My Comrades: Modern Athlete readers share their Comrades 2010 experience

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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.


Claudia Cockcroft
Race Time: 11:45:11


Most of the older Irene runners are familiar with my medical history, but here is a brief recap. On 16 June 2007 I was training to run my sixth Comrades Marathon, but eventually decided not to run as I was not feeling well. This was not in my nature and few people really understood why I did not run. I found myself ten days later in hospital, suffering with an aneurysm in my brain and a stroke as a result of a tear in my internal carotid artery.


The period between July 2007 and February 2009 was pure hell. I was told by specialists that I would never run again and that the rupturing of the aneurism could be fatal if I lifted anything heavy (including my three-year-old son). In November 2008 a specialist told me I would never work or run again and that I had to accept it as I had a ‘good innings”.


From all the medication my liver was approximately seven times larger than what it should have been. I lost my short term memory and had problems with fine motor skills.


In February 2008 I made a few decisions. I decided to stop all medication. I started walking (against medical advice) and also found a neurosurgeon who felt that there was hope. I started a rehabilitation programme at the High Performance Centre (HPC) in Pretoria and my medication was changed.


In July 2009 I finished the Knysna Forest Half Marathon! It was my first road race in two years. This was achieved after five training sessions at the HPC (600m
running and 4km cycling per session). I also did a 7km walk and a 10km trial run as part of my training.


The Knysna Forest Half Marathon gave me some hope. I decided to join the Tuesday time trials at the club. I frequently woke up the day after the time trial suffering from terrible headaches. This scared me as the headaches would only subside late on Thursday evening. It also gave me doubts about my ability to run races on the Saturday morning.


In October 2009 my husband, Newton, decided that we were entering for Comrades. I knew that there was a possibility that I would at least get the Comrades T-shirt at the expo, but also only if I qualified. We ran during our holiday in December; I ran a 10km race and Newton did a few others whilst I
sat out. In January I kept going to time trials and managed to run two races.


Often at the time trials I battled with a severe pain in my liver and continuous headaches. I managed to log 49,96km for the month of January. In February I battled even more. At the time trials I kept walking and running a bit. I went to the Deloitte’s race and I was wearing my running gear, but was too scared to run the race! I logged a total of 25,2km in February. In March I managed to run the time trials and also ran 10km at the Sunrise Monster.


Then my husband announced that he wanted to run the Elands Valley Marathon. I arranged accommodation and could not picture myself on the side of the road in the car with the kids. I arranged a child minder and told Newton that I was going to run! He was very concerned. I promised him that I would stop if I did not feel well. The race organization was not the best but I managed to qualify for Comrades.


I logged 78km in March. April, the month known as the most important month in your Comrades preparation, was getting closer now. The Loskop Ultra Marathon was around the corner; 50km sounded very far and I was not sure I could do it. But it turned out April was a much better training month! I told myself at Loskop that I would run it slowly and see how my body reacted. I managed the distance, not without tired muscles and sore feet, but I made it before the cut-off. Newton were in Cape Town for work the following week and I decided to drive to George on the Friday and meet him there to run the Outeniqua Marathon the next day. I wanted to see if I could qualify again as this race has a difficulty rating of 4. It would also give me a lot more confidence if I did well.


I managed to finish the race well in time and logged 152km for the month of April.
In May I managed to run a further 80km. I suddenly got an abscess in my tooth. I missed out on another Saturday race due to it and had to visit the dentist three times. I had the abscess drained.


On the Wednesday before Comrades my 6-year-old son ended up with a stomach virus. I got the same virus and was ill on Saturday, the day before the big race!


I was two hours early in my H seeding block, ready for the start of the 2010 Comrades. I was not sure what the day was going to be like. I remembered the words of Don Oliver, saying one should break the race up in chewable chunks. I could not visualize a distance of 89,2km. I lost Newton within the first kilometer of the race as I had to pull off as nature called. Back on the road it was freezing cold but slowly I managed to work myself back into the race. I fell behind as per my pacing chart and later decided to abandon it.


All went well, but at Cato Ridge my muscles started aching. I took a painkiller. It was the wrong decision, because of the condition of my liver. I battled for the next 30km. At one stage I sat on a rock at the side of the road. Gerard Van den Raad came speed walking by and told me to move ahead. I was wondering how I am going to explain to people at work why I did not finish the race. I started a new job in May and the people at work did not know my history. I walked passed a few water points and I forgot to take in fluids. I stopped taking energy gels and sweets.


The thought of having to enter for my sixth Comrades a third time crossed my mind. Then Belinda Skinner and her sister walked passed me. Belinda advised me to move forward. She actually made me realise I had to get going! On the down hills I passed Belinda and on the up hills she passed me. After the Nedbank Mile I was really tired. I had a good five minutes break and then felt rested enough to carry on. My muscles were really aching, but I knew that the Irene support station was close by and that Nadia would be able to assist with my sore muscles.


As Nadia finished rubbing my legs I took a tablet, but then got nauseous. A kind Irene lady gave me a rehydration drink and Jack offered to walk with me to the top of Cowies Hill. I asked him to hold my hand as I was scared to fall. He made sure I had Cream Soda to drink and left me at the downhill saying that he knows that I am a strong downhill runner. I felt much better and ran all the down hills. When the last cut-off at the 7km to go mark was near, I heard the announcer say that 7 minutes was left before the final cut-off. I could not clearly visualize how far it was but I knew it was downhill. I decided to run. I ran past Belinda and decided that I was definitely not going to miss the cut-off. My Garmin watch indicated a best pace of 3:51 and it could only have been there.


Then I was forced to walk again, perhaps because I went so fast down
the hill! I sat on the barrier at the side of the road and remembered the MMS that we received in our goody bags. I rubbed it into my calf muscles and was off again. I saw a little girl eating a bright red ice lolly and told her it looked really good. About 500m later I saw the ice-cream man and bought my own. I met up with my uncle who is turning 75 this year. He was a bit weak, I held his arm and walked with him for 100m and left him with some words of encouragement. I had only a few kilometers to go. I ran down the hill and saw my cousin who was walking. I ran past him and told him that I saw his dad.


I saw the pacing bus of Vlam Pieterse in front of me. I managed to squeeze past. I was happy now, I felt better and I could run again with a smile. I knew I was going to make it. Before the race I thought I was going to cry if I managed to get to the stadium, but I was so happy that I just smiled from ear to ear when I entered the stadium. Today it is hard to believe that I made it.


My uncle also finished his first Comrades. My sister was also running but did not know that I was running! I could not tell her as she would have been too worried and it could have spoilt her race. She only found out later the evening!


Thank you to everyone who supported me; Sonia, Marina, Wynand, Johnny, Martie, Tracey de Waal, Jeannie, Oom Gerard, Tannie Bertha and Belinda Skinner. I cannot mention everyone. A special thanks to Newton, who never gave up on me. He always nagged that I should go for a second doctor’s opinion. It was most probably his concern over me that cost him his race in the end. Newton also made a special effort to run with me in the evenings in April and May. I definitely could not have made it without him.


Thanks to our doctor at Intercare Medical Centre that believed that I could run Comrades again and also encouraged me to go to the best in the medical field. Thanks for the contribution that the Hi Performance Centre made in my recovery and the thousands of Sudoko puzzles published in newspapers and books to exercise my brain! To recover from a stroke is a tough and lonely race, but to be able to run the Comrades once more is truly awesome.

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