Monday, October 17, 2011

I have been so scarce with both running and my writing, that the perceived effort of both seemed to keep me hiding in Winter. But seeing that the earth is tilting in our (Southern hemisphere's) favour, I have broken through my invisible barriers. It is strange running at this time of the year, because Comrades is over 200 days away, so the goals feel so 'loose'. Running friends have been training for off-road runs, or they are injured, wounded, or somewhere else, so having no goals has left me a bit aimless.

With thoughts of possibly doing the Two Oceans next year, I have had to look at my plan. The plan needs to be readjusted, because in order to run the Oceans Ultra, we have to qualify in a standard marathon in under 5 hours. So this made me start contemplating my next move. There are a couple of marathons coming up in the next few weeks, and I have been toying with the idea of doing one of them. But my twice a week running hasn't felt sufficient enough to really enter any marathon.

I had a mid-week run at our club, and some of the runners were talking about how nice the upcoming Saturday's 32km in the Vaal is. This was one of the races I had been toying with, because I would use it as a test. By my 7 km mark on the clubrun, my mind was made up- almost! Then I heard that my running buddies were definitely doing it, so I got hold of them on the Friday and made arrangements.

Getting up at 3am was unusual, because when my alarm went off, there was one solitary bird chirping, and for a split second I thought I had overslept. But Springtime seems to chase some birds out of bed, so I carried on readying myself for run. At the shopping centre which was also the start, there was only a few cars, and this alarmed us, as we didn't want to come stone last in the race. Plus the runners that were already there, looked all lean, and springy! By the 6am start, the sun was already on it's sudden climb, and the people had filled up the road. This route was an out and back, which meant that the 5, 10, and 21km people all started together, and would turn at their points along the route. I like this kind of route, as it gives me a chance to see the front runners moving past, instead of only seeing them standing waiting for the prizegiving when I come limping in. After the 21km turn around point, I was surprised to still see many runners on the route, which meant it wouldn't be too lonely. There was some zigzagging of roads, and at one stage my sense of direction got very confused, but the route was very well organised.

I was feeling remarkably good, and it was great to catch up with my friends and have a good chat. A fellow runner said to us ' you are looking good, and you keep chatting, that is great'. I laughed at this, because when I first started running, that was my goal, to  be able to chat and run at the same time, like my sister and her friends who always laughed and chatted way ahead of me. So it was nice to know that I'm still fit enough to be able to do this! The route took us past small holdings, and lovely gardens. Dogs barked a friendly hello, and there was the cutest lamb jumping over the grass to 'meeah' at his mum. The trees were lovely and full of green leaves providing much welcome shade, while the cool breeze from the north (or was it south?) kept us comfortable. I was surprised to see so much development in this area, because years ago, when I lived in the Vaal, this area was pure countryside.

At around 27kms, my body started to complain, and the lampost option of 3 to 1 was becoming difficult. My friend said she was on her way to a best time for a 32, so I urged her to carry on, as she was looking very strong, but she wasn't leaving me. I kept trundling onwards, and trying to distract myself, but I noticed that the chatting had also slowed right down too. We crossed over the motorway and I knew that the finish was nearby. The marshalls were now seated in camping chairs, as their morning had been equally long waiting for us, but they were still very supportive and enthusiastic with us plodders.

We ran in the back entrance to the mall and dodged the now busy carpark, and crossed the finish line in a respectable 3 hours and 45 minutes. We were given a very nice goodie bag and a medal, and we sought out some shade to rest before the road home. All in all it was a lovely morning, and I am surprised at how good I felt considering my lack of training. My recovery was also quick, and I had just a teeny bit of stiffness the next day while trying to get out of my chair! As for the marathon? Well, that's still under debate!

Monday, June 06, 2011

Facing the rest of the year without the goal of Comrades leaves a big empty space. It can lead to a case of 'post-comrades-blues'. Logbooks linger vaguely around, teasing me with the realisation that it doesn't matter anymore. Now I know that I should be upbeat and full of post-medal glory, and don't get me wrong, I am feeling positive, it's just such a strange feeling knowing that for now, it's all done, finito, klaar!

The further away I go from my 11 and half hours on the road, the nicer it begins to feel in my memory. The pain is lessening and the dark thoughts of 'giving it a miss' are all forgotten. Talking to non-running friends, my story is sounding more like, 'wow, it was easy' and that is how the race tricks us into coming back time and time again.

Watching the recorded race on TV, there was an interview with Comrades King Bruce Fordyce and he missed his silver medal by 20 seconds. He said that his friends are more disappointed than he is, he is glad to have medal number 29 in the bag. He said that Comrades never gives you everything on the day, 'she' always leaves something for you to come back to, and that is so true. Although, I somehow doubt that I will be repeating myself 29 times just to see what 'she' can give me! Yet such a legendary runner understands the mystery and goes back year after year and I find myself thinking about all the mysteries both covered and uncovered about this race.

Why do people do it, is the first mystery to (usually) non-runners?

Well I had no 'grown-up' intentions of ever being able to do it after my aged 30 year old goal slipped quickly by, I thought that dream was over. So to that I must say as in Justin Bieber 'never say never'! But my reasons for doing it, are varied.
Because I can. (This still sometimes surprises me!)
It gives my running a focus.
Running in SA without it as a goal, seems rather empty.
Nothing else matches the feeling of being there.
It is tough, but it makes us runners 'softer' - crying like babies at 'Chariots of Fire', willing everyone over that finish line before the gun, crying with those that can't and knowing that there are still folk outside on the road heading towards the line, makes my heart all mushy. I know- I was one of them not that long ago.

So why go back year after year?

A married couple of running friends have 36 Comrades between them and they are heading for 40, another couple 25 between them. Bruce has 29 on his own. Never mind the medals, this means that for all these years, these people have been fit enough, healthy enough, positive enough, and determined to be there and finish it. That shows me that it is more than a sport, it is a lifestyle. When life gets tough professionally, emotionally or even spiritually, we know that around 15 000 people come together with their stories to stand in front of a City Hall and make personal history, and somehow the problems of life disappear for a day. All the days before hand, when the training happens, people have clustered together and made there health better, and cleared their heads. Although sometimes the fog of hitting the wall does momentarily dim the light!

Will you ever win it?

This question was asked half jokingly by my ex boxer Dad, as in boxing there has to be a winner. In this sport of mine, there are winners, yes, the ones at the front as well as the ones at the back. All are equally celebrated and that makes us unique. Our national cricket team gets scorned because they haven't yet won a world cup. Yet me, with my slow time almost 6 hours behind the first guy home, gets applauded on air planes, at shops and in hotels. It does seem bizarre that middle aged people can do so well when most professional sports people are going into retirement, and by middle aged, I mean the others - of course! The winning mentality of a runner should be in every run and every race, our goal is to get to the finish. We do joke about giving the Russians some competition, but I feel sorry for them they are so small, and the travel so far, so I think I will let them keep winning!

There is more to life than Comrades.

Well, no, not really!
The planning, the preparation, the support, the toughness all makes it so unique and the fact that so many of us ordinary athletes are able to participate is so extraordinary, that there can't ever be anything that matches it.

The people of KZN are fabulous in their support of us. Couches, camping chairs, picnic blankets, gazebo's, braai's, patient dogs, music, tables with salty snacks, beers, and soft drinks, banners, applause, smiles, words of encouragement, camera's, vuvuzelas, wigs, sunglasses, blankets, jackets, woolly hats and gloves, tiny skirts and skimpy tops, kids, adults, reluctant teens, villagers, tribal dancers, musicians, and so much more, all on the pavements to celebrate ME, how can there be anything else in life?

So now that this is finished, I 'come back' into my study watching my hubby as he asks me excitedly once again, 'are we running in the morning?' I have to answer 'no'!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Comrades Running!
I did it, I got my revenge on the 'Up' run!

In 2008 I started my novice Comrades in Durban. I ended up being too slow on that day, even though I made the last cut-off on the dreaded Polly Shorts 8 km's away from the finish. This year however, I made it with lots of time to spare!

But back to the 'recent' beginning. As the clock slowed down in the last week before the race, everyone's heartbeats sped up aa nervously wished for the time to come. I started getting the dreaded phantom Comrades pains and a 'spaced out' ear made me try see my doctor on Wednesday. He was not in that day, so I took that as a sign that was just in my imagination.

The early morning flight finally arrived, after a quick catch up with hubby who returned from a long overseas business trip. I was tired but ready to get on that plane to King Shaka International airport.

On the descent into the seaside city, my ear gave me a taste of what sinus sufferers go through, so I forced yawns all the way into the terminal building which gave me some relief. A group of us travelled together so we breakfasted while waiting for our hired car to be ready. The expo saw us greet fellow runners and long queues and we pondered over the best lunch options. Much later we settled down to a pasta dinner and had a good sleep, drawing the big day nearer.

A day later, the alarm clock woke us at 2:45am for the day to begin. Dressed fed and watered we made our way to a cool Durban to stand in the shadows of the TV lights. A chaotic crush in the toilet queue, left us a bit rattled as we made our way to the very last seeding pen for the slowest runners, the 'H' group, the 'happy hopefuls' I nicknamed us. Time seemed to speed up and the first surge forward let us walk closer to the start as the PA roused up the rather anxious 13 000- strong crowd. A sped up 'Shosaloza' and a heartfelt National anthem led us into the goosebumpy 'Chariots of fire'. At last. It is time!

The gun went off, everyone cheered and we stood patiently at the back waiting to move. The minutes passed by and we finally crossed the time-chip-squealing starting mats. Crowds waved and cheered as our feet shuffled carefully over discarded outer garments and bags . The 86th Comrades had begun. We turned into a very dark section of the road and all movement came to a halt. Road narrowing and the lack of light kept us all very patient as we had been warned not to try rush anything on this long day ahead. One of my running partners was doing her first race, and she was looking good.

We watched as the runners in the distance snaked ahead and we knew that by now the first runners would be some distance into the race. The early morning chill made me keep on my top layer for longer than I expected to and I was thankful that I remembered my gloves for the cold water sachets that were thrust into my hand at the water points. The sun climbed the sky and I was grateful for it's warmth on my chilly back, and wondered if it would turn up it's heat volume later in the day. Crowds lined the streets and continued to wish us well on our way, this support is so welcomed and I don't think the people can ever really know how just how much it helps.

I was feeling far better than last year and the crowd thinned out to give me comfortable space between my feet and fellow runner's so I could look about me and appreciate the views without fearing tripping. My first run saw me kiss the road when a catseye got in my way, so I avoided running along the white lines and tried to stay in the middle of the lanes!

At around 20km's done my 'comrades' hip started to say 'hello' much like the popular song of the day, because it was played at least eight different places. Luckily I had a whole lot of tricks in my pouch this year, so I managed to keep the hip a lot quieter than the song! We climbed and climbed up the hills and mountains at a steady calm pace and reached the first cut off point way before the scheduled time. Smiling, we continued on the road, weaving through to Pietermaritzburg. The mountain roads meant spectacular views and this year I could appreciate it all even though I was still not quite as comfortable as I would have liked. Five hours on the road we neared the halfway point and we were ahead of a very quick '12 hour bus'. The usual 'bus driver' or pace setter was absent because of injury, but he was along the roadside giving encouragement to us runners and it was great to see Vlam. But the general feeling in this year's bus seemed to be slightly panicky so we made our way in front, within and behind the group as we decided what was the best option for us.

Our own timing schedule was perfect as we crossed the halfway point long before the official cut-off and this boosted our confidence. By this time we started seeing of the faster runners walking and looking rather forlorn as they realised their plan had gone awry. We continued plodding up the nasty hills that seemed endless on this tough uprun. Our spirits were lifted by see the novice Cerlest's family and smiling faces along the way and the pace quickened slightly. The three of us started finding our own separate pace and we would meet up for a moment then would continue on our own. I chatted with some fellow runners and enjoyed the many dog distractions and I noticed that they seem to sit with their backs towards us runners as if they are bored, or perhaps the sight and smells of thousands of moving legs are just too much for their canine senses.

The road began to level out and the incline seemed to be kinder and my pace quickened which is rather unusual for me. I knew that Polly Shorts lay ahead but didn't want to worry myself. On the one downhill Cerlest caught up with me, which was a surprise as I thought she was far ahead. We decided to go through the Pollys together and expected our friend, Marlene, to come charging up from behind as she is known. I stopped to remove a stone from my shoe and when I saw the blood on my sock I realised that it was not a stone at all, but a blister that had burst. Ouch, so shoe back on, a moment or two of pain, then I managed to ignore it!

Looking at the incline of Little Polly's I said to Cerlest that we are going to take it easy, as she is very strong on the hills. We needed our energy for the last incline which we greeted a lot faster than I expected. I looked at Cerlest and told her in a surprisingly firm voice 'don't expect to run on this, Polly Shorts, we need to recover' and I pointed out that nobody was running these famous shorts! We walked fairly briskly up the never ending slope to the top where there was far more activity than my first time, when I think everyone had already gone home! This, plus the pleasant looking downhill, lifted our spirits and we set off towards the city. With lots of time in the bank I felt delighted that this year I would be able to finally get my odds up to 2 medals out of 4 starts! The cheering continued but now our tired bodies could celebrate with the people as we were nearly home. I remembered being told about the Toyota mile and I know that a mile is longer than a km, so I still slowed us down from galloping off too excitedly. I missed the 3km sign board which meant that the last four dragging km's sped up a little when I saw '2km to go'! Turning into the mile, the smiles widened and we grabbed each other's hand. We made it! Crowds celebrated with us as we turned into the noisy cheering stadium and I hardly even noticed the grass under foot. Waving like royalty we weaved our way to the finish line where those words are forever burned into my brain, 'FINISH'. At last, this tough day is over! We posed for the photographers, having a short paparazzi moment before we bent our heads for that hard earned medal to be planted on our necks.

Marlene scooted in two minutes behind us, just before the 11 and half hour mark looking as fresh as anything, and we were thankful that this time had finally come. Months of training and worry over. We made it! Hobbling over to our tent was tricky as blisters and reluctant muscles told us to stay where we are, but somehow we pulled ourselves up the scaffolding stairs and eventually back to our vehicle.

Sleep escaped us that evening too, as every muscle screamed its displeasure at having run the 86.9km. I heard my flatmates chatting, so at 4 am we sat and ate chocolates and I washed them down with fizzy drinks as we discussed the extra long day behind us.
We wore our t-shirts with pride and lapped up the applause of fellow passengers on the return plane journey and I hobbled my way to my bed, a very happy customer!

Viva us, viva

Monday, May 23, 2011

The time has come.

Mid year is an appropriate place to have the biggest running event of the year. It means that we reflect on the past 5 months in terms of kilometers, races and goals reached. This reflection can result in niggles, fears and downright sleeplessness. Reflecting can be traumatic, but for me this past 5 months has been very very positive. (Apart from the recent short 4km's around my house!)

Very few runners ever feel totally prepared for the 86,9km, and that is the good thing. We go into this race with a reverence for the distance, the journey, our bodies. Yet, we still go out there before the first cock crow and stand in a very long line in front of Durban City Hall and wait for the challenge to begin.

The last week drags slowly into hours and minutes and seconds like a cruel rehearsal for our clock watching on race day. There is almost a hasty urge to speed up the week and get the race started. Yet father time doesn't alter for anybody or anything. The last few runs make us feel like we are nowhere near fit enough as the 'phantom' pains wreak havoc with the imagination. Anti-social behaviour of instinctive ducking past a passing coughing stranger takes over. I even chatted to my neighbour from the safety of my car to enquire about the recovery of my dear sick neighbour, who I was too cowardly to visit. But as the time gets closer, my excitement is rising as to what this day means to us.

Everyone has a different story, a different reason for being one of the 15 000. The stories are fascinating and diverse and would make for fascinating TV. Instead, I listen and chat and pry to get samples of fellow Comrades. On early morning runs, when spotting fellow runners, greetings are friendlier, and the unspoken camaraderie is written all over our faces. We all share a common goal and that is to set out on the morning and do our best.

My reflections show a rather small log book, but thinking about my past races, I feel comfortable, because I have enjoyed every one of them. Perhaps it was the cooler weather, but I have a feeling it is an attitude shift. I realised that I don't need a 'plan' for a half marathon, but I now acknowledge that such a big undertaking of the Comrades, needs a plan. I looked in different places, yet felt intimidated with nutrition tips and 'rules', with training plans and expected goals, but all they did was confuse me. My goal came from my usual circle. My positive running friends and sister. Go slow in the first half, and make it to halfway, regroup and focus on the finish line. My goal this year to get my first Pietermaritzburg medal. It will taste sweet, as I have waited 3 years since my novice 'did not finish' in 2008. I know that my focus is clearer this year and next week I will be writing about my victory.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Well it's more like raining than running, which means that at this 'peak time' of high mileage, I am only 'peaking' out the windows at 5am to see if it's raining or not! This meant, that I spent far more time in blanket bay than usual and my new running shoes kept their shiny look for one more day!

Sunday morning was dull but not wet, but I stayed cemented to the mattress until I was guilted into getting up by the dogs scratching at the door. Once they realised that they had the warmest room in the house due to our under tile heating, they wagged their way back to the kitchen to get comfy on the floor. So now I was up and pondering. Hubby isn't here to sway any decisions either way, so I put off making any and hoped that the sun would come out 'later'. True to form it did, so just when everyone was sitting down to their warm Sunday lunch, I donned my running gear and hed for the horizon. I wanted to run for about 2 hours, so I went out on a different way trying to explore the suburb I have lived in for over 20 years. The one road I had decided on, was very busy with traffic, so I turned back and went in the opposite direction. I was trying to stay as far away from my house as possible to reduce the temptation of turning in early, but close enough to dash home if it began to pour with rain!

The sun obliged me and many other folk suffering from cabin fever, and at one place in the road there were 5 runners and 2 walkers all chasing away the cobwebs! Speaking of cobwebs, after running under a large tree I found myself entangled with a web and must have looked rather funny doing breakdance movements to rid the imaginary string on my face and head, to the passersby in the car!

I trundled past garages, witnessed old lady road rage, and my ears curled at the profanities flung at each other, and smiled at dogs stretching out their rain held stances, and enjoyed the sun that was thawing through my rusty joints. My long sleeved top was a bit of an overkill, but at least I would have some covering should spikes change it's mind and go away and shine elsewhere, like the Cape or somewhere! It stayed with me though as I weaved in and out of streets previously never discovered and greeted all the passersby with a 'warm' hello'.

As I passed the one steakhouse I realised I was hungry and my lunch was somehow forgotten, so I decided to head home and find something to eat, other than jelly beans. A quick pit stop at my sister where it was so so tempting to sit down for a cup of tea, and possibly a lift home, but I decided to keep moving and took the short route home.

Not quite 2 hours, but only ten minutes short, the guilt subsided, much like the early calf pain that had been hovering in the early km's.

This weekend is full of holidays and chocolate and hopefully sunshine and kays on the legs!
Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bad weather in and out of doors meant that I only ran twice last week. One of those runs happened to be 45km so I'm not feeling too guilty in the most intense period for Comrades training. At least that's what I keep telling myself!

This year so far, has been an unusual one for my running. I have been to different provinces as well as return to Pretoria for their insane races. A couple of years back I vowed to stay away from the purple flowered city with the 'must run up the ridge' mentality. However I did go back to the 'Monster' 32km which is notorious for the hills and I enjoyed it and on Sunday I returned to the city for a 60km training run. Yes, it does seem bizarre that 60km would be considered training, but in this wonderful country it is fairly common. I also knew that part of the route would overlap the famous Monster route. Yet I believed the write-ups when they said 'flat and shady route' so I was keen.

With no Oceans or Loskop plans this year, which are lovely Ultra marathons, I decided to stay closer to home and do some things I haven't done before. The training run consisted of 4 laps of 15km's, which would prove testing as running the same route over and over again could mess with the head. But the houses in the area are magnificent and interesting, so I ended up finding different things every time. Admittedly we were too slow for the fourth lap start cut-off, so we only went past three times, but it was still interesting.

I was surprised by how cold it was went we fell out of our cosy car half an hour before the start and my first lap felt incredibly long and cold. I never realised how cold my hands were until I tried to open my Citro Soda, with non conforming fingers, luckily my teeth don't get cold! The second lap I was feeling comfortable, and was looking forward to pounding the roads. My three fellow runners were begining to glare at me when I tried to point out different things, it was just the beginning of a glare, not a full on 'stop it look', so I continued to to look about me and spot different things.

The water points were very well equipped, and I felt like I was at a kiddie party and not sure what food to choose. I contemplated a party pack to take home and eat it all when my non-bouncing belly would let me.

We were down to three of our original running group for the third lap, and we started to be lapped by the fast front guys finishing their last lap. We had hoped to have good time on the legs as a practice for Comrades but when we realised that we would not make the 5 hour 45 minute cut off, we decided to stretch it out and relax. I stood at the one water point for about 10 minutes, drinking and eating biltong sprinkled bread bites. We debated about going back on the route anyway to extend the distance but eventually there were too many aches and pains, plus we didn't want to worry our partner waiting for us to pass through the clubhouse so we toddled back to the clubhouse just as the sun was really beginning to belt out it's Pretoria superpower.

It was a nice run for me, and I kept a clear head, and had very few niggles, so I was pleased with our performance. Stiffness only lasted a couple of hours afterwards, and was only really obvious getting out of the car, or off my comfy couch. So I kept the reasons to get up to a minimum and drank some more Citro Soda for the stiffness.

All in all, I am still enjoying my running!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Autumn is creeping into our early mornings which is nice for running but not so nice for sitting around after a run! Sunday I went south for the first time ever and ran the Jackie Gibson half marathon. This race sees us weave over the south ridge of the Witswatersrand, and with the word 'ridge' in any sentence means hills. The first 10km's felt like it was uphill all the way. They weren't even the steep hills that carry no shame when walked, but they were those sneaky deceiving ones, that make us lean forward and breathe heavier!

The race had a huge field of runners, which meant a 20 minute drive up the last km towards the parking, luckily our race started half an hour after the marathoners, so we weren't as rushed as some. The nice thing at the stadium grounds was the lack of queues at the downstairs toilets which most runners didn't realise were there. There was a queue for the gents however, which is really unusual so we sailed past the wide eyed men into the Ladies, and the front chap was screaming at us to stand in the queue. 'Ha, sorry, I don't think so!'

The misty weather threatened rain, as we stood under the very loud speakers at the start. Luckily the clouds held back any urge to soak thousands of runners and we had great cool weather all the way. We ran around some lovely unspoilt ground which is part of the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve which is still looking lush and green due to all this late season rain. When the road flattened out near the end, I trotted a little quicker than usual wrapped up in my stories in my head. I think some runners may call it 'entering the zone' as I didn't notice much around me, which is unusual. My zone was crashed when I noticed heavy breathing and that it wasn't coming from me. A heavy set runner came up from behind and groaned, and this made me realise that in the absence of hills, or the early part of any run, I am actually a silent breather. This is strange as my 'old thinking' idea of runners used to be that they would be panting all the way, but it's the panters who seem to be in the minority! Now I quite enjoy the normal tempo of breath and the added bonus of being able to chat!

This race was rather unlike 'Om die Dam' in that there was a lot less chatting and more quiet, which seems strange considering this was less than half the distance of 'ODD'.

Our club hosted a breakfast roll, and some warm coffee, which warmed me up in the dull weather. It is lovely watching the fast marathoners finish their race in excellent style for a change, instead of them watch us finish our marathon three weeks later, that is the nice part of doing half the distance!

With 60 days to Comrades, I feel nice and calm about my training, hopefully it stays like this!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Been too busy pounding the pavements to write the past few weeks. Well not really, but I did lay to rest my 'Om die dam' demon' which haunted me since 2009. Om die dam (ODD) is a 50km race which goes round a rather large expanse of water called the Hartebeespoort dam west of Pretoria. Two words in the last sentence should be enough to make me nervous. 50km and Pretoria. This city is notoriously hotter than Jozi and 50km is a rather long way. People in other countries train for months for such an event, we put it down to a training run. Only elite athletes and madmen would use this kind of language for training. Us, South Africans who are so lucky to have such a huge running race calendar can pick and choose world class races every weekend. This past weekend I chose to go back there.

Not that there were no gnashing of teeth coming to this decision mind!

My first and only experience of this race burnt holes into my cerebellum, both from the sun and teeny traces of leaking plutonium as i dragged my way past Pelindaba Nuclear station of the eighties. I vowed never to go back there on foot. My sister lives in the area so I am fairly familiar with the streets and that is why the zig zagging of the last 8km's messed with my head so much. But this was last time, as in the past! Another demon if not finishing a race was bubbling around my skull and that is of the Comrades last year, so I knew that this could be a good 'road test' for me. I convinced my running partner Marlene who shared ghastly memories, to return with me. I talked her into it with stories of it being close to Jozi, cheaper for transport and if we did a good re-run here, then it would stand us in good stead for Comrades. Am I so glad things went according to plan!

After driving some of the route to overnight at sisters, I did some mental preparation and felt ready. Late in the afternoon I got a message on my phone from the race organisers wishing me well and giving a weather report. I shook my head a little at the predicted overcast 23 degrees while I stood in front of the fan trying to cool down. They must have made a mistake. But thankfully they were right!

Mist covered the mountains around the school starting point as the masses of people milled about waiting for the 21st race to begin. I knew to hold back to prevent early burnout like the last time when I tried to keep up with my one running machine friend. The gun went off and we took almost 2 minutes to cross the starting line. The running snake weaved it's way through the sleepy town hugging the sides of the dam towards the tunnel, past the zoo and restaurants, art galleries and fancy houses. The green water didn't smell as bad as it could have, and going through the tunnel the necessary shouting and chanting left behind the runner's legacy for an echoing moment or two. The dam wall is spectacular to cross as recent rains made the flow very strong, and cheering kids with vuvuzela's added to the festivities.

We stopped and looked at the view from both sides of the wall this time just to let it all sink in.

The weather was still cool with sparks of sunlight sneaking through for a moment, but I think the race organisers got a good word in with someone as the cloud stuck around for the morning. The breeze kept the temperatures cool and my mood light!

We passed the first major uphill, Commando Nek, without too much heaving and puffing and we teased some slow moving passengers in taxi's to join us as it would be quicker. Turning onto the long bridge across the dam I spotted some Fish eagles on some stick-like trees in the water. Admittedly they were in silhouette but I must admit I sounded assertive so my friends were convinced! The road towards the t-junction seemed to stretch for some time but we were still feeling cheerful. As we past Pecanwood estate there were some spectators to greet us. The road weaves it's way past Hartebeesthoek Astronomy Observatory before the dreaded Pelindaba stretch begins. More spectators cheered us on, but I think the radiation in my bloodstream must have affected my eyes as there was a spectator in a lycra green bodysuit standing smiling at us. Perhaps he was on his stagnight, or maybe his friends put him up to a dare but it got us woman shaking our head in disbelief!

Spirits were still high as we reached the first Pelindaba gate, and I mentioned that this is where my 'wheels fell off' the last time. Marlene mentioned too that this was the start of her race. Cerlest reminded us that that was all in the past and today was a new day. Too true and it got us up the whole road without any negative mood, flash or growl. In fact the remainder of the race was like that. Even when we realised that the Comrades 6 hour cutoff was out of reach, we just dug deeper into the sweets along the roadside! Some strange smells made our noses curl, and for once they couldn't be blamed on the runner tummies (I hope!) Resident sister acknowledged the presence of a chicken farm in that area.

We caught up with two other friends and we proceeded to enjoy ourselves for the remaining 16km's. Cerlest went on ahead on her own, which was good, being her first ODD. We knew how this race ends and we were in no rush to get to that nasty little uphill at around 2km's to go. Even the meandering through the streets which demeaned me last time, never made a dent on my good mood and instead we enjoyed pointing out cute dogs sleeping on the stoeps of the houses. We had a hard task driver though and she wouldn't let us rest for too long and pointed out markers were we had to pick up the pace. Even the last uphill had us 'shuffling and relaxing' a little. Finally the stadium beckoned us and we finished the race in a very leisurely time of 6hours and 24 minutes. What a well organised race, and I must say that that ODD demon has most certainly been laid to rest.

Pietermaritzburg, this year I am going to see what your stadium looks like from the finish line!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

This is a long one....

My latest in my running adventure was a trip down to the land of Ostriches and heat in Oudsthoorn. The Infantry School Cango Marathon was being held again, and I had heard and read such nice things about it that I wanted to try it out. Yup, it was a little bit out of town, but these races are a great way to see the country, plus, it is a completely different vibe running in another province. We are so lucky to have so many choices when it comes to well-hosted, pretty races, but it can sometimes prove quite a dilemma as to which race to choose.

At the beginning of this year my friend and I sorted through which races we would like to do and which one's we could afford to do. This Karoo race seemed to be high on the list so research was done, bus ticket was bought, much to our dismay, the cheap flights were all used up by other people (ahem!! nudge nudge!)

Three of us set off on the Thursday afternoon for our run in the sun. The bus trip down was as pleasant as a bus trip could be, but a very long drawn out seven hour journey to Bloemfontein, made us quite cranky and bleary eyed! Sneaking some shut eye in between stops, we woke up to the most spectacular scene of the Swartberg Mountain Range blanketed in the distance. The road became windier and the scenery all the more breathtaking and there were glimpses of the Scottish Highlands which flooded my memories. This country, of course, is very different from the cold green moors a world away, especially when the baboons made themselves visible. I swear one them waved at me! Okay it was very early in the morning, but what a scene to wake up to.

On alighting in Oudtshoorn we made our way to our guest lodge on foot, getting a little lost with different directions. The morning air was still very comfortable which deceived us into thinking that the temperatures would be similar to Jozi. Lunchtime showed us, that we were in fact in a semi-desert district. The sun blazed it's way through our soles and we walked back into town to refuel our tummies. The town is larger than I remembered and the army is very present with green looking new soldiers making their way with 'checkers' bags of treats and necessities through the streets, on what seemed like their first weekend off. We made friends with a local runner and he showed us the way to the army base, and even managed to drum up a lift for us. At the base, we tried to register, but we were roughly 4 hours too early and told to come back at 15h00. (In a very military manner!) This we duly did, and then tried to settle down for the night to get some sleep before our 3am wake up call.

Our shuttle arrived promptly at 4am and we made our way once more to the military base. Cars came in from all directions, and the infamous cattle trucks thundered past us, to the collection point. The great thing about this race, is that is a one way route, not a circular, or double lapper, but this meant that the start was out of town at the Cango Caves. The army supplied us a 'shuttle service' in these cattle trucks and we carefully climbed the tiny ladder into the backs of the truck. Luckily we had taken a warm top because once these soldier(or was it cowboys) drivers got going, they pushed pedal to the metal and moooooved (sorry, couldn't resist!). We all huddled together for warmth as the kays went flying by. In the crescent moonlight I noticed the mountains around and I looked up. The sky was magnificent, the stars seemed so endless and random placed, but breathtaking, and I was reminded of my younger days when we used to watch the stars on a blanket in our garden.

The lights grew brighter as we reached the start which was sheltered below the entrance to the caves and the military police waved all cars on by. Our trucked stopped and we gingerly climbed out on the skinny ladder. After the necessary queue for the toilet we met up with our other club members as well as an ex-Jozi-now-local Cape friend. It was a nice chit chat as we waited for the gun. The military men with the starting gun meant that the last truck was given only 10 seconds to get the bodies to the start and before the countdown. I watched as the 'almost' late-comers clamoured over the edges of the truck without the ladder so that they wouldn't miss the start.

The sky was lightening rapidly and we set off on exquisite routes, made all the more nicer because the first kay was downhill. We turned off for a short circular stretch to make up the distance, which meant that we could see the fast guys in action. There was also a wheelchair competitor, and 'Mr Wiki', remarked it was a perfect downhill route for the wheels!

The front runners were at this stage 5km's ahead of me, which was pretty usual, except I don't normally see them! I was running with a (flying!!!!) friend who had done this race before and she was in fine form. She has progressed so much over this past year, that she mentioned she didn't even feel the early uphills! So when I saw another uphill at about 12 km done, I took my chance for a walk and watched her get and smaller and smaller as she zoomed off on the other side of the downhill.

The tall hills meant that there was very welcome shade and coolness to the first 30km, but when the road started to level out a bit, the sun was on high power and the earth began to creak in the heat, or maybe that was me? The ostriches didn't seem to mind the heat, but galloped up and down along some of the fences as they watched us back-enders wilt by. The valley is beautiful, and I was surprised at how green and lush it looked. Some brave supporters sat in the shade of pavement trees and gave us a word of encouragement. Some eager youngsters ran along side me, and the one young chap managed to hold on for about 600 meters without saying a word. I started to smile, as I wondered how far he would run beside me, but some teens further down the road obviously intimidated him and he turned back to his small crowd.

At about 8km's to go, I noticed a familiar seconder who was waiting for someone and he had a cooler box. I asked him if he had any ice, and he said all he had was an orange 'icy'. I gleefully accepted it and I took my time chomping my way down this very welcome change of taste. I felt like a kid and it seemed to revive me a bit because I was able to pick up my pace again. By this time the town of Oudsthoorn could be seen quite clearly, but this messes with one's head, because 8km's is still a relatively long way on tired legs. So I looked for closer markers and targets and allowed the excellent support of the cheering soldiers at water points to lift my spirits. The last few water points were every 2km's and in this heat, it was a great relief. The ice cold water was so useful in cooling down a steaming head, and I heard a sizzle like a 'Spur hotrock' when I poured the water down my back!

At about 3km to go, my extremely fresh looking friend caught me, and was raring to go. She talked about chasing down a different seeding, but I didn't have the same kind of strength, so wished her on. She opted to slow down and stay with me and we took our time coming into the endlessly long stretch of grass around the final lap to the finish line. Not far behind us was our third friend, who was finishing her first qualifying marathon. So all in all a very successful race for our small group!

The bus trip back resulted in puffy feet and stiffness and soreness which had very little to do with the marathon, but more to do with the never-before-seen yoga poses that I ended up getting myself into, in an attempt to get some sleep. No matter how many seats you have to try stretch out on a bus, there is always a bit of handle, belt, plastic tray that seems to stick out and cause grievous bodily harm!

Next time, I'm taking the plane!!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Been a bit scarce in cyberspace, but I'm still literally and figuratively, plodding along!
Got my first marathon for the year coming up this weekend, and I am looking forward to it. This thought does strike the one part of me as odd, as there are still strong remnants of couch-native in my blood. Why would I be looking forward to running a marathon? Well, the one thing is, it's in the Karoo, a big stretch of land that seems to have worked it's way into my psyche and seems like it is there to stay. Plus the marathon will be a first for me, and it is not a double lapper. This means we run from one point to the other, and not go past the start and finish twice which we do in a 'double lapper'.

I am really embracing this adventure of looking at the world on foot, as there is so much to see when not whizzing by in a car. With my pace of running too, it could almost be described as 'slow-motion viewing'! But needless to say, there has been a slight improvement in my speed over the years.

Sunday saw me visit one of the hardest half marathon's in Gauteng, the Pirates. This route takes us through Linden and Cresta and winds the way up to the very posh neighbourhood on the Northcliff ridge. The views are fantastic, when the bloodrush to the head allows eyes to focus clearly and having done this race a few times, I knew that I would be really taking it easy.

There was a large field of runners which is fairly typical of this race, because it is a challenge and because it has a nice atmosphere. I found myself running with a different friend for the early kays, and we ended up getting stuck behind a large 'bus' of people who were running together to show support for the runner who had been knocked down by a car in a previous race. This bus was a great way to hold back the pace, and allowed me time to chat and catch up with training stories and life in general.

My regular running partner caught me just before the real hills, and we walked behind the chanting, hypnotising bus. At a water point halfway up, we decided to squeeze on ahead and just relax but speed up a little. Before I knew it we were at the summit, where loud music welcomed the kings and queens of the mountain. This nice pace and good conversation meant that I never really looked at the distance marker boards and I had deliberately left my watch behind so it was great just getting time on my legs.

When we got to the finish and I saw the time, I was rather surprised to see that we had spent almost three hours out on the road. I put it down to a nice training run, and then for a brief moment my brain went into a panic about the mathematics of it all. My marathon is double the distance but only five hours. Eek! But then, reason took control again, and I reflected back that it was a deliberate relaxed run, to 'save' myself for the marathon. The great thing about this race is that I never had one moment of tiredness, or wishing it all over, or slapping any walls, but rather it was cheerful, calm, and most of all fun! Thinking back to a lot of my training so far this year, this kind of clear head space must mean I am getting fitter, surely?

All will be revealed this weekend, as I head off to run beside the Ostriches(I know I can't race them!) Beep, beep!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

I almost doubled my running figures last week and was all set to keep at it when the Jozi weather disrupted it all again today. Thunder and big lightning, meant I stayed home instead of running 10km's of hills.

Must say though this season's record rainfall has made the world look very different. The long long grass of the veld will swallow anyone who dares venture in, but instead of being sinister, it looks so pretty. I have always disliked the unruly-ness of the veld here, it always looked so chaotic, but this season things have changed. Maybe it is just me, clutching at straws to find different visual distractions on familiar running routes, but my world is seeing soft pink hues skim the tops of the long veld. Purple flowered weeds are showing a pretty side that I never noticed before, and the short yellow ground cover is astonishingly bright.

Maybe it is the lack of oxygen to my brain, but the countryside looks different.

I may be getting a little fitter too, because conversation is beginning to increase, which means that the lack of breath is diminishing. Except for our Thursday night torture session of hill repeats. That session is remarkably silent. At least on the way home, when the route eventually starts to slant in our favour, we can chat about how hard the supposed sprinting up the steep hill was. I say 'supposed' because I don't seem to move any quicker, even though the pulsing in my ears and pretty pink birds in front of my eyes tells me I am sprinting! It's like someone has tilted the treadmill and if I try really hard to quicken my pace, but the tilt just seems to increase against me. The nice thing about this particular torture is that running any mild hills now is almost achievable, and I don't have to grind to a halt at the first touch of an incline!

So tomorrow brings a new day, and new mileage, and hopefully the weather along, because I can't sit still for too long with only 4 weekends to go before my first marathon. I better get a-chugging!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Back to the grind! It certainly felt like it yesterday, when I ran a 25km race!

Since last September, when I ran my 80 Ultra in the Karoo, I have not gone further than 15km in one go. But I thought, how bad can it be? I have been training more frequently this past while, so surely I am a little fitter? I am a little fitter, because I realised I could once again chat while running, and not too long ago, this felt impossible. This was always my goal when I started running, to be able to run and have conversations without being out of breath. Sunday I was able to chat easier which was a nice sign for me, and until 18km down, I thought that I was doing fine!

Ha. My body just said, 'why are we doing this again?' and decided to grind to a walk. I felt like a Christmas toy whose batteries gave up just as I was beginning to enjoy the game! I ushered my friend on, and watched her cheerfully bob away into the distance. With a little bit of mental berating I realised I have felt this way before, and knew that I could get through this. So I started with the lamp post theory. 2 lamp posts run, one walk. All downhills I could maintain the impression that I was a 'runner' and keep moving. This must have helped, because before I knew it it was 3 km's to go and I could still see my friend's head in the distance. The weather was lovely apart from the time when ironically I had my 'traffic jam', when the sun came out a-scorching, just to add to the moment! When I began to tripple onwards the cloud cover returned.

Reaching the finish, I knew that there was quite a lot of grass, and on unfit legs, no dramatic sprinting would be coming from my weary legs. So I walked casually around the field waving at all the already finished fresh looking runners who were encouraging me onwards. When I had crossed the line just under 3 hours, my body decided to show me how it didn't like this route and I felt very dizzy and nauseous. I remembered my previous years of this race, that my body had the same response so I made my way over to my gazebo, but realised that I should move closer to the toilets instead. This was a very wise decision and afterwards I felt much better.

The afternoon, a strange stiffness lodged itself in my joints, and I was surprised, because i hadn't felt this in a while, no doubt another sign that my body was not used to distance. So I was 'forced' to resume position on the couch, which my body had no problem with!

However, looking at the one training program I did exactly half of the required distance for the week, so this means, that I had better 'divorce' myself from my comforting couch and get moving!

Monday, January 10, 2011


The festive season is now over and we are being flooded both literally and figuratively. Traffic is coming back into Jozi and the rivers are all over flowing and making nearby house dwellers very nervous. Our seasonal rain has been very intense which messes up any running plans.

Yes, I have seen dedicated runners run in the rain and not use the weather as an excuse, but in Jozi the lightning has been spectacular too, so staying indoors is the safer option.

Last week there were a couple of mornings when the alien sun woke me up and I decided to make the most of it. The first morning I decided I wouldn't be too ambitious and stick with my usual 4km route. It was rather pleasant running through the strangely car-free streets but I did feel every day of lightning-watching on my very unfit legs! I stumbled home, very relieved that it was done!

The next morning I realised I needed a different route so I could distract myself with interesting visuals. I turned up a long winded street and shuffled parts of it. About midway I heard a flurry from the pavement bush, and then Guinea Fowl darted across my path. I stopped to watch, as this lovely sight of 6 adults and a whole village of little feathered chicks made their way to the safer side of the road. This made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and took my mind off my internal beatings of not having run this past while. But I did end up spending a lot longer on the road, and managed to put 50 minutes on my clock.

This extra time made me feel a little less nervous about committing to do a 15km race on Sunday. I had run this race in my early days of running and remembered it as hilly and tough, but we decided to go anyway. There was a surprisingly large field of runners when we got to the venue and we caught up with some friends and chatted over new year, new plans and fat tummies! It was much the same for everyone running the race. Compliments were flying everywhere, even if it was for best wishes for the season. The route had changed since my previous time, and there seemed to be an absence of hills which was pleasant. But at 8km we turned right, which ended up being right onto the Jozi ridge, where all the old fancy houses are. Wonderful gardens and interesting architecture took our minds off the fact that we were navigating our way through very steep inclines. By this time most of the runners had gone rather quiet except for heavy groaning and puffing and panting. Only the very fit were still able to chat and thank the pleasant, smiling marshalls. I wasn't one of them. I did manage a grunt every now and then, and if I saw them look directly at me, I would wave in a thankful way.
The last kay was uphill all the way inside the university ground, so we felt no shame in walking most of it.

All in all, a pleasant run, the weather was perfect and the company was great, a nice start to the new year!
Compliments to you!