And so it begins…my road to Comrades 2018
The Comrades Marathon has captured the imagination of the world and inspired hundreds of thousands of runners to attempt the 90km run
Durban to Pietermaritzburg (the up run) or from Pietermaritzburg to Durban (the down run). In 1981, at the age of 13, I remember watching Bruce Fordyce win the first of his 9 Comrades Marathon’s, unbeknown to me or anyone at that stage, that he would go on to win another 8 and dominate the race like no one else ever would again.
At that time in my life, I had taken a very keen interest in rugby as a result of the 1980 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa. I ate boxes and boxes of Weetbix so that I could collect the images of the players from both the Lions and Springbok teams and paste them in an album that you had to order through the post, wait four weeks for delivery and then start collecting, pasting and trading the player’s images. Eventually in 1981, shortly after the Springboks rugby tour to New Zealand, I started imagining that I too could play rugby and emulate the way my rugby hero of all time, Ray Mordt, played.
Miraculously, as I reached high-school I was able to finally train with my classmates and eventually made it to one of the junior teams. Unfortunately, my talent and skill did not match my passion and the keen interest in the game and despite making it to the Craven week trials and five years of club rugby, post-matric, I realised that I did not have what it takes to become a national rugby player. I finally hung up my boots in 1990 at the age of 22.
The fitness bug had bitten however and despite not making the grade as a top class rugby player I still wanted to stay fit and exercise. I dabbled in weight training at the gym and even ventured out onto the road, in what was then a very awkward shuffle, always reminded by the cautionary voice in my head that I would not be able to run far as a result of my club feet at birth and the impact it would have on my hips, knees and ankles if I even attempted running long distances.
I literally threw caution to the wind and just started running. Slowly at first, expecting to hear the bones in my legs and feet cracking and snapping and me falling into the dust or onto the tar, struggling to get up. A few weeks into my new running fad, with nothing breaking or snapping I started increasing the distances and the regularity with which I would venture out onto the road and slowly but surely I got fitter and stronger. I was now running 3 to 4 times a week and managing between 40 and 60 kilometres every 7 days. I was addicted to the high and could not wait to finish work and go for a run. I even managed to convince friends to take me 20-30 kilometres out of town, drop me off and I would then run back, racing against the setting sun so that I could make it back home before dark. It made me happy whenever I ran and when I realised that my temporary deformity as a child and my heart condition of 10 years before was now nothing more than a very distant memory, I joined a running club, entered races and started collecting finishers’ medals.
My biggest achievements to date from a running perspective all occurred in my mid-twenties. Within the space of 3 years, I had run my fastest 10-kilometre race, 38 minutes, my fastest half-marathon, 90 minutes as well as complete 4 standard marathons and 1 ultra, the City-to-City ultra, from Johannesburg to Pretoria.
The allure of the Comrades was growing stronger each year and as my confidence in my running abilities grew, I knew that I would have to one day, lace up, face my demons and defeat the psychological mind games that the prospect of completing the Comrades Marathon would surely overshadow everything else.