Thursday, December 31, 2009

Comrades Marathon Experience - 2009

My Comrades Marathon Experience : May 2009
"May you always be astonished by your own abilities" - Anon.
I have returned from a sequence of events that have left me astonished by my own abilities and I have been filled with a sense of wonder at being human and the potential thereof.
The entire process leading up to my participation in the Comrades Marathon 2009, the 56mile/89km race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa has been life-changing. A few years ago I thought that a Half Marathon was a far distance to run, little did I know that I would be participating in three ultra marathons in the first half of 2009. My wish for this ultra marathon to mean more than the personal accomplishment of completing the 89km race within the 12 hour cutoff led me towards the possibility of raising funds for an orphanage in South Africa. After much research, I decided on HOKISA in Masiphumelele on the Cape Peninsula and have been in awe of the loving and generous response from my family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers who have helped me to make this fundraising initiative a fantastic success, the end total being R39,300.00. To everyone who contributed, I cannot begin to thank you enough and wish to assure you that your donations have made a significant impact on the lives of these children.

My adventure began with a 40 hour flight from Honolulu to Durban. I was met at the airport by a dear friend who has gone above and beyond the call of friendship to give me support, ensure my health and accommodate me during my stay in South Africa. We drove to our B+B in the beautiful rural area of Alverstone in Hillcrest, about a 30 minute drive from Durban. From the porch one could experience sweeping views of the start of Valley of a Thousand Hills. I made fabulous connections with friends, old and new, attended inspirational pre-Comrades functions and had spaghetti sauce splashed on me by Bruce Fordyce ( 9x winner) at the 'Pasta Party'. Pre-race I didn't really do any special carbo-loading and generally just ate my normal vegan meals and also did not pre-hydrate or do any other 'special' preparation except that over the 5 1/2 months preceding the event I ran 1424 km. Unfortunately my body clock was functioning on a 12 hour time difference and I only managed about 3-4 hours sleep a night.
The Comrades marathon: The start of the race was exceptionally moving with 12 000 runners gathered in front of the big clock tower of the Pietermaritzburg City Hall in the dark hours of pre-dawn. I stood with a lump in my throat, tears stinging my eyes and an overwhelming sense of gratitude while the songs Shosaloza and Nkosi Sikelele were sung. Then the recording of the voice of one of the first Comrades runners doing the 'cock crow' was played, followed by the starting gun and the theme song of Chariots of Fire carried us over the starting line and into the dark streets towards Polly Shortts, our first climb of the day whilst we ran towards the brilliant red sunrise that lit up the clouds creating a beautiful start to the day. Initially I hopped onto a sub-11 hour 'bus'. (A 'bus' is a group of runners led by a pacer or 'bus driver'). The pace felt great, my legs were fresh and I ran the first 21km with a very chatty runner from Shelley Beach. I was delighted to see my friend and hear her shouting encouragement at the Lion Park turnoff. My fairly recent leg injury that I had picked up after my 'Run to the Sun' experience flared up slightly around this point and I decided to be pro-active about it before it became worse, so I stopped at a physiotherapy station and had my leg strapped, subsequently falling behind the 11 hour bus. I was soon to pick up more friends along the way. The 'Spirit of Ubuntu' is alive and well and it was thrilling to be a part of this collective mass consciousness that was moving on foot and helping each other along the way in a manner which I have never experienced in my life before.

I decided to stay relaxed as I continued the undulating meander through Cato Ridge and Camperdown, past the Ethembeni School for physically disabled children whose broken, buckled and bent bodies lined the street, singing with their arms and hands outstretched to be able to touch the runners as they went by. I stopped momentarily to share my best 'township jive' dance steps with a group of girls who were singing and dancing alongside the road and they roared with delight.
Then came the grind up Inchanga, up and up, steep and tiring - I remembered reading the phrase “where was the 'down run‘“ ? Everyone was taking short walk breaks and so I followed suite. The sight of Drummond lifted my spirits somewhat and I chugged downhill to reach the halfway mark and a timing mat - five and a half hours had elapsed, I was still on target and feeling good due to my tactic of energy preservation, knowing that another 45 km still lay ahead. Another climb ensued, past Arthur's Seat (where Arthur Newton, the first Comrades winner sat and rested during his long training runs) and Wall of Honour (plaques honouring past Comrades winners and runners). We continued to climb upwards and onwards with a dip after Alverstone radio tower where Kay was waiting to cheer me on and give me anything I might need - then another grind up Botha's Hill past Kearsney College and then down through the cheering streets of Hillcrest where my tired legs and feet started feeling effects of the 'down run'....30km to go - this was all unknown territory to me and I had to start digging deep to keep the mind on the target, the feet on the road, one step at a time and move the pain out of the realm of consciousness. The balls of my big toes were burning from the downhill pounding that was now taking place. Through Gillits and down a very steep Field's Hill is where I established a very deep and meaningful relationship with a fellow runner and we helped each other through 10km of difficulty. After parting ways I met another runner and we helped each other psychologically through the next 10km through Pinetown and on towards Cowies Hill, another climb and I lost track of all the ups and downs after that- we parted ways and I had moments of worrying that I might not make the cutoff. I was becoming slower and merely placing one foot in front of the other....then finally 45th Cutting and another timing mat, I had made this cutoff time and developed another friendship with a complete stranger who helped me to the end and over the finish line in 11:42:37 - what a high!!! What an exhilarating experience!!! I told myself that this was a onetime deal, I had been there, done that, checked the box. After hobbling to the cold showers with friends, I was loaded into the car, driven back to the B+B, placed in a hot bath with Epsom salts and aromatherapy oils. I felt extremely nauseas and could not eat nor drink and even though I was exhausted, only slept 3 hours that night. At breakfast I fainted in my chair on the verandah and had to be force fed. I now realize that my mistake was refusing to eat and drink after the race. Once I got sustainance in my body again I perked up and announced that one should 'never say never' and by that evening I was ready to sign up for another Comrades. I'm happy to report no injuries except for one swollen toe that recovered quickly. This was less of a race and more of an experience in humanity. I did not view myself as an athlete but rather as a human on a journey towards self-realization.
HOKISA: We flew to Cape Town where I experienced an overwhelming sense of 'being home'. I've been able to catch up with friends and family and spent time at HOKISA where I was welcomed with beautiful posters drawn for me by the kids with pictures of me, my running number, running shoes with wings on them and hearts with wings and a halo. They sang for me, inspected and wore my Comrades medal, gave me a tour of the home and prepared a special lunch. Wow! In giving one receives so much. My cup is overflowing.
Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible, successful, enjoyable and for all the love, kindness and friendship shown to me from beginning to end. I feel truly blessed.
Enkosi Kakhulu and hambani kakuhle (thank you and go well)
Meeting motivational speaker and endurance athlete Braam Malherbe

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Run to the Sun - 2009 (letter to my family and friends)

Run to the Sun : 14th March 2009 I ran to the sun, but when I got there, there was no sun only driving winds, pelting rain and icy temperatures....I'm back on O'ahu after my brutal experience with a mountain and the extreme forces of nature. This 36mile/58km race started in the town of Wailuku in Maui at 04:30 am. The stars were out, the moon was bright and all 175 runners were optimistic that we were in for a great day. A mile into the race the heavens sent a heavy downpour of rain and so we started thoroughly wet...the next 13 miles were absolutely fabulous and my pace was perfect and the pack of runners were jovial. At about the half marathon I hit the notoriously steep Pulehuiki stretch which most people can't run up, but that was still ok (you gain about 2000ft of elevation over the coarse of a mile and a half). This obviously was not going to be a fast race and I just knew that as long as I got through the gates of the Haleakala National park (at the 26 mile/42km mark) before 8 hours had elapsed then I wouldn't be kicked off the mountain. I was doing well, it was 6 hours when I got there and my drop off bag was waiting for me which contained a thin long-sleeved running shirt, gloves and a sun hat (I hadn't worn a hat up until then because we had to use headlamps during the dark hours of the race, but this was a mistake because I could feel my face getting burnt once daylight appeared).I wasn't feeling cold, but the volunteers were bundled up in warm clothing and forced me to put on my shirt because they said they could see that I was in fact cold because I had goosebumps and I was wearing a flimsy running outfit (shorts and a tank top). I think by this stage we had already run up approximately 7000ft-8000ft of the mountain and we were told that the finish line had been moved to 34miles/54.7 km because there was a high wind advisory on the summit and they could not set up their equipment due to wind gusts that had even knocked over the portable toilets. Onwards and upwards I went and it became colder and the wind got stronger with every step, I sometimes struggled to just stay upright and almost got knocked off my feet a few times. The wind brought with it icy rain that drove straight into my eyeballs, so I had to keep my head down a lot of the way. A few times paramedics drove by and asked the runners if they were ok. I told them I was getting severely cold and wondered whether they just had a plastic rubbish bag that I could wear as a raincoat, but they didn't and fortunately shoved 2 chemical hotpacks down the front and back of my running top. I could feel the sweat on the back of my legs freezing and had lost the ability to use my hands and could barely change the position of my arms, they had frozen into place. When I had 2-3 miles to go my friends drove past (coming down from the finish) and suggested that I might consider abandoning the race and get into the warm car with them and go down the mountain, but I declined the suggestion. They gave me some extra fleece tops to put on, but I couldn't even dress myself and my friend had to get out of the car and dress me like a child. Onwards and upwards, I had navy blue lips and was chattering uncontrollably and roaring like a lion to try to stay warm and egg myself on. With one mile to go, I was forced into a warm van for 10 minutes at a volunteer station to warm up, and he told me to stay there as the paramedics were on their way, at which point I thanked him very much for his help and jumped out of the car because I was so close to the finish and didn't want to be prevented from completing the race.Finally the time approximately 8:41 (cut off was 10 hours). I crossed the finish line, was met with 2 warm blankets and lifted up into a heated van. It took about 10 minutes for me to stop shaking from extreme hypothermia. The medics had to feed me a hot chocolate drink because I couldn't hold a cup due to shaking. The amazing thing was that once I heated up, I felt absolutely fine.This was a defining race. I had to dig deep and call upon my inner strength and fortitude like no other time in my life. Would I do it again? YES !!The organizers said that they've never held the race under such extreme conditions before. I'm now warm at home and about to have a hot jacuzzi bath ...I was told that you can put on weight during this race because it's so well catered for, but I lost 4 pounds in one day... In retrospect it was AWESOME!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Half Marathons, Marathons and Ultra Marathons I have run:

17sept Maui Half Marathon - Maui
5nov Val Nolasco Half Marathon - Oahu
17june Hoy Half Marathon - Orkney Islands, Scotland
16sept Maui Half Marathon - Maui
7oct Honolulu 30K - Oahu
4nov Val Nolasco Half Marathon - Oahu
9dec Honolulu Marathon - Oahu
16mar Big Island International Marathon - Hawaii (Big Island)
15jun Hibscus Half Marathon - Oahu
29jun Kona Marathon - Hawaii ( Big Island)
14sept Maui Marathon - Maui
14dec Honolulu Marathon - Oahu
24jan Hilo to Volcano Ultra marathon 50K - Hawaii (Big Island)
14mar Run to the Sun Ultra Marathon 55K - Maui
24may Comrades Marathon 90K - South Africa
25oct P.F.Changs 30K - Oahu
13dec Honolulu Marathon - Oahu
23jan Hilo to Volcano 50K - Hawaii (Big Island)
24jan Maui Oceanfront Marathon - Maui
17-18apr Island Perimeter Relay - Oahu (135miles/my accumulated mileage=53miles/85km)
22-24 July 2010- Maui Perimeter relay (total distance 170+ miles/273.5km, my distance 50+ miles)
15-23Oct 2010- Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathons - South Africa- 250km/155miles
22jan2011 Hilo to Volcano 50K (Big Island)
1May2011- Big Sur Marathon, California
22Aug2011- Maunawili Out and Back "Run with the Pigs" trail race, Oahu
29Oct2011- Peacock 100k mountain trail race, Oahu
15Apr2012- North Shore Marathon, Oahu
29Apr2012- Big Sur Marathon, California
11Dec2012- Honolulu marathon, Oahu

Sunday, December 20, 2009

HOKISA - Homes for Kids in South Africa

At the entrance of HOKISA in Masiphumalele, Cape Town
One of the beautiful posters the kids made for me for the Comrades Marathon
Visiting HOKISA after the Comrades Marathon
HOKISA, located on the Cape Peninsula, South Africa, is a small NGO that provides residential, family-type care for children affected or infected by HIV/AIDS and it's aim is to empower members of poor communities where HIV/AIDS is most devastating. HOKISA provides a safe, healthy environment for children entrusted to it's care as well as community outreach and support. This cause is espescially meaningful to me as I spent the first 32 years of my life in South Africa. My wish is to give back by helping those who are in a more disadvantaged position.
I achieved my first fundraising goal for HOKISA in May 2009 during my Comrades Marathon experience. It was incredible to be a part of the generosity and encouragement of all the donors and also to meet the children at HOKISA after the race.
In giving one receives so much - my cup is overflowing!
For more information please visit :

HOKISA kids and staff at Beaverlac Holiday Camp

Discovering Endurance

I started running about four years ago and have subsequently progressed from 8 mile fun runs to Ultra marathons. Running seemed like a convenient form of keeping fit which is what I needed because I work 12 hour shifts at a hospital and finding the time to attend fitness classes was inconsistant. Before I knew it I had signed up for as many half marathons as I could the next year, followed by a year of marathons and to date have run 4 Ultra Marathons and 7 marathons. My ultimate plan for 2010 is to participate in the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon, a 250km (155mile) 7 day endurance race through the Kalahari Desert. Each participant has to provide their own food, sleeping bag and mat, cooking and eating utensils, first aid kit and any other requirements necessary for optimal performance and survival and run with it on our backs through the Kalahari. We shall also be responsible for carrying our own daily water supplies. Some people may think this sounds like torture, but to me it seems like a fantastic challenge which requires much scientific preparation.
This race will also provide me with another opportunity to raise funds for HOKISA (Homes for Kids in South Africa) which I am very excited about. I was able to fundraise for this very worthy cause during my 2009 Comrades Marathon (56mile/89km) experience and spent a beautiful day with the 19 kids that call HOKISA home as well as the fantastic people who manage and run HOKISA.
I am living proof that with a bit of work and determination 'anything is possible'. I also believe that humans are designed to run and have benefitted from running in so many ways i.e stronger and more efficient cardiovascular system, increased endurance and stamina, calm mind, elevated personal developement, instant access to meditation while running, a greater love for life and an increased interest for optimal nutrition through a vegan diet.