Clivehaddow's Blog


Part 3 and Final – Stuart’s story – Comrades marathon

The down run to the inexperienced sounds easier. Let me tell you now, that is incorrect. The down run is harder on the body, especially the larger framed person. At 6ft1, 94kg each down hill becomes pure agony on the knees. In fact, for the first 2 hours of the race, it is uphill. After that there are some other mean hills. There is a saying that if there is a hill that has a name, then you walk it. Inchanga, Bothas Hill, Cowies hill and finally Tollgate.

 The weekend before Comrades, Gill and I drove the route. There were parts of it that I hadn’t seen in the daylight and I needed to show Gill where she had to be at certain times. I needed the family to give me extra energy gel and Energade. I tend to sweat like a pig, and dehydration was a serious concern to me. Yes there were water stations, but I needed my Energade. Seeing friends and family is a huge motivator. So we drove the route. Hmm, not to bad. What’s the big deal I think to myself? Ha ha. Hills are no problem in a car, wait until you have to run it.

 The mind was ready and optimistic. I had planned my day with my usual precision. I had a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. Plan A was based on my “route tester” and I forecast a 10hrs 15min finish. Anne laughed at me and said that I was mad. She knew from experience what was coming. Plan B was my actual goal and one that I believed to be achievable. I had predicted 10hrs 25min. Plan C was to finish the race sub 11hrs. I did not want a plastic medal. It had to be a bronze. I had made a card that detailed where I would be at certain times and distances. I knew that I would need the motivational boost just after half way at around the 48km mark. I also needed the support at the 70km mark, just before Cowies Hill. I knew that it would be difficult for any spectator to get in and out of the towns on the route, so settled on these two pit stops and obviously the finishing stadium.

 And so the great day began. Training was finished. The mind was right. I had my pace card and seconds in place. I knew where I was going and I knew how I was going to get there. By foot. One step at a time.

 As the gun goes, there is a sudden surge of people. F Category must have been a good 300mts behind the starting line. There is nothing that you can do, but stumble forward. It takes a full 7 to 8 minutes before you cross the start line and are able to jog. The roads are packed with runners and early morning spectators. As you run through the suburbs of Pietermaritzburg, families sit huddled under duvets out on the pavements with a cup of coffee in hand, and cheer the runners on. At this stage, it is a few degrees above freezing point, and everyone has an old T shirt on over their running vests. Some have gloves on, and others have black bags over their bodies to keep warm.

 As you start to leave the residential area, all are able to start picking up the pace. Up to now, it has been an awkward shuffle, dodging other people and discarded clothing. Anne and I had lost 12 minutes off our time card before we had even got to the 10km mark. Not even 5km into the race there is a mean little hill, but everyone is still fresh and it goes by almost unnoticed. Little Pollies and Polly shorts starts to separate the bunch. The climb out of Pietermaritzburg is long and slow and it is already 2 hours into the race when we reach Lion Park and approach Umlaas road, the highest point on the route. Ahh, thank goodness it was all down hill from now. HA HA

 Still feeling remarkably fresh we approach Camperdown and Cato ridge. People are still joking around and chatting. By this stage most have discarded their T shirts and one can now see which running club they belong to. And so starts the playful banter and camaraderie. We pass Cato Ridge and duck under the freeway and start on the long boring Harrison flats. The sun is now up and starting to cook. Anne and I have now settled into a comfortable pace, but are still 12 minutes behind my pace card plan. We notice many foreigners and particularly some Aussies, and make a point of greeting them and sharing a joke. I admire anyone who travels to another country and does a marathon like this without the family backup. Anne and I are having fun, thankful for all the training and hard work that we put in.

 Up ahead I notice an athlete standing next to a tree balancing on one leg. In his hands is his artificial leg that he is busy readjusting. Wow, this is incredible. This guy had been in front of me for the first 35km. What guts and determination he must have to overcome his situation. And here we are, fit and physically complete, moaning like hell. How ungrateful we can sometimes be. Makes you really appreciate what you have.

 Just before we drop down to Drummond and the half way mark, the route takes you passed the local black school for the physically handicapped. They are all out on the road, in their wheelchairs and crutches, cheering us on. You cannot help but get a lump in your throat, as you look at these kids, all with smiles on their faces. There is story that goes something like this. A couple of years ago, some of the competitors running the Comrades would fill their pockets full of coins and dish this money out to these kids. At that stage, the school was derelict and the kids had rags and no facilities. It was through these few Comrades runners that their need was highlighted, and now the school is the recipient from various charity funds.

Stuart and Family

 From the school, the road goes past Arthur’s seat, where one must bow the head and acknowledge those that have gone before us. Then on to the wall filled with plaques of previous runners. At this stage, the distance is starting to bite. Drummond is half way and is just over a standard marathon. To think that you must now do another marathon in order to complete the Comrades. The climb out of Drummond is up Inchanga hill. The first really serious hill. As you climb, you can look down and see the freeway to the right far below. This is an obligatory walk and there is no shame in doing so. Over the top and down you go to Alverston. Anne and I had planned to meet our seconds at this point, so it was with great anxiety that you run along searching the crowds for your family. It is quite easy to miss each other. Thank goodness, Anne sees her husband and daughter. Now where is Gill and the kids? 50mt further on I spot them. What a relief. My energy gel was now finished and I had previously given them a new pack to give to me at this stage. I could feel my legs starting to cramp and got Gill to quickly apply some Deep Heat. After about a minute break, Anne and I are off again. Next family stop would be Pinetown, another 25km away. The spirits have been lifted and there is renewed vigor in our stride.

This renewed energy is quickly sapped as you climb Bothas hill and descend into Hillcrest. This is the first major decent and the knees are feeling good. It is now midday, and the sun is beating down on the road. The sweat is pouring off of me. This is a good sign, because it means that I am correctly hydrated. At times the sweat was so much and so concentrated that my eyes burnt. I had to run with one eye open and the other closed whilst I battled to wipe the sweat away.  

Winston Park approaches and the route takes you through beautiful avenues and past lovely homes. Damm, those residents. There they are sitting on the pavements having a braai.(BBQ) The smoke drifts over the athletes, taking with it the smell of cooking meat. Normally, this is pleasant, but at this stage your body is starved of food, and the smell makes me want to throw up. The nausea is incredible and I contemplate putting my finger down my throat. Anne looks at me, and tells me to puke. No no no. If I puke, I will loose all that essential liquid. Hydration is crucial with Pinetown and Cowies Hill coming up. And so I soldier on. Mind over matter, mind over matter I mumble to myself. Thankfully the nausea goes as we go through Kloof. The crowds are fantastic, and a party atmosphere exists. Pom pom girls are there cheering us on. I make a point of crossing over onto their side of the road and walking. Suddenly there is renewed vigor in my step, and I get renewed energy. Kloof whizzes by. Every now and again you hear someone call your name, or shout “Go Oldies”. My club colors are easily recognizable and people tend to spot an Oldies shirt from a distance. Anne starts to get annoyed, because no one is shouting for Glenwood. I tell her that she will have to change clubs next year. “No ways” she says.


Homeward bound with victory in sight

 Town hill approaches with almost 70km under the belt. The legs are tired but good. Just got to get down this dam hill. And so, we cruise down into Pinetown and hit the flats. Legs are good, but I can feel the start of cramps. If I stop, I won’t get going again. Anne has an absolute fear of Cowies hill. Her last Comrades almost came apart on this hill, so it is with trepidation that she approaches this huge obstacle. Gill, kids and friends are at the approach to Cowies and give me much needed refreshment and a quick rub. Cramps are really starting to slow me down. We are still 12minutes behind schedule and I urge Anne on. We walk Cowies hill and make it to the top and over onto the Westville freeway. The part that I dreaded was coming up. The Westville flats up to 45th cutting are boring and long. On the route tester, I had taken strain here the most, and so we approached this stretch with caution. Anne has got over her fear and is now starting to perform well. Never ever underestimate the power and strength of a female runner. Their ability to withstand and endure pain is far greater than a man. I start to slow down, but she just ploughs ahead, at her incredible pace.

 On the approaches to 45th cutting, I am blown away by the hospitality shown by the local Indian supporters. People are giving out free cokes, oranges and biscuits to the runners. As you run past, they spot your name on your front bib, and shout your name. Anne is still annoyed, as they see her name and call her Annie. Annie looks remarkable fresh as we hit the 79m mark. Only 10.2km still to go and only 9.5 hour gone. Theoretically we would still have 2.5hrs to finish. No problem I think. Yeah right. They say that the race only starts after 60km, and I have to agree with the pros. The true spirit of Comrades is in the last 10km.


 As we go up the ramp to the freeway and start our last climb up Tollgate hill, I am tired and sore. Anne is like a spring chicken and runs ahead and then circles back to check on me. I beg her to go ahead, because I know she will be able complete in the early 10hrs. She refuses, saying that we will stick together and finish together.

 On the approach to Tollgate, we pass a fellow “Oldie” Lisa. She is puking over the rails, whilst all around us; you can see people with looks of agony on their faces. Over Tollgate and down the other side and onto Pine Street we stagger. I am running 50mt walking 50mt. I turn to Anne and tell her that I am finished and have no more energy, and can only walk the last 2km. She grabs my face and makes me stare into her eyes. “You are ok. We will do this together” she says.

Stuart and Anne

 As we get to 1.5km from the stadium, you can hear the roar of the crowds. There is no way that I am going to walk into that stadium, and so I dig deep, and pull out the last reserves of energy. The crowds are on the street outside and are cheering us on, and so we enter the stadium. The noise inside the stadium is incredible. People are shouting and screaming. All this time I am searching for my family. On the last bend I see them going ballistic. With 50mt to go, I knew that I had made it. With a sudden burst of energy, my shoulders and chest lift and the legs pump the last straight. Anne and I look up at the clock. 10hrs 49min. We had made it with 1hr10min to spare.


 The body is tired and sore, but the mind is overjoyed. My first ever Comrades and in a fairly decent time, with the best buddy in the world.

 We make our way through the crowds to a pre arranged meeting point with our families. The organizers have one last hurdle for us. Sadistically they have a put a footbridge over the track, which we now need to climb. Absolute agony as the muscles cool down and cramp. My family sees me and rush up to help me over this obstacle.

Stuart and Family

They are overjoyed and relieved to see me alive.

Yes, yes, yes. Anything is achievable with the right preparation and planning.


To see a map of the area of the Comrades Marathon click link below.,30.8833333333&spn=0.1,0.1&q=-29.8166666667,30.8833333333

Simone Clark



August 19, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Great writing, great pictures and a great race, Stuart!!

    Comment by Meryl Rahme | August 24, 2010 | Reply

    • Many thanks Meryl. You did well to. See you on the road

      Comment by Stuart | September 2, 2010 | Reply

  2. Wow Stuart! Fabulous writing …. I honestly felt as if I was there with you all along the way. What an amazing story and achievement! You SHOULD be incredibly proud, as I am sure your family is!!! So when does the training start for next year’s? You have inspired me to get on my running shoes again … I did it twice … both downhill …. hmmnn wonder if I could do it again?!!

    Comment by Linda Watling | September 1, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks Linda. In fact registration for 2011 opened yesterday(1 Sept)and is only open to the first 18000.
      So, now that the entry has been submitted and money has been paid, the training starts.(again)
      This time it is an uprun, so I need to put in some serious hill training.
      Take care. Might see you next year. Go for a run together.
      See ya later

      Comment by Stuart | September 2, 2010 | Reply

  3. Hi Stuart,

    I am a South African and as long as I remember I have woken up early on the 16 June (in the past) or Comrades morning with a feeling of euphoria and fear and excitement. Comrades was always my mothers dream, and one that she finally achieved when she was in her late 40s. She has completed 3 runs, and I will NEVER EVER forget the time that my sisters and I accompanied her to Durban and met her in the stadium in Pietermaritzburg. I could cry writing this… we all saw her train and suffer for that race, and we had suffered too, by sharing her with her running. She came in during the last 5 minutes before cut-off. We were all in tears… the fear too great, the atmosphere and emotion of other like us all too overwhelming, but in she came in the final 11 hour bus. Victorious, waving like a celebrity, a tired, but ecstatic smile on her face. One of the highest, peak moments in her life, and I could feel it too. I was electrified.

    My mother introduced me to running, and I remember doing the 5 km fun runs at all the marathons and half marathons she would do. I have now become a runner in my own right. I have a few half marathons under my belt (including 3 Two Oceans halfs, which were the realization of a childhood dream after remembering dropping my mom off in Newlands as a young child).

    I am proud and scared and ashamed and excited to admit that on the 1st Septemeber when entried opened I was one of the first to enter the 2011 Comrades Marathon.

    I hope to be running from Durban to Pitermaritzburg on the 29th May. 😀

    Comment by Melanie | September 13, 2010 | Reply

  4. Congratulations ! Thanks for such a vivid recollection of a down run , I am planning to run 2012 for 50th birthday, I foolishly thought, before starting reading recollections that “down” would be easier. Having read a few accounts I am now starting to realise just how big Comrades is and how important to South Africans

    Thanks once again Dave

    Comment by Dave Lord | March 3, 2011 | Reply

  5. Wow! Great job! I can’t help getting emotional when I read the story. I am doing my first Comrades this year, its “up” and I try to stay positive and optimistic. Training is almost done, research, planning and a great support, I am ready to go and paint my best race I can. I think all of my friends are more nervous about it then I am. And for the medal,
    I will be ecstatic!!!
    to get a “plastic” !!!
    🙂 Thank you for the great story

    Comment by Natalia | April 27, 2011 | Reply

  6. Great motivational story. My first comrades was also the 2010 race, knew nothing about what I was putting myself into, then went for it, knee gave in at half way and got strapped by the medical personnel along the road/route and as I was about to give up completely then came one of those ‘unofficial” buses conducted by a guy called “Japhta” from Ebony running club (whom I didn’t know at that time). He made sure that I don’t bail out, supported me all the way and we, together with over 300 other runners he carried along the route, finished at 11:23. I was overjoyed having completed “The Ultimate Human race”.

    Comment by David | May 16, 2013 | Reply

  7. Great writing skill, inspirational and motivational. Scary stuff too.
    I have entered my first Comrades. Here’s the thing, I am, wait for it, 68 and not an athlete. Yet, despite it, I have done 3 months of hard training and still in good condition so far. Hope to do it in 11:59:59.
    Thanks for your great story!

    Comment by Murco | January 27, 2014 | Reply

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