This past Sunday, I ran the Colgate 32km.
This is the longest distance I’ve ever run (if you can call it running, given that it took me very close to 4 hours to finish!) and it was HARD.
The day started off hard, because it was freezing, so just getting to the starting line in the first place took a hell of a lot of pushing. So, this one time, I guess I’m at least a little bit grateful for that voice in my head that reminds me how much I’m going to hate myself if I don’t do the thing/s I’ve set out to do.
I set my alarm to wake me at 3:50 on Sunday morning, so that I could throw on my shoes & running gear, pick up my running buddy and hit the road by 4:20 at the latest.
I grabbed a little container of leftover curry mince & rice and two small bananas, gulped down some L-Glutamine and headed out as planned. We arrived at Boksburg stadium just before 5:00 – an hour and a half before the start of the race. I ate my mince and rice, set my alarm to wake me again at 5:45, reclined my seat and curled up to catch a few more zzzz’s…
When my alarm woke me again, I hopped out of the car for a second to grab something from the back seat and regretted it instantly. Let me tell you, I was THIS close to starting up my car and driving straight home! Instead, I handed my running buddy (who was signed up for the 15km race) a banana, and ate one myself, and half joked about how much I wanted to go home and get back into bed.
I started the race REALLY not feeling up to it and at 3km in, I doubted I was going to finish. But I reminded myself that I have a full marathon coming up in 2 months’ time and I had, at this point, only ever run about 23km.
At around 6km, I needed a loo really badly, so I did the unthinkable and stopped at a petrol station along the route to use the bathroom, and quickly learned that I was but one of several runners who’d had the same brilliant plan. Ultimately, the bathroom break cost me somewhere between 6 and 10 minutes which, given how dismally I performed in the end, didn’t help. But then, given how dismally I performed in the end, 10 minutes weren’t going to make a huge difference, either. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The race route is a double loop around the Boksburg stadium and past the Unilever factory, so many of the places you pass (twice!) appear to be really close to the finish. At times, this is great, because it creates the impression that you’re nearly done. At others, it’s awful, because it creates the impression that you’re nearly done, only to reveal after another 3km that you still have several more to go!
I was sorely tempted to pack it in after the first lap, and follow the rest of the 15km runners to the finish. But my legs carried on straight instead of taking the turn into the stadium and to the finish, and I fought a small mental battle with myself in that moment, and lost. Or won, depending on how you want to look at it…
In the 16th kilometre, I found myself completely alone on the road and wondered for a second whether I was imagining that there was a race at all. It was one of the single loneliest moments of my life, out there in the middle of suburban industria, feeling like I must be the last runner on the road.
By 17km, I had caught up to and passed a couple of my fellow stragglers and I felt encouraged to keep slogging away. At 18km, I was joined by another runner, who came up from behind me and kept pace with me. We ran next to each other, silently, until two other runners came up from behind us and one cracked a joke and we all managed a chuckle and my new comrade and I introduced ourselves.
Suddenly, we were chatting like old friends, urging each other on in turns. It’s as if the universe knew that I needed someone to share the slog with just then.
By 21km, we caught up to the cut-off bus and agreed that we’d stay with them, ensuring that we would make it to the finish on time. But I found their pace difficult – I just couldn’t get into their rhythm. So I let my legs do what felt right and soon found myself pulling ahead of the group.
By 24km, my friend and I had widened the gap between us and the bus by a good 0.5km, which felt good!
But at 26km, I started taking strain. My legs felt heavy, my mouth felt dry, my right ankle started protesting and the Coke I’d been gulping down at the refreshment points was starting to repeat on me. I thought about stopping and catching a ride with the sweeping vehicle, if there was one, or calling my real running buddy, who had my car keys, to come and pick me up. But then my new friend urged me on a little bit further, and somehow I managed to pull myself toward myself and run another step. And another. And another…
My phone rang somewhere between 28km and 29km, my D wanting to know how it had gone. I felt a mixture of pride and shame as I told him I was still running, and pushed myself to keep at it just a little bit longer. I could hear the bus chanting behind me and was determined not to have come this far to fail. So on I went, alongside my new friend.
A man was handing out Jelly Tots at the 29km mark and smiled at me nodding a “Hell, yes!” at him as I approached. I grabbed the packet from him and slowed to a walk.
Another friendly face at 29.5km called out the words I needed to push on again, “You can’t walk now! Only 2.5km to go!”
Turning off the road and into the stadium grounds at 31km, I had to have another little internal discussion with myself, once again a split second away from giving up. But then that cut-off bus loomed just behind me again and I couldn’t.
As I turned into the stadium, expecting to see finish line, I almost cried when I realised that I still had 500m to go, around one end of the athletics track. I think I shouted at a marshall “When does it end?!” before forcing myself to suck it up and get to the finish.
I watched the clock tick over 3:56:00 just before I crossed the finish and that was that. 32km.