Some­times the greats can learn from an or­di­nary guy, writes Tyson Jop­son

Not all ex­er­cises are cre­ated equal. And in the great out­doors, nei­ther are the hu­mans do­ing them

Getaway (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

Isn’t hik­ing just the best? It’s the only true car­dio­vas­cu­lar en­deav­our that re­wards you while you’re ac­tu­ally do­ing it. Some folk will tell you that ex­er­cise is a joy in and of it­self, but they are de­ranged. All that heavy breath­ing gives them too much oxy­gen, caus­ing them to con­fuse the eu­pho­ria of a gym work­out with the aw­ful feel­ings they have while ac­tu­ally do­ing the work­ing out. Hik­ing does not abide that sort of car­rot-and-stick con­sti­tu­tion. It is benev­o­lent, prof­fer­ing up beau­ti­ful dis­trac­tions the mo­ment you set foot in the wild. First it draws your at­ten­tion out­ward, to the majesty of your sur­round­ings. Then it coaxes you in­ward, ig­nit­ing your for­got­ten pioneer. You re­gard your­self with your mind’s eye, a modern ex­plorer with pur­pose and appreciation, con­quer­ing the well-marked foot­paths like the greats be­fore you. The prob­lem with re­gard­ing one­self with the mind’s eye is that the gaze of­ten tends to­wards the navel. ‘Look at me go!’ you think. ‘Look at my foot, and how well I put it in front of the other one. My feet are great. How’s this fresh moun­tain air? Best! Look at all the non-hik­ers down there breath­ing the stale stuff. Worst.’ Now I’m not sug­gest­ing our jour­nal­ist Me­lanie van Zyl was bask­ing in this kind of in­tro­spec­tive glory while walk­ing the fourth day of her first Ot­ter Trail (full story on page 74). But it of­ten hap­pens that dur­ing such mo­ments of self-ab­sorp­tion, the uni­verse likes to re­mind us that there’s al­ways some­one do­ing it bet­ter. And it was then that two trail run­ners fizzed to­wards her, send­ing shiv­ers through the fo­liage like ca­puchin mon­keys, barely touch­ing the ground. In the brief mo­ment that they stopped, Mel learnt they were scru­ti­n­is­ing the route for the Ot­ter African Trail Run, a chal­lenge so am­bi­tious it at­tracts some of the fastest bipeds in the world. I met one of these elite blitzpeds, Tha­bang Madiba, when I was sent to write about, and run part of, a five-day trail race in Mada­gas­car last year. Ac­tu­ally I had ‘met’ him ear­lier, on so­cial me­dia, where he posts im­ages of him­self train­ing be­neath the hash­tag #IfICanYouCan. Loathe as I am to ad­mit I was mo­ti­vated by a hash­tag, it worked. In train­ing for that race, ‘If he can, I can’ be­came a mantra that I’d huff and puff like The Lit­tle En­gine That Could on rocky trails and dark, win­try streets. And then I was in Mada­gas­car, at the start of day four of the race when the dumb­est thought I’ve ever had popped into my mind. I was go­ing to try to keep up with Tha­bang. I don’t want to ex­ag­ger­ate but I’m go­ing to any­way: af­ter 30 me­tres I was dead. My lungs, soul and will to live left my body in uni­son, a holy trin­ity of pain fol­lowed by a sin­gu­lar­ity of rea­son: he can. But I, most cer­tainly, can­not. Mov­ing slower than the In­ter­net in Oudt­shoorn, I was swal­lowed up and spat out by the chas­ing pack like a zom­bie-at­tack vic­tim, just enough en­ergy left to col­lapse un­der a tree, and nap. I fin­ished, even­tu­ally, and Tha­bang was the first to con­grat­u­late me. Then he asked me how it went. Em­bar­rassed, I searched my brain for an ex­cuse and mum­bled some­thing about how I hadn’t trained all that time just to come here to get it over with as fast as I could, which is the very def­i­ni­tion of a race. I also told him I had a nap. I didn’t think he’d heard me through all the wheez­ing, so imag­ine my sur­prise to find that at the 2016 Ot­ter African Trail Run, three months later, af­ter chal­leng­ing for the lead, Tha­bang did ex­actly the same – he stopped and had a nap. And then fin­ished the race in his own time. Of­fi­cial med­i­cal re­ports will prob­a­bly tell you it was be­cause he was griev­ously ill, hav­ing pushed past bound­aries that would have killed mere mor­tals, but I think there was an­other rea­son. In the same way that he in­spired me to train for that race, I think I in­spired him to take more naps. Hey, if I can, he can.

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