The ‘Big C’ With My ‘Big B’

Fatima Abrahams and her big boeta Ebrahim.

Fatima Abrahams and her big boeta Ebrahim.

My first comrades experience was in 2013 when I went as a supporter for my brother (Ebrahim Abrahams) as well as all the other Itheko runners who were crazy enough to take on this gruelling race. I wasn’t remotely interested in ever taking part. Being a supporter along the route was way too much for me already – the driving, walking to points, the rush etc. was just too long and tiring. At the end, inside the stadium at PMB, that last hour felt like forever while I was nervously and impatiently awaiting the arrival of my brother.

Eventually I set my sights on him running towards the finish, looking good and well within the cut off time and I shed a few tears of joy and relief. When I see him, I high five him to congratulate him and hug him so tightly because I’m so proud of him. Then as we stood side by side with our fellow Itheko supporters during those last few minutes before cut-off, waiting anxiously on our Itheko runners to enter the stadium, my tears start rolling uncontrollably and more so as each Itheko runner and every other runner heads towards the finish line.

This, I thought, was a once in a lifetime experience and a very exhausting day… unaware that the following year I would be back but this time not as a supporter. That same night my brother told me that next year I will also come and do the Comrades because it’s doable. I just laughed and told him “definitely not in this lifetime. You must be joking”.

By end August I realized he wasn’t joking and after a pep talk from him I committed myself to this unofficial agreement to do Comrades 2014. Two Oceans Ultra was ultimately my goal, with the Big C still a distant thought. I was ready to start training and preparing for Ultra and then see how that goes before taking the next step. All was going well, until I picked up an injury in February and after seeking my doctors’ advice there was no more running for me – just extensive physiotherapy from Yazeed and lots of rest.

Soon, though, I was doing exercises in the water and running in the pool for an hour every day or so. Thereafter short runs between 4-10km on the grass or sand but no road running and absolutely no hills. On 12 April I gave the Bonitas Challenge 10km road race a try and the following day went on a LSD of about 15km with Yazeed, Zohra, Naz and a few of the housewives. It all went well but during the week, when I decided to go on a longer run, I gave in at 22km due to severe pain in the hip again. Much to my disappointment this was when my brother told me “no Two Oceans for you.” By this time I had missed the Langebaan 42km, Tyger Run/Walk 21km, Tygerberg 30km – all runs that were crucial training for my Ultra. Now I was sitting out Ultra too, my goal and the race that would determine if I’d take on the Big C.

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My brother told me to just keep running. No hills, just straights, no distances longer than 16-18km at a go but to maintain my 80-100km a week from then onwards. During this time it felt as if my chance for Comrades was slipping away due to the uncertainty I had because of lack of training, not being able to do hills, missing Ultra and just everything not going according to plan.

Two weeks before we left for Comrades, I went to do the 21km Brackenfell run. My brother took me on a long run (26km) the day after where we just did hills to assess if my hips could hold out and if I was ready to give the Big C a go. The run went well and I had no pain, Algamdulilaah, and he confidently told me “don’t worry we’re good to go and you going to do it.” I though was still thinking “are you for real!?”

I, though, kept training the next week and did the same hilly run the Sunday before Comrades and the Thursday we were off to Durban with our support crew and a very nervous and scared me. My sisters and mom were also very worried because of the circumstances but they were extremely supportive and backed me 100%. Even though I was scared and feeling very unprepared, I promised them that I was going to give it my all and try my best and for as long as I didn’t have any aches or pains I was going to keep moving and not give up.

My brother, though, had to promise them that he would not leave my side, no matter what.

Once in Durban and after collecting our goodie bags and race numbers, my nerves and anxiety were going bonkers. I was an emotional rollercoaster and I was not sleeping much.

The Saturday morning (day before the race) my brother and I went to do the parkrun on Durban’s beachfront and mom goes along for support as she always does. Along the way my long lost smile returned as I’m spotting one Itheko member after the other and it seems to me like the whole of Itheko is in Durban.

RACE DAY!!!

I’m up at 1h30am in the morning after a restless night and getting dressed and ready to take on this challenge. My stomach is in a knot of nerves. I’m flooded by emotions and I’m questioning whether I’m prepared for this. I’m so quiet, scared that if I open I mouth I will just burst out in tears. By 2h30am we’re ready to catch the 3am bus to take us to PMB but first I must greet my mom and I know she is going to give her last few words of encouragement, well-wishing, lang duah and remind me to
put my trust in Allah and do my best. I’m not sure if I can handle it all without sobbing.

I listen attentively, hug and kiss her and turn around very quickly to go on my way. I don’t turn back to avoid looking at her again so that I can be strong and hold back from crying. Because I know if I start crying now I’ll snik tot in PMB.

Within 10 minutes of leaving Durban, I fall asleep and have the best sleep I have had in days. I’m in complete awe as I stand in the starting pen amongst thousands of people all with one common goal. My sister calls me to wish me well one last time and to reassure me that I can do it but this time I can’t seem to control the tears and they start streaming down my face and my brother still finds time to snap a pic.

I’m overcome with emotion and so anxious and as I hear the national anthem, “Shoshaloza,” “Chariots of fire” and the cock crow, the moment is so overwhelming, I realize this is it… I have just started the “ultimate human race!”

It is early morning and very dark and I am surprised to find so many people lining the streets to support us in such an exuberant and special fashion. After running 9km we stop at the 80km mark to take a pic (so my brother can keep our family and friends updated with our progress) and from thereon after, every 10km at every other mark. Nothing is ever fulfilled if my brother can’t take pics.

While I’m running and feeling very strong, Algamdulilaah, I can’t help but wonder if I’m going to be alright all the way to 42km and if my legs and body will be able to go beyond that. In my mind I know that I last ran a 42km in February, haven’t gone a distance longer than that and I didn’t even do Two Oceans Ultra.

Algamdulilaah, we get to Drummond and I don’t know if I’m happier that I lasted till halfway or to see my mommy with two of our supporters. I run into her arms and she is so happy to see me and cannot stop hugging and kissing me and telling me how proud she is. We have some refreshments with them and of course a few photo moments before we’re off to take on the second half of the race.

After a few km’s we reach a big group of disabled and blind children and we decide to stop running and walk so that we can look around us and be thankful and we can thank them for their support and shake each one of their hands so that they too can feel special just like they were making us feel. At that moment I silently say a prayer in my head and give shukr to Allah for granting my brother and me strength, health, the privilege to do this race, eyesight and all the blessings in our lives.

At 54km we reach the rest of our crew, Yolanda and Ralph, who have been waiting a long time for us and we stop yet again for the usual questions of concerns, well wishes and a photo moment. (Ralph happens to be disabled so he is wheelchair bound yet he managed to be out supporting the runners).

Taking a time out with Ralph and Yolanda.

Taking a time out with Ralph and Yolanda.

By 56km I get a cramp and my hamstring pulls so we start to walk slowly to ease it and we get ice so that I can ice it as we continue further on. Luckily sometime after that we get a group of Itheko supporters on the road and Faranaaz manages to magnesium roll my entire leg.

With 20km to go, the race now starts taking its toll on me and by 19km left we get my mommy again and Salwa encourages me to keep going and reminds me that it’s almost done and that 19km is nothing, lol.

I tiredly, but bravely, just walk pass my mommy and reassure her that I’m OK and keep going because I don’t want her to worry. As I’m moving further and further away from her I can still hear her cheering me on and shouting “you can do it!”

“With 17km to go, I hit a brick wall. All I could see in front of me was a mountain of a hill and I turned to my brother and said very sadly: “Boeta, I can’t anymore. Yoh look at this hill still.”

He asks: “Are you ok? What is sore? Is something not right? Is something paining?”

I only shake my head from side to side and answer no. He then answers and throws words of encouragement at me by saying “Ok that’s good because then you are only tired and that’s normal because everyone else around you is also tired and tiredness you can overcome. You can’t come this far to give up now. Imagine how proud mommy is going to be at the end and Tietie and Gaffa (my sisters) who are waiting for you to finish. How proud you are going to feel?”

And I only nod and say “I know” because in my head I know I can’t give up and that I must do it and that I won’t disappoint them because I know I will conquer this race. He carries on by saying: “I know you tired and don’t have lis anymore but I’m telling you now that we don’t have to run at all anymore, if you don’t want to and still we are definitely going to finish this race. You must promise me that you won’t stop walking and that you will keep moving no matter what. Even if you decide you want to walk this whole 17km out till the end, that is also ok by me. Just promise me you won’t stop walking”.

I reply: “I won’t stop Boeta. I will never and I promise I’ll keep moving.”

Making a statement.

Making a statement.

From the 11km mark it’s going much better and when we reach the 5km mark my brother tells me that we’re all good to go and that we can take it easy and walk and take in as much of the race because we have exactly one hour to go.

At the 3km mark, my mommy phones me, in tears, to find out where we are and to tell me that she can’t wait anymore because she is so worried. I confidently tell her that I am OK and that we are heading to the finish and that I’ll see her soon. I also find the time to phone my sisters and message a few of my concerned friends to tell them we heading for the home straight.

Entering the stadium and hitting the grass, knowing that I’m on my way to the finish line of the Comrades, was such an incredible and emotional feeling. When I crossed the finish line with my brother we held onto each other embracing our victory. This was definitely one of my greatest moments and the highlight of my race because I know I could not have done this race without him by my side and I never once doubted that he will leave my side – it surely does take two men to make one brother.

I was not only proud of myself for finishing the race but also proud because I’d conquered the Big C with my Big B. I couldn’t have been more proud to call the man on my side “MY BOETA”.

Then, there was my number one supporter, my beloved mommy, sobbing her eyes out and I could just see the pride all over her face. Once in her arms, I could just let go of it all and I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment and I knew that this was a once in a lifetime experience and journey to remember.

THANKS

A big thanks to all the Itheko supporters we got along the way. You were all totally awesome and made a real difference in my run because it was so great getting to see faces I know on the route. Yazeed and crew, Yasmin and crew, Zarina and crew, Ebrahim and crew, Fatima and crew and Nadia and crew.

Your support meant a lot.

I don’t think this race will be possible without all the supporters along the way because it’s truly the cheering on of all the unfamiliar faces and voices chanting your name that keeps you going and moving. I don’t think I have ever heard my name being shouted as much as I did on this race but that is what gave me the will to carry on.

We are family!

We are family!

A big shukran to my main supporter, my mommy, for always being there for me from my very first 4.2km funrun, for rubbing out my hips every night, believing in me and loving me. You complete my race day and make it more worthwhile. Shukran to my Tietie and Gaffa for being my pillars of strength, my shoulder to cry on, my hope when all seems lost, for your continuous support and for always being there for me. Shukran to all my friends and support crew for your encouraging words, believing in me and your support. It is much appreciated.

Shukran to Yazeed and Zoh for your help and time and shukran to Roldah Orrie for constantly reassuring me from last year that I can do it because I have a strong mind and then reminding me yet again that I can still do it despite missing Ultra. I must agree I now believe that it is possible and doable irrespective of missing Ultra and that no matter how much training you put into it and km’s you bag, what you need most is the support of your family and above all a very strong mind.

The will to carry on might be there but if your mind starts playing games and gives in, then you find yourself very quickly reaching the end. I’ve proved it, I wasn’t 100% physically ready for this race but my mind was 200% in it and that is what got me to the end. The “ultimate human race” is not easy but definitely doable – you just have to believe.

This race is a real eye opener and a very humbling experience and I’ve learnt that even people who never pray, shockingly find themselves somewhere along the way praying. There are many things in life that can break you into little pieces but there is nothing quite like prayer that can make you feel whole again. Comrades 2015… I know this is going to be tough so I am hoping to get in more training and be much better prepared this time round and hopefully do Two Oceans Ultra 2015, Inshalaah.

At the end of the day I know Allah’s plans is above ours but with the Will and Grace of the Almighty I will definately be standing at that start line in my cab ready to enjoy the ride in the opposite direction with my same driver of cause, MY BOETA… ready to take on the BIG C with my BIG B to get my B2B lol.

Getting ready for the trip home.

Getting ready for the trip home.

To all the other runners WELL DONE I look up to you all and have a lot of respect for you for finishing this race and for having the will and courage to be there at the start, ready to take on the challenge.

“Victory isn’t defined by wins or losses. It is defined by effort. If you can truthfully say,’I did the best I could, I gave everything I had,’ then you are a winner!”

To every other runner out there: keep running, stay motivated, be positive, compete only with yourself, believe in yourself, never lose hope, have faith and keep praying. You will be surprised as to where you might find yourself one day.

Remember, that if you make a promise, don’t ever break it because promises are meant to be kept and fulfilled and not broken.

Till we meet on the road again. Happy running.

Fatima Abrahams