This column by Simon Gear first appeared in Runners World SA in September 2010

I’m quite impressed with Braam Malherbe. For those of you who aren’t sure, Braam will have made it onto your radar in one of two ways in the last couple of years.  At the moment, he is 50|50’s resident action man, traipsing barefoot around the Peninsular, saving puffadders from little old ladies and being nice to spiders.

The other reason you may know him is that his book, The Great Run, came out over the winter.

The Great Run tells the story of Braam and his mate, David Grier, running the length of the Great Wall of China.  A marathon a day for months through hilly, rural China.  It’s pretty darn hardcore.  What I like about Braam’s attitude to running is that he doesn’t seem to identify as A Runner.  Running is certainly something that he does a hell of a lot of, but it’s just a means to adventure for him.  Much the same way that Kingsley Holgate isn’t likely to be dropping in on a Sandton 4x4 club any time soon, so Braam takes from running what he needs and leaves a lot of the dross to the rest of us.

This seemed to start way back, when, as a 17 year old, he ran over 500km across the Western Cape to raise awareness of the plight of the Langebaan Lagoon.  That simplicity, that idea of a run that doesn’t start and end at the same place, lights my fire.  We forget that when we run we are closest to who we were.  Homo sapiens are excellent at covering a lot of ground at a steady clip.  We can out travel just about anything over flattish savannah and that ability is what pushed us throughout Africa and ultimately across the world. 

Our ancestors didn’t hold running races any more than we hold emailing competitions.  Running was just an innate part of their daily lives.  And even now, one of the things that the truly great runs have in common is that they still mimic an epic journey.  The world’s biggest ultra, the world’s most famous hundred miler and the oldest organised marathon (Comrades, Western States and Boston) are all point to point events.  Great runs need to leave you a long way from where you started.

Here’s a fun trick you can play at home.  Take your Sunday long run distance.  Then log onto Google Earth and measure that distance from your home, down one of the main roads away from your house.  Even better is to try it with your longest run ever.  Have you ever thought about quite how far away a standard marathon gets you from home?  I can tell you right now, there isn’t much in the Kruger National Park that is travelling those sorts of distances.  Even beginner runners are top of the pile among long distance travelling land mammals.

An even more telling experiment is to take your average, weekday morning run and stretch that out in a straight line from home.  There is a better than even chance that that radius encompasses your office.  And if it doesn’t, that can be solved by running more each morning until it does.  You’re already making excuses in your head about kids’ school lifts and client meetings, aren’t you?  I’m not saying anything, here. Just think about it.

I think that we are too reliant on organisers to tell us where to run.  Most people who have been running for more than a couple of seasons admit that things like medals and t-shirts make little difference to what races they enter.  So why do we enter races at all?

When I was a teenager, my running ambitions were a lot tamer than Braam’s.  I got a huge kick out of picking somewhere far away and just going there.  I’d run across town to my Gran’s to meet the family for Sunday lunch, or a mate and I would get up early and run to Varsity, to see what it felt like.  I’d run to afternoon braais, or back from late night 21sts.

The greatest irony of all of this is that we have got into the habit of running in circles because we like to start and finish next to our cars.  So terribly safe.  So ineffably boring.

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