The Comrades Marathon stunt was foolish, even I will acknowledge that. I had no business running such a brutal race on a broken ankle. It was an extremely painful journey and it sucked up what little residue of joy and enthusiasm I had for running. Still, I have five medals from that race and I did give myself the opportunity to say a fond and tearful goodbye to the Old Road.
Everyman when he approaches middle age is entitled to have his crisis. We have worked our whole lives for it, and so we are eligible for it. I felt I was permitted to have mine as I stared up at The Big Five Oh with trepidation. The real end to my running lurked on the horizon and I knew my days of lining up at the start of any race were numbered. If I was to bow out, I would do so on my terms and I hatched an outlandish plot. Thus in my fiftieth year I would run a marathon on each continent, raise money for the Hospice I worked for and I would write a book to tell the story. Broken ankle? Bugger that, I was about to become a self-important and deluded Pilgrim. Make that a Five Hour Pilgrim.
And so 2004 began as a busy year as I set about wrapping things up in my running ‘career.’ I am happy to say that I did finish the marathons and wrote the book and raised some money, so all’s well that ends well. Almost. The truth was I only ran on six continents, and not the seventh. In my book Antarctica is not a true continent. To qualify a land mass must have endured either corruption, a war or bad government, and according to my rules, Antarctica fell short of the definition. I must admit there is an Antarctica chapter in my book and although included, it is a fantasy piece. Truthfully I did not go. But the matter did not rest there.
A few years later one Monday morning I received a phone call from a stranger with an even stranger gift. It turned out that three runners from Pretoria had read my book and were sufficiently inspired to make a similar journey of their own. Together they decided to run a marathon on each continent, but sanely or even wisely, only one a year. Furthermore they decided they would run in Antarctica. I nodded and listened to the voice on the other end. Disaster struck, I was told over the phone. One of the intrepid companions had a cycling accident and broke his collar bone and was unable to go. A refund was refused by the organisers, but they did concede a substitution was possible. And…hence the phone call. A paid for trip to Antarctica to run what was to be my final race. The story of that race you will find here.
The end result was inevitable. You can live in denial for only so long but finally something like this is going to make its unwelcome presence felt. Eventually every morning when I got up my ankle reminded me, harshly, of my own mortality. To walk from the dining room to the kitchen became a major consideration. I was recognised for my limp. Defiant stubbornness was gradually replaced by grudging acceptance, I was ready. Finally I made the call.
“What took you so long?” asked the professor when I paid a visit to his rooms, “your ankle is a mess.” He said peering at the x-rays. I needed a total ankle replacement, and here begins my real story.