Preparation, Capability and Endurance: Life lessons from the Soweto Marathon

The evening before 2019’s Soweto Marathon I met up with a friend over drinks at a mall in Randburg. There were some last minute shopping to do before the race which I had been looking forward to for five months – a cellphone pouch, some protein bars and a comfortable sports bra were just what I needed to make me feel a little bit more prepared. He found me at Exclusive Books going through a coffee table book on the world’s best marathons. I was  contemplating buying the book to use as inspiration to run marathons in different parts of the world, but I disqualified it because it did not feature the Soweto Marathon and The Two Oceans Marathon. These are South Africa’s biggest road running events – and each beautiful in it’s own right. I can not speak about Two Oceans as it is still a dream to be realized, but after running my first Soweto Marathon, my first completed marathon, I can now join in the conversation like I’m an expert. This year this annual race attracted 40 000 runners from all over the country and abroad to the FNB stadium in Soweto to conquer their hard. The last time I was at the Stadium was in December 2018 for the Global Citizens Concert headlined by Beyoncé and Jay Z, so the stadium marks life changing experiences in my life. The Soweto Marathon was that: life changing.

We left the book store to sit for drinks at a restaurant down the passageway of stores. We signed up for the marathon earlier in the year, but he had wanted to back out on me the week before the race because he felt under prepared. I could not imagine going through 42.2km in the brutal subtropical highland heat without someone I know on the track with me, so I used all the persuasion and hype girl powers in me to convince him to meet me at the starting line. I genuinely felt he was far more capable than I was, and if we struggle it’s best to struggle with someone by your side.

I ordered a Pinna Colada, every sweet bit of the cocktail left a sting of guilt on my tongue. I should not be drinking alcohol the night before my race, surely? I should not be here at this time, 8pm, knowing that I’ll need to be at the stadium by 04h30, surely? I should have had a full carbohydrate rich meal today, instead of whatever I do not even remember I ate. I had many worries – the biggest of them was the fear of not completing the marathon. My friend sat across from me with his berry smoothie. “ What if you do not finish the race?” He asked me after we shared why the race was important to us individually. It was an important question, the thought of the possibility made my heart sink.

The marathon was important to me for three reasons:

  1. I knew it was not suppose to be easy. I did my bit to prepare for the day. I committed myself to a Marathon training plan designed by Nike Run App, I consumed hours of Coach Parry’s podcasts and I had loads of pasta stored up in my fat cells from my September trip to Italy, and Monate Chicken’s pap and meat from my year in Malamulele. I was ready as a novice runner could be. Most importantly, my mind was prepared for it to be tough. This was a lesson I came to appreciate through running a difficult race earlier in the year: that worthwhile achievements do not come easily, they require a level of grit and preparation.
  2. Not completing it would crush my self esteem. I dream of running the Two Oceans Ultra and if I can not do Soweto, I will not have confidence for the ultra. I would not have confidence for many of my dreams. This was not only about getting to the finish line at Soweto, it applied to other areas of my life. I needed to finish this race to affirm myself that I am capable of achieving anything I prepare and work for.
  3. Perseverance produces endurance. Road running is one of the most practical ways to cement this important life lesson. I want to get to a point where I am comfortable with the discomfort of pressing on towards goals that are demanding.

The marathon was, in retrospect, a very good race. The tough time began at the base of the notorious Vilakazi street. At that point I was not running; I was power walking up that sharp elevation, my determination pushing against my declining energy and the stiffening of my gastrocnemius. There was no point in that five hour and twenty-two minutes where I questioned why I had signed up for this. I wanted to do it, and I wanted to finish strong.

There’s a well known African proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go further, go together. We ended up running the whole race together, my friend and I, and as I had predicted he was far more stronger than he thought he was. Through all of that I got to appreciate the immensely powerful force that is support. In the same way he needed me to get him to the starting line, I needed him to get to the finish line.

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