Ultra marathon

Cut at the Knees

By: Nokuthula Dubazane

A colleague asked me about my experience of running Comrades. I responded and said it is like going into war and seeing your fellow soldiers fall without knowing how to help, it’s the most painful experience I have ever felt but yet the most fulfilling thing I have ever done. One thing I know for sure is that Comrades challenges everything you think you know about yourself.

Pietermaritzburg 04:00 – 05:30

The morning felt like first day of school, I had never been so nervous and emotional in my life. Standing in that seeding pen, alone, I immediately noticed a lady who like me was standing on her own, she had tears in her eyes, and I gave her a hug and assured her that we ‘team novice’ would be fine. She responded and said “I just want it to be over”, that was an emotional moment which brought tears to my face as I could relate.

Lion Park 07:24:41 – Drummond 10:58:59

I got to 20km with the most excruciating pain in my calves, luckily I saw friends, got teary, sprayed my calves. I pushed for 10km to another friend who massaged which relieved the pain for a bit. When I got near halfway I just cried, I wanted to quit I was not sure I could do it. I pushed through and just after 50km had the physiotherapist strap my one leg, a relief to push for about 10km until the pain came back so did the tears.

Pinetown 14:22:50

With 20km to go I resisted getting another massage and I told myself, I had to get over it and push through. I knew I had lost time and had already been passed by the first 12 hour bus. At that point I was depleted, going up Cowies Hill I pulled my buff over my face and cried as I saw my Comrades dreams perish. Until a little voice within me said “You have been strapped, sprayed and massaged, get over it and push through.” I did just that, the vision was clear, first go past 12 hour bus then get to Moses Mabhida. After that, I pushed through and finished strong.

Durban 17:04:04

I finished Comrades with tears in my eyes, it was surreal. I closed my eyes briefly took it in and thanked God for carrying me through. I felt so much pain on that day, my mind bailed and can never thank my friends and the club enough for the support, hugs and food along the way. The highlight of all this madness, has been my lovely mother who said while she doesn’t understand the things I do ‘uyaziqhenya ngami’.

Rejoicing in the exhilaration of climbing up two summits in 46 days

By: David Mohale

Few weeks ago, I wrote a long post on Facebook about the parallels between a PhD journey and running the Comrades Marathon. For me personally, there are so many parallels. Notably, I did not register for the two voluntarily. My former supervisor at Wits University submitted my Masters’ dissertation at Unisa. The rest is history. I joined Stella AC either in late August or early September. Our own legendary Pat Freeman coaxed me to register for Comrades Marathon as a precaution. By that time, numbers were fast approaching 20000. At the time we had this conversation, I had not even run my first marathon. Again, the rest is history.

I will not get into the details of my post. However, it is important to try to bring the reader into my shoes. Motivation is not always innate. My greatest challenge was, therefore, to overcome the mind lethargy that resulted from my involuntary registration of these two envious summits. And this was not a stroll in the park, especially as the experienced in these two fronts tend to be boastful. I do not think they are aware so they could be forgiven.

I ran my first marathon in Vaal on the second weekend of September. Luckily, Pat Freeman had cautioned me about the effects of altitude. Had she not, I could have easily considered quitting. Be that as it may, completing the first marathon in 4:05 is apparently not bad. Soon after that I joined Stella’s Saturday long runs. I still remember that my first was 24km run to Westville. I ran with Kevin and Tawanda that day, keeping quiet while listening to their conversation, with topics ranging from their past runs, the economy and politics. I had to pretend that I was enjoying the run although it was tough for me. The second long run was 32km run up to Cowies Hill. I ran with Justin and Mark on the day and they also shared their Comrades Marathon experiences. Listening to them, I was convinced that I would not achieve the feat of completing Comrades Marathon in a lifetime.

Organisational studies emphasise the importance between organisational culture and individual behaviour. In this respect, individual attitudes and capabilities are not enough; they are a subject of the dominant climate created through formal rules and informal behaviour of its members. I am proud to say that Stella’s organisational culture is so positive that many of us, as novices, never experienced the kind of negative welcome that some novice runners would speak of elsewhere. I suppose this explains why the membership of the club seems to be on exponential growth. With the warm welcome of almost everyone at the club, the mind started to believe in the reasonable prospect of completing this ultimate human race.

From the bottom part of my heart, I wish to thank everyone at the Club for making me believe in my running capability. As I said before, running is more than just that; it somewhat epitomises what humanity should be about. This became evident on the day of the race when I woke up with an unbearable pain on my left knee. Alex Haddad helped me to forget about the pain until 25km. Later on, I caught up with Darren Smith, and they clearly looked bushed. Darren had the best words ever: “This is my 5th Comrades; it’s your first. You deserve a good time. Go and have fun”. In one of the many last short runs we did as the Club, Darren also shared tips on eating times on the day of the race. For the first time I accepted advice without a modicum of doubt and his advice worked perfectly for me. The support and words of encouragement from Stella Stars at our tables and along the road made the weight of running lighter.

In closing, the medal may be recorded in my name but I wish to dedicate it to Stella AC for being so professionally organised and for being a home for me, personally. I will forever be eternally indebted to the Club for making this personal historic feat possible. 2018 has, without a shadow of doubt, been my best year, with my graduation in Phd on 25 April and another PhD in running on 10 June 2018. It was not easy but it was done.

Mandarin Teacher and His Running Stories- The Rising Sun Chatsworth Ultra

By: Chuanwei Wang (Smile)

Joining Stella Athletic Club is probably the best decision I have made this year. Running with the club always highlights my day. That is why I make all my efforts to run with the Club.

One of the running mates Darren, who became my coach now, promised to arrange a lift to Chatsworth Marathon. Darren, Mark, Candice, Alex, Dimitri and I would be running together. Therefore, I gave up my original plan to run Durban City Marathon, which is too flat and boring. Chatsworth Marathon is famous for its numerous hills. The moment when you climb to the top of a hill, a downhill is waiting for you to conquer. Since we all had qualified for Comrades, we agreed to run Chatsworth as a training run for Comrades instead of a race.

As instructed by Coach Darren, I was up early on the morning of 22 April and battled to eat the last three toasts left in the fridge. Worrying about getting hungry at the end of the race, I grabbed another three handfuls of jungle oats and I could eat no more.We met up by Darren’s apartment after Mark fetched Dimitri and me. We all went in Alex and Candice’s car. We were off in the direction of Chatsworth, Alex driving and Mark directing.

Alex parked his car by the finish, the Chatsworth Stadium. While we were heading to the start, one Stella member was jumping and clapping his hands above his head to warm up.  I thought he was waving to us, I embarrassedly waved to him.

The start was simply decorated. My friends in China are always fussy about how casual the start is in South Africa. A banner with the name of race was hung up by a machine, no year printed. The Chatsworth Athletic Club probably reuses the banner for years, which is environmentally friendly and should be encouraged. So far, not many participants had arrived. A bunch of Stella members were gathered for a group photo.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-00000042.jpgThe South African Anthem was played and sung at around 5:20am. At 5:30am the start siren went off, and everyone immediately began to run. Many ran so fast. “If you go first, you lost.” Remembering what Coach Darren told me, I just stuck with  him. The first part of the route went through the residential areas of Chatsworth, but there wasn’t lots of crowd support as it was described in the event description.

The sun started to come up around 6:30am when we were running a downhill. Amazed by the view, I took out my phone, trying to take a rising sun photo. “Smiley, really?” I heard a sound from behind. I recognised  it as the voice of Nana from Stella. I knew what she meant is that I shouldn’t take photos while I am running.  Embarrassed, I put my phone into my waist bag and kept running. By the next downhill, I saw the sun rising above the horizon. I was thinking that the marathon is called “Rising Sun Chatsworth Freedom Marathon”,  how can it be done without a photo of the rising sun? Hence, I couldn’t help taking out my phone again and stood still for a second to take a quality photo of the rising sun.

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Coach Darren, Mark, Candice, Alex, Dimitri and I were running together. Dimitri was ahead of us from time to time, and finally out of our sight. The rest of us slowed down the pace if there was a big hill and picked up some pace afterwards. The ones who went ahead would slow down to wait for those who were left behind. “Whoop whoop” is often shouted, which I was told that it means here comes the hill.

The sun was climbing higher and higher. We drank water or coke at every water table to avoid dehydration. Salted potatoes and oranges were served as well. Candice and I both could not have salted things when we were running.

At around 28kms, Mark felt it was very hard to pick up his pace if he waited too long. Candice thought it should be fine if Coach Darren and Alex were running together. Therefore, the three of us ran at our pace, leaving Coach Darren and Alex behind us.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-00000044.jpgA special treat for the ultra marathon is to run through the scenic Silverglen Nature Reserve. At the beginning of the reserve, an uphill with about 75 degrees slowed down every runner. Nobody ran up to the top of the hill. The rest of the route in the reserve is relatively easy with lots of downhills. A snake was spotted by Mark and Candice in the reserve. We were running at an easy pace so that I got a chance for sightseeing and taking photos.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-000000512018-04-27-PHOTO-00000048When we went on to the hilly highway from the reserve, Mark dropped his pace. Candice and I were running a little bit ahead of Mark. I invited Candice to push ourselves for the last three kilometres. She said she would definitely push herself but after me and she asked me to go by myself. Feeling lots of energy left, I picked up my pace and started to sprint.

At the 51km sign, a marshal saw me running fast and said “It is like your last kilometre in a 10km race!”  I passed everyone in front of me and managed to move my way into the Chatsworth stadium. Crowds were lined up by the two sides of the entrance and shouting for every runner. Getting excited by seeing the track and field ground which I used to race at for years when I was still in university in China, I pushed myself even harder to cross the finish line. Everyone by the finish line was cheering for me. A warm welcome was given by a lady from Stella who finished her 21k.

Later Candice, Mark, Coach Darren and Alex arrived successively. Another group photo was taken afterwards for some Stella finishers.

2018-04-27-PHOTO-00000046.jpgI felt that Chatsworth Ultra Marathon was the easiest race I had ever done due to easy pace. However, some thought that it was the toughest race and even harder than Comrades. Completing the ultra marathon did make me happy and gave me a certain amount of confidence, a distance that is closer to Comrades.

Many thanks to Coach Darren, Mark, Candice and Alex for their companionship, guidance and encouragement. The next training run before Comrades will be the 55km route tester on 5 May. I am looking forward to running with my mates again.

“I run not because I want to live longer, but because I want to live life to the fullest. ” says Haruki Murakami, a Japanese writer and runner, and I agree with that.

Smile has written a longer version of this article in Chinese.

You can read that article on his own blog here

Running a ‘PB’ at the Two Oceans Ultra

By: Debbie Wessels

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With my 4th Two Oceans done and dusted, I thought I would share a few of the highlights of the day to hopefully encourage and inspire someone who may think it’s too big a  challenge  to consider.

I started running in the mid 80’s and thought I going to die after my 1st 4km time trial!

I moved on to 10km runs (Spar ladies run etc.) which I thought was about my limit until I tackled my 1st  half marathon (Mandene HM I think it was called) –  the one that started at  varsity and went up and down Ridge Road! Some of you may remember it! I will NEVER forget it, coming in last as people were packing up their braais and going home!

Then I heard about the Two Oceans marathon!!! It sounded amazing, not that I ever thought that I could do that, – that was for real runners!

Fast forward a few years to 2010 after being away from KZN for 16 yrs I was introduced to Stella, joining in 2011 and meeting real runners who had run Two Oceans and Comrades! With their ongoing encouragement and support, I found myself on the start line in CT (2012) for my 1st TOM on a very wet, windy and freezing cold morning but the atmosphere and excitement was something that has to be experienced to truly understand! (that’s why you have to put it on your bucket list).

Standing on the start line this year, in  almost perfect weather conditions (wind can’t be avoided lol), training that had gone more or less according to plan, I was hoping for a PB, just maybe!

The national anthem is always goose bump stuff, no matter how many times I hear it, we are about to run a beautiful race, in a beautiful part of the country, with beautiful people from all over the world!

It takes a good few minutes to cross the start line but when I do, then I feel the tears flowing! Don’t be daft girl, save them for the end I tell myself! And so we are off! The months of training, getting up early, all the sacrifices every runner has made, are about to be put to the test. We are running as ONE!

The first 28 kms are generally uneventful except when suddenly before me I see two Stella Stars!! Aka Amanda and Warren! In races far from home, it lifts the heart and the legs to see a familiar, smiling face!  Thanks guys.

Chappies is meant to be a challenge but I always forget how breathtaking the views are! It is a good enough reason for a few walk breaks, me thinks!

Up and over we go, calves protesting and quads letting us know they also feeling sorry for themselves. Toenails are joining the party too, all the while trying to ignore the unhappy knee!

The crowd support through Hout Bay carries us to the marathon mark where, even though I am feeling stronger than I had expected to, I realised a PB may not be on the cards but that didn’t damped my enthusiasm, in fact I decide to focus on another PB to get me to the end.

P for Privilege

The privilege of being able to run, something I never thought I could do, and certainly not in my 50’s! It’s not a right afforded to everyone so yes, Constantia is tough on tired legs and it does hurt, a lot actually, but God in His goodness has allowed me the privilege to be part of this beautiful race!

B for Blessed.

Blessed to have a family and friends who support me, let’s be honest, without their support and belief in us, we may be tempted to throw in the towel when the going gets tough!

Blessed to belong to Stella, where there is always some Stella Star to encourage, wipe away the tears, listen to our tapering aches and pains, and then to celebrate/console with us when the race is over!

The last 6kms of the race are the best! They are not easy, but knowing that the field is close definitely helps to put some vooma in the legs! And the crowd support literally gets you there!

Receiving that beautiful BIG medal and knowing that after a shower I can proudly wear my beautiful orange shirt, helps me hobble the loooongest 3kms back to my accommodation! LOL

So you see, I got my PB, it may not have been the one I had planned on but it is a PB nevertheless!

P.s. a little foot note :  a real runner is someone who gets out of bed when they really want to stay there, and puts on running shoes! And then greets other real runners with a smile, ok maybe not every time!

To all my real runner club mates, you are all stars! Thank You!!!!

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Debbie running ‘back in the day’

My 6th Two Oceans Ultra

By: Thozi Mazibuko

TwoOceans1.jpgOn the 31st of March I ran my 6th Two Oceans 56km Marathon.

Background: I picked up running in December 2010, and my sole motivation was to shed some kilos after the scale told me I was 98kg all by myself. I proceeded to complete a few 21km’s, then 42km’s and ultimately managed to complete Comrades 2013 and 2014 for my back to back medal. Out of all these races in my 7 odd years of running, my favourite remains the Two Oceans!

2018 Change:  Last year I decided that 2018 will be the year that I venture into a new challenge, the Triathlon… guess my Mid Life Crisis is right on time. So I have joined a Tri Team with their 7 day training programme (just awesome.. NOT).  Anyway long story short, due to this Tri Training, I have far less running mileage then I would have normally had this time of the year.

The Race:  It is mostly because of the 2018 training change that I decided not to chase any time at the race but rather to just go ahead and just enjoy the race, if ever there is such a thing in an Ultra.

I started out at a quite an easy pace until about the 5th kilometre then increased to a steady pace until Chapman’s Peak where I slowed down for obvious reasons. Usually I start battling after the 42km mark but this year I was happy that I felt strong-ish, even up Constantia Nek (maybe cycling had some part to play there). At 6km to go I came across a friend of mine who was struggling and since I knew he was aiming for his PB, sub 5:30, I decided to try and help him get it and I am happy to say that we got in at 5:28!!!

To all my Stella Stars who have not done the 56km yet, you better put this race on your To Do List quick… because they don’t call it ‘The world’s most beautiful marathon’ for nothing. Just be warned that after about the 44km mark you will most definitely need your mental strength to take you to the Finish.

Karkloof 100 Miler Trail Run

By: Alisdair Leslie

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Stella Star Alisdair Leslie came 8th in the Karkloof100 (Image Source: KZN Trail Running)

It was Friday night and tension mounted as the clock approached 10pm. There were smiles, fists were bumped, and good luck wished, but you could tell everyone was a bit nervous. And you can understand why when you realise they are about to set off on the inaugural Karkloof 100 miler – and it is raining. The rain did not stop, but as soon as the gun went the worrying did, and the task became beautifully simple: head torches on, look for the little yellow markers and just keep going until you hit Benvie gardens in 50 miles time. Then grab a quick marie biscuit or two, turn around and head back to Howick.

The old hands hung back, knowing full well that 100 miles is actually quite a long way, while the 100 mile virgins, such as myself, had their toes on the start line to lead the charge. We knew that six-minute kms is basically walking and that it would all be over before tea-time.

Needless to say, such naivety and arrogance was rewarded in time! I set out with my good mate Andrew Erasmus, who runs for Salomon and Dolphin striders, when he can be persuaded to hit the road, with just that plan: six-minute kms until half way, then see what you can do after that and hope for the best.

Not really knowing where we going through the rain-soaked blackness, we followed an endless snake of fluorescent tags marking the trail. First through the Umgeni nature reserve (where we were lucky enough to startle and then chase a porcupine), then into the Sappi forests above Howick, through the pastures beyond and into the Karkloof itself.

Check points came every 17 kms or so, well stocked with goodies and well wishers. As dawn cracked, albeit damply, we found ourselves running the smooth grassy trails of the Mbona nature reserve on the way to the turn around point at Benvie gardens. Damp, a bit cold and a bit tired after 80kms on the trail, Andrew and I turned just after 7am in about 5th and 6th place. Pacers were allowed after half way, and so we were joined by his brother Stephen, for the second leg.

It was quickly apparent that, as much as Andrew’s pacing strategy and training were paying off, my unfounded belief that I would be okay on bog standard post Comrades work was not. So two kms later I wished the boys well, plugged in the ipod and prepared for a long painful and lonely trudge back home, dreaming of the breakneck speed that 6-minute kms now seemed.

However, all was not lost as, at check point 7, who should rock up but the White Buffalo himself, our very own Craig Georgie. “Man up Leslie”, he cheerfully announced, “I am getting you to the finish even if I have to carry you”. And that was that, the relentless motivator that he is, supported, joked, cajoled, persuaded, teased and bullied me over the next 50kms.

Through relentless rain, moments of self-doubt, a prolonged bout of vomiting, a face plant on a broken bridge and one incident when he (accidently) nearly separated me from my generative organ with a stick (you’ll have to ask him about that one), that splendid bugger did indeed carry me to the finish line, a good 20 hours and some minutes since the start.

A welcome beer was thrust into our hands. I had a little cry, kissed my kids and better half who had heroically waited in the rain to greet us, and we were all done! Andrew did indeed have the spectacular second half he wanted and nearly chased down the leader, finishing second to him by minutes in an impressive 18 hours 19ish.

For me though, such dreams of conquest didn’t seem to matter so much really. The journey turned out to be a lot tougher than I had expected, but, with the help of my friend, it hadn’t beaten me, and that was enough to be going on with. Re-reading this, I am not sure if it sounds like a recommendation or not. All I can say is, I am signing up for next year tomorrow!

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Alisdair and Craig at the end of the race (Image Source: KZN Trail Running)