The alarm went off at 3h30 - yes that is 3:30 in the morning! I groped with disbelief for the light, taking a while to remember that I was to run a race that began at 5am. I am no longer in Cape Town where races begin at 6am (or 7am in winter). Here in Pietermaritzburg the races begin at five in the morning - any later and the heat and humidity becomes too much to bear.
Lately I have taken pity on my knees and have graduated from running marathons to running half-marathons. In a rush of blood to the head I entered two half-marathons on successive weekends. Last weekend I ran the Peninsula 21km in Cape Town, and this weekend I entered the 21km in Pietermaritzburg. Last weekend was lovely: I ran my favourite stretch of Cape Town. Beginning from Bergvliet we ran to the sea, and then along the coast from Muizenberg to Simons Town. We had a sweet westerley breeze to keep us cool, and I felt strong. And just as I was fading my fan club pitched and shouted encouragement (thank you Jen Tyler and Lisa Gee).
But today was a week later .... a week of long days and very little running. Oh well, I would run on the memory of last week. I was planning to get to the start on my motorcycle, only to have the battery die on me last night. So I phoned around, and found Brian Gray who agreed to give me a lift: "No problem, I will fetch you at 4:10". What to have for supper? I now had no transport to find supper, so I would have to make do with whatever was in the fridge and cupboards. Yes, there were some tinned beans, and some cheese, some milk, and some macaroni - viola, a supper is produced. Off to bed.
The alarm work me before sparrowsfart, and as I stumbled into wakefulness I knew that those tinned beans were not a good idea. It was not just the sparrows that farted this early in the morning. Ah there were the car lights of my lift.
Oh no, it is not Brian but his son. "Dad said I must fetch you"
"And Where is Brian?"
"He is still asleep."
We sett off for the start....along with thousands of other runners. I estimate that about 3 000 runners filled the road - and helped raise the humidity levels. I was aware that the beans of last night's supper were also contributing to the methane levels, but "better out than in" is my motto. We set off on a 21km circuit around Pietermaritzburg. This really meant that the first 10km were uphill and the second 10km were downhill. I covered the first half in 7minutes per kilometer, but then recovered my equilibrium and managed the second half at 6 minutes per/km.
It is strange running in new territory. Not only do I not know the route, but I do not know the runners. I see some of the clubs that I remember from running the Comrades Marathon - Chiltern, DAC, Hillcrest Harriers, and Collegians - but many other clubs are new to me. We set off in the dark, weaving our way over speed bumps and pot holes, and as the dawn lightens the sky I am grateful for the early morning mist that cools the air. Gradually I begin to feel better and take in my surroundings, which consisted mostly of grizzled old codgers trundling at the back like me, and some pretty young things who graciously agree to laugh at our jokes - possibly out of pity or as a charitable gesture.
And then there was the finish line. The marathon runners turned right as they set off on the second leg of the run, but I gratefully headed for the tunnel, crossed the line, and received my medal with a sigh of satisfaction. It was only then that the realization struck me - I still had 4km to get home. I had so blithely told Brian not to worry about me after the race: "I will run home". What an idiot! I dragged my sorry ass over the next four kilometers at walking pace, rewarding myself with a hot shower and a sleep.
Now - what's the next race?