alsoran runners 2009 Experiences:
Rick Sanford

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It Will Be a Good Day
Rick Sanford - Comrade 44533
Texas, USA

It will be a good day.  This was my mantra for the 2009 Comrades Marathon.  From the moment K2 and I committed to running “the Ultimate Human Race” I tried to always keep that thought.  Whenever somebody asked if I was nervous or intimidated or worried, I’d answer that no matter what, race day would be a good day.

We’re here.   We’ve taken three flights, crossed seven times zones, and traveled who knows how many miles to get here.  We have survived nearly being crushed at the bag drop and now we’re packed into the crowd of 12,000 in front of City Hall in Pietermaritzburg.  The air is cool, but the atmosphere is electric.  The theme from Chariots of Fire plays.  Then, the crowd begins to sing "Shosholoza" an old Zulu mining song, and its title means, roughly, "Keep going.  Move faster on those mountains.”  I don’t understand the words, but it’s beautiful.  I think we hear the South Africa national anthem next.  The excitement builds, we’re actually going to run Comrades.  The cock crows and the starting gun is fired. We’re off.  It will be a good day.

The crowd moves slowly through the city streets.  Running is difficult with so many runners trying to occupy the same space.  The spectators line the streets and cheer.  Don’t they realize it is 5:30 in the morning?  Discarded shirts are highly prized by many of those lining the course.  No need to collect them for a donation to charity, the needy quickly snap up the dropped garments.  We see the first distance marker on the course.  It reads 88km to go.  It will be a good day.

The sun is rising as we begin making our way out of the city.  We can see all of the Comrades colors now.  The runners are all wearing their club colors or kits.  We would call it a uniform.  It’s fun picking out the kits we like best.  We see the sun coming up over the hills.  We see the hills.   Now we can see the hills.  It will be a good day.

The kilometers seem to pass quickly.  We make new friends, if only for a few moments or few kilometers.  We delight in the plastic sachets used for water and Powerade.  Once you figure out how to open them, you discover how convenient they are.  Iced down, you can carry them in the palm of your hand to cool yourself.  You can squeeze them over your head, or maybe squeeze them at the guy running 10 yards behind you.  Dropped sachets make a nice pop and squish when stepped on. 
We get food from the bystanders.  Kelly gets a peanut butter sandwich.  She gets a beer from some Aussies who had set up a bar along the course.  I get a tuna sandwich and later a sandwich with bacon and butter.  It will be a good day.

We run past children from a special needs school.  We high five as many as we can.  Some don’t have hands.  One holds out her elbow for a high five.  They are so happy for the small amount of recognition.  I am so happy to be running here.  We both have tears in our eyes.  We are so blessed.  It will be a good day.

As we near the halfway point, I’m struggling.  I’ve lost my mantra.  I hurt.  There are so many hills.  I don’t want to be here anymore.  I almost wish that I would pass out, that they would remove me from the course, that I would wake up at the finish line.  Then I would have an excuse for not finishing.  Kelly keeps urging me on.  She reminds me how strong I am, how much I’ve trained.  This is the low point.  I knew it was coming, but it still hits me harder than I could have imagined.  I’m crying.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe, it’s because I wanted to run the entire race with Kelly and I know that’s not going to happen.  Maybe, it’s fear of not finishing within the time limit.  We stick together through 50km and then I send Kelly on her way.  I tell her to go kick some ass.  I know she’s got a lot left in her.

A few kilometers later, my recovery begins.  I return to the thought.  It will be a good day.  I chat with other runners.  I smile and wave at the spectators.  I remind myself that I’m in South Africa, running the largest and oldest ultra in the world.  With 30km to go, all doubt has left my mind.  I’m not too far off my original sub-11 hour goal pace.  I’m going to finish within the time limit.  The hills are punishing and still the race is taking its toll on me, but it makes no difference.  This is a good day.

With 7km to go, my left leg starts cramping and I find myself walking more than I want to.  Linda, a Comrades veteran who we had met earlier in the day, walks up behind me and says, “Hey, it’s Rick the Texan!”  She asks about Kelly.  I look at my watch and say, “I think she’s finished.”  The thought brings a smile to my face.  Linda is cramping up, too.  She tells me that we’ll continue on together and I’ll be her escort to the finish.  She tells me Comrades stories as we make our way into Durban.  We wave to the children and thank the course marshals.  Just before we enter the stadium, we pose for a picture.  Linda says this is going on her Comrades wall at home.  I think I’m blushing.  We enter the stadium. I stop for just a moment to take a couple of pictures and savor the moment.  Then, it’s off to the finish line.  My head is on a swivel.  I want to see it all.  I turn the last corner and run the last bit with my arms in the air.  I’ve done it.  I ran the Comrades marathon.

I collect my medal and in a daze wander toward the International Tent.  I’m looking for Kelly, but she finds me first.  She did what I knew she could do, only faster.  I’m so proud of her.  We sit for a few moments and I feel an enormous sense of accomplishment.  I’m so happy that we got to do this together.  The race was more brutal than I could have imagined.  I’m physically spent, but emotionally invigorated.  I know that my entire body is going to hurt for several days, but I also know that the hurt will go away.  I get to keep this Comrades experience for the rest of my life.  It was a good day.

External links: Official Comrades Marathon website

Copyright Nikki Campbell 2009