I recognised the anxiety straight away
The nervousness. The slight hurry in everybody’s step. The frantic darting looks for the loo. The anticipation. I was surprised to find them so strong, so overwhelming and I had not missed them in two years.
Sunday morning I stood at the start of the Hohenhort 15km road race. In fact this was probably the last race I did many moons ago. How would it feel this time around?
The loop through the leafy suburb is a funny one, lots of hills and twists and turns. I started way back in the field. I was not here to race just to do a long run and see how things went.
At the end we had come full circle, back to where we came from under two hours ago and back to where I was years previously. What changed?
Certainly the streets were the same. Many fellow runners seemed the same (though I enjoyed running with three folks I don’t often have a chance to run with) it was I who had changed, I had come full circle.
I realised that this was more true than a linear progression we like to believe in. I was back where I had been before, well almost. But yet I felt different.
I had grown. I wondered about how many New Years resolutions had been swept under the bed already. How many dreams had been given up? Unreachable.
How it all seemed so impossible. Impossibly hard.
If these cycles were true then maybe our approach to achieving goals should be different from our linear approach. If the finish line is back at the start then what is the point.
Well that is the point exactly.
Maybe we can look rather at the next micro cycle and see “What I can I do today?”
“What can I achieve today, that maybe I could not do yesterday?” or
“Can I do something slightly better today than I did it yesterday?”
Because I know I will be back at the start tomorrow and the next day and the next. I can start again.
But start I must.
I am reading Chris Froome’s book right now. The hours and days he spends by himself turning the wheels. Again and again. Each one building. Unraveling the carpet until it gets easier. Until it builds momentum.
But starting the momentum going is not easy.
Our brain wants short term gain for long time sacrifice. We need the equation to go the other way around. This is true in all areas in our lives. Diet, exercise, career, self discipline.
Sunday I ducked under the tape in the finish chute before we got to the coke. I felt no need to replenish what I had not lost.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
I actually don’t need that much when I know I am coming back to the start. Day after day, week after week, 23 day cycle after 23 day cycle.
(A couple of nights before I did not sleep very well. It was full moon. Lunatic.)
The transition to the New Year has had its bumps. Too much compromise, too much eating other people’s snacks.
“It is not what we eat between Christmas and New Year that makes us, it is what we eat between New Year and Christmas that makes the difference.” said my wife.
And so I set myself a challenge of 33 days to eat clean. 100% clean. No deviation. I falter, I start again. Simple. I am keeping a log. It is not the only thing I am keeping a log of.
A record, a record of honesty. Of where I am. When I know where I am I can build. Slowly.
Slowly build momentum.
If you require a quick trail fix of under 1h and are CBD bound then this little gem is a good way to start (or end the day). A warm up walk up to the Contour Path, Flat runnable trail below the sedimentary sandstone cliffs of Table Mountain and undulating trails back home make for a great 6 km outing.
Start from the second bend on Tafelberg Road when driving from Kloof Nek. There is usually enough parking here. Steep stairs lead off the tar and onto switchbacks onto the bottom of the ridge of Kloof Corner Ridge. This ridge has been getting some press recently on certain trail hero’s media pages but more of that some other time. The trail steepens for the last few meters up the white beacon and a stunning view from the corner of the Contour Path.
Turn left and find your stride along the mostly flat but somewhat technical trail. The terrain underfoot can be rough so watch your step. Also there are a couple of sections which are exposed. This really is no issue if you slow down and take care in these sections. You can carry on as long as you want at this altitude and eventually you will end up at Constantia Nek but that is a little too far for us today. After the waterfall take the first turn left (this is a few hundred meters before you enter Platteklip Gorge). The descent is pleasant and spits you out on Tafelberg Road, Turn left briefly and turn off the road at the first parking lot. Super steep descent on a gravel road. Where it levels out turn left and follow the undulations back to the start.
The views are great on this one – a must for any tourist visiting the city!
This is the season for insurance. Somehow it always happens. Somehow despite previous experience I always get caught out. No other season is like it. Summer is summer, it is hot and sunny and we know to put on lots of sunscreen when we go out. Winter is wet and cold and we accept this and layer up. Autumn is different too.
The weekend forecast looked good so I took out insurance. I put on sunscreen for our early morning ride. I hesitated with the windbreaker but put it on more as an afterthought as I stepped through the front door. I should have known. Cruising along the Red Road to Blouberg the double rainbow was a sure sign but I did not pay attention. It was pretty while it lasted. My partner has been pounding the power so I was happy to sit in and enjoy the cruise.
Minutes later the skies opened and not in the way I wanted. “Oh this won’t last” I thought.
My riding buddy kept pushing the pedals. It was time to put our heads down and pretend to be Dutch hardmen. Luckily he was wearing a bright coloured top and so I could see him. I could vaguely make out his back wheel too. My glasses were the only things keeping my eyes open from the spray from his back wheel. Stinging with sunscreen by this point. It was a fine balance of sitting outside the wind and getting soaked you see. I knew which one was worse so I sucked it up.
There was always the advantage that I did not need to drink at all. Just open my mouth.
At moments like this my shoulders ride up and I want to withdraw my head like a tortoise. Luckily this did not last too long. He called the turn around saving me from begging.
As we entered the café filled with warmduschers – all dry, having the big breakfast on the small ride we could hold our heads high in the knowledge.
This piece has been brewing in my head a while.
I hoped it would go away during the Olympics. I watched only one race (can’t remember which one) on the interweb the next day.
Why bother you ask?
I just don’t see sport as sport anymore. It is entertainment. In the same class as watching the Kardashians or whatever is on trend at the moment. I have no problem with that. I even like it. But it holds little interest beyond. I used to follow it more intensely. I even tried to emulate the actors in the sport.
So what has happened? I am disillusioned.
Disillusioned by the top sprinters, yes that one who wins every time, the guys and girls running the 10 000m, the TDF. I just can’t bring myself to believe that they are clean, that this is sport. More importantly that this has anything in common with my runs or cycles with my mates on any given weekend.
So what is the solution?
Treat the shows we watch on TV as shows. Exactly as that: choreographed, scripted, well executed but no less entertaining or intriguing than when we believed. The only difference is that I can no longer see it as real.
I don’t believe that all pro’s are dirty. Far from it. I pity the clean ones for I believe the rules have changed and they were asleep at the time. The clean guys have had the rug pulled out from underneath them. I fear there is no turning back. For the tide is far too great.
There can be no doubt about that. It is no longer an approach of who wins by being clean. It is who wins by not getting caught. Whether it is pushing up to the line as Sky would like to call it. Or cutting a corner on a switchback and thinking it is ok. Or worse thinking you won’t get caught. And maybe that is the tragedy.
- Thanks to the Secret Pro for this piece.
I started doing breathing exercises a few months ago. Every morning.
First thing in the morning. To get my day started the right way. While everybody is still asleep.
The basics are pretty easy. It is called Square Breathing.
Breathe in for the count of seven. Hold your breath for the count of seven. Exhale for the count of seven. And finally hold for the count of seven. Repeat. Seven cycles.
I was keen and wanted to prove that I could do it. However reality was quick and humbling. I started with a count of four. I got distracted often. More often than not actually. Almost always I lost my track somewhere along the line. Thoughts took over my mind while I counted in the dark.
I persist. Not because I have got it right but because precisely I have not. I persist. That is the point. I am slowly getting better. More consistent. Less distracted. More focused.
It has taken months and will continue as do I. For actually I have no choice. I must get better.
I take breathing pretty much for granted, maybe you do too. Why not spend a little time every day doing it consciously?
More and more blogs, vlogs, trail running camps and experts are popping up telling “newbies” how to do this trail running thing properly. How to walk uphill, run downhill, be like Killian and what you need to be successful. What are we missing?
A few years ago I came across the Leave No Trace website and I was initially amused that some folks in the US had put the Seven Principles together and bothered to put them up on a website. I was surprised that this was not Standard Operating Procedure among ALL outdoor people. Quite simply I was naive. No longer.
Every time I go onto the trails now I find some rubbish. Discarded. I understand accidents happen and maybe we drop the odd gel wrapper “by mistake”. But then even more so we need to take collective responsibility for all our our actions. Firstly embrace the above principles in all your adventures and secondly take responsibility for other’s actions and clean up as best you can. We have the responsibility to ourselves to leave the trail behind us in a better condition than what we found it in.
We have a choice either we take this approach or we will reap the consequences and they are not pretty.
Leave No Trace should be the first thing that we teach and instill to “newbies” and long time trail partners. Without it there is no future.
Finally I applaud leaders like Lewis Pugh who champion the environmental cause. Go clean up your local beach or trail next time you are out.