2011 Comrades Marathon, Favourites, Races

Last race: The Comrades Marathon (86.96km) 29 May 2011

I thought I’d died and gone to hell.

So I wasn’t completely honest in my previous posts. I’d been suffering from a stomach bug for two days before the race and convinced myself that it was just nerves. However it got so bad the night before the race that I ended up phoning my sister in London in a panic.

I was dehydrated when I took my place in the D pen at 5am, and by the time we’d gone 2km I needed to go again, except we were on the highway. About 5km in I spotted some other AACers who tried to get me to take a Rehidrat, which I did quickly followed by an anti nausea tablet and another pit stop. By the time I’d got to Cowies just 15km in I was dizzy and numb and vomited behind a paper bin. Enter the first Comrades hero, suddenly a stranger popped up beside me, surveying the mess I’d made and gave me his water sachet, he even rubbed my back.

At this point barely a fraction of the way in I was forced to consider bailing. Something I have never ever allowed myself to do. With another 72km to go I had to question the damage I might do to myself, but then how could I show up to work and tell them I sat down and waited for the rescue bus? In a second 6 months of training vanished, I moved swiftly from plan A (go sub 10) to B (beat last year’s time) through C (get a bronze) straight to plan Z (get a medal) judging by the fact that I had lost all my nutrients and therefore energy, the chances were slim.

I decided that if I had to get the rescue bus it would damn well have to catch me. I wasn’t going to give in. I drank at each water station, adding coke to each water, and when I felt able to I swallowed salt which I had to ask spectators for as well as the Gu I had in my pockets. Clearly I could no longer run up hill so my strategy had to be focussed on the downhill sections (not many on the up run). Walking up Fields Hill and Bothas, my throat started to constrict and I felt that breathing was difficult, I kept my hands on my waist to open the airways and apart from the sore stomach and slow pace, it wasn’t that bad until Inchanga.

I’d passed the halfway spot at Drummond and concentrated on the next climb which I managed no problem. I’d noticed my leg muscles hurt at the summit of each hill as they adjusted to the strain of being pulled in a different direction. At Inchanga I got to the top,and just started down the other side when I collapsed at the side of the road in agony with cramps in both calves. Like the vomiting I’ve never experienced this on a race as I eat properly days in advance, but I had no food and little water in my system. The pain was excruciating and I ended up groaning when hero number two arrived. He was a spectator who dashed over to help stretch out my legs. I actually cried right then, how the hell could I carry on now? He got me up and told me that a massage station was just around the bend and all I needed to do was walk over there. After a rub and ice I was off again, up Cato Ridge through the crap flat section of Harrison Flats where I was passed by the last sub 11 bus (there were three) which meant I was now officially with the back markers.

I now hit the 70km section where everything is black and most runners experience a serious downer, but I’d had the pain from the beginning. The whole race was dark and it was a fight every step of the way. Here the crowds, the noise, the smell of the braais, the kids with their ‘go Mum’ placards just pissed me off, last year I drew energy from the supporters, today I couldn’t bear them.

As I ran I tracked my progress against the cut off boards which tell runners when they will be swept. I’d gone from an hour and a half ahead to 30 minutes by the time I had stumbled and tripped down the decline at Ashbuton. I had another two pit stops and focussed on Polly Shortts. The sun was going down, never a good sign. Previously I had timed how long it had taken me to cover 10km from the 20km to go board and it was an hour and a half, at the bottom of Polly’s I had the same to do the last 10. Too tight. This is where the training kicks in.

At the top of Pollys I ran, only walking when the pain got too much. At this point I was blinking back the tears mainly because I couldn’t believe I was on the verge of not making the cut off, I’d put myself through all the training, the strain and agony of dragging myself through two marathons and up innumerable hills and I’d probably not get a medal. When I saw the laminated flag of the sub 12 bus catching the sun 300m ahead of me my heart sank and this really was my lowest point, if I wasn’t so dehydrated the tears would have been rolling down my cheeks. No, no, no, no, no this is not happening, this cannot be happening. If the sub 12 hour bus is ahead of you one of two things are probable – 1. You fail, 2. You catch them but do not have enough energy to move past the hundred plus people in the crowd which means you walk the finish trusting that the leader has calculated the time and distance properly. In a last ditch effort I made the decision right there that I was going to push past them and I was going to keep going fighting the pain until I was well past the group. At 5km to go I found Mike also having a bad day, I couldn’t speak from the sheer effort, barely managing a mumble, but Mike was my hero number three. He promised me we’d get there with 15 minutes to spare. Despite his own pain and exhaustion he encouraged me, talked me through it, pointed out the turns and decided when we would walk and run. There is nothing more emotional to see 11 hours and 30 minutes on your wristwatch and still have 2km to go. He gave me the support I needed and we ran the finishing straight together.

I may have ran a bad time, but I’m prouder of yesterday’s race than last year, I tested myself to the absolute limit, and I came out the other side. At any point I could have decided it was too hard, that I was too sick, that I was too disappointed with the time and given up. I don’t know where that determination and perseverance came from, but I had it when I needed it. I got to plan Z and I got my medal. I didn’t for a second enjoy anything about Comrades 2011, and no I don’t think I’ll be putting myself through it again any time soon, but never say never – After all there is nothing like a challenge.

Read last year’s post

Running notes
Route: Durban to Pietermaritzburg
Time started: 05:25
Total time: 11:44:50
Total distance: 86.96km
Runner’s condition: See above

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