Lion of Africa 21,1 km

6 February

Another little half marathon down and my time was slightly better than for the last one. Again, I purposefully took it very easy. I’m not fit enough to even remotely consider racing and all I want now is time on my legs. At this stage a half marathon is not a race, it’s an LSD.

As always (for me) signing up for a race is a great idea until the reality of the early morning start kicks in. I check the start times before I sign up: 6 am, it says. Well, that’s okay, right? Well … err … sure. It’s usually only the night before the race that my brain clicks over to the simple mathematics of it: I need about half an hour travelling time, that’s without taking into consideration looking for parking and having to walk a good distance from car to start, so I can’t just roll out of bed at 5:00 or 5:30 (a fairly acceptable time for an early morning rise) to get to the start line before the gun goes off.

So I got myself to bed by about 9:30 pm, set the alarm for 4:30 am, read a bit of Meb’s book (Meb for Mortals) for inspiration, and finally switched off the light at 10:30 pm. I had had risotto for supper and had stayed away from the wine rack – – adult decisions for my adult lifestyle choices. The Significant Other was away for the weekend and so I could look forward to a blissfully silent, snore-free sleep. I must say, I felt rather smugly virtuous when I switched the light off and pulled the duvet over my shoulders.

And then, instead of slipping gently into dreamland, the sounds of loud music coming from the rugby festival down the road crashed into my room. Okay, I told myself, it’s like Rocking the Daisies: the bands will pack up eventually. Just close your eyes and let the music wash over you. But it wasn’t that kind of music. There were loud, garbled announcements and the music, dreadfully distorted and unrecognisable, floated in and out on the wind.

Then I heard The Kid get up a few times. The dogs barked, ran out of the room and down the passage before coming back into the room and making a big fuss about making themselves comfortable on the bed.

The music continued. My brain kicked in: Did I definitely switch the alarm on? What if the sound is set too soft and I don’t hear it? What if 4:30 is too late? Will I manage to fit in the all important toilet visit before I leave home? Was risotto the right dinner? Will it give me cramps? I should probably not have put that onion in it. In fact, I knew when I was chopping the onion that I shouldn’t be doing that. But I was cooking for The Kid and her boyfriend, not only for me, and I felt too bad to give them completely bland food.

Still awake at 2:30 am, I got up to go to the bathroom. Two more hours before the alarm goes off, I thought, maybe I’ll settle down after the bathroom trip.

I was fast asleep when the alarm went off. Of course. A whole night awake and the best sleep kicks in before it’s time to get up.

Get up!’ I tell myself. ‘Get up, get up, get up!’ I switch the bedside light on and click the Facebook icon on my phone. If blue light before bedtime keeps you awake, then blue light in your face first thing in the morning will shock you awake, was my reckoning.

I post a status update: ‘Signing up for a race always seems like a good idea until the alarm goes off at 4:30 in the morning.’

It was a joke. It was meant to make people smile – other people like me, who enjoy their exercise and their sleep in equal measures (more or less). Most people got it. One person did not. ‘Oh come on. See you there,’ she commented.

Keeping my sense of humour and not giving sway to my early morning irritation, I post ‘I’m up! I’m up!’ and get moving.

It was my second race on my own. No daughter and no husband jostling with me for kitchen and bathroom space, no one calling out that it’s time to go, no one in the car with me or lining up with me. So weird. Not terribly weird, really, because I used to do my walks on my own. But running has become a noisy, animated, sparring, family thing. So it is kind of weird. And where in the history of my non-sporting life was it written that I would one day commit to turning up for a half-marathon without being cajoled into it?

I set off later than I had intended – left home at 5:15 instead of 5:00. I first had to put water into the car, it’s overheating and running dry. So that took a bit of time and helped to add to the delay. And then it was only when I was on the highway that I realized that I hadn’t brought my energy drink with me – my breakfast! So I was heading off to run a half marathon on an empty tank! Idiot!

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Early morning highway, seen through a grubby windscreen.

I unwrapped the Hammer Almond and Raisin bar that I had brought along to try out on this run and took a bite. The powdery texture of the ground almond was a bit off-putting at first, but the sweetness of the raisins made it quite pleasant. I don’t like any of these things – I don’t like gels, protein bars, blocks. It’s all yuck. I don’t know when I’m gong to settle on the right race fuel. The Rome Marathon was the best: half a cup of water, a piece of banana, a biscuit, some Gatorade mixed with the other half of the cup of water. No gastric distress, no hitting the wall. Just perfect.

The traffic jam getting to the start was crazy. I ended up just parking my car along the roadside, a good distance from the start, and joining the many others who were jogging to the start line. I was hoping to spot some toilets next to the start but there weren’t any (along with breakfast, that morning bathroom visit, stuff of my midnight stress, didn’t happen).

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The long line of traffic crawling to the start was probably as long as the line behind. So many crazies, so little space.

The traffic was so bad that the start was delayed by five minutes to allow some time for the road to clear. And then, finally, we headed off. The sun had come up, the air was cool and I was feeling pretty strong – especially for someone who had done no mid-week training (other than run about 10 km in a rather large and very colourful tutu). After about a kilometre I heard someone call my name. It was the Crown Princess who had commented on Facebook at 4:30. She was running with a friend and felt she should share with him my ‘moaning’ on Facebook about having to get up so early. My intended wry humour, clearly completely wasted on her, was twisted into a sulky moan, the words changed to suit the story and relayed in a childish, moany voice. I’m thinking maybe I should delete Facebook followers who don’t get my sense of humour.

Then ran off into the distance and ended up doing an impressive 2:09. You don’t need to share my sense of humour, obviously, to be able to kick my reluctant ass on the road.

Anyway. I needed the toilet. (Every bloody run!) Oh, my word! I needed it and needed it now. And so followed 21,1 km of ‘Are there any toilets on this route?’ and ‘Do you know if there’s a toilet up ahead?’ and scanning the bushes for their accessibility and consealability. Numerous women ran into the bushes along the way. But I just can’t It’s just wrong. If I’m not going to throw my plastic waste on the ground, I’m sure as hell not going to drop my human waste either. It’s just wrong! Any dogwalker will know exactly how wrong it is!

And so my eyes started to bulge, my stomach cramped and I was so uncomfortable I had to walk large stretches to allow my innards to settle down.

I took little bites of my Hammer energy bar and drank water at each stop. Every 3 km I would be hopeful that there would be at least one portaloo at the water table, or that the route would wind past a petrol station. But, no. No such luck. I cursed that onion. And cursed the Hammer bar too, just for good measure.

I started working out what I would have to do to make sure that the next race had at least one portaloo along the route, preferably around the 10 km mark: take out a mortgage bond, sell my car (worth not much at all), sell my daughters (worth a fortune).

I finally made it to the end in 2:36. A terrible time, especially considering how good I had felt. The idea was to go as slow as possible and to just have time on the legs, but I had hoped for a sub-2:30. Oh well. Time on the legs is time on the legs.

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Lion of Africa runners spreading out.

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Perfect morning, beautiful route, and remarkably free from litter.

But I felt good at the end. Apart from the turmoil in my gut, I mean. But I had no spinning head and felt no desperate need to lie down for a while to allow for my out of body sensation to subside. I headed home immediately. Went straight to the shower and then straight to the cushions on the floor in the lounge (our puppy-destroyed couches are still being reupholstered), were I intended to sit and vegetate for a good long while. Then I slid down to be a bit more horizontal. Fatigue settled in. I lay down on the cushions, assumed foetal position, watched MasterChef Australia. Post-race blues set in and the emotional rollercoaster ride of the contestants provided the perfect excuse for me to have a little weep. Just a small, quiet one. More like just leaky eyes than actual weeping. Nothing that anyone would notice.

And then the big fatigue set in. I really am not in showroom condition. How am I running a marathon in two weeks? In fact, am I even going to attempt to run a marathon? I hauled myself up from the floor and headed to my bedroom.

A Saturday nap was in order.

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Another medal for the collection.

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Lion of Africa Half Marathon profile, from Strava.

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