Author: Altra Red Team Altie Clark

When the lockdown was announced and it became clear that running was not going to happen, I went into a complete tail spin like so many other runners. Luckily I have a brilliant sister that knows me very well.  She suggested I spend the lockdown on their farm in Thabazimbi where I would be able to run to my heart’s content while helping to keep things going there.  The only downside was that I would be completely alone.  Being alone turned out not being a downside after all.  I had a lot of time to think and realised that the outbreak of the novel Covid-19 virus resulting in cancelation of most events for the rest of the year was the best thing that could have happened to my running. 

Having been in endurance sport for twenty years you would think I have a bit of experience and have learnt from my mistakes.  It became clear to me just because you’ve been doing something for a very long time, that does not necessarily translate into doing it right. During my time alone in the bush I had a lot of time to run, and even more time to think.  I was fresh off the high of finishing the ADDO 100 miler and my sense of accomplishment was up in the clouds.  I did, however, come to a very unexpected realisation, which was that despite finishing my 100 miler under very difficult circumstances I was not ready for it at all on a physical level.  Mentally I don’t think I could have been stronger and my mind and stubborn will was the reason I managed to finish the race. 

While on the farm I started going through my training and despite being on a great program given to me by my coach Bennie Roux, I had only trained consistently and with structure for four months of which only two of those months had any kind of decent mileage.  The biggest struggle with my running for the past five years has been consistency with every year having some kind of catastrophic health crisis or injury.  Running is however what keeps me centred and happy so the past five years I would put on my shoes despite chest pains, torn ligaments or an aching back and tough it out because it was what I needed to stay sane. I stormed into event after event and filled my weekends with running and traveling. This all seems very exciting but the reason I was doing it was because I was lonely and wanted to get away from the reality of day to day life in the city. 

I deteriorated from running a sub 50 minute ten K in 2016 to a 70 minute ten K in 2019.  My mind set at all the events I did was that I did not care about time and that I just wanted to finish.  I became really good at running for cut offs and over the years I became slower and slower.  The happiness I felt finishing ADDO is probably the best feeling I have had in my entire life and the exhilaration took all the focus away from how beaten up my body was after the event.  I immediately started entertaining thoughts of doing the AMUK challenge and committed 100% to doing the Mac Mac 100 miler and a whole bunch of other events in between, before even being able to walk properly.  This is not strange for ultra-runners and I think most of us have this mind set.  We have to have something in the pipeline otherwise we are like a ship lost at sea. 

I realised on the weekend that UTD was supposed to take place that my body was nowhere near ready for another venture into the mountains and the speed work I was doing on the farm was very slowly starting to pay off.  How could I ever even have entertained the thought of doing another long event so close to my two day suffer fest in ADDO? The two most important things I realised while spending all my time running and thinking in the bush was:

  1. I don’t have to run an event to be happy. I want to be outside and move in nature. I love sharing this space with like-minded people and if we are to be without events while this situation resolves itself, that is ok. The situation will pass and we will be back together on the trails before long. As long as I am healthy and can move, that is good enough.
  2. If the virus did not grind things to a halt, I would have possibly entered for UTD, committed to Mac Mac and continued banging my head against the wall, getting slower, more frustrated and accepting of my average performances. I know calling my performances average may sound harsh but I still have a competitive heart and remember very well what it feels like to win races (cycling not running). Winning is not my priority though. I don’t want to feel broken at the end of a race because my body wasn’t ready for what I put it through, I want to feel broken because I am connected with my body and its abilities and gave everything until there was nothing left.

I have seen a gradual increase in my speed and I have decided that I would use the rest of 2020 to consistently move in a direction that will allow me to perform on a level that I know I am capable of. There are so many devastating things that came with the Corona virus and I have decided to only focus on the good things that came out of it and the best of all for me personally has been a running revolution and a big emotional breakthrough. If the lockdown never happened, I would not have spent so much time by myself and found a new level of inner peace. I would have carried on breaking my body down and not building it up. I would have spent too much energy on chasing races and running away from reality. 

Even though I am no longer on the farm I am going to continue the healthy routines I have settled into during this time. I am going to continue focussing on the positive and work towards becoming a better and stronger runner. To all my friends and running family out there that are struggling, keep the bright side up. I am seeing this as a time to completely reinvent myself as a runner. How often do you get that opportunity?


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