The Lucky Packet, Episode 1

With just a basic mixing desk, a few microphones and some open-source software, I have created something of my very own, with some help from good friends. Here’s to my very first podcast, and the first of many, I hope!

Ad-free, and free to you. Please stream or download and enjoy! Available on the iTunes store, and through your podcast app of choice, including Stitcher and Podcast Addict.


50kms to the Truth: My First Ultra Marathon

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:

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

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.

What the Dreaded DNF Can Teach Us

Courtesy of Runners World SA

Courtesy of Runners World SA

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I bailed out of a race. Halfway through Om Die Dam, my first ultra-marathon, I was at 25km at 3 hours 40 minutes, which projected an 8 hour finish time – an unacceptable hour past the cut-off time. I took stock of my aching body, my inability to run more than a hundred or so steps at a time, and joined a huddle of other runners. Eventually, the exit bus (what a nice name for what feels like the cattle truck) collected us and we swished past the runners on the infamous Saartjies hill to the finish line. We disembarked a few hundred meters away in a parking lot, and after the joviality in the bus, the awful reality set in. Next to my name would appear the dreaded DNF. DID NOT FINISH. I wanted to sit on the side of the road and cry into my running vest. I still do.

I’m not so good with failure. I’m really, really not. It wasn’t enough that I’d entered, that I’d gotten over the start line, that I’d gotten halfway. It was the sickening realisation that even though I had trained, and followed the programs, I would not finish the race. Because no matter what they say, sometimes your best just isn’t fucking good enough. If I can’t do a 50km ultramarathon, then Comrades, a dream I have been cherishing for months and months, is just not going to happen this year. With only 69 days until the 31st of May, I have to somehow shave a whole hour off my marathon time. For the first time, my blind optimism has met its match in three little letters: DNF.

Which brings me round to a bigger question: how do we deal with outright failure? How do we fail without letting it go to the heart? I don’t really have an answer, or at least, not a fully-formed one. There’s the old aphorism about getting up and trying again, but that makes it sound like trying again is so easy. You know, just get up and brush your knees and butt off and keep trundling along. It is part of a mindset that fundamentally believes that success is the automatic result of hard work, when sometimes the two have nothing to do with each other. At least, for a given value of success.


So perhaps the way to deal with failure is to understand exactly what success is, and that maybe it is not such a binary state. Failure does not preclude any kind of success, and perhaps that’s where the old comfort “at least you tried” is rooted. At least I signed up. At least I went with the intent of finishing. At least I got halfway. All the ‘at leasts’ maybe add up to some small measure of success. In the face of defeat, it may be small comfort, but if I don’t cling to those small gains, then I risk losing hope all together. For someone whose mind is a basket of hungry piranhas, it is very easy to sink into hopelessness.

And more importantly, the thing about failure is that it teaches us more than success does. I recently wrote a piece for beginner adult martial artists to remind them that it does get better, that they will improve and that people care, honestly and truly care, that they stay and improve. If all I take away from this incomplete race is that I need to train more, and that maybe it is too soon to give up, then perhaps that is enough. Maybe this sharp, brutal failure is the thing I need to spur even harder training, more than maybe dragging my ass along a road for 8 hours just to get to an empty finishing line and one volunteer begrudgingly handing out medals to the assholes who make everyone wait. (Cut-off times are there for a very good reason).

It still stings that I got on that bus. I hope that I’ll look back on it one day, and be really glad that I did. Right now though, it feels like a kick in the teeth. And you know, I think that’s okay. Anything worth having usually involves tears, and I’ve never been ashamed to cry. The tough part now is not letting the failure go to my heart. If I can come back from this, and not give up on getting to the Comrades finish line, then my heart shall grow three sizes bigger.

And also: