Tag Archives: Comrades

Not-running Comrades

At the end of May I flew from the UK to South Africa, via Dubai, to not-run Comrades.

It was a decidedly bitter-sweet experience, given that I had been training for Comrades since November last year, but I’m very glad that I went.

Why was I not running? Injury, or a series of unfortunate events: I broke my left ankle last June, got running again, worked up to a 26-mile run by Christmas and an official marathon, qualifying me for Comrades, in January. Then I got some back pain from too much sitting in a badly-fitting office chair, then a groin niggle, which I thought was referred from my back… but which turned out to be (or at least partially be) from pelvic malalignment related to decreased flexibility in the broken ankle

At 16 miles into the London Marathon I found myself suddenly unable to lift my right leg and run – I walked the remaining 10 miles, slowly and with a heavy limp. An x-ray three days later showed that I had stress-fractured a pubic ramus on my right side, which would mean no running for eight weeks if I was lucky or as long as eight months or more if I was unlucky and/or didn’t rest it properly. Running a 56-mile hilly road ultra five weeks later was not going to happen.

Since I had paid for my flights months earlier, and wanted to meet a number of people I’d been chatting to online, I decided to go anyway: even if it did mean about 18 hours of travelling in each direction for four days in South Africa. I packed carefully for the trip, including NOT packing my running shoes, so as to avoid any last-minute temptation to actually start the race. Despite knowing that I would not be running, the pre-race excitement on-line in the UK Runner’s World Comrades thread had my heart rate increasing in the days before my flights out.

Travelling to Comrades was an experience in itself: gradually joining up with other runners: first spotting one or two other runners on the flight from Gatwick to Dubai (the running T-shirts gave it away), then many more runners some with running shoes dangling from hand luggage, gradually drifted into the waiting area for the flight from Dubai to Durban. During the flight I decided the passengers probably had the lowest average BMI and highest average fitness level of any set of passengers on an airplane!

I would never have deliberately set out to travel all the way to South Africa to watch other people running Comrades, but I’m very glad I went. I got to meet lots of friends I had previously known only online, as well as make some totally new friends. I got to take part in the record breaking parkrun at North Beach (1,872 finishers), meet Ari Searlis there and get him to sign my copy of my book on the page where he’s mentioned; meet up with Bruce and Gill Fordyce again. I got to enjoy wandering around the expo during Saturday without having to just rest before the race;  I got to experience the start of the race, and learn that a small flashlight (pitch black inside the portaloos!) as well as toilet paper will be important when I finally get to do the Down run. Spending the day in the stadium, watching and taking photos, was fun and I had a further day of enjoyable socialisation with other runners before we all departed.

Leaving South Africa was a reverse of the journey out there, with a multitude of runners, many in their new Comrades T-shirts, on the flight to Dubai, and what felt like a very abrupt parting as we all dispersed through the huge Dubai airport, off to different flights home.

Not-running Comrades was a good experience. But hopefully, with a careful return to running, next year I’ll be having an even better experience, running it.

Dymchurch Marathon

Rather than get up at 5.30 and drive down to Dymchurch this morning, we had booked into a B&B and drove down yesterday late afternoon instead. Walking the short distance from the B&B to a pub to eat, the wind was biting and I decided I would definitely be wearing my long-sleeved top and my jacket, as well as gloves and an earwarming-headband.

This morning was a little warmer but still a bit chilly. We walked to the race HQ on the promenade at the top of the sea wall, just a few minutes from where we had been staying. Registration was very simple – walk up to the table, give your name, get your number. It took maybe 30 seconds. They had written each person’s name on the number in large letters, which was a nice touch. Quite a few runners were running the double, so already had their numbers from the previous day. Bags could be left next by the wall, just a couple of yards from the registration/aid table. Given the short time from arrival to start, dumping of bags etc., it had a relaxed feel, much more like a parkrun than, for example, a big city marathon. The fact that lots of people knew one other added to the feeling of friendliness and informality.

To avoid getting chilled, I kept my fleece on until the race briefing started, then handed it to my wonderful husband. A short briefing from Traviss, including the vital information about the turn-around points (round a chalk marking at one end, and touching the fence at the other end of the route), and we were off. My ‘A’ goal was sub-3:50; my ‘B’ goal was sub-4:00 and my stretch goal was a PB/sub-3:47.

Traviss also made a presentation to one of the runners, Tiago, from Portugal, who has not only run 400 marathons, but is one of the few people to have run at least 100 marathons in two different countries (in his case Portugal and the UK) and has run 100 road marathons, 100 trail marathons and 100 ultras. He was wearing a Comrades hat, and turns out to be the Comrades Ambassador for Portugal.

We started with a short distance, just a few hundred yards, to the chalk mark, all in a group, then we set off towards the far end of the promenade, with the group quickly stretching out. The running was easy and my Montane Minimus jacket was soon tied around my waist. I tried not to run too fast, but it really felt very comfortable at a good 15-20 seconds/mile faster than my target speed for a 3:50 marathon. Then we reached the far end, touched the fence, turned around – and the wind hit us. Suddenly the temperature dropped 10 degrees and the running got a lot harder. I quickly donned my jacket and had to start pushing in order to keep my pace under 9-minute mileing. Back to the chalk marks, turn around – and it was warm, easy running again. The two directions were so amazingly different it was like two separate races.

Approaching the end of the second lap I dumped my Minimus and grabbed my Montane windproof jacket from my bag instead – it was perfectly adequate to keep the chill wind at bay. Back round the chalk mark, past the aid station/HQ and thankfully there were some 330ml bottles of water as well as the open cups of water and squash, so I took one of those – I’ve always prefered sipping to gulping, while running.

My nutrition strategy was very simple: one green-ear (vegetarian) Percy Pig at nine miles, then another every three miles. Slight variation later with Kendal Mint Cake instead, and I did change to one every two miles after 18 miles. I was also carrying a 25 mL bottle of Elete electrolytes so a few times I squirted a bit of that into my mouth and washed it down with the water.

Because of my speed differential between directions, there were a few runners whom I outpaced when running downwind, but they caught me up and sometimes passed me on the section into the wind. The back-and-forth, multi-lap nature of the course meant that we were all passing and repassing each other anyway, calling out encouragement, greeting people we knew – in my case, the couple who had been at the B&B we stayed at; Mark, a Comrades runner who sometimes runs at Lloyd parkrun; Simon, who I’d run with for quite a long stretch of the very cold, wet and windy SWD50 in 2013. We could also see the really fast guys, the first of whom was clearly heading for sub-3:00. I also realised that apart from a lady called Sunny, who had passed me early on in the second lap and looked very fresh and strong throughout, none of the other women seemed to be ahead of me, making me second woman!

The fourth lap my legs were a little tired but I was still going strong. By this time the air temperature was a bit higher and I’d warmed up enough that I ditched the windproof jacket and the gloves for the final lap. Turning into the fifth lap, I started to feel a bit more tired, and it took me ages to catch up with the guy in front (one of those I’d been leapfrogging with), while on previous laps I’d caught him in the first mile or so. Still, catch him I did, and we reached the fence together and turned for the final push towards home.

It was hard. Having the wind in your face when you’re trying to push the last two and a bit miles home is not easy. Having someone to run with/chase did help, and I kept reminding myself that I had less than a parkrun to go… then it was less than a mile to go. My legs were tightening up a bit now and my running partner, Keith, managed to pull away from me, but I chased him as strongly as I could (it didn’t feel very strong by then), managed one final burst of faster running for the last 100 yards… and it was done. My Garmin showed 26.3 miles and 3:49, so I’d succeeded in my ‘A’ goal if not my stretch goal. Not bad for a little more than seven months out from breaking my ankle. [Official results give me 3:49:29].

Travis gave me my medal – quite the largest I’ve ever earned – and handed me my goody bag. Keith and I congratulated each other. My wonderful husband gave me my warm clothes and a flask of hot drink (very welcome). He had also taken photos as I approached the finish line – but when I checked them I discovered I’d forgotten to put the memory card back into the camera, so no picture had been saved! He did take a couple of me with my enormous medal, using my phone.

I then made him hang around as I wanted to see Mark and Simon finish; Mark was shepherding another runner to qualify for Comrades. Meanwhile I chatted about Comrades and training with Tiago and one of the other runners. Finally Simon and Mark came in, very close together, and after a bit of chat we headed off.

Oh – and it turned out Sunny had started even later than I’d thought and was a lap behind, so I seem to have been first woman. [And official results put me 12th of 94 runners – although I haven’t counted how many of those ran it Saturday as well]

So, that’s my qualifying race done. Tiago suggested I should push on at London, try to go sub-3:40 and gain C pen, so I’ll have to make a decision about that – the alternative being to just treat it as a training run and aim for sub-4:00.

Now I’ll run easy for a few days, then from next week start pushing the mileage up. Onwards to Comrades!