alsoran runners Comrades Experiences:
Kero Naidoo

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Journey to Comrades
Kero Naidoo, 1983

Arguably the toughest race in the world, the Comrades Marathon is a symbol of hard work and determination for the many thousands of runners who have made countless sacrifices to achieve the ultimate goal of crossing that finish line. To many people, even the idea of attempting The Comrades is something that is buried in the back of their minds along with the thought that they may some day, win the Lotto. A short while ago, I could say the same for myself. This is the story of my journey to and through my first attempt at The Comrades Marathon.

I was a mere 12 years old when the idea of running The Comrades Marathon some day, first entered my mind. It was 1995 and I was standing at the finish in Durban waiting with bated breath for my dad to make his way past that all important finish line, a mere 27 seconds after the cut off. I remember all the drama, excitement, determination and the general spirit of The Comrades that the day had to offer and knew that as a little boy of twelve, my chance to achieve this great fate was far from reality.

After 11 years of being on the road as a supporter, I finally decided that 2006 was going to be my year. This would be the year that my dad was to receive his 10th official finish and I was determined to finish together. The 10th race would be a huge accomplishment for him, and I was determined to make this race special for the entire family. July 2005 marked the start of intense training, which included early morning runs in the harsh Johannesburg winter. However, my journey to my first Comrades Marathon was not without its disappointments and heartache. In May 2006, my dad suffered a mild heart attack that shattered his dream of running his 10th race in 2006. For the next month I contemplated dropping out of the race, but before I knew it, I found myself standing at the start on June 16th 2006, ready to do the epic journey from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. I felt scared and excited at the same time, a million thoughts racing through my mind. I stood there and the butterflies were fluttering around in my tummy as the “Chariots of Fire” began to play. Soon enough there was the famous Max Trimbon’s Cock Crow, and then we were off to the tunes of the recent tradition of “Shosholoza”.

Pinetown was the 21km mark, where my family rushed to see me, after they had dropped me off at the start that morning. Shortly after, saw the major ascend up Field’s Hill. Here many line the streets, not only to show support, but also hoping to score a t-shirt used by runners for warmth from the morning cold. Local kids also accompany supporters hoping for a sweet or chocolate from passing runners, and for some their first ever taste of a chocolate. Ethembeni School for the Handicapped is situated near Inchanga, and is an important milestone during the up and down run. This is where the children, (Most in wheelchairs), traditionally line the side of the road cheering the runners on and shouting encouragement, and inspiring many a runner with their exuberance.

Shortly after I followed the example of fellow Comrades, by picking some flowers to pay respect, and ask for blessing from Arthur Newton. There is a niche cut into the bank of the rock at the site of the Wall of Honour and is referred to as Arthur’s Seat. It is reputed to have been a favourite resting spot of the legendary Arthur Newton, 5 times winner of the Comrades Marathon in the 1920′s. Legend has it that runners who pay tribute to Arthur as they pass by placing flowers in the niche and doffing their peak with the greeting “Good morning Sir”, will enjoy a strong second half of the race. This point of the race brought a long awaited rest on the legs, on the long down hill into Drummond and to the halfway point. Other than being the half way point, this place is also famous for supporters lining the streets waiting to catch a glimpse of their loved ones through the race.
My family was a welcome sight at the top of Inchanga, just as my legs began to strain. According to the Comrades King, Bruce Fordyce, you are supposed to start the up run with fresh legs at the top of Inchanga (as was not the case with me). A brief chat with my family and a canned fish sandwich later, I was on my way to Camperdown.

Camperdown is one of two villages through which the route passes, and usually has crowds of spectators lining both sides of the road, who offer lots of encouragement and support to the runners. I remember feeling the pain and wondering whether I was going to ever see the finish. A major encouragement for me was when I looked back from the top of Camperdown Bridge, only to see the runners behind me, stretching almost to the horizon.
With a little over 21km to go, the challenge of The Comrades Marathon was setting in and it was up to my mind to keep my exhausted body going. I am proud to say that I encountered and conquered Little Pollys and immediately started to dread what Polly Shortts was going to be like. Little Polly is located on the up run, shortly before the notorious Polly Shortts. There lies a climb of far gentler proportions of about 1,5km and sometimes tricks first time runners into believing that this is Polly Shortts. Polly Shortts is normally referred to as the Heartbreak Hill on the up run. The joke surrounding this stretch of the race is that the many t-shirts one wears for warmth come off on the down run, but on the up run, your breakfast is the one that is on the way out.

The last 7km was the most encouraging but also the most painful, as the downhill to the finish did not bode well with my aching joints. I very warmly recall the local spectator who brought out his family to watch the race and support the runners, because it was at this point that I took advantage of an empty seat amongst his family where I was welcomed like a King and encouraged to go on. The next 3km was a slow trot until my uncle (whom I had not seen since 5km past the start) had caught up with me and escorted me to the finish.

The entrance into the stadium is a feeling that no Comrades finisher can ever forget. By this time, the pain was being slowly forgotten and I was running as fresh as I did at the start. Once I was across the finish line, ALL the pain and endurance of the day had been forgotten… but painfully remembered the next day.

The Comrades Marathon has changed my life for the better. To actually run the race and see the support and the encouragement on the faces of all those supporters and fellow runners is an experience that I will not soon forget. It is still a dream of mine to experience this epic journey with my father, who hopefully would one day be able to run for his 10th finish and achieve his green number (a permanent Comrades number that is yours for Eternity. Hoping to achieve my own green number some day.

Based on the experience of Comrades runner Kero Naidoo #1983 with references from www.comrades.com


External links: Official Comrades Marathon website



Copyright Nikki Campbell 2010
alsoran@webafrica.org.za