Thursday, December 2, 2010

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Keep Going

by Marion Ueckermann

Every year in South Africa a cherished national treasure takes place. The Comrades Marathon attracts thousands of participants from all over the world, spectators and television viewers.

Before the sun has even risen, thousands converge outside the Durban Post Office or the Pietermaritzburg Town Hall for what is arguably the greatest ultra marathon in the world. The race alternates each year between the two cities —an uphill run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, and downhill from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

The event was the result of one man’s vision. World War 1 veteran, Vic Clapham, wanted the Comrades Marathon to become a living memorial to the spirit of the soldiers of the Great War. On 24 May 1921, the first Comrades took place with 34 runners. Entries for the 2011 up run have already closed with 18,000 runners signed up for the event.

The up run starts at sea level, and finishes at an altitude of 650 meters. En route, runners will encounter 5 major hills, known as the “Big Five”: Cowies hill, the first, then Fields Hill, Botha’s Hill, Inchanga, and finally the ultimate in heartbreak hills, Polly Shortts.

A sea of faces crowds the cold winter morning streets—participants and those there to cheer them on alike. The atmosphere is electric, buzzing with excitement of those eager to run this race they have spent months training for. A few minutes before the start, the South African national anthem is sung.

A shot rings out in the dark and the runners slowly start to move forward—I say slowly because it’s several minutes into the race before the back runners can finally make a start.

Muscle, sinew and mental strength are required to conquer the 90 gruelling kilometres (56 miles) within just eleven hours. But the hopefuls set off, striving for one common goal—the finish line!

Unbelievably, the first runners enter the stadium and head for the finish line in little more than five hours. This picture is of my late brother-in-law crossing that same line. He ran the Comrades seven times before he had an accident that severed his big toe and the next two toes. After he finally recovered, he went on to run another two Comrades with his handicap and was just short of running his tenth—which would have given him his green number—when he gave it up.

It was dark too when I set off on my month long marathon. Midnight, November 1 and I was off, along with an untold number of unseen writers—amateurs and professionals—worldwide. NaNoWriMo, the time of the year when writers throw caution to the wind, and everything else that gets in their way, and set about to write a 50,000 word novel from scratch.

Like the Comrades, NaNoWriMo this year was an uphill race against time for me. Perhaps it was the genre I chose, perhaps the busyness of life, perhaps being a year older … whatever the reason, I found NaNoWriMo 2010 an extremely difficult challenge. 1667 words per day doesn’t seem that much to write, but from day one I fell behind in my word count and just couldn’t catch up. I would make good headway one day, and the next I’d have a day filled with interruptions or commitments, falling into bed with nothing written and losing the ground (or should I say words) I had gained the previous day. Halfway through NaNo, I was already more than 11,000 words behind. The only time my NaNo graph finally touched the purple goal line, was on the last day.

Many a time I just wanted to give up, thinking there wasn’t a chance I was going to make it. My laptop crashed, I had to relocate my son from Cape Town to Pretoria, and I was struggling with Bronchial Pneumonia. But with my family, my writers group (CWG-SA), my NaNo buddies, and Facebook friends standing on the sidelines cheering me on, encouraging me to believe in myself that I could do this, I pressed on. Slowly I gained ground, reminding myself that with every word I wrote, I was one word closer to the finish line. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! How do you make it through NaNo? One word at a time!” I kept myself going with this little chant (that, and of course, tons of chocolate combined with many, many cups of coffee).

Writing an average of 3000 words per day from early in the morning till way past midnight, my Polly Shortts came after midnight on Sunday when I had to complete just over 5000 words in practically one day. I only had the evenings to write because I was back at work. My internet cap was also finished, so I had to verify my manuscript on the NaNoWriMo website before leaving work at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 30 November.

When I did the verification at 3.30 p.m. with a 50,252 word count, I was horrified to see the verification come back with a 49,937 word count– 63 words short. I didn’t realize that while Word counts elipses and EM dashes as words, the NaNoWriMo verification process rightfully discards them. So I frantically dashed off another paragraph, and verified again.

What a privilege it is to have my 50,042 words counted as part of the 2,799,499,947 total collective word count for 2010.

Hungry, my current NaNoWriMo novel, is a Christian Historical Romance set in Ireland around 1848 during the Great Famine. I got my storyline idea from the Biblical love triangle of David, Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite. I’ve had endless fun over the past month living the lives of Devan Barrington-Jones, Breanna Kelly and Uilliam O’Hea and I look forward to finishing the story in the not too distant future. Then it will be time to get out my editor’s red pen. Maybe I’ll sign up for NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) in 88 days time and join the rest of the crazy writers/ editors for 50 hours of novel editing in March.

And maybe, just maybe, one day soon I’ll be ready to submit Hungry for publishing.

The going was tough for NaNoWriMo 2010, but the tough just kept on writing!

MARION UECKERMANN’s writing passion was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then Marion has been honing her skills and has published some devotional articles in Winners at Work as well as inspirational poetry online and in a poetry journal. She has written her first Christian Women’s novel (unpublished) and is currently completing the sequel. Marion now lives in Pretoria East, South Africa with her husband, sons and a crazy black ‘Scottie’. A member and moderator of the South African Christian Writers Group, Marion can be contacted via email on marionu(at)telkomsa(dot)net.


  1. My goodness, that is a marathon effort, Marion, and sincere congratulations for being so "tough" you just kept going! I sincerely wish you every success with first of all those edits and then the submissions to publishers.

  2. Well done! Enjoy finishing your novel.

  3. Congratulations, Marion. So glad you made it, Polly Shorts and all.

  4. Marion, congratulations on finishing your novel and thanks for sharing you inspiring NaNoWriMo journey :)

  5. Congratulations, Marion! What a feat! My daughter and her husband have run several marathons. I keep telling them they need to go for the Comrades.

  6. Well done my sister, just knew you would do it. I am so proud of you! You have guts, and persevere in every circumstance. I know how hard it was for you this time to do Nano, but wow, you made it and for this I believe you deserve a gold medal. Love you tons!