Around 9km, Zurika and Ditiro had pushed ahead so I had a target to chase. Gape remained by my side with the tough job of making sure I kept up. We had just battled a stiff wind and an unexpected incline that had thrown me slightly off target pace. For the first time that morning doubt had crept in. I kept looking down at my watch almost willing it to slow down. I was getting too close to that hour-mark. Gape said to me, “It’s all or nothing now”. In despair I said, “I have NOTHING”. His quick response, “You have ALL!” I was so exhausted but those words made me dig deep. I was just too close to lose it all now. I hadn’t come for 1:01 or 1:02. I had come for SUB-60. And then it happened, my watch finally buzzed. I looked down at my trusty Garmin and up flashed “New Record”. And then, the official time: 59:28. It was done. It was GOLD.
Road To 59:28
On the 1st of May, I completed a mentally exhausting 40-day running streak, made harder by the COVID-19 restrictions prohibiting outdoor running. So I was looking to take it easy. I figured a 10K Training Plan with a few easy runs and some speedwork was just what I needed. Running a Sub-60 10K was part of my #40By40 Challenge so with no races on the horizon this was the perfect time to do it. As luck would have it, a free training program from Fitness From Africa, a coaching company in South Africa, popped up on my Facebook feed. I immediately signed up and the following day Coach Marcel contacted me with a program starting Monday 4th of May. The first two weeks were as I had thought they would be – a few short and easy runs. But on the Sunday before the start of Week 3, I looked at the plan and thought, “Coach Marcel has uploaded the wrong program for me”. I sent him a carefully worded WhatsApp seeking some clarification. His response surprised me even more. This was the plan. That was the moment I realised training for a Sub-60 10K was serious business. That week I ran 53.8km.
Although a lot harder than I had anticipated (given my misconceptions about 10K training), I thoroughly enjoyed the program. It was a 5-run/week program which included a variety of easy and intense runs, including speed sessions, a longish mid-week run (12K) and two medium to long runs over the weekend (between 12-18K). In Week 4, I realised it was too hard for me to run 5 days with work and family commitments so for most weeks I only managed 4 days. I loved the speed work which varied every week and I looked forward to my long runs where I got to explore the city. One day I was only supposed to do 18K but ended up with 20K which felt amazing. I also had 3 time trials in the 10 week period. The first was a 3K Time Trial in Week 5 where I managed a time of 17:27 (5:49 pace). The second was a 5K Time Trial in Week 8 where I achieved a new 1:28 min PB, 28:24 (5:39 pace). This was a massive confidence boost two weeks from my race. In Week 9, I did my final 3K time trial in 16:38 (5:32 pace). I knew I was ready.
12 July 2020. After 10 weeks, 44.5 hours, 382.1 km of training, the day had come for a sub-60 10K. It was extremely cold, 2°C (feels of -1°C) when we arrived at Airport Junction at 07:15. Fortunately, the strong 24km/h wind speeds of the day before had subsided. Inspired by Kipchoge, I had organised an official pace team, Ditiro and Gape to guide me to the end. And of course my fabulous girl squad, Polelo, Elisa and Zurika came out to support me.
Most of us hadn’t seen each other since pre-lockdown in March so it was a joyful reunion if a bit strange with some attempt at social distancing and vigorous elbow greetings. I then gave a few instructions to the pace team, 1) we don’t pause the watch even if there is an obstruction and 2) they must do all they can to prevent such obstructions! We headed to the Airport Road with a 2km slow jog followed by 4 X 80m strides as our warm up. From the onset, our strategy was to keep Ditiro upfront to set the pace and Gape would run at my pace to keep me going. After starting me off, the girls focused on their workouts with the promise to be there at the end.
The first 5 km were smooth-sailing. My legs felt strong and I managed to stay exactly on target pace, 5:57/ 5:54/ 5:54/ 5:55/ 5:57. But even then, it was never lost on me how daunting this task was and as we entered the Airport gate (around 4.5km into the run) I remember saying, “This is tough, huh?” We ran round the Airport Loop and as we were exiting, I spotted Zurika behind us. Her timing was perfect as the wind we thought we had avoided had returned. The team quickly formed a cocoon around me to break the wind. My breathing didn’t feel as rhythmic or as comfortable as it had for the first half and my current pace slipped past the 6min/km mark, at one stage reading, 6:17. I knew I had to step it up. My splits for 6 – 7km were 5:53 and 6:03.
Around 7km, Gape took my water bottle from Ditiro so he could push even further ahead. At this point, I suspect Gape knew it was going to be a tight finish. I felt it too. I was relieved to see my 8km split was 5:56. Zurika shot ahead while Ditiro remained within a reachable distance. But I was now panting and the ugly force that is self-doubt had entered the fray. Probably sensing this, Gape reminded me that I was stronger than I thought and I had to keep going. When he said, “Stop looking at your watch. Just run!” – I momentarily thought, “Does he think I’ve lost it?” My pace for 9km was my slowest at 6:08 but with Gape’s reminder that I had ALL, I surged ahead, letting out a few mighty roars. We had an altercation with some cars at a small intersection. The guys tried their best to stop cars from turning. But the drivers were having none of it, so we ran in the middle of the road to avoid them. I had worked too hard for this. I was too close for it to slip away now. This was mine. The last km was my fastest, 5:48 and with 99% run in the red zone (average heart rate: 172bpm), I knew I had truly given it my all.
We caught up with Zurika and as the boys jogged ahead, we ran the last 2km to the parking lot where Elisa and Polelo were waiting. There were screams, high-fives and some illegal hugging. Everyone was beaming from ear to ear. My victory was theirs. I was so unbelievably happy they were all there. I surprised each of them with a small Thank You gift box, each containing a gluten free carrot cupcake baked by Zurika and sprinkled with gold to mark the occasion! After we parted ways, Ditiro and I drove to Mugg n Bean for some cappuccinos. As I waited for him in the car, I cried. It was all just so overwhelming. I thought about everything, all the running, where I had started in 2017 and how far I had come. I thought about COVID-19 and how I had kept running through it all. I thought about how running has kept me sane for the hardest 12 months of my life. I thought about my mum and imagined her smiling and telling me how proud she was.
Thank you to Coach Marcel for a brilliant and supportive 10 week plan that challenged me whilst building my confidence. Thank you to my awesome pace team and girl squad who believed I could do it even before I did. Thank you to my amazing friends and family as well as the incredible running community who’ve never wavered in their encouragement and support. Thank you to my husband who has seen the good, the bad and the ugly behind the scenes! And above all, thank you to my mum who always told me I could do anything I put my mind to.
Let me leave this here: All that stands between you and your dreams is hard work, dedication, consistent effort, a taste of failure and an unparalleled belief in yourself that it can and will be done. Never underestimate the power you have to achieve your dreams.
Here is to chasing your 59:28!
I’m joining two amazing runners, Kim from Running on the Fly and Deborah from Confessions from a Mother Runner for their link up, the “Weekly Run Down”. Hop on over to their blogs and others, and be inspired!