2016: Running To Mars

running a half-marathon

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. If I realize in September or October that something in my life needs to be fixed, I’m not going to wait until January to fix it. Very few of my major life changes have coincided with a new year: I quit smoking in June, I started running in April and I decided to start my own business in August.

That being said, the New Year is a handy time to start new things just from a mathematical point of view. If I want to compare something to prior years – like my weight (which keeps going up) or my bank balance (which keeps going down), January 1st is a good point of reference. Or if I want to try and do something quantitative, like run a thousand miles in a single year, it makes sense to start logging those miles on New Year’s Day.

So while I don’t actually have New Year’s resolutions, there are some things that I am going to start working towards when the clock has struck midnight.

Most of them are centred around my health and fitness. I had such grand plans for my running in 2015, but life kept throwing massive spanners into the works. There were weeks when I barely had time to sleep, let alone run. Circumstances forced me to be a no-show at several races that I had registered for, and I ran my October half-marathon on very little training.

Then I went away to South Africa for a month. I ran a few times and did a great deal of walking, but there were many meals out as I celebrated being with family and friends. When I came back, I flew straight into the Christmas season with its eggnog and turkey dinners and chocolatey treats.

So I am out of shape, and I need to fix that. While I was at my desk trying to decide on next year’s races, two things happened. First, I saw a Facebook post from my friend Frank, who has made great strides in his quest for a healthier lifestyle. He posted that in January he is repeating a thirty-day squat challenge that he did in November, and he wanted to know if anyone was going to join him.

Squats are my least favourite form of exercise. If I were to equate squats with food, they would be like cabbage, the very thought of which is enough to cause a gag reflex in me. But unlike cabbage, squats are not likely to make me physically ill – on the contrary, they will strengthen me and make me a better runner. So I responded to Frank’s post in the affirmative, committing to a month of squats in January.

The second thing that happened was that I received an email about something called the Moon Joggers. This is a group of runners from all over the world, who in 2016 are hoping to collectively log enough miles to get from here to Mars. It sounds like a fun thing to be a part of, so I signed up and set myself a goal of 1,000 miles, or 1,600 km.

I decided to take this one step further. Starting on January 1st, I am going to attempt a running streak. In spite of my husband’s initial reaction, this does not mean that I’m going to run naked. It means I’m going to run for as many days in a row as possible. On my “rest” days, I will run at least one kilometre.

My hope is that through all of this activity, the adjustments I need to make to my overall lifestyle will be easier. I will get more sleep, drink more water and eat more veggies.

I am looking forward to being fitter, healthier, less stressed and more energetic.



The Amazing Race: South African Edition

I developed a love of running when I was a teenager, years before I started to actually run. The running events were always my favourites in the Summer Olympics, and along with the rest of South Africa, I whooped and hollered and jumped up and down as Josia Thugwane won the marathon in the 1996 Olympics, mere months after being shot during a carjacking.

My Dad and I had a ritual that took place once a year, at the end of May. The ritual went something like this:

I am woken by Dad gently shaking my shoulder and placing a mug of coffee down on my nightstand. It is early in the morning – so early that it is still dark out. Despite the fact that I have the option to sleep – it is a statutory holiday – I choose instead to get up. Yawning and rubbing my eyes, I carry my coffee into the living room, where Dad is already sitting down and the TV is already on.

The TV screen is filled with thousands upon thousands of runners wearing race numbers, milling around at the starting line of South Africa’s greatest race. These runners have worked hard, trained hard to get here. They have a gruelling day ahead of them. The energy at the start line is so intense that it filters out of the TV and reaches me and Dad. We are literally sitting on the edges of our seats, all trace of sleepiness gone from both of us, as we make small talk about the runners.

“I don’t know if Fordyce has it in him to win this year,” says Dad.

I look at him, aghast. Bruce Fordyce always wins. The man is virtually a mascot for the race. How can he not win? Dad has a point, though. We keep seeing footage of him continually stretching out a calf muscle, as if it is troubling him.

All of a sudden, we hear the strains of Chariots of Fire coming from the TV. The runners, who only moments ago were a somewhat chaotic crowd, have arranged themselves into an organized pack. They are ready, they are focused, they have only one thing on their minds, and that is the finish line and how they will get there.

Chariots of Fire comes to an end, there is an excruciating pause, and then the gun goes off. And with that, South Africa’s greatest race – the Comrades Marathon – is underway.

The Comrades Marathon, a 90km event not for the faint of heart, has a long and illustrious history. It comes from noble beginnings: it was first organized by a World War I veteran to honour the memories of South African soldiers who had died during the war. A prime goal of the race, in addition to honouring the war dead, was (still is) to “celebrate mankind’s spirit over adversity”.

The course alternates every year – “up” runs start in Durban, “down” runs start in Pietermaritzburg. Runners have twelve hours to complete the race, and they have to reach predetermined points along the course within certain times in order to be eligible to continue.

Every year when the Comrades was on, Dad and I would park ourselves in front of the TV and watch the action unfold. Because contrary to what many might think, it’s not just a bunch of people running all day. There is a lot of drama and excitement that goes on. You see many, many aspects of the human spirit – both heartbreaking and uplifting.

Running is, in many ways, a metaphor for life. The Comrades Marathon especially so. The frontrunners in any race get a lot of coverage as spectators and TV viewers anxiously wait to see who will win. In this race, though, it’s not just elite athletes. Everyone is a star. Every runner is a hero – even the ones who have to suffer the heartbreak of not finishing the race.

When I finally started running at the age of 26, I knew that I wanted to be like a Comrades runner. Not in terms of form or distance or speed. It is highly unlikely that I will ever actually run the Comrades myself.

No, it was other characteristics of these athletes that I aspired to: the mental strength, the determination, the courage, the fortitude to reach out and help a struggling athlete, the sheer grit to keep going no matter what.

I wanted to be like a Comrades runner in terms of spirit.

And that is still what I strive for, not only in my running, but in my life.


Early Mornings, Falling Glass, Giving Blood

This morning I voluntarily woke up at 4:45 a.m. so I could go for a run. Other Moms who run will understand my dilemma: a hectic lifestyle of juggling work, kids, and other family responsibilities means having choose between sleeping and running. Other runners – Mom or not – will understand that running and sleeping are equally necessary for my physical and emotional wellbeing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete masochist. I use some very creative thinking in order to try getting my runs in without having to get up in the middle of the night (or what feels like the middle of the night). Today, however, I had no choice. If I was going to (a) run, (b) get in the distance I was aiming for, and (c) be on time for work, I had to be on the road by 5:00 a.m. Which meant getting up at 4:45.

After all, I think it is reasonable to not want to run in the thunderstorms that were being predicted for this afternoon. And since my desperate attempts to master the art of being in two places at once have come to nought, I could not run at lunchtime and donate blood at the same time.

I had a lovely, lovely run. 7.5km in nice warm weather with just a little bit of wind.

Not a bad way to start a Monday morning.

After my run, I took care to have a nutritious breakfast. During the course of the morning I drank a V8 vegetable juice and ate a banana – neither of which I actually like, but in preparation for donating blood, I needed to make sure my iron levels were up and that I had enough nutrients in me to avoid passing out.

When it was time to go, I took the elevator to the ground floor, intending to get on the subway. As I exited the building, though, I was accosted by a big policeman who was yelling, “Get back inside! Get back inside!” Ridiculously, I offered a lame argument to the policeman.

“But I have to go and donate blood,” I said.

The policeman looked at me as if I had broccoli spouting from my forehead, and said, “Well, you’ll be bleeding a lot sooner if more glass falls off the building.”

Okayyyy. Turns out that a pane of glass had come out of the top floor of the office tower and crashed onto the street about sixteen storeys down.

I took the scenic (read: long) route to the subway and took the train for two stops. Then I got off the train and wandered around like a lost fart until I found the blood donor clinic. I checked in, and as the nice blood clinic man was giving me my paperwork, the shoulder strap on my purse broke and half of the contents of my purse fell onto the ground.

This was turning into quite an adventure.

My medical checks and interview went without a hitch. My iron level was fine. Vital signs were good. No bruises or lesions on my arms. I haven’t had sex with a cocaine addict or been a prostitute.

The donating part itself went well too. The nurse easily found a fat, pulsing vein to use and the needle went in flawlessly. Less than ten minutes later, a unit of my blood was in the bag in memory of Capt. Snuggles, I had a Band-Aid on my arm and I was sitting at a table getting free juice and cookies.

You can only count a day as GOOD when you’re able to get in a good workout and do a good deed.

(Photo credit: