I am a woman of forcibly long temper. My entire adult life I have done everything in my power to maintain an even keel. I don’t scream, or slam doors, or throw shoes, or say the cruelest things I can think of just to get someone to leave. I have always been aware of my temper, and until now, I think I have done a fairly good job at keeping it under control.
But then, there was the 47km mark, and I had an utter personality failure.
There are a lot of good reasons to run an ultra marathon – personal challenge, weight loss, endurance testing, seeing the countryside, whatever. I suppose I ran an ultra because I wanted to qualify for Comrades, for reasons that have now since lapsed since I failed to qualify for that most hallowed event. If I think about it, and think deep, contemplative thoughts, I suppose it is because my whole life my lack of athleticism has been something of an ongoing joke in my family. Zoe can’t run straight. Zoe can’t catch a ball. Zoe punches like a girl. Teehee, isn’t her uncoordinated ass so funny? There’s nothing like the mockery of others to light a fire under my ass, and there aren’t many things with more public currency than Comrades, or Iron Man. These events are how normal people shine, not only an elite few with perfect genetics.
Anyway, so there I was at Loskop, which may be one of the very best organised marathons in this entire country. The race started in Middelburg and meandered 50km all the way to Loskop Dam through beautiful Mpumalanga countryside. Behold, the race profile:
Nice, yes? Look at those downhills, those tiny uphills. I would like to draw your attention to Varady’s Hill, there at the 46km mark. That is where the last of my charming veneer wore down. No longer was I the erudite blogger, the mildly amusing copywriter. Nay, at 47kms, I was having a Kardashian-ugly cry, wishing that I hadn’t entered such a stupid race.
I was so tired, and so sore, and the elation of having shaved 30 minutes off my best marathon time had rapidly faded. And even though there was a water station laden with lollipops, jelly babies, naartjies, oranges, cooldrink and more, I still thought that this mountain was the most insurmountable thing I had ever faced in my life, including my black belt grading and that time I had to fight fifty times. (It is quite obvious that I don’t have real problems.) Poor Graham, a man of such kind heart, did not flinch in the face of my shitty temper. He got me over that hill in spite of myself, and for that I am always grateful.
And lo! The race did pass, and despite my panic and my fear, I found myself crossing the line at 6:54:49. The race photos suggest that I didn’t believe it myself. (Race photos are always terrible.) All that mattered was clutching that huge gold medal in my sweaty paw and moving through the finisher’s chute without crying (some more). My lip wobbled when I got my medal, and it was only once we had cleared the chute, with t-shirt, medal and bag of oranges in hand (I kid you not), I realised that I had actually completed a ultra marathon, almost a month to the day that I bailed out of my first attempt at doing so.
The point of this is not that I am amazing for doing an ultra. I was passed by runners triple my age who finished hours ahead of me. What I hope people take away from this is their own possibility. That if someone like me, who only really started running just over two years ago, can finish an ultra before cut off time, then you can do it too. Talent is overrated – what matters is grit. You don’t have to be an amazing, skinny, speedy runner to accomplish something great. You just have to be a runner.
Oh, and you must have decent shoes. Always have decent shoes.