It’s 4:45am on the 28th of August 2022 and my full-of-life and fun FHAC comrade, Renate, and I are stuck in a queue of cars trying our best to escape the car park of our hotel in Pietermaritzburg. The boom has chosen this very inopportune moment to stop working. Tension levels are rising as no one at the hotel seems to understand the urgency of getting to the start of Comrades 2022 – The Return.
The lead up to this day, my second Ultimate Human Race, my ‘back to back’ has been full of the usual mix of fun and fear. We’ve trained and played in almost equal measure – swinging, swimming and drinking way too much port along the way. There’s been some uncertainty – am I running enough or too much, is the John Korasie a good idea or not (go slow they tell us!), and a few last-minute trials of various race fuels.
The emotion that comes with the event started long (days!) before my departure. Being part of a community of runners who’ve mostly all been there – the love and support is huge; the advice is free flowing and expectations are high. On arrival, Durban is abuzz with runners and supporters, the expo is well organized, the wings against which to take your photos are big and bold.
The long trip by car, from Durban to Maritzburg, on pre-race day humbles me. It’s the first real reminder of what’s in store the following day. After half a night’s sleep, the day dawns cool but clear. A lot clearer than this boom we are currently dealing with …
Finally, management comes to the rescue, the boom lifts and we’re off. The arrival in downtown PMB belies the beauty of the start.
City Hall towers above streets bathed in low red light with thousands of excited runners making their way into their start pens.
With only 60% of the usual field this year I can feel the difference in numbers only because we are standing closer to the imposing City Hall than I would otherwise be, but the energy is electric. It’s possible that absence makes the heart grow fonder, or perhaps after three years we’ve all forgotten what we’re in for.
It’s for the start of the race that I’m really here. I do plan to get to the end (in a particular time), but it’s for the singing of the National Anthem, Shosholoza and Chariots of Fire that I’ve pitched up. No one can explain the feeling and emotion that comes with standing shoulder to shoulder with 15 000 likeminded individuals who, regardless of race, creed, religion, status, occupation, gender or nationality all share one common goal. AND on top of it all, I feel very blessed to be sharing this all with Renate, who is about to embark on her maiden Comrades.
Our tears flow freely, the cock crows (twice!), the gun goes and we’re off. Well kind of .. it’s slow to begin with, but no one pushes, no one moans, no one says an unkind word. We finally find ourselves on open road.
The first 30km go smoothly. We run, talk, joke and meet new people. The support along the route is overwhelming. KZN has come out in force to celebrate on the day.
It’s just after the 31km mark that my partner in crime starts to feel very queezy. We try all the known tricks, but after a few kms and many requests (aka orders) to PLEASE get going, I’m on my own.
Leaving a friend on the road is a really tough thing to do. One wrestles with your own goals, mine being a 10h30 finish, and agonizes over staying or going.
From here on it’s a different run. Alone but not lonely. I chat to fellow runners and run from point to point where I know our amazing seconders will be. It’s a highlight to see fellow FHAC runners along the route.
Reaching Drummond after 5h20 I realise that if I’m to achieve my goal, I’d better balega! The last 30 kms are the toughest. My quads are screaming, but I have no time to listen to their complaints or I won’t make my time.
It’s the smiles, the encouraging cheers of ‘go Fish Hoek’, and the many, many reminders from supporters who constantly shout ‘I see you!’ that gets me through. The last 2kms seem impossibly long. I want to walk but know that I don’t have a minute to spare. I round the corner into the Moses Mabhida stadium to see 10h28min on the clock. Only then, with 300m to go, do I finally feel certain that I’m going to make it in time.
The cheers from the crowd are deafening. You feel like they are shouting just for you – like an Olympian winning gold.
What an extraordinary and unforgettable day filled with many gifts.
In taking stock:
⁃ I am so grateful that I am strong and able to run
⁃ I am humbled by the support from friends and strangers alike
⁃ I appreciate that things don’t always go according to plan
⁃ I am thankful that Renate ran an absolutely incredible run in the face of adversity
⁃ I am honoured to be part of a great club of phenomenal runners… I SEE YOU!