Wil Net Nie Ophou Nie

Warning! This blog post goes on and on and on.

South Africa has some of the most beautiful landscapes. I especially love this time of year when the winter fires have cleansed the world of all the rage and ravages of winter and the first hints of green are starting to show through the parched grey and yellow of winter. And so the joy in my heart as I drove along staring out the window, sometimes as a passenger and sometimes as the driver, was overflowing on Friday at the start of our journey to something I had heard loosely referred to as Lormar. Because the journey to Lormar in the middle of the Karoo desert was a long one, EP, Illuminati Michelle and I had agreed to split the journey into two legs with a Friday evening stop-over in Bloemfontein (which means flower fountain). The Free State, of which Bloemfontein, or rather Mangaung, is the capital, is not known for its beauty, but I just adore the early September Free State. The solitudinal square houses on massive expanses of yellow, grey, blue and green plains are comforting and at times breathtaking. Truly beautiful! And the plains just seem to go on and on for days. We ran the Naval Hill Parkrun in Bloemfontein on Saturday morning together with Francis and Kerry, who, at this stage of the weekend, had on all her clothes. What happens in the desert, stays in the desert!

Naval Hill Parkrun

Naval Hill Parkrun (8km into the day for IM and me)

If you ever choose this lovely parkrun, do not park at the bottom of the hill and walk up, unless you need an 11km training run instead of just a 5km parkrun. Trust me on this! Illuminati Michelle and I did an 11km training walk/run on Saturday. That hill to Naval Hill seemed to go on and on around one corner after another…..both ways!  Even though I knew what to expect, coming down was no different!  After the Parkrun (and the extra 3km up and 3km down the hill), we rushed back to the gorgeous B&B we had stayed in – Touching Senses Garden Cottages – showered and started our journey to the middle of the Karoo desert.

I’m not entirely sure where the landscape changes from Free State fields for days to semi-desert scrub, but the landscape changes subtly as you drive along, and soon, the Free State fields are replaced by days and days of sand and rock and xerophytic, scrubby vegetation. Of course, as with most trail runs, there is the obligatory drive along kilometres and kilometres of gravel farm road which never seem to come to an end. But they do eventually and then you find yourself in a new little world, away from cars and the stress of living in the city. Away from the noise of the neighbours….well for some of us, that is! Away from “the real world”. I looked at the people who are lucky enough to call this little world their “real world” and I thought how fortunate they are to be able to do that. I don’t know if you’ve been feeling it too, lately, but the world seems to have gone mad. It’s almost like we have replaced the blood in our veins with venom. We are on constant high alert and we’re suspicious of everyone. It’s just not natural. For the past year or so it has felt like we’ve been spinning into the centre of our own self-made vortex and something cataclysmic is going to happen which will spit out the small pieces of those of us still living. And so this little Fairview Farm in the middle of the Karoo which seems to go on and on and on and on brought a moment of peace and escape from “the real world”.

The Karoo desert, a semi-desert, is a place of extremes. Searing hot temperatures in the day and freezing cold, fire-worthy nights. Howling winds in some places and peaceful silence in others. Lormar stud farm located on Fairview Farm, owned and run for four generations by the van der Merwe family, is home to sheep, cattle, turkeys, chickens and horses. The farm is bordered on the south by the Sneeuberg mountains. That name was all I needed to hear to know that, even though those people were lucky to live there, I would never be living in something named after snow! The farm is home to a herd of Arabian horses and world-renowned Arabian endurance horses have been bred there. Portraits of some of the family’s favourite horses peppered the dining hall, along with a large happy portrait of one of the patriarchs of the family, the most recent of whom died sadly last year just after the 2017 Lormar event. The pain of the family’s loss was still evident and regular reference was made to Piet van der Merwe’s passing last year throughout our weekend of events.

You know, I’m night blind. Not night blind enough to not be able to drive at night, but I can’t see at night. I never enter night races because it’s not really fun running when I can’t see. I’ve also had very little luck with head lamps and I find I am constantly having to buy batteries which are just terrible for the environment. Through some strange events, I was entered into Lormar Endurance trail run which is made up of two stages: 1 x 8km Night trail run on the Saturday night and 1 x 24km trail run on the Sunday….in the desert….in the day…..in Spring. Let me try and remember who it was that entered me into such a stupid endeavor. *thinking* I started to panic because a night trail run. What the hell? The events company sent us a mail a short while ago, advertising stadium quality headlamps with rechargeable battery packs, at a discount just for race-goers. So I bought one and started training with it. Extreme Lights were not joking when they invented this thing. I’m sure there should be laws about running with it because it could blind a truck driver 20 kilometres away! I was pleased. The first hurdle navigated, I started to worry about the distance and the pack. I hadn’t been training with a hydration pack, I’d only recently started training at all and now I was going to run 24kms on trail in the desert in Spring. *thinking* And then my vortex got in the way. Several things on top of one another had me either out of time or just out of energy to train for such a big distance, so I squeezed in two 15km road training runs, run with my hydration pack, the weekend before Lormar! I have trained less for more, so I felt ready. It is quite laughable how little I had trained for this race, but I had already resigned myself to just going for the experience and to enjoy the peacefulness of the Karoo and to walk a long hike if necessary.  What I have been very good about, however, is going to the biokineticist once a week, doing the programme he gave me once or twice a week at the gym and rolling and stretching every single day. I can almost sit upright now with my legs in front of me. Don’t laugh! It’s a thing. I explained it in “Yoga Schmoga”.  So although I’m not fit and I’m not fast, I am quite strong now and I’m able to use muscles which had theretofore been unutilized for anything I had ever done. And I was largely pain free. You don’t know how much that means to me to be running largely pain free. It’s been a tough vortexy year to eighteen months, I tell you.

I knew nothing about anything about this weekend. EP had entered me *aha* when given someone else’s entry. EP had made all the accommodation bookings, EP had planned the trip. EP had done everything. All I did was pack a bag of running clothes and a warm top for the cool Karoo evenings as instructed by the event organisers. I forgot my gaiters, which is a very stupid thing to forget when you’re running a trail run in the sand and rock and xerophytic, scrubby vegetation of the Karoo. I also forgot that it’s only early Spring and the Karoo. Luckily, the goodie bag for the event contained a pair of calf length socks and EP had ordered a lovely pair of pink ankle-length socks with some of the money going to a worthy charity when I’d been entered. I was told to be at the start of the night run at 6.30….I think. I really just followed the herd, so to speak.

The night run was lovely, commencing with a running of the Arabian horses.

Lormar Endurance horses

The Arabian horses started us off for the evening run

I was one of the first to switch on my stadium headlamp, lighting the way for many of my fellow runners from early on.  My eyes were fixed on the light in front of me, hoping that I didn’t throw myself head first into the person in front of me because I didn’t see them. For the first bit, I ran with Francis and told her I would not be able to maintain the swift pace she had set. Soon after that we became separated and I wasn’t sure if she was in front or behind me. I’m not sure where we ran. I didn’t know where I was most of the time. What I do know after the Sunday run is that I am very grateful that we were running at night. If I had seen the last two kilometres of that route stretched out in front of me like it did on Sunday, I swear I would have given up. I ran a really good strong race on Saturday night and I finished happy that I had done my best and saved very little for the following day. I had no idea how I was going to manage 24km the next day. I had run a 5km Parkrun, walked 3kms to the Parkrun from the car, walked 1km and ran 2km from the Parkrun to the car and now I had run my level best 8km with no clue and no sense of self-preservation. That distance on that Saturday was further than I had run in one week for months, notwithstanding my two training runs the week before! And the next day I would do another 24km. Okay, so no gin and tonic for me then. I’d have to at least get some sleep in preparation for the day. Sleep would have been possible, had it not been -2° that night and of course I’d brought just a warm top for those “chilly Karoo evenings”. Listen Lormar! Next time, maybe a little warning that it gets freezing cold at night would be a kind gesture. Added to that, the rooster! There’s a rooster there that is still on British Summer Time and that fucking thing started crowing at 3am right outside our window. And it just went on and on and on and on. I resolved to, after the race, drive to the nearest town, buy some Nando’s sauce and cook him for supper! But I can’t hurt animals so…mxm! I thought someone else was bound to oblige because many people were cursing that rooster on Sunday.

At the start of Sunday's 24km run

At the start of Sunday’s 24km run

The start was cold on Sunday, but I get hot quickly so I was dressed in shorts and a little top with my hydration pack. The hydration pack was prepared for a reasonably warm 24km long run which should be about 3-4 hours considering I was planning on walking most of it, my being so very undertrained and all. Francis had lent me her gaiters from the previous night’s run so I was feeling a bit better about that. We went off and were soon heading up a very steep hill. I tried to run a lot of it, but I was tired. The year’s tiredness seemed to descend on me on that hill and I walked more than I had hoped. Then the hill got steeper and harder to climb and I found myself pushing my legs via my quads into the ground with my hands to get myself up the next layer of rock. It was starting to get very hot and I knew the first water point was only at 6kms, about 4kms from the current trudgery. Soon after we summited this hill (it wasn’t the top top of the hill, but it was a good look out point), several people stopped to take pictures of the view and I realized a very steep technical descent was upon us. I took the opportunity to get in front of as many people as possible because I love those bits and I knew many other people would be fraidy catting their way all the way down the hill. I passed many people. Many people. I was polite and asked them if I could pass on their right when they got a chance and most people let me pass. Some were stubborn, but eventually, they surrendered to their fear and let me pass when they got a chance! Then there was a technical undulating stretch in a gully at the back of the hill which was slightly technical but very runnable.  And then. Then the run opened out onto a large, flat, runnable plain. My enthusiasm waned and I began walking. The entire pack of people I had just passed on that hill came past me like a herd of antelope on the move. I felt like they ran right over me with little concern for the fact that I was alone on this desert plain with the sand and rock and xerophytic, scrubby vegetation of the Karoo. They disappeared. I walked. Trudged. I attempted to run, but it seemed like a crazy mammoth task, this running thing, so I walked some more. The windpomp (windmill) appeared and I knew that would be the first water point. I turned in there and some friends who had come along for the experience greeted me. I was still feeling good. I had a drink of the fresh windpomp water and headed off again. The split for the 12km race and the 24km race was at this water point. I know! There was a 12km race and no-one bothered to offer me that option!!! *thinking* Do you even love me at all?  All those antelope that had run over me on the ugly Karoo plain headed off to the 12km finish and I turned onto the 24km route. The rest of the day would be spent alone with occasional interventions from other lonely runners.

That Karoo desert certainly goes on. Schalk reminded me of that as he ran up to me on a very dreary piece of the desert which was now heading towards the searing side of things. He commented somewhat out of frustration and somewhat out of resignation as he passed my trudging self, that “Wil net nie ophou nie”. This is difficult to translate into English because the direct translation of “Just doesn’t want to stop”, doesn’t really capture the meaning of what he said to me that day. There are a lot of things in the Karoo that wil net nie ophou nie. Schalk and I went forward together for some time. Sometimes he was in front, sometimes I was in front. And then, on a slightly easy downhill, while heading towards a herd of cows and the second water point, the most magnificent sight engulfed us. Schalk called out and pointed to the right. There from out of the sunshine came a herd of between 10 and 20 Arabian horses. They were magnificent and they were free and running wild. They turned sharply at the cows and headed towards Schalk and myself. We stood there, awestruck. They sped past, their athleticism seething from every pore in their bodies. They looked free. They sounded free. They felt free. They were running not because they had entered and they should go forward because it was further to go backwards to the start. They were running because they were born to run and they were free to run. And they ran. And ran and ran and ran. Schalk looked up the hill at me and shouted, “All worth it!” It was. All the searing heat I had endured, the loneliness, the frustration. All that we had endured….and were to endure….was worth it for that moment in our lives. I cried. I was quite overwhelmed by their beauty and their freedom. I hate that we harness animals for work or worse, for sport. I hate seeing people ride horses. I hate watching horses jump over things with people on their backs. I hate that jockeys hit horses to make them run. I hate that we humans hammer shoes into horses’ feet “to protect them”.  I think it’s monstrous. I loved seeing those horses free. I realise that they’re probably not as free as the horses in Kaapsehoop that roam the environment free, because these are bred to be sold to other people that will force them to race for them. I get it, but on that day, in that moment, in that place, they were free and they were doing what free, wild horses will do. It was wonderful.

At the water point, Schalk and someone who I just refer to as Cape Town because I never got his name, marveled at our fortune in having seen that sight. Then we walked off together basking in our collective joy. At some point, I suggested that we were on a reasonably runnable section and we should run. It was strange. I think none of us really wanted to start running because it would mean heading off into the lonely desert alone again, whereas here, we had a couple of kindred spirits with whom to pass the kilometres. But we started running together. At some point I had looked up toward the mountain I had been warned of the day before. I saw a gorge that went up to the top of the mountain and surmised that we would not be able to go up that way because it seemed too steep and pathless. And then I tried to figure out where we would go up. We ran along and slowly turned back towards that too steep and pathless gorge. The hill to the gorge was rocky and steep. My back started to ache and I took my pack off. I started a run 200 paces, walk 100 paces strategy partly to forget about the pain and partly to ensure that I ran as much as I could. Schalk passed me as we headed into the gorge that was not fit for human consumption. I was walking with my pack in my hand, but as I arrived at the first climb into the gorge’s rocks, I realized that I’d be needing both my hands for this part of the “run”. Lol. Road runners would probably not understand the concept of requiring one’s hands for any particular part of a run! I’d be needing my back too, but I just had to put that pain in my pocket for some other time.

Wolweberg

First we climbed THAT!

For the next two and a half kilometres we would ascend 270m of altitude. It was frighteningly steep and difficult. I cried a few times. Whenever I cried, I would look up and Schalk was there with his hands on his knees, on the verge of tears himself. It’s a funny thing, really. There were times when I felt I would never be able to complete this climb. There were times when I felt it was too hard and I couldn’t do it. But looking back, it seems irrational to think like that because 1. There were no dead people lying around so other people had been able to do it and 2. The organisers wouldn’t want people to die, right? Right? But at that time, it just seemed so impossible and so impassable. So I cried. I also once cried out, “I can’t do this.” But then there was no easy way of getting down, so I just carried on. It made me laugh at myself and my petulant whine. I saw Schalk posing for a picture with his hands on his knees (I don’t think he was posing so much as just near dead) I cannot wait to see that picture because I am in the background with my pack in my hand, scowling at the mountain! I had taken my pack off again at some point because my back was screaming, “I can’t do this,” louder than me. Once at the top, I attempted a pose for the camera and then assumed Schalk’s hands on knees pose because it was the only plausible way to be upright at that point. Then I shared a laugh and a nice smile with the photographer and I went and got some juice from the water point. There was an array of treats at the water point, but I didn’t want anything. I had enjoyed a Pace & Power Soutie biscuit and a Pace & Power Jooblet (I love those things) half way up the gorge to make myself feel better so I didn’t really feel like eating anything else.

The Gorge

Then we climbed THAT!

We had been told at race briefing that after that hill, it was downhill all the way with a steep technical section just over the top of the mountain. It was. There were a few kilometres of switchbacks and I was reminded of my bucket list wish to run up Alpe d’Huez. This was not road like Alpe d’Huez, however. This was loose steep, sharp uneven gravel and rock. It was incredibly technical and I only figured out how to really run it half way down. You have to totally engage your core to run it and once I harnessed what Oarabile, the biokineticist, had been trying to get me to do the past few months, I ran the last bit quite easily. By now, it was 11am and the sun was baking me and the surrounding Karoo. I was almost out of water and EnduraPower juice. I had been smart by not filling my pack to capacity because I knew my back would not be happy. But now, with the sun baking down and my not really knowing how much further or longer I would be out in the desert, I started to sip sparingly. I started to get a pain in my rib cage which appeared when I ran and then, if I held my chest tight with my hands and deep breathed while walking, it seemed to ease it. I got to the bottom of Alpe d’Huez with still 6 or 7km to go. It just seemed to go on forever. My back pain had been replaced by rib pain.

The view from the top of the gorge

The top of the gorge

My legs were tired. I had promised myself several times that I would just walk the rest of the way, but there’s this idiot inside me that will run. So I switched to my 200 run 100 walk strategy again and that worked well. While I would walk, I would hold my rib cage together. As I neared the road that I had run on the previous night with just over 2km to go, there sat Wilson in the Karoo heat, directing us to the finish. I asked him if he spoke English or Afrikaans. He told me Afrikaans. I asked him, “Wilson, kan ek ‘n drukkie kry asseblief?”. He was quite taken aback by this very strange, old, bedraggled lady asking for a hug, but his face broke into a gorgeous smile, he jumped up, opened up his arms and gave me a wonderful hug. And with my love tank all filled up, he waved me on to the finish, promising it was only about 2 or 3 kilometres to the end. It was. But oh my word, that long, boring, dreary desert road almost crushed my spirit.

IMG-20180923-WA0024[1]

Strong run at the end of that infernal long desert road

Until I realized. I realized that I was still strong. Of course, I had just done something quite hectic, so I was a bit sore and a bit depleted. But there I was. Not dead. Not last. Not crying all that much. Not kicking stones. How amazing! I was strong. I was not doing my usual Quasimodo impression. I was following my walk run strategy without wailing when I had to run. How far I’d come from not being able to walk up and down stairs just a few months ago. I can be really proud of the consistency I’ve had in my strength training and rolling and stretching. I am. Of course, I could probably be even prouder if I had done some actual running training for this, but I’ve picked the high value exercise and done what I could to get and keep strong. Sometimes it’s just about doing as much as you can with the time and money that you have available and forgiving yourself for everything else. I finished that race still strong. I could have managed another 5km if you’d told me to, and I was pleased with that. I had seen some really beautiful things that day and I’d overcome some interesting challenges. Sometimes the spirit wil net nie ophou nie.

I had finished the challenge well, not realizing that my biggest challenge was still coming.

We ate lunch, drank a few Hope Gin and tonics (I can really recommend the Salt River gin from Hope), had a nap and then we were herded onto tractors for a sundowner in a secret location. The tractor ride there was exciting and dangerous and I sometimes found myself hanging onto the tractor with my butt muscles! The band, Bad Peter, were excellent and loads of fun. The lead singer had impossibly white teeth. The whole thing was just so lovely.

When it was time to go back on the tractors, EP, Illuminati Michelle and I got onto a different tractor that only really had standing room left. I didn’t think I had the muscle tone left to ride the moving tractor over this bumpy terrain like a surfer! EP, Illuminati Michelle and I looked at each other, very concerned about the imminent falls we were about to have. EP has torn foot ligaments, so standing was just not an option. EP sat down on the floor of the tractor. My knees were just not going to do that. Lol. Falling flat on my face was a more attractive prospect than bending down to sit on the floor of the tractor trailer. Hahahaha! Bernard and Judy offered Michelle and I their knees for us to sit. Illuminati Michelle and I sat gingerly on their knees in a semi squat because we were too nervous to put our entire weight on their legs. And so began the great squat challenge at Lormar! That tractor ride went on and on and on and on. Then, just when you thought it would come to an end, we went over a crazy bump in the road, Bernard and Judy called out in pain as their backs slammed against the tractor side. Illuminati Michelle and I felt bad so we upped the ante on our squat game and hovered slightly more gingerly over their knees. When the tractor finally came to a standstill, we stood up and thanked Bernard and Judy, but both of our legs were shaking. Bernard and Judy must think we weigh next to nothing. The two of us, in an attempt to not offend or hurt other people, had squatted for in excess of 20 minutes! Oarabile would be so proud, but I’ll never tell him, because his squat torture would just be dialed up after that! Thank you for your knees, Bernard and Judy! The only pain I have today is quad pain!

Lormar Tractor 1

The tractor ride there. Hanging on with my butt.

And that was it. A good old-fashioned farm supper, followed by a good night’s sleep, interrupted only by the British Summer Time rooster at 2.55am, and we started our journey all the way back to Joburg. It didn’t go on and on and on as I had anticipated and we had enough snacks to keep even EP entertained.

The human body is an amazing machine. Here I am, heading towards 50 years old, a grandmother to one and two halves (they’re coming in November and December) and I am still able to do almost unachievable things with my body. I am stronger and my body is more resilient than ever before and I’m getting stronger every week. Simply amazing! The human body is nature’s finest creation. Thank you God for this gift of a healthy, strong body. I can’t wait to do more amazing things with it. Kaapsehoop is coming!

Thank you to all the lovely friends with whom I shared this little weekend. Well done to Illuminati Michelle for winning the shorter version of the challenge on her first trail run without proper trail running equipment! She really is something quite spectacular! Thank you God for the lovely Karoo and the beautiful Free State. We live in an incredibly beautiful country. I love exploring it with EP. Can’t wait for more!

Yours in the love of running and things that wil net nie ophou nie.

SlowCoach

 

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Life’s Little Ups and Downs

Coming back from injury can, at times, be a frustrating process and, at times, be a cause for celebrating small wins. That was this week. I’ve been injured for about a year, starting with a stress fracture in May last year and moving forward very slowly with very little progress. In the last two months I have made significant progress due, in part, to the injection I got in my knee, a new biokineticist who is a professional purist and daily excruciating rolling of my ITB. It has not all been fun. But like I said, I have made significant improvements and I’m starting to see my running improve. Little kudos and comments on Strava from people also recognizing my little achievements have also helped me see my improvement.

This week has been a mixed bag for me. On Tuesday, I was tired and my legs were sore, so my hills session was cut short after I started to feel my ITB complaining just before I was finished. I was okay with just stopping after 4 repeats instead of the planned 6 repeats. Due to my caution on Tuesday, I ran a good time trial on Thursday, seeing a time on the clock at the end that I haven’t seen in what feels like years. Today was not the same.  Fresh off the high of the most improved student time trial on Thursday and an all-about-me birthday celebration yesterday,  I arrived at My Road Less Travelled’s Mark White Nissan Trail Run eager to see how far I could stretch this getting better streak. I’ll admit, I was a bit tired when I arrived there. People had left my house late last night and my grandson had slept over, but he’d coughed from about 3am so I hadn’t slept well, but I was excited about running what I knew would be a super technical trail. It was good to be out running again.

Three hundred metres in, around the first corner, I tripped over nothing and went sliding forward on my arms and thighs. I had got some funky new shorts for my birthday and they provided absolutely zero protection from the stones and rocks and sand and gravel that paved my sliding way. I lay there with my face on the ground. Kind people hopped over me asking if I was okay and I just lay there, “Jaaaa. I’m fine.” So I lay there for about 20 seconds and then hauled myself to my feet and limped forward two steps. I stepped off the path and the remainder of the tiny field of runners poured past me. I vacillated. I stood and contemplated my three options. And thus began another spiritual journey courtesy of this running that I hate love. The conversation between the various voices in my head went something like this:

“Fuck this shit! I’m right at the start. I’ll just walk back and sit in a chair and wait for EP to come back.”

“But EP has the car key and it’s fucking cold and I’ve got the tiniest pants on.”

“Okay, well just go back and get someone to help and then you can start again.”

“Ah fuck! I came all this way. I may as well just do this.”

“No! Fuck it! I’m going back.”

“Remember that time you fell near home and you carried on? Remember how the blood was pouring down your legs, but you were so proud of yourself? Just carry on.”

Round about then, I started to sob. I wanted to give up and I didn’t want to give up. So I sobbed. Out loud. A run/walk for life person went race walking past me and asked if I was okay and I stood on the side of the path wailing out loud. “I’m okay. Waaaaaaaaaaail!” A lady walked past who was clearly the last person on the road. She asked me if I was okay and then gave me two tissues. Thank you ma’am. You really helped. A lot. “Waaaaaaaail!” I dabbed the tears away and carried on running. Every now and then I cried a little, but I carried on running. The route was very technical and I soon realized that if I carried on crying, I would not be able to see the path and I’d fall again, so I stopped bawling.  Then I came around the corner and Richard was there, patiently waiting for me with his camera. He looked a bit alarmed, but I managed to squeeze out a grimace for the camera! Another corner and there was Alain. “Waaaaaaail! I fell. Coming back from injury just sucks!” “Well just take it for what it is.”

You always have choices in life. Life has ups and downs. Check out this route!!

 

The downhills were as crazy as the uphills.

 

Strava snippet. 333m elevation over 10km. Lol.

How’s those ups and downs? When falls happen in life, you can go back to where you were and stay there. It is safer that way. You can go back to the start and try over with your new knowledge. Or you can go forward a little bit more cautiously than before, but still going forward. You’ll find that if you go forward, it is sometimes scary and you fear that the same fall could happen again and you’re still sore from the last fall. But you’ll become more confident as you go along. Then, when you feel you’re recovered, you give it your all. You be the best new version of you that you can be….even if the new version is a little bit broken. Alain was right when he said “Just take if for what it is.” The fall was the fall and my knees and elbows were sore, but the rest of the race was there to do with whatever I chose. So I took it a bit cautiously and then it got quite scary and dangerous, but I kept going forward courageously. I little bit more cautious than I like to be, but I was being kind to myself and trying not to be a total moron by falling again. Although, admittedly, there were more spectacular places I could have fallen instead of the rather innocuous flat piece of path which I fell on. But I didn’t fall again. I took it easy and I ended up having a really awesome run.

I won’t lie, it was a very tough route, but I was disciplined in my approach to the uphills by counting steps and only walking my 50 step allocation each time. By making sure I had gone at least 80 steps before walking again, I slowly passed a few people who had stepped over me as I lay in the path earlier. I wasn’t giving up. Not then and not at all during the rest of the day. I had committed to the team to run the RAC cross country race later in the afternoon. After I finished the trail run, I was sore. Everything was stinging and I was stiffening up. EP asked me if I was still going to do cross country. “No. I’m too sore.” Ten minutes later she asked me again. “Yes. I said I would. I will.” I think I might be mentally ill. But, I lined up at the cross country race this afternoon, tired and sore. I ran at the back because, like others I know, I like to start slow and then oh fuck it! I didn’t die and I didn’t come last. But that’s no great shakes, because the people that came behind me were over 60 years old. Lol.

Just a reminder, I did go up an age category yesterday. It’s been a tough week, like I said!

Another lesson in life dished out to me by running. Thank you My Road Less Travelled for a beautiful and incredibly difficult and challenging race. Thank you Mark White Nissan too. I might trade in my Jeep for that Navara I saw at the top of the top of the top top hill! 😉

Yours in the ups and downs of life.

Slow Coach.

That great leveler: A lesson in humility

I have a beautiful son. I have two beautiful sons. Seriously, by any measure or standard, they are beautiful. The younger son often makes choices which take him outside the boundaries of what society would prefer for him. Today I was reminded of one of those times which took him for a two-week visit to what the magistrate termed “a place of safety”. In most quarters, it would be referred to as juvenile jail, but the correctional services system terms it “a place of safety”. There are social workers instead of wardens and the place – the parts of which I was allowed to see – seemed clean and bright and pleasant. The reason I remembered that event today was because it was an abject leveler for me. I went to a good school for all my school life. I volunteered in the church and I had a mommy and daddy who provided a home with a picket fence. Technically, it was a stone wall which my dad and brothers built, but you know what I mean, right? The stone wall was about as effective as a picket fence when the Doberman across the road would get out and chase pedestrians or the postman and said pedestrian or postman would come hurdling over the wall to get away from the Doberman only to be met by Tammy on our side of the wall. Sometimes we laughed. Sometimes we panicked. 

Anyway. My son in “a place of safety”. When we would have to go visit my son, I would have to sneak off from work early in my fancy corporate gear and head out to the arse end of Krugersdorp in my fancy middle class car. I would go into the entrance. A nice ‘social worker’ would let me into a cubicle where I would be required to remove all my clothes and they would check my person and my bags to make sure I wasn’t bringing anything unnecessary into the “place of safety”. After that process was completed and I had put all my clothes back on, I would walk up a looooong path with an enormous wall to my right and I think also to my left in the blazing sun. Then I would sit on a concrete block, also in the blazing sun across a grass patch from the front entrance of the place of safety. It was there that I would wait for my son’s number to be called out from the front door, at which time, I could make my way across the grass patch into the “place of safety”. I would once again be ushered into a room with a cubicle where another pat down awaited me and a thorough inspection of any bags I might have had was undertaken. It was on the concrete block outside that I had a real epiphany the first time I undertook this exercise. I sat outside there, burning in the sun for about an hour on the first time that I did this. As I sat there, an old couple hobbled up to the concrete block from the looooong path and sat down behind me. They smelt of beer. The man was talking to the lady and I could tell from the way he was speaking that he was missing a few teeth. Then a lady, a little older than me came slowly up the path and sat down next to me. She was wearing a pair of slippers and a gown. She told me she was very angry with her son for doing this and she also told me that she had to walk from Soweto to get there. She had been walking all day, she said. Then a man arrived with a young boy and I could tell from their conversation that the man had been a sailor at some point in his life. He swore a lot, but so do I, so it kind of made me smile. And as I sat there with this crew of people who did not go to private schools, most of whom did not work and probably didn’t have a picket fence, I realized that we were all the same. All of us were sitting there waiting for our sons’ numbers to be called so that we could spend a few precious moments with them. Loving them. Berating them. Mourning them. Caring for them. Worrying about them. We all sat there waiting. I remember being very humbled by that moment. It was one of many humbling moments my son afforded me.

 I was reminded of that time today as I ran along. Remember I hobbled the last two kilometres of RAC 10km? That’s because something broke. Something which had broken a while back and which had hidden very well behind my ITB. The ITB which Clare-Anne then released which laid bare the glaring pain in my foot as a result of thousands of kilometres in just slightly wrong shoes. So for the past three weeks I have barely been able to walk. I’ve seen Clare-Anne more in the past month than I have in the past two years AND SHE’S MY BEST FRIEND! I am diligently doing everything she tells me, partly because I’m hoping the pain will go and partly because I cannot run even 100 metres at the moment. That was until today. I asked her yesterday after my appointment if I should run the Spur Trail Series Race today and she said that because it was trail, I was less likely to do more damage so I should run until it hurt and then I should walk.

 Well it took me approximately one kilometer to start walking. I had started in the B batch, because, aside from the fact that I can’t even run at the moment, I’m actually in very good shape and if I could run, I’d run very fast. It’s a crazy conundrum!  I walked a bit and then when we hit a bit of a flat piece, I ran with Chrissie and Judy and we had a nice pace going. I ran with them until it hurt again and then I walked. Then I ran a bit and then I walked. Then I ran a bit then I walked. Then I couldn’t start running for a few kilometres because it hurt too much and so I walked. Everyone from C batch passed me. Everyone from D batch passed me. At one point Isabel came walking up to me and I had just had the humbling moment thought. She asked me how I was doing and I burst into tears because I’m so arrogant and I like being arrogant! I don’t like being humbled. I was a good runner and now I’m not. It’s very frustrating. So we ambled along together. She gave me a few words of encouragement and then we started talking about our dogs and cats and vets and we felt happy. We caught up with her husband, Carl and the three of us ran on together. Then I walked some more. Then I walked a lot again. And then there was lots of mud so I gleefully ran through the mud, giggling out loud. Then I walked some more. Then I limped and then I ran to the finish.

 I don’t think my name has ever appeared so low down on the rankings of a Spur race. I know I shouldn’t focus on that, and I’m really trying not to. I know this is a process and my goal is SOX in August and that’s what I have to focus on. I’m doing everything that Clare-Anne is telling me to do. I was very impressed with my maturity today in that I actually did do what Clare-Anne told me to do. Most of the time. But seriously, I hate all this humbling.

It is, however, the thing I love most about running. Running is the ultimate leveler. There’s no status on the road/trail when you’re running. No-one cares where you live, what you do for a living, what clothes you wear, where you went to on your last holiday. You are just like everyone else. You’re all muddling along trying to get to the end as quickly as you can. Just doing your best with what you have. I love that it’s so much like life like that. We’re really all just muddling along doing the best we can with what we have. Some of us carry old injuries with us which impact us on our journey and we get frustrated by it, but we just carry on, focusing on getting through life the best way we know how, with what we have. At the end we can only hope that we ran a good race in life and that during our life, we left a bit of ourselves on the course which had a good impact on others or which inspired others.

 Yours in this humbling journey of life.

Slow Coach



I’ve Been Running and Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the love of becoming a runner…

SLOWCOACH

Trail Runners FFS

I feel like I ran a marathon today. I only ran 15km today. My feeling might have something to do with the fact that the 15km race I ran was called The Beast and, when we set off at 7am, the temperature in Pretoria was already at a balmy 23°C. Sold as the toughest race in Pretoria, it is an incredibly tough trail race up and down rocky slopes with little shade and, as you can imagine, sweltering conditions. But I’m not here to tell you about Pretoria’s toughest race. If you want to find out how tough it is, then come run it next year.

What I’m here to tell you about is trail runners. They’re a funny bunch, actually. I think I’ve spoken about this before. Trail runners have gear. Lots of gear. They have buffs and trail shoes and gaitors and go pros and fancy watches and compasses and maps and hydration packs and all sorts of gear that road runners just don’t need or care to drag with them on any race. Aside from the gear, trail running seems to attract people with little to no communication skills whatsoever. When you run a technical trail, you can kind of understand because there’s no real opportunity for conversation. For starters, the trails usually don’t allow people to run two or more abreast so you’re either in front of someone or, as is usually the case with me, you’re behind someone (or some many). This means that you can very seldom hear the person in front unless they’re shouting. Added to that, you really have to concentrate when you trail run. You can’t zone out and chit chat and day dream on trail runs. I daydream occasionally and that’s usually about the time I find myself eating red sand. It’s always red in South Africa! You have to concentrate because there is all manner of obstacles in the path. Stones, rocks, tree roots, grass fronds, lizards, snakes and grasshoppers all lie in wait, trying to catch your toe and send you flying. So it’s often not a good idea to be chit chatting away to your friends on a trail run. That then appeals to a strange type of person who can run for hours on end with no-one except the voices in their own head with whom to “chat”.

This becomes a problem for me. Because Trail running attracts people who are less inclined to be chit chatty, they’re less inclined to be chit chatty about important things. Today, I swear I wanted to punch some people. There were 3 races on the go today. There was The Beast which was 15km. There was something slightly less Beasty which shared 10km of the 15km route and there was a mini Beast which was 5km. By the way, my buddies came 1st, 2nd 1st and 3rd in the 15km (Well done Thabang, Tranquil, Maphuti and Fiona) and my buddy came 2nd in the 5km (Well done Nina. Hope you feel better soon) You’d think that with all these great buddies, I would suck less. Sadly, not.

Where was I? Oh yes. I wanted to punch people. The 15km and the 10km shared the same route and the 10km started 15 minutes after the 15km. 10km races are much faster than 15km races and soon, front runner 10km runners were looking to come past us 15km runners at the back. The first few got out the big girl, and boy panties and shouted, “Coming through on your right!” before they were breathing down my SlowCoach neck. And then came others. I’m not sure what’s wrong with them. There was a girl who ran up behind me and then stuck on my tail for about 500m (which is a long way in trail running) without saying a word. Eventually, I helped her and said, “Let me know if you’d like to pass.” She whimpered meekly, “Yes, please may I come past?” For fucks sakes!!! By this time, all her fellow 10km runners had caught up with her and there was a stream of traffic behind her waiting to pass me and it looked like it was my fault, when all she had so do was whisper in her meek, pathetic voice, “Coming through on your right”. That’s another thing, trail runners. Don’t shout “Coming through!” or “Left” or “Right”. How the fuck must I know what that means? How do I know from any of those what your expectation of me is? You’re behind me, I can’t see what you’re thinking! I can’t see what your body is doing! Be specific. Say, “Please move to your left.” Or “I’m passing on your right.” Or “Coming through on your right.”. That tells me everything I need to know. I know what you’re about to do and I can gather what you expect me to do from those statements. And then for the love of all things traily, say “thank you”. You won’t die if I move to the side for you (even if you didn’t ask) and then you gasp a “thank you” as you go past. I promise, you won’t die!

I met a lovely lady called Robyn today as we both moved to the side for 10km runners who all took advantage of our kindness and didn’t even give us a sniff, never mind a thanks! Really, trail runners. You really have to up your communication game. I’m not asking you to strike up a small talk conversation or to debate the merits of existential studies. I just need you to communicate your expectations so that we all have a nice run. Where you’re not bearing down on me so heavily, forcing me to run faster than I need to and I’m not holding you up from your PB or special placing. And say thank you. It will make you seem nicer and not so fucking weird.

Yours in the love of communicating clearly,

SlowCoach

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

Couch time

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

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

Goodnight!