There are two things in the world that make you feel really good. One is achieving a goal for which you have worked very hard. The other is helping kids who need support because they are living in very poor circumstances. Now imagine you can have both feelings at the same time. That is what happened to me.
On 16 September I participated (and finished!) in the Sydney Marathon and raised over ZAR 7000 ($1000 USD) for WhizzKids United and the great work we are doing in Edendale.
Some of you might still remember that I started running marathons last year in Berlin, Germany. Back then I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it. I like having these goals in life that help me explore where my limits are and maybe push them a little further. So I participated in Berlin and finished in a decent 4:42 hours, which was okay, seeing that I suffered from a major knee injury before the run. What I didn’t expect then was that running long distance races can be addictive. And so the logical thing to do was, run another one – this time in Sydney, Australia.
Why Sydney? Simply because I was looking for a location I had never been to before. Strangely enough I discovered marathon running as a very interesting way of sightseeing. It is unbelievable how you can explore a city when you run it for 42,195 meters (or several hours). I know some of you may disagree with me on that one and say that the red double-decker buses make you see just as much, but it is just not the same way to experience a place – you would miss out on all the emotions and excitement. So Sydney with its iconic Harbour Bridge and the world famous Opera House made it to the top of my list. I did not regret this choice one single moment!
Like mentioned before, I love challenges. I find they give you more purpose in life. Setting yourself a goal that seems very difficult to reach in the first place, but then working hard and persistently until you achieve you reach it, makes life meaningful.
If you haven’t done it yourself, you will never be able to understand all the emotions you are going through during a marathon race. It already starts during all the months of training that you have to put in. It takes a lot of discipline to stick to your training schedule and even after long working days you have to get on the road and do all the training kilometers (I did just under 900km in preparation for Sydney). Being lazy for one week can set you back so much in your preparations. Neither rain nor heat must be an excuse for skipping a training session. And you have to do this week in and week out.
But the real challenge, of course, comes on the race day. The excitement in the morning was very, very high. Together with thousands of other runners I waited at the starting area, drank another cup of water to make sure the hydration level was just fine, did another warm-up jog and had a chat with my fellow runners, trying to find people with the same target time to form a group. When the long anticipated run started I want to find my rhythm as quickly as possible and make sure not to over-pace the first kilometers, even though my legs were feeling so strong.
I felt awesome on the first kilometers and had a great speed. Easily, I kept up with the pacemakers and the feeling of “nothing can stop me now” started growing in me. That lasted for about 25 kilometers and then came the heat. It is incredible how warm Sydney can become within a few hours, when you approach midday. And with the heat everything changed. My legs got tired, I had to reduce my pace quite a bit and on top of everything the race profile was much more difficult on the second half. Did I mention that I always have the feeling that the last 21km are much longer than the first 21km?
At some point I had forgotten about all the other runners around me. It was just me and the road, trying to run my very own race. And that is where the crazy mix of emotions started. The run became painful and I asked myself why I was doing this to myself – again. Did I expect too much from me? Have I been too ambitious to run a marathon again and to hope for a better time? No, it was not. I knew that I could do it, because I had done this before. And I knew I could do it better than last time, because I had worked harder for this. Despite all the pain that I felt and the slight misery I went through, I always knew that I was going to finish this race in a good time. Giving up never even crossed my mind. (Just imagine all the people’s comments on facebook when you don’t finish it).
I had learnt from Berlin’s marathon a year ago and was able to slow down at the right time and recover while running. After I had adjusted to the warmer temperatures, I was even able to get back to my initial pace and finish the race over 25 minutes faster than I did the previous year – what a great personal success. Even those pesky climbs that the race planners had put in at kilometer 32 and 37 (they should be punished for that) could not stop me.
The last four kilometers were just unbelievable then. I think I never had a bigger smile in my face because I could literally feel the finish line coming closer. And there were all the thousands of supporters on the side of the road that cheered like crazy and gave me that extra push. It felt so good. When I then turned into the Sydney Harbour, with the Opera House shining on the other side, there was no doubt anymore that all the hard work had finally paid off and it was worth all the pain and every single emotion. I must say there are very few places in the world that make a similarly impressive finish like the Sydney Opera House – truly magnificent.
I crossed the finish after 4 hours, 15 minutes and 25 seconds – a lot faster than 12 months ago. And I am not able to find words than can describe what I felt when I stepped over that line. It was just lifting my arms in victory and smiling nonstop. There were about 2000 runners faster than me (the winner reached the finish about two hours before me), but I still felt like I had just won a gold medal at the Olympics; and I am sure everyone who reached the finish on that day felt exactly like that and deserved it!
At the same time there was this wonderful feeling that with my personal accomplishment I managed to raise money for WhizzKids United and help the kids in South Africa. This makes the whole mission even more worthwhile and I am glad that in a special way all these boys and girls can benefit from my hard work and running as well.
I want to express my sincere appreciation to everybody who has contributed to my fundraising campaign with their donations. Believe me when I say that your support – big or small - does make a difference in kids’ lives and everyone at WhizzKids United is very happy and proud to have committed supporters like you. Thank you very, very much!
Now that it is all over there remains one question for me: What’s next? Where will I run my next marathon? There is certainly no doubt that Sydney has not been the last one – after all I am addicted to running!
PS: If you still want to make your contribution and support my run, please click on the link below where you can make your donation.
From May to September this year I got the chance to work with WhizzKids United (WKU) in South Africa. This gave me the great opportunity to experience the work of a non-profit organisation in a developing country that is working to fight one of the world’s most important challenges, HIV & AIDS.
I supported WKU in various aspects of their work, including running football tournaments, offering some computer training for our Health Academy staff or having an arts & crafts session with the kids. Still, I was mainly involved with marketing, supporting Communications Manager Stefan in organising events, publishing news about our work, the making of a video about WKU or fundraising.
The work at WhizzKids United was very interesting, challenging and rewarding. I was happy that I could share my experiences and knowledge and in return received new insights in a different culture and lifestyle and make again new experiences. And especially working with the kids was amazing. They are facing so many challenges and struggles and still they do not give up and can always spare a smile.
I would like to thank all my colleagues in Durban and at the Health Academy in Edendale for the wonderful time and all the shared moments. It was great meeting and working with you all and I will never forget my time with WKU. Thanks for everything, guys, and keep it up!!!
Since I spent three of my six months stay with WhizzKids United, I guess it’s the right time to take a review of my time here so far. My work began immediately one day after my arrival with an introduction on each section of WhizzKids United, which gave me a broad first overview of this organisation. After a week, our CEO Marcus came back from a business trip and introduced me then to my main working place, which would be the Health Academy in Edendale, a township an hour drive away from Durban. Since everyone was very nice and made me feel welcome, my first concerns and nervousness were gone quickly and it didn’t take long to feel familiar with that place and all staff members. When people who have never been to Africa think of a township, they might have a picture of a dangerous and threatening place in mind with dodgy people all around. But although it might be true in some cases, I didn’t experience that at all in Edendale.
Rather I enjoyed being there at the Health Academy, because it brings you really close to the practical part of the work WhizzKids United does, besides the Life Skills Programmes at schools, which are counseling-services, HIV-Testing, a Feeding Scheme for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) and a lot of activities for youth. And it also gave me the opportunity to get to know more about the South African mentality, since the Health Academy is run by local staff only. My work as the Health Academy Coordinator basically was about keeping things running well and trying to improve them where it was necessary. So I was responsible for watching the budget, deciding how much we can spent on our feeding scheme and activities, writing Policy documents, buying food for the OVCs and a lot of more tasks. In between, I always found some time to join the Kids playing football outside, which was always a welcome change to the organizational work I had to do.
Besides the daily work at our head-office in Durban and the Health Academy I had the possibility to join two tournaments, which we always arrange as a final event after completing our Life Skills Training at schools. Especially the one at Mahlala School in Upper Edendale left a lasting impression in my mind. The landscape surrounding this school was just breathtaking - no streets and traffic, no noise, just beautiful landscape and children full of energy who enjoyed playing football. The football pitch was pretty bumpy, but no one bothered at all, everyone was just having fun. The power of football, of which we make use to teach youth Life Skills, was so obvious on that day.
So far I had a great time with WhizzKids United and look forward to the upcoming 3 months! - Presumed I get my Visa extended, but that is another story… :)