It was past 3:00 PM and you could feel that the day is getting over. Comrades happens during the winter time in South Africa and the days are short. It was one of those rarest days when I find myself starting to run before the sunrise and finish (hopefully the entire distance) after the sunset. With 18K to go, I could console myself that I had to run less than a half-marathon. It was somewhere around this time that my stopwatch malfunctioned and I have to reset it. Might have lost a minute or two in the process causing further anxiety as every minute matters from here. Meanwhile Vineetha had run past me and not to be seen again. Neepa was running two races – her own race and race to pull up Amit along with her. It has now become an all too familiar sight for me to see Neepa run ahead, stop and call Amit to join her.
I had to finish 15K in the last 2 hours. After averaging 7k an hour for the previous 4 hours, I wondered where I am going to find that one hour to run the 8k. Comrades marathon finishes strictly at 12 hours. Not a second allowance is given beyond the firing of final gun. I still found an excuse in the 10 minutes that I took to reach the start point knowing well that such excuses counts for nothing. The rules are clear and there is no point in complaining either. Just resolved that next time some one sympathises for the Proteas about the ‘apparent injustice’ meted out to them in the 1992 Cricket world cup, I would respond back saying ‘rules are rules’ and they too apply the same in Comrades. The best at that stage would be to find some extra energy and do one solid run to cover the distance. The final cut-off point was at Mayville, at a distance 7k to the finish line. The cut-off time for this point was at 11:20. The results page indicates that I finished in 11:03:29 although my personal stop clock (after reset) showed me that I have only 56 minutes left to cover the 7K, translating to 8 minutes per Km!
Another stumbling block for a Comrades runner is the presence of Cat’s Eye – the blinkers on the road. Many times, people trip over and fall down causing bruises and sometimes even forcing them out of the event. At one point, Neepa ran past me, stopped and turned around to run back. I saw Amit down on the road and he was tripped by the Cat’s eye. Neepa went back, picked him and they joined to run again. After running almost 80K, it was next to impossible for me to go back even a couple of metres, let alone pick up someone and run again. I said to myself that if I ever trip, I am not going to get up again. There were familiar sights of exhausted runners on the sidelines. There were ample support from the crowd in terms of cheering as well as letting us know how much time was left.
At 5K to go, I had 41 minutes left on my stopwatch. I could suddenly sense that the crowd around me was thinning down leaving me with doubts that I am getting held back. The next 2 Km possibly defined my Comrades run. I decided to go all out this time and throw myself all out. Gathered all the energy, prayed to all the Gods whom I knew and stepped up my pace. I was running close to the middle of the road when one runner warned me about the cat’s eye. I recollected these famous lines from the movie ‘Chariots of Fire’
Then where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within..
After running 84 Kms, it was impossible to say where I got the strength to run those 2 Kms under 14 minutes, possibly the fastest in the entire run. I was left with 3K to go and 27 minutes to the cut-off time. I decided to relax a bit but the crowd didn’t allow me to do. Every time, I choose to walk, someone on the crowd screams out ‘Run.’ One of the race marshalls told me that I would develop cramps if I choose to walk now. The next Kilometerwas done in 8 minutes and subsequent one in 9 minutes. Going by the sound, I could feel that I am nearing the Kingsmead Stadium but I couldn’t see it.
With one Km to go and 10 minutes available, I thought I can walk the distance. Since I could not spot the stadium, I wasn’t sure if my calculations are right. Just before entering the stadium, I could hear someone announce that 5 minutes are left. I entered the stadium with Joey Tempest’s Final Countdown played on the loud speakers. The scene was unbelievable – I was running through a narrow track with crowds packed on each side screaming their hearts out for the runners. And for the first time in the race, I was running on a flat soft track! That song by Joey Tempest is easily an all-time favourite song of mine!
Although inside the stadium, the finish line was not yet visible. On the first sight of the finish line, as sense of relief finally prevailed and I was lucky to have the priceless moment captured in this beautiful image.
I finally crossed the finish line 11:57:57, 2 minutes and 3 seconds to spare.
Joining the crowd of finishers
Walking past the race director (in Black Suit). The Race Director, Peter Proctor does the (dis)honours of firing the gun at the 12-hour mark. He does that with his back facing the finish mile, so that he doesn’t see the disappointed faces of those missing the cut-off time. I was lucky that day to sneak in before he does his job.
You can watch couple of my finish videos here
And you could watch Amit and Neepa finishing here