Often it is a chance occurrence that can turn an ordinary training run into something special.
Yesterday I set off for a run on one of my regular routes. The weather was a bit cooler than ideal, my legs felt fine without feeling great so it started off as just a regular run. By the end of the run I felt rejuvenated and inspired.
After a long climb I reached a sharp right turn that would take my back towards home, starting with a 5 km descent. As I turned the corner I noticed out of the corner of my eye another runner crossing the road behind me. I slightly picked up the pace as I started the descent, but after a few hundred metres I heard footsteps behind me, and realised that the other runner was pacing off me. A few hundred metres further down the road I reached a red light and pulled up to a stop.
I turned around and greeted the runner, a man looking to be in his mid- to late-50’s, as he pulled up beside me. He thanked me for setting the pace, we talked about the weather (which had improved to blue sky and a pleasant temperature), and then the light turned green. We set off together and he asked whether I was running City2City (a 50 km race from Johannesburg to Pretoria) next week, to which I responded that I would be running it for my first time and was looking forward to it. When I rebounded the question he casually mentioned that he had run it 12 times, and then he asked whether I had run Comrades. I told him that this year I completed my second, and then found out that he had completed his 25th this year. We talked about how easily the races can accrue, running it once to tick a box, and then coming back for one more to complete both directions, but then needing to come back to improve on a time that wasn’t quite good enough. Each year another reason presents itself.
We then moved onto upcoming plans and he mentioned that he wasn’t happy with his form at the moment as he is training for the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (a 7-day 250 km race where competitors must carry all of their own supplies). It turned out that he has run the race five times before, including placing second on two previous occasions. Next year he was planning to run his 26th and final Comrades as he was finding that with age he was finding long distance road running was becoming tough on the body. But he clarified that he would still complete off-road ultramarathons, since they were easier on the body.
After running together for a couple of kilometres he decided to stop at a petrol station for a drink. I stopped briefly, we thanked each other for the run, wished each other luck for the remainder of our respective runs, as well as for our upcoming race next week. I then turned and ran off.
We never even exchanged names but all that mattered was that we were both runners. I completed my run feeling strong and arrived home with a smile on my face. It is inspirational to think that people can continue to love this sport over a period of decades and will push themselves to keep going on despite the body’s best efforts to slow us down.