My very first Comrades Marathon is officially over. While there’s plenty of advice about what you should be doing on the lead up to the ultimate human race, what am I supposed to do with myself, now that it’s all over? With this new found freedom comes a strange sense of emptiness. I don’t want to rest – I’m itching to get out there and do it again.
I was one of the eager few who arrived an hour before the race was due to start. The seeding batches loomed ahead, starting with A, for elite athletes, through to H. I’d qualified with a sub 4hr marathon, which meant I started in group D. Before long, we were packed into the pen like sardines; not a bad thing, freezing temperatures considered.
When the national anthem played, an anxious realisation set in; I was about to run 90km. My heart raced faster as minutes became seconds and shuddered at the blast of the cannon. We were off. Well, almost off – the song playing over the loud speakers: ‘Every day I’m shuffling’ said it all, but soon, there was enough space for the running to start.
I felt the cold during the first 30km. The icy wind pounded against my legs and my hand steadied my cap, so that it wouldn’t fall off. I would say this was the hardest section – dark, cold, windy and hilly. The phrase ‘down run’ became a running joke among participants, because the first half feels like a perpetual climb and the finish line a mere illusion.
When the downhill section finally came, it was more of a challenge than a relief. Equally as painful, every muscle ached as I pounded forwards and downwards onto the tar. Nothing can prepare you for how difficult this race actually is, unless you actually run it. I guess that’s why it’s referred to as ‘the ultimate human race’.
I went through some bad times during this race, which is why supporters were essential. Cheers of ‘Go Christine’, ‘Looking strong’ and ‘You can do it’ pulled me through and pushed me ever closer to the finish line. The sight of all these people, huddled together against the cold, to give me strength, made all the difference.
My husband, Warren, was there at the 50km mark, camera in one hand, packet full of food in another, ready to help me in any way that I needed. Just seeing his face made me feel as if I had the power to continue to the end. I got so excited that I even tripped over a rock, which he so cleverly caught on camera.
It was my first Comrades, so time was not an issue for me. I had already told myself that finishing in 11:30 was fine, and that 11 hours would be even better. When I crossed the finish line in 10:18, I realised I was more than I imagined.
This is a marathon that is both physically and mentally challenging. Your training is what helps you through it without any injuries, but it’s your mind that keeps you going for the entire day. You need to constantly reassure yourself: ‘I can do this!’
So here I sit, days later, desperately waiting for my body to feel normal again. During the race, I was saying ‘never again’; now, I’m saying ‘sign me up again’. I’m itching to do another one and I’m sad it’s all over.
I was that girl at school; the girl who blended into the background, who didn’t do any sport, who never thought she was good enough. Look at me now. I finished the Comrades Marathon, the ultimate human race.
Thank you once again to everyone for their kindness and support. That’s what makes this race the best ultra-marathon in the world.
By Christine Bernard