I thought I knew every nook and cranny, every crack in the tar along the 90-kilometre Comrades route. After all, I've run it 30 times, and walked and driven over the route on many more occasions. But last week I discovered I was in for a surprise.
I was being filmed on the Comrades marathon route by a team creating a 3D video of some of the Comrades landmarks in preparation for the Comrades Expo. It was a fascinating experience... and a surprising one. There was so much I had forgotten!
With less than 3 weeks to go before the race, it was a timely reminder as to why it is so important for every Comrades runner to explore the route before they run it - no matter how much of a veteran they are.
For a start, it has been two years since Comrades runners last ran down to Kingsmead in Durban. Even the sharpest minds will have forgotten key points along the way. For example, I had forgotten about the long climb up from Ashburton Village to Umlaas Road. It may come early in the race, but it is made tougher by the fact that you have to squint into the rising sun.
The long slog up the back of Inchanga had concertinaed in my mind. It is over 3 km in length and has two or three deceptive bends that suddenly popped up to remind me why so many Comrades novices are convinced they are running the up run rather than the down journey to Durban.
Likewise, the short-but-nasty steep climb up the N3 off-ramp to Tollgate had somehow escaped my memory. I can’t imagine why, as the last time I tackled the down run Zola Budd and I shuffled up that hill together and used some very choice language to push ourselves to the top.
There are, of course, some runners who prefer to plunge into the unknown. My good friend, Jo, running her first Comrades says she prefers to know nothing; to start blind and tackle each obstacle when confronted. I guess she must be one of those who turn their heads and avert their eyes when the nurse approaches with the hypodermic syringe.
I’m the opposite. I don’t like nasty surprises. I like to know what lies ahead. It is impossible to strategise and 'go to war' without knowing the terrain. This is particularly important with the Comrades, because it is such a long race - so it is best run using landmarks rather than kilometres.
Furthermore, unlike most road races, the Comrades is measured in descending kilometres and can be extremely difficult to calculate as a result. What does 75 kilometres to go mean? Very little, except that there is still an enormous distance to run. I believe it is far better to know that the landmarks of Cato Ridge and Camperdown are now conquered and Inchanga Hill lies ahead.
Each year I have run the Comrades marathon, I have drawn much strength from knowing that I am steadily conquering the famous barriers. However, perhaps the greatest benefit of a course inspection is the state of mind it creates in runners.
Two years ago I guided a party of foreign visitors over the 90-odd kilometres of the down run. As we set off on our journey, they were chattering and laughing, bubbling with excitement like a bunch of children on a school outing. By the time we had driven through hot, sticky Pinetown, they were silent and withdrawn, each seemingly alone with his or her thoughts.
Just driving over the Comrades route is tiring. And then there are the hills. As one tourist explained to me, “We became quiet not because we saw the infamous climbs such as Inchanga, Cowies Hill and 45th Cutting, but because of the dozens of unnamed hills. We couldn’t believe a hill that would be called“Coronary Thrombosis” or “Lactic Acid Heights” if it were part of any other race could possibly have no name.”
I explained to him that a worried, even a frightened, Comrades runner is usually a successful Comrades finisher. Scared runners run cautiously and control their enthusiasm. Going on a Comrades Route Tour tends to knock the bravado out of one and, on the Comrades down run, fortune favours the timid, not the brave.
You can find out more about the Comrades Route Tours I host with Complete Marathons here.
Article adapted from and by courtesy of The Citizen newspaper. Image of Ichanga Hill by Zweli Gwala - http://bit.ly/1ZVYCLO
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THE 1986 COMRADES MARATHON
TACKLING A DOWN RUN
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