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COMRADES 2019 RACE DAY: SECOND HALF TO UMLAAS ROAD

June 20, 2019

So the halfway marker had come upon us, and unlike last time we had a little time up our sleeves. Unfortunately the planning had become unstuck, and instead of approaching the marker like I had anticipated on Friday…..

….I ended up being thankful that I was able to spot someone at the end of the barriers with the magic spray. If nobody was present there was a chance that the race would have ended for me then and there, but at least with the spray I felt as though I could get to the physio table opposite which my 2017 campaign came to a screeching halt. To get there however I would need to climb the famous Inchanga, which in Tour de France parlance would be like climbing one of those famed mountains in the Alps prior to d’Huez (of which the Comrades equivalent in terms of fame would be Polly Shortts, even though the profile of Inchanga or even Botha’s Hill would have been a closer physical match).

The intention in tackling Inchanga was always to walk almost if not all of the climb. The 20 minutes I had in hand at the mid point would have at least given me comfort in that this plan wouldn’t cost me all that much, and the knee issues kind of sealed that plan. Others around me who were probably in better physical shape had the same idea, save for the lead 12:00 pace bus that would run/walk up the hill. At least that was until I saw the main driver pull off the side of the road and hand his flag to another driver. Perhaps that was part of the pacing plan, to hand over to a new driver having sacrificed his race up to that point much like the domestique does up the Alps and Pyrenees. Their changeover was pretty quick, and the bus was soon on their way without me wanting to hold them up too much.

Soon enough the physio table came into sight, but any chance of me getting a look were dashed. The line for the table (which was the 3rd of what was supposed to be 8 spots) was enormous meaning I would be just wasting time that would either be better spent running on or bailing at the exact spot I had 2 years ago. By that time however, the feeling in the knee had come good with the spray having done the intended job, and I was at least able to perform a rolling jog to get enough momentum down the hills. GOODBYE PHYSIO TABLE, GOODBYE DEMON SPOT FOREVER (for now every time I pass you it will just be now another little speck of road to pass), HELLO CATO RIDGE (well hopefully).

Before I knew it, emerging on the side of the road were the kids from the Ethembeni School, who once again despite their impairments performed another delightful show for us overseas runners on the Friday.

Today the task was to just touch their hands to make their day. After all like much of the spectator crowd they were waiting for runners to come through to give them support, encouragement and a gentle non physical nudge along. I was only too happy to take a short walk break to oblige to those lining the right hand side of the road, which again gave me time to recover leading into the Cato Ridge cutoff.

I’ll always remember the Cato Ridge corner from 2017 for not so nice reasons, sitting in a bailer bus on the back seat looking at another runner who was distressed and desperately needed medical attention. This year there were no such worries personally as I rolled past the timing mat having lost virtually no time, and not wanting to get onto the buses that were both waiting at said cutoff point or rolling past us with runners unable to make the distance sitting somewhat forlornly if not jealously watching us continue on.

The dullest most uneventful few kilometres of the race followed until we reached a small place called Camperdown. Usually I try to sing to myself (despite the fact my singing ability would get me on a blooper reel of shows like The Voice as opposed to the glorified karaoke rounds) during the run to try and relax the mind or even perhaps entertain others passing by. This time as we approached Camperdown I decided to substitute some words from The Choirboys song “Run to Paradise”. For those reading overseas, the original song went something like this…

In my version however, I would make substitutions such as….
* Instead of singing “Run to Paradise” I would sing “Run to ‘Maritzburg” (slightly abbreviating the destination city of Pietermaritzburg to make the lyric fit)
* Upon reaching Camperdown, instead of “Don’t Tell Me, this is Paradise”, I would occasionally substitute the word Paradise with Camperdown, and some other times with the word ‘Maritzburg
* With the relevant marker in sight, I would also substitute what the backing band would sing (“Open Your Eyes Up”) with the words “We’re 25 K’s Out”
* If I use it again next year for the DOWN Run, I could replace “Maritzburg” with “Mabhida” in deference to the finish stadium rather than the UP Run’s finishing town

Someone who passed me thought I was going mad or something, but I’d long passed the stage of madness in my life let alone in this race. Another runner actually asked why is there a timing mat placed under the Coke sponsored big screen at the midpoint between the Cato Ridge and Umlaas Road cutoffs. It dawned on me that this was a timing mat placed in a random location in an attempt to prevent cheating (there have been cases of twin brothers doing switcheroos in and out of porta loos, and getting caught out) and shortcutting the course, not that anyone realistically could take shortcuts on this course. It also meant that for the first time I was actually a little more concerned that making the finish may not be a possibility, although getting to the next cutoff was the big priority. Umlaas Road came and went with just 7 minutes remaining before the race clock hit 9:30, leaving me 107 minutes just over 12km. Sounds easy enough, but there were a couple of rather large humps left in the road known as Polly Shortts, and before that the climb known as Little Polly’s which was slightly longer, just as steep and had caught out many a runner thinking they had already conquered Polly’s.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..

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