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Comrades 2011

Roger Arendse

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Roger Arendse, 55223

Although I was active in various sports from childhood and maintained a modicum of fitness throughout my adult years, I came to long distance running comparatively late - in my mid-40s. And since then I have never looked back.

In 2005, aged 47, I became intrigued and captivated by the Comrades spirit and adventure, and completed my first (down) run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in 9h18. Wendy, my wife, was there to run her first Comrades as well, completing the event in 10h44. The following year, I completed the ‘up’ run in 9h27, and picked up in addition to my medal for completing this race, the coveted back-to-back medal, awarded to all runners who completed a down and up run in successive years and within the cut off time of 12 hours.  Wendy missed out on the 2006 run of Comrades owing to injury. But she would be back in 2011 to complete ‘unfinished business’ on the road!

My two runs of this amazing race in 2005 and 2006 were to have been enough for me. However, the tangible hype around the 85th running of the Comrades in 2010 and the fact that Russel, my brother was running his first Comrades was enough to persuade me to tackle the ‘Big C’ one more time.  During this run, I was able to feed on the contagious enthusiasm of the long lines of cheering supporters and the banter and camaraderie of fellow runner far more than in my earlier runs.  I reached the finish line in a comfortable 10h54. Again, this was (really) to be my last run of this gruelling, but incredible race. Famous last words!

Wendy had made up her mind to return to Durban to complete her 1st ‘up run’ in 2011. And  I found myself duly ‘sucked into’ the months of training for the Big C yet again – my ‘excuses’, to support Wendy during her training and also to continue to do what I still enjoyed doing - running.  If truth be told though, the long months of training for this year’s Comrades marathon felt much harder and more tedious for me. My body and mind seemed less enthralled and energised throughout the months of preparation for the race than had been my experience in previous years. So, I was very happy when the long wait was finally over and I could join thousands of fellow runners at the start in Durban on 29th May.  

The morning air greeted us crisp and fresh. There was the usual mixture of excitement, nervousness and anticipation that passed like waves through the waiting throng of runners and supporters alike. The moving sounds of ‘Chariots of Fire’ and the traditional Trimborn cock crow were followed by the starter’s gun and we were off!   Fuelling my energy for this particular run of Comrades was the knowledge that Wendy was attempting her 1st ‘up’ run, and Taryn (our daughter) and Fabian (our son-in-law) were in Durban to support us along the road.

My goodness! I had forgotten how tough the ‘up’ run really was. The memory I carried of my 1st run in 2006 was that the race had been a relentless climb from the start.  And if this memory had being dimmed by the passing of time since 2006, I was given a rude awakening of just how daunting and challenging the ‘up’ run is when we as a family drove the entire course together the day before the race.  The oft celebrated and talked about five hills of Cowies, Fields, Bothas, Inchanga and Polly Shorts were interspersed with a seeming endless number of unforgiving hills from the Durban City Hall to the Pietermaritzburg Oval!

My goal had been a sub-11 hour finish, although the sharp reminder of the toughness of the ‘up run’ after driving of the course the day before made me more accepting and comfortable with making the finish line in the 12 hour cut off. And so I started the race more relaxed and confident.  I ate more, walked more, and interacted with the crowds far more during this run than I had in previous runs. I was especially thrilled to see Taryn and Fabian along the course – cheering me on with broad, beaming smiles and clicking away on their cell phones to capture some treasured photos of the event.  They were there, shouting loud support and clicking away at the Oval when Wendy and I crossed the finish lines – me in 11h02 and she in an impressive 11h14.  Both of us had achieved our overall goal of yet another successful run of Comrades. And far more, we had both been touched afresh by the spirit of this ultimate human race! As reward, we spent a few days in Durban as a family - celebrating, sightseeing and soaking up the warmer weather before flying back to Cape Town. 

My invitation to fellow runners who have not run this special race is to complete it at least once during your running career. You will not be disappointed!

Will I ever be back to run another Comrades? Now that is the question! 

External links: Official Comrades Marathon website

Copyright Nikki Campbell 2011