Running to be positive

19 and 20 March

On Wednesday evening I set off for my 11 km run. I was feeling a bit tired and achey and was slowing down at about 8 km when my thoughts turned to Franziska Blochliger, the 16-year-old who had been raped and murdered in Tokai forest a few weeks ago. She has been on my mind so often over the last few days. I had refused to read any of the articles because I knew the story would haunt me. But eventually I gave in and read about what had happened.

All she wanted to do was go for a twenty-minute run. Her run cost her her life. I keep picturing her last moments, feeling her horror, her panic, her revulsion at her attackers and what they were doing to her. One moment she was a free and happy teenager, oblivious of her mortality, believing the world is a safe place, and the next she was being overpowered by four men between the ages of 21 and 32. What chance did she have? They took her iPhone, her watch, her headset and her ring. If these things were so important to them, could they not just have taken those and left her alive?

And so, because Fransizka just wanted to run, just wanted some time to be free and young and healthy, feel the power in her legs and lungs and heart, and now will never be able to do that again, I didn’t slow down or walk or give up. I ran for Franziska whose life was brutally taken from her and who will never again be able to enjoy the feeling of the sun and the wind on her face.

And I thought of the 19-year-old Khayelitsha girl, Sinoxolo Mafevuka, who simply walked to the toilet at the wrong time of the day. Someone thought her life, her hopes, her dreams, were worthless, disposable. They raped her, murdered her, stuffed her clothes into the toilet cistern, and left her body for the neighbours to find.

And I thought, as I have each day, of Eddie Izzard running his 27 marathons in 27 days. I thought about how he ran each day even though there were days that he clearly didn’t think he would make it. There were days when all he could say was ‘this is hard’. But he did it anyway. And each day he grew stronger.

These people, none of whom I had ever met, propelled my legs forward. Got me to the end of my midweek training run, feeling inspired, strong and grateful.

On Saturday morning I was supposed to run the Ravensmead 15 km with Firstborn Daughter and her boyfriend. But by Friday evening I was feeling fatigued. I just didn’t see myself turning up for it. I set the alarm for 4:45 am and had a dreadful night’s sleep. I even dreamt that the alarm had gone off, that I had switched it off and fallen asleep again, waking up too late to get to the race. But when I checked the time it was just after one o’clock – still many sleepless hours to go.

When the alarm did finally go off, I switched it off and went back to sleep. I would go for my own run later, I decided. A training run, as I’m supposed to, not a race, which would push me to run faster instead of running slower, as Hal Higdon had instructed me to. Firstborn Daughter sent me a text at six o’clock, saying that they had just arrived at the venue. I could still make it, I thought. If I flew out of bed, got dressed and left, I could be there in time for the start. ‘I’m not coming,’ I texted back. ‘Enjoy.’

At about seven o’clock, as I still lay in bed, I started thinking about running in general and our upcoming trail runs in particular. I need to get into the mountains, test my feet, my ankles, my legs and my lungs on the uneven terrain of mountain paths. I need to get my eyes accustomed to scouring the ground ahead, looking for holes, tree roots, rocks, scorpions and snakes. I need to test my core and my balance on boulders. But how? I can’t just venture into the mountains on my own. We – we women – are not safe. We need to be chaperoned like children. We need to be in the company of big, burly men who can protect us. Because in South Africa, the Big Bad Wolf is not a mythical creature. Here, the Big Bad Wolf hides behind every shrub and rock. And he doesn’t always travel alone. Often he has a pack of bad wolves who run with him. And then the big, burly man who is meant to protect you is of little use.

I thought again of the two girls who had been raped and murdered. I can’t erase from my mind the horror that they must have gone through. How terrified they must have been. How much they must have fought for their lives. How they must have screamed, or tried to scream. How they must have desperately looked around them, hoping to see someone who might help them. But no help came. No one heard. As much as they wanted to live, to get back home, to get to safety, they were just not strong enough. The wolves tore them apart. Left their useless, lifeless, mutilated bodies and ran off to their lairs.

I must run, I decided. Now. No, running won’t bring them back to life. Running won’t help the twelve children in George who were raped by the sick bastard who drugged them when they came to sleep over at his house. It won’t help their parents who gave them permission to sleep over at his house, trusting that they would be safe at the home of a friend. My running won’t help anybody.

But it is a positive thing to do. I can focus on the negativity or I can do something that is positive. I am not going allow fear of evil to hold me captive in my home. No, I can’t go running in the mountain on my own. And that pisses me off. So much. So much. But I can go running.

And while I was on my run, I pictured meeting up with Eddie Izzard after having run his marathon for the day. I pictured him asking me how I felt and me saying something like ‘Aahh … fine. I was a bit achey this morning …’ And him saying, ‘Achey?! Achey …?! Let me tell you about achey …’ And I told my complaining self to shut up and get moving. And I did. So I ran because no matter how stiff I was feeling, it was nothing compared to what Eddie was feeling on marathon number 25 in 25 days. And I ran because I was alive and well and strong, and Franziska and Sinoxolo were not.

On Sunday morning I set off a bit later than I intended. I went back to bed with the newspaper, some coffee and a rusk. I thought I would start the day slowly. I had had another sleepless night – awake at 1:48 am, 2:48, 3:48, 4:48 … seriously: every hour on the 48. Does it mean something? Does it have something to do with numerology? 4 + 8 = 12, 1+2 = 3 … Three: the number of optimism and joy, apparently. And creativity. I don’t know.

But reading the newspaper wasn’t such a great idea. There was nothing positive or uplifting in it. Nothing to make me feel optimistic or joyful. The main picture was of our psychopathic, corrupt president, laughing his stupid, corrupt head off at the miserable masses who voted for him.

Zuma low res.jpg

Our president, Jacob Zuma, making fools of us all.

The story alongside was of a woman who had narrowly escaped who-knows-what harm when she returned to her car to find a man sitting in the passenger seat and another sitting in a car parked alongside. They were so fearless, so unrepentant, so brazen, that they just laughed at her and told her there wasn’t anything in her car worth stealing. It was only when her German shepherd started barking and wanting to attack the one sitting in the car that they moved off. There was a story of a man charged with several counts of rape, murder and attempted murder who could go free because of administration blunders. There was the story of the 29-year-old woman who didn’t want to go with her boyfriend to his house, so he dragged her there and raped her. And there was the story of the Kuilsriver woman, Zarah Hector, who was still missing. Her car, stripped, had been found, but the 33-year-old mother of two was still missing. The story of the UCT rapist, who had raped four women over the past few weeks. And the story of the hunt for a man who raped a three-year-old in her home.

So much horror and pain in these stories. So many people whose lives were filled with the everyday joys and troubles and then, suddenly, everything changed and nothing would ever be simple or joyful again.

And again I decided that going for a run was doing something positive. Just run. Just get up, get out and run. So I ran.

Part of what had kept me awake the previous night was thoughts about my Sunday run. I wanted to tackle a big (for me) hill: Kloof Nek. I wanted to run from home, straight up this hill without stopping. I wanted to test my body, take the last few weeks’ training out for test drive and see if I had grown stronger.

And I had. I ran up the hill. All the way. I made it to the top without walking and felt pretty damn proud. I stopped to take a picture and send a text to the Significant Other who was swanning about in Amsterdam and one to Firstborn Daughter who was at work. I stood there for a few minutes, taking in what I had just done. I had driven up this hill so often, my little car struggling in fourth, then third gear, and wondered if I would ever be strong enough to run it. And I had. I had become strong enough to run it. What a feeling …!

Top of Kloof Nek low res.jpg

The top of Kloof Nek … I made it all the way there without walking and, even more importantly, without thinking that I can’t!

Then I took myself down Camps Bay Drive and, as I was running, thought that running back up this nice, long hill would be a pretty cool idea. So I got to about halfway down the hill, stopped, chewed an Accelerate sweetie and got myself back up the hill again.

At some stage along this run I realized that something inside me had switched. I felt as if I was finally within myself – as if I was sitting comfortably inside my body, living in it, controlling it, instead of my body controlling me. My mind was still. The disturbing thoughts from earlier had been left behind. It felt as if my mind was being cradled, gently being rocked and soothed. It wasn’t nattering away, telling me to walk or slow down. I wasn’t fighting myself. The runs weren’t easy, necessarily, but I was doing them and enjoying them. My body and mind weren’t fighting each other. I told my body it was going to run up a hill and it ran up a hill. I told it to run 11 km at an easy pace, and that’s what it did.

As I ran up Camps Bay Drive, I suddenly thought, ‘Who wouldn’t want to feel like this?’ Why would someone want to wake up feeling sluggish, hungover, liverish, overfed, overserved and not know that they could be feeling great?

Purple Bench low res

The purple bench with a view near the top of Camps Bay Drive.

But it takes so much effort and commitment before you get to the point of feeling great on a run. So many times it’s just sweat, sore legs, a burning chest, breathlessness and a pained expression. The good runs found me this weekend. I know not to take it for granted. I am grateful for the weekend’s good runs, for feeling positive, for being injury free. I don’t take it for granted. An injury can flare at any time, I could get sick, some emergency could keep me from training. But this weekend, and this whole week, in fact, it went well.

20 March Kloof Nek Run Profile low res

The profile of Sunday’s run. So pretty! Here’s hoping for longer, steeper, more challenging climbs!

I’m rather proud of last week’s training schedule. For a change, the schedule and the actual are a perfect match: cross-training on Monday, 5 km on Tuesday and Thursday, 11 km on Wednesday and Saturday, 22 km on Sunday and a rest day on Friday. All nice and neat with all the boxes filled in with the correct numbers and activities.

I can’t run in the mountains alone but with some planning (and with a smashed piggy bank) I can still run trails. We have entered our first small run, the Lourensford Market Trail Run, a 13 km run, just to test our legs and our gear. Then we’ll crank it up: The Fire Run, which is 25 km of intimidating mountain, then the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge Lite, which is 24 km of terrifying mountain trail and the Constantia Valley Trail Run, 21,1 km, which might be the most manageable of the lot.

I can’t save the women who were raped and murdered. I can’t save those who will be. But I can live a healthy, positive life. I can keep looking and moving forward and upward. I can live.



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