While the year is yet young at heart, it seems that the journey to Comrades 2011 is leaping ahead in Kangaroo bounds. Near the end of January Nicky and I found ourselves in Australia for a week. As any travelers would know, being away from home does tend to play havoc on the routine and put pressure on those weekly training runs. And so we too, suffering from more than our fair share of A.D.D., were busily ensconced in many things, but not running. However in our hearts beat the passion of Comrades, and the need to get a training run in began to steadily mount…plus I’d sort of oversold myself.
I was speaking at a Christian conference and had regaled them with stories of my Comrades conquests…it’s awesome to see how impressed foreigners are when you bandy around numbers like 90km. It’s all lost on our satiated South Africans. And so it wasn’t long before they suggested that I lead an early morning run of interested Aussies. Finding myself stuck between a boast and an Aussie, we finally succumbed. We put out the hard-to-refuse invitation that on the Tuesday morning we would be heading out at 4:45am for a 21km run.
Well, as you can well imagine…they leapt at it like swarm of Roos. Several people came up to me to discuss possible routes and hours were spent pouring over Google Maps and listening with keen interest to the advice of the locals.
4:30am….Beep, Beep, Beep….Squawk..Screech…The alarm woke us in its usual uncaring way. “Eish,” Nicky said, “My Aussie Didgeridoo! It’s still dark outside. Why did you make us start so early?” Through bleary, unhappy eyes I stared vainly out the window hoping to catch just a glimmer of the new day. In those first few moments, with nauseating regularity, I experience the same thoughts…”Why in the world am I doing this? I love my bed. I want to sleep. This is crazy. I need counseling. All those non-runners were right.” However, normally this period of transition is washed away with the warm, bitter, strong kiss of the first espresso. However on this occasion there was no espresso, and so bearing the reproach of my good wife we dressed and hurried outside into the darkness.
Dew lay thickly on the ground, and even though it was not yet 5am the temperature was already reaching the mid 20s. The days had been blisteringly hot, with temperatures as high as 35C even at 7pm. In the lights of the camp we made out one other would-be runner. It’s easy to tell – they’re the only ones awake and wearing skimpy, non-flattering clothing. Soon we were joined by a young boy of 13 (who’d never run further than 6km) and finally by our guide. The Fabulous Five…up at Five…were off.
A few minutes later we stopped and leapt from the car. We watched with amusement as the Aussies underwent various running rituals…stretch, loosen, twist…Our thinking is, “Hey, we are here to run not do pilates or yoga…leave that to the non-runners.” So after a few condescending remarks about their ability to flex and how they’d look in a pair of tights we were ready to head off.
The route made its way for about 10km on a quiet road past farms, and homes along the base of a valley in the Newcastle area of New South Wales. The plan being to wend our way along the valley floor and then turn around just before the road climbed up into the hills beyond.
“This is why I run. This is why I get up at crazy hours. This is living.” Almost without fail this is the next transition after pluming the depths of my sanity in those first waking moments. It’s the pure joy and exhilaration of running. There’s no better way to see a place – to experience a country – surrounded by the sweet strains of the Aussie accent, the rich aroma of the farmlands and trademark vista of the Aussie Eucalyptus. And even their company is not too bad. It’s quite surprising, but thankfully they aren’t all like Shane Warne.
The kilometers seem to fall away as we were caught up in the experience. It wasn’t long before the iconic Aussie symbol…no not beer…the kangaroo was seen leaping across the road ahead of us. Shy, but inquisitive we saw many of them also seemingly out on their morning training hops. We were even treated to one of the myriad of Aussie snakes…although this one was either fast asleep or suffering from a hard night of partying. While we did not spot any Koalas…apparently its not their hunting season or something…there was no shortage of spiders. You wont be in Australia very long before realising that it’s not flies that are the problem but spiders – a strange paradox indeed. And it wont be long before your friendly Aussie mate is indulging you in terrifying stories about how all the worlds deadliest venom dripping, 8-legged beasts live on their island. It’s understandable – the scary stories must either come from a croc, a spider, a kangaroo or a koala…we really are spoilt in Africa.
Before we knew it we were closing in on the end of our run. The sun was beginning to paint the road in molten gold, and it felt as such when it touched us. I was immediately thankful we had started out early. That’s another thing I must remember next time I’m in the valley of self-flagellation in those first waking moments – it will be cool.
As the 5 sweaty bodies clambered into the ute (bakkie for us South Africans) we were all grins and jokes. Everyone had made it, even young Reuben. All I can say is “That was a fair dinkum experience mate, and another great leap along the road to Comrades!”
Also published on Runners World - http://comrades.runnersworld.co.za/gday-mate-you-fancy-a-run-with-the-roos/