I enjoy running. Probably. I keep doing it, so there must be some part of me that likes it and keeps coming back for more. I’m not very good at it, let’s be honest. Somewhere near the back of the middle is where I tend to finish, but at least I do finish. Running for me will never be about winning, but about encouraging myself, and everyone else I can rope in, to do something that gets them off the couch. I’m very pleased to say I’ve managed to convert quite a few people to trail running, and it seems enthusiasm (or insanity) really is contagious. However, one person I know inspires me beyond anything I thought possible, and has made me realise that no matter what, you can do anything you set your mind to. This story isn’t about me, but about him…
I have this buddy Seb, who I have known for more than 10 years. I used to drag him (reluctantly) on trail runs every now and then, but more often than not he would decline, or in one instance ditch me the morning of the race. He wasn’t what you would call the athletic type, preferring a beer and the couch in the evening rather than the gym (who doesn’t?). I managed to convince him to enter Impi Challenge with me, but he didn’t train and neither did I, and we weren’t taking it too seriously. I dragged him off to Boot Camp SA in Paulshof (great bunch of guys, killer workout if you’re a complete sadist). It’s really good preparation for the madness that is Impi, but probably too little too late. Even though he was going through a rough patch personally, we finished Impi together (three and a half hours later, but who’s counting). The stupidity of climbing obstacles seemed to have really helped take him out of himself, or maybe he just fell on head, who knows, but it was here that the monster I created was born.
Running to stand still
Who would have thought that the guy who couldn’t manage 3km without walking in October 2012 would finish Comrades in 2013? Not me, that’s for sure, but finish he did, and in a respectable time of 10 hours and 27 minutes. Inspiring stuff. I tried to get him to write his own blog on the race, but getting him to write is harder than finding a hen’s teeth. So here is a paraphrased version of his race, from his perspective, translated by me:
“Leading up to the race, I was nervous as hell, but on the morning of the race I woke up calm. Got dropped off a block away from town hall, and it was only as I walked alone to the start line and saw the thousands of runners lined up that the magnitude of what I had coming set in.
The nerves really kicked in as I waited in the start pen for the other members of my running club. After a while though, I began to zone out, and wasn’t really even aware of my surroundings. My daydream was interrupted by the familiar face of a family friend, who I had seen a couple of times in training races. Then the time came for the start.
I heard the national anthem playing, followed by Chariots of Fire. The blast of the starting cannon made me jump, and then the race was on. I spent some time looking for club members who had seeded higher than I was, but after about 5km I gave up. Around 8km I found a friendly face in the form of Alistair, the head honcho at my club, but he was having a bad day and I left him behind. I found a bus running a sub 10:30 and joined them. At Pinetown, I saw a bunch of club supporters, which really boosted my morale.
At Botha’s hill I found a group of guys chanting to keep the pace, and decided to stick with them for while, the leader chanting “easy” and the rest of us replying “easy” pacing ourselves up the hill. The hill seemed to disappear under their chant, and helped me settle in fully to my pace. At Arthur’s Seat I was handed a rose in tribute to five-time Comrades winner Arthur Newton, and I joined thousands of others in doffing my cap with the phrase “Morning Sir”, paying him my respect.
Ichanga was put behind me at a brisk walk. I was surprised that this hill, which had been mentally scary, was as physically easy as it was. And then came Harrison Flats, which was a nightmare. Hot, dusty, windy, and I could feel the start of a niggle in my knee which I hoped would not get worse. Every kilometre I ran after the 50km mark, with 37 to go, was one kilometre more than I had ever run in a single race. The thought stuck in my head for a while, as step after step I covered more ground.
As I reached the highest point I had a lekker giggle at the signs on the side of the road telling me it was all downhill from there – it’s a total lie, since Polly Shortts is next. I caught a walk up that one, and then I knew the end was in sight. That’s when I really started to believe I could break ten and a half hours. Met up with the family friend from the start with about 3km to go, and let her run ahead. Then I got a second wind and caught her on the last mile, and we finished together, breaking that 10:30 barrier.
I can’t describe the feeling when I entered the stadium. I felt like I was smiling from the inside out, and I had this sense of total happiness. While running with a bus helps some people, I found that doing this on my own helped me. I ran at my own pace, with no pressure, and it really got me through. The crowds were amazing, and the club support at Pinetown, Drummond and Camperdown was really great. Seeing the finish line with everyone cheering and supporting you was an incredible finish.
My first Comrades finish – a day I will never forget. Months of training and pain culminating in this moment of pure euphoria. I can’t wait for next year to claim my back-to-back medal. ”
So there you have it folks. It is possible to go from couch potato to Comrades victor in less than eight months, although probably not advisable for most sane folk. It just goes to show, impossible really is nothing, especially if you are determined to succeed (and possibly have rocks in your head).