Durban - A battle of wills: that is what it was like for Comrades Marathon runners pushing themselves all-out for the finish line.
As four-time Olympic gold-medallist Jesse Owens once said: “The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself, the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us that’s where it’s at”.
The Comrades Marathon is one such race, with thousands of runners pushing their bodies to their limits. And through adversity, the runners learned more about themselves. The race had its victors, losers, also-rans and a whole lot of people on stretchers.
However, the most important aspect of the race, the camaraderie, was evident as runners who sometimes were complete strangers carried each other over the finish line when their fellow runners were too tired to carry on.
Some runners had smiles, others grimaces and there were tears for those who did not make the cut-off time and were consoled by their loved ones. Exhausted runners were lying all over the field and the air was filled with “rubbing stuff” as you approached the tent where people were shuttled in tents on stretchers, some conscious and some barely so. One man collapsed outside the tent from sheer fatigue. Getting to the entrance was just a stretch too far for him.
The queue marshal barked out orders: “There is a man on the ground; get him inside,” she bellowed.
Another runner who looked at the fallen Comrade said: “Running the comrades is difficult, but they still come back to run it”.
The medics rushed to the scene and lifted him on to a stretcher.
The stretcher bearers who had already worked up a sweat themselves as they zigzagged through Sahara Kingsmead Stadium, facing an endurance battle of their own as they ran carrying runners whose bodies had just had enough.
Despite the pain that runners were feeling, most were smiling as they got their 10 minutes of respite from cramps during their well-earned massage.
Dr Jeremy Boulter, who has been a doctor at the race for 35 years and the convener of the medical portfolio for the race for 21 years, said the most common problem facing runners was dehydration.
“Seventy percent of the runners we treat suffer from dehydration. Some have chest pains and some end up vomiting,” he said.
To prepare for such a huge event which boasted a field of 18 000 participants, Boulter said preparations had to begin as early as January.
And part of the preparations included training the medical personnel in how to deal with such a large number of patients. More than 80 doctors and 30 nurses were involved and were excited about being part of the event.