My ‘Couch-to-Comrades’ journey has without a doubt been the toughest and most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life. It still blows my mind knowing I’ve ran 1200km in training this year in preparation for an 88km ultra; I’ve put my heart and soul into this!
Despite the high mileage and all the preparation I was really nervous and scared going into this year’s race. I have allowed the dreaded “what if” to get the better of me!
T-7: Suffering From Severe Taperitus
The last week of taper I err on the side of caution (less is more). The Saturday I had stomach problems but the next morning I was feeling better and decided to test my fuel belt one last time. I hate running with a fuel belt, but it allows me to carry a cellphone and all my supplies for the race. I’ve learnt the hard way that it’s best to be self-sufficient on long ultras. My feet and calfs were feeling good (no numbness) and the running felt really easy.
Severe stomach cramps and tummy rumblings forced me into a walk 6km into my run. O-M-Grumbling-G! The first thing that came to my mind was never ever run without your phone. I called Adam to come and pick me up. Let’s just say it was the longest I had to wait for someone in my entire life! What went through my mind whilst waiting next to the side of a major road is nothing short of hilarious (picture a Leon Schuster movie!) and that was pretty much how things went for the rest of the week. I had no appetite and by the Thursday I was starting to feel hungry. I made sure I keep hydrating but by now I was starting to suffer from severe taperitus. I convinced myself I was coming down with flu (sprayed my throat a million times) and it felt like I had completely stuffed up my ankle. The side of my foot started to feel tight and numb; I was rolling it on a tennis ball every evening (lol!). My ITB felt tight and sore…and I had knee pain. Yip, TAPERITUS FROM HELL!!
T-2: The Wait Is Over!
Finally, Friday and we were on our way to Durban. I still couldn’t eat anything, kept hydrating with water and Powerade. I realised afterwards it probably would’ve been better if I had the GU Recovery smoothie instead, more carbs! Halfway stop at Harrismith is usually a highlight with a quick coffee and breakfast, but I still didn’t have an appetite (nerves!). It was much nicer just relaxing and basking in the sun.
We got to Durban late afternoon and booked into the hotel. The hotel went out of their way to make the Comrades runners feel welcomed and relaxed!
The plan was to check in and then head off to the expo but suddenly there it was…hunger pains! I was so hungry I could faint. Dinner was at 7pm and if I waited till then it would’ve meant I’ve ate nothing for the day (not exactly how you carboload before a major ultra marathon). I ordered a chicken burger and chips from the hotel and it tasted so good I could’ve had 10 of them…must have been the Durban air that brought back my appetite! I was starting to feel my old self again and could not wait to get to the expo.
My Yellow Race Number
I registered hassle free at the Charities and Elite registration desk, perks of being a charity runner 🙂
I opened the registration pack to make sure that all my details were correct and to my surprise found a yellow race number! It was like opening a Willy Wonka chocolate bar to discover you’ve got the last golden ticket. LOL!
The yellow number indicates that you will receive a Back-to-Back medal at the finish of your race and it is given only to novices who’ve received their 1st Comrades medal in 2014 (DOWN run). It does not matter whether you finish consecutive races (post your 1st 2 races) in the following years you don’t get another Back-to-Back medal. I didn’t realise that I would qualify for a Back-to-Back medal and was beyond myself from excitement. I really wanted one and now all I had to do was to secure a COMRADES FINISH!
I love expos and I always spend way too much time there that’s good for me or my bank account but this year it was a quick in and out. There wasn’t anything I needed and only grab some pacing tattoos. I must have been really nervous!
After the expo we were off to attend the Starfish Charity carbo-loading dinner in Umhlanga. It is like a reunion dinner for me. Ever since my 1st Comrades I’ve run for Starfish charity. It is my way of working for a cause that I am passionate about.
Every year I sign-up I ask myself ‘how are you going to raise the money’? Honestly, raising the money has always come easy. I’ve realised people are more than willing to support and help make a difference. You just have to ask (nicely). This year I had a lot of fun with my fundraising initiatives and received a really nice corporate donation. I was even brave enough to beg for dollars and pounds on Twitter and I have been blown away by the support and donations I’ve received from all over. I don’t think I will ever run Comrades and not be part of one of the Amabeadi Charities. You do get rewarded well for your efforts and contributions and it’s nice to meet up with all the other charity runners at the carboloading dinner and listen to their Comrades stories. Every runner has a reason…
What I ate that day:
- Breakfast – Eggs
- Lunch – Chicken burger and chips
- Dinner – Seafood pasta (craved it!) and a whole cheese and chicken pizza
T-1: Mixed Emotions
The next morning I met up with my running tweeps @the AngryKenyan and @Peterj at the North Beach parkrun. I was telling them how nervous and scared I was but they were so supportive and encouraging; they said all the right things and made me believe that I was going to be awesome. I also got to meet the lovely @steftom21, the brains behind the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (the race that changed my life forever!) and received good luck wishes from SA marathon champion @ReneKalmer! It was a beautiful morning in Durban and everything was just PERFECT!
However back at the hotel I got a huge shock to find Adam on his way to the hospital. He came down with a fever and what seemed like a bladder or kidney infection. My heart was pounding that’s how scared I was! He assured me that he was fine but needed to have blood tests done. He was gone for an hour (felt like 5hrs) and was put on antibiotics. We decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and just relaxed at the hotel (if that was even possible). I was worried about Adam but focused on getting all my things ready for the next day; no last minute faffing around and wasting time in the morning.
That evening Adam was still not better and I was getting nervous and emotional. How can I go run a race when my husband is so sick. At that stage it really didn’t matter to me if I ran or not – Comrades seemed like a silly race. I knew I was going to finish the race anyway, but Adam didn’t want to hear any of that. He said he saw the look on my face when I saw my race number….more tears!
I packed my fuel belt with all the supplies I was possibly going to need for the race. The bag so felt heavy and uncomfortable and I chucked out everything except for my 7 GU gels (1 every hour from 10K) and 4 Hydrassist (1 every 20km). I will eat whatever is on offered on the road. The plan was to meet Adam hopefully in Pinetown, Halfway and perhaps Cato Ridge and get from him whatever I needed. He is not the most reliable second but he somehow finds his way around (still better than having no-one supporting you)
We had dinner at the hotel and I finally set the alarms of both our cellphones, running watches even asked for a wake-up call and fell asleep immediate. It was a long stressful day!
What I ate that day:
- Huge Breakfast – Omelette and 2 slices of toast (and I stuffed my face with almost all the cakes and deserts on offer)
- Lunch – Chicken breast and salad
- Dinner – Spaghetti bolognaise; lasagna; chicken and rice; chocolate cake
Comrades 2015 Race Day
I was up before any of the alarms went off. We had breakfast at 3:30am and my tummy grumblings started again. I didn’t feel like eating breakfast especally not eggs. Nerves, I swear! I had two slices of jam toast and 2 cups of coffee…again forgot to drink my GU Recovery drink.
Adam was still not feeling well and I felt bad chasing him up at that hour of the morning but he insisted on dropping me off and then go straight back to the hotel to rest.
We left the hotel at about 4:15am
The weather was perfect! It was a nice warm morning in Durban, no need to wear extra clothes to keep warm and discard of later in the race. I was all set to go with my pacing tattoos! Plan A (11:00) and Plan B (11:30). I looked like a real running warrior but anyone who run ultras know that there comes a point in the race when you can’t think and making simple pacing calculations or even just counting becomes virtually impossible! At that stage I was so bloody excited about my bling I didn’t really care about time I just wanted to get going and FINISH!
I wanted to warm up first but there was no time as I noticed the seeding batches started to move forward and I could see some of the entrances of the H and G pens were already blocked by runners.
I kissed my husband goodbye and told him to go back to bed. I could see that he was not well; it broke my heart to leave him like that. I asked him to meet me later in the day; somewhere after halfway only – knowing him he would go out of his way to try and surprise me at various spots no matter how sick he is. I didn’t realised I was not going to see him at all that day!
The start area was buzzing with lots of excitement in the air. I was so nervous I went straight to the C seeding pen and just stood there like a little sardine enjoying the amazing vibe and atmosphere of the start of the world’s biggest and greatest ultra marathon. I couldn’t believe that I’ve actually made it to the start.
Then the rituals started, first the National Anthem, then Shosaloza, then Chariots of Fire. I thought I was going to cry…everyone else around me were but I was so calm and at the same time so excited. My heart was pounding from excitement. The cock crowed and then the gun! OMG. This was it.
…we were off!
It took two minutes to get over the start line and the first 3 kilometers were ULTRA SLOW which suited me perfectly. The strategy was not to worry about pace the first 7km but to take it easy until the “80km to go” marker and from there on to run 10km splits of 7:20min/km. Within the first kilometer I heard someone calling my name from behind. It was @robbyricc, IRONMAN and my running tweep who introduced himself on the run and flew off at the speed of light!
I was running easy and slowly started to relax and enjoy myself. The best thing about my running journey is that I am no longer a back-of-the-pack runner…mid pack runner now! It is an amazing feeling being surrounded by runners from all walks of life all coming together on this special day with one goal in mind – to safely get to Pietermaritzburg and collect that hard earned coveted Comrades Marathon medal!
The first 50km of the UP RUN is just that. UP. UP. UP.
7km into the race and the average pace was 7:35min/km and it stayed there for the next 50km, un-freakin-believable!
The first cut-off came at Cowies hill about 17km into the race. It was so early in the race I didn’t even think about cut-offs. I was more worried about how my feet and calfs were going to behave. In my training races my feet always went numb for the first 8-17km. I’ve stressed about the first 20km of Comrades for weeks. I knew if I could get through the first 20km without any foot or calf issues I was going to be OK. It was my lucky day. BEST FOOT FORWARD! It must have been that ultra slow start. I made sure I moved my toes regularly but the vibe of the race took my mind off worrying about things I had no control over.
The next big event was hitting Fields Hill. I didn’t spot Adam at the bottom of Fields. We’ve agreed on a supporters running rule “I don’t look for him, he looks for me”. I was a bit disappointed and worried not spotting him there but head on because Fields is a long hill! The last time I ran this race I walked all the hills. This time I told myself I didn’t come here to walk hills, at minimum it will be a run/walk. The king of Comrades Bruce Fordyce (9 times winner) says if you get to the top of Fields Hill and you are feeling good then you are in for a great Comrades day. I was feeling GOOD!
I enjoyed running up Fields. It’s a hill yes, but the massive sight of runners struggling (walking!) and vibe is just unbelievable. I just love running Comrades..after months of training this is my party on the road!
Run Over by the Sub11 Bus
Just after Fields as you turn off into Hillcrest the Sub11 bus caught up with me. I’ve learnt a few things about the Comrades pacing buses (1) Don’t run in the bus and (2) Don’t trust the bus driver…too much! As we entered Hillcrest the first water tables were on the left side of the road. Have you ever seen a whole bus of runners move to one side of the road at the same time? I had no chance! I was pushed into the water table, lost my balance and fell so hard face flat on the ground. All I saw were water sachets and my Comrades race going down the drain or at least my Sub11 medal. I was just run over by the sub11 bus! I was lying there in the water; you’d think anyone from that bus would help me. NO! I couldn’t get up by myself. It took two guys from the water table to airlift me back into a standing position. My knee got a knock and I was praying that it was OK and that I didn’t pull any muscles. My left arm was bleeding but the rest of my body felt fine. I “washed” myself off; didn’t make eye contact with anyone just pointed in the direction of where my specs was lying and started to walk slowly in the direction of Pietermaritzburg!
I don’t know why but I started to think about the movie Soul Surfer (about Bethany Hamilton). It must have been something to do with water that made me think about that movie. When the shark attacked her she remain absolutely calm. People say that her ability to remain calm is what saved her life. My fall was nowhere as traumatic as a shark attack but I told myself if you breakdown and cry now your race will be over! Just forget about it, don’t waste more time…it is still early days, just keep moving forward!
The crowd support in Hillcrest is amazing; they really do carry you and all the hype took my mind off my falling incident and in no time I was back in the zone!
Running into Bothas I heard someone calling my name and saying “You took your time…looking great!” It was @theAngryKenyan. I don’t know about looking great, but I was feeling fantastic ready to take on Bothas Hill. Lots of runners walking up Bothas Hill but I kept to my run walk strategy. In my humble opinion I think the bottom part of Bothas Hill is steeper than Fields Hill but it might be all in the mind because by then the legs is starting to feel tired. The nice part for me is that you leave that city feel of the race behind and start to make way for more country scenes.
There’s huge crowd support running into Drummond and spectators go out of their way to feed and cheer runners on. It is very exciting to reach this point of the race knowing you’ve got 3 of the big hills done and dusted. I was still not running at my race pace but I was on a high. All I could think of was getting to halfway.
I reached halfway in 5:34; the plan was to get there between 5:30-5:40 feeling strong. I felt amazing and happy with my progress. My stomach was behaving. I kept to my strategy of 1 Gu on the hour. It worked. I didn’t feel tired or exhausted. I had no Coke or Powerade in the first half. All those slow long hilly training runs made me strong. I was looking forward to seeing Adam after halfway as I knew a recovery drink was what would keep me going if I was not going to eat from the tables or grab sandwiches from spectators…didn’t see him.
Next up was the “mother of hill” Inchanga. I’ve trained my butt off so that I could keep to a run/walk strategy for the hills but when I got to Inchanga I changed my mind and resorted to a power walk. It took a while to get to the top but I felt relaxed and still strong knowing I had bagged my medals and I was not willing to risk losing it. Yip, a bit of a WHIMP I know (lol!) but I played it safe!
Going up Inchanga I spotted a girl right upfront with a crown on her head and a white sash around her shoulders. I was curious to see which charity she was running for so made her a target to be overtaken. OMG! When I got to her I read the sash and it said “Miss Comrades 2015”. I ran faster; no way I was going to let Miss Comrades beat me! Never saw her on the road again but I am curious to know what her finish time was.
The section at the back of Inchanga to the Ithembeni school is probably the nicest part of the the second half and I was glad to have reserved my energy on Inchanga. I tried to run a little faster to bring down the average pace (by just a few seconds) but my Garmin was not interested; the pace remained unchanged. I heard a woman said to her club mate “Right, are you prepared to work hard? The Sub11 busses have all passed so we are going to have to work hard from here on. Are you up for it”? I had a look at the women she was speaking to. It was a young girl and it was her first Comrades. She looked buggered but didn’t respond, just kept moving on with her friend. I was really impressed with the way the woman was pushing this girl and thought maybe I should jump on their bus! If I do and maintain the pace I could still make Sub11 cut-off with them…that Aunty from Pretoria was a Comrades veteran! I didn’t try to keep up with them; decided I will run my own race (whimp!) but I felt good and I knew there was still a long way to go.
One definitely have a renewed sense of energy and inspiration running pass the Ithembeni school. You can’t help but smile and high five every single hand that gets offered to you!
The Long March to the Nedbank Green Mile
Once you leave the Ithembeni school the holiday is over. The race to the Nedbank Green Mile was tough. Maybe because in my head I had some very specific milestones with the last milestone getting to the Ithembeni school before the Nedbank Green Mile in Camperdown where my Starfish Charity support was waiting, so after Ithembeni school the route became a “blackbox”. My pace was slowing and getting to Camperdown took FOREVER! I realised afterwards those sections were Harrsion Flats and Cato Ridge but on the day the route was a blank. The pacing tattoos were a great help but what will work even better is if they add the route profile and names of the major towns.
Once in Camperdown the Green Mile did not disappoint. The Starfish Charity supporters went ballistic when they spotted me. The vibe was electric with big TV screens and lots of entertainment for the runners.
The women’s prizing giving was on TV as I passed the big screen and I saw Caroline receiving her prize; it was all so exciting! She looked fully recovered (like she didn’t just win the biggest ultra marathon in the world) and I still had 20km to go!
Leaving Camperdown for Umlaas (the highest point on the route) was even TOUGHER with a few more smaller ups and downs, can’t call them hills after what I’ve already been through. Up to this point in the race I haven’t resorted to “counting” to keep going, but I think I was beyond the point where counting was going to help keep the focus. My eyes kept moving to seeding batch letters on the bibs. The majority of the runners were G and F runners so I was feeling real comfortable, not a lot of H batch runners yet (lol!). I started to recite the alphabet…A,B,C. It helped – only 26 letters, no need to count to 50!
I spotted the guy running in the Choc Cow suit for charity quite a few times on the route. We were running the same pace. He was offered tea by spectators and actually went and sit down on a chair to have it… very relaxed complete as if it was Sunday high tea time (guess he knew he was going to make it). I kept running…
Hitting My Low
We were running in the country side and the road suddenly became less crowded. Either everyone was running faster or people started to slow down. I enjoyed the peace and quietness. It made me reflect on a few things in life as well as my Comrades journey. Suddenly I went from an emotional high to a rock bottom low. I was thinking what a stupid race this is, questioning why I’m running it, saying to myself I never want to ever run again, I want to stop running but I don’t know how, to how ridiculously happy running makes me, all the places I’ve been to and the amzing people I’ve met and new friends I’ve made, back to crying for not having seen Adam on the road…hoping he was OK, thinking about how I’ve became a running addict, workaholic turned running addict! Where is this that elusive “work-life” balance, still searching…realising there is no such thing!
I am going to suggest that the Comrades Marathon Association do something regarding crowd support on this section of the route as runners are clearly not able to be left to their own devices, who knows what’s going through everyone’s minds (lol!)
Luckily my ‘low’ was shortlived. By the time I got to Little Pollys I was surrounded by lots of runners again. I must have caught up with them in my darkest hour (lol!). We were all starting to fight the fatigue but kept pushing on. I started to relax again; almost there! Getting from Little Pollys to Pollys is another TOUGHIE…not the nicest scenery as well. I heard someone calling my name from behind. It was @Orelando_G another running tweep! I was really excited to meet him. We ran together until we got to Pollys. I pushed a bit harder as I really didn’t want to run/walk up Pollys. I just wanted to WALK up Pollys. I’ve planned to never see that hill again in my life I might as well take my time getting up there.
When I got to the bottom of Pollys I was ready to WALK and CELEBRATE! The Pink Drive claimed half of Pollys and the support was amazing. My Kenyan friend was a pink drive volunteer and when she spotted me made sure I was cheered on! I was so happy to see her my energy levels got a major boost!
10hours and 30mins of running and I was at the the top of Pollys. The hard work was done and I decided to enjoy the last 7km to the finish. In my first race I got a bit lost in time and now I had so much time left I was more than happy to waste it!
I had the opportunity to run with so many of my running tweeps. The last one was @HAbramjee who caught up with me just after Pollys. It was great to finally meet him in person. He was running so relaxed…14 times Comrades veteran! When I saw that I started to get nervous thinking he was running too fast for me so I told him to head on as I was taking it easy. I should have pushed on with him as I took my own sweet time that last 7km; I wasn’t even tired just didn’t feel like using my fast twitch muscles that haven’t been used over the last 80km!
Finally the GOLDEN MILE! Our club tent was right at the entrance to the stadium. I tried to spot Adam but didn’t see him. My heart was pounding, this time from pure joy and happiness. I was beyond myself from excitement. Amazing how everyone who couldn’t run the previous kilometer were all running. I have no idea where I got the energy from but if I had the ability to do cartwheels I would have! I was feeling so good and was on such a high I could have ran another 10km! As I got to the finish mat I heard someone calling my name and saying well done! It was @theAngryKenyan again…AK, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
Finally…my dream has come true!
I’ve Conquered The Ultimate Human Race.
Comrades is not just a race, it’s a journey…one you don’t walk alone! I believe that is the true spirit of the Comrades Marathon. My journey has been amazing; one that truly left me believing I am capable of anything I put my mind to. I’ve been blessed with support from so many friends, family, colleagues, Kyalami Running Club, my social media buddies and all the people I’ve approached to raise money for Starfish Charity. THANK YOU ALL, YOU’VE ALL INSPIRED ME TO GO THE EXTRA MILE.
I would like to thank my ultra amazing support team…my dream makers!
(1) My ultra amazing husband and children
My family is amazing. Distance running and especially running ultras is a selfish sport; so many hours away from you guys! I want to thank my husband and children for all the sacrifices they make so that I can train in the mornings and over weekends.
I dedicate my Comrades 2015 medal to my husband. He introduced me to running in 2011 but quietly told me one day he only wanted to run 10Ks (if he only knew then!). It would be impossible for me to live my selfish dreams, pushing myself to be the best runner I can be without his unconditional love and support. I’ve truly been blessed with the best!
You’ve missed our big race but you were in my heart all the way – I love you!
I dedicated my 1st Comrades medal (2014) to my 1st born and biggest supporter my daughter, Sabrina. This is going to sound really funny but it is so fitting…my Back-to-Back medal is dedicated to my “Tweezils”, my son and daughter who could’ve been twins – born one year apart. My Back-to-Back babies!
(2) My ultra amazing running coach
I will forever be grateful to Ray Orchison, who is coaching me to become a strong and confident ultra runner. I could not have done this without his support. My running journey is far from over but with his guidance I know I can achieve all the crazy goals I’ve set for myself.
My Comrades journey ended on an ultra high. I am not sure if I want to run another Comrades race any time soon, perhaps 2020…or 100th edition! I have some exciting trail races planned for the rest of the year that is going to challenge the wits out of me and I’m really excited about that!
…until my next mile 🙂