My race is run

2010-04-19 00:00

That’s it. My race is run before I could even get out of the starting blocks.

It’s never just one thing, is it? What did me was my knee. The right one. The arthroscopy didn’t have quite the desired result. Maybe it sorted out one problem. I don’t really know because I haven’t run for three months now. But even walking is painful. My theory is that there’s a bunch of things going on in there. The raggedy cartilage has been cleaned up, the orthopod says. But the cyst is still there. The hamstring glitch is still there.The Popliteus muscle strain is still there. Maybe they’ll sort themselves out one by one. But on the other leg I’ve got what the orthopod usefully calls runner’s knee, and it’s also taking its time to heal. Imagine, all this without even having run the Comrades. Final day for getting my qualifying time in is April 26. I won’t be handing it in, and that is probably that; I can’t see myself gearing up to run the Big One ever again.

Donna, on the other hand, is steaming along dead on schedule. She’s done her first ultra, the Bergville to Ladysmith, pipping Bruce Fordyce by a minute at just under six hours for the 52 kays. The traffic cops let me onto the course, which they weren’t supposed to, but what a treat to stand on the side of the road, with birdsong and the far-off lowing of cows in the air, watching runners from all over plodding into the sun. But oh the frustration. By the end of the day I had resolved to run a qualifier even if I crocked myself permanently in the process. Fortunately, sense prevailed, and my training is now being channelled to swimming and gym-work and cycling. None of these gives quite the rush I get from a good, hard run. The correlation between effort and satisfaction seems to be purer on a run. Swimming is a more delicate business, where good technique rewards hugely, and aggressive flailing seems to make you go backwards. Running is kinder to the un-coordinated. Bad technique isn’t the end of the world, and raw power can make you fly, even if you collapse after 50 metres. Running can be hard work, but swimming requires me to key myself up that little bit more. Maybe it’s because I’ve always felt a bit of a klutz in the water, but notching up a kay in a shade over 20 minutes last week made me feel like maybe it’s coming together. At least the knees aren’t taking strain.

Best though is to swim in Midmar Dam. On an autumn Sunday, to take a solitary swim beyond the yachts in the basin, the water slightly chill on the skin, under a clear sky while the world takes a siesta, is as rich an affirmation of living as a run along forest paths. The body is a many-splendoured thing, always at my bidding, even I can’t do exactly as I’d prefer.

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