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[OPINION] I run my life - chronicles of a rookie social runner

What started off as a lazy jog around the neighbourhood soon became an addiction. I had begun to suffer an unbearable guilt when I ditched my appointment with the tarmac.

I started off brisk walking because, never believing that my history as an idol adolescent had left me, the thought of running was hilarious!

A few weeks in and I got bored. I switched the playlist, upped the tempo a little, and picked up the pace; more weeks went by and the urge to push my own limits quickly erased any doubt that I too could pound the ground.

Heaving and panting through my first 5km, I was chuffed until I saw my stats. But wait, this is just it – I had not set out on a mission to be the next Caster Semenya or Dominique Scott. My reasons for exercise had very little to do with busting records or earning killer calves, nope… this was meant to inspire spending time alone with myself, away from work and other responsibilities that sometimes consume our individuality and corrode the relationship with self. It was therapy.

So, here I am, a reformed couch potato who now sought any excuse to run. Anything from fun runs with the family to ambitious attempts at a 10km in the Soweto Marathon, I was game!

But, there was a tiny snag. An old knee injury often caused me to move like a shady character from Lokshin Bioskop skit… dragging my leg to avoid that painful bending. This prompted me to seek other ways to be one with the elements and grow a new appreciation for each measured breath.

With a group of friends, I registered for my first trail run just outside Hartbeespoort. A beautiful 10km course of birdsong, whispering waters and the scent of freshly agitated vegetation – I was in heaven.

Enter the age of hikes and trail runs.

Groenkloof is where we headed next, signing up for a 16km trail run in the nature reserve.

Perhaps still a little too high from the endorphins we managed to convince each other that we could handle a two-stage 34km run in Clarens, Free State.

Race day arrived and we had just woken up from our little tent that we had pitched right next to a river. It was 6am and we were buzzing already. We made it to the meeting point where we were served gooey oatmeal and bruised bananas. With my shameful eating habits, it took a lot to get through the ‘booster meal’ but I was a trooper and dug right in.

Day 1: 20 minutes in and I had already stopped running. Grappling to keep my footing while taking in the majestic scenery I quickly gave up on logging any decent times.

It took a lot of climbing, tripping, crawling and some serious cussing but we had managed to survive the first 16km. (note, I am purposefully omitting the times here. Just… don’t ask.)

Saturday done, but victory was far from being ours… we had another 18km to go. sigh

Day 2: By now I had no ambitious expectations. I had brought an extra helping from my stash of bright yellow ORGANIC bananas, raw nuts and dried fruit to wash down the gunk.

We were warned the final stage would not only be longer but that it would also be ‘technical’ – I learnt this was a nice way of saying: bos, crazy, bohlanya… utter madness!

There was no mercy in this. Within the first 5km I had slipped in mud, run through a river and had been smacked by bushes I could not avoid. I stopped for a minute to question my own sanity while looking up at the crowd that had sped past me. No way was I going to give up. I pressed on.

I tripped, scraped my shin, my knee ached, the sun shone relentlessly and at times I felt like crying. I lagged behind and watched my crew disappear over the peak ahead of me.

I heard my name echo through the mountains just as I recognised that the smell I had inhaled in that moment was that of the silver bush everlasting plant (impepho) at my feet. I was energised and revitalised.

I finally caught up and the three of us took turns leading the pack.

We made it to the highest point and posed for a group snap before I stole the borrowed minute of good reception to FaceTime my niece and daughter. This moment was magical!

34km in two days done and dusted. Victory at last!

Parched, famished, a blister under my foot, charred skin, thorns in my hands, yet nothing could wipe the smile off my face.

I did it… and will certainly do it many times over. Because I don’t run for the medals or the jock bod – I run to live, to fall in love with being alive.

When pacing through treacherous terrain or even when beating against hard tar, cohesion and oneness become the best motivation.

I have held on to the hands of strangers who pulled me out of sticky situations, trotted back to check on a fellow runner who had slipped on the rocks – I have literally been pushed (no, I am serious, I was shoved along to just a few metres before the finish line) and shared a victory drink with veteran athletes who couldn’t be bothered that I was a rookie.

This is the one place where colour, class or creed are trumped by the hunger to succeed and celebrate the wins of others.

Endurance, patience, empathy, selflessness, companionship and commitment are but some of the many valuable qualities that running has reinforced in me.

Running has literally given me life.

A special thank you goes out to my friends (Gomo, Kele, Kev, KG and Glad) who make the races happen.

EWN is interested in knowing about your outdoor experience - whether running, hiking or walking to stay fit. Mail us your story to editer@ewn.co.za and it could make it onto the site.

Masechaba Sefularo is an Eyewitness News online producer.

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