Yeti's Race Reports

Last updated: 2024-05-18

Notice: © 2013 to 2024, Chris R. Burger. This document may be reproduced as required for personal use, and may be freely referenced from other Websites. However, publication elsewhere, in full or in part, requires express prior written permission from the author, and strict adherence to reference guidelines.

Chris R. Burger is a researcher, engineer, pilot and former road safety professional who is valiantly trying to return to normality after severing all his left knee ligaments in a 2014 running accident. He regularly runs road races in Gauteng North, near Pretoria, South Africa. He writes under the name of Yeti, after the Abominably Slow Man. He loves to record his experiences and share them with others, but could no longer bear the aspersions of illiteracy cast by the Agapé Athletics Club newsletter's MSWord Auto-Correct. On this page, text is written in a text editor without a spell-checker, and all errors are entirely the author's own doing. However, the slow running is obviously all attributable to the altitude (about 1500 m) and his age (59).


Most recent races are first; older races are listed in reverse order. I started this collection late in 2016, and it is essentially complete from that date. Older reports are few and far between, and have been added to the list.

  • 2024 races: 2024-05 2024-04 2024-03 2024-02 2024-01
  • 2023 races: 2023-12 2023-11 2023-10 2023-09 2023-08 2023-07 2023-06 2023-04 2023-03 2023-02 2023-01
  • 2022 races: 2022-10 2022-08 2022-07 2022-06 2022-05 2022-04 2022-03 2022-02 2022-01

    Races older than 2022 have now been moved to a separate page: Yeti's Race Reports: History.

    2024 Races

    Race of Hope, Saturday 2024-05-18 at 07:00

    Goal: Survive a half marathon.

    Laurens bullied me into this one. Even though I'm not in good shape for lack of hard training, I didn't resist much. The relatively flat terrain, the sane start time and the relatively short drive all contributed to my compliance. Hanri wasn't going to join us, as the route was too easy (and I suppose she didn't want to wait for us). Laurens handed me my number in the Lynnwood Lane parking lot. We were both hoping to avoid a repetition of the unpleasant parking arrangements at The Grove. The start wasn't where we expected, so we had a 10-minute walk, but we arrived with several minutes to spare. We joined the bunch near the back. Ken and Walter were even further back.

    The bunch started slowly. It took several minutes before we were able to run freely. I soon lost Laurens in the bunch. With his intended pace, I assumed he was behind me. Ken and Walter soon came cruising past. I tried to keep up, but it was hard work. I was vainly hoping to maintain a 6:00/km pace, but by the 3 km mark, I'd already lost almost three minutes. We passed Iain, who was running slowly. Ken told me about Iain's recent health scare. Being back on the road so soon seemed astonishing.

    In the loop at the start of the second lap, the deficit was still around three minutes. Ken and Walter were about a minute ahead, as were Jaap and Rhoda. Laurens entered the loop just as I left it, probably about five minutes behind me. Hendrik ran with me for a while, this time amazingly with only one woman. And she was over 20! I eventually left Jaap and Rhoda behind, as well as James. From the 15 km mark, I gradually lost more time. Even a relatively modest 2:10 was slipping out of my reach. I ran with a bunch from Green Mile for a while, but they gradually left me behind. At the N4 intersection, the ANC had plastered over 100 illegal election posters onto the road signs. In the gradual uphill to the finish, I tried in vain to catch the Green Mile bunch. I finished in just over 2:13. I waited at the Agape tent with Wayne. At Laurens's expected finish time of 2:25, I walked back to the finish. He had already obtained a post-race drink. We ambled back to our cars before finding a buffet breakfast nearby.

    I'm rather happy that I could survive a half marathon reasonably unscathed. My left knee is complaining, but no more than usual. The pathetic newfangled electronic timing system again let me down. I registered my details minutes after the race, but by 18:30 my results were still nowhere to be found. Even the registration procedure is tedious. They provide short URL service, but they insist on prefixing "www.", and it points to a data capturing system with absolutely no information pre-populated. Clearly, some of the subtleties of IT systems escape them...

    The Good: Reasonable start time. Good distance markers. Flat route.

    The Bad: We had to resort to far-away parking.

    The Ugly: This electronic timing system really sucks.

    Back to Index

    Fig Tree Parkrun, Saturday 2024-04-20 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun event #24. Don't exceed 30 minutes!

    Yet again, I have to be in KZN for a meeting. I noticed that there would be an event number 24 at Fig Tree. There was one caveat: On their Website, the nearest Parkrun is Thousands Hills. My suspicion was confirmed by the fact that finishing times are relatively slow, although it was hard to confirm since Parkrun has removed all records from the Web as a result of political correctness gone mad.

    I spent a night in a nearby guesthouse. After some Greek lessons and a quick breakfast, I arrived at the venue just after 07:30. A mom and her teenage son solicited a route discription from a local. I listed to the ridiculously complex explanation before setting off in hot pursuit. They were running uncomfortably fast, so I excused myself after a while and walked back to the start.

    The briefing included another route discription, somewhat more coherent. About a minute late, we started in a headlong dash. The trail was narrow, leaving no room to pass except in thick grass. The trail meandered through the grounds, allowing me to see the leaders. I settled into 23rd place. The first half was undulating. The second half started with a steep descent into a gorge. A young woman in a bright blue T-shirt was ahead of me. I tried to keep up, but she gradually pulled away. We meandered through a small clump of trees against a steep slope. Sometimes we were following ccontours with a considerable camber, sometimes we were steeply climbing and descending. Little Girl Blue gradually pulled away into the distance.

    Ironically, the trail was mowed a lot wider in the last portion. Passing room wasn't very useful, given that the bunch had already fully spread out. I passed a youngster in the last km; he was clearly very sorry for himself. I finished in around 31:40, in 21st place; my fourth-slowest Parkrun ever. I was literally dripping with sweat. We just don't know humidity like this where I come from.

    The results included a nasty surprise: The event had been cancelled two weeks ago, so this event number was 23 rather than 24—a duplicate! After all that...

    The Good: Nice green surroundings.

    The Bad: No distance markers. Narrow trail in thick grass. Considerable up-and-down and lateral slopes. Another finish over 30 minutes!

    The Ugly: A duplicate Event #23 rather than the #24 I came for.

    Back to Index

    Overkruin 5, 15 and 32 km, Saturday 2024-03-23 at 06:00

    Goal: Accompany Hanri for the first 15 km of her race. Is 1:30 too much to hope for?

    Both Elaine and Hanri applied subtle pressure to coax me into a race this Saturday. I certainly wasn't up to the 32 km race after this week's half marathon, so I resolved to do the 15 km race instead. I was hoping to accompany Hanri on the first half of her race. I had a restive night. When the alarm clock went at 04:45, I was feeling rather the worse for wear. I dragged myself out of bed and headed off to Montana. I narrowly avoided a car crash on the way. I found parking not far away and managed to arrive in the start bunch with about 10 minutes to spare. It was still dark, with little artificial lighting. I walked up and down the bunch, looking for Elaine and Hanri. Neither could be found. I did notice Rhoda and Willie. I decided to start relatively far back, as I was hoping to progress a little faster than the longer-distance runners. I might yet catch up with Hanri that way.

    We started slowly, less than a minute late. I crossed the start line after more than a minute. By 1 km, the deficit had grown to two minutes. We hit steep uphill within the first 4 km, gradually increasing the deficit to three minutes. Lesley cruised past, telling me that she would be aiming at 40 km for the day. A runner ironically wearing a vest branded "Justice" let a radio station blare through the field. The irony was hard to miss. Rhonwen came past with an elderly male clubmate in hot pursuit. For reasons I can't explain, I felt compelled to tell them the story of the Lorelei. To my amazement, Lesley came into view again. She was walking even more than I was. I passed her in the last 2 km. The deficit gradually grew, and after the 32 km runners had split off for their second lap, I finished just after 1:35. Clearly, 1:30 had indeed been too much to hope for.

    There was no sign of life at the Agape tent. I found the race director to discuss the noisy Justice runner, then headed home for a busy day.

    The Good: Nice new route. Great distance markers.

    The Bad: Missing both Hanri and Elaine. The noisy Justice runner who imposes his noisy tastes on all of us. My left knee has not yet forgiven me for Thursday.

    The Ugly: I think I have an allergy for concrete. Every time we ventured onto concrete, I found it completely impossible to run...

    Back to Index

    Right to Run 10 km and half marathon, Thursday 2024-03-21 at 07:00

    Goal: Survive a half marathon. Just don't exceed 2:15!

    I really must learn to resist peer pressure. At Tuesday's time trial, Elaine mentioned that she would run the half marathon at The Grove. In a weak moment, I agreed to meet her there. At least the reasonable start time and the short journey made it less painful than it might have been. I got up at 06:00. By 06:40, I was in the queue to register. I was delighted to see that they weren't using the painful new Chamberlain system, relying on the tried and trusted paper slips instead.

    By 07:00, I was making my way up the start bunch from behind. It was tough going. Less than halfway up the bunch, I spotted Elaine. Nick and James were also there. We started about two minutes late. However, the dense bunch moved slowly. We started moving forward after more than 20 s and crossed the start line after well over a minute. We passed the 1 km mark at seven minutes, pretty much on a 6:00/km pace. I was surprised to see Marix on her own. She told me that Hennie was up ahead. Sure enough, I noticed him soon after. We reached the highest point of the course still pretty much on pace. From this point, we gradually gained time. We descended down to the N4 and then plodded uphill back to The Grove. Elaine and I alternated between walking and running, so some of the time she was behind me and some of the time ahead. When we passed the 10 km mark at just under an hour, she was about a minute ahead.

    I noticed very few familiar faces in the loop. We passed 15 km at 1:30; still pretty much on pace. However, I was riding on the edge of becoming anaerobic and my left knee was aching. I had resorted to a 5+1 survival strategy. Elaine disappeared up ahead as we started the climb on Simon Vermooten. An Agape vest was about a minute ahead of me, also walking and running. I caught Eloise around the 19 km mark. Soon after, I saw Elaine begging a drink from a parked car. She told me that she'd run out of energy, but encouraged me to keep going. I did, alternating with Eloise while climbing the hill back to The Grove. I finished just under 2:12, with Eloise just behind me and Elaine a few minutes later.

    aQuelle was handing out drinks at the finish. I needed something to drink, so I queued up. I chatted to the head of their delegation, and mentioned that I'd complained to the factory about the amount of plastic in the bottles. She asked me why I'd been there, and she immediately figured out who I was and what my connection to the factory was. Minutes later, a photo of me and a bottle of aQuelle was on the way to my sister and to the factory. Fame at last!

    I spent some time at the CSIR and Agape club tents, which were pitched right next to one another. Rhonwen made all of us look bad by being fresh as a daisy. It turned out that she was responsible for catering, and hadn't run the race. Laurens arrived soon after, and we set off for a sumptuous breakfast at a nearby restaurant.

    The Good: Nice start time. Not using the painful Chamberlain timing system. Reasonably flat route.

    The Bad: A painful left knee. Not being able to maintain 6:00/km to the finish.

    The Ugly: Several runners with ghetto blasters, inflicting their dubious taste in "music" on the rest of us.

    Back to Index

    Hazelmere Dam Parkrun, Saturday 2024-03-02 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun number 23. Don't exceed 30 minutes!

    I'm in KZN for a funeral and some business. My Parkrun page paid off when I was able to quickly identify two potential Parkruns nearby. Both were exactly equidstant from my location. Lynnfield would offer event number 24, so I chose number 23 at Hazelmere Dam instead.

    I had to drive from rural northern KZN to the outskirts of Durban. The roads are potholed and festooned with numerous killer speedbumps—the kind that jars at any speed. I left a few minutes after my planned 05:43 departure. Every time I negotiated a set of speedbumps, I gained a minute or two on my arrival time. Clearly, Waze is used to people crawling over those bumps.

    I arrived at 07:20, much earlier than planned. There was no sign of a Parkrun, but at least the gatekeeper did not look surprised. I took the opportunity to traverse most of the route on foot. The scenery is beautiful, with much of the route skirting the water's edge, but the track was mostly sandy and with a severe lateral slope. It was hard work. Here and there, the track disappeared into the dam. Clearly, the water level is higher than it had been. A man in a red bakkie was erecting signs. He declined my offer of assistance.

    Just a few minutes before 08:00, Bakkie Man started handing out dayglow volunteer jackets and instructions. The briefing was brief. Briefest. We started about five minutes late. A bunch of small children sped ahead. I soon settled into sixth place, with no-one in sight either in front of or behind me. I overtook one or two of the marshals, still en route to their posts. They shouted directions from behind. The route was not according to the map on the Website, presumably to deal with the submerged portions. We turned at the furthest point at about 14 minutes. I cringed at the thought that I might again exceed 30 minutes. There was some motivation not to slack off, in the form of a pursuer that I could occasionally see about 200 m behind me. By the time I emerged from the bushes onto the lawns near the water, she caught me. We ran together for a while, but in the last km she left me behind. I finished about a quarter of a minute behind her, in sixth place at 29:11.

    I again offered help. This time, the director accepted. We chatted while waiting for the tail walker. He turned out to be the site manager for the dam. Two of his volunteers are also staff memberrs. I provided him with some backing boards for the route signs. I helped them to pack up, then tackled the winding road back to my accommodation.

    The results were a surprise. Despite the fact that I never saw the leading bunch after the first few minutes, they only finished a minute ahead of me. Their average age seems to be about 11! I was the only finisher over 50 years old.

    The Good: Nice surroundings. Very friendly reception. Nice young crowd.

    The Bad: Badly potholed access road. Last-minute arrangements and mild chaos. Sandy trails with significant lateral slope. No distance markers.

    The Ugly: My left knee, complaining loudly afterward. Clearly, the asymmetry didn't leave me unscathed.

    Back to Index

    Tuks Race 5 km, 10 km and half marathon, Saturday 2024-02-17 at 06:00

    Goal: Survive yet another half marathon. A 6:00/km pace would be nice.

    I'm still feeling the effects of unaccustomed half marathons on two successive Saturdays, so I was planning to take this weekend off. My left knee and both my calves were hurting. However, Laurens had bought me an entry for the Tuks race, so I was kind-of committed. We agreed to meet at the back end of the bunch at 05:50. I was worried that I might not make it, but despite only leaving home at 05:15, I was there in time. Laurens was not. I'd forgotten my phone in my pocket, so for the first time ever I had my phone with me. He was about ten minutes out. In the mean time, I struck up a conversation with Melanie and her son, who has doubled in height since I last saw him. She intended to do the 10 km, as she is recovering from an injury. Ken and Walter came past. Ken opined that they would aim for around 2:12.

    Having pinned on my numbers, I tried to progress up the field. It was not to be—by now, the road was filled to capacity. I got stuck perhaps 100 m from the start line. The start was about five minutes late. It took about a minute to get to the start line. We went westbound on Burnett Street. I passed Hennie and Marix in Hatfield. I ran with the Affies bunch for a few minutes, but they deliberately slowed down. At the 1 and 2 km markers, I was almost exactly a minute behind pace, to be expected in light of the slow start. Close to the 3 km mark, we turned left towards Sunnyside. Zaaid was at the corner, waving us on. He greeted me in passing.

    On reaching the Apies, we turned left. What had been a slight downhill became a slight uphill, past Loftus Versveld and into the Tuks campus. I ran with Lindsay for a while, until she deliberately slowed down. We meandered through the campus and Hatfield. Around the 8 km mark, the 5 km leaders shot past on their way to the finish. The 10 km leaders continued into the Tuks sports grounds while the rest of us turned right towards Lynnwood Road. I passed the 10 km mark at 1:01, exactly on pace. However, I was starting to take strain. My left knee was complaining and my calves that had been slightly tight were now very uncooperative. I managed to maintain the pace until we hit that hill in King's Highway. At the top, I had lost another three minutes. Lindsay dragged me along for a while, but I just couldn't keep up. Francois and Chris came past. Clearly, their "e;guts"e; worked for them. Even on the downhill to the Innovation Hub, I had a hard time maintaining the pace. Crossing the N1 Freeway, I chatted to Mandy for a while. She and here clubmates soon left me behind. By now, I was about seven minutes off the pace. I grimly tried to maintain the pace to the finish. A young girl with white dreadlocks (really!) ran with me, and I managed to beat her to the finish line in just under 2:14.

    I suppose the race was fairly uneventful, but a huge surprise awaited me at the finish line. As I stiffly struggled up the embankment to the Agape club tent, I bumped into Sandile. I didn't have the impression that was running actively these days, but given that he must have finished before me, he is clearly doing better than I am. Another surprise, this time a nasty one, waited for me outside in the street: My car was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, it was a false alarm. I continued to shuffle stiffly down the street and found my car a block further than I'd remembered.

    I'm actually quite pleased that I've been able to run three successive half marathons. I'll probably take a break now, but at least there is a base to build on. The pace was a disappointment, but hopefully things will get better after a break.

    Something that I'm not pleased about is the results. I don't appear and Laurens's name has been mangled. This new-fangled transponder-based system is supposed to make things better, but it doesn't. I've tried to offer Chamberlain some practical suggestions, but they are not interested. Let's hope they can eventually get their fancy electronic system to work as well as the old slips of paper.

    The Good: I survived.

    The Bad: I'm sore and stiff. My left knee is complaining loudly, even three days after the race. The litterbugs who continue to dump their rubbish on the streets with complete impunity.

    The Ugly: The results.

    Back to Index

    ACE Race 5 km, 10 km and half marathon, Saturday 2024-02-10 at 06:00

    Goal: Survive a half marathon unscathed.

    I didn't intend to run a race this Saturday, still suffering somewhat from last week's exuberance. My left knee was slightly stiff and my right hamstring complained during Thursday's speed session. The message from my running club changed my mind: It was going to be a League race. Accordingly, I agreed that Laurens would pick me up at 05:15—just like in the olden days.

    We arrived with only 20 minutes to spare. It was enough—we were ready at the start line with five minutes to spare. We joined Walter and Elaine in the middle of the bunch. I was relieved that it wasn't raining, like last year. Laurens seems to have recovered from his injury, but decided to take it easy so as not to risk another injury. The start was a minute late. I tried to keep up with Walter and Elaine for a while, but soon gave up as they gradually disappeared into the distance, even before the first hills. I gave up and just maintained a pace that I could manage. I saw Erika up ahead. I came close, but as we hit the hills, she again opened up a gap.

    My first lap went by fairly uneventfully. The normal band at one of the high points was not there, but the normal interest from the populace was. The band had posted itself further down the route. I chatted with Charlene for a while. She was apprehensive about reaching 10 km, but I pointed out that we were already at the highest point, and that it was mostly downhill from there. She seemed relieved. Just before the second lap started, I ran with Lammie for a while. I mused that I wouldn't mind being able to maintain that pace at 70-plus!

    I passed the 10 km mark at just over 1:04. I was going to be even slower than last week. I resolved to try and break 2:15, at least. Early on the second lap, I eventually caught Erika. She seemed to think I was going to pass. I couldn't—I was certainly not feeling strong. Nevertheless, we more or less stayed together for almost 10 km. We lost touch in the last 2 km or so. It was hard to tell what my pace was, as the distance markers were again out of kilter. According to the first-lap markers, I wouldn't make 2:15. According to the second-lap markers, I would. Fortunately, I managed to finish just under 2:15. The CSIR club tent was right next to the finish lane, so I snuck out and joined Walter and Elaine there. Erika finished a few minutes behind me.

    After a while, I went looking for the Agape tent. Hennie was in attendance, and I was pleased to receive my old vanity number again this year. I was not so pleased that my left knee was stiff and sore. Let's hope that it quickly returns to some semblance of normality. Laurens finished late; his first half marathon post-injury. We stopped at a breakfast buffet place on the way home—just like in the olden days.

    I suppose I should be grateful that I could survive a half marathon, despite still reeling from the effects of last week's unaccustomed effort. Let's hope I can get back into shape to be able to run a half marathon in a decent time without leaving deleterious after-effects!

    The Good: I survived. The customary ambience of Eersterus.

    The Bad: Erroneous distance markers, as always at this race.

    The Ugly: Those hills, up to the lofty heights of Helium Street.

    Back to Index

    Intercare 5 km, 10 km and half marathon, Saturday 2024-02-03 at 06:00

    Goal: Survive a half marathon. 6:00/km pace would be nice.

    I haven't run more than 15 km at a time since the Marathon marathon. Ken, Walter and Elaine coerced me into this one, despite my reluctance. I left home at 05:15, arriving outside Castle Gate at 05:30. Just getting into the parking lot took more than 20 minutes. Once inside, no parking was available. They kept admitting cars, making the situation worse and worse. I rearranged a trolley bay and managed to find an entry, arriving at the start line with two minutes to spare. The bunch was huge, probably the biggest I've seen since The Flu. I finally found Ken, Walter and Elaine in the bunch—there is something to be said for hanging out with tall people! The start was postponed by 10 minutes, probably due to other cars aimlessly circling in the parking lot.

    The 1 km mark came at four minutes. Either we were doing superhuman speed, or the marker wasn't quite in the right place. We headed into Pierre van Ryneveld Park. Apart from a dip to pass under the R21, the route was relatively flat. From the second distance marker, the pace stayed pretty much exactly on 06:00/km, allowing for the slow start. I cruised fairly comfortably for the first half, fielding Walter's questions about flying. Ken and Elaine were behind us. At one point, Walter dropped back to join them, while I tried to maintain a constant pace. I definitely started feeling the effects of distance after the halfway mark. Around 15 km, the three joined me. Rhonwen was marshalling at one of the turns. Lindsay slowly snuck past. Around 18 km, Ken took off. Soon, Walter announced his intention to catch Ken, leaving me and Elaine to slog it out. I gradually lost time. In the last km or so, Elaine gradually lagged behind. I finished just under 2:11, with Elaine just behind me.

    This race relied on a new-fangled entry system that requires the entrant to scan a QR code and enter details. Needless to say, anyone who doesn't have a fancy smartphone is fresh out of luck. Neither I nor Elaine appeared in the results.

    The Good: I actually survived a half marathon, despite several months of very sporadic training.

    The Bad: No parking. Letting in too many vehicles, long after parking space had run out.

    The Ugly: Not being eligible to have my information displayed in the official results.

    Back to Index

    Aviators Paradise Parkrun, Saturday 2024-01-20 at 07:00

    Goal: Parkrun number 19. 27 minutes would be nice.

    This Parkrun starts extra-early. Getting out of bed required considerable resolve. The drive involved a detour to avoid the start of the PwC George Claassen race. We arrived at 06:30. After availing myself of the ablutions, I ran for perhaps 10 minutes to loosen up. It was tough going—my left knee was very stiff and creaky.

    The announcements were jovial and we started exactly on time. After the customary surge, I settled into fifth place for the duration. Ahead of me were three females, two of them teenage girls. They gradually pulled away, leaving only several male pursuers to prod me forward. There were several bad muddy spots that resulted in my shoes being submerged. Mostly, we ran on a firm path, following a canal for some distance. The last km or so was a slight uphill, but it was made more bearable by the sight of the finish. This illusion was shattered when I realised that there was an out-and-back loop around a pole that I hadn't anticipated, adding at least 200 m to the route. I finished in fifth place in around 27:30.

    There was some discussion around the future of this Parkrun. The property has been sold and the runway will be closed. However, the Parkrun seems set to continue. I volunteered to help while waiting for Alet. I was assigned to help with the cleanup. Alet finished around 55 minutes and the tail-enders around 68. While loading everything into vehicles, I suffered a stabbing pain in my rib cage, possibly related to a fall during a training run this week. We soon set off to nearby Bill Harrop's for the morning, with me feeling decidedly the worse for wear.

    The Good: Nice level route in rustic surroundings. Nice to be back in the top 10% of the field and first in my age group again!

    The Bad: No distance markers. Ploughing through ankle-deep slush.

    The Ugly: Being beaten by three females that simply powered away from me.

    Back to Index

    Lavender Mill Parkrun, Saturday 2024-01-13 at 08:00

    Goal: Parkrun number 22. 27 minutes would be nice.

    I've allowed several new Parkruns in the vicinity to slip by undone, until they have passed the point of usefulness. This Saturday, I wanted to grab the Lavender Mill Parkrun before it is too late. The number 22 is not useful yet, but it might soon be.

    We left Alet's house at 06:00, arriving at 07:30 as planned. I struggled with the warmup. There is definitely less air than I had last week and my left knee was complaining loudly. I soon gave up on the idea and simply did some static stretches.

    The briefing was short and to the point and we started on time. I found myself around 20th place as numerous youngsters surged ahead. As expected, many of them soon started fading—even in the first km. The surface was smooth enough, but covered in ankle-height weeds. The course doubled back on itself repeatedly, with plenty of opportunities to take shortcuts. At the 1 km and 2 km marks, I was on track for a 27 minute finish. I gradually crept up the field, by about six places. At 3 km, I was a bit faster, but I was suffering. A grey guy alternated with me as we both took numerous walk breaks. He claimed that he was exhausted. About 100 m from the finish, I heard him sprinting behind me. He passed me at a speed I could not match and finished just ahead of me, with me in 10th position in over 27 minutes.

    Alet finished about half an hour later. We stopped by at the nearby airfield before tackling the drive home.

    Note: The official results show me at 28:19. Not sure why I thought it was much faster. It also shows many old guys with respectable times. Four of the nine finishers ahead of me were in my age group or older!

    The Good: Completing this Parkrun while it still has a relatively low number. Distance markers (I saw all of them). Finishing in the Top 10 again, and even making it into the Fastest 500 at position 72. So unlike the British Parkruns!

    The Bad: Ankle-height weeds, which definitely slowed us down.

    The Ugly: Where did all the air go?

    Back to Index

    Bushy Park Parkrun, Saturday 2024-01-06 at 09:00

    Goal: Complete the pilgrimage to the Parkrun where it all began.

    I'd finally given up on the idea of visiting the Channel Islands, so this Saturday I was going to tackle Bushy Park Parkrun, the original venue where it all began. I had to drive back from west of Cardiff. I made my overnight stop near Reading, about an hour's drive from the venue. Late at night, I spoke to Gilliaume, who suggested that I park at their house. I arrived at 08:15 as agreed. Gilliaume accompanied me to the start, with me jogging and him on his bicycle. We arrived at the start with less than five minutes to go, and already warmed up. I joked that I might have a hard time making it into the top 600. The neighbourhood and the park were very different from what I envisaged, based on my previous experience with London parks.

    The announcements were drowned by a constant drone of chatter among the participants. The Run Director gave the event number: 966! It was a big bunch—perhaps well over 1000? We started about three minutes late. I took about five minutes to gain a rhythm, with a dense bunch jostling for position. In general, the paved track was full of runners, with the only way to pass being on the muddy grass verge. I was gratified to see that I was passing more people than were passing me. There were exceptions, such as the guy who sailed past in the last km, pushing a pram...

    A marshal announced the remaining distance as being 1400 m. I was feeling relatively strong, so I accelerated. It seemed like most of the runners around me had the same idea, though, so we remained more or less in a fixed order. At the finish, we were directed into two lanes. I finished in just under 27 minutes, as has become my custom in these islands. After waiting for about eight minutes, I was given number 573. I suppose I should be happy; I had indeed made it into the top 600...

    Gilliaume was gracious toward me. On the way home, he pushed his bicycle, allowing me leeway to recover. About halfway home, I bravely started jogging again, mostly to avoid the biting cold. A hot shower was very welcome!

    The Good: Completing the Bushy Park pilgrimage. Very slick organisation.

    The Bad: No distance markers.

    The Ugly: 573...

    Back to Index

    Orangefield Parkrun, Monday 2024-01-01 at 09:30

    Goal: A Parkrun in Northern Ireland.

    I left the guesthouse at 08:30, arriving around 09:15. I needed to plan well, as I had a flight to catch soon after. My tummy was unwell; I hoped that I wouldn't get into trouble, as the WC in the park required payment and I didn't have the right change. A woman in the start bunch recognised my accent based on three syllables. I was impressed. It turns out that Walter and Wendy lived in Johannesburg for a long time, and Walter has more than a dozen Comrades medals. Walter was aiming for 27 minutes, so I made a mental note to use him as a pacer.

    The announcements included a number of milestones, including a 500, and of course, mentioned the South African visitor. We had to complete three laps, turning right to the finish on the fourth lap. I was eventually pleased that I'd arrived a bit late, as it was cold enough to make standing around rather unpleasant. I was therefore not impressed that we started six minutes late.

    As expected, many runners surged ahead of me. The route runs through a green park on undulating, meandering paths, mostly tar, but with perhaps 200 m of gravel. My frozen legs thawed on the second lap. I ran with Walter for a while. My first lap was just inside eight minutes; the two following laps were slightly faster. On the fourth lap, a woman coaxed me with an "Almost finished!". She didn't know how right she was. I was grateful to see that the finish was immediately after the right turn, albeit on a steep uphill grade. I finished just inside 27 minutes in 58th place. Walter finished just less than a minute behind me, comfortably winning the 70-74 age group.

    There was a festive New Year's party in the clubhouse at the finish. I was grateful for the eats and drinks and, best of all, a free toilet. Soon, I was on my way to the airport to fly out of Northern Ireland.

    The Good: A new Parkrun "country". Lush surroundings. Good surface.

    The Bad: Another middle-of-the-field finish. Only one distance marker.

    The Ugly: My tummy just wouldn't leave me in peace.

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    2023 Races

    Wexford Racecourse Parkrun, Saturday 2023-12-30 at 09:30

    Goal: Add a new Parkrun country (Ireland).

    I was visiting Billy and Janet. I figured I would have to get a rental car, as the nearest Parkrun was definitely not within walking distance. Billy generously insisted that he would take me instead. We left home at 08:30, but it turned out to have been unnecessarily early. On the one hand, we had no traffic, and on the other, it was so cold and wet on arrival that I had no inclination to warm up more than absolutely necessary. I was worried that the event might have been cancelled, as by 09:10 only one car had arrived.

    Billy and I sat chatting in the car until there were only six minutes to go. You may wonder why Parkruns in Ireland and Scotland start so late. The answer is simple: We watched the sunrise as I was getting out of the car. Fortunately, the rain had turned into a light drizzle. I jumped out and jogged to the start, using strides and various grotesque running styles to help the warmup. The briefing started well after 09:30 and lasted a while. The crowd was amazed to learn that there were two runners from the southern hemisphere. We started over six minutes late. I settled into 18th place. We had to complete three full laps of the service road. We started on a slight downhill grade, hitting the uphill as we entered the backstraight. At this point, we faced a howling gale, at least 20 knots. It was exceedingly difficult to make any progress.

    On the second lap, the pattern was exactly the same—mostly light wind with a gale on that portion of the course. I passed only one runner on the first lap, and only one passed me on the second. Well, two; the leading runner lapped me just before the turnoff to the finish. The third lap was accompanied by a squall of rain. Toward the end of the course, I noticed a gorgeous woman in a spray-on body suit closing in from behind. I was determined not to let her. The last 500 m became a headlong sprint, at least to the extent I was able to. I finished in 18th place in just under 27 minutes, with the woman in hot pursuit.

    I trundled back to the car, where Billy was patiently waiting. The front half of my shirt was soaked; the back was bone dry. I dried up as best I could, but I had a persistent cough. At least a protracted hot shower fixed that problem. In the results, I noticed that my pursuer and I had exactly the same time.

    The Good: New Parkrun country. Nice flat course with a good surface. Managing to hold off the challenger.

    The Bad: No distance markers. Lots of water on the path.

    The Ugly: The weather. Welcome to Ireland!

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    York Parkrun, Monday 2023-12-25 at 09:00

    Goal: A Parkrun with a "Y". A Parkrun on a Monday. Try not to exceed 27 minutes.

    I mostly had a good night's sleep, with the odd interruption due to the neighbour's snoring. I've had a bad case of lethargy, along with an elevated pulse and some slight congestion in the lungs. When I jumped up at 08:00, I was at least not feeling too bad. I hit the road at 08:25. The roads were eerily quiet. That changed when I got closer. Suddenly, I was surrounded by dozens of cars and hundreds of pedestrians. I arrived with 15 minutes to spare. It wasn't a bad thing, as I hadn't realised that we had to walk around the track to the start, over 1 km away. There was a big bunch, probably not far from 1000. I watched the sun rise, grateful for the good weather. Although everything was soaked, it was not raining and we only had about five octas of cloud. I chatted with Arielle, who was quite surprised to learn that someone would travel halfway around the globe for Parkrun tourism.

    The briefing was by public address, but barely audible. We started almost five minutes late. I was impressed to see pacers, wearing brightly-coloured bibs with one-minute increments. I must have started too far forward in the bunch, as the 25-minute pacer soon passed me. Somewhat after the 1 km mark, the 26-minute pacer did likewise. I resolved not to lose that pacer from my sight.

    The route is flat and with a good tarred surface, although it is slightly too narrow for the number of participants. The shoulder was soggy grass. I suppose I should not have been surprised. After all, the place is called Knavesmire. I passed 1 km at 5:20 and 2 km at 10:35; nicely on pace. I eventually settled in behind a fifty-something woman wearing a triathlon T-shirt. I remained on track to finish well inside 27 minutes, but was having a hard time. I took a walk break around the 3 km mark, then resumed my pursuit of the triathlete. I desperately craved another walk break, but I continued to pursue her to the finish. Runners were constantly passing us. There is obviously no shortage of strong runners in British Parkruns!

    I finished in something like 26:30, probably not too shabby for my current condition. The placing was less flattering—326th. I now have a Monday Parkrun, leaving only Friday undone. "Y" was the last letter I needed to complete the Parkrun alphabet, as there currently isn't an "X"—at least not until I can convince someone to start a Xhariep Parkrun....

    Note: The results revealed some interesting snippets. There were 782 finishers, placing me 42% down the field. I was 21st in my age category; probably an all-time low. Arielle turns out to have completed 71 Parkrun events, including one in Japan. Pauline, my pacer, turns out to be a consistent superstar, with an age grading in the 70s.

    The Good: Good distance markers. Pacers. Nice flat course. Good surface. Nice weather. Completing "Y" and Monday Parkruns.

    The Bad: I'll keep thinking. I must come up with something eventually.

    The Ugly: 326th place...

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    Quaker Walk Parkrun, Saturday 2023-12-23 at 09:00

    Goal: Do a Parkrun with a "Q".

    Less than a week before my departure to Britain, I happened to notice a new Parkrun. With a "Q". This observation quickly changed my travel plans. Instead of immediately heading north to minimise my chances of getting stuck due to bad weather, I was going to delay by a day and take a trip to the Bristol area. I wanted to combine the Parkrun with a visit to my friends David and Don and to the Cameron balloon factory. After arrival at Heathrow early on Friday, I took a bus to Bristol, arriving at mid-day. The rest of the day was a lesson in frustration. I found a rental car and tried to buy some warm clothing. Neither worked and I spent many hours stuck in traffic. I soon realised that David was not going to be on the itinerary. I eventually arrived at Don's after dark and spent a great evening with him before booking into a local B&B.

    I had to be up at an unearthly hour to get to Devizes in time. My trip went agonisingly slowly, but more or less on time. Where I come from, 60 km should not take more than an hour! There was another quirk: The Parkun location was not on any of the electronic maps. I selected a nearby waypoint. Unfortunately, as I got close, I was directed onto a lousy dirt track with deep potholes and lots of mud. I elected to turn around and make my way using the location on the Website, requiring a lot of improvisation. At least the weather was constantly improving. It was raining when I left, but by the time I arrived, it had stopped completely, despite low cloud cover. It was bitterly cold, though, and I was glad that I had remembered to bring a long-sleeved shirt—probably the first time I'd worn one in a Parkrun.

    I arrived at the start as the briefing started. Most of the locals were not interested, so I had some trouble hearing the briefing. We started about a minute late. I had noticed in previous results that British Parkruns are much faster than ours, so I wasn't surprised when dozens of runners of all descriptions surged ahead. The trail consisted of some tar and some mud. Runners kept passing me at regular intervals. Too regular. There was no indication of distance, and because I hadn't checked the course beforehand, I had no idea of how I was progressing.

    By the time I'd figured out that it would be a three-lapper, I was doomed to a 27-something finish. Sure enough, I finished in 83rd place in just under 27 minutes.

    I had a quick discussion with the Run Director to suggest that they really should put the location on the likes of Google Maps, then headed off to Wales for the morning and some shopping.

    The Good: A Parkrun with "Q". Now just "Y" to go (unless someone starts an "X"). Nice flat route. My first Parkrun in Europe—sorry, make that Britain...

    The Bad: No distance markers. No location on navigation maps.

    The Ugly: Finishing almost halfway down the field. At least only five runners lapped me...

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    Toboshane Valley Estate Parkrun, Saturday 2023-12-09 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun in Eastern Cape province, completing all provinces.

    I'm in East London on business. The opportunity to do a Parkrun in the Eastern Cape is too good to miss. It's the only province I've missed so far. I would need a rental car, but getting one in in East London is not easy. I eventually had to throw in the towel and rent one at the airport, meaning that I could not hand it back within one day and consequently had to pay for two. Making a special trip to the Eastern Cape would be a lot more expensive, though, so I bit the bullet and rented a car from the airport.

    I didn't have a good night's sleep, partially because the Premier Hotel seems to believe in scattering dozens of red, white and blue lights throughout the room. Apparently, clients need help in finding switches. I was up at 06:30 and drove off before 07:00. I wanted to arrive early, as many recent events had been cancelled for reasons unknown. I needed enough time to re-route to a nearby Parkrun if the need arose. The last km or so was up a steep hill, surrounded by a herd of cattle. It was slow going. Nevertheless, I arrived around 07:20 and was happy to see that the Parkrun equipment was being installed.

    I spent some time chatting to the volunteers. They seemed mostly unaware of Parkrun tourism, and found my description of tourist games interesting. They also opined that their Parkrun was one of the hardest, although few of them seemed to have experience of other Parkruns. Recent cancellations had been due to mud and slippery conditions.

    I have been feeling rather weak this week, so I didn't do a serious warm-up. Instead, I took a leisurely ten-minute jog. The terrain was hilly and the trails uneven. The briefing was brief and to the point, and I was directed to a separate route briefing by Di. I commented wryly that it sounded ominous. Everyone else thought it was hilarious.

    We started a few minutes late, despite the Run Director intently staring at her watch. Within seconds of the start, it began to drizzle. I resolved to maintain a 6:00/km pace. I settled into eighth place, behind a woman who made a disparaging remark as she passed me and then gradually disappeared ahead. In places, the vegetation was dense, and we mostly ran in a narrow rut. I could hear talking behind me, but could see no-one. At the 1 km mark, I was a few seconds early. At 2 km, I was exactly on time. Around the half-way mark, I came to a fork in the road, without any directions. I had to wait for the next runner, a fifty-something woman. She pointed me in the right direction, and I gradually managed to open up a gap on her again. At the 3 km mark, we were in open terrain and I could see the runners behind me—three fifty-something men, followed by the woman.

    I was a few seconds late at 3 and 4 km. Despite the terrain now being relatively easy, I was losing time. As I knew that there was a serious climb to the finish (the one with the cows), it was apparent that a 30-something finish was on the cards again. Just before the final climb, two of the fifty-something men passed me, but I managed to pass one of them in the home stretch. I finished in eighth place, in just over 31 minutes. I didn't stick around, as I had a serious drive ahead. I found a roadside restaurant where I could clean up and went on my merry way.

    I'm pleased to finally have all the provinces checked off. This year has seen a few interesting Parkrun milestones. I'm hoping to add a few more in the next month, but much depends on the winter weather. I'll let that statement stew for a while...

    The Good: Finally completing a Parkrun in my ninth and last province. Good distance markers. Good route markers—except for one point.

    The Bad: That one point.

    The Ugly: Not another 30-something!

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    Athens Marathon, Sunday 2023-11-12 at 09:00

    Goal: Survive unscathed. Soak in the experience. Under 05:15 would be nice.

    The day of the Marathon marathon has finally arrived. I'm filled with trepidation, as I've never been this ill-prepared for a marathon. The last two weeks of travel have been hectic, including a worldwide radio contest lasting 48 hours, travel to 10 countries and flying in three of them. Sleep hasn't exactly been in ample supply; neither has training. I managed one 20 km run in the hills of western Greece and perhaps 15 km in Romania. Otherwise, I have to imagine that lugging heavy baggage up steep mountains in Mount Athos and traversing considerable distances in various cities count as training.

    Also, the lunchbox containing all my gels, plasters, flag patches and proof of entry had disappeared from the rental car at Thessaloniki. I had to violate one of the cardinal rules of marathon running by buying a belt and some unproven gels and hydration tablets from the Expo on Saturday.

    On the other hand, there is no urgency. The cutoff time is eight hours. Even I can do that, if I don't injure myself. And injury would be a really, really bad idea. The travel insurance was emphatic that "extreme" activities, especially marathons, were excluded. I resolved to maintain a very conservative 7:30/km pace to maximise my chances of survival. The resulting time of 5:15 would not count as glorious by any standards, but I could not afford to be choosy.

    Pheidippides, who originally ran the route in 490 BC, ran naked, apparently to save weight. I decided not to run it the traditional way, as my feet are much too soft. I would also prefer not to drop dead at the finish line like he did.

    The alarm clock went at 05:00. It took considerable resolve to drag myself out of bed. The night had not been restful, mostly because the "non-smoking" apartment reeked of tobacco smoke, like most things in Greece. Sunblock, half a dozen eggs and copious amounts of lubrication were all on the agenda. One item slipped: I forgot to take my magnesium tablets. The irony is immense. Those very tablets got me detained for almost an hour in a Romanian border post, as I had to keep a plastic probe in my mouth for a quarter of an hour and then wait a similar amount of time for some machine to produce negative test results.

    I set off around 05:30, walking through a very seedy part of town to the nearest metro station. I saw no indication of the station. When I thought I must have passed it, I asked some bystanders. They confirmed that I had indeed passed it. I walked back and spotted an isolated lift shaft with a small notice on it. I took the lift and was whisked off to the next station within minutes. I shared my apprehension about some discrepancies in the instructions with two British tourists. They responded that they had received very specific instructions to that station from the Expo. Accordingly, we emerged from the first station within minutes, joining a long queue for a long line of buses and walking several city blocks before boarding.

    The bus trip was long and boring. In darkness, there was little to see. I managed to dose off, despite the uncomfortable seat and the loud Greek neighbour. We emerged around a km from the starting gate. I walked up there, sporting my converted shopping bag to shield me from the cold. The brightly-coloured Jumbo-branded outfit generated considerable mirth. I found a spot against an embankment and lay back with my hat over my eyes. The announcements were loud, so I didn't get any sleep, but I still think the two-hour wait was better spent on my back than on my legs. Those legs had other work to do later in the day. I occasionally took a peek at the surroundings. I noticed two South African girls in flag outfits, but could not attract their attention despite calling out to them in isiZulu.

    At the official start, I got up, finished my last drinks, used the urinal and re-attached my race number. My bunch was ninth and would start at 09:26. We gradually walked around the Marathon stadium to the start line. The stadium's athletics track has seen better days, with many missing tartan patches. However, inside it is a pristine soccer pitch. I noticed a Phobians outfit. Johan and Nickey were planning to run faster than I was, even though Nickey had completed the Istanbul marathon the previous weekend. We only started after 09:30. I would have my work cut out for me to catch the leaders! A young man in South African flag pants ran ahead of me. I chirped him in Afrikaans about the colour scheme. He didn't respond. It turned out that his dad was actually the South African and that he was accompanying his dad, running much slower than he was accustomed to.

    Two more Phobians runners ran with me for a while. Brian and Betsie were walking and running, as I was, so they often passed me, and I them. I had started faster than planned, albeit at a still rather leisurely pace of 7:00/km. I deliberately started walking at most of the distance markers. The markers are a permanent installation on the route, apparently for tourists, supplemented by flag markers on this day. I could see them from hundreds of metres away. Nevertheless, I started missing some of them from about 5 km. Clearly, my blood sugar level was dropping. The extent of this drop only became clear the following day, when we drove the route by car. I had never noticed the ocean to our left—not even once.

    A British couple also spent some time with me. He was dressed as a Greek warrior, complete with sword, shield and helmet. She sported a very comely long white dress, but the green hair and snakeskin pattern on the right half of her face somewhat spoiled the picture. I suggested that her left half was definitely the more photogenic, if only due to the better skin tone.

    There were several wheelchairs in the race. Most of them seemed to have handicapped adults on board, being pushed by one or two runners. However, three wheelchairs were being pushed by large groups of Greek runners in red T-shirts. They initially demanded a full lane on the road, even manhandling runners to get them out of the way. As the race progressed, they became more and more obnoxious, eventually commanding all three lanes of the road and relegating the rest of us to the sidewalk. Interactions with other runners included some vocabulary that didn't sound savoury. I will have to look those words up to get the meaning.

    Around the 32 km mark, about four hours into the race, I passed a black woman—a rarity, unlike in South African races—in a flag outfit. She proved to be one Tumi from Johannesburg. Soon, I passed another black man doing a loud rendition of "Nkosi sikhilel' iAfrika" into his selfie camera. I exchanged some niceties with him, in Afrikaans. Another runner asked if we were speaking Portuguese. I passed yet another Phobians runner, this time Lika. She was taking even more strain than I was.

    Panos, who had been with me for the radio contest and who acted as radio communications expert for the race technical director, had told me that the highest point was at 32 km and that it was "all downhill" from there. I very much looked forward to the "all downhill" part. Reality was somewhat different. The highest point was indeed between 31 and 32 km. However, the route after that point was undulating, with several short but nasty climbs. I mostly ran the downhill portions, but on the level and uphill portions I used a 4+1 survival strategy between lampposts. I have to concede that both the "4" and the "1" sometimes slipped a little. Nevertheless, I consistently remained about three minutes ahead of my planned pace.

    After 35 km or so, the seriousness of marathon running was brought home to me. Hanri ran a marathon yesterday. Afterwards, she was very concerned about my safety, having realised in the latter half of the race that consequences can be very serious. I witnessed around a dozen runners wrapped in space blankets, undergoing various types of treatment. Some were very still indeed. Others were writhing with pain. Some were being carted away by ambulances on the opposite side of the highway. None were a pretty sight.

    The race finishes inside the Panathanaic Stadium. This stadium was built by the Greeks around 330 BC, rebuilt by the Romans to basically its current configuration in 144 AD and became the venue for the first modern Olympics in 1896. Race instructions were adamant that runners had to run the last 170 m inside the stadium. Accordingly, I took a lavish walk break just before the entry, and ran up the straight almost like a real runner. An unknown Phobians runner finished about half a minute ahead of me. Halfway up the home straight, I reminded myself of the momentous occasion. I started looking around, taking in the marble seats and the splendour of this historic arena. I'd almost missed it.

    I finished just outside 5:12, timed from my own start. It is about three minutes faster than my planned pace, so I suppose I should be happy. Again, though, it will hardly get my name in lights. Nevertheless, I was a little tearful after the finish. Considering the prognosis when I severed my leg a decade ago, I'm profoundly grateful that I have been able to run a marathon almost on memory. Perhaps, after all, the painful rehabilitation has been worth it.

    Alet was in the crowd beside the medal table. I exited and met her at the agreed bus stop. The long walk to the Metro station was painful, to say the least. At least the organisers had provided us with free Metro tickets, so we only had to buy one for Alet to get back to our seedy abode. The stations and the trains were very busy at rush hour despite the Sunday, including a fair share of runners smelling to high heaven and proudly wearing medals around their necks.

    I keep hearing how difficult the Marathon marathon is, so I did some digging on the Internet. Figures vary, but it seems like the highest point is around 250 m above sea level, with a total cumulative climb of around 350 m. Also, it seems like there isn't another major city marathon with an 80 m net climb. Still, I wonder if there is a race in the Pretoria area that climbs so little. It also pales into insignificance beside Comrades's highest point of 870 m, not to mention more than twice the distance. It seems like South Africans are made of stern stuff.

    This race was subject to a lot of uncertainty. I wasn't well trained. My equipment disappeared and I had to rely on unfamiliar nutrition. I had to be very conservative to avoid the risk of an astronomical medical and repatriation bill. I've never started such a long race this late in the day. In fact, it was my first race outside of southern Africa. I have a long-term goal to do a marathon on each continent. Obviously, time and money will dictate the feasibility of that project, but at least I've made a start now. Just four more to go!

    The Good: Finishing the Marathon marathon in perhaps the world's most historical stadium.

    The Bad: Not being able to run it in the traditional way.

    The Ugly: That horde of hooligans with the wheelchairs. Great idea, lousy execution. Thugs!

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    CSIR 10 km helpers' race, Sunday 2023-10-22 at 07:00

    Goal: Add some more distance. 6:00/km would be nice.

    Seeing that endurance is not my strong suit and that the Marathon marathon is only three weeks away, I figured that I needed to grab the last opportunity to cover some distance before departure. Despite not getting enough sleep due to an exaggerated sense of social responsibility and noisy rugby-watching neighbours, I dragged myself out of bed and reported for the helpers' race. My first surprise was when Willie and Elise told me that the talkative girl from yesterday was their daughter. Thank goodness she hadn't hopelessly fallen for me—I wouldn't want Willie upset at me.

    After a thorough route briefing by Willie, we started just a few minutes late. Johan and his son shot ahead, with me and Willie in pursuit. I was definitely feeling the pain from yesterday's proceedings. I first started walking at the East Gate. Willie disappeared up the road ahead. The route was identical to the main race, so it was all familiar to me. Some of the distance markers were still in place. Just before we entered the main gate, it occurred to me that at least Erin wouldn't be there to heckle me. Barely had the thought crossed my mind, that Erin sailed past on a slight uphill. I did not see her again after we turned into the gate. I could hear Walter and Elaine chatting behind me for a while, but soon they too were invisible. I was now completely alone, doggedly trudging up the trail to the top of the hill. I was feeling decidedly sorry for myself. A car came up from behind, and I had to field a series of questions about a breakfast that had been organised. It was the first word I'd heard about the event. Pity—I'd already organised a trip to church just after the run. Enough distance markers were missing that I could not get an idea of my pace. The first marker I saw was the 8 km marker at the bottom of the hill, as we turned right into the first loop. I was four minutes behind schedule! I definitely would not be able to make up that much time in the remaining distance. Rhonwen and two others were just leaving the loop. I was a little surprised; I was expecting to see Erin ahead of Rhonwen. As I approached the exit of the second loop, Ken and Erin sailed past, missing the loop completely. I yelled at the top of my lungs, with no response. After the third or fourth attempt, a gate guard joined the chorus, and they turned around. I left the loop as they entered, heckling Erin about her pace in retaliation for yesterday. Several others were in hot pursuit behind the pair. I finished in under 1:04. Erin and Ken arrived soon after. I enquired about how they ended up behind me. She'd apparently taken one of the turnoffs to the microwave tower, rather than just following the contour. Serves her right. Had she stayed with me, she would only have had to cover 10 km!

    My time was disappointing, but I suppose I can rationalise it in the light of the extreme hill and the after-effects of yesterday's race. I also suppose I should use the same excuse to explain the occasional unplanned nod in church later on...

    The next week is likely to be as hectic as the last, with little opportunity to cover decent distance. Maybe I'll be able to squeeze in some training in Europe, but with only three weeks to go, I'll have to mostly focus on winding down and preserving what I've already done. This weekend was hardly a triumph, but I suppose it will suffice if I don't push too hard. Lemmesee, what's the cutoff time for the Marathon marathon again?

    PS: I'm accused of being a blatant liar, as there is apparently a database entry of me having run a CSIR race in the days before I started training for Comrades. It's possible, but I have the luxury of being at an age where forgetting is not unexpected. Besides, I like my version of the story better.

    The Good: I managed to drag myself out of bed, against all odds.

    The Bad: Slooooooow.

    The Ugly: Having a heckler on the road with us, instead of just by the roadside.

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    CSIR 5 and 10 km and half marathon, Saturday 2023-10-21 at 06:00

    Goal: Run the CSIR race for the first time. Survive a half marathon. 6:00/km would be nice.

    For the last decade or so, I've been an official at the CSIR race every year. I'm not a member of the club, but I do occasionally run with the club and I'm an employee, so I suppose it was just proper. This year, they didn't add me to the officials list, so I decided to actually run the race for the first time. I spent Friday evening selling entries with Elaine, so I didn't completely shun my sense of duty.

    As I was planning to spend some time in my office after the race, I snuck into the premises with my car. It took some smooth talking, as the gates were closed to vehicles at 04:00. And I'm not a 04:00 kinda guy. I found shady parking about 200 m from the start. I suppose it counts as insider trading. Our club tent was nowhere to be found. The bunch was bigger than most. There was a minute of silence for Daan du Toit, who had apparently died this week. I saw some familiar faces in the bunch, including Louis and Iain, but neither Hanri nor Laurens were to be found. The race started on time. The bunch was very dense—it took several minutes before we could run freely. The first 5 km or so was flat, mostly outside the campus. Ken, Bronwen and Erin did duty at the gate. Erin made some snide remarks about the pace I was not running at. I remained within about half a minute of my planned pace.

    Back in the campus, we tackled the grim climb up the hill. The combination of steep gradients and a loose surface proved a handful. The bunch was grim and determined, with many walking at least intermittently. Once over the hill, we wound around the building where I work before scaling the hill again, then down to the finish line. On the uphill, I struck up a conversation with a talkative young girl who is planning to do Comrades next year. She wanted to walk. I suggested that anyone doing the 10 km should not be walking. She thanked me for the motivation and started running again. After the long downhill, we ran two loops in the parking lots. I could not see Laurens or Hanri in either loop. At the line, the 10 km runners turned right, while we commenced a second lap. Outside the gate, I briefly saw Hanri through the fence. I could not be certain, as the fence glittered in the sunlight, so I called out. She responded. For reasons inexplicable, she was at least five minutes behind me. We crossed the N4 bridge and ran past the Botanical Gardens. A female sixty-something Nedbank runner was in front of me. I decided to use her as a marker. After all, being a little older than me and female, she wasn't supposed to leave me behind, was she? The notorious Meiring Naudé climb lay before us. Louis was by the roadside, having completed the 10 km race. I invited him to join us for the second lap, but he was not interested. A young pirate runner with a loud ghetto blaster emitting mind-numbing electronic drums ran past with his friends. I pointed out that his actions were against race rules. His companions said sagely that it wasn't against the rules, because it was "common in all races". I responded that I had heard only one in this race, so it obviously wasn't as common as all that. After completing that horrible climb, I was well over two minutes behind schedule. Although the meander through Lynnwood Manor is nowhere near flat, it offered a respite from the previous climb. Walter stood near the 18 km mark. I walked some of the time. Nedbank 60 steamed ahead. I repeatedly had to chase her down after a walk. Some encouragement from Ken and abuse from Erin, and we re-entered the campus with less than 2 km to go. At least the limited distance gave some comfort, as it did not leave room for the possibility of more horrible hills in the route. We again meandered through a parking lot before finishing just off the ring road. For the last 500 m or so, I was doggedly chasing Nedbank 60 and two younger women. I managed to pass the two women, but Nedbank 60 finished perhaps five seconds ahead of me, just inside 2:10.

    This was my last opportunity to cover some distance before departing for Europe. The Marathon marathon awaits. It strikes fear to my heart—twice the distance in hilly terrain. I suppose I'm going to have to tackle it conservatively and hope for survival. On the way home, I made some enquiries. There is a helpers' race tomorrow, so maybe I should get up early and cover some more distance. There will not be much time to do more distance before departure.

    The Good: Survived a half marathon more or less unscathed.

    The Bad: Around three minutes slower than hoped for. Maybe I can rationalise it away.

    The Ugly: Tsotsi and his mind-numbing ghetto blaster.

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    Huddle Parkrun, Saturday 2023-10-14 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun event number 20. Under 26 minutes would be nice. Cover some distance.

    Ramping up to the Marathon marathon, I should be doing some real distance. Perhaps 32 km would not be out of place? Unfortunately, Huddle's event number 20 proved irresistable. Laurens was hoping to collect his event number 10 elsewhere, so I collected Alet at 06:45. Well on our way, she discovered that she had left her barcode behind. Some mental arithmetic showed that we could just barely turn back and still make it to the venue, but there would be no time for niceties like warming up. With an unplanned detour in the final stages (partly by missing a turnoff and partly due by Waze daze), we arrived just as the briefing started. The Director announced event number 19. Not to worry—I need that one too.

    The route meanders madly through the park. There is a vague blue line, visible here and there, and some white bricks, visible here and there, which are supposed to indicate the route. I settled into 15th place, following a line of male runners. A youngster was just ahead of me. I assumed he would soon fold, but he didn't. Because I hadn't warmed up, except for some static jogging, I initially suffered. There were no distance markers, but within about a km I had to resort to some walking. I finally caught the youngster around 4 km. I could hear hime teaming up with a man in red behind me. I doggedly tried to hold them off. They caught me in the last km. They shouted at me as I was about to take an accidental shortcut. I corrected and caught up with them again. I accelerated, finishing just before them in about 28:15.. I thought I was 16th, but I was handed tag number 13. I suppose it's a good thing that Friday the 13th was yesterday. Alet sauntered home in about 50 minutes, giving me time to write the story before the long drive home.

    Some browsing confirmed that it was indeed event number 20. I now need to find number 19. It is a tall order, as most of the nearby new ones will hit number 19 when I'm out of the country. So many numbers, so little time...

    The Good: Parkrun number 20 out of the way.

    The Bad: My slowest Parkrun in months. No distance markers. Vague route markings.

    The Ugly: A Parkrun without a warmup.

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    Chamberlains Capital Classic 5 and 10 km and half marathon, Saturday 2023-10-07 at 06:00

    Goal: Survive a half marathon unscathed. 6:00/km would be nice.

    With the Marathon marathon only five weeks away, I have to do some distance. The Capital Classic half marathon is obviously a good idea. It has an interesting twist, in that the sponsors have a Scottish heritage, and anyone completing the half marathon in a kilt wins a R 200 gift voucher. I have long since paid off my kilt, but it is always a fun event. Not to mention the feeling of freedom that makes one understand why William Wallace was so fearless.

    Hanri was an official this time and Laurens is still on the road (sic) to recovery, so I planned to run alone. I briefed Hanri to look out for me at 06:10 and 07:07. I really need a groupie by the roadside. I found parking about three blocks away and arrived with about 10 minutes to spare. To my amazement, relatively few kilts were in evidence—certainly less than in previous years. Ken S and Elaine were chatting. Elaine opted for the easy option, claiming unfitness. Yeah, right. A young girl greeted me enthusiastically. I reciprocated (obviously!), but had no idea who she was. Laurens sauntered up, sporting his blue kilt, even though he was planning to do the 10 km. The customary pipe band was there again. We tolerated their performance for a while and started on time. Pretty soon, we were involved in the grim business of climbing the hill in King's Highway. I arrived at Hanri's position within seconds of my advertised time. Her car was parked inside the traffic circle. She was distracted while talking to a motorist, so I didn't get the groupie treatment I so craved. We soon started downhill. I was within seconds of my planned pace at every distance marker, but I was feeling somewhat fatigued already. Not a good sign! Iain was standing by the roadside with a red flag, but no kilt. Some guys just don't play the game. We turned in the Technopark and tackled the relentless hill towards the bridge. I intermittently walked. On the bridge, I was about a minute behind schedule. Unsurprisingly, that uphill had really cost me. At least I was starting to feel a little less stiff. Elbert was visible in the distance, still on his way up the hill.

    I regularly passed Gustav, who would then walk past when I took my walk breaks. Fritz was mostly ahead of us, forming a nice target to aim at. It occurred to me that I absolutely had to beat these two clubmates—I could not allow a walker in my age group and someone two age groups up to beat me! We passed the 10 km mark almost exactly on the hour. At least things were still on track. That grim uphill was even less fun the second time. To add insult to injury, a woman in my age group wearing the name "Slakkie" (snail) kept passing me whenever I walked. This time, I managed to attract Hanri's attention and managed to get a small wave—still nowhere near the groupie treatment I so craved. Back on the bridge, I was about a minute late. I struggled to make it up, without much success. Friendly Girl passed me again with a greeting and a wave. I sheepishly waved back. Gustav said that he would aim for 2:10. I thought we would easily make his target, but probably not mine. At a water point around the 18 km mark, we passed Fritz. Both Gustav and I assumed that he would soon come sailing past. Gustav maintained his relentless pace, and even on the downhill I could not easily keep up. I maintained a 4+1 pattern at times, so I would occasionally pass him, but he would always soon reverse my fortunes. Only in the last km was I able to leave him behind. I grimly maintained my pace, even on the grass in the finish venue, completing the last 2 km in under 11 minutes. Slakkie finished just ahead of me, despite my best efforts. I finished in just over 2:08, more than a minute late. Both Gustav and Fritz finished within a minute behind me.

    I suppose I should be reasonably happy. I missed my goal, with an average pace of something like 6:05/km, but given the hilly terrain it is probably not a train smash. As long as I can remain uninjured and do some distance every week, the Marathon marathon seems to be within reach.

    The Good: Surviving a half marathon at an almost-decent pace. Winning another gift voucher. Beating the walker and the old guy.

    The Bad: My hoped-for groupie wasn't even remotely enthusiastic enough.

    The Ugly: Being beaten by a snail...

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    Moreletapark Gemeente Parkrun, Saturday 2023-09-30 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun event number 17. Under 26 minutes would be nice. Cover some distance.

    This is the closest Parkrun to my home. I've kept it in reserve for a new event number. Today is the day. I arrived at 07:30. I did one lap of the course and cleaned up the streets outside before reporting for the pre-race briefing. The warmup was sorely needed—my legs are clearly not yet fully recovered from last week's adventures. The director welcomed Simon and Wendy Yates, who had done over 420 Parkruns at over 100 venues. We started more or less on time. Simon immediately took the lead. I was surprised, as the pace seemed wild for a sixty-something runner. The course meanders through several parking lots and around the building. Three laps are required. I jostled for position with Simon and others, slipping from eighth to 10th place. Simon ran out of steam late in the first lap. We lapped the first runners less than halfway through the second lap. Soon after, I passed Elbert and Elise, who were taking it easy. I ran out of steam in the third lap, taking regular walk breaks. I finished ninth in just under 26 minutes.

    I asked the Run Director if he needed help. He handed me his smartphone and asked me to photograph the finishers. I suppose there has to be some quality control on a three-lapper... It was fun to see the variety of participants—some showing dogged determination, others just taking it easy. One woman reported falling twice on the course. Elbert and Elise finished seconds outside the one-hour mark. The tail walker finished soon after, and I set off to tackle a busy day.

    The Good: Event 17 in the bag. Another opportunity to act as volunteer. Well inside the Fastest 500 (and even 150).

    The Bad: No distance markers. Rough surface. Didn't get to cover decent distance.

    The Ugly: The course.

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    Upington Parkrun, Saturday 2023-09-23 at 07:00

    Goal: A Parkrun in the Northern Cape. Cover some distance. Making it into the Fastest 500 would be nice.

    I had to travel to Upington for several days of work. I requested the company to let me travel a few days early to take in a Parkrun. Not only would Upington be a new one for me, but it would also cover one of the two provinces I still needed.

    I arrived on Friday afternoon. Public transport options are limited, so I walked the 5 km to town. It occurred to me on the way that it might not have been a good decision, as I might pay the price the next morning. After a very rough week, I needed sleep. The Upington Parkrun takes place at 07:00, earlier than most. I therefore crashed into bed around 20:00. I got a reasonable night's sleep, and woke up before the 06:00 alarm clock. I hit the road around 06:15. The first nasty surprise was that Upington has very few street name signs. As I strayed from my planned route, I worried that I might not be able to find the place. Just as I started worrying that I might have missed it, I spotted Quarry Road—the only decent street name signage that I saw on the entire route. I arrived about 10 minutes early, nicely warmed up with 5 km already on the clock. The briefing was short and sweet, in Afrikaans. I noticed that there were only four volunteers, so I wanted to offer my services. My chance came when they mentioned that there was no tail walker. I offered to do a second lap to fulfil that function.

    We started on time. I settled into fifth place. We wound through vineyards and orchards of trees that I didn't recognise—nuts, maybe? Soon, I could no longer see the runner ahead or the runner behind. I had to rely on the arrows and footprints. I felt sluggish. I was definitely paying a price for the previous day's long walk and the week's sleep deprivation. For a while, I ran along the banks of the mighty Orange river. I was hoping to get close to 26 minutes, as that would at least put me on the Fastest 500 list. It was not to be. I finished in fifth place in just under 27 minutes. Clearly, my name will not be recorded for posterity.

    After a quick exchange with the volunteers, which included the indignity of being called "Oom", I set out to retrace the route. Most of the arrows had already been removed. I assumed that the last runner might have done so, so I kept going. At some of the intersections, I had to resort to tracking to decide which way to go. Fortunately, there were enough tracks to work with. I assumed that I might eventually catch up with the last walker, but I was too slow. The route was already abandoned. I found a pile of arrows at the last intersection and picked them up. I slogged toward the finish, aiming to finish in just over an hour. About 100 m from the finish, I met a vehicle coming head-on. Gunther stopped and collected the signs from me. The other volunteers had apparently just left. He was going in the right direction and dropped me off a bit closer to home. I mentioned to him that I'd noticed that the vast majority of vehicles in this town were bakkies. He ascribed the fact to the bad roads. Strange—the roads don't seem to be appreciably worse than ours!

    The Good: Ticking off my penultimate Parkrun province. Acting as volunteer for a change.

    The Bad: No distance markers.

    The Ugly: Leaden feet prevented eternal fame.

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    Brooklyn 10 km, Half Marathon and 32 km, Saturday 2023-09-09 at 05:30

    Goal: Survive 32 km unscathed, hopefully under 3:30.

    It's time to start doing some real distance to prepare for the Marathon marathon. I was therefore pleased to see that a 32 km race was being advertised at Brooklyn. There are not many of those around, and 32 km makes a great step up from the half marathon. I was uncertain whether I dared to enter, but Hanri made the decision for me by handing me my race entry, while she was planning to do the half marathon. I was pleased to learn that Walter and Ken were also planning to do the 32. For a change, I got to bed early. As is often the case with these early mornings, I woke up several times during the night. I rose at 04:00. We departed from Walter's place at 04:44 as agreed and collected Ken well before the agreed time of 05:00. We got stuck in traffic a block before the circle, found parking and had enough time for Ken to enter and for me to find a bathroom that didn't have too much of a queue. I stopped briefly at the Club tent before meeting Walter and Ken in the start bunch. The buzzer sounded on time, and we were off in complete darkness. It took some fancy footwork to avoid the potholes. Ken struck up a conversation with Lesley while Walter interrogated me about the finer points of flight training. Sonet cruised past, much faster than I was planning to go. At the first few distance markers, we were clearly too fast. After meandering through Waterkloof and Groenkloof, we descended to the Fountains Circle. We were about two minutes early. Lesley was concerned, but I wasn't. I assured her that the time advantage would soon disappear as we scaled the lofty heights of Klapperkop. On the climb from the circle, the three of them gradually pulled ahead. To my amazement, I caught them halfway up the hill. The course designer is probably a sadist, and could not resist including a loop all the way up to the Klapperkop Fort gate. I walked most of the way up the loop, passing the halfway mark on the way up.

    I took some walk breaks in the next while, with the threesome disappearing ahead. As I had predicted, I was right on time at the 18 km mark. I continued to take my hourly snack breaks. I passed Christma and Cheryl, walking their dog by the roadside as seems to be their custom. They asked me what the remaining distance was. My response was 12,5 km. It didn't seem that far. Soon after, we descended steeply into the Rigel dip, then turned right into Kloof. The 10 km and half marathon runners continued going downhill while we turned right to commence a second lap around the 22 km mark. I was feeling rather the worse for wear, and started a 5+1 survival strategy. The Threesome also walked occasionally, playing Hare and Tortoise with me up to the 28 km mark. I was still on track to finish inside 3:30. At this point, we turned right to climb back up towards Milner Street. My 5+1 strategy disintegrated. I was mostly walking with relatively little running. I was now mostly surrounded by tail-enders from the half marathon. Erika sailed past. I could not even attempt to keep up. I was grateful to hit the downhill in Kloof, but could still not sustain a running pace. In the last km, I overtook Ken S. He emphasised that I was 11 km ahead of him. I suppose it was an attempt to make me feel better. Thanks, Ken. I stumbled across the finish line just after 3:35, well below my target pace. Walter and Ken were nowhere to be found. I looked for them at the Agape tent and the Phobians tent before walking back to the car. I could not find the staircase, and took a detour through the shops. On the way, I encountered Danie and Melani, looking fresh but wearing 32 km numbers.

    The Good: I survived 32 km! The fact that it was a very hilly course makes it even more remarkable.

    The Bad: 32 km is clearly still well outside my comfort zone. There is still some work to do in the nine weeks before the Marathon marathon!

    The Ugly: Super athletes deliberately mocking me in my most vulnerable moment.

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    Spirit of Flight 5 and 10 km, Saturday 2023-09-02 at 06:30

    Goal: 10 km in under 55 minutes.

    My training for the Marathon marathon is progressing more slowly than I would prefer. Nevertheless, instead of going for a long run this Saturday, I decided to attempt a slightly faster 10 km race. The Spirit of Flight has historically taken place inside Swartkop Air Force Base, the SAAF's oldest base. I did intermittent duty in the control tower for about six years, and have landed there around 1000 times over the years. After a history of more than a century, Swartkop was recently relegated to become the Mobile Deployment Wing. Once upon a time it was completely flat, but now there are definite undulations due to the unstable land. Nevertheless, in a hilly town like Tshwane, it is one of the flattest races around. It was a great opportunity for a respectable time. Based on recent sub-25 Parkrun times, I targeted a sub-55 finish.

    I collected Hanri at 05:43, and Laurens and TA at 05:55 as agreed. We arrived at 06:10 and easily found parking. I was surprised to see Ken and Walter. They jogged off to enter, while Hanri and I sauntered down to the start. Hanri noticed that the parking marshals had organised a massive snarlup. About a dozen cars were hopelessly blocked, leaving potential for a fistfight after the finish! I nostalgically pointed out various SAAF Museum displays. Hanri decided not to keep up with my attempt. It was uncomfortably cold in the start bunch. I jogged on the spot to warm up. Pieter caught my eye and waved. We started about five minutes late with a bullhorn emitting a loud blast. I started close to the front. Maybe it was a mistake, as I passed the 1 km mark at 5:08—much too fast! We ran halfway down the runway, then took a taxiway into the apron. We snaked around, regularly passing other portions of the field head-on. I caught up with Melani. When I enquired about her plans, she said that she had no idea, as she was recovering from a grave illness. Soon after, she left me behind. Liar! My pace was fairly constant up to 5 km, which I passed at 27 minutes. I was walking regularly, but if I could keep up the pace, 55 minutes would remain within reach.

    I did not see a 6 km marker, but otherwise my pace seemed fairly consistent. I managed to speed up in the last km. Melani finished about 500 m before me. I finished just inside 54 minutes, eagerly consuming my gel. I had some trouble finding my companions, but eventually found Laurens just as TA finished. Hanri was much harder to find, after having paced a clubmate who didn't have a watch. When we eventually did, we meandered back to the car, looking at the Buccaneer and the Mustang on the way. We heard that many had not been able to enter, as the entry fee was suddenly more than advertised on the brochure. Some brochures showed the date as 3 September, suggesting that there may be more fist fights at the site tomorrow. It took several minutes of queuing in traffic to get through the gate. Ah, the military...

    The Good: Nice flat route with no traffic. Nostalgia all round. Comfortably breaking 55 minutes.

    The Bad: The military precision with which things were organised. Not.

    The Ugly: More than two minutes slower than my last attempt six years ago!

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    Jock Trail Parkrun, Saturday 2023-08-19 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun with an "J" to complete the full alphabet available in South Africa. Under 30 minutes would be nice.

    It's time to collect a "J" Parkrun, the last missing letter available in South Africa. The closest option is Jock Trail, near Graskop in Mpumalanga. It's a serious drive, but the second option is Jacobsdal near Kimberley—not a difficult choice! Jock Trail is named for Percy Fitzpatrick's famous dog, which forms a central element of the tourist bait. Alet suggested that we use her nephew Niel's place in Lydenburg as an overnight stop, leaving an hour's drive to Graskop. We spent an evening with Niel and Inge before tucking in.

    The morning's drive proved to be an ordeal. As we crested Long Tom Pass, we entered fog. With a mixture of lethargic drivers and maniacs narrowly avoiding head-on collisions, we made slow progress. We arrived around 07:45, much later than planned. I took a brief jog down the trail, just to scout out the terrain, before returning to listen to the banter. Several tourists were in attendance, including some that were also at Onderstepoort last week.

    The briefing was informal but comprehensive. A field of about two dozen runners started a few minutes late. I followed a runner in bright orange. He gradually disappeared into the fog. No-one was visible behind me. The 1 km mark came at just over five minutes. We started a serious climb. The 2 km mark came at exactly 12:00. At this rate, I might again suffer the indignity of exceeding 30 minutes. The fog started lifting as we entered the out-and-back section. I met the three leaders in the loop. A woman in red was perhaps a minute behind me, providing a strong incentive not to slack off too much. Focus was required, as the wet rocks were slippery in places. I was relieved to see the finish tent. I sprinted uphill to finish fourth in just under 29 minutes. The woman almost a minute behind me turned out to be a young man, with lots of hair.

    There was a festive atmosphere at the finish, enhanced by the chocolate cake to celebrate 100 Parkruns achieved by one of the locals and 50 by a young girl. Alet arrived just inside an hour. We set off to find breakfast in Graskop, a town sadly well beyond its prime, before tackling the trip back to Lydenburg. Along the way, we stopped at the Long Tom memorial near the apex of the pass. It was likewise in a state of decay.

    That's it—all the available Parkrun alphabet letters are in the bag! I'm hoping to collect "Q" and "Y" in Britain around the New Year. For the moment, I can just collect a few missing event numbers in our vicinity, and start doing some decent distance to prepare for the Marathon marathon.

    The Good: Well-marked route with a full set of distance markers. Jovial atmosphere. Water and lemonade at the finish line. Scenic surroundings (or so I suppose, behind the fog).

    The Bad: Slippery rocks. Bad music at the finish. Almost no view of the spectacular countryside. Tourist traps in a state of decay.

    The Ugly: Fast-asleep drivers and maniacs on a foggy mountain pass.

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    Onderstepoort Campus Parkrun, Saturday 2023-08-12 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun with an "O". Accompany Hanri and Mariza for a Number 1 Parkrun.

    With only five letters needed to complete the Parkrun alphabet, I have been eyeing the Oudtshoorn Parkrun for some time. It is a huge journey for a single Parkrun, something that I can ill afford. I was therefore very pleased to learn that the Onderstepoort Campus Parkrun was about to start. Alet was keen to bring Lia too, and even Hanri seemed moderately excited, planning to bring her sister Mariza. Laurens, Walter and Ken had other plans. I was in two minds about gaining a duplicate inaugural Parkrun—saving it for a number 17 might be more useful. Nevertheless, I decided to let the "O" suffice to swing my choice. There was a concern, though: My shoulder was still smarting from Wednesday's half marathon. Surprisingly, neither my legs nor my heart rate showed any signs of harm, but my shoulder was sore enough to disrupt my sleep and to necessitate a trip to Hanri's physio practice on Friday. At least she brought the discomfort to a tolerable level.

    Lia eventually wasn't able to make the trip, and Hanri would accompany other guests, so Alet and I set off alone. We arrived just before 07:30 as planned. I was reluctant to warm up, as it was cold enough to discourage me from peeling off my jacket. I was surprised to bump into Louis. We chatted for a while before I started to lightly jog around the campus, while suffering the indignity of repeatedly being addressed as "Oom".

    The briefing started at 07:55 sharp. Prof. Holm was asked to say a few words. Fortunately, he obliged. A large crowd was in attendance, perhaps over 500. We started on time. The terrain is very flat and we mostly ran on good paved surfaces. I gradually slid back from 35th to 45th place, then gradually regained some ground to about 40th. I was surprised to see Hanri and Alet jogging briskly towards the start of the second lap. I saw all the distance markers except 3 km, and was constantly just outside the 5:00/km mark. I had to start walking in the last km or two but still managed to finish in just over 25 minutes. To my surprise, I was handed the 35th tag. Louis finished just over a minute later. I walked back along the route to meet Hanri and Marize coming the other way. My amazement had not been misplaced; the jogger with Hanri had definitely not been Alet. I joined the two sisters for the last km or so. They finished together inside 37 minutes. Alet arrived around 50 minutes, looking shattered.

    We stood chatting for a while, until Hanri and co. set off, followed soon after by Louis. Alet did some window shopping at the student stalls, before exchanging notes with Prof. Holm about family connections for a while. The results show some discrepancies. Apart from my own finish that seems a little better than anticipated, Alet's time is shown as over 51 minutes, probably about a minute more than her actual time. It is great news to have "O" in the bag—just four to go (J, Q, X and Y)! Q, X and Y are not available locally, so it's clearly time to find a "J" nearby.

    The Good: Unexpectedly completing the letter "O" without having to drive to Oudtshoorn. Flat route. Good organisation with good distance markers.

    The Bad: I was really hoping to do better than 25 minutes on such flat terrain!

    The Ugly: Repeatedly being called "Oom" by young adults. Really? Do I really look that battered?

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    Pick n Pay and Irene Village Mall 5 km, 10 km and half marathon, Wednesday 2023-08-09 at 07:00

    Goal: Survive a half marathon unscathed. Less than 2:15 would be nice.

    With the Marathon marathon only three months away, I will need to start doing some real distances again. I was delighted to see that there would be a half marathon not too far from home on Women's Day. Laurens is not quite ready for the big time yet. Hanri, Alet, Walter and Ken had other plans. Accordingly, I woke up at 06:00 and set off on my own. I found parking inside the Mall and joined a long queue at the entry table. I arrived at the start line with five minutes to spare, exchanging niceties with Iain while we waited. I did not hear a start signal, but saw the runners surging ahead, about a minute later than scheduled.

    I was uncomfortable initially. It was rather cold and I was somewhat stiff. We passed the first three distance markers at a pace of about 6:20/km. I was happy with the leisurely pace, as I was wary of cracking halfway. I haven't done these distances in more than four months. I ran with Lesley for a while. I chirped her about the "Easy" label on her vest, but she assured me that she isn't. A guy in a cow suit with a moving second on a bicycle was playing loud music—quite disruptive. A Phobians runner, clearly desperate for company, started extolling the virtues of Coach Parry's programme. I clearly appear to be in need of coaching these days.

    There were some serious hills in places. Nevertheless, I gradually managed to improve the pace. As the second lap commenced, I was briefly tempted to follow Lammie, who turned left towards the finish. I resisted the temptation, valiantly turning right to face the second lap. I passed the 10 km mark at 59:40. At this rate, I could hope for 2:06, well inside my original goal! I managed to leave the cow and his entourage behind. Silence, at last. Around 15 km, my right shoulder started hurting. I knew that the distance would be a challenge, but I didn't think my shoulder would be the weakest link! I just kept going. The pain gradually subsided, but never quite went away. Keeping up the pace took considerable resolve. Nevertheless, I managed to finish in 2:05:20, almost 10 minutes inside my goal and at a pace of better than 6:00/km.

    I spent a few minutes at the Club tent. How did Hennie know that ginger biscuits are my weak spot?

    The Good: Surviving a half marathon. Well-organised race. Reasonable entry fee. Good distance markers and marshalling. Mostly a flat route with almost no traffic. Ginger biscuits at the Club tent.

    The Bad: The cow emulator with his suspect choice of music.

    The Ugly: The shoulder injury. Let's hope I can get it under control without disrupting my training schedule!

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    Delta Parkrun, Saturday 2023-07-22 at 08:00

    Goal: Pilgrimage to the first South African Parkrun location. Help Alet to complete her Name Badge.

    After several busy weekends, I decided to tackle the Delta Parkrun. It was the location of the first South African Parkrun, so I suppose we had to do it sooner or later. In addition, Alet needed only "D" to complete her Name Badge award. Laurens accepted the invitation, but wasn't sure whether TA would join us. After far too little sleep, I collected Alet from her home around 06:30 and Laurens a little later, sans TA. We arrived just before 07:30. I had trouble warming up. It was cold enough that I was unwilling to shed my warm jacket. I jogged in place initially, but eventually completed about 2 km in my polar bear kit. I was amazed to see all the preparations for an ASA-sanctioned trail event later in the day, in the same park. We locked up our warm clothing and joined the crowd at the start. I had no sense of direction, something that very seldom happens. The gloomy overcast made it impossible to even see where the sun was, and the meandering route from the freeway didn't help. We started about two minutes late. Around the first corner, I was in 42nd place. The first runner was well on his way to disappearing into the distance. A mother and her son were running just ahead of me. About 10 minutes in, they cracked and slowed down. I gradually worked my way up to 28th place, but in the last quarter I started running out of steam and slipped back into 33rd.

    I finished in just under 28 minutes, and was astonished to receive tag number 40. I'm pretty certain they must have logged a few phantoms. I joined a group of earlier finishers. I quipped that I hoped they were all over 60, so that at least I could make it into the Top 10 for my age group! We discussed various Parkruns and swapped tall tales. Rodney had completed 105 different events. He was interested to hear about my Leeupoort experience, as it is his nearest remaining new event. Amazing—not one Parkrun within two hours' drive remains! Laurens finished about 10 minutes behind me and struck up a conversation with an acquaintance. Alet finished another 20 minutes later. We found our way back to the car and tackled the road home. The N1 was closed for construction work, so we deviated off the beaten path. We took the opportunity to grab a hearty breakfast at Brooklyn Mall.

    The official results show 16 "Unknown"s ahead of me, confirming my suspicion that the results were a little iffy. Not that it makes much difference—nothing changes the fact that I'm an also-ran with an even more lacklustre performance than usual! Even so, I did win my age category—not a very glorious achievement in the knowledge that three older guys had beaten me to it...

    The Good: Attending South Africa's first Parkrun venue. Helping Alet to complete her Name Badge award.

    The Bad: No distance markers. Few route markers—many turn points were unmarked (thank goodness I didn't have to lead the way!).

    The Ugly: Almost 28 minutes!?

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    Polokwane Parkrun, Saturday 2023-07-08 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun with a "P". 25 minutes would be nice.

    The nearest Parkrun with a missing letter is Polokwane. It's still a serious drive, but Alet has friends in town, and we decided to combine the Parkrun with a visit to them. We drove there after work on Friday, spending a delightful evening with Deon and Magrietha. They dropped me off some 2 km from the Parkrun venue. I used the opportunity to warm up, arriving at the venue around 07:50. After a few announcements, we started pretty much on time.

    As is often the case, a bunch of young kids surged ahead. For the first 800 m or so, I could hear Deon's dog George heavy-breathing behind me. I settled into eight place, where I more or less remained. About 2 km in, a man in red sailed past and delivered a lecture about my terrible arm technique and how it hurts my running. At last—that explains why I've never broken the world marathon record! For several km, I pursued a young girl in a bikini top. I caught Alet and Magrietha towards the end of the first lap. They were clearly not in a hurry. I finished in eighth place in well under 25 minutes, just ahead of Bikini Girl. Deon and George (not in that order) finished about a minute behind me. I tackled the 5 km home, feeling rather the worse for wear. At least I arrived just before the rest of the party. It took considerable effort to appear nonchalant as they drove up...

    The Good: Another Parkrun letter in the bag—just five to go! Finishing in the Fastest 500 for a Parkrun with 350 events.

    The Bad: No distance markers.

    The Ugly: 5 km is a long way to run just after a best-effort Parkrun!

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    Ennerdale Stadium Parkrun, Saturday 2023-06-17 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun event number 18. Under 26 minutes would be nice.

    Seeing that both Laurens and Alet need an "E" Parkrun and I need a Number 14, I was planning to hit Ennerdale Parkrun this Saturday. Laurens chickened out due to other plans—the Number 7 on offer at Moreleta apparently proved irresistable. Accordlingly, I collected Alet at her house just after 06:30. We drove through patches of dense fog, arriving a little later than the planned 07:30. I got distracted by two tourists, Gerhard and Hettie, who were also there to collect Number 14. I barely had 10 minutes to warm up before the briefing started. I was perturbed to notice the two illegal electricity connections overhead, for the squatter camp next door.

    As could be expected, the briefing was jovial and witty. The complicated route gave the director much to talk about. We started about three minutes late. Another tourist in green led a pack of youngsters at speed, leaving me in sixth place. The route is almost perfectly level, but the surface was uneven, with dense grass in places. I completed the first lap at just over 12 minutes. In the light of my recent experience, that seemed much too fast. I managed to maintain the pace fairly well, with the odd walk to regain my breath. Around 4 km in, I was chasing a youngster. He also took the occasional walk break, but I could never quite catch him. I finished in fourth place in just over 24 minutes—a very pleasant surprise indeed. I didn't think I had it in me any longer.

    I tackled a third lap, passing Alet and a companion and joining Gerhard and Hettie to compare notes about opportunities for new Parkruns. They mostly confirmed my understanding, also mentioning that late May was a good time to travel around Europe for some special days. If I were a rich man...

    The Good: Parkrun Number 14. Finishing well under 25 minutes.

    The Bad: No distance markers. Uneven surface.

    The Ugly: The ransacked buildings in an otherwise nice stadium and the illegal electricty connections.

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    Zastron Commons Parkrun, Saturday 2023-06-17 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun with a "Z". Parkrun event number 18. Under 28 minutes would be nice.

    After three weeks with the sniffles, I'm mostly ready to resume my life. The plan was to visit the Zastron Parkrun for my first "Z" and my first Event Number 18. Alet was keen to go along, but had to cancel due to a family funeral. I had to do some serious thinking about whether I should continue. I decided to proceed with my balloon scouting trip, the Zastron Parkrun and a visit to my friend Bernie, as I wouldn't soon get another long weekend to accommodate the serious travel time. I also wanted to catch this Parkrun while it is still available, as I have some doubts about its sustainability.

    After the previous day's six-hour drive, I spent the night in a guest house. I left on foot around 07:30. It was cold, probably less than 10°C. I arrived a few minutes before the start, properly warmed up. A vehicle disgorged some tourists, one of them by the name of Tracy. The Tracy? Sure enough; the bright blue "500" T-shirt confirmed my suspicions. The briefing was complete by 08:00, but we waited almost two minutes for four late arrivals. Tracy asked me if I wasn't feeling cold, with only a T-shirt. I responded that I would soon be comfortable, while they would soon regret their warm attire. Two youngsters started quickly, with me in third place and Tracy just behind me. The cattle trail was uncomfortably narrow. It was hard to run in the trail without stumbling. Running outside the rut was complicated by loose stones and thick grass. Another youngster passed us around the 1 km mark, while struggling uphill. Tracy also passed me soon after. I was now in fifth place, with no-one close behind me. The three weeks of inactivity took their toll, as I struggled to maintain the pace. Nevertheless, I managed to enter the second lap just 7 s behind Tracy. Climbing the hill the second time, I gradually lost ground. By the time we reached the highest point, I was probably at least 15 s adrift. I careened downhill as fast as I could, fearing that I might just slip outside the dreaded 30-minute mark. Despite my best efforts, I arrived more than half a minute behind Tracy, in just about exactly 30 minutes. Arghhhh.

    Tracy and I struck up a conversation—about Parkrun tourism, no less. We walked back along the route to find her companions, who were decidedly slower than she was. She did concede that she'd felt uncomfortably hot during the run. So there. After about fifteen minutes of chatting, I left to make my way back to the guesthouse. A long day lay ahead, not to mention the two-hour drive that awaited me.

    The results are somewhat strange. The two winners shared the same time, as did numbers 3 and 4. Tracy, who should have been about a minute before me, shared the previous finisher's 27:45. I ended up with a rather disgraceful 30:00, on the nose. Tracy's Strava profile shows her time as 28:57, which makes a lot more sense. It also shows a climb of 115 m. See, I wasn't kidding about that uphill!

    The Good: Notching up another alphabet letter. Just six to go.

    The Bad: No distance markers. Narrow trail with uneven surface and serious climbs.

    The Ugly: Busting the Big Three Zero for the first time in years...

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    Red Star Parkrun, Thursday 2023-04-27 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun on a Thursday. Under 26 minutes would be nice.

    I was planning to run the Jock Trail Parkrun today, but events this week made it clear that the trip was going to be an ordeal. I decided to look for options closer to home. Only four Parkruns were going to be held within 100 km of my house today. Three were big events with hundreds of participants. One was smaller—Red Star. It was also going to be their Event Number 100. I invited four people; Alet and Laurens accepted. Laurens and I both arrived at Alet's house at 06:30, leaving soon after in Laurens's car. Most of the route was foggy, forcing us to slow down in places. Nevertheless, we arrived at 07:30 as planned. I ran about 2 km to warm up. On the way, I bumped into Wim and Rina and stopped briefly to chat. Laurens stayed at the car to don his moonboot, apparently as a reminder not to start running and aggravate his injury.

    Announcements started very shortly before 08:00. Fortunately, they were short and sweet, and we started less than a minute late. The field was much bigger than expected, probably around 200 runners. I settled into about 15th place. The route was very flat, with only minor undulations. There was no camber. I attempted to stick to the racing line, staying inside in the turns and running diagonally across the straights. We stayed on the racetrack, but backtracked a portion of the track just before the finish to make up the full 5 km. There were no distance markers. Around the 3 km mark, a lady of a certain age with a green Parkrun shirt sailed by. I unsuccessfully tried to keep up. She gradually opened a gap of about 100 m. The last 200 m or so included a gradual climb. I was pleasantly surprised to finish just under 26 minutes, in 15th place.

    Laurens hobbled home in just under 40 minutes, with Alet following around the 50 minute mark. Fortunately, the fog had lifted and we drove home quite uneventfully. As I've noticed in recent months, an intense Parkrun does not leave me unscathed. I was decidedly stiff and sore when we arrived back in Pretoria, with my left knee and ITB reminding me that I need to be more careful.

    The Good: Flat course with a great surface. A Thursday Parkrun! Just Monday and Friday to go...

    The Bad: No distance markers.

    The Ugly: Why does a 5 km Parkrun cause as much damage as a half marathon?

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    Ferryvale Parkrun, Saturday 2023-04-01 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun with "F". Under 26 minutes would be nice.

    This week, my Tuesday session was derailed by a 13-hour meeting, while my Thursday session was truncated by leaden legs. Accordingly, I decided that a Parkrun was just the ticket for this weekend. The nearest useful one would give me an "F", one of the letters I still need (along with J, O, P, Q, X, Y and Z). Most of my usual companions were unenthusiastic or unavailable, but Alet hitched a ride at 06:20. I would have preferred the highway, but decided to follow Waze's directions onto the scenic route through the drab surroundings of Benoni and Springs. We arrived at 07:35. I warmed up for not quite 2 km, stopping at the Jewish cemetery to look around. The grass on the trail was neatly trimmed, but the surface was somewhat uneven. We would have to be careful. At the finish, I exchanged some banter with the volunteers. The announcements were short and sweet, and we started about a minute late. I was in second place, just behind a young man with some spare flesh around the waist. About 1 km into the first lap, two scrawny athletes shot past and receded into the distance. I struggled to maintain my pace, feeling a little stiff—probably a remnant from last week's ordeal.

    I passed the halfway mark sixth, in 13:15. I'd struggled past the early leader and been passed by another scrawny athlete and a woman pursued by a young man with huge ear piercings. I gradually caught up with Big Ears, eventually passing him about two-thirds through the second lap. I finished fifth in just under 27 minutes. I was a little disappointed, but one of the preceding athletes explained that the route was around 5,2 km, rather than the advertised five. I suppose I can rationalise my failure to break 26 minutes that way...

    I ambled across a field to join Alet and her companion Lala on the second lap. They were chatting incessantly. I ran ahead, harassing Lala's daughter Lizelle along the way before making another stop at the Jewish cemetery. Alet and Lala finished in just over 50 minutes. On the way home, we did some shopping in Boksburg, as one does on a Saturday.

    The Good: Notching up another new letter of the Parkrun alphabet. Just seven to go...

    The Bad: No distance markers.

    The Ugly: One would think that it shouldn't take weeks to recover from a 32 km race!

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    Kolonnade 32 km/15 km/5 km, Saturday 2023-03-25 at 06:00

    Goal: Survive 32 km. 3:30 would be nice.

    Having survived three half marathons more or less intact, I wondered whether I could tackle a 32 km race. I could probably survive if I slowed down enough. I invited Marita, but she had other plans for the weekend. I invited Hanri, but she is planning a 48 km race next weekend. I was going to invite Laurens, but he is still suffering from his foot injury. My luck changed when I spoke to Walter on Thursday. He told me that he and Ken had been thinking along exactly the same lines. He would confirm on Friday night. And so he did. I had great misgivings when I got up, as it was raining. I met Walter and Ken at Walter's house at 05:00, and it was still drizzling. We found parking, entered and returned to the car for a short break. Timing was perfect—it stopped drizzling just before the start. The bunch was huge—almost like in the olden days.

    We started about a minute late. We were planning a pace of 6:30/km. Ken and I were comfortable at that pace, gaining just a few seconds over the first 3 km. Walter was chomping at the bit. Wayne came sailing past. We meandered through the streets of Montana, with a few nasty but short hills here and there. Hendrik ran with us for perhaps an hour, amazingly without his nieces. Both Ken and I found the pace uncomfortable. Nevertheless, we maintained our pace within seconds, passing the start and the 15 km mark just a few seconds early. Walter decided early in the second lap to leave us behind. I think we were all relieved. In the 2 km loop on the second lap, Walter was running with Lesley, perhaps two minutes ahead. Wayne was also perhaps a minute ahead, with Mandy and her daughter a few seconds ahead. I was suffering. My glutei maximi and my left knee were decidedly tender. A young girl in a long skirt ran with us for a long time, maintaining a constant pace while we were running and walking. She had lettering on her top: FAS. The rest was covered up by her race number. Halfway through the second lap, I asked her what the lettering was supposed to say. It turned out that it was "faster". Thank goodness I didn't realise that earlier.

    After the 24 km mark, I decided that I wasn't going to be able to maintain the pace. I encouraged Ken to go ahead. He did, gradually leaving me behind. I walked perhaps a quarter of the time, gradually lagging further and further behind my target pace. With only 1 km to go, Ms FAS was still with me. I finished relatively strongly, but in just under 3:40. Ken and Walter were waiting at the finish. I noticed that the Agape club tent was already being packed up. I suppose that doesn't count as a compliment...

    Our timing wasn't bad. As we drove out of the parking lot, it started raining. I was very, very grateful that I wasn't on the road any more!

    The Good: I survived 32 km for the first time since Comrades. Well-organised. Great weather conditions.

    The Bad: These legs are definitely not in good shape.

    The Ugly: 32 km is a long, long way.

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    Carnival City Parkrun, Saturday 2023-03-11 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun event number 12. Hopefully return to below 28 minutes...

    My running has had to take a back seat this week. I didn't run on the previous weekend. I didn't run on Thursday, as Hanri had other fish to fry. With a total of 10 km on the clock for the entire week, I suppose I should have tackled the Bobbies half marathon. Instead, I resolved to do the Carnival City Parkrun, where event number 12 was taking place. I collected Alet at 06:20 and Laurens at 06:40 (generously ignoring minor deviations in both cases) and arrived at the venue exactly at 07:30. I set off by myself to warm up, as Laurens is still nursing a foot injury. The area seemed perfect for a Parkrun. The trail wound through a large grass field with wooded areas here and there. There was some evidence of mud, but after a few rainless days the mud was not going to be a major factor. I was decidedly lazy, covering not quite 2 km in my warmup. I made a quick pit stop before reporting at the start line. Announcements were relatively brief and we started less than a minute late. The field was large, perhaps over 300 runners. At least a dozen dogs were in attendance.

    I settled into a relatively fast rhythm. The customary primary school kids had dropped out when we reached the 1 km mark. I was around 20th position. The time worried me—we were well under five minutes, a pace that I could certainly not sustain. I deliberately slowed down. The next km passed in almost exactly five minutes. It was somewhat more reasonable, but still probably faster than I could sustain. I started walking fairly regularly, hoping that I would regain my aerobic state before it was too late. The remainder of the route was completely routine, except for the youngster wearing a headset and weaving from side to side. He almost tripped me up several times, but remained blissfully unaware of his effect on those behind him. By the time the 4 km mark went by, I was well on my way to a respectable finish, well below the 28-minute mark that I have been maintaining recently.

    The last km required considerable resolve. I walked perhaps a quarter of the time, finally crossing the line at just over 26 minutes. Two runners passed me in this phase. I expected to be 23rd, but actually received tag number 21. I was pleased, both in terms of my placing and in terms of my time. Perhaps I'll finally return to some semblance of fitness one day...

    Laurens arrived about three minutes later in 50th place. We sat down in the shade. A woman joined us and chatted about Parkruns (what else?). I introduced her to the magic of Parkrun tourism, something she had never heard of. With her 370-odd Parkruns, she is bound to qualify for many milestones! Finally, Alet arrived and we set off. On the way home, we stopped at an appliance shop and at a breakfast joint. It turned out to be an enjoyable morning. Now if I can soon catch forty winks, it could be a great Saturday!

    The Good: Great route. Good distance markers. Returning to a slightly more respectable time.

    The Bad: Not much, really.

    The Ugly: The gamblers' trap next door. Even the once-festive decorations have become decidedly tatty.

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    ACE anniversary race (5 km/10 km/half marathon), Saturday 2023-02-06 at 06:00

    Goal: Survive the half marathon. 6:00/km would be nice.

    I don't know why I can't resist the relentless peer pressure. Despite desperate sleep deprivation, I was woken at 04:50 by my alarm clock. Despite the heavy rain of the last few days, Laurens had promised that it wouldn't rain today. He lied. I found my way to our meeting point through patches of not-so-gentle rain. At the meeting point, it started persistently raining. Laurens and Hanri were late. I phoned them to cancel. Hanri was having none of it. They collected me around 05:40. I explained to Hanri how she just had to go north on Hans Coverdale West, then east on Hans Coverdale North, then south on Hans Coverdale East, then west on Hans Coverdale South, and then repeat. She didn't seem like my directions were helpful, but she did express her profound gratitude. While frowning.

    It was raining. Traffic was lighter than I expected, but we got stuck in a motorcade of Outsurance traffic wardens. They must have loved the rain their bikes were negotiating. There were few cars, and we found parking right at the gate. Laurens and Hanri had pre-entered, so I ran inside alone. I entered within seconds, ran outside and found my way to the start. It was raining. I found Laurens and Hanri mid-bunch. I saw Melani up ahead. We started about three minutes late. It was raining. I puddle-hopped to keep my shoes as dry as possible. We negotiated the winding roads around Hans Coverdale West. There were few spectators, completely ruining the festive atmosphere that this race is famous for.

    We climbed up the hill. It was raining. I walked occasionally, gradually losing time to my planned pace. Despite my best efforts, my shoes were completely soaked by the 5 km mark. At least the loud band that is normally at the highest point was not there. I suppose it is because it was raining. Unfortunately they were there, just a few hundred metres down the road. On the descent, I managed to make up a bit of time. I noticed that the distance markers were broken; the 18 km marker was just after the 7 km marker, and all the following markers were similarly displaced. I passed the 10 km mark about three minutes late.

    As I entered the second lap, I was sorely tempted to quit. Sorely, because my right foot was hurting. My thighs were chafing, as the rain turned my shorts into sandpaper. A runner next to me berated me because "you white people" apparently never pitch up for township races. He'd said so himself on Facebook this week, so it had to be true. I pointed out the obvious observation that I'm mostly white, by all appearances. He told me to shut up and listen to him for a change. I did. It was raining. Climbing the hill for the second time, I lost lots of time. Around the 16 km mark, Hanri and Lindsay caught me from behind. Laurens was nowhere to be seen. I asked her, and she told me that he'd told her to continue without him. I just hoped that the same fate wasn't going to befall me. In the loop on the second lap, I realised that my directions had been incomplete. Just before turning into Helium for the highest climb, we went west in Hans Coverdale North for a while. I have to remember that for next time.

    On the descent, it was raining. I managed to catch Hanri, who had gained on me in the climb. Around the 18 km mark, I managed to gain a lead on Hanri and her clubmate. I occasionally walked, but they stayed just behind me. As we entered the venue, I heard an official welcoming "Phobians" just behind me. I could even hear the chatter between Hanri and her clubmate. The ground was muddy and plastic tape barred us from running on the relatively dry patches. It was raining. I slogged around the track with my shoes sinking up to 50 mm into the ground. I finished in 2:12-odd, with Hanri right behind me. The runners in the lane ahead of me were in no hurry. We slowly sauntered through water up to 200 mm deep. It was raining. I heard the announcement that Danie had won the veteran category.

    I made my way to the Agape tent, where Hennie and Marix were in attendance. Josias was sipping a hot coffee. Hennie announced that he had my 2023 licence, but that he had lost our club's block of short numbers. After almost a decade, I was going to lose my AGN66 in favour of some random number with 17 digits. I was inconsolable. I was even more inconsolable when Hanri declined our magnanimous invitation to breakfast. What is wrong with her? Laurens dropped me off, then dropped her off, then joined me for a hearty breakfast. I could hardly walk due to the chafed thighs. It was raining.

    The Good: I suppose I survived another half marathon. And I beat Hanri.

    The Bad: Plodding through incessant rain. Few spectators. Losing my favourite number.

    The Ugly: Having my tender li'l skin grated beyond repair.

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    Intercare (5 km/10 km/half marathon), Saturday 2023-02-06 at 06:00

    Goal: Improve on the previous half marathon. 6:00/km would be nice.

    Having actually survived a half marathon, I felt bold enough to try another one this week. Laurens was planning to do the 10 km race. Hanri was going to do her own thing a little later in the day. Ken informed me that Walter was going to collect him at 05:15. I could not get in touch with Walter, so I decided to arrive at his house at 05:05. I met him on the street a block from his house. He fortunately spotted me, allowing me to park in his yard and hop into his car. We collected Ken and arrived at the venue around 05:40. We easily found parking, entered and sauntered to the start. We positioned ourselves around a third from the front. I briefly chatted to Iain, who now sports a "75" age category badge.

    We started exactly on time. I wallowed awkwardly, suffering from after-effects of a Friday morning run. I was hoping to beat 6:00/km. At the 1 km mark, I was about 45 s behind schedule. Hendrik ran just ahead of me. To my amazement, he didnít have a niece with him. We soon tackled the climb to Stanza Bopape Street. Passing the Presidency, I was around 80 s behind the pace. I wasnít too worried, as I could make up on the descent back towards Soutpansberg Road. Ken and Walter stayed just behind me. On the descent, the lead car for the 10 km race passed us. The leader passed the 7 km mark at 22 minutesójust outside 3:00/km! Walter and Ken cruised past on the descent. As I struggled to make up the deficit, they took a break at a water point. I sailed past, reaching the 10 km mark about 20 s inside the pace. I was feeling relatively well, but by no means unscathed.

    I took a walk break to consume a gel on the way up the hill. Walter and Ken passed me at the Union Buildings. Passing Colbyn, I was again lagging just over a minute behind the pace. This time, I used the descent to good effect, but on the flats I was struggling to make up lost time. I edged past Ken and Walter. At the 19 km mark, I was about 40 s behind the pace. I would have to maintain a 5:20/km pace to make up the deficit. At least the terrain was relatively flat, maybe even slightly downhill. I was surprised to see Melani in front of me, and even more surprised that I was able to overtake her. The last km or two became a test of endurance, as I was feeling decidedly worn by now. A final nasty surprise waited at the finish: The grass was untrimmed and soaked, with my shoes sinking into the messy quagmire. I finished just under 2:07, about 25 s outside the pace. I suppose I could always pretend that the time we lost at the start is at fault...

    Despite the unspectacular time, I am satisfied. I have not entered for Comrades, but I would like to keep up with Laurens and Hanri in their training programme, and being unable to do real distance would make it hard to do so. I am pleased that I am regaining some ability to plod through at least moderate distances again.

    The Good: Perfect running weather. Good arrangements and distance markers. Grapetiser afterwards, courtesy of Ken.

    The Bad: Missing my target by half a minute, despite my best efforts.

    The Ugly: Having to walk back to the car.

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    George Claassen Back-to-Back Challenge (5 km/10 km/half marathon), Saturday 2023-01-21 at 06:00

    Goal: Survive unscathed.

    I haven't exceeded 10 km in a single session since August. I couldn't keep up with the group in the 8 km time trial on Tuesday. I'm therefore not sure how I allowed Hanri to talk me into a half marathon. Especially not one that scales the lofty heights of the Magalies ridge—twice! Nevertheless, I dutifully went to bed early and rose to the sound of my alarm clock at 05:15. Hanri did not answer her phone, so I had no arrangements to meet her. I had a hasty breakfast before hitting the road, arriving at the Faerie Glen Pick n Pay at 05:45. I found parking inside, within spitting distance of the entry tables. I carefully looked out for Hanri, without success. I decided to start near the front of the bunch, hoping that Hanri would overtake me sooner or later.

    We started exactly at 06:00. I didn't even set my stopwatch. I had very little strategy to work with. Perhaps the full extent of it was that I would not go faster than 6:00/km. To do so would amount to suicide. At 1 and 2 km, I was on track. I gradually overtook Ken. He didn't notice me, or at least he didn't respond. Elma asked if I would be running Comrades again. She obviously doesn't know me well. The third kilometre went by a little too quickly, so I restrained myself. Soon, we started hitting the uphills. I passed the Lombards' house. I envied them, as their curtains were still drawn. Mandy sailed past. A couple from Harrismith ran down the hill, speculating about a coming steep climb. I told them to look out for the name "Stonewall". If they saw that name, they would know. A R 20 note lay on the road. I saw several runners do a double-take, but no-one stopped to pick it up. I'm not sure if it reflects on the steepness of the downhill or on the value of our currrency. As we hit Stonewall, Ken was about 200 m ahead. I lost about three minutes on that climb. I had a gel and some water around the one-third mark. Sailing downhill towards the halfway mark, I heard a snide remark about Cannibals Cave behind me. Pieter O turned right to the finish, while I turned left for more of the same. I found it amusing that he knew about my recent The Reeds results, and I about his. I passed the 10 km mark at 1:03.

    I chatted to Adelle, complaining loudly that Hanri had lured me into this torture and then let me down. Adelle agreed that Hanri owed me. We scaled Stonewall again, turning right into the loop. To my amazement, Ken was just 200 m ahead of me. I lost another six minutes on the climb. I had another gel around the two-thirds mark. I found Neville in front of his house. I was delighted to hear that he had run the 10 km race. He seems to be almost back to normality! In the loop, I saw Ken ahead and Hanri behind. I berated her for letting me down. She berated me for running away from her. The last 3 km was a test of endurance. I tried to keep the speed up, but had to take regular walks to survive. Elma and Wayne passed me on the descent, gradually disappearing into the distance. I finished in just under 2:17. Hanri finished under a minute later—she'd obviously caught up on the last stretch.

    I could not find my car. I suppose my glycogen level was pretty low. Hanri helped me look for it. I really thought for a while that my car might have found a new owner. I was very happy for my car, but I could hardly imagine the disruption, with credit cards, tools, ID cards, keys and whatever else needing replacement. Fortunately, I eventually found my car, just where I had left it, and perhaps 100 m from where I was looking. I dropped Hanri at her car—uhm—truck.

    I'm relieved that I was able to survive a half marathon. Given that I'd struggled to keep up with the 8 km time trial on Tuesday, I wasn't sure that I could make it, but I appear to be relatively unscathed. My left knee and my hips are slightly sore, but I'm hoping I'll be back to normal this week.

    The Good: Surviving a half marathon.

    The Bad: CGA10612 with his ghetto blaster.

    The Ugly: 2:17...

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    The Reeds Parkrun, Saturday 2023-01-14 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun event number 15.

    With my Parkrun project behind me, I had the choice of either never doing a Parkrun again, or swallowing the indignity of earning a 50 shirt and pursuing a few secondary goals. I opted for the latter.

    Iíve completed event numbers 1 to 11. I decided to use the opportunity to add another relatively low event number, as The Reeds was presenting its event 15 this weekend. Invitations to Alet, Hanri, Ken and Elaine went unheeded. Laurens agreed to come, although he was adamant he wanted to drive separately due to other commitments. Accordingly, I left home alone, a few minutes late, and arrived at the venue around 07:35. I didn't strap my rib cage; I was hoping that I wasn't setting myself up for failure. To warm up, I jogged and (mostly) walked about 3 km on the route. I met Laurens coming the other way, just a few hundred metres from the start.

    The run director provided a briefing that contained a lot of waffle and little information. We started exactly on time. Unusually, there were no primary school kids ahead of me. The surface was very uneven, but relatively level. After about 1 km, I was jockeying for position between ninth and 13th place. I passed the 2 km marker at 10:15, much too fast. Soon after, a young man with a dog and a woman passed me. 3 km came just under 16 minutes. The dog took a toilet break, and I was able to sail past. There was no-one behind me for at least a minute, but there were several runners in front of me. I gnashed my teeth to try and keep up, without much success. The pace stayed just below 6:00/km, right to the end.

    I finished in somewhat over 28 minutes, in 13th place. Laurens came home about three minutes later, in 22nd place. At least weíll both make it into the Fastest 500. That's the advantage of a low event number, after all!

    The Good: Getting Parkrun event number 15.

    The Bad: Uneven surface. No 1 km distance marker. Over 28 minutes, yet again!

    The Ugly: I'll have to get used to this red "50" flag next to my name...

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    Cannibals Cave Parkrun, Saturday 2023-01-07 at 08:00

    Goal: Wrap up my Parkrun project.

    The time has finally come: I need to do the Cannibals Cave Parkrun. It will be my 49th Parkrun. It will be my 48th different venue. It will be my first Parkrun with a "C", the last letter I need to spell my registered Parkrun name. And it will be the last Parkrun I can do without earning that pesky "50" banner before my name in the Parkrun Tourist list.

    Itís a bit of a drive, so I needed an excuse. The excuse came in the form of an invitation from Alet to join a family weekend in the Drakensberg. I decided to take the plunge. To make the drive worth while, I would also try to do some balloon flying in the same area.

    Unfortunately, my balloon flying plans did not pan out. By Friday morning, I had more or less resolved not to take my balloon. There was another potential complication: KZN was subject to torrential rains. As that particular Parkrun has a history of being thwarted by flooding, Alet was concerned that it might be cancelled. I checked their Website, which showed no indication of a pending cancellation. I also stumbled across Pieter Oís name in last weekís results. It gave me a great excuse to call him and catch up. He provided me with a lot of useful information about the environment and the Parkrun, having just returned from a fortnight in that area.

    On Friday afternoon after work, I had to decide whether I was going to run the risk of driving down despite some uncertainty about the Parkrun. I decided to take the plunge. I arrived in the Champagne Valley around 21:00, and made my way to bed around 22:30. By then, there was considerable uncertainty about who would join us the next morning. Some felt that the nearby Winterton Parkrun offered a much less painful and less risky alternative. I had a restive nightís sleep, due inter alia to my cracked rib. Pain woke me up at least half a dozen times. Nevertheless, I woke up refreshed at 05:40, a few minutes before the alarm clock. I left shortly after 06:00, with Alet, Lia, Stoffel and Lategan in the car.

    En route, I kept my eyes peeled for balloons. Sure enough, approaching Winterton I noticed a passenger balloon in a field. I drove off the road, but could not get all the way to the balloon to say hello. The ground was soaked, and I dared not enter the field for fear of getting bogged down. I left a message with the recovery bus driver and continued towards Cannibals Cave. We arrived exactly at 07:30 as planned, taking a drive up the road to explore the route. An orange marker was placed at the turn point. The route was forebodingly steep, but it was all on a tarred road, if you ignore the huge pile of debris at the entrance to the bridge. At least there was enough space for a vehicle to squeak by.

    After the scouting trip, I started warming up. I quickly became aware that Iíd forgotten to strap my fragile rib cage. After corrective action, I did a further 2 km before returning to the start.

    Lizzy was unavailable, being somewhat unwell and having to look after an ailing parent. This time, there were around 20 starters. Muzi, the run director, did the briefing. It was to the point and clear, and we set off just after 08:00. Stoffel and Lategan stormed ahead. I restrained myself, starting only slightly too fast. After about five minutes, they led me by about 100 and 10 m respectively. Climbing up a steep hill, Lategan suddenly started walking. I struggled past, slowly catching up on Stoffel. Soon, a forty-something man wearing earpieces slowly cruised past and attached himself to Stoffel. They turned almost together, about 1:20 before me. No-one was visible behind me. I continued to walk and run, while watching the two leaders slowly recede into the distance. Alet and Lia were doing the tail walker thing. I passed them about halfway home. There was another runner behind them, making good time—probably a late starter. I finished around 28:07, slower than usual but probably not too bad, given the slopes. Stoffel was prostrate on the grass, having beaten the Space Cadet for first prize. At least he was paying for his exuberance. I struck up a conversation with Muzi, while around 23 runners finished. Lategan came home 10th. As expected, the intrepid tail walkers came home last, in about 1:09. We chatted to Muzi for a while longer, then headed home. The 90-minute drive was interrupted by four shopping stops and brunch. We even had the opportunity to watch a medevac from El Mirador in a Bell 430, before arriving home well after mid-day.

    My Parkrun project is finally over. Iíve completed 49 Parkruns in 48 locations. Iím the top South African Parkrun tourist without a T-shirt. Iíve completed event numbers 1 to 11. Iíve spelled my name using Parkrun event names. Iíve done a Parkrun in every month of the year. There are a few remaining goals, though. One is to do a Parkrun on every day of the week. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are in the bag. Monday, Thursday and Friday remain. Unfortunately, opportunities to complete the full set are few and far between, so that project will take some time. The other is to complete all provinces; only EC and NC remain. Iíll have to decide if itís worth it to get labelled as a T-shirt winner, though. I donít want anyone to get the impression that Iím serious about ParkrunsÖ

    The Good: Finally completing my Parkrun project, very efficiently. And getting that legendary "Cannibals Cave" in my list.

    The Bad: No distance markers.

    The Ugly: These youngsters show no respect!

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    New Year Run/Walk, Monday 2023-01-02 at 07:00

    Goal: 10 km, hopefully under hour.

    Hanri bullied me into this race. I just wanted to sleep. I left home at 06:15, arriving at the Botanical Gardens around 06:35. I entered easily, stopping at the Agape club tent before the start. I was able to finally complete my ASA enrolment forms for 2023. Laurens had apparently withdrawn due to a painful foot. I carefully wrapped my rib cage. Old age is not for sissies! Hanri, Louis, Ken, Walter and I started in the right hand corner of the bunch, mostly to avoid the overpowering noise from the PA speakers. There were several speeches, including one that proclaimed the presence of the "legends and stalwarts" of athletics, including himself. The speech also included a surprise: The route would be over 11 km, not 10 as advertised. A pastor led a prayer, and we were off, a few minutes late. I started slowly, being stiff from yesterday's Parkrun, sore from the cracked ribs and out of breath from the early hour. We ran through the Botanical Gardens, leaving the grounds onto Cussonia Avenue. We skirted around the Gardens onto Pretoria Road, then climbed the hills between Silverton and Brummeria. All the while, Walter showered me with questions about a subtle aspect of tailwheel takeoffs. With my low glycogen and shortness of breath, I had a hard time maintaining the discussion. Ken ran ahead, while Hanri and Louis were some way behind us. I hoped that the distance markers were incorrect, as they showed painfully slow progress. We passed the 1 km mark after more than eight minutes!

    Having crossed the ridge, we headed back into the Garden. Hanri and Louis caught us, just as we passed the finish line for the final loop. For some reason, my shorts kept slipping down. I constantly had to commit one hand to keeping it up. It didn't do my stride any good—a great excuse for the slow pace! Walter decided that he'd wasted enough time, and shot ahead in pursuit of Ken. We completed the last lap inside the Garden, more or less on the Parkrun route. Many slow walkers were blocking the way—yet another excuse for my slow time. I finished in about 1:12:45, and made my way to joing Corlia and Josias at the Club tent. Walter and Ken had already left. Hanri and Louis arrived about a minute later. Hanri declined my invitation to a buffet breakfast, so Louis and I were the only ones this time.

    I am not sure whether I should be happy or upset. The slow time could be partially attributed to the steep slopes, but slow it was. On the other hand, all the others have been training regularly, so I suppose I should be grateful that I am still able to keep up—more or less.

    The Good: Surviving my first official race in a long, long time.

    The Bad: Slooooooow.

    The Ugly: Watching Walter accelerate towards the end. Not very respectful.

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    Springs Parkrun, Sunday 2023-01-01 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun on a Sunday. Under 30 minutes would be nice.

    With no Parkruns on Christmas day, we had to make use of this New Year's Day to notch up a Parkrun on a Sunday. The next opportunity won't happen until mid-2025. I found something like six undone Parkruns in Gauteng that would be offered on this day, and picked Springs. Although another one would be closer, Springs had the advantage that Brakpan was close by, making it possible to take action if something went wrong with the arrangements. I was somewhat apprehensive, as I have a cracked rib or two and have done very little running since Comrades, but even a lousy time would be better than no Parkrun at all.

    Despite some delays and a Waze-induced detour, we arrived around 07:30. I wrapped my rib cage with a stretch bandage, before Laurens and I warmed up for around 3 km. Alet and Hanri waited at the start. Along the route, we found a blonde with two pony tails. Pippy had a big dog on a leash. She greeted us in a high-pitched heavy Slavic accent. Laurens took pity on a one-eyed stray dog, and left a message on the owner's phone to the effect that Sam was in that park. Several minutes later, we passed Pippy again. She enquired whether we'd seen a white dog. We directed her straight to Sam.

    The run director used an intermittent PA system to make a series of announcements. We set off about two minutes late. As usual, a bunch of schoolkids surged ahead. We passed Pippy, loading Sam into a car. I settled into a slightly uncomfortable pace, passing 1 km in 5:23, in 21st place. Laurens was about a minute behind, with Hanri perhaps half a minute behind him. I resolved to slow down slightly, walking occasionally. I passed Pippy along the route. She again had the big dog with her. A woman wearing a bright-orange top cruised past, making her way up the field ahead. On the second lap, I passed Pippy again. This time, there was no dog. There was some jostling for position, and when I passed the next marker at 4 km, I was in 23rd place. I finished reasonably strongly in about 27:40, surprised to be handed number 21. I was pleasantly surprised, as I did not expect to be able to maintain 5:32 pace in my current state of injury and lack of training. It did not escape my notice, though, that the schoolkids had not cracked this time. Obviously the East Rand schoolkids are made of sterner stuff.

    Ms Orange lavished the traditional "Well done!" on me. It struck me as slightly patronising, given the consummate ease with which she had beaten me. We struck up a conversation. She had done another Parkrun the previous day, which included some steep downhill trail running, and was rather the worse for wear. Laurens finished about a minute behind me, with Hanri perhaps half a minute behind. Pippy arrived somewhat later, sans dog. Alet sauntered home much later, having struck up a conversation with a local. She had been regaled with an inspiring tale of despondency turned around by exposure to Parkrun and a new circle of friends. We headed home, stopping for a hearty breakfast along the way.

    I still need a Parkrun with "C" to spell my name. With the establishment of the Carnival City event, it is now pretty easy, but I still fancy the Cannibals Cave Parkrun on my CV. Perhaps I'll find an excuse to make the drive, real soon.

    The Good: A rare opportunity to catch a Sunday Parkrun.

    The Bad: Only two distance markers.

    The Ugly: A cracked rib does not make a Parkrun a lot of fun.

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    2022 Races

    Ruimsig Parkrun, Saturday 2022-10-22 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun starting with "R". Under 30 minutes would be nice.

    Running has taken a back seat since Comrades. In the past two months, Iíve only run 25 km. Clearly, I havenít been able to resume a reasonable routine. This week, something happened that helped: I discovered that the Cannibals Cave Parkrun has resumed after the flood damage. Iím not sure if the flood damage has been repaired, or whether they have just defined a new route. Apart from the mystique of that name, I also only need a "C" and yet another "R" to spell my name. As Cannibals Cave is a long drive and would require an overnight stop, I wanted to get the "R" out of the way. There were two options; Red Star and Ruimsig. I accordingly invited Hanri, Laurens and Alet. Hanri and Laurens quickly declined, so I collected Alet at 06:40 to arrive at 07:30. As my tummy was playing games with me, a quick visit to the public amenities preceded my warmup. I joined the crowd just as the briefing started. In an all-time first, I witnessed a mass aerobics session during the briefing, after which we started exactly on time.

    As is often the case, a bunch of schoolkids surged ahead. I assumed Iíd soon catch them. Only about half of those ahead were adults. I settled into twelfth place. Counter to expectation, only one child cracked around the 2 km mark. We climbed up a hill, over a rough trail with loose stones and deep ruts. We soon careened downhill towards a runway. The bunch gradually stretched out with a youngster ahead of me and a bright yellow shirt behind. The youngster started intermittently walking. Each time I caught up to him, he would start running again. He gradually caught up with a young girl, likewise walking intermittently. Around the 4 km mark, I finally managed to overtake the youngster and the girl. I was taking strain, regularly walking and feeling decidedly sorry for myself with a combination of general malaise and acutely sore legs. Near the finish, we found a T junction without directions. We hesitated briefly, then turned right towards the finish. The youngster surged ahead, and I finished before the girl. I was in ninth place, in just under 27 minutes. Not a great time, but probably commensurate with my current state.

    Letís hope this Parkrun provides the incentive to resume a regular running schedule. The next project is to visit Cannibals Cave. Not only will it provide me with the "C" I need, but it will be my 49th Parkrun and my 48th venue. The effciency of completing 48 venues without earning that dreaded T-shirt appeals to me, especially as in the process I managed to accumulate Events 1 to 10 and a Parkrun in every month of the year.

    The Good: Successfully paving the way for my final project: Cannibals Cave.

    The Bad: No distance markers.

    The Ugly: The painÖ

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    Comrades Marathon, Sunday 2022-08-28 at 05:30

    Goal: Finish. A bronze medal would be even better.

    I approached this race with great apprehension. A 90 km race is daunting under any circumstances. Add to it the demands of the Down Run, and it becomes worse. The Up Run is probably more demanding physically, but the Down seems more likely to cause lasting damage. I spent months reinforcing the necessary muscle groups, running regularly and honing my skills. I completed around 1150 km since early March. Based on my most recent half-marathon time, I could probably aim for a 10 hour finish. Based on my qualifying marathon time, I'd be lucky to finish. Total running volume was adequate, but the long-distance stuff was a little light. I was aiming for 11:30, leaving some room for a mishap but not overtaxing myself with too fast a finish. However, in the weeks before I gradually succumbed to peer pressure, finally deciding to join Hanri and Laurens for an attempt on a bronze medal with a sub-11:00 finish.

    The taper period had not gone as planned. Although the training volume decreased, my calves were still slightly sore and stiff, just like they had been during the peak training weeks. I was running comfortably, but nowhere near as idyllic as it had been for past attempts. On Friday night, I discovered that I was not eligible for a back-to-back medal. Their wording is decidedly ambiguous. I tried to phone the office on Saturday, but there was no way to communicate with the Association. I decided to leave the discussions for later, if and when it became necessary.

    We were repeatedly warned about serious traffic on the road from Durban to the start, so we left at an unearthly 03:30. Laurens, Alet and I arrived in Pietermaritzburg with almost an hour to spare. We stopped over at a garage and used the public toilets. I tried to snatch some sleep, but the restless environment didn't help. I discovered that I'd left my sports drink at home. We finally arrived at the start venue around 05:10. The gates had already opened. We could not find Hanri. The bunch gradually surged forward while we had to endure the horrible synthesizer music and the bottled cock's crow. We crossed the start line after about five minutes and by seven minutes we were able to run. It was still dark, and the streetlights offered little relief in the endless mass of bodies. Soon after the 88 km sign, Laurens started walking. I walked briefly, then resumed my jogging. I didn't see Laurens again. Around 86 km, Hanri called me from behind. I must have passed her, but neither of us had noticed. We briefly ran together, then got separated again. I saw my clubmates Elma and Harry, with very few other familiar faces. A girl with pink plaits ran in front of me. I assumed it was Pippi, but she wasn't wearing long stockings. The 11 hour bus made a nuisance of itself, often disrupting my walk-run rhythm. I saw two guys named Fabio and Dario. I just had to try out my Italian on them. Fabio was doing his first Comrades, in the over-60 age group. He explained how he had only arrived in the country two years ago. I think. I maintained the planned pace at 85 and 80 km, but at 75 I had gained a minute or two. I reined myself in, but the gap kept increasing. We passed the highest point at Umlaas Road. The doldrums at Harrison Flats went by more or less as planned. Coming down towards Drummond and the "half-way" mark, I felt the first inkling of what the descent would do to our legs. I was breathing easy and felt quite relaxed, though. The worst worry was the heel chafing. It felt like serious blisters were forming on the medial side of both heels. I piled generous doses of Vaseline into my shoes on three occasions. By the time I reached Drummond, every step on my left foot resulted in stabbing pain, like stepping into a broken bottle. I resolved to keep going undaunted.

    I visited the CSIR tent at Drummond, then cruised on toward Botha's Hill. I was concentrating on a 5+1 survival strategy through Botha's Hill, frantically trying to calculate my pace with the help of my pace chart. I was blissfully unaware of my surroundings. Suddenly, I noticed a tall girl waving at me. Tall girls always get my attention. It was Kayla, with the Cloete family. I was amazed that they had caught my eye in my distracted state.

    I visited the CSIR tent at Winston Park. My progress was still reasonably according to plan, but I was taking strain. My left knee, my right glute, my hamstrings and to a lesser extent my calves were complaining loudly. I was counting down the distance to where Alet and the Cloetes would be waiting, as I could take a sip of my favourite black Stoney. I suppose I was hoping that it would miraculously restore my fortunes. I found them as expected, within a minute of the agreed time. I gulped down some Stoney and grabbed my sports drink. As I resumed running, Laurens arrived. We chatted briefly, and I pursued him for some distance. The Stoney didn't miraculously revive my fortunes. I was hurting badly. It was too early to be hurting this badly. Accordingly, I turned around at the 28 km mark and walked back to where I had left my supporters. Hanri passed me with another Phobians runner. She called me to join them. I declined. My supporters were no longer there. I phoned them and got some suspect directions. I followed the directions, then saw them in a completely different place. I tried to catch up, but could not. Being unable to catch two ladies of a certain age taking a leisurely stroll is not an ego trip for someone who is supposed to be a conditioned athlete! I eventually caught them just before the Kloof grandstand, passing the scanners in the process. I ambled home and collapsed into an easy chair. My pulse was 72, confirming that my system was still in good shape. Just these crummy legs.

    I took a cold bath, followed by a hot bath with Epsom salts, as instructed by Hanri. Too soon it was time to leave, to see Laurens and Hanri finish. We drove downtown. For about 5 km, we were passing runners running parallel to us. I saw many familiar runners. Near the stadium, we were hopelessly stuck in traffic. We were moving at much less than walking pace. Elma cruised past us, on her way to a strong bronze finish. Eventually, we realised that we would never get there on time. I suggested that my passengers should walk, while I would stop right there and wave as my erstwhile companions passed. I parked high up on an embankment, to keep my car away from the traffic. By the roadside, a traffic official tapped me on the shoulder, wanting to know where I had parked. I pointed to my car. She asked me to move it. I explained the situation, begging her indulgence until my companions were past. She agreed that she would ask her boss. I saw her talking on the radio, but she did not get back to me. I watched hundreds of runners passing, not more than 1,5 km from the finish. Two 70-plus women sailed past, one in time to make the bronze medal cutoff. That really put my performance into perspective. Pippi came sailing past. She looked grim and determined, moving deliberately forward. Despite missing the bronze mark, she was definitely finishing strongly. Harry greeted me. He was almost home and dry. Many of the passers-by had been running with me hours before. Some noticed me and asked what I was doing there. They looked suitably sympathetic, and suitably envious. The 11 hour bus, the one that had been such a nuisance, passed too late to make 11 hours. Hanri passed, just in time to make 11:30. Laurens passed about three minutes later.

    I got into my car and rejoined the traffic. Using directions from the traffic official, I ended up on the opposite side of the stadium. I found a little lane with too many parked cars. I headed down it. A would-be parking attendant tried to solicit money. When I declined, he smashed into my left mirror. I took a picture of him, and he ran off. I found parking near the badminton hall. A police warrant officer told me to climb through a hole in the fence and then cross the bridge to the stadium. I was amused at the nature of the official advice. I left my car there and ambled along to the stadium. I waited and waited and waited, while trying to communicate with Laurens and Alet. A young man asked me to phone his telephone, which had been grabbed by a group of hoodlums pretending to be a security detail. The phone was not being answered. I directed him to the police vehicle. Eventually, Alet called me. We had a hard time agreeing where to meet. After several attempts, I figured out where they were. I walked there and gestured to them which way to go. Due to chaotic access arrangements to the stadium, we were on different levels. We eventually met, climbed through the hole in the fence and made our way to the car. We made good progress away from the stadium, eventually abandoning the GPS directions. It was a mistake. Fields Hill was snarled up, and we crawled along it for close to half an hour. It took longer to climb the hill than the runners had taken to come down it earlier in the day. It was raining now, and altogether miserable. We ordered take-away food and made our way home. After dinner, I answered a few more SMS enquiries and tucked into bed early.

    After breakfast, we loaded the car and departed at 10:00 sharp. We collected Hanri and made our way home. We made two stops, one to have lunch. At both stops, there were dozens of people walking like penguins. Many sported identical light purple shirts. The atmosphere was pretty festive. After dropping off Hanri and Laurens, we arrived at Alet's home after 18:00. I was ready to head home and get some sleep, but I just had to finish this story first.

    I'm definitely pleased that I was there to see Hanri complete her first Comrades. It's been a long process. Laurens completed his ninth medal, placing him well to collect his green number next year. And I have proven conclusively that I am not Comrades material.

    We'll see what happens next. I would very much like to do some better times over shorter distances. Half marathons appeal to me. Maybe I'll even be talked into a marathon or two. I might even be lured into some serious triathlons, maybe even Ironman. But this ultra-marathon madness is definitely not for me.

    The Good: I completed 62 km of the race—66 if you include the walk home—with no after-effects but couple of blisters. Watching Hanri finish her first Comrades after many moons of joint preparation.

    The Bad: Not completing the Down Run as I was hoping to.

    The Ugly: Finally confirming that I'm not distance running material.

    Back to Index

    Thousand Hills Parkrun, Saturday 2022-08-27 at 08:00

    Goal: Watch people suffer. Give Alet a chance to do a parkrun with a "T".

    We're in KZN for Comrades. Several local Parkruns offered Laurens and Alet counters, specifically some initial letters to spell their names. However, the Thousand Hills Parkrun, supposedly the hardest in the world, was close by. I've done it before, so I'm not even tempted to tackle this route. Laurens decided to stay in bed. We arrived around 07:35, much too early as Alet wasn't planning to warm up. I stood around, talking to the locals. Several of them felt that my office attire was inappropriate, specifically my shoes. I played the game, telling them that I was preserving my running shoes for the next day. They were visibly shocked. There was a first-timer briefing, followed by a normal race briefing. We started exactly on time. I ran in fifth place or so, with my briefcase comfortably under my arm. After a few hundred metres, I slipped in behind a parked car and waited for all the runners to pass before ambling back to the start. I settled down near the finish. The first finisher did not arrive until 25 minutes had passed. The hilly terrain clearly limited what was possible. My previous time of almost 35 minutes would have earned me 11th place of 83 finishers.

    Alet finished in just over an hour in 63rd place. Her companions during the Parkrun were also there for Comrades, albeit as supporters. We chatted for a few minutes before setting off toward the Comrades Wall of Honour. I wanted to see my brick, which I'd commissioned after my Comrades finish. I started scanning from newest to older, while Alet did the same thing behind me. I saw a few familiar names, but never found my own brick. Alet did—I had actually missed it despite my best efforts. We took a few suitably cheesy pictures before returning to Kloof for some shopping and some final race preparations.

    The Good: Not having to do the hardest Parkrun in the world. Watching Alet add a new letter to her collection. Finally seeing my brick in the Wall of Honour.

    The Bad: Sitting out while everyone else went Parkrunning.

    The Ugly: Tomorrow looms...

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    Arrow Rest Parkrun, Saturday 2022-08-06 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun event number 10, completing the full series from 1 to 10. Get away as soon as possible for a busy day.

    My Comrades preparation is winding down, with only three weeks to the big day. The Arrow Rest Parkrun's event number 10 was on the cards, allowing Alet and I to complete a full house from 1 to 10. Laurens withdrew due to work pressure. Vicky pulled out at the last moment. I had other commitments, collecting some workers for a project at the airport on my way to the Parkrun. Alet rounded up Thea at short notice. I arrived around 07:40 and took a short warmup run. Alet arrived as I completed my warmup. There was a definite nip in the air.

    The announcements were made without the benefit of a microphone. I had seen the route on the Web. It was a nested loop with many kinks. We started on time, and I found myself in the unusual situation of being right in front. The A team must have taken the day off. A youngster ran shoulder to shoulder with me on a two-track path. I asked if he knew the route. He said that he'd never run it before, but that it was simple. I decided to let him lead, following close behind.

    1 km came at 04:30, slightly too fast. We turned at the lowest end of the property, climbing back towards the start. 2 km came just before 09:30, about right. We meandered through a forest on sandy pathways. Around the 3 km mark, the youngster gradually started leaving me behind. There were one or two turns without clear indications. I was happy to have marshals within shouting distance. The last km or so was uphill. I had promised my workers that I'd finish around 25 minutes. The winner finished around 24:44, and I around 25:10. The next runner was about half a minute behind me. I was amazed. My relatively slow time has never earned me such a good placing before!

    After ingesting a complimentary pancake, I was on the road by 08:30. The first chore for the day was done and dusted!

    The Good: Relatively flat course with great distance markers. Completing a full set of event numbers from 1 to 10.

    The Bad: Rather difficult surface, with lots of sand.

    The Ugly: Discovering in the results that the winner has yet to see his 18th birthday!

    Back to Index

    Nkodima Development Race 4 km, 10 km and half marathon, Saturday 2022-07-23 at 07:00

    Goal: A half marathon under two hours, remaining intact for the next week's training.

    Another exceptionally hectic week threatened to undermine my weekly running quota. We are now winding down before Comrades, with less than seven weeks to go. On Friday night, it became evident that my Saturday morning commitment was not going to keep me tied up, so I allowed Laurens to talk me into a half marathon. I was somewhat unhappy to discover that the entry fee was R 200, an all-time record for a half marathon. Laurens collected me from work at 05:43, and we arrived at the Mzansi Resorts (sic) at 06:30. Not many runners were around. It was bitterly cold, and I saw only one other runner sporting a vest without layered clothing, like I was. I looked for a public toilet, and had to walk several hundred metres to the main building of what was once the Morula Sun casino. It is basically derelict. I queued for several minutes before getting my turn in a very, very grimy toilet. Halfway through proceedings, I suddenly noticed that there was no toilet paper. This was going to be an interesting day. Once back in the main bathroom, I discovered that there was no soap either. Arghhh. Fortunately, there were a few drops of soap in the handicapped bathroom.

    The next surprise was that the start was almost 1 km away. No-one knew exactly where or exactly how far, so we started walking. We soon heard the announcer's voice up ahead, and found the start well down the road. The timekeeper was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, the announcer had a sense of urgency, and made some phone calls. Soon enough, the timekeeper arrived. The announcer coaxed the officials into action, and we started only five minutes late. We would run two clockwise laps on urban roads, with lots of traffic. Mostly, the road shoulder was wide enough and the potholes were easily avoided. There were no distance markers, but the distances were clearly painted on the road surface. Due to the small field, perhaps 200 runners, we were soon running in single file, with the spacing gradually increasing until I could see well ahead. I maintained a constant pace of 5:20/km. I wondered if I could keep it up to the end, but I was comfortable and easily aerobic. The route was flattish, with only one nagging climb from a bridge crossing on the far side. A couple from Midrand passed me and greeted enthusiastically. I overtook a runner from A4A, who asked me if I was doing two laps. Bystanders waved and shouted, and passing taxis seemed not to realise that a hooter is a safety device. I had my first gel at 7 km. I cruised past 10 km at just under 54 minutes. By now, I was running completely alone. The Midrand couple ran perhaps 300 m ahead, with the A4S runner perhaps the same distance behind. With only a stopwatch and the painted distances, I was able to maintain my pace within a few seconds, all the way to the 18 km mark. I was pleasantly surprised. Despite my lack of long-distance training, at least I'm not completely lame. Beyond this point, I did some regular walking, using a 5+1 survival strategy with lampposts. I resolved to break 1:54. The last 3 km went by in 16 minutes, and I finished in 1:53:44. Unfortunately, the stopwatch next to the finish line showed more than a minute more. An official asked my name. I was apparently the second Master. Maybe some prize money would make up for the exorbitant entry fee!

    I was tired, and looked for a place to sit in the shade and watch the finishers. Laurens cruised home in just under 2:00 (2:01 on the display). They didn't take his name. We waited for the prizegiving. It took almost forever. I did some prompting to expedite matters. The Midrand couple won the Masters divisions, both male and female. At least I found some consolation in the fact that they are the better part of a decade younger than I am. We managed to leave around 09:30. I was very happy. It was my best half marathon time since The Flu, and I managed to do it without causing myself undue damage. My left knee was a little fragile at times, but I remained aerobic into the last km with no undue muscle strain.

    The Good: A very comfortable sub-two half marathon. Winning some prize money for only the second time ever.

    The Bad: R 200 entry fee. The derelict venue, with no toilet paper and no soap.

    The Ugly: Having to write my bank account number on a dog-eared sheet of paper for my prize money. Let's hope that it's less risky than it seems!

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    Umhlanga Parkrun, Saturday 2022-07-16 at 08:00

    Goal: A Parkrun with "U". Break 24 minutes if possible. Cover some distance.

    This weekís speedwork went unexpectedly well. I had to be in KZN over the weekend due to family commitments, missing the Magnolia long run, so I decided to use the opportunity to try a fast Parkrun. Iíve broken 25 minutes seven times, but 24 minutes has remained an elusive target. Perhaps I could use the opportunity to fix that omission, while also accumulating credit for a Parkrun starting with "U".

    Alet and I left my sisterís place on schedule at 05:43, collecting Yolande on the way to arrive at Umhlanga around 07:35. We had fun listening to the GPS butcher the local names. "E-M-D-Loti" was my personal favourite. I took a 2 km jog to warm up. Unfortunately, the temperature was already in the mid-teens, definitely higher than ideal. The announcements were a bit tedious. The race director screamed into the microphone, but even though the public address speakers displayed flashing lights, they were of little help to overcome the constant buzz of conversation in the crowd. We set off about one minute late, northbound on the promenade. Many other walkers and joggers were on the path, most keeping left and allowing the Parkrunners past. I found myself surrounded by red T-shirts, apparently belonging to youngsters from a soccer club. As usual, there were numerous young kids that started too fast and soon slipped behind.

    We looped onto short grass at the northern end of the course before doubling back to the start. I passed Alet and Yolande about halfway. They cheered as I passed. I wondered whether the tone of sarcasm was only my imagination. There were no distance markers, and I had trouble judging my pace. As is always the case during intense training weeks, my calves and my left knee were slightly sore, but my breathing was easy. I suppose there is something to be said for the oxygen-rich sea air. I turned around at the south end and tried to keep up the pace. I had to walk occasionally as a respite, but managed to finish after a short, steep uphill in about 23:44. It took me a few minutes to regain my wits. By the time I enquired, they had handed out number 35. I was fairly certain that Iíd finished in the first 30—satisfactory in the light of the typical field of over 350 finishers. I chatted to a woman who had finished well before me. She was very relaxed. Clearly, genes were at play, not dogged determination!

    Not much came of my post-Parkrun running plans. I was thoroughly spent. I walked back along the trail, reading the plaques near all the tourist traps and finding Alet and Yolande around the 3,5 km mark. I coaxed Alet into a jog, and paced her to the finish. She managed to break 50 minutes by just a few seconds. Yolande had been selling Parkrun tourism to her companions, so I spent a few minutes briefing them about potential destinations near their house in Gauteng.

    Alet and I walked on the beach for a while, then joined Yolande in a local hangout before heading off for some shopping and then heading home. It was a substantial drive for just 5 km of running, but I was happy. A new Personal Best and a "U"—not a complete waste of time! I was a little sad that I managed to accumulate so little distance. I was going to have to make up for the shortfall the next day (Sunday) in hilly terrain, alone. Serves me right!

    The Good: Flat course with a good surface. Lots of oxygen to breathe. Breaking 24 minutes and exceeding a 65% age grading!

    The Bad: No distance markers. Too many participants for my liking. Not enough distance—tomorrow should have been a rest day!

    The Ugly: Lots of pedestrians having trouble with this "keep left" thing.

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    Kleinplaas Parkrun, Saturday 2022-06-18 at 08:00

    Goal: Parkrun #7. Cover some distance.

    Laurens and Hanri are planning a marathon tomorrow, so Alet and I set off alone at 05:30. After a series of icy road warnings from my car and a GPS-induced detour or two, we arrived at the venue around 07:30. The temperature indicated -1°C. Someone waved at me from a parked car. I could not identify the occupants, but I returned the wave. I set off for a 3 km warmup run. Several volunteers made snide remarks about my T-shirt and shorts. By the time I arrived back at the start, the announcements were in full swing. Obviously, Potchefstroom felt no need for English announcements. I noticed Pieter in the start lineup. He confirmed that he had waved from the car. We started exactly on time. I settled into fifth place, moving up to fourth around the 1 km mark. The pace was a steady 4:45/km at this point. I reminded myself not to overdo things. The runner behind me lagged further and further behind. I focused on the runner ahead, gradually catching up. We meandered through a field, following clear directions. The surface was a little unsteady, with turf accumulating on my soles. I got taller and taller as I ran. Segments of the course were waterlogged around the edges. It was clear to me why several events had been cancelled due to rain. To my amazement, I saw Pieter well behind me.

    I entered the second lap at about 12:10. I could definitely feel the fatigue, and my breathing was shortening. A pebble started niggling below my right foot bridge. I walked occasionally, trying desperately to keep up the pace. I was overtaking many walkers. Some followed the race director's directions to keep left, while others were much harder to pass. I caught number 3. We ran together for a while. I couldn't keep it up, and with around 1 km to go he slowly opened up a gap ahead of me. The pebble had grown to a full-fledged stone. I considered stopping to remove it from my shoe, but decided to continue. The runner behind was not catching up. I lapped an elderly runner festooned with numerous embroidered names of Parkrun venues—obviously not a practical hobby for a serious Parkrun tourist. The stone now felt suitable for a cornerstone. I reminded myself to keep it, just in case I wanted to erect a big building one day. I finished around 24:40, in fourth place.

    I caught my breath for a few minutes, then started on another lap. I caught Alet in the first km, admonishing her to speed up. She explained that she was following a walk-run strategy. I had to take the "run" part on faith. I passed a man with an artificial leg. He was walking briskly. When I finished, Pieter had disappeared. I phoned him. He had already returned to the town with his family. He mentioned that I was now the record holder for my age group, having beaten the previous record by about half a minute. Pieter had completed a 120 km cycle ride the previous day, and his legs hadn't fully recovered. Alet finished around 48 minutes. We tackled the road home via Parys and Hartbeespoort for some aviation-related chores.

    With event number 7 in the bag, only number 10 eludes me. We're hoping to rectify that omission in a fortnight's time. I also reached the midpoint of the international Parkrun tourist list, with 43 venues. The Parkrun project is finally nearing completion!

    The Good: New Parkrun event in the bag. Reaching the middle of the international Parkrun tourist list. Breaking 25 minutes again.

    The Bad: Only one distance marker (at 1 and 3,5 km). Waterlogged sections on the track, casting doubt on the venue's sustainability in the rainy season.

    The Ugly: Only 11 km on the clock. I'll have to do 21 km tomorrow to complete my weekly quota!

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    Sasolburg Stadium Parkrun, Saturday 2022-06-11 at 08:00

    Goal: Parkrun #9. Cover some distance.

    We've been watching all the newly-established Parkruns to identify event numbers 7, 9 and 10. Recently, several Parkruns have been disrupted, making the sequence harder to follow. This Saturday, it looked like we could complete Number 9 in Sasolburg. Laurens chickened out during the week. Ken is out of town. Vicky was unreachable. Accordingly, Alet and I left Pretoria at 06:00. After a drive that included dense fog near the Vaal river and several icing warnings from my car, we arrived at the stadium at 07:25. I took a 3 km run to warm up. The announcements took quite a while, being tweetalig and all, and we started about a minute late. I soon settled into eighth place, with a tall young blonde in front of me and a grey li'l ol' lady behind. I passed a marker showing "1" at 4:15. I didn't think it was really at 1 km, but if it was, I'd probably set myself up for spectacular failure.

    The route is pretty flat and fresly graded in places. The surface was uneven in places, mostly due to tyre ruts. I walked occasionally to catch my breath. We completed a figure of eight course and then entered a second lap. During one of my walks, the li'l old lady caught up with me. We chatted for a while, but halfway through the second lap she left me behind. As we entered the second loop of the figure of eight, with me hot on her heels, she turned left to the finish. I thought we still had to complete the other loop. I asked an official. On his directions, I turned back and finished. I wasted half a minute due to the detour, but fortunately the young man behind me had not overtaken me. I finished in ninth place in something like 24:30. The tall blonde was just ahead of the li'l ol' lady, but she did not have a bar code. At least she won't show up in the official results...

    After catching my breath, I retraced the route with two other runners. I saw Alet ahead, just entering the second lap. She was aiming to finish in under 45 minutes. I didn't think she was going to make it. I finished the loop, stretching on a staircase. To my amazement, I saw Alet finishing in just under 45 minutes. On the way to the car, I passed the li'l ol' lady. I bemoaned my fate, being beaten by a li'l ol' lady. She indignantly retorted that she'd initially been unable to overtake me when I was walking. We'd clearly caused a lot of mutual grief! The fog had lifted, so the trip home was uneventful and we made it home as planned to tackle the day's duties.

    The Good: Alet's personal best. My best time for the year. Just two first-ten Parkruns to go.

    The Bad: No distance markers. Only 10 km on the clock. The detour that cost me my all-time best Parkrun.

    The Ugly: Being soundly beaten by a grey li'l ol' lady.

    PS: I felt a little better when I learned that the li'l ol' lady is a former world champion masters' athlete...

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    Race of Hope 5/10/21 km, Grove, Saturday 2022-05-21 at 07:00

    Goal: Complete 60 km for the week.

    Anyone with a hope of a Comrades finish would want to be doing at least 60 km per week at this stage. With daylight shrinking relentlessly, it has been difficult to fit in respectable distance during the week. Accordingly, I was happy when Laurens told me about a half marathon this weekend. I decided to park at Alet's house, run 5 km to the venue, run the half marathon and then run back to my car. I left home at 05:50, ran from Alet's at 06:00 and arrived in darkness with plenty of time to enter and amble down to the start. The weather was perfect, with a low cloudbase but no rain. When I left Alet's house, the temperature had been 9°C. The start bunch was dense, with probably less than 10% wearing masks.

    We started on time. Laurens and I were about one-fifth from the front. As is always the case with mixed starts, most of the slooooooooooow runners absolutely had to start in the front row. The bunch didn't thin out for at least 10 minutes. I passed the 3 km marker at 18 minutes, so everything was on track. Mandy came past, wearing Phobians kit. I asked her if she was collecting colours from every club in Pretoria. I tried to maintain a 6:00/km pace, but gradually gained time. A car emerged from a driveway. A particularly tall runner ran in front of the car, causing the driver to brake hard and blocking several of us in the process. The tall runner, who was wearing his race number on his back, spouted forth about how stupid the driver was. I couldn't help but think of Dunning and Kruger. We were now passing numerous 5 km participants, who were mostly walking. About half the field peeled off to the finish, while the rest of us continued for the second lap. The tall rocket scientist also continued on the second lap, even though his number clearly indicated that he had entered for 10 km.

    10 km came at 57 minutes. The loop came before 11 km. I saw Melani, Willie and Mandy ahead of me and Laurens behind. He made a snide remark about me heading for two hours. The thought had crossed my mind. At that rate, it would be a close thing. My left knee was hurting slightly, but I kept pushing. I passed Mandy and her friend near the 17 km mark, exchanging pleasantries about how humiliating it was to be passed by such an old guy. The last 3 km stretch was uphill. I had to maintain a 5:20/km pace to break two hours. It was not to be. I had to walk a few times. As I ran up the ramp, I spotted Karen watching from the sidelines. I finished under 2:01. Our Club tent was nowhere to be seen, so I headed home. I took a detour via the race route to do some cleaning up. Pretty soon, I passed the point where it was constructive. Trying to break two hours didn't leave enough reserve to run all the way back to my car. I stopped at Marina's house, trying to solicit help with a phone call. After giving up, I encountered a friendly walker with a phone. She called Alet, and I proceeded up the hill feeling very sorry for myself. Right on the hilltop, much too late for my liking, Alet arrived and relieved me from my misery.

    Despite my best efforts, I'm still about 5 km short on my weekly quota. Preparing for Comrades in winter is not going to be easy!

    Laurens told me afterwards that the loop had been too long, adding 200 m to the distance. I had noticed that there was no turn marking on the road, just a marshal with a flag. I felt a little better. Obviously, it wasn't my fault that I didn't make the two hour mark!

    The Good: A reasonable start time. Great distance markers. Relatively light traffic.

    The Bad: The mixed start bunch. The mis-positioned marshal in the loop. The opinionated rocket scientist.

    The Ugly: Ambling up that hill after 30 km was not a lot of fun.

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    Revolution Trails 10/15/21 km, Irene, Saturday 2022-05-14 at 08:00

    Goal: Survive some real distance.

    Another crazy week. Friday evening, I started wondering about how I was going to do 30 km on the weekend. It is winter, with limited daylight and unlimited lethargy. Neither Walter nor Ken responded to my text message, but Laurens did. I grudginly agreed to pick him up at 07:30.

    After a wrong turn, we arrived at the venue at 07:55. Admin took a long time, including a lot of invasive questions. We finally started around 08:05. We were told that they would leave at 10:00, so the half marathon that we had paid for was out of the question. We decided on 15 km instead. We meandered through the ARC experimental farm—great surroundings and a welcome change from urban roads. Perhaps three dozen other runners were also on the route. Laurens was even lazier than I was, so I occasionally ran ahead and turned back to fetch him. After completing what we thought was the 15 km route, both my watch and Laurens's fancy GPS suggested that we hadn't quite done 15 km. Accordingly, we meandered some more until the 15 km was up and stumbled through the finish. It wasn't exactly world record pace, so doing some more distance sounded like a good idea. Laurens was not cooperative and I wasn't in a coercive mood. Accordingly, I dropped Laurens off at his home and made myself comfortable at our usual breakfast buffet place to catch up on some reading. I resigned myself to the fact that there was going to be a 10 km run on Sunday...

    The Good: Rustic surroundings. Few runners. Even fewer cars. A reasonable start time.

    The Bad: Finding out at the last moment that a half marathon was not an option. Invasive questions that they have no business asking.

    The Ugly: R 160 for 15 km!

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    Iron Throne Trails Parkrun, Saturday 2022-05-07 at 08:00

    Goal: Loosen up after the marathon. Attend a Parkrun with event number 6 and a May Parkrun and a Parkrun starting with "I" and...

    I took off the entire week to recover from the marathon. By yesterday, I was fine. We were contemplating a trip to Mbombela to do the Klipspringer Valley Lodge Parkrun and to surprise Hanri at the finish of the Elands Marathon, but Hanri withdrew due to illness. We were still planning to make the trip and cheer Deon past the half marathon finish, but when the lodge's phone went unanswered yesterday, I regarded it as a sign to re-plan. Accordingly, I lined up arrangements with Laurens, Alet and Vicky for Iron Throne. I arrived a few minutes late for our 06:30 appointment at Alet's house, and Laurens whisked us off to the venue. After a short detour, we arrived on schedule at 07:30.

    Iron Throne is a trail run, predator park and biker's paradise. Bikers were there in droves. I haven't seen so many smokers in one place in years. We wandered up the hill (the cableway right next door should tell you something), admiring various predators as we went. Cheetah, leopards, a puma and wolves spring to mind. There were also various domestic animals in cages. It wasn't clear whether they were part of the exhibit or part of the menu. Laurens and I broke into a ten-minute warmup run. The terrain was steep and treacherous. My legs were definitely not comfortable, with Monday's proceedings clearly still fresh in their memory. However, after a few minutes they loosened up. Laurens was also relieved. After an operation in the last week, he was relieved that he was also running comfortably.

    The announcements were a little vague, but I was counting on some locals to lead the way. We started on time, headed uphill. I was initially fourteenth, gradually sliding up the pack. Overtaking was hard work, as a narrow trail wound through the forest on the steep slope. 1 km came at 6:20, not bad for the terrain and the altitude gain. I followed two youngsters. Even though I had some reserve, I was reluctant to overtake. I had a nagging feeling that I might well hold them up later. 2 km came at 12:25. The terrain required focus. At one point, we passed close to our previous route, and I heard Vicky calling my name. I dared not look around and risk a tumble. 3 km came at 18:45. Given the downhill to the finish, I hoped that I might avoid the embarrassment of a thirty-something finish. The two youngsters had now cracked and started walking. I thought I was in seventh place. However, as we looped back toward the finish, I saw only two leaders coming the other way. I suppose I was in third to seventh place!? Laurens was behind me in the loop, perhaps two minutes down. The first woman was just ahead of him. I maintained the pressure. Although no-one was in sight ahead of me, someone was in hot pursuit. 4 km came at 25:20. The half-hour mark was now out of reach. The signs were a little confusing, as they were reasonably transparent and with the sun behind them, it was hard to tell whether the sign was intended for us or for the head-on tailenders we were trying to avoid. I did avoid them, finishing just over 31 minutes in fourth place. The pursuer crossed the line just behind me.

    Laurens sailed home about three minutes behind me in fourteenth place. My offer to volunteer was declined, so we ambled on down to the car. Laurens went looking for a caffeine fix while I earned my minutes of fame with a video interview. I also spent some time chatting to John Kollen about new Parkrun options, learning about one in Bloemfontein in the process. Alet and Vicky ambled in after just over an hour. Alet reported suffering some after-effects of sniffles earlier in the week. We jumped into the car and made our way to Jasmyn for some breakfast and shopping. The breakfast was unsuccessful, with nothing on the menu but cement powder and white bread, but the shopping resulted in some mobile eats. Results were in just after mid-day. Strangely, my official time is 30:45, somewhat faster than I figured. I suppose I should be grateful.

    The Good: Several Parkrun milestones (new venue, event #6, first starting with "I", first in May (the last month I needed). Challenging Parkrun in natural surroundings. Good distance markers. Great fresh produce up for grabs.

    The Bad: The slope and the rough terrain conspired to produce a thirty-something time.

    The Ugly: The noisy smokers frequenting the bikers' joint.

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    Wally Hayward Marathon, Half Marathon and 10 km, Monday 2022-05-02 at 06:30

    Goal: Survive a marathon. Qualify for Comrades. Get a G seeding. In that order.

    Traditionally, the Wally Hayward is the last qualifier for Comrades. It falls on or near Workers' Day. This year, with Comrades being moved into late August, there is more time. I didn't feel ready, but Laurens talked me into entering. Treacherously, he advised me this week that he was withdrawing due to health reasons. Of course, he didn't have the spectacular failure that I had at Irene Ultra, so he has already qualified for Comrades. Hanri wasn't going to join us due to other commitments. Instead, she is planning to qualify next weekend.

    It's been yet another rough week. I managed to get a good night's sleep on Saturday night, but Sunday night didn't work that well. I got to bed after 22:00, setting my alarm clock for 04:00 to collect my number and be at the start at 05:30. As often happens when I set my alarm clock that early, I woke up several times. The power was off all evening. Fortunately, in the morning it was back on. Everything worked according to plan, except that I had to walk over 2 km to collect my number. Despite repeated admonishments that we had to bring vaccination certificates or fresh Covid-19 tests, no-one was interested in my paperwork. I arrived at the start at 05:30 with my race number neatly pinned to my vest. I was almost alone. An official explained that we would only start at 06:30. I could have slept almost an hour more! I must have confused the start time with the Irene Ultra. The trauma clearly didn't leave me untouched. However, I now faced a more serious problem: I had an hour to kill at 8°C in a running vest. I did not relish the idea of walking to my car and back. I had to preserve myself for the race. Fortunately, there was a solution at my club tent. The trailer was not there, having suffered a breakdown, but Dirk from the Magnolia tent next door parked his car for us to secure our belongings. Dirk lent me a thick jacket. I settled down in the driver's seat and relaxed. I didn't quite doze off, but I felt refreshed when I got up to join the start bunch. Marius told me about a photograph he had recently found in his collection, in which he recognised me. I remember the scene, but it happened years before we became acquainted in the club. Another member regaled us with stories of Parkrun tourism. I chuckled. He was blissfully unaware of badges and silly targets like chasing successive event numbers. He did know about spelling your name, because he had a real mouthful of a name.

    The bunch was huge, just like in the olden days. The Website claimed 6000 entries. I saw very few familiar faces. I didn't hear the start signal, but the bunch started moving around 06:30. I crossed the start line at 06:34. The race was advertised as a mat-to-mat qualifier, so I hit my stopwatch on the line. I broke into a gentle jog, aiming for 7:00/km. After a while, I passed Hennie and Marix. I hadn't seen them since The Flu. After about 20 minutes, I was worried. I hadn't seen a single distance marker. I asked around, and fellow runners with toy watches gave me a distance check. I was too slow. We were gradually climbing from the rugby club to the Air Force Base, but I sped up slightly. I had my first meal after an hour. My next distance check came around 14 km. This time I was slightly too fast after the long downhill. I reeled in my pace somewhat. Near the golf course, I looked for a toilet to dump some excess fluid. The toilets were occupied, so I used a fence instead. From the corner of my eye, I caught a flash (sic) of white. I looked around. I woman was doing the same thing I was, but in a considerably greater state of undress. I supposed it was an accidental mutual flash. Passing Leribisi Lodge, I saw some cheer leaders by the roadside. One held a poster saying "You still have more energy than Eskom". My retort was too slow to deliver in passing. I resolved to deliver it on the second lap. The route was reasonably flat past Centurion Lake. The whiff from the dam was not pleasant.

    I passed the stadium at 2:12, about 16 minutes too early. I hoped I wasn't going to pay a terrible price. I was still feeling relatively strong, but there was definitely some lead forming in those legs. The climb was definitely more laborious this time. I turned at the Air Force Base feeling grateful that there were not going to be any more substantial climbs. We slid downhill to the golf course. I kept calculating the required pace. It never came down to the point where I could walk if required. I intermittently walked. Around 28 km, I saw the first distances stencilled onto the road surface. The letters were less than 100 mm tall. I saw another three, because I now knew what to look for. That was it. My left knee was niggling slightly. Soon, a twinge in my left calf muscle caught my attention. Cramps. I was not impressed. I was hoping it wouldn't end this way. There was nothing salty at the clubhouse water point. A spectator by the roadside offered me some raw salt. I spent the next 5 km or so looking for water, including a detour into a filling station. No luck. I finally found some water and restored my mouth to some semblance of normality. Passing the Eskom poster, I quipped that we were engaged in "road shedding". I asked some marshals for distance checks. Their answers were spurious; some too optimistic, some grossly pessimistic. I wondered if they understood what devastating effects they were having. I plodded towards the stadium. Passing the Gautrain station, I maintained a 3+1 survival strategy. Approaching the station, we could hear the announcer peaking to a frenzy as the 4:50 cutoff time for Comrades qualification approached. The cutoff happened as I ran down the fence toward the gate. I hoped that they would honour their mat-to-mat promise. I finished at just over 4:48 on my stopwatch.

    I received a welcome refrigerated cloth at the finish and limped to the club tent. I saw De Wet passing me with a pile of chairs. Sure enough, all the chairs had disappeared. William welcomed me, but everything had been packed into a crate. I settled onto the grass and enjoyed the shade offered by the gazebo. Once I had recovered my wits, I limped to De Wet's bus. They dropped me off at my car. I was exceedingly grateful. Walking more than 2 km in that state would not have been a lot of fun.

    There were several missed calls on my phone. One was from Olga. She had seen me in the start bunch, but I hadn't seen her. I was half grateful. Distraction was the last thing I needed. It turns out that the Eskom heckler had actually come to support Olga. She thought that I would get along very well with Andy. I told her to tell Andy that the guy who was busy with road shedding would get along with her. I mentioned my flamboyant hat. Olga responded that that had been the first thing she noticed. She'd found it strange that a homeless man would appear in the start bunch. It didn't sound like a compliment.

    If the organisers honour their mat-to-mat undertaking, Comrades qualification is in the bag. Maybe I can improve it later, but at least the pressure is off.

    The Good: I survived a marathon for the first time since The Flu.

    The Bad: No distance markers. Misleading marshals.

    The Ugly: The organisers using the same subject line for more than a dozen emails and emailing all entries' ID numbers illegally.

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    Roodepoort Parkrun, Wednesday 2022-04-27 at 08:00

    Goal: Attend a bonus Parkrun during my taper week.

    The Wally Hayward marathon happens on Monday. I'm filled with trepidation after the Irene failure, so I'm trying to taper adequately to be well rested. The opportunity to do a midweek Parkrun fits perfectly into this picture. About a dozen Gauteng Parkruns are open today. I chose the Roodepoort event, both for its relative proximity and for the fact that I need another two Parkruns starting with "R" to spell my name.

    Ken didn't respond to the invitation. Laurens and Vicky chickened out during the night. Alet and I left around 06:50. Finding the venue was a little difficult, as Roodepoort's road names are hardly marked at all. Nevertheless, we arrived around 07:35. With the temperature around 7°C, I kept my jacket on for the warmup. The announcements were short and we started about a minute early. I settled into tenth place. A woman ahead was being dragged along by a dog. I envied her. My legs were very stiff. Clearly, I had not warmed up enough. There were no distance markers. The route was slightly muddy. A clear brown path was visible on the lush green surface. At the furthest turn, there were some cones just outside the path. A marshal stood beyond the cones, berating us for "just cheating ourselves". Apparently, we were supposed to have passed outside the cones...

    Around 12 minutes, two youngsters sailed past. I completed the first lap around 13:35. On the second lap, I made good use of some tar roads adjacent to the route. I passed outside the cones this time, suggesting to the marshal that she might tell us where to run rather than just berating all the participants. I lapped the tail walker and started encountering many walkers. Fortunately, there was lots of space. I came close to catching the runner ahead, but over the last section he disappeared into the bunch ahead. I finished around 27:30 and received tag 14. I was surprised, as there had only been 11 runners in front of me. I collected jackets from the car and ambled back along the route. The temperature was now 11°C. Alet jostled with another woman, running and walking. She finished around 52 minutes. We soon found our way home before she headed off for a short vacation with friends. I'm hoping that I haven't exhausted myself excessively for Monday's action!

    The Good: Nice Parkrun in scenic surroundings.

    The Bad: No distance markers. Few route markers. Somewhat rutted route, surrounded by draggy grass.

    The Ugly: The vocal but unhelpful marshal.

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    Noordwyk Parkrun, Saturday 2022-04-23 at 08:00

    Goal: Attend a Parkrun event Number 5 and get some distance on my legs.

    The Noordwyk Parkrun's fifth event happened today. After collecting Laurens at his house, we arrived in Noordwyk at 07:30. We went to view the Russian Orthodox church close up. To my amazement, there were no demonstrators outside. Laurens and I took a brisk walk in the park, while Alet and Lia hovered near the start. The announcements were short and sweet, and we started exactly on time. As usual, a small bunch started frantically. I settled into ninth place. A young girl with long blonde hair was in the bunch. I was pretty certain she would drop out pretty soon.

    The course is strange. From the start, one ventures out in a northerly direction. Following a U-turn, one ventures back toward the start. Passing through some derelict tennis courts, one ventures southeast in a similar out-and-back direction, followed by a third leg to the southwest. The second lap consists of the same exercise again. Too late, I noticed orange paint marks against some trees and lampposts. It seemed like we were taking some short cuts in two of the legs. I compensated on the second lap, doing a bit more than necessary. To my amazement, Blondie stayed ahead all the way to the finish. I gradually slid up the rankings into eighth place, crossing the line in 27:32. I was surprised to receive Tag 7.

    It seemed like they were short of volunteers, so I approached the run director to help. She suggested that I man the split where finishers diverge from the first-lappers. I took up my post, directing second-lappers to the finish. Laurens came past around the half-hour mark. After finishing, he came to keep me company. Eventually, the bunch thinned out. Alet and Lia arrived around 54 minutes. After the stragglers thinned out, we ambled back to the car and tackled the drive home.

    Laurens and I were dropped off in Centurion, 16 km from Alet's house where I could collect my car. I struggled to get started, stiff from the vigorous Parkrun and an hour to cool down. We plodded on together for the first 6 km or so, after which Laurens ventured into his neighbourhood and I turned right. A long uphill followed by an even longer downhill, with generous doses of walking and intermittently cleaning up the streets, and I arrived at Alet's place. They were not yet home, so I settled down on the green grass next to the pool and caught up on some sleep.

    The Good: Parkrun events 1 to 5 are in the bag. Lia appearing on the South African Parkrun Most Events list. I actually survived 21 km of running.

    The Bad: No distance markers. Poorly marked turnarounds. Badly calibrated distance (actually 5,2 km).

    The Ugly: The long way home was slooooooooow.

    Back to Index

    Irene Ultra 48 km, Sunday 2022-04-10 at 05:30

    Goal: Complete 48 km unscathed, preferably at 7:00/km or better.

    This week has been rough. The financial year-end was followed by having to examine a Masters dissertation and another article. Friday, I had to collect the race numbers in Centurion. Saturday was spent in a meeting and working on aircraft, with no opportunity to take a break. To make matters worse, I'd left my car's window open and the pre-race checklist I had printed got soaked in rain. I got home around 21:00 and spent a few minutes preparing my logistics. Some of my race drinks had decayed after several years on the shelf. I got to bed before 22:00, but the whole night was marred by regular waking spells. The alarm clock at 04:10 came as a nasty surprise.

    I ran my checklist and headed for the door. I collected Laurens around 04:55. Traffic was relatively light, and we found parking by 05:20. Unfortunately, we had well over a km to go, and we had to break into a jog on the way. Although my checklist had saved me from forgetting my sunscreen and some lubrication, it didn't save me from forgetting my hat and my breakfast. I also left some of my race snacks at home, specifically the cheese and the dates. I had one of my race snacks before the start in lieu of breakfast.

    The horn went as we approached the start line. The bunch was relatively big, with perhaps 2000 runners. We moved very slowly in darkness, crossing the start line after perhaps three minutes. The sole illumination consisted of city lights reflecting off the low cloud ceiling. It worked, as passing under a lane of trees resulted in almost complete darkness. Perhaps 10 minutes in, Laurens commented that we were on pace. The bunch soon thinned out, and we were running comfortably. There was very light drizzle, but not enough to get us wet. I lost touch with Laurens. Around the 4 km mark, it was getting light, and I could finally read my stopwatch. I was about four minutes early. Despite my attempt to take it easy, I was moving too fast. I deliberately slowed down. I was slightly stiff, but my motion gradually became more fluid. We were now meandering through Midstream. The bunch had considerably thinned out, and light banter could be heard all round. I was surprised to notice that we were on a completely new route, mostly south of the start, and that the distance markers suggested that we would do three laps of 16 km each. I thought back to the Huff and Puff, and realised that I would again be faced with the temptation of passing my car on two occasions. I wondered if I would be able to resist the temptation.

    I passed the 10 km mark in about 1:05, five minutes early. I managed to maintain a comfortable jog. I finally passed the start at 1:36, around six minutes early. I started taking regular walk breaks, hoping to bring the pace back to the planned pace and preserve my strength. I felt increasingly uncomfortable, with both my hips and my left knee complaining ever so slightly. I was definitely gradually deteriorating. The second lap produced more of the same. The leaders lapped us early in the second lap. I envied them being on their last lap. I deliberately restrained my pace, and gradually came closer to the planned arrival times. Unfortunately, I was not feeling better. I started taking regular walk breaks, considering my options as I went. Around the 26 km mark, I was almost on pace, but I was still not getting better. I started thinking that I would retire at the end of the lap, as I was definitely running a risk of causing lasting damage. Laurens came cruising past. He looked comfortable. I told him that I might withdraw, and that he had to look for me in the parking lot.

    I completed the second lap about two minutes early. I maintained a 6:00/km pace for the last km or two, but continuing for another lap definitely wasn't going to do me any good. I continued to the electronic tag readers before turning around and returning to the car. The walk there was not exactly fun. I was already getting stiff. I passed Thabo, just completing his second lap. He looked relaxed. I found the car and tried to make myself comfortable. I just could not find a comfortable position, but I did manage to doze off for about an hour. Laurens phoned me somewhat earlier than expected. He had clearly gained momentum on the last lap. I drove off and collected him from the gate. He had finished about 15 minutes ahead of schedule, with a comfortable Group G Comrades qualifier.

    I'm very disappointed. I don't quite understand what the problem was. Exhaustion, the previous long day, my failure to have a decent breakfast and an initial pace a little faster than planned all played a role. At least I'm still in one piece and I can continue my training programme, but there is clearly a long way to go. Having missed a relatively lenient qualifying pace, I'll have to do somewhat better on a standard marathon. At least there are several months left.

    The Good: Good running weather. Reasonably flat route.

    The Bad: Weak and sore.

    The Ugly: A miserable failure all round. How will I ever get back to running some real distance again?

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    Huff and Puff 8, 16, 24 or 32 km,Saturday 2022-04-02 at 05:30

    Goal: 24 km at 6:30/km or so.

    I was surprised to learn about Nuno's latest event, right on my doorstep. It was earlier than I would have liked, but at least I only had 400 m to walk to the start. They had pitched a gazebo in the gymnasium's parking lot, and after a few short announcements, we started on a clockwise circuit. It was still almost completely dark. On the gradual descent to Saint Street, the sky gradually lightened. Walter regaled me and Ken with a lecture on boutique trucks. The tale was interrupted by the sudden uphill in Saints. Atterbury Road is never a pleasant experience, and we arrived back at the gym after just under an hour. Laurens joined us in the last stretch. The second lap was counterclockwise. I was taking strain, perhaps not fully recovered from the previous Saturday. On the second lap, I started cleaning up the neighbourhood. As a result, I lagged a little behind my peers. Back at the gazebo, I decided to call it a day. The temptation of my house within visual range was just a bit too much. After chatting with Laurens and some girls for a few minutes, I headed home to tackle the rest of my Saturday. I kept telling myself that it was prudent to preserve myself for next Saturday's 48 km ultra...

    The Good: Right on my doorstep.

    The Bad: Stiff and tired. Clearly not fully recovered from the 32 km race.

    The Ugly: 05:30!

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    Kolonnade 32 km, 15 km and 5 km; Saturday 2022-03-26 at 06:00

    Goal: Complete 32 km at around 6:15/km, unscathed.

    I somehow got bullied into entering for the Irene Ultra in April, so I was looking for a transition from the half marathon to the full marathon and beyond. The Kolonnade 32 km seemed like the perfect opportunity. I didn't feel quite ready, but 32 km races are few and far between, so I entered several weeks ago. I was overjoyed when Hanri informed me last week that she had also entered. Her best distance thus far is 25 km, so this race would be a step up. We agreed that we would aim for 6:15/km, her planned marathon pace. Laurens decided to take it easier, opting for 6:30/km instead.

    Laurens collected me from the CSIR around 05:22. He insisted on parking as far as possible from the start line. On our walk in, we bumped into Danie and Melani—two more faces that I haven't seen in two years. We found the entry tables, collected our numbers and made our way to the start line. We arrived with more than five minutes to spare and found Hanri almost immediately. Very few athletes were wearing masks—perhaps under 10%. We started on time, crossing the start line in around 30 s. The bunch was dense, but flowed well. The first distance marker I saw was at 3 km, which we passed about 30 s late. Given the start, I was not worried. The next marker was at 6 km, by which time we had reduced the deficit to 5 s. We were running eastbound, parallel to the mountain. The terrain was rather even. This all changed when we turned right to face the mountain. We meandered through the streets of Montana, gradually making our way back to Kolonnade. We stayed within 10 s of our target pace all the way to 25 km. I encountered Hendrik, amazingly without his cousins. However, he soon found three girls from Pretoria Bobbies to team up with. We passed Gustav at some point. He was walking powerfully, as always. The water points were efficient and friendly.

    The first lap ended at 15 km. The bunch did not thin out much. Halfway through the second lap, we entered the loop for the extra 2 km. Laurens was nowhere to be seen. I was a little worried, especially against the background of his rather ambitious two half marathons last weekend. Something else worried me; there was a noisy bus not far behind us. I resolved to stay well ahead of them. We passed 25 km on time, around 2:36:15. Hanri was now in uncharted territory. In addition to the normal level of fatigue one would expect, she complained of some pain in the gluteus maximus. She was still running strongly, but taking more regular walk breaks. I decided to use the opportunity to do some interval training. An Alpha Centurion runner with 30-odd Comrades and Two Oceans medals served as a marker, and I shuttled back and forth between him and Hanri. We were now losing time, the deficit soon sliding past the five minute mark. As we passed 1 km to go, I advised Hanri that we could still finish at less than 6:30/km. We ran strongly, finishing around 3:27 for a pace of just under 6:30/km. The scary part is that we could hear the noisy bus as we finished. What a narrow escape! We availed ourselves of the ablution facilities and returned to her club tent. Laurens soon found us. He had finished only minutes behind us, just within his planned 6:30/km. He reported that he had initially suffered, fearing that my admonitions about his two half marathons might not have been misplaced. However, as is his custom, he gained momentum throughout the race, completing the second lap much faster than the first.

    We found our way back to the cars. I slumped into the passenger seat, feeling a little sorry for myself. All things considered, I'm happy. Our pace worked well to the 25 km mark, and I don't anticipate any lasting ill effects.

    The Good: A "normal" 32 km race. There is life after The Flu! Good distance markers, albeit not every km. Hanri completing her longest race yet.

    The Bad: Forgetting to lubricate your nipples before a long race is a mistake. Fabric is much more abrasive than you think.

    The Ugly: The thought of adding another 16 km onto this distance next month strikes me as a tall order...

    Back to Index

    Right to Run Half Marathon, 10 km and 5 km; Monday 2022-03-21 at 07:00

    Goal: Complete a half marathon around two hours, unscathed.

    This week, I collected my ASA racing licence from Gert. I was delighted to get my old AGN66 back, as there had been talk of the club losing its block of numbers after The Flu. It seems like the strategy I implemented a decade ago paid off; I had concentrated most of the members in the lower part of our block with the expectation that AGN might one day reallocate some of our numbers, and my own number proved to be one of the survivors when it finally happened.

    Laurens had entered for two races this weekend. Given the Kolonnade 32 km race that looms next weekend, I thought it was a really bad idea. Accordingly, I planned to do a Parkrun on Saturday and a half marathon on Monday's public holiday. The Parkrun fell victim to a balloon flying opportunity, but I was eager to try out today's half marathon. I tried to pre-enter, but Entrytime's credit card portal did not work. The organisers emphasised that there would be limited entries on the day, so we planned to arrive with an hour to spare. I collected Laurens at 05:43 and arrived at Pilditch Stadium exactly at 06:00. There were no queues, and I had my entry in my hand at 06:05. The long wait became even longer, as the start was postponed to 07:30 due to delays with placing the marshals and then brought back to 07:15. We used the spare time to check out the cycling track and the newly-revamped athletics stadium.

    Even though the three distances would start together, the bunch was relatively small, with perhaps a tenth of the 200-odd runners wearing masks. We started near the back, making our way forward in the first km or so. I soon lost contact with Laurens. In addition to the same circumspection I required to prevent a catastrophe next weekend, Laurens also had the recent half marathon in his legs. I jogged lightly on very even terrain, passing the 2 km mark at 12:30. I was slightly too slow. The 3 km mark slid by at 17:30—slightly too fast. I wondered about the veracity of the markers. The water points were all well organised. All the helpers handing out water sachets wore gloves—a new phenomenon since The Flu started.

    The run-down industrial area made for interesting scenery. A noisy bunch from Faranani came by. Perhaps it is fortuitous that we were not in a residential area, so early on a public holiday. Around the 8 km mark, we started passing the tail-enders of the 5 km race. They looked much more exhausted than any of us on the longer route. We passed the turnoff to the finish. I was amazed to see that most of the runners continued for a second lap. 10 km came around 57 minutes. I was starting to feel tired, walking intermittently. The loop in the second lap went up a steep hill, mercifully short. We passed Cor Delfos station, making a 180° turn before running headlong down the steep hill to rejoin the loop. Towards the end of the loop, I saw Sandra walking up the hill. We exchanged greetings, the first since The Flu. I stuck to the dotted line between two lanes, avoiding the worst camber on the road. Several traffic cops and marshals felt it was their duty to nudge me to the other side of that dotted line. Nevertheless, the almost-zero camber helped a lot. It was clear that I would finish after somewhat more than two hours. At the 19 km mark, I estimated 2:02. At the 20 km mark, I estimated 2:01. At the finish line, I actually broke 1:59. Clearly, their distance markers were not great.

    I waited for Laurens in the car. He finished around 2:12. We left straight away, stopping by at my mailbox on the way home. I hadn't collected mail in months. There was exactly one letter. Way to go, Post Office! As I write this in the early afternoon, at least it seems like I didn't overdo things. I'm tired and slightly sore, but at least I'm intact.

    The Good: Things are definitely returning to normality. I was pleasantly surprised to break two hours without undue strain.

    The Bad: Distance markers were a bit iffy; I only saw 10 of them (2, 3, 5, 8, 12, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20 km) and the spacing was irregular, to say the least.

    The Ugly: Entrytime just doesn't seem to get this credit card thing right. Losing an hour of sleep is a high price to pay.

    Back to Index

    Gracepoint Parkrun, Saturday 2022-03-05 at 08:00

    Goal: Attend a Parkrun event Number 4.

    With Event Numbers 1, 2 and 3 out of the way, we took the opportunity to collect Number 4 today. Vicky declined our invitation, so I invited Ken. He immediately accepted. Laurens met us there, as TA had decided to join him. Alet and I collected Ken from his house at 06:50, arriving at 07:30. Ken disappeared for a while, leaving us to explore the route and warm up. The trail was clean and well marked, but the slopes were daunting and the surface uneven. I set myself a target of at least breaking 30 minutes. The course looked boring on the map, but in real life the vegetation was dense enough that the head-on traffic was barely visible. I chatted to some of the participants. Many of them were high-ranking Parkrun tourists, including John Kollen, third in South Africa and just barely behind Bruce Fordyce with 222 different events. The announcements were short and sweet, and we started exactly on time.

    To my surprise, Laurens surged ahead. After some initial jostling, I found myself in seventh place, maybe three places ahead of Laurens. We climbed a steep hill, then sailed downhill to the river. We followed the river for a while. The banks were littered with tonnes of garbage brought on by the recent rains, but the path was clean. The climb to the upper parking lot was laborious, to say the least. I walked much of it. After a short downhill grade, I passed the start point at 9:10. If I could maintain the pace for two more laps, I would at least achieve my target time.

    We soon started lapping the tailenders. Most people yielded immediately to the left. I never felt obstructed. I lapped Alet, then TA and then Ken. I saw Laurens a few times in the loops, but lapping him was not on the cards. I again walked most of the serious uphill, entering the third lap at 19:00. I'd lost some time, but the goal was still within reach. The third lap was uneventful. I finished in seventh place around 29:20. Clearly, I'd lost some steam in the latter half, but at least I didn't bust the dreaded half-hour mark. Laurens finished soon after in 13th place, with Ken and TA arriving in due course. It was great to see TA back in the fray. Laurens and I tackled another lap, using the opportunity to relentlessly rib the course marshals and overtaking Alet near the river. I chatted to Rae for a while, and soon discovered that she and Ken have known one another for decades. As everyone had a busy day ahead, we soon headed home.

    With events 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 in the bag, the Top Ten is slowly approaching completion. Hopefully, focus on important stuff will return eventually...

    The Good: TA's return to outdoor running. Alet appearing on the international Parkrun Most Events list. Yet another low Parkrun event number. A challenging route and more than enough heavy breathing.

    The Bad: No distance markers, although the laps could serve the same purpose if your mental arithmetic is good enough.

    The Ugly: Yet again, my resolve to do some more distance afterwards didn't result in more than one extra lap.

    Back to Index

    Skemerberg Parkrun, Saturday 2022-02-26 at 07:00

    Goal: Attend a Parkrun event Number 2.

    A plethora of new Parkruns sprang up in the past few weeks. Having learned about several of them from Bruce at Bapsfontein, and having accumulated both a Number 1 and a Number 3 event, I suggested that we should attend a Number 2 this weekend. Laurens, Alet and Vicky accepted. Laurens wanted to take it easy, as he'd entered for a half marathon the following day. I've had lots of trouble with a sore back in the past weeks, and wasn't certain whether I'd be in shape for a Parkrun, but I was certainly going to try. I had a bad night, waking up dozens of times and having to apply a cold compress to manage the sore back muscles. The alarm clock was a rude interruption.

    We left Alet's house around 05:40. After a scenic drive, we arrived at the venue at 06:30, with enough time to take a warmup stroll through the quarry and the piles of manure. I had a slight back cramp as I alighted from Laurens's car. I assumed there would be plenty of Parkrun tourists in attendance. I was not disappointed. I chatted to a group of runners in 100 and 250 shirts. Their number of events ranged from 85 to 180. All were eager to add another new one. Vicky had a nasty surprise when she realised that she'd forgotten to bring her barcode. The announcements started around 06:50. They were clear (if you understand Afrikaans) and outlined a complex route consisting of four loops. The announcer also indicated that the first km would be a climb, followed by 4 km of downhill. Some quick mental arithmetic left the distinct impression that the first km would have to be a serious climb...

    We started on time, immediately tackling a breathtaking climb—breathtaking in the most literal sense. I initially settled into 13th place, then 11th. I could see five runners ahead. Like me, they were all walking. Eventually, we turned right to follow the contour. Most of us broke into a half-hearted jog. We turned right again, sailing down a steep slope with uneven paving. There was a great view to be had, with the Hartbeespoort Dam in the background, but the uneven footing meant that I hardly noticed any of it. We soon entered the second loop on even terrain. I passed a marker showing "4 km to go" at 6:20—slow, but not irredeemable. I crept up the field, reaching eighth place by the "2 km to go" at 16:50. We were now entering the fourth loop, down in the valley and with a gradual climb to the finish. We meandered through fairly dense growth. The surface was fairly even, but slightly muddy from the previous night's rain. A youngish man in black remained ahead of me, stubbornly resisting my attempts to catch him. Another followed behind, in dogged pursuit. There was not going to be any respite. "1 km to go", and the Black Knight cracked. I sailed past, leaving no-one in sight. After passing "500 m to go", I crossed the finish line under 28 minutes, in seventh place.

    There was a commotion at the finish. Even though the number tags were strung on a line and were being handed out sequentially, the scanning was in disarray. The scanner did not seem to know what to do with runners without barcodes. I offered the race director some help, and started handing out number tags while trying to help with scanning advice. Laurens arrived in 31st place in about 35 minutes. By about the 50th finisher, things settled into a nice routine. Shortly before 08:00, more runners started arriving. The first one left disappointed when she learned that we'd started at 07:00. The next few all took the option to start late, based on my directions. Rather late than never! Alet and Vicky arrived in 121st and 122nd place. I was dismissed by about the 150th finisher, and we found our way to the nearby Harties attractions for breakfast and some fresh produce shopping. Because of the barcode scanning, not much came of my plan to do another 10 km or so afterwards.

    The results confirmed the notion that the finish times were slightly out of sync. I am listed in seventh place as expected, but with a time somewhat different to my estimate. Laurens is shown in 28th place, with Alet and Vicky at 122 and 123 out of 160 finishers.

    Events 1, 2 and 3 are now in the bag. We'll have to think carefully about our plans. Comrades looms in the distance, and we will have to start accumulating some real distance on Saturdays. For the moment, the temptation remains to do Event 4 and my first Parkrun in March and one starting with a C and...

    The Good: Another new Parkrun event number. My first opportunity to be a Parkrun volunteer.

    The Bad: Incomplete distance markers.

    The Ugly: Our plans to do some real distance are not gaining momentum.

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    Nedbank-Skosana Half Marathon, 10 km and 5 km. Saturday 2022-02-12 at 06:00

    Goal: Complete a half marathon in not too much over two hours, and don't get lapped more than once.

    I was a little surprised when Hanri sent us a flyer for an upcoming race. It had all the hallmarks of normality. Just like the olden days. We enrolled online for the half marathon, along with over 400 other runners. I collected my race number on Friday as instructed. Around 19:30, Laurens phoned me in a panic. He had not collected his number, and the collection point was now closed. On my suggestion he called an enquiries number, and was told that he would be accommodated in the morning.

    I woke before the alarm clock, around 04:50. I made my way to the venue, finding parking 100 m from the finish line. I saw Lammie, Hennie, Jaap and Iain, all for the first time in almost two years. Hanri and Laurens were waiting at the start as agreed. The bunch was not too crowded, and about a third of the 400-odd runners were masked. With two minutes to go, Laurens pointed out that I had to undergo a Covid check. I rushed to the desk and had my temperature taken. I collected a green dot on my race number and rushed back to the start. I just made it, except the start gun didn't go. It finally went about three minutes late, and we were on our way. The planning was originally to maintain 6:00/km for the first 15 km or so, and then to accelerate to attempt a two-hour finish if our reserves allowed. Things didn't quite work as planned, though. We would do four laps of about 5 km each, but the extra 1100 m would be added at the start, not on the last lap. Accordingly, calculating our pace would be harder than usual. In addition, the distance markers were placed in descending order, requiring some higher-grade mental arithmetic.

    Our first km or so felt much too fast, but Hanri assured me that it was fine. The next km felt just as fast, and Hanri assured me that we were much too fast. We slowed down a little, maintaining just under 6:00/km for the next lap or so. The bunch was rather thin by now. The lead vehicle shot by near the finish, followed by scrawny runners looking determined. This was not a good sign. I really didn't want to be lapped twice...

    We were fairly comfortable, but it was going to be hard to maintain the pace. My calculations pointed to a 2:04 finish. My worst fears were realised when the lead vehicle shot by again, just before the end of the second lap. I consoled myself that it wouldn't have happened if the loop had been near the end. I consumed a gel sachet after two laps, while Hanri had some peanut butter, or reasonable facsimile thereof. On the final lap, I was feeling reasonably comfortable, but Hanri was taking strain. We walked twice. There was a white woman with blue dreadlocks ahead of us. I used her as a marker, and it was patently obvious that we were losing ground. I wasn't going to make two hours, so I decided to reserve myself to a 2:04 finish and use the opportunity to clean up the streets. I repeatedly lagged behind, and had to work hard to catch Hanri again. The Blue Rasta gradually disappeared up ahead. In the last km or so, I was definitely anaerobic. We finished just after 2:04 and collected some cool water before propping ourselves up near the finish. Biffy came to chat for a few minutes. Hanri was smug about her new personal best half marathon time. Lawrence arrived around 2:12. We continued to chat for a while before heading back to our cars. Much of the discussion revolved around how to complete a qualifying marathon in the next few months. Running a mediocre half marathon in February would be a disaster in a normal Comrades year, but at least this year's Comrades is a couple of months later than usual. Let's hope we can jump this chasm!

    The Good: A real race, after almost two years without one! Good distance markers, albeit in the wrong order.

    The Bad: Only one water point, with clumsy service and leaking water bags.

    The Ugly: Two-something for a half marathon in February!

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    Bapsfontein Hotel Parkrun, Saturday 2022-02-05 at 08:00

    Goal: Attend a Parkrun event with a low number.

    I happened to be browsing some Parkrun records this week, and noticed that a new Parkrun had appeared. The Bapsfontein Hotel Parkrun (not to be confused with the now-defunct Bapsfontein Parkrun) started two weeks ago. Having recently completed an inaugural Parkrun at Eldoradopark, we just had to use the opportunity to do a Number 3 event at this new venue.

    We left Alet's home at 06:30. She dropped us off near the Wellknown church just before 07:00. We plodded along in light rain, somewhat the worse for wear after Tuesday's brutal 15 km session. An occasional oncoming truck enveloped me in a cloud of fine mist. By the time I arrived at the hotel around 07:45, I had 8 km on the clock and a myriad of light brown spots on my once-white shirt. Laurens arrived a few minutes later. There were around 35 participants, with only about a quarter being masked. The announcements were succinct and audible, and we started on time. To my amazement, the announcer made no mention of Bruce Fordyce in the field. At all previous events that I had attended with him, he was asked to say something. This time, we were spared the bad standup comedy.

    I started in seventh place, soon moving up the field to fourth. The three runners ahead appeared to be serious. Deep mud puddles spanned the entire width of the road in places, and they simply ran straight through. I tried to circumvent the first two, but soon realised that I was not going to keep up. I went straight through the third one, submerging my shoes and socks entirely in the mud. I soon lost contact with the three leaders, but the runner following me was intermittently visible with his red T-shirt. We ran on a graded road, often flanked on both sides by tall trees. The ambience was rather pleasant, with the cloud cover and lots of shade. The terrain was only slightly undulating. Had it not been for the mud, it could have been close to idyllic.

    We followed the fence counterclockwise around the fenced premises to the 2 km mark, passing it at 10:40. We then swung left and tackled an inner loop. The 3 km mark went by at 15:45. I did not see any other distance markers. At the 3 km mark, we started following the fence back to the start. I soon passed Alet, coming the other way with some other pedestrians. The Red Baron pursued me relentlessly, mostly about 100 m behind. I noticed some brownish paths through the tall grass, skirting most of the muddiest pools. The runners behind us clearly did not fancy wading through the mud. I made good use of the detours. I gradually opened up the gap on the Red Baron. Near the end, there was some confusion about the exact line to follow. It looked like we were supposed to turn inside a line of cones, but I deliberately ran around one of them, just to be sure.

    I finished in fourth place, just after 27 minutes. The three leaders were standing there, chatting. I joined them. To my amazement, all of them were fifty-something, or even older. I wasn't going to win my age group today! Laurens finished about two minutes behind me in seventh place. We went to scout the vicinity, seeing the remains of the legendary country music venue from the Seventies. It is now a small shopping centre with a variety of novelty shops. Bruce finished about 10 minutes behind Laurens. I walked back on the course to find Alet. I found her engrossed in conversation with a young girl, and ambled to the finish with them. I asked Bruce Fordyce about possible new Parkruns in the vicinity. Looks like there are some opportunities to accumulate some low event numbers in the immediate future! The original plan had included the possibility of a run back to the church, but the temptation of Alet's car proved irresistible. On the way back, we stopped at a breakfast venue.

    The results proved interesting. The winner, Rodney Trevor Jones, is over 60 and has 322 Parkruns and 81 venues to his credit. Runner-up Gavin Arentsen won my age group, with 181 Parkruns and 39 venues. Third was Tracy Rankin, fifth on the South African tourist list with 473 Parkruns and 202 different venues. Unknowingly, I had been chatting to some real celebrities! The Red Baron is a local, with almost all his previous Parkruns at the former Bapsfontein Parkrun. Other luminaries on the Tourist list that I noticed in the results included Leonvz Touring, Anita Blount and, of course, the Fordyces.

    The Good: Taking in a new Parkrun venue close to home, while still getting in some distance. Finally seeing the legendary Bapsfontein country music haven from yesteryear.

    The Bad: Only two distance markers (unless I missed something).

    The Ugly: Mud halfway up my shins, and that with my brand-new running shoes and socks...

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    Eldorado Park Parkrun, Saturday 2022-01-15 at 08:00

    Goal: Attend an inaugural Parkrun.

    Some weeks ago, while looking for a new Parkrun venue close to home, I happened to notice that a new Parkrun would be starting at Eldorado Park. I diarised the date and told all my running partners about it. All were initially interested, but the attrition continued until only Laurens and Alet were left. We collected Laurens at 06:45, arriving at the venue around 07:30. But for Laurens's smartphone, finding the venue would have been an adventure. My directions relied on street names, which are not exactly well marked on streets in that valley. I had also prepared directions to two nearby Parkruns in Soweto, just in case. There was no need to fear—there was plenty of activity and the parking lot was already filling up with cars.

    The brand-new Parkrun has been laid out in a small park around the sports stadium. The route traverses the entire property twice, including some meandering inside the grounds and three laps of the stadium. The speeches were heavier than usual, including a speech by guest celebrity Bruce Fordyce. Bruce claimed that he expected to win his age group, as all his contemporaries were dead. The bunch was rather large—I estimated between 300 and 400 participants. Bruce fired the starting gun and joined the bunch just behind me. We started with a full lap of the track. We quickly lapped the tail-enders, passing on the right and leaving the stadium to circumnavigate the grounds. The terrain was flat, making for a relatively fast pace. I settled into 21st place. At the end of the first lap, we all received elastic armbands as proof of completion. We were now in dense traffic, negotiating the tail-enders with their toddlers, prams and dogs. Approaching the end of the second lap, I saw Alet just in front of me. A marshal told me that I had to turn left into the stadium. I did, and ended up in a dead-end. By the time I rejoined the proper route, Alet was still in front of me. I barely missed lapping her. The last lap of the track was tough, with me gasping for breath while chasing a much younger guy. I finished in 20th place in 26:20.

    We were back in Pretoria by 10:00. By mid-day on Sunday, there was still no sign of results. I was really, really hoping that they hadn't lost it all. The results finally appeared during the afternoon. There were some surprises. I had moved up to 19th and my time had shrunk to 26:02. I suspect they had lost a runner somewhere along the line. Laurens was still in his original 42nd spot, and Alet still in her 284th place. More surprisingly, 681 finishers were listed—a lot more than I'd estimated.

    Now we've finally run out of excuses. It's time to start doing some real distance on Saturdays. Maybe we'll take off the occasional Saturday just for the fun of it, or to complete some badge requirements. For example, I still need to do a March, April and May Parkrun one day; and one starting with a C, and one starting with a U, and another starting with B, and two more starting with R...

    The Good: The chance to complete Event Number 1 at a new location. A festive atmosphere. Beating Bruce Fordyce again.

    The Bad: Not a single distance marker.

    The Ugly: Time to face the real distances again.

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    Rondebosch Common Parkrun, Saturday 2022-01-08 at 08:00

    Goal: Notch up another Parkrun unscathed. 26:00 would be nice.

    I unexpectedly had to fly to Cape Town, raising the possibility of another new Parkrun. I had some concerns about getting to a venue, as most Parkruns are still closed, but after landing in Cape Town, Naseer indicated that he would join me. His brother Moosa would pick us up at the hotel. We would be back in time to leave for the airport at 10:00 as planned.

    Several attractive choices are still closed, so I settled on Rondebosch Common. It has been open for the past four weeks, and we could always divert to nearby Zandvlei, which has been open for the past six weeks. I sent Lia a text message, as she also seems to have been chasing a few new venues recently. I got to bed just after midnight.

    Sunlight through a gap in the curtains woke me up around five. Soon after, there was a response from Lia. I got the impression that my message may have been delivered late, but Lia indicated that she was doing Century City. Pity—would have been nice to see her.

    Moosa picked us up at 07:20. We found parking around 07:30 and went looking for Naseer2. I was relieved to see that the terrain is flat; very flat. I read the notices relating the history of the place, going back to the 17th century. Naseer1 and I walked and jogged for a few minutes to warm up before returning for the briefing. There was a large banner with instructions: Keep right, pass left, keep dogs on a short leash. We would do slightly more than two laps.

    The briefing was audible and clear. Most of the runners were prudently spaced and masked. Seeding banners divided runners into batches according to expected finish time. I presumptuously joined the sub-25 bunch, right at the front. We started about two minutes late. With only fast runners in the bunch, we soon settled into order. I was around 33rd. Very little overtaking happened, but we faced a constant stream of oncoming walkers and runners. They had not been briefed to keep right. The first km went by in 4:50. Ambitious, but not disastrous. A youngster came sprinting past. I wondered how long it would last. I didnít have to wait long. He blew up and started walking, allowing me to sail past. 2 km came at 09:30. Perfect. The extra oxygen definitely helps. I completed the first lap, then passed the 3 km mark at 14:20. There was a real chance that I would break 25 minutes for the first time since The Flu started.

    I was suffering. Just after the 3 km mark, I had to take a walk break for the first time. I probably took another four walk breaks, arriving at the 4 km mark around 19:50 and the finish at 24:40. I was 31st, almost a minute inside my post-Flu best. I was tired but comfortable.

    I walked back to find my companions. I found Naseer2 around 28:00 near the finish. He would definitely finish under 30 minutes. Naseer1 and Moosa were nowhere to be found. I walked almost all the way around the lap before a car pulled up beside me and offered me a lift. The pair had decided to quit after the first lap. They saw me backtracking and eventually came to look for me by car. I was sweating profusely, something that seldom happens back home. The temperature was over 30°C by the time we arrived at the airport.

    Everyone enjoyed the outing. We may have several new Parkrun participants. I am certainly happy that I was able to cash in on the extra oxygen to break 25 minutes, in addition to adding yet another Parkrun to my tally.

    Next week weíre planning to attend a brand-new Parkrun. Weíll use the opportunity to log Event Number 1, but then weíll have to knuckle down and start doing some real distance. Who knows, maybe Iíll get another coincidental opportunity to notch up a few more Parkrun venues this year.

    The Good: Great organisation. Well-maintained track in a historic location. Flat terrain. Great distance markers. Lots of oxygen. 24-something!

    The Bad: Not bumping into Lia as I was hoping I would.

    The Ugly: Litres of water dripping onto the floor around me.

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    Alberts Farm Parkrun, Saturday 2022-01-01 at 08:00

    Goal: Notch up another Parkrun unscathed. 27:00 would be nice. Yawn...

    Yet another Saturday, yet another Parkrun. Unfortunately, Parkrun's Total Control policy got the upper hand, and the arrangement that allowed two or three Parkruns on New Year's Day has been cancelled. We left Alet's house at 06:30, collected Laurens at 06:45 and found our way to the venue with half an hour to spare. Laurens and I walked around the route, while Alet, Latie and Amelia stayed behind. The wind was gusty, predicting nothing good about the Parkrun. We mostly walked, breaking into a token run towards the end. At least I wasn't as stiff as the previous Saturday. I found a series of Alberts family graves, the oldest that I noticed dating from 1888.

    A concise route briefing for new arrivals started early, followed by the main briefing. I thought we'd actually start on time. It was not to be. The main briefing was long-winded in the extreme, and we only got going around 08:03. The start was not as boisterous as one often sees, and I settled into 22nd place. The surface was slippery, rutted and full of tall grass—a far cry from some of the manicured routes we've recently seen. The route meanders around the park, with two gradual climbs onto the back side of Northcliff hill. Blue skies allowed the sun to bake down mercilessly. I occasionally walked on uphills. There were no distance markers, making it hard to judge my pace. Over the last half, I passed only two runners and only two passed me. I finished around 28:15 in 20th place.

    Laurens finished several minutes later. He was not keen to do another lap, so I walked back along the route to find the other three. I found them around 4 km. A woman carrying a child against her chest was just ahead of them. I had a hard time keeping up with her, despite her 20 kg handicap. It turns out that her family also did the Parkrun tourist circuit. We finished again, found our way to the car and made our way home, to resume our normal Saturday chores around 10:00.

    Laurens and I reflected along the way that we cannot maintain this Parkrun spree indefinitely. Soon, we'll have to knuckle down and start doing some real distance on Saturdays. But the respite is fun while it lasts.

    The Good: Finding another green haven in the middle of Johannesburg.

    The Bad: No distance markers at all.

    The Ugly: 27:30 last week, 28:15 this week. Not a good trend...

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