With my 250th (consecutive!) parkrun coming up, I decided it was time to attempt my first 21km race: The Sole Destroyer.
The Sole Destroyer was named after legendary East London runner Chris Sole, who used the Horseshoe Valley as his training ground. It is a challenging race with many steep climbs and descents. The race starts near the Highgate Hotel. Crossing the Nahoon River several times, it winds up and down through farm roads, Dorchester Heights, Nahoon, and ends at Oxford Striders.
Of course, when I first decided to enter, I had every intention to stick to a rigid training schedule, working up to the longer distance over a couple of weeks, and to be super fit on race day. After all, this was going to be quite a challenge for me, as it is described as a “grueling” run and a “test of endurance and stamina” - neither of which I believed I possessed.
After 5 years of regular Parkruns, I still walk most of the distance, and my finishing times are quite un-remarkable. Uphill is not my strong point either.
As the weeks passed I kept postponing and never got around to do longer runs. With the race date approaching fast, I realized that I was still no fitter than before, and that time was running out for any kind of serious training. I gave up on training schedules, sticking to a parkrun per week, and a brisk evening walk on most weekdays with my faithful walking partner.
No distance training; no hill training; and no special diet.
So, disregarding all advice regarding pre-race training, food choices and hydration, I decided to “just rock up and do it”. This was going to be a “mind-over-matter” thing…
Of all the advice I got, two ideas stuck with me:
1. Start slow
2. Focus on one step at a time
So on race day, amidst a soft drizzle, and on a very muddy track, I pulled my cap down low, started walking, and never looked up.
I did a comfortable walking pace till I felt confident to jog a bit, but slowed to a walk again every time I felt slight discomfort. I focussed on avoiding the slippery clay, and refused to think of what lay ahead. I didn’t check my watch. I didn’t think of the distance. In my mind I was doing a fun walk - no pressure!
When my eye caught a big “11” sign I was pleasantly surprised. I could hardly believe that I have reached the half-way mark so soon. I knew that the worst was over, so I started picking up the pace a bit. I also started to notice and appreciate the spectacular views.
The last few kilometres seemed to just sweep by. Knowing that the end was just around the corner I put in a last minute effort to pass a few runners ahead of me, and finished strong.
I didn’t win any prizes. Nor did I get any special recognition.
But it didn’t break me.
And I destroyed the myth that it was impossible to do a challenging half marathon at my age, without proper training and diet.
There were others too, and who knows what their individual circumstances were, and what myths they too destroyed.
I will be back next year to conquer those hills once more. Will I see you there, or do you still believe the myth that you cannot do it?
View the printed article on www.wuec.co.za
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