…or in my case the 21.1km half marathon because at this stage running the 56km Ultra is still a little beyond me. At the time unbeknownst to me this journey started a year ago. On the 23rd of March 2017 in an effort to get fit and lose some weight I decided to join the local running club in my neighbourhood. The running club also happens to have a walking group, so that’s what I did, I joined the walking group. I am no stranger to walking, I mean I have done the Discovery 30km big walk more than once. So walking, yeah, walking I can do.
The first few weeks of walking went well, well enough that someone suggested I join the beginners running group. The first night that I hesitantly ventured along with the beginners running group I barely made it to one km before gasping for air, my chest was tight and on fire and I could not stop thinking that this is impossible. I can’t run. What was I thinking? Luckily this was the beginners group so there were walking breaks and lots of words of encouragement from the coach and the rest of the group. Week after week the running became easier, it is indeed true what they say, consistency is key to success. Pretty soon I entered my first 5km race which I managed to finish in 45 minutes. This is slow, I mean some runners can finish a 5km in 15 minutes, but nonetheless this was an achievement for me. I focused on improving my time, I did ParkRun whenever I could and right now I can run 5km in 35 minutes. I started thinking maybe just maybe I could do a 10km race. So that’s what I did, I signed up and did a 10km race. It took me an hour and a half and whole lot of mental strength to get me over the finish line. I stuck with my 10km races because I was comfortable with it; quite happy not to run further than that.
A few months after joining the club distinctly recall one of the coaches telling us that soon we will be training for the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon 2018 (the 21km half marathon) affectionately known as OMTOM. The entire time she is telling us that we will run a half marathon I kept thinking to myself that this woman is crazy. Bat shit bananas crazy. Look lady, ain’t no way that this body of mine is completing a 21km race and within a cut off time to boot. It is just not happening. I scoffed, laughed and shook my head, all internally of course. But then fate stepped in and I was assigned a new coach. All of a sudden this impossible task seemed like something that could very much become a reality. However it will require months of sacrifice, training and too many mornings of getting up at 4am to train in the dark and cold empty streets of Cape Town.
I ran my first 21km in July 2017 in Atlantis. It took me 3 hours and 7 minutes to complete. It was gruelling. Even after weeks of training, my coach setting the pace and being there every step of the way it took determination and grit to finish. The mind is a funny thing. It whispers quietly to you that you cannot do this thing. You need to find that voice from within. The voice that will shout back and say “I am capable of a greatness you cannot possibly fathom”. You have to learn to push on through the pain and there was an abundance of pain on that day. When I got to the 19km mark I was certain that my legs would not carry me further but I kept telling myself that all I have to is put one foot in front of the other. I burst into tears when I crossed that finish line, so overcome by emotion, in shock that I actually ran 21km. Me! I ran 21.1km to be exact!
There was no looking back after that. The crazy thing is, the entire time a runner trains or runs a race we keep asking ourselves the same questions over and over. Why do we do this to ourselves? We tell ourselves this sucks, it’s too hard, it’s too painful, and I’m never ever doing this again. But the minute we are finished we are ready to sign up for the next one. We are always chasing the next runner’s high. After my first 21km race I was officially addicted. I signed up for as many 10km and 21km races that I possibly could. Weekends were now dedicated to long run training sessions usually nothing less than 22km or 3 hours. The evening sessions were mostly hill training and running suicides. It was hard work but I never lost sight of the end goal and that was to complete the Two Oceans half marathon.
Before I knew it the day was upon me. I felt ready. I have done seven 21km races before OMTOM so I knew I could do this. A year after starting this running journey I was at the starting line in Newlands on Saturday 31st March 2018. I was excited, nervous and anxious to get going. The excitement at the start line was palpable. Hearing and singing along to the national anthem was a moving experience. The countdown begins, the gun goes off and I start running. A friend and I managed to secure D seeding which means we got an earlier start and would not be running with the rest of our running group. We stuck together, motivating and pushing each other along when we felt we couldn’t go on. Then came the hill. Southern Cross. The hill that everyone warns you about or maybe they just try to scare us first timers. Our coach told us that this 3km hill starts after the 10km mark so we had to make sure that we didn’t tire ourselves out before then but we still had to make good time. He said a walk/run strategy work best. So that was the plan, however when we got to the hill we felt strong, strong enough to run the entire hill. All those weeks of hill training finally paid off. At Top Gate, the 15km mark it was all downhill from there. I don’t mean downhill in a bad way. I mean after a constant steady climb I had 3km of downhill to run which was a relief. I had to make it to the bottom of the hill and not miss the 18km mark cut off time. Thankfully I made it to 18km with time to spare and after that I cruised through the last 3km (well not cruised per se because there were some tough moments in that last 3km). But with steady stream of supporters along the road I made it all the way to the finish line. A goal achieved. I can hear the tick being made on the bucket list. I put my medal around my neck. I shed a tear. I smiled. I did it.