Monday, December 27, 2010

Running Highlights

I got thinking about this past year's running and I thought that I would join in the global trend of looking back and recalling it all. It is a happy list even though in some athlete's minds there are more 'lowlights' than highlights, but let me start at the beginning.

January saw me for the first time in my short running career, not having the stress of having to qualify for the Comrades or the Two Oceans. Our ten minute leeway on the previous year's qualifying marathon in Bela Bela, meant that I could focus on running miles and not the qualifying time pressure. This did wonders for my confidence, because now after 4 years of running longer distances, I knew what I was capable of. It also meant that at my first marathon for the year, I was able to spend some time with a friend who was battling near the end of his race, and give him the moral support to help him keep moving when he perhaps needed it the most. I also knew that when I left him to decide his own fate,and ran on, I could still make the cut-off time comfortably and that was a great feeling. I am pleased to say that my friend too, made it in time and the year had a nice start to it in my books.

My next highlight includes my first ever Ultra Two Oceans marathon. In previous years I had never been fast enough to qualify and would have to settle for running the half marathon. So I entered this year's Ultra with great glee, especially as my lovely niece had planned her overseas wedding perfectly and I was fortunate enough to attend both. While in the UK I picked up a real nasty cold and my vulnerable chest was my weak spot. Perfect timing once again meant that I could get the right meds on my return, just in time for me to chase away the bug so that I could stand at the starting line of the Ultra in the fairest Cape. What a race! Perfect weather, excellent support along the road, and just the right distance to challenge but not destroy me! I floated home after an excellent weekend, but it might also be due to the traces of meds still lurking about my circulatory system!

My next highlight in my running calendar was my bailing at 62km's on the grandaddy race, the Comrades. This is where the highlight question may come in. Why is my 'giving up' a highlight? Surely quitters never win? Well, this decision has been such a profound turning point in my life, both personally and running wise, that I am so glad I listened to my body and respected myself enough to say 'stop'. Comrades is the ultimate race, and it has taught many a runner a thing or two about themselves, and I am still uncovering what this race means to me, and the bailing aspect has given me such a profound reason for my running it. It is just so very difficult to put into words. Especially in a short, concise manner!! Needless to say I have re-entered for next year, and I am looking forward to meeting up with the challenge once more. Every time I face the race, I uncover aspects of myself, and I am looking forward to more mystery and celebration.

My bailing Comrades left me with the perfect opportunity to run the 80km Karoo marathon which is a 'must-do' for every runner. Held in September this year, meant that I had a few months in between Comrades to train up and change my running strategy. Except I never did. I ran a few times, with the longest distance of 29km and in many ways I was a little afraid of being under trained. Not that that thought got me out on the road, I observed my thoughts and finally hoped for a miracle. Which is exactly what I got! I learned so many other things about myself that day, that I am still in awe of how wonderful the human body is. The magic town of Laingsburg in the middle of nowhere, still haunts my thoughts and I am looking forward to the day I return, except I am not sure it will be to run the race again! Running it this year, taught me that by breaking the mammoth goal of 80km's down into bite size chunks of 8km an hour made its all the more achievable and I ran the race comfortably and enjoyably. I never really understood just how my running confidence had been affected by bailing Comrades, but finishing the Karoo so well showed me a thing or two and I am so glad that I did run it.

Now at the beginning of a fresh year, there are new goals and old goals. Firstly I want my revenge at the Comrades. I need to see the inside of the stadium in Pietermaritzburg this time. I want to explore the wonderful races we have here, in different areas of this great country. I want to increase my speed. I am looking forward to the new challenges yet unknown, and can't wait to meet new friends on every race.

This festive season I thought about my running friends and how we share such strange common bonds. Funny looking outfits, very bad hair days, sweat and soggy tissues, pretending we are 'toilet doors', very long conversations, dirty looks, and happy smiles, pain, joy, passion and healthy lifestyle. Exhilaration in each other's achievements, and unyielding support when the going gets tough, very early mornings, sleepy breath, blisters and vaseline, sunblock and painpills. Frustration and despair, sadness and comfort, jokes and stories, endless talk about different races, admiration and true friendship.

I had wanted to possibly get gifts for my friends, then I realised that their friendship and my return is our gift to each other. Nothing can ever replace that.
Bring on 2011!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I can write this with a clear conscience as I actually broke my running drought last week. It is a pity that the amount of water thrown at us in Jozi has been keeping me safely indoors but watching the unrelenting rain made me excited about wanting to get back on the road. The first time the sun shone it's face we took the gap.
Hubby had been for a few more runs over this period than I had, which meant I was watching his light bounce as he waited for me to catch up with him. I  was back at the very beginning again. Regrets were the only thing speeding on this cheery, sunny afternoon, regret that I had 'rested' so long and regret that now I had to contend with the long hard slog back to fitness.
But I was there and noticing my body once more. The body wasn't happy about this movement as it had gotten rather fond of the couch once more and secretly was very grateful for all the heavy rains.

The next morning I woke up to a very light bedroom, and realised that the sun was out again. I jumped up while my brain was still locked in dreamland, and got into my running gear. Hubby turned over and faced the dark side of the room pretending he didn't notice the activity . Shoes on, I made my way to the looooong 4km route around the traffic free suburb.(gotta love holidays!)
I hunted for distractions as I wondered why I was getting a stitch again in my right side. There were a few early runners out all enjoying the dry conditions, when I realised that the puddle I was standing in was self generated. Gosh the human body can complain. Red faced and sluggish legs I dragged myself through the last 2 km's, trying not to torture myself with looking at my very slow watch. I swear the seconds went by in a slower pace. Eventually my smiling dogs welcomed me home and they almost barked at the red face.

I broke my drought even further by going out for a third time when the rain gave us a chance for another 4km. This time I was feeling a teeny bit looser, although I still got the strange stitch in my side.
Sunday saw the unusual sight of us go for ANOTHER run. I wanted to try stretch the time a bit, so I proposed a different route which I thought would get us more miles. I also liked the idea of the long downhill for the first 2km's, unfortunately this meant the longer 2km's uphill, but this was at the end of the route so I didn't mind walking at that stage. All the rain has brought out every single 'gogga' in existance, and being Africa, that means a LOT, so with the sunrise providing the backlight I had to use my hanky several times to cover my mouth when dashing through the beasties. Of course when you think you are 'clear' you take a deep breath and ... in one goes! My breathing at this stage of my fitness is rather heavy which also means that there is no possible means of retrieval, so I just have to swallow and think of something else!
At 57 minutes, my body knew it was close to home, so went into neutral, hubby chatted to early rising neighbours while I dragged my still red, sweaty body up the street and finally stopped my watch at 60minutes. At last. Home has never felt so good!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Well the subject line is a lie. My lie. I haven't been running at all. The previous weeks' lack of running was by choice, now it's more health directed. My burning chest says 'no'. I have to listen. At first it was not bad, I didn't mind not running, or so I thought, but this past weekend showed me yet another shift in the 'sole' of this former (but possibly current) couch potato.
I was driving through the suburb mid Saturday morning and I watched in admiration as many runners seemed to be out in the Summer heat running. I realised that I was admiring them and then my chest gave a flame or two, and I turned my eyes back to the steering wheel. Sunday morning I was up early to meet at the club, for an early breakfast. I couldn't manage the run, so I left home when the sun was already high in the sky. On route I passed eight different runners, all running silently on their own. Yes, I did count them. Then I realised what I was doing. Much to my surprise I was envying them. Me. Envy. Run.

This formula almost made my couch self laugh, but the athlete part of me started planning and concocting all sorts of new training programs that I am certain I will stick to, once I am better.

The irritating part of this kind of ill health is, that I feel qute healthy, then a brisk walk around a shop leaves me feeling shaky and flu-ey, with fire flames lashing at the base of my throat. So I succumb to the softness of the couch, or more often, the study chair. I don't feel sick enough to visit a doctor, which is the hard part, because surely then I should be able to run? A short sprint to a ringing phone, reminds me that I am not quite ready for any jaunt around the block. So I have to be (a) patient. So I will. For now.

Burning sigh

Monday, November 15, 2010

You would think that you haven't heard from me because I haven't been running, but quite the opposite. Last week, I ran SIX times, almost a new record for me! The total in distance wasn't huge, but the effort was, so that's why I was too exhausted to write about it. So I managed 3 times this past week and now have to brag a little.

In trying a new approach to training, I thought I would attempt my plan of running 10km's under an hour. I only really decided at the race, while standing chatting to my friends, so it caught some of them off guard, and hubby looked shocked as I hadn't told him my plan either. The decision wasn't a definite one though, as I knew the area pretty well, and the start is on top of the ridge. 'Ridge' means slopes and hills, and the 'hills are not my friends' - yet! So the words of my goal sort of fell out of my mouth in a half hearted way. I had to provide myself with an excuse, because all our other 10km runs this past while have all been around 1h17. In fact the last three runs my watch was stopped on 1h17 exactly- spooky!

While we were mingling and waiting for the 7am start, we saw many people we know from other running clubs and it was nice catching up with old friends. The funniest thing happened to me when I saw an older chap rush towards me with a big smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye " Congratulations on your Comrades- hey" He grinned. I then started grinning as his face fell when I replied ' Thanks, but I bailed'. He looked very confused, then sad, but I tried to comfort him, by saying that I am okay about it all. Really, okay! I tried to convince him.

I have to explain to non running friends here. There are some people (possibly freaks of nature!) who just don't know how to bail, they don't know how to spell the word, nor do they have any understanding of the concept. I understand this but don't always agree with the concept, especially not the 89km's of Comrades. These running machines walk amongst you (mind you, they are not sure how to 'walk' either), and that is okay, so explaining the concept of bailing Comrades to this man, meant that I consoled him by telling him about my successful 80km run in September. I swear I almost saw him breathe a sigh of relief, for my part, and we continued our chat about his latest passion, canoeing (or is it paddling?)

The race gun went off, and we weaved our way out into the streets. I was very surprised at about 2 km's in, when I realised there was flat in the area, when we ran along the ridge! This gave me a bit of courage and made the possibility of a faster time open up. Hubby had decided he would hang back with my friend who was running on 'half marathon old' legs, as she had ventured to the north to run 21km's the day before. So Anita and I trundled on. I must say it wasn't the most comfortable of runs, as I had cramp in my side which I rarely get, so made mental notes of things I need to do to change this.

The race was very well organised, and it was great seeing all the familiar faces of the marshalls cheering us on. I missed the 6km marker board, so when 7km popped into my vision I was very surprised, and pleased and somehow moved faster. Experienced Anita pointed this out, and told me to slow down, 3 km can still be far! I am glad I listened to her because I still had some vooma left over so the last km we sped up somewhat. Hubby had passed us by at around 5km, and I hadn't seen him ahead, so I knew he had broken the 60 minute goal, as we were very close to the time. With a final dash we managed to cross the line in a very respectable 61 minutes, puffing and panting, but pleased as punch! My half marathon friend came in only 3 minutes behind us, so I am so proud of her!

So it's back to the drawing board with some new goals, and some fun races ahead, however I will not be doing any camping or off road running this coming weekend Anita, no matter how much you beg me!!

55 minutes here we come???

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I have surprised myself this past while and ran more than I expected to. 

That could be the end of this week's story, but I like to waffle, as you may have noticed. So here I go.

Sunday morning I had planned to go to the club to run another 10km's, but when my alarm went off at 5am, there was simply no desire to move. Well my thumb moved enough to send a message to my friends warning them not to expect me. I then turned over and carried on sleeping. I did certainly enjoy it!

Monday morning comes along and I set my alarm again. I had wakened up before the alarm and I felt quite ready to go out. Hubby on the other hand, wasn't for budging. So I set off on my own. I decided to dodge the early morning traffic by going a different route and thought that I would try run for an hour. There was a lovely cool breeze helping me along, and it was interesting watching everyone in their cars. Still asleep kids had to be cajoled into the seats, and stressed out mothers impatiently growled at them in their driveways. Sleepy dogs ignored me as I went quietly by. I am pleased to say that I was a lot quieter than I have been, as the heaving and puffing seemed to have settled again, and I am managing to last a little longer on the plod!

At the top of a high point in the suburb I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see that I had been running for 30 minutes already. I was pleased, because that meant my one hour target was achievable. Some streets looked like they had lilac carpets over them as the Jacaranda trees are shedding their colour. The smells of different perfumes reminded me of early morning walks to school many many moons ago, and I smiled to myself. 

My thoughts shifted again to our dear running friend who has been with us in spirit for two years now, and smiled wider when I realised he would be raising a 'Black Label' to me out on the road on my own. I swear I heard his voice, saying 'cheers' and this helped me shine from the inside. The early morning glow may have jolted some of the dogs awake, because some of them barked curiously temporarily breaking my concentration. I sighed, thanked Joe for his energy and carried on. I got back to my house feeling rather good, and energised. This time of the morning in summer is so nice to run in, it's just such a pity we have to get up so early for it!


Monday, October 25, 2010

Been very scarce on the road and on this aspect of my blog!!

This past week I really did my bit to contribute to energy saving. I hardly moved on the roads, thus saving tonnes of gases, salty water and all such interesting techological stuff!

I did venture out at the weekend, and managed a slow tug around the countryside for ten km's! It was more of a social chit chat, than training really, although there was much sweat, and lots of work done, plus the added bonus of 'time on the legs'. And it was long time on the legs!!

Sunday we headed back out for a repeat performance, except we changed the route which saw us go uphil for the first half of our run, unfortunately for those who were unusually thirsty, due to increased wine consumption the previous evening! Luckily the Jozi weather was very kind to us, and kept temperatures down and the world looked nice and clean due to a smattering of rain over the previous week.

Running this time of the year, without a definite goal proves tricky to my 'find-an-excuse-not-to-run' brain. This time last year we were training hard to run the Warmbaths marathon, so we could get qualifying for 2 Oceans and Comrades out of the way. This year because I didn't finish Comrades, I have to qualify again, but I'm not looking at doing 2 Oceans, so my Karoo Ultra marathon finish gives me the necessary entrance to do Comrades. But this lack of target, means that my training is very scrappy, and every run feels like I'm back at the very, very beginning! When the others talked about doing the Tough One, which is 32km's, my brain bounced. That is so far, I thought!

Anyway, the stage of my training taking my dogs for a 2 km walk feels far!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This time last week, I was sitting in a Greyhound bus on my way to Laingsburg in the Cape. After a topsy turvy day/week of travel changes, panics and calm I was finally on route. The luxury bus was indeed that, with more than expected leg room, new chairs, and very professional hostess offering free tea and coffee I was impressed. My disappointment of not travelling by train was forgotten and I even managed to get some shut eye.

A small group of us travelled together and we got there two days before the start of my 80km event. We got off the bus early morning and went for a leisurely breakfast and talked about the reality of my doing 80km's on so little training. I must admit I had a nervous flutter or two, but decided that I was here to enjoy myself and make the most of my visit to this 'drive-through' town. The nice thing about this ultra-marathon was that there was no huge build up, and hype like there is the whole year for Comrades so it all felt less pressurised. 80km's is still however, 80km's, and I now understand distance and have respect for it, so I was feeling that I may be cheating myself a little into thinking I was prepared. In the months since my 62kms on Comrades, I had done one half marathon, and one 29km, with a few 10kms, and a handful of 4kms. I know that this does not constitute in any way preparation for an Ultra marathon, but I was hoping for a miracle.

In the relaxing days, the doubts would float through my mind, and I could hear the loud voice saying, 'you are not trained for this', but I managed to quieten it down with distractions about this amazing quirky little town. In the dissecting of the race, my friend Willem and I discussed what our strategy would be. I had urged him to do his own race, so if he felt good, he should go, and he said that I should do the same, so any obligations to pull the other through was out of the way. Then he came up with the idea of 8kms an hour, that would give us 45 minutes of leeway, so this felt good. I knew I could manage 8km's an hour, so that calmed me down and I let go of any remaining pressure and fear. We spent Friday celebrating our other friend's venture into our 'veteran' world by turning 40, and we ate cake and chatted and strolled and relaxed.

The town filled up in Friday afternoon, and a nice buzz set about the air. Luckily I was nice and calm, so by the time Saturday morning arrived I was looking forward to starting the race. Only 100 or so of us stood in the still-dark morning waiting for the Lady Mayor to fire the starter gun and some locals had shook themselves out of their beds to cheer us on. Ladies in their curlers, kids in their Pj's, men still partying, stood on the sidelines and waved us goodbye as we snaked our way out of the town and headed for the hills. The air was cold, with a breeze from the rear, which meant that some top layers of clothes stayed on to block out the cold.

The first 27kms of the race kept us on the N1 which meant that the long distance trucks rumbled by, some of them hooting and waking us up, while others shook the wind around us, and tried to blow off our hats. The young marshalls waved their red flags every so often to slow the trucks down, and every 3 km's cheerful people offered us icy water to fuel us on. The earth looked grey and clay-like in the dawn light, but as the sun tickled the hills in the distance, the hills began to blush into a spring pink, as our shadows began to take shape across the road. These shadows were initially very long and I stretched width-ways across our national road shrinking as the day slowly unfolded before us. We were running away from the dawn, which was rather nice to not strain into the light so early in the morning.

The marker boards passed by and we realised that our first two hours we had managed within our time frame, and was even 1km faster than anticipated. This comforted me, but also frightened me a little and I began to hang back a little letting Willem carry on in his own pace. I was determined this time to find my own pace and I was also doing some video clips along the way which would end up being my saving grace later in the day. I kept Willem in eyeshot and watched as the road weaved its way towards Matjiesfontien. Political parties, churches and schools all had water points along this stretch of road, and although small scale it was just the right spirit to keep me going. I realised that I was feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside and the nice buzz was making me feel very positive about my running.

As the road straightened towards the Lord Milner Hotel, and the first turning point I stopped for a pit stop. I was surprised to realise that I was fumbling and struggling with my hands, as they were still so cold from the morning, and I didn't seem to have much mobility in my fingers. We turned off the main road at 27km's and headed towards Sunderland, one of the coldest places in the land. The sun was now high in the sky, but changing the direction of running meant I was faced with the icy breeze slapping into my body and face. Now this Jozi-girl, is not used to wind so I gasped when I realised that it was hard to run against it. My resistance kicked in and I walked and waited for my brain to get around this concept. I heard a rustle on the ground, and knew it wasn't the wind, and I spotted a small field mouse running along beside me for a moment. This distraction kicked me into gear and I trundled onwards again.

The scenery changed again as there was some farms nestled on the hills, and I noticed the spring green amongst the reddish brush. No flowers this year, I was told, as the rain hadn't been at the right time, but there was beauty everywhere and I was feeling great to be able to see it all. The very thin line of runners stretched further and further down the road, so I tried to keep my eyes near, and focus on my immediate surrounds, which definitely helped my brain. I trundled on, listening to the ducks at one farm, the high tweets of unnamed birds, and laughed when the sheep seemed to be calling out 'mam' to me.

I fought off some negative spots by talking to my video camera and I laughed even more when I realised I was laughing at my own jokes! I felt a strange feeling, and noticed that I had chafed under my shorts pocket where I keep an emergency water sachet, and had drawn blood because of it's iciness. Luckily there were no vultures up above, so I knew I was okay. The road stretched out towards what felt like the Namibian horizon, and then I noticed the dust line in the distance. The turning point onto the dirt road. This is where I caught up with Willem again, and we shared some sweets and a bread roll that a kind seconder had offered us. He was beginning to question his reasons for being on this road, and I felt surprisingly good, because the change of the surface for my feet, so I decided to trundle on ahead while my going was good.

This 20km of dirt road was the make or break spot for a lot of people, as the wind warmed up, and the water warmed up, the kids at the water points got tired and the brains began to sizzle. Cars would streak by spraying white dust into our weary eyes, and sometimes the view was obliterated in dust. This trail went on and ... and on. My camera became my new best friend, as I realised that by filming, I was forced to find something other than the non-ending road to talk about, and it perked me up a little. Every time I got to the top of a hill I would hope that the bend in the distance would be the tar road, but it usually wasn't. I began to pass some runners and offer some words of encouragement. I no longer remember what they were, perhaps they were lies, but a necessary evil at a time like this!

Some of the youngsters would run for 100's of meters towards me to give me water sachets, which meant by the time they got it to me, it had warmed up, so I would usually swap them with cooler one's when I passed the actual table. They would cheer me on, with 'go antie, jy kan dit maak' and their smiling faces would lift me up. I finally caught sight of a signal tower and was told by a volunteer that the road was near. I perked up at that thought and moved a little quicker. In the distance I saw these two pink t-shirts move towards me, and I started thinking 'why do they come out so far' when I realised it was my two friends who had somehow got out this way to spur us on. This definitely lifted my spirits and they were so pleased to see me looking so good. I turned onto the N1 with a happy heart, knowing that now there was only 14kms to go. I was well within time, and feeling great, so I was pleased to think that I could make it.

Just before the town border a cluster of youngsters sat on the rocks and cheered, and when I went past, one of the small kids asked if he could spray me. I agreed, and he started. The next thing his whole school seemed to appear all armed with the water sachets and started cooling me down. One of the packets was particularly cold, and I laughed as I gasped at them to stop, as I was well and truly cooled down! The whole town seemed to be out on the streets and pavements, waving and cheering and I felt a wave of appreciation as the cries of 'antie, antie' got louder as I neared the school. Again my hitchiking friend had found a lift to the corner to meet me with a colddrink, and we jogged comfortably along towards the finish. I turned into the last street and the schoolgrounds erupted as the lady on the PA announced another runner coming in. Me! I groaned when I was directed around the long way of the track towards the finish line, and I dashed to try make it under 10 and a half hours. I panted in with 40 seconds spare as one of the town's beauty queens tried to put my medal round my bent-over head. I had made it!

I was elated, and even better, I had no nausea, nor icky feelings. The next day my only pain was my sunburn, but I think it may even be windburn. My pale skin has been hiding under winter jerseys this last while and no amount of sunblock seemed to prevent the damage. What a trip, what an experience. I have far more words to say, but I do realise that this has gone on for too long already!

This antie is going to bed!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Well, not really running this week. I was going along good guns last week, when I popped into Cape Town for a flying visit and the running ground to a halt. Once again I am reminded just how blessed we are to have such consistently good weather up here in Jozi.

Wind blew, bringing the cloud over the mountain, which left me looking out of the window, thinking about 80km's in less than three weeks time. Then a bitter chill moved around the south and I happily sat inside considering my life without running.

Back in Jozi on Monday meant that I could go out and meet up with my friends on the road, but my body thought twice about that, and I realised that a bug had crawled it's way into my system and I left my charged batteries down in the mother city. I spent the day staring at the back of my eyelids, and felt a little better the following morning. So I ventured out for a game of badminton and stood stiller than normal as the shuttle flew past my now dizzy head. Sigh. Blood pressure lowering meant that I was still not ready to hit any roads, so I sat and patiently waited for the ant-virus to kick in and quarantine the bug.

Today I feel much better, but after a couple of minutes bouncing on my mini-trampoline I realised that I would still have to wait another day before I wear down my trainers some more. Such is the life of an athlete, now I hear you laugh. I did just say that, and sometimes I feel like an athlete, other times I pinch myself.

So before I end up with more bruises, I'll end here

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Been a bit slow putting my writings on this, but here is a recent one of my running!

This time of year brings about unpredictable weather, and that affects my unpredictable training. Although I could say that my running is easy to predict. Rain- no run, icy wind- no run, snow- no run. I know we don't get much snow here in Jozi, but we do feel the effects of national snow lying on the bergs. The wind throws itself over the landscape and forces me to hide, usually under my blankets. That sounds great, but I have rather a long run coming up next month.

Eighty kilometers of Karoo. Perhaps I should change the whole concept and tell myself, and my body, that I am going to see the 'flowers' on foot! People from around the country gather in buses, trains and automobiles to drive great distances to the flattest, harshest area of land that comes alive in the Spring with amazing flowers. I am going there too now, and I must say one thing I haven't seen yet is the flowering Karoo. I am even going to be taking it all in, in great detail and slow motion. (Hopefully not too slow!)

Due to this touristy project, I was up before the sun again on Sunday and before the snow fell somewhere, and joined a cluster of tourists for a long run. There was a 15km route planned and we could do laps, however many we wanted. This sounds nice on paper, yes, I get to choose how far am I going to go, but, it makes it rather tempting to just say, 'enough now' and head for my car! I was surprised to see so many folks I knew, although there were a couple of chaps who aren't doing the Karoo, but are doing the mountain goat race on the same day as our flowers. So jokes announced, maps handed out - we set off. The one chap had said he would stick with me, but I don't think he realised it could take me quite as long and he had made lunch plans! Ha!

My other 'flower friend' had run to the club for an extra 9km's, so he was already warmed up and ready to keep moving. I was rather reluctant but we trippled out of the car park, and watched a rather quick group speed off into the early morning. Chatting and joking it was rather pleasant running with some different people but I did begin to feel guilty slowing down the pace. Luckily Mr Wikipedia wasn't feeling up to his usual form, and he called some early walks, much to my relief. I started to feel a need, and began to look for a toilet, but most places weren't open yet. At around 12km's I managed to find a clean-ish garage, and I was very thankful that I had brought along my pouch with necessary money, tissues, sweets, cheddars and biltong.

Alan joked that I would run much faster if I didn't carry 9kg's of baggage. I scoffed at him, all this equipment is very necessary, it's not like its make-up, or accessories, ah wait, I do carry Zambuk and plasters.

I met up with the others feeling much lighter and ready for the rest of the run. Until 21km's that is, then I just lost interest. I kept trying to chase away the faster guys, to leave me alone, and walk, but they wouldn't hear of it. At the one spot, the organiser said, "you can always go straight here, instead of doing the extra loop" Before he had finished the sentence myself and Willem had already sprinted away from him, in case he changed his mind. I felt a nice delight when we got to the garage before them and was able to buy some Energade, and take my time. Before long they were with us, and then I realised that the second lap felt much quicker than the first one.

We had agreed to do two laps, because that would give Willem almost 40km's of road. I was happy with the almost 30 and was very happy to see my little car waiting in the sun. With a short drive to my couch, I 'parked' myself there for the remainder of the day with the remote control as my travelling companion. Bliss!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Two weeks of rest after my 62km's meant that I could go and run a 10km race on Sunday. This was a strange space for me once again, as I found myself slipping back into 'couch potato' days and thinking, '10km's is far, will I be able to do it?' I tested my doubts the day before while walking the dogs. I had short bursts of a jog, and found myself heaving and wheezing, almost as if I was confirming that the past 4 years have indeed been a dream, I couldn't possibly be a 'runner'. The dogs were wheezing just as much as I was, so my alter ego said in a stern voice 'it helps when you breathe while you run'. I walked back home and decided to still test the reality of running 10kms the next day, after all I had promised my friend I would be there.

Getting my running things together was strange, and I thought my vest looked odd, but it took a long moment to realise that I had taken my licence number off it, while I was doing the Comrades, so I had to hunt the numbers out and pin them on again. I am also used to efficient hubby who thinks ahead and plans things like top layers of clothes for cold mornings, but hubby is working on that thingimajig, the football, so in the end I forgot my outer layer. Luckily this race started later, at 8am, so the cold on my arms was only while we waited for the start to happen.

A much smaller field in general arrived at the race, and the organisers had done a nice thing by giving the walkers and us separate starting times, which helped congestion, and another good thing is that they separated the genders, which meant us girls could take our time in starting, and not be jostled while applying our make up when the gun goes off! The men are mostly quicker off the mark, however this RAC start is on a rather steep uphill, and with Comrades creaking in everyone's joints, the pace did seem a little slower.

At the top of this hillstart, I felt my muscles in my butt complain, but it was on both sides, and not the Comrades hip pain, but after loosening up on the nice downhill, the complaints stopped. In fact I ran very comfortably, and with all the catch up we had to do, it was only at the 6km marker board, that I realised how quick the time seemed to have gone. We have run this route many times, but it was interesting to notice that the mean hill at about 7 km's didn't feel so mean. It was a lovely morning for a run, with the sun high, but a cool breeze and I enjoyed eavesdropping (when my friend was drinking her water), and heard about other runner's Comrades experiences.

We were welcomed back into the stadium with some nice cheers, as I was wearing my SA flag shorts to keep the vuvuzela's blowing. Even nicer, was the hot breakfast and fresh coffee waiting for us at the gazebo. I managed to remember my chair, so I had a nice 'seat and eat' while watching some heroes of the day finish their race. Two 80 year old gents finished, and the one chap didn't look a day over 60, he was celebrating his 80 birthday that day, I hope when I get to that age, I will be sitting down with a nice cup of tea and birthday cake. Mind you, 80 is the new 60 these days!

So the running rest was broken, however it may have been a once off, because a cold front of note has gripped the land, and the thought of going outside to run against that icy wind is not attractive at all. Instead I will sit and write about it, makes it feel 'real'!

Keep it real!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Post Comrades.

Can you remember the build up towards the last day of school? 12 years, (sometimes more) of angst exams, early mornings, and late nights? The day after the last day for many is something of an anti-climax, and like school, post Comrades means there are many gloomy soles trudging through the weeks that have past.

What to do on the weekends when you wake up and stare at the ceiling and realise that you don't have to force yourself to get up for a run. The washing machine is eerliy devoid of sweaty clothes and the jelly bean jar is empty. In a lonely corner my Comrades goodie bag sits and waits to be unpacked. I pretend it's not there, because if I look at it, it might become real. The feeling that it's all over- for this year. My dog somehow managed to unzip another running bag and helped me unpack by eating all the unused jelly beans and even the Super C's. I swear she looked a low shade of green when I realised what she had done. Even she 'bailed' to the couch!

The running shoes are calling me in the quiet of the night and I am dreaming again of running friends and races. I haven't looked at my races for the rest of the year ahead, in fact my calendar looks empty. I realised that I was suffering from a Comrades hangover, so I went searching for inspiration.

Firstly I watched a sped up version of the TV coverage, and tried to spot all our club members and people I know. That made me a bit excited, and I felt a gentle rush of Comrades feeling when I saw the smiles and flags and faces of the finishers. Then I looked at some random strangers photographs of the race on the website. The best thing to get over the running blues however, was finding the book 'Born to run' by Christpher Mcdougall. I had heard people rave about it, but I think the title put me off a little because I thought I certainly wasn't born to run.

It is about a long lost tribe in Mexico who run like the wind, but the author writes very well and it is so easy to read, so now I will have some Mexican tricks to get me through next year's race! It really has reminded me of how much fun it can be and how people run for very different reasons, so that is really helping.

Otherwise, it is good to see that Comrades organisers have decided to keep the date of the race in May, which suits us icy Highvelders just fine. Keeps us snug in our warm winter beds, and that is exactly where I am headed to right now, with my book of course!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

On Sunday I became another Comrades statistic, that of 'bailer'. This means to my non-running friends, that I chose to get into a courtesy bus and surrendered my race and get driven to the Finish stadium in Durban instead of running the whole way. So now I have 3 Comrades varieties to my experience -'Too slow for the time, medalist and bailer.'

Let me rewind a little. The weekend was a strange one. Chaos and calm, one minute and sheer silence and terrible noise the next minute.

We landed at the new Durban International Airport which is nice, but has become just like all the other international airports, and has lost that small town, sea-smell, holiday feel. Now it's slick, and shiny, with Football details and pretty girls everywhere. I hear the men ask, 'what is wrong with that?' I could go on and on, but that is for a different ramble, this one is about Comrades.

After a long time spent travelling to the crazy Expo centre we finally make our way out of the 'shark' infested parking into the Conference Centre. 20 000 entrants and their families all squeezed into a small space meant long queues and lots of grimaces. However, we still managed to get through and receive our 'goodie bag' fairly painlessly after the long winded queue moved quickly.

Bellies fed, we made our way down to settle in our b&b's. Moments of silence weren't broken by the sound of waves this year, instead we had big winds pick up, and it turned rather cold for the usually tropical city. Feet up, we listened and hoped that the wind would not affect our running on Sunday.

Finally after a long night of staring at the tv decoder clock, and trying to figure out what the time was, it was finally 'now'. Comrades 2010 had arrived. Dressed and ready, we left the heartbreak hotel for the start and followed the even longer than usual line of red carlights weaving their way to Pietermaritsburg. Stepping out of the car, the cold slapped us, and we all shivered for our photographs. We had luckily parked next to a very nice security guy, who let us into his company to use the toilets, and we stood in the heat of the empty office and contemplated our long day ahead.

We all moved quickly into our seeding areas. which is like a speed ranking, of course letting the fast guys go first. This meant that we had the furthest to walk as I was in the very last group. The speakers were blasting and commentators were getting the spirits up, as we all huddled together trying to block out the icy chill. Time seemed to speed up, because before I knew it, they were playing all the usual songs which meant that 'Chariots of Fire' was getting closer on the playlist. The anthem sung, the first few bars of Vangelis, strikes a chord in everyone's hearts. It is an awesome feeling to stand there and know that this is meant for me! The gun gets shot and the clock starts. For us at the back it starts rather slowly and it take us over 8 minutes to get to the start line. I silently think that the front guys are already 2 kms away by this time.

We set off, and the cold makes us keep our top layers of clothes on for longer, as we shuffle through the dark city. Such a large field of runners means that the crowding is tight, and I find myself really concentrating on people in front of me's -feet, as well as try to dodge the people behind kick my feet. This concentrating means that the time seems to go quicker and before we know it, the sunrise cracks the sky.

I quietly run listening to the footsteps all around, as there seems to be little chit chat so early in the race. My friend Marlene, runs comfortably and we get into our rythym fairly easily. I feel surprisingly quiet inside, but put it down to the lack of sleep and it will get better later. I try to look for diversions, but I end up returning my focus to the many people still bunched about and the road loses it's appeal after a few kays. I think about the novices setting out on their first journey, and try to chat to some other people round about me. Nope, still not much soul in it, so I decide to just stay quiet.

We carry on snaking our way out towards the outskirts of the city, and the crowd support disappears. After around 2 hours of running, I feel a pain in my hip. I am suprised by this, as I have run a lot without any hip niggles, so I decide to put on my Chinese sticker on it, hoping that that will do the trick. I also take some other meds, and do my tricks. I think about the last time I had hip pain. All I can remember is last year's Comrades. So I play with that in my head for a while and then my friend gives me some Chinese pain spray. That quietens it for a while and I wonder if I can spray the stuff into my head?

We were running well and had good times over the first half of the race, but I wasn't enjoying it much. This perturbed me, as I know that the second half gets worse, because of the distance, however we keep moving and celebrate the fact that we reached halfway 10 minutes faster than last year's race. I can't remember this kind of detail, but Marlene is glowing, she is so in the 'zone'. I want to growl at her, but she is too nice, so I tell her that I have been in a bad space for some time.She chastises me, telling me to get positive, and Lord knows I tried, but eventually after the fog not lifting, and my pains worsening, I firmly tell her, that I will not ruin her chances at another medal again, so when I say 'go' she must GO!

Bless her, she tried to do and say everything to get me positive, but I was 'stuck'. Eventually I tell her to go ahead, and she listened without argument, she must have seen my look in my eyes!

I follow on behind her for some time, watching as she carefully looks over her shoulder to catch a glimpse of me, but I lost sight of her after one water point. This point, I tried some Cream Soda for a change of taste, hoping that it could have magic powers , but the only feeling I got was a swelling in the roof of my mouth. Now I knew my head was hunting for things to make me stop! My hip was achingly sore, and now had shifted down to my knee and was showing up in my shin. This meant that walking was painful and I was compensating with my other leg which didn't like this extra work one bit!

I realised that I was having one of 'those' days that people have talked about and I felt powerless to do anything. I almost ignored the outreached hands from smiling kids, and even the cheers didn't penetrate my armour. This is what I was running for, yet I was even 'turning' on that. Cute dogs, schoolboys cheering, none of it made any difference, and I thought long and hard about the consequences of what I was contemplating. I was still way ahead of Vlam's 12 hour bus, who taxi-ed us to the finish line last year, and there are plenty of angels along the way all trying to lift my spirit. I walked the whole way down past Hillcrest (I think) toying with the 'should I or shouldn't I'. After all, I have you to answer to!

Eventually my body said, 'girl, this is enough', so at around 27km's to go, I sat down on the back of a marshall's bakkie with a fellow traveller and waited for a bailer bus. Stories flooded my head, and all sorts of math sums popped up, and many people said 'you can still make it', but I realised later (well a whole day later) that I chase joy, not medals, and in this race which I absolutely love, I was feeling NO joy. I did not want to turn this into a race I hate, and get really injured chasing time with my slow pained walk. I am old enough to realise the medal doesn't mean as much to me as my happiness, but I had to be sure I would have no regrets.

After a tortured half hour of chilly waiting, an empty bus came along to escort me to comfort and a DNF(Did Not Finish) By this time, a couple more runners had joined me, and in my own need to search for justification, I asked them why they were bailing. The one guy was running his 10th race, and going for his green number but he seemed quite secure with his his decision to quit.

Back in the sunny stadium, I wait for my sister who I had spotted on the road from the bus, and was pleased to see that she was running so well. I walked about and as typical of Murphy's Law, the hip pain remarkably improved. In fact today, apart from the getting in and out of chairs, the worst pain I have is a sore tongue! Yes, it did feel like I had spent the day dragging my tongue along the tar, so that is a strange side effect!

Marlene did fabulously well and finished so well on her own, her confidence in her own running back in tact, and I am pleased to say that everyone else who had stuck it out made it in on time! So now for me, it's back to the drawing board, I realised that me 'easy laid back' style of running, didn't help, so I am going to regroup, and get myself ready for 2011. Hopefully the crowd will be less, I will be better prepared, and that this year is my only 'one of those days'!

Congrats to all the finishers, and to all the non-finishers, I hope you have no regrets and know that you made the best decison that you could at the time! I have none, in fact I feel fabulous!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A few days away from the start of my third Comrades Marathon. Hopefully I bring back my second medal! I am at times so excited, then others puzzled. Is this really me? On one hand it seems like just another race, yet on the other hand it feels monumentous. Especially when people say they admire me, or they are in awe of me. It feels so natural in many ways to be doing this and then so unbelievably unlike me on the other. I still like to park close to shops, so I don't have to walk far. The thought of climbing stairs brings back the 'old me'. Running for a ringing telephone tires me out, yet I am fitter than I ever was in my twenties and thirties.
So it does feels unbelievable, yet if I have gotten to this point, anyone can!
I am not one of those driven, dedicated types, 'laissez faire' would be a more accurate style of person, hubby would disagree and say 'lazy fair' (which is probably truer!). I dislike routine, and I am certainly not competitive. If it rains, I stay at home and forgo the run. But the difference is, not running one day, doesn't put me off forever, like it used to.
The physical act of running isn't even the attraction. I don't go all mathematical and work out my running speed, and the last km's timing, because that bores me. I have an idea now of what I am capable of, and I do look at the end of say 10kms, and then do any maths, if need be. I don't know how I should be running with proper gait, and heel strike, all I know about is that I seem to plod, or shuffle, and that works for me.
I am boring in the way that I can now talk running for hours with fellow runners, but usually about other runners and not the technicalities of anything. I want to know how other people feel, and what they do, and that is what interests me. People have stories, and my running friends have years and years of different races, in different towns, and that fascinates me.
I don't eat the correct things and work out the intake or output, I just go with what I now know, and what I like. There is probably many things that could be corrected, but the 'effort' puts me off- see, I told you 'lazy'!
I enjoy being out on the road, surrounded by people and this awesome country and I feel totally safe on the road, apart from woman drivers who seem to drive far too close to me, but that only happens when I'm running alone!
I enjoy reading about running, but again it's the stories I'm after, the different type of shoe doesn't keep my interest for very long, unless it's those weblike shoe gloves, that look like barefeet, those still intrigue me!

So now my bags are packed, got my Durban warm clothes, where it will be warmer than Jozi, and am almost ready to board that plane. Roughly 10 hours are in the way between me and the start of my weekend away. The excitement has my head playing mini-samples of music all day, and I sing them so hubby can be a doll and pretend he recognises them. I can't seem to sit still for very long, and there is nothing on tv! Even my internet game isn't keeping my interest. The bubble of excitement is twitching in my limbs, and I will have to take a bath, and read something really boring later to slow my body down.

I am looking forward to meeting my fellow 'comrades' some known, and others to be known. I can't wait to hear new stories, and am so looking forward to receiveing the love from the spectators that festively line the roads of Natal, cheering us on. I am excited at the prospect of doing a better time, and feeling clear-headed, and that feeling when we near the stadium, and I hear the PA guy trying his best to sound excited after 7 hours of duty. I want to shout at the cameramen who are usually sitting behind their cameras, not filming us, because we are too slow for the TV interest, but not slow enough for the heart-wrenching tears at the final 12 hour gun. I want to smile and 'whoop' as we enter the stadium, and hear the people applaud us even if they are still anxious as they wait for their own loved ones to enter the stadium.
Why would anyone not want to run this race? It is an experience that lives on forever, and no matter how long I rant, it is still undescribable.
Bring it on!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Now we move closer and closer to single figures, nearing the Comrades. That means that mileage is shorter, and the waiting feels longer. Last night we set off to do a shortish run so sister could try out her new shoes. On the way we met up with a fellow club runner and physio, and it was nice running with her. Although I felt very old, compared to the two of them, as they lightly skipped up the steep hills! They were very kind and allowed me to walk, when I got to a specific marker, but I was still huffing and puffing! It also got very dark, and the roads were still busy with cars making their way home. So we spent quite a bit of the last part on the pavements and I am still very cautious about running on pavements, so I slowed right down.
Every morning, us runners do a full body mental scan, checking for any new pains, or aches before we get up and face our day. At this stage no-one wants to get sick, so a lot of people become paranoid about it. In fact I am sure I can feel an ache in my throat right now.....

Monday, May 17, 2010

Having been through this stage of 'waiting for Comrades' before, I now know that when I feel out of breath going up stairs is no indicator of my running fitness. Feeling like I am going to pass out after 2 km's is also just a way my body is trying to mess with my head about running a lot more than that! So I keep my chin up, and eyes straight to remind me that there is indeed a world out there waiting to be seen, by me, on foot!!!

I met up with some of my running friends on Saturday which was nice, as I hadn't seen them for a while, and it made for a nice catch-up while out dodging traffic. The wind was blustering at first, and for a moment we thought winter had arrived, but it was just a short trailer of what May come (groan!) The later start means our suburb is rather busy with the hustle and bustle of cars. I am very happy to see that some of our potholes have been repaired. However the sad consequences of that is that I realised that people dodge more for potholes than for runners! Once again, ladies, you have let me down. Perhaps I could put it down to the judging of distance, however it may well be the cellphone you are trying to send messages on, that is clouding your vision! Many a time I tested my hopping reflex, as I realised that the car is not going to budge, so it's best that I clear the way! That was even in broad daylight, can't even blame the dark! Sigh!

So less than 2 weeks to go, and I find myself looking over last years photo's and feeling chuffed that I am healthy and able to do this all again. One of the comments seen on Facebook to a friend was 'You thank yourself for not putting your body through that torture....have you ever seen a healthy looking long distance runner? you made the right choice...' To which of course, I HAD to reply, that I am a long distance runner, and I am healthy looking!

It is strange that I am this side of that argument though, because at my sister's first Comrades six years ago, I was thinking along those lines of torture, craziness, and never-ending pain too.

What I had never experienced that side of the argument was the camaraderie, the spirit, the joy, the humour, the support, the views, the love from strangers, the pride in strangers eyes, the hope, the fears, the sharing, the conversations, the constant motion, the pleasure, the ubuntu, the surprise, the ecstasy when you see Pinetown, the glee when you realise Durban is just ahead, the smells, the families sitting on couches by the roadside cheering, the moments when you catch a cheering stranger's eyes, and words can't express what the connections mean, and of course that heartbusting feeling when you enter that stadium. This side of the argument feels so much better, and I am so glad that I am facing this 'ultimate human' test again!

Roll on the 30th!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

It is almost 2 weeks till Comrades. That means 14 days till I run 89. something kms. So today I went out with my friends from my club for a 10km run. The first thing that surprised was the overnight drop in temperature. It has been a while that it has been 'dry' cold, we have had lots of mist, and rain, uncharacteristic for this time of year, usually we just have sun and frost. So we stood clustered together waiting for the 7am start, and dressed warmly.
Out on the street, the wind dropped, and I was instantly hot. This could have been because I haven't been running much, so it may have been my body shock,  but then  I saw someone else take off the outer layer of clothes. Good, so it's not just me!
We had a different 10km route, and the one hour later start in winter means that the roads are already busy, so we have to keep our wits about. On the main road a truck went past and actually blew my hat off. This has never happened to me, I used to think it was because I had an odd shaped head, so hats would stay on, but this one didn't. Maybe all this running is making me lose weight.... on my skull!
We chatted about this and that, and the fact that the Comrades countdown as well as the countdown for the World Cup football is all a day early. The FIFA site has it right, but all other websites and media are a day ahead. Then we heard about mist playing havoc with airporsts and flights, and talked once again about training, and recent races. This all happens while running. I never thought I would get to the stage where I could hold and maintain a conversation while running. My first year of running consisted of head nods, and grimaces while I listened to the chatter and banter of the fit ones, and had all the fantastic retorts, but no energy to say them! Now I have the energy, but the conversations have changed!
Who would've thought that I could own that quality? Not the lack of retorts, but the fit one. I am pleased with myself for not giving up when I didnt get my first Comrades medal, because I was too slow, and I am pleased that I went back again last year and did it! I am pleased that I stuck to our training plan (even loosely!) and I am about to go down again. It is a real blessing that I have the health, the ability, and the excitement to go an experience the 'ultimate human race'.
I am great-full!