Ultra marathon

Rejoicing in the exhilaration of climbing up two summits in 46 days

By: David Mohale

Few weeks ago, I wrote a long post on Facebook about the parallels between a PhD journey and running the Comrades Marathon. For me personally, there are so many parallels. Notably, I did not register for the two voluntarily. My former supervisor at Wits University submitted my Masters’ dissertation at Unisa. The rest is history. I joined Stella AC either in late August or early September. Our own legendary Pat Freeman coaxed me to register for Comrades Marathon as a precaution. By that time, numbers were fast approaching 20000. At the time we had this conversation, I had not even run my first marathon. Again, the rest is history.

I will not get into the details of my post. However, it is important to try to bring the reader into my shoes. Motivation is not always innate. My greatest challenge was, therefore, to overcome the mind lethargy that resulted from my involuntary registration of these two envious summits. And this was not a stroll in the park, especially as the experienced in these two fronts tend to be boastful. I do not think they are aware so they could be forgiven.

I ran my first marathon in Vaal on the second weekend of September. Luckily, Pat Freeman had cautioned me about the effects of altitude. Had she not, I could have easily considered quitting. Be that as it may, completing the first marathon in 4:05 is apparently not bad. Soon after that I joined Stella’s Saturday long runs. I still remember that my first was 24km run to Westville. I ran with Kevin and Tawanda that day, keeping quiet while listening to their conversation, with topics ranging from their past runs, the economy and politics. I had to pretend that I was enjoying the run although it was tough for me. The second long run was 32km run up to Cowies Hill. I ran with Justin and Mark on the day and they also shared their Comrades Marathon experiences. Listening to them, I was convinced that I would not achieve the feat of completing Comrades Marathon in a lifetime.

Organisational studies emphasise the importance between organisational culture and individual behaviour. In this respect, individual attitudes and capabilities are not enough; they are a subject of the dominant climate created through formal rules and informal behaviour of its members. I am proud to say that Stella’s organisational culture is so positive that many of us, as novices, never experienced the kind of negative welcome that some novice runners would speak of elsewhere. I suppose this explains why the membership of the club seems to be on exponential growth. With the warm welcome of almost everyone at the club, the mind started to believe in the reasonable prospect of completing this ultimate human race.

From the bottom part of my heart, I wish to thank everyone at the Club for making me believe in my running capability. As I said before, running is more than just that; it somewhat epitomises what humanity should be about. This became evident on the day of the race when I woke up with an unbearable pain on my left knee. Alex Haddad helped me to forget about the pain until 25km. Later on, I caught up with Darren Smith, and they clearly looked bushed. Darren had the best words ever: “This is my 5th Comrades; it’s your first. You deserve a good time. Go and have fun”. In one of the many last short runs we did as the Club, Darren also shared tips on eating times on the day of the race. For the first time I accepted advice without a modicum of doubt and his advice worked perfectly for me. The support and words of encouragement from Stella Stars at our tables and along the road made the weight of running lighter.

In closing, the medal may be recorded in my name but I wish to dedicate it to Stella AC for being so professionally organised and for being a home for me, personally. I will forever be eternally indebted to the Club for making this personal historic feat possible. 2018 has, without a shadow of doubt, been my best year, with my graduation in Phd on 25 April and another PhD in running on 10 June 2018. It was not easy but it was done.

Mandarin Teacher and His Running Stories- The Rising Sun Chatsworth Ultra

By: Chuanwei Wang (Smile)

Joining Stella Athletic Club is probably the best decision I have made this year. Running with the club always highlights my day. That is why I make all my efforts to run with the Club.

One of the running mates Darren, who became my coach now, promised to arrange a lift to Chatsworth Marathon. Darren, Mark, Candice, Alex, Dimitri and I would be running together. Therefore, I gave up my original plan to run Durban City Marathon, which is too flat and boring. Chatsworth Marathon is famous for its numerous hills. The moment when you climb to the top of a hill, a downhill is waiting for you to conquer. Since we all had qualified for Comrades, we agreed to run Chatsworth as a training run for Comrades instead of a race.

As instructed by Coach Darren, I was up early on the morning of 22 April and battled to eat the last three toasts left in the fridge. Worrying about getting hungry at the end of the race, I grabbed another three handfuls of jungle oats and I could eat no more.We met up by Darren’s apartment after Mark fetched Dimitri and me. We all went in Alex and Candice’s car. We were off in the direction of Chatsworth, Alex driving and Mark directing.

Alex parked his car by the finish, the Chatsworth Stadium. While we were heading to the start, one Stella member was jumping and clapping his hands above his head to warm up.  I thought he was waving to us, I embarrassedly waved to him.

The start was simply decorated. My friends in China are always fussy about how casual the start is in South Africa. A banner with the name of race was hung up by a machine, no year printed. The Chatsworth Athletic Club probably reuses the banner for years, which is environmentally friendly and should be encouraged. So far, not many participants had arrived. A bunch of Stella members were gathered for a group photo.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-00000042.jpgThe South African Anthem was played and sung at around 5:20am. At 5:30am the start siren went off, and everyone immediately began to run. Many ran so fast. “If you go first, you lost.” Remembering what Coach Darren told me, I just stuck with  him. The first part of the route went through the residential areas of Chatsworth, but there wasn’t lots of crowd support as it was described in the event description.

The sun started to come up around 6:30am when we were running a downhill. Amazed by the view, I took out my phone, trying to take a rising sun photo. “Smiley, really?” I heard a sound from behind. I recognised  it as the voice of Nana from Stella. I knew what she meant is that I shouldn’t take photos while I am running.  Embarrassed, I put my phone into my waist bag and kept running. By the next downhill, I saw the sun rising above the horizon. I was thinking that the marathon is called “Rising Sun Chatsworth Freedom Marathon”,  how can it be done without a photo of the rising sun? Hence, I couldn’t help taking out my phone again and stood still for a second to take a quality photo of the rising sun.

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Coach Darren, Mark, Candice, Alex, Dimitri and I were running together. Dimitri was ahead of us from time to time, and finally out of our sight. The rest of us slowed down the pace if there was a big hill and picked up some pace afterwards. The ones who went ahead would slow down to wait for those who were left behind. “Whoop whoop” is often shouted, which I was told that it means here comes the hill.

The sun was climbing higher and higher. We drank water or coke at every water table to avoid dehydration. Salted potatoes and oranges were served as well. Candice and I both could not have salted things when we were running.

At around 28kms, Mark felt it was very hard to pick up his pace if he waited too long. Candice thought it should be fine if Coach Darren and Alex were running together. Therefore, the three of us ran at our pace, leaving Coach Darren and Alex behind us.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-00000044.jpgA special treat for the ultra marathon is to run through the scenic Silverglen Nature Reserve. At the beginning of the reserve, an uphill with about 75 degrees slowed down every runner. Nobody ran up to the top of the hill. The rest of the route in the reserve is relatively easy with lots of downhills. A snake was spotted by Mark and Candice in the reserve. We were running at an easy pace so that I got a chance for sightseeing and taking photos.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-000000512018-04-27-PHOTO-00000048When we went on to the hilly highway from the reserve, Mark dropped his pace. Candice and I were running a little bit ahead of Mark. I invited Candice to push ourselves for the last three kilometres. She said she would definitely push herself but after me and she asked me to go by myself. Feeling lots of energy left, I picked up my pace and started to sprint.

At the 51km sign, a marshal saw me running fast and said “It is like your last kilometre in a 10km race!”  I passed everyone in front of me and managed to move my way into the Chatsworth stadium. Crowds were lined up by the two sides of the entrance and shouting for every runner. Getting excited by seeing the track and field ground which I used to race at for years when I was still in university in China, I pushed myself even harder to cross the finish line. Everyone by the finish line was cheering for me. A warm welcome was given by a lady from Stella who finished her 21k.

Later Candice, Mark, Coach Darren and Alex arrived successively. Another group photo was taken afterwards for some Stella finishers.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-00000046.jpgI felt that Chatsworth Ultra Marathon was the easiest race I had ever done due to easy pace. However, some thought that it was the toughest race and even harder than Comrades. Completing the ultra marathon did make me happy and gave me a certain amount of confidence, a distance that is closer to Comrades.

Many thanks to Coach Darren, Mark, Candice and Alex for their companionship, guidance and encouragement. The next training run before Comrades will be the 55km route tester on 5 May. I am looking forward to running with my mates again.

“I run not because I want to live longer, but because I want to live life to the fullest. ” says Haruki Murakami, a Japanese writer and runner, and I agree with that.

Smile has written a longer version of this article in Chinese.

You can read that article on his own blog here