JOHANNESBURG – The congratulatory messages came in thick and fast, and they had a general theme: ‘you did brilliantly, great improvement on last year’s run’.
True as that was, for my 8h29 Comrades Marathon finish on Sunday was way better than last year’s 9h12, they somewhat rang hollow.
See, I had set myself a much loftier target - a silver medal finish, that’s a sub 7h30 run - and I missed it badly.
Well, as I joked later on though, I did get my silver - in the form of a space blanket that covered my body deep in the bowels of the Matshelane Mamabolo, a drip pumping essentials into my beat-up body as I lay down on the medical centre’s bed.
I’d considered bailing out of the race some nine kilometres from the finish having earlier experienced what I’d initially thought were cramps.
But they were not, as I discovered from the doctor and nurses at the finish. I’d depleted my electrolytes and my body had gone into shock.
Silly mistake really, for I generally take Rehydrates during runs. But for some strange reason I forgot them on arguably the biggest race of my short running career. And boy did I pay dearly for it!
I’d run as I normally do, pretty fast in the beginning and although I failed to get to the 60km mark in the time I’d anticipated. I was cutting it thin for the target and I needed to push harder.
But while I refuelled, thanks to the amazing support from my club Fat Cats as well as the official points, I made a cardinal mistake of not replenishing the electrolytes.
There were plenty of energy drinks at the water points but I took mainly water.
At the 75km I thought I was cramping, a rarity, and my club-mates helped me out by spraying my legs with the necessary medication.
Almost immediately thereafter I felt my body temperature drop at such an alarming rate I found myself tempted to ask the crowd for a jacket.
While they realised I was struggling, they simply encouraged me to persevere and told me the finish was not too far off. Really?
What followed next felt like a long walk towards the Pearly Gates, as I puked all over the place, my whole body shaking and the barricades on the road became my walking sticks.
Fortunately I spotted a family friend whose husband was running and shared how I was feeling. She relayed the message to my wife and because I carry my phone on me when I run she made contact.
I was some 11km out when she called and she encouraged me to not bail out but rather walk until the end.
My club mates passed me one-by-one offering words of encouragement as they did.
I recovered a bit and managed to fashion some running for a while until I caught up with another club mate who was simply walking because he’d lost a toenail.
The silver medal now out of reach, we just walked.
But I realised walking would also see us miss out on the next cut off, 9hr for the Bill Rowan medal, and I asked to leave him. A veteran of eight Comrades and plenty silver medals, he urged me on.
No sooner had I left him was I on the side of the road puking again. An old lady rushed to my aid, offered me water and said all comforting words that mothers do.
It was back to walking again until about five kilometres out and my club mate and I managed to jog our way to the finish, crossing the line some 30 minutes before the Bill Rowan cut off.
My two medals, the Bill Rowan and the back-to-back, hanging down my neck, I asked to be put on a stretcher and be taken to the medical centre.
It turned out to be a good decision as the drip worked wonders.
God willing, I am going after that silver next year. And I will refuel better.