The Comrades Marathon 2017 spat me out six hours and 44 km into the journey. I had the ignominy of having to catch a lift on a rescue bus or as those less charitable call it … the bailers bus.
Am I disappointed that I didn’t finish?
Yes and no.
My ego which clearly still needs the good estimation of others, was a bit bruised. A lot of people supported me and apparently I gave hope and inspiration to some who thought that if I could run my first race at 53, they could achieve something too. I felt that I let them down.
However, the benefits of trying to run the Comrades Marathon far outweighed the bitter taste of defeat for me.
After reflecting on the race, here are some insights that I got.
- I’m so blessed. I don’t run to compete in races (at my level, I can only compete against myself, in any case). I run for the joy of running. I’m definitely in the “its about the journey, not the destination” school of thought. Running gets me to see places from a different perspective. Over the past 15 years I’ve clocked up around 40 000 kms (not a lot by the standard of mid to top runners, but a fair wack for someone semi-sedentary like me). I’ve been able to run in dozens of towns, cities and countrysides … Walker Fruit Farms, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Sea Point, Paris, Teheran, Milan, Sydney, Bologna are some that come to mind. How awesome is that?
- I may not have made it at the Comrades, but I found a lot of comrades. The spirit, support and friendship I felt from my family, friends and those I met on the race made this one of the greatest experiences of my life … right up there with the birth of my daughter and South Africa winning the Rugby World Cup in 1995. I realised that I do have a place in this world. That I am loved. And that I do love. This is priceless.
- I went in undertrained. Proper planning prevents poor performance. I had the distance on my legs for a year and a half (3 350 km), I just had them in the wrong proportion. I typically ran an hour a day, but should have put longer times in so that my legs would get used to long periods of pounding. I was an ultra marathon (56 km) and three marathons (42.2 km) short. This caught up with me as I wasn’t used to being on my feet for six hours straight. I learned that I need to focus my energy on the areas that will give me optimum results.
- I thought I could do it all on my own on race day. I didn’t listen to my brother’s advice (he finished in just over 8 hours) and pace myself. I ran too fast in the beginning. I even ran the entire Fields Hill which was fatal in the final analysis. I didn’t feed off the crowd that encouraged me. I didn’t tuck into a sub-12 hour bus (where a whole bunch of people run in a group to get in at a certain time) and feed off their rhythm. I was out of the tribe and out of the collective. I once again realised that I am because of the other. Nobody can navigate this life without the support of others.
- I also found that the most negative trait that seems to be deeply rooted in the human psyche, reared its head again: justification. I started justifying why I couldn’t finish and it made me feel good. This is how I got through with my ego relatively intact. I know that I came in injured – shin splints, a 6-month old tendon injury that’s not healing and an injured shoulder. When I felt the pain in my chest, I was reminded of my myocarditis episode in 2005. I was scared I would strain my heart again. My inner dialogue was such that I quit … “Live to fight another day. You’re injured, why put yourself through this strain? You won’t make the cut off time anyway. You still want to see Rebecca grow up, don’t you? You’re not the only one that will quit. At least you tried. You’re 53 after all. Most people wouldn’t ever try the Comrades.” and so on. This is what we all do, isn’t it? We justify why we acted in a certain way. And it makes us feel good about ourselves.
- I am once again so aware that I have no clue what the plan is for my life and why my life is being directed as it is. Why did I decide to start running? Who’s to say? Maybe it has saved my life by keeping me fit and healthy. Maybe running will send me to an early grave. Maybe I have epiphanies on the road that make me a better person. Maybe that’s why I’m able to make a living out of writing because most of my ideas come to me when I’m on the road. Maybe I get to run so that I can be grateful, in awe and in joy. I really don’t know. But I do know that all the setbacks and victories are as they should be … shaping me into the human I am and I am still to become.
Will I run Comrades again? I’m not sure yet. I know that a false start is not a failure. My friend and professional speaker, Peter Darroll has had 25 Comrades starts and finished it 17 times. So, there’s hope for me.
- I know that my failures and success are shaping me into an OK human.
- I know that I need to stop trying to be awesome and rather start being in awe that I get to play for this short time on this planet.
- I know I need to be grateful for all I have.
- And, I know that I’m indebted to others because I don’t navigate this path alone.
I still run because it is the work in front of me and that’s enough for me.