Drummond - If ever a runner needed inspiration just as one’s legs were about to give way and the mind started thinking of quitting, then the halfway point at Drummond was the place that provided that second kick.
Hundreds of runners streamed into the halfway point in droves, arriving in the midst of a carnival-type atmosphere. In scenes like the mountain stages of the Tour de France, the huge crowd awaiting their arrival were right in their faces, providing welcome cheers and words of encouragement to spur them on their way.
And the crowd was in festive mood with some picnicking and braaing, while others also took it easy and sat nearby on camp chairs under blankets soaking up the atmosphere.
The loud music blaring over the speakers got the youngsters very animated as family, friends and work colleagues yelled out their support.
However, not everyone could make the magical cut-off time at Drummond.
It was a case of so close, yet so far for Major Jimmy Sibiya (58), a policeman from Kempton Park.
He was the first man to miss the mark when the barriers were closed on him.
Running in the colours of the SAPS, the despondent policeman just took it all in his stride, becoming something of a celebrity in the media frenzy around him.
“I am very disappointed and just didn’t know what went wrong with my race today,” Sibiya said.
“I have done 10 previous Comrades and this is the first time since 2009 that I have failed. I don’t even feel exhausted. It is going to be a long journey home.”
Despite the disappointing set-back, the policeman promised that he would get back on track and try even harder next year.
One Pietermaritzburg woman who did not manage to cross the halfway line was Elise Wellbeck, a 40-year-old administration manager and mother of two who suffers rheumatoid arthritis.
It was Wellbeck’s first attempt at the ultra marathon, but it will not be her last.
Even though she did not complete the race, Wellbeck said that her determination was now stronger than ever.
“I suffer with pain on a daily basis, but my doctor told me that in order for me to work through the pain I need to do regular exercise. He suggested walking, which I did, and I gradually began running and I loved it…to be one with the road. On a whim, I started training for the Comrades Marathon, and here I am. Even though I didn’t finish the race, I am still proud of what I accomplished,” she said.
Johannesburg businessman Delvin Naidoo, who also failed to pass the halfway mark in time, said he was bitterly disappointed.
“You train for the entire year for this race. I sacrificed time with my family to keep to a strict training schedule and I fell short by minutes. It really is a punch to the gut,” he said.
Naidoo, 36, has finished the race twice.
Unlike Wellbeck, Naidoo said he was not sure if he would run the marathon next year.
“This really took the wind out of me. I’m not sure if I am up to it… I don’t think I will be able to manage this kind of disappointment again,” said Naidoo, who confessed that his legs had given up on him five kilometres from Drummond.
Spectators at halfway who braved the chilly morning air and lined the streets from the early hours, said that they had tremendous respect and admiration for those who even attempted the race.
Sally de Beer said: “I get tired walking to my post box. I cannot even begin to express how much respect I have for these athletes. Even to get to halfway is amazing. They really are all superhuman,” she said.