This specific race up the mountain at the borders of South Africa and Lesotho I have run twice in my life. Knowing the route one might say that fact is on its own special. Well, what is so unique about this race for me is that every single time, that run teaches me so many things about me, about my loved ones, about life itself. I had previously shared “running” lessons here but this time around, while running at the end of November under dismal conditions (I will tell you just now..), I had an internal review of the year that passed. Moreover, with this came the realisation, that many thoughts, lessons and success were taught to me by ….my running shoes.
To put some perspective… I decided to run the Sani Stagger half – marathon for the first time in 2015. The excitement was at its peak, although I was relatively scared too. I had never run off-road before and the rumours were that this is not an easy downhill. On top of all of this, it was cold – very cold. To cut the long story short (because my run is not really the reason I am writing today), at around the 4th or 5th km, I tripped and I fell. Not very hard but enough to have a swollen ankle (which I discovered only later when I took my shoe off) and quite painful especially as the time was passing. Nevertheless and mostly walking I finished the race just a few minutes before the cut-off. I promised to myself then that never again. But two years down the line, being true to a runner’s nature, and due to peer pressure or – let’s be honest – to Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), I entered to run the race again. I convinced myself that this time it is going to be better. Well, in reality, I “played” my mind: the worse thing that can happen is I fall; I have done it before I will survive again.
Nevertheless, I did not count on weather conditions playing along. The night before it was pouring, that resulted in the mountain being muddy and slippery. Beautiful, however, with all the small waterfalls pouring from rocks everywhere and everything as green as can be. Unfortunately, the road conditions did not allow me (us) to run faster and after running the first two kms in tears from fear of falling, we took it easy. I finished with some time to spare – definitely more comfortable than the first time and much wiser.
So, thinking of the year that is leaving us I would like to thank my running shoes for teaching me life valuable lessons.
The important thing is to set a goal and work on achieving it; fast or slow, it does not play a role but reaching it is. I have found peace in the thought that I am a slow finisher. Each person has their own pace and capacity but I am taking my hat off to people that manage to reach their targets eventually. Seeing people passing you (because they are faster) builds a character as much as working harder and harder to get to a level that you get faster than you did in the past.
Having said that, we all have heard the meaning of the famous poem Ithaca that it is not about the end destination but about the journey mostly. Well, I must say that there is something very special about the finish line too. The excitement when you see it at the horizon; when you know the achievement of all this effort is in front of you (well, yes, of course, the smell of the boerie at the finish line also plays a role…). Regardless, how much I have enjoyed both my Sani races, I will always remember the last km of both where I could see the finish line – and I will always remember passing the finish line both times. Therefore, I have admitted to myself that I am goal-driven and not always looking around during the path towards there.
Stemmed from that thought, what would help is STOPPING to breathe and look around. Only then, you take in real events in life – if you pause and absorb and enjoy them in their fullness. Pause and look at the waterfall; pause and take a photo with my husband; pause and chat with the people at the water points. Life also needs their pauses; life needs its little perfect nothings.
We are the owners of our fears and tears. We control them and we allow them. I fell the first time and fear kept me from pushing my limits the next year. Fear and my tears kept me from going a bit faster at the beginning of the race – I allowed fear to convince me I will never make it. That is what kept me back – it was not because I could not and it was not because I did not want to. It was because fear made decisions for me; because I allowed it. I want to make my own decisions for myself and not allow fear to do so on my behalf – that is what strong people do anyway (right, my friend?).
I should never reach to conclusions at the beginning of a race. It might cold, in the beginning, it might be lonely, the hill might be steep, the soil uneven, the shoes not the most appropriate, the jacket too thin, the pants itchy, the hood funny… However, as you go closer to the finish none of these things matter anymore. On the contrary, the funny hood might be the cause of laughter for days, and the shoes the reason for writing a blog post (oops!). The lesson is not to let first difficulties disappoint you and make you quit. It gets better, it always gets better; keep going forward.
Finally, yet importantly, no race, no journey, and no route would have been the same without our co-travellers. My first Sani would not have been the same without my friend with whom we sat next to each other on the top of the mountain to keep each other warm, or the friend that was there when I tripped and found myself on the ground. My second Sani would not have been the same without the teasing and giggles with the friends even from the night before about my funny hood (no picture of the hood here…no) and without my Prince that was there to hold my hands when passing through little (or bigger) water holes. But also, the co-travellers that were not physically there but in mind. My Bigboy and Babyboy waiting at home for their medals from daddy and me was the most motivating thought. I would feel disappointed in myself if I returned not having made it. That is exactly how I feel in life in general. My push-forward is my boys; that they are there looking at mummy’s successes (and failures) and they are proud of me for trying and for pushing my limits and proving (to myself first) that I can achieve any goal and target or at least, I will keep trying.
So as the year coming to an end, I am replacing my running shoes, not because I haven’t loved them or we have not had our good and bad experiences together. I am getting new ones… I am going for new experiences, for new mistakes and new successes, for new routes and new races. No big new years’ resolutions for me this year – only live life to its fullest, as I do when I wear my running shoes and I am on the top of Sani…
Many wishes for an amazing festive season for you and your loved ones.