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Comrades 2014

Nkosinathi Nkuna

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Comrades 2014 – This is my story
Nkosinathi Nkuna, Novice - 18938

I am not a story teller but this is my story about my journey to the 2014 Comrades medal.

During my university days I was not active or participated in any sport activities. It all started in 2012 when my weight was uncontrollable, mainly due to the constant traveling on business and a bad diet. I then decided to join gym to keep the weight in check. Gym was boring for me and I asked myself, what else can I do? Gym was always packed and did not like the idea of waiting for someone before I could get my turn for a workout. My friend Andile, an avid runner, suggested that I should consider running as it may help me to get rid of the excess weight. He then suggested that I should buy proper running shoes if I was serious about running. His theory was that if I spend a lot of money on running gear it will not be easily to quit as whenever I looked at the running gear I will be reminded of how much money I spent.

I eventually joined a running club, did my own training and sometimes participated in a few races and running became easier. I became fitter and the weight started falling off.

I was unfortunate in that my running buddies were already Comrades Marathon finishers and every time the topic was about me partaking in the Comrades. Since I was a sub 2h30 half marathon finisher and never having done any full marathon distance. I suddenly found myself coerced into participating in the 2012 City to City ultra marathon. I was excited at having finished it with 4 minutes to spare, I was still not ready for an ultra marathon. Finishing was a big mistake as the guys who had coerced me into participating had more ammunition to use against me to enter the Comrades.  It was simply, “you thought you wouldn’t finish and you did. Therefore you cannot claim not to be ready for the big C”, this is what was said to me by my friends bragging with couple of beers. I had mixed feelings and was excited for finishing.

Long story short, I then entered Two Oceans and did the ultra Marathon just for the fun of being in Cape Town, I still finished the ultra marathon with only 2 minutes to spare. I told my running partner that I was not ready for comrades, but insisted that I was ready.

I am told by many runners that 2013 Comrades Marathon was one of the brutal races ever. I was one of the 4000 DNF runners. I did not know that this race was going to be tough, nor did I know it was going to be the ultimate challenge of endurance and determination. I felt shattered, disappointed, and on that day I asked myself why put my body under such pain and stress? I lost the battle when I allowed the negative thoughts to take control. I thought was tired as my legs felt heavy. When I bailed out and jumped on the rescue bus, the permanent marker that they use to cancel your race bib to indicate that you couldn’t run any further felt like someone was cutting through my bone though I knew that I was not ready. But I was not ready for failure. I made a decision never to run again. Maybe I was disappointed. After introspection, I remembered that I was I always wanted to take up a new challenge in life and finishing a Comrades was one of them. After I have spoken to a few runners at work about my experience during the race day, Andile and Christine were the two people who shed some light and told me that I am capable to finishing the Comrades.

The following month I made a commitment to make running part of my life and to complete 2014 Comrades.

Training for comrades requires one to have a programme and to be committed to it. More important one needs to be patient. I managed to find a Don Oliver training program from the internet and from that day I was hooked. That is where it really started because every-training, every run, every race, and every gym session, everything I did pushed me forward to the starting line of the Comrades Marathon 2014. I once heard that Comrades is a very selfish race as it takes over your life and soon you will find that as you prepare for it, everything you do, dream, plan and everything you become, are all aimed at one goal, to get yourself to the starting line and then to get yourself to the finish line with time to spare. I suggested this programme to my running partner Oupa who also loved it. The program is in chewable chunk as we still had our full-time jobs, family, wife and 3 young kids that required out attention. For me the most important element of all was to get buy in from my wife who had to support me on this journey. This requires early morning run and being in bed early enough to let the body to rest and a good nutrition
In my preparation for Comrades, I did 3 standard Marathons (Jackie Gibson, Deloitte, and Wally) and two Ultra (Two Oceans and Om die Dam).

During the tapering week, the nerves started to build up and I started to wonder if I will be able to make it. I was nervous at first, as I remembered what happened to me the year before. I started to calm down again as my preparation, mileage and suggested races were all in the bag. I went through training log since August and I was convinced that I have done enough. I did enough kilometers, I ran enough races, enough marathons and enough ultra marathons and I lost enough weight. I read a lot of articles on the Comrades, studies the down run profile, listened to a lot of pod casts.

We drove from Johannesburg to Durban (which I would not recommend) on Friday and drove the route from Pietermaritzburg, reason we drove was because we wanted to have an idea what is to come on race day. Hills are no problem in a car, wait until you have to run it.

We thought that driving the route was going to calm our nerves. We drove the route and not being familiar with Durban, we got lost as we were following the Comrades Marathon posters. We then went to the expo to collect race pack and we headed straight to hotel.  The following morning, we felt that we should go for a 4km run on Saturday just to calm the nerves and stretch the legs; after all we have been tapering for the past 3 weeks.

Saturday night after sorting out the bibs and running vest, I hardly slept as my mind was thinking the hills that we drove. We (me and Oupa) had to wake up at 1am to take a shower and eat breakfast and we headed for the transport to the start in Pietermaritzburg.

The bus journey from Durban to Pietermaritzburg takes just over an hour. We were calm and we had one goal in mind, to finish this race. I was prepared for the pain, I was prepared for the inner battle, the doubt, the questions, the mind games, the only thing kept on whispering to me was that I do not want to let myself down. More importantly, I didn’t want to let my wife and kids down, I sacrificed so much quality time and I had to bring the medal and to accomplish this journey.

We arrived in Pietermaritzburg just after 4:15 am and my friend Oupa does not start a race without visiting the port-a-loo area. I suppose that is his ritual of dealing with the nerves.  Thereafter, we made our way to our seeding pen. After what felt like only a moment, in the presence of excited runners, the chanting and singing, the National Anthem was played. This was followed by "Shosholoza", "Chariots of Fire" and then the infamous cock crow. Reality sunk in. No turning back.  The moment for months of training had arrived. Before we really had a chance to comprehend what was happening, we were on our way. The first few kilometers were fairly slow, as the streets are narrow and the sheer amount of runners make progress slower than what you would like.

The F seeding was approximate 400m behind the starting line. We were lucky that it took us 3 to 4 minutes before we crossed the start line and we were able to jog. The roads are packed with runners and early morning spectators. As you run through the suburbs of Pietermaritzburg, families sit huddled under duvets out on the pavements with a cup of coffee in hand, and cheer the runners on. During this time, it is still cold, and most runners have an old T shirt on over their running vests. Some have gloves on, and others have black bags over their bodies to keep warm.

We started to pick up the pace as we left Pietermaritzburg and throughout that period, we have been shuffling people and also being mindful of discarded clothing and black bags. We had to be careful of our surroundings to avoid a fall. 5km into the race there is a mean little hill, but we were still feeling fresh and the hill went by almost unnoticed. Little Polly and Polly Shorts started to separate most runners.

During our training, we had a strategy or mantra for the day that we will hold back during the first half of the race as we had enough time to make up for lost time during the second half. And the other strategy we had was that whatever we do, we will not stop and every step we will take on the race day is in the direction of Durban.

We were at Lions Park in 2h01 and we were at par with our pacing strategy, All of sudden I felt a loss of energy although I have eating breakfast and drank the energy drinks and a sip of GU gel. I thought to myself “Please please, not again. I waited for the whole year to run this race” I realized late during the day before race day that I had not eaten enough breakfast and the hotel did not have the usual breakfast that I would normally have each morning before a race. Normally weetbix, toast with strawberry jam and banana does the trick for me.

I ran with Oupa until just past Cato ridge, and we were doing great with our pacing but then he started to up his pace and I told him to go as I didn’t want to cost him his Comrades. From there I was on my own and had to rely on my own pacing and Garmin watch. I continued running at a comfortable pace and ensured that I hydrate. I kept hearing the voice of Bruce Fordyce saying, "If you don't slow down in the first half, Comrades will slow you down in the second." So I took things easy and only fully realized the magnitude of what I was attempting. Passing Drummond (half way mark) at 5h20 and my legs were feeling good. To think that I still had to do another marathon in order to complete the Comrades. The climb out of Drummond is up Inchanga. For me this was the first really serious hill. This is a mandatory walk and there is no shame in doing so. Though my pace was not on target, I was not too worried as my energy levels were low most of the way. I have been eating potatoes and taking my GU’s at the planned intervals. I managed to get sandwich from the club tent. At least that propelled me and gave me energy as I walked most of the hill. The spirit was lifted and there was renewed vigor in my stride.

My head started to play games with me and some negative thoughts made their way into my head and then I realized, the challenge was on and that is where my Comrades race was going to start.

I joined the sub 11 bus but they were a little bit fast for me as my quads started to ache and I was in pain and I thought I will not make it to the finish. I started thinking about the hours that I went out to train early in the morning. A lot of emotions started to cross my mind when I saw the 40km to go board. Although I was in pain, stopping was not an option. I made a decision that I just had to do this, I had to continue and I had to finish this challenge. I had to replace every single negative thought with these positive ones, and I did. I have spoken to many Comrades runners and most of them have stories to tell of how they completed this race bit by bit, how they broke it into smaller pieces to make it more manageable, like only 42km to go, it is a marathon, only 21km to go, it is a half marathon, only 10 to go, it is a training run on a Saturday or Sunday morning, only 5km to go, it is a Treadmill workout.

I started walking most of the way, somewhere in the area between Cowies Hill and Westville I got to the 16km to go sign. Since I was very tired my thoughts took me back to kilometer mark where I bailed out the previous year. Fortunate, I met up with my other friend Andile at 45 Cutting who pushed me hard and kept on telling me that until I see a 2km board, this is where you should start to relax. When I checked my pacing chart, I told him to go as I had enough time to finish comfortable. What kept me going were people that I never met before who told me that I was doing well and strong. Focusing on others and other things helped me to pull through.

As you get to 1.5km from the stadium, you can hear the roar of the crowds. There was no way that I was going to walk into that stadium, and so I dig deep, and pull out the last reserves of energy. The crowds are on the street outside and are cheering me on, and so I entered the stadium. All of a sudden burst of energy, my shoulders and chest lift and the legs pump the last straight. The noise inside the stadium is incredible. People are shouting and screaming.

Coming into the stadium and running in the grass was such a breeze and crossing the finishing line was one of the emotional experiences of my life; knowing that I have managed to move my boundaries further than I can ever even begin to imagine. After finishing or crossing the finishing line, I couldn’t control the emotions while my friend Andile stood next to me; he understood what was happening in me. There are 3 times in my life when I cried, 1) when my dad passed away, 2) when my son was born and 3) when I crossed the Comrades marathon finishing line. What I thought was impossible few years ago was now possible. While I crossed the line it reminded me how much I loved and appreciated my wife, beautiful kids and appreciated the little things that I have

Back home I had friends who have been tracking my progress who were permanently watching the race on TV the entire day just to see me succeeding. What I have learnt through this experience which I plan to teach my kids is “nothing is impossible” and that no one should tell you that you are incapable of anything. And anyone can achieve anything they want in life as long as they put their mind into it. Most important for me, comrades Marathon has taught me to be humble. I believe I am now patient than I was before the race.

This is my story.


Internal links:
External links: Official Comrades Marathon website

Copyright Nikki Campbell 2011