and get to gym and get to time trial. Amazing how that happened!

In reality, I’m in panic mode. I had fantasised, when I entered the race, that I could do well in the shorter race, like a top 10 even. I knew I was stronger than I had been before. My body was a stronger body. I was just unfit and all I had to do was get fit. And because I have this tiny, but very effective saboteur that lives inside me, I find myself now weaker than I was back then and still unfit.

When I started writing this blog in 2013, I was a couch potato who, by some cosmic anomaly managed to run the Comrades Marathon. But since then, I’ve become stronger. I’ve strengthened this couch-loving skeleton and without too much effort, am able to run a marathon or a less than shit time on a race. Maybe I am related to my athletic family after all. Inside me, there may be a genetic athlete who has lived long and well on a couch. Inside me, however, is my little saboteur. I should name her so I can blame her. Blaming her would be so much easier than calling out my couch potato self for having spent so much time avoiding and in some cases, ruining my genetic predisposition to be a good athlete. I wonder why I do that. I wonder why, even though I think I may have so much potential, I allow myself to be mediocre. At work I’m not like that. At games and arguments and my new business I’m not like that. In fact, I’m the opposite. I have to win and have to be the best and have to be seen to be the best at those other things. But with running…

I suppose I ran the Comrades Marathon which is not being shit. It’s being the opposite. But if I had trained better, I could have done better. Now if I trained at all, I could be semi-decent. I think that maybe it’s about external expectations. No-one expects me to be great at running. It wasn’t a sport my family excelled in – they excelled at everything else – and I did run the Comrades Marathon, so surely that’s enough? Even writing this blog has helped my little saboteur. With a blog like this, I don’t have to excel. I don’t have to be the best or be seen to be the best. I don’t have to win. In fact, you might be disappointed if I wasn’t so highly mediocre any more. And then, would this blog matter? Would any of it matter?

Holy shit! Am I having a mid-life crisis right now? I think I might be!

Inside me, I know that I can run a sub-4 hour marathon. I know that to do that, I will have to spend the next year at least dedicated to the gym, with a good biokineticist, who will help me build a strong, resilient body. I will have to run, at least 4 times a week. I will have to enlist the help of a coach like Illuminati Michelle. I will have to get a sports massage once a month. I knew all of this 3 months ago. Have I done any of these things? No, I haven’t! And now my race, not the marathon, is just 2 months away and I’m still unfit and highly mediocre.

It’s going to take a goal so abnormally unachievable for me to get off this metaphoric couch I have slipped back to, that I can do naught but be who I am born to be. I think the sub-4 marathon will be a good start. Now all I need to do is choose the marathon and place the stake in the ground.

Thank you for being part of this next installment of what is clearly a very drawn out mid-life crisis! Thank you for coming this far with me on this journey.

I am still not sure why my running saboteur is what she is. I’m not sure why I don’t choose running as the thing to excel at because it probably gives me more joy than my job….except for the whole running part! If you have an answer, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. I suppose the answer is inside me already.

Yours in this throws of mid-life crises.

SlowCoach

The Comrades Marathon Medals

Are you confused by the medals at Comrades? Don’t be, silly! Let me break it down for you with the times required to get these medals.

The Gold Medal

If you want a gold medal, then you need two things:

  1. Be born for this,
  2. Work your ass off.

If you want a gold and don’t have number 1, then be prepared to do two times number 2. You ask Belinda Waghorn, she has a gold medal and claims to not have much of number 1. While her fellow gold medalists were running 130km per week, she was running 230km per week leading up to that Comrades gold. To get a gold you have to be among the 10 best male or female runners on the day. That doesn’t mean you have to be in that pack from the start. The Comrades Marathon race only really starts at 60km. As a woman, you have to run the race at an average pace generally of between 4:05 and 4:20 minutes per kilometre (obviously depending on who else arrives for the gold medal on the day and depending on whether you’re running up or down). To stand a chance of having a stab at this medal, you’ll need to have run a marathon in under 2 hours and 50 minutes in the 6 months leading up to your gold medal attempt. As a man, if you want a gold medal, then you’ll need to lift that game a bit and run somewhere around 3:30 to 4:00 minutes per kilometre average. Are you vomiting yet?

This year, I helped one of the runners in the top 20 by running behind him and spraying his hamstrings. I looked at my watch while I ran next to him and I was running at 3:20. And he wasn’t in the top 10! So be prepared. To even stand a chance of being one of these men, you have to have run a marathon in under 2 hours and 30 minutes in the 6 months prior to Comrades. The numbers put it into perspective, right?

The Wally Hayward Medal

This is a cool medal. This is for men who don’t make it into the top 10, but still run under 6 hours. It’s pretty difficult to get one of these, and until just a few years ago only a handful of people had this medal. But with a more open society and more capable runners having access to the race, we’re seeing more and more men get this medal. It fills me with joy when I think of that. Yeah, so Wally Hayward. To get a Wally Hayward, you need the following:

  1. You have to be a man.
  2. You have to run 89.2km in under 6 hours.
  3. Don’t be in the top ten.

You’ll need to be able to run 89.2km at an average pace of 4:02min/km. How you liking your shot at that Wally Hayward now? It’s best to have run a sub-2:45 marathon the six months prior. You can do it!

The Isavel Roche-Kelly Medal

This medal was introduced this year in 2019 and the first recipient of that medal is my dear friend, Yolande Maclean. She adds it to her 8 gold medals. The Isavel Roche-Kelly medal is half gold, half silver for obvious reasons. To get one of these medals, you need the following:

  1. You have to be a woman.
  2. You have to run 89.3km in under 7 hours and 30 minutes.
  3. Don’t be in the top ten.

To do number 2, you have to run the whole distance at an average pace of 5:02 minutes per kilometre. The whole way. All 89.2km! Essentially, with the introduction of this medal, women can no longer get a silver medal at Comrades. To get this medal it’s probably beneficial to have run a sub-3:10 marathon the 6 months prior to Comrades.

The Silver Medal

That medal to which mere mortals could possibly aspire! Previously, all runners who came in under 7 hours and 30 minutes would be eligible for a silver medal. This has changed recently because women who achieve this feat now get the Isavel Roche-Kelly medal. But you men could possibly aspire to get this medal if you can run the full 89.2km at an average pace of 5:02 minutes per kilometre. Nice! You’ll have a better chance at it if you’ve run a marathon in under 3 hours, but at least a sub-3:10 marathon will give you a good head start at getting a silver medal at Comrades.

The Bill Rowan Medal

This medal was introduced in 2000 and is named after the winner of the first Comrades Marathon in 1921. He won the marathon in a time of 8 hours and 59 minutes and to get the medal, you’ll need to do the same. A sub-9 hour Comrades marathon will require you to run 89.2km at a minimum of 6:03m/km for every kilometre. Go get that medal! If you can run a marathon comfortably in 4:03, you’ve got a chance of getting one of these cool medals. I said “comfortably”!

The Robert Mtshali Medal

Made of titanium, this medal can be worn by those who manage to get over the finish mat between 9 and 10 hours after the starters gun goes off.

This medal was named after Robert Mtshali who was the first unofficial Black runner in the 1935 Comrades Marathon, finishing his race in a time of 9 hours and 30 minutes. His efforts were not officially recorded as government and race rules of the time stipulated that, in order to compete in the Comrades Marathon, you had to be a white male.

That really talented runners can now participate in our country’s greatest race, is really encouraging. That every young person can dream of doing the Comrades Marathon and that the dream can become a reality fills me with love and pride. We owe Robert Mtshali a debt of gratitude for that.

To have the privilege of owning one of these medals, you’ll have to run the full route at an average of 6:09min/km. That’s a marathon time of 4 hours and 13 minutes to give you a chance at earning this medal.

The Bronze Medal

I know that all of this seems easier and easier as we go on, but the Comrades Marathon is very difficult. Very difficult. I fully expected to get a bronze medal on my last one because I had an amazing 4:11 marathon time. So a Bronze medal was well within the realms of possibility for me. I snuck over the mat panicked half to death in 11:50, only just earning my copper Vic Clapham medal.

I fully expected to be able to get in between 10 and 11 hours. All I had to do was run at an average pace of 7:23min/km the whole way. I didn’t come close on that day. The only time I ran anything like that was for the last 17 kilometres. The up run is particularly difficult.

So although I will now tell you that a marathon time of 4:20 should get you home in time to get this medal, I have personal evidence to suggest that even a 4:11 marathon won’t help you achieve this. Of course, I have that head injury thing going for me where my head just gets in the way of success. So if you don’t have a head injury, then 4:20 should be fine.

The Vic Clapham Medal

I am the proud owner of two of these little copper medals. To get these medals, all I had to do was finish the Comrades Marathon before the gun went off at 5.30pm, 12 hours after I had started running. It seemed easy when I started. Neither time was it easy. The first time (a down run) I had run a sub-4:40 marathon. The second time (an up run), I had run a sub-4:20 marathon. Both times, I crept in with less than 20 minutes to spare. The Vic Clapham medal was introduced in 2003 when the time limit for completion of this great race was extended from 11 hours to 12 hours.

Vic Clapham established the race to commemorate the South African soldiers killed during the World War I. Run for the first time on 24 May 1921, it has been run more than 90 times since then and is now run by over 20,000 people annually.

To stand a chance at getting one of these medals, the qualifying criteria of a sub-4:45 marathon will not be enough to get you over the line in time. You have to run the full 89.2km at an average pace of 8:04min/km for every single kilometre. Seems like a lot, but I am living proof that this is a mammoth task even with a good marathon. Hwever, if I can, then you can.

The Back-to-Back Medal

I also have one of these medals. It is awarded to novice runners who complete an up or down run in succession. This means that your first Comrades finish and the subsequent run in the opposite direction both completed in under 12 hours will qualify you for a back-to-back medal. This medal was only introduced in 2005, but if you completed a back-to-back before then, you can apply to buy your back-to-back medal.

The Comrades medal is a tiny medal. about as big as a R5 coin and twice as thick. It was quite a surprise to me when I received my first one. All that for this, I asked? It is evidence to prove that size doesn’t matter. Those 3 medals are my most prized medals. They represent an achievement in my life that will be very difficult to match.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of the Comrade Marathon medals.

Yours in the love of humble little medals.

SlowCoach

Something New

Do you know what I realised yesterday when Michelle asked me if that Loskop was a personal best for a 50km? I realised that I have never run a 50km race. In fact, I have never run anything further than 48km. Well, except for that whole Comrades Marathon thing. When all the ultra marathons were happening last year, I was injured. Admittedly, I ran Kosmos 3-in-1 and I ran the Randburg Easter 100, but neither of those contain an actual 50km or more single run. So yesterday I ran my first 50km race. Cool hey?

Run Loskop, Brenda. It’s a lovely race, Brenda. Great downhill run, Brenda. Beautiful downhill race with a little sting in the tail near the end, Brenda. There is really no end to the lies runners will tell.

Michelle and I left at 2.30am yesterday morning to go run Loskop. Yes, I said 2.30am. Race is a point to point, starting in Middelburg and ending at the beautifully picturesque Loskop dam 50km away.  I arrived at the race with apathy.  I’m not sure why apathy. I guess because I felt strong and well prepared. Easter 100 had boosted my confidence immensely. This was just 8km more than a marathon. I was finding marathons easier these days so what was an extra 8kms on a marathon? It didn’t even occur to me then that I had never run a 50km. Michelle had kindly worked out a timing chart for a sub-5.30 race. I didn’t even know if that was feasible, but I’ve run a sub-4.20 marathon so an extra 8km in 1 hour seemed possible. I wore the pacing chart on my wrist. The first 10km were supposed to be run at 6.45/km. This seemed achievable. I’ve been managing 6.30/km on my easy runs so this should be fine. Should have been, except my apathy at the start had me standing at the back with people who were clearly out for a long day on their legs.

Ha! A politician got up at the start and gave a speech in which she told us, “Today I am just one of you. I am running this thing today.” I laughed at how in that simple sentence lay the root of many of our problems with South Africa today. But, that is a different blog written by someone else. The starter set us off and we didn’t move. Then we ambled and then we shuffled. Then we stopped. Then we shuffled and before I knew it, I had done 2km in just 14 minutes. I panicked. I was now 30 seconds behind schedule in just 2km. I picked up the pace and started passing people as quickly as possible. I think I kind of lost my mind. 3rd km was 6.03. 4th km was 6.07. 5th km 6.22. 6th km 6.19. 7th km 5.13. Leigh-Ann and Dave came running up. It’s Leigh-Ann’s birthday today so I wished her and told her I was starting to have a bit of a tough time. But 8th km 5.26. 9th km 7.08. I heard a breaking spring sound. 10th km 7.32. A bolt shot out the top of my butt. It fell on the floor and made a faint metallic sound. 11th km 7.07. Steam came out of my head. A door handle fell off. 12th km 7.13. A tyre fell off the bottom of my leg and rolled down the hill we were now moving up. I should tell you that at this point, there had been one downhill on this downhill route. Admittedly, some had warned me that the first 21km were difficult and from then it was going to be downhill. But that didn’t matter right now.  We were now 13km into the race and my chassis had fallen apart. I slowed down. The long day on their legs crowd came sauntering past me. Some of them I recognised as people much slower than myself. I kicked a stone…on purpose. I knew that I had to get home at some point and I still had 37km to go on a race in which I had already burnt out. I cried. Yes I did. Then I prayed. I’m not sure what I prayed. I just prayed. I prayed that my son would get a job. I prayed that our country would be better. I prayed that it would rain. I prayed that the wind would change from the freezing headwind that it was into a tailwind of sorts. I prayed that I could be a better person. I prayed for wisdom. Only one of those prayers has been answered so far but I’m none the wiser. I cried some more and I kicked another stone.

Like the angel that gets sent whenever I most need her, I heard Sponono call out my name. I didn’t turn around because I didn’t want her to see my tears. But she and her friend came running up to me. They passed me because I was walking. And then I cried some more because Sponono had passed me and what if I wasn’t able to catch her? I thought I should at least try to catch her. I lifted my aching knee. The top of my glute started to shoot stabbing pains up my back with every step, but I battled forward trying to catch Sponono. Eventually at around 15km I caught up with her and we carried on running. Her friend dropped back slightly and she told me that we were going too fast. I realised that my speed has improved significantly since Sponono and I ran together in 2013, when she patiently and kindly helped me to qualify for Comrades at Kaapsemoer. My foot felt like I had plantar fasciitis. I didn’t know if I should limp for a while to make it go away, so I just carried on running forward. Families had come out to the road to support us. It was wonderful. We were being cheered and there were loads of children supporting us. It lifted my spirits somewhat and I cheered up slightly. What also kept me going was my knowing that at 21km, this hellish race would get better because a bunch of lying runners had told me that. It didn’t get much better. One or two unnoticeable downhills came and went. Many uphills and some uphills cleverly disguised as flats came and went. I walked a bit. Cried some more. Prayed a bit. This was turning into quite the spiritual experience. I considered going to the toilet at 21km. I don’t go to the toilet on runs. I would never bush pee even if my life depended on it. I don’t use the portaloos because they’re always revolting and there’s always a queue. So I pulled off the road at 21km, spotted the queue and decided to spare myself and carried on running. I didn’t really need the toilet after all. I only wanted to do something that would change the way I was feeling. That was miserable, in case you hadn’t picked that up yet.

I was managing sort of sub-7.30 minute kilometres. I can’t really remember kilometre 24, but I know I kicked another stone…on purpose and the evidence from my Garmin seems to indicate that kilometre 24 took 9.32. The water points on this race are fantastic. Especially the one at 25km. The portaloos were named Executive Toilets. How fantastic! Those toilets appeared just like Sponono out of the horizon. There were steps up to the door. The toilets were white. They were clean. There was 2-ply. Admittedly, they were on a slope, which made moving around in the cubicle somewhat of a challenge. But, they gave me a little reprieve. Sponono had run past me as I was climbing the stairs to my delightful little reprieve and I waved at her promising to catch up to her a little later. So the liars hadn’t totally lied. For a short while after 25km, the route improved slightly. I caught Sponono and ran with her for a short while.  I was feeling a little better and I wasn’t sure how long this mood swing would last so I pulled away from her. Some undulating, slightly picturesque terrain. A sign that said “Hier Kak Ons Af” at an entrance to a farm. And then the 36km mark happened. Not one single liar told me about the 36km mark. The signs read, “Hou bene hou.” and “Keep that legs moving forward.” At least I was still able to notice funny things. Even if I didn’t find them funny. The hill was steep but over the rise, the hill was steep in the other direction. From 37km to 40km the downhill was beautifully steep. Most people didn’t like it, but I loved it. I threw everything I had into that steep downhill. I knew that I was 17 minutes off the pace for a sub-5.30 and it didn’t matter if I walked to the end after this hill. I didn’t know how long this downhill would be. What I did know is that there would be a “slight sting in the tail” from 46km. At 40km there was a lovely water station. I asked someone for the time because my watch had died as I started on the downhill. 4.31. I looked at my pacing chart and, will you know it, I had made up a whopping 7 minutes and was now only 10 minutes off the sub-5.30 pace. I didn’t know the nature of the sting in the tail, but I live in Northcliff, how stingish could the sting be? I mean are we talking hornet, wasp, bee or scorpion here? I could have a blinder of a final 10km and come in under 5.30. I had maintained the mood swing, so I pulled myself together and started racing. I had no idea how fast I was running. I just ran as fast as I could.

I still hadn’t realised that I had never actually run this far before except for Comrades almost 1 year ago. So it didn’t occur to me that my tyres and chassis falling off at 10km might come back to bite me at 48km. I raced. And then I walked because I just didn’t believe I could do this. At 42.2 I asked for the time. 4.44. My brain couldn’t do calculations, but it sounded like I had taken a lifetime to run a measly 2.2km. So I walked. If there had been a stone, I would have kicked it. There was an uphill in front of me and I thought that was the start of the legendary sting in the tail. I ran towards it and up it. At the top of that little hill, I beautiful view unfolded in front of me. The dam, nestled coyly amongst the rolling mountains, glistened in the late morning sun. If you ever run this race, at this point, don’t get carried away. Don’t enjoy the entire panoramic of this view. DO NOT LOOK RIGHT AND UP. I did. The term sting in the tail does not even remotely describe the size of the hill from 45km to 48km. There is no metaphor for this “slight sting in the tail”. I’ve searched for one, but really, there is no adequate metaphor for this hill. The nice thing about it is that it bends three times so you’re never fully aware of the magnitude of the treachery ahead of you. Oh my word! What I didn’t realise was that on the third bend of that hill, the coolest thing was about to happen to me.

Earlier on in the day, I had seen a guy from FFA running club and he had greeted me. He was super hot. He had the most astoundingly beautiful body and as I checked him out, I was most surprised to see the 55 age category sticker on his shirt. It crossed my mind that he was cheating because he looked no older than 35 and he was running like a 25 year old. Anyway, as I took a stroll up the treacherous hill, the hot 55 year old and a few of his friends ran past me. Again, the hottie greeted me. As they passed me, I saw a sign at the top of the hill which read “Only 2260 metres to go”. Something bit me. I was done with this race. I was tired. I couldn’t feel my legs or back any more so I wouldn’t even have known if I was sore. I knew at the sign, I could expect a downhill to the resort entrance and I needed a downhill. I ran past hottie 55 and his friends and the hottie told me that I was looking strong. I laughed a wordless retort. As I rounded the top of the hill, the downhill beckoned, but the actual sting in the tail is a 250m uphill before the resort entrance. The downhill was awesome and I raced down. Momentum carried me up the real sting in the tail and I entered the resort, noticing the 500m to go mark on the road. I felt a bit deflated that I still had half a kilometre to go on this dreadful day, but it was a wonderful winding downhill and the crowds were cheering and shouting. What a wonderful finish! I saw Michelle and shouted at her for lying to me about the fantasticness of this race that she had now completed 9 times. I looked up at the clock and saw 5:41:38. Yeah! It wasn’t sub-5:31, but I was glad it was over and I had finished. Didn’t die. Didn’t come last. Not by a long way. I picked up my race goodies. Awesome goodie pack and shirt and you get a bag of oranges and a can of coke! Cool hey? Michelle showed me where to pick up my tog bag. As we were walking around, hottie 55 came up to me and smiled. He said to me, “Well done out there. You showed real guts in your race.” I smiled a polite thank you. Michelle and he glanced at each other with a hint of recognition and he looked back at me. He continued, “Please tell Vreni that Israel Morake says ‘Hi’.” My jaw dropped open. Michelle smiled and yelped, “Israel! You came and visited me when I was in hospital!” “Oh yes!” remembered Israel. (That is an incredible story about an amazing human being, but for another day.)They embraced and carried on talking about Israel’s current goings on. My mouth was hanging open. I was totally star struck. Not only was he super hot, he was Israel Morake. For those of you who don’t know, take a look here or here. That was so cool. An icon of South African long distance running had told me that I had shown guts in my running. And he was hot! And he was so lovely and awesome and humble and just lovely. I’m still star struck, can you tell? What a great day!

I realised that I can run 50km. I can recover from a total blow out and come back stronger. I can run awesome downhills and still put my head down to run treacherous uphills and still find more fuel to finish a race with a powerful run. I can be a good runner. 5:41 is far from being a star, but I can be a good runner. I feel like I’m just starting. I’m learning really important lessons now. Not that all the previous lessons weren’t important, but now I’m learning lessons about actually racing races, not just not dying and not coming last. Real focussed racing.

In a week’s time, I will forget how unfun that race was for me and I, like all running liars, will be the new brand ambassador for Loskop Ultra Marathon, but I will never forget meeting Israel Morake. I’m going to work hard so that one day in the not too distant future he remembers meeting me.

Yours in the love of learning something new.

SlowCoach

Caved In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had three plans:

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

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

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

Okay, gotta run.

I’ll chat to you later.

Yours in the love of discovering

SlowCoach

 

 

 

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.

Dear Running, It’s Not You. It’s Me.

Recently I’ve been in the most fortunate position to be introspective. I hate introspection. Introspection for me is always the question, “Why did I react so strongly to that.” All of the reasons for my current instrospections are the same. I hate being labelled. Which, when one does the full Ishikawa diagram leads to “Labelling me takes away my freedom to change.” If you tell me I’m a girl, you take away my freedom to leave my washing lying all over the floor and not giving a shit about the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. If you tell me I’m skinny, you take away my freedom to lose weight or to put on weight. If you tell me I’m a runner, you take away my freedom to become a pole dancer. If you label me a project manager, you take away my freedom to become a singer. You get my drift, right. So I really hate labels. Not because I hate labels, but because I love my freedom to change.

I love love affairs. I love intense, passionate, SHORT love affairs. Commitment has always been a problem for me. So much so that the one time when I bothered to place myself in a committed relationship, I ended up with depression and a subsequent eating disorder. Commitment is another way in which one’s freedom can be eroded. And relationships are sneaky in that you’re filled with euphoric endorphins which make you think that you’re having a good time, when in fact, your freedom is slowly being usurped by this entity called a relationship.

And so I find myself re-evaluating this love affair I’ve been having with running. This label “runner” that I’ve been wearing.

I like running. I really do. We have fun. Sometimes. Running has been good to me. I have great friends because of running. There are a few special friends who have been able to transcend talk about running and Tim Noakes to be more than “running friends”. Running has made me healthier. Running has shrunk me a dress size or two. But running requires commitment. And I just don’t know if I have that commitment in me. I keep telling myself that running is good for me. That running will teach me commitment. That running will give me a goal. That running is the reason. I’m just not so sure any more. But I’m addicted to running now and being fit and healthy and fitting into size 8s instead of size 12s and challenging myself to run every race a little faster than the last time.

So essentially, I’m screwed! I’m in this relationship with an entity I’m not sure I even like any more, never mind love. I’m suffering abuse (the recent 15 day lay off due to a stupid injury that no other working women get from work shoes, only running women, being case in point) at the hands of my lover. Running makes me cry at least once a week. The relationship is now a stale and routine and somewhat less than passionate love affair. But I’m stuck with it!

Oh my word! I’m married to running! How did this happen? I didn’t even get a fucking diamond ring. I feel like someone married me without my permission. And I didn’t get the diamond ring or the sex!

So now I have to do what every married couple has to do at some point in their marriage, I have to either get divorced. I’ve had my eye on pole dancing for a while now. Or I have to find the love I once had and rekindle the fire. I’ll start where I started 3 years ago this month, not injured, but by getting up early and doing my glute and hamstring exercises. (Minus the scoffing a tray of caramel horns. Hey, I’ve learned something from this abusive relationship.) And then I’ll look at running again on Wednesday and see how I feel. I might try out the pole dancing too, just to be sure.

Yours in the love of the slow burning passion of commitment to running. Blech!

SlowCoach

The Reason

What does this mean? What does any of this really mean?

What does this mean? What does any of this really mean?

Our Running Junkies coach, Ringmaster Dave, has a new white board. He thinks he’s very snazzy with his white board. He has the same affliction as me in that his handwriting is illegible. I’ve typed it up very nicely for you up there, but it didn’t look like that when I returned from the warm up which felt more like a sprint to the finish. This is what I imagined in my head:

Each type of running junkie would get either 1. , 2. or 3. as their session which they would have to do 3 times. I figured, ag, I’m a SlowCoach, but there’s that whole Comrades Marathon runner thing which immediately puts me in a different league to other idiots who arrive at track sessions. So I reckoned I’d get the 3 x 300m which I could manage. Turns out I didn’t understand quite correctly.  Turns out that 1., 2. and 3. are the 3 sets. I was going to have to do all of those.

Dave asked, merely to hear the sound of his own voice, if we knew what “R pace”, “I pace” and “F pace” are. He started by describing R pace which is “a relaxed fast pace”. So the Illuminati would be running the 300s at 38km per hour and I would be running them at 4.6km per hour.  Dave told us to focus on our form during the 300s. I did for the first 300m and then I focussed on not dying and not vomiting up my own aorta. I had left my watch at home today which always puts me in an instant bad mood. So I found myself running with a B-teamer Suzanne. She was hellishly fast over the 300s and I clung on by freshly clipped toenails so that I would have a proper 2 minute break. Oh mein God! Just three three hundred metres. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Those three three hundred metres may as well have been a marathon. Then we had to jog. Slow jog. Its tough to slow jog with vomit blocking your wind pipe. And then we started the two hundreds.

I just couldn’t come up with a good enough reason tonight. Why the fuck was I doing this? Suzanne asked me if I was going to run another Comrades. I laughed. I told her she should have asked me that 5 minutes before I started the warm up. As I stood there at the end of the third 200m, I just didn’t know. I didn’t know if I wanted to keep doing this to myself. And it’s so weird because it’s not like my legs get sore. It’s not like my chest gets sore. It’s some stupid emotional response I have to lactic acid build up. I just want to give up. I just want to stop and trudge to my car with my middle finger in the air to everyone at track. They’re all such fantastic athletes and I just suck

ALL

THE

TIME!!

It’s kinda like the mining strikes. Why should I work as hard as the CEO if I only end up with a fraction of the salary? Okay, the miners have a different view: Why should I only get a fraction of the CEO’s salary if I perceive myself to be working as hard as him/her?

I really couldn’t think of a good enough reason for me to carry on….and yet I carried on. I must be a very stupid person. Thankfully, Suzanne has a reasonably near-term goal. She wants to run Kaapsehoop. I told her not to read my blog about Kaapsehoop before she runs it but to take recovery shakes for 3 weeks before and to beware of the last 3 kilometres and the road camber. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth about my Kaapsehoop or the aftermath. She was also struggling tonight and so we muddled along together. I didn’t give up tonight partly because I knew that my misery had company and I knew that Suzanne has a goal. I have a goal but it’s only a year away and it’s just another Comrades Marathon so what’s the big deal?

At the end of the two hundreds, Suzanne and I embarked on our 4 minute slow jog which started as a slow amble but then Ringmaster Dave made us run. So we jogged. It was not unlike trudging through a Cambodian rice paddy, but it must have looked like a jog because Dave stopped stalking us.

What is “F pace”? I asked, not really wanting to know the answer. “Fucking fast!” said Suzanne. Dave tempered it with, “It’s almost almost flat out pace.” I think he only said that because with Illuminati and the SlowCoach in front of him, it was difficult to define it as fast or slow. There is such a vast cavernous divide between Illuminati fast and my fast. As far as Suzanne and I were concerned, we knew we had to run the one hundreds fucking fast. “How fast is fucking fast for a one hundred metre by a SlowCoach?” You might be asking. I think at our best, Suzanne and I managed about 21 seconds. That is more than double the time the Olympic champions take. The would run 100m, turn around and come back and we’d finish at the same time. How humiliating. But I swear, I felt like I was running Olympic times on some of those 100m sprints. I nearly vomited twice. I had an asthma attack once (it felt like an asthma attack). I had angina at least twice.

And then right at the end, the Ringmaster barked at us to do push ups immediately. His exact words were, “You can catch your breath later, right now do push ups immediately!” He tried to make it better by telling Suzanne and I that we had done very well and it was an excellent session. But then he proceeded to make me cry. Admittedly, I had been on the verge of tears since three hundred metres back, but Dave just opened the tap up. He told Suzanne and I that the only thing that would come between us and our being great is ….well….us, of course.

I cried because I know this all too well. It is very difficult to every single day fight the demon inside me, that saboteur of saboteurs. “Give up!” it shouts. “You’ll never be good enough! You’re a failure! You will always suck at this so you may as well just give up!” And the saboteur doesn’t only shout that about running. It’s everything.  There’s stuff that I’m very good at, but the saboteur finds shitty stuff to say to me even about the stuff that I’m very good at. “Give up! You’re a failure! You’re lazy! You’re just wasting your life here! Go back to bed.” And the saboteur is very clever. “Give up! You’re too clever for this gig! Time to move on because you’re bored, frustrated. You deserve better than this! JUST! GIVE! UP!”  Sometimes its quite difficult to fight that saboteur because its often a very persistant and very persuasive and very pervasive voice in my head. But tonight I did. Mostly. I didn’t do the cool down run, but I don’t care. I did those three fucking terrible sets and I did so mostly without losing my sense of humour.

Am I going to run Comrades next year? Ask me tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll have the reason.

Yours in not giving up.

SlowCoach

The Comrades Marathon 2014 – Slow Coach-style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what Thank God you are here looks like

This is what Thank God you are here looks like

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

Lynn and I Posing for Greg's Photo

Lynn and I Posing for Greg’s Photo

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

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

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

Very focussed on absolutely nothing.

Very focussed on absolutely nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comrades Finish Line with Doctor and Warren

Comrades Finish Line with Doctor and Warren

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

My Very Own Vic Clapham Medal

Slow Coach’s Very Own Vic Clapham Medal

Trust the Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Coach

She’s Baaaack!

Many have been asking and I haven’t really wanted to jinx it too early, but I’m back. Since I last posted, I’ve had flu twice in addition to my injury. So it seems like I have been resting on my laurels for months and months.

To recap. I was a cripple right? Just after I wrote the last post, I visited my friendly chiropractor – Clifford Mead – to have my back and neck sorted out. The back and neck had gone awry with my constant limping because of the aforementioned crippledness. While I was there, I asked him to check on my ankle to see if he could just pull it back into place. When I was landing on my heel, heelstriker that I am, it constantly felt like my whole leg was landing at the same time. And then, as I pulled my foot up again, the heel was still stuck to the leg. Kind of like the shock absorber that I thought should have been on top of my heel, just wasn’t working. He pulled my ankle straight and angels sang and the wind whispered and a light shone through the clouds. Relief. Finally! Relief from a month of excruciating pain. I got up and e voila! No limping. He promised it would be tender for a few days while the muscles and tendons and ligaments got over the shock of being abused for so long and so it was. Ice. Heat. Ice. Heat. The next day was physio with Clare-Anne and there you have it people, I was back in business again. That was on a Wednesday and Thursday. The next Tuesday, I ran a personal best 5km Time Trial at RAC. The next day I got flu. I decided to carry on resting. I was running out of time because Easter 100km was coming up and I had to be in that. I missed Loskop ultra marathon and so knew Easter 100 would be my last attempt to do a truly long distance before Comrades.  I was better by the end of the week and I managed to get in a few training runs before the Easter 100.

And then I did the Easter 100. I’m not going to say much about it except I cried because I knew that the OH SHIT! Hill was on the route of the first day. I spent the 3 days “running” with my oldest friend, Jenny. Let’s just say that we took it very slowly and spent a great deal of time on our legs. 13 hours and 42 minutes is what my watch says….At that pace, we’ll miss the Comrades cut off by 22 minutes so I know we’ll be fine on the day because we…..really…..took…..our……time on those 3 days. At least at Comrades we get to do it all at once and not have to keep getting out of bed with sore legs to start all over again. By the way, Randburg Harriers organisers, that was a great event and very well organised. I would like to raise a concern, however, about the insanity of day 1’s route!

And then I got flu. Aggressively! On the Easter Monday, I couldn’t even get out of my bed. I just lay in bed the whole day, something I haven’t done since my 20s. I was out for the count until Saturday when I ventured off to track. I coughed up half my pleura on one of the laps and was lapped twice by Illuminati Michelle even though she had a much more hideous session than I had. On Sunday I managed a 21km training run with fartleks of kicking up and kicking back and flicking toes and marching and and and. I looked like a real schmuck as I ran along. As if I’m not already amusing enough, I had a whole host of people pointing and laughing at me while I did them. I just kept closing my eyes and saying to myself, “You’re going to run Comrades! You’re going to run Comrades!” This journey has brough me all sorts of humiliation. Not least of which was last night at track!  I’ll tell you about that when the sedatives have worn off. I took sedatives for the trauma.

So excited to be back, but just a litle disappointed that I won’t be doing Comrades in my fabulous silver heels. There’s always next year, I suppose.

Yours in the spirit of being back.

Slow Coach

P.S. I took my club shirt (the one in which I’m going to run Comrades) to have SlowCoach embroidered on the front and back so you’ll be able to recognise me on the road.