The Peninsula Marathon is on Sunday. I need to collect my race number tomorrow. I am so under prepared for this race it should be illegal for me to line up at the start.
But I’ve signed up. I’ll get up when my alarm goes off in the dead of night (okay, soon after it goes off, not quite when it goes off), I’ll fumble about trying not to stub a toe and not wake the dogs who will wake the Significant Other (who will be muttering things like ‘You can switch the light on, I’m awake’) and I’ll stress about what to eat (Still! Still I stress about what to eat before a race!), eat something that I’ll regret eating, or not eat and regret not eating and then, eventually, late as always, I’ll make my way out the door and out the gate, and marvel at how beautiful the world is so early in the morning. And then I’ll immerse myself in the throng of thousands of colourful, excited runners, becoming a tiny cog in this massive kinetic machine. I’ll be terrified and excited, and when the gun goes, I will start running along with them, as if I am really one of them, not just an imposter wearing a numbered, club-coloured singlet.
I have resigned myself to the fact that this road to Ultra is going to be longer than planned. I look back on my journal entries and my blogs, and so much has happened in this last year. The times that I didn’t run are so much more than just blank spaces on my Strava training log – that training log that looks like a desert wasteland!
On 22 March 2015, I ran a marathon in 5 h 04 min in Rome. I had done not nearly enough training for it but it was an adventure with my daughter and I far exceeded my own expectations, running through the rain on cobbled streets and painful knees. And then I decided that the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon, 56 km of uphill and downhill, would be my next goal. I got going in earnest, setting out with a One Hundred Days of Running goal. I got to 35 days when I pulled a glute at track one evening and decided that maybe I would just go back to normal training.
I put in 586,7 km of training for the Cape Town Marathon – 216 km more than I had put in for the Rome Marathon – and had the most miserable day out on the field. I made it across the finish line only after five hours, fifty-nine minutes and twenty-one seconds of pain, misery and humiliation. And after eating every food item offered to me by every outstretched hand along the route. I still had lollipops left in in Flipbelt at the end of the race. More training and more focus gave me nothing more than the dubious honour of having the slowest marathon time in the family. Well, second slowest, really, since one family member has yet to crack 10 km, let alone a marathon. But I’m just clutching at straws here. She is only 16 year old, and has barely left the couch or looked up from her phone at any stage of her life.
So I picked myself up, dusted myself off, washed my smelly running kit and set my sights on the next qualifying marathon. Well, not quite as quickly as that. There was the ritual hibernation, glumness and eating of sugar and carb. And then there was googling and then there was planning. Tables were drawn, coloured and filled with dates, kilometres to run, cross training to do and races to run. A plan was made. Eight weeks after the failed Sanlam Cape Town Marathon I could get my humiliated butt to the start line of the Winelands Marathon. I had plans of a weekend away in Stellenbosch, arriving there the night before the marathon and staying over at a B&B. Before the Winelands Marathon there would be the Chappies Challenge (15 km), the Gun Run (21,1 km), the Constantia Grape Run (21,1 km) and the Landmarks (21,1 km). My Type A personality, the one I never knew I had, researched and screen shot all their profiles and collated them in a nice, neat pdf for regular reference (and deference).
I got to do the Chappies Challenge, which was a great run, and then finished the Gun Run in 2:21:50, my best half marathon time so far. Hal Higdon’s eight-week marathon plan was going just awesomely.
And then it all went to hell.
I got sick. Three weeks of coughing and feeling rotten set in. Three weeks of blank space on my Strava training log. And one spectacular week of logging two 5 km runs. Then a tutu-ed, facepainted Halloween run with the family. Gasping and staggering up hill and down dale, wine tasting at the aid stations, getting lost and arriving almost stone last. Such fun!
And then, because I had had fun, things went to hell some more.
My mom got sick, went to hospital, and stayed there for weeks and weeks and weeks, delirious and impossible, while my dad retreated somewhere inside himself, and I drove and drove and drove, and tried to keep up with my work, and failed, and thought about fitting in a run and failed at that too.
I started doing some short runs with The Kid – 5 km runs, 7 km runs – and tried to fill the black spaces on my Strava log. The small green lollipops spiking the dates starting looking cheerfully abundant. The distances were short and slow, but they were being logged and they were adding up. The weekly mileage was no longer sitting at zero. I was slowly, slowly getting back on track.
Or not. Every run felt like an effort. I felt leaden, exhausted. But I pushed on.
Then my mom died. Then there was a memorial service. Then there was, well, the stuff that one deals with when someone dies, I suppose.
If your parents are like that bus in Speed (without Sandra Bullock at the wheel and without the light relief of Keanu Reeves eye candy), careening towards the worst of old age, towards the last, confusing days of their lives, some crash and burn in is going to happen. And crash and burn did happen. I think the reality of that will kick in only some months from now, if ever. It was all too surreal and kind of out-of-body at the time, and then, when it was all over, there was admin to do. Admin that, apparently, no one else could do. There was not the luxury of time to ponder about how I should be feeling. And the admin continues.
Anyway. Put it all on the side plate, in the Styrofoam take-out container, for later dissection and consumption when is has turned cold and no longer resembles itself in any way. Am I making excuses or stating reasons for my poor training record?
No matter. This is where I am. Two days before another marathon.
In this last year since the Rome Marathon, I went to AfrikaBurn, took a road trip with The Kid where we slept in a log hut at the Storms River National Park, paddled down the Storms River Gorge and ziplined above a river, visited the Owl House in Nieu Bethesda, went to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and saw many kilometres of the amazing and varying landscapes that make up this country of ours, I ran my best 5 km and half marathon times, I ran 35 consecutive days, I ran a marathon, I got sick and got injured, I finally handed in all those projects that seemed as if they would never end, I had our floors lifted, replaced and sanded, the puppy ate two couches, which I had reupholstered in a patchwork of eye-watering colours, I wrote some textbooks, wrote parts of some other textbooks and I said goodbye forever to two of my cats and to my mother.
Acceptance. This is how it worked out by design or accident, steered by myself or by fate. Whether I run a sub-five-hour marathon, or crawl across the line just before cut-off, the sun will come up on Monday, as it did last Monday and all the millions of days before that. The earth will continue to spin on its axis and my husband will still snore most nights. But I will have re-upholstered, brightly coloured couches to sleep on.
And I will have completed another marathon. And as Fred Astaire crooned in Shall we Dance, they can’t take that away from me.