Oops! A 5 km time trial

Last night was the club’s time trial. I was unsure about what to do: should I do the time trial, or should I go for a longer run? I’m a bit short on long runs at the moment. I’m also short on club runs. Basically, I’m a bit short on running.

I knew that if I didn’t commit to turning up for the time trial, I would end up getting stuck in front of the computer or dogs or something, and then going out too late. And then I would either end up running too short a distance or not running at all. So the time trial it would be.

I fetched the Kid from school and stopped at the shops on the way home. I hadn’t eaten and found myself involuntarily drawn to the pre-packed, environmentally unsound and generally unhealthy temptations (masquerading as salads) lining the shelves. A couscous salad with pesto, sundried tomatoes and feta winked at me and beckoned. Hm. Something I could share with The Kid. At least it’s not a pie or a tin of Pringles, which is what she is likely to present to me as her healthy alternative to uncooked noodles.

As soon as I had dumped my baggage on the kitchen counter, I switched on the kettle and scooped some of the couscous into a small bowl. The intention was to have just a bit. Just enough to keep the hunger pangs at bay until the run – just enough to keep from getting hangry. I wolfed the fairy portion down and then scooped a bit more into the bowl. Then, determined not to have any more, I had a spoonful straight from the container. Then another. Then I thought, ah what the hell, and ate the whole lot. It’s funny how the more I resolve to becoming vegan, the more cheese I seem to eat.

It was around four-thirty when I wiped the last bit of pesto oil from my lips and thought that eating all of that a short while before a time trial would probably not be the best idea I had had this week. Too late, though.

A ten-minute power nap seemed like a great idea and I headed to the bedroom. And it’s as if my pin-sized head is a giant gong that signals the Significant Other as soon as my head touches a pillow (it’s the same one that sounds when I go into the bathroom), because moments later, more than an hour before his ‘normal’ home time, he clattered into the house, causing his usual havoc and noise.

I had noticed that he had put the Ryan Sandes book, Trailblazer, next to my bed. He had started reading it the other day and had obviously decided that he wasn’t going to finish it. He had looked at me over his glasses the other evening, wearing his I-smell-something-rotten face and using his I-have-already-decided-this-is-a-pile-of-crap voice, and asked ‘Is this book about running at all? Or am I just going to read about his privileged life?’

‘Skip the bits about his life and get to the Gobi Desert,’ I said.

Well, there was no way he could do that. How could he confirm his prejudices if he did that?

He has a certain point of view about ultratrail running and ultratrail runners. It’s a point of view that we don’t share, and which occasionally leads to loud, passionate, nonsensical arguments. Like the one we decided to have when I should have been getting ready to go for my run. Which meant that I was late leaving the house.

And late leaving the house means that more obstacles will be thrown in the way. It’s simply how the universe works.

As I got to my dusty little car (‘dusty’ being an understatement of note), a neighbour from a few doors down drove by. He stopped just ahead of my car and, annoyingly, it looked as if he wanted my parking space. Slowly, slowly he reversed, stopped, reversed, stopped, reversed, until he was more or less next to me. Then, painfully, excruciatingly slowly, he reached for the passenger window and wound it down a squeak. ‘Where have you been?’ he asked. This fellow never speaks a word to me. In fifteen years he may have spoken to me twice. Today, when I’m late, he wants to know where I’ve been.

‘AfrikaBurn,’ I say. But of course he has not a clue what I’m talking about. We exchange a few more words, none of which he understood, and then I was free to go.

Except that two people walking up the road decided to flag me down. They were looking for a hotel or B&B in the area. The name sounded vaguely familiar and, being a helpful sort, I googled it for them on my iPhone. I didn’t have my reading glasses with me – because I was going running, remember?! – and so the information on the screen was pretty useless to me. I held my phone out to them so that they could find what they needed and, again, finally, I was free to go.

By now I was about 15 minutes late and the club always, always starts bang on time. Always. There’s no hanging about after six o’clock. But I figured there’d be about a twenty minute warm-up, and so I could probably still make it. But no. Not tonight. By the time I arrived at the track, all was silent and serious, with swarms of impressively swift runners gliding around the track like stealth ninjas.

The club chairman, STeve, told me to just join in, and time myself on my Garmin.

I joined in, taking care not to be stampeded, and very quickly I was feeling out of breath. It turns out I was out of breath because I ran the first km in 4:45 – my usual speed is around 6:00/km or, on a good day, 5:30/km. I was sure I misread the info on my Garmin – I could barely make out the figures in that light anyway.

I pushed on. By about 2 km I figured I might just run 3 km and call it a night. ‘Never give up,’ I told myself and pushed on. By 3 km, I thought 4 km would be a nice distance. I could stop at 4 km, surely? I don’t really have to do a time trial, do I? ‘Never give up,’ I said again, and pushed on some more, albeit significantly slower than when I started. I headed around the bend in the track and, feeling a little queasy, did a quick power walk for a few metres before getting back into running again.

And then, around the next bend, the pesto, sundried tomato and feta couscous gave a little wave. Howdy, it said at the back of my throat. Ulp …!

At 4,5 km, I was dry-heaving. I walked a bit, feeling conspicuous and embarrassed. Having started late meant that I was one of the last handful of people still on the track. Only the ones running a 40-minute five kay were still gutsing it out. You couldn’t miss me. I tried to settle myself, but couldn’t control the loud coughing that jerked through my chest. STeve came walking towards me, laptop in hand.

‘Are you alright,’ he asked, looking concerned.

‘Yeh, sure, I’m fine,’ I said, forcing my voice through a constricted throat and trying not to vomit right there, in front of his lovely self.

I was still walking. Wasting valuable seconds of time trial time. Could we chat about my health later, maybe?

‘How much further do you still have to go?’ he asked.

‘About 100 m,’ I said, not really knowing how far because, as I may have mentioned, I can’t see a damn and bloody thing on my damn and bloodyblasted Garmin in low light. I might as well be wearing shades at this stage.

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Because we want to lock up.’

Shees! Now I was holding up the proceedings!

So off I went again, on my last 100 m, or 400 m or whatever nauseating bit of distance was left. It wasn’t 100 m, that’s for sure. However far it was, it was far enough for that damned couscous concoction to lurch up to my throat again. The Garmin beeped. It was over. The 5 km time trial was done.

I stopped my watch, stopped myself, put my hands on my knees and … oops! Oh no!

I tried to get off the track and onto the grass, but it was too late. The couscous concoction shot out of me like an exorcised demon and flung itself onto the pristine, pretty blue track. I looked at the dark stain between my feet. Oh dear … did anyone see? I was on the far side of the track, almost everyone had left, and it was fairly dark, since no one had switched the stadium lights on. But whoever was still left was there because of me, and so they were probably looking in my direction, willing me to get the hell done and off the track. I tried to peer into the dusk without lifting my head. Maybe no one saw. But I couldn’t stay hunched over there for ever. It’s not like I had anywhere to hide. I straightened up and walked across the field. I figured I could just quickly fetch my bottle of water and maybe pour some on the splattered couscous demon. But the last two people – all young and pretty and blonde and perfect – waiting on the other side of the field were getting impatient. They were keen to go. I picked up my jacket and bottle of water and headed out of the stadium. And prayed for rain.

But I had run a PR. A 5 km time trial in 27:19. It’s still very far off from a 25-minute five kay, but still … a PR is a PR. But I could kick myself. If it weren’t for the couscous demon, I could have … maybe, maybe … run the time trial in under 27 minutes … and that means a time with a 26 in it, instead of a 27. Either way, there’s some progress. Tired from AfrikaBurn and the UCT Memorial 10 km from Monday, I didn’t feel as if I was running strong. But apparently I was doing okay. Apparently I’m getting a bit fitter and a bit faster.

And I learnt that if you’re going to lose your lunch on the track, you may as well run harder. Because you’ll lose it whether you walk or run. So you may as well run.

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