It’s been a while since I have acquired a new skill. Once upon a time I did a range of sports …. before the climbing bug bit. And who would think that running would be a new skill? Isn’t it an ability we are pretty much born with? Look out illona, your ignorance is showing.
Anyway, I had decided that I needed to get more cardio fit and hopefully get a little leaner in the process. So I signed up for the Pietermaritzburg 14km trail race for some motivation. Once a goal orientated athlete, always a goal-orientated athlete. It was also a good time to start running with my partner as he was recovering from ITB and brought down to my mere mortal level.
It has been an interesting learning curve. Dating someone who has competed in the Lesotho Ultra Trail (LUT) and done many more impressive distances over mountainous landscapes that are not featured on anyone’s radar. We have been easing each other into our respective past times. It helps having a common base to start with – the love of the great outdoors, the need to be out as often as possible, the need to feel some sort of burn, the pursuit of that happy kind of exhaustion earned after a good training session. And most of all sheer bloody-mindedness*.
So the subtle battle of the sports started. Frankly he didn’t stand a chance. I had an entire community backing me, welcoming him with open arms and doing their best to make sure he enjoyed himself. Those bastards. ;p Although, in his arsenal he had the beautiful tracks through the forests, winding upwards to the dam where you could enjoy the sunset and the muffled sounds of distant homes, blanketed in the oncoming mist.
We coached each other on breathing techniques, foot work, pacing ourselves and post-training recovery. I tackled hills while he battled the overhangs. I found myself massaging tired legs instead of arms. I gave him ClimbOn and he gave me Loobit**.
The same phrases started coming out: “Nearly there”, “keep breathing”, “push through”. I realised that “there are no more hills after this” was the runner’s equivalent of “and after that the climbing is over”. There are hills and it is definitely not over.
My wardrobe changed slightly – instead of wanting worrying about freedom of movement I was now concerned with the dreaded chaffing. I swopped robust ¾ leggings for light, breathable shorts. Instead of vest tops that allow my shoulders room to move I opted for self-wicking reflective tops.
The day of the race came and after all the training I felt quietly confident about it. I treated it like another training run (admittedly the competitive side took over as I approached the final stretch). And funnily enough I came 7th out of the women. Which is not as impressive as it sounds when you realise that most of the serious runners were in the Karkloof doing the 3 cranes. And while I will never be a runner and he will never be a climber I am quietly looking round for more races and the other day I was so proud when he presented me with his tick list. The one thing he taught me through all this was that running isn’t just something you do under duress because you need more cardio in your life. It has a sense of freedom to it. When you just need to break free from the shackles of your day a good run in the forest goes a long way in solving that.
*Both of us have a dogged determination that is relentlessly driven on by the pursuit of the next goal.
**I can hear the climbers out there snickering. It really is called that. And it is LIFE SAVING.