Archive for July 31, 2009

Marathons and Memory – A study…

Yesterday I was sent an email which pointed me in the direction of a study which was done on the effects marathon running has on memory.  I was rather intrigued, especially since I have experience being a lab rat for running research.

A short excerpt from the result of this study appears below for those of you who don’t want to read the whole thing:

Indeed, cortisol levels recorded 30 min after completion of a marathon rival those reported in military training and interrogation (Taylor et al., 2007), rape victims being treated acutely (Resnick, Yehuda, Pitman, & Foy, 1995), severe burn injury patients (Norbury, Herndon, Branski, Chinkes, & Jeschke, 2008), and first-time parachute jumpers (Aloe et al., 1994).

The study showed a significant decrease in explicit memory which deals with the recollection of facts, BUT an increase in implicit memory which is mainly unconscious and basically functions off of experience.

This made me put my running brain into action and have a think about this because this is a pretty profound fining (in my mind anyway).   I know that I feel stupid after a race and I’ve always put it  down partly to exhaustion and partly to the fact that on these long races, I’m running for the most of the way in a meditative state.

Now for those of you who don’t know anything about meditation, here is the Wikipedia definition.   I have been practising various forms of meditation for a few years now and nothing gets me on that meditative level as quickly as what running does.

A while ago I did a meditation course which lasted 5 weeks or so.  By the end of the 5 weeks I was able to reach a meditative state and keep it for the most part of 60 minutes (which is a huge accomplishment considering when you start you can barely last 3 minutes).  After these sessions I would always leave feeling a little dull – calm and with a head so quiet you could hear a pin drop, but if pushed to make any decision or answer any simple questions, you would think that I’d just suffered some serious brain injury.

So, I would like to know what the relationship is between the effects of meditation and marathon running – I know there are other people out there who reach some state of detachment while running (or doing any other form of exercise for that matter).  I think there is a definite correlation between these two states, even though the one is traditionally sedentary and the one is, well, running…

Photo Credit


Little Bit of Humble Pie

Sunday was the first trail run in the Montrail/Cape Storm series I have been looking forward to and to be absolutely honest, I hated every second of it!

It’s not like I signed up for this series with an attitude, I’m just used to running longish distances without much effort which is why I thought a 12km circuit would be a walk in the park…

I seemed to struggle from my first step not just because the first half of the race was uphill – because I’m quite proud of my uphill stamina – and not because I’m unfit which I proved I wasn’t in my run on Monday.  I racked my brains the whole week for an answer to why I didn’t enjoy it and all I can come up with is because it is different…

Change always takes some adjusting to and since this was my first trail run I guess I have some adjusting to do.  It is a bit disappointing though because I was hoping I’d take to it like peanut butter to jam – I was obviously wrong.

Another little gem I learned about myself was that I can be quite competitive.  While slogging up the hills I had old (and I mean old) ladies passing me – now I’ve spoken at length about the older generation being an inspiration for my running but when I’m struggling like a newby on a 1km and these older folk come bolting past me like mountain goats, it does get my blood pressure up just slightly…

Lets hope the next race which is on Sunday, goes a bit better…


Image Credit

Running Stories – First Woman Bus Driver

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on Running Stories.  You can read the first 4 here, here, here and here.

I’d like to introduce you to Sharon Fuchs.  Sharon is the first woman to have led a bus, the first of which she did last year with Stuart…

How long have you been running for?
I started running in about Feb 2007.

What made you decide to start running?
Funny that, I’d been walking for ages, Charmaine’s husband (old comrades runner) said to her that I walked well, I should consider entering a marathon, run the downs to qualify and then I could do comrades too.  Silly suggestion but the seed was sewn…

I was training for the natal 50km walking champs at the time. I completed the race with your mom (yes, my mom walks AND runs – total over achiever) I spoke to her at the end and asked her if she thought I “had what it takes” – she said she did…

I had missed the official cut off date for the Indian Ocean Marathon and said to myself that if I could get an entry then I’d try, if I didn’t then I’d write it off. Well, I got my entry the next morning. (almost to my horror) and did my first marathon (until that day, the furthest I had run was the 10km Stella Royal!)

What was it like leading a bus in the Comrades, knowing you were the first woman to do so?

I didn’t realise at the time that I was the very first,  as far as I knew there was some lady doing the 10hour bus too… turns out I was mistaken… go figure!

Leading a group of people towards a goal in a race as taxing as this takes a lot of energy as well as keeping focused on the race, what was going through your mind?

Not really anything, I think if you think too hard about it you could well chicken out! You go with a mind to be focused, you know that you have a lot of people depending on you. You can’t fail, it’s not an option.

How did you prepare mentally for this?

Practice. I did a lot of races where I made a point of doing the pace I intended for Comrades. The toughest was the Mannix Monster.

Did you have help?

With Stu last year it was fabulous, we worked towards the same goal – he works on a 5km stratergy, I work on 1 k at a time.  I managed to get my hands on his pace strategy before the race to make sure we had the same objective, I had to keep on track which is why every kilometre matters to me.

Will you do it again?

Oh yes. it was incredibly awesome!

What is the most important thing that endurance racing has taught you?

No two races are ever the same – not the same distance or even the same race .  It always changes,  when you think you know what you are doing – you don’t!! It is part of what makes it incredible! I also know – beyond all shadow of a doubt I am not a mountain goat, those ultras in the mountains are not for me. My self-preservatoin is far too strong!!

What is it that keeps you going on these long races and running in general?

Well, some people die at the finish which is why for now, just keep on runin sista! keep on runin 🙂

I stumbled across a great write up on Sharon by another runner on one of the running forums I’m on, have a look to see what other people have to say


The Fresh Air Fund

I was contacted the other day by Sara from The Fresh Air Fund in the USA who brought my attention to this really great cause.    The Fresh Air Fund provides free summer camp holidays to children from families in New York City,  who can’t afford to send their kids to camp or on holiday during their school break.

What really intrigued me about the initiative however is that they have a team of runners who are doing the New York City half-marathon, to help raise funds and awareness of this program.  As you all know I’m all about using an event for something good, so if any of you are doing this race (its in on August 16th) and would like to run for a cause then sign up.  Of course if I was in the USA I’d be doing it AND I’d gladly run for the Fresh Air Fund!

Good luck guys!!


I Think I’ll Stick to Running…

Dear Running Shoes

I’m writing this letter in the hope that you will forgive me for trading you in last night for the mountain bike, but I thought that if I am going to take part in the Cape Argus next year, I have to make a start somewhere.  To be fair I haven’t even looked in the direction of a bicycle in all the time I’ve known you, so if that offers some comfort then I’m glad.

I also need to tell you that you don’t need to worry about being replaced – I officially hate that bicycle!!  It is not because I am physically lacking the ability, it is that anatomically I just don’t think I was made to sit on a saddle.  Running shoes, I can have you on my feet for hours at a time and you still fit me comfortably and never hurt me – I was barely out the gate when I realised that the ride we were taking was going to be a strain, and we only went 14km’s!!

When we got back running shoes, and I saw you standing there looking all alone and unworn, even in my pain – I felt just horrid for thinking I could trade you in…  I’m not asking for your sympathy, I just want to try and explain and hopefully you will understand.  Do you know how hard it is making people believe that you are walking like John Wayne because of a saddle…?

My poor bottom is battered and bruised (it is much more difficult trying to survey the damage down there than on my feet), which I know you would never do to me dear shoes – I really hope that you can find it in your sole to forgive me…

Yours forever in comfort

The Reluctant Runner


First Time Comrades Runner

This is my fourth post in the “Running Stories” series, you can read the first three herehere and here

I would like to introduce you Craig Vivian.  Craig ran the entire Comrades with me this year.  Our mothers both compete in many full and ultra marathons together and it is through them that we became friends.  Craig’s mom ran the Comrades this year with a broken foot – and she finished!

What made you decide to do the Comrades?
There were a few reasons:
(1) I had completed 2 Two Oceans and felt like I was ready to step it up a level.
(2) I was asked by a charity to run for them to raise money.
(3) I’m 27, my mother is 60 and she was running her 6th Comrades. I had no excuse really.

How long have you been running for?
I have been long distance running since the beginning of 2007 when I did my first marathon and Two Oceans. I’ve always been fit though throughout school and university, through shorter distance running and playing sports.

What was the most difficult thing about the training?
I found the two most difficult things about training were:
(1) The length of the training. It’s hard to train solidly for 5-6 months.
(2) The personal sacrifices – whether it’s not going out on a Saturday after the rugby because of a Sunday race, or just sacrificing on sleep. It was all worth it though

What was the most difficult thing during the race?
Being my first Comrades, it was difficult to get my mind around running +-90km. I always seem to have a bad period during a race, usually around the 3rd quarter. Your legs aren’t fresh anymore and you’re still not that close to the finish. My mind sort of goes walk about. Luckily in the Comrades, this period came with 18km to go, I knew that if I could hang on until 10km to go, I’d be alright which is what I did.

Was it as hard/easy as what you expected?
The Comrades was easier than what I expected purely because in the three ultra marathons (anything over 42.2km) I have done, there were stages where I got bad cramps in my legs. In the Comrades, I had a couple of scares but no painful cramping. The recommendation to go out slow in the beginning really worked.

Did you have any epiphanies about yourself during training or the race?
You have a lot of time to think when running for just under 11 hours. I ran the whole race with a friend and I definitely feel that the Comrades experience made us closer. I also felt after finishing the race that I shouldn’t be afraid of any challenge, being work, personal or sport related.

Would you do it again and what would you change, if anything?

I am definitely going to do it again. I have already told the charity I ran for this year to sign me up again. Training wise, I would concentrate more on quality training, this year I focused too much on just long distance running. You do need this but I feel that additional speed training and some strength training in the gym is also important. I would also like to a much better time, 10h:52 minutes is a long day at the office.

* I would like to add that it was such a change running with someone for the entire race.  Last year I ran half of the way on my own and it becomes very boring.  I’m really glad we experienced this incredible race together (that’s him on the left in the picture in case you were wondering)!


Knysna Half Marathon

  • 5am

Wake up to a damp, cool morning (not as cold as last year thank goodness)
Have breakfast
Head to the pick-up

  • 6am

Stand in line at the pick-up point for the buses (read: local minibus taxi) to take us into the forest

  • 7am

Finally get into a minibus taxi

  • 7:30am

Get to the drop-off point in the middle of the forest

  • 7:35am

Find a bush to have a wee

  • 7:45am

Shaun and I start making our way through the 6 000 people lining up at the start

  • 8:10am

The start rifle (it was actually a rifle and not a gun, I had a look) goes off

  • 8:15am

Cross the actual start line and finally manage to start running!

  • 8:24am

Pass the first km marker – that’s 9min/km!!  Holy Cow, we need to move through the people faster than that!

  • 9am

The field finally thins out and we manage to strike a rather fast pace and stick to it (Shaun wanted to do a sub 1:50, I was just going to hang on for as long as possible).  Take off warm top I’m wearing and throw on the side of the road for the township folks who are lining the course, waiting for this annual race to top up their wardrobes.

  • 9:45am

Shaun and I realize that our consistently fast pace is not going to get us to the finish in under 2 hours.  We are bummed.  Can’t understand how we can be running our legs off and still be so far behind.  We decide to sacrifice talking for a faster pace.

  • 10:00am

Shaun manages to persuade his legs to go a bit faster than mine and surges ahead.

  • 10:07am

I hit the grass on the field and hear the guy announcing that we have less than 60 seconds to make it over the finish line in under 2 hours.  I manage to force my protesting legs to sprint the last few hundred metres.

  • 10:something am

I cross the finish line in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 33 seconds.


  • In a race with 6,000 people (most of them seriously under trained, and not just my type of under trained but unfit and still marginally drunk from the night before) we should start in the front or not try and go for a PB.
  • The Knysna Half Marathon is spectacular in terms of scenery and is still a great weekend away.


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Running Stories – Being a Bus Driver

This is the third post in the ‘Running Stories’ series, you can see the others here, here.

I’d like to introduce you to Stuart Wainwright – in case you missed my Comrades Marathon Race dissection, Stuart was the guy who brought our sub-11 hour bus in.  Stuart doesn’t only limit himself to crazy races like the Comrades, but competes in the 100 mile Washie as well – “Obsessed? Maybe, but I prefer passionate” is what he said!!

How long have you been running for and what made you decide to start running?

I started running in 2004. I had been playing rugby in the UK, and decided that I was sick and tired of spending most weekends in hospital, so started looking for a new sport.

My dad and I were at gym on Saturday afternoon, and he said that he was running a 21k the next day and suggested that I joined. I agreed somewhat hesitantly… The race was sent the wrong way and turned out to be 24+kms – I nearly died and couldn’t walk for 3 days. The next weekend I ran another one.

In Dec 2004 we decided to do the Two Oceans 56km. I ran the last qualifier for the race in 4h57 (you have to run a marathon in under 5 hours to qualify), once again nearly died, and then ran the Two Oceans a month later in 6h57 (you have 7 hours), experiencing a new level of pain. The rest just fell into place.

What made you decide “I think I might do the Comrades”?

My dad grew up running comrades. He ran 17 consecutive Comrades by the age of 34, and was the youngest to get a green number (10 runs). I never really thought that I would get into running and as a 104kg rugby player, highly doubted it! Things fell into place, and before I knew it, I had to run one with my dad. I brought him back in 2007, after a 16 year break to run his 21st. Now it’s a part of me. It’s what I do. I can’t imagine a life without running.

What made you decide to become a bus driver – and why the sub-11 hour bus?

Last year I took the 12 hour bus. It was for a number of reasons. I was running the Washie 100 miler (160.9kms) in July and felt that Comrades would be the perfect long slow training run. I had also been running in the 1000km challenge and run more than 50 marathons or ultra marathons in the previous 12 months, and felt that the 12 hour bus was safe.

This year I wanted to better my Washie time, with about 15 marathons less than last year and a lot more 100 miler experience, I decided that I was capable of running (or trying to run) sub 9 at the Comrades, but then ruining my chances for the Washie OR I could take the 11 hour bus and get to the Washie with fresh legs – Hence my 10h52m time. It is the perfect training run for Washie, in timing and distance.

It takes a lot of energy to motivate other people on a race of this length, how do you prepare for that?

Honestly, I have very little preparation for motivating people. I kinda just wing it. I try to have as much fun as possible, and offer as much help as I can. Working with another pace setter makes it a lot easier though. After doing it alone for 89kms this year, I had no voice left, and my throat and ribs hurt from shouting at the top my lungs. Well worth it though.

Are there people who help you on the day, running with you and taking the flag when you need the loo?

As I mentioned, I did it alone this year. So, when I needed a widdle stop, I simply slowed the bus, and directed boys to the left, and girls to the right. It was one the funniest sights that I have ever seen on the road… 300 guys all standing shoulder to shoulder having a wee. Would have made an awesome photo!!

If push came to shove I would hand the flag to someone that had been in the bus for a long time, and then catch up with them again…

How does the Comrades compare with other endurance races?

Comrades is the greatest ultra marathon in the world, simple as that – not for its difficulty, but for the entire event. The crowds, the runners, the sheer number of participants, and the unparalleled organisation.

There are races that wouldn’t accept Comrades as a qualifier because they are so difficult. Comrades is supported the whole way by crowds and organised helpers. Other long distance races normally result in a true understanding of the phrase “the loneliness of the long distance runner”, while Comrades is never lonely.

Life is about lessons, what have you learned from running endurance races like the Comrades?

Endurance running teaches you to finish what you start, no matter how much pain, discomfort or misery you are in. It teaches you to work for your goals, and it teaches you to understand what is within reach and what is not. Everyone takes something different from Comrades and the lessons keep coming thick and fast for me. I hope that one day I can run it as an old ballie (South African slang for old guy), and still learn something new about myself.

Aside from what it teaches you about yourself, it shows you what other people are really made of. I have always said that it brings out the real person, and before I get married, I have the condition that my partner will join me on a run, of whatever distance she can handle, to bring out the real person.


Running Casualties

Yesterday I was very proud of myself for heading out on a 13km run with my friend and long time running partner Jo who has also been suffering from running doldrums.  Bare with me here as a set the scene…

I usually get changed at work, throw all my stuff in my boot (that is what us South Africans call a trunk) and head to where I plan to run from – in this instance the Sea Point Promenade which is always a hive of activity.  I am very aware of petty crime and theft and so I’m careful not to leave anything in sight to tempt people to break in and steal my stuff, yesterday being no exception.

Anyway after spending a lovely hour and 40 minutes or so on the route, Jo and I got back to our cars having solved the worlds problems and feeling very proud of ourselves for putting in the distance (eventhough it might be a little late, Jo is running the marathon route of the race I’m doing this weekend).  Upon driving off I thought I heard my boot bang a little like it wasn’t open, so I stopped to have a look…  Turns out some low-life had stuck a screw driver into the lock, opened my boot and stolen my handbag (with camera, ID, purse, bank cards etc) along with my bag full of work clothes!!!

Now I’m no stranger to crime, especially petty theft having been relieved of my purse not even 6 months ago from a spawn of satan, right outside my front door (of course I was uber fit so I chased the scum bag all the way down my road and would have caught him if he hadn’t chickened out and jumped into a car which was waiting for him) – I mean who steals from a 5ft nothing, slightly built girl with her back turned???

Anyway, I don’t want to give anyone a bad view of SA, it is a magnificent place and like any developing country you have to be careful and keep a close eye on your stuff but I’m really getting sick of this!!  I think it is time to band together as a nation and make it impossible for the dregs of society to get away with stuff like this.  It has also taught me not to get too attached to any of my belongings and although Leo over at Zen Habits says this is the way forward, I’m sure I don’t need to be taught this lesson again…??

Anyway what I’m really after is a couple of ideas on how to stop this from happening again.   I can’t go home and then head out to run (not in winter anyway, it gets dark too early).  Should I fit an alarm??  Does anyone know of a fancy locking mechanism??  Either way if you have any bright ideas/contraptions please let me know!!!

Safe running…


Half Marathon Coming Up…

I’m so excited, I feel like a child looking forward to the school holidays or Christmas because on Saturday is the Knysna Marathon (I’m only doing the half) – a beautiful run on dirt roads through the most spectacular indigenous forests  surrounding the town of Knysna on the Garden Route.  I did this race for the first time last year, just a month after the Comrades and ran it in 2hr 30min,  I was running with a friend who was doing it for her first time so took it easy the whole way. This year my intention was to start training a couple of weeks before the race so that I wouldn’t struggle but, in true Reluctant Runner fashion – my training only started on Saturday…

This race is a highlight on most runners and non-runners calendars.  Entries are limited so they are treated like gold and snapped up the minute they open – half of Cape Town empties to head up the coast for what promises to be a weekend of fun, pain and more fun (although somewhat limited depending on how stiff you are).   I have so many friends running this year not just the half but the full too PLUS a couple of converts who are marking this as their first tentative footstep into distance running!!  So if I don’t see you at the race, I’ll see you here afterwards for a full race run-down…