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!

Via Dolorosa

I know. Several of you have complained. Last time I blogged was in November when I ran a marathon for no reason and qualified for a race which I have no intention of running….this year. It might help you if I explain this writing process of mine. I can’t write on demand, which is why I work in a bank and am not lounging on my patio all day, perched at a laptop, sipping a fine Chianti while I churn out this nonsense. The blog piece always starts forming in my head when something about a run strikes me. It might be the sunrise. It might be something poignant that someone says. It might be a tree. Something strikes me and the inspiration is sparked. From there, the piece evolves in my head as I trundle along. That’s why you very seldom read about my training runs. Not much time to build a narrative in that short time. So the reason I haven’t written in a while is because I’ve mostly been training on trails for the Old Mutual Two Oceans 22km Trail Run. And although the training runs have been in some pretty places, they’ve been difficult and not very inspiring. Just biting down training.

I’ve also been injured. I know, right? You’re always injured. I know, right? That’s because, as you may recall, I’m not really supposed to be a runner. I’m supposed to be a couch potato. And I have the perfect body for couch potatoing, complete with a hint of scoliosis of the spine and one leg shorter than the other (I suspect the two are related). Jekyll and Hyde confirmed it to me recently, when at my wits end, I went to see her, a biokineticist, about the myriad of suffering I was enduring. She said, “I’m not sure how you’re actually managing to run because you really don’t have any leg strength at all.” Luckily she told me that just three days before I left for Cape Town to run the longest trail I’ve ever run in my life. Luckily the race was billed as “For experienced trail runners only”. But I’ve run the Comrades Marathon, right? How hard could this be?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Cape Town is a really shit place. That fucking wind could put me in a mental assylum. It’s very pretty and the transport system is quite good, but the people are so laissez-faire, it takes forever to get anything done and then, before you know it, it’s 10pm and bed time! So I really don’t like Cape Town, but I was very excited about the race. I knew it was going to be tough and I thought it would elevate my status as a silly Parkrun-type trail runner to a hard core trail runner. Today, as I type this, I find myself hung somewhere between the two. Erica and I had done some pretty appalling training runs in heat and wind and dust and hills and sun and misery so I think we were pretty much ready for anything. We had handled the training runs so badly, however, that both of us were worried that we were in no way prepared for this run. Erica had never run 22km before…on road or on trail. I think I was shitting myself more for her than for myself. At least I knew how deep I could dig after last year’s Comrades. Her petulant temper tantrum on our last training run and her total inability to pep talk herself or to allow herself to be pep talked had me worried that she might not be able to do this. But she’s got loads of chutzpah, that one, so I knew that she’d finish. She also has the advantage of a fantastic homing pony that kicks in as soon as she smells the finish. I kept having to remind her that all runners are liars and trail runners are the worst type of liar because I’ve never ever run a trail run that was the distance that was sold to me. I knew that Two Oceans would be no different. It turns out that the race was not, in fact 22km. It was 23.8km. I kept telling Erica and myself to get our heads around 25km. Luckily I did that or I might have stumbled upon a very angry and defeated Erica at some point near the end of the race. I didn’t and she finished half an hour ahead of me!!! Well done Erica.

The trail race is the first race of the Old Mutual Two Oceans marathon racing weekend. It is run on Good Friday. Good Friday has always been and will always be a deeply spiritual day of reflection for me and I struggled with the notion that I would be doing something I love and find so fun on a day meant for contemplation and mournful reflection. Co-incidentally, along with the lack of creativity in my life, I have struck a pothole in my spiritual life. I haven’t been going to church. I haven’t been praying. Even during Lent, this most holy time of fasting, reflection and self-sacrifice, I have been living far removed from my usual ethereal life. And it was with this realisation, on kilometre three, which was as steep as kilometre one to three, that this piece of writing began to take form.

The start of the race was unremakable, although it was very cold and our gear was checked like our hem lengths in high school by a troop of class prefect-type people. We had been advised with our entry that the following gear was compulsory:

  • a hydration pack (or something similar) with a minimum of  2 litres of water. Go get a 2litre bottle from your fridge, now strap it to your back and imagine running 22…er 25km with that,
  • a hat (I never run trails with a hat because I’m afraid I won’t see low-hanging branches and then end up knocking myself unconscious. To meet the requirement, I donned peak cap back to front which gave me the appearance of a lanky, over the hill skateboarder),
  • a whistle,
  • a space blanket (I detest the sound the thing makes. It’s made of that fine crinkly silver foil and sounds disgusting when it moves),
  • a rain jacket,
  • a windbreaker,
  • Food
  • A cell phone, charged with the race’s emergency number stored (oh shit! I just realised that I forgot to put in the emergency number into my phone. Lucky I didn’t need it then, hey? Oops!)

So you start the race with a shit load of extra baggage….and I’m not even talking about the stuff I usually start with in my head.

The first 4.5km are steep uphills into the rising sun. The views are lovely, but the road is walkably steep. You can try run, but I think only the elites would have managed that. It was at the 3km mark that I got a small thorn poke through my shoe and into my sock. I was suddenly reminded that it was indeed Good Friday and this was a day on which I usually sat in reflection of that most horrific of murders, the death of Jesus Christ. That little thorn irritated me. I could move my foot around in my shoe so that the thorn didn’t poke my toe whenever I put my foot down, but then doing that for the next 19km would do a lot of damage to the rest of my legs. So I just kept tolerating it until it went away. I kept thinking about the thorn in Jesus’ head from the crown of thorns. How absolutely agonising that must have been. I wondered if the pain eventually just went away like the pain in my toe. At about 5km, we started climbing. Now, when runners talk about climbing they are usually talking about this:

steep climb

For the purposes of this particular blog, the term “Climb” shall refer to this:

rock-climbing3

I know you’re thinking that I’m joking. Not even. I looked up at someone about three people ahead of me at one point and saw this:

rock climb

Except this woman has equipment! I thought, “Holy shit! If she lets go now, she will fall to her death. I’m sure one should have equipment for this kind of thing.” I considered my compulsory gear list, and thought, “Did I skip the bungee cord and D-ring altogether when I read that list?” It was quite something. All I can say is thank goodness I have been doing all those bicep curls with my enormous 1kg weights because there is no ways I could have pulled myself up some of those rocks if I hadn’t had the little arm strength I have. It was brutal. At one point, I couldn’t find a place to grab, so I grabbed a piece of bush and a thousand little thorns bit into me. Deceptive little fucker! Immediately, a thousand little bubbles of blood peeked out of my fingers. I shouted to everyone below me, “Don’t touch this little bush. It has teeth!” Once again, I was dragged from my horror to remember the horror of that walk upon which Jesus had embarked all those years ago. I wanted to tap out. I wanted to get my whistle out of my bag and just blow it to get a marshal to come and help me down the mountain. But I was too afraid to let go of the rock and so I couldn’t get my whistle out of my bag. Alas, this way of sorrow was set to continue. The guy behind me, who was now being held up along with about 400 other runners by my pathetic progression up this cliff face, told me that I couldn’t tap out because I had run Comrades and this was just a walk in the park compared to that. Just those words were like Veronica’s compassionate gesture to Jesus as he struggled along. I considered that Jesus too must have wanted to tap out at some point. Must have wanted to blow that whistle. I suppose He had the power and authority to do so, but He didn’t. Those words helped me up the next climb which had been deceptively hidden around the corner from the current climb. We climbed into a cave where a very kind marshal was telling us we were nearly there. “We’re nearly there at the top of this climb or we’re nearly there at the end of the race?” I thought to myself. We were neither. I wonder if anyone said that to Jesus on his way.

That climb was 2km. We climbed literally for 2km. My quads and arms were finished. Now, 7km into the race, I was finished. I almost cried. At 8km, I saw several marshals standing around, looking busy. There was a runner, looking forlorn standing to the side of the narrow path. I greeted her. It looked like she had tapped out. And then I fell. Just out of sight of the small gathering dealing with the forlorn runner. It was a strange fall between two boulders. I must have tripped on a frond of a plant by stepping on one side and hooking the arch made by that with my other foot. I stumbled forward, grabbed the two boulders and almost sighed in relief that I hadn’t fallen, but then I carried on falling and I fell on my good knee. My left knee stung and I jumped up and limped forward and out of the way of any runners behind me. I felt embarrassed until I realised that there was no other runner. No-one around to witness the fall. I cried a little because it was my good knee. My not good knee was so sore from the climbing and now my good knee was also a not good knee. My hands started to bleed. Jesus fell, we believe three times on his journey with the cross. I cried out loud, “Please don’t let there be two more falls waiting for me. Please!” I wonder if, when Jesus fell, he also stumbled, steadied himself or just lurched forward and fell. How humiliating for him. I wonder if he wanted to just jump up and shout, “I’m okay! No worries. Just a scratch.” I wonder if he just wanted to lie in the path, face down and not get up. I wonder if he got up and carried on forward because he knew that at the end of all this treachery, at least he would be home with his Father.

I looked at my watch. 8.5km. I felt like I had been running for days and we were only 8.5km into this race. Moreover, I had already fallen. My newly not good knee started to swell. Blood covered my hand. I washed it down with some of the water which, although icy cold when I started this race, was now starting to warm up.When I looked again, I was at the 12km mark, I had stumbled a few times and berated myself to concentrate and said a small prayer of thanks that I hadn’t fallen and a smaller prayer of please don’t let there be two more falls. I’d had to pass under an overhanging rock because going on the outside of the overhang would take me too near to the precipice of the mountain and I was afraid of plummeting to my death. There were several spots like that. Looking down is not an option on this race. Neither is looking up. If you’re afraid of heights, this one is not for you.

Twelve kilometres and I’d been “running” for two hours and twenty minutes. I am not kidding you, folks. Two hours and twenty minutes. And I wasn’t even last! Not even in my category! Seriously, it was that tough. Of course, at the precise time that I was crossing over the 12km mark, the winning lady was crossing over the finish line which was allegedly 10km hence. On the road, I’m usually finished my 5th cup of coke at the finish of a 21km after two hours and twenty minutes. Here, I was half way! But the kilometres between the fall at 8km and this 12km seemed to have flown by. That cheered me up a bit, but then I wondered, how long the walk from the Praetorium to Golgotha was. Well, upon Googling, I’ve established it wasn’t 25km. Or even 22km. Still, I wasn’t running in the desert. Nor did I have crowds jeering.  In fact, there were times when there didn’t appear to be another human on that route. Sometimes I waited till another person came along because I was certain I had taken a wrong turn and got lost. I also didn’t have someone pushing me along hastily to get the whole ordeal over with. You know if someone had been doing that to me as I ran along, I would have become so angry, I would have smashed their head with one of the many rocks that I was rambling over. Yeah. I can’t imagine Jesus doing that either.

And then I had run 17km. I was in pain, but I was still enjoying my run. Some idiot ran past me and announced, “Downhill to the end now!” With that, we turned off the little downhill we’d just had onto an abomination of an uphill. I called out to him, “What have you done? What have you said?” He was so embarrassed, and I think a little afraid, that he sped off up that hill never to be seen again. The marshal who had just directed us up that hill told me to catch him and hit him. I might have tried if my knees weren’t so stuffed. I was quite surprised how my legs had been holding it together so far in the race. I was grateful for that. I’d been in excruciating pain for two weeks before the race. Lower back, knee, ITBs, searing glutes. But now, at this point, all that was really hurting were my knees, one from the fall and one from overuse. A truthful marshal advised that the route was not 22km. I knew it, I told him. I’m aiming for 25km. He told me to keep aiming for that because that was much closer than 22km! Although self-righteously I was glad I could say, “I knew it! I just knew it!”, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit deflated that I still had 8km to go, when I should have had just 5km to go. But then I reminded myself that I had run the Comrades Marathon so this was just a literal walk in the park.

It was really beautiful scenery. We were running through magical forests and jumping over bubbling brooks. We were having to clamber up hills and do climbs, but it was really picturesque running. At no point did I kick a single stone in anger. And then I came into a clearing. I was running downhill and my knees were sore. I almost cried, but then I saw a photographer and pulled myself together. Then I was on the road to the homestretch. That’s when I cried. Four and some hours I had been out there. That’s usually a marathon for me. Here I was just finishing 23.8km in that same time. What a bittersweet feeling. I had done things that day that I never imagined I’d be able to do. I had hauled myself over rocks and boulders, crept along precipices, fallen, got up, and finished the hardest race I’d ever done in my life. It wasn’t as tough, mentally, as Comrades, but I finished feeling exactly as I had felt at the end of my first Comrades down run. I also finished with a real sense of accomplishment, more so than either of my Comrades marathons. I felt like I had experienced something truly grueling and challenging and I had accomplished it. Maybe that’s how Jesus died, with a deep sense of accomplishment. We are told that he sighed, “It is accomplished,” at the moment of his death. I’m not comparing my silly little trail run with a selfless act of that magnitude or more specifically, being crucified, but I had a fleeting sense of how Jesus might have felt as he gave his last breath in that manner.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt a sense of purpose on that horrible journey. He told a group of women who were crying to not cry for him but for themselves and their families. I hope I too can be a person of empathy always. I have found that there is no more poignant way to get close to God than to run out in nature. It is a gift which has been given to me which I treasure. And even though I shout and complain and groan at times while I’m out in nature running, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the gift of running and for the gift of our beautiful country and for the gift of lovely people who I meet along the way.

And at those moments when I feel like I’m being pushed from behind by a faster runner breathing down my neck, I know that God looks on and removes all stones from my reach.

Yours in the love of God and nature and running

SlowCoach

 

 

Forteeee Twoooooo! Yor! Yor! Yor!

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

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

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

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

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

Yor!s in the love of running and temporary things

Slow Coach