May 20, 2020

We’re built to run

Built To Run Comrades Marathon

I wrote this three years ago. It seems like yesterday and a whole different planet away.

I’m training for my first Comrades Marathon (86,6 km) on 4 June 2017. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned thus far.

We’re always striving for something

I’m 53. Hardly the time to be looking for new frontiers to conquer. Yet, like you, I do it. I think it’s in our nature to to push ourselves until the end. It’s in our nature to strive to make the most of this short time we’ve been given on this planet. It’s in our nature to leave more than we take.

Running is natural

If you believe in a grand design, you’ve got to believe that we were built to run. In times long forgotten the only way we were able to survive was to run our prey to exhaustion. So, when I run, it’s with the joy of using my body for its true purpose.

Your standards are raised, whether you like it or not

In most countries one can spend all year training for a marathon (42.2 km). In South Africa one uses marathons as training runs. This is what happens when you have audacious goals. For most South African runners, the Comrades Marathon, the gold standard of long distance running, is that audacious goal. But we need to start small. First 5 km, then 10, then 21, then 42,2 and then 89 km. Each of us is training for our ‘gold standard’ and we use this life and its gifts and challenges to hone us into sharp blades of purpose.

Face the enemy

Whenever I run, I run facing the traffic. I’ve found that not everyone is benevolent. Most drivers swing out ever so slightly so as not to harm me. But some stay on their line or even veer towards me, forcing me into the bushes. I’ve learned that not everyone is there to set each other up for success. There are bad people out there. This has heightened my vigilance and I’m becoming good at avoiding ugly situations, both on and off the road.

Running is discipline

I know that if I have any hope of completing the 89 km ultra marathon, I need to hit the road almost every day. I need to log 60 km – 80 km a week on my legs. I need to get up every day. I don’t have the opportunity to feel sorry for myself and rest. I think this is true for my life too. I need to run until the very end. Thank goodness I have the Comrades Marathon as a goal. If I didn’t there’d be days when I wouldn’t get up and run. I think that worthwhile stretch goals are essential to keep us going.

Ego is the enemy

There are days when I run, that I see a lone runner in the distance. I pick up my pace and I catch up with him or her. I give words of encouragement and overtake. Then I feel quite chuffed with myself and a bit proud. Except, what I can never know is how far that runner has come already. Perhaps he or she has already run 20 km and I’ve only started with 3 km on my legs. Of course it will be easier to catch up and overtake, as I’m still relatively fresh.

It makes me realise that there are people that have done what I’m doing and more. Thus, they may be tired. They may have run the route before and know the challenges that are coming and are being cautious and conserving their energy. They deserve my respect and not my ego.

You’re smart enough to know who I’m talking about, don’t you?

Those that are older and wiser than us – parents, teachers and grandparents. All those people who have come before us and conspired to set us up for success. Paraphrasing from Isaac Newton, “The shoulders of giants I’ve stood on so that I can see further.”

Play injured

I picked up a tendon injury in December. My running has been erratic since. I’ve had to rest up. I’ve had to reduce my weekly kilometres. I’ve had to run on flat roads instead of hills. The pain has made me want to quit on more than one occasion. But I need to stay the course. I know if I quit the course, I won’t achieve my goal – to finish the Comrades Marathon in relatively good shape.

Also, if I quit this small task ahead of me, what else will I quit? Also, I’ve never met a top human being that doesn’t play injured. We all have our own ‘tendon injuries’.

We all have demons we need to fight every day. These demons seldom leave us and are there to keep up our resolve to stay the course until the end. I wish that the tendon injury was the only demon that I have to fight. But I have hordes that I have to deal with in all areas of my life – health, spiritual, mental, financial and relationships.

I just have to hang onto the notion that every setback and every victory shapes me into the most amazing human being I’m still to become. If I didn’t have this hope, there’d really be no point in continuing this journey, would there?

Running makes you humble

I’m not talking about knowing how frail, unfit and ungainly I really am on the road. That’s a given. I’m not talking about that I’m short and stocky and not a natural long distance runner. No, there’s something else that humbles me. Spending time on the road, I observe things. I observe that I run for pleasure whilst others run to get to work. I observe that I go to the gym to build my body whilst others build their bodies by hewing out the stone that is Africa. I observe that I walk when I’m tired whilst others walk to work. I observe that I have R3000 running shoes on my feet whilst others have no shoes. I get to have a pre-workout protein bar and a post-workout protein shake to feed my body. Then I still get to add three wholesome meals a day to that. For some people I run past, one pre-workout protein bar would be their entire meal for the day. And, that’s if they were lucky.

Running makes you grateful

I ran from Kuilsrivier halfway to Stellenbosch (Western Cape) and back (20 km) the other day and felt such a sense of gratitude. I felt gratitude that I could run with the mountains on my right and beautiful farms on my left. I felt gratitude that I could run in such a beautiful environment. I felt gratitude that I could run and run and run.

Running gives you acceptance

To be honest, I’m scared. I’m scared that this tendon injury will prevent me from getting to the race. I’m scared that I will make it to the race and bail out, injured at some time. I’m scared that I’ll blow out because I know I’m going into the race undercooked and unfit. But at the same time, I’m prepared to accept that I could fail at this endeavour. I accept that failure is not the end. I accept that I can try again and again and again.

After all, this life is about practicing and working out things so that we can get to the finish line in good shape. And when we get to the finish line, we can look back and say, “Now that was a job well done.”

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