We left the house at 4:40 to head down towards the start......and I panic-grabbed another couple of slice of toast, thinking it would be a long time until I had my next proper meal.
Arriving in downtown Durban, it was obvious that something big was about to happen. Despite the darkness of the hour, the streets were buzzing......with locals out for the atmosphere, cheery supporters and thousands of runners (nervous novices, relaxed regulars and everyone in between).
I stripped off, got a last encouraging hug from Dave Pearse (who would be seconding me en route) and headed into the City Hall. Sitting down with my drinks bottle, I was again amazed to see so many people running round and round the inside of the building. Did they not realise that they had another 87k to run so there was no point tiring themselves out before the start?
The cockerel crowed and we were off.......or rather, everyone else was.......as the guy behind me grabbed my left arm and pulled me backwards to lever himself forwards. As I'd expected, everyone seemed to shoot off, but my plan was always to run my own race and start steadily, then see what happened later on in the day.
As we joined the main highway out of Durban, Jacques Mouton appeared on my left. It was lovely to see him again, as I ran a good portion of last year's race with him, though he said that he faded significantly later on. Unfortunately our run together this year was even shorter, but we still managed a quick chat.
I had passed my first lady just before the start of the hill, but she came storming past me like a train halfway up. I enjoy the climbs on the course as they are one of my strengths, and so overtook many others (including another lady) in that 2km long climb. It was then lovely to pass through some leafy villages with great support and welcome shade, whilst the wolf whistles from the boys of Kearsney college helped put a smile on my face. More places gained on Botha's Hill, and it was a great confidence boost to hear the times that people were hoping to run as you passed them. Relaxing down the other side meant I again picked off several runners, including the lady who'd passed me on Fields. I learnt to ignore the comments from supporters along the route as, although they mean well, it is about the only race where you can hear that you're the 7th lady, pass 3 ladies, and then be confidently told that you're lying 8th!
On the way down into Drummond, I caught up with a large group of runners and was surprised to see Marina Zhalybina in the middle of it. I had never been ahead of Marina in my life - she finished 3rd to my 4th at Comrades in 2012 and finished 1st to my 2nd at the World 100k Champs in 2011. Marina also owned no less than 11 Comrades gold medals, and so passing her did freak me out slightly. I was worried that I'd gone too fast and would pay for it later, and spent the rest of the day expecting her to come flying by. I had hoped to be working my way into the bottom of the top 10 by the halfway point, not be in the middle of it.
As I neared Cato Ridge, I thought that Marina was making her move, but it was actually Irina (another Russian lady) who passed me as if she was running a 10k race. She looked amazingly strong......maybe it was the thought of a birthday cake at the finish, as not many people would choose to run 87 hard kilometres as a birthday treat! There was no way that I could have gone with her, but as I'd said before, I could only run my own race......and whether others had a better run was out of my control.
I had run most of the way with a distinctive purple vest of 'Turn to God AC' visible some way in front of me but I finally caught up with Stuart (the owner of said vest), which gave me a bit of company through the next stretch. Most of the comments were about the strong wind, as it even blew down barriers and signs along the sides of the road. Unfortunately, it did not blow away the smell of the chicken farms, so how the people managed to stay at the refreshment station there all day is beyond me.
I remembered struggling through this section 2 years ago and thinking how nice it would be to just stop and walk, but this year I felt stronger and suddenly I was passing the highest point at Umlaas Road, with the realisation that I had less than a half marathon left to run. Another runner (Michael Ndlovu) had come back to us by now. This was great because, as a seasoned runner of Comrades (wearing a green number) he anticipated our needs and would signal people at the refreshment stations ("tables") to get them to stand on either side of the road so that we could grab the "baggies" with each hand. It became my personal challenge at each table to have grabbed some bags of water from the first person, have opened them and poured them over my head and into my mouth, by the time I reached the last person, from whom I got another water and an Energade.
Strangely enough, I was looking forward to the infamous Polly Shortts as I knew it would be a chance to push on as you gain 100m over 1.8km, so in my head, my kilometre countdown was to the 10k to go point. This made the race end seem closer to me and I felt good watching the numbers tick down.
About 15k from the finish, I saw Dave and Ruth for the final time. While handing over a drink and gel, Dave told me that I was 8 minutes down on the 4th placed lady but that she seemed to be fading. My response of "I'm fading too!" caused Stuart to smile, but I wondered how much of that deficit I would make up, or if she would rally in the run for home.
I felt like I was running alone up Little Pollys and Polly Shortts, but Stuart later told me that both he and Michael had tucked in behind me, to use me as shelter from the wind. In my previous 2 Comrades I had never walked a single step and so I was determined that this year should be no exception, which again enabled me to move up the field on these testing inclines.
At the top of Pollys, I felt great and so decided to pick up the pace and really work all the way to the finish. It was "just 8k" after all. Michael came with me, and though Stuart later said that he had thought he would be able to stick with me to the finish, I opened up a gap of 400m within the first km, and 4.5 minutes by the end.
It isn't the easiest 8k, as the support lessens after the crowds of Pollys because most people have gone closer to the finish so the are some quiet isolated open stretches, and the course definitely "undulates". At this point in the race, any slight change in gradient can feel like a huge hill, and twice the road does actually disappear down into a huge deep, so you have to really control your tired quads down to work up the other side.
We thought we were almost there, as the run in had seemed long, and the crowds were building up again, and so both of us had the same uncharitable thought (Michael expressing it out loud) when we saw the 2km to go marker. Even so close to the end, we were still grabbing as many baggies as possible both to drink and pour over ourselves, as the temperature was well into the 30s by now.
|Having a laugh with my clubmate Craig (while someone is stretchered out of the International Enclosure behind us....oops!!)|
|The British gold medallists!|