By: David Mohale
On Sunday, 18 March 2018, I ran my 4th marathon since I joined the multitudes of people I used to think are mad. It was my first marathon in 2018, given that I had to pull out of Hillcrest Marathon due to a bad injury. I had not had a long run since that fateful rainy and cold Sunday. It is somewhat an oxymoron, therefore, that with this background, I managed to snatch my PB at 3:40:40. And I must hasten to point out that this was my goal going into this marathon, given that my previous PB was 3:50, achieved at a more difficult Township-Township Marathon last October.
Few things made this possible. Firstly, the weather was great on the day. Secondly, although I had not run the route before, I knew it from my travels up north Durban every now and then. I had a better sense of what to expect. In my first few races, I made a mistake of always starting the race in the middle or towards the back of the pack. In big fields like the one we had on Sunday, that is self-defeating…counter-productive if you like. You easily lose 2-3 kilometres still trying to find your space to run comfortably. That can cost you anything between 12-20 minutes which you will not recover.
In races where seeding is not a requirement, I prefer to be closer to the start line. Once the gun goes off, you sprint like a man possessed until you find your comfortable space to pace yourself. This worked wonderfully for me when I ran Sydenham 32km race. I hope to maintain this moving forward. Be that as it may, Deloitte might have given me my PB; but it was also a horrible run but with take-home key lessons. I started like a house on fire precisely because I had doubts about the injury. It took me 12 minutes to cover the first 3 kilometres. 30 minutes into the race, I had covered 7 kilometres. This average continued for the next 30 minutes, at which I sat comfortably at 14km in 60 minutes. I reached halfway mark at 1:35. Had other things remained constant, anything below 3:10 was possible.
The start of the second 21km changed the ballgame altogether. I started cramping. I was out of energy. It was at this point that I had to push myself to maintain at least 5:30 a kilometre until the end. This was not be. I was completely out of energy in the last 7 kilometres. I walked almost half the distance, barely managing to run the last kilometre until I found two Stella stars who were running 21km and prodded me to jog towards the finish with them. At this point, you have got to be strong psychologically as the battle is no longer physical. It is not nice when everybody starts to overtake you and they are all looking semi-fresh. You start to doubt yourself, and think the worst about the upcoming races. What was perhaps rather encouraging was to see at least five Stella members passing me; at that point, you celebrate the brand more than the individual glory.
After my injury at the Hilcrest Marathon, I took about two week’s break from running in accordance with the advice I got from Dr Grant Matkovich, my useful and friendly Chiropractor since I started with the madness of running (thanks to Linda Mabika for recommendation). Because I sustained the injury shortly after training with the legendary Prodigal Khumalo on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I had to explain my absence from his sessions lest he thinks of me as a truant boy.
At that time my injury was a confluence of excruciating tummy muscles and the groin. Prodigal advised that I should continue jogging in order to accelerate groin recovery. This left me confused, and I guess that running generally leaves athletes with confusion. There is always an over-supply of advice, from training techniques, and nutrition versus supplements, to what sneakers one should have, and which watch is best for what information. I received two contradictory pieces of advice from the two experts, of course, each focusing on what they considered important. What do I do? I did both; I moderated my jogging and ensured that I had enough rest before I could start with serious training.
I started with lonely longer jogs about two weeks leading to the Deloitte Challenge. I must confess that part of the reasons I jogged alone was that I started to panic that I would not be ready. Psychologically, simple talks with colleagues about the forthcoming race could be torturous. I could still feel discomfort each time I jogged or stretched. For a moment, I thought I was always right that running is not for rational people. But what do you do when addiction has taken over rationality? What is even worse is to hear seasoned runners telling you that you learn to run with ‘niggles’. As if that is not enough, you keep counting days towards your first Comrades Marathon and feel depressed with each hour you are losing.
I joined some Stella Stars on Saturday morning for the 25km long run the weekend before the Deloitte Challenge. During and after the run, I felt that I was not ready for 42km, although discomfort had eased significantly. On Sunday, 11 March 2018, I had to get myself out of the comfort of my bed that morning to run a long, lonely run of 34km to the top of Cowies Hill. It was after this Sunday long run that I knew my 3:40 finish was possible.
Before the injury, I had two back-to-back amazing runs, PDAC 25km and Sydenham 32km. I was particularly pleased with my achievement for the hilly Sydenham race as I finished it in less than 3 hours, averaging 4:57 a kilometre. It was in that race that I saw the results of Prodigal’s training sessions. And I knew from that day that I was definitely going to improve my previous PB of 3:50. So, credit to Prodigal and Stella colleagues I normally run with.
Since this is my first article in the Stella Newsletter, perhaps it behoves me to take this opportunity to heartily thank all Stella members for an awesome welcome they gave me towards the end of last year when I joined. Admittedly, it may be unfair to single out individuals but some few names deserve a mention. For instance, Pat Freeman went out of her way to get my membership transferred from my old club in the Free State. She also gave me a million dollar advice on the impact of altitude when I prepared for my first marathon in September in Vaal last year. I am not too sure if I must thank her and Louise for trapping me to register for 2018 Comrades Marathon though! (Pun intended). Amanda, Kevin and Tawanda and the forever effervescent Nana made it easy for a shy me to feel welcome.
Indeed, I am now fully positively mad because of the company of Stella stars. With many more months and years spent in the Club, I am looking forward to many more personal records. As I always say, it is not what we achieve that matters. But it is our ability to sustain and continuously better our previous records that matters. That’s called character. Excellence is not, and cannot, be a function of fluke. It is intentional. It goes back to two simple statements: Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO) or its direct opposite: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect (PPMP). For my remaining years in Stella, I personally hope to be in the latter. For this reason, excuse me for not celebrating my current PB; my eyes are set on what I need to achieve next to better the past.