Where to now?

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Earlier this year I announced publicly that Comrades 2019 would be my last Comrades Marathon and that I had had enough of ultra distance running.

Now, for anyone outside my immediate circle of close friends and family, this seemed a very strange thing for me to say. I’ve been equally awed and inspired by the Comrades Marathon, and ultra distance running generally, my entire life. Why then, was I in such a hurry to give it up?

Ironically, it exactly my passion for long distance running, or rather the lack of it, that made me want to stop. As soon as I realised that I was no longer enjoying my running… worse than that, that I was hating it, I wanted to give up.

The past year has been tumultuous in the extreme. From the soaring high of winning the 2018 Comrades Marathon, to the crushing realisation that I had picked a fight with a sporting body that I was never going to win (personally, as opposed to legally), and my subsequent battle with chronic back pain (and indicators of a possible stress fracture or “stress reaction” in my L5/S1 vertebrae), it’s been a pretty rough ride.

At every turn I’ve felt as though I was fighting a terrible battle against policy, principle, prejudice and people; battles which outwardly manifest themselves in my behaviour, both in the way I treated myself and in the way I treated others around me. While I’ve never been afraid of conflict, conflict started to define me. It was exhausting.

Worse than that, my running ceased to be a thing of refuge, a way to blow off steam. I ceased to run as a form of release and pure enjoyment and instead ran with the single minded purpose of performance. In other words, I stopped enjoying the process and focused only on the desired outcome – to win any- and every race I entered. And so the pressure mounted.

As early as April I knew I was burnt out. And while I forced myself to log the training and push my tired body and mind well beyond my physical limits, the truth eventually came home to roost. I was broken, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Team Massmart Training Camp in Clarens 29-30 March 2019.
This was the last time I remember running with joy.

Its taken three weeks for me to be able to look at my running shoes. I’ve been so adverse to lacing up that I’m now the proud owner of a road bike and indoor trainer. I subscribe to Zwift… and have started to think seriously about entering a few triathlons, despite vowing to never swim another lap in a 25m pool (I was a serious swimmer at school, logging about 4 hours a day in my school pool).

Today is the first day I’m able to think about goal setting and races for the months ahead. I woke up this morning feeling lighter and more positive than I have in months. I don’t know what has finally “flipped” the switch. It could be that David and I are enjoying a much needed holiday in the Natal Midlands, or the fact that I finally have a diagnosis for my chronic pain and a treatment plan to address this.

It could also be the testimony of Ryan Hall in his new book “Run the Mile You Are In” which I listened to in the car while driving down to the Midlands yesterday. Now on Chapter 16, I have been able to take something out of every chapter I have listened to so far. Not only have I been encouraged in my faith and inspired to keep pursing my God given talent with perseverance and for His glory, but I have also been able to reach the following realisations:

  • I have been blessed with both the means and opportunity to run full time and pursue my athletic dreams. This is a gift to be used for God’s glory not my own. I have an obligation to run and in so doing, to feel God’s pleasure.
  • If I pick a fight, I can’t expect anyone else to take up the reins or share my load. I must pick my battles more carefully and only on points I truly believe in. I must never adopt someone else’s battles as my own.
  • Setbacks happen. A setback is not a failure. Get up, get back on the road and learn from the experience. There is a lesson in everything. And God’s timing is perfect.
  • Run with passion and run with purpose, but never let your purpose overshadow your passion. Focus on the process, not the desired outcome. As long as I enjoy my running, results will come naturally.

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And so today marks a new day, a new beginning to the next season of my life. I hope that it is a season filled with passion, humility and love.

And I hope that if anyone reading this is able to identify with how I am feeling, and what I have been through, you will be encouraged to wipe the slate clean and start again. Because we never run out of opportunities to make a fresh beginning.

And to answer my own question… I’m going to continue to run and race marathon and ultra distance events. And yes, I will return to Comrades. Maybe not next year, but one day soon.

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5 thoughts on “Where to now?”

  1. Siphenati says:

    Awesome read indeed. I think I speak for myself and thousands when I say we were shocked at the news of no longer getting to watch and cheer you on during the comrades and other ultras. It’s reassuring to know that there’s a athlete/ “Sports Figure” who stands up for their beliefs and bettering the sporting world as a whole. I for one look forward to following your journey as it unfolds!!!

  2. Elvis Mahlalela says:

    Thank you very much for the great inspiration that you are. I’m very happy to know that you will still continue gracing the sport with your talent. Can’t wait to see you in one of the great Marathons such as Berlin, London, Tokyo etc.

  3. Admire Muzopambwa says:

    Thanks for such a story Ann would love to see you on the road. All the best and remember the battles we fight in life are not greater than the running battles so you’re a Champ. See you soon.

  4. Anathi Ngelanga says:

    Beautiful. I fell inlove with your running in 2017 when you won Legends Marathon. That day you got my respect and I fell in love with running.

    If you’re not going back next year to Comrades. Lemme vow now. When you’re going back to run Comrades. I’ll sign up too and run my first Comrades

  5. Duncan says:

    Fantastic read Ann. You are an inspiration to many. What you and David have done and do for the sport is amazing. Enjoy the Zwifting and we look forward to seeing you and Team Massmart go from Strength to Strength

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