12 months on and the curse is broken. For a year I wallowed in self-pity about losing my name in the forest last October (along with my breakfast and whatever else I tried to consume during the run) and thought I’d never be back. I’d decided after the 42km Otter Trail Run last year to set my sights on Comrades instead and told myself that maybe I’m just more of a road runner.
But things change, plans change and injuries happen. After a break in running over December, which I think most runners deserve, I got back onto the road too quickly in January and suffered a foot fracture from repetitive strike on the Volksrust marathon. It hampered my Comrades hopes but I focused on finishing Two Oceans 56km ultra, improving my time on shorter distances and building strength for the second half of the year for trail. Something worked and I managed to get my half-marathon time down to 1hr 52 min, my 10k time to 53 min and did my first sub 40 min 8km time trial since my 20s.
All without a skipping a heart beat. My cardiologist looked puzzled and viewed my training schedule with suspicion. But he wasn’t going to mess with his handiwork and just wanted to make sure all the good stuff done during the ablation wasn’t going to be tossed out the window by an overworked ticker. I may have not shown him my whole schedule, but then I think he knew that and told me to just not die.
Mondays were for pilates, Tuesday speed work or time trial, Wednesday stairs or hills, Thursday 12km club run, Friday strength training at gym or swimming, Saturday rest or 10k and Sunday long runs or races. Add to that a coach and the 7-minute workout daily which includes squats and lunges (yes it’s gimmicky I know) you’d think I would have felt prepared.
But when Otter day came I still felt nervous and scared. I feared the big C. Cramps. This year it was the Classic which is run from Storms River to Nature’s Valley and the climbs are steeper than in the opposite direction. One of the Collins’ brothers and race director told me that although they never commit themselves to which direction is harder, “this one is harder”.
It was a great day out. I started out perhaps a bit too slowly but focused on my nutrition and that I didn’t roll a nearly 50-year old ankle on the technical sections. I’d already missed my sub-8 hour mark by the time I got to first checkpoint so decided to focus on just enjoying myself this time as opposed to chasing a time. I felt strong on the uphills and, although my right knee was hurting in the downs, I was thankful every step of the way for that still-effective cortisone injection that eased the pain just a little bit after I injured it on a diving boat a couple of months before.
By my last checkpoint I had made up a lot of time but was a bit buggered from all the steps (675 flights of stairs up and 635 down according to Garmin) so running was reduced to a shuffle. Yet the pain never came, the steps never got too much and kays dropped quickly. I managed to take in the breathtaking view and finish with over an hour off my previous time. Could I have done a sub-8? Probably if I had known how close I was but, I also probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did.
Happiness was bittersweet as my partner who started out with me had to withdraw due to a chest cold which sent his heart rate all over the place. But I loved running again. The people, the events, the shower and steri-stumpi afterwards, and that feeling of just making the most of life.
Bring it on Comrades.