Saturday, June 09, 2012

Comrades running!

This year was my fifth time I came down to KZN to start this awesome race, which means that  for 5 years I have run a standard marathon 42.2km in under 5 hours. I read somewhere that 'If you qualified, you can do it'. This was very encouraging because there are moments in the days building up, when the enormity of the task hit me. Two out of my 4 years I didn't finish. Once because I was too slow, and the other because my heart was somewhere else but on that long road. It is those 'failures' that mess with my head. Those thoughts that skitter through the moments of doubt. In those doubts my body comes up with all plausible reasons why I shouldn't be doing it. But on Friday morning at 6am, I find myself giddy with excitement sitting on a plane waiting for take off. Running friends and other strangers all gearing up for the same goal, to get to Durban to do this thing!

On arrival in Durban we calmly make our way to breakfast at the airport. There is no need to rush and it is nice talking to everyone to see how the nerves are. In our party we had two men running their first race, Freddie, and Daniel. Daniel is staying with us in Umhlanga, and he doesn't really know us, yet, but we know that by the end of the weekend, we will have become running family. 
Lamenting the Joburg restaurant service, we eat our breakfast and the group disperses in the direction of the car hire. We all get issued our cardboard box sized cars and we head off to the Expo in the city.

The Comrades expo is where we gather to register our timing chips, ID and get our race numbers, t-shirts and goodie bags. This luxury we tend to take for granted but it is only in recent years that all of this has become necessary. 18 000 people registered to run this race, and it is expertly organised and handled with kind ladies at computer terminals. Exhibitors are on hand trying to share, demonstrate and ultimately sell us their wares. Everywhere I look, I see the similar expression of excitement and impatience. 12 months of waiting, and we want the race to start.

The waiting continues through a very sluggish Saturday, where we try to rest and keep our feet up, yet we wander around the shops willing the time away. Our party of 4 have lunch and plan what time to eat dinner and to get to bed. This year there was warnings everywhere about getting to the start early due to roadworks in Pietermaritsburg, and the media were of course, full of drama about the 'race not waiting for anyone at the start'. Our bus was set to leave from 2am so we decided on a 1am wake up call. We head to bed early and pretend to sleep. I toss and turn but I must have slept because I woke up a few times. 

Finally I hear movement, and it is time to get ready. Dressed and packed I eat my first breakfast of porridge knowing that by the time the race starts, this meal will be long forgotten. Daniel is looking a tad pale, but there is a twinkle in his eye, so we know he is ready. My friends, Marlene and Cerlest complain about lack of sleep, and Cerlest is still nursing a head cold feeling which can be caused by 'Comrades ghosts'. I am feeling excited, my doubts seem to have dissipated and I just want to get on the bus to start the day. We see lights on in other apartments and wonder if they are late night revellers, or long road travellers as we head out in the high full moon. 

The bus queue moved quickly as it seemed like there were hundreds of buses. We jumped in one and started the journey which would end with our return on foot. There was not a traffic cone in sight as were neared Pietermaritsburg, but there were lots of blue flashing lights so perhaps the traffic was expertly controlled as we arrived in the city 2 full hours before starting time. Us girls huddled under our blanket and we munched on peanut butter sandwiches as we watched runners gather together in the different starting pens. Being in the slowest batch we knew that starting way at the back meant that it would take some time to cross the start, but by now this no longer panicked me and we sat patiently far away from the beautiful Town Hall. The hours disappeared and suddenly everyone was on their feet singing the National Anthem. Nothing beats being in a huge crowd with the melodic harmonising and the deep rumbles as everyone sings together. I love to listen silently to the voices around and enjoy the goosebumps as the travel deliciously up my spine. 'Shosholoza' gets us stirred up and then 'Chariots of fire' messes with my make up. The 'cockerel' crows and the boom of the gun results in thousands of beeps as everyone starts their watches. We all look up from our watches as the PA pumps loud music out to send the fast guys out on the road. We wait at the back impatiently. After a few minutes the crowd thins and we move forward, crossing the line at around 10 minutes. The Vip's are on their feet, family supporters are cheering at strangers and everyone cheers as we cross the timing mats. The 87th Comrades marathon has begun for me. There is no impatient rush and we take care to avoid the discarded tops on the road. The city seemed better lit than 2010 and it was easier to navigate our way out. 

At the outskirts, the skyline lightened, but I could see a lot of cloud in the sky and someone mentioned the possibility of rain. I silently hoped not, as 89km is a long way to be rained on. The morning air was cool and as we went down Polly Shorts we hung onto our gloves and long sleeves because it could be very cold in the valley. One nice thing about the race numbers is that on them we have our name and on the back there is information, which means that a nosy parker like me, can find out things about our fellow runner without having to say anything. One man had three yellow stripes going down his number and I hadn't seen this before so I ran closer to see what it meant. 29 medals means that these stripes showed he was going for his triple green number. So I excitedly shouted this out and my fellow runners cheered. What an achievement. 

As the buildings and people lessened the wind picked up and began to mess with me. I don't like wind at the best of times and this icy cross wind was threatening to blow my hat off. The sluggish sun also took it's time to appear and the menacing clouds seemed to be sneering at me. I kept me long sleeves on and hoped that this would not be the first Comrades since the Eighties to get rain. The wind blew some of the distance markers over, and I gave a thought to the fast front runners which may be more affected than me by this wind. We caught up with some club mates and I tried to 'slipstream' behind them as we passed the chicken farms. The road ahead, as far as I could see was littered with runners weaving their way to halfway and it is an awesome sight. 

Pacesetters with '12 hour' flags ran in front and behind us, and our own 'bus driver' Vlam was injured again, so we knew that these replacement runners may not be as experienced as Vlam. We chatted about their pace and we agreed that the first bus definitely seemed too fast so we ran at our own pace keeping an eye on the back bus. Marlene was complaining of tiredness and at one stage said she feels like she should just close her eyes and run. I kept an eye on her and tried to distract her, but I must admit the wind was really irritating me. Cerlest had left us fairly early and she was doing her second race to get her 'back to back' medal so it was a surprise to me to see her pink cap not long before half way. She was also battling and was feeling not good. We ran together for a short time and I noticed the last pacesetter pass us and I decided to keep him in my eyesight. I knew my friends had it in them and Marlene often comes up from the back to join me 3 kms from the end, and  I thought about my bailing in 2010, so decided to keep on moving with the bus. 

At the halfway mark I felt relieved, like I somehow knew that this year I could do it. Plus the sun was out nice and strong and the wind had died down. The supporters began to thicken and my head cleared as I made my way up that dreadful hill past the halfway party. I ran comfortably and took stock of my body. Not too bad, my feet were the only real complainant, but everyone was feeling sore, so I was feeling 'normal'. I caught one of the clubmates from earlier, Kobus, who was having a bit of a sugar rattle. I walked with him and we chatted, well I think I may have done all the chatting. We reached Botha's Hill and the crowds were amazing. I waved at people and smiled as they shouted my name (from my number) and I joked that I felt like the queen. Kobus wasn't yet convinced. I told him to use the crowd, to make eye contact and feed off their energy. The confused look on his face was priceless, I then said to smile. He said he doesn't feel like smiling so I said 'pretend, fake it till you make it'. It must have worked because he was waving and in the photos and videos afterwards, I could see him smiling! 

We passed the place where I got into the bailer bus in 2010, and I gleefully showed Kobus, feeling very relieved that there would be no need to do the same this year. We plodded onwards. The great thing about this race is that the crowds really make the most of it. There were pretty ladies dressed up as nurses, guys in afro wigs, bands, schoolkids, girls suspended in hammocks over our heads from the trees, braai's, families on couches, deck chairs and dogs. I love dogs and I love admiring how calm these dogs are. The cuter they are the more excited I get. Marlene knows this of me and usually humours me, Kobus, however, kept saying 'huh?' as I pointed them out. As we neared Field's Hill, the famous downhill which can wreak havoc with the legs we were running between the two buses. We decided to go out in front of the bus, as they were beginning to slow down too much. The view from the hill is amazing and we were excitedly cheering the sea. One foreigner remarked at how good our spirit was and we chatted with him for a time. We paced ourselves down the hill and met up with a 'sea' of people as we entered Pinetown. Fantastic, I had to hold myself back because I knew we would make it and I wanted to rush off.

We weaved the roads on and off the highway and we reached the edges of Durban. Chatsworth people were out in their droves, singing and clapping, offering us all sorts to eat and drink and it was fabulous to see how they kept the cheering up for us slower runners. On the last highway stretch we ran from bridge to bridge, walking underneath the bridge than run again until the next waving crowd. The city twinkled like a present in sparkly paper, or maybe it was the tears in my eyes. We ran onto the last 2km stretch now fully comfortable inside the medal. Cheering people encouraged us onto the last Toyota mile and we turned for the last time towards the stadium. The lights were on for the tv camera's and we felt the lumps in our throats rise as we turned in. The squeals from the teammates up above as they recognised us made me wave frantically and I pointed out the tv camera's to Kobus and instructed him to wave. The 'finish' sign seemed to have angels singing above it (well in my head anyway) and we crossed the line 11 hours and 38 minutes after the start. Sweaty, teary hugs, posing for pictures and medal round my neck, I felt the joy of the finish. 

I made my way to the togbags and found it strange to be walking normally. Thoughts turned to my friends and I knew they would do it, which they did. Unfortunately Cerlest was taken to the medical tent and was put on a drip for dehydration. She later appeared at the medical tent door, smiling but pale and we gently made our way back to the car. Daniel had done a superb time for his first Comrades and got his Bill Rowan medal which means under 9 hours, and our friend Anita had a marvellous 20th Comrades too, Freddie had his first Comrades medal, and most of the back to backers got theirs . What a long exhausting, exhilarating, amazing day!

Later I was talking about our bodies and how awesomely brilliant a mechanism, and how astounding our physicality is. Comrades is the spirit of Ubuntu and the spirit of the essence of human beings. While running we can get ugly, gritty, pained, competitive and appreciative. Yet someone falls down and we are all concerned. When you run Comrades I  'see divine essence' in the runners, the supporters, the helpers... man it is that fragility that strikes me, and keeps me coming back for more.

Bring on 2013!

Monday, May 28, 2012

It's the final countdown! There are no more Sundays left to train, no more panic training runs to catch up on. It's just me and the 89,9km. Okay perhaps another 18 000 others too! This year I have to get my revenge on the 'down run'. In 2010 I bailed at 62km. I know what it feels like to bail, not to finish, and get two medals. I prefer the medal option now. So it's takkies on and chin up. 

The year has flown by, I still get a little confused that this Friday I will be boarding the plane, that I booked over 7 months ago. I look at my huge calendar on the wall and see the races done and dusted. My mileage is the highest it's ever been, over 900 clocked km's. Running partners of husband, friends, sister, mentors, fellow racers, and fellow plodders. A wonderful tapestry of people each with their own unique story. The thrill of being part of this group hasn't faded for me. That is still a surprise. I tutted and shook my head at my 'crazy' sister running her first Comrades in 2005. I cried with relief and awe at her fabulous finish never dreaming that in 3 short years I would have my own tears of joy. In those three short years where we lost a loved sister to cancer, a dear friend while running, and my lifestyle changed forever. I surround myself with positive people all determined and supportive of each other's goals. It is a fabulous way to live my 'forties'. 

Comrades cements friendships forever, so we may forget the pain and the endless miles, but the memory of who you first ran with, who you crossed Polly's with, who you left behind and who you helped celebrate with, is something that is difficult to describe. I worked on this race for a few years in TV, at Drummond, at the start, at the finish, on the road, and in the truck. I then took the softer option of watching it from my couch, then as a supporter from the stadium (nerve wracking), then I was a supporter from the other side of the globe, watching the blips on the internet. Finally I became one of those 'blips'. The best option is running it. Feeling the KZN crowd all willing us on, offering us food and sometimes beer, applauding us with sore hands that have been clapping for hours, singing our praises so we feel as proud as the Russians out front. Smiling and cheering, wishing us well with comments of 'looking good, you can do it' and our pet hate 'you are almost there', these supporters carry us through the distance. 

Some people like to drive the route the day before, but it can set the nerves off. However the day of the race, the route looks nothing like the drive. People line the street, plastic sachets litter the road, braai smoke hovers over the horizon, and it feels like one big party. In places, the support does thin out, and that is where the fellow runner becomes the entertainment. I love chatting to the 'blue numbered foreigners' finding out where they are from and what do they think of it so far. Admiring the 'green numbers' and their experience of the 10 medals. The yellow numbers which mean 9 medals in the bag, and the stripy yellow numbers which means the runners are going for their 20th medal. We have a friend who will be wearing the stripy number with pride, and we all share her pride! 

This year is a 'down' run which really means that we are running to Durban and down to the sea. However there are many uphills to conquer, but nothing beats getting the first whiff of the sea, the first glimpse of the hovering sea, and the city highrises. The quiet of the motorway just before Berea, gives us time to reflect back on the long day behind us, before the crowds celebrate with us from the overhangs up on the road. I am so looking forward to that turn on the highway when the cemetery is on the right hand side, but the stadium is whispering to me from the left. The fencing keeping the crowds from touching us, which is a good thing, because we should be running with a sign 'fragile, handle with care' at this stage. The turn to the left before the last 'mile' which is usually dressed up in sponsors colours and then the deafening roar, as I enter the stadium. The shrill voices I recognise as my fellow team members spot me, and I wave royally at the crowd. The final lumpy grass stretch gets forgotten as the big sign above the clock shouts FINISH. 

I can taste it, can't you?
Send me good thoughts!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

In my six or so running years, I have always found things to inspire me. I was amazed by the different shapes and sizes of runners and how 'unathletic' most people seemed to be. This encouraged me in the early days, because I certainly don't look like the athletic type. The most inspiring thing though, must be the ages of some runners. I started running at the age of 39 thinking I was old. I soon found out that I was considered one of the younger 'average ages' for women, which was around 42. My 39 years didn't seem at all significant compared to some of the ages. I have often joked to tripping up some of the speedier older folk as they smilingly acknowledge this youngster as they race on by. 

One of my running goals is to beat the oldest Comrades finisher, but this is getting trickier to do. The oldest finisher in 2011, Casper Greef, finished an hour and 14 minutes before me and improved his previous years time, by an hour and 27 minutes. This year he turns 77, no doubt he will be at the starting line in Pietermaritsburg again and my challenge is on!

This past weekend's race I was lucky enough to see some fine examples of these grand grand masters. At the start of the Pretoria race, a cluster of us huddled together for the first kilometer and we noticed a 70 year old go loping by. He looked his age with his leaning style, except he was speeding past us, and I joked to one of my friends that we still have another 30 years of running ahead of us.
We passed the loper several times and as our group dispersed we lost sight of the older gentleman. Around the 15km mark we saw a man wearing a '75' year badge. He had a  very young looking physique and hubby joked that he was using his older brothers running vest. After the passing and by passing, my hubby started chatting to him, and asked if he was indeed 75.  We gulped as he told us he was 78. Wow! 
A 70 year old came trotting past us, and he remarked to us, that he can never beat this runner, and he always catches him at about three quarters into the race.I laughed at the thought that the competitiveness never stops! The jokes flew as he passed us and just before a corner he warned us that we were turning into a very long winded hill. 
Turning the corner, I put my head down and started to pepper the gentleman with questions. His running career began in the 1950's and had many stories to tell. I asked him which medal he was most proud of and he said that the year Wally Hayward did a 9h30 something, he was ten minutes ahead of Wally. The following year he was again ten minutes ahead of the legend, but this time, they were both an hour slower. He spoke of his 22 Comrades starts with only 11 medals, and laughed when he said his wife chastises him, when he tells everyone that he didn't get the medal, when he still completed the distance. He told us of the benefits of an 'Epsom salts' bath after a long race, and said he was looking forward to this morning's soak. At the waterpoint halfway up the hill, we thanked him for the lovely distraction and continued to plod on, as he took a breather. He finished three minutes behind us, and still looked rather splendid.

People like these continue to inspire me and encourage me to keep at it. What an amazing sport!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

It has been several weeks since I last wrote, but I am pleased to say I have still been running! It seems as if the year has gone whizzing by, and I am still wanting to wish people 'happy new year'! Yet when I think of all races run, and miles done, it has been a steady year. 

Five weeks till we run the Comrades, and the 'fun run' fever is hitting the running community. By now most of the big long distance runs are over, and we enter into the tapering stage. I did my last extra long run this past holiday weekend. 60km's round Johannesburg and I must say I live in a lovely city. There may be no mountain, nor sea but there are millions of trees and being Autumn, it meant the landscape was an incredible display of colour. 

Our 5am 'training run' had an informal start, which meant that people set off when they were ready. It also meant that I somehow didn't make clear plans with my running friends, and missed them at the start. There was loads of runners, so if I didn't catch my friends, I wouldn't be running on my own. 5am this time of the year is still pitch dark, as we made our way through the suburbs street lights lit our path. The cooler weather meant the outer layer of clothing stayed on for some time as people kept their running pace slower than races, like a dress rehearsal for the big day. I spotted my friends after 10 minutes, and was grateful to catch them and settle into our familiar pace. Chit chat was predominantly about Comrades, as most people here this early for this far, would surely only be Comrades runners. Why would any other runner do 60km as a training run?

We passed the Johnannesburg zoo, the military museum, and weaved our way back onto Jan Smuts road through Rosebank. It seemed like we were doing a 'mall to mall' run, my friend Marlene remarked as we passed many of them in the city. At Northcliff mall, we stopped for the toilet and it was nice not having to panic about taking our time, as there was no cut-off, no pressure and no official finish. We made our way to my own residential area and I was still feeling pretty good, so there was no temptation to turn in home. The suburbs had begun to wake up and the traffic on the roads began to increase. The one rather narrow road was rather taxing as we had to really concentrate on the weaving fast cars, and negotiate the dragged out uphill. This road seemed to never end as we made our way to a main road and cross over towards the next mall, Northgate. The main roads have shoulders which means we can still squeeze onto tar, plus there is the added benefit of garages and shops. We popped into a local fish and chips shop for some salt to help with any cramps and we made a second pitstop. By the time we came out it looked like all the runners had left us behind, but as we joined the road, a runner shouted, 'how many behind us?' It seemed like we were not the only ones concerned about being the last ones home.

The waterpoints had run out of water sachets as well as cups, so it meant we were having to re-use some of the paper cups for our water and coke. Marlene reminded me about my past comment that 'the longer we run, the less we care about hygiene'. At one point we had to rummage through garbage bags for our own cups, rinse them out with sometimes not so clean looking water, and fill them up ourselves. This was the only complaint about an otherwise pleasant run. The breeze stayed cool, which I was really grateful for. At around 51km my blood pressure seemed to start dropping again, and Marlene had to be very patient with me. She tempted me talk of ice-cream at 56km and sometimes it was only that thought that kept me moving forward. Good to her promise on the main road in Randburg and close to the finish, she bought me an ice lolly. We walked gently through the orange flavoured kilometer and I seemed to come right again. I think the nice long downhill may also have helped! 

It was strange coming into the gate without having to run round the irritating grass of the final 200 meters, and we could grind to a halt as soon as we spotted our speedy friend who had finished a half hour before us. I shuffled to my car and realised that getting into it was rather tricky! Driving home, I passed some of the route that I had been running 7 hours earlier, and I could feel my weary body slumping.
The strange thing for this non-drinker is that after long runs nowadays, I seem to crave a beer shandy. I knew I would not be able to manage to get out of the car at any shops so I was thinking about the possibility of having beer in our fridge, and decided to take the chance. I was very pleased to see we had a 0%beer as well as some 7UP, so I could make the shandy after all. I didn't check the expiration date of the beer, I thought if the dirty drinking water on route hadn't harmed me, a stale beer couldn't do any damage. I poured myself a drink and headed for our chicken-less-verandah-swing. It was strange to sit there drinking on my own, with hubby working away, I had to contend the stares of the dogs as I sipped away any guilt of not taking them on their afternoon walk. 

A few days of rest feel so decadent, and I must admit I am enjoying not having to set the alarm for the closer side of midnight!

Five weeks- gulp!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Strange days indeed! Accommodation shifts and a cyclone promise meant that at the last minute our planned trip to Nelspruit became unplanned. These things happen. It also meant that in order to do the 42km distance, I would have to return to the town of my roots, and my marathon nemesis, the Vaal. It has been a love/hate relationship with that race, being my first ever (worst) marathon, as well as my best ever marathon.

The morning of the race, we left the city lights of Jozi behind and headed for the familiarity of the industrial town. The highway heading southwards was filled with red taillights all heading to the same place, and as we neared the stadium, I remarked that we had brought the Joburg traffic jams with us. It was still dark as we parked up, and as we stepped out of the car an icy breeze slapped us rudely in the face. We hustled down to enter the race, and shuffled back to the car to wait for the sun to rise. The car park filled rapidly and as the sun broke on the horizon we reluctantly went to find the others at the start. Hubby had signed on to do the half marathon, and a few other smiley faces wished us well on our long journey. I was feeling surpisingly upbeat, and was looking forward to the run. Four of us stuck together as we concentrated on not tripping up on sluggish feet, as we waited for the crowd to thin out. Around the 3km mark the faster runners had pulled away, and we were feeling good. I became memory-lane-tour-guide as I pointed out the disco hall, sister's old houses, friend's current houses, and albino guinea fowl on the small holdings. We passed my old house and pointed it out, and noticed that the fancy neighbours homes, no longer seemed so fancy. It seems like the wealth has moved around in this town. My memory expected the grand houses, but now they are offices or rather run down, and the old scruffy ones have been refurbished! Even the roads that seemed potholed last time, ran better and it looked overall lush and green.

The familiar angle of the early morning sun, reminded me of my icy toe-crunching walks to school. As we neared the school, memories came flooding back of planting grass, housecraft classes and booby-trapped cross country runs. I recalled the stories to my very patient friends and I had a flash that maybe I was boring them! We trundled past the open veld, where some springbok were grazing and I wanted them to run and jump as I have never seen that in person. Some of them started to move, and I got excited, and started cheering 'jump, guys, come on' just as a fellow runner ran past. At 15km's people can get nasty and he looked at me in horror. I realised that he may have thought that I was shouting at him, so I pointed out the bokkies in a feeble attempt to explain myself. We ran past all the large houses with park-like stands, and admired some of the motorboats having an early morning cruise. 

I spotted my schoolfriend doing a grand job at marshalling the traffic and I dashed over to say hello. 
'Clunk, crash, bang' 
That was the sound of my wheels falling off.  I slowed down and ate some sweets trying to correct, what felt like, my sugar dropping. My friends hung back a little and I pointed them on, but they were keeping me in their eyesight, as we would be passing the halfway mark soon, and were concerned that I may turn in. I stayed within 10 meters of them, as we past the turnoff point, and to be honest, I didn't really have any desire to stop then. This desire only happened later. I waved my friends onwards as they were looking too good to slow their pace for me, I needed to sort this out on my own. I did the lampost running, three run, one walk, for the next few km's and at the one waterpoint, a friend recognised me and I stopped, briefly. I needed to do the distance, so I fought back the desire to stay and carried on. 

It took a lot longer to correct itself and by now my friends were nowhere to be seen, but I kept inching forward. I had deliberately not worn my watch, so I had no idea of how much time I was doing and it was only at the 32km point, where I asked someone what the time was. We still had an hour and 20 minutes to do 10km's, completely within reach and this seemed to snap me out of my sugar low. I started jogging again. I caught sight one of my friends who looked like he was struggling, and after a while of him just being out of reach I caught him around 36km. We chatted and walked and when I tried to run again, everything hurt, and my head spun. So I stayed walking with him and watched as the people passed us. The sun was beginning to melt everything, but luckily there was lots of shade and I chatted to distract him, even though it probably only distracted me! With about 2km to go, my dizziness caught me, and I slowed right down. I knew there was shops up ahead, so decided I would go find a bathroom, which was great. Then I remembered my emergency taxi money. This was an emergency, so I bought an ice lolly! We crossed the last main road and I was enjoying the different taste and texture. Someone offered us a lift to the stadium, but we declined, and kept our steady pace to complete the distance.

Hubby was very bored with waiting, but he was kind enough to applaud us coming round to the finish line, at least it was faster than my worst ever marathon at the same grounds. Just about everyone else had left, but I was just so thankful to be sitting down and not have to move, that I didn't care! So now it's back to the drawing board, and I have to figure out what to do about my sugar levels, with 2 weeks before our 50km, I better come up with something magic!


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Last week saw an absence of my feet on the tar, pretty much due to my shoulder and hip having seen too much of it in my well executed fall the week before! I had planned to do an easy week anyway due to the full marathon I was planning on the weekend, so I didn't 'mind' not running! 

Saturday early morning, (or was it Friday night?) we get up at 3am to confuse the dogs and give them their breakfast and we set off to our meeting point to travel down to the Freestate for our run around Sasolburg. Hubby and sister planned to run the half marathon, so the car was packed with chairs, brollies and breakfast for their very long wait for us two bravehearts who were facing the full distance. The trip down went quicker than we thought as it turns out Sasolburg is only 73km away from our house, in a few months time we can run there :)
A long convoy of car lights seemed to follow us all the way down, and when we turned into the town we saw that we were not the early birds after all. The car park was filling up quickly and it seems that the word is out about this race, as people from different towns all head here for the well organised race. Once again, it didn't disappoint, even with the larger than I remember, field.

The sunrise seemed very sudden, but there was a nice crispness to the air, so we were all hoping that the coolness would last for the first few hours. Meeting up with old school friends meant that the chatter carried us all the way to the 6am start and that was the last I saw of them all, as they are much faster than myself at this stage. The great thing about this race is that the whole town doesn't seem to mind being inundated with a few thousand runners. Traffic circles had long lines of patient drivers watching the early morning spectacle go by. Traffic officers and marshalls greeted us cheerfully as they held back the early morning workers, who I think were a little bit pleased to be late for work on a Saturday morning. The Sasol staff seem to have in-house competitions for the best water tables, and this year there were super heroes, green smurfs, and other imaginary friends all cheering us on, with cold water, coke and creme soda, snacks and lotions as all part of the small town hospitality. 

I had given myself of a target of 9km's in an hour, and I managed to only walk at the water points. This was turning out to be easier than I had anticipated, and at the end of the second hour, I was very surprised to see that I had done exactly the same time as the first one. By now the cool breeze was giving way to some classic Freestate heat, and I could feel my head get grumpy. My shoulder started to squeak where I had landed on it, and my back began to feel stiff. I also know this route pretty well, and the images of running past the finish on my way for a second round, started to wreak havoc with my plans. By this stage nobody around me was talking and I was running out of distractions. At around 20 km the road split for the two different races, and I chose to change my plans. The first runner home for the full 42,2km was coming home, and it felt like the 'olden days' when I was lapped by the leaders. They still looked remarkably fresh as they breezed past me, and that sealed my deal. I started taking off my marathon race number, as I didn't want people to think that I was the first 'lady' home, haha! I spotted my sister at the gate of the stadium, and with a surprised look on her face, I told her, I had had enough. She was going back out on the route to stretch her distance for the day, and I had this mad notion of joining her, but I had to go take nature's call first. I spotted hubby at the car, and told him, I was finished with the race. 

 I set back out on the route in the opposite direction from the runners and cheered them on to their finish, as I waited for my sister to catch me again so we could run out some more. She had given the 'marathoning' friend some words of encouragement and then ran back to me and we went back to the green smurfs for some more refreshments. I think we may have confused some people, but it was a lot nicer and shorter than 42km! I headed back on my own, as by now the novelty was wearing off, and wanted to rest my weary body! We cheered all our friends home, and some good results were to be had. 

My pains had miraculously disappeared by this stage, and we drove home to Jozi with a good morning of running behind us!

Monday, January 30, 2012

January is almost done, and I must say I've had a good month of running. Almost 200km's and for me that sounds great, and the best thing is that I'm feeling clear headed through most of them! (Apart from the first 4kays- sigh!)

I have also done 3 races this month and returned to the scene of my first ever funrun at the popular Dischem race. 6 years ago, I did the 5km funrun, never ever believing that I would be still at it years later, never mind running distances that I do now. On this busy race, people were out in their thousands, and it is great to be part of such a festive sport of all ages. Groans and moans were the order of the day, being the first half marathon on the Jozi calendar and I'm sure many people were reconsidering their November entry for Comrades 2012! 

The following week we did the infamous Bobbies 25km race, which is hosted by the police force. Not a very pretty run, but very useful for building up the distance, it was also a very full field of runners. This race, I decided to hold back in the first few kays, as my first January run, I had started off too quickly and felt the effects later in the race. The summer weather was very kind to us, with a cool breeze to ease us into the early morning strain! A friend and I started early taking walks and trying to keep the heartbeats within a healthy range. The World Cup stadium next to the show grounds beckoned us closer with one of those irritating uphills that don't look like uphill. But a nice waterpoint broke the hill, and we edged closer to the calabash shaped stadium. Around the grounds the runners weaved, and I always find that interesting spotting the faster runners and waving wildly at them! 
The route was changed this year to avoid running over the slippery vlei, so we were sent over the back of a dump, but the marshall was so friendly at the end, encouraging us, that it didn't matter where we were running. The evening's rain had softened the ground, and the field towards the finish was luckily not too muddy, but did slow our weary legs down but all in all was great time on our legs.

This past weekend, we ended up not doing any races, but ran with some friends instead. All was going well, and I was feeling surprisingly good, when I went up on the pavement and choose the sandy path. I know it was sand, because I ended up seeing it up close with a classic 'army roll' fall. There was no arm flapping in this fall, when the realisation hit me that there was no way I was going to stop this, I put my hands out and gravity did a thorough job in making sure the rest of me followed suit. I managed to dodge my face out of the way, and my hip and shoulder bore the brunt of it. A loud grunt got the attention of my fellow runners who shouted concerned words over to me. I realised that neither of them had seen my swan lake dive, and the better part of me was relieved at that! My knee was grazed, but the damp sand on my hands was the most irritating part. Ego bruised, I shuffled off, up the hill, this time on the tar, and saw my hubby in the car. He washed off my hands and offered me a lift, but I could feel the stiffness in my hips, and didn't want it to settle, so I decided to keep moving to loosen it off. After the run I looked at my knee that now has a piece of Sasolburg, Berea, Little Falls and now Ruimsig and felt sorry for it. I also now have huge respect for stunt women, because no matter how planned a fall, it's still gotta hurt!

Today I feel a lot better than I thought I would, and I'm looking forward to getting my first marathon of the year under my running pouch!

Monday, January 09, 2012

I can now officially say 'last year' when it comes to Comrades. There is a strange division of the year for us runners who do Comrades, and once it has come and gone, it's like a 'new year' starts in June. So now I can talk freely about 'last year'  without correcting myself!

The good news for me is that I started the year off with a run. I even impressed myself after 3 hours sleep as I met up with one of the 'non-holidaymakers' and went for a comfortable 10km run. It was eerily quiet, with only the occasional car, but the morning had a crispness to it that befits the new start to the year. My week progressed nicely too with several runs with hubby and even one with sister! Sunday saw the first week of the year end with my first race.

15kms round the Johannesburg hilltops, gave the few thousand of us a chance to catch up, reflect and realise the festive season damage! I met up with a group of clubmates and chatted about the dismal December training. The gun caught everyone by surprise and we trotted off. Narrowing of the road at some corners saw our small group disperse but one of our guys had decided to stick with me. It was a nice catch up but I was aware that I was starting out too fast. It feels so long since my last race, that seeing the watertable surprised me, I'm now used to stopping at garages and other points looking for our own water. The coke went down nicely and I tucked an emergency water sachet into my pocket. Spikes was threatening to blast us, so I wanted to be prepared. The route was fairly flat at this early stage, but I had not settled into a comfortable pace, so I tried shooing my 'company' on, but he was having none of it. I pleaded with him, pointing out that he wasn't even sweating, meanwhile I'm sure I had steam rising off my body! 

At around 6km another lady slowed down for me, and the three of us chatted for a while and I saw my gap. I encouraged them on together as I was needing too many walks and could feel I was holding them back. They pulled forward and I walked to fix my loosened hair. I began to notice the lovely surroundings and dogs in this leafy neighbourhood. One house had a wind dial on top of it, but I couldn't tell if there was a real Hadeda bird sitting on top of it, as I changed direction past the house I saw that it was indeed part of the metal wind dial. I smiled at the creativity of some people, because Hadeda's are indeed part of the Jozi landscape!

At the 10km marker board I saw that I was going rather slow, but was beginning to get a sense of myself on the road. I remembered that we would be turning into the steepest part of the route but felt good. Around 11km my New Year running partner caught me, which surprised me, as I thought they were all ahead of me at this stage. We trundled into a steady pace, and lampost hill running  eventually turning into the last km home which is the long, long uphill to the finish line. The finish was in front of the Wits University Great Hall, and I must say the grounds are lovely. We finished in a comfortable time of 1hour and 48 minutes, but we enjoyed our run, and most of all we are back on the road!

So bring it on 2012!