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June 16, 2018

Having successfully negotiated the expo and having set alarms to ensure an early wake up on Friday, it was time for another course tour to confirm final plans for the Sunday. It seemed a longer tour than the previous year, not the least because the tour started in Pietermaritzburg necessitating a 90 minute bus ride to Comrades House, but probably because I was on the later buses departing at 8:45 rather than the earlier time for last year. The highlights were the same, with the visit to the Ethambemi School proving popular as usual. It would have been nice to actually drive on the road to the finish upon returning to Durban but I suppose traffic control may have prevented this and being stuck in Durban traffic is about as inviting as dodging it as a pedestrian. At least the pizza on the beach still tasted like a pizza, even if I’ll never get used to crust less pizza.

Saturday was probably a little more stressful than it should have been. Waking up early enough for the North Beach Parkrun was a relief, but forgetting the timing barcode to officially record the time was a pain in the backside, although I probably should have gone somewhere on the Friday afternoon post tour to print some. Unofficially I was able to record a solid enough run to give a little confidence heading into the Sunday. From there it was straight to the supermarket afterwards to get some supplies for Sunday, even if the bananas were too green to eat. It was a thrill to discover some Lucozade in the store, for this was a product I had plenty of experience with during runs. I thought I had everything pegged in terms of what I needed and thought it was time to settle back to watch some Rugby.

The lingering thought of something being wrong with my chip purchased on Thursday however consumed me to the extent where I had to dash back to the expo just to make sure it was in working order. Relief came when that confirmation came, but then the stress returned when I discovered I forgot to purchase sunscreen that morning and I only had the zinc cream in the bag. So another supermarket trip came after I also thought I didn’t have any pins to attach the bibs (plural intended) to the race top, and the stress was amplified when I couldn’t find any safety pins in the establishment I went to. It was only when I returned and tipped the contents of the envelope with race bib onto the coffee table in my hotel room that I was able to breathe easy as 8 pins dropped out.

With the entire kit and the accessories laid out and pictorially immortalised, the remainder of the day went smoothly. At least the 2 plates of chicken pasta went down nicely and I was even able to do something I’m sure many runners were stressing over on Saturday Night, both get some sleep and respond to the second of 15 alarms I had set. It was a relief to spend a little time lying in bed before having to get organised about 12:30AM on the Sunday Morning, some 5 hours before go time. There was time for a pre race shower, a shaving of the sides of the face to help with the application and removal of zinc cream, get the kit on (and slip warm clothing over the top), wander downstairs for what’s probably the earliest breakfast known to man for 1AM is generally time for kebabs and cold pizza rather than yoghurt and rice bubbles, then after a quick toilet stop it was time to wander through the streets of Durban to catch the bus to destiny. It was then where it got a little confronting, for I hadn’t gone more than 200 metres when I saw a guy on the ground being restrained at gunpoint by a member of the constabulary. Not exactly what you want to see when you need to be as relaxed as possible given the stresses of what lay ahead. Yet for some reason I was a little shocked that it took that long for me to see this, so I guess staying in a secure location beach side rather than inner city or elsewhere has advantages.

Pietermartizburg Town Hall, starting location for the Comrades Down Runs

Excuses are something that I now try to avoid, but if I felt as though I needed one what happened next may have given me an out should things have gone pear shaped. Figuring that getting to Pietermaritzburg early was a key to success and that getting on a later bus may have caused an overly rushed preparation, it was a relief to get on the 2nd bus to depart Durban at 1:50 AM. It was a case of “What The?” when the bus arrived at 3AM having had to negotiate minimal traffic on the route. Being early to things like this is something I aspire to, but having to wait for so long in cold if not freezing conditions (it felt colder than the 8 degrees forecast) actually could have been a hindrance rather than a calming influence. The zinc was applied at about 3:30 AM, and I waited until 4AM to hand my bag over for transportation and to find a seat in the G starting pen….and I waited…..and waited……and waited as I listened to some lass tell us it was her last crack at her elusive 10th finish which would give her a coveted Green Number (if you finish 10 of these, or finish in the top 10 on 5 occasions, or win the race 3 times or more, your number is given to you for eternity and you run with a green race bib. Internationals with less than 10 run with a blue bib).

Come 5AM and the runners had started to fill the pens with many more trying to get to the start as the roads to PMB started to become congested. The time had come to stand up to find a position not too close to the gutter and not too close to the head of the pen. With no Australians in sight (a miracle considering about 150 of us started) I managed to integrate with a few of the locals as the buzz grew and the start time approached. Before we knew it, the time had approached 5:20, which was enough time to play the National Anthem (one day I’ll nail the pronunciation of the Afrikaans section), the traditional tear jerking hymn Shoshaloza, the mind focusing Chariots of Fire, and the recording of a man imitating a cock crowing twice. A brief moment of silence came over close to 20000 runners, before BANG….



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