You Are No Longer Strangers, You Are Comrades

Say cheese! Saara Mowlana (in blue) and the gang after a long day on the Comrades route.

Say cheese! Saara Mowlana (in blue) and the gang after a long day on the Comrades route.

Durban. A place of eternal Summer and sun-kissed bliss. A place so great it holds the honour of co-hosting the incredible, and incredibly difficult, Comrades marathon (along with Pietermaritzburg – which I never got to experience much of, so I reserve my comment on the city until further notice).

The Comrades marathon is 87.5km (approximately) of blood, sweat, tears, hard work and aching muscles – and that’s just the supporters. Now add having to run it into the mix. It is no small feat. For more information about the location and or dates for the next Comrades race (29 May 2016) check their website:

In order to keep the mind at rest, one does not simply pitch up the morning of the race and run. It needs to be nursed and coaxed into it – at least that’s how we do things. It starts off with a few days settling in to this new climate zone – from the icy nip of Cape Town air to the thick humidity of Durban air.

One needs to develop a trust and understanding between this soil and your toil – that is if you’re not already from Durban or Pietermaritzburg. And so you take on the role of the tourist: familiarizing yourself with the route, the people, the sites and restaurants. You slowly start to become normative to the environment by ditching your thick jersey and sweat pants for thin cotton and peak caps. You become what the land knows, trusts. You become a citizen of this earth, the thick humid air and the unfamiliar water.

The night before the race is fraught with a mixture of peaceful contentment, electric anxiety and excitement buzzing the air to life. The runners sleep first. The supporters ensure that all is prepped and set and rest their heads assured and armed for what lies ahead.

The morning starts with the abrupt screech of the alarm clock unsettling the sleep-filled air. The sky is still midnight blue and the last few stars sparkle the remainder of their glow. The race begins. Runners on foot. Supporters in stock-filled vehicles.

The traffic is thick. The air is thick. The cheering is thick. Each vehicle trying to get to each stop to aid their runners. It’s unified chaos. Manic, but exhilarating.

At each stop, you have to be fast. Prepped with anti-muscle cramping spray, edibles, medication and a handful of clapping as you stand and wait, praying they make the individual cut-offs. A quick flash, grabbing hands and they’re out of sight. Time to move on, the next stop awaits. And so the day progresses.

The sigh of relief knowing that whoever you’re supporting has made it past the barriers and cut-off hurdles makes all of the stress worth it. And so you offer assistance to others who need it too. You continue to support as much as you can. You are no longer strangers, you are comrades. You aren’t just there to support your runners, but everyone involved.

That’s the beauty of this race. Despite the chaotic and manic traffic and heady rush to support, a sense of unity hangs above everyone involved. It becomes the thick humidity. It’s airborne and brings everyone together in unison. A melody and symphony of support and care. You are no longer strangers, you are comrades.

Below is a video montage I put together of my time in Durban if you want to watch it:

By Saara Mowlana

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