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Comrades 2011

Jill Saker

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Jill Saker, 23551
Aussie (Kiwi?) novice - as told to Nikki Campbell

I can thoroughly say though that I had an absolute blast out there last Sunday!  I think although I was nervous going to the start line, I trusted my training (thanks to Don : - ) and felt confident and positive that all was going to go well.  Having driven the course on the Friday, I wasn't too put off by it and just thought it was what I expected having heard all about those hills from another friend who'd run it.

My race unfolded all to plan, having mentioned to you on the Saturday that I was planning to go around in a sub-10hr time and had given myself 5hrs for the first half and hopefully had enough in the tank to pick it up in the second half.  I tried very hard to really take the first half nice and slowly and found myself pulling back a few times to keep within the 6.5min/km pace or slower.  I actually had planned to run on my own, given all my training had been on my own and I'm just use to running at my own pace, but one of the Perth girls, who I'd linked up with on this trip, was at the start line with me and we decided to stay together for as far as we could.  Funnily enough, her name was Jackie, and for the 27kms that we run together, all we heard from fellow runners coming up behind us as we went up either Cowies or Fields Hills was "Jack and Jill going up the hill" - it made us laugh and was a great distraction.  What I also found lovely were all the "welcome to South Africa" comments I got from runners who were obviously close enough to me that they could read 'Australia' on my number bib!  So friendly and very overwhelming.  Jackie and I approached the first two hills with a 5min run/1min walk strategy, which in hindsight, may not have been prudent, as although I felt good, I think it undid Jackie's race a little and was sustainable for either of us.  By the time I got to N'Changa, I remembered Don's strategy of run 100 steps, walk 50, but I changed that to walk 100.  I found this really good for a couple of reasons, 1.  you tended to not focus on the hill or how much further you had to go as you were head down and counting, and 2. the time seemed to go quickly and you had enough energy to start running again after each 100 walk and I actually found myself passing people who were trying to run the entire hill, which just proved what a waste of time and energy it was trying to run it all.

When I reached the halfway point I was on 4:53 and I thought to myself, wahoo, I made it under 5hrs.  I then said to myself, "OK Jill, can we pick this up?" and I let my body answer that and found myself invigorated enough to run a little faster, encouraged by the thought that each km I was counting down post halfway was getting me closer to the finish line.  I mentally hit a good point at the 60k mark, when I realised I had recorded the same time as my training run over that distance (6:37) and felt encouraged to think I could continue at this pace and maybe make a 9hrs 30-something time if I kept this up.  I was feeling strong and even managed to dance through one of the aid stations that was playing "I feel good" by James Brown, which is my all time favourite running song that I play in my head whenever I'm feeling low or need a pick-me-up.  It worked and the crowd seemed to enjoy my dancing demonstration as well and that encouraged me along.  I was running strong along Harrison Flats and on the stretch just before Umlaas Road, I came across my friend who had got me onto this event and she was walking.  I went pass trying to encourage her to come with me, but she said she was fine and that I should just keep going, so I did.  I felt bad as I left her that perhaps I should have stopped and stayed with her to encourage her and pick her up, but at the finish when I saw her, she said to me she would have kicked my butt if I'd done that, so I'm pleased I made the right call : - )

With 21kms to go I was ecstatic - I knew it was only a half marathon to go and I was going to do this.  I was also re-examining my time and thinking to myself I could just maybe go under 9.5hrs as I was getting faster and faster, so I put my head down and just let my body dictate what I could do.  All the time I was thinking I was having 'fun' and smiling to people and high five-ing all the little kids I passed which really lifted me as well.  Approaching Little Polly's, which I knew was Little Polly's thanks to Richard putting out to me that there was a little road that came onto it from the right and that I had to manage to run at least to that road, which I did, I again continued the run/walk strategy feeling good.  However, that all changed when I reached Polly Shortts - I had nothing left to run/walk that hill and knowing I had plenty of time to make the sub 9.5hrs, I totally walked up Polly's, power walking and driving the hill with my arms.  It took me 10mins bottom to top and I then started running again.  The other little hills that continued to come after Polly's seemed like mountains and I confess I did walk those as well.  I had been looking forward to each of the km markers to go and remember seeing the 2km sign but then totally not seeing the 1km to go sign, unaware that in fact there wasn't one and when you entered the Toyota bannered bit, that you were almost home.  All that didn't matter when I turned and entered the oval grass area and I was just pumping my fists in jubilation that I had done it - broken all my expectations and hadn't felt like I'd come undone in the process.  I finished in 9:22:49 on the clock and was just overcome with happy emotions.  Walking through the barrier where they handed me my medal, I was just stoked and held onto it rather than putting around my neck, as I just wanted to feel that bronze medal in my hands and know it was real.

Making my way to the International Runners tent, I was pleased to be finished and it actually felt funny to just stop and walk again knowing I didn't need to run any more.  I found some of my new Perth friends who had achieved their goals of running a sub-9hr and was really pleased for them and we all hugged one another.  This reinforced to me how much this run really is about the camaraderie felt and experienced not only by the runners but the spectators as well.  This was evident when, with the 12hr mark approaching, everyone in the International runners area seemed to be against the barriers and cheering on their fellow comrades coming into the finish area in the hope they'd make the cut-off.  Some did, but for others, they didn't, but I'm sure they'll be back another year with unfinished business.

Thanks again Nikki for having your website - it is a fantastic source of knowledge and experience and information.  You are amazing and I hold you in high esteem for achieving all you've achieved.

I'm totally hooked and so want to come back again next year to experience the downhill race and hopefully achieve a back-to-back medal.  Then I can probably say I've done Comrades and may not be back again, although never say never huh!  I hope I can convince my husband to have a crack at this, as I know he'd love it and who knows, maybe in another 15yrs or so, we can come and run it as a family like the Campbells when my youngest is old enough.  How awesome must that feeling have been for you Nikki, when you and Heather came across Andy!  Amazing!

All the best with whatever you have coming up next.  I'm sure the lessons we take out of our Comrades experience make us stronger runners as well as people and what we learn about ourselves throughout the journey is just as amazing, as I think I always knew I was a tough and determined person, but this really showed me that what you put into a race, you will get out, and that was so true on this occasion.

External links: Official Comrades Marathon website

Copyright Nikki Campbell 2011