By Sandy Mullins
Dealing with disappointment as a runner is often a bitter pill to swallow. We all dream of running well, and getting to the finish line with a smile on the face. So much time and effort goes into preparing for a race. It’s months of pounding the tar, getting up early, watching your diet, making sure you don’t get sick or injured. We invest a large portion of our lives in various forms, yet race day arrives and you can’t run, or you start and everything goes pear-shaped.
This year for me, in particular was one year that didn’t go to plan. I was on track for my 7th Comrades in a row. Why not – I was strong, healthy, injury free and invincible at the start of the year. But life happens and various factors contribute to the mixing pot. Work stress did not help, and it is amazing how stress can impact on your body. I found I was sluggish and generally offbeat. My passion for running took a dive and I literally plodded through each week, trying to encourage others but with nothing in me for myself. Then injury set in and when I should have been piling on the mileage, I was willing my body to heal by “resting”. Mentally this put me on the back foot, and though I had clocked up the kilometers by the start of June, I did not have confidence in myself.
Another fear became a reality when two weeks before Comrades, my throat was sore, my body aching and I thought, this can’t be happening to me! I rushed off to the doctor to get a quick fix which masked it, but definitely did not disappear.
There are four factors that affect race day. Fitness, mental strength, nutrition and weather. If not in sync you are in for a challenge. Weather, you can’t influence but you prepare accordingly. By race day you should know what you can and can’t eat or drink to nourish the body to the end. Fitness and mental preparedness is up to you and the effort put in during the year will now be put to the test.
Saturday night before Comrades, I went to bed still not a hundred percent and very unsure of myself. I got to the start line with my running partner, and I prayed that this journey would finish positively in Pietermaritzburg. It was hot AGAIN, and we set off not needing any extra clothing. Every step I took, I tried to motivate myself and say it would get better, my sluggishness would dissipate, and like the past few difficult up runs, I’d pull through. Right? Wrong. You know that you shouldn’t drink at every station, but it was so warm, I would take a water offered me and drink a mouthful then pour the balance over my head. I was so scared of cramping again as in the year before, that I took electrolytes every half hour. After half way my tummy started to talk to me and I wasn’t feeling too good. Then the wheels fell off. I couldn’t keep up with my friends. I could see we were all battling, but that didn’t help. I made a pit stop, and my tum exploded. Any nutrition in my system was now nonexistent. I got to the mosque past Inchanga and I knew I was in trouble. My legs had nothing in them and I started to walk more than run. I bumped into a friend and as we walked on, I felt a wave of nausea hit me. Horror of horrors, I had to stop on the side of the road and hurl. I had become one of those runners – I thought this would NEVER happen to me. I had nothing left and knew my race was over. I got to the start of Harrisons and bailed. At the time I knew if I had continued, I would have been taken off in an ambulance!
Talking to many non-finishers afterwards, the disappointment of not finishing was great. All of us went into depression, we over analysed the day trying to justify our decisions, and how one could have done things differently. A sense of absolute failure hits you as you listen to your mates recall their success, and though you are delighted for them, you want to scream!!!
Then a running mate told me how I had told him that there is no failure in bailing – there is always another chance! I had to take my own advice, snap out of my self-pity and move on!! It is a tough pill to swallow, but hopefully I am a deeper person because of it. Life has many a curved ball, and it’s how we catch the ball that makes a difference. I know I voice what many an athlete has been through in some form or another, and it is the journey of life, symbolic an every way. There is another day, another opportunity, and together we will get to the finish line with a smile on the dial! I’ll be back!!