the world's most beautiful marathon
Not so long ago I was a keen runner. In the space of four years I entered just about every 21km race in the Western Cape, and notched up some commendable half marathon times, including one golden winter where I peaked as a physically superior specimen at the Knysna Half Marathon. Oh yes, those were days, the glory days.
Injuries forced me off the road around 2008, so I’ve focused more on mountain biking in the last few years to keep fit and aid recovery. I’m running again now, with the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (the Ultra) as a 2012 goal, and in the weeks and months that I’ve been back on the road I’ve quickly realised what’s been missing in my life… that is, runners.
Runners are completely loopy. At a half marathon on Saturday I ran alongside an enthusiastic lady, smothered in Vaseline and carrying enough extra water to get her from one side of the Sahel to the other (and back) at a slow crawl, belted out happy tidings to every runner that overtook her (which at the pace she was going, was every runner. Even me.) Then there was the competitive chap who insisted on running behind me, at a pace he really couldn’t handle, for the first 10km of the race, breathing heavily down my neck before realising he was beat and dropping off to a pace more fitting a man of his robust physique. He said later he came in two minutes after me, but I wasn’t buying that tall story.
Not a complaint, a compliment
At recent events I’ve also spotted the same two skinny-framed, excessively calved ‘racing snakes’ who stand quietly in line at the portaloos, only to start the race fractionally late just so they can run past their friends, crushing their fragile spirits three kilometers into a race. In no way am I complaining here. These are the characters that make road running a pleasant and appealing adventure, not to mention a friendly antidote to the sometimes more po-faced environment of cycling events.
I’ve done a lot of the latter recently, and while they’ve all been brilliant events, there are certain elements at cycle races who tend to take themselves rather seriously (and these are generally the nitwits three places off bottom, who’ve spent more money on their kit than their precious child’s tertiary education).
Running again, and enjoying the slow-moving scenery (or maybe that’s just my deliberate pace), has been a breath of fresh air. The solitude (if, like me, you prefer your own company) of the long, meandering weekend run is something to be cherished. Likewise, the banter (if, like you me, you also enjoy good, like-minded company) on a pumped-up group run can put you in the best of moods for days.
Runners are people too
But it’s the people that make it special (our scenery helps too). And when you start getting to the long-distance training runs that an ultra marathon requires, they only get quirkier, not to say far more entertaining.
When the Joker tells Batman, in The Dark Knight, “what doesn’t kill you… makes you weirder,” he was probably referring to marathon and ultra runners.
I run with a guy who insists on wearing a particular sock, because he’s convinced it improves his performance. There’s another who didn’t realise that his second child had been born three weeks ago because he’s been so focused on improving his Two Oceans Ultra Marathon personal best. And another, who was told by his vet that he was tiring out his border collie because plucky Skipper was trying to keep up with him on training runs. How do you exhaust a border collie, the world’s most enthusiastic athlete? Sheep have been trying to do that for 100s of years… and they have the benefit of four legs…
Runners. They’re strange, scrawny, fat, dress badly, talk too much, say too little and keep odd hours. But they’re a vital part of the South African scene. Try it some time. You might enjoy it more than you think.