dreamed of running Comrades ever since my dad called us down to the
lounge to watch a white-haired student seemingly effortlessly win the
race every year in the 1980s. Our family used to cheer Brucie on in
front of the TV and marvel as he sailed to victory over and over again.
However, I am far from gifted athletically, being the kind of girl who
wasn't even picked for the team, let alone picked last, so this seemed
like an impossible dream. It didn't help that I studiously avoided
exercise of any kind until after my 30th birthday either. But then,
aged 31, I caught the running bug and surprised myself by becoming a
marathon junkie, running at least one every year. My Comrades dream was
reignited in 2003 when I interviewed a 54-year-old for my beginners'
running book, Running Made Easy. Her tale of stumbling across the
finish line with seconds to spare made me think, if she can do it, I
can too (when she started training for Comrades, she didn't even know
how to lace up her own trainers, so I knew I was ahead of the game!)
so I signed up for the 2009 race. Words cannot describe the fear I felt
as I started training - I'd never run faster than a 5h19 marathon, and
my average pace for that distance was 5h45, so qualifying was my first
hurdle. I spent days watching Comrades clips on YouTube while crying as
I thought I'd never be one of those heroic finishers I saw on my
screen. And then, miraculously, I qualified in 4h39
and my Comrades hopes received a huge boost. But, living in the
relatively flat, mild UK, I was still in total fear of the heat and the
hills. It was then that I discovered this alsoran website, which became
an obsession! I read every one of Nikki's tips and stuck to my training
schedule despite there being record snowfalls in London (one run
involved running the same two blocks 80 times as it was the only piece
of pavement I could find that wasn't covered in ice). And then I
started corresponding with Nikki. She was unbelievably encouraging and
I printed out one of her most inspiring emails and read it over and
over again to myself, along with other inspirational quotes about
running, to prepare myself mentally as we drove up to Maritzburg before
the big day.
This is what Nikki wrote:
You are going to love Comrades! It is a journey more than a race.
fret about it, be excited that you are going to be standing on the
start line, brave enough to accept the challenge. Then just go
out and enjoy the day, knowing that the spectators on the side of the
road are secretly wishing they were you. Personally I believe
running a hilly course is easier than running a flat course because you
get some “recovery”. Don’s charts build in all the hills.
The thing is, don’t worry if you can’t keep up with his chart during
the early stages, I’ve found that I “catch” up later during the
run. What I’m trying to say is that it’s not all over if you fall
behind on his chart. Most important thing on the day is to
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF and back the decisions you make. Comrades is about
passing on the message – next year you will be encouraging others to do
the day dawned and I was unnaturally calm. I donned my pink flamingo
hat and got goosebumps as we sang the national anthem and Shosholoza.
When I heard the cock crow, as I had so many times when watching TV as
a little girl, I squeezed my sister Loren's hand and shed a tear as I
couldn't believe I was actually standing at that start line with so
many other people, many less fortunate than me, who'd all taken up the
challenge of running six times a week for six months. I felt honoured
just standing there - I didn't need to run a single step.
usually a chatty runner but decided not to speak to anyone in case it
slowed me down too much. After about 10km I started to miss the splits
I'd worked out according to Don's charts and slowly I became more and
more depressed about my chances of finishing. And then I bumped into
Nikki who told me I was looking good and said every year she asked
herself the same question: did she want to be anywhere else in the
world except here on that day? The answer, she said, was always 'no'.
In my head, with all my splits going awry and my blistered feet killing
me because I was wearing THREE pairs of socks (don't ask - I broke
every golden rule in this race!), I was screaming 'Yes, Nikki, in fact
I can think of 1,000 places I'd rather be - even sitting in a traffic
jam would be more fun!'
left me and by halfway I seriously considered pulling out to spare
myself the pain of running another six hours only not to finish.
then Nikki's words 'I’ve found that I catch up later during the run...
it’s not all over if you fall behind on Don's chart' popped into my
head, and I decided to keep going no matter what. (Nikki wasn't the
only motivating factor, I must confess: the fact that someone at my
running club had snorted in disbelief when I said I was training for
Comrades also spurred me on as I was hellbent on proving him wrong!)
Just after halfway I met a wonderfully chatty Canadian called Barbara
whose excitement at running Comrades for the first time was infectious.
With her fantastic tales to listen to (she'd travelled the world, done
Two Oceans, was doing a doctorate) the miles flew by and before we knew
it we were in Durban, crossing that line with the biggest grins on our
faces ever. Besides that moment, the highlight for me was hobbling
around the entire stadium looking for Nikki who'd invited me to meet up
with her at the end and, when I'd given up hope of finding her, seeing
her and the Fish Hoek gang. The huge hug she gave me (and the photo of
it she sent me afterwards) are some of my most special Comrades
memories. So if you're reading this and don't think you'll make it,
remember these simple rules from the unsporty, unathletic, slow woman
who did Comrades with a flamingo on her head:
- Listen to Nikki, she REALLY knows what she's talking about. She's the world's best unofficial Comrades ambassador.
to Don's advice - his programme really works (though you can play
around a bit with his splits). He's done the race countless times and
he's South African.
- The hills are your friends.
- Comrades is 80% in your mind.
- Nikki will help you believe you can do it - and you CAN! (see point 4)
Wishing you a race that will challenge you, redefine you and delight you. I hope to see you at the Expo, fellow alsorunners.
Lisa Jackson (Comrades runner)
Nikki was right about another thing - this year I've passed on the
message and my husband Graham, my sister, her boyfriend, a Canadian
friend, Bridget, and my new Comrades friend Barbara and her
husband will all be doing Comrades with me. And guess what site I'll be
recommending as a regular pep-talk? Thank you, Nikki, for helping to
make all our Comrades dreams come true.
External links: Official Comrades Marathon