I’m training for an Ultra Marathon right now (the 56km Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town), so my weekends always involve a long run. I find that these long runs are much easier when done with other people, so I generally enter a race.
The thing with running in South Africa is that it gets hot rather early, and if you are fair-skinned like me there’s also the added issue of sunburn… So the races usually start between 5.30 and 6am. As the build-up to to the Big Race is intensifying, it means that my Fridays are rather on the boring side. A healthy, balanced (and bland to avoid any tummy-related issues) dinner with water, and then into bed by 9pm. Alarm set for 4am or 4.30 the next morning, depending on how long it will take to get to the race.
But once you get to the starting line it is always worth it, and not just because you know that you will have done a good few (or more) hours of running before most people have finished their breakfast. The running scene in South Africa is great! I can’t think of any other place or event where you have such a mixed crowd; from teenagers to 80-plussers, men and women, and people from every facet of our Rainbow Nation. There is a friendly banter as the race gets going, and lots of jovial chitter-chatter along the route. There are always a few jokers that will keep people’s spirits up. My favourite is an older Indian man that runs most of the races in the Pretoria area. Every time he sees a non-runner at the side of the road he’ll call out: “no running, no medal” in his chirpy Indian accent. It certainly keeps people giggling. There will always be someone that has a few encouraging words for you when you struggle, and a shout-out when you’re doing well.
Running really is a social sport here, and it erases all differences that we usually battle with in this torn country. It’s a wonderful crowd to be part of; where everyone is just a runner, going at their own pace but yet with a common goal in sight. This is why I’ll continue to sacrifice my Friday evenings for bland food, alcohol-free drinks and early bed time. This is why I run!