As far as running age goes, I still consider myself a young runner. Whenever the question of how long I've been running for comes up, the answer is always followed with a 'but', that 'but' being that I ran a bit at school. My running superpower at school was the cloak of invisibility. I mastered the art of staying outside the coach's radar for the three years from Grade 10 that I did track and cross country, except for the time when I accidentally won the u/16 3000m race at our sports day.
How does one accidentally win a race. By invoking the cloak of invisibility of course. The only people that ever get noticed, and honestly the most interesting, in any running event are the winners and the back-markers. I had mastered the art of being distinctly average, never fast enough or slow enough to be noticed.
However on this day my strategy went to shit pretty quickly. Many of the guys that lined up, there may have been 15 of us, were not running fit. The 3000m was run the day before the main sports day events so it was usually the one or two serious track guys who entered, and then numbers were filled by anyone who hadn't been entered into anything on the main day. So staying middle of the pack was difficult since I was a little bit more trained than everyone else running. Eventually I couldn't run slow enough as everyone faded and with two laps to go I found myself in the lead and I couldn't exactly stop now could I! The time was pedestrian, 11:15 I think at a time when I was probably capable of 10:15-10:30 for 3000m if I pushed myself.
I do digress but that's an important snapshot in my running history in that it was almost exactly 14 years ago, September 2000. My matric year was less successful as I did less running and devoted my time to being the scorer for the cricket first team (they gave us tea and lunch!). I did do a decent stint of XC but found the jump from 6km to 8km quite a challenge as I moved to the open division. The quys were running 25 minutes while I was out in the 30-32 minutes range and ran the risk of getting lapped over the 2km course. It actually did happen once and that was demoralising. Come the sports day I jogged my way around the back of the 3000m open race as my love of running died a sad slow death.
Anyone that knows me for more than 5 minutes will realize I am possibly unhealthily fastidious when it comes to data collection with stuff I care about. So I have a very detailed record of every run I've done in this current wave of running, and can recall splits from races and even training sessions because I actually give a shit. "t = 0" is pegged at 12 June 2011. Though looking back, there were five runs in January 2011 that amounted to ~31km, the last of which was on 19 January. I consider these largely insignificant in the grand of scheme of things, in that they were part of yet another failed reboot of that tedious drama, Ntutu: The Running Man. In between 2001 and 2011 I had attempted various reboots, the most successful of which was from April 2005 to September 2006, where I was at least averaging 3 runs a week. I ran a 10km race in this period, Wally Hayward in 2006. Race Results tells me I ran 58:14. It was also when my obsession with winning Lenn Smith, finally achieved this year, the WITS staff and postgrad race started which I did in 2005 and 2006 to almost no success! I dabbled in adventure racing in 2007 but by the end of that year the running bug was dead. My parents even gave my running shoes away. I didn't kick up a fuss.
What follows is I hope a somewhat concise summary of how I went from being happy to have a lovely pair of Nike Pegasus be taken away from me to being unable to go through a day without wanting to go out for a run.
- 12 June 2011: Ntutu goes for a run. Being a dumbass I put on my running shoes and decided to run out until I get tired and start walking then turn around and trace my steps back home. The run is torture but motivating, 7.3km for a first run in 42:01 at 5:46/km. It wasn't comfortable. That pace is misleading because it was like an interval session eventually. It reminded of track at school where I would sometimes vomit at the end of sessions.
- 21 August 2011: First Race. Entered the Vodacom Country Challenge 10km in Midrand. Midrad means hills, lots of them. Somehow get round in 51:19. I walk a lot in the second half.
- 16 November 2011: First Sub 50 10km. Got round the Rowlin National Brokes 10km night race in Benoni in 48:00. I had actually trained for this, using the training plan from the Adidas miCoach app. I cut the plan short and switched to the sub 45 plan. The first of many rookie errors.
- 21 December 2011. I remember this run vividly. I was supposed to run for 40 minutes. I pushed too hard and after 7km in 35:00 I stopped running and walked home. Other than another aborted run in January I wouldn't run again for 2 months.
In 2012 I went back to my club Run/Walk for Life in Benoni and started again. Instead of just running though I set myself a goal to run a half marathon. Running 21.1km seemed huge at the time. I had never run further than 10km. It was the best decision I ever made running wise. It pushed me out of my comfort zone but didn't overwhelm me. The goal race was Wally Hayward and I had 10 weeks to get ready.
- 25 February 2012. I decide to enter a 10km race to see where I'm at. I run Deloitte in a surprising 45:44. Where the heck did that come from. Set myself a goal of 1:40 for Wall Hayward
- 15 April 2012. I've stuck to my training plan. End of week 8 and I haven't missed a single run. I'm due for my last long run before I taper, 19km. Slow Mag is happening and my arm is twisted into doing the half marathon as a long run. Running 21.1km will boost my confidence. I run the race with no watch or phone (I lie, battery died at 6km). I finish in 1:38:42. I still have no idea how that happened.
- 1 May 2012. Would you believe it. I've finished a 10 week (and two days) training plan. Wally Hayward is a dream race. 46:20 at 10km. 42:45 from 10km to 20km. Finish in 1:35:01. Beat my goal by 5 minutes. Now I am hooked.
- 5 May 2012. First sub 45 10km. I know nothing about running at this stage so I enter Jackie Mekler 4 days later. I'm tired but finish in 42:38.
- 19 May 2012. First sub 20 5km. Now I know I'm actually better at 5km than any other distance but didn't know it at the time. I enter the Mazda 5km. 19:25, 2nd place. Boom!
- 23 July 2012. As if to confirm I lean towards short and fast, my family enters a team for the Take 5 Relay. I do the first leg in 17:49, 3:34/km.
- 28 July 2012. First sub 40 10km. Early in marathon prep I do a see where I'm at 10km. Despite dropping my car keys at 8km and having to turn around to fetch them, I finish in 39:39. A month later I would run the tougher Wanderers 10km in 39:04
- 22 and 30th September 2012. First and second sub 90 half marathon. City2City was actually my goal half marathon but on a whim I went and did the Irene Spring Race the weekend before. It poured that day and they had to change the route. I ran 1:28:08. I feel sick and spend the next 5 days in bed on antibiotics. I run City2City away and smash my 8 day old PB, running 1:25:28. It remains to this day the best executed race I have ever run, running without fear or expectation.
- 4 November 2012. First marathon. My dance with the devil. To put it mildly, I was crushed by my first marathon. I had a goal of 3:10, 4:30/km. I got to 32km in 2:26. I finished in 3:38:10. I hurt, I walked a lot and I wept like a baby. Many times. It took me 17 minutes to get from 37km to 39km. It was hell on two feet. Did I mention I cried a lot.
I wanted to have another stab at the marathon but my father talked me out of it, instead suggesting I had potential at shorter distances. For the first time, I listened to him. The second good decision I make about running
- 8 December 2012. Of course a guy with a 2:30:40 marathon PB knows his stuff. Five weeks after that chastening marathon debut, I take 90s off my 10km PB finishing in 37:34 at the Great Weskoppies Race.
From here on in I sunk my proverbial teeth into whittling down my 10km time, by mid April 2013 my PB was 36:13, coastal but still a PB. I should have backed off taken a breather and gone back to basics but I kept piling on the speed work, week after week at the expense of my long run and overall mileage. I was down to 35-40km/week with 2 weekly track sessions and a race or tempo over the weekend.
- 14 April 2013. I had run a hard parkrun the day before, in new XC shoes with no cushioning. The logical decision, on 40km/week was to drop down and do the 10km. Instead I stuck to my guns and ran the Slow Mag Half. Worst. Decision. Ever. I didn't know it at the time but it started 7 months of injury woes. The PB of 1:22:46 doesn't seem even worth it when I look back at what followed.
- 12 October 2013. Back into the 40s. This remains the worst race of my life. In my mind I was still a sub 40 10km guy, at worst 38ish? I had run a 5km in 18:22 7 weeks earlier on 20km/week which predicts 38:20 (I've since learnt never to use my 5km time to predict anything longer, I seem unnaturally predisposed to the distance). So I went out intending to run that time at the Run Jozi event. I hobbled home in 40:32. In 6 months I had gone from a 36:13 runner to 40:32 on a true race effort. I was in danger of losing my love for running.
Not only had I gone backwards,but to rub salt into the wound, I developed a calf niggle that turned into a full blown injury. Something had to change, and twitter of all places came to the rescue as I came into contact with a man who would transform my running. My running went back to basics. I nursed my calf to the point where I could run for 30-40 minutes 4 times a week. By mid November I got my first training schedule. No workouts, just mileage. By the end of December I was running over 60km/week. In January I peaked at 78km/week! With the introduction of mild speedwork in February my calf flared up again more out of my eagerness to prove myself than the training prescribed.
- 23 February 2014. The Come Back. I put the calf issues aside and went and raced the Gift of the Givers Township race. It was not spectacular but it needed to be done. 38:06. I felt like I was back in the game
- 21 March 2014. Never have I been so delighted to just miss out on a PB. Less than 4 weeks after the come back race, I entered the Sunnypark Right2Run race. Training had been going well but I surprised myself, running 36:22. It was just 9 seconds off my PB set at the coast.
Running is cruel sometimes. After Sunnypark I ran a race in Mamelodi, the Solomon Mahlangu 10km. I stopped the clock at 34:44 only do discover the course was around 200m short. Then at the flattest race I've ever run in Joburg, the Slow Mag 10km. I executed poorly, banking time. It was a double lapper and despite going through halfway in 17:35, the traffic in the second lap and the fact that I was isolated broke my confidence and I finished in 36:25 when I should have run at least 35:30. I needed a boost and it can from an unlikely source.
- 4 May 2014. Post Slow Mag I had a recovery week but then got hooked up with an entry for the Colgate 15km. I felt undercooked and lacked confidence. I also had about 6 beers the day before and got to bed at 1 AM. Nevertheless, I ran with my heart and not my mind and finished in 55:41, this with a shoelace malfunction at 13km that cost me ~20 seconds. My goal race for the cycle, the PMMC 10km (formerly Jackie Mekler, that name is for the 25km only now) was the following weekend. This was the one that mattered. My peak race.
- 10 May 2014. Redemption. I said City2City 2012 was the best executed race I have run but the PMMC 10km runs it close. The watch splits tell their won story: 3:34, 3:32, 3:29, 3:25, 3:41, 3:31, 3:42, 3:35, 3:29, 3:18 then another 18s. Using road marks, I had it at a 17:50/17:56 split. Final time 35:46 and finally that long awaited 10km PB. I had waited more than a year to run a PB at any distance and two come in back to back weekends!
- 20 September 2014. First sub 80 half marathon. This past weekend I was able to rub out that dark day in 2013 at Slow Mag from memory with a 79:07 at the Irene Spring Race. It was another awesome day to be running as I learn to run first with my head then with my heart. The last 6.1km hurt but I ran and refused to be beaten.
So where to now? The clumsily titled Project 35, a long term project continues. It's arbitrary of course, but my goal is to get under 35 minutes for 10km and stay there. From there all other goals for 5km, half marathon and in the future, the marathon will fall into place. I have another secret goal for the year, and that's to run under 17 minutes for 5km but that will come I believe. Like the sub 60 15km and the sub 80 half marathon, it's merely a consequence of all the work I've been doing and will continue.
One of the lessons I am taking out of this year and what I believe is the secret sauce of running, is that consistency pays off. I was always looking for a killer workout, some core workout, a supplement, a fancy stretching routine, whatever, some secret that could unleash hidden speed. The running magazines play on this too and I find it annoying. Without a base of consistent running, all of those gimmicks are useless. That's what changed in November 2013. A base of consistency was established. And week upon week of this has allowed me to add additional stimuli on top; more mileage, longer runs, longer tempos, more intensity. And this in turn has led to faster races. Running for performance is hard so it's always a fine balance but with consistency, 99% of the time, good things will happen when you hit the road.
So that's my story so far, three years and three months, and at this point I'm not ready or willing to close the book just yet. I have no idea what the next few chapters hold but I'm excited I enjoy every step I take and that's all that matters in the long term. I've achieved more than I anticipated in this time, and I'm confident there is still more to come. All I know is that I will not be limiting myself, I'll keep aiming higher but most importantly will ensure that I enjoy every step I take towards achieving whatever else I will.