What’s your reason?

You know you’re a runner when you listen to podcasts and read loads of articles about running. Earlier this week, whilst on my dreary commute to work, I listened to a couple of podcasts by Comrades Coach Lindsey Parrie. You know you’re a South African runner when you know who he is!

The podcasts were about final preparation for the Soweto Marathon. One of the tips that stuck out for me wasn’t about physical preparation at all, but mental preparation. He spoke about getting to a point in a marathon, somewhere around 35 k’s, where you have to rely on your mental strength to push through. He suggested that for this point, that you need to have absolute clarity about why you are doing this crazy running thing and further, you have some sort of tangible, visible reminder of that reason. He suggested a card with the reason written on it, or something written on your arm… something that symbolises your reason for running.

If you want to listen to the podcasts, they’re available here.

So I’m not doing a full marathon, nor am I likely to ever try, but I know from my one little half marathon experience that at around 17/18 k’s, I hit a similar wall where I was so tired and emotional and just wanted it to all be over. I thought that Coach Parrie’s tip would be a useful one to employ for my next big race.

Last night, after our training session, I heard a story from one of the members who is a cancer survivor and is building up her fitness from scratch as she waits anxiously for her one year remission results. She was visibly emotional as she told us about how a year ago, she didn’t know if she would be here today, and what a miracle it is to be around, walking and how we need to just make the most of each day. I got a bit teary, listening to her. I was inspired and so immensely grateful for my health!

I started walking because it seemed like a the right thing to do for my health. “They” say getting exercise is important and the structured RWFL sessions seemed like a good place to start. My reasons are different now.

You know that slow kid at school athletics days who comes last in all the races? The one who never chosen for the team. I was that kid! I stopped doing sporty stuff as soon as I could in high school and opted instead for drama, debating and public speaking. I didn’t suck as much when standing in front of a room full of people as I did on a sports field, so the nerdier cultural stuff was the safer option. As I grew up, I added “fat girl” to the “slow kid” label. Years of overeating, wrong eating, and emotional eating helped the kilograms pile on.

22 months back, when I joined RWFL, at my heaviest weight ever, I identified as slow and fat! It has been months of consistent run/walking and real efforts at improving my eating and my relationship with food and I can finally see visible progress. On a gentle (read not uphill) stretch of road, I can now run a kilometre or more in a go. I have lost a few dress sizes but mostly I’ve discovered that there is joy in pushing my physical and mental boundaries.

I run because I didn’t think I could.

I run to say I can run.

Oh and I run because it  gives me something to write about and I really like writing!

What is your reason?

I’m still running! A little round up of the last few weeks.

It’s been just over a month since I last posted about running… and how I’d lost my mojo. Since then, I’ve had loads of encouragement and questions as to whether or not I’m still doing this thing. Yes… yes I am! I have been regularly doing my 5 – 7km run/walks in the weeks and some longer ones on weekends. And it has been going better. A couple of things have stuck out for me in the last few weeks about this journey. And it is a journey… never a destination!

  • I did the Gerald Fox/Sasfin 10k and despite a rainy, cold start, it was a fun, well organised race, with an awesome t-shirt and medal at the end. The kids also got to enjoy a great outing at the Zoo. Bonus! Definitely one for next year’s race calendar.12036559_10153081838651611_7612544898814052723_n
  • I marshaled at race for the first time a few weeks ago… it was a tiny little community race but fun to be on the other side of things for a change! 11988294_935368259881007_8883865066624325570_n
  • It’s okay to not be fast, as long as you’re moving. I’m so inspired by my friends at the club, but one particular conversation stuck with me. One of the ladies runs marathons – yep, the 42.2 km races and she is all about having fun and finishing within the cut off. She attacks them with a plan and sticks to her plan. She is not all about the final time, just the finishing. That is where I need to be.
  • Try a different strategy. The lady I’m speaking of above… she runs for four minutes, walks one. This struck me as a novel way to approach my running. The first time I tried it, I ran for three minutes and walked for two. The next few times I tried the strategy, I ran for four (long) minutes and walked for two (ridiculously short) minutes. My pace was steadier and I felt stronger at the end. It’s a hard discipline, but wherever possible, I need to try and stick to this plan. It does however mean that I may have to run up some mean hills and walk down some where I would rather be running. It’s a good learning experience for pacing myself.
  • After a year on the cards, we finally moved offices in the last two weeks. The new commute has thrown a little bit of a spanner in the works with regard to getting to some training sessions, but I’m pretty determined not to let not getting to a session be my excuse to not run. So if I haven’t made it to a session,  I’ve run alone. And that’s not a bad thing. I sometimes enjoy the time out alone in my head, and I get to try out different strategies like 4:2 without having to involve someone else.
  •  I change my mind on a daily basis about whether or not a I can actually do the Soweto half in two weeks time. I haven’t been putting in the same long runs that I did for Knysna so I’m worried I am not fit enough. I guess I won’t know unless I try. I’m going to get in another long run this weekend, and see how I manage. It would be awesome to get to the finish line on 1 November and know that I did two half marathons in a year when I was never intending on ever doing any!
  • And speaking of the Soweto race, I’m constantly in awe of my awesome husband who is training for his first full marathon which will be the Soweto Marathon. He’s been running his ass off for the last few weeks and he is so dedicated and motivated and I have no doubt that he is going to rock the marathon on 1 November.

Till next time!

Hil. x

I did it… And got the medal (and t-shirt)

Nick had a little idea, a few months back to run a race in Knysna, and his little idea somehow turned into a whole bunch of us traveling down to do this together, with supporters!

The runners:

  • Me
  • Nick
  • Jonathan (Nick’s brother)
  • Jeanette (RWFL friend)
  • Lance (RWFL friend)
  • René (our RWFL branch manager)

The supporters

  • Ewan and Claire
  • Jessica (Jon’s wife) and their kids KD and Rachel
  • Bradley and Connor (Jeanette and Lance’s kids)
  • Nick’s mom, Denise
  • Belinda (Nick’s sister, all the way from Dubai)

We arrived in Sedgefield on Tuesday after an awesome overnighter in Nieu Bethesda. The drive through the Karoo was beautiful!

 I was determined not to overthink the race and just enjoy my holiday. We did all sorts of touristy things in Sedgefield and Knysna for the next few days.

For the most part, I succeeded in not thinking about the race , but the nerves caught up with me on Friday and I spent loads of the day very much in my head, stressing. I was hoping that the excitement would start to build once we collected our race packs, but I think I felt even more scared once we were registered.


There was one very funny moment when we were out to lunch with everyone. I received a whatsapp from my friend Debbie, asking how I was feeling about the race. I replied, except it was out loud instead of by text and everyone heard a random declaration of “terrified!” from me.

Friday evening was all about prepping for the race. We ate pasta for dinner and pinned our numbers to our shirts and did lots of pottering around, checking and rechecking that we had everything ready for our trip into the forest the next morning.

At bedtime, I had a cup of chamomile  tea in the hope that it would induce some sleep. I actually managed about three hours of uninterrupted sleep before I started waking at regular intervals to check my watch and make sure we hadn’t missed the 3:15am alarm.

At 4am, we headed off to Knysna, where we parked our cars at the taxi meeting point. Lines of white minibus taxis were waiting to ferry the 8000 odd participants into the forest. I can’t quite imagine the logistics that an exercise like that must take!

We were dropped off in the forest at about 5am, where it was pitch black, but surprisingly not terribly cold, yet. An enormous pile of furry red blankets was available for the first few thousand runners in the forest and we each grabbed a blanket in anticipation of the chill. We were most grateful for them as the temperatures seemed to drop in the few hours that followed.

I did think that the sight of hundreds of people walking blindly into the dark, dank forest, cloaked in red blankets would seem just a little creepy and cult-like to the uninformed onlooker!

After our dark trail walk to The Glebe, we were greeted with bonfires, Toilet Town (a flush of portaloos) (Yes, I just made up a collective noun) and an incredible snack station, sponsored by Pick ‘n Pay.

Knysna half! Crazies together. Cold but warm under our blankies sponsored by Momentum #running #RunRevolution #knysnahalf

A post shared by Sam Curley-Young (@curley_young) on

We huddled and chatted for the next few hours, trying to get comfortable and stay warm and dry. The forest floor was a wet, muddy mess and we were thrilled when we remembered that we had a roll of black garbage bags in our tog bag. We had packed them to wear if it rained, but they turned out to be extremely useful for sitting on!

By this time, the nerves were replaced by excitement and I was looking forward to getting going and the euphoria that I knew would follow once the race was complete. 

Finally, at around 7:30, it was time to make our way to the start line and take loads of start line selfies. Photos clearly are a very important part of the whole experience!

Just look at all those people! It took at least 5 minutes to get under the start banner!

People were clothed in a crazy assortment of old and tatty clothing which was discarded in the skips at the start line or tossed to the people along the road side, chanting “Knysna Mara-tonn”. For the first while, the chanting seemed fun, but by kilometre 3, I thought I might strangle the next person who I heard chanting anything!

The race started with a couple of hilly but very manageable climbs. I was feeling optimistic about how things would work out. That optimism lasted for about 9kms and then things got tricky. My plan was to take it easy for the first half of the race and speed up for the second half but the race got decidedly more difficult as we got further along. The road was narrow and rocky and there was absolutely nowhere to just run for any decent stretch.

Between trying to find the side of the road where the camber wasn’t too hectic or too many stones or the sand wasn’t too soft, it wasn’t a fun run. And when we finally got out of the forest, we had a very short patch of decent running and then the Descent-from-Hell as we ran through the Simola Estate. Words cannot describe that downhill. No matter what I had heard about it, I naively thought that a down hill meant I could gain some time. I was so wrong!  The only way I could manage was by going really, really slowly!  I can’t remember the exact point but somewhere around kilometre 16 or 17, I became really emotional. I was tired, it was damn hard and the end was still a long way away. I talked myself out out of the tears and promised myself that I would have a good cry if I actually finished the damn thing. Right then, I ran past a water point where orange quarters were being handed out – they were quite the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted! I’m not sure if it was my little pep talk to myself or the energy boost from the oranges and water, but  I had the strength to continue.

The last few kilometres were a blur of sore feet and excitement that the end was in sight. I was eagerly looking out for my family and friends. As I crossed the finish line, I  saw them and simultaneously, burst into tears. Nick and the kids were waiting to hug me and I buried my sweaty head in Nick’s sweaty chest and sobbed and apparently swore a little 🙂 And then I had to reassure the kids that I really was okay, just extremely emotional!

Apparently everyone got a little teary when they saw my exhausted tears. I’m so grateful for my awesome running family and their amazing support!

I was also amused to find out that Ewan’s friend Bradley had set a countdown timer to the cut off time just to create a touch of drama!

After the race, I went on a hunt to buy the race shirt which I had not ordered when I entered the race and then we all went home for showers and food. And naps. Oh my word, quite possibly the best nap I’ve ever had! And we rehashed the race over and over and over again. And rehashed it some more the next day.

So that was the story of the race. Three months of preparation, anticipation and excitement and all over in 3:19:51.

I do still have some thoughts on my performance on the day, where I’m at with my running and where to from now, but I will save that for my next post.  For now…  I did it. And it was something I never ever thought I would be able to do!

Those Crazy Comrades Runners!

I was an 80’s kid and my dad was a runner so each year, in my home, round about this time, there would be a bit of excitement building around the upcoming Comrades Marathon. When I think Comrades, I immediately think of the name synonymous with the race, Bruce Fordyce. Oh and the Chariots of Fire theme. And people crawling over the finish line.

I’ve driven from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and back a couple of times. It’s quite a drive but I don’t think I ever had any appreciation of just how long the run is until I started running myself. A kilometre feels a whole lot longer on foot than on four wheels… so almost 90 kilometres – well that’s just insanity. The other thing I have learned since starting this running journey, is what sort of crazy pace you need to be able to keep at for no more than 12 hours in order to cross that finish line. As a novice runner who is desperately just trying to stay comfortably at 8 and a half minutes per kilometre, I am in awe of those people who manage to keep going at a pace of just over 8 min/k to finish before the cut off. Not to mention those athletes who finish in faster times – seriously, they are just super human!

This year, I’ve felt the familiar sense of excitement that I felt as a kid in the 80’s. This post goes out to our great friends, Carmel and Deon, who are running Comrades for the first time, as well as our friend from RWFL, Samson – also running for the first time.

When Carmel told me that she was planning to run Comrades about a year or two back, I thought she was a bit crazy, to be honest. Ambitious and crazy. But if I know anything about Carmel, it is that she can do anything she puts her mind to, so I didn’t doubt her for a second. It’s been amazing to watch her and Deon go from strength to strength, and from half marathons to full marathons and then ultra marathons. Their determination has been such a huge inspiration for me and their constant words of encouragement for my efforts mean the world! It has also been loads of fun bumping into them at races in the last few months.

Good luck guys… we will be tracking you the whole way on the big day!

Just go go go – and have loads of fun!


Musing about a word

A few weeks ago, during the Denel 10k,  I overheard a conversation between two other runners. It was something about how the one person had almost fallen off a ladder and had she fallen, she would have injured herself so badly that her racing days would have been over.

What amused me was the idea of this running thing we do being competitive… these events where hundreds or thousands of people converge at a venue to “COMPETE” in a “RACE”.

The idea came up again a few weeks later when Nick did Two Oceans – one of my little nieces asked if he “WON” – we laughed at the cuteness – and explained that we didn’t actually compete to win these events.

The words compete, race and won used to invoke the idea of strong, fit and fast people running against each other and a finishing line, ribbon et al… There would be one winner and a whole bunch of losers. I’m thinking of Olympic track events, Bruce Fordyce smashing through the Comrades ribbon for the gazillionth time, Zola Budd tripping Mary Decker – that sort of thing.

But now… now that I am a “runner” I have a different understanding of these words. I am learning that I do compete, but only with myself. Every single time I lace up my running shoes, I enter a race – and I am winning, just by virtue of the fact that I am getting stronger and I haven’t given up.

On reflection, this idea of competing against myself is relatively new to me. I have always been all about the results, and if I wasn’t the best or if the task wasn’t immediately easy… Well then I couldn’t be bothered to keep trying. I have been like that with all sorts of things from school to my career and hobbies.

I am learning that whatever the activity, be it running, weight loss or life in general – it is less about the end result and more about the journey and experience. Good experiences involve hard work! So whilst I may not particularly love the burning feeling in my leg muscles as I step out onto the road, the endorphins and feeling of achievement afterwards is worth all the discomfort.

And that, folks, is my philosophical musing for the week!

Happy Wednesday everybody!

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.