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



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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podium Pyjamas and Podium Pants

Podium Pyjamas and Podium Pants

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

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

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

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

SlowCoach