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Run for your life

2012-02-08 07:38

Not so long ago I was a keen runner. In the space of four years I entered just about every 21km race in the Western Cape, and notched up some commendable half marathon times, including one golden winter where I peaked as a physically superior specimen at the Knysna Half Marathon. Oh yes, those were days, the glory days.

Injuries forced me off the road around 2008, so I’ve focused more on mountain biking in the last few years to keep fit and aid recovery. I’m running again now, with the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (the Ultra) as a 2012 goal, and in the weeks and months that I’ve been back on the road I’ve quickly realised what’s been missing in my life… that is, runners.

Wacky races

Runners are completely batshit insane. At a half marathon on Saturday I ran alongside a woman who hollered out biblically inspired encouragement every time she reached a kilometre sign board (it helped greatly, I might add, as I was encouraged to speed away from her).

Another enthusiastic lady, smothered in Vaseline and carrying enough extra water to get her from one side of the Sahel to the other (and back) at a slow crawl, belted out happy tidings to every runner that overtook her (which at the pace she was going, was every runner. Even me.)

Then there was the competitive chap who insisted on running behind me, at a pace he really couldn’t handle, for the first 10km of the race, breathing heavily down my neck before realising he was beat and dropping off to a pace more fitting a man of his robust physique. He said later he came in two minutes after me, but I wasn’t buying that tall story.

Not a complaint, a compliment

At recent events I’ve also spotted the same two skinny-framed, excessively calved ‘racing snakes’ who stand quietly in line at the portaloos, only to start the race fractionally late just so they can run past their friends, crushing their fragile spirits three kilometers into a race.

In no way am I complaining here. These are the characters that make road running a pleasant and appealing adventure, not to mention a friendly antidote to the sometimes more poo-faced environment of cycling events.

I’ve done a lot of the latter recently, and while they’ve all been brilliant events, there are certain elements at cycle races who tend to take themselves rather seriously (and these are generally the nitwits three places off bottom, who’ve spent more money on their kit than their precious child’s tertiary education).

Running again, and enjoying the slow-moving scenery (or maybe that’s just my deliberate pace), has been a breath of fresh air. The solitude (if, like me, you prefer your own company) of the long, meandering weekend run is something to be cherished. Likewise, the banter (if, like you me, you also enjoy good, like-minded company) on a pumped-up group run can put you in the best of moods for days.

Runners are people too

But it’s the people that make it special (our scenery helps too). And when you start getting to the long-distance training runs that an ultra marathon requires, they only get quirkier, not to say far more entertaining.

When the Joker tells Batman, in The Dark Knight, “what doesn’t kill you… makes you weirder,” he was probably referring to marathon and ultra runners.

I run with a guy who insists on wearing a particular sock, because he’s convinced it improves his performance. There’s another who didn’t realise that his second child had been born three weeks ago because he’s been so focused on improving his Two Oceans Ultra Marathon personal best. And another, who was told by his vet that he was tiring out his border collie because plucky Skipper was trying to keep up with him on training runs. How do you exhaust a border collie, the world’s most enthusiastic athlete? Sheep have been trying to do that for 100s of years… and they have the benefit of four legs…

Runners. They’re strange, scrawny, fat, dress badly, talk too much, say too little and keep odd hours. But they’re a vital part of the South African scene. Try it some time. You might enjoy it more than you think.



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Comments
  • Craig - 2012-02-08 08:20

    Nice story, but there's always something pained and obsessive about the faces of long-distance runners, and cyclists. I had a Latin master who was so addicted to running, he used to jog around the touchlines during half-time in rugby matches. He was addicted to the endorphins. And to Pliny. Put me off both for life.

      David - 2012-02-08 09:27

      Ain't that the truth. There seem to be extremists in everything we do in life. I prefer the fun side, that is the beers and banter after a good run.

      Craig - 2012-02-08 09:40

      Dave - So did a certain famous Comrades runner, if by "banter" you mean excessive amounts of cocaine, alcohol and that plant that lives in the shade of the chicken. Those were the days! None of these, "Oh no, I couldn't possibly have another one - I'm training tomorrow," pansies. Are there no hard-drinking, party animal athletes left in sport these days? Can no one drink till 3am and still get up and beat Wilfred the Swiss accountant from No 62, Conformity Lane? I count my grey hairs and raise my glasses to the greathearts of yesteryear.

  • Jean-Pierre - 2012-02-08 09:36

    I have to complain about runners in the Emmerantia dam, Johannesburg area, being a cyclist I train around the dam, as well as inside the park. Lets say the first thing I have to complain about, this goes for cyclists to (one or two) , there is a leash law for a reason, I have been bitten on the calf before, and nearly hit a dog this morning, cycling in the main road... my second gripe, the road is made for vehicles, not pedestrians, runners are not vehicles, and they sure do not have the right to run across the entire road, three to four abreast, facing the wrong side of the road, that is just pure dangerous, I'm only doing 30 to 40 km/h, a car might be doing 80-100 km/h. The dog was running without a leash with it's owners. The second was when I was approaching a robot as it turned green, in my favour, I turned left at the robot just to be caught in a group of +- 20 runners, crossing the "Red" robot, there is road rules, follow them. Running 3 abreast, somebody shouted profanity at me trying to dodge them on my side of the road, which they have seen fit to occupy fully. I am a vehicle, with lights, on the right side of the road, trying to follow the road rules, even if it is 5 o'clock in the morning. This was not the first time, I have been shouted at by a woman runner, being called a donkey's behind, in more figurative words, just for cycling in the right side of the road, as they run on the wrong side. The woman runners seem to have the worst mouths.

      Joe - 2012-02-08 12:02

      Jean-Pierre - take a chill pill, and look at your cycling mates first. Get a f**king life. I think your lycra is too tight - it may be time to stop having so many muffins at the Mugg-and-Bean.

      Joe - 2012-02-08 12:04

      Long live Shane Warne! Go Warney!

      Busi - 2012-02-08 13:44

      Pedestrain including runners are meant to travel facing on coming traffic, it is safer as you can see vehicles approaching. You were obviously too clever and skipped grade 2 when they taught this stuff. My second gripe is David is not talking about dog walkers.

  • Xoli - 2012-02-08 10:18

    Some are going to run their mouths(Fingers) on this article..nice one Dave

  • gregmcdavid - 2012-02-08 13:30

    Damn I miss running.... Dave, you've nailed it 100%!

  • Shelagh - 2012-02-08 15:12

    Love this article and can completely understand it. At least we get to talk to each other too. I've done a couple of cycle races and spent all the time talking to myself!!!

  • sinclairian - 2012-02-11 12:22

    Hello - I hope you see this. What about ACTA now, after SOPA and PIPA . Check it out - it is big and scary and Africa was not even involved - says enough.

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