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June 21, 2018

For those that have experienced mass start events everyone knows that the further back you are, the longer it takes to cross the actual start time although 99% of the time you get told chip time is all that counts for you. This was the 1% that wasn’t, for taking several minutes to cross the start line is a given for those a fair way back in the pack. This year it was an agonising 9 minutes of walking in a pack, standing in a pack, and trying to avoid tripping over items that were intended to keep people warm prior to the start before the race began in earnest. Of course this was something that a runner cannot stress about even though it means trying to make up 10 minutes across the day.

The start for the down run is so much different to the start for the up run. Last year the first kilometre in the city streets lead to the motorway where despite a pause the field were able to fan out about 35 runners wide with high quality (for that part of the world) lighting leading to a relatively simple start. The down run through Pietermaritzburg had lower quality lighting in the first couple of kilometres before it basically became zero a few kilometres later, and the roads were so narrow plenty took to the grass in order to find some clear running room or like I did after about 5 minutes active time to have an unscheduled early pit stop.

Passing this means Polly Shortts has been successfully negotiated. It’s probably more satisfying on an up run so I can’t wait to actually find out.

Unlike the up run, and given I didn’t make it that far last year I am assuming the tales of the difficulty of the climb are true, going up Polly Shortts, the first of the major climbs was relatively straightforward. Knowing how long the day was and not wanting to spend all the energy before 7AM, I decided to walk much of the climb before trotting off over the top with the legs, body and mind all in good condition. The early pace was steady due to the compression of the field on narrower roads. Compared to last year by the time I reached the first cut off point at Lion Park (nearly 16km into the journey) I was still conscious of trying to find my own space without slowing dramatically to hold anyone up.

What may have helped was my nutrition strategy involving carrying a bottle of Energade (a sports drink) in one hand and a bottle of Lucozade (not in the original planning but once I was delighted to find some in the supermarket on Saturday) in the other. For those worried about the rule of not trying anything before race day, Lucozade is something I usually have in Melbourne where personal drinks stations for everyone are available. I was comfortable with drinking the product during a run, so I felt there wasn’t a problem with using it during a big race that Comrades is. The Energade lasted well over 20km before I reached for the Lucozade, with another runner happy to accept my empty bottle for his own use once I had no use for it. In fact in the first 35km the only thing I took from aid stations was food, with a portion of banana at one station and a number of bits of orange at a few others.

The first concern came when I discarded with my warm weather gear close to the 20km mark. I’m sure someone on the side of the road is finding a good use for my $7 K-Mart gloves and my 6 year old royal blue UniQlo jumper, for I’m sure without them I wouldn’t have had as comfortable of a time before it was warm enough to run in just the singlet with Australian flag patches sewn on. The issue came when removing the jumper and seeing the front bib, and more importantly my “ticket” to retrieve my bag in the international compound at Moses Mabhida becoming unattached. One pin was then used to secure the bag ticket, with another pin being repositioned to keep the bib intact without flapping around. Perhaps next year prior to the race I may use a little sticky tape to help prevent the bib from coming off the pin, for paper bibs seen easier to rip than the thin cardboard type bibs we use here.

Can’t believe kids are happy to be in photos with me, taken 2 days before the race at the Ethambeni School

Back to the run and the next section was very kind to me without being overly quick. I was comfortably running with one of the 11:30 pace buses and knowing plenty of buses were behind time wasn’t an issue. A mental demon of sorts was passed at the next station at Cato Ridge, not because my race last year ended there (it was well before Cato), but because that was where I realised how tough Comrades is when a fellow bailer on the back seat of the bus needed medical attention and an ambulance before the big bus even got moving. There was no time to dwell on it though as the bus ploughed on and I either ran with it, ran in front of it or kept it well in sight. Before I knew it we were running through Ethambemi School with all the kids who performed so fantastically on Friday lining the road. If I had the time to do so I may have given a “Hi-5” to the kids on both sides of the road, but I’m sure the kids on the left hand side of the road weren’t overly upset that I could only acknowledge those to my right. Unlike Friday there was no time to stop for photos, as Inchanga and where my race ended in 2017 approached.

Perhaps it was there where everything started to go slightly pear shaped. Physically everything was still great, the legs were showing no signs of wear or fatigue and the mind was relaxed knowing the halfway point was coming up. I then made a slight error of looking behind me as the climb of Inchanga started noticing the car with the clock on top of it approaching. Expecting to see a time closer to about 5:15 or even 5:30, I was shocked to see that the clock had only just passed the 5 hour mark, and it was at that time where I had a feeling that even though I had conserved plenty of gas I had perhaps gone out too quickly and backing off before Drummond would be a sound strategy. After all there was plenty of time left in the bank, and I knew after the ceremonial half way mark Drummond indicated (the actual mid point was just under a kilometre up the road) there would be what I regarded as a difficult unnamed climb past the famed Arthur’s Seat and the Wall of Honour to negotiate.

Just a couple of the kids waiting on the side of the road for runners to pass through the Ethambeni School, picture taken the Friday prior to the run.

Still the form was good approaching the arch signifying cut off point number 3, where I tried to wow the crowd by singing (badly) Bon Jovi’s Livin on a Prayer up to the first chorus. Some in the crowd and a few of the volunteers liked by, as by that stage I was starting to stop at drink stations for sips of Coke. I crossed the marker in a tick over 5:45 which gave me ample time to steadily go through the second half of the event. Little did I know at that stage that my thoughts of going out a little too hard would come back to bite me.



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