Saturday, August 3, 2013

MY ILLUSTRIOUS ALTHLETIC CAREER On the top of my bookcase, is a little silver figure of a woman running. This trophy, entitled Grootmeester Padhardloop 1997 dates back to the time when, I was living in George and in an effort to get fit and lose some weight, I joined the outfit called Run/Walk for Life. Three times a week we would gather on a school sports field and either run or walk around it, monitoring our speed and our heart rate at each circuit. This doesn’t sound very exciting and it wasn’t, not at first, but when we had attended the requisite number of sessions and completed the requisite number of circuits, we graduated onto the road and this was much more interesting. We used various routes, most of them along shady avenues in pleasant leafy suburbs. Walking alongside someone for five or six kilometres gives plenty of time for conversation and I came to know all the others in our group and made many good friends. From being a dreaded chore, the exercise session became something to look forward to. Our enthusiastic leader, once a Comrades runner himself, encouraged us to enter road races. Most fun runs are open to walkers as well as runners, and some longer events have categories for walkers, who usually have to start after the runners, so as not to get in their way. When I started entering as a walker, I found that walkers were not always welcome, because they were slower and made the event go on too long, but when a Marathon and a half-Marathon are run at the same time, the organisers don’t mind having walkers in the half-marathon, because water points have to be kept going until all the Marathon runners are home anyway. The first half-marathon I entered was exhausting. I thought I would never finish, but after a while I learnt to pace myself and once I had mastered the technique of the race-walkers wiggle, 21 km became, if not exactly a breeze, much easier. After doing a few of these, we walkers began to set our sights on the 37km Big Walk. In the end I was to do this race three times. But what about the trophy? Well, it came about, that a few of us had entered the Saasveld Half- Marathon. This was a rather tough race, but with a delightfully scenic course, through fields, plantations and indigenous forest. When I entered I didn’t know that it wasn’t just another road race, but the Southern Cape Road Running Championship. For Road Running, the age categories are: Junior, Senior, Master and Grandmaster. (Grand master in those days was sixty and over). The winner in each category would be that year’s champ. Our running vests were marked with the appropriate letter. At the start I noticed that there were only two other G’s in the line-up. For most of the race they were both so far ahead that I couldn’t see them. I slogged on at the rear, enjoying the balmy Spring weather, the gurgle of the mountain streams, and the sweet scent of the pine trees along the route. I passed one of the Gs a little way after the half-way mark. Having set out too fast, she was now sitting by the side of the road puffing and panting and suffering from cramping in the calves. I made a perfunctory inquiry as to whether she needed assistance, but she grimly waved me on. About two kilometres before the finish, I came across the other Grandmaster lady, another Walk-for-lifer, and a faster walker than I was. She had found a clump of edible mushrooms by the side of the road and was picking them and stuffing them in her small backpack. “You go on ahead,” she told me. “I don’t mind being second for once.” She was a bit taken aback when she discovered that I was to be crowned Southern Cape Lady Grandmaster Half-marathon Champion, but took it with good grace. I think she won the next year, but after that, the age for Grandmaster was dropped to fifty-five and the competition was much too tough for either of us. Now that my walking is reduced to a slow perambulation round the park, I have the trophy displayed prominently in my sitting-room to impress visitors. I don’t tell them that there were only three of us in the race and that one dropped out and the other stopped to pick mushrooms.