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PERTH CITY TO SURF – BACK IN THE SADDLE WITH A BANG

Been a while since I’ve touched base here, basically because I’ve been regrouping after the Comrades experience (it was NOT a disaster or a tragedy this year) and planning for the rest of the year has been going on in earnest. As usual the first item on the agenda was going to be the Gold Coast Marathon but a calf injury playing footy (what else) and being required at work reasonably early the next morning meant I had to downgrade to the half, which I wobbled through in a tick over 2:30. Certainly far from the time I had envisioned but given I was still unsure over whether I was going to run a few hours before start time it was just a case of get through this and move on.

Attention then turned to the usual next marathon on the hit list, being the Perth City to Surf. Whilst the main race is over a hilly 12km course, and others do the half or are happy to get through a 4km effort, guys like me would be toeing the line on the marathon start line for the 5th time in 6 visits (2017 was a half marathon entry due to injury). It was arguably the biggest field that I had been a part of in those 5 years, with just over 600 starters when normally fields of 350 have been common.

In training for this and other events like Melbourne in October, I’ve discovered I’ve been able to show just a little more speed and maintain this for longer than I have been for a while. Perhaps the healthier body has a lot to do with it, not so much the weight but the lack of muscle aches and strains! Anyway this was perhaps the catalyst for how I began this day. Normally the start would be relatively sedate even if the first couple of kilometres were going to be frantic as the pack sweeps me up. Today for some reason it swept me up for 11km prior to the 4 hour pace group sweeping me up and spitting me out behind. It wasn’t exactly the strategy I was aiming for despite knowing I needed to bank time to compensate for virtually walking up the majority of the hills. The hope was to keep a steady tempo in order to save some legs to perhaps attack some of the hills rather than play the conservative game.

Once the 4 hour group left me in my wake I was able to keep them in sight for the next few kilometres which mentally can see a runner go one of two ways. Some may see this as frustration particularly if they’re caught in a good old fashioned “No Man’s Land”; too far behind the main group but too far ahead of the next pack. For me it was a good thing knowing my plan was at least working to a degree, knowing that I was always going to drop some time and with the group nearby it obviously meant I was on target to run a decent time. In some years past I may have been able to stay in front a little further in years where the hills didn’t really kick in until King’s Park and the course continued to stay relatively close to the Swan River, but in the last few years the course changed to incorporate hills around bowls clubs and golf courses in the Dalkeith region.

Got through the half way marker in the Uni WA Campus just on the 2 hour mark which is always a good mental goal. Certainly for Melbourne getting here at this time is almost a necessity if I want to achieve a time as fast if not faster than this. I ended up spending a minute or so making an unscheduled pit stop even though I was busting for a few kilometres, before hitting King’s Park where it was a case of walk up the bulk of the hills and make up time rolling down. By this time I was also calculating the time I needed to make the Comrades 2020 qualifying standard, as the qualification period had kicked off on the 24th of August (and because I’m still considered a novice despite 3 DNF’s, I am now required to qualify before entering to get one of 7000 reserved slots for Novices) even if the entry period is supposedly beginning later than it did last year. Checking almost every kilometre may border on the slightly obsessive, but it was reassuring to know that I felt I had (as an example) about 2 hours to complete the last 14 kilometres on terrain not overly dissimilar to Sydney’s City2Surf even if on tiring legs.

It’s always a killer part of the course when climbing the hill on Underwood Avenue. The good news was that we weren’t alone with the 12km walkers on the other side of the road taking their time to negotiate the climb, but for marathon runners this type of climb can dispirit a runner chasing a quick time. Hence the game plan to bank minutes at the start of the run knowing that climbing will take longer than normal. Unlike in previous years however, I was able to run most of the ensuring Perry Lakes Drive before another planned walk up the last major climb on Oceanic Drive. Once you’re over the last climb, I tend to look to the left knowing that I’m seeing finishers from various distances walking back towards where they parked rather than heading to the shuttle buses. I know then that I can easily roll to the finish, and my legs were in a decent enough condition that for once I didn’t slow to walking speed in the final finishing chute.

Unlike Auckland last year where I was feeling rather jubilant, the finish saw a smile of contentment rather than being overjoyed, disappointed or any other emotion in between. For once I may have even allowed myself to grin my way over the finish line almost waiting for the gantry to tick over to the 4:24 marker, which when chip time was taken into account saw my finish time of 4:23:18 be a new personal course record (beating the 4:25:12 from 2016), the fastest time I had run over the marathon distance since Gold Coast 2016 (4:20:00) and more importantly saw me run fast enough for another “G” group Comrades Qualifier (the standards are as per 2019, minimum standard being 4:49:59). Surprisingly my legs felt in decent condition, which made the wait for a post race massage bearable unlike last year when by the time I arrived just about everyone had packed up and gone home. It also feels pretty good to be able to walk after a marathon with a view to returning to training during the week rather than having to use a whole week to recover, although I can still err on the side of caution should I feel the need.

Only 4 races are now left on the dance card for this year. Next on the agenda is the half marathon in Sydney in mid September, a race where there’s some unfinished business given my DNF in 2017 due to calf issues. Given that this is a training run rather than a race run I’m not going to be looking for a specific time, although a sub 1:55 would be nice. Then it’s onto Melbourne in mid October, back to Hobart for another climb up Mt.Wellington where this year I’ll actually record some footage during the run (although going live will have to wait, don’t think I’ll have sufficient data at that stage to pull it off), and the finish this year is late November in Singapore where the entry will be lodged sometime this week.

COMRADES RACE DAY 2019: ULMAAS ROAD TO THE PREMATURE END

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)…..

COMRADES 2019 RACE DAY: SECOND HALF TO UMLAAS ROAD

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…..

COMRADES 2019: INTERLUDE TO THE STORY

I probably should have finished this earlier, perhaps even in South Africa. Trouble was a combination of a busy schedule and below standard wifi has delayed this until now. This is just a video documentation of how long it actually took me to get to Durban just to get to the place where this race started. This is not an exercise in excuse making or an attempt to attract sympathy, rather this is just how dedicated someone is to get to the start line.

The second half of the race report will be coming in the next couple of days (still have some editing to do in relation to this). I’m sure for many it will be worth the wait. On another side note I’m actually glad that the qualifying period for 2020 has now been confirmed, so that I can plan my assault for the remainder of 2019 leading into 2020 for the next tilt.

COMRADES 2019 RACE DAY: FIRST HALF

So the gun has been sounded, and the elite runners have all started to scatter at breakneck speeds relative to the distance of this race. Meantime many of us mere mortals who can actually see the starting gantry for once are still waiting to get underway. It’s a standing start at first, but then after a couple of minutes where the faster weekend warriors have commenced the slow methodical walk towards the line starts. Many by this time of course will have started their watches given that the time limits and cutoffs run on a Gun-to-Gun basis rather than a Mat-to-Mat system (just another near unique feature of Comrades), but panic isn’t and can’t be part of the game. Trying to make up several minutes lost waiting to cross the start line in the opening kilometres is the greatest futility exercise in running. Simply speaking there are far too many people around to get into your own rhythm without compromising wise race strategy, and those that try more often than not finish their day on the side of the road rather than crossing the finish line.

After a delay of 9 minutes which is about the normal time it takes people to cross the line in the G Group (truth be told it was a little quicker last year although I was in a better position within the pen) it was time to smile at the camera, make sure I didn’t trip over timing mats/discarded warmth garments/road furniture, and begin the long uphill trek. In the city streets of Durban that comprised the first kilometre, it wasn’t uncommon for people to utilise the footpath in order to gain running room, something I even did as I negotiated the first corner. Fortunately this year it didn’t result in the bottleneck of 2017 when virtually every backmarker came to a standstill entering the freeway to take us towards the first cut off point. Sure there were those choosing to walk that section as advised by many coaches knowing the conservative game would give them an advantage, but apart from someone who took a tumble (perhaps being squeezed for room or tripping over a “cats eye”) everyone was able to trot freely.

There wasn’t a lot of drama in the pack before sunrise as the field steadily climbed towards the first of the major climbs in Cowie’s Hill. However some roadworks necessitated a slight change to proceedings. Without a lot of fanfare the cut off at Pinetown was removed on the Friday before the race, AFTER many of the runners had toured the course (I was with the CMA’s tour mixed in with Brits, Canadians and with a whole bus to themselves Brazilians, many other Australian’s toured with Bruce Fordyce who is the Comrades equivalent of Peter Brock, a 9 time winner). Some roadworks had substantially narrowed the course leaving organisers to perhaps take a common sense approach with the unforseen delay (I’m sure they would have banked on this area being totally clear on race day, as it turned out the passage was wider than it was on Friday and others just jumped the concrete blocks anyway searching for clear road). Every other cutoff was left unchanged but for many the early stress levels would be somewhat eliminated. I’m sure others unaware of the decision would have been left slightly confused when they expected signage denoting the approaching cut off at Pinetown only to find nothing.

After passing one of my “Demon” landmarks of where last year’s race had concluded (this will only be exorcised when I pass that point next year), it was onto the longest climb of the so called Big 5 in Field’s Hill. For most of the field it represented a chance to utilise the walk/run strategy that many a Comrades Green Number wearer had used over the years. Others such as the Bus Drivers pacing to certain times saw this as a chance to again make up time a little earlier than anticipated. It isn’t that strange in the early parts to see pace runners for a  sub-11:00 schedule leap ahead of those trying to break 10:30. It also isn’t strange to see many tacking onto buses perhaps underestimating how their race plan in conjunction with sticking with a pace bus doesn’t correlate with the driver’s. In any case, my plan wasn’t necessarily to run with a pacing bus as such, but to keep at least the 11:00 bus either behind me or in my sight knowing that I would easily negotiate a cut off point if I remain in front of several buses. That said it doesn’t guarantee much for the cut offs also apply to bus drivers, with some whole buses in the past being too slow to make cut offs eliminating a hundred or so from the race.

Last time I ran the UP run I was a little concerned that I was going too slowly as I passed the Winston Park cut off, the same cut off going the opposite direction where my momentum deserted me last year. Reaching the mark in a tick under 3:50, some 40 minutes inside the cut off, left me in a positive frame of mind. I hadn’t at that stage needed to take on board additional fluids with my first Lucozade bottle still largely untouched, the legs felt as though they had plenty to give, runners around me were as content knowing the chances to make up time were still viable, the crowds were offering their usual tremendous support…..life seemed very content as the approach to the steepest climb of the day, Botha’s Hill, began.

Again it was time to do more walking than running with the second half of the day in mind and plenty of time in the bank to prevent panic. Reaching the top was not that concerning, I was even able to chat with a couple of blokes who were having varying races (the Western Australian lad I encountered was in meltdown mode, encouraging me to keep going with my race while he tried to figure out his own predicament). Little did I know as I was about to descend towards the Wall of Honour and Arthur’s Seat that physical complications were about to compromise my efforts. As I had done in the past year or so, I had applied strapping below the knee in a bid to make what I believe to be patella tendonitis bearable (this is a self diagnosis), even if for the first time in many months I had to use K-Tape. Yet when I was going downhill I felt some pain after running for about 30 metres or so from the outside of the same strapped left knee. Forget trying to make up time on the downhill into the wall, the seat and Drummond’s halfway point as I had to do 2 years ago, I was starting to doubt whether I could make it past the halfway marker that I barely made in my other Up run attempt. At least with time on my side the knee meant I could greet Arthur somewhat properly by doffing the cap and saying “Good Morning Arthur” to see if it brought luck.

To understand more about the Wall of Honour and Arthur’s Seat, here’s something I recorded on the Friday as the tour stopped at these iconic locations.

By that stage I felt I had a couple of options. I could either succumb to the injury, leave the course and retire from the race at Drummond. I could see if there was any type of treatment available in the knowledge that there actually was a physio table located precisely where my 2017 race ended after climbing the famous Inchanga. Or I could just keep walking until the inevitable cut off arrived at Cato Ridge. In the end stopping couldn’t be an option with my split time at 5:50 being 20 minutes ahead of the cut off, and someone with old fashioned magic spray to numb the pain could help the knee issue. It did however mean that the knee brace I was wearing ended up being a calf sock of sorts, for spraying against neoprene would have been as effective as Pikachu using thunderbolt on a grass Pokemon. Yet Inchanga was next on the hit parade, and the many elevation changes that punctuated the remainder of the race remained.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..

COMRADES 2019 RACE DAY: BEFORE THE GUN

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……

COMRADES 2019: CALM BEFORE D-DAY

Nothing else can be done to prepare myself now. At the time of writing this there are just over 18 hours until the songs are sung and played (National Anthem, Shosholoza, Chariots of Fire), the cock crows twice or thrice (can’t remember how many exactly) and the cannon is fired to signify the start of another epic journey between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Unlike last year where I was in a tizzy over whether the timing chip was going to work and if I could find the 8 pins needed to ensure both front and back number were secure, this time I have everything I can think of needing in my room ready to lay out in a few hours time.

What does a Comrades kit entail? Well upon checking in each runner receives a number of products that they shouldn’t use on race day (but probably will) apart from the cap.

The remainder of the gear is similar to what I was wearing last year, and this list may at least help understand how much I’ll be carrying on the race route.

(1) Race Singlet: Same Asics top as I wore the last 2 attempts, with the Australian sewn on flags added last year remaining on board. Probably will look to get a new top for next year should the budget allow.
(2) Shorts: Shorter than the ones I wore last year, don’t think it will matter that much in terms of performance but wearing these will obviously be a requirement
(3) Upper Leg Tights: Again the same “skin” coloured pair as last year, will look to replace prior to the 2020 race.
(4) Socks: Not the original choice I had in mind (I considered wearing the blue socks) but still short cut white pair
(5) Runners with timing chip attached: For confidence and continuity the pair I have for the race is the same brand and model as those I’ve been using all year in earlier races and training. The chip is vital as it needs to be attached to the shoe to record the time over the timing mats placed at cut offs and even at random locations to prevent cheating.
(6) K-Tape: Didn’t bring the rigid strapping tape with me, so store purchased K-Tape will be sufficient for strapping the right calf as well as below the left kneecap.
(7) Yellow Zinc Cream: The identifying strip if ever I needed one, plus it does keep the kids amused and brings attention.
(8) Sunglasses: Again a R180 purchase from the expo, won’t need these in the early portion of the race but as the sun rises they’ll eventually find their way to where they’re supposed to be worn
(9) The race cap: See the video depicting the goodie bag for details
(10) 2 Bottles of Orange Lucozade: Part of the nutrition plan, this will be hopefully tide me through until after the 30km race when I feel as though the Coke provided at the tables will tide me over. That’s not to say I won’t look for water on a few tables here or there, this is also part of a plan to avoid crowding at the early tables. I often train myself to run about 10km before requiring a drink anyway so missing out on early hydration tables isn’t a great concern. That said I was pleasantly surprised to see this was available in South Africa last year, prefer that energy drink to others.
(11) Sunscreen: Need to protect the neck, ears, shoulders, arms and legs from the sun, especially with an anticipated finish time of about 11:20.
(12) Vasoline: Under the armpits, the line of the race top, inside the legs particularly the left, over the “you know what” and following the success of this method in Canberra, between the toes which in past year I’ve bandaged. Good news is that Vasoline is available on course should I need it as well.
(13) Band Aids: Using band aids designed for elbows and knees to cover up the nipples preventing chafe and/or bleeding.
(14) The tog bag: To be dropped off prior to race start, items in this will include warm clothing as the finish line in PMB can get rather chilly, particularly at sundown. I’ll also need to have the vouchers for the post race feed and drinks internationals get. Plus a change of socks and even underwear should I need it.
(15) International hospitality tent wrist band: With my bag hopefully in storage in the international section, this wrist band is my ticket into the area. Without it I’ll never get my bag back.

All that is now left to do is to lay out my gear which I’m planning to do this afternoon, have a final room service dinner (and ask if they have something COLD to drink), make sure I have the alarms set and active (first alarm is at 1AM), and drift off to sleep. I know some will be lucky to get a couple of hours or so but if I can get my usual 3-4 hours on race eve and make sure I get up in time for the race, everything will be fine. The motel is a couple of kilometres from the start line at the town hall, but with a couple of other runners in nearby motels also walking plus a team of runners in the same motel perhaps coming to my aid should I require/ask for it getting to the start shouldn’t be an issue. The plan for race morning should be:

2:00AM: Wake Up having turned off alarms for the last hour or so, take time to regain awareness of surrounds
2:30AM: Shower (hopefully I won’t have to play HeMan to make sure the door closes properly)
3:00AM: Breakfast downstairs, should be better for the motel staff this year after last year having to be ready at 1AM. Won’t have a lot, perhaps a bowl of cereal, some yoghurt if that’s available, perhaps some toast and a juice or two.
3:30AM: Final check to make sure I have everything required
3:45AM: Depart on foot to the town hall
4:15AM: Drop off tog bag, attach international hospitality wrist band.
4:20AM: Final toilet stop, yes there will be a queue to do business
4:35AM: Enter Start Pen G, hopefully find some Australians to relax with.