Path working in South Africa
"Is this the right way where the running club meets?" The guard beckons me through the gate and vaguely points to the left. The sky is just beginning to shine on autumn morning and I look to see the roadsides as they snake through the park.
Most of the Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted in South Africa, but we haven't had street races in over a year. Some of the bigger, longer trail races have returned, with huge differences in elevation and corresponding price tags. I'm not quite there in training or on budget, so I noticed an event organized by a local running club.
An opportunity to run with fellow runners through a beautiful nature reserve on a quiet Sunday morning, but flexible tee times to avoid overcrowding. An 8 km loop on flat jeep tracks, mostly full of dirt with the occasional patch (or at one point, half a kilometer) of soft sand. No auxiliary stations or marshals or timing chips, but clear direction and distance markings and a cup of Coke at the finish. For less than $ 5? Count me in.
Enjoyed Marathon, South Africa, 2019, africamarathons.com
I was one of the first to arrive. Several club members set up a pavilion and banners for the start / finish area. Others were in the park headquarters building, checking names and doing temperature studies. I was about to start with two other early risers. Noah, who seemed to be in his late 60s, was thrilled to be with other people for the first time in almost a year. "I'm afraid I'll be stuck with 19 comrades," he sighs.
This is the Comrades Marathon, a +/- 90 km road race in Durban, South Africa. Last year's edition, which would have been its 20th and this year's edition, has been canceled. Linda, also in her sixties and wants to get started today, regrets: "Yes, I'm stuck on 9 Two Oceans." This is the 56 km road race in Cape Town. Both races are my long-term goals, but I'm a few years away from that level. I'm in good company this morning!
The sun rises, more runners arrive and after a friendly briefing ("The routes are marked, don't get lost!") We're off. 1 km on the road, then around the first pond. Linda points out a pelican in the water. I can't remember ever stopping to take a picture during a race, and it's rare even during a practice run, but it's different today. Soft trails are not conducive to PBs, and the vibe is a club run anyone can join. A running party if you will. It is selfies!
I run alone, but enjoy the company of runners just in front of and behind me. I see the sights – mountains, water, sand dunes, hundreds of birds. Around the 6 km mark I come across a woman who has a shaved head and markings on her skin that imply a struggle for health. It slows down for a moment and I unconsciously walk past faster as if cancer had caught it because it wasn't fast enough and I need to create some distance between myself and the threat.
Two Oceans Marathon, africamarathons.com
I recognize my nonsensical thinking and slow down again. It catches up when we hit the soft sand and points a narrow path to the side through the beach grass where we have better traction. Within five seconds I catch my foot under long roots and fall on the soft plants. We have a good laugh and we move on together.
Shortly before the end, I see Linda in front of me. I decide to adjust her pace until the end, which is fine on the trail and then almost impossible for the last 200m of the road back to the start. Linda, you have been with me for 25 years, but you made me deserve this cola!
Friendly smiles and virtual high fives from the club's volunteers at the finish and I walk to my car while some of the other runners start the lap again. Maybe next time, but today I have to go back to the kids. After a short McDonald & # 39; s breakfast stop. I know, I know. Fat and salt, not an ideal recreational food. It tastes perfect.
All the way home, I see runners – dozens of them, young and old, black and white, alone or in small groups, taking long distances before the day gets hot. The Cape Town running scene is a big club and everyone is invited. I feel like one of the happiest people in the world to be a part of.