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COMRADES 2017: THE RUN ITSELF, OR WHAT I DID OF IT TO HALFWAY

June 7, 2017

PREVIOUSLY ON THE COMRADES RECAP….(crap I’m sounding too much like a cheesy USA TV narrator of a 5th rate reality show)

The last few minutes of the buildup were taken up by Chariots of Fire, before at 5:30 AM a recording of the cock crowing three times and a single cannon blast meant the journey had begun…….

 

We were warned that it may take several minutes for runners from my start area to actually cross the start line, which in reality meant that in order to make the finish I would have to cover the course in about 11:52 with the timing mechanisms activated upon the sounding of the cannon rather than by when the runner crosses the start line. It was a steady start, waving to the cameras and trying not to get too caught up in the sounds of the start line knowing it was going to be a very long day ahead. At least I kept one of the West Australian crew I had started with in my sights, along with a Welshman among others, but we were all going at a similar pace. Fortunately there was running room for a while until the turn onto the freeways at an area known as Tollgate, which was just over a kilometre into the race. Usually the mass would charge up the slight uphill as one, but this time it was a louder screeching halt than Fred Flintstone ever came up with. We were basically walking for about 50-100 metres until the congestion cleared enough to resume jogging.

It wasn’t long before I found some sort of companion from Cape Town, one of the many that had come from that region let alone of the 19000 plus locals that started (and I’ve excluded the 175 odd Zimbabweans who are virtually locals anyway….well Aussies often claim Kiwis!) We tended to chat about life in Australia for the best part of 10km, jogging and walking as necessary. Sport was a topic, ranging from the real footy (Australian Rules) to Rugby Union which is immensely popular if not in decline. Other marathons such as the major South African lead in known as 2 Oceans also were on the agenda, punctuated by a stop at a refreshment station.

To say that this was a stock standard table of fluids is an understatement. These tables generally have water and Energade sachets where the athlete bites into the plastic to get access to the fluids. Naturally the water was generally used to keep the body cool with an occasional sip while the Energade was purely for oral consumption only. At later stations came cups of Coke (no not the Ben Cousins type, the stuff that you drink) which often came fizzy rather than flat and cool to cold instead of warm which I had trained with. Sometimes a variety of fruits such as bananas and oranges made an appearance, occasionally they were joined by salt and potatoes. Other items were offered at random out on the course, such as sandwiches, biscuits and icy poles (or water lollies as many refer them as). Of course there were also tables with creams (sunscreen and heat rub), bandages and Vaseline for those requiring running repairs.

I got a little surprise early on when I started to pass the 12 hour pace group (or bus as they are referred to in these parts). The surprise was not that I was running well enough to pass the big group who were motivating others through chanting in a language or accent that I was struggling to understand. Rather the fact that this group was actually ahead of the pace buses for an 11:30 finish so early in the race. The good news was that this was no cause for alarm for the only reason they would be in trouble with cutoffs is if the other groups had started so slowly they got too far behind.

Everything was looking OK until shortly before the first cutoff, scheduled at Pinetown just past the 18km marker. Cramping was something I had experienced enough in my time in sport, let alone running. Normally the calves would be the first to go, and the right calf started showing signs of fatigue. Then came the strange sensation of an area just above and on the inside of the knee that started becoming more painful than it normally was (otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered with wearing a brace over strapping). It wasn’t that I felt that any ligaments or anything like that was going to burst. Rather it was becoming rather painful trying to bend it to encourage movement. Assistance did arrive thanks to a random local giving the old fashioned magic spray to the area, which took a while to take effect but once it did I was on my way once again.

It was a largely uneventful if not slow passage towards the second cutoff, located a fraction shy of the 30km mark at what was known as Winston Park. There were 9 minutes to spare when I passed the timing trucks and crossed the all important mat that allowed my continuation onto Botha’s Hill. By that stage, I had done alright on Cowies which was the first of the 5 big climbs, and had battle through Fields, but the legs were starting to feel ordinary and the head after jogging for a period started to feel a little lighter. A few pauses and a walking session would shake those off enough to revert to Plan B using road signs as a guide. I may have gotten a few looks from other runners wondering what this dumbo was doing a countdown for but perhaps that kept my mind sane. By the time I had started climbing Botha’s though the legs simply didn’t want to climb any more. The entire hill was a torturous walk punctuated every so often by a cup of coke, a splash of water over the body, and a sip of Energade to try to get some sort of fluid balance.

Figuring that either the cutoff at half way was going to elapse before I reached it or I was going to be so narrowly in front I wouldn’t be making the next cutoff, I kind of resigned myself to pulling the pin at half distance. It was then I ended up with another club runner from Benoni who was in a similar predicament. We then tried to run/walk to some sort of schedule before the last refreshment station prior to the cutoff. He found his club tent with supplies, although whether he carried on from there is a mystery to me (it would have been unlikely). I at least carried on without any water for that station had exhausted their supply (an issue that wasn’t an isolated incident according to others as I discovered later). It was then where someone was yelling that the cutoff was 20 minutes from closing and there were 2km to go.

The short time frame meant that getting a flower and paying the respect to Arthur’s Seat that it deserves had to be forgotten for this year (for those that don’t know about Arthur’s Seat, please refer to the tour videos posted earlier on my blog). Yet I was able to utter out the words “Morning Arthur, your race has beaten me today”. Perhaps that would be the case, but a downhill section at least gave me a chance of getting to the midpoint within the cutoff. For that….well pictures (even moving ones) speak louder than words. Yes that’s me in the yellow top, cap backwards, knee braces on as the race clock ticked past 6:08…..

 

TO BE CONCLUDED……..

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