It is ‘running season’ which means many choices. Where to run, how far to go and what to do. South Africa has a unique running community that is growing larger by the Parkrun. In the bigger cities there is a race just about every weekend. These races are selling out in days. But, in the decade since I started running, my sister and I have adopted a philosophy of doing at least one new race a year. Preferably out of town, far from the chaos and madness. We have plenty to choose from.
Our exploring this past weekend, took us to a remote corner of a couple of provinces, to Volksrust. This dorp lies officially in Mpumalanga, but very close to Kwa Zulu Natal and also near Swaziland. Yet it feels like it is closer to heaven than any other town. Recent rains means the fields are green, mist lies low and the mielies are high. I forgot how calming road trips are. The early Cosmos flowers smiled cheerfully from the roadside and the hills began to welcome us to them. The clouds built up as we entered the town and the temperature dropped dramatically. I had packed in a hurry, and not thought that I could actually be cold in the Summer, but sister had a spare sweater and the b&b had an electric blanket (yes, I was that cold!)
The start of the race was a whole three minutes from where we stayed and we knew that it was a small field so we took our time in the morning although I was feeling slightly nervous at the thought of running so blerry far. Plus it had rained steadily since about 3am so everything was wet and cool. The start was politely delayed by ten minutes to give the latecomers a chance to register and we shuffled together on the school grandstand.
The gun went off and we sploshed our way across the field, trying not to focus on the fact that our feet were soaked after a short ten meters. The road beckoned and the hills ahead showed us how the front runners weaved the route into the mist. I ran with my sister for a while until she took off ahead. She was doing a shorter distance and I saw her orange top for most of the way until her turn around point. The field had thinned out at this point, but nothing prepared me for how quiet my extra ten km was going to be. I was still feeling good though, so after a quick ‘goodbye’ we both toddled off on our merry ways.
I don’t normally run with my phone, but I had an idea that I would be taking lots of photos of the beautiful scenery and I am so glad that I was able to see this lovely part of the world- on foot. There was a time when the camera became my friend as the other runners were often nowhere to be seen so it helped distract me. At around 18km I lost a bit of my good mood when we were directed off the tar road -quite frankly the tar ended- and the dirt road was a sluggish, squeaky mud trail. I am not fond of trail running due to my past penchant for falling so this time, I had to tread very carefully and sadly spent most of the time looking at my feet and missed a lot of the views. My mood dropped even more when the wind picked up when I turned around to run back and I must confess to some major cursing. However, the mud road back seemed oddly shorter and I made it back to the tar breathing a sigh of relief.
The sun began to squeeze the mist away and the countryside now looked completely different to before. The cows still looked at me curiously and some goats had escaped their wire fence to feast on the longer grass. The wild grasses gleamed in the sun and the whole world felt like it was smiling at me. The one glitch in this beautiful day was the loud digital ticking of my watch. Okay, it was only heard in my head, but I realised I was getting slower and what was going to be a comfortable finish was now beginning to slip away from the 5 hour cut-off. As I began to see the town come into view, I tried to keep my momentum going without getting stressed and miss the lovely views. I worked out that by now I would have to speed up and I tried to keep up with two ladies who ran by me looking hasty and fresh, but I lagged behind. The water point people were now packing up, but whenever they spotted me, they would rush to give me ice cold water, rather flat coke, big smiles and awesome support. I even managed to sneak a piece of just-cooked boerewors which went down a treat.
The clock ticked by and I saw the school and knew that I was not going to make it. I was kind of sad, but not, because on reflection, my head stayed clear, I didn’t hit a major wall (only some mud puddles), I didn’t get negative and I thoroughly enjoyed my run. My sister looked miffed that I missed the cut-off, but I got the biggest medal in the universe and I have a real warm glow in my heart.
That is what it is all about, after all. Running in the country, feeds my sole!