Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Run that Nearly Wasn't....

I've described the amazing Comrades Marathon (well ultra-marathon really) in the past, so I won't go over it all again, but there are a few things that stand out in my memory of this year's "up-run".

I wasn't really sure how to approach the race itself, as I hadn't specifically targeted or trained for it, but didn't want to miss it as I think it's one of the best races on the calendar, and should be on every distance runner's bucket list. When I say that I "hadn't specifically trained for it", I mean that I had actually only done 2 road-runs of over 30Km in 2015 - one was the Seville Marathon, and the other was the Wings For Life World Run!!

I had vaguely thought about pacing my friend Ian who I'd talked into going out and running his first Comrades, but he decided to aim for a slower time than initially planned to ensure he enjoyed completing it, and after a good run out at Kirkcudbright, I thought that I could sensibly target a silver medal time (sub 7hrs 30)....and if the ladies' field happened to be slightly weak, then I might be able to sneak into 10th position for another gold medal, but that would depend on others rather than me. Looking at it with a sensible head on, I decided that I should start out with the target of a silver medal and then if it wasn't happening (ie my legs didn't have it in them) then I would make a conscious decision to drop back and just enjoy the rest of the run, soaking up the atmosphere!

A "doctored" shoe
When I arrived in Durban itself, it seemed like actually running the race was becoming more and more unlikely. The injury that I'd picked up during the Kirkcudbright Half was not settling at all, despite me using a variety of dressings and creams, and wearing flipflops as much as possible. Whenever I put on a pair of shoes, my heel/Achilles started to weep and bleed (and really hurt!!!). I couldn't even manage to run a mile without stopping and limping.  However, as a final last ditch attempt to be able to make the start line, we cut away the back of an old pair of running shoes (that I had been planning on leaving in the shoe recycling boxes) and on the Saturday I managed a pain-free, blood-free couple of miles. I was good to go - well, at least I was going to line up on the start line and see what happened. If it became irritated or painful, then I would pull out, as it was not worth getting a more serious injury or infection and writing myself out of running for several weeks.

Hanging with Ellie

On Race Morning (ie Sunday), it was an early start for porridge (with a muffin chaser - I do like my cake!!) and then I met the other Elite runners in the Town Hall at 5am (it never ceases to amaze me how people run round and round the room to "warm up" when it's 21 degrees outside and they're about to run another 55 miles!!). All of us Nedbank girls had painted our fingernails green and were wearing a pink ribbon as a tribute to Rhiana van Niekirk (our Nedbank teammate - who had been ahead of me at the WFLWR just a few weeks earlier) as she'd just been diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer - that really put things into perspective!!

Startline nerves....

I ran to the start with Ellie (Greenwood) and my fears of being trampled started to resurface - I can actually be seen climbing up some of the barriers at the side to avoid the crush in pictures just prior to the run. I made sure I was back down with two feet firmly on the ground as we listened to Shosholoza and the cock crowing, though there were many people from further back pushing up and around us, eager to sprint off at the sound of the gun.

It looked like all my fears were going to be realised, as a man in front of me was tripped up and knocked down right after we set off, and I was being pushed into him. Luckily for me, Ellie reacted instantaneously and came to my rescue, grabbing me and dragging me sideways and around him so that I did not get caught up in it. I was so grateful to her for this, as for a brief flash, I'd seen another run totally written off by other people pushing and shoving to gain mere a second or two. Once I'd stabilised myself and got my heart rate back out of the stratosphere, I set off to try to catch Ellie up to thank her. I knew that running the first couple of miles way too fast might seriously harm my overall run, but to me, a friendship is more important than any run - and so I was very glad to be able to catch her up and thank her before dropping back to my steady pace!

"Stand and Hand" rule strictly obeyed!

I had arranged to first see Dave (Pearse - my super seconder) after about 20K. It was starting to get much lighter now so I grabbed my sunglasses from him, and reassured him that my
heel was feeling OK - I was in about 15th position in the ladies' field at this point and feeling comfortable there. I knew that by just running steadily I would start to overtake a few ladies who had gone off rather fast, and so I reached halfway in about 11th position.

The early morning sun

I know better than to listen to people at the side of the road telling me where I am in the ladies' field, but I trusted Dave and Patrick (he was encouraging all of a Team Nedbank and giving us feedback on positions)......though it did start to become rather comical. Every time I saw one or other of them, they would tell me that I was 11th lady.......even though I would pass at least one lady before I saw them again. I started to wonder if I should just "settle" for 11th, but I reckoned that it was possibly the worst position to finish in......so close to a prized gold medal, yet not quite making it.

I was (just quietly) rather happy when I reeled in Marina (she is a Russian lady who has already earned at least 10 Comrades gold medals - finishing ahead of me in my first two Comrades and also my first 100k race, though roles have been reversed in the last couple of races) and moved into the top 10. Spying Dave just afterwards, I gave him a cheer, but knew that I couldn't rest on my laurels as she is one tough cookie and could easily come back to overtake me.During the run, I must've heard every possible mutation of my name being called out, but suddenly I heard it being pronounced perfectly. I gave a double thumbs up, and the next thing I knew  a Polish man had come out of the crowd and was running alongside me. I managed to answer his first question (as the Polish was basic enough for me), but I couldn't really understand what he said next. I didn't know how to explain and apologise to him, so I'm ashamed to say that I just sped up and ran away!
Still, it is the small things, such as this, that happen
Appearance of slight carnage?
along the road, that create the best memories.

I saw Dave for the last time with about 15k to go.....he told me that I was in 9th place and that Ellie was in 7th place. It's funny, but in the last couple of races when Ellie and I have been team mates, I have always finished 2 places behind her. I know how strong she is in the final stages of the race and had no doubt that she would be moving up at least on
Great seconding by Dave ;-)
e more place before the finish. Unfortunately, Dave also told me that the 8th placed lady was 4 minutes ahead of me, so I couldn't see me continuing the "two places behind" trend. At the bottom of Polly Shortts (the famous "last" hill), there was a "pink drive" aid station, whose aim is to promote cancer awareness and education. It was their pink ribbons that all of us Nedbank girls were wearing, in a nod to our teammate Riana. As I ran past them, I pointed to my ribbon with both hands, and so it was nice to hear a shout and cheer for Riana over the microphone, as the station organiser explained my gesture.
The final push (kinda....)

In all the times that I have run Comrades, I haven't walked a step.......but you always wonder which time will be the first. As I was still just about running, I tried to encourage a couple of people walking up Pollys, and then got my own encouragement as I spotted Simona (also running for Nedbank). I closed her down and passed her just before the summit, but knew that her marathon time is over 10 minutes quicker than mine. I had to push on and make it look easy as if we approached the finish in touching distance, then I'd definitely be out sprinted. Unfortunately, I'd been having stomach problems for the past 40K so couldn't put the effort in that I wanted to. However, I managed to open up a decent gap and Simona remained out of sight as I counted down those final kilometres.

Getting my Gold!!!

I've made it!!!
It was an amazing feeling to run in (past the International enclosure, where I could hear Dave and others cheering me on) holding my red rose (given to mark the top 10 finishers), and be welcomed in by Nick Bester (Nedbank). I had finished 8th (2 behind Ellie as she had moved up to 6th) despite everything (shoes, heel, stomach problems) which was way better than I'd possibly imagined just a few hours earlier, and I really couldn't believe it!

Nick with the Nedbank Golden Girls
Team Scotland

What an amazing experience Comrades is......and all I can say is a huge thanks to everyone who helps me be a part of it!

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