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I Love to Timetrial

This column by Simon Gear first appeared in Runners World SA in August 2008

I love to timetrial.  Nothing better defines everything that is good and noble and true about running than the weekly club night at your local AC.  A group of athletes, ranging from some serious speed merchants in their provincial squad colours, all the way down to a couple of ladies, a pram and two small dogs. 

A free sports event, organised in the spirit of pre-Great War amateurism, competed in with no hope of reward and presided over by politician-free officials.  It’s the closest adults get to returning to the spirit of the playground.

I was six when I debuted at the RAC Tuesday night TT.  I remember that I lost one of my running shoes in a fall and made the decision to leave it there on the path rather than waste the three seconds necessary to pick it up.  My old man was cheesed to say the least, but also understood that he had rashly allowed his son to glimpse the source of his obsession and must now reap the consequences.  I have no idea how many Tuesday nights there have been since then, but each evening spent racing through the darkened suburbs around Old Parks sports club has had the power to breathe new life into my training week, providing that touchstone of connectedness with my fellow runners that can sometimes get lost in our loneliest of sports.

From those early days in my Bata takkies, long grey school socks and PT kit, I have seen my time trial nights change.  From my first days of running the kiddies race to jogging the 5km, which for a ten year old, felt like a marathon. Spying Bruce, and Mark Page, and Israel Morake and the other RAC greats, as they fine tuned their Comrades prep in the company of mortals.  Then the heady days of a fast teenager, as I grew into my first pair of polly shorts and discovered that my young, marathon-free legs could mix it with the strong vets with calves like hams.  Pounding through the night at three and a half a kay, truly falling in love with the pain of speed.  Varsity brought huge groups of once-a-week-runner friends who would gather afterwards for beers.  Or the Wits track team - putting our girlfriends’ names down on the finish roster so that we could show them off in the results section of the Saturday Star – “I’ll make you famous, honey”.

Then came adulthood and walking at the back with my pregnant wife, pushing a racing pram with my first  newborn, sharing a beer with my dad as we watched my second child playing on the swings after yet another hard 5k added to the pram’s odometer.

There aren’t many constants in modern life, but the timetrial remains one for me.  A weekly heartbeat, connecting this balding father with aching knees to that mad-for-speed child who thought that a Comrades medal was akin to godhood.  Over the years I’ve become a regular at other TTs.  I’ve burned through the flat roads around Randburg Sports complex, jogged hungover through Zoo Lake on a Saturday morning and had my ego handed to me by a bunch of bare-chested Masters in the hills above Amanzimoti.  I’ve got lost in the trees with Hillcrest Villagers and raced the Hilton college crosscountry team on a 6.4k course in Maritzburg.  And everywhere I’ve timetrialed, I have come away feeling welcomed, and breathless and glad to be alive.

The debt of gratitude that we owe to the quiet club Chairs who stand, week after week, with a stop watch and a megaphone is incalculable.  To Vreni and Val and Chet and all the other heroes who make the sweetest night of the week possible for the rest of us - Thank you.



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