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Pain and triumph on a cruel Comrades course

Opinion
DURBAN – There is a video on YouTube, capturing the essence and magnificence of the Comrades Marathon.

Though it has had only 4 755 viewers, runners are presently calling attention to it in the build-up to June 4.

A mix of video and stills in “Comrades Marathon: The Beauty of the Race” depicts the triumph and heartbreak of the race.

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The world famous Comrades Marathon will be held on Sunday, June 4. Photo: Gcina Ndwalane

A Springsteen soundtrack, the haunting “If I should fall behind”, makes it as compelling as it gets. Those who have been there will soon recognise the authenticity of this art.

The visuals show South Africa as its best: grit, honesty, compassion, love and victory. They also tell of agony: aching limbs, missing the cut-off en route, broken runners, and tears...

So as we watch perspiring runners offering companionship, seeking it, strangers becoming firm friends, hugging and helping each other to the strains of Bruce’s words “I’ll wait for you, and should I fall behind, wait for me”.

It is the stuff that makes Comrades veterans like me want again to put our shoes on.

Comrades has no equal, it is that big a challenge, a personal mountain. Watching The Beauty of the Race had me wondering how I ever did it, and 12 times at that.

Madness, that’s what it was: 88km or so, give or take, reaching deep down physically and mentally, getting to know undiscovered things about oneself.

Things one never comprehended happen after 65km. Body so sore, legs lame, eye on the clock, endless time calculations, don’t stop, moving forward, moving forward.

Reciting the Comrades Prayer: “Lord you pick up my feet, and I’ll put them down again.”

What memories of an event and of self: the spiritual centre of the race before and after Drummond, those views from high, that mid-race silence as runners try as best they can to deal with the draining ascent of Inchanga.

 

Then... Polly’s, 2km of hill that would ordinarily be negotiable. But it comes at you after 78km. The better ones run one telegraph pole, walk the next. Even they do not talk then, nobody does.

At the top, the sun is on your face and the water table and cheering crowds around it goad you on. Eight kilometres to go – only a time trial, you tell yourself. You begin to taste a great win.

The finish is pure elation. Relief and accomplishment envelop one.

Spirits soar, overcome your state. You have beaten the course, and your own limitations. Inward shouts of “I did it!” come close to being blurted. 

It is about finishing first, then time. Either way, the race is done, you are a winner. And one of the smallest medals in road running is the most precious of them all.

* Alan Dunn is KZN executive editor for Independent Media

The Mercury

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