The dreaded twenty miler sat heavily on the training schedule. Right there, at the end of Week 17 of training for the Cape Town Marathon, in fat, bold numbers. It never shifted. Just sat there, hunched over like a hungry dog … waiting.
Each day I would mark off on my calendar my run distance, minutes per kilometre and amount of time pounding the road. Either that or ‘DNR’ – Did Not Run. Looking back over August, there appears to be just a touch too many DNRs. How much havoc that elusive and full-of-promise-and-good-intentions ‘tomorrow’ causes with one’s weekly distance tally becomes gut-twistingly evident when one keeps a regular training log. And it becomes most evident only as the days remaining before the big event dwindle to nothing. The self-doubt creeps in … Have I done enough? Can I do it?
Last week I ran my 28 km on my own, having missed the group run at six in the morning. It was a tough run. I had felt stiff and tired. My muscles ached. It was hot. And I succumbed to walking way before I should have. I spent what felt like days out there, wrestling with each long kilometre.
This week’s 32 km run was going to be a definite improvement.
So this Friday night I checked the alarm on my cellphone and clicked ‘Save’. Then I checked it again. And saved again. And then one more time, just to be sure. Then I checked the volume. Checked it again. And then turned it up one more time. Then I plugged the phone in next to the bed so that the battery wouldn’t die in the night. That alarm was definitely going off in the morning.
I set out all my stuff: clothes and shoes, obviously, gels, iPod, Flipbelt, money, tissues … everything. I stayed home alone with my chamomile tea (for a good night’s sleep), Come Dine with Me (guaranteed not to keep me riveted to the TV until too late) and crochet (also guaranteed not to get me so immersed in what I’m doing that I forget to go to bed). A supper of boiled potatoes, eaten before seven o’clock, i.e. twelve hours before my run, to ensure that my gut behaves itself for the full 32 km.
Early to bed worked out as it usually does – not well. And the night’s sleep worked out similarly. The dogs were up and down, needing to go do vigorous guarding and needing to go outside more than once. Then, once outside, they lingered longer than the minimum amount of time required to keep one in a state of sleep while standing upright in the cold night air. But it was all going to be okay. You don’t need that much sleep, I told myself. And you can sleep afterwards.
The alarm went off at five. Great. Things are going to plan already. I swear I switched the light on mere seconds after the alarm went off. Seconds! And yet, when I looked at the time, it was already 5:23. How does time move so much more swiftly in the morning than it does at night?
I slugged down some tea and some energy drink. No solids in the gut. Went to the bathroom. Went again. Then one more time. And all the while, that minute hand was galloping towards six o’clock. Just wait, dammit!
Just as I was about to leave, the Significant Other got out of bed. He had a few words to share. I was late. Late! Out I went, into the dark. This isn’t so bad, I tell myself. It’s quite nice, actually. It’s been a while since I did an early morning run.
Start the engine … oh … no … nothing. Start the engine again … nope … and … one more time. Relief! Oh my word! Why do things go wrong when you are late? If it’s not missing keys, it’s a car that won’t start or some freak accident that blocks every possible route to your destination.
Anyway. I get to the meeting point and they’re all still there, their colourful windbreakers glowing in dark. I jump out of the car and join the group. Coach has already briefed them and they’re ready to go.
‘Sorry,’ I say, ‘where are we running?’
Out to Llandudno and back. Straight out and back. No stress. No confusion. Just a chilled run … of 32 kilometres!
I quickly head back to the car to get the rest of my stuff and put my bag in the boot. As I lock the car I see the group heading off out of the parking lot and into the darkness. Oh shit! I’m on my own again. No worries, I think. The slower guys won’t be able to keep up that pace. They’ll drop off soon enough and I’ll catch up with them.
I set off as well, the Camelbak sloshing annoyingly between my shoulder blades, and my Garmin searching for location … and searching … and searching. ‘Come on!’ I growl at it. I mean, good grief, I’m running here! Every step counts!
As I shuffle through the darkness, matching my rhythm to the gloop-gloop sound coming from the Camelback, I text Firstborn Daughter, who had sent me a ‘Good luck’ text, and tell her that the group had left me on my own.
‘You don’t need them,’ she says. ‘Bum in, tum in. Go!’
I go. What else is there to do?
A few hundred metres down the road my Garmin finds me at last. I’m happier now that my steps are being logged but I’m still not settled. Something’s missing. iPod! Where is the iPod? Have I left it on the front seat? I can’t keep running without knowing where I’d left it. If it’s on the front seat of the car it’s just too much temptation for a smash & grab. There’s no alternative: I have to turn back.
Looks like I’m definitely doing 32 km on my own today. Even the stragglers will have too much of a head start on me now. Even when I turn up I end up being the Lone Runner!
I jog back to the car. It’s very dark in the parking lot. Dark and a bit creepy and kind of a bit scary. I pause the Garmin. The iPod’s not on the front seat. It’s in the boot.
I push ‘Resume’ on the Garmin, get the iPod going and get out of that dark, creepy parking lot as soon as I can. As I head along the road, finally settling into my run, a car’s headlights throw up the silhouetted figures of three hoodied youngsters walking towards me. They look like a scene from a movie. For a woman running on her own in the dark, with iPod, cellphone, running shoes and Camelbak, the sight of three hoodied youngsters approaching is not a welcome one.
Nothing to do but push on through. It will be cool.
I am a metre or two away from them. I smell their boozy breath. A streetlight illuminates their young faces. I smile. I say good morning. They smile and say good morning. We pass each other. Three young fellas making their way home after a long night out. They probably won’t be attempting a 32 km run today. It’s all good. Let’s just get running now, dammit.
I’m out on the Promenade and think that this kilometre is kind of long … shouldn’t my Garmin have beeped by now? I squint at my watch (I must get that other Garmin, the one with the big face and the matching great big numbers – I can’t see what my watch says under the dim glow of these yellow street lights). The numbers haven’t moved. I hadn’t pushed the button hard enough and so the watch was still on pause. Ah man! I’m going to have to run further than 32 km now, just to be able to have the satisfaction of seeing 32 km on Strava! And because the 1.5 km (more or less) that I have already run hasn’t been recorded, it never happened! I resume (again) and push on.
I’m alone out here. It’s drizzling, it’s dark and misty, a bit eerie, and quite wonderful. Conserve, I tell myself. Conserve. It’s going to be a long, long run and a chunk of it is going to be uphill. I didn’t want to feel the way I had felt last week. Nice and easy. Slow, slow, slow. Just time on the legs, that’s all.
And that’s what I do: nice and slow all the way. The Garmin shows some embarrassing paces and it’s best to keep my eyes on the road. Focus on the sounds on my iPod … and make a note that the Running playlist needs to be updated. You can listen to the same tunes only so many times before every note is going to remind you of the pain you felt the last time you heard it.
Near the top of Llandudno the Significant Other, his Bromance and his Skelm pass me. Lordy! I had at least 15 minutes head start on them – at least – and still they pass me! Bastards! We exchange some pleasantries and they head on, quickly disappearing into the distance. I ask the gods of running to spare me the indignity of being passed by them on the way back as well!
I take a brief walk break – just a few paces – and push on to the turn-around point. Made it! Now it’s just a small matter of heading back home. Easy!
I haul out a salted caramel GU and allow myself a 500 m walk break. I get a text from Firstborn Daughter who wants to bring me some snacks. I set off running again and minutes later she appears. She has Powerade, chips, Bar-One, oranges (big, fat, juicy ones, lovingly cut into wedges – but I am too scared of what they will do to my gut, so I pass on those). I tuck in to a few chips, feeling guilty about stopping, guilty about taking on more food after already having had a GU, but too guilty to not have anything, since she’s gone to all this trouble so early on a Saturday morning.
She and the Boyfriend run with me for a bit. I ask them to run ahead of me – I prefer being on my own, rather than feeling someone running next to me. I feel self-conscious about my pace and get out of sync. I allow myself another 500 m walk break but keep the pace brisk – I’m not walking because I can’t run any further, I’m walking because I want to be sure that I’m able to finish the distance. I’m feeling pretty good. It’s weird that I am, but I am. Occasionally I break into what I know is completely off-key and fingernails-on-chalkboard song … ‘like a big pizza pie, that’s amore,’ I howl. And ‘come fly with me, come fly, come fly away’ and ‘babalabbabamba … aaah-laaah-bamba …’.
They leave me at Camps Bay to fetch the car and hand some snacks to the Significant Other and his crew.
I still don’t feel as if I need to end myself. I can do this. I promise myself a little walk at the end of Camps Bay, where the road makes a nasty little incline, but run the distance anyway.
My legs start growing heavy once I start working my way through Sea Point, and I’m quite pleased to see Firstborn Daughter and the Boyfriend whizzing by me in the car and park a little way up ahead. They’ve come to run the rest of the way with me. Whoop! I can do with some towing home.
‘30 km,’ says my Garmin.
‘Hnnggg!’ I grunt.
I start flagging a little, and am grateful for having to pause for traffic before I can cross the road.
‘Come on, Mom, you’re almost there, you can do it!’ calls the Firstborn. Hell, yes, I can do it. I push on.
‘31 km,’ says the Garmin.
‘Thank you,’ I say and keep going, singing ‘are you looonesooommmee tonight …!’
Head down. Pick up the pace. Finish this!
‘32 km,’ it says.
‘In your face!’ I cry, flinging my arms in the air.
32 km clocked on my Garmin, another 1,5 or so, unclocked. It’s done. The twenty miler is done. It was slow but it was comfortable.
Now … do I go out and do 35 km? Or do I taper? The programme says taper. My head says do another long one. But I’ll have to do it in the week, and on my own, in the rain. There are dogs and The Kid and work to sort out. Not much time for another four hours on the road. If I can’t manage it by Wednesday, then I’ll be sticking to the plan. Either way, it’s done, and it was strangely, oddly, bizarrely, kind of fun!