On Sunday I became another Comrades statistic, that of 'bailer'. This means to my non-running friends, that I chose to get into a courtesy bus and surrendered my race and get driven to the Finish stadium in Durban instead of running the whole way. So now I have 3 Comrades varieties to my experience -'Too slow for the time, medalist and bailer.'
Let me rewind a little. The weekend was a strange one. Chaos and calm, one minute and sheer silence and terrible noise the next minute.
We landed at the new Durban International Airport which is nice, but has become just like all the other international airports, and has lost that small town, sea-smell, holiday feel. Now it's slick, and shiny, with Football details and pretty girls everywhere. I hear the men ask, 'what is wrong with that?' I could go on and on, but that is for a different ramble, this one is about Comrades.
After a long time spent travelling to the crazy Expo centre we finally make our way out of the 'shark' infested parking into the Conference Centre. 20 000 entrants and their families all squeezed into a small space meant long queues and lots of grimaces. However, we still managed to get through and receive our 'goodie bag' fairly painlessly after the long winded queue moved quickly.
Bellies fed, we made our way down to settle in our b&b's. Moments of silence weren't broken by the sound of waves this year, instead we had big winds pick up, and it turned rather cold for the usually tropical city. Feet up, we listened and hoped that the wind would not affect our running on Sunday.
Finally after a long night of staring at the tv decoder clock, and trying to figure out what the time was, it was finally 'now'. Comrades 2010 had arrived. Dressed and ready, we left the heartbreak hotel for the start and followed the even longer than usual line of red carlights weaving their way to Pietermaritsburg. Stepping out of the car, the cold slapped us, and we all shivered for our photographs. We had luckily parked next to a very nice security guy, who let us into his company to use the toilets, and we stood in the heat of the empty office and contemplated our long day ahead.
We all moved quickly into our seeding areas. which is like a speed ranking, of course letting the fast guys go first. This meant that we had the furthest to walk as I was in the very last group. The speakers were blasting and commentators were getting the spirits up, as we all huddled together trying to block out the icy chill. Time seemed to speed up, because before I knew it, they were playing all the usual songs which meant that 'Chariots of Fire' was getting closer on the playlist. The anthem sung, the first few bars of Vangelis, strikes a chord in everyone's hearts. It is an awesome feeling to stand there and know that this is meant for me! The gun gets shot and the clock starts. For us at the back it starts rather slowly and it take us over 8 minutes to get to the start line. I silently think that the front guys are already 2 kms away by this time.
We set off, and the cold makes us keep our top layers of clothes on for longer, as we shuffle through the dark city. Such a large field of runners means that the crowding is tight, and I find myself really concentrating on people in front of me's -feet, as well as try to dodge the people behind kick my feet. This concentrating means that the time seems to go quicker and before we know it, the sunrise cracks the sky.
I quietly run listening to the footsteps all around, as there seems to be little chit chat so early in the race. My friend Marlene, runs comfortably and we get into our rythym fairly easily. I feel surprisingly quiet inside, but put it down to the lack of sleep and it will get better later. I try to look for diversions, but I end up returning my focus to the many people still bunched about and the road loses it's appeal after a few kays. I think about the novices setting out on their first journey, and try to chat to some other people round about me. Nope, still not much soul in it, so I decide to just stay quiet.
We carry on snaking our way out towards the outskirts of the city, and the crowd support disappears. After around 2 hours of running, I feel a pain in my hip. I am suprised by this, as I have run a lot without any hip niggles, so I decide to put on my Chinese sticker on it, hoping that that will do the trick. I also take some other meds, and do my tricks. I think about the last time I had hip pain. All I can remember is last year's Comrades. So I play with that in my head for a while and then my friend gives me some Chinese pain spray. That quietens it for a while and I wonder if I can spray the stuff into my head?
We were running well and had good times over the first half of the race, but I wasn't enjoying it much. This perturbed me, as I know that the second half gets worse, because of the distance, however we keep moving and celebrate the fact that we reached halfway 10 minutes faster than last year's race. I can't remember this kind of detail, but Marlene is glowing, she is so in the 'zone'. I want to growl at her, but she is too nice, so I tell her that I have been in a bad space for some time.She chastises me, telling me to get positive, and Lord knows I tried, but eventually after the fog not lifting, and my pains worsening, I firmly tell her, that I will not ruin her chances at another medal again, so when I say 'go' she must GO!
Bless her, she tried to do and say everything to get me positive, but I was 'stuck'. Eventually I tell her to go ahead, and she listened without argument, she must have seen my look in my eyes!
I follow on behind her for some time, watching as she carefully looks over her shoulder to catch a glimpse of me, but I lost sight of her after one water point. This point, I tried some Cream Soda for a change of taste, hoping that it could have magic powers , but the only feeling I got was a swelling in the roof of my mouth. Now I knew my head was hunting for things to make me stop! My hip was achingly sore, and now had shifted down to my knee and was showing up in my shin. This meant that walking was painful and I was compensating with my other leg which didn't like this extra work one bit!
I realised that I was having one of 'those' days that people have talked about and I felt powerless to do anything. I almost ignored the outreached hands from smiling kids, and even the cheers didn't penetrate my armour. This is what I was running for, yet I was even 'turning' on that. Cute dogs, schoolboys cheering, none of it made any difference, and I thought long and hard about the consequences of what I was contemplating. I was still way ahead of Vlam's 12 hour bus, who taxi-ed us to the finish line last year, and there are plenty of angels along the way all trying to lift my spirit. I walked the whole way down past Hillcrest (I think) toying with the 'should I or shouldn't I'. After all, I have you to answer to!
Eventually my body said, 'girl, this is enough', so at around 27km's to go, I sat down on the back of a marshall's bakkie with a fellow traveller and waited for a bailer bus. Stories flooded my head, and all sorts of math sums popped up, and many people said 'you can still make it', but I realised later (well a whole day later) that I chase joy, not medals, and in this race which I absolutely love, I was feeling NO joy. I did not want to turn this into a race I hate, and get really injured chasing time with my slow pained walk. I am old enough to realise the medal doesn't mean as much to me as my happiness, but I had to be sure I would have no regrets.
After a tortured half hour of chilly waiting, an empty bus came along to escort me to comfort and a DNF(Did Not Finish) By this time, a couple more runners had joined me, and in my own need to search for justification, I asked them why they were bailing. The one guy was running his 10th race, and going for his green number but he seemed quite secure with his his decision to quit.
Back in the sunny stadium, I wait for my sister who I had spotted on the road from the bus, and was pleased to see that she was running so well. I walked about and as typical of Murphy's Law, the hip pain remarkably improved. In fact today, apart from the getting in and out of chairs, the worst pain I have is a sore tongue! Yes, it did feel like I had spent the day dragging my tongue along the tar, so that is a strange side effect!
Marlene did fabulously well and finished so well on her own, her confidence in her own running back in tact, and I am pleased to say that everyone else who had stuck it out made it in on time! So now for me, it's back to the drawing board, I realised that me 'easy laid back' style of running, didn't help, so I am going to regroup, and get myself ready for 2011. Hopefully the crowd will be less, I will be better prepared, and that this year is my only 'one of those days'!
Congrats to all the finishers, and to all the non-finishers, I hope you have no regrets and know that you made the best decison that you could at the time! I have none, in fact I feel fabulous!