In another one of my optimistic, trigger-happy moments, I entered a whole bunch of races. Among them the Nutribullet Bay to Bay and, two weeks later, the Red Hill Marathon.
My thinking was thus: I have a fairly decent running base; all I need to do is give myself a week or two (max!) to recover from my failed ultra experience, give my ITB time to settle down, and then I can get back into doing some short runs during the week and some long runs on the weekend. Within a few weeks I would be ready to run a comfortable-ish Bay to Bay, which would set me up for the Red Hill Marathon. And, if I had managed to stick to the training plan, I should be able to give a sub-five hour marathon a shot. If not, then at least I would have a long run to add to my Cango Caves Marathon training.
Just reading this now makes me realize that I must have been a little bit deranged after the UTCT. Christmas was coming. I had deadlines. I was never going to manage to fit in the kind of running that I needed to do. And there’s the old man, who neeeeeeeds me on a regular basis. And The Kid hit a rocky patch, needing some close attention. Just making it through each day, with at best half of the items on the to-do list ticked off, was an accomplishment.
So, as has been the pattern for me, the training did not go quite as planned.
If I just set smaller goals, I’d be fine. A half marathon a month, maybe. Or even a half marathon every week would be doable. But, no. Marathons. Ultras. We’re setting our sights on those. Now. At this stage of life, where there are elderly parents, a teenager and work stress to cope with. At a stage of life where the body is breaking down, not building up, so any missed training session, any injury or sleepless night (and, boy, do I have those!) has impact and takes ages to recover from.
And so the Bay to Bay 30 km was anticipated with less joy and excitement than it should have been. Should I run it? Shouldn’t I run it? I probably shouldn’t run it. But I’ve entered. I can just take it easy. It’s 30 km. There’s no ‘easy’!
I argued with myself until the morning of the race. The Significant Other seemed to have a similar argument raging inside his head. He was feeling overweight and undertrained, and unsure of how his Achilles would bear up.
The raging gale force Southeaster that hammered the peninsula the night before the race served not to inspire enthusiasm. There was no way we wanted to run in that!
He came into the room at about five in the morning. ‘Are you running?’ he asked. I think he wanted me to say no, because then he wouldn’t have to run either.
‘I’m up,’ I said. It was a bit non-committal, but once you’re up, you’re up, and then you may as well run.
My intention was just to finish. Bonus points for finishing before cut-off.
Last year I joined the 3:30 bus. I stayed with them until the half-way mark, where I got lost in a throng of walkers and watched the little 3:30 flag disappear into the distance. This year I didn’t even try to stand near them. I was going to go slowly, take it easy, enjoy the view, enjoy the run. It was a 30 km fun run. Kind of like a long parkrun.
I maintained a steady pace, running, not walking, for the first half of the race. Just slow, slow, slow. But my stomach was giving trouble. Cramps. And there was a niggle in my left knee. By the time we were heading down Suikerbossie, my eyes were bulging from their sockets. I needed a portaloo. And I needed some crutches, maybe, so that I didn’t have to put weight on my left knee.
But still I was having fun. I saw some fellow club members heading towards me. We didn’t know each other but we exchanged some nods, smiles and waves of encouragement.
I had no tissues with me. And no Panado for this knee. Not really anything to eat, either. I had really treated the race like a parkrun. In fact, I’m sure I appeared at my parkruns with more preparation.
I was quite sure there would be portaloos at the turnaround. But, knowing race day portaloos, I knew there would be no toilet paper. What was I going to do? The stomach cramps forced me to walk a few steps every so often. Then, lying there in the road, just in front of me, was a clean, white serviette. Oh wow! But, no! I couldn’t! I couldn’t pick up some tissue paper from the road! Could I? I ran past it. And then I thought, no, if the universe sends you some clean tissue paper while you’re having stomach cramps in the middle of a race, then you must thank the universe and accept the gift. I turned around, ran back to the serviette and picked it up. I figured anyone who saw me doing so would simply think that I had dropped it. It was completely clean. Unused. No shame in this. None at all.
But there were no portaloos at the turnaround. Oh, woe!
I started looking at the bushes, assessing them for cover. But I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. ‘Where are the toilets?’ I asked the marshals. They, in sympathy, looked as desperate as I was feeling. ‘Choose a tree!’ one called after me.
Just near the 18 km mark was a shopping centre. In the shopping centre was a restaurant, La Cuccina – bless them and all their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I hobbled in, preparing myself to plead for mercy. But the waitress simply nodded in the direction of their clean, fresh, pleasant-smelling facilities. Ah! The small things that can inspire such gratitude!
I unwrapped a Gu Stroopwafel and took a few bites while I walked back onto the course. Suikerbossie was waiting for me. It had been a long, long time since I last tackled that hill. Probably at the last Bay to Bay, I think. I would walk-run it. There was no point in wearing myself out trying to run a 2 km hill, even though I had run this hill more than once in my short running career.
I made some friends along the way. We chatted, we joked, we encouraged each other. I left some behind. They would overtake me again later. I made it to the top of Suikerbossie and got ready to run home. I still had plenty of time to make it to the finish before cut-off. I was on top of Suikerbossie, on top of the world! It was an easy run home. I was feeling good. I could do this … oh … hang on … bugger! My knee! Ah man! My knee! It was not remotely interested in taking full advantage of the generous gift of a gentle downhill slope all the way home. Nope. It wanted to walk.
The pain shot up from my knee into my hip. I walked a bit. When I walked I felt pretty good. Then I’d run a bit. And feel not nearly as good.
And so I had to walk-run-walk the last 10 km, even though the rest of my body was pretty much up for a nice long run. A fellow from Bellville running club pulled up alongside me.
‘Are we doing to make it, sister?’ he asked.
‘Of course we are. We have plenty of time,’ I said.
‘Ah you are confident!’ he said. ‘That’s good.’
He complained of some cramps in his calves. Said we should pull each other through the rest of the route. It sounded like a fine plan, although I was too sore to be of much use to anyone. But we started running together, just keeping a gentle pace. We saw a cameraman and gave him our best smiles. So many cameramen on this route – and I was wearing shorts … were my legs making dimpled, wrinkled, old ladies’ legs waves? We ran on a bit more, chatting about the races we had signed up for. He was doing 27 for Freedom in Paarl. I had thought about it, but the early morning rise and schlepp all the way out to Paarl caused me to reconsider.
Then I had to let him go. My knee insisted on walking a bit. He ran on, found someone else to talk to, and then stopped a few hundred metres ahead of me. He was spraying some stuff on his legs – Dr Lee, it was called – and he shared some with me. Aaah! Sweet relief! I could run for a bit. It’s some Chinese stuff, probably full of all sorts of stuff that involves animal abuse and nothing that I would normally buy. But, boy, it felt good not to hurt for a bit! I didn’t see my friend again. I don’t know if he passed me again or if his generous sharing of Dr Lee meant that I left him and his cramps behind.
And still it seemed as if I had ages to go before cut-off. I could still hobble along, chat to people, take in the view, and make it before cut-off.
I would run along the flat section, I thought – that last bit that takes us to the finish. My knee would hurt on the downhill but it would definitely be good to go on the flat.
Dassie Sprint lay ahead. I was not going to be sprinting. I checked the clock. Time had somehow got away from me. Making the cut-off was no longer a sure thing. It was pretty much a no-hoper. I needed to pick up the pace … but … ow man! Geez!
Hundreds and hundreds of runners and walkers streamed through Camps Bay. Runners who had finished were walking upstream towards their cars, telling us to keep going, we’re almost done. Then people started calling time … only eight minutes to go … only five minutes to go … There was a solid chance of me missing cut-off if I didn’t start running in earnest.
A small, fierce woman came running up behind me, coaching some fellow who was in serious pain.
‘Catch the ATC lady,’ she called to him.
No way! Now I’m being targeted! I picked up the pace. It hurt. I kept going. It kept hurting.
The man was in the zone. He had had enough of this race. He was hurting, he was tired, and he wanted done. His shoulders were pulled up to his ears, his back was hunched, his head was at an angle. He was sweating profusely.
‘We can finish this bitch!’ he shouted to no one and everyone. ‘Come on! We can do it! Aaah! Argh! Bitch! Let’s finish this bitch!’
I let him pass me. The last few metres onto the field were a steep downhill. Pain shot up my leg. I tried to do that crabbing thing, where you kind-of run-hop sideways while keeping one leg straight. It was about as elegant as it was effective. Two minutes to go … three … two … what?! How long? Can someone decide?
I made it onto the soft sand and dry, straw-like grass of the chute. There was noise. Music. The announcer was saying stuff. People were shouting, ‘Come on! Come on!’ There was less than a minute to go. I had to run this, no matter what my knee had to say about the matter. People were leaning over the railings, waving their arms. ‘Come on!’ they shouted. ‘You’re almost there! You can do it!’
I ran and I hobbled. No time for smiling now. I saw the time marked out in red lights on the big digital clock. The seconds rolled over. Did someone speed up the clock?
And then I was across the line: 3:59:24. I made it with 36 seconds to spare. Good grief!
What is the matter with me? Why can’t I just turn up for a race well trained and well rested? Does it always have to be more of a challenge than it needs to be? And what, pray tell, is wrong with running a few 10 km races a year and just taking it easy the rest of the time? What?
And next week is the Red Hill Marathon. Another undulating, ITB-smashing route, with a five-hour cut-off. No, I should not be running it. No, I have no chance in hell of making cut-off. In hell I will be, though.