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



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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