On the weekend of the 9th October, Ali Engelbrecht, took to the road to compete in the Virtual 125th Boston Marathon. Residents of Howick are possibly familiar with the site of the pink peak hat and Women In Business T-shirt pacing the streets.
As a long distance walker and a seasoned virtual competitor Ali couldn’t resist the opportunity to participate in an international marathon. Added to which her virtual team mates, affectionately known as Bernie’s Bitches, had all registered to participate. FOMO (fear of missing out) set in, but was alleviated by a very kind sponsor who entered Ali, and it was all systems go from then on.
This was her 1st ever Marathon and she walked it, every single kilometre of the 42 kilometre distance. The support, encouragement and incredible feeling of accomplishment made the tired muscles all worth it, said Ali. Midlands Hiking Club members, ably led by Hettie Randall set up a relay of support vehicles and fellow walkers. Friends and family encouragement along the route was incredible. Starting and finishing at WESSA Umgeni Valley was extra special as this is Ali’s ‘happy place and space’. The sunrise start to the Boston Marathon was spectacular. Beautiful clear morning with the promise of a great day ahead and the rain stayed away. From WESSA, Ali headed up Karkloof Road, past Karkloof Market, the Old Mushroom Farm, Karkloof Club, Karkloof Conservancy, and past Karkloof Canopy Tours, turning back to walk the route in reverse, finishing at a “real” finish line set up by the well wishers at the WESSA entrance.
Even though this was a virtual event, there was the feeling of rapport with her fellow Canadian #BerniesBitches viz Janet Black from Surrey, Mela Williams from Manitoba, and Martha Franklin from Ontario. In constant contact with one another the updates on each one’s progress was detailed. Approaching the finish, Ali admits to being very emotional with friends and family waiting for her, together with her beautiful new rescue dog Willow.
Yes, I was tired, she said. Yes there were many moments when she questioned her sanity. Would she do it again….., her answer “Oh hell yes”!
When asked to explain the interesting team name and how she came to be part of a Canadian group, Ali laughed and said ‘they are crazies but they keep me sane’. In 2019 Ali participated in her first long distance virtual challenge to complete 2,019 kilometers in 2019. In 2020 she did the same, walking 2,020 kilometers. Through these two challenges Ali became virtual friends with Janet, Martha and Mela. They decided in their crazy wisdom, to create a team and virtually walk across Canada from East to West in The Big Canada Run Challenge. A distance of 8,000 kilometres. Of course a name had to be found for this virtual and ‘international’ team. Janet has a rescue dog named Bernie and we had become very fond of Bernie and her antics, explained Ali. Bernie had become the team mascot, therefore the name Bernie’s Bitches became our team name. The team certainly stood out with a name like that and they fast became a group to be reckoned with. The postings on social media of their walking and running adventures being enjoyed by all who follow them. In 2021 they all participated in the 2,021 km challenge, plus they registered for the Big Canada Run again, but this time they upped the target to 10,000 kilometers. This challenge they are currently completing.
Virtual challenges are possibly more difficult than in person ones. There is usually no support, no encouragement from onlookers and all supplies have to be carried by the participant. Since her first event in 2019, Ali has learnt, by trial and error, what to carry and to carefully plan her routes, sometimes not very successfully, she laughs. Competing in many virtual events, organised across the globe, including the Comrades Half Marathons, Ali has amassed several incredible medals and made virtual friends with many walkers and runners from around the world. Ali explains that the virtual tourism is amazing, as she gets to ‘visit’ many of the local places of interest and learn first hand from the residents of the towns and cities where other participants reside.
We asked Ali why she participates and what drives her to do this virtual walking. Her answer was simple, its cheaper than anti anxiety medication, it’s the best stress reliever and she gets to meet and interact with incredible people. Ali had dedicated her walking to an awareness campaign known as #Walking4Women where she endeavours to raise awareness of how far, the average South African woman, who is reliant on public transport, has to walk to get to and from work every day. The average distance walked is 8 kilometers a day just to get to work and back. Ali appeals to management, leaders and the public to be kind and empathetic to all staff who need to sometimes just sit and rest their legs before commencing work. “Think of how far they have had to walk, whilst you may have only had to drive your car”.
Follow Ali on Facebook to keep up with her walking adventures. If you would like to support Ali by sponsoring branded walking apparel please contact Ali on firstname.lastname@example.org