Reflecting on this year’s Two Oceans race

It’s long overdue and regular readers of my blog might have noticed that I haven’t yet published my annual account of my Two Oceans half marathon race.

In previous blog posts, I’ve mostly bitched about the race and vowed (every time) never to return. It’s been a love hate relationship. However this year, everything fitted together like a puzzle and it turned out that I ran the race with very different eyes.

The race was a few days after a friend had let us know about the cancer moving to two parts of her brain. Her regular WhatsApp messages popped in and out of my thoughts sporadically & my mind flashed through what she was going through.

The night before the race, I had said to myself, how can I moan when I know how much Susan loves triathlons and swimming & would love to just get out there and run? So I didn’t moan and woke up on race morning looking forward to the race.

I started in race category D which kinda felt like I had golden circle tickets at a rock concert. It also meant less time waiting compared to category E and loads more room to stand in.

10 minutes before the race started, my mind flipped into panic mode. But instead, I thought, scared? Bron you don’t know what scared is. Susan is scared.

When it hurt near the 17kms mark and my legs were tired, I thought you don’t know what tired is. This is not pain. Not like what Susan is going through.

And when I wanted to quit, I remembered that quitting was not an option for her.
Finally, when I crossed that finish line, I said “this is for you Susan”. But somehow, the message was really for me. I had come through 21.1kms having learnt something quite humbling about myself.

two oceans half marathon medal and photoI moan about my running way to often. I criticize my pace and point out all my weaknesses. I blame the race, the race organizers and my training. It’s the backbone to my blog. But I need to stop. I am a runner and incredibly grateful to be able to cross those finishing lines at road races.

I am good enough. My body is good enough! There are so many people out there who don’t have the opportunities or the health that I have to be able to run. So from now on, every time I don’t feel like running, I’ll think of those that wish they could. I’ll think of Susan. Because what she made me realize, that every time I put my running shoes on, I need to be grateful that I am able to run. It doesn’t matter how slow or fast or even how far. We seem to forget that.

The memorial park 

I didn’t plan it that way but the day seemed to run a different course and before I knew it, I was standing in the most beautiful cemetry surrounded by memories of loved ones who had left this earth. Quite coincidental but it’s also Conrad’s birthday today.

I had offered to drop a colleague off on my way home from work and as we turned into her street, she nonchalantly said, “oh and that’s the memorial park. Have you seen it?” I knew the suburb well but had never known that in the middle of the gridlocked cluster complexes and townhouses that something so out of place co-existed.

I couldn’t resist.

After dropping her off, I drove through the gates to take a look. There was no security guard to stop me, no one to ask why I was there, but I suddenly felt as if I had stepped into a different world uninvited. This was no ordinary cemetry. The name on the gate read Fourways Memorial Park. The single paved street snaked through rows of closely packed gravestones and beautiful gardens. But compared to other cemeteries, this one was different. 

I climbed out the car and walked around, winding my way in and out of the maze of memories, captivated by the stories, the names, the dates. Jo’burg had just been blessed with one of its spectacular afternoon thunder showers and as the setting sun poked its head through the clouds, the wet grass lightly sprayed my ankles as I made my way from one side of the park to the other.

It was so peaceful and calming. Dead quiet. But I kept hearing echoes of laughter. This was not a sad place at all yet tears poured down my face.

It’s on everyone’s minds at the moment. This end of year rush! This frantic race to get to the end. The last dash before the holidays. Yet time stood still for me this afternoon.

If anything it allowed me to stop to catch my breath. To reflect on 2016, my family, my friends, work and then lastly to remember Conrad.

It started out as a bet. But I ran with it anyhow.

It started out as an agreement. A dare. Our trail running buddies, Dan & Linda agreed to run a road race if I would come along and try out a trail run. They stuck to their word and ran Varsity Kudus (*gasp* of all races!) in January. The pressure was on!

So last week, I headed off to run the Biogen Love Run 2016 night race at the PWC Bike Park to close off my end of the bargain.

The PWC Bike Park

The PWC Bike Park

All set up & ready for the runners

All set up & ready for the runners

It was my first trail run. I have never even run Park Run before.

Here’s some differences I noted compared to road running:

  • The field is smaller. We’re used to a couple of thousands of runners lining up at the start of a road race. Here there must’ve been a max of about 350 runners. You can imagine my panic thinking I would come last in such a tiny field!
  • It’s casual. Very casual. Runners arrived and sat on the grass embankment, some snacking on crisps, others playing on their cellphones. No one was doing any serious warming up. No lubing or vaselining.
    Before the race. Notice how relaxed everyone is!

    Before the race. Notice how relaxed everyone is!

    More runners gathering and relaxing before the race.

    More runners gathering and relaxing before the race.

  • No ASA or temp numbers are needed. We each received a little bar-coded card to pin to our clothes. Race results were up the very next day too!
Runners ready! The first batch, ready to go. Headlamps being turned on.

Runners ready! The first batch, ready to go. Headlamps being turned on.

  • Runners go out in batches. On road races, everyone goes off when the gun goes off at the same time.
  • The paths are quite narrow. This means that passing someone slower in front of you is quite a challenge. I was unsure of the trail race etiquette, but goodness me, hardly anyone moves out the way for anyone else. It’s as if, sorry Jack, make your own way around me.
  • People walk. They walk and no one else gives a damn. In road races, the walkers get a bad rap. Faster runners are always complaining that walkers should have their own start or that they get in the way of ‘real runners’. Trail running is different. If you want to walk, you do, and no one gives you any grief about it.
  • You get dirty. My socks and my shoes were so dusty when I got home!

I really enjoyed it. It’s way less competitive than road running. It has a very relaxed vibe to it. And everyone seems to do their own thing and have fun.

Super bright headlamps! I look like I'm about to go looking for gold!

Super bright headlamps! I look like I’m about to go looking for gold!

img_1980 The best part? My time was fantastic! I averaged 8:14 mins per km. I thought I’d be much slower. And, I came 9/26 in my category and 109/234 total of 5km runners!

The question I’m sure you’re asking is, “has the trail bug bitten?” A little. But I’d definitely need to go shopping for the right trail running shoes and a camel pack and perhaps try out a more technical course? And a daytime run. But yeah… It was fun. Dan and Linda, you guys were right!

Running thoughts

When we went down for the Comrades marathon last year June, I happened to observe a group of mourners on the Umhlanga promenade scattering a loved ones ashes into the ocean. The memory of your sudden passing was still fresh in my mind and as I dug my toes into the beach sand, it stung to know that you too were gone.

saying last farewell

As the wind blew through their hair and one of the mourners started to play a bagpipe, the family and friends each said their few words of goodbye and then stood watching the ocean pull the scattered ashes further and further away from them.

I truly did feel as if I was an intruder in a very intimate gathering and taking a photo felt so unnecessary because the image would be cast in my memory forever anyhow.

It’s your birthday week so you’ve been in my thoughts and while running track the other night, I remembered that scene.

What struck me then and still does today is just how lucky those people on the promenade are that they are able to walk down to the ocean, look out and see their friend and ‘talk’ to their person.

Happy Birthday Conrad.