I listened to a sermon on fear the other day, and the topic has stayed with me. As a child I was afraid of plenty. There were definitely monsters in the dark and weird things under my bed. I was convinced that my best friend would leave town and war would erupt down the road. I was a white kid growing up in apartheid governed South Africa. I had a lovely home in a pretty suburb, funded by a gainfully employed father while my loving stay-at-home mom ensured that all systems ran smoothly. My clothing was labelled, my lunchbox was balanced and I was never even late for school. What on earth did I have to fear?
When the governance of our country finally shifted and we were informed that schools would now be integrated I was afraid; what if the new black kids were way cooler and I lost my bestie? Well, we got just one Indian girl in our class that year, and the disappointment was rife. Big promises guys, total lack of delivery.
I took risks as a teenager, and pushed the boundaries of life within my fairly vanilla existence. Funny how we choose not to fear certain things, like our 4th shot of Black Sambuca at a highschool disco, catching a ride between parties with a perfect stranger, but still worry if our bums look ok in a pair of green jeans.
In hindsight those jeans were really, really scary…
Overall, I didn’t put myself out there in a physical sense. I didn’t climb mountains or jump off bridges in to the river. I didn’t even look under my bed if I’m honest. I kissed a lot of boys and annoyed a lot of teachers and drove my parents insane, but I wasn’t brave.
I mean, I was ultimately brave enough to birth three babies without drugs, but that was mostly because I was terrified of surgery.
Fast forward to my 30’s as my marriage fell apart. As a mother of three I needed to find the brave in me. I had started running and had an inkling that this was going to change things, but I had no idea how. Mostly, I was terrified of the mounting bills, uncertainty, unhappy children and that my bum still didn’t look good in any damn pair of jeans.
So I ran, and ran some more. I completed one road marathon and through a client was offered the chance to run the Otter African Trail Run. Usually you would hike the Otter Trail over 4 days. For the race, which only happens once a year, you and less than 200 others, get to run it. The goal is to complete it in under 11 hours for an Otter in a Day medal, or sub 8 hours for the big kudos. The racing snakes have just worked out how to run it in under 4 hours, which blows my mind but isn’t that the greatest part of this game? The bar just keeps getting raised. It is not the toughest trail race in SA, but it’s certainly not easy. You are supposed to do a lot more preparation than I did. 42km with nearly 3000m ascent and everything from muddy forest paths to boulder hopping, rugged rocks to beach sand, with a few river crossings thrown in for good measure. I lined up in 2012. I had never put a trail pack on my back, let alone spent a day with one as my life support. I had a brand new pair of trail shoes on, and a heart that wanted something big to happen.
It rained on and off for the duration of the race. I fell so many times I lost count. I cried, swore and wondered what on earth had made me think I could do it. Bloukrans was full and demanded an 80m swim of us in rough swell. That was right near the beginning! I thought this shit was supposed to be fun? I finished in 9 hours and 18 seconds. I was freezing cold and told Mark Collins, race director of the Otter, that he could keep his race. He laughed and told me to wait for prize giving. Of course, by the time my second beer was down and I had my medal in hand, I was amped for 2013. I came back and ran it under 8 hours, and followed that with a 7h37 race in 2014. Through this process I learned to be brave, step up, and accept invitations to tackle scary things.
I was so scared the day before my first PUFfeR race that I ended up with two generous friends offering to second me in shifts for most of it. I was convinced I’d be running in circles somewhere in Silvermine while everyone else enjoyed a post-race beer at the Waterfront.
I learned that there are no monsters under the bed, unless I place them there.
I’ve done more scary stuff since Otter. I want to keep finding the challenges that make me remember how hard some stuff is, how exhilarating to complete it. Maclears Beacon on Table Mountain, after 70km of PUFfeR, or the last stretch before you hear the Comrades stadium. The trail race where you find yourself alone in horrible weather, desperate for the climbing to end and the finish line to be visible; when your hands feel frozen and your face stings in the rain. Those moments. They are bigger than the fear and they propel you to the next big thing.
I’m fortunate enough to work in an industry where the Next Big Thing is what we talk about, a lot. Doing the PR for events like Ultra-Trail Cape Town keeps me motivated to get stronger and braver all the time.
Who wouldn’t want to race here?
That is Table Mountain on an icy morning UTCT recce run. I am somewhere at the back of that crew, trying not to get too cold to move.
Living in South Africa is scary right now, and it has nothing to do with green jeans and big bums. But we need to keep kicking the monsters out from under our beds and inside our heads, and remember that we are brave. Way braver than we believe.
The upside of being injured (I’m still a misery to be around but I’m trying hard) is that I get to make grand plans for great adventures. I’m looking at scary stuff from August onwards and I can’t wait to be crushed like a bug by something right out of my comfort zone; something much scarier than a chair.
PS. Don’t close your eyes during a river crossing. There are better ways.