Saturday, 20 March 2010

Those who hold us up

Training together
Racing together
Finishing Athens Mountain Cup together

Once again I have been counting my blessings. I feel I have to when I have mornings like this, sun shining, pancakes and fruit salad on our stoep with Duncan...

But credit goes to those who hold us up. To those that in our darkest hours are there, not loud and asserting their presence, but discreet and ready to catch us if we fall. I have been blessed with friends who are "there", even when they are not physically there. With family who don't need to speak to communicate. With a husband who instinctively knows what I need - when to back off and when to stand strong next to me.

Triathlon, especially long distance, is like that too. Not just the training, but all the other stuff, essential to success. Duncan and I committed to doing Challenge Copenhagen together and doing it well. Only one of us will race on race day, but in the months before the race, we will both commit to achieving the result. It's been a tough year, with forest fires, accidents, financial worries, illness and death and I might not have been able to help him to the best of my ability.

Yet I look back and I can see that we have both achieved a lot. We have helped each other, held each other up in difficult times. And so committing to a "Challenge" is by far not the hardest thing we will have to do!

On a practical level I have been trying to help Duncan get all his sessions in (especially the swim - anyone who knows D knows swimming is not his favourite, to say the least). I have been trying to create a balanced diet for us - force-feeding him fruit salad to get his five-a-day in and making sure we get 5 good dinners a week. I have made sure to give him lie-ins after hard workouts and have even managed to give him the occasional sports massage (and D, if you are reading this, I promise I will commit to more of those).

And so I am bursting with pride that he did so well last weekend, clocking 1h22' for his first race of the season, a 20km run. I am proud of what he has achieved. Both in spite and because of me, as oxymoronic as that might sound.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Running in the dark

Life this last week has been like running in the dark. Every step feels uncertain - I know the ground is there, yet every time I hit it I feel relief. There is uncertainty, yet also faith that the next step will leave me still standing.

So, still standing, shaken, numb and with a huge gap, we carry on.

Duncan and I are making up for lost time and I feel a huge sense of anticipation for all that is to come. Yet it has been so long we have been in this sense of limbo and uncertainty. All plans have been suspended for so long that we have no plans. Still, I go to sleep dreaming of races and training sessions on days when the sun is shining and the footing is sure.

Figurative speech aside, I have been running in the dark in the literal sense too. Monday night was the team run up on Immitos. I took the beginner's run, yet I attacked it with such hunger, that it left the inexperienced runner I was leading gasping for air. I needed the speed, I needed my heart to beat fast and the cold air to hit my face. I needed to feel alive. After we had finished our short 4 km together I turned around. I ran with guys briefly, then left them behind as they were doing a leisurely recovery pace. I ran alone, in the dark, on the mountain, no music, just my footfall to guide me. It was a holy moment, a prayer to a distant god, a thought for my dad and for me, still alive, still standing, still running. And time stood still. And I was peaceful.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Fishing days - to my dad

My dad passed away yesterday, leaving his hurt and wasted body. Today, Duncan and I went to run a race. It was not planned. But as we left the hospital and drove home, empty, crying, trying to find the words to tell my mum her beloved husband was gone, it dawned on me. Which act is more defiant of death, what is more diametrically opposite to the darkness of death than movement, than sport.

I am not going to sit at home and mourn my dad. I will mourn him out there, living my life to the full. Starting today, because there is no time to waste: there is never enough time. Someone (wise) said that the motivation to get up in the morning every day is death. If it weren't for death, if we were immortal there would be no art, no monuments, no impetus to do great things. We live our lives in defiance of the darkness.

My dad suffered greatly in the last 8 months. His body withered and wasted, his legs became motionless, yet there was something that woke him up each morning and drove him to fight. He spoke of fishing every day - it was his light at the end of the tunnel. His motivation, his drive. When he first got ill he went to see a friend of his. She spoke to me a few days ago and was saying how my dad did not seem down. In the contrary, he had the look of a man who had won the lottery. He had realised what the important things in life were: his family and fishing. He said he would stop running around with pointless things and would just go fishing. That was his dream. That was what got him up in the morning.

A week ago, a week before he died he said it for the last time. I had told him about our kayak outing and he told me: "Tell Duncan to be patient. As soon as I am out of here I will take him out fishing". He showed such patience and was never defeated.

Today we took a fishing day. We did what drove us. At 6.30 this morning that is what got ME up and out of bed. And we vowed to take us many "fishing days" as we can, because life is short!


In terms of race preparation this was a "how not to do it". Training? Last time I ran that sort of distance was 2007. Having been injured and only recently back I have been taking baby-steps with both distance and speed... let alone terrain. Nutrition? After a week of being in hospital and severe emotional strains my stomach was in agony. I had not eaten a square meal in days and the most calorific thing I had consumed was a couple of glasses of sweet wine and half a cookie. Hydration? I had not drunk much at all - apart from aforementioned alcoholic beverages. Sleep? Aside from sleeping on hospital chairs for the week and intermittently at home I managed a not too solid 5 hours the night before the race. Taper? The day before I hiked/ran 1hr 39m on the same mountain and had difficulty walking up and down stairs.

Yet the most important thing, my heart, was in it! I would trust in that, in my dad and my husband to get me through it. And so we got up, laced up and off to the races we were.

I have never enjoyed a race more than this one. It was a beautiful run on the mountain, up and down very steep trails, on mountain roads, past ancient churches, under a lead-grey sky. Duncan had agreed to stay with me all the way - our first ever race together as a couple (the last race was Ironman 70.3 Switzerland in 2007 where we met) and we had agreed on the only option in terms of strategy: a 3:1 run:walk ratio that sounds incredibly slow, but in fact worked a treat given the up-hill/down-hill nature of the race. It also gave Duncan and I a chance to chat all the way round the course, to look at the wild-flowers, to see a great view of Athens (or the "coral-city" as D very aptly put it).

And so we finished, holding hands. And we celebrated being alive the best way we knew. That was the first of our many fishing days.