A running week

Friday cold wind howling, rest day

Saturday, just feel tired, cold wind howling, wimp the run

Sunday, still tired, cold wind howling, not normally a running day

Monday, I understand that my recovery from Comrades is not yet complete, though my legs are getting perky. Wind cold still howling.

Tuesday, no wind and a perfect light, lusty 8 km, filled with numbers of running. A maths complicated to symbolise but easy to do: 4 with overlays of 4 and 2 deliver 8, 20, 1 like this : 4 days no running, no moon, empty streets; 4 days wind chill, warm bed, fuller dreams; 2 days bouncy legs, glinty eyes, itchy feet. Morning coffee always rich. This a.m.’s 8k stirred up my running residue, polished it in the moon. Then 20 min to delight in its starlit glitter; puffing it up again with sips of coffee. 1 perfect run, you see.

Wednesday, habit recovery day after a run, an indulgence and rememberance day.

Thursday: Yes! Rain on roof. Rummage for technical gear. Not wimping this one. Like a surfer into storm-big waves. Fetch in the last of the kids toys and visitors’ walking shoes Run, winter is come. And gone. Sweat-wet isn’t rain-soak. Even Venus looked through a gap in the clouds. Yet nicely, back at the gate, thumb hesitated over the remote. Maybe another 8k loop? Yes! Not really.

And still there’s Friday to come



Recovery, recovering

The medal still warm in my pocket, my mind turns to next year’s run.

Still another 4 weeks of recovery running before I start my secret plan improve my time:

  • 1 min because its a down run, further sure but easier in a way and it ends at sea level, Toll Gate hill just isn’t Polly’s although that steep little from under the bridge up to the freeway is a real challenge
  • 1.25 minute through training more
  • 1.5 min through training better
  • 1.75 min through losing weight
  • 2 min through less Merlot during training
  • 2.25 min because I got through 2011 in time

Phew, at this rate I’ll get there before the sun goes down. One day I want to finish the Comrades Marathon AND get home again before the sun goes down.

My dreams are cocky. They want more running, faster running, bouncy running.

My legs are wary. They want a massage, arnica oil, ice, rest, Cabernet Savignon.

My mind is happy, my soul, whole.

2011 digestion: Motivation,faith, trepidation

Done, nearly done in

A good reason to run, strong motivation, is a great help in getting through the training and then through the run on the day.

My motivation this year came from the doom that hangs over my running.

That I’m getting older is a part of it. The set-backs that made it a struggle to build a 4-5 day a week running habit are also part of the doom: a badly twisted ankle, a cold, bad weather, a family crisis. Part of it too is the feeling that I have nothing to prove.

Mostly though it’s knowing that the knee-surgeon who tidied the torn cartilage in my right knee said the damage to the bones meant my ultra-career was over – especially long distances on tar. If I feel a deep ache in knee bones, any joint in fact, I will stop running.

That doom is a short cut to laziness.


I also nearly knew that I could do another Comrades, something grand. Not just a marathon nor just a hike. If I trained enough and ran carefully I could do it.

Knowing though, is not enough. Only doing counts. So  for a time now I wanted to do another Comrades, get a 13th medal. Through the start-stop efforts, the try-again-next-years, that want became a strong driver:  a need I wanted to satisfy; a want I needed to fulfill; a hole that needed plugging.

My effort focussed on a finisher’s medal. I wanted to taste success, a medal around my neck.

After the my failure in 2010 that medal became powerful. That medal got a life of its own. It pulled me out on the streets.  Despite another another twisted ankle running a mountain trail, come October 2010 I was running regularly. That got my heart strong, lungs open and ate a little of my excess fat – first rewards of effort.

Lucky it’s a small medal so it despite its power, it didn’t weigh heavy in my mind. Training, you see, gave me joy taking me into a lively world. In making me strong it helped slow  the decay of aging. Starlight brightened my grin.


I had to run in faith. Not that I was looking for outside help. Comrades’ faith is that training has made one’s legs and mind are strong enough to reach our goal.  According to the books I had done enough to get through in the time allowed. Not much room for error, but enough.

But I never knew whether my legs, body, mind would last the whole way. Would blisters or a misplaced foot, stumble and fall damage one of my wonky ankles? Would what could go wrong actually go wrong. Would, in fact now, the remaining cartilage in my knees be enough to do its job for all that distance?

What if as the year before my legs just wouldn’t run anymore? Would I end up stranded outside a chicken farm, far up the road but too far from the end, trying to rationalise that finishing Comrades didn’t mean that much in the grand scheme of things.

Would I let go the dream?

I had to have faith.

The faith of doing the right things. A faith less of hope and more of action.


Last year I had enough of trepidation. The night before the run was a sleepless nightmare. I can say it now. But maybe it wasn’t trepidation; maybe it was the last night before execution doom.

The problem is that part of faith is precisely not knowing. With that comes trepidation.

Mild trepidation sure, a little gloom without the doom, a little fear without the trembling; knowing I could without knowing I would, excess adrenaline with the wooziness of a huge rush.

Rituals to care of worry that I had forgotten something:  a chair dress in what I would wear; checklist to check the checklist . The three essentials always close at hand – timing chip, shoes, electrolyte pills.

The last of the trepidation faded on the the run down to half-way. Deep into the run i had room for only constant effort. From the it was only a question of whether my legs would last a.

Next year

The balance will be different. No fear in my pocket, just the 2011 medal. If my training builds on these last two years, I will sweat less. My motivation will be as strong. I’ll get more of the Comrades spirit and I’ll have faith in a faster time.


Comrades 2011 digestion

Part of perfect ultra-running is being able to run with, let’s say, ultra-efficiency for hours on end. The best I got to was maybe 6 hours on tar with hills; maybe 10 hours on a paved, flat 100-miler; and, around 14 hours on mountain trails as long as I didn’t twist an ankle or two.

At the right effort level, wear on body-legs-mind is minimal. With a little refuelling and good hydration, the effort is, let’s say again, near-effortlessly sustainable. No recovery required besides maybe an espresso, maybe a beer, a little snack and dreamy snooze.

Body-in-motion, every system functioning strongly and in harmony, active, meditative, soul-filling, spirit free – a kind of the fullest being, a kind of perfection.

It takes a while and lots of running to get there. No doubt about that. For 2 ½ years I’ve been trying. While I’m on my way back – I can get into that zone for maybe an hour if the route is flat or down, I’ve still got some way to go to keep it up for most of a day.

In a way it’s a pity. The Comrades Marathon is much more enjoyable running in that easy, effortless state for maybe half the run. That means only half a run of concentration, effort, discomfort. Because of what Comrades embodies – a race, a culmination, a goal – I run a little faster and the effortless state ends earlier anyway.

Not that I mind. I like the idea of all the easier work in training – lots of spirit-free running  – and then to race, to get there in close to the best time possible on the day with the training done. Racing has its own riches.

Reflection: Maybe I could have gone a faster this year. But it wouldn’t have been much – not much more than 20 min. But  faster increases the risk of failing. I wanted a finish, a medal. I played it safe. Given how glad I was that the race ended there in Alexandra Park and not up in Hilton I was pretty close to being finished by Comrades even if I finished it. And now it strikes me that I’m glad Vic Clapham lived in Pietermaritzburg and not in Howick – another giant climbs and a good few kilometres further.


The numbers of my run


Comrades Marathon Finishers Medal

The just-one-more-medal medal

Stepped lightly into a cold wind, clear sky for the first run after the big day 8 days after the race. Recovery, a warm bed, gurgling rain, a dash of glory kept me inside before then.

Felt good from the very first step. At even the lightest effort my pace was still faster than Comrades race-pace.

The joy of everything  – life, running, beaming – welled up and burst through me. That rush highlighted the incredible and indelible experience.

Venus nodded, smiled when I showed her the medal … am thinking of having it pierced into my belly button or wherever kids would get it hung.

There is much to tell. Here starts some of it.

What the numbers show

The Comrades experience is always big. A starting point is the numbers of the run. This is how mine look as taken from the Comrades Marathon website at www.comrades.com :

Gun Time: 05:30:35 Overall Pos: 9742
Finish Time: 11:43:54 Gender Pos: 7881
Net Time: 11:43:54 Category Pos: 1210


Split Race Time Overall Pos Dist. Done Dist. To Go Speed
Cowies Hill 02:11:43 10751 16.86 70.1 7.81
Drummond 05:32:50 10056 42.96 44 7.75
Camperdown 07:59:37 9807 60.66 26.3 7.91
Polly Shortts 10:43:42 9945 79.26 7.7 8.12
Finish 11:43:53 9741 86.96 0 8.09

What they show is the even effort. It’s how I run. The position number gets better as runners who start faster, slow towards the end. As the run wore my legs, they started cramping – the exercise-induced kind – and that meant walking as soon as the first bites started. It happened on the downhills when I was running. The walking  – maybe 30 to 50 metres – allowed me to run again. The cramping was a bit worrying as it started soon after halfway.

The numbers show in a way that the hardest part of the run was between Camperdown and Polly Shorrts – from 25km to 7km to go. Actually it was the stretch out of Camperdown to the Umlaas Road turn-off, the highest point in the run. Those little hills were hard – 66 km into the run. I used to call that part the soul of Comrades – three-quarters of the run done, the end too far to bring relief. Race strategy called for using the walking to refuel for the last 19 km – energy bar, 150g of peanuts, energy gel, plenty of water, yet another electrolyte pill; jogging where I could.

Stronger for the long down through Lynfield Park to the bottom little Polly’s I got going again and the pattern of the day – running down the hills, as far as I could up the next hill, then runnning mostly two lamposts and walking one up the rest of the hill, sipping water and energy drinks, looking for someone to chat to, going past groups of runners – took me through to the end.

The numbers also show  how many people there were on the road, most of them at the back of the field where I ran.

What the numbers don’t show

  • the hard work. 8 min/km is an easy pace. My regular easy pace had got down to 6min/km. Running that hard would get me to maybe 60 km. So I had to spread what I had over the last 27 km – walking up  hills when my heart rate went too high, walking to ease the cramping, elbowing and jostling at the water tables, twice having a pee.
  • how much concentration it took to keep moving forward at the best pace. Little time to relax and enjoy run.
  • The jubilation that rushed through me when the noise of the finish became a cacophony – heralded by an announcer shouting “Just 600 meters to go.” Nothing could stop me having got that far. Not even a volcano.  A friend had twice got within sight of the finish line when the final cut-off sounded. I used to joke with them that he should have taken off his shoe with the timing-chip and thrown it over the line. So I had thoughts, while deep in training runs, that when I got to the end I would stop at the finish line and through my shoe over it. No chance. I slipped over the timing-mats, didn’t stop until the medal, that focus of so many month, was hanging over my neck. Still more jubilation. The air crackled. Every pore opened and sang.
  • My numbers don’t show the stories of all the other who completed the event, who tried, those who didn’t show up to run even though they wanted to.

The numbers also don’t show all the things that went on in my mind, that went on around me, that it took to make this great run possible. More on that to follow.


So its off to the Durban today. Won’t be sorry to get sunshine, warmth. Waiting to run, waited too longCape Town has been wet for days; not bad in one way but for the risk of a cold or flu is. Others will be doing the same, stretch in the plane, wink at the baggage carousel. Often the same conversation  – good luck, how many you done? Only x. How can you say only x when just ONE is an extraordinary achievement; an even more extraordinary experience.

Getting to the start line, getting the medal is extraordinary. Not just because I say it; not because I have to make it special to justify all the effort. Much more because I have felt that crossing the line feeling enough to know.

Next comes the expo, then putting up my feet for a day, putting them up and down for a day, then putting them up for a month. Or until Emily needs someone to crawl after her; or a beer is put on the table just out of arms length; or a friend suggests a run.

The big day looms big

So why Comrades 2011, so far, hard?  Got so much before, so what come back? Partly I know: be strong for my life’s autumn; healthy for two beautiful kids; top-up my soul with moon, stars, friends, more of the riches of the running world.

But one more medal holds something I can’t know ‘til it’s in my hands, ‘til later when the culmination subsides and I can hear the whispers of the stars.

How’s that? Better not catch a cold. Finish packing! Come on! Sunglasses, Viagra, in mean electrolytes capsules, pacing schedule, energy bars, peanuts more …


Packed so far: shorts, vest, lucky socks, news shoes worn with 150 km off their soles, timing chip, a couple of memories. Need spare shorts in case I lose more weight, these ones are barely hanging on … I wish. Got a zip-lock bag of external resolve; last year I took a 10l jerry can. Less training more resolve; more training gotta force myself to stop grinning, jumping, getting on the plane 2 days early.

Day before:

Gotta preserve these old legs. Following Lance Armstrong’s example I took my performance enhancing things: wine last night, coffee this morning, water and fruit salad then 25 min cycling at 70 rpm. Weight, according to the gym scale is stable if not a few grams less plus I had my glasses on. Relief. Taper isn’t making me heavier so I can eat more:-) Test of gut and calluses less than 8 days away.

Before that: I ran a bit.


Summer breeze

Stepped into a bit of a southeaster  this morning – woke the  sweat, jasmine of summer, inner-city urine supper; reminded me of of how all the steps in the way I run now and will run in 11 days. Didn’t much notice the run. Too short to quick. My moon-shadow pointed to Venus, led the way; I let the endorphins play. Was that the last 8k, the run before the challenge? No … no … nope, want these sips while the sparkle still bubbles. Gotta feel I’m doing something.

Misty tapering

Met a guy in a Comrades jacket. First time I’ve heard someone say “Last year I came 8000 something. This year I want to improve my position.” Other than those the very top athletes I didn’t think people cared much about position.  Misty eyed about runningOther numbers worry me: ~17.5 times my little 5k route seems hard. 10 times my 9k seems easy. 1 x 90k nearly impossible. The numbers of running eh? I’ll stay with this morning bright moon, the rising fog, espressos and the thought of just one more medal. Oh, and I am practicing what it will be like on race day. Ran with my timing chip this morning – to get used to its weight. Got all misty-eyed about what might happen on the big day.

Still tapering

Two weeks to perfection. Lie in next to a warm body, soft breath, hair across the pillow. With a little one too, angel-breath, elbow in my ear; rain gurgle in the gutter, car swish in the road. For now I’ll take now a bouncy run-grin-beam. Streets silent before the first bird. Surge a hill, weave across-down Molteno Rd through its median-gaps just for fun; flit along the reservoir which holds the cloudy sky, and often the stars. Lick my fingers dipped into fullness. I like running, you see.