My 1st Comrades Marathon Experience!

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2013 Comrades RW

From the minute I crossed the finished line of my first Two Oceans Half Marathon in 2011 I knew I wanted to run in the Biggest Ultra Marathon in the World! Once I said my heart on something I cannot let go. One and a half years of building a some running base and I found myself singing the National Anthem and Shozaloza at the start of the 2013 Comrades Marathon. My road to Durban was filled with great excitement, dedication and hard work. By no means an easy ride, some disappointments along the way but nothing that could change my mind to not do this. There were times when I thought I was not going to outlast the training (running all those marathons and long runs on my own!), getting qualified, the colds & flu, the “ankle” and the stress of balancing family and work in between it all. The highlights of my build-up included 2 international marathons. I raced both the Rome and Paris marathons, with Rome as my qualifying marathon. Then out of nowhere I amazed myself by running a 5:58 PB at the Loskop Dam Ultra Marathon in pouring ran! Yes, it was hard work getting to Durban, but I never felt so committed to a goal in my life! Comrades journey is all about about getting through the training to prepare your body to run for one whole freakin day…no matter what the conditions :-). I am just blessed and lucky to have the most amazing husband and kids for all their support and allowing me to live my dreams.

Kyalami Running Club sending us off in style

I got lucky in the beginning of this year and signed up with the most amazing running club. Everyone I’ve met are so supportive and encouraging. Kept me going during those last few weeks. Huge THANK YOU to KRC sending their members off to Comrades in style. I have never been part of an “athletic team” before! Really proud of myself to have made it this far. 🙂

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Going the Extra Mile and Running for Charity

I heard about Race-4-Charity and in true “me” style (always going beyond the call of duty :-)) signed-up for this challenge! The best part of being a charity runner which I discovered the night before I went to register is that you get to register at the Elite Runners desk! Boy, if you register the Saturday before the race that is a huge perk! No Q! They have everything prepared for you at the Elite Runners desk. You also get 2 goodie bags and you get a C-seeding! What I am most proud of is that I RAISED R7,500 for STARFISH! I am blessed with amazing friends, family and colleagues! Raising this money came so easy. I had no idea it would be this easy…THANK YOU TO EVERYONE FOR THEIR GENEROSITY!

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The Start

It was quite easy driving through from Umhlanga to the start of the race in Durban. No traffic, lucky us! What are the odds that with only 3 other KRC members running (all much faster than me) that I would see any of them at the start? I was q’ing at the porta-loo and there was Alan! With thousands of runners it is just so good to see one person that you know! He was going for sub-10hrs and I was sub-12hrs. He was in D seeding and I got the lucky C seeding. Not that that really made any difference in the END :-). But it does make a difference at the START :-).

The start was exactly as people described it to me. Electric, goose bump stuff. Over 14000 crazy people ready to run the gruelling 86,9km from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. I could not believe believe that after months of training I was finally there. Something I have dreamt of for over a year and half! Standing there made me realise how much I wanted this and how hard I’ve work to get there. Comrades is one of those races that I believe anyone can run if they train, but qualifying does not come that easy if you new to running with fairly ambitious running goals. Some things just take time. It took me one year and a few marathons to break the sub-5hr barrier! I knew I was in for a tough day, my qualifying time made sure of that! 🙂

Back to the start…it started with all the rituals. The National Anthem, followed by Shosaloza, Chariots of Fire, the Cock crowing and the finally the gun. My heart was pounding. I was right at the the front. I could hear and see everything. The start of the race was much slower than I imagined. I had the image in my head that runners would rush off, but most of the guys in the C seeding took their sweet time. I made sure I stayed on pace. I let the faster runners go, just made sure I ran to the side of the road. I had no intention of blowing my race right at the start.

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1km into the start I saw Peter the other fast KRC member. He told me Nicky our 4th member and star of Comrades 2013 was gone! I don’t think any of us saw her on the road. I wanted to run with him for a bit but was too scared I fell into his pace so I let him go, but it was nice seeing the guys on the road. Made the start a bit less stressful.

Then I  felt someone’s arm round my shoulder and there was Lesley, old colleague of mine, making fun of my C seeding! 🙂 We ran together for a while but I am not comfortable running with faster runners. I feel like I am holding them back and there is no way I am upping my pace. These guys are all gunning for sub-10hrs! No, guys…goodluck, you go!

It was still dark as we set off at 5:30am. The crowd support was just amazing, everywhere during those first kilometers there were people next to the road cheering us on. At 3km I heard some very loud screaming. People screaming from the bottom of their throats! I had no idea where this noise was coming from, but then it sounded like they were screaming my name! I looked up and there on top of a bridge was MY KRC SUPPORT (Gillian, Barry and Anthony) screaming and cheering me on :-). I got such a fright, my heart was pounding and I felt running disorientated from running and looking up so also started to scream from the bottom of my throat! :-). Honestly, in a field of 14000 runners I did not expected ANYONE to shout my name at 6am in the morning. It felt amazing having people supporting you like this. I was now really psyched up….and now I am ready to admit 🙂 There Is No Place For MP3 Players In Comrades!!!” Those people travelled 600kms to support me and the other 3 KRC members. It meant as much to them as it did to me seeing them and making sure they know I have spotted them. I would have missed out on an amazing experience if I ran with my iPod!

The 1st Half – “Littered With Hills”

To use the famous words of Bruce Fordyce…The “first half of the Up Run is littered with hills!” At the expo I bought the sub-11h30 and sub-12h00 pacing bands, my plan A&B. Plan A was on my arm and plan B on my ankle. As I was walking to the start my ankle started to pain a bit (that funny feeling) so I went back to the car to put on a Transact and took off the sub-12hr pacing band and then forgot to put it back on. I guess that was the end of my sub-12hr goal (at least for the first half of the race!) 🙂

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Three of the famous Big 5 named hills of Comrades you get in the first half of the Up Run; CowiesFields and Bothas. Bruce Fordyce says if you get to the top of Fields and Bothas  and you feeling good you gonna have a good Comrades. I was feeling GOOOD!! Honestly I had no idea what these hills would look like. I just imagined the worst and somehow got through them on pace!

At the time I was scared of the hills. Taking it easy…I really did not know where these hills were exactly, where they began and where they ended so mostly just followed the pace of everyone around me.  I decided that if I kept to my strategy of running at 7:30 pace I could walk the hills and still be fine. I don’t know why I decided on that strategy. I thought I would save my energy on the hills. These 3 hills were not that bad; I was expecting worse (probably because I was walking them :-)). In hindsight, I could have done a run/walk strategy up the hills…who knows what would have happened.

 Where Did My Fuel Go!

I’ve arranged that I would have additional fuel sources at another running club’s tables as I decided not to run with a fuel belt. BIGGEST MISTAKE!! I had some doubts about this so did take a few gels just in case I miss one or two of the tables, never planned on missing them ALL!! :-). The club was going to have 7 tables along the route and I have left fuel and other refreshments at 4 tables. The first of which was my Hydrassist at 30km. I don’t like it if things does not go according to plan. I did not see the tables….at 30km and again spotted nothing 44km! I just gave up looking for the other 2 tables….so I ended up running with only 6 gels and 1 tube perpetuem all the way from Durban to PMB! I had to improvise and ate salty potatoes; oranges; gelly babies; biscuit and chocolate from GAME, Dischem offered RACE FOOD…Yummie Stuff! I stocked up! Non-runners will not understand but I was SO HUNGRY I could throw up! I eventually saw Adam and he gave me some chicken and Hydrassist to drink. I felt alive again. Probably all becoming a bit mental at that stage – just because I did not see the tables and had my fuel at the times that I thought I would need them, does not mean that I was not on track…. and that was all that was important at that stage. That I was on track!

I used the sub-11h30 pace band – I followed that band too the T! I got through to halfway 5:48:00 (on par for sub11:30!) I was really chuffed with myself. I felt good.

Then I heard the loud screams again. It was Gillian, Barry and Anthony waiting just after the halfway mark, just as you go up Inchanga. It was so good to see them again. They all encouraged me, telling me that the others have passed and that 2 boys are struggling a bit and that I was still looking fresh compared to them (that should have been a hint that I needed to go faster! 🙂 But I was feelingy good, and it was INCHANGA coming up…time to walk again. 🙂

The 2nd Half – “Lost in Time”

Ok, I admit. INCHANGA was a  MOTHER-OF-A-HILL! I think more than 4km long….up and up and up we go! I walked it. I made sure that I was at least staying on pace with the sub-11h30 pacing band.

At 56 km (31km to go), 7hrs 40min into the race my Garmin said AMEN! And I believe this is where I completely got LOST IN TIME… 😦

I knew the watch was gonna die but Adam was going to give me another watch halfway, never saw him and when I did see him just before Little Pollys I was so hungry all I could think of was food and my other gels that he had with him as back-up, completely forgot to take the watch! So much for running with a GPS watch. I might as well have just ran with a normal watch!

Running with the Sub-12hr Bus!

Somewhere between 31km to go and 26km to go the sub-12hr bus caught up with me. I was quite surprise. I was running without a watch but the pace felt right? But the Sub-12hr bus was making it’s way!

I never intended running with a bus. It was gonna be too risky for me but somehow somewhere I would not be able to tell now but between Harrisons Flats and Camperdown I got on the Sub-12hr bus, just after my watch died. I recall someone saying “This bus is too early!” and because I was on pace for sub 11h30 I also thought that the bus was too early but happy to get on the bus cos they could then take care of my pacing and I don’t have to worry about my time. BIGGEST MISTAKE!!!

I wish I can say what happened during the first part of the second half. I have back tracked the day so many times in my head and it all came down to what happened between 31km to go and 26km to go. I have no other explanation. In hindsight I wish I knew what I was doing then (if only I had my GPS watch!! 😦 ). I only today, after sitting down and by method of deduction realise that it took me 1hr 18mins to run 5km!!! I swear if I  had a watch on my arm I would have noticed this. This is like 15mins per km. I honestly don’t understand how that is even possible! I was running in the sub-12hr bus so what de hell were we all doing? Just seems so unrealistic….

Camperdown (26km to go)

We finally got through to Camperdown (26km to go at 13:52:34) – 60km done and 8hrs 22s on the clock….3h38 to run 26km!

Camperdown Spectator Spots

There were huge crowd support and a great vibe running through the Nedbank Camperdown spectator spot. DJs and people cheering and screaming. It gave me a bit of hope, as it seemed that the bus was still “on track”. At this stage there was some strong winds blowing and everyone just had to hold onto there caps! Then I heard someone said that there is still 2 other sub-12hr buses behind us, one of which is Vlam’s bus, so I relaxed and told myself all I had to do was stay with this bus.

OMG! The other 2 buses caught up with us and now there were three pacesetters running together. BIG DISASTER!! Vlam looked buggered and was too happy that there was someone else leading for a change, the other pacer just wanted to sprint and the other one wants to lead. CHAOS!! I should have gotten out of the sub-12hr buses at that stage but was too scared to fall behind and somehow could not pass them! I stayed with the bus….

12km To Go

The the pacestter leading the sub-12hr buses decided he did not want to run anymore! I mean really!! Everyone wanted to know from Vlam if we were gonna make it. That’s when Vlam and the other pacer just started to run at a pace that none of us in the sub-12hr bus could keep up with (I know the pace you need to run if you want to beat the clock…ticking away at 1h30 left and 12km to go). You ain’t no longer running at 8min pace you run at 7min pace and all of this just before little Polly’s!

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Little Polly’s

Getting through Little Polly’s was tough! I saw Adam just before little Polly’s and forgot to ask him for the other watch as this sub-12hr bus was running so fast; felt like 10k pace and all I could think of was not to fall off that bus! I just took more Hydrassist and a gel from Adam. Thought I needed an energy booster fast! 🙂

Polly Shorts (7km to go)

But we all fell off the sub-12hr bus and walked up Pollys like LONE RANGERS! I got to the top of Polly’s (7km to go at 16:38:14). As I got to the top I saw this huge timer that said 11:08 in big font- 52mins to run 7km. I felt disorientated coming up Pollys. The last time I saw the time it was 7hrs 40min into the race. I stoppped and asked one of the spectators if that was the time. Off course that was the time! What was I smoking. 🙂 What I wanted to know was how many minutes left to run! In the back of my head I started to doubt whether I can run 7min/km after having just ran 80km!

I tried my best coming down Pollys to run and not to walk. But it aint all down hill either. There were a few little hills to go and some flat sections. All feeling like MOUNTAINS making you walk! At one stage I heard someone said “you looking good” and then I heard someone said “3km 15mins to go”. Then someone said ” I know this is a push but if you run 4min pace you can still make it!”

The Finish

It was dark again. I could see the stadium lights. I was so close. I could hear the crowds. Then finally with 1km to go I entered the stadium grounds – and then I heard the sub-12hr gun go off! I stopped. I did not know what to do. Unsure of whether I should run, walk or just stop! I decided to walk but then I heard Lorin from Starfish screaming my name and now all the kids from Starfish were cheering me on, waving flags and blowing their whisltles. I then realise that I have helped made a small difference in their lives. And right there they made a big difference in how I was going to finish my 1st Comrades Marathon. I suddenly felt this great sense of achievement and pride. To think they were still out there screaming and waiting for me to come in. I had no choice but to run and finish on a high!

As I entered the final stretch on the grass Gillian and the other KRC members were waiting for me to come in; cheering me on! I felt great! Another runner from Australia (I think) came running in with me, putting her arm around me, giving me a huge hug saying “We did it!!” It was here where I almost got a bit teary. 🙂

Yes, I did it! Official time 12hrs 10mins, no where close to what I was hoping for but proud that I finished THIS gruelling distance!

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Apparently the conditions on the day were the worst ever experienced in the history of Comrades with strong berg winds and temperatures of 32 degrees, leaving over 4,000 runners with a DNF. I was disappointed not getting my medal; but this is all part of the Comrades experience. Comrades is a race like no other -it get’s into your blood! Can’t wait to lace-up within the next few weeks to start “My 2014 Comrades Down Run Journey!”

2 responses »

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