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Running: The People's Sport

My training took a turn for the vertiginous last week when I had to attend a wedding at Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg (just over 3000m above sea level, if you’re interested).

Thankfully, I don’t suffer from vertigo, so the steep hills I was forced to run along during the week only tormented my legs, and not my state of mental wellbeing. That came later…

While out on a run a local fire marshal asked if he could come along. Reasoning that some local knowledge could only aid my efforts, I gladly accepted his company.

I was about 2km into my sedately paced trot and heading up an off-road track called Mike’s Pass.

“So where does this road go,” I enquired of my new running partner.

Up.

“Ah, I see. And have you run here before?”

Every day.

Quickly concluding my pal wasn’t one for chit-chat (nor am I, it must be said), I settled into a steady rhythm alongside him. For approximately 500m.

My legs felt like poorly refrigerated jelly, my lungs bubbled and burned with the fire of a flaming tar pit and my eyes were drenched in more salt than a 90-year-old granny uses to ‘flavour’ her soup.

And the worst part? My partner was wearing his fire-proof fire-fighting long pants, a T-shirt with the moisture-wicking ability of a brick wall and toddling along happily in his steel-toe capped, ankle length snake-repelling fire-fighting boots. The bugger wasn’t even sweating.

Who needs trail shoes
I could only look on in admiration, and mild embarrassment (in my trail shoes, lightweight shorts and shirt, and frantically beeping heart-rate monitor), as he soared up hill after gravely hill.

I couldn’t cave in. And no way was I asking him when it was time to turn around. So there I was, chugging along in the manner of a malfunctioning diesel tractor pulling 100 blue whales through boggy marshland, admiring, hoping and praying that the agony would soon be over.

Out of the blue, after 7km of pure altitude sickening climbing, the fireman turned and said…

“I must go. My people need me.” (Probably not the exact phrase he used).

Turn we did, and raced to the bottom of the hill, where I found my fiancé sunning herself on a rock (she’s the smart one).

Upon reaching the bottom of the hill, dreading the fact that I was about to change kit and head to the golf course, I asked what the fireman had in store for the rest of the day.

“We’re going on patrol now.”

Cool. To where?

“There.” (He said this while vaguely pointing in the direction of Lesotho).

To the hotel?

“No. There.”

Uuh, that peak looks like it belongs to another country.

“Ja, it’s about a four-hour hike there, and four hours bike. Enjoy your wedding. Bye.”

And with that he was gone, leaving me with two revealing realizations: one, you’re never as fit as you think you are (and at the same time, don’t ever get into a race with a Drakensberg fire marshal). Two, running really is the people’s sport.

There was a man, six hours from Joburg, nearly four hours from Durban, who went for a run every day in work boots and slacks. To run, you need nothing more than spirit and the will to put one foot in front of the other.

Also, I’m never complaining about blisters again.

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