The Flip side of Comrades

By: Sandy Mullins

9 June has come and gone, and many participants have positive experiences to share of their Comrades journey. Being at the Aches and Pains Braai afterwards was a testimony to the fact as runners hobbled around in their Comrades shirts, proudly displaying their hard-earned medals and sharing all their experiences. Each one deserving the limelight and soaking it up.

I hid behind my phone taking photos, so happy for our Stella Stars but wishing I was also experiencing the euphoria of the weekend. But in truth, all I wanted to do was flee to my bed and sob my heart out. For me, it was the utter disappointment of another DNF. Life is quite seriously unfair. 

I was so ready for this day. I could tick off all the necessary requirements of a safe finish. I’d trained with discipline and didn’t hesitate to run and clock up 1300k’s of mileage. I was injury free; head was in the right space and I was eager to show the up run I was able to respectfully conquer. I took all the necessary precautions of not getting sick (Bactroban up the nose, throat spray, hand sanitizer and a dozen vitamins). It was a green light all the way until the Monday before Comrades! I picked up a gastro virus and puked my lungs out. I went to the doctor hoping to sort it out immediately. He gave me a jab for fever and nausea and tabs to take which would, with any luck sort me out in time. 

When I lined up at the Durban City Hall, I was feeling great. I had slept surprisingly well and was as calm and relaxed as could be. We set off and at first; I thought it was unusually warm. But by the time we were heading up Cowies, I said to my running mates, that I felt like I was overheating – the steam was coming from my head. Anyway, upwards we went, and I enjoyed the atmosphere in territory where you are guaranteed of seeing someone you know on the side of the road. It buoys you, and that friendly word of encouragement just spurs you on. I was still on track and despite feeling a bit bilious, I was okay. The Stella tables along the way were great and I got my replenishing Gu’s and Rehydrats to continue. At Inchanga I picked up my Crampnot, took it and left the table thinking, right this is progress – I have passed the spot I had to pull off two years ago. I had hardly started moving when the first cramps hit me like a bolt of lightning. No, this couldn’t be happening, not now in no man’s land! Harrison Flats is a desolate stretch at the best of times, but to have a problem was not ideal. My cramps came regularly in each calf and the left leg right up the inner thigh. It was excruciating. I felt like I was a Jewish slave in the Biblical times of the Pharaohs and a slave driver was whipping my legs shouting SUFFER! No God, this wasn’t meant to happen this way, we were doing this together! The more I tried to move, the more severe the cramps came. One young man from Tzaneen tried to assist by releasing the tension in my legs and would walk with me and help again. Eventually I told him to go as he was looking for his wife so he could pull out. As I hobbled along I realised I was in trouble, with another 30k’s to go and the Crampnot was not working, I didn’t see much option. Unfortunately, I hopped on to a baler bus – my race was over. Could I have gone further? Should I have waited? Why didn’t I try harder? Why was I the one plagued with a virus which had obviously not taken its tentacles off me? I had done a long training run of the same distance and not cramped once, so I knew it wasn’t anything but this bug. 

At the time I was okay with my decision and went to wait for Sean, David, Thanesh and John at Lion Park, with our Stella table – the selfless Sue Bezuidenhout and Vanessa Botha. I had made a friend on the bus and she also hopped out there to wait for her friends to collect her. We could not have stopped at a better spot, an oasis in the desert. We were given warm jackets, drink upon drink to try and quench an unquenchable thirst. They fussed over us and the other runners coming past. It was good for me to see my running mates and encourage them on, though they were all heartbroken to see me at the side of the road. 

A week later, having rehashed THAT day over and over again, I am coming to terms with it. I have been humbled, but I am not out. Is it such a big deal? Actually, YES – when you have invested half a year of sacrifice, and not only your time and all that goes with it, but my dear husband’s as well. Sean had backed me to the hilt, and it was just as much a team effort as it was my run! 

I know I am not alone in this experience and many can relate in one way or another. It is character building (I think I have enough character now!!) and we can only hope to inspire each one to achieve the goals they have set – whether it be a Park Run or Comrades, it’s to remain focused and all being well, we learn and grow. I will pick myself up out of the dust and I will return to run and complete the race, to attain the goal I have set for myself.

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