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!

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My Journey From the Couch to The Comrades Marathon…and Back to the Couch

Andrew laughed at me the other day. “How much longer till you’re back on the couch, SlowCoach?” 31 May cured me. It cured me of my long distance thing. Whatever the “thing” was because it was far from a love affair. More like an obsessive compulsion to prove no-one in particular wrong. I’ve found myself liking “long” runs less and less and in the past 4 months my definition of “long” has gone from thinking long meant 89km, to thinking that an ultra is way too long, to thinking that a marathon is totally inconceivable, to thinking that 21km is too fucking far for a normal person, to thinking that 10km is very far, to thinking that I can barely keep my sense of humour in tact for the duration of a 5km run. There are three likely reasons for this somewhat swift shift in “thinking”:

  1. Comrades was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life;
  2. I’ve taken to trail running and that requires almost double the effort over the same distance as on road;
  3. I’m injured.

Injured? Again? I hear you judge. I can hear your judgement. You think I’m like a soccer player (or a Samoan rugby wing as the case may be), rolling around on the floor, hypochondriatically. Yes. Injured, okay? You might remember that I ran Comrades with a pathetic self-applied strapping. That’s because my knee was sore, caused by a combination of ITB and shocking hip flexors. I’m guessing running 90kms with those two irritations probably didn’t help matters. But I took the obligatory two weeks off after Comrades, returning to running only because I had sold my soul to Comrades and so no longer had any friends unless I was running. If that weren’t a thing, I may have given up running altogether. So I returned to running and was happy to be mediocre. But I was sore.

Variety. Cross training. Coach, Ringmaster Dave, recommended I do a little bit of Cross Country running to get a bit of variety to help with the pain. I had missed the cross country entry deadline. There’s some funny pre-entry requirement for the season. I’ll find out next year. I’d missed the cut off so I decided I’d try a trail run. I didn’t have the pre-requisite gear, more about that in a bit, so I entered the Spur Winter Trail Series, seeded myself in the back batch (because I’m so slow) of the shortest distance available. The long distance allergy had already started to manifest itself.  Trail series hey? I know that Francis and Mike and Chrissie all rave about trail running. Pfsh! What nonsense, I thought. Trail running! Bunch of fucking tree hugging hipsters, wandering around outside in the bush, smelling the daisies and daring to call that running. I was certainly over road running and now I had no normal friends so I thought I better try something new. Enter Spur Trail Series.

My first trail race was the first in the Spur Trail Series. I went with Mike who turned into a pothead at some point on the drive there, waxing lyrical about the beauty of nature and Cape Town and how lucky we are to live here and the mountains and and and. I was like, Thank God I’ll be coming back to the city after this. The fresh air makes people nutty. We arrived. Early. Early enough for a cup of coffee. There was a toilet, complete with brick walls, toilet paper, a ceramic seat and a door that closed securely. I was impressed. I’m probably listing things in order of importance here. There were very good looking people. Crumbs! Bodies like real athletes were the norm rather than the exception as in road running. There is a whole other sub-species of runner at trails, I’ve come to realise. It’s a totally different vibe. Totally different culture. These trail runners look very impressive. They’ve got gear. They’ve got compulsory gear. I’m not joking here. For trail running, you have to carry a cell phone. You have to carry hydration packs (for certain distances). There is also non-compulsory compulsory gear. A buff is not in the rules, but you shouldn’t be seen without a buff. You just shouldn’t. A buff, as I always say, is a very versatile garment. You should, however, wear it on the outside where everyone can see your buff as it is a non-compulsory compulsory iteam of gear. Gaiters (I know right?) are not compulsory, but if you have gaiters, you’re hard core trail. (I had to look up the spelling of “gaiters”). Gaiters are a protective covering of cloth or leather for the ankle and lower leg. Gaiters keep snow and stones out of your trail shoes and burs off your socks. I got gaiters yesterday. I’m that hard core!

At the first race, I wasn’t so hard core. I had ordinary long running leggings, my Comrades shirt, my road running shoes and socks. I think I had a buff, but only because it was still winter and very cold. I felt a bit under dressed. I met Lisa and Shaun. They’d run this stuff before (tree hugging hipsters) and so looked way more the part than I did. They had buffs. I met Kirsty. She’s Illuminati now so she always looks the part wherever she goes. Off went the batches. Lisa and her friend and I were seeded in the back batch so we waited and saw everyone else off. And then it was us. I don’t know why, but I ran fast. It’s not like I got faster than I had been, it’s just that I was able to go faster on the trail than on the road. I would run ahead of Lisa and her friend and then wait at the next corner for them. Then I would run ahead again and wait. I’m usually a similar pace to Lisa, but on the trails there was something different. I fell. In a forest. I fell over nothing. I was in a queue so there was no time to roll about on the floor like a Samoan soccer player. I fell in slow motion and jumped up swiftly. Limped two steps and carried on running. This is going to sound weird, but it was fun falling. I felt like a little kid falling while I was playing. In fact, the entire race felt like playing. I fully expected to look up and see my brothers running and laughing next to me. We grew up in the mountains and this felt like being a kid again, even the falling. I fell in love. There were no long horrible hills that stretched in a straight line in front of you, reminding you that you’re nowhere and you have still to battle Goliath before you can go home and sleep. The route was winding and undulating and there were rocks and streams and roots and trees and all sorts of cool stuff to run over, through and around. I felt 25 years younger. I know. That would put me at minus 1 years old, right? Anyway. I had so much fun and I realised that not only was it fun, but I was also kinda good at it. I’m still trying to figure out why I’m better at trails than I am at road running. More on that in another blog.

The second race in the series I was the 43rd lady home out of 244 and I was 11th in my age category out of 68. Illuminati Michelle had also raced that day and she had come 5th on our age category. We had both been caught up in traffic on one part of the trail that was congested because it was single track, so we both knew we could have fared better if we’d been seeded in a higher batch. Things were looking good. I went and invested in some good quality trail running shoes and dug out my buffs. I could get into this trail running thing. But my knee was sore. Even more so since my fall in the forest….if a slow coach falls in the forest and there was no-one to see….

Come the third race, I knew the morning drive out drill and I had become a pothead hippie like Mike.  We weren’t actually smoking pot, but we didn’t need to. We were permanently euphoric from the time we crossed the N14. This time Mike decided to race some supercars on the open road which led to our near death and the near death of several other drivers and bikers on the road, but that’s for a different blog. By the time the race started, I was amped up on ridiculous levels of adrenalin from the near death drive and I was so excited to be out playing like a kid again. I had a strategy this time. I was going to get past as many of the higher batch runners as i could so that I didn’t get caught in any traffic. I ran. I ran with glee and reckless abandon. I just skipped from rock to path to grass to rock. I was breathing like a steam train, but I was having so much fun. You want to hear something really cool? We’re standing at prize giving and we’re watching all the winners. Impressive athletes all of them. I had grabbed my pyjama top (a red well worn hoodie) on my way out the door in case it got a bit cold and after the race I’d gone to the car to put it on. So the announcer is calling out the names of the winners, Women’s Veteran’s section in 3rd place, SlowCoach. I was like, “Wow! There’s someone with the same name as me. What a crazy coincidence.” And then I realised that it was in fact, me that had come 3rd in the veteran’s race. The lady that came 1st had already left which left me and 2nd place on the podium. I came 18th overall.

Podium Pyjamas and Podium Pants

Podium Pyjamas and Podium Pants

We stood together on the top step of the podium for the photos. I looked at her jacket and smiled to myself. There I was standing in my pyjama top and she had on a Gauteng Hockey jacket. It was a funny moment, but it felt good. I felt like I’d got a small reward for all the hard work I had been putting into running. I still didn’t feel like a real athlete, largely because of my pyjama top, but I felt like I was doing something I liked and I was getting some recognition for it. My knee was even more sore now.

The final race in the series. Now I felt a bit competitive. I was a lot less relaxed and I was very focussed. This was going to be a long race by comparison. 9km. (Don’t laugh!) Oh my word! It was a brutal course. Long steep uphills, short, steep, raggedy, technical downhills, but I was doing okay. Then I fell. I really fell. I was racing a downhill at about 4:30m/km, thinking that if I fell on these loose rocks now, I would probably die. Turns out, I wasn’t thinking straight because I fell and I didn’t die. I knew I’d fallen hard and I was hurt, but I was racing and my ego was in charge instead of my brain. I got up, whimpered as I limped forward 5 steps and then carried on racing with a big, fuck you, attitude. By the time I got to the finish, the blood was seeping through my pants on my not sore knee and my knee (the sore one) had given birth to a round swelling the size of a tennis ball. I came 6th in my category and 21st lady overall. I was a bit disappointed, but I was happy that I could still walk, that I’d had a fall and still managed 6th place and that I’d carried on when I should have quit, 1) If I had a brain and 2) If I’d felt all Samoan sorry for myself.

Since then, I haven’t been running much. Every time I run, my knee gives birth to a tennis ball.  But I’ve come 2nd lady in a trail race and my knee has got worse and now my achilles is complaining and my glutes are permanently on fire. I’m starting to feel sorry for myself and I still don’t have any brains, but I haven’t quit running yet. I have not got back on the couch…probably only because I still don’t have any non-running friends.

Yours in the love of running and trails and daisies and mountains and gaiters and oh look, a trail race!

SlowCoach

All You Need is Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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