My Comrades: Modern Athlete Readers share their 2010 Experience


Comrades 2010 was a highlight for many and a disappointment for others. Whether you won a silver medal or finished a second before the 12-hour cut off, one thing bound all of us on the 89.2km long road to Durban… and that was the incredible and unique experience of finishing one of the most gruelling ultra races in the world. Six runners share their race day experiences with Modern Athlete.

Kari Longman, Celtic Harriers Athletic Club
Race Time: 9:45

This last week has passed in a bit of a dreamy whirlwind for me and I keep on having to remind myself that I am officially a Comrades finisher!  

I think my main inspiration for running Comrades is probably my wonderful dad. As a little girl, my dad was always quite a big man and not particularly sporty. One day in early 1980 something motivated him to go for an 11km run. I thought it was just the most incredible thing that someone could run
that far.

At some point near the end of 1982 my dad started running in earnest. A mere six months later he ran his first Comrades.
Vividly etched in my memory is me as a young girl of 12 at the finish of Comrades, walking around all on my own and then somehow making my way over the barriers and running through the finish line with my dad. He went on to do another five Comrades after which his knees were so messed up he had to stop running and took up cycling instead!

For many years after that it was a dream of mine to perhaps also run Comrades one day. I was always the most avid supporter, knew the names of all the gold medallists each year and just loved the fact that on a down run the runners would run past our house, take a pee against our very long hedge and even sometimes throw out their old running tops on the pavement. 

In fact, I once picked up a long-sleeved RAC t-shirt discarded outside our house and wore it as my winter PJ top for years afterwards. I did quite a bit of distance running when I was still at school. I liked the feeling, and I liked to make my dad happy.

Then I became an adult and gave up on the distance running thing for a very long time. In fact, I only got back into it again in 2005, after my daughter, Julia was born!  

Then suddenly there was something about the ‘5 000 novices’ cut-off that attracted me to Comrades 2010. So I entered less than an hour before the 5 000 tally was reached.

And so the long slog began. Working full-time and having three kids (one still just a baby), I had to rely on my little 5.5km and 6.4km runs during the week, with one or two longer runs on most weekends. My darling husband, Alistair, and occasionally our wonderful nanny, Jane, meant that I could get these longer runs in at least, because without them I would have probably been destined to have a terrible experience!

I found myself at the start of the Comrades at 4:45am on Sunday, 30 May. Beside me was Joe Tyrrell, a kind and wonderful man whom I met a few months ago and who so generously offered to be my “running shadow”. It was such a chills down the spine experience to hear the recording of Max Trimborn’s ‘cock crow’, Chariots of Fire and the anthem just before the race started. I felt incredibly emotional thinking about the
reality of finally finding myself as an official starter of this legendary race.

The race itself feels slightly blurry to me now, although interspersed with beautiful and treasured little memories.
These are some of the things I remember:
The strange feeling of running past PMB Girls’ High, where
I spent five years of my life.
The slightly mysterious, ‘disconnected’ feeling of running in the dark with thousands of anonymous bodies, waiting for the sun to rise.
Discovering Joe’s delightful penchant for striking up a remarkably meaningful conversation with any international runner we passed.
The unbelievably heady pong of Rainbow Chicken Farms (which left me thinking I’d be giving KFC a miss for perhaps the next decade).  
The profound joy and heart-rending experience of passing the beautiful, smiling, lovely children from Enthembeni School and holding their hands as I passed.
The feeling of great tiredness my legs already felt at 25km, with me wondering how it would be possible to still run another 64km.  
The fabulous feeling of passing the halfway point at Drummond and the deafening sound of beeps as hundreds of ‘chipped’ feet passed over the timing mats and supporters cheered like nobody’s business. 
The mixed emotions of passing the 33km to go point (since this officially marked the point from which every step further
I took was the furthest I’d ever run before).
The sadness and trepidation with which I parted with ‘my shadow’ at 60km. 
The strange feeling of not being able to work out what it was I wanted to eat (knowing it was nothing sweet and nothing savoury) and then realising all I wanted was an enormous glug of beer (which I never got!).
 The pleasure of letting my legs loose on Fields Hill.
The unexpected feeling of a second wind shortly after Cowies Hill and calculating that a sub-10 was perhaps within reach.  
The desperate need to walk stretches, despite my closeness to the finish.
My burst of energy and a final 200m sprint around the stadium, with ‘Islands in the Stream’ playing the whole way.
And then a sort of muted joy-cum-sadness after finishing in 9:45, with no-one with whom to celebrate for quite a while!

Did I have a good experience?
Oh, absolutely (as with child-birth, all the really difficult bits sort of fade away and are forgotten about!).
I don’t think I could have wished for a better first experience.

Will I be doing it again next year? I’m not too sure. I am daunted by the prospect of doing all that training again. But I think Al and I are cooking up a little dream of perhaps doing it together, which would be an extra kind of special.

Am I proud of myself? Yes! I discovered afterwards that between the first timing mat
(at 27km) and the finish, I passed 2 600 people. That works out to 42 people per kilometre, or one person every 25 metres, which feels like something I’m unlikely to ever do again and makes me very happy! 

But I am also so humbled by the far more remarkable, nearly legendary achievements of many other people.
I know and realise that the number of people one passes has very little to do with success!

Comrades has taught me many things: that if one works hard to prepare for something, it’s not nearly as bad as one might initially imagine; that I should be so thankful for being healthy and strong; that Alistair loves me and I am incredibly lucky to have him by my side; that there are not many things in life which are quite as much of a leveler as long-distance running is; that it really does help to remember that one just has to put one foot in front of the other and eventually one will
get there and finally… that Cream Soda is so much better than Coke (and doesn’t make one burp
nearly as much!).