In the United States, I was accustomed to walking nearly two miles to my office each morning. That is not a good option here in Cape Town. At first, I thought I would enjoy jiu jitsu, but I learned my vertigo can be a problem with take-downs. Would I restart yoga? Perhaps, but somehow I have not gotten my asanas back together. I have noticed a considerable number of people here enjoying running and hiking, though, and when my friend Zendré told me about the Durbanville Parkrun, it seemed nearly ideal.
Parkrun is an international timed five km running event that takes place on a weekly basis in thirteen nations of the world. It’s entirely free to participate, and the events are run by volunteers. Essentially, a participant registers at the website, receives a printed barcode, and then shows up at a scheduled event. Everyone starts at the same time, and barcodes are scanned at the finish line. Time to complete the course is then emailed to participants.
The Durbanville Parkrun takes place at Meerendal, a wine estate northwest of the Durbanville city center. I first learned about Meerendal from a wine tasting event in connection with a local science meeting. The grounds are lovely, with mountain biking trails and a lake interspersed among the rows of grape vines. That brings us to the first difference between the Parkrun and a typical 5K for charity in the United States. We’re not running on city streets. Instead we run on dirt, with all the odd ravines, bumps, and bits of detritus that one might encounter in a working farm. It may not be quite as adventurous as a proper trail run, but it does feel more adventurous than a road run.
Since the race began at 8AM, I set an alarm and arrived with plenty of lead time. A brief orientation was supplied by a volunteer. Runners would not be carrying RFID tags on their shoes, so timing would rely upon a common start time and a barcode scan at the end of the race. They provided a bucket for people who didn’t want to carry their keys. The volunteer explained that the course split in half at one point, and either direction would give the same distance. She also advised us not to run down into the 4×4 pit and to be cautious of a run section near the beginning/end through which runners may be moving in both directions.
A pretty big crowd of runners had appeared. In general, they seemed a fit bunch. In my experience, South Africans tend to be a bit lighter in weight than their American counterparts. Of course the crowd included folks in their twenties, but families with children showed up together, and I saw a couple of runners with infants, one pushing a jogging stroller for two and the other carrying a framed backpack with a little sunshade for its occupant. After some words of orientation and thanks for the sponsors, we were given a five second countdown. We were off!
I need to clarify that although I walk a fair bit, this was the fourth time in my life that I had launched into a 5K without warming up in preceding days. The second time I did it was the 2006 Nashville Resolution Run. I was asked by a pretty friend if I would accompany her since her running buddies had dropped out. I ran by her side for the entire race (until I got carried away by enthusiasm at the end of the run). I developed crippling bilateral tendonitis that put an end to my walks to work for a while. Ever since, I have been considerably more cautious where running is involved. I set myself a very achievable goal for running today; I would finish within an hour.
Running on dirt trails was fun, and mostly the route was quite easy. I was very proud of myself for keeping up at least a jog for the first couple of km, but then we began the slope leading up toward the M48 road. I slowed to my commuter’s walking pace. As we turned away from the road and headed back toward the lake, my spirits rose and I jogged again, thinking we were coming in for the big finish. Then I saw a sign indicating that we had come only 3 km. I came back to a walk as I passed around the lake.
From there, my goal became finishing without hurting a tendon. The people from whom I had been taking my pace at the start of the race had begun walking before I did, but they now passed me at a jog. I just enjoyed the walk. In not much time, I had arrived at the finish, where my barcode was scanned. I found the bucket of keys and retrieved mine. I was in my car, headed out of the wine farm, when I noticed it was still earlier than nine AM. I had achieved my very limited goal with an official time of 40:05!