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COMRADES 2018 – FROM HALF WAY TO NOWHERE

September 3, 2018

Having crossed the Drummond timing mat in a good time, I knew that there was an uphill section immediately after that a lot of fellow Comrades would walk, knowing that this would likely be the most substantial uphill section of the second half of the course. Having 25 minutes or so up the sleeve would also help facilitate this strategy, for having to rush now would have lead to physical strain taking a toll later on. Plus it would also give time to appreciate the famed “Arthur’s Seat” where tradition and legend dictates that runners would either lay a flower or doff their cap at a part of the course where a former winner named Arthur Newton would take a rest and smoke his pipe. By saying “Good Morning Arthur” as you passed, the legend goes that you would have a good second half of the race.

Unlike Arthur’s Seat, running past the Wall of Honour was a non negotiable. Sure it is good to stop and see all the former winners given their place in immortality with their plaque screwed onto the retaining wall, and it can be a collectors item when you finish one, for finishers can also purchase their own spot. But that sort of thing can be seen on tours rather than be admired on race day, and it’s just another feature to pass as the journey continues.

Having negotiated the section that on an up run I managed to pick up pace on, I thought it would be reasonably simple to maintain the pace and coast to the finish. Regrettably the legs decided to think otherwise. Sure the mind was willing but by the time the next cut off mark approached I was only really able to run in spurts. Having passed the next marker at Winston Park at 7:41, the legs suddenly just gave up as I rounded a left hand corner. At that stage quitting wasn’t an option, but moving let alone jogging or running became a task almost beyond the capabilities. I sat on an armco fence watching a couple of pace buses easily go past, not wanting to get in their way, before finding someone else in the same predicament. At that point I felt as though if I had to call it quits, I didn’t want to do it on the side of a freeway, so the next resolution was to walk to a place called Kloof and probably cease from there.

Walking with another battler at least didn’t make me feel that I was the loneliest person on a lonely journey, so we kept on walking. As we were about to pass Kearnsney College the sweeper car, the car signified where the last runner needed to be if finishing was going to be a reality, passed by. Despite this I felt as though we needed to walk onward at least to acknowledge the people who had been out roadside all day (and probably some of the night as well) just to cheer us on. Plus the miracle man in me had what was probably delusions of being able to sprint down Fields Hill to get to the second last cut off, even if I knew it would have been impossible in my condition at that time of the day to run splits that those who finished in the top 10 would be proud of.

The final stop came with just on 24 kilometres to go as I felt the need to actually take my chances and stop at a porta loo (I say take my chances because there was every chance sanitary conditions weren’t going to be average let alone good). By that stage the time I needed to be at the cut off had likely elapsed (I had no idea of what the actual time was as by this stage I was alone on the road), and being 3km from that marker unrewarded walking for half an hour didn’t appeal to either myself or the race organisers who probably would have liked to open the roads back to the public. There was no other choice, I stopped at a drinks station which was the 9th last, and ended up taking a seat on a mini bus.

Emotions took over fairly quickly after finding a spot to sit alongside a few others who didn’t make it. There have been races where I’ve had to abandon due to injury where frustration rather than emotion took over, I had even bailed last year but didn’t feel sad knowing that I had to give everything to make it that far. Yet this time the tears started flowing knowing the preparation, as interrupted and far from ideal as it had been, was amounting to nothing save for memories of getting so close to the goal but yet so far. Having being ferried to another bus waiting at the cut off, I found a seat at the front of the bus (a rarity on big buses given a back seat is my preference), and I cried yet again, even if some consoling words came from a man sitting across the aisle who wasn’t going to add to his 17 finishes this year.

We were dropped off at an exit leading into a tunnel where successful runners were strewn all over the bowels of Moses Mabhida Stadium looking for bags, water and cups of soup with medals dangling around their necks. Sadly all I could do was trudge past them back onto the field for a photo opportunity, then climb the stairs to find the internationals section where at least I could sit and watch the final hour or so as the runners came in. Unlike last year, where I knew I had nothing more to give and treated it as a big adventure, this year it took me ages to pull myself together amongst a group of Aussie ladies who had managed a finish as they waited for their partners (in training or in life) to cross that line. For a while I was very concerned about the traffic after the finish line being so great that some runners may be denied a finish because they find their passage to the line blocked. At least by the time the finishing gun went off those that made it were able to make it, and a number of those were just trudging into the stadium knowing they wouldn’t be getting a medal, although I’m sure they would say it was worth the pain and struggle.

The next day I somehow pulled myself together for an after party at a Durban beach front restaurant where it was actually fairly relaxed. Sitting next to another runner’s young kid may have helped, and it probably made me realise that running and finishing this race was what I wanted to do more than anything else. It was a nice way to spend a few hours, even if I didn’t have the stomach to overly celebrate or to dance up a storm like one Canadian lass.

So the obvious question is will I come back in 2019? My answer is a definite yes for I have a lot of unfinished business for the Up run, plus the fact I have enough funds to be able to make the trip even though I don’t normally book airfares for another 4 months (January). Again the journey to the start line will be different compared to other years, and in time I’ll be able to share exactly what the plan of attack is, after all the entries that normally open on the first of September haven’t opened and may not for another month. Still the qualifying period has started so the road back to Durban has begun already.

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