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Image by Patrik Nygren
A few weeks ago I signed up for the Slave Route: a road race through Cape Town, from the Castle up through the Bo-Kaap and back. It was a good experience, and a strange one, most of all because I registered for the 10K, took a wrong turn and ended up doing 17.
Cape Town is a complicated place. It was somewhere around Koeksister Hill, a narrow cobblestone road that winds up towards the slopes of Signal Hill, through an area that used to be called The Malay Quarter, used to be a township, and as you go you’ll pass a lot of little houses in bright colours, in pinks and greens, and as you go people will come out and hand out doughnuts they’ve made themselves. And it was only on the way down that I realised I was heading in the wrong direction, veering off down Buitengracht towards Green Point when I should’ve shot straight down Wale, into town, and it was only when I saw the enormous new stadium in front of me that I realised I was way off track, way out of my league, running with a group of half-marathoners.
I signed up for the Slave Route because I liked running on my own and wanted to do it in a race environment, surrounded by people; I signed up for the 10K because I’d done 8km, even 9, but I wanted to do 10 before I did 12; because I wanted to do it in an hour, then 50 minutes, then 45. I had a lot of reasons in my head, personal bests and splits averages, then I went left when I should have gone straight and had seven extra kilometres to forget about all of them.
Going up Adderley, I pulled out my earphones, turned to the lady running next to me and said, I think I took a wrong turn back there, and she looked at my race number, laughed, and said, Yeah, you definitely did. I said I’d never gone this far in my life. She said it’s okay. Just run.
Last week was the first of 12 in our 2016 Staff Challenge, and already I’m doing more distance than I’ve ever thought I could. I ran just three days out of the whole week, but covered 30km: an easygoing 10 through the dark suburban streets, 6am on a cold Wednesday morning, a tough 12km of steep hills on Saturday, and a fast-slow alternating run around Rondebosch Common the next day. I think my trainer, Chris, wants me to feel what it’s like to run further than I think I can. I think he wants me to get out of my head and open my eyes, and I think he wants me to forget about the numbers and just run.
If you cover 30km through this city’s streets sooner or later you’ll pass a few landmarks no one is proud of, like the Slave Lodge and the Slave Treet and the Whipping Post, which is, yes, as grim as it sounds. As you go you’ll pass a lot of history you never knew existed, like the Common, which used to be a camping ground for Dutch soldiers; like Strawberry Lane, Spaanschemat River Road and Ladies Mile Road, also known as School Traffic Ground Zero, just a few blocks from my house, a part of a massive piece of land that for a century used to be home to thousands of farm labourers, until it was zoned as a whites-only area in the 60s and they were forcibly removed by bulldozers and police dogs. As you go you’ll pass a lot of ghosts. Cape Town couldn’t be, if it tried, a more complicated place.
The Slave Route was good training, it turns out, for more training. I used to like to run in the morning, before traffic, before sunrise. I used to like listening to music the whole way, I used to like the dark. Then I signed up for the Slave Route and found out there’s more to this than just what’s in my head, took a wrong turn and ended up opening my eyes and seeing more of my city than I meant to, spent seven extra kilometres outside of my comfort zone, finding out what it feels like to forget about my time and the medal and the music, forget the numbers and just run.
Last week was the first of 12. It’ll only get harder from here. It’s okay. My eyes are open now. I think Chris wants me to run until I’m stiff, then run some more; I think he wants me to suffer. In the next few weeks I’ll pass a few landmarks I’ve never seen, do more distance than I’ve ever thought I could, and as I go I’ll have nothing but that lady’s voice in my head. It’s okay. Just run.
My Running Programme:
My Strength Programme: