Wednesday, 13 July 2005

Comrades Marathon 2005 (Down Run) Race Report – First Draft

Chapter one - Preamble and Introduction...

Brendan Mason Race # 54878

Any great event, not just sporting events, is a mixture of great organisation consistently staged year after year and unconstrained community support. Events like the Hawaii Ironman and the London Marathon are examples of this. Comrades is different it has the support of a whole nation not just the communities where the race is held.

It’s hard to explain the significance that this event holds for South Africans. Imagine a whole country watching a race and embracing its twists and turns over the space of a 12 hour day starting from 5:30am.

Imagine a 65 year old woman on the plane sitting next to me who is unable to competently fill in an arrivals card but can tell me a the course elevation of various way points on the race route.

Finally, Imagine the taxi driver from Durban Airport who had told me which African runners to watch out for and what their race tactics would be so that I could stay in touch with them along the course.

The only event that stops a nation from the Australian perspective is the Melbourne Cup..

It’s a cliché to say that endurance sport is the great equaliser. Fat or thin, black or white, old or young and rich or poor there is nothing that separates the runners ‘on the road’. On June 16 each year in South Africa this event provides one of many examples, which is obvious when you get here, that integration is practised and believed in by every one on the South African public holiday, called Youth Day, The whole country gets involved, not just the race participants.

I am told that Youth day is significant because the youths that started the Soweto riots in the mid 1970’s were the catalyst for South Africa to begin to reform and integrate in the late 1970’s. Comrades is a great example of how integration has improved since apartheid ended.

Pre Race
Arriving in Durban I could have been excused for thinking that we were back in Oz. Men at Work was blaring out of the airport terminal speakers as I was waiting for my bag at the carousel as a local man asked me if I was Australian, "Yes I am, how did you know?" "You were mouthing the words to Land Downunder". On finding out that it was my first Comrades he gave me his business card and encouraged me to call him for anything that I needed.

Durban is beautiful city, about the same latitude as Brisbane and built on a beachfront that resembles Surfers Paradise. My hotel, one of the many Holiday Inns is called the Elengani and I soon found out why the taxi driver had assumed that I am an elite runner. It couldn’t have been my 95kg and 193cm height.

The Elengani is the official race hotel, many of the elite teams and top finishers were resident. Also in residence was the French rugby team. I had an unforgettable elevator ride with two of the French forwards and two of the elite African runners and I, all ascending to our respective floors. The obvious contrasts in body types of the athletes made me wonder why I’d chosen ultramarathoning as a sport.

On Monday afternoon, I went to register and browse at the expo which was a huge affair similar to the expo for London Marathon. Managed to meet up with Don Oliver the coach who designed the training program on the website. He looked at my program and predicted a finish time well within the 12hr cut-off. Of course he didn't know that 12hrs was my target time.

One of the many perks available to international runners is the ‘newbie’ bus to Pietermarizburg to check over the course where morning tea and cakes were laid on for the benefit of overseas runners. Our tour guide advised that 2,000km to 3,000km of training between January and June was sufficient for a comfortable finish on the day. I had trained 1,513km since Jan 1 and had been feeling confident that I could finish with this mileage until I had received this late news. Perhaps Don and the tour guide should have a chat.

Of the 14,000 entrants only 465 are from outside South Africa and a significant number of these from near-by Zimbabwe. This year there were 45 Aussies about the same number of Poms and about dozen or so Kiwis. There were surprisingly low numbers of Americans.

I had a good chat to the organiser and, clearly, participation growth at the Comrades Marathon will come from overseas if the organisers seek greater popularity and bigger fields of the event in future years, which is their stated objective. (rework this, sounds crap)

Having made it to Pietermaritzburg (PMB), I had two relaxing nights (At the Golden Horse Casino Hotel) in store to make my final preparations for the big day. Plenty of time to relax take in a movie and discover PMB.

Race Day
The forecast for race day showed that Pietermaritzburg would start with a temp of -1° C and the top temp in Durban would get to 24° C. On race morning the hotel put on a 4am breakfast. There were lots of nervous runners in the dining room but no one ate very much.

Getting to the start at City Hall was chaotic; many of the roads were closed which created a 5am-traffic jam. I hitched a ride with some friendly locals and found my place in the crowd at the start. The temperature didn’t seem too cold.

At 5:30am the starting gun went off and we shuffled forward, 5min after the start I crossed the line and my ChampionChip transponder recorded that I was away. After 5km I had warmed up and decided to give my top to a local boy who was about the same height as me. I soon found out that it was way too early and as we descended down the Polly Shorts hill so too did the temperature. It was freezing cold. The local runners recommend that you keep your over gear until at least 7am on a down run.

By this stage (5km in) I had also lost my cap and one energy gel, both had fallen off my belt in the scuffle at the start. The gel was no loss, I had plenty more, but the cap was a bit of a bugger, as I knew that I’d need shade later on. At least I had my shades and a liberal coating of sunscreen.

The drink stations were plentiful coming each 1.5km and the water sachets and sports drink sachets (same as used at Canberra Marathon this year) convinced me that this method of rehydrating during a race is by far the simplest.
10km in and I was running 6min km and feeling good, the hills were clicking by. Everyone was freezing. ..


At 14 July 2005 at 8:27 am, Blogger go girl said...

Don't stop there.... It's like ripping a good book out of my hands just at the really good part..Sorry!!! I will eagerly await your next post. Great stuff.

At 14 July 2005 at 9:18 am, Blogger plu said...

Thanks Brendan,

I like to savor this over time. Cannot wait for the next 5kms

Cheers Plu

At 14 July 2005 at 2:16 pm, Blogger TA and the Gnome said...

Thanks Brendan, I've been looking forward to reading your account. We were so keen to follow how you were going at the time. Please don't leave chapter 2 too long.


At 20 July 2005 at 4:21 pm, Blogger Lulu said...

Thanks Brendan, really looking forward to reading the rest..

At 21 August 2005 at 6:02 pm, Blogger nelson442jonathan said...

damn good blog, check out mine, comments always welcome!


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