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!

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