Wednesday, September 11, 2013


No matter how old, young, skilled, the shape, running history, natural talent or ability, all runners struggle with the same one distance. From zero to 5km. New runners, experienced runners coming back from injury all share the same 'symptoms'.

The first symptom is lethargy. The initial few steps are fine but after 100 steps the 'tharge' kicks in. By this time the chest has started a small wail which builds up to a crescendo of burning wheeze almost forcing a stop. The legs start to ache and burn while side stitches make an appearance. These symptoms eventually go away and disappear without the 'arrival fanfare' but can easily return after a long absence of running.

I made my re-acquaintance tonight with all of them as each cell, fibre and molecule squealed, rattled, shook, wobbled, groaned, moaned and cursed at me but there was a deep quietness of knowing that it will be fine (just not right now Anita!). Usually on completion my head says 'see, it wasn't that bad'. But while my gentle jigging looked calm on the surface, inside my debate team were arguing. Luckily I have a bank of running history and I know I can indeed get through this, just don't rush it! This means - don't try and run as fast I think I should, don't try and impress the coaches at the side of the track (hahaha), don't try and 'dice' the lithe schoolkids and don't try and race the excited doberman all along his long running area fence. Just listen.

I am a 'feeling' runner in that I don't really time myself and go into stats etc, primarily because I can't quite figure out my watch and I have enough to think about while running. So I listen.. to my body, my feelings and my mind. Tonight I could hear a flapping noise, a very loud heartbeat and my inner couch yelling at me to return home immediately. After five months of 'forced' non-running I finally realised 'I NEED to run'. To diffuse, detach, engage, confuse, withdraw, breathe, stop, walk, laugh, moan and sweat. Oh wait, I am a lady - perspire. Something that I had forgotten about was mucus. Yup. My recent asthmatic chest flare up has resulted from not running, and I need to stretch my lungs, but my lungs don't like stretching either. As a teen running Cross Country I was very skilled in controlled spitting and my aim was very good -then! Now I am a lady  AND  a lady with mucus. This proved a distraction for a while and I won't gross you out even more, but my skill did improve.
Oh, the glamour!

To add to the pressure on my chest the sky had gathered every winter cloud together and the air was heavy and warm. I thought it was all my angels gathering together to watch this pink, slow moving spectacle return to the tar. The nearby veldfire or two also made my chest tighten. Then I realised it was my head trying to prevent me from running because I was afraid. I was scared of 5km! Scared of foot pain, body pain and all sorts. When I realised that, I relaxed. Did all my old tricks of connecting my ring finger to my thumb for my lung meridian and then looked around my surroundings. Apart from one lampole (ok, maybe 2) on the mountain turn around point (ok, maybe a small incline), I managed to keep at it all the way. The freewheel back into the stadium almost had me speed, but I held back and listened. The flapping sound was louder and I remembered that it was not any invisible runner trying to catch me but a now heavily sweat-drenched clump of hair clattering on my hat! I laughed but then there were more flapping noises that didn't match my pace. Three young school kids glided past me cutting the last corner as they headed back to their proud coaches. One of them even had the audacity to run barefoot!

With a huge delight I found the 'stop' button on my watch with 38minutes logged! Three track laps, four road kays. Red faced cheeks, burnt out chest, sweaty head but very proud heart!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Secunda running!

I managed to qualify for this year's Comrades marathon by finishing my marathon on Saturday with 5 minutes to spare. We have to run a standard 42.2km marathon under 5 hours in order to run the 89km distance in June. Two weekends ago, I did the 42km distance but was way over time and spirit. I was getting concerned about my running 'mojo' as my sugar levels had not settled and I ended up with an extremely sore left foot due to inflammation of the tendons. 

Training during the week had ground to a halt as I visited my physio for some treatment and decided to pay a visit to the 'running doctor' for a cortizone injection. It seemed to do the trick and by Friday I was walking like a normal person. Friday afternoon we realised that we may not be doing the Saturday marathon after all, as we saw that entries were closing that day. Some quick emails and phone calls made sure that we would be getting an entry into the Secunda marathon early the next morning. 

After a dismal attempt at sleeping till 2.30am I got up and readied myself still very pleased that my foot felt good. We met up with Marlene and Cerlest and headed east. The red slip of the new moon hung strangely on the horizon and in the distance were flashes of lightning. I announced to the ladies that this morning's run was 'everyone for themself' I didn't want a repeat performance of Marlene waiting for me on the long drawn out kilometers. We got to Secunda quickly and waited for the 6am start, eating breakfast in the car and watching the sky lighten with heavy rain cloud looming. I had a thought that this is the area that I would see a pet pig, and I laughed at the odd thought that crossed my mind!

A large field of runners lined up for the marathon and this race is rather unique in that there is the option of doing the full marathon in the morning, then a lunchtime half marathon followed by a late afternoon 10km. We had entered for the marathon but Cerlest had taken the option of doing the 21km if she felt up to it. I shook my head being very content with getting my week's mileage in one run.

The gun went off and we set out on a very dark road due to the rain cloud and at around the 2km mark, the rain played with us. It was rather refreshing and not too heavy so we sucked it up, knowing that the alternative of heat could begin at any moment. My foot started to twing at me and and I silently cursed. At the first water table I stopped to take a pain pill and Marlene and Cerlest kept moving, I waved them on, when I saw Marlene straining her neck to catch a glimpse of me. The pain pill took a long time to work and my mental powers were straining themselves to come up with and fight excuses for me not going the whole distance. At around 8km I settled into a rhythm and began to notice my surroundings. The rain had stopped but cool cloud still protected us. The route weaved in the suburbs but not too distractingly as the runners were seen far away from our turning points. 

The water tables were excellent and support from the locals in their gardens and driveways was fantastic, all greeting us and willing us on. Traffic was very patient as they waited for us plodders to cross intersections while they were on their way to work. Being in a different district it was interesting to see how far runners travel. People from Richard's Bay, Phalaborwa, Free State made for good diversions. Lovely open gardens with a huge variety of dogs kept me distracted from the gnawing pain in my foot. At around 18km I seemed to have a small stretch of road to myself and I noticed how loud the pigeons were. My offbeat footsteps and the cooing made me smile. Garden gnomes and cement ornaments are a common sight in this town and I caught a glimpse of a rather unusual colour, patchy green, then I realised it moved. I stopped running and watched. Almost the same size as the Chevy Spark behind it, stood a glorious fat pig! I gasped and laughed and watched the three dogs give the pig respectful distance. I pointed it out to myself and hoped that the runners a little behind me would see it, as this was a lovely sight. I set off again and moments later heard the runners behind remark on the big pig! 

What a lovely morning it was turning out to be, if only my foot heard my nice energy and stopped moaning. My time was going good in spite of the pain and this kept my confidence up. The waterpoints got better and better the further we went along, and the food choices were mind boggling. Biscuits, chips, sweets, chocolates, easter eggs, potatoes, bananas, worsies, oranges, condensed milk in a syringe, grapes and a whole lot more made my eyes wide. I felt like a kid at a great party. The drinking water was ice cold and as the rain clouds melted away the sun began to show us what it is made of. 

With about 9 km to go I was giving a leaning walker some encouragement, when my foot roared with pain. I forced myself to keep shuffling and rummaged in my pouch for more 'drugs'. So close and with enough time I thought. Apart from the foot everything else felt good. My sugar behaved, my pace felt right, so I started my internal debate about why I should keep going and just get the qualifier over. (Except my inner dialogue was not this polite!)
Single figures is always comforting and I just kept an older man in my sight as we shuffled past each other time and time again, knowing that he would be measuring the time properly. I don't like to get too worked up on the timing, so I think of an overview and then distract myself. 

Near a school was a small water table with a big sign saying 'Marco's water table- pop in for a visit'. He was a young man who was dishing out refreshments with a great spirit. Dad stood proudly in the background as us weary travellers trundled past on tired foot. The last few kilometers looked like a downhill, which helped the mind and I found myself shuffling past a foreign lady who had passed me very early on in the race. I congratulated her as by now it was 'in the bag' as I overtook her before the last corner. The PA announcer there was telling us to 'put foot' as we only had 8 minutes left. I looked nervously at my watch and saw that we had 12 minutes. It doesn't sound like much, but three minutes at this stage means a huge difference in stress levels. Breaking it down, I felt relief that my foot had behaved and held out and that I had managed to keep myself from sliding down that tricky slope of negative self-talk. Sister and friends cheered me in, and I gratefully crossed the line with 5 minutes spare. 

We relaxed at the lovely venue and I even went for a physio rub at the medic tent which was great before we set off home. A fantastic day out and everyone seemed to enjoy their morning in the 'kosmos' land. I am sure this race will see us again next year!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Triangular running

I really seem to be only get my mileage up on weekend runs. Last weekend I slogged my way through the Township marathon and finished with one of my worst marathon times ever, another free ice-cream and more real estate lodged in my knee after a fall. Wait, it must have looked more like a somersault by the strange location of bruises. No real damage done other than my ego, once again, after one of those deep guttural roars on my way down to mother earth.

I picked up a very sore heel/foot though and after a visit to my physio she said it was because of my calfffff. (That's the kind of noises as I was making as she kneaded her spindley fingers to demonstrate.)
She told me not to run, and she almost shook her head when I told her I wanted to do a half marathon on Sunday. I am beginning to realise that it is indeed March and my distance logbook looks like it is on some kind of diet. I think she saw the panic in my eyes and gave me exercises to do. I rolled my foot and did what I was instructed and agreed to travel down to the Vaal for Sunday's race.

Promptly waking up a full hour before I needed to, is getting rather annoying, so I eventually turned off the unrung alarm and went in search of breakfast. Ouch, ouch, ouch. My foot seems to be at it's worst when getting up after a time of sitting, or lying and I thought it was plantar fascitis, which I self diagnosed years ago. Hobbling around excited dogs, my 'awake' when supposed to be, goes much faster then when I lie there willing sleep to visit.

We set off at 4am and immediately found a long red tail line of traffic on the highway. Sister and I looked at each other.
'Are these all runners?'
Turned out they were. The traffic flowed a little slower near my old home town and we contemplated some back roads. We stuck to the usual route and got there with plenty of time for pit-stop, entries and chats. I was actually feeling very excited for this half marathon.

I have a love-hate relationship with this marathon. It was my first ever 42km, my best time and my worst time. Last year was one of my worst. So this trip down memory lane had memories that included my running past, and not just my school days.

The gun went off and I was watch and running-partner free. Marlene and Cerlest had other weekend obligations so it was strange not having the weekly dose of catch-up chatter to distract me for the early kilometres. I did see another running friend who is looking fabulous and she was doing the marathon, and though sad to see her leave me, was delighted knowing that I wasn't putting myself through the torture of the marathon.

I decided to see if if I could only walk at the water points which are every three km, just to see if I could. This is a very flat route, so my usual 'resting' up a hill wouldn't be my excuse here and I needed to get some running confidence back. Apart from one 'hill' lampost I stuck to my plan, even though my foot was squealing at me to walk. 

Knowing the area very well, meant that my grey matter was open to any memories that popped in as I jogged past the 'Hills, Lows, Lucas' cafe; Gerald Bosch; Murphys and then directly up to my old street. We had a long stretch of field or veld behind our childhood house, which may have been farmland, and being Vereeniging and very dry I would never have considered the area pretty. On this morning however, sunrays streamed through cloud remnants over the moisture haze just above the golden land and I felt nostalgic. A forgotten memory of newspaper and bamboo kite crashing flowed in, and I laughed at how much I had to run to will the heavy thing into the air. I saw the power lines in this stretch and laughed as my kite could never have reached them. 
I slowed down as I passed our old home and as usual, thoughts turned to mum who died there, now so many years ago. I'm sure I heard her cough gently as I thought that maybe the prettiness of the light was her 'doing'. 
All the way up the dreaded long road that I walked to school and memories of crunchy toes due to the freezing mornings hideously teased my memories. I passed the house I did my only ever 'illegal' bunking and smiled at the memory of Mrs Els telling us knowingly that she had seen us in our school uniforms walking there, the day before. We crossed the 'busy' road to our school where there was a water point and took a little stroll. The biggest hill was up ahead, and as I trundled up it memories of cross-country routes now fully' grown up' where shown to me. The next section of town, I only know from my running days as it was still being built when I left town 30 years ago. Did I just say 30 years???

As we ran past the lovely reserve, next to the river, I spotted buck. And to my delight some of the Springbok started springing. I have never seen them jump before and I was delighted to finally see it. I am so used to having Marlene run with me that I turned to runners beside me and gasped 
I forget that not everyone looks at the view, and gets excited by dogs, houses, gardens, flowers or in this case Springbok. Plus I also get a few quizzical looks when I speak. This could be for 3 reasons.
I speak to strangers
I speak really fast
I may be misunderstood as I have a very strrrrong Scots accent, exaggerated while running. (This may be because I pant more !)

My morning was turning into a delightful run, apart from the niggly foot. A motorboat quietly broke the still surface of the river and I wondered how I was doing time wise. I didn't feel like getting neurotic so decided against asking someone and just kept moving. I knew by now that we were getting close and not only because the distance markers told me. I forgot that we took an extra loop up past the old route and it took me a minute or two to get my mind back into my mellow mode. 

Shuffling along the road, I weaved a bit and then I heard the megaphone voice. Yippee, the split, the moment I'd been waiting for. I almost cheered out loud, but spared a thought for those soles going 'straight' while I kept left for the finish. A very well organised race by my old home town, and was delighted to hear my sister had done a sub 2 hour race, and enjoyed herself too. We sat and watched in awe at all the shapes and sizes of the runners coming in for the marathon and cheered for them
( and us who may have made 'peace' with the Vaal Country Meander - this year anyway!)

Spring bokkie spring!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Year Running!

The grey wall of cloud moved towards us with such a speed, catching us unaware as we reached our waterpoint. Rumbles jumped at us as the wind tried to push us further away from our cars. Then it was completely still. I could almost hear the cloud inhale before it dropped its contents on the four of us. I could be talking about New York's hurricane Sandy, but I'm not. We were caught in a short Highveld storm. There was no clear sign of an impending storm when we met for a 8km run. The sun was bright and cloud was building, but no rain clouds showed up. So we set off, eager to get back to a state of semi-fitness, which is lacking at this time of the year. This particular route is chosen for its hills and I lagged behind gasping for breath as my fitter friends got smaller in my vision. Finally meeting up with them, we turned deeper into the hills as the light dulled a little. On top of the one hill, we saw the faraway cloud with the telltale rain trails over Jozi Central. The very same cloud reached us in the short time it took us to get to our tap and we decided to cut short and try reach our cars before it reached us.  The realisation that we were at least 20 minutes away via the shortest route possible made me think that there was no escape. 
The rain began loudly on nearby roofs and a moment of panic went through my body. As it splashed its heavy plops on my hot head, I realised any resistance would be futile. We stood briefly under a tree and hoped that the cloud would swiftly turn, but we ended up having to just run into the storm. The coolness of the water was initially comforting but as it gained momentum, my hatless head began to cringe at the cool drops. After a few minutes our party had split into two groups as the faster girls tried to outrun the rain. Marlene and I hung back a little, taking shelter when the lashes were too heavy. Lightning bounced about and Marlene questioned our wisdom as to stand under a tree, but I argued that being the taller of us, I felt more vulnerable in the open wet road. We set off from tree to tree as the puddles turned into rivers and we had no choice to run through them as steamed up cars raced by us. I was contemplating flagging an open bakkie down, but none passed us, so we had no choice but to continue. I laughed at the sight that we must look like, with our t-shirts and shorts clinging to our bodies as if they were trying to stay warm.
'We must look like real dedicated runners... or just very stupid' I shouted over the din.
My brain went into overdrive thinking that surely we get more 'points' for this? No points, no bonus, but just the lure of the dry insides of the car. The other two were now out of sight and we knew we didn't have too far to go. The huge intersection was filled with edgy drivers so we had to tread very carefully. By now all thoughts of any remaining vanity had vanished and my curly wet fringe was not preventing the rain from draining into my eyes. My eyes burnt and it felt like salt water crawling and itching. I must have been sweating more than I knew, as I suppose I was running faster than my normal pace. I am sure there are nicer ways of learning to run a faster pace? We climbed in the cars and I silently thanked my organised hubby who keeps two towels in the door. My shoes squelched as I returned my insteps to the uncrunched shape and put the aircon on high, to stop the rapidily steaming windows. On the other side of the ridge, the streams of water turned into puddles and as I neared home, I realised that the cloud had literally been following us and turned away when we stopped running.
The rain had at least cooled the city down, as the high temperatures had been crushing, and I limped wearily into my house. My 'visiting' dad looked at me surprised and asked
'Did it rain?'
I smiled yes, and thought to myself, at least we weren't having a parade.
It's good to be back!