The long weeks after Comrades. Sigh. Cranky, delightful, irritated and peaceful- yup that sums me up right now. The past 16 days have been rather trying for my hubby as he tries to figure out if I am really okay after my most recent Did Not Finish (DNF) on the 90th Comrades. I truly am - I think!
The race this year pointed out some serious internal beliefs that I am in the process of neatening up and hey, what better place to find them? On the (very) long road surrounded by other runners in the same space with no phone access, no internet access and no hubby driving a getaway car.
The difference in this DNF as opposed to my previous one in 2010 was that I did not feel at all negative. Quite the opposite. I was charming all the spectators, barking at the dogs, and waving like royalty when the thought popped up. 'get into the bus, go to the tent and watch the winners come in while having lunch'. Huh? It felt like someone had flicked an internal switch. This was somewhere near the top of Fields hill, which is a misnomer, because 'fields' are usually flat. This hill ain't no molehill. I had managed to dodge away from my strong running partner as she shuffled up the hill looking over her shoulder to try find me, as I hid behind another walker. I did not want to affect her race. I took this strange foreign thought and started to work with it. Why is it here? There is no injury (loud panting aside) no real discomfort, and certainly only sunshine in my skull, so why this thought?
I then went through the many 'tests' that most long distance runners go through and the usual question is 'why am I here?' I looked around at the thousands of smiley, cheering spectators and knew that they are a big part for my being there. Then I considered that I actually enjoy it, and yet I found my eyes scanning the roads for those 'bailer buses'. I chatted to my usual 'helpers' in my heart and I then I spotted a familiar lean of an old running friend, unseen for the past five years. I felt delighted, although a little concerned to see Louis, who I found was struggling with stomach pain. I silently thanked Joe for this 'angel' he sent and then tried to encourage Louis to burp long and loud, which I demonstrated so he could get back to his faster pace. But he said he was 'paste'. I stayed with him for a long time and enjoyed just taking it easy, considering the ride back in the bus with company. The clock sped up as we slowed down and I felt that the halfway cut-off would give me my answer.
The spectators thicken in places, and I was running behind a 'Westville' runner which made the local crowd roar and cheer specifically. I would complain as I ran past them shouting 'what about me' which usually made the spectators laugh in surprise. In one swollen crowd I spotted a familiar redhead, but before I got there, the small group screamed 'go Westville' to which I again lamented... 'what about me?' Ex cricket captain, gentleman, and hero of my moment, Shaun Pollock retorted in delight 'Go Lady Go'! I thanked him by name and thought 'wow, Joe you really are pulling out the stops'. Louis looked at me and said 'Wasn't that...' I grinned and nodded my head.
We inched closer to Halfway and I caught another club mate who was having a really tough morning and was crying. I hugged her but couldn't really find the right words and suddenly my switch flew back and I started to run. Okay it was mostly downhill, but I began to motor. My thoughts kind went 'okay? let's just give it a try'. I didn't even say goodbye to Louis, I was so focussed. I crossed the cut-off point and wasn't really sure how I felt about another 40-odd kilometres to go. I managed to catch up with the dreaded 12 hour running bus that had passed me earlier, and I took comfort in the thought that I could just keep them in sight, I'll make it. So the next few hours were uphill and downhill, some drinking coke out of cupless bottles and keeping track of my thoughts. I knew my pace was still a tad slow, but I no longer panicked. I bought ice-cream, woke up the bored spectators and generally trundled along.
I spotted some of the big (real)buses which I figured could have been my transport and I spotted some people I know inside them. I passed water through the windows and generally played with them for a while and as they drove further away I felt the switch begin to slide again. The dreaded 21km in 3 hour mark hit me and I started doing the maths in my head. Cutting it way too fine I thought. But kept trundling all the way to Polly Shorts. Another misnomer as it ain't short and polly is far too cheerful a word. I spotted many people I know and I saw some casualties and people began to lean. My head still felt clear but as the hill stretched out further for us, so did my hope for my fifth medal. I watched as people dashed to the last cut-off point and considered my options. I had to be absolutely sure that I was okay with this and I realised I was. The nice people on top shouted and encouraged us to 'do it' but I saw myself on TV afterwards and even then I could see that my mind was fine with missing it. Bam, gun off, roads closed, my race done.
Quite a few runners ran round the back of where we were supposed to wait for the bus and continued on, but I knew their chances of medals were slim. We waited and waited as the sun sank lower to match many spirits around me. I still felt surprisingly okay as I borrowed a team mates phone to let hubby know I was fine to stop his worry. Eventually we got back to the stadium, got given a much needed space blanket and made my way through a very congested, limping crowd to find my friends. Their eyes checked me out to make sure I was fine and I could visibly see their relief when I tried to reassure them that I was.
I need to speed up. Simple as that. No excuses, no injuries, no nothing. If I want this, I need to speed up. The great thing? I know I can!