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

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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

The Tortoise and The Hare is an Actual Thing

Yes it is! Check it out here.

The Tortoise and the Hare in Real Life

I found that funny and somewhat comforting. Anyway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in achievable milestones.

SlowCoach

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

Parkruns, PRs and Point Status

I know it shouldn’t matter, but it does. I know it doesn’t look like much, but it is.  A whole lot. “PR” said Strava. A PR (Personal Record) for a segment it calls “parkrun Alberts Farm 5th km”. There’s so much wrong with that segment name, I clearly didn’t create it!  Get your head out of your retentive ass and tell us what the PR was, SlowCoach! 6:27. Yes, that’s right. 6:27 for a kilometre of innocuous grass (and mud at the moment, thank you God for the rain) just down the road from my house. What’s so great about that?

6:27 for one kilometre. It’s hardly a stretch, now is it? Let me tell you about this little stretch of grass. First of all, it’s the last kilometre of a 5km Parkrun. It’s probably on a slight incline, some of it. There’s a little steep piece over thick grass (I hate grass), but it’s hardly a challenging incline. All in all, the elevation gain for Albertsfarm Parkrun is 86m. This piece represents maybe 5m of that 86m so really it’s nothing great. The mud isn’t slippery or syrupy. The grass is only really thick and without a path for 100m of that kilometre, so really it’s a very simple piece of running for most people. Sad thing is, it’s at the end of the Parkrun. And the last kilometre of a 5km Parkrun sees my demon is in full flight. “Give up!” “You can’t finish anything!” “You’ll never be any good because you just can’t finish!” “You’d be great if you didn’t daydream/talk/sleep/think/procrastinate so much!” That monster talks to me like that, like it has for many years, all the time. It always tells me to give up, usually just as I’m about to do something really spectacular. Now you know why I cry so much. I’m always arguing with this monster who is very persuasive and it’s very difficult to not give in to its persistence.

You remember I rode 94.7? Oh yes! I forgot to tell you that I rode and completed the 94.7 it was a good day out, but cycling is….I don’t know…..it’s not running. In 2016, running and I had a terrible relationship. I hated running and running hated me. I didn’t want to train because I was always sore or tired. Work was so crazy last year and I was always so stiff and tired from sitting at a desk for 8 to 12 hours a day, that I just didn’t have the mental energy to face training. I ran Num Num (the watered down version). I ran Two Oceans way back in the beginning of the year, but mostly, 2016 was an abomination of a running year. So I rode 94.7 which turned out to be good cross training in the hope that my love for running would miraculously reappear. It didn’t and the year ground to a close with my entire body shutting down in an ear, nose, throat and everything infection. Blood pressure tanked to an almost unmanageable 85/50, forcing me to stay in bed for an entire week. It was very alarming for me because I am very seldom sick. Last time I took antibiotics was before many of you were born so for me to capitulate and actually ingest antibiotics, you’ve got to know how sick I was. As a result of my illness, ITB that just won’t go away and a general “fuck running” attitude, my times tanked like my blood pressure. I wouldn’t even bother looking at race results, because there was no way to find the joy in coming top 5 in my age group when only 6 of us ran. I was seeing times almost as slow as when I started running 5 years ago.

Getting sick was the best thing that could have happened to me! What a wake up call I got. Turns out, I actually had to rest. I had to take care of myself. I took a long deep breath thinking about life and made some key decisions:

  • I’ve always been a Discovery Vitality member, but I’ve never even once bothered to look at my Vitality status. So I started to investigate and there are some really great benefits to be had. Admittedly, I am in the process of swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction and I’ve become obsessed with earning points. I am so competitive and so A-type, it’s really quite pathetic.
  • I made a healthy choice to not sit at work for hours on end.  Technically I can’t sit too much at work now because otherwise I don’t make enough steps for the day and then I won’t get my smoothie. Lol. I’ve achieved 3 smoothies so far and I haven’t even gone to get one of them. For me, it’s not about the smoothie. I am winning some challenges on GarminConnect, however. That matters.

What was I saying? Oh yes.

  • I’m leaving work in time to go run.
  • I bought new running shoes. It appears my running shoes were the source of my ITB. I had my road shoes since my last Comrades Marathon in 2015 and, because I’d been mostly trail running, I just never considered the number of kilometres on the road shoes. They were quite literally pieces of shit by the time I replaced them.
  • I’ve got a personal trainer. I know. A personal trainer. So I’m getting used to the idea that I will be in physical discomfort for 4 days out of every week and will recover only just in time to go for my next session! The things I do for love. Of running, that is.

And that’s what’s so great about that 6:27. It was the fastest I’d ever run that segment. I’ve only run it about 8 or 9 times, but I always walk. I kick stones. I curse myself. I curse my demon. I curse running. I give up every single time. Not this time. Not this day. Last Saturday, I ran that entire Parkrun without walking once. More importantly, I ran that last kilometre without walking. It was a slow kilometre. My shoulders were bent over and I was mumbling little curses under my breath, but I just kept telling myself, don’t walk. Only your head is hurting. Your body is still able. If you walk now, it’s only because your head is in the way, so just keep going. I was barely lifting my feet, but I was running and I was kind of enjoying it. I wasn’t hurting like I have for so long now. I was also earning my 300 Discovery Vitality points fair and square. I see some people go there and they amble along for over an hour on that 5km and they earn 300 points just like the guy or girl who does it in under 19 minutes. (Well done, Top Deck on your first sub-19 minute Parkrun at Gilooly’s Parkrun. Momma Bear is very proud!) So I pushed myself to earn my 300 points and I think I gathered those points with dignity. In case you were wondering, I did not finish the Parkrun in under 19 minutes! Hahaha! I did it in a most respectable 34 minutes. Way off my personal best for a Parkrun, but I seem to be on an upward trajectory. At least I’m running and at least I’m running that piece of grass without walking.

Where to next? Well, here’s the funny part. Thinking that my upward trajectory needed a bit of a nitrous oxide injection, EP and I entered The Southern Trails 15-20km trail run in Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve. Holy Shit! What a wake up call for us.

We did this!

 At some point during he first 5km, both of us  realised the gargantuan task ahead in order for us to be ready for Two Oceans trail again this year. I took just on 3 hours to finish that fucking 17.6km race. My legs are not as strong yet as I would like and so with 4km to go to the end, on an open, flat piece of trail, I tripped over nothing, didn’t bother to put out my hands to break the fall and fell flat on my face in the dirt. I probably had one arm across my body at the time and I suppose my brain attempted some kind of tuck, drop and roll manoeuvre, but all that happened was I landed my solar plexus on my fist and I winded myself. I lay in the foetal position groaning like a flu-ridden man, trying to get air into my chest so I could get up, recover my dignity and finish this fucking race! Alas, witnesses arrived, most concerned. I tried to wave them away by gasping, “I’m absolutely fine, I’ve just winded myself!” I could have had a broken arm, for all I know, but I just wanted to get air into my body and them to disappear! They made sure I got up okay and, fuelled by the adrenalin and humiliation of the fall, I ran off into the sunset and finished those last 4 kilometres about 5 minutes ahead of the nearest concerned citizen. Thank you to those who helped me up. We even laughed about how humiliated I should be feeling as I sat there trying to side-eye the nothing that I tripped over.

I think I might be back. I’m being cautiously optimistic, but the fact that you’re reading this, might mean that I’m back. I’m trying to temper my pendulum by missing the 400m speed sessions at track so that I don’t undo all the good fixing that the personal trainer is doing, going balls to the wall on 400s because I think I can. I’m getting my points and committing to Parkruns and anything that will help me get to silver status on my Vitality. I know, I fell into their trap. Shame on me. I’m leaving work on time most days and going to run and train as often as my energy levels will allow. I’m trying to get enough sleep. I’m trying to rest more. I’m eating much healthier. I love my new Asics DynaFlyte. I call them my mermaid Asics.

Wish us luck, running and me, as we tentatively try to repair our relationship.

Yours in the slow burn of lasting love.

SlowCoach