I ran my first marathon on 15 September 2019. It was a dream come true, something I’ve wanted to achieve for 5 years.
Running has been a big part of my life for 9 years. From being a non-exercising person, to starting to run from scratch on a treadmill, my journey has been one of self-discovery, perseverance and passion. Every runner decides to start small, challenging themselves to park runs or 10k races, loving the achievement, then courageously striving for longer distances and bigger goals.
I was no different. The ultimate test was to run a marathon. I wanted this five years ago when I trained for Cape Two Marathon. I’d put in all the training and did all the long distance runs. I was confident I would achieve this goal. But it wasn’t meant to be. A freak accident prevented me from running the marathon two weeks before the race. I was gutted.
What followed was a forced hiatus from running. I underwent double bunionectomy surgery on my feet that took me out of running for six months. I missed running so much. It was a void I couldn’t fill. When I could walk again I had to go to the gym to strength train. I returned to running, starting from the very beginning to build my fitness. It didn’t bother me much, the fact that I could run was enough for me.
When I tried to pick up on distance running, I fell prey to injuries sustained in my knees. I was advised to go for x-rays where I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my knees. The cartilage in my knees were wearing away. I was sent to an Orthopedic surgeon who advised me to stop running as I’d need knee replacements if I continued. This was a huge setback for me. I stopped running and tried to process what it meant going forward. I underwent knee arthroscopy to clean-out my knees and had good blood cells injected into my knees. This procedure caused more problems for me. The muscles in one of my legs had tightened preventing me from returning to running. I saw a physio for 2 months to ease the inflammation before I could walk comfortably. By this point I had had enough of procedures, doctors or physio’s telling me what I could or couldn’t do. I made a decision that I wouldn’t have another procedure unless it was a matter of life or death.
I researched osteoarthritis (OA) in the knees. My mother has it so I know from her experience it can be debilitating. I discovered that exercise was good for OA. There was a fine line between doing too much and doing too little. I listened to my body. I found that running consecutive days didn’t work for me. My legs needed a break to recover from the stress running had on my joints. I learnt to swim. Swimming took the pressure off my joints and was a great form of cross-training. In the process I found that swimming complimented my running. I seemed to have found my solution to keep running.
My running club had announced a marathon training program at a social function in May. One of my running friends, Peter Commin came over to me and said I was the perfect candidate for the marathon. He said I was a consistent runner and looked comfortable on the road. I said I knew I could run a marathon but I didn’t want to. I went on to tell him how I couldn’t attain it 5 years ago and it wasn’t in my plans to run one. I was quite comfortable running shorter distances. When I got home I spoke to my husband about it. But Peter’s suggestion wouldn’t leave me. I wondered why I wouldn’t try again. Fear took over saying I’d get injured, that I’d damage my knees further, that a marathon wasn’t for me. Despite my doubts, a fire ignited that wouldn’t die. I wanted to try again.
I joined the Goodwood Harriers Half-2-Full training group. I filled the coach, Melanie Vollenhoven in on my running history, letting her know that I wouldn’t be able to train on consecutive days as I needed to cross-train. I increased my running from 2 to 3 days. This slight change caused injury. I had shin splints followed by tight calves. I had to take time off to recover. By this time the group was moving onto longer distances and I was lagging behind. It was a trying time. I desperately wanted to keep up with them but I couldn’t. I saw a post on Facebook about a marathon training group aiming to help first-timers like me. I joined them and was contacted by Neezaam Mohamed. He had a long conversation with me about my reasons for wanting to run a marathon. He didn’t want to hear why it didn’t happen the first time, he said I needed to believe I could. All of a sudden I was training with 2 groups, had 2 chat groups, received advice and guidance from 2 coaches.
The hardest part about training for a marathon was the mileage one has to put in. Because I couldn’t train consistently I fell behind from the onset. I picked up more injuries during the 4 months it took to train for the marathon. I had ITB issues, hip instability, nerve problems and muscle tightening. I was increasing distances big time and my body wasn’t cooperating. At this point I was so stressed about running a marathon. I questioned whether I had what it took to run one with my endless setbacks. But the belief factor grew stronger and more determined the closer I got to race day.
Because I didn’t train as much as others, I was advised by Neezaam to go for a conservative time of 5h30 minutes. My Goodwood Harriers group aimed to finish the marathon in 4h50 minutes. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them so I decided to choose a pacing bus led by Chris Jansche van Rensburg. We were seeded in the F pen. When the gun went off I stayed close to Chris. We fell into a nice jog. Runners were passing us by, busses too. Soon the Goodwood Harriers bus passed us. It felt strange not to run with them, but I had a plan and wanted to stick with it. Chris and I together with other runners that joined the bus made our way out of Cape Town to Observatory and on to the Rondebosch Common. The support along the route was fantastic. From DJ’s to dancers, bands, crowds cheering, snacks in abundance, I’d never seen such a spectacle of delight.
Rounding Rondebosch Common we had reached 30km. I took a quick toilet break and caught up with the pacing bus. Chris said I should go on my own as he would be walking a lot to the finish. I refused. I knew that if I did so I’d pick up the pace and hit a wall at some stage. I didn’t want that. Instead I walked, chatted to other runners, taking in the sight and sounds of my beautiful city. By the time we got into town we had reached 38kms. I was way above my threshold by now but I soldiered on. When we got nearer to the stadium we’d reached 41kms. The end was in sight. I ran into the stadium with Chris and the pacing bus to cheers from my husband and my friends. Sheer joy rained on me.
The high of running a marathon stayed with me for days. All of a sudden all the doubts, injuries, setbacks and stress of training vanished. If I could do it again, I would do so in a heartbeat. I knew that the timing was right. Everything happens for a reason. It was my season for a running comeback!