This was my 4th time running the Comrades Marathon and my 3rd timing running the down run. But I wasn't one bit confident when I reached Durban. Having just completed the UTMF 2 weeks ago, my legs didn't feel fresh at all. In fact, I had not been running since UTMF. I wasn't able to as I was physically and mentally exhausted. I wasn't able to squat pain-free for at least 10 days, though I had been doing some walking on an incline treadmill to simulate the up sections of Comrades.
I was excited to meet up with Ian, Nadia, Estienne again, whom I first met in the Addo Elephant 50 Miles in 2007 and had been able to meet up with them every year since then. I also met up with Frank, a Malaysian running his first Comrades and raising fund for CARIF - Frank "The Ultimate Race for Cancer Research" Campaign. The Comrades Expo was as usual - lots of good deals and a wide spread of products, much bigger and more exciting than our Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore's Expo. I picked up my race packet, bought some souvenirs, before going to the campsite where I would be staying. On Saturday, we went to the Comrades Marathon House at Pietermaritzburg, and spent the remaining time eating and checking out the possible parking near the start. Then it was back to the campsite for an early rest.
The Race - Comrades Marathon
As we stayed near the race start, we could afford to sleep till almost 4am as compared to waking up at 2am to catch the bus from Durban (for the down run). Weather was great. and the atmosphere was brilliant. As I was early, I was able to line-up near the start of my pent. And at 5.30am sharp, the race was flagged off. Just few hundred metres after the start, someone shouted out to me that my bib was falling off from my back. (We were issued 2 bibs and we had to pin one at the front and the other one at the back). I got a supporter to help me pin my bib back. And I found the 12-hour bus to tag along. It was hard but seeing the rest suffered with you, helped a little. It took me 3hrs 26mins to reached the first cut-off at Camperdown (completed 27km with 62km to go). (I took 3hrs 17mins in both 2009 ad 2010). The effort felt hard at that point but I managed to hang on with the 12-hour bus.
By the time I reached 2nd cut-off point at Drummond (the half-way point), another 2hrs 22mins (total of 5hrs 48mns) had passed. I was definitely much slower and I felt much harder. Trying not to panic, I focused on following the 12-hour bus. But slowly, the distance between us got further and further away until I let the bus slipped out of my sight. It was depressing. And by the time I reached the 3rd cut-off point at Winston Park with 31km to go, I was almost 20mins off my 2009 timing and more than 30mins off my 2010 timing. I didn't think I could make it although some runners around me were saying that we could still make it as the remaining route was mainly downhill. I pushed on as hard as possible. Occasionally, an ambulance (already full of runners) would drive slowly past me and I avoided looking at it. My groin was painful though I could still run. But when I reached Fields Hill, a rather steep descent of 3km, I couldn't run a bit. I was not able to open my step and let the gravity pull me along. Instead, I had to trot along painfully.
I knew my time was up. I decided to board the bus (the real one with an engine) to go to the finishing line and wait for Ian. There was regret but I knew I gave all that I left. I could have continued but I won't make it. Besides, the trip to South Africa was to run the Comrades, and visit the safari. The ride back was slow as we had to pass those who were still running. By the time we reached the medical tent, it was just past 5pm, with another 30mins to cut-off. As I alighted from the vehicle, I threw up and had to be carried into the tent. A medic almost wanted to give me a drip but I insisted that I was fine and just need some water and a quick rub down on both my legs. They obliged and I was able to get on my feet after resting for about 15mins. Some runners were not so fortunate. I went to the International Tent to wait for Ian, who had just completed his 22 consecutive Comrades!
While I was disappointed that I wasn't able to add to my other 3 Comrades finishes, I had no one to blame but myself. Next year, I will stick to my running schedule and not insert any last minute races that may jeopardise my chances of complete Comrades. The Comrades Marathon is one hard race especially for a slow runner like me. I had to be 100% fit at the start of the race to stand a better chance of completing this grueling race within the 12-hour cut-off time.