The Bucket List Chronicles > Run the Comrades

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I still remember my dad waking me up with strong coffee (back in the day when kids were still allowed to drink coffee) in the middle of winter so we could watch the start of the Comrades Marathon.  The double-element heater seethed its dry air across the Novilon floors as we listened to the goose bump-inducing Chariots of Fire shrieking through the dark Durban morning. Cookedoodledoo! And Bam, they’re off.

South Africans have and always will watch the Comrades (unlike Lions rugby matches, the Miss South Africa pageant and the Wimbledon ladies’ final, which all seemed to have faded, like with our power supply).  The reason is because people who run 88,7km without being chased are patently crazy.  And that is why many of us secretly want to add it – as an outside contender – to our bucket list.  Alas, this is where it mostly stays: on the back burner.  Unless you are lucky enough to be dared to do it.

That’s exactly what happened to me. One night after a big braai with pepper-infused fillet, seven types of starch and brandy and Coke a slightly overweight friend said to me that he hates running, but needs to do something to shed some weight.  
“Let’s do the Comrades!” he exclaimed excitedly after an alcohol-induced moment of clarity.
“Okay,” I said, not a pinnacle of sobriety myself.

So we started training.  I had a pair of old Nikes and Polly Shorts from my varsity days.  My friend went and kitted himself out like a kugel at the July Handicap: shoes, socks (marked ‘L’ and ‘R’ for each specific foot) ski pants, shorts and dri-something-sweat-absorbing shirts and a GPS watch to track his exercise regime.  I knew some runners, so we just joined them on their morning run on the hills of Constantia Kloof.  My friend lasted two days before he gave up, but I was determined to do it.  And that was where my Comrades journey started.

The cool thing about running is that basically anybody can do it – even old Lumpy, your fat friend from school who didn’t do any sport and couldn’t catch a tennis ball with a laundry basket.  (You’ll probably see Lumpy trudging up Polly’s on your first go.) Some people are natural runners, but most of us just want to finish within the allowed 12 hours. 

It’s a cheap sport too.  All you really need is shoes.  It is a good idea to invest in good shoes.  And go to a noted running shop to buy it.  They look at the way your feet hit the tar and will give you the right shoe for your specific running style.  For a start, stick to a shoe manufacturer that specialises in running, not someone that specialises in making you look good.

Make an effort to join a running club.  The reasons to do this are endless.  You receive moral support, you have experienced runners to help you with burning questions and you have someone to run with in the mornings at sparrow’s. 

Preparation for the Comrades is quite easy.  You should probably start running in September the year before Comrades.  If you are naturally talented, October may also be sufficient.  Start by running two or three kilometres and then build up to at least 8km three times a week.  Over weekends you should do either a race or a long run (20km or so).  You build up from 10km, to 20, 30 and finally to 42km (a full marathon) when you will have to qualify for the Comrades. 

Race day is the best, where the excitement is so real you forget about the huge task that lies ahead.  The first 30km you run on pure euphoria, the next 30 is fine because you trained a lot and the last 30 is mental toughness, which you build up as you grow as a runner.  Without wanting to sound like a clichéd wuss, the camaraderie is unbelievable.  Running a race is what the world should be – people from every walk of life, levelled on the unassuming tarmac – joking, laughing, helping, sweating and crying together in utopic, symbiotic perfection. 

Running the Comrades is easy if you train enough and have the ability to stick to it.  You get to tick a box on the bucket list, shed some kilos (usually without changing your diet) and make a bunch of friends.  So, whether it is the up or down run, you will be fulfilled.  There’s nothing like running past the kids from Ethembeni School for Handicapped Children, feeling so sorry for yourself, when a boy in a wheelchair punches the air when you run past.  Or when a girl with one leg clanks her wooden crutches together in a clapping motion shouting your name. 

You just have to do it.

I dare you.