Don’t worry Jo, it will be fun” he said with his captivating smile and reassuring voice. I met Prodigal Khumalo last year when I ran the “Pacing the way to change” fundraising run for the Southern Lodestar Foundation. I met him through my good friend and soul sister Nontuthuko Mgabhi. They have since become a big part of my running journey and both encourage and inspire me. Not only for what they have achieved in their lives and running careers but for the message they both carry with such strength and humility. That message of service. Both Nontu and Prodigal inspire countless others within our community; especially those who do not always have the resources to be able to attend events that so many of us take for granted. They both have become leaders within their respective communities which in turn inspire communities to do better. The more people become leaders, the more problems we will solve. We need community leaders to think about and organise around many issues.
I joined Prodigal’s running academy “Orcas” in Jan 2021. It started with a bang; I ran with Prodigal for a bout 21km when he ran 100km in 7 hours to raise funds for the training academy in Inanda. After the 21km mark he became a spec in the distance gracefully touching the horizon while I fell back to a pace that would keep my heart from jumping out of my chest i.e under 200 BPM. I managed to complete 50km in 4h34. I met some wonderful people along the way including super speedy Nkosikhona Mhlakwana who peeled me off the road at the 50km mark.
Photo by Cuan Walker
Prodigal then encouraged me to do the 5000m at Kings park where I got a sub 20 min, which for me was a PB. Compared to the other super talented track athletes, my time was not great and I placed somewhere in the bottom five. Alas, despite my placing that day it was great in terms of teaching my son a valuable lesson. Leo said “Mom you know when all those ladies lapped you, you still ran so hard that your face was shaking. You knew you weren’t going to win but you still did it, I may join cross country after all”. That was a victory in my eyes, my loss became my sons lesson, I will take it.
Next up … Nedbank 50km ultra marathon record attempt. Well, I thought, this will be interesting. One month post UTD, some speed work will get me to where I need to be. Prodigal again, warmly encouraging me. Oh, then the participating athletes list becomes public and all I saw was KENYA, ETHIOPIA, RUSSIA, IRVETTE VAN ZYL, CHARNE BOSMAN, MAKHOSI MHLONGO…. Ok I guess it’s time for Leo to learn another lesson.
Arriving at the Southern Sun on Saturday afternoon I was surrounded by these lean muscle springy running machines. I felt like a donkey with my backpack from the other side of the world – trail world. I went for a 4km run with Makhosi and it was lovely, the sea breeze, no elevation. It was delightful BUT the again; it was a 4km run.
The next morning, I woke up at 3.30am to get my BIIIIIIG breakfast in; oats, banana, peanut butter. The gentlemen at the table beside me eating 1 banana and drinking a cup of coffee. Oh well, it’s what I always do before a race – fuel up. Off to the start we go. I felt naked with no pack – where am I going to keep all my meals. “Jo you don’t eat on this run – no time. Some gels, my Maurten and no food – no toilet stops either. Not sure where there were bushes in PE anyway.” All the thoughts running through my head.
I see some of my teammates and start playing Kusazoba Mnandi in my head. It will still be fun. Whenever those character defects come knocking on the front door of my soul telling me that I am not good enough or starts finding excuses like I am too fat (mad I know but I guess they don’t call it the disease of perception for nothing) I always have to remember one thing… G&G – definitely not G&T- that will have me on a one-way plane to Barbados. G&G is grace and gratitude. Everyday through my program of recovery I am given grace and a daily reprieve from my addiction and alcoholism. Gratitude, to be at an event like this is beyond my wildest dreams. As we stood on the start line singing the National Anthem I thought to myself; to be with people of all races and cultures was only ever a dream for many people of colour in South Africa. And now I am privileged enough to stand beside some of these phenomenal athletes on the start line. Yes, I did go through hard times and faced my own demons but so did you my brother and sister standing beside me. I am no victim; I am not alone. I stand with a community of fighters; fighters for freedom; fighters for hope and fighters of love! I am in a good place right now.
So, I am not going to get into too many details of the run because to be perfectly honest I do not feel like reliving the most painful 3 hours 50 min I have experienced since being in recovery – bare with me. I am being a bit melodramatic here – it was tough! The first 30km were great, I felt like I could maintain a pace of 4 min 20 per km. Joke was on me, at the 30km point I started vomiting and pretty much did not stop until the end. I thought how the heck can I run at 3400m above sea level in freezing cold temps and not be sick but here I am trying to find a grassy patch with no spectators to throw up the little bit of liquid I had in my stomach – remember no food or buffet selection at aid stations on this race. At that point I did think of just quitting, however, the night before when I spoke to my son Leo, he was tearful because he missed me. I thought I didn’t come all the way to PE not to finish and I pushed through even if it was over 5min per km pace. This has been my experience so many times in recovery. When at the place of total defeat and not wanting to go on; the constant thought of others is what gives us the fuel to persevere and do what we cannot do our selves.
As a matter of fact this run was not about me, this was about breaking a world record which Irvette Van Zyl amazingly achieved in the women and Ethiopian Ketema Negasa in the men. A historic moment in South Africa; Africa; and to be there was an honour.
After I crossed the finish line it felt as though I was walking into a deserted concert where nobody attended the show where I was met by a smiling Sheena Wilson O’Keeffe. The warm welcome was greatly appreciated as I thought to myself, where is the parade and the standing ovation. That’s what happens when the last person comes in at a 100 miler- again having to remind myself that this event was not all about me!
Photo by TaniaZ Photography
When we got to the airport in PE I was feeling disappointed in myself with thoughts racing through my head: “If only I was 5kg lighter I would run faster”; “I’m not all that good at this running thing; “Im just a fraud”; “people were probably asking why I was even there”. I was sitting next to Prodigal and we started chatting. He said that he was so proud of me and happy for the runners from Orcas Academy. One of whom is Slindile Chilli (Buhle). She did so well and has been supported through the academy to be able to attend such events. She stays at the academy that Prodigal raised funds for and he coaches all the athletes. It’s such a wonderful initiative and really gives people an opportunity to pursue their passion; especially someone as talented as Buhle. We started talking about Orcas Academy, the Southern Lodestar foundation and the need for recovery programmes and AA in the more rural areas. We discussed how we could work together to make this dream come true and almost have a place of refuge for people to find recovery as well as a love for running. That coupled with nutrition; which the founder of the Southern Lodestar, Andre Redinger, is driven by; has the potential to change so many lives. I suddenly felt this immense burst of energy flow through my body as though I was not meant to be there because of the run but I was placed exactly in that place at the time to do something great; my primary purpose is to carry the message to the still suffering addict and alcoholic. I do feel that as a white South African I do have a responsibility to help mend the bridge that apartheid destroyed. The bridge between black and white, privileged, and underprivileged. Yes, it is easy for me to say “well I wasn’t a part of that era so its not my problem” but that is irresponsible and negligent of me. Especially if I want to live a life that is built on spiritual progress.
I do believe that I was meant to be at this run but for another reason; in terms on where I would like to bring awareness. It also taught me that I cannot do and be good at everything and that’s ok. It does not mean I am overweight and unable to run or an imposter. We put so much pressure on ourselves that we often let the big things, the things that matter most pass us by.
“The only things I regret, and the only things I’ll ever regret are things I didn’t do. In the end, that is what we mourn. The paths we did not take. The people we didn’t touch.” – Scott Spencer