Monday, June 06, 2011

Facing the rest of the year without the goal of Comrades leaves a big empty space. It can lead to a case of 'post-comrades-blues'. Logbooks linger vaguely around, teasing me with the realisation that it doesn't matter anymore. Now I know that I should be upbeat and full of post-medal glory, and don't get me wrong, I am feeling positive, it's just such a strange feeling knowing that for now, it's all done, finito, klaar!

The further away I go from my 11 and half hours on the road, the nicer it begins to feel in my memory. The pain is lessening and the dark thoughts of 'giving it a miss' are all forgotten. Talking to non-running friends, my story is sounding more like, 'wow, it was easy' and that is how the race tricks us into coming back time and time again.

Watching the recorded race on TV, there was an interview with Comrades King Bruce Fordyce and he missed his silver medal by 20 seconds. He said that his friends are more disappointed than he is, he is glad to have medal number 29 in the bag. He said that Comrades never gives you everything on the day, 'she' always leaves something for you to come back to, and that is so true. Although, I somehow doubt that I will be repeating myself 29 times just to see what 'she' can give me! Yet such a legendary runner understands the mystery and goes back year after year and I find myself thinking about all the mysteries both covered and uncovered about this race.

Why do people do it, is the first mystery to (usually) non-runners?

Well I had no 'grown-up' intentions of ever being able to do it after my aged 30 year old goal slipped quickly by, I thought that dream was over. So to that I must say as in Justin Bieber 'never say never'! But my reasons for doing it, are varied.
Because I can. (This still sometimes surprises me!)
It gives my running a focus.
Running in SA without it as a goal, seems rather empty.
Nothing else matches the feeling of being there.
It is tough, but it makes us runners 'softer' - crying like babies at 'Chariots of Fire', willing everyone over that finish line before the gun, crying with those that can't and knowing that there are still folk outside on the road heading towards the line, makes my heart all mushy. I know- I was one of them not that long ago.

So why go back year after year?

A married couple of running friends have 36 Comrades between them and they are heading for 40, another couple 25 between them. Bruce has 29 on his own. Never mind the medals, this means that for all these years, these people have been fit enough, healthy enough, positive enough, and determined to be there and finish it. That shows me that it is more than a sport, it is a lifestyle. When life gets tough professionally, emotionally or even spiritually, we know that around 15 000 people come together with their stories to stand in front of a City Hall and make personal history, and somehow the problems of life disappear for a day. All the days before hand, when the training happens, people have clustered together and made there health better, and cleared their heads. Although sometimes the fog of hitting the wall does momentarily dim the light!

Will you ever win it?

This question was asked half jokingly by my ex boxer Dad, as in boxing there has to be a winner. In this sport of mine, there are winners, yes, the ones at the front as well as the ones at the back. All are equally celebrated and that makes us unique. Our national cricket team gets scorned because they haven't yet won a world cup. Yet me, with my slow time almost 6 hours behind the first guy home, gets applauded on air planes, at shops and in hotels. It does seem bizarre that middle aged people can do so well when most professional sports people are going into retirement, and by middle aged, I mean the others - of course! The winning mentality of a runner should be in every run and every race, our goal is to get to the finish. We do joke about giving the Russians some competition, but I feel sorry for them they are so small, and the travel so far, so I think I will let them keep winning!

There is more to life than Comrades.

Well, no, not really!
The planning, the preparation, the support, the toughness all makes it so unique and the fact that so many of us ordinary athletes are able to participate is so extraordinary, that there can't ever be anything that matches it.

The people of KZN are fabulous in their support of us. Couches, camping chairs, picnic blankets, gazebo's, braai's, patient dogs, music, tables with salty snacks, beers, and soft drinks, banners, applause, smiles, words of encouragement, camera's, vuvuzelas, wigs, sunglasses, blankets, jackets, woolly hats and gloves, tiny skirts and skimpy tops, kids, adults, reluctant teens, villagers, tribal dancers, musicians, and so much more, all on the pavements to celebrate ME, how can there be anything else in life?

So now that this is finished, I 'come back' into my study watching my hubby as he asks me excitedly once again, 'are we running in the morning?' I have to answer 'no'!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Comrades Running!
I did it, I got my revenge on the 'Up' run!

In 2008 I started my novice Comrades in Durban. I ended up being too slow on that day, even though I made the last cut-off on the dreaded Polly Shorts 8 km's away from the finish. This year however, I made it with lots of time to spare!

But back to the 'recent' beginning. As the clock slowed down in the last week before the race, everyone's heartbeats sped up aa nervously wished for the time to come. I started getting the dreaded phantom Comrades pains and a 'spaced out' ear made me try see my doctor on Wednesday. He was not in that day, so I took that as a sign that was just in my imagination.

The early morning flight finally arrived, after a quick catch up with hubby who returned from a long overseas business trip. I was tired but ready to get on that plane to King Shaka International airport.

On the descent into the seaside city, my ear gave me a taste of what sinus sufferers go through, so I forced yawns all the way into the terminal building which gave me some relief. A group of us travelled together so we breakfasted while waiting for our hired car to be ready. The expo saw us greet fellow runners and long queues and we pondered over the best lunch options. Much later we settled down to a pasta dinner and had a good sleep, drawing the big day nearer.

A day later, the alarm clock woke us at 2:45am for the day to begin. Dressed fed and watered we made our way to a cool Durban to stand in the shadows of the TV lights. A chaotic crush in the toilet queue, left us a bit rattled as we made our way to the very last seeding pen for the slowest runners, the 'H' group, the 'happy hopefuls' I nicknamed us. Time seemed to speed up and the first surge forward let us walk closer to the start as the PA roused up the rather anxious 13 000- strong crowd. A sped up 'Shosaloza' and a heartfelt National anthem led us into the goosebumpy 'Chariots of fire'. At last. It is time!

The gun went off, everyone cheered and we stood patiently at the back waiting to move. The minutes passed by and we finally crossed the time-chip-squealing starting mats. Crowds waved and cheered as our feet shuffled carefully over discarded outer garments and bags . The 86th Comrades had begun. We turned into a very dark section of the road and all movement came to a halt. Road narrowing and the lack of light kept us all very patient as we had been warned not to try rush anything on this long day ahead. One of my running partners was doing her first race, and she was looking good.

We watched as the runners in the distance snaked ahead and we knew that by now the first runners would be some distance into the race. The early morning chill made me keep on my top layer for longer than I expected to and I was thankful that I remembered my gloves for the cold water sachets that were thrust into my hand at the water points. The sun climbed the sky and I was grateful for it's warmth on my chilly back, and wondered if it would turn up it's heat volume later in the day. Crowds lined the streets and continued to wish us well on our way, this support is so welcomed and I don't think the people can ever really know how just how much it helps.

I was feeling far better than last year and the crowd thinned out to give me comfortable space between my feet and fellow runner's so I could look about me and appreciate the views without fearing tripping. My first run saw me kiss the road when a catseye got in my way, so I avoided running along the white lines and tried to stay in the middle of the lanes!

At around 20km's done my 'comrades' hip started to say 'hello' much like the popular song of the day, because it was played at least eight different places. Luckily I had a whole lot of tricks in my pouch this year, so I managed to keep the hip a lot quieter than the song! We climbed and climbed up the hills and mountains at a steady calm pace and reached the first cut off point way before the scheduled time. Smiling, we continued on the road, weaving through to Pietermaritzburg. The mountain roads meant spectacular views and this year I could appreciate it all even though I was still not quite as comfortable as I would have liked. Five hours on the road we neared the halfway point and we were ahead of a very quick '12 hour bus'. The usual 'bus driver' or pace setter was absent because of injury, but he was along the roadside giving encouragement to us runners and it was great to see Vlam. But the general feeling in this year's bus seemed to be slightly panicky so we made our way in front, within and behind the group as we decided what was the best option for us.

Our own timing schedule was perfect as we crossed the halfway point long before the official cut-off and this boosted our confidence. By this time we started seeing of the faster runners walking and looking rather forlorn as they realised their plan had gone awry. We continued plodding up the nasty hills that seemed endless on this tough uprun. Our spirits were lifted by see the novice Cerlest's family and smiling faces along the way and the pace quickened slightly. The three of us started finding our own separate pace and we would meet up for a moment then would continue on our own. I chatted with some fellow runners and enjoyed the many dog distractions and I noticed that they seem to sit with their backs towards us runners as if they are bored, or perhaps the sight and smells of thousands of moving legs are just too much for their canine senses.

The road began to level out and the incline seemed to be kinder and my pace quickened which is rather unusual for me. I knew that Polly Shorts lay ahead but didn't want to worry myself. On the one downhill Cerlest caught up with me, which was a surprise as I thought she was far ahead. We decided to go through the Pollys together and expected our friend, Marlene, to come charging up from behind as she is known. I stopped to remove a stone from my shoe and when I saw the blood on my sock I realised that it was not a stone at all, but a blister that had burst. Ouch, so shoe back on, a moment or two of pain, then I managed to ignore it!

Looking at the incline of Little Polly's I said to Cerlest that we are going to take it easy, as she is very strong on the hills. We needed our energy for the last incline which we greeted a lot faster than I expected. I looked at Cerlest and told her in a surprisingly firm voice 'don't expect to run on this, Polly Shorts, we need to recover' and I pointed out that nobody was running these famous shorts! We walked fairly briskly up the never ending slope to the top where there was far more activity than my first time, when I think everyone had already gone home! This, plus the pleasant looking downhill, lifted our spirits and we set off towards the city. With lots of time in the bank I felt delighted that this year I would be able to finally get my odds up to 2 medals out of 4 starts! The cheering continued but now our tired bodies could celebrate with the people as we were nearly home. I remembered being told about the Toyota mile and I know that a mile is longer than a km, so I still slowed us down from galloping off too excitedly. I missed the 3km sign board which meant that the last four dragging km's sped up a little when I saw '2km to go'! Turning into the mile, the smiles widened and we grabbed each other's hand. We made it! Crowds celebrated with us as we turned into the noisy cheering stadium and I hardly even noticed the grass under foot. Waving like royalty we weaved our way to the finish line where those words are forever burned into my brain, 'FINISH'. At last, this tough day is over! We posed for the photographers, having a short paparazzi moment before we bent our heads for that hard earned medal to be planted on our necks.

Marlene scooted in two minutes behind us, just before the 11 and half hour mark looking as fresh as anything, and we were thankful that this time had finally come. Months of training and worry over. We made it! Hobbling over to our tent was tricky as blisters and reluctant muscles told us to stay where we are, but somehow we pulled ourselves up the scaffolding stairs and eventually back to our vehicle.

Sleep escaped us that evening too, as every muscle screamed its displeasure at having run the 86.9km. I heard my flatmates chatting, so at 4 am we sat and ate chocolates and I washed them down with fizzy drinks as we discussed the extra long day behind us.
We wore our t-shirts with pride and lapped up the applause of fellow passengers on the return plane journey and I hobbled my way to my bed, a very happy customer!

Viva us, viva