Wednesday, 1 June 2016

My Comrades Ultra Marathon Journey

On 16th June 2006 I found myself in a hospital bed in Cape Town, watching the Comrades Marathon. This was my final surgical procedure. That translated to success! I had been in and out of hospital for examinations and abdominal surgeries for the preceding two years, and more. That day, I made a promise to myself that in 2007, 365 days on, I would complete the Comrades Marathon.

Prior to my decision I had completed a few half marathons (21.1kms), none of them recently, due to my health issues. How was I to finish 89.9kms in one day? There were many seasoned runners that stated it was not possible to be adequately trained for the Comrades Marathon in that space of time, with my limited running experience. These people believed I should spend 2007 running marathons and attempt the Comrades the following year. I knew that my motivation was never going to be better than it was at the time and so I chose to ignore them all.

In October 2006 I received the ‘all clear’ from the specialist surgeon. Up to this point I had been walking and had returned to the gym to regain some muscular strength. Once the surgeon pronounced me healthy it was all systems go!

So I progressed through the training; 21.1kms, 32kms, 42.2kms (my first marathon and my qualifying event for Comrades). I have a friend who is a qualified biokineticist, and I also know a sports masseuse. I used their skills and knowledge. I followed the training schedule of the running club of which I am a member. I ate, slept and drank Comrades Marathon! The training rules your life. You are unable to go out with non-runner friends because the evening ends too late. I had to be up at 04h00 to run. Other friends serve dishes which are not conducive to gastro-intestinal health. There are not usually toilet facilities on the road! Do not imbibe the extra beer or your body will pay for it in the next session. Muscle and joint aches are a part of everyday life and still, you push yourself to run. I attended talks, devoured books and articles on the Comrades Ultra. I listened to my body.

16th June 2007 finally dawned. It was a ‘down’ run – Pietermaritzburg to Durban. Everything you see on the television and hear on the radio does nothing to prepare you for the emotion as you stand amongst thousands of runners, taking up the challenge. Chariots of Fire blares through the speakers, the cock crows and the race begins.

I completed the Comrades marathon in 11 hours 10 minutes and 6 seconds – we just missed a bronze medal. No matter. It was one of the best days of my life! I ran with my husband Hugh, all the way. The crowds buoy you. Family members support you with Marmite sarmies at the half-way point. I did not stop smiling or chirping the entire way. I trained for this! Entering the stadium, the crowd is cheering for you. What a feeling of elation.

I ached physically for a month after. The Comrades Marathon changed my life. It was such a monumental undertaking, at such an important time of my life. (Did I mention I turned 40 in 2007?) It proved to me that I can tackle the impossible and win. For days afterwards I would stare at my medal in wonder. Weeks after I would comment to Hugh, “Hey love, we finished the Comrades Marathon!”  Months on from there and I was still in awe of my achievement. Reality finally emerged. I had set an incredible goal, persevered and completed the task. I realised I can do anything provided I am motivated to do it. That has changed my life.

Every year I am involved with the Comrades Ultra Marathon in some way. I doubt I will run another because my first experience would be so hard to beat. The set of circumstances surrounding my decision was unique and a huge contribution to my success. But, I relive my race, pat myself on the back and remind myself that ALL things are possible.

What challenges you? What motivates you? What have you achieved against all odds that changed the way you perceive yourself? If you haven’t yet walked this road, what are you waiting for? It is SO worth it!!!