Mission Completed

Last week I shared my running odyssey with you and how I have worked my way back from injury to be able to run a competitive 10km race again.  Saturday 24 September 2016 was the moment of truth.  Heritage Day in South Africa took on an additional meaning for me as I lined up at the start of the inaugural FNB Joburg 10km CITYRUN.  I was nervous and also concerned about my preparation.  I guess the truth is that one never feels 100% prepared.  In my case a back injury a fortnight before race day hampered my progress but there was no turning back now as the minutes counted down to the start gun.

From Bank City in the centre of Johannesburg the race began and the first thing I noticed was how every one seemed to be going faster than me.  My natural inclination is to up my pace but I had to remind myself that my race was against myself.  Two years ago I could not run 2km without pain in my knee.  Mine was to complete this 10km challenge pain free – that was the goal here.

Curiously at the 1.3km mark there was a 100 metre section where runners were challenged to sprint.  There was a prize of some sort for the fastest 10 runners through that area but there was no way I was taking part in that.  If you sprint with all you have have between 1.3 and 1.4km there is a good chance you will suffer later on.  I had other priorities.  As the route crossed Commissioner Street and turned right into Albertina Sisulu I was still feeling good leading into the first hill.  It did not escape my attention that several runners who had passed me earlier were now being left in my wake up this first incline.  That part felt good!

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The route continued to incline as we made our way past the Ellis Park Indoor Arena (old Standard Bank Arena) before turning into Hillbrow where memories of interviews with boxers came flooding back.  Still, I had to concentrate on my mission and even though I was still being overtaken by a plethora of runners I knew that I was not running against them on this occasion.  Somewhere between Hillbrow and Park Station I began tiring.  Whoever the spectator is who shouted “Come on, Umlungu.  Come on, Umlungu.  Come on!” deserves a special mention here.  It really did help.  As did the various singers, dancers and other entertainment acts along the route; not to mention the enthusiastic marshalls.  But that one particular spectator stood out for me.  If you’re reading this, sir – thank you for the support, it helped more than you’ll know.

It certainly felt as if the five kilometre stretch from 3-8 was entirely uphill but at around the 8km it flattened out and I knew I was almost there once I reached the top of Constitution Hill – yes I did whisper “Shit!” under my breath when I saw it and as I was climbing it.  But once that part was done it was surely a case of “homeward bound” and the mention of “this is the last hill” by one of the marshalls spurred me on.

Of course there was one more incline – Nelson Mandela Bridge – but by then I was running on adrenalin and there was no way a bridge – named after a famous president or otherwise – was going to stop me.  Now it is true that in previous races I have identified someone in front of me and then tried to get ahead of them before targeting the next person and thereby increasing my pace and my time.  On this occasion the goal was just to finish but it did occur to me as we approached Nelson Mandela Bridge that a certain Thabo (our names were printed alongside our race numbers) was in front of me, and he and I had pretty much been trading places throughout the race.  I could not resist and made my way past President Mbeki’s namesake and upped my pace coming down the bridge on my way to the finish at Mary Fitzgerald Square.

My final time of 57’48” is not a personal best on the highveld (about 2’30” shy) but the emotion of completing the race after all I had been through with my knee cartilage damage and honestly wondering if I would ever be able to run a race like this ever again got the better of me about five minutes after finishing and I began to cry as I reminisced of my journey.

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My wife has been superb encouraging me all the way and she deserves a special mention not just for that but because she herself ran in this race and crossed the line in a personal best time.  All in all, it was a great day and now I cannot wait to be part of the next one!