Dancing the three  sisters is an essay on road running.


By De Waal Venter
Run two, run to, run two …

I’m running towards the three sisters. To dance.

I started from my home in Noordheuwel in Krugersdorp. Ran on the R28 towards Muldersdrift, over the three sisters, but they had their backs to me and it was easy. No noticeable effect. Hardly breathing above normal. I reached Muldersdrift and turned around. Looking up at the three sisters ranged coyly in front of me. I’d run downhill virtually all the way here. Gravity on my side. Now I have to do the real running. Back.

Turned around at 10 km. At 12 km I meet the first sister. A big girl. Attractive as hell. Strong as brandy. Agile as a ribbok. Her name is Hope. I hope to dance this dance with her and come out of it with honour. Honour is everything to me. I’m Spanish.

Stop! I lied to myself (to you too). I’m not Spanish. I’m just a boertjie. But can’t boertjies also just have a smidgeon of honour? Please?

OK. I take it you allow me that.

Right, what’s honour? To me it means that if you undertake a challenge, you should not give up before you have exhausted every millijoule of energy and resolve that you have in your carcass. Why take on a challenge and then back out of it when things start getting uncomfortable? That’s a Walt Disney thing to do. (Opening for guys who want to criticise this obvious fallacy).

We start dancing. From the beginning I feel the power in her wrists. In her well-shaped, muscled arms. I try not to feel the virtually geological pressure of her spectacular breasts against my cheek. (The top of my head reaches her chin).

Now I realise something. For the umpteenth time: it’s in the rhythm.

Dancing is rhythm (of course, among other things).

Running is rhythm (among other things). Sex is rhythm. Going about you daily tasks is rhythm. Dying is rhythm. (I’m want to write about that, later).

Put your body into this low, swinging rhythm. (Swing low sweet chariot …) and you’re running economically. Almost lazily, like a negro spiritual. You don’t waste energy on extraneous movement. Every single movement your muscles make is aimed at moving you forward. No waste. Dance. That’s economic movement. That’s why it’s beautiful. Because it works. And it feels great. This gal pulls me off my feet. We dance the kilometre-long dance to the top.

I let my body do the work. I don’t interfere. Let it do what it’s best at. This oldish body. Sixty five years ago it pulled the first searing gasp of oxygen into its lungs. Smoking the cigarette of life. Now the air flows in and out pleasantly, rhythmically.

The mind is a different age. Nine years old. The mind runs through the wet grass, barefoot. The smell of fresh cow dung lounges about unapologetically. Early morning on oupa’s farm. I’ve been sent to ask ouma for the skottel for the afval.

Oupa slit the sheep’s neck with a few quick movements of the sharp slagmes. Then he slid the point of the knife between two vertebrae and the sheep’s body died immediately. The brain a little later. I saw the sheep’s spirit depart from its eyes (We’ll argue later about whether a sheep has a spirit. Just hold it for a while, please.) The eyes lost their glow and became dull. “Sy oë het gebreek,” Oupa said.

The pool of blood at the slagplek was already becoming thick as jelly, dark red. The odour of the sheep’s inner flesh groped aimlessly around in the cold morning air. Inner flesh no more, now a true carcass.

Actually, my mind is about a million years or so old. It had partnered with a body living on the broken ridges of the southern African plateau, venturing out on the rantjies, hunting for small game, and guinea fowl eggs, and stamvrugte, avoiding the sabre tooth blasted tigers. (I hate those filthy cats. They ate some of my distant cousins, one of whom is now lying around in the Wits Archeology Department – her skull, at least) This area their remote descendants now call “The cradle of Mankind”. Near the hills I’m now ascending, dancing rhythmically.

The legs and feet, of course, do most of the work. The heel of the foot lands, the rest of the foot descends, roll over slightly laterally, then inwards over the ball of the foot, lifts – and last to leave the ground is the big toe. Over and over again in a comfortable rhythm. But the torso sways along, balancing, the arms swing along with the legs, pulling forward, balancing,

Each muscle cell, most of them long fibres, are crammed with those thingies – mitochondria. They’re roundish little buggers, with curlyish kind of ridges and stuff inside. And they produce energy like crazy. That’s their job. They grab glycogen stored in the muscles, burn it with oxygen and pour out energy so that the muscles can move. And move, and move, rhythmically.

A fit runner has many more mitochondria in his or her muscles than sedentary people. Exercise stimulates the multiplication of these little biological factories, formerly on their own, now part of my body. That’s what the biologists say: there is evidence that in early evolutionary times the precursors of mitochondria lived as separate organisms. Over a helluva long stretch of time they came to an agreement with animal cells. They started living inside the cells and produced energy, and the cells protected and fed them. It worked out to their mutual benefit. Mutualism, so called. Exactly how, we don’t know – they’re not talking.

I internalised. That’s one of the ways a runner uses to endure the grinding effort over long stretches of time. As I dance up the slope with Hope, I commune with my body and its workings. The discomfort of the grinding effort fades into the background.

Now I attend a little more closely to Hope, we’re nearing the end of our dance. I reach the wire fence that marks the fifteen kilometre mark. I do the last few dance steps and I’m at the top.

Thank you and good bye Hope. Down the hill towards the next sister, Faith. A little less hefty than Hope, but with a touch of cruelty in her.

We dance, smiling, strongly and rhythmically. And then Faith tightens her grip on me, holds me tighter and tighter against her breast as the slope lifts like an angry mamba. I have faith that I will finish this dance, but it is hard. My legs want a holiday. “Is it a matter of life and death?” they want to know. “No, only honour,” I answer. “Only honour. Do you want Faith to laugh unkindly at you? Continue …”

Tighter and tighter she holds me, for a moment I lose my rhythm, but then recovers. And then she releases me. Only for a moment and then her little sister, Victoria, grabs me with adolescent delight and almost pulls me of my feet.

She is a little devil and so full of bounce and energy that I have to adopt a new strategy. “I’ll tell you what, my dear,” I say. “Let’s try out this new dance pace, it’s fun.” She nods with a naughty glint in her eye. I hold my rhythm, but … I slow down imperceptibly (I hope). And we dance the last short dance. We pass the point where my body is willing, but I hold him to it. (“It” has become a “him”) “You and I are partners, I tell him, and neither you nor I want to admit weakness to Victoria, do we?”

“Speak for yourself,” the body mumbles sulkily, but we continue dancing rhythmically, upwards, upwards.

There is the county club, there is the arch over the road with the hideous soft drink advertisement. We turn off to the left and … thank you Victoria, and good by. We’ve won, brother body and I. “See, it wasn’t that difficult … and we’ve won!”

“Yeah, yeah … I want to take a bath.”

Just another two kilometers to run rhythmically, run two, run to, more meters, run two run two run two more meters.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: