The Run

I found myself a coach and after nearly three months of following her programming I requested a week of ‘testing’. I wanted to know whether I was making progress and more specifically whether I was making progress at the required rate.

So, upon my insistence an entire week of testing was set aside. On Monday a time trial on a watt-bike was scheduled followed by a 10km run on Wednesday and a 1000m swim on Friday.

I was looking forward to the week but on Monday morning when the alarm went off, somehow my wheels also came off. Against my better judgement I ignored the alarm and decided to push the time trial out to Tuesday. Sometime during that morning my phone rang and without a stutter the HR manager of the accounting firm I was hoping to work for, shattered my hopes of rebuilding my professional career. I abruptly spiraled into a free fall of self-pity and in my mind scrapped a week of testing I was very much looking forward to doing.

The rest of the week was characterized by moodiness and inactivity, getting progressively worse as the week rolled on. By Friday I was overcome by guilt and shame (some ugly habits rearing their heads during the preceding days) and just as quickly as I had fallen into the pit of self-pity I decided to punish myself. The ‘punishment’ would be in the form of a trail run (I’ve never done a trail run before) to a little desert oasis, named Goanikontes, situated roughly 32km to the east of our estate. I have cycled the route hundreds of times before but have never had the inclination to run it.

At 4h30 on Saturday morning my alarm went off. Without my normal hesitation I got out of bed and into my running gear. It was still dark when I left. I resigned myself to the probability that the first 5km would be slow. The low-lying fog, coupled with the pitch black darkness made it nearly impossible for me to figure out exactly where I was. Despite my best efforts I could not locate the track which would take me out the estate and into the adjacent Swakop Riverbed where a single track would lead to the jeep track I was hoping to follow. I ended up scrambling over and through a ‘wall of boulders’ and crossing the riverbed a few clicks east of where I wanted to be.

As predicted the pace over the first 5km was slow. I eventually found the single track I was looking for and steadily built up a rhythm and a pace which I thought would be sustainable over the entire distance (having never run that far I was guarding against emptying the tank too early).

I was now totally alone, in the dark on a single track in the desert. I felt comfortable and relaxed and the only sounds were that of my hydration pack gently slapping my back and the monotonous pounding of my feet. My headlamp struggled to illuminate the track, managing only to reflect off the thick layer of fog covering the barren landscape. Not being able to see much further than a couple of yards in front of me allowed my mind to wander.

Apart from ‘punishing’ myself for not sticking to my training schedule I was also hoping for an ‘a-ha’ moment of sorts, some kind of sign or voice to explain why I haven’t been given the job I so dearly wanted. Seeking comfort and clarity at the same time. Up to that point nothing of the sort happened…

The second 5km’s flew by. I made a mental note to keep an eye on my watch, not wanting to miss the moment I pass the 12km mark which would signal the furthest distance I’ve ever ran. Breezing past 13 kilometers I celebrated in my mind by performing Fortnite’s ‘take the L dance’ (not that I can dance, in fact I don’t have enough rhythm to knock on a door…).

My next mental milestone would be reaching the 15km mark, which if I did my calculations correctly, would be approximately halfway there. At the halfway point I slowed to a brief walk and ate a small energy bar, gulped down a couple swallows of electrolytes before continuing at my now steady pace. Three more kilometers passed by before I was greeted with a spectacular blood-red sunrise.

Sunrise at 18km

Although feeling energized by the dawn of a new day it also woke up the monkey in my mind. With the desert being as flat as can be I was now able to see the track stretching into the distance, disappearing on the horizon. Suddenly being made aware of the magnitude of my undertaking the monkey promptly fired a barrage of doubt through my mind. ‘You have never ever run even half as far as you’re trying to do now’; ‘Soon you’ll be overcome by fatigue’; ‘Isn’t your legs tiring?’; ‘You chose the wrong pair of running shoes for this terrain…they’re heavy, they’re holding you back and will soon cause you to come to a grinding halt…’ My mind was now sifting through all sorts of messages of doubt and inevitably my paced slowed. A quick glance at my watch confirmed what I suspected – the last kilometer was more than half a minute slower than the average pace so far.

I chose to ignore the voice and to concentrate on my breathing, gently inhaling and then exhaling in two short bursts, ‘in, out-out, in, out-out…’ I was creeping up on the half marathon mark, a milestone that’s been on my radar for a while now. Not only will it be first time to that distance it would also mean that I have covered two-thirds of the run. I felt a real sense of achievement and even a tinge of gratitude upon running past the 21.1km mark. At that moment I also knew I was going to finish this without walking.

The last 4 kilometers were brutal. Not because of fatigue but because of the steepness of the decent into the riverbed and my own imaginary ‘finish line’. With every pounding step my quads exploded with pain, not knowing how to deal with the sheer impact of each stride other than by sending sharp bursts of pain through my upper legs. I remembered hearing once that you should not fight the slope but that you should ‘go with it’. I lengthened my stride and allowed myself to accelerate down the gorge towards the finish. This somewhat helped, either that or the thought that this will soon be over…

I reached Goanikontes with a sense of sadness. My run was over, yes I made it but no ‘moment of enlightenment’, no ‘lucidum intervallum’, no message or sign… It was only after I showered, lying flat on my back in the shade that it occurred to me that, although not profound or life-changing, I ventured into unknown territory, I operated outside my comfort zone and I achieved what I set out to do by simply refusing to give up (and a dose of belief). Something I will cling to in my quest to resurrect my professional career. In that sense I guess the run served it’s purpose. I will not quit.

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