OPINION: Roadrunner manage the enslaving route

If you told me roadrunners were mad people, I would agree with you.

But if you told me they were zealous, health-conscious people with passion and determination I would also agree, nodding my head furiously. You may think that roadrunners are mad for repeatedly inflicting pain on themselves. But I’ll be honest, that madness has gone to my head too. I have been running like a mad dog in the last two months.

And just last Sunday I ran my first big race, the Slave Route Challenge half marathon.

To my standards, I did the unthinkable – and my “slavery” experience was sweet. I inflicted pain on this body that I believe is a temple – and mind you, I paid money to do so.

It was a cool but windy Sunday morning in the middle of Cape Town.

About 9 000 runners converged in the city centre to take part in the four different events that made up the Slave Route Challenge – the half marathon (21.1km), 10km run, 10km walk and 5km fun run. It was yours truly’s first half marathon. It seemed like it’s going to be another comfortable day for me. All I wanted was to run, finish the race whether within cut-off time or not. Winning and time were far from my mind.

Here I was among the thousands, beautiful souls, shapes and sizes. But when the race was delayed by 30 minutes, butterflies in my stomach started to whisper some negative messages. I pressed the panic button. I wanted to throw in the towel and go home. But something told me not to do that.

More experienced runners around me were eager to do the business of the day and go home. There were times when they clapped hands urging the organisers to get the race started. And when the starting gun was fired from the nearby Castle of Good Hope, they really took off. In fact, they flew. Craziness began and I had to pace myself so that I didn’t get too tired too quickly.

But I was there not only to run but learn, study people’s behaviours and experience what others have been experiencing. I was motivated by just seeing all the beautiful people and when the fatigue set in, the marshalls were there to motivate us. Overall I feel I managed my composure very well.

But then, boy oh boy, I reached an enslaving hill – Pentz Street, better known to Slave Route runners as Koesiester Hill in Bo-Kaap. I frowned by just looking at it.

And when I negotiated it, every pain I ever had came back. Old age pains were also showing their ugly face. It was a knee, back pain, Achilles, groin and hamstring threatening too.

But the voice of one of my colleague’s kids who wished me luck pushed me through. I managed the enslaving and challenging uphill, though not with ease. From there it was smooth sailing until a disrespectful pain under my ribs jumped up to control my pace. It was then that the Xhosa in me came up.

I thought of all the bad things from witchcraft, to haters of me. On the other hand, I thought that the Almighty was punishing me for running on a Sunday instead of going to church. But I had a fantastic running partner, Modise, who now and then encouraged me to keep going.

Part of why I joined the race was to observe and I observed how patient people can be on the road. I observed runners helping each other and encouraging those who wanted to give up, not to, but at the same time to watch out for their health.

But the most motivators for me, apart from the marshalls, were those we call homeless, the guys who live on the streets and under the bridges. They were marvellous. They kept on shouting “never give up”. I was really taken with their zeal to always use “never”. The marshalls kept on saying don’t give up, you’re almost there. But these okes chose “never give up”. To continue to keep the spirit alive was an awesome thing. And for that I could not be happier.

I hope they have truly not given up on their own lives and dreams. But in the end I was and I am happy that finally I faced my fear of running a longer distance with others. To the athletes, keep shining and smashing those marathons and half marathons. I am not done with inflicting pain on myself.