I always used to joke that if people saw me running they should know something or someone was chasing me and a little help might be needed.
I hate running. When I’m running every single part of my body is shouting at me to stop it immediately. My legs, my feet, my heart and of course my mind is telling me that I have finally “lost it” and something bad will happen if I keep this torture up. I suppose this is why I was only ever interested in sprinting when I was still a scholar. It was over quickly and because I was fairly good at the 100m I partook in sprints gladly. This was definitely not the case with long distance events like the 800m and 1600m. When I was 12 years old the latter event seemed like running to another city, through swamps and quicksand. Horrible. Just horrible.
Somehow I made it through high school without participating in any athletics events except for the obligatory annual “cross country” inter-house event which was a trot around the school grounds and surrounding roads. It was probably about 3km. I would always finish somewhere near the back of the field. Even the heavy kids would out run me. Did I mention I hate running?
After high school and an unsuccessful semester at Technikon Natal I found myself waiting around for a year before the army called me up. I decided that I was going to get fit before they could mess me up, so every morning at around 7am I would run along the beach, in the sand, in sneakers, from the Picken Chicken down to the North Pier and back again. It was about 2.5km. At first I never used to make the whole distance without stopping, but eventually as the months wore on and I got closer to my call-up date I began extending the distance along the beach to take in the old West Street Groyn and then back to the Picken Chicken, which was about 4.3km in total. I could run it entirely without stopping. I never timed myself doing these runs, so I didn’t know what my pace was. All I knew was that I positively hated running but I was engaging this self-inflicted torture so that I didn’t die immediately when the people in the army had their way with me.
Eventually August of 1987 arrived and I found myself “klaared-in” as a G1K1 troop in the diamond mining town of Kimberley, which is right on the border of the Northern Cape and Free State provinces. I was expecting a lot worse treatment from the PF’s (permanent force soldiers) than what we actually experienced. Because this was the Ordnance Services Corps I suppose they didn’t expect us to be little John Rambo’s. Our basic training was, in hindsight, somewhat lax when compared to what my mates who served in the infantry experienced.
One thing we all had in common in the SADF though was the dreaded 2.4km (1.5mi) running time trial. We were all expected to do this distance in under 12 minutes in PT kit (shorts, T-shirts, sneakers). If you didn’t succeed the PF’s would single you out for special treatment so that you would succeed in the future. Let’s just say that meant you were provided with some extra motivation to shift your ass faster. My first time running this course almost entirely around 1 Maintenance Unit I did it in 8m22s, which was right up there with the best in the Charlie Company. The times went into a little medical logbook that they gave you in the army which had your vital statistics in it. I remember mine said that I was 1.85m tall and I weighed a measly 57kgs. My fellow troops said that the reason I ran the 2.4 so well was because I produced no wind resistance. Funny guys.
At some point during the basic training I got sick with bronchiolitis and was on light duty for a couple of weeks. When the other guys were out doing their drills and PT I was confined to barracks where I nursed myself with copious amounts of free army medication, supplied in little yellow zip-lock packets. Eventually after my first spell of light duty I was thrown back into the thick of the PT stuff and I discovered that my fitness levels had declined to pre-beach run levels. By the end of basics and a few more spells of light duty (which I had deviously come to understand was quite easy to convince the army doctors I was in desperate need of) I had only run the 2.4 about three times, the last of which I cheated by hiding in the bushes and waiting for the leaders to come back before joining the main pack (the PF’s had modified the route to inside the unit so that no troops would be tempted to just keep on running off into the veld). I definitely didn’t do it in less than 10 minutes.
That was the last time I ever ran anywhere. For close on 30 years.
A few months ago idle conversation about running landed me in trouble when I mentioned my long running hiatus to a friend named Mark who also happens to be one of “those” guys who runs marathons for fun. Somehow he convinced me that he could get me running again by “breaking me in slowly”. On our first session of pavement pounding about 2 months ago we ran for a minute then walked for 2 minutes. We did this for 20 minutes, so I got in about 6 minutes of total running time. We were only going to do this once a week and hopefully get me up to 20 minutes of total running time by sometime next year and then do the 5km Park Run along North Beach as a challenge.
Something went wrong.
After about 5 or 6 runs with Mark I found myself running more and walking less, to the point where around 3 weeks ago I ran the entire 20 minutes (in a solo session) without stopping for a walk at all. I then started running (the only) flat section of Glenwood along Manning Road and measured out a 2.4km route using Google Maps. The first time I did it in just shy of 19 minutes, including a brutal hill up to my front gate at the end. Mark was quite impressed and suggested that we do the Park Run the following Saturday. That’s five kilometres. Five thousand meters. Five hundred thousand centimetres. Five million millimetres. It’s an awfully long way to run no matter how you look at it. What was I thinking? Even my runs as a 57kg 19-year-old along South and Addington Beaches weren’t that long. Now I am 48 years old and considerably heavier. Wind resistance is definitely a factor now.
I’ll probably write about my first Park Run in another blog entry, but it didn’t go too badly. I was aiming for a sub-40 minute time and I did it in 39 minutes and 42 seconds, somewhere in the second half of the field of 1101 runners. Not too bad, but my age group grading score was a pretty low 36.57%. You want that number to be as high as possible.
By the time of my 50th birthday in January 2018 I hope to be able to do the Park Run in less than 30 minutes. I’ve set myself a target of running it at least once a month until then, running the 2.4 as often as I can as practise. My latest time last night was 17 minutes 49 seconds. The PF’s of 1 Maintenance Unit in 1987 would certainly be hurling insults at me for that “swak” time and threatening to send me to the border, but that’s OK. It’s 2016 and the chances of me ever joining the military again are about as likely as a white President of South Africa. I’m safe.
I still hate running and I do believe I am causing a major disturbance in “the force” of the universe every time I hit the pavement. Have you noticed how many celebrities have died this year? There’s something indescribably attractive about running that makes me want to keep on doing it though. I can’t explain. Maybe it’s the fear of death chasing me down? Post mid-life crisis? Who knows? Maybe one day somebody will convince me to run a marathon. How far is that? 42 million millimetres? Sounds quite far. I better go practise.
Note: the featured image of this post is a satellite photo showing the first 2.4 route we ran around 1 Maintenance Unit in Kimberly. I’d love to re-visit that place one day. Looks just as ugly today as it was in 1987. Click to enlarge.