Chris the Athlete

Last updated 2019-06-20

I don't pride myself on being this virile hunk, but I do try to keep fit as best I can. I've dabbled in long distance running, having completed several standard marathons, a few 32 km races and several dozen half marathons. Most of my running took place around 1998 and again from 2012. Being two decades older definitely hasn't made it any easier!

Although I have never been more than an also-ran, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment from running. I'd been through a spell of ill health after a 1988 accident. With spinal injuries and a crippled left leg, it took about ten years to build up to being able to run at all. I had no idea that I'd ever be able to walk without effort again, much less that I'd be able to complete some long races later in life.

In 1998, after two years of preparation, I managed to complete the Benoni Northerns marathon. I finished right at the bottom of the field in about 4:20, but it didn't matter. The mere fact that I could do it was an overwhelming high. I'm often told that I still walk funny, but that is really a minor inconvenience.

Before my accident, I also did some cycling and rock climbing. I'm quite keen to get back into both these pastimes one day, when I get the proverbial "Round Tuit".

In 2000 and the early part of 2001, I regularly got my pulse racing three times a week when an old university buddy and I chased a small rubber ball around the squash court. I have yet to find a better way to get an all-round workout in half an hour, without being bored stiff. I played intermittently for another decade, including some casual league games, but a subsequent injury has taken me off the squash court, at least for the time being.

February 2001 brought an unanticipated element of excitement on the sports front. My sister Linda in Cape Town talked me into enrolling for the 109 km Cape Town Cycle Tour, as I just happened to mention that I'd be in town on business that day. Subsequently, due to another unfortunate slip of the tongue, I was also entered for the Robben Island 15 km Run on the previous day. Seeing that I had only run four times in the previous two years, and never more than 10 km, and that I hadn't cycled seriously since 1980, there was some work to do. Oh well, nothing focusses the mind quite like having one's back to the wall! However, serious preparation was not to be, as I ended up with a bout of sniffles for much of the available month. I did manage to survive both events. The weekend was quite an experience. You might want to read the story elsewhere on this Web Site.

Shortly afterwards, I did two more cycle races, of 56 and 95 km. I'd love to do it more regularly, but the time just doesn't seem to be available.

For a long time, I toyed with the idea of attempting Comrades, South Africa's (and possibly the world's) most popular ultra marathon. This race is run annually in mid-June. It is alternately run uphill and downhill, between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal province. The distance is more than twice that of a standard marathon, making this hilly course a supreme challenge. The Up Comrades involves around 800 km of climbing in the first half. Comrades requires a huge amount of time-consuming preparation. However, if 25 000 entrants enter the race, surely it must be possible for mere mortals!

During 2011, I had a sudden change of circumstances that freed up some time, and I finally attempted the 2012 Down Comrades. I'll get around to writing the whole story one day, but for the moment, suffice to say that I was too slow. When it became clear that I would not make the cutoff time, I retired at 60 km, without any ill effects. Despite the disappointment, I was elated. I'd finally put my injury woes behind me.

I tried again the following year. I made it to the highest point, but with extreme heat and a gusty crosswind, I had to retire around 54 km into the race.

In the final stages of preparing for the 2014 race, I ran through a wire that someone had strung across the sidewalk and severed all the ligaments in my left knee. I had to have the leg sewed back on, and the surgeon suggested I might take up philately instead. I embarked on a painful rehabilitation process, which continues to this day.

I arrived at the start of the 2017 Up Comrades well prepared, and everything went well up to the half-way mark. With the worst climbs behind me, it looked like this was going to be my year. Unfortunately, soon after I cramped up so severely that I was left by the roadside, convulsed in pain.

Because of my fragile knee, I was reluctant to tackle the Down run, so my next attempt was the 2019 Up Comrades. I was well prepared, and managed to shuffle through the race, finishing three minutes before the cutoff with an overwhelming sense of relief. The medal is a major disappointment, not even being a match for the typical 5 km medal from your local shopping mall. However, I suppose I can now officially change my emphasis from rehabilitation to maintenance. Although I still have chronic pain, I now function fairly well.

Along with the Comrades, I also tackled the Midmar Mile. I had to un-learn the inefficient swimming style that I had learned as a youngster. The story is elsewhere on this Web site, both in English and Afrikaans.

2015 brought another new milestone, when I completed a 3000 m open-water swim. Although I'm still reasonably slow, I can now swim long distances in very relaxed fashion. I've even tackled a triathlon. Despite some hitches due to inadequate equipment and an over-enthusiastic start in the swim, I enjoyed the experience and will no doubt try some more ambitious triathlons in future.

As part of my training programme, I run medium-distance races almost every weekend. I've recently started recording my experiences in writing. You can read Yeti's Race Reports elsewhere on this Web site. I go by the name Yeti, the Abominably Slow Man.

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