Monday, 16 June 2008

15th June 08

Date: 15th June 08

Location: Durban, South Africa

Weather: Pitch black when I got up!

Status: Anxious about the next 12 hours, Colonel parked up.

As the alarm on my phone went off at 2.30am I was up like a shot in preparation for the most challenging and gruelling of the ten tasks I’ve set myself which make up Afritrex, the Comrades Race.

Nothing too heavy for breakfast, some porridge, some cornflakes, a few bananas and some energy bars should start me off on the right note ready for the longest of days ahead. The taxi hooted outside and I made my way down the steps of the flat to the driver waiting below.

When I got to the start area in the centre of Durban I was there two hours before I had to be so sat and gathered my thoughts by the edge of the road. There were a few other runners about also pacing up and down nervously in the dark streets surrounding the city hall.

I dropped my clothing bag off at one of the trailers and made my way to holding area F, my start point based on the qualifying time I’d achieved at the Marrakech Marathon earlier in the year, my god that race seemed ages ago and how much fitter I had felt then! The sheer amount of driving I’ve had to do over the past 9 weeks has meant that my training has been close to nothing with my last run being in Brazzaville nearly 6 weeks ago….Has anyone ever been so underprepared I kept thinking to myself!

As the crowd massed on the start line the PA system started to pump out Abba at top volume – great for a singalong, then with 10 minutes to go the traditional South African national anthem, followed by the sporting one, then Chariots of Fire followed by the starters gun…..we were off!!

You have 12 hours to finish the race and there are various cut off points along the course, which if you don’t reach in time, are closed and your eliminated from the race…pressure in itself!

As we wound our way out of the city’s limits the bunched up pack slowly thinned out and the first of the hills approached, Cowies. A gradually increasing climb which winds up the N3 highway and gets worse the further you get up it, so much so that everyone alternates between walking and running in 200m sections. They say that if you walk all of the Big Five Hills and run all of the rest, then you can make the finish – so this is how I’d play it.

As the sun rose over the Indian Ocean behind the course, people chatted and joked about the task ahead, the Comrades organisers have a great system which allows you to see from each runners entry number how many Comrades they’ve completed, which country their from, if their going for back to back medals along with different colours for 5 and 10 races completed. It’s a great starting point for conversation and I had good chats with lots of different people along the way about the whole Afritrex expedition.

Fields Hill was the next of the Big Five to aim for which approached ominously after 20kms and was another testing climb which got the thighs burning as I tried to keep the pace up always conscious of the clock ticking away, by this stage the sun was up and the crowds were starting to gather on the sides of the road offering support along with the smell of breakfast!

I was feeling good at this stage and was surprised by the lack of pain in my legs but was a little concerned as my right knee was becoming sore, the approaching Botha’s Hill would be a test to see how long it would last.

It arrives suddenly just before the 35km mark and is always packed full of people as it passes through a residential area, and I needed all of the support I could get as by this stage I was feeling tired, both knees sore and my thighs starting to cramp up; something I’ve experienced before when running normal marathons at this stage of the race but this time I had a few remedies up my sleeve!

The watering points which happen every 1.5kms also have feeding stations dotted along the route, essential as the body starts to eat itself after about 30kms! As I crested the top of the hill in some pain I saw the Game Feeding station and not a moment too soon…I scoffed down some salt covered oranges, potatoes and magnesium supplements (courtesy of Viridian one of my sponsors!). I kept the knees turning and within 10 mins was feeling good enough to get the pace up again and continue to the halfway line, a real mental target for me as it signalled the furthest I ever run before!

Strangely enough the next 20kms of the race seemed to fly by even though it took in another of the Five, Inchanga, and I continued to feel good and up for the challenge; the growing drunken crowds out for a Fathers Day bash helping all of the way!

The Harrison Flats are a lonely undulating part of the course and took some heavy mental concentration to get through as I followed other runners feet for what seemed like hours until I reached the base of Little Pollys; a name given to the short rise before the infamous Polly Shortts – the 2.5km steep rise which signals the last of the Big Five.

The approach to it is a steep downhill which got the knees and ankles aching beyond belief and then its there in front of you…..Polly herself! By this stage everyone is walking just to get to the top with frequent outbreaks of cramp happening all around to other runners, but the rules have changed this year which mean that if you are caught helping another competitor you can both be disqualified. This is after the unfortunate death of a man from 2007 who as he collapsed with 200m to go was carried over the line by his fellow runners, they say he’d have survived if he’d received medical attention immediately….oops.

As I reached the top of Polly’s a girl approached me from the RHS of the road and asked if I’d like to do a TV interview…..hell yeah! So I sold the Afritrex story as well as I could live on South African television!

With this huge obstacle out of the way it was a short 7.5kms to the end of the race, so with this in mind I upped the pace, felt the pain bite a little further and kicked for home. The floodlights of The Oval Cricket Ground came into view with 2kms to go and the quickened pace was starting to tell but the emotion was getting the better of me, so I moved on unabated.

The Flora Mile is the run up into the stadium and by this point I knew I made it so quickened further breaking into a full sprint for the last 300m only stopping to take a photo of myself crossing the finish line.

10hrs 20mins and 49secs earlier I had set off on the biggest and most challenging of the tasks I’d set myself and here I was crossing the line…..I’d only bloody done it!!!

I collected my bronze medal and badge and headed to the International Entrants area for a steak roll and beer before meeting friends Alex, Patrick and Sarah who’d come down to enjoy the days activities. It felt good, it felt hard but most of all it felt amazing.

Had a Nandos – Hot Peri Peri and went to bed……HAPPY!!

End of day location: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

Distance covered: 87kms……….on foot!!

No comments: