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COMRADES RACE DAY 2019: ULMAAS ROAD TO THE PREMATURE END

June 26, 2019

Umlaas Road had come and gone, and I was able to trot underneath the highway for what seemed like the 37th time that afternoon. In reality it didn’t happen too much given we generally ran adjacent to the highway somehow ignoring just how congested the traffic was. At the time it was still all positive thoughts thinking that if we can continue to make up some time rolling down the hills that I remember climbing a year earlier, and if I can try to minimise walking on the flat sections wherever possible I’d be able to at least get over Polly Shortts and head to the finish, even if it meant getting the biggest cheers of the day which are reserved for those who aren’t lucky enough to beat the final gun.

I do remember passing another aid station to take on board what had become the hydration strategy since the halfway mark. Basically I would take a cup of either Coke or Fanta (except for a couple of stations where they were struggling to supply enough cups, meaning that I simply half filled one of my empty Lucozade bottles which would also act as a brief respite from forward motion), then after drinking that I would use a sachet of water to (in order)

– use a small swig to swish around the mouth to wash out the acidic taste/neutralise somewhat the sugar content
– squeeze a little on my cap to cool the head, even if conditions weren’t that hot or humid
– squirt a little down my back, then my front to cool the body
– take a small sip to swallow
– try to find an area where either a bin or other empty sachets lay to assist in the cleaning process, or even somewhere with kids in the area to let them fight over the scraps

It was around a corner not far from the station closest to the previous cutoff that there was a single bloke on the left hand side of the road, trying to urge tiring racers not to walk anymore. Given the time of day and the distance covered it probably wasn’t something I really wanted to hear knowing energy conservation was still the order of the day. There was even a part of me that wanted to punch him in the face but the consequences short (waste another couple of minutes), medium (face criminal charges for assault) and long (a regretful stain on my life) thankfully saw me wander past without a reaction.

The first sign of trouble perhaps came at the next aid station. We had just crossed over the highway again and I was preparing to roll down another hill after a left hand turn (and I was about to break into another song, think it may have been Eagle Rock) when said aid station came into view. In hindsight perhaps I could have skipped taking on board anything here and continued to roll down, but the overriding emotion was to keep taking on board fluids at this late stage of the day. It took about a third of the hill to get going again, which may have been the first sign of tiredness but having come this far it was a case of just keep going. Even thoughts of memories passing where the cutoff at the Lion Park on the down run had to be put to one side as the road continued to wind.

The sign I had hoped to see after making the last on road cutoff, alas it wasn’t quite to be

Little Polly’s came reasonably quickly as the kilometres continued to wind down. A few by this stage were spent and had stopped on the side of the road resigned to their day ending earlier than hoped. Yet I still had some visions of making the cutoff even if my mind had started to grow concerned that I may not make it past Polly’s, which as we were repeatedly warned about by tour guides, experienced runners, coaches and 9 time race winners was NOT the dreaded Polly Shortts itself. There was no chance I would be walking up either hill, and I just kept walking to the top expecting to roll down the hill to at least get on the climb up Polly’s to see what my fate was. As it turned out, the legs finally decided that could carry me no more at a trotting pace down the hills. About midway wandering down the other side of Little Polly’s, the dreaded sweep vehicle drifted by, and knowing this car would be just about on the pace required to beat cutoffs by the narrowest margin, the morale finally sunk and the heaviness of my legs became insurmountable. Being careful not to raise my arms too far above my head with an overhead power line barely 2.5 metres above the road (something that in Australia would never be allowed to happen), I ended up finding some part of barrier at the base of Polly Shortts without any energy to get myself up the hill. Mentally I was shot, physically I had nothing left to give, time wise there was probably nothing left to leak unless I found energy to run parts of the hill (which even elite runners often battle to climb). For the first and as it turned out only time of the day, the sight of a mini bus with other runners unable to make it that far was too much to resist.

The reality of a third straight DNF had hit, although certainly not as hard last year. As it turned out, it may have even been a futile exercise in terms of making the cutoff to actually make it up the climb. The foursome in the bus had a good view as runners who wouldn’t make the cutoff being 800m away from the mat with just 3 minutes remaining tried to find something to run up the hill that the vast majority couldn’t. In some ways sympathy was the word that was probably shared both ways as we felt for those on the climb that we knew wouldn’t make it, and they I’m sure felt for those who couldn’t quite make it as far as they did knowing we had all left everything out on the course. I even jokingly mentioned that perhaps next year I would be in commentary rather than on the road, but there’s still unfinished business from the last DOWN run to attend to plus I doubt South African audiences would understand an Australian accent all that well!

 

TO BE CONCLUDED (we promise the next part is the last bit)…..

From → 2019 events, ARCHIVES

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