If you don’t know, Comrades is probably the ultimate road ultra in the world where 17,000 people run just under 90km from Durban to Pietermaritzburg (South Africa). It alternates direction each year, this year being the “up” run.
We spent the first week of our 2 week holiday with a great bunch of other Aussies near the Kruger NP where we saw plenty of fauna including; elephant, giraffe, rhino, lion, cheetah, buffalo and zebra (you’ve no doubt already seen the photos). A little too much alcohol was drunk so we all arrived in Durban very relaxed.
The pre-race expo and seeing all the other runners got the adrenaline pumping.
The race started at 5:30am on Sunday 4th June (we needed to be up just after 4), the first hour or so being in the dark.
My race plan was simple, run conservatively to half way. This tip is given by everyone you ask (thanks for your tips John Hill). One African who was running his 12th comrades emphasised this to me at 5km as we were passed by hordes of people working way too hard.
The “up” year is almost constant climbing (about 900m of elevation gain) until half way so i got into cruise mode and managed to have a chat to a number of fellow runners, specifically a friendly group from a local Durban running club RAC.
At about 35km around Bothas hill I realised I had dropped behind my estimated time required to get a sub 7:30 and the coveted silver medal, I was in 66th place. I increased my pace. At around 25km to go, around umlaas road, I realised I had gone a little earlier, I then knew it would be a hard slog to the finish line. By that stage I had moved into the top 15.
A local runner called Graeme McCallum also in my age group, caught me up (as it happens we had been tracking each other closely since around 40km). We started chatting. He was also after silver and had run Comrades before. He said we had time in the bag but needed to run conservatively until after the final climb of poly shortts and then push on the downhill to the finish. It sounded like a plan so we ran together until Pollys where he pulled out of sight and finishing 1:30 minutes ahead of me. I ran walked the dreaded Pollys then did my best to hold 4:30 pace on the downhill.
In the last few kms I realised as long as I didn’t stop I was going to get my goal. Sounds easy, a few kms but my quads had been firing shots of pain for the last 10kms. There were thousands of spectators as we entered the finish shoot and I’d like to think were cheering just for me. I crossed the line in 7:19 and immediately my body decided that going in a straight line wasn’t what it wanted to do anymore so I was accosted by medical people asking if I was ok, to this I blabbered yes I’m ok. Obviously not but I managed to make enough sense that they didn’t drag me into the medical tent never to be seen again.
A few minutes later with tears in my eyes I collapsed into Kate’s arms. Kate managed to half carry me to the international tent where Brendan Davies (one of the other Aussies who told me prior to the event I could do it, thanks Bren) looking very fresh as he finished in an amazing 6:20, and the rest of the crew congratulated me. All I could do was collapse into the nearest bean bag. After 30 mins of moaning and saying I’ll never do it again I recovered, had a beer and spent the next few hours cheering in the other runners in our group.
For me it was one of those lucky days that you hit all your goals 1) finishing 2) silver medal 3) top 10 in age. Needless to say I am chuffed to bits.
Would I do it again? Would I go faster on a “down” year? Could I break 7 if I focused on road? Who knows what’s in the future but for now I’m ready to get back to the trails.
Well done to all the rest of our Aussie group who all finished even though there was various injuries and under training: Kelly-ann Varey, James Matthews, Ben Bash Van Steel and especially Tia Jones who got a sub 8, massive PB and 2nd in her age category. Many thanks also to Nadine Davies, Dwayne Varey and obviously my soul mate Kate Murray for being there.
Another outstanding aussie result, david von sendon, 1st place in 60+ category in 7:52. Wow! I hope I am still running that fast in A few years time.