A: They tell you.
So let me tell you. I ran the Comrades Marathon. It still feels strange to say that out loud. I did it. 90km (90.184km to be exact). That’s 34.184km further than I have ever run before. Suffice to say that it is far, very, very, very far. But I did it.
It was a long road, and I spent a lot of time on that road – more than most! So I had some time to think. I wrote a lot in my head. Most of which I have forgotten. But some of which are lessons I hope I’ll never forget. Mostly because then I would have to run it all over again 🙂
1. Suck it up, and keep moving
The world never, ever works according to plan. Or maybe it does, for a bit. But then it goes off course. I had a plan. Several plans, in fact. My first plan was to not be injured or ill at the start line. I wasn’t. My second plan was to stick to a strict pace. And I did. But then Plan 1 failed, and ITB kicked in. At 20km. Not according to plan. In the face of the failure of Plan 1, I managed to stick to Plan 2, for the next 50km. That’s an ultra marathon on screaming knees.
I read somewhere that when you can’t run with your legs, you have to run with your heart. I tried that. I even told my daughter that I did that. But it’s pretty damn impossible to find running shoes to fit your heart. So I did the only other thing I could. I sucked it up, and kept moving. Not at the planned pace. Not with the planned people. But forward motion nonetheless.
2. There’s a time to listen, and a time to talk
I have become somewhat renowned, among my running friends, for talking on the trot. But I didn’t talk a lot during Comrades. I’m not sure why. Possibly I was overwhelmed. Also, I think I spent a lot of time in my head – I could feel my knee niggling from around 15km. There are days when you can tell your running mates that your knee is niggling, and days when you can’t. Because sometimes just saying it out loud makes it that much more real. Besides, everyone hurts over 90km.
So instead of talking I listened. To my own thoughts, yes. But also to the stories of the people around me. To the guy who had fallen off his bike and broken his neck, and was running his first Comrades in several years to prove to himself that he could still run, even if it wasn’t the kind of running he used to do. To the guy who was emigrating the week after Comrades, and was running his last race in the country he calls home. To the guy whose shoes hurt him so badly that he took them off around the 40km mark, and ran the rest of the way in his socks. And still finished ahead of me.
Some heroic stories, some sad ones, some pretty ordinary (or extra-ordinary, depending on how you view the world). But everyone has a story, if someone is willing to listen.
3. Sometimes, you need a change of pace
I’m a runner. I love to run. I have tried walking; mostly when I am injured. But I don’t really like it. I get impatient. It takes so very long to get somewhere. Too many thoughts crowd my head. But somewhere near the 80km mark on the road between PMB and Durbs, walking is what I did. Mostly because it was faster than my running pace, but also because it hurt less. And it was good. In fact, it was probably the best 10km of my Comrades, because I was able, for the first time that day, to truly absorb the day. I talked to everyone who passed me. I high fived every kid I saw. I smiled an enormous face-splitting smile at every supporter who shouted my name. Even when they told me to run! And then, when I saw Moses Mabhida stadium, I cried.
Although I was never running at a cracking pace, slowing down allowed me to truly absorb the momentousness of the day. It’s a good thing to do, even when the days aren’t momentous.
4. Everyone needs to be seen
Everyone should walk around with their name emblazoned on their T-shirt. All the time. Every day. Because there is something quite amazing, and affirming, about someone using your name. About someone running alongside you and asking casually, “How’s it going, Kim?”; someone else shouting “Keep going, Kim, you can do this!” at precisely the moment that you need to hear it; about someone stopping to chat, just for a bit, and then greeting you with a “Enjoy the rest of the race, Kim, see you at the finishline!”.
In this world in which we are largely anonymous, and in which we so often feel alone, being recognised is important.
As an aside, it would be creepy if this happened without name tags, so let’s only do it on race days, when people are are wearing shirts with names.
5. You are very seldom alone, even when you are alone
Ultimately, you have to get to the finishline on your own. But you don’t do it alone.
There are the people who run with you. The people you know, but also those you don’t, and those who you meet along the way. The people on the sidelines, those who volunteer their time, who strap and ice and rub. Those who offer potatoes and jelly babies and water to people they’ve never met, and will likely never meet again, and who they tend to think are a little mad for attempting this run. But they cheer you on regardless.
There are the people behind each and every runner, the people who ran this race with you, even if they weren’t there, even if they don’t run. Those who trained with you, those who would have if they could have. Those people who indulged your long Sunday runs. Those who fixed you when those runs were too long. Those people who stayed behind, so that you could go off and chase this crazy dream. The people who watched, who tracked, who sweated blood and tears in front of the TV screen. Who cared.
(I don’t have photographs of all these people. They know who they are.)
Then there are the people without whom you couldn’t have done it. The people who love you despite your determination to run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. Even when, as they innocently point out, you have a perfectly good car. The one person in particular, who cared enough to share this crazy day, even though he has gone back to being the Cycling Husband. Who woke up at 3:45am and ate a full English breakfast at 4am so he could get on the road ahead of the crowds. Who spent a full day in the car instead of on his bike. And who didn’t complete his circle that week. Who kept me going not only with the banana bread and bagels, but mostly with his unfailing belief in my ability to finish this race. (Except for that one heart-stopping moment when the App glitched, and I appeared to have stopped in my tracks just 5km from the stadium…) Who was there at the beginning, and again at the end.
From the very bottom of my heart, and the depths of my soul, thank you to everyone who supported me along this journey. I know it was crazy. It certainly hurt like crazy. And I know it would be crazy to do it again.
“But I’ll tell you a secret,” said Alice, “All the best people are…”