I have achieved a few things in this year’s Staff Challenge. Like over 420km in 14 weeks, and a full 18 minutes off my 10km personal best. Hopefully, by the end of it, in just two weeks’ time, I’ll have added two more: a 5km under 20 minutes, and my first half-marathon.

Something I have also achieved: a love for running.

This is not something I expected. And it’s not something that’s come easy, either. The distance I’m covering these days is a bit obscene. It’s got a lot to do with the fact that I have many different kinds of goals, and probably not enough time to get to all of them. Lift heavy things. Run really really fast. And go straight up a mountain until you can feel the sky. All good things, until you try to do them all at once.

One of the nicest things about Chris at Race Fit is that he’s a decent person. Obviously it counts that he knows what he’s talking about, and the way he pushes me to try harder just when I’m getting lazy, all of that counts. But he’s also a reasonable guy who understands that this year I’m trying to pull my body apart in different directions, all at once, all in no time at all.

Everyone has bad days. Getting up at 5am and running first thing when you’re cold and tired will do that. But I don’t think he’s ever put any real pressure on me, probably because he knows I put a lot of pressure on myself, to run faster and also for longer and do everything and get everywhere right freaking now, and obviously the staff challenge comes with its own pressure, like the fact it’s only 100 days and where did they all go, anyway?

I knew it would be hard work to aim for all three, to get faster and fitter and stronger, but I have days where I wonder if anything can be this tough. Luckily, Chris knows a lot more about me than I do.

On Tuesdays we do a bunch of strength training. Deadlifts, bench pressing, that sort of thing. On Thursdays, pretty much the same, but different exercises designed to hit different muscle groups, chin-ups, lateral step-ups. Between those sessions, when I’m tired and sore, I run 10km every Wednesday morning – I started out doing it in just over an hour, this week I went under 48. On Saturdays I’ll go as fast as I can for 5km, round and round Rondebosch Common in alternating fast-and-faster bursts until, as my one friend likes to say, I’m finding new ways to breathe out of my ass.

And on Sundays, finally, I get to have some fun.

Last Sunday I ran the second race of the Cape Winter Trail Series, in Tygerberg, which is right outside Durbanville. It was supposed to be 13km but they had to close off one of the paths because of rain damage so it was closer to 10, and it was steep in the beginning, even steeper again at the end, and all kinds of tricky in the middle.

Where there wasn’t mud, there were puddles, and long narrow single-track lines zigging and zagging up into the horizon. At one point I gave my legs a rest and slid down a hill on my bum and got covered in sand, like a hyperactive kid on holiday in heaven. But the best part was the fog: dank, and thick, and wet, like the inside of a cloud, somewhere high above the earth.

You can’t run along the sky until you do some time on the ground. So when Chris points at the rowing machine or the assault bike or any of the other sadistic machines in his torture chamber of a gym it’s not because he wants me to hurt myself but because he knows me, better than I do. He knows I’d rather be on the mountain than on the road, or in this gym, or anywhere, and that if I’m going to survive up there, I’d better get stronger, and faster, and I’d better do all of that first.

Running on Wednesdays and Saturdays is work, running in the sky on Sundays is freedom. It’s strange to think how I enjoy this now, like I used to enjoy sitting on the couch watching cricket, or sitting on the couch reading a book, or just sitting on the couch and not doing anything, really.

Maybe this is what I’ve achieved more than anything else: this unexpected, out-of-nowhere understanding of what hard work is, and how it works, and the rewards of what happens when you do a lot of it.

If I’ve achieved a few things in this year’s staff challenge so has Chris: he’s made me much faster in not very much time, he’s made me fit enough to run when I’m tired and sore, and he’s made me strong enough to fall in love with mountains.

Race Fit is an endurance-sports performance focused gym in Claremont, Cape Town. Chris Lippstreu, with a master’s in Sports Science, aims to to improve performance through strength training with the use of kettle bells, Olympic lifting and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Find out more at www.race-fit.co.za

The Spur Winter Trail Series is organised by Wildrunner, one of the premier trail running organisers in South Africa, who have run over 200 trail running events across the country. Other events organised by Wildrunner include the Mountain Challenge Series, Wildrun and Sanlam Cape Town Marathon Peace Trail Runs. For more info on Wildrunner events, visit http://wildrunner.co.za