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June 12, 2019

What a day! What a race! What a bummer! It may have been my third crack at the elusive Comrades Marathon medal that anyone who is anyone in Ultra Marathon running wants, but even though the result didn’t go my way the tale of the day is so big that it will take many parts to get it done. It is with some pride that I can tell the tale, even if the fairytale finish is still to be written. That day will surely come sooner rather than later, although I do say that with some caution given sometimes my predictions can go pear shaped as it did on Sunday (and not necessarily in a bad way either!)

My Comrades morning started upon snoozing the first alarm at 1:15AM, something I can afford to do for the UP run as opposed to a down run. After all, everything had been reasonably well planned out, scratch around in bed or shutting off alarms until 2, shower at 2:30, quick breakfast at 3 and depart for the start zone at 3:45, before finally settling in to start pen G sometime around 4:45. Naturally when these plans are made something invariably causes the plan to be tossed out the window, but that’s coming later.

It actually took a little more time than I thought to apply the strapping on the right calf and the left knee than I had anticipated. With the lack of rigid strapping tape available in Durban (rigid as in a brown colour that doesn’t stretch) I had to make do with black K-Tape, a product I had used before but not extensively since Auckland or in exclusivity. The calf was easy enough to do with a couple of straps on the sides and a single down the middle, with a locking strap at the bottom to keep it all together. It was the strap below the knee that caused a minor hiccup in that I had cut the strip too small to reach fully around the area below the patella. Fortunately a bowl of Rice Crispies (for Australians that’s basically Rice Bubbles with more sugar content), 2 pieces of toast with butter and a couple of half glasses of Apple juice (need to do something about that machine) later I was able to at least secure the knee, then slip a neoprene knee brace over the top locked off with electrician’s tape. It meant I was leaving the Pavilion Hotel about 5 minutes later than I wanted, but with everything ready and a few others heading in the same direction it was time to face destiny.

After a half hour’s warm up walk (at this race there’s no space or time to do a proper warm up, that’s generally what the first 10km of the race is for), I arrived to stand in 2 long queues which race organisers or those in charge of logistics would need to heed a lesson from. Standing in line for half an hour just to have a leek was far from ideal, especially when there was a decent line behind and only 8 porta-loos in the area. Even an extra 2-4 would have made a significant difference to make things more convenient for racers. It may not have helped the mood either when one of the loos was left vacant for some time without anyone realising. Once I finished my business rather quickly it was then off to the quicker moving but no shorter line for the tog bags. Unlike the toilets it wasn’t a hassle, but perhaps organisers can actually make sure like in previous years when specific labels were provided for international racers within the kit bag. It wasn’t until Saturday when I was trying not to move too far from the comfort of bed that I saw a Facebook post stating this needed to be asked for upon check-in, which may have been handy to know 2 days ago. I know others will point to why I didn’t drop my gear off on the Saturday like some would, but I had items that I had to conceal in warm clothing in PMB that I anticipated I would require on Sunday morning for safety purposes. Still at least I knew which direction I would need to go if I was to collect my bag (or so I thought as it turned out).

It would be just before 5AM when I made my way into the already creeping forward G Pen. It didn’t stop people from climbing the fence prior to race start to perhaps get closer to the front (I take it the climb was why an Australian lass didn’t finish), but I was in, locked and loaded surrounded by locals of varying experience. Yet unlike previous years where they were talkative they were locked in their own worlds, setting up their phones to record the pre-race ceremony which makes it really feel like the Grand Final of Ultra Running. With 8 minutes to go it was time to begin to toy with the emotions, starting with the low hum of the South African National Anthem (I still can’t nail the Afrikaans section) with NOBODY daring to sit down (yet in Australia I’m sure someone will make front page news for being outraged over 2 words being in it that they think shouldn’t be, as opposed to 99.8% of the population). After that was the stirring emotion charged Shosholoza, the traditional hymn/song sung before, during and even post race.

(NOTE: This is NOT my video, but this is the song in full as captured by one of many on the start line from the 2018 race starting in Pietermaritzburg)


Following that there’s not much time for applause as the festivities go straight into Chariots of Fire. Three minutes to focus the mind on the task at hand. Three minutes to have one last look around to see if someone you know is also ready or in the vicinity. Three agonising minutes for those ahead of us before they were released into action. Three minutes before the final piece of the pre-race puzzle, the recording of a South African by the name of Max Trimborn giving two cock crows (COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!). Max has been deceased for as long as I have been living, but like some of the past greats such as Arthur Newton, Bill Rowan, Vic Clapham and others this is his great legacy to the race.

Then at 5:29:51AM, Sunday 9 June 2019, 9 seconds BEFORE the race was actually supposed to start (I wonder if anyone noticed)…….BANG! GAME ON! 12 HOURS TO GET TO PMB!



To be continued……

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