I’ve signed up to run Comrades

2009-11-30 00:00

The fun part was making the resolve. It came with abundant fantasies, a future filled with hope and possibility, a belief in one’s infinite potential for being greater than the present suggested. Then came the months of body distortion, aches and pains, occasional nausea, severe exhaustion. As the day neared, one ricochet between wishing it were all over and terror that led to wondering how one could escape its inevitability.

That was having babies over 20 years ago.

Now I’ve signed up to run Comrades and I have nothing to compare it against, being a novice to Comrades and a newbie runner too. I under estimated the pain giving birth to my first child. That’s why, as I haul this ageing body out on the road, I keep wondering if Comrades can be compared to having babies.

It was such fun making the decision to run the great race. I was on a jog when I made it. The weather was mild, the endorphins had kicked in disguising the shin splint aches I’ve battling with and the future was soaked in a rosy ecstasy comparable with other more private pleasures. Even crime and corruption seemed minor blips on the radar of hope.

“I’m going to run Comrades!” I announced sweaty and glowing as I jogged through the front door. My son, who like me at the same age doesn’t understand the joys of submitting to pain-filled physical disciplines, grunted in response: “Why would you do that when you can drive to Durban?” I just hope it is true that the youth are not wise. And to add to the burdens of wisdom, my husband, who buggered up his knees 21 years ago running Comrades while I was heavily pregnant with our son, felt he couldn’t in good conscience let me run alone so has also signed up. And as if wisdom is really not an issue when it comes to running nearly 90 kms – on tar – the running gods allowed us both to register in time despite the fact that the novice registration period was only open for 27 hours before the 5000 spots allocated were all taken up.

So that’s that then. We’re in and now I’m in the phase of intense and acute monitoring of my body. I have a tiny ache here …. A little bruise there …. This slender muscle twitches on the hills, that major muscle screams blue murder on the down hills. I make light of it but hang it, running is a painful business. If it’s not deep ligament aches in whatever rotates in one’s hips as one grinds the daily 8-10 k’s, then it’s these darn shin splints. Everyone says rest. It’s the only cure. Well, I have rested. For over 2 months now, except for the occasional little jog to test pain levels. And I’ve bought another rather expensive pair of shoes. And very expensive bandage to tape the muscle up during runs. And wheater cushions for icing and heating. And a whole week on anti-inflammatories. Do they respond? Well how detailed is one supposed to be about pain levels? Mother’s-to-be will relate – is this a matter for the doctor or was I supposed to be born knowing what risk I’m taking?

Winge-ing done, I’ve decided to take the story from my physio seriously. He told me he ran alongside an older runner (in his 60s) during a marathon and, inevitably, they talked about running. Pain came up, as it inevitably does, and this guy was matter-of-fact – “running is pain”, he says. “So, just get on with it.”

Getting on with it for now requires me to build my foundation training. I’m trying to be sensible and not cause these shin pains to escalate into actual fractures but at the same time, the mileage must grow. So, I figured those old runners of the 50s had some good sense when they included very long walks into their distance training programmes. A typical one went something like: walk 20 miles on Monday, rest on Tuesday, jog 5 miles on Wednesday, rest on Thursday, walk 20 miles on Friday. I don’t quite manage that distance, I have to admit. I’m doing a walk-run mix every second day for about 8-10 k’s. I began with just walking. Then after a week, I ran 15 seconds in every minute and built that up to 1 minute running and 30 seconds walking. It’s incredibly slow – I take anything from an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes to cover 10 k’s. Problem is, at that rate, I’ll still be walking to Durban the day after Comrades so something is going to have to change quite soon. I’m now up to 5 minutes running and 1 minute walking but on my next run tomorrow, I’m going to have to go back to 2 minutes running 3 minutes walking because my shins are complaining again.

I try to reassure myself, not with great confidence I admit, that simply getting the miles into my legs is good enough for the foundation period. You may think the other things I do are a bit gimmicky but I also add holding my breath for as long as I can (I was told that when I swim I should practice swimming under water to build lung capacity so I figure why not just hold my breath while I’m running?). And I also practice Chi running – leaning as one runs so that one is propelled forwards by the weight of one’s body and the legs are there to stop one from falling. It feels good – one can easily imagine one’s legs as great big windmills, slowly rotating from the hips in a smooth rhythmical movement, but if I get distracted, I soon find I’m back into my short, choppy stride with heavy panting. And then, in the spirit of barefoot Ted in “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall, and because my new shoes are hurting my left big toe, I run a couple of 100 m every now and then barefoot. I even think I’ve found a temporary solution to the advice of physio’s around icing tender spots after runs, which you have to admit is a drag, and that is to walk into the chilly water of Midmar Dam, where I love to run, and stand there for 20 minutes or so with the yachts bobbing in the breeze and the Duzi canoe guys all sprinting around the dam in their canoes in preparation for their great annual race in February.

I feel a great contentment, not that dissimilar from the 3-6 months period in pregnancy when one’s body is only mildly uncomfortable and the promise it holds easily compensates for the discomfort. I savour the moment and try not to think about next month when the real training begins.

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