Monday, May 31, 2010

Race Day (Day 6)

This morning was perfect. Woke up feeling pretty decent at 3:30 in the morning, had a breakfast of coffee (yes – I had a coffee!) and a couple of bananas, briefly spoke to Paul on the phone, and made it to the start line in time. Incidentally, despite copious warnings that such behavior is not permissible, it appears that South African racers are just like Canadian ones – guys find every private, semi-private, and blatantly obvious piece of wall to pee before races…

The start line had a rather interesting mix of music – traditional ‘African’ sounding beats interspersed with Kaiser Chiefs, Black Eyed Peas, and culminating in Chariots of Fire.

The call of a rooster, and we were off. Within seconds of the start of the race, more guys ran toward the sparse bushes at the side of the road…I guess the cover of darkness was enough for them….? I felt awesome – strong and confident in my chances of a really good time. At 9km, we faced the first of the really steep downhills. Immediately, I felt a sharp pain in my problem calf. Damn! Eased off, and the pain went away; ok, I can deal with this, I won’t get a sub 6-hour race, but a sub-7 should still be possible.

At 24km in, I looked out from the top of the hill and saw the mist rising from the scene of a mountain range before us. I had two thoughts:

A) That is beautiful!

B) F@ck!! I have to run through that!!!

(Incidentally, it isn’t a real mountain range, but the aptly-named “Valley of 1000 hills”)

Shortly after, the aching in my legs which had been growing since about 20km started to get really bad. What is going on?!? I shouldn’t be feeling this rough this early on! I realized some time later why my legs were aching so much. I haven’t run much since the beginning of May when I bothered my old calf injury. While the cycling and swimming has kept my legs plenty strong, they have become fragile, and unaccustomed to the pounding of the pavement. Betrayed by my own body!

A lot of the race is a bit of a blur. I don’t remember when I thought all of these things, but this is roughly the order:

- I can’t believe how long this race is….will I be able to do it?

- My legs hurt.

- What a beautiful view!

- My legs hurt. Ow! They ache so much!

- There go the first women past me. Good luck ladies! I wish I could keep up and run with you.

- These San kids are great! Just slap their hands as they go by and they get so happy! It’s like I’m a star!

- How can this hill just keep going up? I thought this was a DOWNHILL year!

- I’m all messed up. I feel like crying and I don’t even know why. Dehydration already? I hope not…

- Ethembeni School! Physically and mentally handicapped kids – they seem so happy as I run by and give them high-fives! I understand why people say it’s hard to not stop here…

- Here are the downhills! Oh! They hurt my legs so much! How can my legs ache like this?!?

- Shaun and Jess!! I was going to tell them I’ll be slow and complain about my calf, but seeing them perked me up. I’m feeling better…

- Good luck Melanie, Kerri, and whatever other women pass me. I’d like to say I’ll catch you and see you again, but I’m falling off the pace, and I know you’re still strong.

- My legs hurt so much! Don’t walk until the first marathon is done.

- A woman at the side is shouting “That’s right, Sir! No problem, Sir! You can do this, Sir!” She’s right! I can do this, I’ll be ok….

- First marathon down. Don’t walk until 45km.

- 45km…don’t walk until 50km.

- Only one marathon to go. Still not at 50km. I can’t take this…I’m walking. (That two minutes was the first and last part of any uphill I walked today. I never gave in to that weakness again.)

- Ohh! My legs ache so much! I don’t know how I can handle these downhills. Now I feel like crying and I know why – I have never been in such agony! I can hardly believe my legs aren’t bleeding!

- Shaun and Jess again. I try to smile, but they can see I’m in pain. Keep going. If you stop, you may not start again…

- Running a time no longer matters. Being first Canadian no longer matters. Finishing without walking no longer matters. I just want to get through this. My legs hurt. Ow! Ow! Ow!

- One foot in front of the other. Keep drinking. Keep eating. Get through this…

- Is that a dead bat at the side of the road? Strange roadkill…

- I can’t run downhills anymore. It hurts too much. So many people are cheering, I put my head down and pretend I don’t hear them. Doesn’t help they can read my name from my bib. Being a foreign competitor, I get extra attention….

- I’m walking more and more….can I run? Have I given up the medal I want? Can I finish in 12 hours if I walk from here…?

- I’m falling apart. I’m walking and there’s still a third of the way to go. I’m losing my drive. I just want to walk right off the course…. 7 months of training….how can this final month have messed me up so much?

- Running again, good! Keep eating and drinking. Run the uphills and as much of the downhills as you can. Less than 30km to go.

- It’s 22km to go. I can still get a silver medal. There’s a chance…

- 16km to go. I’m running in agony. I ask any spectator with a cooler for ice so I can rub my legs, try to numb the pain for a moment….it doesn’t really work… I won’t give up the silver medal if I can help it…

- 11km to go. The silver medal is gone. I’m not running fast enough and I don’t have time…..more than anything, I feel relief. I can stop running for a bit.

- Endless downhills into Durban. I’m walking all of them. My watch battery died, so I don’t know what my time is. Some spectators tell me not to give up, I’m almost there. I want to throttle them. I’m not giving up!! I’m moving forward – that’s the best I can do right now! Try running 89km through those mountains and see if the final 8km is “almost there!” Others are sympathetic – “Good job”, “You’re looking strong”, and “Keep going” is what I get from them. I think they must have raced this before. They know the pain.

- I’m still running all the uphills. It’s all I can do. They are few and far between, so it’s not asking too much of myself….

- 3km to go. Another uphill. I stop at the top, but a few minutes later the crowd gets me going again. They don’t speak English, and they are the poor of Durban, but right now they are cheering for me. Can I run the final 2.5km? I start counting my steps, it’s the only way I can distract myself…

- 1km to go. I’m running in from here. Almost over.

- Into the stadium. If I push, I can crack 8 hours. Good enough. I finish in 7:59 and some seconds.

Shaun finds me after I emerge from the massage tent. Lingainwa and Hlegeiwe (I know I have butchered spelling) are my first two angels – they massaged my battered legs and let me walk again. Shaun’s my real angel though. I hug her and don’t want to let go. I’m done. I finished it. I don’t have to run anymore………………………

Mixed feelings about the race. Sub 8 hours is the top 7% or something like that, and apparently everyone suffers in their first Comrades. I'm proud of my Bill Rowan medal (he won the first over 9 hours).  Then again, I didn’t come here just to cover the distance and walk. I don’t think there is anything shameful about walking the final 10 (or so) km of Comrades, but I’m not taking a lot of pride in it, either. The morning was perfect. Comrades was an experience, but it was far from perfect. I have unfinished business here…

Thank-you so much to Shaun and Jess for coming to Africa, supporting me through this race, and helping me get my bruised body back to the car. Thank-you so much to my family for getting me a beautiful hotel room (with a view of the Indian Ocean!), and a massage for tomorrow. Thank-you so much to everyone who has run with me, provided training and travel suggestions, and just plain allowed me to talk endlessly about this race and this trip. I’m lucky to have so many people behind me on this!

We split a bottle of wine with dinner. Between the sun, and a 3:30am morning, it’s enough to make us all a bit tipsy. It’s just after 10pm, and I’m going to bed (the hotel internet is down, so I won’t post this until tomorrow…). Shaun’s already asleep beside me.

I’ve worked over 7 months for this. Now what?



    Although it was probably the most difficult run you have ever done JL and I KNEW you would do well. Take care and enjoy yourself.

  2. Fantastic work!!!!!
    Don't feel bad about missing some goals you did Awesome.

  3. Congratulations Matt! What a crazy experience! I loved reading the blog (the animals/scenery are so gorgeous) and the Race Day sounds incredible. I can't imagine what your legs must have felt like- way to go for pushing through and cracking 8 hours. Very inspirational!