Remembering our Comrade 674

Tomorrow almost 20,000 runners will once again gather at the start line in the dark early Pietermaritzburg morning to run the roughly 89km of the Ultimate Human Race.

The Comrades marathon was probably the biggest event on my husband’s exercise/events calendar and even though he’d added Ironman and the Rottnest Channel Swim to his calendar in more recent years and completed countless other marathons and races, the Comrades was always in his blood. It is totally captivating to those who’d run it as well as many others.

Since I can remember it’s always been the race that stops the (South African) nation, and also brings the nation together. Brave runners from all walks of life come together from near and far and display the true spirit of camaraderie while spectators from all walks of life line the 89km long route to cheer, admire and support them and the imaginations of thousands more at home are captured. I’ve always had the utmost respect for Comrades runners and endurance athletes, it takes something special to do this.

In 2012 our beloved Ironman completed his 10th Comrades marathon and in doing so gained himself a prized green (permanent) number. We were living in Australia by then and the kids and I were in Albany for the long weekend. After doing the traditional Elleker 10km race that morning we rushed back to our cabin to be there for the start of the Comrades in South Africa and live track our Ironman. We were listening to Shosholoza and Chariots of Fire on repeat in the car, emotional music, picturing him on the start line with all his brave fellow runners.

He made his way past the Comrades Wall of Honour where he’d had a plaque installed in honour of his dad who’d run the Comrades in 1959 and had passed away a couple of years prior. Little did we know that the 10th would also turn out to be his last Comrades. On Sunday I will be live streaming and watching the race as we’d done for years, but for the first time I will do it without him. I’ll be listening to Shosholoza and Chariots of Fire and I’ll be reflecting on all the times he’d stood on the start line as these songs were being played, and gritted his way to the finish, from the silver medals of his youth to the slower times in later years. I’ll be following the runners as they make their way along the route and past the Wall of Honour where there is now a plaque in his honour as well.

I’ll never get the chance to cheer him on at the start line together with thousands of other runners as Shosholoza and Chariots of Fire are being played and then make my way to the finish line to welcome him there wearing his green number, as we’d hoped to be able to do one day, but I will always honour his memory on this remarkable day especially. His indomitable spirit was that of a true comrade and he was such an incredible ambassador for every race and event through his energy, enthusiasm, passion and devotion to all events, to friends and strangers alike, but with races the Comrades was his first love.

Through Comrades many friendships have been forged over the years, in South Africa, Dubai and Australia. One of these good and long standing friends went to the Wall of Honour the other day and kindly sent me some photos of Ironman’s plaque. I’ll be cheering all the runners tomorrow, I admire you immensely, and for those who knew our Comrade and Ironman please wear the Comrades beadies he loved so much. I’ll be wearing his.

Mind Games – Unfit Me vs Future Fit Me

 

Yesterday morning when I turned on my training GPS it had this delayed reaction. I was all kitted out and ready to go, turned on the Garmin but there was a delay before it made its customary start-up sound. Almost like a hesitation. And my first thought was: “has it been that long since I’ve used it”? Or maybe it instinctively knew I was going to find ice on my car’s windows when I went outside for my walk, or maybe the battery was just running low, which was of course the most likely scenario. I use it for all my walks because I like to know my (average) pace and distance. It stops me from getting bored and keeps me from slowing down too much (we can’t have that).  In my (former) fit days I raced against that GPS – if my pace was slowing down it meant that I had to speed up, which I promptly did – and it kept me motivated to better my pace and times. I love my GPS and feel a bit lost and even aimless if I’m out walking and I can’t use it for whatever reason. It’s like a big part of the purpose of the walk has been taken away. I’m not a runner – dicky knees, torn ligaments and knee reconstructions in my teens have ruled that out – so walking is my thing, but when I want to walk for exercise it has to be at a decent pace that gets my heartrate up – no slow ambling for me then.

There was a time when I was quite fit and did 21km races (I even did a marathon once, a long, long time ago) but training as a walker takes up a bit more time than what training for a running race does (only because I’m not an Olympic-paced or -style walker) and between then and now also lies a back injury, a few years, the standard daily responsibilities of house and work that require time and attention, children’s injuries, etc. In short: life. It happens. For me, the routine of daily exercise has always required a certain almost selfish type of focus that I just haven’t been able to manage recently. Some days I’ve had the best of intentions to go out but then my warm bed seemed a much more attractive option at 5:15am when the alarm went off and it was cold, dark and rainy outside after a long wintry night. Ugh. The sound of the wind blowing and the rain falling is undoubtedly intensified in the darkness. When it’s a bit windy outside but it’s dark and I’m trying to judge how wet I’ll get if I go out exercising it always sounds like it’s blowing a gale and I can visualise dark clouds rolling in readying for the heavens to open as soon as I’m far enough away from home that should I turn back I’d be in as much of a drowned-rat-quandary than if I’d kept going. That halfway point where you’re no better off if you turn back and just have to keep going. Especially windy weather sounds much more drearily miserable and stormy than what it actually looks like and as soon as it’s light and I’m able to see what the weather looks like all my previous conjuring up of terrible winter storms disappear like mist before the morning sun. Its bark is definitely worse than its bite. Some mornings when I’m listening to the weather outside and I check the weather forecast and rain radar on Weatherzone PLUS (which my husband installed for me because it’s much better than Weatherzone) I can’t help but wonder how anyone stays fit – what is the incentive in venturing out into that? But lots of people do – and yet again I have to battle my own weak mind. If I could somehow put the energy utilised by the mind games I play with myself to constructive use I’d be able to do 14 hours of work in a day. Give or take. What should have been a 5km walk then by default becomes a 3km walk otherwise my procrastination would have me turn up late for work. Maybe I should just think about it less and just do it.

As soon as I’ve allowed that tiniest bit of doubt to set in and I lie back underneath the warm covers it becomes ever so easy to come with excellent justifications of why I should stay right where I am instead of venturing out into the cold and dark morning. Exercising in the afternoons has never really worked for me either because it’s so easy to come up with excuses at that time of the day when so many other things are happening, plus there’s always dinner that has to be cooked, kids’ sport commitments, etc, etc. Early mornings are the best time for me because then you get up and go and get it done for the day and it’s such a great way to start your day. I know from experience that once I’m in the routine of doing it daily it becomes easy to do it, and when I was fit I actually, believe it or not, enjoyed it, looked forward to it and missed it badly when I didn’t do it. I loved those endorphins so much. Every morning when I went out the new day felt like a fresh start, albeit a bit crisp in winter. It’s great to see the first rays of daylight coming through and hear the birds announcing the start of the new day. It’s such a peaceful time of day to be out on the road breathing in fresh air and clearing your mind.

My favourite walking path on a cold dark morning with view towards Fremantle harbour

My favourite walking path on a cold dark morning with view towards Fremantle harbour

It’s not like I haven’t done any exercise at all recently, I’ve still kept going and seen glimpses of my former fit self who used to count my weekly kilometres and kept spreadsheets with details of distances and pb times – oh to be able to walk 10km in under 70 minutes again!! I’ve seen her occasionally, we’re not complete strangers, she has to still be around somewhere. It still annoys me when other walkers jog past me only to slow down to a pace slower than mine as soon as they’ve passed me, after which I’ll pass them going at my consistent pace and peculiar style, and then they actually rustle up another little jog and pass me again, and start walking slowly again in front of me! In fact I find it insulting – it’s like they’re trying to tell me they can go faster than I can (but then by all means keep going faster than me if you want to!) – but after a while they give up. Some give up after being passed about twice, and some doggedly keep doing it for about four or five times in a row.  What’s with that anyway? I have no problem with runners passing me (can’t keep up with them anyway) because they’ll keep going at their own pace, neither do I have a problem if someone walks past me – that might bring out my competitive side and make me up my pace – it’s only the silly wanna-be-in-front-of-me-slow-walkers-who-jog-past that get up my nose. I see it as motivation to go faster though, so I probably shouldn’t complain about it too much.

At least my desire to be fit again hasn’t deserted me and as long as that is around I suppose there is hope for me yet, even if my interpretation is that my GPS shows signs of not being used enough. My motto has always been “Never give up” so in my mind there still exists a future fit version of me. Tomorrow morning I won’t hesitate when the alarm goes off, I’ll put on my shoes, go out and go and find that future me. It might take a while to find her but I’m sure she’s out there somewhere and I’m much more likely to find her out there than sitting on this chair and hey, never give up!

Never, ever give up!

Never ever give up!

Ironmen and Mad Fish (The Art of Spectating)

Hello 3am, we should stop meeting like this. Although we don’t do it all that often. Being a spectator at a running race or triathlon is something the kids and I have down to a fine art. It could be Perth, Rottnest Island, Buller Gorge or Broome Marathons, Two Oceans Ultra-Marathon, Busselton Ironman or 70.3, Albany Half, Three Peaks Race or the Jüngfrau Marathon, each has its own set of challenges and rewards for supporters and spectators.

Having a husband and dad who is fanatic about running and endurance sport, who’ll get up well before 5am most days to train, trains nearly every day whether it rains or whether it’s over 35°C, spends up to 20 hours per week dedicatedly training if he’s training for an Ironman, who is forever setting himself new goals and (what would be insurmountable to me) challenges and falls asleep before the rest of us most nights means that it’s part of our lifestyle to have several different sports GPS’s in the house, to see him update his training spreadsheets daily and to watch him go for a second run or swim for the day so he’ll reach his target kilometres for the month. With more than 80 marathons and over 20 ultra-marathons under the belt it goes without saying that the kids and I have spent a fair bit of time watching and waiting at finish lines of races. When the kids were little it was a bit harder – try explaining to a crawling baby or toddler with a short attention span that you just have to hang around a little while longer waiting for dad – but since they’ve got a bit older we’ve been going to more and more events. Another change has been in that he started doing triathlons as well, and added half-ironmans (or Ironman 70.3 to be technical) and Ironman to his repertoire which usually meant a weekend away for the family watching these events which could take anything between 5 and 15 hours.

Watching running races aren’t really the kids’ favourite pastime as with a lot of races you only see your athlete at the start and finish of the race but if it involves a weekend away such as for the Rottnest Marathon, they’re quite good at supporting their dad. An out-and-back race means hanging around at the start/finish line and depending on how energetic I feel on the day, maybe hopping in my car and waiting for him somewhere along the course and snapping some pics before going back to wait at the finish line. However if it’s a course with a couple or more laps it means we’ll see him a few times during the race but that means timing each lap according to how long he predicted he’ll take and making sure we’re there at the right time and haven’t wandered off to go and get a coffee or something at that exact time. It also means that if he comes in faster or slower than expected we wonder if everything is still going according to plan because there is always a race plan.

Thanks to his never ending energy we’ve watched races in some breathtaking places. Being there when he did the Jüngfrau Marathon in Switzerland was unforgettable.  The two of us went to Switzerland and were tourists for a week and then he ran the marathon, starting at Interlaken and tackling the nearly 1500m ascent for 42km via Lauterbrunnen all the way to the finish at Kleine Scheidegg while I hopped on and off the little train going up the mountain at various points to wait for him in a very civilised way perfectly suited to a spectator and supporter. By the time we reached the finish line it was snowing. A marathon in all sorts of conditions with the most spectacular scenery and views of the Swiss Alps.

Buller Gorge Marathon in New Zealand with its South Island rainforest beauty was another great experience; at the Two Oceans (ultra) Marathon in Cape Town we were only able to wait at the finish line but knowing the course and the spectacular Chapman’s Peak it goes over meant we could still appreciate the magical scenery in our minds’ eye but at the Broome Marathon on Cable Beach the kids pulled out all the stops to help support Ironman and one of his friends. Child No 2 ran her first 11km race that day but Child No 1 and Child No 3 walked about 2.5km to the south of Cable Beach Club to give their dad water there and since it turned out to be a 34°C day in mid July (winter) and the entire race was run on the beach it was slow going and Child No 3 ended up walking alongside her dad all the way back to Cable Beach while I walked about 2.5km to the north to give them water there and passed the nudist beach on my way! All in a day’s work for a spectator.

Buller Gorge, start of the Buller Gorge Marathon

Buller Gorge, start of the Buller Gorge Marathon

Start of the Broome Marathon on Cable Beach

Start of the Broome Marathon on Cable Beach

Runners spread out along Cable Beach in the Broome Marathon

Runners spread out along Cable Beach in the Broome Marathon

When the opportunity arose for Ironman to do the Three Peaks Race in Tasmania we knew it would be a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us and it turned out to be exactly that and more.  The race involved 2 runners, 4 sailors, a yacht, 335 nautical miles of sailing around the east coast of Tasmania and 3 runs over 3 peaks in 3 days covering 131km, in some places scrambling like mountain goats. Epic is the only word to describe the experience, even for us as spectators. It was so different to anything we’ve experienced before, for Ironman and his friend who sailed from run to run and had to run together for safety reasons (some of the runs started in the middle of the night) and for the kids and I who drove to different spots in Tasmania to see them, and also to meet the four great guys who were taking care of the sailing, the cameraman who went along and their families. Unlike standard running races this was a team effort between sailors and runners like no other. The untouched natural beauty of Tassie blew us away and made us want to go back for an extended tour one day. All of us have incredibly fond memories of this trip, made even more special by the lovely people we met.

Start of the Three Peaks Race, Tamar River, Beauty Point

Start of the Three Peaks Race, Tamar River, Beauty Point

The Hazards, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania (two of these peaks are traversed in one of the 3 runs in the race)

The Hazards, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania (two of these peaks are traversed in one of the 3 runs in the race)

Magic Miles dropping her sail as she's approaching Constitution Dock up the Derwent River in Hobart to drop the two runners off for the last leg of running (up Mount Wellington and back)

Magic Miles dropping her sail as she’s approaching Constitution Dock up the Derwent River in Hobart to drop the two runners off for the last leg of running (up Mount Wellington and back)

Triathlon support has different requirements for spectators. Efficient support means setting up camp early in the morning in a spot where you’re most likely to see the most action. We’re old hands at this and have our spot in Busselton to watch the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events, and in Albany where we watch the Albany Half from. In Busselton we go onto the 1.9km jetty to watch the start of the swim, walk to the end of the jetty to see our athlete as he goes around the end of the jetty and then walk back to see him at the swim exit. Then it’s a case of timing how long we have until we go to see him on the bike in a different spot and repeating that, depending on the number of laps, and then it’s rushing to see him come back into transition after the bike and before the run, and then back to base to watch the run. Albany Half and Mandurah 70.3 have their own (slightly different) routines. A full Ironman event being one that starts around 6am and takes some hours to complete we’re usually up around 3am to be at the start in time and it can end up being a very long day of worry if your poor athlete struggles with nausea or something else like ours did the first time, but he persisted and finished well after sunset. Watching these events and the competitors each push through their own individual boundaries and limitations to reach their goals while soaking up the amazingly supportive vibe and camaraderie all around is another unforgettable experience. The overwhelming sense of relief, pride and joy as your ironman crosses the finish line after you’ve waved them off around sunrise and they’ve constantly been going all day to finish after sunset and the commentator says their name followed by: “You are an Ironman” is pretty special.  We made new friends and everyone supports everyone else as it’s all about reaching that finish line, one way or another and I admire all the Ironman competitors and finishers. When our Ironman got injured last year and wasn’t able to do the full Busselton Ironman event I thought I’d be relieved not to spend a 20-hour day – from when we have to wake up to when we get to bed again that night – at the event but I was surprised to feel a strange, empty, sad feeling not being there and really missed the atmosphere and the whole experience.

Ironman Busselton competitors during the 3.8km swim around the jetty

Ironman Busselton competitors during the 3.8km swim around the jetty

And then my man became serious about doing the Rottnest Channel Swim. He’d said for a while that he wanted to do it but the run-debilitating injury put it into fast forward and so the rigorous and relentless training for yet another different type of endurance event kicked off with a new set of challenges. He came home after swim training one morning complaining that he was cold (while the rest of us were quite warm) to which I replied that the rest of us hadn’t been swimming in the (Swan) river like mad fish all morning! This swim was going to throw our tried and tested spectating recipe out the window and I had to rethink my strategy. It’s a bit hard for a spectator to watch this open water swim other than from a boat and his crew boat had no space for nervous wives so I was just going to have to watch the start, hop on a ferry to Rottnest Island and wait at the other end, which I preferred anyway.

Leading up to an event such as this there’s always much talk in the family about the training requirements, schedule, and equipment in the preceding months and as the day draws closer the attention is focused on race-day logistics, nutrition, race briefings, protection against the cold (no wetsuits are allowed), long-term weather forecasts and wind predictions – an on shore wind could make for a terrible day out. Then tapering starts and final planning and preparations are done. This was going to be another mammoth team effort with the swimmer having to cross the 19.7km stretch of ocean between mainland WA and Rottnest Island with the aid of a paddler and support boat keeping them on course, feeding them and judging whether or not they show signs of hypothermia. It’s like the Comrades (marathon) of swimming. The skipper of my man’s support boat wrote a tracking website on which we could follow his progress and all was set for our Ironman turned (mad) fish to tick another event off his list. The weather turned out to be far from ideal and the resulting rough and choppy water meant it was a much slower swim for most swimmers, and the post-race analyses (detail weather data, tracking data on Google Maps and graphs) and recounting and recapitulating thereof in several indabas proved it. As this event was in a discipline that was new to us we realised again how dependant your athlete is on their support team and there will be many stories to tell in years to come. The kids and I managed to go on a joy flight from the island to get a closer (yet very far away) look at the swimmers and waited the rest of the time out back on the island. Knowing that the weather was wreaking havoc with his estimated time, the best news I received all day was when his support team let me know that he was at the 18km mark (which meant that the worst of the rough water was behind him) and the best sight all day was when he came swimming into the finishing channel.

Swimmers and support boats and paddlers in the Rottnest Channel Swim

Swimmers and support boats and paddlers in the Rottnest Channel Swim

A few days before the event he told me the now familiar chorus: “I’ll never do this again”. I’ve heard it before and know by now that once the bug has bitten there’s no letting go and I don’t really get taken by surprise much anymore but I still hoped as this one was stressful for us as spectators, and the day after the event it had changed to: “I’ll never do it again in conditions like that”, and so the door has been left wide open again. But the way I see it is that if I had to hold him to all his nervous and jittery pre-race promises the kids and I will also miss out on some pretty memorable spectating experiences, but every now and then when 3am comes around I wouldn’t mind a bit of tapering for us spectators as well.

Road Runner

Let me start off by saying I’m not a road runner, I’m not even a runner in any form and I don’t look like a road runner either, and neither is this about road running in the traditional sense.

I do a lot of running around though, as mums (and some dads I’m sure) all over all do all the time.  In our house there lives a dad and husband who is fanatic about exercise, trains all the time (when he’s not working or updating his exercise spreadsheets and graphs or having the occasional bit of time out), has done close to a hundred marathons and ultra-marathons, ironman etc (let’s call him Ironman); a big boy and his two high school sisters, and of course, mum.  Most of the time I love getting up early in the morning and going for a walk, getting organised for the day ahead and just getting things done. The kids aren’t up by 5am but Ironman generally is, so the house is quiet as he minds his own business updating his general knowledge of all the relevant news sites for the day and other not-so-important information (in my opinion) before he goes out training, which leaves me free to do all the organising I have to do.

Sadly Ironman is injured at the moment though so there’s been no training for a while, which is really hard on someone who is used to that amount of exercise and I honestly don’t envy anyone who is injured (been there and done that). Suddenly he has a lot of time on his hands that he’s not used to, so not only is he injured, he also doesn’t know what to do with all this free time all of a sudden, and finally said in exasperation the other day that he was bored.

Now this was early in the morning before work and school, and I had a fair bit to do before going to work so I told him, as I was walking past him on my way to hang up the second load of washing, that I was definitely not bored! Picture this: going backwards and forwards between kitchen and laundry, front and back gardens moving a sprinkler, turning the timer on, checking that the tap is open just the right amount, back to the laundry to take one load of washing out and put another one in, outside to hang up the washing, out to the front garden to move that sprinkler and repeat the timer and tap process, back inside to the kitchen to prepare the marinade for the lamb for dinner, back outside to move the sprinkler as the timer has finished, repeat the timer and tap process, back inside to cut the lamb and put it in the marinade, make myself lunch to take to work, out to the front to move that sprinkler and repeat the timer and tap process, shower and get ready to go to work, eat breakfast, hang up the second load of washing. Now picture all of this in fast forward and you get a blurry picture of someone or something running backwards and forwards resembling a cartoon Road Runner.

This is the thing: there is always something to do. I remember as a kid sometimes being bored, but as a grown-up I haven’t experienced that luxury for a long, long time. Some days I find myself going backwards and forwards doing so many things, and while I’m busy doing one thing I’ll notice something else that needs doing or attention so I’ll stop what I’ve been doing and sort out the other thing, at which point I might interrupt myself again to organise a third thing, and so the day will go by and I’ll be completely exhausted by the end of it but sometimes I haven’t even finished the one thing I started out to do! Doesn’t really bring about a huge sense of accomplishment, but expends a lot of energy and takes up a lot of time. Other days I’ll set out with a clear sense of purpose and a list of things that need doing, whether it be phone calls, appointments to be made, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, gardening, filing, cooking a big pot of soup or some other project such as marinating and bottling my olive crop or making dukkah, and by the end of the day I’ll have accomplished what I’d set out to do. And yet there will always be something else to do!

How come it’s so common for men not to understand that a mum’s job is never finished though? And that there’s no point avoiding chores as they will not go away and are better done sooner rather than later? Training for an Ironman event takes up a lot of time, and in our house it basically means that with work and training Ironman is not around most of the time, which really makes it impossible for him to help with a lot of housework, and he’s honestly the only person I know who will sign up to do Ironman (resulting in hours and hours of gruelling training every week, getting up at about 4am most days to go training sometimes in the dark, cold and rain and other times in extreme heat in the middle of summer for 7 hours on a Saturday or Sunday) to avoid doing housework! The funny part is that quite often it’s an hour’s housework that’s been replaced by about 10 hours of training (and repeating this for a few months, and then eventually doing a 3.8km swim followed by a 180km bike ride, followed by a 42km run all on one torturous day). Replacing 1 hour of housework with 10 hours of torturous training? The maths just don’t add up.

Now that there’s a break in training at the moment he’s had to find other ways to kill the time, such as going into our shed a while ago looking for something useful and important, but returning instead with 25 year old marathon photos and then spending an entire fruitful Saturday afternoon scanning and sharing them online with his old running mate. Another deliberate distraction to avoid doing housework, and he hasn’t shown this much interest in the shed in the last 7 years (until he discovered that it offered a distraction)!

Funny that boredom is the alternative to training with no other options available. I’ve never thought of it that way before! Ironman and other related distractions aside, there’s always something that needs doing.

The bottom line is: I’m not bored.

Got to go.

Beep Beep.

Road Runner pic