My Comrades Modern Athlete readers share their 2010 experience


Aileen Kennaugh
Race Time: 11:51
My desire to run Comrades started many years ago but the training only started last year in October. I am turning 40 at the end of this year and thought achieving this goal was a fitting way to say goodbye to my 30s.

I did my training and found the longer distances were hurting more and more. I spent a lot of time with a chiropractor, a biokineticist and a physiotherapist.  I managed the pain and kept my mileage to a minimum. I strived to get to the start of Comrades with a fighting chance of finishing. 

Three weeks before Comrades I developed a bad pain in my hip and I was sent to an Orthopaedic Surgeon who ordered an MRI scan on my back and hip. It revealed a big bursitis on the hip and two compressed disks on my lower back.  He advised I do not run Comrades and said no more long runs. In fact, he said he did not believe I would make it to the finish line of Comrades. It was way too late for me to pull out and now it was proving to be a once in a lifetime achievement.  I was fortified with two cortisone injections in my hip and four in my back.

We set off for Pietermaritzburg on Friday morning from a cold Johannesburg. I found a parking and gathered my bits and pieces to register at Comrades House. I realised I had forgotten my shoe with my timing chip in the car. I ran back to get it, locked the door and checked that it was locked. I registered and bought myself a Comrades coffee mug and we ambled back to the car. We did not notice anything was amiss.

Doug, my husband was driving and I was in the back with Kayla (my 5-year-old daughter) busy strapping her in. Doug asked why I had broken the GPS window attachment to which I grumpily replied I hadn’t done anything of the sort. I asked him had he opened the cubbyhole and he said no. I flew over the seat and saw a suitcase and a bag was missing. We had been robbed!

I ran up and down the street panicking. My running kit was stolen; all my stuff that was so carefully planned and packed. I cried and shouted and wept and absolutely despaired.

I asked Doug if I should give up or run. Is this a series of warnings or is this a case of running despite all the things against me? There is no clear answer in the moment – it is only clear in hindsight. So I chose to run despite of everything. We rushed off to a Sportsman’s Warehouse and I replaced most of the running kit. I got a few other things for us to wear on the weekend.

I did a little run / walk on Saturday morning with some stretches. My bursitis was playing up a little and my glutes quite tight. I slept so badly on Saturday night. I had two nightmares and my bursitis was sore. I was scared of the next day. I was scared of the pain and I was scared I would quit!

I told Doug I was in pain and afraid. He said just go out and do the best you can. He said I should enjoy whatever I do on the road for whatever length of time I am on the road. We went to the start and Doug gave me huge hug and we went our separate ways.

I found a place to sit down in my pen and simply absorbed the energy and space and excitement. I saw God in the moon surrounded by clouds. The cockerel crowed and then the gun went off. It took me about seven minutes to cross the start line. I was being very careful of all the debris in the road but then took a fall at about 2km into the race. Someone picked me up quickly from behind and someone else passed back my dropped bottle. It all happened so fast that I wasn’t sure it happened – except of course for the blood down my leg and stiff bruised knees. I had some juice to calm down and just carried on running.

The kilometres just passed on by. I was glad to leave Maritzburg and get on the proper road. It was a day spent quite alone; seems weird to say whilst surrounded by 19000 runners and thousands of spectators. I took in the rising sun and pink clouds on the horizon, the mist on the fields, the noise of running shoes hitting the tarmac, the pungent smell of the chicken farms.

I was starving hungry at about 20km into the race and there was no food at the tables! I was salivating thinking of Doug holding my cheese, mayonnaise and banana sandwiches and was looking forward to seeing him (and not just because he was holding the grub!) at Camperdown. I got some food at about 28km,thank goodness. The bananas and salt were absolutely divine.  I managed to borrow a phone when I didn’t see Doug at our arranged place. He said he couldn’t get to me. He would try to be at Inchanga.

The kilometres just ticked on by. I looked at my pacing chart periodically but the sweat was making it harder and harder to read. All was on track. I got hectic cramping in my feet at about 30km. Every time I walked I would wiggle my toes and try kick my feet out differently to stretch the ligaments and whatever else needed some stretching.

Harrison Flats was quite tedious and by the time I got to the bottom of Inchanga I hit a bit of a low. I was feeling quite desperate to see Doug. I borrowed a phone and he described where he was; near some orange flags. I got there and did not see him. I called again. Now I was desperate. But I couldn’t loiter. I had to keep moving forward. I said to myself I must not rely on seeing Doug; I needed to keep focussed. By then I was crying a little. Then I saw him. He gave me a huge hug and I cheered up immediately. I ate sandwiches and painkillers and carried on; so much more fortified and not just on food and drugs.

I ran/walked up the hills. And the kilometres just sped past under my feet. I felt so alive and very fortunate. I listened to music for chunks of time but switched it off when there were lots of people so that I could hear them and interact. Sometimes the talk around me was so negative; I felt quite sorry for those people and wondered if they would finish. I got to the halfway mark in 5:40. While running up some of the hills I heard friends’ voice. ‘Run upright, run strong, run light.’ She simply never doubted I could finish and I felt that from her every time I thought of her. She said that if I get into a dark difficult place I must just think of her because she will be screaming her support. Well, I called on her a lot!

I though of my sister; her love is a constant in my life and I knew it was particularly strong on this day. I thought of my brother in law; his advice and sense of humour popped into my head frequently. Then there were Mari and Wim; their excitement and support for me were always so evident.

There were times when I called on them saying I needed some help. I would then physically engage my core to keep upright and they would lift me a little and make the weight on my body a little less. Beautiful and powerful stuff!
It was great to reach the petrol station in Hillcrest that I had run from at Easter.

My feet were cramping so badly at one point that I had to hold onto two spectators. They were so sweet and supportive (physically and verbally!) He kept on offering me food and his wife would chastise him; the poor girl can’t eat a pork sausage! Then off I trundled again down Botha’s hill. My music was particularly inspiring at that point. My version of Wind beneath my Wings came on and I thought it was fabulous! Frank Sinatra’s ‘I did it my way’ felt particularly applicable.

Field’s Hill was hectic. I heard Bruce Fordyce’s voice saying shorten your strides and it will help. I did and it helped! I knew Doug was waiting on the other side of Pinetown going up Cowies Hill. I was running towards him. Well perhaps the word running is a little exaggerated! His hug this time was too painful to stretch my back that way but the rest of him was perfect. He ran/walked with me up Cowies.

I met up with a RAC runner who was funny and a complete chatterbox. He told me about his brain tumour that was due to be operated on in a month. I realised one never knows what life is going to throw at us. I sent him strength.

My energy levels were dropping, my quads were finished, my feet were cramping, and my glutes were going into spasm! I found myself behind the 12 hour bus! One of the rules of Comrades – besides no new clothes or shoes – is don’t get behind the 12 hour bus! I stayed with the back marker of the bus; an old man who was running his 10th Comrades. He was fabulous and so encouraging. I cried running down to 45th Cutting.

I hobbled on the uphills and shuffled on the flats; 5km to go, 4km and so on. They weren’t quite flying past but the numbers were definitely getting smaller. However the cut-off was looming. I kept waiting for my second wind, but it kept eluding me. And so I shuffled on. The back marker left me! West Street was jolly long. Then it was left onto Walnut and I could sense home. I was still worried about getting there on time. It was taking me 12min/km! There was this huge bus in front of me and what if there were too many people at the finish line…

Then I saw the lights and the entrance to the stadium. I was there and I realised there was enough time to make the cut-off. As I went through the tunnel I started to cry and sob and laugh. The field section was long and beautiful and amazing. I didn’t feel the agony in my body any more. I beeped over the finish mat, pressed the time on my watch (11h51) and cried a little more. I was my own hero on that day. I had surpassed boundaries I didn’t know I had, I had reached deep into my own power and strength and was not found wanting. Everything I needed was within me.