Events,  Family & Friends,  Running

Knysna – The race that crept into my soul, then broke my heart…

The Knysna Forest Marathon 21km will always have a very special place in my heart. It’s one of my most favourite races on the calendar, yet it hasn’t always been kind to me. 

It was in 2010 when we first went up to Knysna to do the race. It was only the 2nd half marathon that my sister, Fadeelah, and I had ever done. We were SO excited, as the reputation of the Knysna Oyster Festival and all its festivities preceded itself. It was an amazing weekend spent with my siblings and friends.

Upon being dropped in the heart of the forest that morning, I had no idea of the party awaited in the bush. Music, festivities, food, drink, outdoor heaters, and good times hanging out with awesome people. I was even a bit annoyed that nobody told me about all the free food available…because then I wouldn’t have rushed to have breakfast at our digs! During the race the festivities continued. Local kids lined the start running alongside the runners, waiting for them to discard their blankets and layers of clothing and donate it to them.

The torturous descent of Simola Hill was followed by models wielding Chinese magic spray to spray the aches and pains away of anyone who needed it. Banana loaf, chocolates and more eats were plentiful along the route. And I will not even begin to attempt to describe the beauty of the route through the forest in words. Unfortunately, I made a big mistake in running with a club coach that pushed me just a little bit too hard. I was in pain, but being only my 2nd half marathon, I wasn’t sure if that was normal or not. By 2 days after the race, I couldn’t straighthen my left knee. I had injured myself, and would not be able to run for a few weeks after that. 

Fast forward to 2011 and the excitement for the Knysna race was unreal. We looked forward to the race for months prior, entered as soon as entries opened, booked accommodation fairly early, and was all set for the weekend party of the year! I had been working hard on my running, and had put in an immense amount of training in preparation for having a good run, being careful to stay injury-free this time. I was even going to tweet my run so that others at home can experience a tiny part of what the runners were getting.

BUT then…

Every runner’s nightmare…I fell sick just under 2 weeks before the race, and couldn’t shake it in time to run. I tried everything to get myself better in time, but it didn’t work. 2 days before the race, I made the very hard, but responsible decision to not run the race, and sell my entry at registration. I was warned by Craig that watching the race that I had entered and couldn’t run, was the hardest thing that a runner ever has to do. I was sad, but what the hell…I was still in Knysna with awesome people and was not going to spend the time sulking about it. The night before the race I didn’t sleep at all. There were students staying in the room next to ours and they smoked, drank, ran up and down the passages, screamed and played music the entire night. I was drugged out from the medication, and felt drowsy all day and night, but couldn’t sleep at all. 

And I had some personal issues happening at the time that I ended up milling over that night and getting more and more upset about. From oversharing my thoughts on Twitter, to trying to get some sleep in the car, to taking a 2am walk and almost having a face-off with a reindeer, the morning took very, very long to come. (the reindeer was not a hallucination, there actually were real reindeer on the property!)

Morning eventually came and I dropped my brother and sister at the forest ferry queue, and stayed with them for a while. As soon as I greeted them and walked away…it HIT me!! Watching all the runners queueing to go up to the forest, observing the chatter, and just thinking about the situation at that very moment, I suddenly knew what Craig meant. And you will never know the true extent of that feeling unless you have experienced it yourself.

I was devastated, inconsolable.

In fact, when I found Bianca (who was also not running, due to injury), I remember telling her through my sobs that I really don’t know how I would survive that day. It hurt so much, as if someone had ripped my heart out and placed it between the runner’s shoe and the tar on the home stretch…squashed…hard! 

Well, turns out I did survive. And I did have an absolutely unforgettable day. Bianca was amazing…because she is just such an awesome person. From giving me a shoulder, to tissues, to awesome conversation, to feeding me the pro-athletes’s names. Oh yes that…why would I need the pro-athletes’ names??? It’s because I ended up tweeting anyway…not from the route but from the finish. I tweeted when the winners came in, the winners names, the famous people who ran (like AB de Villiers) and the weird and wonderful costumed runners.

Being at the finish of a race is a unique experience and something a runner doesn’t normally get, simply because they are still out on the course running the race. The race was also delayed by more than an hour because of forest-ferry issues, and people appreciated my tweets with the updates of whether the race had started or not. Between me, the Runner’s World online editor Amy (tweeting while doing the race), and a few other tweeters following online, we got the #knysnamarathon hashtag trending, and we weren’t even trying to. 

Today we leave for Knysna once more. And by the grace of the Almighty I am healthy and injury-free. Roadtripping with Fadeelah, my brother and Aneekah. We are going for a few days longer this time, so that we can really experience the Oyster festival more. My goal for the race is 3-fold. 
Firstly, if I make it to the start line I have done well…
Secondly, if I make it to the finish line I have succeeded…
Thirdly, if I finish in around 2:30 or thereabouts I will be happy that it’s the fastest time I’ve ever done on that course(I’d like to make Coach Daryl proud of me by doing well)

I look forward to walking with lions, to flying amongst the treetops, to braaiing with my clubmates, to waking to lagoon views, to freezing in the forest, to huddling around a bonfire, to cheering my friends, to laughing till my abs hurt, to downing oysters & tabasco, to meeting friends in person that I’ve only met online, to experiencing the beauty of nature, to waking up on Sunday to the pain of achievement in my legs…and MOST of all…to HAVING FUN! 

Take what you will from my story. But 2 things that I would like to point out and make very clear to anyone reading this:

  • Always find the good in a ‘bad’ experience. There is always good. Look hard enough and you will find it.
  • Never take your health for granted. Cherish it and guard it well. You’ve only been given one body, it’s sacred

Every athlete has a story to tell…
Every race is a unique experience…

Travel safely
See ya’ll in Knysna 😉

Post-race update: So it looks like Knysna Marathon really is jinxed for me, because a massive storm hit and this race was cancelled on the morning. Like, seriously…What are the chances?? 😂

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