How do you let go of a dream? Even if it’s based on the wispy tendrils of a wing and a prayer? Even if, in your heart of hearts, you knew it was the remotest of remote possibilities?
I entered Comrades this year. I know. 88km. 12 hours. So very, very far. And I know that, even as I say that, I have no real understanding of how far. Also, it’s an up run. I didn’t really think about that when I signed up.
The furthest and longest I have run to date, in one day, is 56km. It took almost 7 hours. And it very nearly killed me. The world’s most beautiful marathon was not so pretty for me!
In order to run the Comrades, I would have to keep on going for another 32km. And quite likely another 5 hours.
Yes, I made some rookie mistakes at Oceans. And yes, I was injured going in. But the reality is that I just wasn’t strong enough. I had done the training, but I had underestimated the toll that the distance would take on my body.
At the end, I cried. Then I told the Cycling Husband, who ran with me, and also hobbled with me to the end, that I was never running again. He laughed. But I suspect that was only because he knew that he could take his injured knees and get back on his bike. And he knew I would go back to running.
He was right. Three days later I was back on the road. A little tentative. But still running.
I have taken it very easy since then, however. Certainly, there has been no training programme. No hills. No fartlek. No long Sunday runs. No chasing the kilometers to reach the 1 000km that everyone tells you is the golden number.
I’m on 845km this year. Some say it’s enough. And I still have 15 days. But I have a muscle spasm in my left glute that kicks in around 13km. I have something brewing in my right shin. I sleep with a transact patch on my neck because I can’t look over my right shoulder. Oh, and my big toenail on my right foot is in the process of falling off.
I still can’t quite let go.
Ask any European, or American, any non-South African (casual) runner about Comrades, and they shake their heads in unison. Look at you as if you were mad, touched by that strong South African sun. You would be hard-pressed to find a non-professional runner who thinks running 88km sounds like a fun idea.
Unless you happen to live here.
Perhaps because we grew up with this madness around us. Because it happened every year like clockwork, and we all knew someone – someone quite normal, not a superhuman athlete – who had dared to try, and triumphed.
Perhaps because it is part of our combined cultural heritage. Because it was one of the first professional sporting events in which we saw a glimpse of the promise of the Rainbow Nation. Because it is the ultimate representation of our country’s Long, Long Walk to Freedom.
Perhaps it is simply because South Africans are used to living on a wing and a prayer. Believing that the impossible is possible. That we can push through the pain, together, and come out victorious at the other end. Forever and always living in hope.
Or perhaps, to quote the Cheshire Cat, it’s because we are all a little mad here. We have to be, in order to survive.
My head may have given up on running this year; but my heart just can’t.