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Road to Comrades

From barely being able to finish a 5km parkrun, to now readying herself to participate in her first Comrades Marathon, Get It Ballito.Umhlanga graphic designer Nicole von Metzinger’s running story is similar to so many others who will be at the start of ‘the ultimate human race’ on 28 August.

Although she has always loved sport, long-distance running was never something Nicole thought she would ever end up doing. In fact, she says, her running journey has taught her a lot about herself that she never knew.
Like most runners, the ‘bug’ bit her quite unexpectedly a couple of years ago. Now, after having completed a few marathons and ultra-trail runs, her sights are set firmly on the Comrades.

Nicole’s fitness journey began in 2018 when a group of friends invited her to join them in the Warrior Race. At the time, Nicole was playing netball once a week. “I thought I would give it a go. I mean, how hard could it be, right? Well, I had to call it quits after 3km and I remember thinking, I’m too young to be this unfit,” she laughs.

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Disappointed and wanting to ‘redeem’ herself, Nicole quit smoking and joined the Ringside Boxing Gym. “I started seeing how my body was changing and, more importantly (like my trainer Tyrone pointed out), I started seeing what my body could do.”

With the goal of finishing the next Warrior Race in mind, Nicole knew she had to do some running as well. So, she headed off to the parkrun at Holla Trails. “I dragged some friends along and we pretty much walked most of it. I remember us setting little goals – we’d run to the next tree and then walk. We felt like we were dying.”

Slowly Nicole’s running (and confidence) began to improve. She entered fun obstacle races and trained at Ringside every day. When she finally managed to finish the Warrior Race in 2019, she says she was proud but realised that running had been her weakness.

Her first 10km race was in Durban in October that year. “It was amazing running with so many people from so many different walks of life. I loved it!”
Then, she started entering any and every race she could. After her first 15km she felt like she could have gone further and decided to do a half marathon. The bug had officially bitten.

“They don’t call it a ‘runner’s high’ for nothing. When the bug bites, you can’t help but keep on pushing yourself and setting new goals.”
As for most, Covid lockdown was hard for Nicole, who had just reached a massive running goal (her half marathon). She knew how quickly running fitness could be lost, so she ran loops around her house and tried to stay motivated.

When restrictions were lifted, she joined the outdoor Adventure Obstacle Training (AOT) Club. “I was hooked immediately. Many of the people I was training with were excellent athletes who I really looked up to. Training with them (even though I always finished dead last) motivated me.”

Last year Nicole turned her focus firmly towards running, aiming to run her first marathon. She also found the ‘fun tribe’, a group of runners from different backgrounds with different goals and paces who come together to run and have fun.
When she was nearing her 32nd birthday, she decided it would be a good idea to run 32km to celebrate it! Her mom, Delicia and stepdad, Grant, helped her plan the route and seconded her, and friends joined her for different parts of the run along the way. “I pretty much ran around the whole of Ballito.”

When the ‘virtual Comrades’ came around last year, Nicole decided to go for the half Comrades (even though she hadn’t done a full marathon yet). “It was tough, and after 30km I was ready to sit down,” she admits. But she pushed through. An ITB injury caused her to take a step back from running after that, however.

Not to be deterred, Nicole bought a bicycle and continued cross-training. She also started working with AOT trainer Claude Eksteen, who set up a training programme and helped adjust her running technique to avoid injuries and improve her running.
When she was able to run again towards the end of last year, it was only short distances. “I told myself, if I can’t go far, then I’ll go fast.” A month into her new plan Nicole says she could already notice a difference. She was using less energy to go faster and it was pain-free. When planning the years’ goals on 1 January, she decided to enter Comrades this year, and completed her qualifying marathon in May with ease. “If it scares you, it’s a sign you need to do it.”

Nicole’s programme now includes lots of cross-training (yoga, cycling, obstacle training and boxing) and running. “Don’t be scared to be bad at something new,” are the words she now lives by.

She is nervously excited about taking her place at the Comrades Marathon start line. “I’m scared of not finishing, but also proud to have gotten this far. I have already done a lot of hard things, and I know that if I dig really deep, I can push through. The love and support I’ve felt from the moment I entered the race has been amazing and a true reflection of what Comrades is all about.”

A true empath, with a special heart for animals in need, Nicole and her running friend Franky have decided to raise money and dedicate their run to the Brighter Future Sanctuary Project (which neuters dogs and cats in rural areas and townships).
To support them, check out their Back-A-Buddy page: https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/frances-runs-for-paws-2022

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