My First Comrades Experience

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By Lisa Nevitt

The real half-way mark is at 60km. This was as far as physical training took me. While my legs turned their methodical trudge on the tarmac, they did so along a fine line between make and break. With 30km to go, it all comes down to mental endurance.

Sat in a plane bound for Durban, I looked down at a pair of crisp white trainers, laces threaded through a timing chip. I worried whether I’d made the right choice, whether they would get me through 90km, whether I’d worn them in enough to tell. The cabin was awash with club colours and kit bags. There was, at least, some comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. There were others bound for the same fate as I; others most would refer to as ‘total and utter nut cases’.

My running friend, Vel, described the start as ‘surreal’. At 5:15am, on Sunday 3 June, 16 000 runners were closed into pens outside Pietermaritzburg’s City Hall, the cold all but forgotten during an emotionally charged rendition of Shosholoza. I was hugged by strangers and, even though I didn’t know what the words were or what the song meant, I joined in anyway.

I wanted to go racing off, but I’d had it drilled into me by experienced Comrades runners that this race was all about conserving energy; a relaxed pace, slowed to a walk for hills. As a consequence of running more slowly, the km markers didn’t appear as quickly as I’m accustomed to. While I got that this would prolong my physical endurance, it tried my patience.

‘Down run’? Are you sure?

I wondered whether or not organisers had got their wires crossed, and I’m sure I’m not the only runner who did. You see, the Comrade’s ‘down run’ is a rather confusing phrase. Long, slow up-hill pulls seemed never-ending. As long as I approached with caution, using a run-walk strategy, these stretches were manageable and there was some solace in the old adage ‘what comes up must come down’.

There were lots of children, cheering at the sidelines. They high-fived us with beaming smiles and I noticed runners handing them the unwanted jackets and gloves they’d used to keep warm at the start. The support stations had thought of everything, holding out potatoes, Vaseline and energy drinks to us and playing up tempo music. I counted down the kilometres until I reached my partner, Alex, at the bottom of Botha’s Hill, armed with a peanut butter sandwich and a hug. Supporters made Comrades a little less daunting – they were a welcome distraction and something I looked forwards to.

The ‘Comrades wobblies’

I hear many novice runners go through a phase where they are convinced they aren’t going to finish and this wasn’t something I managed to avoid. With 20km to go, I was tired, I’d been running for a long time and I’d started to imagine pain; a twinge in my left foot, running downhill, a twinge in my chest. I began to feel sorry for myself, got out my phone and called Alex. ‘I’m not going to make it,’ I bawled into the receiver, as I hobbled up yet another hill.

Alex promised to call me every thirty minutes, until I crossed the finish line. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, and he couldn’t hear what I was saying over all the background noise, but he was there. A couple of running friends, Julia and Ann-Mari, gave me a pep talk and energy gels.

What was the alternative? Throw away all my training? Throw away how it would feel to cross the finish line? I kept going, it was the only thing I could do. At 2km to go, I was running the home stretch and could hear crowds and commentators, rolling like thunder, at the stadium. All at once, the enormity of what I had just achieved hit me.

These are the words my partner used to describe me when I crossed the finish line: disorientated, exhausted, emotional, relieved, overwhelmed and ecstatic.

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One Response to My First Comrades Experience

  1. Belinda Booyens June 15, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Why did I run the Comrades?

    I have been a runner since I was 10 years old (I’m now 37) and remember watching the Comrades every year on tv whilst I was growing and said to myself that one day I will run that race.

    In 1997 I went to live overseas and returned to South Africa in 2009. After watching the 2011 Comrades I made the decision that 2012 would be my year.

    I am proud to say that I fulfilled my dream and completed my first comrades on 3 June 2012 in a time of 9hrs40.

    I now understand when fellow comrades marathoners say this experience is life changing. I had a lump in my throat standing at the start line listening to Chariots of Fire playing knowing that my 6 months of cold morning runs, dark evening runs and those infamous long runs paid off and I was here but also knew that it was going to be a long day ahead.

    I had the most fantastic experience during the 90kms and the supporters along the way where awesome.

    The most fantastic experience was running into the stadium and crossing the finish line knowing I had achieved my life long goal!

    I now proud to say that I am part of the Comrades fraternity!

    Will I run Comrades again? Of course, the bug has bitten!

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