The Things I have Learned

March marks my one year anniversary with RWFL. I’ve learned a lot about walking, running and myself in the last year:

  • I’ve learned that there is far more to it than putting one foot in front of another and technique is everything.
  • Attitude is everything too.
  • As are shoes.
  • And socks. Particularly the Falke brand.
  • Muscle stiffness is part of life if you’re out and moving regularly. Joint pain shouldn’t be though.
  • That it’s always hard for the first kilometre or two, but it gets better.
  • That I’m less of a quitter than I thought I was.
  • That it doesn’t rain very often on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I know this because I sometimes gaze longingly out the windows at the sky, looking for a dark cloud which may mean the session is cancelled.
  • That when I set goals, I become concerned about those dark clouds impeding my process.
  • That most of the time, I just need to get my ass to a session. Once I am there, it’s all good.
  • Fellow “athletes” are generally an amazingly supportive bunch.
  • Just how far 1000 metres actually is. It’s further than I always think.
  • I can truly appreciate watching the professional sportsmen and women, now that I have an understanding of pace.
  • Neon is now a big part of my usually neutral wardrobe.
  • Peer pressure is a good thing.

There are some things I regularly need to remind myself of, too. I often remind myself of these facts mid-run.

  • The only person I am competing against is myself.
  • I need to be my own cheerleader. Go Hil, Go!
  • The joy comes at the end of the session or race outweighs the physical discomfort of exerting myself.
  • This calorie burning thing is good for me.
  • If I push myself, I often surprise myself.

I still wonder:

  • Will I get stronger?
  • Does anyone else find it as hard as I do?
  • Will I ever look good in sports gear?
  • Will my body ever not ache after a session?

Can you think of anything I should add to this list?

Racing stripes 

I mentioned in my last post that there were more great things to report about February – well here is the first:

A bunch of my fellow club members decided it would be fun to participate in the Valentine’s night race in Randburg. At the time, I was contemplating when my first race would be and after managing the LSD, I was fairly confident that I could walk the a 10k, albeit slowly. Everyone assured me that it was a fun event with music and bag-pipers and candles lighting the way. It sounded awesome. Until I googled it.

I discovered that race websites sometimes give a summary of the race route and a rating in terms of difficulty. One a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being the most difficult, this route is rated a 4. That “4” stuck in my head and Miss Defeatist fixated on it. I became quite panicky in the days leading up to the race.

It didn’t help that I also developed a little sniffle a day before the race so I wasn’t feeling quite as healthy as I could have been. I put a little wish out to the universe that my sniffle would develop into an excuse-worthy illness but the universe wasn’t playing along. I didn’t even have a hint of a fever. Trust me, I checked. With a thermometer.

On the day of the race, I moaned all day, ad nauseam, about why I had committed to this. In retrospect, I believe all that moaning was just fear. I was terrified that I would not cope or that I would be the last to finish. I repeatedly checked the race website to see if there was a cut off time. I have a vivid imagination and it ran wild. The fact that I had committed to staying with one of my fellow walkers who was equally concerned about her pace and distance was one of the things that kept me me from skiving off.

The nerves didn’t really let up once we were at the venue either. We had arrived early and I went to the loo for one last pee about five times before the start of the race. OCD much?

I was amazed at how many people there were at the start of the race. The starting gun went, or at least that’s what I assumed as the crowd started to surge forward. I didn’t actually hear it. On Rene’s advice, we stayed as far to the side of the road as possible to allow the runners and fast people to move past and it was more than a kilometre into the race before the crowds started thinning out. I can only imagine what a race like Comrades must be like with their twenty thousand runners at the start line!

Rene was amazing – I think maybe she sensed my nerves and those of my co-walker so she stuck with us, chatting the entire distance. We walked at a very easy pace and the roads was extremely festive. The pipers and candles were there, as promised. There were also loads of folk from the neighborhood picnicking on their pavements and cheering us on. One of the things I love about being out and active is the sense of a community spirit that we experience. It happens during training sessions to some extent too, as you greet fellow runners and walkers and even cyclists.

Clearly our Randpark Ridge routes have trained us well so the killer hill I had read about did not seem nearly as bad as I had read about. And just when I was starting to feel tired, the finish came into sight! What a fabulous feeling finishing is! I was so proud… And the fact that I didn’t feel like I was about to drop dead from exhaustion was fantastic ! I realised then that I really am capable of the distance and that I can definitely achieve more in terms of pace.

I landed up doing a second 10k race later in February, which was quite a different experience to the Valentine’s race. I will blog about that soon.


Fabulous February (or All about a Sticker)

After a slow, not very active December, I went back to RWFL with renewed vigour and enthusiasm. What I discovered over the period where I wasn’t exercising was that my body missed moving. I think I was actually craving exercise. I was also thrilled by how quickly I was able to pick up where I left off in December. After a session or two, it felt like the muscle memory took over and my pace was back.

At the end of January, I decided it was time for some goal setting. I had a bit of an epiphany about what was missing in the programme for me. Where the elastic bands had been a motivation on the field, I didn’t really have the same motivational tool for the road. Or rather the tool was there, but I just wasn’t using it.

At the back of our log books, we have a page dedicated to distance awards for each month. For some reason, I honestly never gave much thought to trying to achieve any of the distance shield stickers until late in January when the penny dropped. I overheard one of my fellow walkers talking about squeezing in an extra walk for January to get her 55 km shield. It got me thinking about whether I should be striving for stickers too. It seems so juvenile, but hey – if sticker charts work for my kids, maybe they could work for me too?

I did a quick calculation and set my sights on the 70 km shield. It was an ambitious goal considering I had only ever achieved a 55 km shield once in the preceding ten months. I worked out that strict session attendance and an additional 10 kilometre session or race might do it.

On the 1st of February we did an LSD. Not the drug (although admittedly, the drug may have been more fun!) An LSD is a Long Slow Distance. The idea is that you get your body used to being out on the road and moving for a longer period of time, and you add some distance to your training. It is meant to be a fun and non-competitive event.

You have no idea how much I over-thought this thing. I worked myself up into a frenzy about whether or not I could manage 10km with my fellow walkers, all of whom are faster than me. During a LSD, we are meant to stay together as a group and I hate the idea of holding the faster members back.  What constantly amazes me is just how encouraging and non judgemental my fellow runners and walkers are. There is so much caring and kindness from the more experienced and stronger athletes. I’ve noticed this over and over again and I am teaching myself to just be open and accept. And hopefully pass on the kindness to those who are newer and slower than me (although I find it hard to believe anyone is slower than me!)

As it happened, we covered just over 11kms that day. I found the walk tough and towards the end, I was exhausted! Even lifting my legs to mount a pavement felt like a challenge in that last kilometre. I was so, so happy to get back to our meeting point in the Northgate parking lot, 110 minutes later! That ecstatic feeling is one of the reasons I keep stretching myself. We followed the walk with a endorphin filled Wimpy breakfast and although I could barely move for the rest of the day, I was incredibly proud of my achievement!

There were more highlights to my February which I will save for another post, but suffice to say, I reached my goal of a 70km shield
and I will be receiving a sticker in the back of my log book. Yay me!


Getting the Gear

I can be such a shallow girl at times! I do love me some shoe shopping! And this new sport of mine was a perfect excuse for shopping for new shoes! It wasn’t pure vanity and vacuousness though. Anyone who walks or runs will tell you how important a good pair of shoes is.

After a few weeks of RWFL, I decided it was time to invest in new shoes. My old Reebok cross trainers were uncomfortable and I was pretty sure they weren’t providing the support they were supposed to. Especially since I have ridiculously fussy feet which over pronate and arches which no longer arch.

In Joburg, it seems the place to go for running shoes is The Sweat Shop. So off I went. The guys there are extremely knowledgable and they measure and assess your feet and requirements before recommending anything. They then provide you with shoes to try out and observe as you run up and down a corridor to make sure that the pair you are buying is ideal for your gait. There’s no buying for aesthetics here. It’s all about the fit and form. Once I had found my perfect pair of New Balance shoes, I hauled out my credit card and winced a bit as I paid more than I had ever paid for a pair of shoes before. I’ve never regretted the purchase though – my feet love them and months later, they’re still going strong.


The next important bit of gear I acquired was an awesome early christmas gift from my husband. A TomTom running watch! Granted, this wasn’t as essential as the shoes, but I feel lost without my watch. I love being able to keep an eye on my pace while I’m on the road and uploading the runs to Strava afterwards is my favourite part. Analyzing and seeing my progress has been a huge motivation. It also keeps me honest. I cannot delude myself about how well or badly I’m doing when I have the stats in front of me.

Keeping track of the minutia of my pace makes this hobby fun and interesting. This may sound silly but wearing a proper sports watch signifies my commitment to staying with the programme!


Finally onto the clothing… I have a real love/hate relationship with fitness clothing. It was only at the beginning of this year that I graduated from cotton ski pants and baggy cotton t-shirts to proper fitness gear. I just couldn’t bring myself to appear in public in such form fitting and revealing clothes before. I’m still not big on seeing myself in running gear but I can feel a huge difference in terms of comfort when I am exercising. I guess I am am just learning to not look too hard at myself in the mirror. That is not a bad habit to encourage!

The Dark Days of Winter

It was early in June when we got our road “licenses”. I was so excited to be leaving the field! 50 minutes of walking in 400m circles was enough to make anyone dizzy!

Our road leader very kindly walked us through the basic road safety rules as well as sharing some hints and tips about technique. I’m pretty sure that her walking pace with me at that first session must have felt like walking a pet tortoise!

I was totally exhausted after that session. And sore. The soreness didn’t let up for months and months… My hips, ankles and knees ached in between sessions and I won’t be lying if I told you that I started really dreading our sessions.

It was also bloody cold and because it was winter, we walked a good portion of the weekday sessions in darkness. I’m sure I looked like a minion in my yellow tshirt and bright yellow bibs and head lamp.

Today’s confession: I was longing for a cold or flu bug to hit so that I would have a good excuse to skip a session. As it happened, the winter of 2014 was probably my healthiest winter ever and I skipped very few sessions.

In August we went away for a few days and that little holiday broke my momentum. I battled to force myself back into the walking habit after the break and while I was being lazy at home, I picked up a little Spring sniffle. That gave me all the excuse I needed to take more time off and August and September were my two of my worst months in terms of mileage done on the roads.

I had a feeling my days at RWFL were numbered. The sessions I did attend were awful. I didn’t enjoy them at all. I felt slow and miserable. I hated walking at the back of the pack and I just couldn’t see how I could make myself move faster.

The light finally came back on one Saturday morning in October. I can’t remember the date but I remember the feeling so clearly. The route we were on had some torturous hill climbs but a lovely, mostly gentle downhill finish. For some reason, that Saturday morning, once we had gotten past the worst of the torturous hills, I decided to break away from my walking companions and try to run a bit. I ran. And ran some more, and before I realised it, I was back at the school field! I’d covered more than a kilometre, at a jogging pace and I was amazed and ecstatic. I finally felt that I was fitter than I was when I had started. Finally the hard work was starting to pay off. From that day onwards, I decided to run the downhills and flat bits if my body allowed it.


Elastic Bands


RWFL is a gradual programme. Members start with just a few minutes of walking or running laps around a sports field and work their way up to 50 minutes.

At our group, René keeps a basket of elastic bands at the starting point and you collect an elastic band for each lap you walk or run. This helps you keep track of your distance. Without the bands, keeping track of those many circular laps was a nightmare. What  amazed me that I was so motivated by those silly bands!

I desperately wanted more at each session and I envied those fellow walkers and runners who had a bunch of them around their wrists at the end of a session. I was ever so proud as I saw mine accumulating. My favourite part was counting them out at the end of the session and multiplying the number of bands by the 400m circumference of the field to calculate my distance covered.

By the end of my time on the field in mid June 2014, I was covering a distance of around 5km, just by walking in circles. That was 12 and a half elastic bands around my wrist. Not quite enough to cut if my blood circulation but enough to feel pleasantly proud.

Finding little things to mark my progress and motivate me has been a huge part of the journey!


At the end of April, after a couple of weeks of regular walking sessions, I sustained my first injury and it wasn’t even at an exercise session!

We were attending “The Grand White Dinner”, a picnic event where we had to wear all white outfits. I thought I was terribly clever, wearing cute white and grey flat Oxford shoes while half the women attending were sinking into the grass in ridiculously high heels. That was until we were leaving the venue and I fell on the road, thanks to my cute shoes having absolutely no grip on the sole. I was walking over a speed hump and slipped on the painted road markings. I landed with my knee at a very awkward angle, sending my bag flying and shattering a wine bottle and my ego in the process.

I tried to walk off the pain as we were probably a kilometre away from where we had parked but I was more than thankful when one of the members of our party hailed a taxi who drove me back to our car.

When I woke up the next morning, my knee was stiff and excruciating sore. I remember lying in bed, thinking that I needed to roll over but I wasn’t sure I could move my leg in the process. Fortunately after I limped around a bit, some of the stiffness wore off. A couple of anti-inflammatories later and I could just about hobble downstairs.

One of the first things that I thought about when this happened was what would I do about the walking? It was all going so well… slowly, but well… and I really didn’t want a setback. I was so scared that a setback would lead to me never getting back into the whole exercise thing. I didn’t have I great track history after all (pun intended).

As it happened, I only needed to take a few days off to allow the tendons or ligaments (or whatever it was that I sprained) to recover and I was back on the field within a few sessions.

This is an honest blog so I guess it’s time for a confession: there was a conflicting little voice in my head which actually enjoyed the time off and the excuse it gave me to take a break. I shall call that voice Miss Defeatist. When I say that I was scared that a setback would lead to me never getting back into it what I mean is that I think I was scared that that Miss Defeatist would scream louder than Mrs Determination.

Maybe my quick return was due to my latent competitive streak – I really didn’t want Nick getting far ahead of me in the programme and we were only weeks away from being promoted to road members.

My knee niggled for a few months afterward but I can proudly say now, 10 months later, that I didn’t let that annoying little Miss Defeatist win that round.

Pride, before the fall


Then I had a running buddy (sort of)

I’m not one hundred percent sure what Nick, my husband, made of this new “hobby” of mine when I joined, but my suspicion is that he regarded it with a degree of scepticism. I don’t think he thought I would stick it out. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure either. Four weeks in and I was neither lithe, nor fit and it was hard!

A few sessions in, René asked me if my husband would be keen on joining. I wasn’t sure, but I promised that I would mention it to him. Exercise has never really been his thing. As promised, I did mention it to him and to my surprise, a few days later, he said he would join me at a session to see what it was like. And he did.

At his first session, he walked around the field with me for a bit and then within the first lap or so, he waved goodbye and sped off at a pace. So whilst I had a new partner, so to speak, the only time he was next to me was when he was lapping me. Lapping me happened repeatedly throughout the sessions.

It irked me a bit that one session in, he was a runner and I was still plodding along breathlessly. I guess that is my competitive streak showing through?

Nick was instantly sold on the programme and he’s been a dedicated runner ever since.

The reality for me is that, aside from my pissy envy about his running ability, having Nick there with me over the last few months, has been a big part of what has kept me going back. Maybe the competitive streak is a part of that – I haven’t wanted to look like a quitter when he has been going strong. Nick has constantly encouraged me and pushed me to persevere. Occasionally, I’ve been a grumpy cow in response to his well meant encouragement. For that I humbly apologise!

Doing this together has had other benefits for us too. It’s given us an extra interest, something else to talk about besides kids and bills. We now often browse sports stores together, ogling running gear. We have made new friends. We are working together to set a positive, healthy example for our kids and they now join us for most sessions.

So for my dear husband, THANK YOU for being my (sort of) running buddy.

ps I think I may get Nick go post a guest blog about this journey from his perspective.

Going back, again and again

Occasionally, when I was feeling particularly day-dreamy and the reality of putting one foot in front of another wasn’t near, I could imagine myself running the Jozi roads, gazelle-like. You know those lithe-bodied runners in fitness gear with their long blonde pony-tails swinging from side to side behind them? They looked so free. I really liked the look of that freedom.

The reality is that I walk pretty damn slowly. The more accurate term would be that I plod. And it’s actually pretty hard for me to move quickly. My body is the polar opposite of lithe. Also, I’m a short haired brunette and I haven’t had a long pony tail since I was 12. I shall save my rant about fitness gear for another post.

It guess wasn’t too bad in the beginning. Attending the sessions was a novelty and even though I didn’t particularly love the walking, I felt quite sanctimonious about my new activity. I.Was.Exercising. I couldn’t wait to be asked to fill in a medical or insurance questionnaire and answer “YES” to the question about whether I was physically active. (Side note: almost a year later, I’ve still not had any questionnaires to complete!)

Here’s a confession: I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my life being a quitter. Especially when things aren’t as easy as I wanted them to be or when I’ve realised that I’m not particularly good at something. I’ve been actively working on this not-so-great personality attribute. With this in mind, I forced myself to go back to RWFL the following week, and almost every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the few weeks thereafter. Of course, the fact that I had just paid over an annual membership fee helped with my commitment. I didn’t want to waste the money I’d just spent, so for the next few weeks I just kept going back and waiting for the fitness, freedom and lithe body to kick in.

Where it all began…

I once had a conversation with a ex-colleague about exercise. My colleague was an enthusiastic member of Run/Walk for Life (RWFL) and she waxed lyrical about how she had started at only five minutes of walking and had lost something like fifteen kilograms. She glossed over the details about what happened after those first five minutes. Or perhaps I chose to ignore the rest of the story. Either way, the idea of doing exercise for only five minutes intrigued me. Even I could walk for five minutes. But even though I figured I could manage five minutes of exercise, I never really did anything about following up on the idea.

Well, not for the next ten years, anyway.

Fast forward to January 2014. I had heard via the social media grapevine that a new Run/Walk For Life group was starting up at a primary school just a few kilometres from my home. My friend Jeanette was planning to join and I toyed with the idea of joining too. I looked into the meeting times and as luck would have it, it suited my schedule perfectly. I followed the Facebook updates and saw all the new members joining. Still I procrastinated.

Finally, one Friday evening in March, during a conversation with Jeanette I committed to joining. I told Jeanette that I would see her at the session the following morning. When I arrived, full of nerves, René, the friendly group manager gave me a quick rundown of how the programme works.

We then started with a warm up exercise session which lasted between ten and fifteen minutes. After that, a warm up walking lap. I was then to do ten minutes of brisk walking, followed by a slower cool down lap. My ex-colleague did not mention anything about vigorous warm up exercises and warm up and cool down laps. She said five minutes of walking… five minutes.

I couldn’t exactly quit before I began so I lumbered through the lunges and star jumps, puffed through the warm up lap and panted through the ten minute walk. I breathed a very exhausted sigh of relief when the whistle blew for my cool down lap.

This was not quite what I had imagined but I was there and I managed… but only just. I promised I would go back the following Tuesday. Amazingly, I did.