Comrades 2013 Up Run - Saving Private Ryan

Keeto summed it up nicely when he provided his impression of Comrades 2013: "It was like Saving Private Ryan out there."

The day after the Comrades, I woke at 3am with jagged steel gnawing at my legs with the thought that I was still at the bottom of Inchanga. The strains of Vangelis plagued my dreams. I gingerly swung my legs out of the bed and hobbled to the kitchen for a drink of water. My mouth was still full of Berg Wind and cotton wool. The water evaporated before it reached my throat. Once Comrades gets its teeth into you, it never lets go.

One day before the Race
Saturday was a flurry of work and a blur of thank you wishes and email exchanges. Comrades runs deep in the veins of South Africans, and friends and family entwine their emotions with your endeavours to ensure you have complete and unwavering support in completing the Durban to Pietermaritzburg Up Run.

One of the guys we run with at Bedfordview, Andy who stems from Germany and was famous for wearing his pink Dirty Dancing shorts at the club's Christmas pub run, sent me a text on Saturday afternoon to see if we were enjoying our Zombie movie. I had told him about our tradition of catching up on a Zombie movie series in the lead up to the race and texted "Zombie movies are a lot like Comrades towards the end [smiley face]". As I pressed send I felt bad. Andy was a novice doing his first Comrades so there's no need to feed the snake pit of nerves and anxiety. I worried that Andy had this image in his head while the clock counted down to the twelve-hour cut off. The first I'd see of Andy on race day was him running for the finish line making it with five and a half minutes to spare before the gun went off. He left a plow mark down the field. The picture of the man curled up in a fetal position at the bottom of this post is Andy. He took it to the limit. What a legend. 
Andy in the fetal
Race Morning
At 3.15am, Alby smeared Vaseline under his arms, all over his feet and between his undercarriage to avoid any blisters or hotspots. You don't want those areas festering while you run 87 kilometres. He also smeared Vaseline on his eyebrows to avoid sweat dripping into the eyes. An old school and trusted approach to prepare for the day. It was then that a most interesting conversation transpired.
Rob:- Pass me the vaz please.
Alby:- Sure. Here you go.
Rob:- I hope you haven't been double dipping?
Alby:- What's that?
Rob:- it's when you keep dipping into the Vaseline jar with the same hand for all your body parts. It's pretty gross.
Alb:- Are you joking. I used the same smear of vaz for my nuts as I did for my eyebrows.
You can choose friends and all that.

Me, Keeto, Alby, Luis and Stef (The Manager)
Batch D

Luis, Alby and I started off together. Alby was off to claim his Green Number confirming his 10th consecutive Comrades run. Luis and I were there as chaperones. Keeto wasn't certain if his legs would get him to the finish. Thoughts of blood and udders still nagged at him from the 2011 up run when he completed it alongside the brothers dressed as a woolly cow. He decided he'd go solo and if his ITB didn't hold, he'd bail once the pain became unbearable.
First Watering Point - Cowies Hill
And then it begins. The day of all days. Newly weds have the feeling when the bride walks down the aisle. Kids experience it on Christmas morning. Addicts sense it before the next fix. Comrades runners feel it the moment the cock crows. It's an experience to be savoured. If you're diligent and lucky, it's the strongest you'll feel all year.

The first time I knew something was amiss was after we had picked up Kimon in our group and I noticed Alby was sweating. Heavily. I checked my forehead. It was dripping. And we had still to reach the first hill. The pace was good, which in Comrades terms and with the benefit of hindsight, usually means it's too fast. Run 20 minutes, walk 2 minutes - the whole way. It was a plan. A fairly cautious one. But little did we know the toll that the early heat would take on the runners. Some nameless hill just after Fields Hill (#2 of the Big Five) took its first victim and reduced Alby to a walk. One minute we were running easy. The next minute Alb walked, against his will.

We told Luis and Kimon to continue without us so we could regroup. (Kimon would go on to finish in an impressive 9.59). We opted for the run 5 mins, walk 2 mins approach. Alb's breathing didn't allow him to manage even that. He was out of breath and suffering. We didn't say much to each other, because what is there to say to your brother when you know he is in a world of hurt and there is still 60 kilometres to run? Words wouldn't help. Just little baby steps. Walk until you feel human. Then run a little. Pretend you're not suffering. Then walk. Drink something. Then repeat. And by God, no matter what they throw at you, never give in!

I'll give Alby this much - for someone who struggled with injury and fitness in his training and who was relying predominantly on the fumes of muscle memory, he is a tough son of a b*tch (sorry mom!). I don't think many could have endured what he went through for the rest of the day with his resemblance of form that was akin to running. Maybe he was buoyed by the continuous encouragement from the old school runners, attracted by his yellow number, reminding him that his Green number was waiting for him at the finish line. 

About 20 kilometres later, after lots of walk breaks and some downhill running of which there was little, we encountered Luis coming back to us from Inchanga's crest. Luis was swerving and the same affliction which had befallen Alby had eventually reached Luis. When you're in a dark fuzzy place of pain and suffering, you have to fight with all your might to prevent yourself from falling over and lying down in a ditch. Luis was fighting the urge and joined us until his body could hold no more. He let us go at Harrison Flats. Things were getting tough. Luis would persevere to a 10.38.
Alby at this stage had come back from the dead, and his legs were sputtering along. For a while at least, until the cramps clamped onto his hamstrings. Big old bad boys sunk their teeth in there, and Alby groaned and sucked in air until they released their hold. The picture below is taken with about 5k's to the finish. Note how Alby is still clasping his hammies.
Richard, Alb and me saying howsit to Sean Falconer, commentator extraordinaire from Modern Athlete

It was after a a brief stop at a watering table and a quick flute-glass of champers for Alby and a G&T for myself, that Keeto found us. He  looked so good, for a moment I thought someone had given him a lift to the 60k mark. Keeto was a boost of energy for Alby and I. He is pretty much indestructible. We yo-yo'd with Keeto until he waited for us on the good side of Polly Shortts to bring us home in 10.20. Below is, to me, one of the best pics ever. Keeto running to his wife, Tammy, with Alb and me in tow. I certainly didn't think Keeto would finish. The emotions brim.

True Happiness
As we crossed the line, a Green Number club marshall elbowed Keeto and me out of the way and said to Alby: "No more queues for you!" as he escorted him to the Green Number tent to have a picture with Clive Crawley, holder of 42 Comrades medals. It wasn't the disdain shown to us by the marshall that cut the deepest, but rather the swiftness that Alby embraced his new clan with a total disregard for the sacrifices and fellowship of his running comrades.

Richard, pictured above between the Riccardi sandwich, finished the run with 15 minutes to cut-off dressed in a woolly Cow suit with a top hat. Rich and I have agreed that I'll be his biographer the moment he is ready to release his memoirs. He's a great friend and one of the most selfless people you'll ever meet. During his run, Richard found a runner lying on the side of the road - semi unconscious and speaking dribble. Most runners were in Everest survival mode and didn't have the strength to do anything about their fallen comrade. Richard spent the next 18 minutes phoning for help and didn't leave the runner's side until assistance had arrived. All this whilst dressed as a cow.   
Alby's  Big Bite
Alby trying to put back on the weight he lost at Comrades in one sitting. Alas he was unsuccessful.

I'm putting my legs up for a bit and having some mandatory down time. A dose of mojo replenishment is in order.

Back to the drawing board,