About 6 years ago I ran my first “Tough One”. The Appropriately named 32km Joburg road race is one of the golden oldies hosted by the RAC running club and one of the highlights of any keen club runner’s running calendar.
That year I ran with a fellow club member and mommy (Annelie Dollenburg) and we happily pushed our baby joggers up and down the hilly route chatting away and laughing off the chirps from other runners asking for lifts and snacks from our toddlers.
After finishing the race, whilst sharing our war stories, I learnt of a challenge only for the brave and daring – cycle the 947 Joburg cycle road race the week before and then smash the 32km Tough One. The combined times would then be compared to reveal the “Toughest of them all” who would be declared the Tough One/ 947 Champion. Despite not having cycled since I was a child at the time, I was intrigued and have cycled 947 every year since.
Subsequent to my disappointing Comrades, my very fatigued and injured body declared itself unrunnable for a few months leaving me with little choice but to cycle and swim. (Fortunately I actually like cycling and swimming but with my incessant commitment to complaining several times a day as to how depressed I was that I couldn’t run no one would have guessed.) Even triathlons were a no go as every attempt at running reignited a niggle and another downward spiral of depression. And so I committed myself to becoming an unhappy road cyclist and made a huge effort to not greet road runners (although I never quite succeeded at this).
With my road cycling endeavors I was blessed to be included in an Elite ladies team (Club 100) for 947 and was incredibly excited to have an attempt at really racing it for the first time. Around 4 weeks before 947 another piece of good news drifted my way – The doctor gave me the all clear to start running again and so my dark spirit once again found the light and I was transformed back to the bundle of bouncing joy which only runners can really understand.
With the cycling and the running in my program I could feel my fitness returning and was confident for a fun day out at 947.
947 Race Day
The excitement, the nerves and the drama. About 2 hours before the elite ladies start we arrive at the race. We are smart, we are strong and (in my mind) we are intimidating. We exchange nods and stares with the other elite teams and head towards the coffee station.
This is where it all started to go wrong for me. (But come on – we were up at 3am.) Coffee was rather a necessity than an option at this point and yes – I drank far too much of it. After a few cups of coffee we had a quick loo stop and then went to warm up. Around 15 min before the start we were warm and ready to race and our club captain announced that it was time to head to the start line. Damn that coffee – I realized that another wee stop was a prerequisite to me racing well and announced that I would meet the team at the start. Bad move – when you have no idea where the elite start entrance is.
Shortly later and very much relieved I head to the start only to realise that I have no idea how to get through the 2m high fences to the actual start line. “10 min to the ladies start”. Its okay I think, 10 minutes – plenty of time. I hop on my bike and start riding around glancing here, glancing there, glancing everywhere and no entrance appears in my line of vision. “5 min to the elite ladies start” I start to panic, I am riding up and down like a lunatic narrowly missing social riders arriving and attempting to get to their start pens. “2min to the start”. I start screaming and riding like a lunatic – I am panicked and flustered and still no entrance opens up. “1min to the elite start”. The adrenaline kicks in and I haul my bike over the 2m high fence screaming to some innocent cyclist to catch. I then launch myself over the fence and onto my bike but its too late – they have already left.
I rode my heart out at that point but to no avail. I couldn’t catch them. Moral of the story – don’t drink too much coffee before you cycle with the elite ladies. Lesson learnt and I will try again next year.
The Tough One
Fortunately road running races are much simpler and although, despite years of experience, I still often miss the start, this time I did not. I was on the start line with 5 min to spare and pleasantly surprised to see 2016 Comrades Marathon Champ Charne Bosman also on the start line.
I must admit I was really excited to be at a race again. I had also not run this far since Comrades and I had genuine fears of my legs failing me again when I needed them most.
Another bonus was that one of my club mates from my first running club and my training partner for my silver comrades was going to run with me. It honestly felt like a lifetime since we had run a race together and the jokes and stories made the miles fly by. I could not believe how good I was feeling and the wall I was waiting for never materialized. You cannot imagine the relief I felt that I could run again pain free and strong, finishing in a comfortable first place. The months of doubting whether I would ever be able to get back and then BAM there it was. I was a runner again and full of confidence for the world of opportunities that 2017 holds.
The cherry on top was winning the Tough One/947 challenge with the fastest combined time for the two events. Happy to tick that off my ever growing and insanely exciting bucket list 😉