A marathon. Only 2% of the world has ever run a marathon. That’s what I’ve heard. It’s probably more like: Of all the people with fancy running watches, only 2% have run a marathon. I’m sure there are kiddies in some African villages like QwaQwa or Hluhluwe (for those of you who are not South African, you can’t even begin to imagine how those are pronounced) that walk that distance to and from school every day. In fact, I know there are 10-year old kids in rural South Africa who walk 20 treacherous kilometres to school in the morning and then do it again home in the evening. So when some watch company or running shoe company gives the 2% of the world’s population statistic, I think their statistical sample might be a bit myopic. Anyway, that having been said, a marathon is a fucking far way to walk or run. More so if the only thing waiting for you at the end is school.
I didn’t have to go to school on Saturday. I had to get to the pool on Saturday. I suppose I could have just stayed behind with the wives club, or slept in at the B&B (which was kindly donated to me by my dear, old friend, Andrew) and got to sit in the pool. But no! Filled with sushi and the mid-life crisis goal of one day running the Comrades Marathon, I melted out of bed at 4.45am and put on the neatly laid out clothes, packed the cooler box into the car, packed the change of clothes and the Asics (I was wearing the Adidas) into the car and drove sleepily to the start of the race. It had rained steadily through the night and the dirt road to Lake Umuzi was sludgey and potholed. I’ll tell you that people from Gauteng who complain about the potholes must just go out into the Platteland and see the shit they have to deal with there. My whiney DA ward councillor would be apoplectic if he saw what those roads look like. So, shitty roads navigated, I parked and ambled around with nothing to do. Justin had asked “run at the back with me” which was a stupid joke and I’m sure only meant to poke fun at me. You see Justin runs Washie with Megan. Washie is 100 miles. 160 kilometres. They run that in one day. LESS than one day. They know not of “running at the back with me”. So when Justin invited me to run “at the back”. I think he meant, “run at the back OF me”, not “run at the back WITH me”. I can only assume his English and typing skills are poor. So I looked at the back at the start, but neither Justin nor Megan were to be found. I’m sure they snuck up to the front with Illuminati Michelle. Ah yes! Michelle. I had encountered Michelle as I was ambling around and we had stood in the middle (waaay too close to the front for my liking) chatting away. She had eyed some of her usual competitors. My competitors are a bit more difficult to eye because they’re really just voices in my head. I’m trying to do it now. Oooh! No. Can’t type and do that at the same time. So we were eyeing Illuminati Michelle’s competitors when it came that time. About 5 minutes to go. Michelle told me she was going to move to the front front (like Illuminati front) why don’t I come with. Again, that poking fun at the fat kid thing these A-teamers like to do. I told her I’d cry and squeal like a girl again like I had at Sasolburg and she laughed and I laughed. So she went to the front to head off with the other Illuminati. It was very cool to be seen with her. I was alone. No Illuminati. No A-teamers. No Cool Kids. Just me.
Then we were off. My goal for the day was 73.3km. One day! 73.3km! Can you imagine that? That’s very far. That’s like to my Spar and back 76 times in one day. Okay, now it doesn’t seem that far any more. Plans for the weekend? Can I get you anything while I’m at the Spar 76 times? Just think how I crave the couch after just going to the Spar to buy bread. And that’s when I’ve driven there! Anyway. This was my goal for the day, not to walk the dog to the Spar or to buy bread or to go back and forth between home and the Spar 76 times, but to run a marathon. Swim. Rest. Run a half marathon. Swim. Rest. Run 10 kilometres. Why? Well, it’s all part of my very cunning non-planned plan to run the Comrades Marathon. The Comrades Marathon is 90 kilometres. Let’s not even try work out the Spar calculation on that one! 90 kilometres. I have 12 hours in which to run those 90 kilometres. Most long runs which are held in preparation for Comrades are about 55-60 kilometres long. The experts (who know nothing about the voices in my head or my knock knees or the couch stuck to my glutes or anything else about my not made for running self) say that you should get to Comrades with that 55 or 60km run on your legs and your head will get you through the remaining 30-35kms. What a load of bullshit! 30 kilometres is very far to run. Especially if you’ve already been running for 7 or 8 hours. Imagine if, on Comrades day, I get to 60 kilometres and I think, my body and my mind have never gone further than this before…..AND I’ve still got 30 kilometres to go. I would melt. Yes, very learned colleagues and 100 time Comrades runners, I know, YOU wouldn’t, but I would. 73.3kms in one day would mean that on Comrades day I’d get to the 73.3km mark and know that this is the furthest my body and mind have ever gone before and I’ve only got 16.7km to go. Mentally, that’s a less bitter pill to swallow on a day where a lot of bitter pill-swallowing has probably happened for the preceding 7-9 hours.
The Kosmos 3-in-1 is run in the town of Secunda which is marginally less shit than Sasolburg. There’s this hideous something or other factory or plant which towers over Secunda, spitting flames and spewing thick black smoke over the area all day and night. As I approached on Friday evening, I didn’t know if there was an ominous Armageddon-like storm approaching, or this was just a normal Friday afternoon atmospheric condition precipitated by the something or other plant. The beauty of Secunda is, however, the Cosmos (after which the race is named). Cosmos is a beautiful flower, widespread over the high eastern plains of South Africa, where it was introduced via contaminated horsefeed imported from Mexico during the Boer War.
The Beauty of Secunda
It is delicate and pretty and blossoms in the very late Summer, early Autumn. Cosmos will make anyone smile. It lines the main roads and provides a delicate and appropriate contrast to the harshness of the something or other plant spewing it’s Armageddon into Secunda’s air. The whole thing is a fitting metaphor for the race which was about to be staged in Secunda. Beautiful, with a hint of Armageddon!
Kosmos 3-in-1 (which is a very difficult thing to type on a mobile phone) consists of a marathon, run at 6am. This is followed at 1pm by a 21.1km race which is then followed by a 10km in the evening at 5pm. Making 73.3km for the day. I’ve told you why anyone would do this.
So we set off on the marathon. I had a timing band on my wrist again. (Oh, by the way, if you want a great timing band template, let me know. I’ll send it to you. I made it myself and it’s very cool, even if I do say so myself.) The timing band was made for a marathon time of 4:18. I know. Just a month ago I had run my best marathon time in 4:39, but I had improved over all my other distances and I felt strong so I thought I’d give myself a stretch goal. My goal, however, was to run 73.3km, not run a personal best anything. At 6km, I was about 30 seconds behind my timing chart and was alone when a Standard Bank runner came running up to me. We chatted for a while and we immediately hit it off. I’m not going to tell you again how running is the ultimate leveller and why I love running so much but really, I meet the most amazing people who, with the simplest gestures, immeasurably change my life. Ricky Chauke changed my life on Saturday. He doesn’t know how and I probably don’t fully know how yet, either, but he did. He is a sub-4 hour marathon runner which puts him in the Diabolical batch for Comrades. On Saturday, however, he, like I, had his eye on the 73.3km rather than a Champion seeding group, but he asked me what my goal for the race was. Don’t die, I told him. He smiled and we chatted a bit more. We spoke about weight and how running has helped us both lose weight.
Let me show you something. This is my favourite running picture. Why? Because, not only is it a picture taken at my first 10km race (as a grown up) but it also has in it, my inspiration and the dearest friend anyone could pray for and receive (and whose birthday it is today, 11 March), Chrissie. This picture was taken in November 2012 at the start of the Soweto Marathon. I don’t know the photobomber. For reasons I won’t go into in this post, this was the race where I learned the importance of a good-quality sports bra for women.
Chrissie and me @ Soweto Marathon 2012
Now take a look at this picture below. It was taken at Sasolburg Marathon a month ago. That’s what 11 kilograms look like people. I’ve never been a fat girl, but in the picture above I weighed 69kgs. The picture below, I weigh 58kgs. So, at Soweto Marathon I was running 10 kilometres, holding a bag of dog food. 10kgs which weren’t helping me at all. They were just along for the ride and my knees and ankles were carrying them right through that 10 kilometres. No wonder that race took us over an hour and a half.
Chrissie, Janine and me @ the Start of the Sasolburg Marathon Where I Nearly got Run Over by Illuminati
Ricky and I chatted for a while about weight loss and how, losing weight, has magically improved our running times. Funny thing that. And when you run faster, you lose more weight and then you run faster and then …..well, you get the picture. But at least now, as I snack on these Balocco Crema Nocciola biscuits, I feel nothing. I’ll feel it next time I go out to run because my knees and my ankles will be carrying this little packet of biscuits, but for now, I feel nothing. I hate people telling me I’m getting thin. I especially hate it when overweight people tell me that. I’m getting thin because I run 60kms per week. If you run 20 kilometres per week and eat properly, you too will start to get thin. But I digress. Safe to say, Ricky and I agree that running has been great for us.
We met a man from Vhembe Running Club. He has to travel all over to get races because, in his very rural area, there aren’t many races and so to get races he has to travel. It’s a pity really because there are really great runners in these rural areas (the kind that spent their formative years walking 20 kilometres to and from school every day) and they probably don’t get enough competitive exposure and so never realise their full potential. A real pity. We were running along, Ricky and I being in our 40s and Mr Vhembe probably in his early to mid-50s. Two young upstarts came running past us and passed a silly joke about the old people. I told them to beware of the Tortoise and the Hare story. Ricky and I passed them at the 35km mark. They were sitting at a water point. Ricky was pulling me in and out of the suburban streets of Secunda which has very few high walls and even fewer electric fences, in contrast to the terrified DA suburbs of Johannesburg, including complex-ridden Midrand. I’m hoping one of the Midrand ladies with the shiny shoes reads this. I was struggling, but Ricky was going. We each had low moments, but the conversation made the kilometres fall away swiftly. I met one of my students at one of the water points and he came later to meet me further on the route. Supporters of runners, this is such an important thing for runners, to see people who love them standing on the side of the road, brimming with pride and joy at their suffering. It sounds bizarre, but it imbues a runner with love and positive energy that restores them if even for a moment and gives them the power to keep moving forward. Thank you Coen. Your constant support on Saturday was meaningful to me on many levels.
At 38kms I told Ricky, look, I don’t think we’re going to make 4:19, but we’ll come close, but I’m happy with a sub-4:30, you can go ahead if you like. I don’t want to keep you back. He said to me, we don’t leave our POWs out here. We carry them to the end. And that’s what Ricky did with me. The last half a kilometre was a delightful meandre along a paved walkway next to the lake. One has to be very careful to not fall in the water. I chuckled each time I wound along that path considering the fact that I couldn’t use my legs to keep me afloat! And then we were finished! 4:26:13. That’s 12 minutes faster than my previous PB. That’s pretty cool, but you want to know what the coolest part of this marathon was for me? My friend. Yes, my friend, Illuminati Michelle, WON THE MARATHON! I’m not telling a word of a lie. My friend won the marathon. And she’s old, like me! I am so chuffed for her. She, like me, also achieved a personal best time for a marathon. Her time, nothing at all like mine, was 3:05:20. She came 33rd overall and was the first lady home and the first old…I mean Veteran Lady home. She and her wife, also Michelle, met me at the finish and congratulated me. Of course, Michelle had showered, napped, had breakfast, been on a game drive, done some fishing in the lake and knitted a scarf between the time she finished and the time I came in, but she still congratulated me. Megan and Justin were astounded that I had come in that soon and gave me lots of love for catching them totally unawares. 31.1kms loomed in the distance and I became grumpy. I was nervous and it came out as grumpy. I should have been dancing naked around the place! I had just improved my personal best time for a marathon by 13 minutes! I should have been elated, but I was filled with the horror of the prospect of having to repeat that exercise once more that day. What was to come? My grumpiness was lifted momentarily as I saw Michelle get her first prizes (one for 1st lady and one for 1st Vet) and I was then able to share a drink with the Michelles. I could be a cool kid too….one day. The minutes slipped away in chunks. I had run so fast and scored myself two and a half hours’ rest before the 21, but it felt like there was so much to do still before the 21. I had to swim, eat, drink, rest, sleep, change clothes, swap the timing chip from one shoe to another, sit, chat, be nice, text everyone to tell them what was happening. I’d even hoped to write this blog in the break. It all seemed too much to squeeze into just two and a half hours……