Charlyn Smart lined up at the 92nd Comrades Marathon with one goal in mind: to finish! And she did, but without the elusive medal she had dreamed about.
Sunday, 4 June 2017. Nerves set in when I finally lined up in H batch after months of training, early mornings, and more hard work than you could ever imagine. I knew I’d have to push myself past every limit I’ve ever set.
Tears streamed down my face as I (and 17,030 others) listened to the National Anthem, the gut-wrenching Chariots of Fire and the final ‘Cockerel Crow’. BANG! We’re off – it took the better part of eight minutes to cross the start mat, and by now I was ready and rearing to go.
My mantra for the day was ‘Trust the process, believe in yourself – you are special, you had the courage to line up and start this Comrades. It’s going to be okay – just smile, stay happy and hydrated, and don’t forget to eat.’
30km: I am feeling so good – I need to keep going at this pace!
46km: Climbing Inchanga, I spot my husband Ron lying on the ground on the side of the road, all cramped up. He is doing his 15th Comrades. He sees me coming, and screams at me not to stop. “You’re looking good Charl, keep going, I’ll be okay.” I burst into tears, and guiltily keep running. I don’t know when I stopped crying, but I did eventually.
57km: I made it over Inchanga alive! I can hear the rescue buses getting going next to me; this gives me a push to power on. Walk a pole, jog a pole – just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and never look back. I play mind games all the way through the race: I beg , I plead, I make promises to myself that this is the LAST time I’ll ever do this to my body.
By this stage, I’ve made so many great friends along the way, almost my own bus – and we all encourage and motivate each other. ‘Come on, everyone, just to the next paper bin; come on, everyone, just to the white rock on the left! Here we go…’ and so we went.
67km: Tears roll down my face once again when we run past a school for the disabled. As we trudge by, we give them all high-fives. I am someone’s hero, I think to myself. I had specially packed sweeties in my belt for them, which I completely forgot to take out. Still, this was by far the best moment of my day so far.
77km: Pain. I can feel blisters popping on both feet, and I’m in more agony than ever; but my mind is in top gear, and I’m on my way home! My group and I climb and share each others’ pain and glory – we can do this!
82km: That’s 82km done…
85km: What’s going on? We should be there! I struggle to pick up my arms, and do my best not to collapse.
85.73km: My husband Ron is waiting for me on the side as we are ready to run in, he grabs my hand. “Come, my girl, you can do this – I know you can!” I can hear him, vaguely, but I’m tired, I’m finished. Somehow I pick up my feet, push forward, and run that last kilometre in 6 minutes 44 seconds, with the crowds screaming for me to run faster.
86.73km: Someone pulls me to the side of the finish line, and I realise I’ve missed it. I’ve finished, but I missed it. This can’t be right – I’m sure they’ve made a mistake! How could I have missed my medal?
My heart feels like it’s about to stop beating.
It takes me a while to process everything that’s just happened, and then I realised that I’ve done it. I’ve finished the 2017 Comrades Marathon! It’s okay that I didn’t get a medal, because I did finish, and I did cross that final line.
I’m overwhelmed with happiness; tears of joy stream down my face, and I literally sit down and cry with the pure satisfaction that I, Charlyn Smart, finished the Comrades Marathon – despite not getting a medal!