Sunday, 20 April 2014

Adventures with the Cheer Dem Crew Part 2: London Baby!

London Marathon 2014 (April 13th) 

No messing about, and RDC Cheer Dem Crew brought out the big guns. Confetti Canons. Oh yes.

Ready. We Ready

 And all that training paid off - here's what happens when you take 100 RDC cheer dem supporters, add confetti canons, some sunshine and a WHOLE LOTTA CREW LOVE

Cheer Dem Crew in action

Now if that's not enough to get you counting down the days to the 2015 ballot, you're beyond help.

As Charlie Dark says.... If you don't run. You must cheer. 
Simple really. You get what you put in, and then you give it back

Not a dry eye in the house

Adventures with the Cheer Dem Crew: Part 1 Brighton

Marathon Season is upon us. Everyone knows this requires huge amounts of dedication, training and planning. Conquering the race is no mean feat. Months of endurance training, stamina and strength workouts leading up to one day where everything would have to come together at the right time to make it a success. 

Which is why when you're training for a cheer-a-thon like April, you need to have exercised your vocal chords to manage serious decibels with and without a loud hailer, managed the tricky supply/ demand ratio of jelly beans every ten minutes (for the runners too obviously), worn in your best stand/jump/run around shoes to last for at least 5.5 hours and trained your eagle eyes to spot your runners at least 100 metrers away for the best cheering opportunity. Speedy high fivers are a must. And a steady supply of scissors and string for signs essential. 

Brighton Marathon (April 6th)

What a great race to start off the season. Armed with layers for the weather, backpacks of supplies and the serious combined logistical genius of Paul and Clare, over 20 Cheer Dem Elites made it down to the coast to doll out some serious support to our runners (and everyone else!)

The Cheer Dem effect - actually lifts you off the ground

Ash models the new banners

Run Man! 

Which was the perfect way to warm up for the BIG ONE....

Friday, 18 April 2014

BERLIN Bridge the Gap: Run, Eat, Rave, Repeat

Its been an busy few months in my running calendar, Brighton Half in the bag (just) picking up training again with RDC season 14, running the Berlin Half and cheering both Brighton and London Marathons. My legs have recovered, my voice certainly has not.

Adventures with Cheer Dem Crew is a whole separate post so first things first. The race I've been training for since the end of last year. BERLIN!

Suffice to say, I have never been so excited for a race. My first time running abroad, first Bridge the Gap event, first time touring with the wonderful Run Dem Crew. It was like Matric rave all over again (without the dodgy cars and very cheap wine...)

Non running highlights included; Falling in love with Michelberger Hotel (seriously, is this just the hippest hotel in the world?) managing not to get lost on the S Bahn, the U Bahn or shouted at by scary transport police. Walking tours with Melissa, Keelan and Martyn. Binging on street art. Laughing, eating, laughing, and, let us not forget... German breakfasts. Heaven!

Berlin Sunshine Bikes and Bridges
Melissa, Keelan and Martyn. Helping me carb load

Then there was the race. Wow.  At least 60+ RDC runners, and crews from all over Europe (and the US!). I'm guessing all in all around 200 runners from outside of Berlin, all together committing to one race, celebrating what we have in common, what we do differently - sharing ideas, making friends, building community. But that was just the beginning, It got bigger. Post race party, serious business and in reality you had to be there. I don't think a blog can do it justice.

But there was still the smaller matter of actually running

Run Dem Crew take Berlin
Having made our way to the start line, we met up with our friends and international crew. The brilliant Berlin Braves who were hosting the weekend had laid on a spectacular pre-run breakfast, coffee, pastry, fruit galore! After a few words of inspiration from the crew captains, we kept ourselves busy waiting for the start time to come pinning race numbers, finding last minute vaseline, checking GPS functionality and comparing training highs and lows. 

By 9:50 we were heading towards our start pens, and after a bit of a delay we were finally off! I was thrilled to start off the race with fellow Greyhounds Lemara, Christabel and Amani - another first, actually running with a great women that I have been training with and not freaking out on my own! Having that support, even if you're not talking to each other throughout, but you can see their shirts nearby made such a difference. And getting the occasional pat on the back as one of the faster crew came through was amazing too. 

The race was hot, by 10K I knew hitting my goal 2:15 was going to be really tough, and I wanted to finish strong, rather than dead. I reduced my pace a fraction, took a couple of shot blocks, threw a few bottles of water  on my head and got on with it. Cheer Dem Crew were coming up at 16km and I knew once I cracked that I could sail to the finish. 

They were amazing. 

Melissa took some wonderful pics of us all coming through. Gives you a flavour of the power of Cheer Dem! 

Power up! Lemara and Christabel

I crossed the line in 2:20:03 that's a full EIGHT MINUTES faster than Brighton and it was at least 10 degrees warmer. A new PB and the full ten minutes I wanted off my original PB prior to 2014 races.

Job Done. Nothing left to do but vogue (and smash up the non-alcoholic beer at the finish!)

Hannah and I  take running very seriously

We finished up an unforgettable weekend with an epic after party at the Kantine Berghain. I managed midnight before heading to bed. Lightweight! I am blaming my 10am flight the following morning with a killer 8am check in. 

Huge thanks again to the lovely Melissa for being a brilliant room mate, and to everyone at RDC (especially the man himself Mr Charlie Dark) and the Berlin Braves for THE BEST running weekend this lady has ever had. 

Easily the best race of my running career so far, and its only April. Hackney Half still to come and Royal Parks Half in the Autumn. 

Any other amazing European races I should be entering? Passport is valid. Will travel!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Road to Berlin (via Koh Phangan and Brighton)

Five weeks until the Berlin Half Marathon! Training started very well in January, kicking off the year with two 10K races and a new PB, and one on one PT sessions with the brilliant Angel Dee who is training me up to her enviable warrior standards. Strong, no injury niggles. Feeling good!

And then I went to Thailand for two weeks in mid Jan, and training ground to a halt.  In 35 degree heat and with sketchy roads, mainly dirt tracks and with VERY steep gradients, running any kind of distance was going to be challenging. The north east of Koh Phangan is still fairly under developed due to the inaccessibility of the coast. The tarred road is new, and in years gone by, the only access to Thong Nai Pan was by boat.

Plus there were beaches to lie on, waterfalls to hike to and oceans to snorkel in, so my quest to find an uninterrupted 10 mile route was quickly abandoned. I made good use of the hotel treadmill to keep the legs ticking over, but even at 6am the humidity was suffocating, and anything more than 5-7km was horrid. Huge respect to runners who have to deal with this climate on a daily basis.  I was mostly a hot, sweaty, panting mess by 7am, downing litres of water and then having to lie very still in an air-conditioned room to cool down.

This was the ONE tar road. Cars were battling to take this in 1st gear.
I wimped out, walking it reduced R to tears. 

Drinking ALL THE WATER but check that view

Hardcore nutritional focus. Coconut shakes daily  

AND then making sure I had protein, and chilli. My god, all the chilli (can you see the tears..?) 

Returning to London was a shock to the system, in more ways than one. The weather was obviously dire, but I had mentally prepared myself for that. It's February in England so we were hardly expecting sunshine and daffodils. But the jet lag hit me with a mix of nausea, dizziness and some odd spells of memory loss (yes really). Reminder of my hangovers from the bad old days, but without a good old knees up to balance it out. Having not slept for over 30 hours it look me a good week to feel normal, and I had a race to prepare for. The nerves were beginning to set in.

So not the best start for the Brighton Half which loomed in my calendar a week after we landed. I had not given this enough thought. But I decided to treat the race as 'a long run with a medal at the end'. This became my mantra in the week leading up to the race. Just a long run. No need to panic.

And then the dystopian weather arrived, pulling roofs off of houses and bringing buildings down and I did start to panic. Pictures of the beach at Brighton actually encroaching on the main roads, burying benches and railings did not ease my anxiety. Running in this madness without enough training and still feeling pretty groggy? No thank you.

This is where the crew came in. There were a good crowd of RDC guys running the race and bolstered by all the usual excitement and support on Tuesday and via the wonder that is social media, I started to feel a little excited rather than fearful for my life. Duns, Azra, Emma, Ash, Melissa - you guys are amazing.

We made plans to meet up on the god awful 5:47am train, and arranged a huge roast dinner to celebrate post race. The weather, obviously sympathetic to our cause, cleared up beautifully, and the wind disappeared completely. I felt amazing for the first 9 miles or so (which is about the distance I had trained for realistically!) and survived a minor breakdown with only a few tears and some pretty colourful language. But I finished. Even with the walking, stomping, kicking myself for half a mile, I managed to shave two full minutes off my last PB. I had been hoping to take at least 10 mins off given I'm actually training now and running much better than I was 18 months ago, but hey as Angel says, a PB is a PB. And no injury, result.

I'll take that :)

Brighton. Done. BRING ON BERLIN

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Regent's Park Winter Series 10K - New PB!

It's Sunday morning,and I am up at 7am and lacing up the trainers for my second 10K race in five days. Well, it's one way to kick start 2014, race myself silly until we head off to Thailand and then hopefully have enough of a habit going that I'll be taking on a few miles on those beaches. And I fear it will have to 7am to beat the heat (oh poor me! up early to run on the beaches.. I hate me)

The weather was perfect. Cold but beautiful and clear, with a rose coloured sunrise seeing off the frost. There was plenty of that and I very nearly skidded off the bridge and into the pond just walking over to the Hub for the start of the race. 

Regent's Park getting its Pretty On
Having had my number and race chip through by post (all seamlessly organised) all I had to do was meet Natalie (the lovely lady I had the pleasure of running with last Movember 10K) and hit the bag drop off. 

Natalie and I get ready to race! Regent's Park let's be havin' ya!
By 9:10am we were all at the start line, including Felix and Christopher (resident RDC elites) and ready to go. The course is flat and takes in most of Regent's Park three times over and I was slightly dreading the laps. I am much more a fan of varied scenery! But I had a new playlist to test out, so seeing the same statue a few times over wouldn't be the end of the world. 

Each lap was just over 3km, and with the ice having melted thanks to the climbing sun (and the super speedy runners, thanks Chris and Felix!) I managed to keep my pace even and steady. I even avoided heading out too quickly - which helped hugely. Not more fizzling out at 5km, and although I didn't manage negative splits, I did managed a new PB! Not quite under the 60min mark, but 01:01:01 has a certain ring to it. Fitting for the beginning of the year. So that will do for now. More track training and I'll be there no doubt.

It was brilliant to have fellow RDC runners in the mix who cheered me across the finish line, thanks guys - helped me find that sprint finish after all. Felix and Chris both smashed the course in under 40 minutes, Felix bagging a new PB, so celebrations all round. 

Run Dem Crew Represent! 
So that leaves me two more weekends until I jet off to warmer climes for a desperately needed dose of Vitamin D. Any other good 10Ks I should be signing up for? What races have you got planned in the Spring?

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year! Serpentine 10K Race

That was 2013. Phew! Done and done. Can't say I'm sad to see it go, a very mixed bag. A few wonderful memories; my niece, Ayla Rose, arrived on Valentine's day (miracle baby), and we celebrated our first year of wedded bliss (twice -once in Jo'burg and again in London).  

Also there was Breaking Bad and Orange is the New Black. I had the pleasure of reading Life After Life  by the inimitable Kate Atkinson which is, by far and away, my top read of 2013, and in my Top 5 Books ever (it's that good, read it now)

In my lycra life, I finally found the nerve to join Run Dem Crew, which has had a hugely positive effect on my running, and introduced me to a number of pretty awesome people too. 

Which is how I found myself with a place in the Serpentine New Year's Day 10K race. This sounded like a great idea seeing I was playing hermit on NYE, so would be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a race on New Year's Day. I had not taken into account the following
  • I would be floored by the dreaded lurgy for a whole two weeks over Christmas that left me feeling bleak even after the worst had passed
  • The additional mince pies, quality street and cheese (mmm cheese) had resulted in an additional 5 pounds to haul around. Worth every ounce, I am not complaining, just stating a fact. 
  • The weather would be totally, and completely, miserable. Wind, rain, side wind, icy rain, all of the wind and all of the rain. All the time
But the thought of brand new race bling, on the first day of a brand new year was very tempting, and by the time I got my trainers on at the very reasonable hour of 10am, I thought I may as well head up to Hyde Park and give it a go. 

For such a dreary day there was a very decent turn out (they had around 800 places, race results have the finishers at 580), the registration was swift and pain free, and the race started just about on time (11:04 - not bad going given the conditions) 

The first 2kms where congested given the mud and puddles, (or small lakes) that appeared along the route. My shoes and socks were soaked through within about 5 minutes of running. And there were nice muddy trails for added squish. But after around 3km the faster runners had pulled out in front and the course started to clear. 

As per usual I started far too quickly. I need to stop doing this, I hit 4km and wanted to go and have a little lie down. Classic me. I know if I start out a little slower I'd reserve my energy and keep a more steady even pace, but somehow I forget this when the gun goes! So 4km to 5km was horrid, and became more so as we turned left down The Broadwalk, a lovely decline sponsored by biting icy rain in the face and a headwind from hell. Nasty. And we get to do this twice as it the first of a loop around Kensington Gardens (the square bit on the map below) . Great. 

The Course, with loop de looping included (the square bit)

Thankfully after 6km, having given myself a proper talking too, the race picked up. I gritted my teeth through the windy bits, and although I couldn't quite find the additional oomph that I needed to get my pace back where I wanted it, I didn't collapse under a bench and wait for everyone to go home either.

In fact, by the time I got to 9km I thought I might just beat my last PB. Sod the wind, I thought I'd give it a bash. Heading under the bridge and coming out by the Serpentine, my energy stores fizzled (thanks lurgy) and although I managed a stronger finish, I missed setting a new PB by 15 seconds. GAH

BLING! First one of 2014. Oh and my lovely manicure
All in all though I am pretty pleased with my effort bearing in mind my lack of any recent, viable training and the devil weather. Medals collected, times received (so quick! very impressed), I grabbed a coffee with a new running pal that I had met while registering (we both needed cake) and laughed about how mad we where to have gotten out of bed that morning. Running nutters. Got to love them.

That just left me to get my drowned-rat-looking self home. Even the dry clothes I brought along got pretty soaked on the way back to my flat. And thanks to wind, rain, sweat etc, my hair looked like this. Two de-tangling brushes, leave in conditioner and a few tears later, I managed to get it looking mildly human and less wildling. I almost had to get the scissors out.

Knotting Hell 
Vanity aside, it was a brilliant way to welcome in 2014. I ran a race, got a medal, made some friends, drank some coffee, had some cake, jumped in puddles. Got really muddy. Not bad for a Wednesday.

All this bodes well for my next race on Sunday (Regent's Park 10K) in which I need to make peace with my hatred for lap courses. This one loops Regent's Park THREE TIMES. So boring. But apparently a great course to PB *fingers crossed*

Happy New Year everyone, hope there's more where that came from!

My shoes, in the recovery position

Friday, 13 December 2013

Remembering Madiba

A week ago today the world reeled from the news that Nelson Mandela had passed away. I was sitting on this very sofa, catching up with social media nonsense when a tweet popped up with the news. Quickly verified by BBC, Al Jazeera, and every other major news player on the globe the news spread instantly. I was suddenly acutely aware that at 10:30pm here in London, I was probably finding out the news ahead of my family in South Africa, who would be in bed asleep, only to find out on the Friday morning. I had no idea how I would feel. Being far away from home both physically (and also emotionally it has to be said), having been in London for 10 years, the news hit me with an immediacy I had not anticipated. In that moment, phone in hand watching the world send tweets and posts and images and platitudes through the ether I was back in Johannesburg, trying to remember the first time I heard his name or saw a picture of his face.

I have often shied away from writing about my childhood in South Africa. I don't know why. Possibly because there have been so very many coming of age stories based in the New South Africa. We bore the 'born frees' senseless with our tales of transition through the 80s and early 90s. They're often told by children of the struggle movement who, having lived through the oral history of our parents who actually did the work, toyi toying through the streets, and getting arrested, we felt we were close enough to it. And a fair number of these prodigal children are often now living abroad looking back at their 'pastoral' youth with great nostalgia and naivety. In the US they call these children the Cold War Kids, so in South Africa being born around State of Emergency being declared – we have a similar backdrop to our ABCs.

But that day last week I was confronted with my 8yr old self, grief stricken by the news of the death of a great man.

I don't remember exactly when I first learned about this man, Madiba, who was in prison on an island off the coast of Cape Town where we were lucky enough to have idyllic holidays every year with our extended family. Growing up as a white child in South Africa in the 1980s, I have memories of a happy childhood. We lived in a bubble secured by military law, government legislation and an entire infrastructure designed to keep us separate and apart from the reality of the country we were born into regardless, to a certain extent, of our parent’s political leanings. A white washed illusion perpetuated by the Apartheid government, at great expense, the toll for which we will pay for many years to come. As Denis Hirson so beautifully described it, we lived in The House Next Door to Africa. And if you'll permit me to extend the metaphor, our house happened to have just enough of a back door left open for the 8 year old me to peer through and see that things were perhaps not what they seemed. 

My parents were both anti-apartheid supporters and activists, and I knew this as a child as I knew what a feminist was or a catholic or an economist. These were all esoteric terms in my head and I had no deeper understanding of what they actually meant. We had pictures of people like Joe Slovo and Helen Joseph in the study, my mother had a poster that proclaimed 'A House Does Not Need A WIFE any more than it does a HUSBAND'. There were Johnny Clegg cassette tapes and history books galore.

In the 1980's my mother worked for an organisation called Sached (South African Committee for Higher Education), a committee that worked to open up distance learning at university to level to all races, after the apartheid government closed university applications to non-whites in the late 50s.  So at social gatherings there were interesting people, who wore their hair in brightly beaded braids and wore t-shirts that said things like 'AMANDLA!' (Power!), or in my mother's case 'WOMANDLA!’ There were often discussions about The Struggle. As kids, we rolled our eyes and went off to watch Thunder Cats and play Dungeons & Dragons. Adults were boring always talking talking.

My first memory of realising that perhaps my parent’s worldview was radically different to that of my peer group was a school concert circa 1988. My mother, as usual, was running very late and barely made the assembly. I was furious that she was late and had made a bit of an entrance with the door slamming to the hall, and everyone looking while she found a seat. I was even more mortified when I realised she was wearing THAT ‘nkosi sikelel iafrika T-shirt, covered in flour (she had been making cheese muffins). But the final straw was watching her SIT DOWN through the entire singing of the national anthem, while all the other parents stood, belting out the words to Die Stem at volume. Looking back I want to high five my brave, stubborn, wonderfully unmanageable mother, but in 1988, I was red faced with the embarrassment of having a mother with ‘politics’.

But it wasn't until 1989 that it really hit home. On the 1st of May, an anti-apartheid activist by the name of David Webster was assassinated outside his home by the Civil Cooperation Bureau, a covert organisation of the Apartheid government. Being 8 years old I had no memory of meeting him, although I am told I met family at some point. But I do remember, clear as day, my mother unravelling with anger and grief, sobbing in front of the TV the night the news broke, my father speechless at her side. And I was now old enough to figure out that something was well and truly fucked up here in Sunny South Africa.

Alongside the 'House Husband' postcard came the back page of the Mail & Guardian featuring an image of David Webster, his back to the camera looking out a window ahead of speaking at an event. Head bowed, alone with the dates 1945 – 1989 in bold below. And perhaps this is why, 25 years later, I went back to that year as the watershed moment, a full year before Mandela was released. Not long after that I learned about what went before; Sharpeville, Biko, the 1976 riots, Sophiatown. 

Heading into the 90’s we went through Model C schooling (a brand of government and private school hybridisation that facilitated racial integration), Zulu being introduced as a language option (very badly at first, by teachers who knew less than us, to the hysterical amusement of the new black kids in our classes, hooting with laughter at the ill-timed clicks and awful grammar – school prank gold) and navigating the mind field that was being a young teen in a rapidly changing society. I was 10 when the schools started integrating, and 13 by the time the first general elections rolled around in 1994.I remember being furious we weren’t allowed to vote, but slightly relieved when we saw the queues going round the block. I remember watching with fascination as some of our peer’s parents prepared for civil war, and many left to live in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. We watched Madiba’s inauguration – the dancing and joy - and yet people were leaving, all in the face of amazing optimism it seemed crazy

Kurt Cobain also died that year so between the general elections and the loss of my first true love, it was a pretty epic time. Hormones aside.

By 1995, the year we won the World Cup Rugby and Madiba donned the springbok jersey and danced with the nation, this man had come to symbolise a calming force of nature that could fan flames of national pride across the deeply entrenched racial divides and yet cool tempers when change wasn’t as quickly affected as the people needed and unrest was sparked. By the time I started university in 1999 we were 5 years into democracy with one of the most forward thinking constitutions in the world. And Johannesburg felt like the most cosmopolitan place on the globe, with every possibility in reach. We were starting companies, discovering our own brands of deep house, garage and electro, writing controversial articles, making our new voices heard. The party had just begun.

I was even lucky enough to meet The Man himself while waitressing at the 70th birthday party of yet another anti-apartheid activity, Amina Cachalia. I was so nervous I very nearly spilt spaghetti into his lap. Thankfully I was a better waitress than I thought and I managed to avert disaster, with a quick swivel on my heel. I also got to hear Graca Machel sing happy birthday which is a pretty special gem of a memory too.

So how am I here in London, paying my respects to a man who featured so prominently throughout my life, at Trafalgar Square rather than in Jozi? 

If anything the upbringing I was so lucky to have encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, try new things, go to new places. Not get complacent with my thinking. There is nothing like travelling to make you  feel immensely knowledgeable and hugely humbled by your own ignorance. London has done both. I also happened to be in love and that will take you everywhere, although ironically enough that wasn’t to be the love that kept me here. I fell in love with London, and then married a cabbie. What else?

So I paid my respects in two ways. I went to South Africa House and signed the Remembrance book with my London born and bred husband. We queued with a myriad of people from all over London, many of whom had taken time off work to do so, many of whom have never even been to South Africa. It’s been amazing to see how our collective feeling has been truly global and how this one life touched so many people.

And then I went running through my adoptive city with 100 RDC members under the cover of night, the Christmas lights shining, and bridges lit up, all the way from St Pauls past Waterloo Bridge to the Madiba statue on the Southbank. It was so beautiful and I am no longer ashamed to admit I sobbed like that 8 year old all over again.

Rest in peace Tata. You were our inspiration as we grew up from children, taught us patience, courage and forgiveness as unruly teens, and left us as adults with a sense of pride and purpose. Hamba kahle (Go Well)

100+ Run Dem Crew with the Madiba Statue (photo credit Glenn Hanock)