Run, Comrades, run: Rolling before the birds when you hate the cold

2012-03-19 12:02

Self-pity isn’t for sissies, and neither is this damn winter that’s creeping up on us.

March and April is the time of year when Comrades training becomes difficult if you’re an early-morning runner, like myself, who hates the cold.

Trying to crawl out of bed – in the dark at around 4am, even before there is any bird song to beckon you – to run the Jozi streets – in the dark – before the traffic, was next to impossible this week, and on one or two mornings it was made even more difficult by some drizzle.

Quitting, especially in favour of acquiring a human bed warmer, now seems almost as rewarding as crossing the finishing line in Durban’s Sahara Stadium ... But not quite.

And thank goodness that the end-of-Comrades enticement has so far still managed to overcome the self-pity, or else the training would have lapsed.

On particularly frosty mornings, and even those with only a hint of chill in the air, like last week, I’m reminded of DH Lawrence’s poem, Self-pity:
“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

Very zen, and very effective.

Another early-morning incentive is realising that I’m the lucky one to be out on the streets by choice at that hour, doing something I really love.

There are thousands of people who sleep on the frosty streets or who are forced to travel to work by foot or by public transport in the dark and early morning hours.

Also, in South Africa we hardly know the chill.

Of course I’m not talking about the Rhodes Run in the southern Drakensberg in the middle of July, where people have reported running waist-deep in snow (one day I’ll hopefully go there too to verify this).

I’m talking about Joburg, where the dry air bites any piece of exposed skin when the mercury drops below zero, or Cape Town, with its bone-chilling wind and rain. Still, these are mere disincentives and don’t really prevent outdoor sports. Just ask the football players and fans who braved Soccer World Cup matches in the dead of winter in 2010.

A few years ago while living in London (still, hardly cold compared to Siberia in winter), I remember going for a 15km run one drizzly morning to train for the Paris Marathon.

At the end of my run I realised that little icicles had formed in my eyebrows and hair. Chilling stuff.

On another occasion I tried to brave the solidifying snow on the pavements, but it was more of a hazardous slip-and-slide rather than a run, so I resorted to gym.

The upside about running in winter in Jozi is that the off-roads are a pleasure. There is no long grass, or much grass at all, to hamper your progress or tickle your legs, and no mud from any glorious thunder storms the night before.

Another plus is that you can build up a mean tan on your long runs over weekends (when you get to run while the sun shines) without getting horribly sunburnt.

On more than one occasion this was mistaken for a holiday tan, and the mere thought is enough to make work stress and sleep deprivation melt away.

Thinking of the positives when training in winter really seems like the path of least resistance. Self-pity, on the other hand, just drains your precious energy.

And I’m too much of a sissy to risk that.

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