A few years ago I would not have thought about running Comrades. The extent of my previous Comrades experience was a whole two minutes of watching TV while channel-hopping to find something better to watch. After watching whichever other program was on you would go through the channels again and found this “stupid” race was still being broadcast. Who in their right mind will voluntarily run for half a day?
I started my running journey with Itheko in 2011 after much convincing from the sisters Farieda, Shireen and Faradieba and Farouk and in 2013 I finished my first Ultra Marathon. After that very painfull Ultra Marathon I felt completely “rigtingloos” as I had reached my goal and didn’t know what to do next. A few of the Itheko runners were then preparing to run Comrades and I have been fortunate to attend a few Pasta Parties – one thing that Itheko runners do rather well! Being part of the Comrades sending off and welcoming party, the bug soon bit and I decided to enter the Big C for 2014! I’m still wondering whether this was the wisest thing to do, as I haven’t been running for that long???
After the entry and qualification was sorted, the demanding training schedule started. Having to rack up more than 1000km over a six month period is not easy. Most of the mileage happened during our evening training runs and to go out after a hard day’s work is not always easy. However, running with my regular crew of seasoned runners it made putting on all that mileage a breeze. As an added bonus, some of them also did their first Comrades the year before and being the good lad that I usually am, I listened to all their advice on physical and mental preparation, nutrition and the do’s and don’ts of Comrades. Also the funny and scary experiences they had were laced with a lot of “note-to-self” moments, especially those that Wedaad Hoosain and Insaaf Kamish can so humorously relate.
Let me fast forward to Race Day!!! We took the bus at 3h30 from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. All the runners who were running on the 12-hour bus were driving in the bus and all in good spirits. I distinctly recall Tougeeda Bassadien giggling uncontrollably on the journey, which made everyone feel at ease and somewhat settled the nerves for the mammoth task that was ahead. We arrived in PMB with some time to spare and hastily made our way to our seeding pens.
In the seeding pen we were greeted with blaring tunes and that further helped to settle the nerves. And then it started!
Previous Comrades runners talk about the sequence of events leading up to the start gun – The National Anthem, “Shosholoza”, “Chariots of fire” and then the cock crow. Whilst these items were playing I looked at our fellow runners and could see glistening eyes as some became emotional to be standing at the start of the Ultimate Human Race!
The gun goes and we’re slowly moving across the start line and when we reached our first timing mat, I had my emotional moment too. This was it! Six months of dedicated training has come down to the next 89km. We started off slowly and managed to stick together amidst the masses of runners, all with a common goal. It wasn’t very long before we got our first hill and then the walking started. I thought it was a bit too early but listened to the experienced runners like Uncle Mac, Aslam Galant and Abu Mowlana who diligently guided us up our first hill.
All was going well and at 20km mark we got our first group of Itheko supporters. At this time we didn’t require anything, other than getting rid of some warm clothes we wore at the start. Everything was still going ok, or so I thought. At the 23km mark I had my first scare. My quads started to spasm and when I stopped to stretch it, my hamstring pulled. I started to panic (there was still 66km to go!) and popped a few cramp blocks and Crampease spray and silently kept going as I didn’t want to alert the other bus passengers of my first bad moment. I distinctly remember Uncle Aslam’s words “you will have bad moments. Get over it and keep on moving,” which kept me going.
We reached the first cut-off at Cato Ridge well within the allotted time. At this point a few 12hr buses had passed us already but we were not too overly concerned. We had our own plan and were successfully sticking to it. Uncle Aslam was diligently pulling out his pacing chart every so often and, while looking over his specs, checked to see whether we were still on target. The guys were feeling very good and tried to increase the pace a few times, but would soon be curbed by shouts of “Slow down! Hold back!”
On my part there were not a lot of bad moments, the only problem I had was that the bus would walk away from me. Yes, I said walk. I’m talking about walking at around 9 min/km and I couldn’t keep up. Most of the hills were walked and every so often I had to stop and stretch to save my quads and hamstring from acting up.
We got our supporters at regular intervals and they always saw to our every whim. They spoilt us with dates, sandwiches, energy drinks, basically anything one can think of, even KFC zinger wings and burgers, yummy. At one stage I managed to get something that I really can’t talk openly about, but if you know me you would know what I’m talking about (hint: fire is involved).
At this time I would like to acknowledge the supporters but I am worried that I will miss out on some names, so I would rather not mention any. They all know who they are and it is with great reverence that I say a BIG thank you and Shukran to all the supporters. They were there with us for every step of the way, some even before race day. They share our successes and our disappointments. Case in point, some ladies bawled when an elderly man didn’t make the cut-off at Drummond. And there is a picture to prove it. I humbly thank you for all your support, whether it was on the road or in front of the telly.
Coming back to the race, at 70km I was in immense pain. My quads felt like jelly and every step was agonizing. I remembered what was said about Comrades being more of a mental battle than a physical one. I shut the pain out and thought about the ecstasy of crossing the finish line and carried on. A few moments I looked behind me and saw that our club bus had turned into an unofficial sub 12-hour bus. We were more than 30 runners heading for Durban and they would all respond to Uncle Aslam’s commands. There was even an official 12-hour pace-setter running on the bus, with flag and all.
As the kilometres dwindled down, we were well on track. 21km to go in 2h50 then 10km to go in about 1h20 then 5km to go in just over 40 minutes and then it came to 2km in 20 minutes. I could see the lights of Kings Park Stadium and I could hear the crowds. We came into the stadium to a rapturous roar from all inside the cricket oval and hit the grass and then the feeling started to sink in. I MADE IT!!! We circled the stadium and as I took the last turn and saw the yellow Flora arch with the words “FINISH” the emotions took over. Unfortunately, because of the humidity, we were all sweating whole day and there was no water left for tears, but I had a big lump in my throat. I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
To those who did not finish or finished outside the 12 hour cut-off, hold your heads up high! You qualified to be there, put in the training and you were at the start of the Ultimate Human Race! That’s something that most people will never be able to achieve! I salute you!
A SPECIAL thank you to our mentors – Aslam Galant, Abu Mowlana and Magedie Theunissen for their advice, motivation and encouragement. Uncle Aslam was also the main bus driver and paced us perfectly for the entire 89km. Not once did I feel like we were not going to make it.
And lastly, to the Itheko coaches and members for taking me on this amazing running journey. Without the vision of Coach Farouk, this would not have been possible and the members of LoA Itheko SAC for making running such a Big Occasion.
Whether you are standing at the start of Comrades or whether you are standing at the start of your first 5km run, keep moving forward as you never know who is watching you and who YOU are inspiring!!!!
Tape “Mo” Bedford
Proud Member of LoA Itheko SAC