This is a story about my comrades journey from before the race as well as how it unfolded on the day. Firstly I’d like to say to all of those that took part in the race whether you won or didn’t manage a finish you are all hero’s in just making the commitment to participate and to line up on the start line.
So this year was a completely different experience for me as I got to share the journey as well as the emotions with a lot of my good running friends that were doing it for the first time.
My journey started in December as it always does for Comrades, but this last December during a strength training class I picked up a slight injury. Unfortunately, the injury was to my sciatic nerve which while not an excuse, hampered my comrades … but more on this later.
In January, after a break, I approached Michael Faulmann to coach me and help me with comrades. This was one of the best running decisions I made the whole year. Michael is an amazing person and an excellent coach who tailored the programme to me and my capabilities. Since Michael has been working with me, I have PB’ed in 5km, 10km, 42km, Oceans Ultra and Comrades.
So as I said earlier, I had the privilege of experiencing the race with someone doing it for the first time. I had arranged with Michael and Nicole Adams, that I would pick them up from the airport with Casey on the Saturday and we would go straight to the expo. From the expo we met up with other friends and had a “final lunch” before the big day. The 4 of us then drove through to Howick where we were staying over for the night. It was so nice to see Nicole’s excitement with the build up to the race and to experience it with her helped me to settle my nerves as I have never experienced the hype with another runner. It is always something I have done alone.
Waking up on race morning, the first thoughts were of the sciatic nerve and all the apprehension of having driven from Cape Town with this in mind. The problem with nerve injuries, is that the more you think about them, the worse they become as the brain sends out signals to try help, instead it focusses your attention to the pain. The first mistake I made on race morning, was that against my better judgement and my own advice to other runners, I took a Myprodol to try and ease the pain. After this we headed on to the start line.
One of the things I love most about comrades, is the start of the race. The tension and the excitement is beyond words. As I have traditionally done since my first comrades, I took a walk from the back of the pens, to the start line, to get a feel of the vibe and excitement in the air. This year I took Nicole along and we walked from the back of G to front of A. The nervous looks on runners faces is something to behold.
On our way through the pens, we bumped into fellow Spartan runners, Craig and Chris. It is always great to see fellow Spartans. After turning around at A-pen, we walked back to my pen where Nicole and I said our emotional goodbyes. I walked into my pen with a massive amount of apprehension of knowing what needed to be done but also knowing how much that would take to of me. Once in the pen I was lucky enough to meet up with a friend of mine from Edgemead, Garreth, which always makes the wait go a little quicker when you’re chatting. A few songs passed and then all of a sudden we heard the start of the anthem, oh my gosh that means one thing. We are 10minutes away from the start and the adrenaline rushes and I start singing the anthem with everything I’ve got! I feel like one of those 15 rugby players that have the privilege of playing for their country and the whole stadium is singing but in this case I have the privilege of running this massive race with 20000 other runners and we are all singing as one! The next 10 minutes is a blur of the National Anthem, Shosholoza, Chariots of Fire and the cock crow but then all of a sudden BANG and we’re off. Running through the dark streets of ‘Maritzburg.
The start wasn’t too cold but the whole day just seemed to stay at an uncomfortably cool temperature. Within the first 10km I got passed by Senzo, the one and only Spartan runner I saw the whole day. During this time before the sun rose it was a strange one, very dark and very little support. It didn’t really feel like we were running Comrades. Everyone was very quiet and sort of kept to themselves but then out of nowhere we were on the back of Polly’s and the sun was rising in the air and the atmosphere amongst the runners was starting to change. At that point I was desperately looking for a “partner” to run with as the thought of running hours by myself just did not sound fun!
Coming down Polly’s my legs just weren’t feeling into it, they were quite sore and I was just struggling to get into any sort of rhythm but I put it down to the fact of it just being so cold! Running through Lion Park was the first surprise of the day, the support along that part was more than I’d ever seen and was truly amazing, having to push your way through spectators because they are so tight on the road. We got to the highest point on the race, Umlaas Road, and I still just wasn’t feeling it and probably had the worst mental fight with myself at that point that I would have over the whole day! I just had this thought going through my head, why are you doing this, do you need to prove a point to anybody? But I answered myself and those answers were, I’m doing it cause I can and I love running and yes I need to prove a point but not to anybody but to myself! So that was that… 5 minutes of “I’m quitting the race” swiftly followed by “I love this race so much”. That pretty much sums up Comrades as a race.
Coming up to Camperdown I knew I would be seeing Casey and Michael and the thought in my head was be positive when you see them…so I get to Casey and she asks me how I’m doing and the first words out my mouth are: my legs, they hurt so much, I don’t know why (well done Greg! Great way to stay positive) I then continue but manage to give them a thumbs up as I leave. Comrades – 1 Greg – 1/2 (managed a positive thumbs up). So I continue, still just not feeling the race and I can’t explain why I felt that way, I just did. Going through Cato Ridge the support was amazing as per normal but I was starting to feel that sciatic nerve again in my leg. I had taken a couple myprodols with me for this situation, mistake number 2, never carry pain killers with you because you WILL take them! Going through Harrison Flats I decided to take my second myprodol. At this point I was looking for anything to make my legs feel a little better but I knew deep down that they wouldn’t help… I was just hoping they would.
Running up Inchanga, my old nemesis, went better than expected I had a decent run-walk strategy that got me to the top a lot quicker than I thought it would. I managed to get to Drummond the “halfway” but not halfway point 4 minutes ahead of schedule and suddenly I thought, “Wow, how did that happen?” after having such a terrible start in terms of not feeling the race, now here I was ahead of schedule and not feeling too bad in terms of effort level, I thought to myself that this race may actually come back to me. After all, there are only like 45km to go….the support in Drummond is always good and this is where the TV happened to catch me walking on a refuelling break.
On the back of Botha’s hill I had a toilet break and noticed that my urine was quite dark but I put that down to the fact that I had taken quite a bit of energy on in the first half of the race and that this was probably just the excess leaving my body. I soldiered on, to one of my favourite places in the race, Bothas Hill at approximately 56km in. This place is a real party and the place that I knew I’d see Casey for the second and final time! It’s always such an awesome feeling to see someone you know and I always get the team talk from Casey at Bothas: my questions, How’s everyone doing? Who’s leading the race? Is there any more point in running! And she always gives me the answers and says you’d better get to the finish line! I leave her with a smile on my face but still not happy with how my legs where feeling, time for mistake number 3… another myprodal and on I went!
After meeting someone who’d run 16 comrades and chatting to him for a while, the one thing I can remember him telling me is that the difference between him and a novice is that he expects the pain and knows what to do whereas with Novices, they expect the pain but have no clue how to deal with it…I put myself in the novice category straight away … he dropped me at Gillets where I was having this strange urge to need the toilet more than I normally would, so I pulled over to the bush toilet and used the loo. But wait, something was wrong, I was urinating pure blood! My brain couldn’t comprehend it, maybe it was just a shadow, I said to myself. Surely it was just a shadow, I was healthy. The fittest I’d ever been. Nothing could be wrong. So I carried on running. I meet a few more people as I’m running but in the back of my mind I keep thinking about what has just happened and what it could mean and I really just battle to comprehend it all. Maybe it’s the distance. Maybe it’s just because I’m stubborn but I carry on and say to myself it’s fine, it will disappear. We then hit the most painful part of the race, the 3km down of Fields Hill. In those 3km you drop approximately 160m in altitude but they were amongst my slower kilometres of the entire race. One of the problems with Fields is that you are running along a free way with little to no support whilst your quads feel like they are just about to burst with pain and you still have a good 25 kilometres to go!
Running through Pinetown, I go to the toilet again and confirm my worst fears. What I saw earlier was not a figment of my imagination. It was true and it was happening to me. My first thought was that I need to speak to Casey to find out what is wrong as my mind still can’t really comprehend it. I think to myself, if it was worst case scenario, Kidney failure, there would surely be other signs…why did I take those stupid tablets! They haven’t helped me the whole day… now this!
Mentally, my race was over. All I could think about is what had happened in Pinetown and what was happening to me. On the climb of Cowies I literally walked up the whole climb just because I had nothing left in the mental tank.
By this point in the race all you are saying to yourself is I just need to finish now, mentally and physically your body has had enough and all you want to do is get to the finish line and this year that had been moved…thanks Comrades LOL
In the final 10km’s of the race I meet up with a runner who at that point was struggling and whilst I had mentally checked out my body was actually in a good running mode (despite the kidney issue) so I decided to stay with him and help him out during the final kilometres of the race. One of the new “nice” surprises that the race organisers threw at us was a steep little hill, followed by a quad crunching down hill, after this we then passed the old finish….we still had 2km to go…but it was only 2km. Oh my word this race is nearly done and at this point you look up and see the stunning stadium in front of you! It almost looks fake – like your mind is playing tricks on you but no, its very real and just there within touching distance…. A few sharp bends later and you’re on the grass, well fake grass but still and you can see it. The finish line. It’s there! All of a sudden all the pain disappears and time almost slows down as you run around this field with a big goofy smile on your face but who cares you’ve finished and finally it’s over. 6 months of hard work, one day of running and it’s done …. Now what? Oh yes my favourite part, a beer and supporting my friends coming in. But wait, I can’t have a beer…what about whats been happening to me. I don’t want to put my kidneys under any more stress. So I tell Casey whats been going on, I swear she wants to slap me on the side of the face! She tells me I need go to see the medics, I say “just give it a while, see if it clears up.” So, I got my way…. another mistake…rather go see the medics!
Anyway, we sit down to watch the runners finish. Senzo came in before me and Wilson and Ashley after. I missed them coming in.We then see Riaan & Brandon come in, Riaan didn’t manage the race last year because of a knee injury so I’m ecstatic for him. I meet him at the finish to bring him back to the rest of the supporters. By this time we’ve teamed up with Edgemead to cheer each others runners on. We see Gavin and Sharon and give them massive cheers, Michael follows looking very happy to have finished. He is followed by Shaun & Chris with Warren & Dougie finishing together. Christian is next and I managed to get a blurry picture of him but the runners where coming through thick and fast. Then I see Nicole running in, tears running down her face! She’d done it! She finished her first Comrades, Craig was just behind her, they kept coming in.
But we were still on the edge of our seats, everyones asking where’s Kim but we were quite happy at this point because we knew Gary was with her and we knew he’ll get her through…next thing Michael screams there goes Gary and we only catch a bit of him but…. where is Kim….? Oh no, that can only mean one thing. We try get communication from our team in Cape Town but cell reception is poor and batteries are running out… we wait, during this time we see Mark, Merrick then Nathan finish. Merrick completed his back to back and Mark and Nathan their first. Still no Kim …. but wait there she is, literally been dragged by John with minutes to spare. Between ourselves and Edgemead I swear we were half the noise in the stadium at that point. What an awesome moment, seeing all those Spartans finish has definitely made this one of my best Comrades marathons, despite my issues.
I have since found out that the tablets had nothing to do with what happened to me but that is still not an excuse to be taking them. My advice is that if you ever need a pain killer to complete a race, don’t start. No race is worth your health – not even Comrades. In fact, what had happened to me was that in the weeks leading up to Comrades I had not been hydrating properly and got a build up of calcium on my kidneys. In the week of Comrades I had a sharp pain during the night that had woken me up in my kidney region and my doctor thinks that I had a minute kidney stone due to dehydration on training runs that had broken away and passed during Comrades…but I did not know this..he also told me that I was extremely stupid to continue because if it was my kidney failing that would have been the only warning sign and I could have done something a lot worse.
Since Comrades I have really battled to get my head back in training and I put that down to what happened to me, so I hope that by me telling you this story it will help you in the future and inspire you to do a big race you’ve been dreaming of doing…