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Comrades 2011

Hennie van der Walt

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Hennie van der Walt, 43850
Comrades 2011 and before

My love for running started when I joined a group of runners when I was in Std. 9 back in 1990. We started training after the first term at the end of April for the school’s cross-country season. We were a small group with a trainer called Wynand Bezuidenhoudt, later re-named the group to “Oom Wyntjies se Atletiek Klub”. Two weeks after I started running, I ran my first Wally Hayward Marathon in 1h57. That first medal was the spark that changed my whole life, until Comrades...............

In the years that followed I was the average “faster” runner with a PB of 1h21 half marathon, 37mins for 10km, sub 60’s for 15km’s, etc. Then in 2000 came the first big one – Comrades. I trained hard and long distances for the first time, and also did my first ever marathon and ultra. I had a B-block seeding with a 3h23 marathon qualifier. The build up to Comrades 2000 was a lot to absorb, from eating this, to drinking that, and beware of this and that, at the end of the day it was me and the road. Started off well, went through halfway in 4h23, and then my knees “packed up”. It was just too painful to run, I walked the entire second half, my brother in law, Andre (who had an H-block seeding) caught me at the bottom of Polly Shorts and we eventually finished in 10h55. Then came a 10 year drought....

I got married in 2000, moved to Centurion, kids, had two knee operations, both left and right knee arthroscopies and the doctor recon that Ii would never be able to run again, at least not those long distances. But in 2009 the bug bit me again and this time it was a good and solid bite!

I started training, which was a “moerse effort” to get going again and for some reason could not get under 5:30min/km. Then came the hard part..... I made peace with myself for the fact that I would never run at 4min/km pace again, that my 10km times would be around 56-60minutes and if I’m lucky would break 2h00 for a 21km. That was the reality, I was 10 years older than the first Comrades, more or less same weight, but slower, and it didn’t bother me, I just wanted to run the Comrades again, one up run in 2000 and one down run in 2010 – and then called it quits. I finished the Comrades in 10h48, 7 minutes better than 10 years ago and was over the moon. The race was perfect, no cramps, no injuries, better time, who could resist it to keep on training for the 2011 Comrades.

Training for Comrades 2011 started with a new running buddy, Jaco Taljaard – novice to Comrades running. We jogged together, as the pace we ran was not really training, more a run to get fit and stay in shape. Then Jaco entered Comrades two days before the official entries closed end of November 2010, and that’s where it all started. Our progress was as follows:
End of January - first half marathon (under two hours)
End of February – first marathon - Deloitte (4h26)
First week March - Comrades Qualifier – Vaal Marathon (4h00) and a D-block seeding
Mid March – ultra - Om die Dam (5h16)
End of March – ultra - Bruce Fordyce Suikerbosrand (5h56)
Mid April – ultra - Loskop Dam – (4h49)
End of April- marathon - Wally Hayward (4h20)

We tried to evenly space the races at least two weeks apart in order to have enough time to recover. To my surprise, Jaco did better than me in most races, and I knew that he is getting fitter and stronger with each training session and race. I was very happy that we both had a D-block seeding. Our aim for the up run was to run an even paced race, firstly to finish, and secondly to finish under 11h00, as this was Jaco’s first Comrades as well and didn’t know what to expect.

We set off to Durban on Friday 27th of May and went to the expo first to get all the necessary registrations sorted, before heading to Scottburgh where we rented a cottage. The Saturday we took the kids to beach (in true Valies style), and tried to relax as much as possible. We were also preparing our kit for the next day, placing the chip on our shoes, numbers back and front, nutrition for the day, etc.

Then the big day arrived. We woke up at 3h00, took a warm shower, got the wifes and kids into the kombi, eat something and headed for Durban CBD. We were dropped off a block away from the start at 4h30, said goodbyes, headed to our block, placed the news paper on the cold tar and sat down in anticipation for the crow. The whole experience to stand there and be part of a group of runners that trained for at least six months, to hear “Chariots of Fire”, our National Anthem, all of this is just goose bumps all over your body. Then the gun went off with a loud “BANG”.

We were over the start in less than 2 minutes and starting to head out of Durban. I promised myself that this year I wanted to recognize the major landmarks along the route, Fields Hill, Cowies Hill, Bothas Hill, Inchanga, etc. as previous years I was not paying attention all that much. We had a good run for the first 30km and now and again Jaco would pull away on the uphills, but I knew this would happen, as he was stronger than me on the hills. We were caught by the two sub 9hour buses, and knew we were running too fast for the sub-11hours we were aiming for.  Just before Drummond, Jaco eventually left me for good (or so I thought). As I entered the stretch before the scanners on halfway, someone caught me on my left heel and I fell, hitting the tarmac and sliding probably 4-5metres. My right elbow, hip, and knee were bleeding, with a few runners behind me jumping over me to avoid a similar fate. Halfway time was 4h40.

As I got up, I saw some blood on my shorts from my hip and some on my elbow, but other than that (to my surprise) I was feeling fine, no cramps, nothing felt torn, I was ok. As I ran, I thought to myself, “at least I can use this fall as an excuse should I do badly”, but I had so much adrenalin, that I actually caught up with Jaco before the next water point, and later realised that we went through halfway 10 seconds adrift.

We ran together for the next 20km’s, through Harrison Flats, Cato Ridge and Camperdown. Then Jaco left me for good and I knew that Little Polly’s and Polly Shorts were still ahead. I walked the entire Polly’s hill and only ran the last 6-7km.

At the top of Polly’s I still remembered my race in 2000, my brother-in-law and how we encouraged each other to complete that year’s race. As fate would have it, about 2km’s before the end, I got a phone call from Andre. All I remembered when I told him that I might break 10hours is “sit neer en hol boet!”. I eventually entered the stadium and crossed the line in 9h51, something I would never have imagined was possible. Just outside the finishers tent I saw Jaco, who ran an amazing time of 9h41 for his first Comrades, not too shabby Jakes!

That evening we reflected on the day and the different emosions we experienced. The crowds next to the road, the support, the various hills and landmarks, Arthurs Seat, the finish. We thanked our wifes, Martie and Jolanie, for their support during training, early mornings, encouraging us to carry on and to realise the dream of yet another Comrades! This might sound very tacky, but without support of your immediate family event like this won’t be possible.

To all future and current Comrades runners, never stop believing that things are IMPOSSIBLE, don’t think of excuses NOT to do something, never ever GIVE UP.

 I thank the Lord, from who I receive the strength and courage to run and be part of the Ultimate Human Race!

External links: Official Comrades Marathon website

Copyright Nikki Campbell 2011