Big 5 Sport Challenge

Running on Frozen Limbs

2011-07-13 14:54
Thamar Houliston
Thamar Houliston on the Knysna Half Marathon

Bundled in the start shoot at the Knysna Forest Half Marathon with 7000 other people - freezing my knickers off - I feel like a changed person. This week I’ve relearned that nothing is impossible if you have the will and determination to make it happen. I know this but yet I still let fear stand in my way most of the time. Getting back on a bike and on the trail has made me feel alive again – more so than I’ve felt in a very long time.

I’ve also realized a lot about myself and my own shortcomings. I know now that most of the time it’s my mind that gets in the way of me achieving the things I want in life. I think this is true for many of us – we give in to safety of comfort, in every aspect of our lives.

Looking around me there are people from all walks of life ready to run – those who’ve come here to race and compete; those who are wearing Superman outfits and are here just to have fun with friends; there are even some who’ll probably have to walk the whole way as they’re seriously out of shape. But you know what?  They’re here - and they’re up for the challenge.

Running on Frozen Limbs

The gun goes off and we all try to find our frozen feet. I bob and weave through people trying to get ahead and it’s exhausting. My legs are shattered but I don’t care, they’re not what’s going to get me through, it’s all in my head.

The undulating jeep track we’re running on makes for a fast race. I’m useless on the flats but fly past people on the uphills and the downhills. I’m in ecstasy as the endorphins start pumping and shout “woohooo a downhill”. Everyone looks at me as though I’m a nutter.

Knysna is one of the most idyllic places in the world to be outdoors and besides the cold; you couldn’t get a crisper and clearer winter’s day anywhere. We make our way to the top of Simola, with sweeping views of the golf course. I can’t pay too much attention though as I’m running exactly five minutes a kilometre and I plan to run at the same pace until the end. Problem is, I always flake the last couple of kilometres - especially on this course which throws you a massive downhill at about 11 kilometres to go and then spits you out on the flat six-kilometre stretch to the end.

As I reach the bottom of the quad-aching hill to the flat I see two friends stop to stretch – everyone is hurting now. I feel no pain, my mind is strong and I will keep this pace. I will.

Finishing on a High

There are two kilometres to go as we round the lagoon and head for Loerie Park. I see a fellow female Big5 competitor just behind me. My willpower shrinks; I know I won’t be able to go any faster if she passes me.

One kilometre. “Come on Thamar! This is it…” I egg myself on. I’ve got goosebumps which could be dehydration or pure elation, I’m not sure. And then she passes me.

It’s fine, I’ll just let her go. It doesn’t matter. But it does. Every time you give in a little part of you dies.

We reach the grass just before the finish line and we’ve got one corner to go before the line. She’s just a few metres ahead of me. Instinct kicks in and I sprint for the line, beating her by two seconds and getting in just in time for a sub 1.45.

At this moment, I think back on the Big5 Challenge. I could have chickened out, gone the easy route and said I’d do it next year but I decided to do it even though it was crazy mad to do it four weeks after Comrades. Yes I’m fit, but this challenge isn’t about how fit you are, it’s about believing in yourself regardless and having the gut-wrenching determination to finish. 

So, are you ready to challenge yourself to the Big5 next year?

Thamar was in Knysna participating in the Nedgroup Big5 Challenge presented by Sport24 … She is the online editor for You can follow her on her Big5 and other adventures on Twitter -


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