Pietermaritzburg to Durban, South Africa
The Comrades Marathon, which links the two cities in eastern South Africa, is the world's oldest and largest ultra-marathon. It comes with a high failure rate and a fearsome reputation. Finishing this marathon is a titanic achievement for even a highly accomplished runner, the atmosphere of this major event is well worth the trip.
A massive 90km run, in which 20,000 athletes are required to get to the finish line before the 12hour mark. If you don’t make the time, you don’t get to finish or receive there sought-after real bronze medal. That’s near 2 and a half marathons in 12 hours solid running.
My race started in Pietermaritzburg, it is referred to as the ‘Down’ run, and the other way around is the ‘Up’ run. There are five notorious hills between these two cities, and I hated every one of them. Don’t let this fool you on which race is harder or easier… it won't matter!
My first 26.2 miles went through quite easily and without even noticing or counting it down I’d completed it in around 5 hours. The next 26.2 mile was a similar time but hard and painful, counting down every mile. The last 2 hours of my run were pure hell! Running down hills with cramped up quads, they would just want to burst. I made it to the stadium in 11 hours, 49mins and 14 seconds! The medal was tiny, an exact replica of the first ever medal back in 1921.
How do you train for a 60-mile run?
Slow and long runs and plenty on them. I find that I need to book my large event, then book small individual events/short-term goals. You can find lots of training races on https://www.runnersworld.co.uk/event/search or https://findarace.com. If you are looking to run lots of ultramarathon distance races, you will have to be flexible to travel for events, but two nights in a B&B won’t break the bank.
Get used to running through hard times. In 12 hours running, you’re bound to have some hard times. Just be ready for them, slow down through them and keep moving forward. It’ll soon pass, and you’ll be back to your normal pace.
Comrades: There’s always a problem before the race?
I’d planned on meeting up with a family friend who was also racing. His father was hiring a car and had booked the hotel. However, they had to cancel due to injury, and I ended up in a hotel 60mins away from the race start.
The receptionist said I would struggle to get a taxi at 3:30 am and gave me a number for a guest who was also running and had a car. Johan Smith…
I called Johan and explained my problem, and he invited me to ride with him in the morning. At 3:30 am I knocked on Johan’s bungalow door, a 39-year-old, 6’4’’, white South African from Johannesburg answered and introduced himself. We jumped into his little Peugeot, and he told me it was his 4th attempt and had failed three times before (not what I wanted to hear before a 12-hour race) however he said he was the fittest he had ever been and was very confident on succeeding this year.
We parked 2km away from the start line at a car park in the middle of nowhere which was owned by someone is Johan’s office. The sun wasn’t up yet; it was pitch black, it was a bad neighbourhood, the streets were empty, and I felt very unsafe! We’d walked about 1km, and the nerves were starting to kick in. The pavements in South Africa are not like the ones in the UK, and as we walked I stepped on a drain/manhole cover, it wobbled, and it startled me. ‘How unfortunate would it be to get injured 30mins before the race’, I thought. So I moved left to walk on the empty street. Naturally, as we were chatting, Johan followed my movement left, and sort of took my previous position on the pavement. As he walked over the next manhole cover, it gave way, plunging him 7 foot below the ground. As he fell his right skin scrapped down the front edge of the metal grid, tearing all of the flesh from the front of his leg. His left hip smashed on the side instantly puncturing a hole in his skin. I pulled him out with all my strength, but his right skin was just white with rolled up skin like a puppy with rolls of fat under his kneecap. His hip was pouring with blood, I asked him questions to check for shock, and I looked around for help?!... There was no one to be seen. I sat him down and explained that I was going to have to leave him there and run to the race start to find help.
Sprinting 1km before a 60mile race wasn’t the ideal preparation, but I managed to find an ambulance and drive back to find Johan where I had left him, still on his own. This is where I left him and the ambulance team and had to go and start the race…