The Comrades ultra marathon

posted on June 1, 2015in the Blog Category

The Comrades ultra marathon

The Comrades ultra marathon is a huge iconic event in South Africa and regarded as the toughest road ultra on earth. On the up run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg its 54 miles and 6500 feet in total of climbing with 4000 feet of descending. It runs in the opposite way in alternate years. It has 5 hills that are so brutal that they have their own names and about 150 other hills that are nearly as bad but don't have names. The highest point the run gets to is 2500 feet.   I started training to take on the up run in September 2014 and ran the required qualifying time at Chester marathon in October 2014. Apart from a minor injury blip around Christmas the. Training went really well and I ran the best part of 1200 miles including running 2 further marathons where I managed to improve my qualifying time.   Unfortunately disaster struck 6 weeks before the big day when, 2 days after completing a 3 hour 26 minute Manchester marathon I experienced knee pain for the first time in 15 years of running. This led to lots of physio and chiropractor sessions and much heart searching as I contemplated not even getting to the start line of something that I have wanted to do for many years. I had so much invested in this, not least of which being the fund raising that I was doing for The Children's Adventure Farm www.caft.co.uk.   I therefore decided to change training regime and spent hours Aqua jogging at Altrincham baths, plus cross training at the gym to give myself at least a chance of starting the race. I ran 56 miles instead of 300 in the final 6 weeks and only 10 miles in the final 3 weeks.   However, I did get to that start line!   I was seeded pretty close to the front which meant that not a lot of time would be lost in crossing the start line after the starting gun sounded, this is pretty important as there is a strict 12 hour cut off time after which you get no finishers medal! Along with 23,000 other hopefuls at 4.30 am we took our places in the starting pens to await the 5.30 am start. With 15 minutes to go they play the SA national anthem followed by a famous Zulu anthem and then Chariots of Fire stirs the crowd up. In the final minutes they play a tape of a cockerel crowing (Max Trimborn a former winner used to do this just before the start of each race and it became a tradition that they play a tape of him doing this) then the gun goes and we are off.   This is really slow and steady as everyone knows the brutality that lies ahead and it was 20c at 4.30am and was only going to get hotter up the High Veld.   The race immediately starts. To climb as you leave the city limits and you know that this basically continues for 26 miles. Everyone took the advisable walking breaks at regular intervals to conserve energy for the second half which is nominally easier.   I climbed the first of.  The big 5, Cowies pretty well and felt comfortable but then the first signs that my left knee wasn't going to hold up started to appear.   I hit the first cut off point (if you don't reach certain points within certain times you are pulled out of the race) with an hour to spare but then we hit Bothas Hill and I realised that my race was done. As I walked the full length of Bothas the pain just escalated and every. Time I tried to run was excruciating. I then decided to power walk and intersperse with some running but again, whenever I tried to run, the pain was so great that I soon stopped.   My wife Tracey was out on the course being looked after on a supporters package and I knew that she would be at mile 17 so I power walked 4 miles to there, interspersed with painful hobbling.   It was ultimately a relief to reach Tracey and admit that my body wasn't going to allow me to achieve your dream on this occasion but I was still utterly devastated and close to tears. I had tried but ultimately to no avail.   When I look back I am still very proud that I did my best, in adversity, to get to the start line and then completed 17 miles of one of the toughest road ultras in the world. I had also climbed 758 metres (1800 feet) and descended 215 metres whilst enduring temperatures hovering just above 30c.   We spent the rest of the day on the supporters tour cheering on the other Brits plus friends I knew out on the course. It was really hard being at the end watching everyone celebrate and then back at the hotel watching them parade their medals, I really didn't want to be there and the disappointment was so tough to take after all the effort.   The one thing that I have hung on to is that by taking on this challenge and thanks to the support of all my incredibly generous sponsors, I had raised nearly £6000 for CAFT. Thank you so much for your generosity, I know how much this will to the children down at the farm!   We had also carried in our luggage 6 pairs of good quality part used running shoes to donate to a running club in SA whose runners can barely afford shoes let alone running shoes and these are now on there way to good homes to breed the next batch of quality SA runners.   I bumped into a friend at the end who had completed the race. He had run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days earlier this year and had also completed a marathon in the Amazon rainforest. He recorded his best ever time of 10.51 and to.d me that it was the hardest challenge he had ever taken on. Up on the high Veld the temperatures had risen to well over30c and the cloud over we were promised never materialised. He looked truly spent.   So, where too from here? We are now going to enjoy our 2 week holiday in SA touring Kwazulu Natal and then it's time for an MRI scan to see exactly what the root cause of the knee injury is and get it sorted.   Will I come back and try again? Well it is uppermost in my mind! However, the down run is a totally different race and everyone reckons it's tougher on the body so, let's wait and see what the outcome of medical intervention is and we will take it from there.   Thanks for all the support and in particular the donations to CAFT.   Tony Collier, Managing Director

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