Finishing the Comrades 2018 Marathon and Finding Great Curry

Descending on Durban on 8 June 2018 filled many runners with hope, promise and it was one of the most fulfilling moments in our lives – as some of us took on this famous race for the first time. One of the countless rewards of the Comrades Marathon is the spirit of this race, the camaraderie that comes with being among the individuals taking on this challenge. It was to be a huge turning point in how I would later understand my body, mind and overcome pain.

Yes, some pain. I wish that last was “spirit” and it would have been all poetic from there with the breeze gently in my face, running in slow motion on a cloud, with a smile the whole way and feeling like it was much shorter than 90-kilometres. But no, there were many great moments, not all of them as poetic as all that.
Mongezi Mtati at the Comrades Marathon 2018
Every race before this point was preparation it seems, except the Loskop Marathon, Two Oceans Marathon and Om Die Dam, which are all amazing and can be grueling. Every other one was preparation, a way to get a sense of the difference between the toughest long effort and reaching the next small town after losing count of hours on the road.  Waking up just before 1am means I had to sleep just after 7pm, which is unnatural in itself by many imaginable standards.

The energy in Pietermaritzburg just before 5am when we arrived for the race was electric, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced. People shared stories of their last Comrades as motivation for both peers and themselves, which helps to calm the nerves. Some were there for one sole reason; to finish the race before cut-off with no strict finishing goal time. We felt connected as a community that wishes every participant well.

There was a point after the halfway mark when the mind and body had left me to my devices, I was just wandering spirit at this point with no idea what to do next. This is where the training comes to play. You tell yourself to just keep going and the slump subsides, if only for a moment, and the energy around you helps to regain momentum. Along with the tough hills later in the day also comes the heat, which was not as bad as I expected.

After being on the road for over 70 kilometres, sometime after 8 hours from the start, my running shoes felt unbearably tight. It was as though I would lose the top of my foot if I kept going, so I loosened the shoe which now had too much play and the pain was ever more consistent. Of course, I thought this was my foot just acting up for no reason begging to be left on the side of the road. It later turned out to be a circulation cutting compression sock by 2XU, but luckily this didn’t take me off the road for too long.

As we progressed further into the Ultimate Human Race I began to see why it’s called that. We encountered peers with injuries and some who needed more serious medical assistance. The inspiration of being on the open road, seeing people push themselves past what looks like “a wall” encouraged me to push past my own boundaries.

Family and loved ones will always be encouraging, and after crossing the finish line, seeing the light in my fiancé’s face while attempting to walk through the Moses Mabhida Stadium, made it all worth it. The medal is the small part of the race now that it’s over, the journey is the biggest part. Knowing that I took my mind and body through 90-kilometres on foot and I now sit here able to tell write about parts of the tale is the ultimate achievement.

Mongezi Mtati at the Comrades Marathon Finish Line
She told me that she had met a lady whose husband was nearing the finish, that this was his fourth attempt and that he did not make it across the finish line on time the first three instances. They sat there talking about the stories of previous races and the wife’s hope that he finishes before cut-off and gets his medal. They were there with their kids, who were all very eager to see their dad soon. I was now rooting for this man whom I’d never met and everyone else who was still on their way.

Just a year ago I had no idea that I would take on this challenge, in fact, I thought it was crazy that anyone would put themselves through this sort of thing. Now. . . although I’m the first to point out my craziness, after many others have done so to much debate and denial, this is one of the least crazy things I have ever done. There is something about completing one long ultra-marathon after marathon in preparation for the Comrades that takes me past some of my own known – and unknown – hurdles to achieving more.

In search of a reward some days later, not cake this time I still owe myself that, I asked friends from Durban for a good place to have curry and one of the recommendations did not have the ambience. By chance, I then asked the Uber driver where he would suggest we go and he proposed Mali’s Restaurant in Morningside. Upon arrival at this house-turned-restaurant we welcomed by a friendly security guard who lets through the gate.

As you enter, it feels small enough to need to make a reservation and big enough to still be cosy. We were accommodated immediately by the host. Long story short, when the food arrived it was the most divine, mouth-watering – even as you eat it – thing I’ve ever tasted. I would definitely recommend the Lamb Rogan Ghosh any day, especially if you love tomato-based sauces that may have you licking your plate.

This was one of the most memorable and worthwhile weeks I’ve had, in June at least. It hit me for the first time when I saw a friend recently who said “you are the first person I know who finished the Comrades Marathon”, that’s when it occurred to me that all those people who finished, within the cut-off time and after, are heroes in their own right. That this is a special moment in any person’s life.

The road to the Comrades Ultra Marathon 2018: Registering on impulse

On one random Friday afternoon while having coffee I registered for the Ultimate Human Race, the 89km Comrades Ultra Marathon. If you are shaking your head, I’m with you, I would do the same thing. There must have been something in the WiFi that day and some of us got it bad. Over the next few months after December, I’ll increase my training to meet Comrades Marathon levels. Not that I want to, I’d rather be siting with a whole cake and bottomless cappuccinos.
Telling the family 
After delaying the announcement and expecting fireworks when I eventually told, my sister and mom just said ‘oh’ or something even more unceremonious. I know, I know what you’re thinking. There should have been a huge song and dance, applause and cheers everywhere. They missed the whole 89 kilometers at the end of my announcement.
Instead, it became less about me and more about the picnics the family will have in Durban along the stops.

After Marathon High Knee

“We can have a roadtrip two days prior, we should organise the picnic stuff” said my sister, to which mom nodded and added something about food to include.

 

At this point, I stopped hearing them over sensation of numb thighs at the thought of passing their victory picnic in the middle of the race.

14 October 2017, the evening before running the marathon to qualify for the daunting Comrades Ultra Marathon, wasn’t the quietest night with nerves at an all-time high. It was as though the taxing ultra-marathon was that Saturday, as though the challenge only became real that evening.

Seeing my relatively slow-ish time of 4 hours and 29 minutes was a relief, because even though I like this running thing, don’t get for a second think I never feel like giving away my running shoes. It’s the gift that keeps giving numb sore legs. And yet it’s sssoooo good. There is a beautiful sense of accomplishment that I don’t quite get from finishing my dessert. Okay……finishing dessert comes with sadness. But you know what I mean.
Friends were surprised and most, like friends and loved ones shouldn’t, keep telling me how I should definitely go. “It will change your life” they say. And I appreciate it. I’m still waiting for that string of massage vouchers and training partners among them. Except Brian, Brian says I’m crazy and offers a juicy piece of steak to cure me of this long distance running thing.

You know where I’m going when I return from Durban.

Now that the qualifier is done, I’ll go for seeding times and make improvements. Much like the seasoned Comrades runner, I now nod in conversations while saying things “when I qualified for my first Comrades” and exit quietly before they ask how many I’ve completed – and other incriminating questions.

For now, before the intense training kicks off with a marathon in January, we eat (a lot of desserts), drink and hopefully convince others to give up their desserts in preparation for the change that’s coming my way. You must also go enjoy all your delectable eats these holidays, that way none of us judge the absence of summer bodies in others.

Lifestyle Makeover Feature on Destiny Man

A little over two and a half years ago I took on the challenge of changing my lifestyle, of getting healthier, fitter and more active – I had no idea that the journey would end up on Destiny Man. The February 2017 issue of the prestigious men’s magazine, in stores now, features some of the things I discovered along the way.

At the time of starting with my very short run – which felt like I had just done the Ironman – I had no idea that the path would lead to being more effective at work, to making new connections with people who would have never been on my radar under normal circumstances.

Leaps of Faith by Mongezi Mtati On: Destiny Man, Feb 2017

As it happens when you start on a new journey to change your life, there are always obstacles and rude awakenings. In my case, ice-cold damper in my deep slumber was a running app that was recommended by Phetheho Mosia whom I’m sure got a thrill from mild disappointment. The article talks to how I discovered that shortness of my Ironman run and walk, but it’s great that the awakening occurred when it did.

You’ll also discover how important it is to have key goals for your new lifestyle and somebody to crack the whip and in my case it’s the obstacle racing Peter Peele. He manages to push long past I’ve exhaled my last breath and only fire goes through my chest. So yes, I’m surrounded by legends who push me. I wouldn’t call them friends when huff, puff, limp, curse the day I met them and imagine the finish line.

Lindsay Grubb cracks the whip when I slack with the writing which has proven to be invaluable and boy is that absolutely helpful. Documenting some of these stories needs magician’s eye and she just may be the unmentioned secret inspector at the literature department at Hogwarts.

Thanks to Marco Caromba, Duncan and the Jozi X team for allowing us to use the park for the pictures and the adventure experience that you’ll see in the piece. They host some of the most challenging obstacle course races that will make you want to get fitter and they are also the friendliest bunch you’ll ever meet at these activities. Their BattleRush events introduced us to the adrenaline and the bug of obstacle course racing. Check them out here.

This past weekend marked the fastest – relatively uphill – half marathon (21.1km for the non runners) that I have taken on.

Please get a copy and share your thoughts.

Asics delivers a pair of Gel Nimbus 18 within 24 hours

After being in a bind and writing about Asics and Tekkie Town, where neither of them took the time to respond after I sent back a pair of running shoes. As it happens in these instances, I wrote about it and ranted a bit here, which was followed by the all-important and standard tweet.


Asics South Africa
Asics very quickly responded to the tweet where Dawid Visser took over the matter and owned it – with an apology. I appreciated how no one was badmouthing the other inside Asics, where resolving the issue was more important than who had not taken it upon themselves to act on an email and calls.

[Add crickets at Tekkie Town here]

The Asics sales manager, Craig also phoned to apologise on behalf of the brand and their management. They took it all seriously, especially the fact that it went public where most brands try to keep these matters private. It all seemed sincere, as though Craig and Dawid wanted to help and they did.

One of the expectations that I had, which very quickly changed, was that they would want to investigate with Tekkie Town and spend more time keeping me waiting. Instead, Dawid asked me about sizes [I’m a UK size 14 ;-)] and told me that the version I had bought was now out of stock and that he would send another one.

Asics Gel Nimbus 18

After talking to Dawid and sending him my humanly impossible running shoe size, they delivered a brand new pair of Asics Gel Nimbus 18 within 24 hours. It’s always great when a brand goes expectations and shows care where many others have disappointed their customers.

Thanks Asics. I’m taking this new pair for its first Soweto Marathon.

Asics and Tekkie Town – A world of pain and no response

Leading up to a 21km run in – April 2016, after much procrastination, I bought my umpteenth pair of Asics running shoes from Tekkie Town in Boksburg. It was the first time that I bought from Tekkie Town and they turned out to be reasonable in comparison to other Asics stockists. The next day, I took this shiny new fiery orange pair of Asics Gel Nimbus 16 for a half marathon and sustained injuries that took to me days to recover from.

Tekkie Town complaint

Asics complaint at Tekkie Town

Some runners would say brand new running shoes aren’t great for races, as though they should be broken in and taken for some runs first, which I attributed the nearly broken legs to. Truth be told, I never had that problem in a pair of Asics. Five runs later, the problem persisted and I phoned Asics to find out what the issue could have been. This was not getting any better, I would suffer for a day or two before getting back on the road because of injuries.

On 4 May 2016 – a lady by the name of Kiera Powell took my call at Asics and she assured me that she would take care of the issue and that the call would help to speed up the process. She further advised that I return the shoes to Tekkie Town because they needed to assess the quality of this new pair of Gel Nimbus 16. According to her, the quality of the cushioning can sometimes deteriorate if the shoes are stored for too long. She also advised that I send an email with my details and a picture of the shoes which will form part of their assessment, which I very quickly did.

Emails to Asics South Africa

Emails to Asics South Africa

Part of the assessment includes images that the store sends to the manufacturer where they ascertain whether there is damage or not. That said though, the stockist – Tekkie Town in this case – knew exactly how to take the images. I’m no expert at photography or running shoes and I trust their just judgement.
Running shoes
The next step was to take the shoes to Tekkie Town in Boksburg – limps and all – and these were received by a friendly store manager who advised that the Asics consultant would assess the shoes and make recommendations. Anton said he would call me in a week and that went the same way as the emails from Asics, but when I eventually got a hold of him about two weeks later – he was just about to dial my number. Just about. Had I just waited another five minutes, he would have called with feedback to say the Asics consultant saw the shoes and they would revert with feedback.

Asics running shoes

Kiera Powell, had still not received my email or the report from Tekkie Town – she probably still hadn’t until I sent a tweet to their account finding out if she works there. These things get stuck in the mail, calls aren’t answered at Asics and well……the internet loses stuff and all.

By now, the old pair I was replacing began causing more injuries with every run that was meant to help mitigate the situation and it was better to buy another pair than to wait for Asics and send them more emails. Instead of not training, I got a new pair about a month later because there other one is still held captive. The assumption is that they completely taken the shoes apart and they are giving it thorough inspection. In fact, Anton left Tekkie Town and the new manager took on the case, also promised to return my call and she hasn’t.

Part of the theory is that it may be the wrong type of pair that the Asics Nimbus model was not right, but in fact I used a similar model for over a year. The one that this pair was meant to replace was also a Nimbus and it was as dream to run in.

Asics and Tekkie Town, when you read this – if you ever get to – please ask your labs and scientists how close they to concluding this case, it has now been four months. You have already phased out some designs and brought new ones in.

At the time of writing this, now in August 2016, I sent to tweet to Asics South Africa whom I think alerted Kiera Powell of the problem and she called but the issue still

Community Manager Appreciation

Recent months have seen brands get their fair share of social media criticism, from Uzzi going viral because of xenophobic attacks in Alexandra, the ‘bestie’ post by Appletiser to KFC in Braamfontein, where community managers needed miracles to dowse the blaze. These are just a few of the instances that made it onto the radar.
Social media - mobile

On a normal day, social media community managers work their magic wands on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and the rest of the social web around brand reputations and fuming customers. My latest post on Marklives covers some insights from seasoned social media strategists who built some award-winning communities and campaigns. They all agree that trust and being more human – yes, even as brands – is what wins over brand-speak and policy.

They also maintain that the responsibility lies with both the brand the social media who represent them online.

Have a look at the post on Marklives here and get chocolate for that community manager on your way to the office.

Turn Critics Into Brand Evangelists

In recent news, a certain deep-fried chicken franchise went viral for the wrong reasons and if you followed the story, as I did for a while, you would have realised that the brand tried to engage. The unfortunate part was that as viral news stories go, the brand that’s a villain gets it the hardest.

I’m not saying I didn’t go to KFC a few times after the stories spread. You know. . . . . just to test at a few branches whether it was all true. How could I write about it if I didn’t test the chicken myself?

Meanwhile, there are brands whose communities grow, who are committed to adding one memorable customer story at a time. Brands like Rocomamas that I wrote about on Marklives. And yes, once again, I had to see whether any of what Brian Altriche, founder and chief operating officer of RocoMamas, told me was true. The hardest part was taking the stairs instead of elevators

The hardest part was taking the stairs instead of elevators and sitting out the next weigh-in later that week.

Read the piece I wrote on Marklives.com and find out how RocoMamas creates a street team of evangelists behind their burger shop and restaurant.

 

Get social and get paid for it

This was originally posted on WordStart.

Yesterday saw the official public launch of IceBreaker, a platform that lets you connect with new people who want to meet online and extend that to in-person connections. In most instances, the social platforms that you use reward you with more connections and the right people’s attention.  You rarely, almost never get anything more than that.

The deal we struck with IceBreaker is about to change that.

 Own your social life

What’s in it for you?

We are looking for 10 people to try out the platform and start their own groups, where you can then meet other groups of people. Whenever you meet with a group, you’ll need 25 points which is the equivalent of R25.

As a WordStarter, and we can only accommodate 10 people, where you’ll get 1000 points for FREE. You can use your points to meet as many groups of people that you and your friends think are worth having an outing with. You can also be part of as many groups as you want.

Your one group of friends may be into indoor activities, others may like outdoor adventures and the other may be into travel or backpacking around the world. The last thing you want to do is force someone who’s terrified of spiders to go camping in the bush. Okay you might, but we don’t encourage it.

Get paid to connect people

We also understand that you are a connector and you should get rewarded for it. You are one of the people who invited your friends to Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and maybe even Google+. This time, as you invite your friends to join you on IceBreaker and they meet people, we’ll pay you for it.

WordStart has teamed up with IceBreaker so that when a friend of yours gets their first 25 points, you get R25 in cash.

For example: If 100 of your friends meet up with groups of interest to them, IceBreaker will pay you R2 500. Plus you don’t have to do anything other than invite friends using a link that we will send you, which you can share.

Friend rewards

What kind of a friend would you be if you got everything and you didn’t share?

Starting this week, whenever your friends buy their first 25 points, they’ll get another 75 points for free. That means you all get to meet new groups of people together.

Are you in and know some people that may want to get paid, as the first 10, for connecting as well? Send us an email to info [at] wordstart.co.za and we’ll get you started.

Alternatively, tell us in the comments below and we will get in touch with you.

Cycling with Tutus in Johannesburg

It all started with chat at a bar with friends where “I said want to do series of activities in different costumes, for the fun of it” and a friend dared me to go cycling in a tutu. Now for the real story; I posted an update on Facebook about cycling in a tutu to which two friends, Jonathan Dicks and Steven Bakker – both cyclists – commented saying ‘if you pull it off and organise us tutus, we’ll join you’.

 

Jonathan Dicks cycling

Jonathan Dicks cycling

Jonathan Dicks is a regular at the Critical Mass cycling community which takes off on the corner of Juta and De Beer streets in Braamfontein – every last Friday of the month. Naturally, they suggested that we put on our costumes and ride with Critical Mass which is the easiest community to participate in.

 

Steven Bakker is more of a social cyclist who takes on the odd mountain (and by mountain I mean he once nearly into a river one Saturday morning) but he’s a rockstar of note. As you’ll see in picture below, he has already worn a tutu on stage before. He’s the second guy from your right.

Steve in a Tutu

Steven Bakker (second from right) in a tutu

I haven’t cycled in years and part of the deal is getting a bicycle from whoever collaborates with us. You will be mentioned in two blog posts thereafter and a small company banner of yours will be placed on the sidebar of this blog for two months.

 

Are you in?

 

The basic idea here, which I haven’t told Jonathan and Steven about, is to cycle a few times with various communities and support a few causes while doing it. My secret mission is get into shape and score a bike while raising funds to help a chosen cause. The guys have been asking about it for months and I think we can get more people to join us over time, but that would be a bonus.

 

So you, bicycle shop in Johannesburg and you costume hire store in Jozi, why don’t you collaborate with us to make this happen? This invitation is also open to anyone who wants to either support the mission or cycle with us, for both a good cause and well…..strutting your stuff on a public road in a costume.

 

To accept this mission, leave your comment below.

 

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Featured picture by: dickdavid on Flickr

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Tools to Spread Word of Mouth

This was originally posted on the WordStart blog.

In October, the Enterprise Technology Show Africa organisers invited us to share some ways to spread the word. There are many tools on offer in the market and here, as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, we share three of our favorite ones.

When working on building buzz for your product or organisation, you have to be clear on what the objective is. You may want to generate the word on mouth on your Facebook page, through contact with bloggers or by understanding customer conversations and sentiment, then contributing.

The tools in a nutshell:

  1. Shortstack is an easy-to-use Facebook application tool. It allows to run competitions with user-generated voting and content. We regularly use it for various purposes. Create a free account and try it out.
  2. Grouphigh combines SEO and social search to enable you to engage with the blogger community that you are interested in interacting with. You are then able to think through how you would like to position your content on various platforms and you understand what those blogs are interested in. Have a look at the 30-day free trial or request a demo to engage blogs for you PR and Marketing.
  3. Traackr takes influence beyond blogs and helps you find brand advocates by topic of interest and helps you build your influencer engagement efforts. Have a look at their plan options

Below, have a look at the presentation.

What are some of the tools that you use?