The image the organisers of the Brandon Bay Half Marathon use to promote the event depicts a sparkling expanse of blue sea and sky glimpsed from between swaying fronds of marram grass on golden dunes. It didn’t look like that last Saturday. Or maybe it did, only it’s hard to tell when your eyes are squeezed shut against an onslaught of wind, rain and sand.
About 90 of us lined up for the half marathon, although when I say lined up, I mean huddled against the whipping wind waiting for the race to start so we could get some blood flowing and stave off hypothermia. The route is loosely aligned with a series of little red plastic flags dotted 10.5 km along the beach, but everyone has their own personal version of the event, given that you have to negotiate sand that ranges in firmness from pillow-soft to bone-jarring hard, dotted with pebbles and shells in some parts and disappearing under waves and streams in others.
By the time I reached the 3km mark it all seemed very silly. The prospect of scurrying back to the start and wrapping up in warm dry clothes seemed the only sensible option, particularly as the gathering pools of water in my ears had started channeling the wind to create a weird whistling soundtrack to my trudging. The one thing that spurred me on was the thought of the half-way point. I knew from last year that once I reached that magical spot in the sand, I could turn my back on the wind and allow it to carry me like a strapping gazelle back to the finish line. So I bore with the flying snot, the anchor of my sodden shirt, and even the smiling faces of the leaders passing me as I reached the 9km mark, and, sure enough, everything changed on the return leg.
I actually found myself overtaking people and finished just a minute behind the third woman home. Momentarily elated, I downed a cup of soup (soup in July!) and was soon frozen again, my Bart Simpson fingers dead to all feeling. There was little time for the usual post-race chat with fellow sufferers, as we were all in a rush back to the warmth of our cars, and, anyway, chattering teeth and howling wind make it difficult to understand what people are saying.
Will I do it next year? I can’t wait! I think I’ll bring a hat, though…