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Comrades 2011

Amit & Neepa Sheth

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Amit (21548) and Neepa (33374) Sheth
Taking one for the team!

The Comrades marathon always more than manages to fulfill ones wildest expectations in terms of sheer excitement and joy.  This year was no exception.  Neepa and I had a great race.

I suffered from food poisoning starting Saturday morning and continued to do so on the race day morning. I was washed out at the 20k mark.  I felt as if I had no legs. I dug deep within myself to find some strength. I came up empty.  As early as 20k into the race, I was wondering whether I ought to stop.  I thought I should ask the Race Marshals whether the bail bus/ambulance would drop me to Durban (start-line)  or PMB (finish line) . But since, I was intimately aware of the tragedy which befalls the entrant of the bail bus/ambulance from my 2009 experience; I kept running along very slowly. I did not want to see the inside of that bus ever again.  I could not understand how this could be happening to me.  For the last 7 months Neepa and I had put our heart and soul into training for this day. We had run over 1200 kms each since December.  We had done countless runs of 20k and 30k, multiple 42km runs besides 2 runs of 56ks and one of 60k.  And yet, here I was on the race day at 20k and I felt as fatigued as I had at the finish of Comrades 2010.  I felt a great sadness inside me.

Running alongside me, Neepa did not understand what was going on inside my body or my mind, and kept encouraging me to run faster. She did not know the extent of my food poisoning and so could not understand why I was running so slowly. She did not know that I had been on the potty 10 times between Saturday and Sunday morning. Sometimes in life, Shit Happens, and I had felt that there was no need to spread negative vibes around.  She did not know I was unwell.                          

So, on the road that day, she kept encouraging me to run faster by reminding me of my kids, Namrata and Aryan, who were following us at home via the computer and of the fact that we had trained hard for a year, for this very day to dawn. She reminded me that based on our training times and training effort we were capable of finishing the race in 11 hours and 30 minutes.  I had to ask her to speak to me in our native tongue because she was speaking to me in English and all the runners around us could  hear her and I was getting embarrassed at my inability to speed up in-spite of such extraordinary encouragement from my her.  She also kept running ahead to the water-stop and then waiting for me to catch up and give me water. At one point, to lessen the weight on my waist she took the energy gels and other stuff that I was carrying and asked me to throw away the waist pouch.                            

Yet, at 55k, I told her to go ahead as we were both in the danger of losing Comrades.  I told her that if she stayed with me any longer, we both would not make it.  So, after giving me another 'talk', she gave me an energy gel and extracted a promise that I won't give up. She then disappeared ahead.

I kept moving along until 67km. At that point I had 2 hours 20 mins left and 20k and Polly to go, which in my confused and tired mental state was near impossible. I could not run a straight line along the road. I felt dizzy and nauseated.  I decided to be a live donkey as opposed to a dead lion. I stopped and just slept on the road.  As I lay on the road, looking at the clear blue African sky above me I thought whether we had misjudged the time and distance at which Neepa should have left me.  But somehow, deep inside me I had absolute faith in her ability.

Neepa meanwhile ran on faster and faster making up the lost time.  She finally reached around 79km and with 7.7 km to go to the finish,  she had just 56 mins left. At the top of Polly’s (the last major recognized hill ) she had removed her sunglasses and cap, adjusted her hair and had decided that she would now run as fast as she could and finish the race no matter what it took out of her ! Finish the race, for me and the kids!

She remembers seeing in her watch that she had 7km to go and 49 mins to do it. At that stage of mental and physical exhaustions it was near impossible because a 7km run on the mumbai beach normally takes her 49 mins.  Now after 80k she had to run 7k in under 49 mins to finish the race . She had left me at around 55km and perhaps this was a few kilometers too late.
If someone had told us a week before the race that we would have 7km to go and 49 minutes to finish the race, both Neepa and I would have counted ourselves out as would most 12 hour finishers. Most people of our ability run 8-10 Mins per km in these last few kilometers after having already run 80 km.  The odds were stacked overwhelmingly against Neepa, all because she had lost critical time pacing me. 

So why am I grateful for Comrades 2011 ?

This was a Comrades made unforgettable for me by the sight I saw from my bed as I lay in the medical tent. Shivering from cold, dehydration and exhaustion, covered by 3 thick blankets, with an IV tube in my right hand, I kept looking for Neepa on the large TV monitor kept at the far end of the medical tent.  I would look for a few minutes and then would either lose sight of the screen because of the runners and the medical personnel walking around or because I would suddenly fall asleep from exhaustion.  With only a few minutes to go before cut-off, I cross-checked the time of the day with the nurse, who happened to be checking my pulse. She told me it was 5:25 pm.  5 minutes for the race to end.  She asked me if I had any family waiting for me in the stadium outside and I told her that my wife was about to run into the finish.  She gave me a sad smile and went away.  With about 4 minutes to go, in the most lucid moment of my day, I looked at the TV screen, the people walking in front of it magically parted and I saw Neepa running in. The Camera focused on her completely for almost 15 seconds.  She looked fresher and happier than I have ever seen her look! She raised her hands as she crossed the finish and smiled.  She looked absolutely gorgeous. It was just 4 mins short of the 5:30 pm cut-off.

I told the runner on the bed next to me (who was also disoriented, shivering, on an IV and under multiple blankets)  that my wife is my hero. I don't think any of it registered with him. 

I then, happily, fell asleep. All was well. Comrades 2011 was priceless for the sight of my wife running into the finish with her head held high.  Neepa had run out of her skin and finished the last 7 k in Under 49 mins.  How she managed to run a personal best time for a 7k after having already run 80k will remain a wonderful mystery to me!!! .  She says that she just had to finish the race for both of us and she ran through unbearable amount of pain and nausea in those last kilometers.
Later she met me as I staggered out of the medical tent.  She hugged me and started to cry! She said she was so worried for me! 

 I love this race but not nearly as much as I love her.

I do, however, promise that we will be back next year and that I will keep running Comrades until I run it in my permanent green number (10 finishes).

See you guys next year !

Amit Sheth, #21548
International Ambassador Comrades Marathon - The Ultimate Human Race.

External links: Official Comrades Marathon website

Copyright Nikki Campbell 2011