What would Wally do? or “Die eensaamste soutie in Tjoeras”

It comes on quick. At 29 kays I was still fine. By 30 I’m fucked. The hopelessness descends halfway up the M10 freeway. I’m not gonna make it. I don’t have another 12 kays in me.

Marathons are trippy as shit. There’s ten kays of quirky banter, another 20-odd of serious road-running, and then the psychedelics kicks in. Squeeze all energy reserves from your body, then feed it cups of Coke every fifteen minutes and you flip out.

Your vertical-hold is out, so you’re weaving down Krugerlaan, some shamelessly suburban lane in deepest Centurion, water sachets glinting like condoms of crystal cum in the vertical sunlight. You’re surrounded by strangers. Down to your last.

There’s leg pain that can’t carry on. Your body’s not having it. The shin splints and the calf cramps and the thigh spasms and the ITB and the left knee. There’s some kind of scrotal torsion going on, somewhere beneath your retracted penis… The right toe is one part arthritis, two parts gout. Blisters just starting to burst now. That must’ve been the one on the left just now.

It’s impossible. 31 kays. I can smell myself: shit, piss, calcified sweat. Suppurating scabs of crusty, salt skin weeping beneath my armpits. Tears dry in the corners of my eyes even before they can merge with my diabetic spittle.

In the change pocket of my shorts I have some kind of energy ball. A last, vain shot of sugar. Without water, it congeals in my mouth like a dry turd. Its brownness clings to my teeth. I gasp through my calcified mouth, like a rectum. Even the other runners look away.

I give up, slumping to the sidewalk. Broken. My race is run.

The first old lady to pass mutters, “Wimp.” beneath her breath. Pride stung, I stand and stagger on like a desert refugee. I can’t swallow. I can’t breathe. This turd in my mouth. The pain! Underarms bleeding freely. My face a death mask now, gasping and swearing involuntarily.

Jesus fucking Christ. Jesus Christ! Oh my fuck! Fuck sakes! Poes, man! Ah, fuck! Fuckin’ hell!

A first-aid station appears. Guys, I don’t think I’m going to be able to finish this race. I’m going to have to stop. It’s these shin splints… My legs… Ek kannie meer nie, korporaal.

But there’s no sympathy here either.

“Ag. You can stop, but… have you got someone to come fetch you? Thing is, the sweeper van is only coming past in another hour and a half. So you might as well just carry on. If you don’t make it, they’ll pick you up. so you might as well be on the road…”

Fuckers won’t even let me stop. What kind of first aid is that? I stumble out of the emergency gazebo and immediately go into complete bilateral leg spasm. I lunge for the guardrail, paralysed! Gingerly stretch some circulation back in and then stagger on down the highway. Can’t anyone plant any fuckin’ trees in this fuckin’ place? There’s no shade for fuckin’ days!

Ogh! What’s that one say? 32 kays. It’s too fuckin’ far. If I had my phone, I’d phone someone. But I’m in fuckin’ Centurion. No one would come. It’s not fair! I’m stuck all on my own. I’ve got no energy. I can’t.

I can feel a spot in the middle of my back, where the sun is cultivating a cancerous melanoma of death. There’s no shelter for miles, not that I could get to it if there was. I’ve stopped sweating now, the first sign of dehydration and eventual death.

I’m lost in the wilderness here.

“Sal ons maar shuff tot die stopstraat?”

 It’s a lady in an Irene strip. Shuff? I’ve never heard that. As in shuffle? The stop street is probably twenty metres away. I can probably shuffle that far.

And then walk, blissfully walk. Heart hammering, weeping for mercy.

“Ons stap tot daai volgende klomp asblikke. Dan draf ons weer.”

And so we form a partnership. Myself and this lady from Irene. We walk to the bins and then we jog to the second lamppost. Then walk to the orange cone. Jog to the corner, or just round the corner. To the stop street. To the bakkie. The intersection. Allie pad tot die volgende waterpunt.

Dying a thousand deaths all the way. But dying them together.

This was to be my Comrades qualifier. But it’s long been clear I’m never going to make the qualifying time. My greatest achievement would be finishing this outrage of a race. I arrived 15 minutes late for the start and then killed myself trying to get up to qualifying pace. Blew out at 30 kays. But still finished. If I can say that, I will have done something. I’ll not be going to Durban this year. Those three weeks off training with the shin splints probably did it. Running Comrades in this shape would have killed me anyway. I’ve barely got enough to make that distance marker on the bridge… 35 kays!

This is it. The Lifegain Wally Hayward Marathon 2012. This is my Comrades. Being carried by my fellow traveller in her blue-green Irene strip. My experienced Comrade with her method. We chop it up into digestible chunks and we eat up the kilometres. Even if every step is sweet agony.

We hit some kind of second wind entering the business district of Centurion, such as it is. We’re not running a qualifying time, hell, we’re probably not even running an official finishing time. But we’re finishing.

And it’s the Wally Hayward. Even if I’ve mismanaged my race so brutally, travestised it, made a filthy animal of myself, I can still finish.

Through my psychedelic haze I recall the only time I saw Wally Hayward on TV. He was running the 1989 Comrades, trying to become the oldest Comrades finisher ever. The broadcasters were waiting for him in the stadium as the 11-hour cut-off approached.

He made it by two minutes, vomiting blood on live TV on the finish line. At 80 years old. If Wally Hayward could do that, I can certainly shuffle a couple of hours through Centurion.

Even if it is pure, living hell.

Writer for television, print and digital, corporate and editorial. Editor and writer of books. Musical performance, spoken word as Inspector Ras. Guitar/vocals for The Near Misses, (Worst Band In JoburgTM). The last whitey at umsebenzi. Latest book 415 Action-Packed Neighbourhood Marketing Tips with Basil O'Hagan, out now. @hagenengler

(2) Comments

  1. Dear Hagen – I know your pain. I just ran Rotterdam with a 73 year old it was his 250th marathon – he was doing another one the following week – the sheer madness in his eyes was enough to spur me on!

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