A Way to Run

Running. It became a way of life for me. But my preferred way to run is regular road running. Not track running, not treadmill running, not cross country but especially not Trail Running. Yes, it is in the great outdoors on beautiful, remote, quiet routes but it requires a lot more effort, nimble feet and a strong core. Cue my sister…

Debbie is like a mountain goat-able to pick out the best route and gaily runs through the tracks with ease. It made sense for her to say crazy comments like ‘I am going to run through the Kalahari desert for 6 days or up the Drakensberg mountains four times on a 50km route. But her latest endeavour was totally bordering on insane. 150km along a very rugged route in Scotland. But I no longer talk her out of these kind of things, instead I end up saying ‘how can I help?’ This meant that I found myself shivering at the 1am start at a station in Glasgow.

A crowd of us gathered around her and the 200-odd runners listening to last minute instructions before a siren unleashed the eager crazies onto the dark path. I wasn’t really sure what to do except try and guess what she would need at the support spots every 15km or so. This was hard because I couldn’t put myself in her shoes. (Neither did I want to!) The first support team stayed in the warmth of the car watching daylight begin to crack the sky at around 3am. Modern technology told us that she was soon approaching the point so we shuffled over to watch a steady procession of head torches weave their way through a dark field. She found us, and we jumped into action. Coffee and eats done, I didn’t have cream for her red cold nose with me, she set off again into the slowly lightening morning.

Summer in Scotland can be very elusive and this South African was very glad to be wearing hat, gloves and ancient ski jacket that staved off the cold temperatures. The upside? It wasn’t raining- yet. We drove on the windy roads along Loch Lomond to the next stop which had a very welcome restaurant serving hot rolls and coffee.  4am didn’t deter the Scottish friendliness as chit chat about the race broke the silence from the car. This stop was at the bottom of a steep climb called Connick Hill, which is Scots for -mountain. The air was warmer in the car park which meant another interesting Scottish challenge-the midgie. Flying insects which love the heat of human skin and can only be deterred by some Avon lotion and unflattering midgie nets, both of which I had.                              

Debbie arrived a little bit later than expected and she had complained that she had hit a bad patch early on but she seemed to be out of it as she changed her shoes, socks and ate some food before setting off on the path once again. We packed up the car and tried to get some shut eye while my brother drove through the narrow weaving road hugging the Loch.

The weather began to change and the cold crept in through my gloves and I began to get concerned for her out there in the elements. The next support point saw us try to get her some warm food but I misjudged her times and the food was long cold when she reached us. She confessed to getting a little lost so ran an extra two kays. Her colour was different from usual but she still sounded okay so we moved onto the next point.

By now, fine patchy rain kept changing the beautiful surroundings and in the north some menacing dark clouds threatened to move in. My niece had joined us as she was permitted to run alongside Debbie from this halfway point so the two of us walked towards the path in the hope of seeing her. We got concerned as familiar runners came by and the gaps got bigger. Now nearing what we thought was the cut-off time I got really concerned so my niece set out to find her. Eventually the threatening clouds arrived at the same time that Debbie did and I took one look at her face and I knew that she was done. She had done her best but the weather, tough route and hunger took its toll on her as well as 50 other runners who sadly didn’t get to the finish line in Fort William. 

 

I was concerned because Debbie is not one to give up nor bail, I am the one who surrenders but I don’t take it to heart, so this was new territory for her. However she took stock of her run and was brave enough to acknowledge her weaknesses and strength and had the wisdom to know her body.

Secretly, I was glad because the effort just seemed so enormous to me that I couldn’t comprehend this run. A couple of days later I walked a portion of the route and it took me over 8 hours to do a 20km section.  New respect for this little sister of mine but she may be pushing it when a few days later she started saying ‘well….’ I know her and unfinished business-arrrgh!!

One decade

Ten years ago I was in the same part of the world. Scotland. I had been here for a couple of months spending time with my gorgeous sister. All my sisters are gorgeous but Joanne was a lot like mum and dad seemed to favour her ( in my young girl opinion). There was no jealousy in this ‘fact’ but rather a simple acceptance of that is how it is.

Joanne was facing the last few months of her life and we all knew it. I was here to do whatever she needed me to do. Drive her red car to the doctor, hospital or shops through the narrow crowded roads; make her tea and sort her meds while her family maintained a semblance of normal; watch breakfast tv in bed because she was too sore to get downstairs; shave her legs because bending had become too painful and a girl still has to have her dignity- this proved rather hilarious trying to figure out how to hold the razor outwardly…. All these moments which became cherished memories of the fabric of my life that I was lucky to share with her….

A decade later, I am fortunate enough to be here again to share new moments with my Scottish family. I am excited and eager to explore the countryside, shops, transport, their home, their lives. It is a huge privilege to be able to do this- to be let in- to watch how people live. This time around most of my siblings are retired and free from the burden of work and it is great to see how they handle their time and play. My brother rides his bike, and seems to be an adventurer on wheels planning rides, trips and journeys. Although I don’t share his passion for wheels, I am loving hearing about it and learning about cycle paths and possible adventures his future may have.

I hadn’t planned a formal trip this year, it sort of fell into being. Youngest sibling, Debbie has a sense of adventure bordering on the insane yet seemingly fitting, this year. She is a week away from running the West Highland Way, a trail foot race of a 100 miles. Ten years ago us sisters became familiar with the same stretch of land as we walked it together but took seven days to do it. This drover’s route had us crying, laughing, moaning and celebrating our lives as we wrestled with the landscape, our boots and beds. Debbie is taking up the challenge to do it in 35 hours and we are here to help. We are going to pay homage to the route after she has completed it and for me I owe it my thanks. It set me on my physical journey of running and I never expected to continue running, ten years later. I am returning with gratitude to my home country, the 100 miles that I can barely remember in detail but the route lies firmly in my heart.

What an honour to be able to do this, to be here! How lucky am I!

Cheer-full

I started my eight official start to the Comrades marathon a few days ago. The marathon is a long distance run between two cities in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. The distance varies but is around 87km (or 52miles) and for thousands of South African runners, it is the running event of the year.

Eight times I have lined up yet I only have 4 successful finishes. I am fine with this. Really, I am fine.

Many people have offered me condolences about me only doing 42km on Sunday but those people are usually runners themselves. Contrary to my coach’s thinking, I didn’t start off my race thinking that I wouldn’t finish, I had worked on my mental psyche and was feeling quite confident about getting my fifth medal. The day just went pear shaped. There was no huge mental fog on the race (which had been plaguing me during this training season), there was no real injury nor reason for my stopping either. But sometimes we don’t have the answers and I have had to learn that that too, is okay. It is okay to not have a ‘reason’, to not know the ‘why’. This in itself is liberating because I used to suffer from analysis paralysis so I always looked for the ‘why’. This year I am completely okay with not knowing the why, as well as not finishing the race.

Human beings look for reasons, we hate uncertainty as it makes us fearful. Okay, perhaps I need to own that statement. It makes me fearful. But this year, I am finding myself facing so much uncertainty that in a way not having a particular reason for stopping my race is so freeing. In the freedom, I am marvelling at life. Just like I did on my race. People, all shapes and sizes participate. People all delightfully patient, encouragingly support us, cheering us on for hours. I was even cheered while sitting in the support bus-recognised for participating. I kind of felt like a hoax briefly at that moment but I realised that I can take their support whether I finished the race or not. Imagine a world where we just cheer each other on, regardless of what we do. Well, I felt that on Sunday.

Our bus waited for the cruel but necessary halfway cut off point and us 60 or so wounded, nauseous, limping athletes all cheered our desperate Comrades to the line. No matter how sick people felt, they wanted the best for these strangers, fellow runners. This race brings out all sorts of emotions and pain, but for me it brings out the best of us in our gruesome, sweaty glory.

At the finish and for days afterwards we go through the results of friends and clubmates hoping that they achieved their goals and we celebrate their victories even in the face of our own ‘failures’. This running community has taught me so much about the human spirit that I can’t begin to really explain it. I used to be secretly  embarrassed by my small medal tally but this year, something shifted inside and I realised that I am not chasing a huge target. I am living and living the best version of my life. I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything to be better/faster/more because right here, right now…

I am enough.

Will I be back next year? More than likely 😊