Things did not get off to a very auspicious start. Claire dropped me off right near the start. I flashed my number at security and entered the starting area. After irrigating a nearby building I walked briskly along to find my pen. But just as I got there, there was an enormous surge of the runners already on the road. I am guessing that they pulled down the barriers between the batches and everyone was pushing forward to the front. I pushed my way into the entrance to E batch and then made my way forward a little bit along the side until the density of bodies just made it impossible to move. Then I stood around with all the other excited runners, waiting for the national anthem, then the cock's crow and finally "Chariots of Fire" (which never fails to produce an enormous lump in my throat) before the gun went off. And when it did... nothing happened. For a good 3 or 4 minutes. We just stood still. It literally took that long for the wave of motion to get back as far as where I was standing. Then we started to inch forward. Slowly. Very slowly. Then gradually, instead of shuffling, we were walking and then trotting. And sometime about 100 m after we actually crossed the start line (more than 5 minutes after the start), I was actually able to run.
Heading out of town across the bridge over Warwick Triangle the street lights went out and the throng of runners were plunged into complete darkness. The range of detritus dropped off by the runners up ahead suddenly became a minefield as people we tripping over discarded clothing and water bottles.
It was a pretty cool morning, so I only discarded my black bag going up the hill towards 45th Cutting. Took a pee at the top of the hill. At this stage I was well behind schedule, but feeling good so not concerned at all. The long ascent up to Westville went by without event. Ran most of the way up Cowies Hill with a short walk break about half way up. Started down the other side, making sure to take short strides to conserve the quads. By this stage I had fallen into my normal fluids routine: one water sachet and a cup of Pepsi at each table. The flat bit through Pinetown is a little dull and boring, but Field's Hill on the far side totally makes up for this. Did a pretty systematic run-walk up the hill and got to the top feeling good. Enjoyed the coolth of the shade running through Kloof. Then onto the freeway briefly before getting back onto a side road. Just as I came off the freeway I met up with Robin (from the NDC) and we caught up a bit. I ran with him into Hillcrest where we both stopped to water the bushes. Trotted down the long hill to the bottom of Botha's Hill knowing that this was where my first bit of support was located.
Was pretty difficult to pick them out among the enormous gathering of people, but Claire's little pink fuzzy alice band made her stand out above the rest. Great to see Claire, Charles, Veronica and Jamie. Grabbed a hot dog, bottle of energade, gel and HYDRAssist sachets. Then took off up the hill. Run-walk again. You really do not lose any time by doing this. The folk who pass you running consistently generally lose steam after a bit and you reel them in again. I mixed my first sachet of HYDRAssist at this stage, making it pretty strong and washing it down with lots of water.
Normally the top of Botha's Hill is a swarm of school boys from Kearsney but they were completely absent this year. At this stage I was still feeling fine and half way was within a few km. And they were mostly downhill km! Claire has previously provided me with a flower for Arthur's Seat but this time she was going to be on the wrong side of Inchanga. Luckily GAME had a table about 1 km out and they were handing over pink roses. I was astonished to see that a load of people had deposited their roses on the Wall of Honour. I am not sure that they got the right end of the stick. I tossed mine onto the right spot, which by now was absolutely swamped with pink roses.
Drummond was loud and busy and the road was slippery with the water, Pepsi, squashed potates and orange peels. I forgot to check my time, which is an indication that I wasn't really worried. Started walking at the base of Inchanga and, with the exception of a few brief running bursts, maintained that all the way to the top. Probably lost about 10 minutes that was but at least I was still feeling good when I got to the summit. Again took it easy going down the other side. By this stage my legs were starting to feel a little sore. But I had the incentive of Claire waiting at the bottom of the hill. Again she was easy to spot and I got my hot dog and fluid fix.
Around this time I noticed that most of the people that I was running with were walking even the gentle inclines. This made a lot of sense so I fell into this routine. Passed by the Ethembeni School and approached the hill which had been my mental nemesis during the last few weeks. As it turns out the hill was actually a lot steeper than in my head. So perhaps some of that stress was warranted. But I got up it at a brisk walk and felt good trotting away on the level again. Harrison Flats was predictably dull. Long, straight flat and boring. Along this stretch I dipped into my portable pharmacy for the first time, being sure to swig down three sachets of water and swallow a potatoe immediately afterwards.
Cato Ridge was incredibly busy. I am always a little surprised when the tar road reverts to a dusty track for a bit. Found Claire on the way out of Cato Ridge. Then onwards to Camperdown. Saw Chantal and family on the far side of Camperdown. Looked like they were having a pretty fun day! At this stage, with around 30 km to go, I really started to enjoy myself (okay, maybe the little pharmaceutical marvels might also have played a role). Got up to Umlaas Road and for the first time was able to see Pietermaritzburg down in the hollow, about 20 km away. It must have been a rather cool day because the chicken farms were not too smelly. Or maybe I just didn't notice? Picked up Claire again on the far side of Lions' Park. No hot dog this time but a delcious peanut cluster. Mixed my fourth HYDRAssist on the way down to the bottom of Little Polly Shortts and washed it down with a bottle of Energade. Caught up with and passed Fanie at the bottom of the valley. Walked all the way to the top of the "little" hill and then trotted down the far side.
When I started up Polly Shortts proper a group of runners behind me loudly proclaimed "No running allowed!". I was quite happy to fall in with their commands so I stretched out my stride and attacked it at a vigorous walk. A few people came past doing the walk-run thing but it just wasn't working: I was keeping up with them by just walking and they were tiring themselves out.
At the top I was happy that there were only 8 km to go. For the last little bit I had been trying to do some mental calculations to figure out what my likely finishing time was going to be. Based on my average speed I knew that I would finish in less than 10:00. For a while I thought I might be able to do 09:30 but then I figured out that my calculations were wrong. So the target became 09:45 and even that was going to be tight. Luckily I was feeling pretty good and I managed to run most of the remaining distance to the stadium. In fact I was feeling so good (and my new goal was applying so much pressure!) that I went under 05:00 per km for the last two km!
My splits were:
Cowies Hill: 02:00:34
Polly Shortts: 09:00:03
I crossed the line in 09:43:33, being my best time for the up run.
It's hard to say how this compared to previous runs. I do know that it was a lot better than my last up run in 2008. I also know that I felt really good over those last few km. I think that this had a lot to do with getting my hydration right (and HYDRAssist helped with that!). But it also resulted from the amazing support that I got on the day from Claire. Knowing that she was always waiting for me a little further along the road with a hug and a smile and some goodies was extremely motivating.
Finally, to answer the question that I have been asked a few times over the last few weeks: why do we do this crazy race? Well, the quick and easy answer is "because I can!". But that is a little trite. So, really, why do we do it? I am sure that everybody's reasons are different. For me
- it gives a focus for my running year;
- it is a brilliant (and economical) day's entertainment;
- it reinforces the fact that I can do whatever I set my mind to. That there is no obstacle so large that I cannot overcome it. You walk away from the race with the most enormous swell of empowerment. Sure this glow of invincibility might not be entirely accurate, but when you are bogged down in something onerous you can always think back to Comrades and tell yourself that you got through that and now you can get through this too!