The slogan for this year (91st Comrades) was “Izokuthoba” which means “It will humble you”
I’m the happiest runner for finishing the Comrades Marathon back-to-back Up (31-May-2015) and Down (29-May-2016) runs. 2016 Comrades had total Qualified: 18 597 / Started: 16 807 / Finished: 14 431 (source)
It was always an exhilarating experience to run the 90 kilometers long (56 miles) Comrades Marathon and I always dreamed about finishing both Up and Down runs. In August 2015, I almost decided not to participate due to certain personal commitments. But things had changed and as the time flew in favor of me, I registered for the Down run on just the day before the registration cut off.
The run-up to the Comrades marathon was a fascinating journey, even this time. I had been to South Africa twice already (1 1/2 times at the Comrades finish line). With the Sub-4 SCMM this year and moving up to the D pen in Comrades start line, I planned to give my best attempt for the down run. From Jan to the beginning of May, everything went like a clockwork precision. I was getting fitter, stronger, and more confident as the days progressed.
The trouble! yet another down run
My runner-self-discovery had its own share of troubles. The first week of May, I realized that I was actually ignoring my glutes muscle pain (for 2 weeks) after my runs which started bothering me more and more as I ignored it. I reached out to Dr. Gladson Johnson (Attitude Prime) and when I explained my condition he readily agreed to support me despite his busy schedule. The assessment done by Dr. Gladson revealed that I had a tight ITB that needed immediate corrections.
Trouble seemed to have repeated with my downhill run (2 years back I had a similar situation just before my 2014 Comrades)
When the sun is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome.– Wilma Rudolph
The time to start fixing my ITB was not the best to say. After the advanced stretches routines, I required plenty of rest and recovery for the muscles to repair and heal. I stopped running and shifted to swimming and cycling. Within one week, the pain pattern was completely different. Mild pain in the glutes muscles shifted to a stabbing pain at my right ITB and my Piriformis muscles (like Sciatica pain) even when I walked. After 3 weeks, the situation only kept worsening, and I would pick up severe pain just after 2-3 km of running. I decided to drop my travel plans and give the Comrades down run a pass.
It was really difficult for me to accept a decision like this. I’ve spent close to 8 months of thinking and 4 months of training and the injury surfacing at the last minute was a real setback.
Emotional flight trip!
Strange things do happen, which can instantly change our life direction from down to up. On the 24th evening, my daughter, Anjali, came home from her friend’s place and wanted to watch something on YouTube. I was reading a book, and after a little while, I started hearing music very familiar to me. First, I thought it was just a hallucination, but later I found it wasn’t. I heard the Chariots of Fire theme music, and Anjali was listening to it. It is the same music that every single Comrades marathon runner would listen to, with so much emotion, at the start line just before the final two rooster crows.
I’ve seen some runners cry when they hear the music, and I’ve personally experienced that too. I instantly had goosebumps and ran up to my daughter, lifted her and gave her a big hug, and planted few kisses for putting me on a virtual but emotional flight trip to the Comrades start line. I wanted to be there again.
I was continuously nurturing my painful IT and glutes muscles, and I felt that it was getting much better. The only thing that I did not have with me was adequate time to recover fully. I have actually too soon tapered and wasn’t ready to give my ‘best efforts to finish the Comrades.
“Don’t miss the bus, boy. You’re missing a lot of things in the world, better not miss that bus.”Robert Cormier, The Chocolate War
Anjali listened to it at her friend’s place earlier that day, and she liked the music very much. She wanted to hear it again when she returned home, which was simply amazing. This was really the turning point for me, and I made up my mind to experience the Comrades this year irrespective of the outcome. I wanted to go there and be there at the start line on the 29th. I decided to listen to my body on the race day.
South Africa – 3rd year
Sam provided me a warm welcome at the Durban airport on the 26th evening along with Pinto, a young runner from Mumbai. We visited the expo on the 27th morning and took some good rest on the 27th as well on the 28th. On the 29th morning at 3.00 am, Sebastian (Sam’s son) took us to Pietermaritzburg, and we reached the start line by around 4:30 am.
The road leading to the City Hall was already littered with runners anxiously marching towards the start line. The electrifying ambiance and the abundant energy levels kept all the runners warm, although the temperature was around 11 degrees cold. I kept thinking about my injuries and how I would perform during the run.
The race about to start & new trouble!
A stupid thing happened just before I entered my D pen. I was jolted and thrown forward when I missed a drain hole on the road intersecting with the footpath and fell and twisted my ankle. I started suddenly sweating, even in that cold weather. I came all the way to Pietermaritzburg to experience the race, and I was prepared to deal with the injuries that I came with. But, I was totally not prepared to start the race with a twisted ankle.
I picked myself up, limped forward, mixed along with the other runners, picked a spot on the road, and sat down quietly while gently massaging my pain spot. When I removed my shoes, I was able to feel a swelling right below my ankle joint. I was furious and upset with myself. All the other pains disappeared, and I knew it would be a battle between me vs. the newly twisted ankle+the big 5 hills+the terrible slopes, and the banking on the highway during the second half+Piriformis+ITB. Who said running a Comrades marathon is easy? The fun was about to unfold.
..and the race begins…
The last 30 minutes before the start was filled with the usual sensational routines starting with the South African national anthem, Shosholoza, Chariots of fire, and the Cockarols before the gun was fired.
The race began with great fanfare as usual, and I kept moving forward along with the rest of the runners. My focus was on every single footstep to land in a way to avoid the shooting pain at my ankle. After crossing Drummond is when I realized that I forgot about my ITB, Piriformis. My right ankle was actually holding very well. I decided to finish the race, and I was also happy to meet Sam on the way to multiple places, and we kept cheering at each other. It was really an amazing energy shot to meet Clinton and his family anxiously waiting to meet Sam on the way.
Throughout the run I was texting my family and also made some calls to tell my family how I was doing.
I had 27 mins to finish my final 3 km. I started seeing the finish line confidently.
I finally entered the roaring Sahara Kingsmead Stadium. The stadium was at the noisiest sound levels since the spectators were shouting and cheering the runners to finish the race in the final few minutes. I crossed the finish line, and like every other time, I wished my wife and kids were there at the finish lines since they deserve a big hug from me for being the successful forces behind my achievements.
I felt like sitting at the top of the world to experience the Comrades finish and also to walk away with a back-to-back finisher medal.
I also stood there at the finish line to witness the 11:59:59 drama. I was happy for Sam for completing his 12th Comrades.
I was so fortunate and happy to find many of my friends and family members were tracking me, wishing, and cheering all the runners throughout the day. It takes double the endurance effort of running a Comrades than to be there for others.
Comrades bring the best experience for the runners and also to the people who care for them. This race is so special due to the course, the people of South Africa, the endurance challenges, the cut-offs, the emotional start, during the run, and the closure.
It was heartbreaking and unacceptable to find runners collapsing at various race sections, even just a few meters before the race, due to accidental falls, cramps, and exhaustion. I was thankful to God for being so fortunate for not getting into those terrible ones and run into the finish line successfully and free from any damaging injuries.
The race’s outcome might have separated the runners as some went on to create history, few walked away with happiness, and some walked away with disappointment. True to its legacy (like it is said here), “Comrades race unites runners together since they forget about color, status, background, and age, literally carrying each other to the finish line.“
Several learnings & of course a heroic welcome!
The last month was like traveling on an emotional roller coaster. There were moments when I felt better, and there were certainly other moments I felt stupid. There was plenty of learning from this journey, right from planning, training, dealing with injuries, and excitements.
When I landed at Bangalore airport, I had a surprise and a heroic welcome from my wife and great friends, including Mrs. Rama, Mrs. Krishna, and Mr. Ravi. They were so crazy to be waiting to receive me at 2.00 am. After reaching home, another friend Sriram too, joined us for a small celebration.
After 14 hrs of flying, 13 hrs layover in Doha after landing in Bangalore at 2 am, I had to rush to my home and get back to the airport again at 5.00 am for a 10 days business trip to Pune. My Comrades journey was literally very long this year. Who said the test of endurance is only running Ultra marathons 🙂 huh!?
After all, it was not a bad decision to go to South Africa this year despite my injury vows. Now I confidently know how to deal with some more troubles anyways :).
“Unnecessary fear of a bad decision is a major stumbling block to good decisions.”–Jim Camp