After many months and hours of training on my #road2comrades, I can proudly say I did it! Last Sunday 29th May 2016 I completed the grueling 89km Ultra Comrades Marathon down-run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. It was without a doubt the hardest race I have ever done but probably the most rewarding.
My parents, Warrick and I stayed in Howick the night before the race at a B&B which was about a 25 minutes drive from the start in Pietermaritzburg. On our drive up to Howick from Durban we drove the route of the race backwards which really put it into perspective of how far I was going to have to run – we were all exhausted just driving the route. Driving the route helped me to understand how many additional hills there are in the race over-and-above the “named” hills like Inchanga and Cowies Hill. I would definitely recommend that any novice runners drive the route beforehand. On our drive we also stopped off at the “Wall of Honour” where Warrick’s grandfather and father have a plaque. That night we went to a lovely little restaurant in Howick called the Black Olive for an early evening dinner so that we could all get to bed early.
On the morning of the race we were all up at 3.30am to get ready for a long day ahead. I was feeling very nervous that morning and had a small panic as we left the B&B a little later than we had planned. Luckily we had no traffic going into Pietermaritzburg and managed to find a great parking literally one block away from the start. I then left Warrick and my parents to head off to my start shoot.
The start of the Comrades Marathon is an amazing experience. The vibe is incredible as you stand amongst 16 000+ fellow runners singing the national anthem followed by Shosholoza; the Rooster then calls and Chariots of Fire plays before the gun goes off to signal the start of the race. You then wait until the sea of runners ahead starts to move. It took me 4 minutes to get over the start mat before I could start running. I took a while to get into a comfortable running rhythm as there was just so many runners ahead and around me at all times.
My first 20km of the race just flew by so quickly which was more or less where I got to see my family for the first time on the route by the Lion Park. I was following my plan which was to run 45minutes and then walk 150m to take in some nutrition and on the hour I would take a cramp-ease pill. I continued on this plan up until halfway at Drummond. Just before Drummond is Inchanga which is a really long windy up-hill that is followed by a steep, long descent. Contrary to what I believed, the uphill was no problem but the downhill was brutal on my body and I was really struggling to run. I saw my parents at halfway and just mentioned to them I was starting to take a bit of strain. Before running Comrades the longest run I had ever done was 48km so any distance beyond this I was not familiar with and didn’t know how my body would be or feel.
The second half of the race was really tough as I started to feel a lot of pain in my hip-flexors, hips and quads especially on the downhills so I implemented a new strategy into my plan where I would run all the up-hills and I would then run and walk on the downhills. I also tried to include a quick walk every 20 minutes to help break the constant pounding on my quads and hips from running. What definitely kept me going though was having my parents and Warrick as supporters along the way. I knew I would be seeing them all at the 60km Randburg Harriers tent and as soon as I saw them I burst into tears as I was in a world of pain. Warrick and my dad then walked with me as I took in some nutrition and gave me a much needed boost to start running again.
The last 30km of the Comrades down-run are really brutal in terms of the downhills especially Fields Hill. I really took a lot of strain in this part of the race but somehow your mind takes over and you just keep moving forward albeit very slowly at times.
With 3km to go you are running on a relatively flat section through the streets of Durban towards the stadium. I was feeling great at this point as there were no more downhills and I knew I was almost at the finish line. Unfortunately my watch had died at about 4km to go but I was aware that I was still on track for a sub-10 hour which was my plan from the start but I just needed to keep running to make it in time. Entering the stadium onto that magical grass is the most wonderful and surreal feeling as all my aches and pains seemed to all disappear and I was able to finish feeling relatively strong in a total time of 09:53:00 earning my bronze medal. Comrades is known for having the smallest medals for one of the hardest races you will ever do; however, that tiny bronze medal is definitely one of the most meaningful medals I have ever received to-date.
My Comrades journey has definitely not come to an end yet as I DO want to take on the up-run at some point. Whether that will be next year for a back-to-back medal, the jury is still out, but as tough and painful as this race is there is something magical and humbling about it that you cannot explain until you have been part of it.
This is my final post as part of my #road2comrades 2016 series. If you would like to view the rest of the series of posts leading up to my debut at Comrades, please click on the below post links: