Thursday, December 31, 2009

Comrades Marathon Experience - 2009

My Comrades Marathon Experience : May 2009
"May you always be astonished by your own abilities" - Anon.
I have returned from a sequence of events that have left me astonished by my own abilities and I have been filled with a sense of wonder at being human and the potential thereof.
The entire process leading up to my participation in the Comrades Marathon 2009, the 56mile/89km race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa has been life-changing. A few years ago I thought that a Half Marathon was a far distance to run, little did I know that I would be participating in three ultra marathons in the first half of 2009. My wish for this ultra marathon to mean more than the personal accomplishment of completing the 89km race within the 12 hour cutoff led me towards the possibility of raising funds for an orphanage in South Africa. After much research, I decided on HOKISA in Masiphumelele on the Cape Peninsula and have been in awe of the loving and generous response from my family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers who have helped me to make this fundraising initiative a fantastic success, the end total being R39,300.00. To everyone who contributed, I cannot begin to thank you enough and wish to assure you that your donations have made a significant impact on the lives of these children.

My adventure began with a 40 hour flight from Honolulu to Durban. I was met at the airport by a dear friend who has gone above and beyond the call of friendship to give me support, ensure my health and accommodate me during my stay in South Africa. We drove to our B+B in the beautiful rural area of Alverstone in Hillcrest, about a 30 minute drive from Durban. From the porch one could experience sweeping views of the start of Valley of a Thousand Hills. I made fabulous connections with friends, old and new, attended inspirational pre-Comrades functions and had spaghetti sauce splashed on me by Bruce Fordyce ( 9x winner) at the 'Pasta Party'. Pre-race I didn't really do any special carbo-loading and generally just ate my normal vegan meals and also did not pre-hydrate or do any other 'special' preparation except that over the 5 1/2 months preceding the event I ran 1424 km. Unfortunately my body clock was functioning on a 12 hour time difference and I only managed about 3-4 hours sleep a night.
The Comrades marathon: The start of the race was exceptionally moving with 12 000 runners gathered in front of the big clock tower of the Pietermaritzburg City Hall in the dark hours of pre-dawn. I stood with a lump in my throat, tears stinging my eyes and an overwhelming sense of gratitude while the songs Shosaloza and Nkosi Sikelele were sung. Then the recording of the voice of one of the first Comrades runners doing the 'cock crow' was played, followed by the starting gun and the theme song of Chariots of Fire carried us over the starting line and into the dark streets towards Polly Shortts, our first climb of the day whilst we ran towards the brilliant red sunrise that lit up the clouds creating a beautiful start to the day. Initially I hopped onto a sub-11 hour 'bus'. (A 'bus' is a group of runners led by a pacer or 'bus driver'). The pace felt great, my legs were fresh and I ran the first 21km with a very chatty runner from Shelley Beach. I was delighted to see my friend and hear her shouting encouragement at the Lion Park turnoff. My fairly recent leg injury that I had picked up after my 'Run to the Sun' experience flared up slightly around this point and I decided to be pro-active about it before it became worse, so I stopped at a physiotherapy station and had my leg strapped, subsequently falling behind the 11 hour bus. I was soon to pick up more friends along the way. The 'Spirit of Ubuntu' is alive and well and it was thrilling to be a part of this collective mass consciousness that was moving on foot and helping each other along the way in a manner which I have never experienced in my life before.

I decided to stay relaxed as I continued the undulating meander through Cato Ridge and Camperdown, past the Ethembeni School for physically disabled children whose broken, buckled and bent bodies lined the street, singing with their arms and hands outstretched to be able to touch the runners as they went by. I stopped momentarily to share my best 'township jive' dance steps with a group of girls who were singing and dancing alongside the road and they roared with delight.
Then came the grind up Inchanga, up and up, steep and tiring - I remembered reading the phrase “where was the 'down run‘“ ? Everyone was taking short walk breaks and so I followed suite. The sight of Drummond lifted my spirits somewhat and I chugged downhill to reach the halfway mark and a timing mat - five and a half hours had elapsed, I was still on target and feeling good due to my tactic of energy preservation, knowing that another 45 km still lay ahead. Another climb ensued, past Arthur's Seat (where Arthur Newton, the first Comrades winner sat and rested during his long training runs) and Wall of Honour (plaques honouring past Comrades winners and runners). We continued to climb upwards and onwards with a dip after Alverstone radio tower where Kay was waiting to cheer me on and give me anything I might need - then another grind up Botha's Hill past Kearsney College and then down through the cheering streets of Hillcrest where my tired legs and feet started feeling effects of the 'down run'....30km to go - this was all unknown territory to me and I had to start digging deep to keep the mind on the target, the feet on the road, one step at a time and move the pain out of the realm of consciousness. The balls of my big toes were burning from the downhill pounding that was now taking place. Through Gillits and down a very steep Field's Hill is where I established a very deep and meaningful relationship with a fellow runner and we helped each other through 10km of difficulty. After parting ways I met another runner and we helped each other psychologically through the next 10km through Pinetown and on towards Cowies Hill, another climb and I lost track of all the ups and downs after that- we parted ways and I had moments of worrying that I might not make the cutoff. I was becoming slower and merely placing one foot in front of the other....then finally 45th Cutting and another timing mat, I had made this cutoff time and developed another friendship with a complete stranger who helped me to the end and over the finish line in 11:42:37 - what a high!!! What an exhilarating experience!!! I told myself that this was a onetime deal, I had been there, done that, checked the box. After hobbling to the cold showers with friends, I was loaded into the car, driven back to the B+B, placed in a hot bath with Epsom salts and aromatherapy oils. I felt extremely nauseas and could not eat nor drink and even though I was exhausted, only slept 3 hours that night. At breakfast I fainted in my chair on the verandah and had to be force fed. I now realize that my mistake was refusing to eat and drink after the race. Once I got sustainance in my body again I perked up and announced that one should 'never say never' and by that evening I was ready to sign up for another Comrades. I'm happy to report no injuries except for one swollen toe that recovered quickly. This was less of a race and more of an experience in humanity. I did not view myself as an athlete but rather as a human on a journey towards self-realization.
HOKISA: We flew to Cape Town where I experienced an overwhelming sense of 'being home'. I've been able to catch up with friends and family and spent time at HOKISA where I was welcomed with beautiful posters drawn for me by the kids with pictures of me, my running number, running shoes with wings on them and hearts with wings and a halo. They sang for me, inspected and wore my Comrades medal, gave me a tour of the home and prepared a special lunch. Wow! In giving one receives so much. My cup is overflowing.
Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible, successful, enjoyable and for all the love, kindness and friendship shown to me from beginning to end. I feel truly blessed.
Enkosi Kakhulu and hambani kakuhle (thank you and go well)
Meeting motivational speaker and endurance athlete Braam Malherbe

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