The race of life


LAST weekend I probably watched with thousands the gruelling road race that is the Comrades marathon.

It’s an annual race that is held in KwazuluNatal and is one of the oldest ultra-marathons in the world run over a distance of approximately 90km.

The first race was run on May 24 1921 and has been run every year since then except during World War II. Every year the starting point alternates between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

The “Up” run starts in Durban and is over a distance of 87km whereas the “Down” run begins in Pietermaritzburg and runs over a distance of 89km. And once every year the sleepy town of Pietermaritzburg comes alive as people from all over the country and across borders descend upon it for this monumental race.

The weekend of the Comrades creates a buzz akin to the one the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair has in Bulawayo.

This is the one time in Pietermaritzburg where hotels and other lodging establishments can boast 100% occupancy rates.

The race is phenomenal in every runner’s calendar because finishing the race is a monumental fate.

Imagine being able to run from Bulawayo to Plumtree? The race has a cut off time of 12 hours.

However, for most of the seasoned runners, they are able to finish the race in six hours or less. This year’s race was won by Bongumusa Mthembu in a time of five hours and 28 minutes. Mthembu is from Bulwer in the Midlands area just outside Pietermaritzburg so winning this title will have been a coup for him.

He also gets to run off with the prize money of R350 000 which has always failed to entice long-distance runners from countries like Kenya and Ethiopia who opt to compete in more lucrative competitions like the New York and London Marathons.

However, money aside, there is a sense of pride and achievement in running a good race. It takes discipline and months of training to commit oneself to such an endeavour. So when one crosses the finish line the joy and jubilation is phenomenal.

However, the truth is that we might not be physically running Pietermaritzburg to Durban, but our lives often appear like a race against time with set milestones we have to achieve.

Whether it’s buying the first car, first house or making that first million. For some the race is to finish their degree and graduate top of the class. For others it’s climbing the corporate ladder and landing the position of chief executive officer.

With each of these personal races we have set times in which we ought to finish the race. It might not be 12 hours like the Comrades, but there is some rudimentary cut-off time for running the race.

Take the race to get married for instance. It normally terminates at 30 beyond which most women are not considered fit for the race.

It is for this reason that the gold rush in the early 20s is a reality for most females. Most want to ensure they have ensnared a suitable mate by age 25 which is considered a best before date. After 25 you are now skating on thin ice and when 30 comes around you are written off like a bad debt.

The same goes for financial success. Age 40 appears to be the benchmark for achieving it. Life is said to begin at 40, but for most of us all the years of hard work and success must culminate at this age.

Often people talk about retiring at 40, but in truth most go on to work till they are 60 only to enjoy a paltry pension. Very few of us sail off into the sunset with a Swiss Bank Account and a summer home in Camps Bay.

I often wonder if we don’t put unnecessary pressure on ourselves with all these self imposed deadlines. I mean each race is different for each person. Others start on an uphill and others on a downhill. Some run on tarmac and others on gravel. So surely with differing circumstances we can’t expect similar outcomes.

What is important is to run your race the best way you can. The temptation is to always look over your shoulder to see who is chasing after you or looking ahead trying to catch up with the next person.

However, all this is good within reason, but there is a point where trying to keep up with the Joneses can be destructive. Run your own race that you can finish and be proud of! Doesn’t matter how long it takes, but what is important is crossing the finish line!
Because it does not matter at what age you cross that line, the jubilation and sense of fulfillment remain the same.

 Sue Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi