I’ve Been Running and Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the love of becoming a runner…

SLOWCOACH

32 More Sleeps and I’m Just Chilling

Yes I am! You’re all out there running ridiculously long runs and tracking and easy 90 minuting and doing all these crazy things in honour of hell week which is in preparation for The Comrades Marathon on 31 May 2015 and I’m sleeping in. Okay, I ran Loskop almost 2 weeks ago and the week after that I worked my ass off at track. But then I was struck down with that dreaded of all lurgies, flu!

I’ve started to stress because I’m missing the big runs. So much so that I had my first Comrades nightmare the other night. The dream started out very well. I was having a blinder of a run. I was an hour ahead of schedule at the 60km mark. So Chrissie met me in town and we decided to go drink a beer at a nearby pub. But when I looked down at my shirt, I realised that I didn’t have my race number pinned on me. In the dream, the race number had the timing chip and so I realised that my fabulous time would not have been recorded by the various timing mats along the way. I don’t remember much else about the dream, but I think we drank beer. Wait….I remember carrying on and following people through the streets of this little town. So I have been struck down. For an entire week. I really am sick. I thought it had been years since I felt this sick, but as it turns out, it is exactly one year, to the day, since I felt this sick. How do I know? Because exactly one year ago, I wrote a blog telling everyone how sick I’d just been. So I’ve reached this conclusion: The Couch Potato in me lives and breathes! It’s really cute because I’ve worked hard the last 11 months. It’s good to know that at a subconscious level the rebel still exists.

I did a comparison in an attempt to satisfy my neuroses and because the Comrades dream has me worried. I compared last year from 1 March to 29 April to this year from 1 March to today, and what do you know? I have spent 59 hours running 495 kilometres since 1 March compared to the 56 hours running 344 kilometres in the same timeframe last year. Whew! First of all, that’s a shit load of running in just 2 months. Secondly, it turns out that I have been running well this year. Imagine if I manage to totally harness my Couch Potato? Lol. Well, at least I could avoid feeling so shitty whenever I increase mileage significantly. But I could probably also be a really good runner.

So think of me. I’m hoping to be better by the weekend so that I can run Wally 42.2 on Friday and/or Colgate 32 on Sunday and/or Jackie Mekler 25 on Saturday next week. Actually, I’m just hoping to be better tomorrow so that I can go to work.

Enjoy your hell week. I’ll just sit on this couch.

Yours in the love of getting better.

Slow Coach

Something New

Do you know what I realised yesterday when Michelle asked me if that Loskop was a personal best for a 50km? I realised that I have never run a 50km race. In fact, I have never run anything further than 48km. Well, except for that whole Comrades Marathon thing. When all the ultra marathons were happening last year, I was injured. Admittedly, I ran Kosmos 3-in-1 and I ran the Randburg Easter 100, but neither of those contain an actual 50km or more single run. So yesterday I ran my first 50km race. Cool hey?

Run Loskop, Brenda. It’s a lovely race, Brenda. Great downhill run, Brenda. Beautiful downhill race with a little sting in the tail near the end, Brenda. There is really no end to the lies runners will tell.

Michelle and I left at 2.30am yesterday morning to go run Loskop. Yes, I said 2.30am. Race is a point to point, starting in Middelburg and ending at the beautifully picturesque Loskop dam 50km away.  I arrived at the race with apathy.  I’m not sure why apathy. I guess because I felt strong and well prepared. Easter 100 had boosted my confidence immensely. This was just 8km more than a marathon. I was finding marathons easier these days so what was an extra 8kms on a marathon? It didn’t even occur to me then that I had never run a 50km. Michelle had kindly worked out a timing chart for a sub-5.30 race. I didn’t even know if that was feasible, but I’ve run a sub-4.20 marathon so an extra 8km in 1 hour seemed possible. I wore the pacing chart on my wrist. The first 10km were supposed to be run at 6.45/km. This seemed achievable. I’ve been managing 6.30/km on my easy runs so this should be fine. Should have been, except my apathy at the start had me standing at the back with people who were clearly out for a long day on their legs.

Ha! A politician got up at the start and gave a speech in which she told us, “Today I am just one of you. I am running this thing today.” I laughed at how in that simple sentence lay the root of many of our problems with South Africa today. But, that is a different blog written by someone else. The starter set us off and we didn’t move. Then we ambled and then we shuffled. Then we stopped. Then we shuffled and before I knew it, I had done 2km in just 14 minutes. I panicked. I was now 30 seconds behind schedule in just 2km. I picked up the pace and started passing people as quickly as possible. I think I kind of lost my mind. 3rd km was 6.03. 4th km was 6.07. 5th km 6.22. 6th km 6.19. 7th km 5.13. Leigh-Ann and Dave came running up. It’s Leigh-Ann’s birthday today so I wished her and told her I was starting to have a bit of a tough time. But 8th km 5.26. 9th km 7.08. I heard a breaking spring sound. 10th km 7.32. A bolt shot out the top of my butt. It fell on the floor and made a faint metallic sound. 11th km 7.07. Steam came out of my head. A door handle fell off. 12th km 7.13. A tyre fell off the bottom of my leg and rolled down the hill we were now moving up. I should tell you that at this point, there had been one downhill on this downhill route. Admittedly, some had warned me that the first 21km were difficult and from then it was going to be downhill. But that didn’t matter right now.  We were now 13km into the race and my chassis had fallen apart. I slowed down. The long day on their legs crowd came sauntering past me. Some of them I recognised as people much slower than myself. I kicked a stone…on purpose. I knew that I had to get home at some point and I still had 37km to go on a race in which I had already burnt out. I cried. Yes I did. Then I prayed. I’m not sure what I prayed. I just prayed. I prayed that my son would get a job. I prayed that our country would be better. I prayed that it would rain. I prayed that the wind would change from the freezing headwind that it was into a tailwind of sorts. I prayed that I could be a better person. I prayed for wisdom. Only one of those prayers has been answered so far but I’m none the wiser. I cried some more and I kicked another stone.

Like the angel that gets sent whenever I most need her, I heard Sponono call out my name. I didn’t turn around because I didn’t want her to see my tears. But she and her friend came running up to me. They passed me because I was walking. And then I cried some more because Sponono had passed me and what if I wasn’t able to catch her? I thought I should at least try to catch her. I lifted my aching knee. The top of my glute started to shoot stabbing pains up my back with every step, but I battled forward trying to catch Sponono. Eventually at around 15km I caught up with her and we carried on running. Her friend dropped back slightly and she told me that we were going too fast. I realised that my speed has improved significantly since Sponono and I ran together in 2013, when she patiently and kindly helped me to qualify for Comrades at Kaapsemoer. My foot felt like I had plantar fasciitis. I didn’t know if I should limp for a while to make it go away, so I just carried on running forward. Families had come out to the road to support us. It was wonderful. We were being cheered and there were loads of children supporting us. It lifted my spirits somewhat and I cheered up slightly. What also kept me going was my knowing that at 21km, this hellish race would get better because a bunch of lying runners had told me that. It didn’t get much better. One or two unnoticeable downhills came and went. Many uphills and some uphills cleverly disguised as flats came and went. I walked a bit. Cried some more. Prayed a bit. This was turning into quite the spiritual experience. I considered going to the toilet at 21km. I don’t go to the toilet on runs. I would never bush pee even if my life depended on it. I don’t use the portaloos because they’re always revolting and there’s always a queue. So I pulled off the road at 21km, spotted the queue and decided to spare myself and carried on running. I didn’t really need the toilet after all. I only wanted to do something that would change the way I was feeling. That was miserable, in case you hadn’t picked that up yet.

I was managing sort of sub-7.30 minute kilometres. I can’t really remember kilometre 24, but I know I kicked another stone…on purpose and the evidence from my Garmin seems to indicate that kilometre 24 took 9.32. The water points on this race are fantastic. Especially the one at 25km. The portaloos were named Executive Toilets. How fantastic! Those toilets appeared just like Sponono out of the horizon. There were steps up to the door. The toilets were white. They were clean. There was 2-ply. Admittedly, they were on a slope, which made moving around in the cubicle somewhat of a challenge. But, they gave me a little reprieve. Sponono had run past me as I was climbing the stairs to my delightful little reprieve and I waved at her promising to catch up to her a little later. So the liars hadn’t totally lied. For a short while after 25km, the route improved slightly. I caught Sponono and ran with her for a short while.  I was feeling a little better and I wasn’t sure how long this mood swing would last so I pulled away from her. Some undulating, slightly picturesque terrain. A sign that said “Hier Kak Ons Af” at an entrance to a farm. And then the 36km mark happened. Not one single liar told me about the 36km mark. The signs read, “Hou bene hou.” and “Keep that legs moving forward.” At least I was still able to notice funny things. Even if I didn’t find them funny. The hill was steep but over the rise, the hill was steep in the other direction. From 37km to 40km the downhill was beautifully steep. Most people didn’t like it, but I loved it. I threw everything I had into that steep downhill. I knew that I was 17 minutes off the pace for a sub-5.30 and it didn’t matter if I walked to the end after this hill. I didn’t know how long this downhill would be. What I did know is that there would be a “slight sting in the tail” from 46km. At 40km there was a lovely water station. I asked someone for the time because my watch had died as I started on the downhill. 4.31. I looked at my pacing chart and, will you know it, I had made up a whopping 7 minutes and was now only 10 minutes off the sub-5.30 pace. I didn’t know the nature of the sting in the tail, but I live in Northcliff, how stingish could the sting be? I mean are we talking hornet, wasp, bee or scorpion here? I could have a blinder of a final 10km and come in under 5.30. I had maintained the mood swing, so I pulled myself together and started racing. I had no idea how fast I was running. I just ran as fast as I could.

I still hadn’t realised that I had never actually run this far before except for Comrades almost 1 year ago. So it didn’t occur to me that my tyres and chassis falling off at 10km might come back to bite me at 48km. I raced. And then I walked because I just didn’t believe I could do this. At 42.2 I asked for the time. 4.44. My brain couldn’t do calculations, but it sounded like I had taken a lifetime to run a measly 2.2km. So I walked. If there had been a stone, I would have kicked it. There was an uphill in front of me and I thought that was the start of the legendary sting in the tail. I ran towards it and up it. At the top of that little hill, I beautiful view unfolded in front of me. The dam, nestled coyly amongst the rolling mountains, glistened in the late morning sun. If you ever run this race, at this point, don’t get carried away. Don’t enjoy the entire panoramic of this view. DO NOT LOOK RIGHT AND UP. I did. The term sting in the tail does not even remotely describe the size of the hill from 45km to 48km. There is no metaphor for this “slight sting in the tail”. I’ve searched for one, but really, there is no adequate metaphor for this hill. The nice thing about it is that it bends three times so you’re never fully aware of the magnitude of the treachery ahead of you. Oh my word! What I didn’t realise was that on the third bend of that hill, the coolest thing was about to happen to me.

Earlier on in the day, I had seen a guy from FFA running club and he had greeted me. He was super hot. He had the most astoundingly beautiful body and as I checked him out, I was most surprised to see the 55 age category sticker on his shirt. It crossed my mind that he was cheating because he looked no older than 35 and he was running like a 25 year old. Anyway, as I took a stroll up the treacherous hill, the hot 55 year old and a few of his friends ran past me. Again, the hottie greeted me. As they passed me, I saw a sign at the top of the hill which read “Only 2260 metres to go”. Something bit me. I was done with this race. I was tired. I couldn’t feel my legs or back any more so I wouldn’t even have known if I was sore. I knew at the sign, I could expect a downhill to the resort entrance and I needed a downhill. I ran past hottie 55 and his friends and the hottie told me that I was looking strong. I laughed a wordless retort. As I rounded the top of the hill, the downhill beckoned, but the actual sting in the tail is a 250m uphill before the resort entrance. The downhill was awesome and I raced down. Momentum carried me up the real sting in the tail and I entered the resort, noticing the 500m to go mark on the road. I felt a bit deflated that I still had half a kilometre to go on this dreadful day, but it was a wonderful winding downhill and the crowds were cheering and shouting. What a wonderful finish! I saw Michelle and shouted at her for lying to me about the fantasticness of this race that she had now completed 9 times. I looked up at the clock and saw 5:41:38. Yeah! It wasn’t sub-5:31, but I was glad it was over and I had finished. Didn’t die. Didn’t come last. Not by a long way. I picked up my race goodies. Awesome goodie pack and shirt and you get a bag of oranges and a can of coke! Cool hey? Michelle showed me where to pick up my tog bag. As we were walking around, hottie 55 came up to me and smiled. He said to me, “Well done out there. You showed real guts in your race.” I smiled a polite thank you. Michelle and he glanced at each other with a hint of recognition and he looked back at me. He continued, “Please tell Vreni that Israel Morake says ‘Hi’.” My jaw dropped open. Michelle smiled and yelped, “Israel! You came and visited me when I was in hospital!” “Oh yes!” remembered Israel. (That is an incredible story about an amazing human being, but for another day.)They embraced and carried on talking about Israel’s current goings on. My mouth was hanging open. I was totally star struck. Not only was he super hot, he was Israel Morake. For those of you who don’t know, take a look here or here. That was so cool. An icon of South African long distance running had told me that I had shown guts in my running. And he was hot! And he was so lovely and awesome and humble and just lovely. I’m still star struck, can you tell? What a great day!

I realised that I can run 50km. I can recover from a total blow out and come back stronger. I can run awesome downhills and still put my head down to run treacherous uphills and still find more fuel to finish a race with a powerful run. I can be a good runner. 5:41 is far from being a star, but I can be a good runner. I feel like I’m just starting. I’m learning really important lessons now. Not that all the previous lessons weren’t important, but now I’m learning lessons about actually racing races, not just not dying and not coming last. Real focussed racing.

In a week’s time, I will forget how unfun that race was for me and I, like all running liars, will be the new brand ambassador for Loskop Ultra Marathon, but I will never forget meeting Israel Morake. I’m going to work hard so that one day in the not too distant future he remembers meeting me.

Yours in the love of learning something new.

SlowCoach

Dear Running, It’s Not You. It’s Me.

Recently I’ve been in the most fortunate position to be introspective. I hate introspection. Introspection for me is always the question, “Why did I react so strongly to that.” All of the reasons for my current instrospections are the same. I hate being labelled. Which, when one does the full Ishikawa diagram leads to “Labelling me takes away my freedom to change.” If you tell me I’m a girl, you take away my freedom to leave my washing lying all over the floor and not giving a shit about the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. If you tell me I’m skinny, you take away my freedom to lose weight or to put on weight. If you tell me I’m a runner, you take away my freedom to become a pole dancer. If you label me a project manager, you take away my freedom to become a singer. You get my drift, right. So I really hate labels. Not because I hate labels, but because I love my freedom to change.

I love love affairs. I love intense, passionate, SHORT love affairs. Commitment has always been a problem for me. So much so that the one time when I bothered to place myself in a committed relationship, I ended up with depression and a subsequent eating disorder. Commitment is another way in which one’s freedom can be eroded. And relationships are sneaky in that you’re filled with euphoric endorphins which make you think that you’re having a good time, when in fact, your freedom is slowly being usurped by this entity called a relationship.

And so I find myself re-evaluating this love affair I’ve been having with running. This label “runner” that I’ve been wearing.

I like running. I really do. We have fun. Sometimes. Running has been good to me. I have great friends because of running. There are a few special friends who have been able to transcend talk about running and Tim Noakes to be more than “running friends”. Running has made me healthier. Running has shrunk me a dress size or two. But running requires commitment. And I just don’t know if I have that commitment in me. I keep telling myself that running is good for me. That running will teach me commitment. That running will give me a goal. That running is the reason. I’m just not so sure any more. But I’m addicted to running now and being fit and healthy and fitting into size 8s instead of size 12s and challenging myself to run every race a little faster than the last time.

So essentially, I’m screwed! I’m in this relationship with an entity I’m not sure I even like any more, never mind love. I’m suffering abuse (the recent 15 day lay off due to a stupid injury that no other working women get from work shoes, only running women, being case in point) at the hands of my lover. Running makes me cry at least once a week. The relationship is now a stale and routine and somewhat less than passionate love affair. But I’m stuck with it!

Oh my word! I’m married to running! How did this happen? I didn’t even get a fucking diamond ring. I feel like someone married me without my permission. And I didn’t get the diamond ring or the sex!

So now I have to do what every married couple has to do at some point in their marriage, I have to either get divorced. I’ve had my eye on pole dancing for a while now. Or I have to find the love I once had and rekindle the fire. I’ll start where I started 3 years ago this month, not injured, but by getting up early and doing my glute and hamstring exercises. (Minus the scoffing a tray of caramel horns. Hey, I’ve learned something from this abusive relationship.) And then I’ll look at running again on Wednesday and see how I feel. I might try out the pole dancing too, just to be sure.

Yours in the love of the slow burning passion of commitment to running. Blech!

SlowCoach

The Comrades Marathon 2014 – Slow Coach-style

If I were to choose a personal theme for Comrades 2014, it would have to be: You Shouldn’t Do Life Alone. I’m not going to bore you with the details of the journey down to Durban and then the journey to Pietermaritzburg or the church service the night before or the shared sleeping arrangements the night before or dinner or anything else leading up to my standing in the “pen” for G-batch, but those too consist of my not being able to do it alone. Remember I explained the batches previously in the blog about the starting pens at Comrades? It shall suffice to say, however, that I was way out of my comfort zone and my routine was thrown out of the window the night before Comrades. Except for the Catholic church. You can always count on McDonalds and the Catholic church to remain the same wherever you go in the world! Very comforting. So luckily I had a bit of Catholic church the night before Comrades.

I would have slept. Everyone says you don’t sleep the night before Comrades. I would have slept if it weren’t for the lady in the room next door talking on her phone the whole night. I would have slept if it weren’t for the fireworks at the Royal Show down the road at midnight and the person who got up at 2am to get ready for the race and the person who was texting next to me from 2.45am and the people who decided to get up at 3am to get ready for the race. I would have slept if it weren’t for them. But I managed to get about 4 hours sleep on and off so I was okay. I had slept well during the week so I was ready when eventually Caroline, Joseph, Phyllis and I decided we may as well join them because we couldn’t beat them.  I hope our laughing and chatting woke up the lady next door. I was giddy with excitement. I was going to run the Comrades Marathon. Seriously! I was going to run the Comrades Marathon. All the preparation the year before and the diet and the early mornings and so on faded into insignificance because I was going to run the Comrades Marathon.

The setup at the start was a little like a rugby match or a rock concert where, depending on the block name on your race number, you were allowed to go into certain gates and walk around. We had to walk a few blocks down to get to our pleb starting pens. But then I was standing there. And I was all alone. Over the past few months, I’ve been training hard to get faster and faster and so all my usual running buddies were either those Illuminati from track who were in A, B or C pens or they were Cool Kids or K(ak)-Teamers like I used to be and were in H batch. I didn’t recognise anyone in G batch. So I stood there in the dark, cool Pietermaritzburg street alone, surrounded by hundreds of other people who were also excited to be running the Comrades Marathon. (I should but shouldn’t mention at this stage that I am aware that I was standing with some people who had registered their qualifying times incorrectly and had been seeded in G-batch but they hadn’t actually qualified to run Comrades at all….makes me sad, but I know that to get to G-batch you have to work really hard which I had and to finish after being in G-batch, you have to be prepared to work hard for another 12 straight hours in order to finish. I hope they also realise that now.)

The Comrades Marathon is nothing like you see on TV. TV is unable to capture the Comrades Marathon. Not even a little bit. That start is electrifying. The national anthem always brings me to tears. How much more so as I stood there surrounded by South Africa. The South Africa that I love. The South Africa that is not about colour. The South Africa that is many people from different backgrounds and differents cultures and different languages and different religions and different colours all in love with going forward in harmony. Running is a beautiful metaphor for everything that South Africa is at heart. I remember how we felt when we hosted the world for the FIFA World Cup. I feel that every time I line up for a race. Even more so now as I lined up for the most beautiful race in our country. The Comrades Marathon. What a privilege to experience that in my life. I wish that feeling at that start of that race on everyone I love. The national anthem was followed by Shosholoza which was fun and we all started ambling forward as the barriers between the batches were dropped. And then came the strains of Vangelis. The pure physical experience of that song booming off the buildings around you and up your legs into your rib cage is chilling and warming and enthralling and exhilirating and stupifying all at once. Then suddenly a scratchy vinyl cock crow sounded and the cannon blasted and we were off. I had started the 2014 Comrades Marathon. It still seems surreal to me.

I had befriended Karen at the start but during the ambling process we lost one another and I ran forward slowly and cautiously in this mass all alone. I ran cautiously because people get there at 4am and eat their breakfast and read the newspaper and wear a plastic bag to protect them from the cold and when they stand up, they just leave everything on the bloody floor. In the dark morning and surrounded by bodies, you could easily trip on something and fall before even going over the start line. For about two kilometres I ran slowly, cautiously. I met Wesley from Midack and we ran together cautiously for some time. I ran down Polly Shortts. Seriously! I ran down the Polly Shortts. My knee alerted me to that fact. My knees still hate the downhills which did not bode well for me on this, the down run Comrades. Just before the Lion Park timing mat at 17km, Wesley met up with friends of his and they ran ahead. They were going much faster than I would have been comfortable with at this point. I was already 10 minutes ahead of my timing band and I was mostly comfortable so I didn’t need to overdo it. So I was alone again. But that’s okay. I can run alone for hours if need be.   The chicken farms stank, more so for me because, not only am I the quinessential city slicker, I was also very good at couch potatoing before this whole “run the Comrades Marathon” nonsense. There are no chicken farms near my couch.

And something about the chicken farms made my legs decide that this was not something they really wanted to be doing and they’d much rather prefer to go back to the couch. What? What do you mean “back to the couch”? We’ve got another 70 kilometres to run! Get a move on! Nope! Just like that. 20kms into the race and my legs had decided not to. I felt like Quasimodo dragging my hunch behind me. I ran a 25km race the other day. I’d run further than this. What was happening? Why wouldn’t my legs just get going. How I wished I could see my family. I knew they were going to be on the route and I prayed, as I followed the many signs to Camperdown that they would be there. And just around the corner, there they were. I wish I had a photo to show you what a beautiful sight they were to me. This will have to suffice.

How awesome are these beautiful people? No-one on that race had a better support crew. I was overwhelmed when I saw them. One time too much so!

How awesome are these beautiful people? No-one on that race had a better support crew. I was overwhelmed when I saw them. One time too much so! From left to right: Ayrin, Melissa, Frantz, Bronwen, Christien, Gavin, Kirsten, Gavin (the dad), Johnny. Saskia is taking the picture.

So you can just imagine the joy I felt as I rounded this ungodly corner under a highway somewhere out in the Kwa-Zulu Natal nowhereland and saw this waiting for me. I ran towards them tearful and threw my arms around Ayrin, thanking her and God for being there.

This is what Thank God you are here looks like

This is what Thank God you are here looks like

(Oh ja, Frantz, Bronwen, Kirsten and Johnny weren’t at this first stop. They met me later.) My love tank all filled, I struggled forward. Still my legs were having a service delivery protest and my butt started to spasm. As I was running along the highway just after Camperdown (I ran through the Camperdown), I spotted Greg from Jeppe and I waved hello. He was taking a photo of a lady and he asked the two of us to pose for a pic. We did.

Lynn and I Posing for Greg's Photo

Lynn and I Posing for Greg’s Photo

And there I met Lynn from Germiston Callies.  Lynn and I would run the following 30 kilometres together, largely in silence. We simply took care of one another. Both of us were struggling with legs that just wouldn’t work and we both seemed to get over it at the same time. At Cato Ridge, Johnny and Kirsten surprised me by being at Comrades. What lovely friends to drive down from 2am that morning to follow me as I ambled along at a snail’s pace through the streets of the UmGungundlovu district and  eThekwini. And I had no idea they’d be there. Everyone on the planet knew except me. Lol! They were at Cato Ridge with Frantz and Bronwen and Christien and again I was greeted with love and hugs and kisses and Frantz (my wonderful son) ran with me for a short distance to make sure I wasn’t dying.

Lynn and I carried on going. The “manual” I had read says, “As you reach the back of Inchanga, the party is unfortunately over.” But I live in Northcliff. Lynn and I ran up most of Inchanga. Drummond, however, brought us to a grinding halt. We walked ran most of that. Lynn was focussed on running. I was focussed on stopping. Wait! That made me sound lazier than I am. What I meant was, Lynn would always get us going after a walk. I would pick a spot in the distance for us to start a walk so we weren’t just stopping abruptly whenever we felt like it, but rather pushing ourselves when we felt like our legs were getting tired. I got some love from Joe from Golden Reef which filled up the love tank and I got to dance a bit to Love Me Two Times by the Doors. People laughed at my dancing, but what the dancing does is relax me and also engage other muscles while stretching some muscles which, while running, tend to get a bit stiff and short. In addition, it endears the crowds to me, further filling up my love tank. A Comrades runner does not live by GUs alone. At halfway, I saw Floris running in the opposite direction to me on the pavement. I called him. Floris is an Illuminati at track. I asked him what he was doing. He told me he was going back. He was done. I started crying. He had worked as hard as me. Was his race truly over? What hope was there for this Slow Coach if Illuminati like Floris had stopped going forward?

The hills of Inchanga and Drummond were not too daunting because I knew that just after the halfway mark after Drummond, Chrissie and Lizle and probably my whole family and support crew would be waiting for me at the RAC support table at Alverstone. They were and they went mad for me. So mad for me that chaos ensued and I rummaged around in the pack I had left with Chrissie and took ….. nothing. I took nothing. I had lost all focus and I took nothing. Nothing to replenish my stores as I went forward for the second half of the race.

Very focussed on absolutely nothing.

Very focussed on absolutely nothing.

I have no idea what I was doing when this photo on the right was taken because it looks like I’m concentrating. Again, Frantz ran with me to make sure I wasn’t dying. He had seen me running this far at Kaapsehoop and I was close to death. Now I was 8km further than that and I was smiling. He was concerned that my smiles might be the quiet before the storm. Botha’s Hill was hard but Lynn and I were helping one another.

Lynn running silently alongside me as I run joyously towards my peeps

Lynn running silently alongside me as I run joyously towards my peeps

We never said a word, by the way. I know her name is Lynn. I know her mom and kids were at the stadium waiting for her. She knows my name is SlowCoach and that a whole entourage of people came to support me. The only other thing we know about one another is that we hate running with people who talk all the time. We would take turns getting water from the water points for one another and we’d help one another along. I think we ran along together until just after Hillcrest where she told me to go ahead. I’m not sure if that was because my regular surprised shout outs to the crowd to “Look at me! I’m running the Comrades Marathon!”  or my constant asking her where we were, were irritating her or because she needed a break and I was feeling strong at that point. Either way, I ran ahead alone. Again.

And this time it was awful. I cried as I ran along. I felt so emotional about doing the Comrades Marathon. I felt moved by my family and friends supporting me in the way they were. I felt like this was too hard for me. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of work that it had taken to get me even this little way. I felt that there was still such a long way to go. I felt like I’d never manage. I knew that Field’s Hill was still coming and my legs were already complaining. I felt afraid. A bus beckoned. Not a running a bus. A giving up bus. How would I let all those family and friends down if I got into that bus? I remembered Jenny and my words to each other at the Easter 100. “THE BUS IS NOT AN OPTION, SOLDIER!” At times it seemeed like a bloody good idea, even though it wasn’t an option apparently. There were times when I was running forward sobbing great big tears into my sunglasses as I looked down embarrassed to show the multitudes of supporters how pathetic I was being. At one point I shouted at God, “I know I’m supposed to get to the finish, but would you help here!!”

The three kilometre drop down Botha’s Hill had torn my legs to shreds and they were barely hanging in there as I ran/hobbled on through Hillcrest and Gillitts. The crowds supporting were now somewhat drunk, but were being helpful. I was lucky enough to spot Nigel and Dean in Hillcrest and I got my love tank filled up again. Actually, I don’t really know where I was when that happened, but I think it was somewhere between Hillcrest and Kloof. (Dean, you really should stop smoking!) All I was worried about was that Field’s Hill was coming and I hadn’t taken anything from the halfway table. I had no Rehidrats. I had no GUs. I had no food. Nothing. Luckily, Nedbank’s table with surely the most attractive women on the route happened at that start of the Nedbank Green Mile and the beautiful Romy, Simonne and Willow filled up a bottle of ice cold water with Rehidrat and gave it to me. I thanked them and enjoyed the sights in the Green Mile. Actually, I think the Green Mile was on a lunch break when I went through because nothing much was going on. The same thing with the Kearsney Boys. While I was running along, a guy came up next to me and he was covered in salt. I looked at him horrified and asked, “Dude! Are you okay? You look like you’re dehydrating.” He agreed. I had taken two sips of the Rehidrat, but he definitely needed it more than me so I passed it to him and told him to keep it. I know he was really grateful.

And then it happened. Field’s Hill.  I’d had sleepless nights about Field’s Hill in the run up to Comrades. After my brush with death at Kaapsehoop, I’ve dreaded meeting similar hills. Everyone had warned me about it. It was as shit as everyone had said! Hill was steep. Camber was treacherous. My butt cried out. My quads squealed. My knees collapsed every tenth step or so. But I carried on running. I had to. I had 4.5 hours to do 28kms. That’s plenty! Until I ran into a brick wall. I looked around me surprised. Everyone was walking. Everyone. “What the fuck is this?” I shouted out loud to no-one. I apologised to the family standing on the right and told the young girls, “Never use language like that unless you’re running the Comrades Marathon!” Sheepish. Someone who clearly had more runs than me on this treacherous route announced emphatically, “This, my dear, is Cowie’s Hill!” Well, I may as well have tied cement bricks to my shoes. It’s a steep hill in a super hot humid shady little area. Just over one thousand people live in the area known as Cowie’s Hill and I’m sure 364 other days of the year it’s quite a lovely place. On this day it was an abomination. I walked like everyone else. 19 minutes per kilometre at times. 19 minutes per kilometre! Holy shit! Was I crawling on my hands and knees? Almost! Oh, how I needed my family now. How desperately I needed my empty love tank filled even just a little. Jonathan from RAC helped a bit. I whined to him about how I had made the stupid schoolgirl error of leaving everything at halfway and how I didn’t think I would make it without anything. He promptly whipped out a GU and returned the Rehidrat favour. There’s another one of those metaphors for life again…thank you Jonathan. You were a great part of my journey. We ambled along together and I told him how lucky I was to have the family and friends I have and how I was hoping to see them soon. And as soon as I put it out there, there they appeared. I ran up to them crying. My legs were so sore after Cowie’s. So incredibly sore. I ran into the open arms  of Melissa and cried onto her ample and well positioned bosom. And an angel descended from heaven in the form of a Christien and sprayed the miracle drug onto my legs while I sobbed into Melissa’s chest. I gave kisses and a word of reassurance to my poor suffering son who thought that surely this was the end of my life. All were crying at this point. All were wondering why the fuck I would do this to myself. All were wondering what they would write on my tombstone. My love tank was full. My legs had received a shot of miracle drug and I ran away like I was setting off on a picnic in a beautiful green meadow. Pinetown is nothing like a beautiful green meadow and the crowds were now either drunk and shouting inappropriate comments or they were bored into comatose silence. But still so sweet and kind and generous. The people on this route are fabulous. The spirit that greets you as you suffer along lightens your load and fills you with energy and love. I hope they realise this and never stop supporting the way they do. Even the drunk and comatose ones.

After Pinetown, most of the race is run on the highway. You run on the highway. And the highway is steep, either up or down, it’s steep both ways even when you’re on the down run. It was in Westville, with just over 20kms to go that Warren ran up to me. He was running his fourth Comrades, but had spent a large part of the afternoon cramping. He had recovered and now ran with me. He kept telling me how awesome it was that I was doing so well. We both were. Just over 20kms to go and we still had three and a half hours to cut off. An easy task by any measure. Or so we thought. We took an aggressive lamp post approach, choosing targets in the far distance to walk from and starting to run at very close by targets. We were doing okay, but the distance markers were ticking past agonisingly slowly. With just 17kms to go, Warren told me to run ahead because his legs were cramping. I assured him he would catch me later.  I picked up my free hug from the lady on the side of the road advertising free hugs and all her friends gave me a noisy hand or ten.  It took forever to get to the 15km to go mark which is where I happened upon my dear dear friend, Doctor. Doctor and I had run together at Kaapsehoop when he and Sponono had so kindly helped me to qualify for Comrades. Remember?

Me, Doctor and Sponono emerging from the Kaapsehoop mist, probably around 15km

Me, Doctor and Sponono emerging from the Kaapsehoop mist, probably around 15km

He was wearing a yellowish number from a F batch. What was he doing here? Doctor explained that he was attempting his green number again because last year he had missed out on it. He explained that he had been running with Sponono most of the way, but was concerned about not making it and so ran ahead of Sponono. We agreed to help one another as we were both struggling. He told me to take the lead. How could I? Here was this incredibly experienced runner who had run this thing 9 times more than I had asking me to take the lead. The thought terrified me because it placed so much responsibility on my already whiplashed shoulders. What if I failed us? Both of us? At least if I just took responsibility for myself and failed, I would only fail myself (notwithstanding my huuuuge support crowd, waiting ever so patiently at the stadium). Here he was placing his green number chances in the hands of a total loser like me! He must have been dehydrated to the point of delirium. The thing about collective leadership is…(that’s for another blog, but you get my drift, right?)

Doctor and I carried on the lamp post approach. Before long, we were joined by Bra Zakes who had helped me out in Katlehong in December as we dished out sweets to the local children. Teacher Zakes is what I call him. He was also going for his green number. He joined us, accepted my lead and then proceeded to drive Doctor and I forward like donkeys. Warren caught up with us and the four of us sped forward. Doctor complained. So did I and so we told Teacher Zakes to run ahead. He did. He caught the first sub-12 hour bus. We didn’t. We let it pass us, but we were all starting to panic. Electricity and expectation were in the air as we got closer to Doctor’s green number and my first Comrades medal and Warren’s triumph over significant adversity. Warren was strong and so for the last while he took the lead. We ran over Mayville mat on a ridiculous hill at 10:46:38. It was there that I passed Karen that I had met at the start in Pietermaritzburg. We shared in each other’s joy at seeing one another so close to finishing. Doctor, Warren and I now had over an hour to finish just 8kms. Just 8kms. That’s a time trial. That’s just 55 minutes worth of running on a bad day. Ha! As we headed onto the main drag through Durban, the tendon on top of my left big toe started back to Joburg. We had been following a steady lamp post strategy, managed mainly by strong Warren, but with 2 kilometres to go he suggested we run from a point 100 metres ahead of us. My toe suggested I go back to Joburg or risk losing it forever. I chose the latter option and told Warren, “I’m sorry. I’ve got nothing more. My toe has left my shoe.” His disappointment was audible. Doctor was limping next to me. His relief was audible. We just couldn’t. But we walked steadily forward. The crowds were awesome and we couldn’t help but lift our arms triumphantly even though our athleticism at that point was anything but triumphant-like. I couldn’t believe it. I had spent 11:20 on the road from Pietermaritzburg and now I was going to finish the Comrades marathon. And I was going to finish it with good people who had been a source of fun and joy and enthusiasm and for whom I had been a source of excitement and determination and hope.  My family waited and waited and waited. The sub-12 hour bus came in and they worried that, either I was dead because I was taking so long or that they had missed me in the mass of the bus that had just passed them.

I don’t know when it was that my legs involuntarily started running. I think it was as we turned the last corner immediately before entering the stadium. We smiled at the cameras and we cheered one another on. When I look at the photos today, there were many people around me on that grass as I ran (ran I tell you, my toe had triumphantly returned to the cheering masses) towards the finish, but I felt like it was just me. Those crowds, thousands and thousands of people were screaming and cheering for me. I was a hero. I had done something that no-one else in the world had ever done. I was a champion. I was awesome. I was a Comrades runner. I saw Chrissie screaming for me. I saw my beautiful beautiful support crew who had lived every atom of emotion of this day’s journey with me. I’m only getting overwhelmed now. At the time I was so filled with excitement and joy. What’s most surprising to me is that my joy wasn’t only about my medal, but also about Doctor and Warren’s medal. It made such a difference to me that I had crossed the line with those two champions. I will love them and love that moment for the rest of my life. Really. I’m overwhelmed now.

Comrades Finish Line with Doctor and Warren

Comrades Finish Line with Doctor and Warren

I ran the Comrades Marathon. No-one can change that about my life. If I die tomorrow, I will have run the Comrades marathon. One day I got off the couch and I ran the Comrades Marathon. This has been the 2nd most spiritual journey upon which I have embarked and the journey was not from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

My Very Own Vic Clapham Medal

Slow Coach’s Very Own Vic Clapham Medal

Wind up! Wind down!

Caution! Tapering!Tapering. That’s the word on everyone’s lips at the moment. I’m seeing all sorts of funny clips and jokes about runners tapering. Tapering is supposed to mean slowing down or getting less intense, right? Everyone claims that tapering is what the month of May is all about. Talk is cheap in this liar-ridden community of runners. According to two-time American Olympian Pete Pfitzinger “the taper should be preceded by your last long run. But now, when you’ve run races of 160km (100 miles) or 90km or 42km, what is considered a “long run”? Its ludicrous what people are doing. Anyway. I’m going to tell you what my tapering has been looking like. You remember that I was sick and injured while all other Comrades hopefuls were running all over the place and running and running and running. I was sitting and crying and moping and recovering. So I panicked when I came back and promptly ran the Randburg Harriers Easter 100km. That’s 100km over 3 days. that having been accomplished, I was satisfied that I had completed my “last long run” and I could now taper. Apparently not. I decided that, during my taper, I would increase my attendance at track. You’ll be reminded that I had only been going to track once a week, not wanting to win Comrades and all that. But, still a little concerned about my speed and so my ability to complete Comrades in the alloted 12 hours or the self-imposed 11 hours (10:55:55 to be exact), I decided to up the track. I’ve really got a lot faster since I started track so a couple extra sessions per week wouldn’t hurt.

Bwahahahaha! “Hurt” is exactly what they did. Oh my gracious. God left me. Abandoned me. Just six days after the Easter 100, I returned to track. And Boom! 3 x 1200m at 5km race pace with 2 minutes break in between. I still had that awful flu that I acquired the day after Easter 100 and so I’m sure a piece of my pleura is still lying in the grass at track. Illuminati were given 4 sets and they lapped me….wait for it…..6 times! I was lapped 6 times in 3 kilometres. Running is such a humiliation. And they never even break a sweat. I lose weight at track.  And not just pleura weight, real weight. They saunter around the track and I hear them whoosh past me as they go. Six times. So humiliating. I’m sure they make it a competition amongst themselves to see how many times we can lap Brenda today! And, as if those 3 humiliating kilometres weren’t enough, I was then sent out into the wilderness to run a 5km time trial. My coach Dave is a sadist. And he got worse after this.

The next Monday, Illuminati Michelle wasn’t at track, but Illuminati Tebogo was. When Sadist Dave dished out the sessions, there were Illuminati, “normal” Comrades like me (okay, I’m the only normal Comrade, everyone else is Illuminati) and other normal runners, Illuminati trailers, Illuminati Iron Men and triathletes and other very fast people. I’m always at the back. Always. The faster I get. The faster they get. Anyway. Dave singles out Tebogo and myself as Comrades and he smiles sadistically. 1600m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute break 2000m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute break, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute break, 600m @ 5km race pace, 1 minute break, 600m @ 5km race pace. Tebogo and my mouths dropped open. Surely Dave is joking. Everyone else stared pitifully at us. I didn’t hear anything else. I went deaf. Tears filled my eyes. I stopped stretching. I stared at Tebogo waiting for him to start laughing hysterically.  He mouthed at me with tears in his eyes, “Why the 2 x 600m?” Why the 2 x 600m? What the fuck? That’s the problem for you? The 2 x 600m are the problem in that whole session? I mouthed back feeling vomit start to rise in my oesophagus, “Why….did I come here?” Everyone took pity on us. You could see how relieved everyone else was to be them at that point in time and not us. It was so awful that they didn’t even laugh at us. Usually we laugh at those who get the toughest sessions. Not tonight. Everyone was humbled into silence by what Tebogo and I had been given. I meekly asked Dave, “What time do they turn off the floodlights?” He smiled sympathetically. I know he doesn’t get that I’m funniest when the suffering’s the worst. I was only lapped 4 times by Tebogo and together we managed to encourage each other through this horrific ordeal. I’m tapering.

Horror of horrors, Illuminati Michelle arrived at time trial the next day and, without my permission, began to pace me through the 5km route. I was dying. I wanted to run away from her, but she would just have kept up with me. I wanted to faint and pretend to die, but she would have made me get up and carry on. This was brutal. She left me with about 350 metres to go at a pace which would have seen me run a PB 5km time trial and, as soon as she was around the corner, I stopped running, thanked God that she was gone and ambled to the end of the time trial. I was still only 20 seconds off my PB, but it just showed me what a lazy couch potato I can still be given the right incentive! Michelle shook her head at me when I told her how I goofed off as soon as her back was turned. I am tapering, after all!

The next day, being a Wednesday, was a track day and I loooked forward with trepidation to the evening’s events. Ah, my dear friend, Bruce arrived. Bruce is not a running friend and so it would be cool to hang out with someone that knew me as something other than just a total underachiever. Bruce is also an uber athlete who goes at everything he does 128%, so I was sure it wouldn’t be too far into the session before he was lapping me. We ran the warm up together and he took pity on me and ran slow as a snail with me at the back. I know he was itching to race forward with the Illuminati, but friendship prevailed and he loitered at the back with me. 800m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest, 1000m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest, 1200m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest 1000m @ 5km race pace, 2 minutes rest, 800m @ 5km race pace, 1 minute rest, 4 x 200m @ threshold pace with 2 minutes rest in between. “What’s threshold pace?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “The pace you’d run 1500m.” “Six minutes per kilometre?” I joked. I would run 1500m the same as I run everything else. Slowly. As it turns out, that’s not entirely true. The session was brutal. I cried during the last 800m but quickly pulled myself towards myself. And then how is this? I was so overwhelmed by the kindness of my Illuminatii Tebogo and Michelle. They finished all their brutal session (same as mine) and then waited for me so that they could run the 200m sprints with me. It was very cool and terrifying all at the same time. Tebogo was running behind me shouting instructions about my style and Michelle ran next to me pushing me to beat her to the 200m mark. I reckon if Comrades were 80 metres, I’d have a chance! It’s the 89.12 kilometres that are my downfall. I ran a couple of those 200m sprints in 3:30/km. That’s fast hey? It nearly killed me. But I’m tapering.

Michelle had told me at time trial that Saturday’s session was going to be ELE (Extermination Level Event). She told me to bring an energy drink, a lot of tissues and a bucket. A bucket? I don’t want to know. Dave had joked about the bucket when I was lining up for my 200m sprints. Surely not? A bucket? I arrived on Saturday with a lump in my throat. I hadn’t slept the night before because of the anxiety. I was so worried. Extermination Level Event. I anticipated death. If natural selection was something that was a factor in an extermination level event, then I was surely the one that was going to die. Surely, if Darwin is to be believed. In hindsight, I think that session where Illuminati Tebogo and I cried together was worse than ELE, but ELE was horrific. Especially because I never got the memo about the easy 5km route. I did the difficult 5km route in this session: (by the way, all track sessions are preceded by a 2.5km warm up which always makes me smile because there was a day not so long ago when that was the furthest I’d ever run.) Warm up, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute rest, 5km @ marathon pace, 1 minute rest, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 1 minute rest, 5km @ marathon pace, 1 minute rest, 1200m @ 10km race pace, 15 push ups (also a feature at the end of every track session). Illuminati then had to run for 70 minutes. I don’t remember what happened to me after that. Seriously, I don’t remember. I was faint. I felt like I had a head injury. Which is how one is supposed to feel when one is tapering, right? Do runners understand the nuances of the English language? this was not tapering. Torture, maybe. Tanking, maybe. Terrifying, maybe. Tapering? Not so much. And the next day I was supposed to run a 32km race. Fuck that! I turned off at the 15km mark and moped my way back into the stadium for a personal best 15km time! This tapering thing might be working for me.

The subsequent track sessions have been shit, but not as awful as that week. I’ve missed one (okay two now) this week because I’m working in purgatory, I mean Bloemfontein. Oh ja, on the weekend, I ran a personal best time for a 25km race. Okay, so I’ve never run a 25km race before but, I also beat my 21km time at that race by….wait for it….21 minutes! Doesn’t that totally rock? 21 minutes off a 21km time! You do the simple maths on that. Can I get a whoop whoop? But wait, that’s not all. Illuminati Michelle won the ladies veteran race and came 6th lady overall in that same race. In so doing, she also became the fastest veteran lady over 25km in South Africa this year. Awesome hey? And if only you knew how kind and generous with her talent she is and how humble she is. If you meet her, you’re luckier for it, trust me.

So seriously now, that’s my last “long run”. This track/tapering thing seems to be working. God-willing, it’s going to go well for me in 18 days’ time. If I can survive this tapering thing, I reckon the Comrades is going to be a breeze.

Yours in the terror of tapering.
Slow Coach.

She’s Baaaack!

Many have been asking and I haven’t really wanted to jinx it too early, but I’m back. Since I last posted, I’ve had flu twice in addition to my injury. So it seems like I have been resting on my laurels for months and months.

To recap. I was a cripple right? Just after I wrote the last post, I visited my friendly chiropractor – Clifford Mead – to have my back and neck sorted out. The back and neck had gone awry with my constant limping because of the aforementioned crippledness. While I was there, I asked him to check on my ankle to see if he could just pull it back into place. When I was landing on my heel, heelstriker that I am, it constantly felt like my whole leg was landing at the same time. And then, as I pulled my foot up again, the heel was still stuck to the leg. Kind of like the shock absorber that I thought should have been on top of my heel, just wasn’t working. He pulled my ankle straight and angels sang and the wind whispered and a light shone through the clouds. Relief. Finally! Relief from a month of excruciating pain. I got up and e voila! No limping. He promised it would be tender for a few days while the muscles and tendons and ligaments got over the shock of being abused for so long and so it was. Ice. Heat. Ice. Heat. The next day was physio with Clare-Anne and there you have it people, I was back in business again. That was on a Wednesday and Thursday. The next Tuesday, I ran a personal best 5km Time Trial at RAC. The next day I got flu. I decided to carry on resting. I was running out of time because Easter 100km was coming up and I had to be in that. I missed Loskop ultra marathon and so knew Easter 100 would be my last attempt to do a truly long distance before Comrades.  I was better by the end of the week and I managed to get in a few training runs before the Easter 100.

And then I did the Easter 100. I’m not going to say much about it except I cried because I knew that the OH SHIT! Hill was on the route of the first day. I spent the 3 days “running” with my oldest friend, Jenny. Let’s just say that we took it very slowly and spent a great deal of time on our legs. 13 hours and 42 minutes is what my watch says….At that pace, we’ll miss the Comrades cut off by 22 minutes so I know we’ll be fine on the day because we…..really…..took…..our……time on those 3 days. At least at Comrades we get to do it all at once and not have to keep getting out of bed with sore legs to start all over again. By the way, Randburg Harriers organisers, that was a great event and very well organised. I would like to raise a concern, however, about the insanity of day 1’s route!

And then I got flu. Aggressively! On the Easter Monday, I couldn’t even get out of my bed. I just lay in bed the whole day, something I haven’t done since my 20s. I was out for the count until Saturday when I ventured off to track. I coughed up half my pleura on one of the laps and was lapped twice by Illuminati Michelle even though she had a much more hideous session than I had. On Sunday I managed a 21km training run with fartleks of kicking up and kicking back and flicking toes and marching and and and. I looked like a real schmuck as I ran along. As if I’m not already amusing enough, I had a whole host of people pointing and laughing at me while I did them. I just kept closing my eyes and saying to myself, “You’re going to run Comrades! You’re going to run Comrades!” This journey has brough me all sorts of humiliation. Not least of which was last night at track!  I’ll tell you about that when the sedatives have worn off. I took sedatives for the trauma.

So excited to be back, but just a litle disappointed that I won’t be doing Comrades in my fabulous silver heels. There’s always next year, I suppose.

Yours in the spirit of being back.

Slow Coach

P.S. I took my club shirt (the one in which I’m going to run Comrades) to have SlowCoach embroidered on the front and back so you’ll be able to recognise me on the road.

My Hope for Kaapsehoop

While I’m still doing a very convincing impression of a paraplegic and my son is driving us back to Jozi (a place I really love), I thought I’d write this blog about my latest marathon on my road to the Comrades Marathon.

“So are you hoping to qualify for Comrades on Saturday at Kaapsehoop?” wrote Mike.
“Nah! Probably just same as usual: Don’t die! Don’t come last!”

On the one hand, I’m a realist. My personal best time for a marathon is 5:47:54. Yes, the lying runners I know all spoke about the fast downhill route that is Kaapsehoop Marathon, but 47 minutes is a shed load to take off a time over 42kms. More than a minute per km faster for the entire race. In addition, my shoes are not quite right yet. I’ve had abominable pain in my hip since April and, now that I’ve taken the orthotics out, my ankle pain and ITBS are back. So the realist in me recognises that I’m still broken and I’m still quite slow. On the other hand, the optimist and eternal romantic in me (you tell anyone about this quality and I’ll kick your teeth in) hopes, wishes, dreams that all those frikken glute and hamstring exercises done at 4am and the yoga schmoga are miraculously turning me into a runner. So every marathon is an opportunity to perform a miracle and run a sub-5 hour. The realist me is actually laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of that romantic dream.

I’ve really been looking forward to this marathon. I registered for it the day entries opened. The lying runners I know told me that Kaapsehoop is an awesome race: wild horses, beautiful forests, long fast downhill route. So oooh wow! What a great marathon to run! I asked my son, Frantz and his beautiful Bronwen if they wanted to come with for a nice weekend out in a pretty place and support me at the same time. They were keen and so we booked some accommodation and were good to go.

I’m not entirely sure why I want to run the Comrades Marathon. I’ve watched it every year since I can remember it being televised. Yes, I’m old enough to remember a time before TV. (Just cried a little there.) I’m always amazed by the magnitude of the race. It’s a very stupid undertaking, but every year, more and more stupid people descend en masse on kwa-Zulu Natal to run and walk in the footprints of people who used to run the 91kms between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in nothing more than a pair of Tommy takkies or All Stars! But two years ago, almost to the day, I had a mid-life crisis and announced my intention to run this Ultimate Human Race. The sceptical looks I got only made me more determined. And now I find myself on an emotional journey which far outweighs the physical one.

Today’s race was not lacking one atom of emotion!

Yesterday we took a drive up….and I do mean up….to the start of the race at Kaapsehoop Town because that’s where I had to collect my race pack. (Nah nah nah! I got a T-shirt cause I entered on day 1 and I got race number 99. Aren’t you consumed by jealousy?) Lol! I was aware, while we were driving UP, as I’m always aware, that downhill runs are not all downhill and uphill runs are not all uphill. I was aware that there were some pretty repulsive uphills in store for me. Just how repulsive was sneakily hidden from me in the beautiful forests! There were wild horses, one of which stuck his head in my open car window, gave my entire steering wheel a healthy lick and then turned his very smelly tongue towards my face. Listen horsey! No kissing on the first date! In addition to the very friendly wild horses, there were also wildly shagging dogs. Just a delightfully quaint wild and raw little place. It really is a delightful little village.

We also visited the finish at Mbombela stadium which was a very amusing sojourn. We weren’t allowed on the grass. Ever! Even today at the finish, we ran in, along the concrete in front of the stands and out the other side. A very burly Puma rugby dude yelled at us when we walked onto the pitch. Harumph! The change in altitude between Kaapsehoop and Nelspruit? 812 metres! This was bound to be a lot of downhill notwithstanding what I know about downhills.

Bronwen and I outside Mbombela Stadium - No Giraffes

Bronwen and I outside Mbombela Stadium – No Giraffes

Is that a Giraffe behind you?

All 3 of us outside Mbombela with Giraffe in the background

Frantz and Bronwen inside the Mbombela Stadium. Stay off the grass!

Frantz and Bronwen inside the Mbombela Stadium. Stay off the grass!

Let me tell you a bit about Evan. Evan has now, as I type this, run 107 marathons in his life. He’s in the 45+ age category (which makes him very old). He ran his first 25km race at the ripe old age of 13. WTF? I hear you say. Today he ran his 95th sub-3 hour marathon. So, essentially, when the majority of people are approaching the halfway mark, he’s finishing a marathon. The world record for a marathon is 2:03. So he’s not far off that ever! He has run 13 Comrades and says that’s enough. I think he’s also a lying runner, because these multiple Comrades runners can’t give up. They always swear blind this is their last and they’re NEVER EVER doing that to themselves again. At worst they take a year off and then they’re back again for the whole torturous affair! Evan is coach to many great runners. A real coach, certainly not a slow coach.

Evan slept on top of me last night. Wait! Did I just say that? What I meant to say was: I met Evan in the dining room of our accommodation (I will not openly advertise them here because they have these infernal birds which shriek day and night unabated!!) And it serendipitously turned out that Evan had the room directly above mine. So he slept in the room on top of mine last night. We joked about what a funny story it would make if he fell through his floor and my roof during the night, but, alas, it was not to be…the funny story I’d hoped to have. Evan and I were kept awake not by falling floors or ceilings or anything nearly as exciting. We were kept awake by peacocks in mating season. They sat on the roof of his room and every five minutes belted out this screeching sound which ripped us from any dream we might have managed to be having. So at 3.30am, Evan and I got up and were incredibly grumpy going to the start. Bronwen and Frantz kindly offered to drive the two grumps because their room was on the ground floor and they’d heard nothing the whole night. And so we headed off.

Brigadoon is what I was reminded of. I swear! I started a race in Brigadoon today. It was simply delightful. We sat in the car for a bit because it was rainy. Not rainy like Joburgers know rainy. It was a fine misty rain that kind of made you wet but not really. There was a thick mist that, although thick, did not feel heavy. How do I explain this? It was misty. It was great running weather because the mist didn’t lift for almost 2 hours and then, when it eventually lifted, it was overcast and cool. We got to the start a little early because I’m neurotic about being late and there appeared to be only one road in and out of Kaapsehoop. Evan joked in the car like he was a pleb runner like me. I just want to reiterate: 95 sub-3 hour marathons!! We’re in different leagues. If he’s in the A-team (which he would be), I’m in the M-team (which I would have been in in school had I got off the couch back then!). I dropped him off at the start in the front row and I squeezed my way into the back part of the crowd. Just enough to be sheltered from the nippy breeze, but not squashed enough to be trampled at the start. And would you know it, the start started us going further up that bloody hill!! The first 2km of the race were sheer uphill. But I’m good on the ups so no complaining there. I know that all those liars runners had told me that this was a downhill race so I was sure to get some downhills soon. There wasn’t a damn wild horse in sight. The whole way. I saw and had to dodge a whole lot of horse shit, but no horses. Frantz and Bronwen claim they were around, but I never saw them. I made a point, this race, to look up and enjoy the scenery, but no horses. The scenery in this race is particularly beautiful. We contemplated our fortune for having been born in South Africa several times during our run. For the first hour or so, there was just mist. I chuckled to myself every time I saw someone dashing off into the forest for a toilet break (don’t you people do this at home?) I couldn’t help thinking “Gorillas in the Mist”.

We went up the hill, turned around and came back down the hill. The advantage of that kind of thing in the beginning of the race is you get to see the leaders and see who, from your band of mates, is in front of you. Evan passed by. He wasn’t the first-placed RAC runner but he was very near the front. We ran past the village and I heard someone call my name. I didn’t look back, thinking that all the mythical mistiness had me hallucinating, but then I heard it again. “Brenda, is that you?” I turned around and there appearing out of the mist, like the angel she was before, was Sponono. What an immense joy to see her! You’ll be reminded of our first meeting at my first official marathon here. She is waaaaay faster than me, having already run two Comrades marathons, but she was waiting for a friend who had also done a Gorillas in the Mist stop to catch up so she was just trundling along next to me.

Before too long, we veered off the downhill into the forest. I may have met God in person on that detour. That was an absurd uphill and it was another one of those detours like the start, up the one side and down the other. There was a bit of chaos with front runners almost running us over as they crossed the road to go back to the downhill main road. This uphill was ridiculous and I cursed the liars. I cursed them. I yelled out loud. You know who you are: Justin and Megan and Chrissie. You’re liars! We just went up and up and up and then just when I thought we’d reached a plateau, my dear sweet angel, Sponono, advised that there was another upper up just ahead. Evan says that he had to stop on that uphill and rub his calves. Let me tell you that, for a runner to actually stop moving forward, there’s trouble. At worst, most people walk when they’re in pain, but to have to stop and stretch or rub pain, there’s a problem. And we were at most 9km into the race. He wasn’t the only one. Many people stopped there and stretched or rubbed their legs. I didn’t cry or stop. I shouted out to God and I shouted at the liars (I hope your ears were burning), but I didn’t cry and I didn’t stop. And then we were going downhill. It was steep, I tell you. Steep steep. We actually had to be quite cautious. Running cautiously is hell on your legs. As opposed to other running which is dead easy.

Me, Doctor and Sponono emerging from the mist, probably around 15km

Me, Doctor and Sponono emerging from the mist, probably around 15km

My brain reacts strangely to running. The emotion and philosophy centres get all the oxygen and the arithmetic and logic get sweet bugger all. 2kms into any race, I can’t add. I’m so irritated at races where they have the “kms to go” number instead of the “kms run” number because then I can’t figure out how far I’ve run and pat myself on my back. I really pride myself on being able to add and subtract and multiply and divide swiftly in my head, but 2kms into a run, boom! All functionality switched off. But I can consider the magnitude of the undertaking or I can contemplate the meaning of the “We Are One” written on another runner’s shirt and I can make a direct link between the shirt and the poignant meaning of it in terms of life and running and of course, I can weep with joy and fear and love and guilt and anger and disappointment and excitement and pride and and and. Whilst that is really lovely and probably makes this a decent piece of writing, it doesn’t help much when you’re trying to figure out if you’re going to blow a gasket at the 32km mark. And so God had sent me my angel, Sponono. She rocks! She had it all figured out as we ran along. Her friend, Doctor, eventually caught us and we all raced along at breakneck speed, up the hills and down the hills. I was getting worried. We went through the 10km mark at 1:03 which was a personal best for me and then Sponono and Doctor hurried me to half way by 2:16 which was another PB. I was worried that I was going to blow a gasket before the end at this pace. But I kept up with them. I walked more than they did, but I utilised the downhills better than they did and caught up with them whenever I’d walked. Sponono was holding back for me, but still watching the clock. She was amazing. Doc eventually hurried off because he was having to fetch someone or something and Sponono and I trundled along at a pace which she said would help us qualify, and we could work on our seeding at other events. What an angel she was. I struggled from 18km to 23km and she struggled from 24km to 25km where we met Frantz and Bronwen. Frantz came out and ran with me for a while. He is so lovely. I am so proud of my son. He is such a good human being. Everyone should strive to be like him.

Sponono kept checking in with me and checking on the times. There were times when we got quiet because it was getting tough. The uphills were long and dreary. The downhills were steep and long and the road camber was very steep from right to left which had you not only hurtling forward pounding your knees, but your ankles and knees were having to adjust all the time to correct your balance. It was very tough on us. There were times when you could hear our biting down. But whenever we were feeling down, we looked up and the forested scenery cheered us up. Sponono regularly spoke out loud to God which comforted me somewhat. She’s way more reverent and gracious than me. I generally yell “Why?” to God when I’m running. She’s not as petulant. The difficult maths km markers gradually became lower and lower numbers and, before we knew it, the 15km to go mark appeared below our feet. Sponono very factually told me that we were now at 15 to go and that had taken us 3 hours exactly which left us 2 hours to complete 15km. Could we do it? I had no response. I considered her words for at least a minute. She kept glancing at me, but I kept looking forward. Could this be a reality for me? Could Sponono have led me to a point where I could qualify for Comrades? I started to cry. She waited for a response, but all I could do was cry. What if a dream came true for me? What if I got what I wanted? What if I achieved something great? What if I qualified for Comrades? There would be no more excuses. What if I qualified for Comrades? What if I ran a sub-5 hour marathon? What if I didn’t fail? For 200 metres, tears fell from my eyes. I nodded and choked out quietly, “We can do it!”

With 10km to go, we had 1 hour and 20 minutes left. That seems like a lot for 10kms, but at the tail end of a marathon, it’s tough going. We both realised it, but our legs were finished. We did a bit of fartlek running and counting paces. But I was hurting. My heart and lungs were still in great shape, but every inch of my legs were hurting. My hip flexors were shrieking like those peacocks at the lodge and my calves….my calves. With 4km to go and 40 minutes to qualify, we hit an uphill straight from the fiery depths of hell. I tried not to look up, but Evan’s words from a Comrades talk last year echoed in my ears as they do on every uphill, don’t bend over when you’re running uphill because you’ll starve your body of oxygen and you’ll limit your lungs’ ability to help you. So I was running upright and the sun still wasn’t shining so I hadn’t needed to put my glasses on. All I saw in front of me was a steep hill. It was so demoralising. We were running less and walking slower. As we rounded the corner at about the 3km to go mark, I gave up. I told Sponono to go ahead and I’d catch her. I didn’t want my giving up to affect her ability to qualify because I knew she still had some meat in her fridge, but I was all out.

I began to trudge. That hill was so steep and it still went on for 2kms. at about 2.5kms to go, I could see Frantz and Bronwen waiting for me. I looked down. I said “Fuck what Evan says! Fuck what Sponono just spent the last 4 hours doing! Fuck everyone! And everything! Fuck this Comrades rubbish!” I bent over and trudged up that hill, crying big tears onto my running shoes that aren’t right yet. I knew I now had to go at 9 minutes per km to get to the stadium in time to qualify. I was walking at 11min/km and I just couldn’t run. I also knew that I would get into the stadium at 5:02 or something equally as cruel which would mean I just wouldn’t qualify and I would have to do this all over again some time before 1 May next year when the last qualifier is run. I just cried and cried. And the sight of my son didn’t help. How disappointed he must be to see me walking. Each time he’d seen me before on the road, I’d been running and mostly smiling. Here I was so close to achieving something great and I’d given up. I must be such a disappointment to him. He got out the car and ran over to me. “What’s with the walking?” he asked cheerfully, “Don’t make me take off my belt!” he joked. I laughed. I laughed away my tears and told him I was done. I just couldn’t run any more. “Yes you can! You’re nearly done. Don’t give up now.” And we ran together. Him in his flipflops and me in my shoes that aren’t quite right yet. Bronwen drove the car ahead a bit and Frantz and I chatted. I shouted at God one more time. “Why do I have to finish this?” I apologised to Frantz and told him he shouldn’t talk to God like that. He laughed. I’m sure God laughed too. Frantz had watched as Sponono and I caught up to and overtook other runners and he said there was a lady in a green shirt that I should be able to overtake if I hurried a little. Hurry? You’re kidding right? We’re talking about survival here and you’re saying hurry? I had to hurry, though. With 2kms to go, I was 17 minutes away from the stadium finish. It seemed like an impossible task, but Frantz kept going with me. Finally, with 1km to go, the uphill ended and a downhill to the stadium unfolded before me. That 1km still seemed like an insurmountable task, but my child was next to me. Then many little school kids were running beside me. I love young people. I love their positive spirits. I love their joy. I love the endless possibilities that they represent. I love the potential greatness that lies within each one of them. And I realise that my brief interaction with them may change their world. So I try to interact with them meaningfully and with love when I encounter them in life. I sprayed them with a water sachet I had in my hand and I laughed at them when they gasped. It passed the time but I was running at 6.15min/km with them at my side and we were happy. Frantz had taken his flipflops off (because now we were speeding! Kind of.) and he was running barefoot on the tar. Ouch! But he didn’t stop. He just kept with me, encouraging and laughing. And then we got into the gate of the stadium. He asked if I was okay or if I still needed him. Time was 4:46:45. I told him I’d be fine and thanked him with a kiss. As I approached the stadium entrance, my heart sank. It looked like I still had to do a lap on the grass and I just knew my legs wouldn’t get me there in under 5 hours. But then, because of the big burly Puma guy not wanting us runners running on his pristine grass, it wasn’t like that and I crossed the finish line in 4:47:18. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I had qualified for Comrades. I don’t know how to explain how this feels. It seems such a silly thing to get emotional about, but I know I can run Comrades. I know I have the mental will power to run Comrades, but I just never thought I’d be able to qualify because I’m just too slow. Just last week I got so depressed because I believed I’d never be fast enough and so all this running would never amount to a Comrades marathon. I believed that I just didn’t have the musculoskeletal system to support a sub-5 hour marathon.

Many people who had been part of my race as I made my way from Brigadoon to that place where thou shalt not run on the grass, greeted me and congratulated me at the finish, but all I did was cry and nod my gratitude to them. I searched for Sponono who had come in about 2 minutes ahead of me and I thanked her through my crying. I’m still crying, by the way.

We’re nearly home now and Frantz just broke about 70 traffic laws to get us out of a traffic jam on the highway because we have my sister’s black tie 40th birthday celebration to attend. I’m not crying because we’re breaking the law or because I have to put on a dress and high heels shortly. I’m getting a horrible fever because we’re breaking the law and I have to put on a dress and high heels shortly. I’m crying because the pressure is off for now. The constant berating myself for not being fast enough is gone for now. The resignation that Comrades will forever remain something I watch other people do is gone for now. The saboteur in me who wants me to fail so that I can believe that I’m a loser is back in her box. Those monsters are always there, voicing their incorrect opinion, but for now they’ve been silenced. I’ve qualified for Comrades. Piep piep! In addition to that, I’ve improved on my marathon time by 50 minutes in just 7 months. Granted it is alleged that it’s a fast downhill course and the weather was ridiculously perfect for runners so I could have expected a 30 minute improvement at best because of course conditions, but I’ve improved. I can feel how my muscles and bones have changed. I can feel how much stronger I’m getting. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you take and then acutally implement the advice of an expert like my physio, Clare-Anne.

I suspect that my paraplegia might be slightly worse tomorrow, but I’ve taken all the recovery stuff and I’m drinking loads of water so holding thumbs.

Yours in the love of running and overcoming.
The Slow Coach

Stolen with no permission whatsoever from Graham Baird Photography. Click the pic to visit his website.

Wild Horses in the Kaapsehoop mist

Also shamelessly stolen from Sharon Senior's website. Click on the pic to visit her site.

Kaapsehoop Village

A One-Legged Santa Passed Me On The Way…

Running is the ultimate leveller. When you’re on the road, there are no CEOs, there are no housekeepers, there are no housewives, there are no gardeners, there are no managers. There are just a whole lot of people on the same road experiencing the same pain and the same sense of achievement. Even those that are winning the race are experiencing the same pains and same worries and same fears. It’s such a beautiful metaphor for life. I really love that about running.

On Sunday I ran the Wits Kudus 21km. I think its the most difficult 21.1km on the Joburg running calendar. I’m led to believe by those who see more than the tarmac under their feet when they’re running that it’s a very pretty run. I’ll take their word for it! I was lucky to meet up with Jean at the start of the race. Jean and I met the week before at the Old Eds 21.1km and we’d run together for a short while. So this time, we started at a pace which we both found comfortable. Along the way, Jean met a client of hers who, as it turns out, is also a client of mine. Very strange, I know. The client, who shall henceforth be known as “The Client” Lyndon because he’s a Pinnock lawyer and well….you know lawyers…., ran with us the whole way and it was while we were discussing that we love running because it is, indeed, the great leveller, that The Client told me this story:

The Client has run several Comrades Marathons and it was on one Comrades marathon at a time when he was really struggling up a dreadful hill that he was passed by someone. That someone was not only dressed in a Santa suit, but that Santa had only one leg. Well, I never! A one-legged Santa? A one-legged Father Christmas passed me on a hill at Comrades!

I laughed so hard, I had to stop running. The Client told me he wanted me to go away. I wasn’t making fun of him. I was just astounded at the magnitude of the analogy for running being the great equaliser. What a surreal moment that must have been for him. What an incredible runner that one legged Santa must have been. The Client is no running slouch at all and that one-legged Santa passed him.

Thank you The Client. When I was crying behind my glasses at my usual 18km misery mark (he and Jean couldn’t see), I simply pictured the one-legged Santa passing The Client on the way to the Comrades finish line and I was smiling behind my glasses again.

I love that running is the great equaliser. I wish life was more like running. I love that there is no status on the road. Even the top runners know the suffering of the bottom feeders like me. Life is like that. We’re all muddling along in this life, but somehow in life, unlike running, we place some value on status and wealth or power or coming first. If only life were more like running. We’d meet people on our journey and make friends. We’d help those people we saw suffering either with an encouraging word or with a helping hand. We’d be grateful. We’d be patient. We’d win sometimes and other times we’d lose and we’d go and do it all again no matter what. Wouldn’t it be great if life was like running?

Yours in the love of running and life.
The Slow….slow Coach