My pan of water finally boils and I pour myself a mug of Rooibos tea. Children sing as they start their long walk to school; Cattle pass leisurely on their meander down a dirt track to the beach; The cockerels have been up hours already. It’s only now, sitting outside my hut watching the sunrise deep in the Transkei, that it starts to sink in.
We flipping well did it.
Months of training, of getting up in the pitch black and putting on gloves and leggings, running in the snow and rain and cancelling plans because you have a long run the next morning.
All those hours, all that planning. It all boils down to that one moment. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
3:30am The alarm goes. There was an anxious tension in the air, especially for those of us who were running our first ever Comrades. In fact, for some (myself included) it would be our first run over 50km.
4:30am We walked across to Pietermaritzburg City Hall, just a few minutes from where we had stayed that night. It was from here that we would begin our 89km run to Durban.
Shosholoza. Everyone sings and the sound of men and women echo amongst the excitement and nerves. Goosebumps from head to toe. I look up at the sky before closing my eyes and taking one final deep breath. I had imagined this day for so long. And now *BANG*. We were off.
Darkness soon faded and the sun began to rise, a beautiful golden over the fields outside Maritzburg. The first 50km went smoothly. Never alone, we chatted and got carried away passing half way in around four and a half hours. As one lady past by she looked me in the eye and said, “ShoOops! You’ll be fine, just don’t stop moving forward”. I even bumped into an old friend, Liezl, who I had run my Comrades qualifier with out in Stellenbosch! We did a fair few km’s together before she continued to pass through the field and break sub 10 hours. Running along, I felt an arm on my shoulder and before I knew it, Diego, who I had met on the plane from Jo’burg was running alongside me. It’s true when they say there’s no camaraderie like that of Comrades runners. We are in it together and it’s not until the second half that you realise how much you need each other.
Overall, I was pretty confident in my nutrition and hydration. Up until I left for South Africa I had my diet down to a tee and this gave me a lot of confidence going into the run. Even though nutritionally, the final few days before the race went pear-shaped, I wasn’t bothered. The hard work was already done.
Here’s what an average day would look like:
Pre-workout breakfast: 1 banana and many tbsps of peanut butter
Breakfast: 2 avocados on rye toast
Snack: Rice protein smoothie
Lunch: kale, avocado, seeds, sweet potato salad
Snack: Nuts and seeds, apple
Dinner: lentil chili, brown rice, veg
Snack: oats, fruit, a few cubes of 90% cocoa chocolate
I trained to run off of very little food and found raw date bites worked perfectly during a run. I bought those with me and snacked every hour and a half, along with a few sweets to chew on.
We reached half way, began to separate and as Chris eloquently put it, “it’s just survival from here”. It’s not really what you want to hear with 30km to go but survival mode was well and truly set. It was around now that I started to use my hydration powder. The sun was strong, the air was warm and I gradually became more thirsty. My body started to become very fatigued and running became more difficult each step. I began using signs as markers to run to before allowing a 25 step walk/60 step run that Greg had shown me a few kilometers back. Before you reach 25 the crowd would have boosted you into a slow jog again.
As my pace slowed, the kilometer markers seemed to become further apart and with 25km to go, I really ached. My whole body longed to sit down but I dare not or I’d never stand again. I began to feel hungry and so I ate whatever was in front of me: biscuits, salted orange segments, grapefruit (although I did manage to restrain from boiled potatoes and Energade).
For the last 20km, I ran solo, occasionally seeing a fellow red sock runner which gave me a much needed boost. There it was, another hill. I couldn’t. I began walking and that’s when I heard her. “DANIEL. COME ON!! YOU ARE SO CLOSE”. Her friend joined in, “ COME ON DAN YOU’VE COME SO FAR”. I remembered a quote my sister had told me: “We didn’t come this far, to only come this far”. I gritted my teeth and started to run again. The tiredness, soreness and aching making me blubber like a baby for the remainder of the race. This pain, I expected and was ready for. The mental pain, I was not. It took a hell of a lot more than I expected to battle through the mental barrier of continuing to run, when every part of you wants to stop.
But eventually I saw it: 2km to go. This was it, the final stretch. By now I was limping, with both calfs totally cramped up and yet from nowhere, as if someone had placed wheels under my feet I began to move. I picked up the pace to around 5:30/km and gritting my teeth, zoned out of the pain. The crowds’ cheers drew me into the stadium. With one final push of every single fibre of my body, I made it across the finish line in 10:26. Then the blubbering really got going. I was totally overwhelmed. I literally can’t put into words the emotions as you cross that line. That finish line is so much more than the end of a run. It’s a symbol of sheer grit and determination; A sign you fought to the very end and a sign that shows everyone who thought you couldn’t, that you f***ing well can. Pride, nausea, relief, you feel them all. Every single one them as incredible as the other.
I don’t believe it’s possible to come out of an ultra like Comrades the same person you went in. Izokuthoba was the Comrades slogan this year, meaning ‘it will humble you’. I have never felt more humbled than that day. I have also never felt part of something so great. We say we are running in our red socks to pull together a beloved South Africa. Comrades optimises everything that the Red Love Train stands for. Locals lined the street to support us, along the entire 89km route. They were the wheels under my feet when I had nothing left to give. To be a part of a movement of people, coming together in such a way is an incredible feeling that I will never forget. Ubuntu was out in all it’s glory: What an epic race! What an amazing event! What a beautiful country!
Comrades taught me more than I can ever explain. Most of all, it taught me that there is no challenge too great, no race too long and no mountain too high. One foot in front of another and you will get there. Sure, you can look back but just remember, don’t ever stop moving forward.
I couldn’t help but notice one man had two medals round his neck. After taking 30 minutes to stand up, I went over and asked him. He told me if you do the Up Run (Durban to Marizburg) and the Down Run (Marizburg to Durban) one year after the other, you get a back to back medal…
Thank you all so much for your support in my journey to Comrades. It’s been the most epic experience and one of the greatest days of my life. I will be making an accompanying vlog which will be coming soon but for now, I am off road-tripping down to Cape Town!