Today is National Running Day. I love running! As a matter of fact, it is probably my most favorite activity. I celebrated today with a beautiful trail run with my friend Julie. I wish I could have ran with all of you today, but that just wasn’t the case, so instead I’ll tell you a story. A story about running.
My last weekend in South Africa, I went to the Cederberg Mountains with some friends. We stayed in a lovely cottage with rope swings in the yard, orange groves all around, and a delightful waterfall about a kilometer down the trail. We did a lot of eating, reading, and lazyiness. However, I did manage to squeeze in a few runs.
So, on the last morning I set off for an run. I headed out through an orange grove and and down an overgrown trail through a valley. I saw low clouds in the distance but figured I had plenty of time before they filled the valley and left me blind. I carried on, my whole body smiling with the joy of movement and beauty. And then….
Barbed freakin’ wire. It was hiding in the bushes that had grown over the trail. It grabbed my thighs, knees, shin and I let out a big fat, “F@#%!” I rounded my body and dove in an attempt to save my lower body from the clawing rusty metal. I landed on the opposite side of the barbed wire fence, curled in the fetal position. “F&#*” I said again. I pulled myself up to standing and examined the damage. “Hm. F@#&, that hurt.” (Yes, the F word was used several times within a few moments). Deep Breath. “I should probably go back to the house and clean up…There’s quite a bit of blood…” BOOM! Adrenaline kicked in. “NAH. How often am I in the Cederberg. I’m going to run.”
So, off I went being very careful as to not get into any more fights with barbed wire and keeping an eye on the thick fog moving into the valley. I wove through orange groves and then decided to off trail it for a while. Ha.
Soon I found myself a bit lost and scrambing up rock faces so as to get to a high enough spot to see the farm we were staying on. I found it and wove my way over boulders, down waterfalls, and across streams until I found a path I recognized as the trail home! I rolled in just as the ominous clouds filled the valley. I looked back, and thanked the Almighty I was not still out there, bleeding and lost in a sea of gray.
When I walked into the cottage, all the girls looked at me like I’d just come out of the grave. Soon I had several people tending my wounds and telling me how tough I was. Hehe.
A few days later, I had plans to run a half marathon. After getting a tetanus shot back in Cape Town, I decided to go ahead with the race. Commence, story number 2!
The day before the race I was reading my confirmation e-mail to check on times and what not. I quickly realized I was supposed to have fetched my number from a local sporting goods store over the weekend. oops. I phoned the number and to my surprise someone answered. They were so kind as to allow me to pick up my race packet in the morning at the race venue (which the email said they would not). I sat back and enjoyed a few glasses of wine (despite all the running, I still returned from Cape Town with a bit of a wine belly).
The next morning, my friend Gareth picked me up at 4:30 to drive out to the race venue. We met up with a few more friends along the way and by the time we arrived at the venue over an hour later, I was in desperate need of a toilet. Soon as the car stopped, I leapt out, threw my sweats back in a dove into the bushes to wee. Then I shouted to them, ‘I’ll see you guys after!’ and ran off to figure out where to get my number.
I quickly retrieved my number and goody bag (which was really quite good) and walked out to the field. I then realized I had dropped my safety pins and had no way of putting my number on. I rushed back inside, handing my goody bag to some little boys. I grabbed more pins and asked a stranger to pin me up.
Again, I rushed back out to the field and searched for the start line. As I made my way there, I was overcome with the need to pee again. I dove into another set of bushes, put my gels on the ground and squated. Oh. Dang. The ground was too hard to absorb the ridiculous amounts of urine. It ran over my gels. Sigh. I wiped them on my shorts and darted for the start line.
Everyone had already lined up. I didn’t want to be at the back so I squished up front with a few other runners doing the same. You know who starts at the front at races? Pros and really fast people…I’m not either. I kid you not, I was being pressed on from all sides by some extremely athletic bodies. They were also all taller than me so I had to crank my head head back in order to get enough air. I was holding an open juice box in one hand (from my goody bag) and my pee covered gels in the other. Everyone around me was speaking Afrikaans and I couldn’t stop laughing.
The gun went off and everyone SPRINTED up the hill. In an attempted to not get trampled, I also sprinted (still carrying my juice box). The race was on and race we did.
We raced through the winelands as farm workers and their families smiled their toothless smiles and cheered for us in Afrikaans. Kids high fived, we sloshed through muddy vineyard trails and flew down paved country roads until we reached the finish line. As I came onto the field and headed towards the finish, I heard my friend Desmond, who lives in the area the race was held, shout my name. I looked over and our smiles met. Desmond is special to me. I met him and his family on my first trip to South Africa in 2005. He’s my South African papa. He was diagnosed with cancer last year (and is doing very well–take that cancer!). To have him encouraging me at the finish meant so much.
I crossed the finish line 22 minutes faster than my previous (and only other) half. I decided that the key to a successful half marathon is to be completely unprepared (forget to pick up your packet), mangle up your legs a few days before, pee all over your gels, drink a few glasses of red the night before, and show up to the start line just in time to be touched by all the really fast, really fit runners at the start of the race…and then…wait for it…it’ s coming….RUN YOUR HEART OUT! Because the discomfort feels so damn good.