Crossing the finish line of Comrades, I was elated and exhausted.
I spied my husband, and I leaned in for a super sweaty hug. He gamely complied, and I thanked him for the pep talk he gave me 15 hours earlier. I told him that, given the way I felt overnight and for the first 40% of the race, I couldn’t believe that I finished. He was nice enough not to make any comments about my stubbornness.
We walked over to the International Tent. I was greeted by Pat Kongsilp, the Comrades USA Ambassador. He had all of my splits pulled up on his phone, and he congratulated me on a good run and strong finish. He was nice enough not to tell me that he finished three hours before me and notched a personal best.
I across the crowd and saw my dad, sitting in a chair in street clothes. He’d missed the cut-off at 31K to go. He gave me a big hug and told me how proud he was that I powered through the demons from the morning and made it to the finish. He was disappointed not to finish, but he chose to relish the time we got to spend together in the last year training, on the road on race day, and in helping each other process the highs and lows of Comrades. The whole Comrades experience was a powerful and poignant lesson: chasing a dream is always worthwhile.
My expression here is the gratitude I have for my dad pushing me to try something so far out of my comfort zone and something I never would have done without him.
I hung out in the International Tent, cheering for the runners still making their way around Kingsmeade. I ate a few rolls, supped a bit of butternut squash soup, and happily downed a Sprite. It was a sensational feeling, being finished with the race and being able to support other runners in their homestretch. The roar of the crowd peaked for the 12-hour bus, which finished with six minutes to spare.
And then it was time for the final countdown. As with many Comrades traditions, counting down to the 12-hour mark is practically reverential. The final gun is fired. This year, the first runner to not cross the finish line was a runner going for his green number (10th finish). Heartbreaking.
(It is worthwhile to note my accumulated non-running time over the course of the race. I was 5:30 to the start line, 3:30 at the first bag drop, approx. 1:30 at each of the next two bag drops, and approx. 1:00 at a side-of-the-highway-behind-a-small-tree pee break. That’s a total of 13 minutes in my finish time that I wasn’t moving toward the finish line.)
The stadium atmosphere was still rocking. I took some time to remove my shoes and inspect my feet. There was a gnarly blister on my left inner heel, right where I felt it at about 16K to go. Otherwise, I felt good to go.
About 45 minutes after I finished, I was ready to make my way back to the hotel. I tried to stand and leave and found that my legs were now stiff and buckling. We started walking toward the exit but got caught in a mass of people. I had to sit and take a breather, as my blood sugar was low. I got up and started moving again. Then, the final challenge of Comrades: scaling the stadium stairs and scaffold to exit the infield and leave the stadium. Slowly, slowly I made my way up, over, and down.
Back at the hotel, I ran a bath. Miraculously, I had zero chafing. (Maybe because of the lack of humidity? I don’t really know, but I was so happy!) The bath was a long, glorious, hot soak, and it was the perfect precursor to a nap. I slept 30 minutes or so, then awoke and went down to dinner. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I managed to eat a salmon fillet and mashed potatoes. Yes, the potatoes were still appealing.
I was so, so tired. After dinner I fell into bed and slept nine straight hours. Bliss!
In the morning, I awoke to tired, sore legs. To be honest, though, they weren’t nearly as gimpy as I was expecting. My husband and I made our way to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, where we met up with my parents. As we were eating, I looked up and saw Bruce Fordyce chatting with Digger Hargreaves. I took my chance to go Fangirl all over them and ask for a photo.
They congratulated me on my run, and Bruce asked, “Coming for your back-to-back next year?” When I didn’t immediately respond, Digger said, “Sounds like a ‘yes’ to me!”
My dad and I did plenty debriefing of our experiences. While there were certainly major issues we wish we could have simply eliminated from the day—namely my nausea and his hamstring pull—it wasn’t challenging to count all the positive interactions and experiences from Comrades.
Top of the list for me was that my situation improved as the race went on. Because I ran so conservatively and with plenty of walk breaks, I never got to a point where I was breathing hard. I ran well within myself the whole way.
Very likely, the slow and sickly start was a blessing. By being forced by my bad stomach to go out super easy, I had plenty of energy once my nausea subsided. No doubt my greeting to Arthur at halfway helped, too.
Running negative splits meant I passed tons of people in the second half, and that was like being on a steady IV drip of confidence. My dad even ran the numbers:
By starting under control, you were able to pass 5505 runners in the final 55.58 k…passing an average of 99 each k. For miles orientation, that’s 159 runners for each of 34.5 miles, or approximately 40 people each 1/4 mile. Essentially you were passing another runner every 11 seconds for the final 35.5 miles.
Was I expecting to run faster? Yes. But on that day and under the particular conditions I experienced, I did what I could. In the end, I was able to heed the South African wisdom and enjoy the journey.