Descending on Durban on 8 June 2018 filled many runners with hope, promise and it was one of the most fulfilling moments in our lives – as some of us took on this famous race for the first time. One of the countless rewards of the Comrades Marathon is the spirit of this race, the camaraderie that comes with being among the individuals taking on this challenge. It was to be a huge turning point in how I would later understand my body, mind and overcome pain.
Yes, some pain. I wish that last was “spirit” and it would have been all poetic from there with the breeze gently in my face, running in slow motion on a cloud, with a smile the whole way and feeling like it was much shorter than 90-kilometres. But no, there were many great moments, not all of them as poetic as all that.
Every race before this point was preparation it seems, except the Loskop Marathon, Two Oceans Marathon and Om Die Dam, which are all amazing and can be grueling. Every other one was preparation, a way to get a sense of the difference between the toughest long effort and reaching the next small town after losing count of hours on the road. Waking up just before 1am means I had to sleep just after 7pm, which is unnatural in itself by many imaginable standards.
The energy in Pietermaritzburg just before 5am when we arrived for the race was electric, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced. People shared stories of their last Comrades as motivation for both peers and themselves, which helps to calm the nerves. Some were there for one sole reason; to finish the race before cut-off with no strict finishing goal time. We felt connected as a community that wishes every participant well.
There was a point after the halfway mark when the mind and body had left me to my devices, I was just wandering spirit at this point with no idea what to do next. This is where the training comes to play. You tell yourself to just keep going and the slump subsides, if only for a moment, and the energy around you helps to regain momentum. Along with the tough hills later in the day also comes the heat, which was not as bad as I expected.
After being on the road for over 70 kilometres, sometime after 8 hours from the start, my running shoes felt unbearably tight. It was as though I would lose the top of my foot if I kept going, so I loosened the shoe which now had too much play and the pain was ever more consistent. Of course, I thought this was my foot just acting up for no reason begging to be left on the side of the road. It later turned out to be a circulation cutting compression sock by 2XU, but luckily this didn’t take me off the road for too long.
As we progressed further into the Ultimate Human Race I began to see why it’s called that. We encountered peers with injuries and some who needed more serious medical assistance. The inspiration of being on the open road, seeing people push themselves past what looks like “a wall” encouraged me to push past my own boundaries.
Family and loved ones will always be encouraging, and after crossing the finish line, seeing the light in my fiancé’s face while attempting to walk through the Moses Mabhida Stadium, made it all worth it. The medal is the small part of the race now that it’s over, the journey is the biggest part. Knowing that I took my mind and body through 90-kilometres on foot and I now sit here able to tell write about parts of the tale is the ultimate achievement.
She told me that she had met a lady whose husband was nearing the finish, that this was his fourth attempt and that he did not make it across the finish line on time the first three instances. They sat there talking about the stories of previous races and the wife’s hope that he finishes before cut-off and gets his medal. They were there with their kids, who were all very eager to see their dad soon. I was now rooting for this man whom I’d never met and everyone else who was still on their way.
Just a year ago I had no idea that I would take on this challenge, in fact, I thought it was crazy that anyone would put themselves through this sort of thing. Now. . . although I’m the first to point out my craziness, after many others have done so to much debate and denial, this is one of the least crazy things I have ever done. There is something about completing one long ultra-marathon after marathon in preparation for the Comrades that takes me past some of my own known – and unknown – hurdles to achieving more.
In search of a reward some days later, not cake this time I still owe myself that, I asked friends from Durban for a good place to have curry and one of the recommendations did not have the ambience. By chance, I then asked the Uber driver where he would suggest we go and he proposed Mali’s Restaurant in Morningside. Upon arrival at this house-turned-restaurant we welcomed by a friendly security guard who lets through the gate.
As you enter, it feels small enough to need to make a reservation and big enough to still be cosy. We were accommodated immediately by the host. Long story short, when the food arrived it was the most divine, mouth-watering – even as you eat it – thing I’ve ever tasted. I would definitely recommend the Lamb Rogan Ghosh any day, especially if you love tomato-based sauces that may have you licking your plate.
This was one of the most memorable and worthwhile weeks I’ve had, in June at least. It hit me for the first time when I saw a friend recently who said “you are the first person I know who finished the Comrades Marathon”, that’s when it occurred to me that all those people who finished, within the cut-off time and after, are heroes in their own right. That this is a special moment in any person’s life.