Merrell Spring Night Series 8 km

7 September

Last night was the first in a series of three night runs on Groot Constantia wine estate, sponsored by Merrell and Black Diamond. I immediately signed up for all three runs and last night I sat in the traffic for over an hour, worried that I might arrive in time to collect my bottle of wine and watch the runners disappear into the dark.

I made it just in time, though. Got signed up, checked out the Black Diamond headlamps, contemplated buying one and decided to ignore my credit card burning a hole in my pocket. An investment of that kind needs a little bit more thought. Do I really want to run with a battery pack strapped to the back of my head? And my stupid head is so teeny-tiny, they probably don’t make straps small enough to fit around it. I’ll have my headlamp hanging between my eyes like a giant, glowing bindi. Next time.

I felt a bit spare standing there on my own. Everyone seemed to be in groups or couples, all laughing and chatting and having a great time. The Significant Other was running with his mates, Firstborn Daughter is still nursing injuries and not running, and Her Boyfriend runs only when she does. I should have seconded him, anyway, I thought. But still, there was some freedom in being on my own. No pressure to run at any speed.

They delayed the race by a few minutes, waiting for darkness so that their markers could show up, and then we were off. It felt like quite a pace but I kept up. I felt good. I wasn’t expecting to feel strong after Sunday’s 30 km and a day of driving and dog training. In fact, I had felt so wiped out earlier in the day that I took myself off for a little afternoon nap – and actually slept. I woke up just in time to get ready and head into the traffic. So I intended to run slowly and fully expected to be at the back of the pack immediately. Runners whizzed past me. All around me was darkness, except for dots of lights dancing their zigzag rhythm between the vines. I felt as if I must be right at the back but I could hear signs of life behind me. It must have been only a handful of people, as there seemed to be a lot of lights up ahead, snaking around the trail.

My watch signaled the end of the first kay. 5:51/km? Could that be? Too fast! Too fast! The next kay was also under 6:00/km. I could hear my breathing. I don’t like to hear my breathing. I feel self-conscious. I sound unfit. I sound as if I shouldn’t be there with those real runners whose pulse is still sitting at a resting rate. Never mind. The first hill will come. Then they will start to slow down.

I got up the first climb and still kept the pace around 6:00/km. Wow! What’s going on here? The next hill will definitely knock me off pace. It did a bit, and I slowed down to just over 7:00/km. I had to talk to myself. Look around at the view. Look around and don’t trip!

How amazing! How spectacularly beautiful! And what a privilege to be there. No, I didn’t have my best people with me to share the experience with me. But I was there. I was running. The orange and white city lights lay spread out to my right, their glow reflecting off the clouds above. Mirrored in the still water of the dam were the sky, the clouds and a silhouetted line of runners. All was quiet. Each person in his or her own world, moving through the night air, shrouded in darkness, surrounded by trees and vines. It was magical.

Some runners slowed down. I passed them. I was on a trail and I was passing runners! Then, once on single track, I had to walk. People ahead of me had slowed down and I had to stick behind them. I was grateful for the rest but wanted to rest a bit faster. Gloopy mud made for some creative, arm flailing moves in places. But I didn’t land on my butt and I didn’t trip over roots or into holes. I thought of Firstborn Daughter and her recent tendency to tumble.

I counted the distance to go. The 500 metres between 4,5 km and 5 km seemed to take forever. We wound our way along a muddy single track, uphill, between tall trees. The markers glowed in our headlamps, creating a strange feeling of being in another world. Were fairy creatures nearby? The people in front of me were too slow. I wanted to pass. But what if I passed and then they sprinted past me again, smirking in the dark and silently casting smug thoughts back at me? I hung behind them until they seemed to slow even more. I needed to pass. They didn’t pass me again.

And then it was downhill. Downhill and home to the finish. I couldn’t pick up too much speed on the downhill. It was slippery, there were dongas and gullies cement pipes lying in wait to twist an ankle and ruin a marathon. But I didn’t want the people behind me to catch me. I hooked round a switchback onto a flat and saw the runners heading down the hill, way too close for comfort. I picked up the pace. I picked up the pace? What the hell? The Garmin beeped. One more kay to go.

A left turn took me across the lawn. It sloped uphill and I ran up it. I felt energized, joyful, powerful. The last stretch to the finish took me down a paved path. I passed some people. Why were they walking?

And then, out of the darkness, into the light, under the finish arch, face beaming. A rather nice-looking blonde fellow smiled at me, said well done and handed me a bottle of water. Someone wrote on a clipboard. That was it. I was done. 56 minutes and some change.

I collected my bottle of wine and my free wine tasting and went to sit on a low wall to take it all in. That was good.

I took a sip of wine – nothing like rehydrating with alcohol, right?! My iPhone lit up to signal a text message: my results. Already! Not great, not brilliant, but not last, either: 95th overall, 33rd in my gender. That would include all those sprightly young things with their swishing ponytails; those ones who actually look great with a buff worn as an Alice band.

The official results show that there were 11 runners in the Masters category. I came 6th out of the Masters. Masters one to five were men. Only two other Masters women managed to secure evening passes from the old age home last night. They finished about two minutes and ten places after me. Had they had prizes for age categories, I would have had my moment for the first time in history! I would have podiumed in first place!

Oh well …

I waited around for the prize giving. Maybe I would luck upon a Black Diamond head lamp. I was getting chilly. My jacket was in my car but the car just seemed way too far away. Once there, I would get in and drive home. I decided I may as well use their facilities while I wait for the prize giving to start. I headed in to a cubicle, cell phone, wine bottle, water bottle and wine glass in hand. And it was only when I came back out that I spotted the row of urinals against the wall. I had gone into the gents’ loo! Oh my word! I don’t know what I would have done had there been a fellow standing there, pointing his pieps as the porcelain …

I didn’t podium. I didn’t get a medal. I didn’t win a Black Diamond headlamp.

But it was fun. So much fun. I am so very fortunate to be able to do this.

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