Clivehaddow's Blog


Part 2 Stuart’s story – Comrades Marathon

Part 2 Stuart’s story “  


 The end of a year always flies past at a rate of knots. The kids were writing exams, we were getting ready for the annual shutdown, and customers were demanding their goods before Christmas. Silly season was upon us. End of year functions at schools and work were constant. Thank goodness for the weekly runs, as the extra samoosas or frosties could be consumed with a clear mind. Work off that extra beer next week. Before you know it, it was January and back to work. Training had slipped a bit, and the kgs had increased.   

 It was now time to get serious. I had to increase my weekly distance to 60km, join a club and plan which standard marathon I would do as a qualifier. I decide to join DHS Old Boys (Durban High School Old Boys) as my running club. I was horribly misled by the name. I thought that I would be joining other people in similar condition and age, as the name implied. I was mistaken, as this club has a majority of young bucks who believe that a jog is at 5min / km. Please, I can’t even sprint at that pace. Alas, my money was paid and I was now committed.   

 And so the serious training started.    

Going out with the club on a quick afternoon run proved fatal. I was determined that I would not get left behind and put on a serious dash of speed. Something had to give. It was either my determination or a body part. Mind over matter. The mind won, and the knee came off second best. I hobbled in to the club and quickly made my way to my car, where I could lick my wounds in peace.   

 February and the heat came with avengance. This is not my favourite part of the year, and am constantly in a difficult mood. I had to increase my weekly distance to 70km. I was drenched in sweat before I had even started, and my knee hurt like hell. I lived on Betagesic and Norflex co. No wonder the month passed in a blurr.   

On my runs, I had met Anne who belonged to our rival club, Glenwood Harriers. Anne and I have become good friends and traveled long distances together. Anne has a peculiar style and outlook with regard to running. She is tall and thin, and can run like a “will o the wisp” She has one hang up, and those are hills. As far as she is concerned, there is no hill that can’t be walked. And so our training went. Anne would power walk the hills and fly down the other side. Myself, I had to take it easier. Gravity is a huge factor. To defy gravity is a major effort, and then to slow gravity down puts your body through a lot of punishment. Those knees were killing me.   


 I decided to do the Hillcrest marathon which happened to be on Valentines Day. Gill wasn’t impressed and refused to come up and support me on my first marathon. I was nervous. Never had I run 42km at one time before. Whilst waiting in the dark at the start line, trying to chat and put on a brave face, who do I see but Anne? What a relief. I was so thankful. Even though our running styles were so different, we were more or less the same speed. I would pass her going up the hills, and she would pass me on the way down, and so it went. We finished the marathon together in 4hrs26min. Not a bad time for a novice and my first marathon. I was overjoyed, as I had now qualified for the Comrades, and still had 3.5 months of training to go.   

 Mind over matter   

The training increased to 80km per week in March. By this time I was 89kg having lost 6kgs. Life revolved around early morning training, work and family. Weekends became a juggling act, as I have to work Saturday mornings as well as put in two long runs. Fetching and carrying kids late at night became an absolute mission. All I wanted to do was go to sleep at 8pm. Some nights I was asleep by 7.30pm, much to my family’s annoyance.   

 Anne secretly went and did the Verulam Marathon without telling me. She improved her time to 4hrs16min. This put her in a different seeding for the Comrades. The Comrades start is divided into different batches. Where you are depends on your qualifying time. This was not fair. How could she do this to me? I was her running buddy. And so, I rose to the challenge. The Midmar marathon was coming up, and so we decide to make weekend of it. Packed the Caravan and off we went for the weekend. The morning broke with a light cool breeze and overcast skies. Although the race is relatively flat, it is not easy. There are parts that follow car tracks with the centre “middle mannetjie” Settling into a rhythm were not easy, and I didn’t have my buddy pushing me. By the end of the race the skies had cleared and the sun started to bake down. Thank goodness it was nearly over before it got too hot. I finished 4hrs 12min. That was 14min better than my last time, and I was now in the same seeding as Anne. I was so proud of myself, but came back to earth with a bump. I still had to pack up the tents and caravan and tow it back to Durban with sore, tired muscles. Thank goodness I have a very supportive family. I think at this stage they had come to realize that I was serious about this Comrades thing and could see the benefits in me, and that I wasn’t going to give up.   

 April came and went. Training was up to 90km per week. Well that was the target. Thank goodness, my knee injury had healed, and I was off painkillers. I started to put on weight as muscles developed. Having Easter in April also didn’t help much, and the weight crept up to 92kg.   

 Eventually May arrived. It was going to be a long month as most of the training was done. It was now the psychological preparation. We had done a “route tester” from Inchanga down to Stella club in Glenwood. This was a distance of 60km; a distance that I had never done before. Anne and I finished it in 6hrs. I was tired, sore but happy. In my mind, I now knew that I could do the Comrades, after all it was only another 29km. How stupid of me to think like that, but logic dictated that I would still have 6 hours to do 29km. Anne just shook her head and muttered to herself something about novices. (She had done 1 Comrades before)   

 May is the worst month to get through. You are superbly fit, eating all the right stuff and can’t train. The last three weeks you taper off from a high of 90km down to 40km per week. When I say a high, I mean that. Running releases endorphins which put you in a euphoric state.    

If you don’t get your daily dose of endorphins, all hell breaks loose. Much like a druggie without his daily fix. And so the last 4 weeks dragged on. A person is so cautious now with regard to injury that you avoid anything that might be hazardous. One weekend I took the family to the recently completed Moses Mabida Stadium to see what all the fuss was about. There was an option of going up the arch via sky car or stairs. I forced the family to go via sky car, as the stairs frightened me. The last thing you need is to fall or do yourself a stupid injury. All those months of training down the drain.   

 Food glorious food   

 Eventually the week before Comrades arrives and yippee “Pasta” as much as I can eat. I love pasta. I am sure that somewhere in my linage there is Italian blood. Pasta for lunch and supper, but boy does it pack on the weight. Back up to 94kg, but I knew that I needed the padding for the long haul on Sunday. Saturday arrived and went so slowly. Lay on the couch and rested most of the day, trying to conserve energy. Drinking lots of fluid until your urine is so clear; it looks as if it is pure water. And so the night before arrives. Nerves are on edge, and I have checked and rechecked my kit for the next morning.    

Sunday would be an early start as we still had to travel up to Pietermaritzburg before the race, and so climbed into bed at 8pm. What was I expecting? No exercise that day and nerves on edge made sleep near impossible. Slowly the clock ticked over with no sleep. This is not fair. I need sleep, NOW. How can I perform with no sleep? Eventually at about 12 I fell asleep, only to be woken at 2.30am by the alarm. Oh boy, here we go.   

 Gill was dropping me off at 3.30 so that I could get a lift with a friend. Having breakfast at that time of the morning is not easy, and your normal morning ablutions don’t want to work so early. Off we go to Pietermarizburg and join the mass exodus of cars all trying to get through the toll gates. Can you believe a queue about 500mts long at the toll gate? All this time your mind is playing games with you. Nerves are tight and you try making jokes in the car, but all you get are nervous forced giggles. The traffic going into Pietermaritzburg is an absolute nightmare. Cars are qued up for kms. Ah no, time is ticking on. It is already 4.45 and you need to be in your seeding cages by 5.15 at the latest. We are still on the highway, a good 5km away and the traffic is hardly moving. Thank goodness Rodney knows a back way, and after many twists and turns manages to get us there in one piece. But now, the morning ablutions are needed and quickly. And so you run down the street looking for a toilet, clamping your butt, because you know that if you fart, it could be the end. Eventually a toilet is in site, but there is a que 100mts long. NO no no, this cant be happening. I am so close to the starting line, I can hear the loudspeakers. It’s now 5.10am and I need to go. Then I notice a few other people with bulging eyes and a desperate look on their face and realize that I am not alone. Thank goodness for the local taxi rank and the filthiest toilet that I have ever seen. At this stage you do not care or give a damn. Nature calls, and a man must do what he needs to do.   

 With relief on my face I make my way to the “F” seeding cage. I was supposed to meet Anne at the entrance at 4.45. I am a now 35 minutes late, with only 10 to go to the start. Like an absolute angel, I look up and Anne is there waiting for me. This is one race that you cannot do on your own. You need your buddies, family and friends more than anything else. I have just enough time to calm down before the National Anthem starts. All around you are people, black; white whatever, all trying to sing the National Anthem.    

It is one of the most emotional times in your life, when you look back at the past year of training and realize that this is it. You look around and you realize that some may not finish, some may not survive the ordeal, and some have got there against terrible odds and huge hurdles. It is a truly humbling experience, as you look and see all shapes and sizes, but all with the same look on their faces. I am still not to sure if it is fear or a state of numbness. You have just got enough time to wish those around you good luck and the cock crows. Everyone in unison reaches for their watches and starts their timers as the gun goes off. And so the greatest race in the world starts. An experience that makes grown men cry, unites all in a common goal and a sense of personal achievement.   



August 17, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. So well described! Even tho I was there I still wait with baited breath for your next installment 🙂

    Comment by Meryl Rahme | August 18, 2010 | Reply

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