Longest, hardest and most amazing race I’ve ever done!
The Comrades Marathon 2013 was the 88th running of this iconic ultra marathon in South Africa. This year was the ‘Up Run’, an 87 km run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg up some fairly serious hills. This year was particularly hard because of the warm temperatures and a dry dusty wind that blew down towards the coast.
This 12 hour race is one of the oldest and longest ultra marathons in the world with up to 18 000 people taking part. I was so relieved, happy and proud after finishing this race.
My race started about 6 months ago during December where I finally committed to trying this race again (I did a ‘Down Run’ in 2010) and started training and doing various races to qualify throughout the year. The actual race started on Sunday morning at 4:00 with the cacophony of all the alarms I set going off, I wouldn’t miss this start. Then off to the race start with two pieces of bread and peanut butter, all my equipment and a warm top. Before getting out of the car, extra Vaseline between the legs and extra suntan lotion all over and I was ready to enter the starting pens for a massive challenge.
The start was very interesting with a veteran giving last minute advice to novices, people totally zoned out, last minute Energade, nerves all over the place, photos and bright lights from the cameras.
The race start goes as follows, the national anthem, ‘Shosholoza’ (this one is loud as everyone knows the words) and then ‘Chariots of fire’ and chilling rooster crow that starts the race. Slowly everyone starts shuffling past the start while waving at the cameras and crowds. It does take quite a while to cross the start depending on where you were seeded (I managed D which is about in the middle). Durban at this stage was not cold, but humid as I was sweating almost as soon as I started running. I had two pace charts pinned to my shorts to keep me on track to finish. My goal was to do a sub 11 hour to get a bronze medal, but in the upcoming weeks I was thinking a sub 10 hour was possible. So a sub 10 and 11 hour chart is what I was carrying with me. My plan was to walk up most of the hills in the beginning to keep some power in reserve for the second half of the race.
I quickly realized that I could not do the walking and keep the sub 10 hour pace, I may need to practice walking a little quicker in future. So I adjusted my plan to keep between 10 and 11 hours and hoped for a 10:30 finish. The hills started almost immediately after starting and they just never stopped all the way up and down to the last 800 m into Pietermaritzburg. There are a number of registered hills in Comrades, they are either extremely long (Fields hill) or very steep (Polly Shorts hill).
I seemed to manage the first bit of the race in good shape up Cowes and Fields hill. But was taken aback by Botha’s hill which was very steep and just before the half way mark down Drummond. At around half way I got a flower from the Game water point to drop at Arthur’s seat, an indent carved out of the hill. Apparently if you don’t salute the seat or drop a flower you won’t make the end and I needed all the goodwill to get to the end. After half way was one of the toughest hills called Inchanga, which is very long and so steep. At this stage I had latched onto the 10:30 hour bus and was trying hard to keep them them in sight.
After Inchanga, is where the heat started to take its toll and the dry dusty wind began sapping my energy. Lots of water and Energade was needed to keep hydrated through the last half of the race, having already finished the length of a normal marathon.
My planning for the day included eating half a slab of these R30 chocolates I had in my pack on the hour every hour. I needed to do this because you need constant energy to keep plowing up the hills to the finish. This plan really helped as I ate consistently even when these once nice chocolates started to taste really bad. ‘30 kms to go’ was when I really started to struggle where my legs and body started giving up and where the real test of the mind came into play. I really had some scary thoughts of not finishing, giving up and questioning the amount of training I did. I passed our Pirates water point with shrug and ‘I’m really, really stuffed guys’ and realized the 10:30 hour bus was long gone I was going to have to dig deep to get the sub 11 I was really aiming for.
Through pure determination and spectators cheering I was able to push over the highest point in the race, which is really not very spectacular and kept going. ‘20 kms to go’ and there was a very long down hill on broken legs which hurt just before the Polly Shorts hill, the final one which feels like the steepest hill in the race. Polly Shorts is the hill that everyone walks because its that hectic, I even saw on some highlights the winner had a bit of a walk up this hill. At the top of Polly’s the 11 hour bus started catching me, ‘Oh no’ but I managed to keep in front of this group and finish in 10:54:17.
I must admit the 7 km after Polly’s is actually pretty hilly as it took me just under a hour to finish. The finish was amazing running in through the stadium, cheering crowds and the commentator saying, ‘5 mins to go before 11 hours’. I needed the sub 11 hour finish to get the bronze medal which changes to copper (Vic Clapton) from 11-12 hours. Finally able to stop, emotions overwhelming, a photo and bodies lying everywhere, I grabbed my Energade and soup to help me get over to find my club tent.
The best advice I got at the end was to grab a shower, the water was ice cold which is exactly what I needed after the very hot day. So stuffed and hurting I lay down after the shower to rest, SMSed everyone and took time to admire my small bronze medal. I completely missed the 12 hour cutoff which is always an emotional sight to see people coming in right before the end or just missing it.
The final part of the day was getting back down to Durban, and I took one of the official buses (a real one) which was not great as it took an hour to just get out of Pietermaritzburg and another to get back to Durban. So I left Durban before the sun came out and got back down after it went down again, so a long day. Two beers and half a borewors roll to celebrate and I was off to bed and so happy with my achievement. I didn’t take many photos of the race. But I will definitely be buying a couple photos from the race photographers.
I am feeling pretty invincible right now. However I will decide later on if I want to tackle this race again, it was so hard.
Check out the route: GPX File