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.
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:
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.