Strength in numbers

When the Sports Editor asked if I’d write a column for the Witness, I was a bit apprehensive. I am not a scribe and I am, definitely, no great athlete. I have, at times, run “fast” but never at the front of the field. I’ve run far – Three Comrades and three Washies – But I’ve failed more than succeeded. During my athletic career I’ve very much, been one of the “penguins” of the road and my qualifications are those of a simple painter.

My first Comrades was in 1976. My last attempt, somewhere around 2002. So I’ve seen the development of technology from the first wedge shaped running shoes back to “racing flats” that resemble the old Bata Tackies and Tigers of the  70s. So, if, at times, I ramble, it’s as the memories come back. One learns much. Sometimes one forgets and then it’s time to re-learn – Back to Basics. I will be sharing snippets that have helped me and many of our running group achieve their goals.

When we make the big decision to start training, be it running, walking or gym, we need a goal. In between, we need to set short term goals. Those goals should be achievable in a relatively short space of time. You’ll often hear the term “baby steps”. If weight loss is your aim, set a realistic targets. If your goal is Comrades, set the initial target at 5km. You get the idea? It’s always more exciting achieving than striving – and the next steps will happen.

Motivation in the early stages is easy. Gradually it gets a tad harder. Especially when you realise that Comrades training involves a little more than half an hour, five times a week. That’s why it’s important to find like minded folk and train with a partner or a group. Getting out of bed early is not always easy. Knowing you’ll let someone down if you don’t, helps. Deep down, the most important person you’ll let down is YOU!

Join a club if you’re a runner or walker. In clubs you’ll find training groups with varying abilities, meeting times and venues. You’ll also find out about local races which you can attend which give you more goals and an idea of your progress.

There are some “rules” to training with a partner or a group.

When the “bus driver” is decided for the session, stay with, not ahead of the “driver”. There is nothing more disheartening than continuously trying to catch up to a training partner or group. The driver will call re-grouping points. “We’ll re-group at the top of the hill/traffic lights/corner.” This is an indication that you can stretch your legs but when you get to the point, STOP. Wait for all to catch up and then set off. Remembering that the last person to get there has the least rest and the fittest/fastest has had the most.

Sometimes the call will be to “walk at the lamp post/tree/signpost (or whatever)”. This means that the first one to reach there, starts walking. If that first person isn’t you, carry on running until you catch up with the walkers. If you’re a back marker, they should wait for you and allow a little walk for you before setting off again. Again, the slowest has the shortest respite. This should be incentive to work a little harder. A very good policy is to run two steps past the target and start running, again, after a walk, two steps before that target.

There are many advantages to being part of a group or running with a partner. The obvious and most important is safety. In these times, we can never be too careful. Not everyone you meet along the road has your best interests at heart and, sometimes, just the tackies, watch or sun glasses you wear are just too much temptation for an opportunist. Avoid running with unnecessary jewellery. Apart from the obvious precaution, rings may become restrictive as your fingers/hands sometimes swell as you run. While we’re on this subject, so do your feet. You’ll find many different ways of tying your shoes.

Training is the time to try different options and find what suits you. Ask questions and share experiences. Remember the song, “The foot bone’s joined to the ankle bone, and the angle bone’s joined to the shin bone……”? It goes on and on until, ultimately, the “neck bone’s joined to the head bone”. This is pretty true for runners. If something like a little stone in the shoe becomes an irritation, it works its way all the way to your head and, every experienced athlete will tell you, much of distance running is dependent on the strength of your mind. A few moments sorting that irritation out may save your race. Otherwise, there’s “Deep Heat and Vaseline”. That’s a story for another time.

When you’re battling, your group or partner will lift your spirits and carry you through. You will do the same for others. Stay positive and always visualise yourself on the other side of the finish line.

You’ll be able to follow Witness Medihelp Maritzburg City Marathon coach, Norrie Williamson’s training programs, daily, in the Witness and via the race web site at  Norrie will, also, be sharing far more pearls of wisdom and experience, fortnightly, in the columns of this newspaper.

Remember – You don’t have to go far or fast – You just have to GO!