04 Feb, 2013

Comrades Family Affair

Comrades Family Affair

Back in the early 1990’s, I became intrigued by this running race called the Comrades Marathon. It caught my eye when an insert appeared on the TV revealing the history behind this iconic race, and I saw the founder was an early war veteran named Vic Clapham. Interesting, I thought, this gentleman had the same surname as me. After doing extensive research via my family and the Comrades Marathon Association, it came to light that Vic Clapham (Senior) was my great-great grandfather, and I learnt that no Clapham family member had ever completed the Comrades – Vic Clapham (Junior) had attempted the ‘Down Run’ in the 1930’s, but did not finish.


So, after years of watching this awesome race, both on TV and from the roadside, I decided at the age of 34 to attempt running it. I did all that was needed to start my journey: I found the right club, one that had history behind it, a family club, the Natal Carbineers. It appealed to me because of Vic being in the First World War. I was never the athletic type at school in terms of running – I preferred cycling – but over time, with the help of dedicated, friendly clubmates and other friends, I quickly learnt the tricks of the trade. So in 2011, I was in Durban for the start of my first ‘Up Run’ to Pietermaritzburg.



Words cannot explain what I felt that morning standing amongst 18 000 runners, singing the National Anthem and hearing Chariots of Fire. Whilst en route to Pietermaritzburg, it felt so different being on the road than watching it from the TV or roadside, so much more alive. Much to my joy, I managed to work my way past Drummond, but unfortunately, I did not make it to the finish – but any disappointment was shortlived, and by the time registration came around for the 2012 ‘Down Run,’ I was ready to give it a second try. I qualified again by running the Maritzburg Marathon, with a slightly better time, and then I counted down the days to 3 June. This would be my year to shine, and my goal was to earn a Vic Clapham medal.


In 2011, amongst all this craziness, I went to a meeting at Natal Carbineers one Friday evening to hear about this movement called Red Sock Friday. I met an awesome, inspiring young man, John McInroy, the visionary behind ‘I Wear Red Socks on Fridays,’ and I was absolutely blown away by his story. I knew instantly that a connection had been made, and that bond has just grown stronger over time.



The big day finally arrived: Sunday 3 June, Pietermaritzburg City Hall, the start of Comrades 2012. The atmosphere was electric, and I was proudly kitted out Natal Carbineer colours and wearing my iconic “shooops” socks. The anthem was sung, Chariots played out and the goosebumps kicked in. I was determined to reach the stadium in Durban. I had met up with a fellow Carbineer, Shannon Smith, at the start and we made a pact to try and stay together until the finish. We paced ourselves perfectly and I was feeling confident and positive, and the day became even more inspiring when I ran past other runners wearing red socks.


Coming into Drummond was awesome, because it meant that I had left Pietermaritzburg behind and was destined for Durban. I continued along the route, enjoying the cheering from supporters, but the real crunch arrived when I shuffled down Fields Hill. The 10km to go mark came and I knew I was almost home, so I carried on in agony, realising my first comrades was almost in the bag. Then, with just 3km to go, I decided to walk to the stadium, as I knew I was home safe.



I was amazed at the atmosphere within the stadium and what an awesome feeling it is to run to the finish line. At last, I crossed over the final mat in 11:29 and ‘air-punched’ in excitement. Just after this, I met up with fellow finisher and ‘Red Socker’ John McInroy, who happened to be waiting for friends to come in. We just hugged each other in excitement to celebrate me finishing my first Comrades. It was then that it sunk in that I had just made history: I am the only Clapham family member to successfully complete the Comrades!


I had conquered Comrades 2012, running it in memory of my great-great grandfather, and accepted my Vic Clapham medal, in my Carbineers colours and red socks, with much pride and jubilation. Long may Vic’s vision live on!