Runner's World South Africa - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALI NOLAN

THE LINE IS chalk, white, with fad­ing edges that dis­in­te­grate into dust, and it floats up­ward as it ap­proaches the edge of the paved path. Just be­low it, there’s a large un­even ‘0’. As I pass over the line and run on, I won­der where the next one will be.

When it comes, it an­nounces it­self as the line for ‘400’, con­firm­ing that these are mark­ers for workout in­ter­vals. Now I’m cu­ri­ous to see how many track quar­ters are marked; or if the maker, like me, en­joys reach­ing a line in the dis­tance and turn­ing around to go back to ‘0’ again and again, not re­ally go­ing any­where, but cov­er­ing a dis­tance within a con­fined space.

I imag­ine a run­ner, bent over, care­fully writ­ing the num­bers. Un­der the chalk,

gravel loosens, the bumpy sur­face dis­rupts the draw­ing. Road marks are not per­fect, not aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing, but beau­ti­ful in their own right – a sym­bol of work, of tenac­ity, ded­i­ca­tion. A coach draws a line, a sym­bol to the ath­letes. It says: I be­lieve in your abil­ity to hit your paces, to run at thresh­old. I be­lieve that this will make you bet­ter.

And I’ve seen them ev­ery­where. In ev­ery city and small town. We’ve all stomped over them, know­ing what they were, but rarely think­ing much about them. I re­mem­ber read­ing about the leg­endary Lake Mary Road in Flagstaff, Ari­zona, where so many elites train. The road is a thing of beauty: a wide shoul­der, the lake with moun­tains ris­ing from it on ei­ther side. I’ve never been there. But I know from an old friend who now lives there that it’s marked ev­ery 400 me­tres for 25 kays, and that it’s been chalked and spray-painted, in me­tres and kilo­me­tres and frac­tions of miles, for years.

Here on this flat, lonely trail I’m cur­rently run­ning, there are no more mark­ings. When I’ve turned around and again en­counter the (now up­side-down) 400, I think, why not? I pick it up into my 1 600m pace. Drive my knees, pump my arms, breathe in rapid and rhyth­mic beats all the way back to zero. A sin­gle rep is noth­ing; but the chalk was like a love let­ter from an­other run­ner, a whis­per for me to fly, and so I did.

Later, I speak to my friend in Flagstaff, who tells me that most re­cently it’s Ben Rosario, famed coach of the NAZ team, who has marked Lake Mary Road. So I call him to talk about mark­ing roads. And it turns out he doesn’t think my in­ter­est is so bizarre. He won­ders about them, too. “You don’t know who made them, or what year,” he says. “But you use them. Some­one has taken the time and put in the ef­fort – they think highly enough of that road to mark it.”

Weeks later, on hol­i­day in the coun­try, I’m get­ting in a run just out­side where we’re stay­ing, foothills warn­ing of the moun­tains up ahead. I turn onto an up­hill, and I see an orange line over a 200. Up­hill! In 200m in­cre­ments! I cross the 400, which is drawn so the ‘4’ re­sem­bles a cap­i­tal ‘A’ and the ze­ros are small dots, then the 600. The blobs of the 800 at the top have a rounded ar­row above, telling me to turn around. Some­one in this small town cared enough about their train­ing – or some­one else’s – to take the time to mea­sure and leave a code in the run­ners’ lan­guage. And I lis­ten: even though it’s not the route I’d planned, I turn around.

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