17 months ago I set the goal of running this year’s Two Oceans Half Marathon – my first long run with a shiny new pair of hips, and three days ago I achieved it. How? I’m still not quite sure.
The start line, as usual, was electric. The cold morning air was buzzing with the chatter of excited runners, pumping dance music and a blaring loudspeaker. The hum was abruptly silenced by the bang of the starting pistol and we were off.
Anyone who’s done this race before knows that the start can be slow and congested – you need to wait it out. To avoid the carnage I didn’t even attempt to strike up a quick pace immediately; I stuck with my girlfriend, my dad and my mate Bryden, and we all slowly trotted along to Edinburgh drive together.
This first hill never bothered me. I knew it was coming up early on in the race when we’d still be doing a lot of walking to get through those initial crowds. We walked, and when we had a gap we jogged, only to start walking again when the road filled up. At the 5km mark we were running down the M3 and I began to feel the first niggle in my hip, but I kept on going.
The end of the M3 was the start of a huge mental battle for me as we approached Southern Cross Drive. We were now 12kms into the race and the mammoth hill loomed ahead of me. It might as well have been Everest. By this stage we had lost Bryden and I was starting to lose my composure as the pain in my hips intensified.
At this point I checked my phone and saw an encouraging message from my friend Lawrence. I tried following his advice, but the pain was becoming more and more unbearable. We walked up Southern Cross Drive, and waved to Bryden as he passed us towards the top. This was when the voice of doubt showed up, bringing with it thoughts of finishing after the three hour cut-off, or not finishing at all. I told my dad and my girlfriend to run ahead without me but they refused.
As we ran towards Kirstenbosch the pain in my hips was relentless. I was managing to run 100 meters at a time, before having to walk 150 meters to recover. By the time we reached the top gate at Kirstenbosch I was having a serious sense of humour failure, growing increasingly angry with my two fellow runners. I told them that there was absolutely zero chance of me finishing within the three hours, begging them to leave me alone and go get their medals.
Approaching the M3 from Kirstenbosch, I felt a pain more excruciating than anything I’ve ever experienced. I was all but in tears, running three steps, then walking 50 meters. A fresh layer of hell arrived when cramp set in from my waist down. My toes, calves and quads seized up and I felt like I was running on daggers. I must’ve looked ghastly because so many of those amazing road-side supporters standing in the rain shouted words of encouragement as I hobbled past. “Come on, Bruce! You’re almost there.” I couldn’t even look at them.
Again, I told my dad and girlfriend to run ahead because I was well and truly done. There were 2.5kms to go and all I wanted to do was lie down on the side of the road and make the pain stop. At this point my dad ran next to me, put my arm around his and basically started carrying me. My girlfriend lifted me on the other side.
With 2kms to go, the man running with the three hour flag came past us. Something came over me and I managed a desperate 50-meter stumble-sprint and got ahead of him. For the final kilometre I was draped over my two super heroes, all three of us constantly looking over our shoulders to stay ahead of the three hour man.
We entered UCT and crossed the line with three minutes to spare.
The last four kilometers of that race is a blur. And the pain that followed on Saturday afternoon was something I never want to experience again. It was six or seven hours before I could sit, lie or stand without excruciating pain. Not even loads of pain killers helped.
Am I proud I did it? Absolutely. Was it worth it? I’m not sure, probably not. I can’t imagine anything is worth the pain I felt. I think I’ll stick to hockey, cricket and short runs from now on.
The real super heroes on the day were my dad and girlfriend. Somehow they found the strength to run 19 kilometres, and then carry me the remaining two kilometres. To me, that is simply unbelievable.
A huge thank you must go to all of you who sent me messages and tweets along the way and after the race – it meant the world to me! Just look at these legends:
I am well aware that there are people in the world with problems far worse than not being able to run a comfortable half marathon. But I find that every sporting experience can teach us a lesson that’s valuable in life. This is what I learnt on Saturday:
What they say about humans only ever accessing 10% of our potential is true. Even when you’re completely convinced that you have nothing left to give and that you simply can’t go on – you can. There are people around you who want to help and want to see you succeed. If you dig deep enough you will find what you need to make it, and when you think you’ve reached rock bottom, I can guarantee you – there’s still more left in you.