Potatoes For A Purpose Project

Over a month has past since my last post and I am happy to report that since then I have been progressing slowly and am now following a run/walk programme, grateful to be back on the road again.

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Sometimes you just need to walk your potato!

However, this comeback is a journey all on its own, and fear can cloud the joy of my running return if I allow it. There is the constant fear of re-injury, frustration at starting over, worrying about what people think, adjusting future plans and realizing I may never return to where I once was. And that’s okay. I’m working on treating myself with grace (no one judges you as much as you judge yourself!) I am embracing this new season with freedom from expectations, and my running and my racing will be my own.

One of the best things to come out of these months of rest, was the creation of my “Potatoes for a Purpose” project. Yesterday I was blessed to have this story feature on the front page of our local newspaper, the Highway Mail, giving this initiative some exciting exposure. I am hoping this platform will help generate increased funding for the Inanda Trail Running club, to help them to fulfill their dreams and goals for the future.

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Below are a few extracts from the article.

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Please be in touch if you would like to learn more or contribute in any way. Thank you.

Adjust Your Altitude

“These mountains that you are carrying, you were supposed to only climb.” (N. Zebian)

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The Lesotho Ultra Trail went into its 5th year in 2017 attracting a top class local and international field. It is classed as an Ultra Skymarathon because it exceeds 45kms in length and 2500 meters in vertical gain at high altitude. The course adventures to over 3200m above sea level in parts and this year I was invited to come and run it!

Our accommodation for the weekend.

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Below are two photos I took during the race. I was in awe of my surroundings.

Lesotho is a landlocked country, entirely surrounded by South Africa. It is of similar size to Belgium or Israel and has a population of 2 million inhabitants. In the heart of the Lesotho Highlands lies the Maluti Mountains, with an intricate network of trails existing along the valleys and mountain flanks. These mountain passes are used primarily by livestock and shepherds, allowing them to pass through the Maluti Mountain range on foot. Many of these mountain passes have been established by hand and provide terrain for some of the best high altitude mountain running in the world!

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Interesting fact: the lowest point above sea level in Lesotho is 1500 metres, making it the country with the highest low point in the world.

It is no secret that I love a challenge and I was tempted to do the 50km race, purely fuelled by my joy and passion for the trails (with minimal training!) but then came to my senses and decided the 38km course would be more than enough for me to tackle for my first high altitude mountain race. This proved to be the right decision, as two weeks before the run, I developed a painful Retrocalcaneal bursitis (inflammation of the bursa, which lies over your heel where your Achilles tendon inserts). However, I tried to remain positive and wanted to give it my best and honour this generous gift I had been given.

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I limped into registration, with eyes welling up and a quivering lip but was determined as ever to find a way to scale that mountain range! I lay awake in the tent most of the night but got up in the morning and showed up at the start. I stood at the back of the group (this is where I remained most of the race!) and began with my walk-hop-jog around the lodge for the initial 8km loop. I wasn’t sure if I should carry on after this and make my way up the mountain, but I decided to go for it.

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I could write many pages describing the events that unfolded over the following 10 hours. However, let me share one highlight for now: the weather! We experienced four seasons in one day, from sunshine, to rain and even a snow storm thrown into the mix. Being caught in the storm on the mountaintop at 3000m was almost too much for me to handle. I was scared and sore but the tears froze as soon as they hit my cheeks and I had to suck it up!

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It took everything I had inside me to push through the pain in my foot and go from a walk to a jog to a run, simply to keep warm and keep the blood flowing. Luckily my new friend, Kirsten (aka snow sister) was not too far ahead of me and I managed to catch up to her just before the storm hit. Together we kept each other company until we reached the Camp JubeJube Aid Station.

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These guys were my heroes. They rubbed my frozen legs, wrapped a space blanket around my waist and held my hand for the first few metres down the steep descent before waving us on our way.

I have never been in snow before and this was something I will never forget. It was the hardest run ever but also the most thrilling! Besides the pain, the altitude and terrain was also a huge challenge. (Even if I was injury-free, I would have struggled!) I was completely out my comfort zone but also in awe that I was in such a majestic place. I felt like one of those athletes in a National Geographic documentary, running on the edge of cliffs and leaping over rocks!

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The winners of the race each received a Basotho Hat and a Basotho blanket. The Basotho Hat (or mokorotio) is a recognised symbol in Lesotho. It is made out of grass and has a shape of many of the mountains in the country. The Basotho blanket is almost entirely made of wool and is the traditional dress. They are a common sight in Lesotho and worn as a status symbol and cultural identification, while also providing protection against the cold.

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Almost 10 hours after starting, the adventure came to an end and it was my turn to finally cross that finish line!

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“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” – Barry Finlay

The Girl In The Blue Dress

“Do not lose hope. Please believe there are a thousand beautiful things waiting for you. Sunshine comes to all who feel rain.” (r.m.drake)

Last week I was reflecting on my 50 miler race and wrote about moving forward during hard times and not getting ‘stuck in the mud’. Today, almost 2 weeks since that adventure, I am finally ready to share another story with you. I don’t know how to put it into words, as it’s something that is hard to explain, and good stories take time to tell, but I will give a short, simple version for now and perhaps expand on it again in the future. It will be worth the wait!

The conditions over the race weekend played a big role in the overall outcome and the 100 milers particularly had a tough time out there. The rain, cold and low temperatures saw one runner having to be carried off the course and others withdrawing before hypothermia set in. Our race directors were vigilant about checking up on us to ensure we were okay and despite declining a pair of gloves and an offer to use a plastic bag to protect my head from the pouring rain, I never refused the hot cup of milo on offer at the aid stations! It did the trick every time! I was freezing but managed to regulate my core temperature and was fortunate to finish with flushed cheeks and a good bill of health. This little body is stronger than it looks and once again did me proud.

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I believe magic happens when you do not give up and I had many magical moments during my race. I prayed (a lot!) and was in a fair amount of pain at times, especially when running downhill. I actually looked forward to the climbs because it was more comfortable to run up than down. After a few hours of running, I turned a corner and saw a long, steep dirt road in front of me. I was brought to tears and cried out, ‘God, give me strength!’ I started walking and talking to myself (‘You’ve got this Debs!’ and other things that don’t sound as nice!) and then suddenly out of nowhere a young girl appeared next to me.

We had run through a rural settlement a few miles back and at first I thought she must have followed me from there and hidden until now. She didn’t say anything, simply smiled and walked beside me. I remember thinking, she must be freezing in her blue summer dress and bare feet but she was in fact warm and dry. A few days later, this is what puzzled me the most. It was pouring with rain, yet her face was dry and her body too! She started jogging slowly and I followed her lead, happy to have company. After a few steps she grabbed my right hand and squeezed it tight. Her palm was soft and warm and I felt guilty for my icy, shrivelled up fingers that I gave her in return.

I wondered if I would get in trouble if I reached the aid station with my unofficial ‘pacer’ as the 50 milers were not allowed any help in this regard and it was almost as if she sensed my concern, because as we reached the top, she let go of my hand and stopped running. I said thank you, as I wiped the rain out my eyes with the back of my hand and in that instant she was gone. I turned around and looked back down the hill but she had vanished.

Low body temperature impairs the brain and some may argue I did experience a symptom of hypothermia – confusion – when I tell them this story. Whether she was a human girl or a spirit, either way, she was an angel to me and gave me peace and hope as we climbed one of the toughest hills in the race. I know God was watching over me the entire time and I certainly didn’t do it in my own strength.

“She made broken look beautiful and strong look invincible. She walked with the universe on her shoulders and made it look like a pair of wings.”

Life is full of miracles and we need to take the time to notice them. We know pain is real, none of us need to be reminded of this, but hope is real too. It wasn’t an easy race after that and my angel didn’t appear again, even when I was scared and by myself in the forest, struggling to carry on. But I know I was never alone.

I read a quote this week that said, “Every storm runs out of rain.” Remember those words when you face your next challenge. Stay patient and trust your journey.

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Don’t Get Stuck In The Mud

The rain is falling outside, triggering memories of my cold, wet run last weekend. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the icy drops landing on my head, before they slowly dripped down the back of my neck.  The swishing noise from the fabric of my oversized jacket is the only sound I hear, as my arms pump back and forth, propelling me forward on the muddy road. It’s easy to let my mind go back there….

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Part of the allure of endurance running for me is to see how deep I can dig. It is a brilliant way to build mental toughness and help you learn how to manage discomfort. When I look back on my life and some of the things I have endured and overcome, perhaps I was born to do this. I have had a lot of practice when it comes to dealing with physical and emotional pain and giving up has never been an option.

Tonight I am fortunate to be indoors, warm and dry and I wonder how did I do that? How did I manage to run 50 miles in those conditions? My mind is about as clear as the muddy puddles on those farm roads and it will take a few weeks to process all I went through during those 11 hours (10 hours 40 minutes to be exact!) I look forward to sharing many stories and lessons learned in future posts, when I can see clearly and the rain is gone!

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Winston Churchill said, “Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.” We can’t allow difficulties to intimidate us and instead need to face them head on and in doing so, we develop the determination needed to be everything we were created to be.

This post is a bit of a muddy mess but I hope I have conveyed some kind of message and encouraged you to face your own challenges with relentless determination. Don’t get stuck in the mud. If you are going through something, keep going. Hypothermia was a real concern at the race and one way to keep my body temperature regulated was to simply keep moving forward to keep warm. Step by step. One mile at a time.

We will go through difficult circumstances but that makes us people who know how to overcome adversity. We grow when we persevere and don’t give up. It comes at a cost and you will have to be willing to push through obstacles that stand in your way and perhaps you are tired of doing that, but let me encourage you to press in one more time. You can do it!

A Tribute To KZN Trail Running

KZN Trail Running does a lot of good, so I wanted to give some heartfelt thanks and praise.

So far this year, with races run, an incredible amount of R174 345.00 has been raised!

Andrew Booth and his team are an asset to the community and deserve this humble applause.

They are donating the money towards various nature conservation projects, all for a worthy cause.

Not only do they give back to the beautiful environment we enjoy but to the local people too.

When you arrive at a trail run, Andrew and Lauren always have a welcoming, friendly smile for you!

They are a kind, generous couple (with two of the cutest kids around!) full of life and energy,

I am still a newbie on the trails but already am full of gratitude for what this family has done for me.

Trail running unexpectedly came into my life a few months back, at exactly the right time.

I was a little down and even my joy of running was starting to wane, which was an early warning sign.

For someone who often battles to fit in, when I was around the trail runners, it instantly felt like home.

I took time to reassess, go back to basics and it was in the forests that I felt alive, yet never alone.

I’ve had to let go of many dreams in the past and when life becomes painful, my running helps me cope.

Meeting new people and seeing others overcome their obstacles too, continues to give me hope.

My technical skills on trails are lacking (I have fallen several times!) and even cried because it really hurt,

But I echo what John Muir said: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

Crunchy Courage

I had a delicious spoonful of crunchy, homemade peanut butter at a farmer’s market on Sunday, which inspired this title. There is no deep meaning (although if you give me a few minutes I’m sure I can come up with one!)

Too often I have not done something out of fear but I am not letting fear decide my future anymore. Even something as simple as driving an hour by myself to a race used to scare me, especially when I had never been to the area before. However, this is exactly what I did on Sunday and the risk was worth it. I spontaneously decided to participate in a 12km trail race, which was being hosted in conjunction with the Eston Agricultural Show. It turned out to be a fun-filled morning, with highlights including winning the ladies race and having an ostrich run alongside me for a few metres in the game reserve!

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Winning races is new to me. I have run for years and never stepped on a podium, yet I have been humbled by that honour lately. However, I have never pursued this kind of success and prefer to value each day and think that if we are working towards our goals, and becoming better version of ourselves, we are already successful now, not only when a podium or promotion shows up.

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I have to fight fear, anxiety and self-doubt daily and often I do it publicly in my blog or in the conversations I have with the people I meet on my journey. It isn’t easy, however, this vulnerability is necessary in order for me to grow and in turn this enables me to have more to give others, because you can’t give away what you don’t have. I do my best to relate and listen to friends who trust me with their pain and this month have been humbled by stories of addiction and recovery that have been shared with me.

The consequences of being open and no longer living behind a mask, are that you will be attacked by critics and those peanuts from the gallery will hurt. (I think I just found a deeper meaning to my title!) In the future, instead of dodging the peanuts thrown at me, I will simply wave my arms around and catch them, stuffing fistfuls into my mouth and enjoying every bite (this may not seem as effective if you aren’t a peanut butter fan like me, but I hope you get the idea.)

The truth is we are usually our biggest critic. Be kinder to yourself this week and in turn you’ll be able to be kinder to those around you too.  Stop hiding who you truly are and know deep down that YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Wonderful Wilderness

“The greatest risk any of us will take, is to be seen as we are.” Cinderella

I have often talked about stepping outside my comfort zone. This is risky because I know there is always a chance I will fail. In fact, it’s a guarantee and I have experienced this several times on my journey already. What often follows is ‘I told you so’ by those who enjoy standing on the side-lines and it takes courage to stand alone and face this criticism and uncertainty. I have been working through my own fears of wondering ‘Am I enough?’ and it is only during these times of solitude you will realize how important it is to let go of what people think and not let fear stop you from pursuing things that bring you joy.

This weekend I chose courage over comfort and the leap of faith was worth it! I let go of the familiar and took a courageous decision, which had a ripple effect. I had the privilege of meeting a dynamic group of trail runners and joined them for a 30km run through the Karkloof area in KZN.

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This area is renowned for its indigenous forests, wetlands and grasslands and provided an ideal setting for us to spend the morning exploring one of South Africa’s most beautiful landscapes.

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Not only did I have the privilege of running in this majestic environment but I also met a group of runners who welcomed me into their tribe and made me feel at home.

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We had some great conversations, not only about running (which definitely unites us) but also about life and pain and I was reminded when I allow myself to be authentic and share my story, it encourages others to do the same. If you try numb your pain, you numb the joy too and that is no way to live.

“What happens when people open their hearts?”… “They get better.” H.Murakami

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It is often hard to let go of a dream, when it is everything you have ever wanted and some days I am full of hope and agony at the same time! It’s the kind of heartache you can feel in your bones and perhaps that’s the reason I suffer such pain in my legs after a long run. But there are always new dreams to pursue if we are willing to get up and keep moving forward – just like that ultramarathon on Sunday – one step at a time!

I am loving this new chapter in my my story, running the trails and the people it has brought into my life have been a blessing. I am grateful for every one of you! Thanks again for making this weekend one I will always remember.

 

 

From Pain To Purpose To Podium

On Sunday I joined 620 other runners as we made our way to Nagle Dam for the 1000 Hills Challenge. This is an epic, tough event and for many (like me) it was the first time visiting this hidden gem, tucked in the upper reaches of the Valley of 1000 Hills. It has become one of KZN Trail Running’s premier races and a highlight on the trail running calender. With 5km, 10km, 20km and 38km options, there was something for everyone.

With the picturesque rural setting of Msinsi Nagle Dam, the unspoilt bushveld and the breath-taking beauty of the route, we were able to endure the tough terrain and steep climbs, because the joy of absorbing your surroundings, made the challenge worthwhile. I felt privileged to be there. Wildlife like zebra were around too and gave another unique experience to the event.

From an adventurous river crossing to running through the tunnel under the dam, these new experiences are ones I will treasure forever. An unexpected highlight was winning the 20km ladies race and it is a moment I will never forget. My trail family made me feel so welcome and we all had a great morning relaxing in the sunshine afterwards, enjoying the festive atmosphere.

Running the trails has helped me overcome an emotional last few weeks and it reminded me that every season of life has a purpose. For some reason I have been drawn to the wilderness and dirt roads and found them to be the perfect metaphor for this stage of my journey. Like the terrain we run on, you go through mountains and valleys, get caught in currents and often need others to help you through those difficult patches, until you find yourself on dry land again. However, just when you think it is going smoothly, you hit another rocky road and have to reassess your game plan.

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Many years ago, I wrote a book entitled “Whole Pieces”. Through my infertility journey I realized if you trust God with the shattered pieces of your life, He can make something good out of it. Not everything is good. There is so much we all endure that is plain awful! But in time, God can take the very thing that you are battling with and turn it around to use for good as He intends. I have seen this happen in my own life several times and want to encourage you to never give up and know your pain can be used for purpose.

 

Aloe Farm Trail Run

On Sunday, 2 July, I participated in my first trail run for the year. It was a welcome change to come back from my month’s rest after Comrades and enjoy the beautiful scenery on the farm, as all of my running up to this point has been on the road.

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This event was the finale of the KZN Trail Running Winter Series, held at the Aloe Wildlife Estate. It had a record number of participants taking part, which is encouraging as this means the sport is growing. It was quite cold when we arrived to register, so we kept our warm jackets on until the last minute and enjoyed soaking up the rays as we watched the sunrise. The 20km runners were off first and half an hour later our 13km run began.

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The single track meandered through the aloe-studded bushveld and although it was not a particularly technical course, I was reminded how the environment is constantly changing while running on a trail, and you have to keep your eyes open! In many ways it is easier on your body than pounding the hard pavement and the terrain lends itself to strengthening your leg muscles and ankles as you climb over rocks and uneven surfaces.

There was a great vibe at the finish with flowing craft beer and coffee as well as bacon and egg rolls, which were devoured by the hungry runners before gathering for the prize-giving and lucky draws. I was the 6th lady to finish, which was a pleasant surprise because for me, it is not about the speed but more about enjoying being outside, having fun and getting dirty! What I love about the trails is the way it forces you to slow down and appreciate your surroundings.

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Spending time outdoors definitely lifts your spirits and I look forward to doing another one soon.