Runnin’ in the Rain – original post 25/7/13

I have been reminded of my time in Johannesburg this week. Was out for an easy 10k this morning and caught in a thunderstorm and torrential downpour. I have always maintained the climate in Gauteng is the best in the world but thunder and lightning are a feature of the summer weather in the highveld. They don’t do these things by halves either. Typically the temperature rises to about 30 degrees during the day with very little humidity which is beautiful. Then about 4.30pm, all hell breaks loose. Today’s downpours are a mere shower. The only place I have seen heavier rain is Mumbai during the monsoon season. On top of this sheet and bolt lightning spread over a wide area. Most dangerous of all, hailstones are frequent. These can genuinely be the size of golf balls or even tennis balls. A common sight in October and November is drivers sheltering their expensive BMWs under motorway bridges to avoid a pummelling from the storm.

By 5.30 it is all over, the sun and warmth return and it is time for an even more frequent saffer pastime, the braai. In a standard Jo’burg lifestyle, the only thing that prevents people downing a case of Castle Lager at a summer evening braai is a long lunch earlier in the day. All of this might make you wonder how the world’s greatest ultra marathon survives in this culture. However, it is very much an outdoor lifestyle. I have also been sorting through some old boxes and tripping across some memories this week and I was constantly tripping over reminders. the fact is, Everyone participates and especially in endurance events. In addition to Comrades, the Two Oceans cycle and running marathons, the Korkie Ultra Marathon and the Dusi Canoe marathon are well established along with a plethora of other events.

The participation element is a crucial difference between the sporting environment in South Africa and here in the UK. Outside of the traditional strongholds of cricket and rugby, their impact on top level sport since readmission twenty yearns ago has been relatively limited. They don’t have the facilities but they also have a different attitude. Everyone takes part. Mass participation events of course exists everywhere but in South Africa there feels like a a marathon virtually every weekend. People take things seriously and build a whole lifestyle around these events even if they compete at a very amateur level. I remember playing golf with a guy early in my time there who was in his early sixties and probably weighed at least 100kg. He talked about his running and the runners’ breakfast he was hosting for 50 people at his house the next weekend as part of his preparation for Two Oceans. He even invited me. A similar approach prevailed even in rugby. The office team in Johannesburg had a full schedule of matches and 30-50 spectators would turn up from our side alone at every game. Participation also extended well beyond the white elite. Running and football were both mass participation sports in the townships and in rural areas. The climate obviously helped but doing sport was a part of the fabric of life that just does not happen in this country.

I was far from immune to this culture. Obviously my golf was a key thing and it was another telling example that I was able to join one of the top clubs instantly just by agreeing to play for their team. Despite this focus and my enthusiastic participation in the beer and steak side of the life, I also took part in kwik cricket, touch rugby, swimming and a few other odd events. I even managed to run a couple of races while there.

The first time I agreed to do this, I decided to do some training. This turned into another of my futile three week bursts of effort which did not become habit. In this case, part of the issue was altitude. Few people realise that Jo’burg is 6,000 feet above sea level and coupled with my sixteen stone bulk it did not make for a good running experience. The piece de resistance was when I decided to do some short sprint intervals one day. I jogged down the hundred yard cul de sac in which we lived and sprinted back up a few times. On the fourth attempt, I carried straight on into the house and was violently ill several times. Definitely not ready for quality work! A few weeks and no training miles later I lined up for the start of the Harrismith Mountain Race. This consisted of 4km of rough uphill running to reach the foot of a cliff. The ‘runner’ then pulled him or herself up hand over hand for a kilometre or so to reach a plateau. A couple of k’s across the top scramble down the cliff on the other side and follow the rough track back to town to finish in the high school stadium. I knew I was in trouble when the medical truck overtook me on the road out of town at the start. I struggled even to run the downhill bits and it took me more than two and a half hours. Bear in mind the winner who had a PB under 30 minutes for 10km took 53 mins to cover the 12.3km course so it was tough! Looking back, I really enjoyed it but that didn’t make enough of an impression to convert me.

My other experience was another great example of sporting participation. I took part in the FNB Company Relay. In fact, I have photographic evidence that I did it twice, in 1991 and 1992. This event was a marathon distance around the city split into, I think, 8 legs. These were of varying lengths with the longest about 12km. Mine was the so called executive leg, 2.8km albeit with quite a stiff hill. I can’t remember the exact numbers but I believe the firm entered about 20 teams and there were thousands of athletes taking part. I still have the instructions which shows that the baton change was split into 7 wide funnels at each handover. The logistics of this were challenging, imagine finding 7 areas big enough to handle this plus a start and finish in a major city. Staging the race and achieving wide participation is testament to the culture.

Enough memories. Despite my drenching this morning, it has been a pretty good week so far running. The heat in Scotland at least is much less intense than in Majorca and I have gone back to listening to music while I run. I have also started playing with nutrition but will report back on that once I have had a few weeks to make it work. The result of this is that last week was 50km in just four days once I recovered from my sore throat and I am hopefully heading over 40 miles this week. Feeling very positive for now. I am heading up North to stay with my dad next week and will be doing a recce of the Loch Ness Marathon route. See how the positive mood survives that.

Looking slim and athletic during the 1992 FNB Company Relay. The shadows I am overtaking on the right are walking!

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