Monday, May 28, 2012

It's the final countdown! There are no more Sundays left to train, no more panic training runs to catch up on. It's just me and the 89,9km. Okay perhaps another 18 000 others too! This year I have to get my revenge on the 'down run'. In 2010 I bailed at 62km. I know what it feels like to bail, not to finish, and get two medals. I prefer the medal option now. So it's takkies on and chin up. 

The year has flown by, I still get a little confused that this Friday I will be boarding the plane, that I booked over 7 months ago. I look at my huge calendar on the wall and see the races done and dusted. My mileage is the highest it's ever been, over 900 clocked km's. Running partners of husband, friends, sister, mentors, fellow racers, and fellow plodders. A wonderful tapestry of people each with their own unique story. The thrill of being part of this group hasn't faded for me. That is still a surprise. I tutted and shook my head at my 'crazy' sister running her first Comrades in 2005. I cried with relief and awe at her fabulous finish never dreaming that in 3 short years I would have my own tears of joy. In those three short years where we lost a loved sister to cancer, a dear friend while running, and my lifestyle changed forever. I surround myself with positive people all determined and supportive of each other's goals. It is a fabulous way to live my 'forties'. 

Comrades cements friendships forever, so we may forget the pain and the endless miles, but the memory of who you first ran with, who you crossed Polly's with, who you left behind and who you helped celebrate with, is something that is difficult to describe. I worked on this race for a few years in TV, at Drummond, at the start, at the finish, on the road, and in the truck. I then took the softer option of watching it from my couch, then as a supporter from the stadium (nerve wracking), then I was a supporter from the other side of the globe, watching the blips on the internet. Finally I became one of those 'blips'. The best option is running it. Feeling the KZN crowd all willing us on, offering us food and sometimes beer, applauding us with sore hands that have been clapping for hours, singing our praises so we feel as proud as the Russians out front. Smiling and cheering, wishing us well with comments of 'looking good, you can do it' and our pet hate 'you are almost there', these supporters carry us through the distance. 

Some people like to drive the route the day before, but it can set the nerves off. However the day of the race, the route looks nothing like the drive. People line the street, plastic sachets litter the road, braai smoke hovers over the horizon, and it feels like one big party. In places, the support does thin out, and that is where the fellow runner becomes the entertainment. I love chatting to the 'blue numbered foreigners' finding out where they are from and what do they think of it so far. Admiring the 'green numbers' and their experience of the 10 medals. The yellow numbers which mean 9 medals in the bag, and the stripy yellow numbers which means the runners are going for their 20th medal. We have a friend who will be wearing the stripy number with pride, and we all share her pride! 

This year is a 'down' run which really means that we are running to Durban and down to the sea. However there are many uphills to conquer, but nothing beats getting the first whiff of the sea, the first glimpse of the hovering sea, and the city highrises. The quiet of the motorway just before Berea, gives us time to reflect back on the long day behind us, before the crowds celebrate with us from the overhangs up on the road. I am so looking forward to that turn on the highway when the cemetery is on the right hand side, but the stadium is whispering to me from the left. The fencing keeping the crowds from touching us, which is a good thing, because we should be running with a sign 'fragile, handle with care' at this stage. The turn to the left before the last 'mile' which is usually dressed up in sponsors colours and then the deafening roar, as I enter the stadium. The shrill voices I recognise as my fellow team members spot me, and I wave royally at the crowd. The final lumpy grass stretch gets forgotten as the big sign above the clock shouts FINISH. 

I can taste it, can't you?
Send me good thoughts!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

In my six or so running years, I have always found things to inspire me. I was amazed by the different shapes and sizes of runners and how 'unathletic' most people seemed to be. This encouraged me in the early days, because I certainly don't look like the athletic type. The most inspiring thing though, must be the ages of some runners. I started running at the age of 39 thinking I was old. I soon found out that I was considered one of the younger 'average ages' for women, which was around 42. My 39 years didn't seem at all significant compared to some of the ages. I have often joked to tripping up some of the speedier older folk as they smilingly acknowledge this youngster as they race on by. 

One of my running goals is to beat the oldest Comrades finisher, but this is getting trickier to do. The oldest finisher in 2011, Casper Greef, finished an hour and 14 minutes before me and improved his previous years time, by an hour and 27 minutes. This year he turns 77, no doubt he will be at the starting line in Pietermaritsburg again and my challenge is on!

This past weekend's race I was lucky enough to see some fine examples of these grand grand masters. At the start of the Pretoria race, a cluster of us huddled together for the first kilometer and we noticed a 70 year old go loping by. He looked his age with his leaning style, except he was speeding past us, and I joked to one of my friends that we still have another 30 years of running ahead of us.
We passed the loper several times and as our group dispersed we lost sight of the older gentleman. Around the 15km mark we saw a man wearing a '75' year badge. He had a  very young looking physique and hubby joked that he was using his older brothers running vest. After the passing and by passing, my hubby started chatting to him, and asked if he was indeed 75.  We gulped as he told us he was 78. Wow! 
A 70 year old came trotting past us, and he remarked to us, that he can never beat this runner, and he always catches him at about three quarters into the race.I laughed at the thought that the competitiveness never stops! The jokes flew as he passed us and just before a corner he warned us that we were turning into a very long winded hill. 
Turning the corner, I put my head down and started to pepper the gentleman with questions. His running career began in the 1950's and had many stories to tell. I asked him which medal he was most proud of and he said that the year Wally Hayward did a 9h30 something, he was ten minutes ahead of Wally. The following year he was again ten minutes ahead of the legend, but this time, they were both an hour slower. He spoke of his 22 Comrades starts with only 11 medals, and laughed when he said his wife chastises him, when he tells everyone that he didn't get the medal, when he still completed the distance. He told us of the benefits of an 'Epsom salts' bath after a long race, and said he was looking forward to this morning's soak. At the waterpoint halfway up the hill, we thanked him for the lovely distraction and continued to plod on, as he took a breather. He finished three minutes behind us, and still looked rather splendid.

People like these continue to inspire me and encourage me to keep at it. What an amazing sport!