A Journey Complete

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By Murray Anderson-Ogle

I have wanted to say this for six months: ’I am a Comrade’. Not quite Mao’s last dancer or a Cosatu cheerleader, but rather a Comrades finisher.

What do you say when you have achieved your goal? A goal that took six months of consistent training, missing nights out, early morning wake-up calls, physiotherapy, Friday night television (it’s not so bad) and changing your life for the simple goal of running a footrace?

A footrace that once a year captures the imagination of South African, and the world’s, population. A day when ordinary people accomplish the extraordinary, and forever become part of the Comrades family.

My personal experience of Comrades was that of an intensely personal journey of discovery, through conquering my own limitations and my identity, realising how anything is possible and that you only have to want it. Many self-help gurus, psychologists and charlatans offer advice on how you should change your life. My advice: run Comrades to the best of your ability and at some point along the journey, a few answers will be etched onto your soul.

Comrades is just a day of your life but the journey towards Comrades is the best, worst and most sublime experience of your life. Enjoy the journey, take Al Pacino’s prophetic words into account “on any given Sunday anything can happen”: never is this more pertinent than on Comrades Sunday.

For the past three months, a few of us had worked towards a goal of sub nine-hour finish and a Bill Rowan Medal. I achieved my goal, running an 8.55. Delighted as I was my victory almost felt hollow and bittersweet, as I was the only who achieved our shared goal.

The Tuesday before Comrades, Iain who had coached and led us through the training programme, who was competing in his 20th consecutive Comrades, fell ill. He was admitted to hospital and was released on the Thursday before Comrades. He was granted medical permission to run the race and lined up at the start and for the first 10 km’s our group kept to our schedule of a sub nine-hour.

In the days leading up to the race, my knee had begun to ache. It is something that had bothered me intermittently throughout training. I panicked and panicked hard, and immediately consulted a physiotherapist at the expo. The physio immediately diagnosed it as something to do with my calf tendon. Weird. So I got it strapped and prayed that I would finish. Nothing like entering Comrades and not knowing if you would ever finish. Initially, my knee felt fine but at about 8-10 km and up Cowies it began to hurt: that dull throbbing ache. My plan then was then to look for a first aid stand and get re-strapped, which I did and I took some pain killers for good measure.
Suddenly my race took on a new dimension, and I said to myself “ get to Camperdown” within enough time and you can then walk it, if needs be. Luckily, I am not sure if it was the new strapping or the painkillers, luck or the ghosts of my father and step-father whose footsteps I was retracing (maybe it was they who smiled on me), but as soon as I hit Fields Hill, I was pain free and I stayed that way till the end. Don’t get me wrong – it still hurt, but it was the hurt you expect.

In my haste to reach Camperdown , I dropped my group and never saw them again and for the duration of Comrades, I stuck to my pace chart for an 8:55 finish. Only later in the race did Petro, who was also aiming for her first Bill Rowan, leave Iain, but only at the 25 kilometer. She eventually finished in a time of 9. 18. Iain eventually finished in about 11: 20, his first Vic Clapham medal and according to him he had never worked for any other medal, Silver included. (Iain, forever an optimist, now has the full set of Comrades medals, the most any mortals can achieve in the race).

What I learnt from my experience, for anyone reading this who wants to chase a time, is that you have to be selfish, and all the training in the world can be for naught if it’s not your day. However, watching Iain come in showed me the definition of ‘vasbyt’ and discipline. These are qualities I think I have finally come to understand and even possess, as my own race nearly fell apart on numerous occasions and only my dream propelled me on.

After leaving my crew, I pretty much ran my own race, making new friends, especially one special man called Walter. Walter and I met up somewhere before Little Polly’s and ran together till the end, pacing and motivating each another to the finish line. It’s a funny thing, where with a complete stranger you start choosing your running targets; i.e. run 100 meters and walk ten and anything with a slight rise you walk. And what do you know, we finished with 5 minutes to spare and we both got our Bill Rowan. Walter, I am not sure who you are but thank you. I will always remember you.

As I write this, I have mixed emotions of my experience. It was beautiful, tragic, terrifying and heartbreaking but like anything in life that is worth having it is the only way.

It’s too early to say whether I’ll be back next year, but I take treasured memories home with me. My favourite is probably finding my late father’s plaque at the wall of honour. I had looked for it for a while, and was about to give up; I just was taking a picture when suddenly there it was, almost like it was calling to me.

I know that I will continue to run, but now I want to try some trail running and my next goal is a 43 km trail run. I have been super jealous of the Kaapies and Natalians and how gnarly and fabulous their trail runs seem. Finally there is one in my area called the Num- Num trail run. I cannot wait, even though it will be rough, tough, and cold; it will also be beautiful as it passes through some of the Lowveld Escarpment’s greatest scenery. It’s happening on the 16th of July and I hope to see you there.

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7 Responses to A Journey Complete

  1. Charlotte June 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    is it weird that this made me cry?
    my heart is sore after reading this – your writing is beautiful. We are so proud of you Murray, and can see that this truly has been a life changing experience for you. Keep on Keepin on my dear friend!

    • Charne June 10, 2011 at 6:22 am #

      Well done Murray its a massive achievement! (and I also cried)

  2. Shaun Wewege June 8, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Excellents post and you summed up the Comrades experience beautifully – “Comrades is just a day of your life but the journey towards Comrades is the best, worst and most sublime experience of your life. ”

    Once I have full use of my legs again I might consider the down run.

  3. Teri June 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    I have really enjoyed reading your blogs! You’re an excellent writer – gonna miss this! Lots of love and MANY congrats!!!

  4. Grethe Maleta June 8, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    I am so proud of you!

  5. Matt Greeff June 25, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Well said young man !It was good to be a part of your goal as a running bud …be it you are to fast for most of us!
    Well done again .Matt

  6. Brenda T July 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    And now you’re a Num-Num too! Well done, Murray! You really are a brillinat runner. SO proud of you!

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