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Marathoning: A Rough but Rewarding Road
By Anon-e-mouse

The word marathon comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger. The legend states that he was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon (in which he had just fought), which took place in August or September, 490 BC. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly exclaiming, “νενικήκαμεν” (nenikekamen, "We have wοn!"), before collapsing and dying. Thank you Wikipedia.

Why not begin with a little history on a long run to learn something about the effect of running a full marathon.

Experience cries out in anguish and pain and momentary lapses of conscious…

With that far off little voice that says, “Drink, you’re thirsty,” and believe it or not that conversation quickly turns to calculating the distance you have run and, more importantly, how far to the finish line. Cold beer??? Immersed in the cool pool, I made it! “Ok! So I have run 5 clicks.”

There is no time to stop, as the jostling athletes around the watering table smash and grab at anything liquid from Coke to vitamin concoctions we believe will kick in quickly. Some are on the banana and honey trick, others on cold spuds. Off the road, the search for the correct energy supplement is a talking point as well as an interesting learning curve.

Back on the road, let’s say two hours into the long haul, on average the middle to upper groups are around 20 to 21 clicks (km), half way. A mild celebration ensues when you have broken the two-hour mark for a half marathon. It’s a great feeling, especially when you have someone close, a family member, wife or children, cheering you on. The pain of the effort seems to dissipate with the celebration, and for a brief stride or two you’re flying.

Marathon madness – or the wall as it’s commonly known and used in the expression: “I hit the wall at about 32.”

So, feeling pretty good about yourself at this point having assured, motivated, and so to say picked yourself up a few times, you are now ready for the final cruise home when all of a sudden the Great Wall of China not only stands in your way it certainly feels like you are carrying it on your back.

It’s that time to question why. Let’s call it the War Zone for want of a better place. Bodies lay strewn – some motionless others writhing in pain as the cramps and tendon aches take control. Words of encouragement and a helping hand from fellow competitors at this point begin to bring some sense of belonging and acceptance. For the most part, this is where the value of competing really strikes a chord and bonds are formulated that last a lifetime.

The final stretch is a matter of ‘mind over matter’. You hear and smell the stadium before you see it. A surge of long awaited adrenalin instantaneously removes all pain almost running into oblivion as you climb the final rise onto the tartan track. With 400 meters to go, you’re searching the crowd for the family, your heart is pounding as the pain is forgotten in a flash. Nothing really matters at this time as you know you have made the distance.

Abstract indeed. The reality, of course, is making the habit of dragging your body out of bed at the crack of dawn, slipping into your lightweight training shorts, a vest and a very decent fitting pair of running shoes.

Whatever your motivation for jogging is, the more you do it the less you have to think about it. For me the acronym A.S.I.C.S (origins Japan: Anima Sana In Copora Sana) – a sound mind in a sound body – are the words that have kept me pounding the roads.

There is a toll to be paid on the body, i.e. new blisters, aches and pains and the inevitable stiffening of the muscles and tendons in places you never thought you had places. Yes! The body takes a beating in the beginning; however, the marathon is about the heart and its comfort zone in rhythm and time.   

At a medical check-up prior to embarking on a triathlon which included a full marathon, a young nurse was given the task of recording my pulse rate. All set up, I happened to notice a grave look of concern as she counted off the beats against the clock. Suddenly! She leapt from the chair declaring, “Sir! I think you should lie back, relax and breathe deeply. With that, she sprinted out of the room as if her hair was on fire. Bewildered and nervous, I spent the next five minutes in a head spin only for the doctor to return with the question, “Are you a marathon runner?”  I nodded. Turning to the nurse, the doc said, “Yes it is extraordinary but surely no need for the panic. The heart rate of a healthy competitor is slower, and in some cases, resting pulse rates of 48 to 50 have been recorded.”

Now that’s pushing it a bit. For most, a brisk walk in the park is sure to get the juices flowing and could be the start to a long life of healthy eating, exercise and entertainment not to mention the benefits for the mind.

Not to make this a marathon episode I share a little tongue in cheek humour. Once upon a marathon, a competitor required a second (as the assistants you have on a long run are aptly named). One such individual happened to be my sister-in-law at the time. Her specific task was to take charge of the Vaseline, a much needed relief for the chaffing of the upper inner thigh, especially on a hot day as this day of competition certainly was – a putrid 35°C. Having had a smooth first 20 odd clicks, I was looking good for a P.B. (Personal Best time). The dreaded chaffing had started due to the copious amounts of ice cold water needed to drench my body in the unbearable heat…

Nothing matters more than a dollop of smooth petroleum jelly high up between the legs. “Where is my second?” I’m thinking. “Yes the one with the jelly. Where? Where! Where?” Things happen rather rapidly at this point of the race – seconds dashing in and out of the spectators trying to reach their speeding athletes, arms laden with all the necessities. Through the mayhem and splashing of water, Sue appears jar in hand. I’m in agony. No time to stop and do a proper job – a dab here a rub there. “Gently, gently Mrs. Bentley,” as we used to say. Instead, a hand full of lubrication at full trot had hilarious consequences.

Needless to say, I did run my personal best time ever, and my sister-in-law became a proctologist. We are still on speaking terms. A lasting impression for sure.

There is some beauty and splendour to be experienced when out on a run or a jog. I’ve had the privilege of doing exactly that in one of the most pristine, colourful and natural places on this planet. The Cape of Good Hope on the southernmost tip of the vast continent of Africa is host to the Two Oceans marathon, known as the most beautiful marathon on the globe. Since its inaugural edition in 1970, the event has grown. Selling out every year, the Half Marathon sees some 16,000 participants (making it the biggest half marathon in South Africa), while 11,000 athletes tackle the 56km Ultra Marathon.

The road, a narrow twisting dual carriageway, winds its way through lush forests and up and down some pretty steep hills until the infamous Chapman’s Peak. The western flank of the mountain falls sharply for hundreds of metres into the Atlantic Ocean. Breathtaking! In fact, it’s near impossible not to stop and take it all in. Many an athlete have done just that at a particular watering point with rather surprising consequences.

Baboons have roamed these mountains for decades, prehistorically as well as now. The troop certainly knows the Two Oceans weekend – what with all that sweet drink flying about, never mind the favoured bananas. Pilfering is a common occurrence and is meticulously planned. The troop will descend to a particular point where they proceed to entertain the runners and their assistants with buffoonery, barking and antics. To wit a couple of youngsters sneak up on the fans to grab anything edible, drinkable or wearable.  Have you ever seen a baboon in jogging shorts drinking Red Bull? For my Dutch friends:

Die bobejaan klim die berg

So hastig en so lasting.

Ja die bobejaan klim die berg

Om die boere te vererg.

Cruising down from Chapman’s and the hilarity of a close encounter with nature, an awe-inspiring view of Cape Town takes the mind off the road and into history. It’s in the architecture, it’s in the fauna and flora, it’s in every step you take. Run, jog or walk, you can feel it in your bones. A rich tapestry of cultural diversity dances on the South Westerly as the road enters the suburban streets lined with supporters applauding rhythmically to drum beats and bursts of happiness in true African spontaneity. The enthusiasm of the Capetonian is as highly effective as a dose of a powerful painkiller that removes all of the aches. Fatigue is forgotten, and a 56km marathon becomes an amazing memory of a fun run. Not forgetting the party of course. If you haven’t partied in Cape Town, you haven’t partied yet. So if ever you plan to run a marathon, look no further than The Two Oceans.

Hopefully we have enthused some readers enough to get out there and become intoxicated on what Mother Nature has to offer so much so that they reap the benefits in the health and welfare of their minds, bodies and souls. Just before you jet off to Cape Town try this. Get your hands on a copy of the original Canadian Royal Air force training programme named 5BX. It is comprehensive and highly effective as a basis to any fitness regime – besides that you can do it at home, saving the cost of a gym.

{C}·      Calisthenics (Just try it)

{C}·      Swim because you have to

{C}·      Break the cycle, so go for a ride. It improves overall stamina by increasing lung capacity thereby given you a BIG HEART.

{C}·      Take it one step at a time as long as you are going up.

Many years ago I had the privilege of spending two weeks with the renowned athletic coach and special Australian chap by the name of Sir Arthur Lidyard [sic]. Time has passed. My memory. Forgive me. What I haven’t forgotten Sir! is the lesson learned about traversing staircases, or for that matter anything with a step on it or in it, in particular the golden sand dunes of the Goldfields of South Africa.

Speaking of steps and staircases training and marathons…

Back in good old Hangzhou there happens to be an exciting opportunity to exercise the mind and body, especially as an expat. Try climbing Baoshu Shan at an even pace, counting the steps in Mandarin.

Just before this article becomes a marathon session and you fall asleep, here’s a story of value learned on just that mountain. There is a Temple atop Baoshu Shan that I happened upon some time ago whilst out on a hill climb with a friend. Feeling rather short of breath and thirsty, being as it was around that time of year in Hangzhou when there is no shortage humidity and the going is pretty tough on all, I met a monk who was standing on the ancient tiled roof at a pretty acute angle sweeping away at the fall. I thought to myself, “That’s got to be pretty hard work.” I asked my friend to translate my thought to the man to wit he answered, “No, not at all. I’m just sweeping the old leaves off the roof.” 

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