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A first-timer's experience at the Comrades Marathon

Athletics

JOHANNESBURG – The Bill Rowan medal did not materialise. I missed it by some 13 minutes. Disappointing as it is, I wouldn’t trade my nine hour, 12 minutes Comrades Marathon debut finish for anything.

Of course the competitive me has been kicking up a fuss, somewhat angry at my having had those stops for pictures and the walks that should have been runs. Damn he is even pointing fingers at me for having had conversations with some of my teammates en route. “Those minutes cost you” he chides.

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Runners competing in the Comrades Marathon pass through Kloof. Photo: Rogan Ward/Reuters

But those are moments to cherish. Else the race would have simply been a trudge up from Durban to Pietermaritzburg that delivered the targeted medal (Bill Rowan) but no memories.

The name Vusumusi Mathebula would mean nothing. Now, that is a name of a new friend, a brother actually – for he didn’t think of me as weak when I cried in his arms at the finish line. Such were the emotions of having completed The Ultimate Human Race.

Vusi and I met early on in the race and spoke for a bit. He was running his second and told me he was chasing a sub 9hr finish having done 9h40 last year.

I left him behind only for us to meet towards the end with about 20km to go. We ran that entire distance together, encouraging each other and even devised a plan to try and make our target.

He waited for me when I stopped by the side to take a leak and when I got my supplies from our club’s support team at the 75km mark. And when he cramped, I didn’t think he was delaying me. I waited and even said silent prayers for his recovery.

That we couldn’t achieve it didn’t in any way diminish our sense of achievement at the end and so we high-fived each other and hugged.

In between my runs with Vusi, little miracles happened that confirmed to me that it is only through God’s will that one gets to complete such torturous events.

Of course our club (Fat Cats AC) had a proper support structure – with people at the 30km, 42km, 60km and 75km marks. But I was pleasantly surprised to have people popping up at places I didn’t expect them, yet at times I needed some lifting up.

An old high school friend of mine who lives in Pinetown had promised to wait for me at the 26km mark with a bottle of coconut water.

I missed her and she incredibly managed to find her way to wait for me further up in the race (about 56km) at Cato Ridge. I was dog-tired then, walking already when she popped up shouting “it will humble you”. She snapped away as I guzzled up the water. Re-energised I ran off.

Earlier on at a water point in Gillits, I heard someone shout my name – not like the general supporters who read it off the race number but someone who clearly knew me. It was another lady from my high school, early inspiration.

Of course I expected to see my wife at the marathon mark and my daughter at her school (St John’s DSG) three kilometres from the end. Still, the excitement of seeing them knew no bounds and pictures were taken in the midst of hugs and kisses.

And then there was colleague Mosibodi Whitehead (Kaya FM’s sports editor who has run many a Comrades) at the 60km who did not only take pictures but also ran a few meters with me sharing his expertise. Priceless.

As if that was not enough my wife’s friend popped out of the crowd at Camperdown to give me a bottle of energy drink.

I had on a bracelet with the name Samuel – the little boy who died of a rare disease just after turning one – whose parents I interviewed last week and who had two ladies running for a charity named Footprints for Sam. And every breath I took I remembered how Sam never got to breathe on his own and I thanked God for having blessed me with this ability to run given my asthmatic condition.

I had a plan of sorts on how to tackle the race. But once that gun went off, my mind went blank. Everything that I’d read about Comrades just disappeared and I just ran. I even ran up the dreaded Polly Shortts – Vusi and I running in between the rubbish bins and walking as we tried to make up time.

Yet throughout it clearly was God’s spirit that carried me, for while other runners cramped, vomited and even collapsed, the pains I felt were the normal ones of having pushed the body too hard. But not once did I feel like quitting.

The Lord was the wind beneath my wings and He carried me all the way into Scottsville Racecourse – in a time set by Him.

The Star

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