Walking the Comrades

 

Never say never, and that’s one of the biggest mistakes many Comrades participant make…they say NEVER again!
When Dave Ingram asked me in September 2016 if he should enter me again for the 2017 event, I said yes, I’ll see if I will do it again or I’ll substitute it with someone. In my heart I didn’t feel like another one and did my normal races and training till November. I then took off and didn’t train for 8 weeks over the November, December and January period. I started in all earnest at the end of January and took another 2 weeks break in March 2017 to go to a motorbike rally and took some leave.
This year I decided to cover my W (walker sign) on my vest and to run/walk the Comrades with Dave, who would be walking his 7th Comrades. He is much stronger and faster than me on the uphill’s and the idea was to walk the uphill and fall behind, to get to the top, get my breath back, run or shuffle down to catch him and then continue further till the next hill. Dave also wanted to see if it’s possible to walk Comrades in sub-11 hours. That meant walking 7min 30sec the entire 88 km’s.
I then started in all earnest to do races with my W covered (except league races) and we also tried to do the same races either in AGN or CGA together. This worked out excellent as we got to know one another even better and we could pace each other perfectly. Over the Easter weekend we did 114km’s from the Friday till the Monday and everything worked out perfectly. We started back-to-back races on weekends and we piled up the km’s. Dave started Comrades with over 1400 km’s and I could manage 1044 km’s, despite taking a lot of time off.
The pressure from friends and family and fellow walkers was huge. Tinkie Nel Nortmann even arranged a “Comrades Farewell Braai” for us where she invited some of our walker friends to wish us well. This was highly motivational but added enough pressure on us to perform well.
In the meantime we opted to support a recognised and approved Comrades Charity. If we could donate R5000 to our selected Charity, we would be promoted to seeding batch C to start the race, and not in batch H, the block we qualified in. This would mean at least 8 to 12 minutes quicker over the starting line, as this race is timed by a chip, but its “gun to mat” timing. We were both so grateful that we achieved our goal to start in C batch and would also like to thank each and every person who contributed towards our “upgraded” seeding and Charity.
We all shared a flat in Umdloti and Dave explained and showed my son-in-law Bertus Steyn exactly where to be on race day, how to get there and at what times to expect us. We had a wonderful thick steak late Saturday afternoon and we kept ourselves busy preparing for the following morning…
Race day started officially after a night of tossing around in bed at 03:10. We all got ready in our own special way, ate our special foods, drank our favourite supplements and used our different lubrication abundantly, and of we went to Durban.
The drop-off was nice with an “I love you dad” to send me off. The vibe around the starting area was very pleasant and full of laughing and cheerful people. The announcer gave statistics and information in three languages and in the warm Durban morning it was a sea of colours.
I cannot remember the start from 2016, all I can remember from last year was clinging to Dave’s shirt not to lose him till well after the starting line. This year was a complete different story. I really got emotional when we sang “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” and the tears were streaming down my cheeks when they played “Chariots of Fire”. Fortunately Dave and Liz Ingram didn’t look at my outburst of emotions, but then I also realised that I was more than prepared for the task at hand, this year was different!
Starting from batch C was definitely better than starting at the back. There was far less congestion and we could reach our 7min 30sec per km within the first 3 km’s. It definitely makes a difference. Dave and myself immediately organised ourselves in Navy and Air Force terms “line abreast” (next to each other) from the 2nd km. Make no mistake, the uphill race starts to be an uphill race from the 3rd km, and that’s only the beginning.
The two of us managed a very good sub 7min 30sec average through the Berea area, up Cowies Hill, through Pinetown and also up Fields Hill. Just after Winston Park (32km’s) we got a refreshment or two from my daughter Jakolien Steyn and Bertus, my son-in-law. Last year they did not second us and it was really nice to see those two faces, and again the goodbye with a “love you dad”! And off we went…
Botha’s Hill was tough, but we were tougher and we conquered that little hill with confidence, sticking to our target of sub-7min 30sec per km. After Botha’s Hill we relished on the nice “downward” trend of the route to Drummond. All chirpy we went through another cut off point and we were at 7min and 26sec per km. This is easy, I’m sweating, it’s extremely hot, but why was I so scared at the up race?
After Drummond we started to climb, and climb, and climb. As planned Dave started disappearing in the distance and I tried to stay as close as possible to him that I could, knowing that I will shuffle him in on the next downhill. Next downhill, did I just say that? What downhill? We were on the infamous INCHANGA!!! Inchanga is a monster, Inchanga weakens you and Inchanga drains you! This hill is at about 45km’s and is 6km long and climbs 150 meters from bottom to top. It’s also daunting because it’s one of the few climbs where you can see it snaking up into the distance. Reaching the summit was a relief. It’s been one of the worst hills I’ve ever encountered and I immediately looked at watch and saw that we dropped on one hill to 7min 36sec per km. I was hot, I was tired, I was short of breath and we had to make up time, 6sec per km, to be back on track for an 11 hour Comrades. Not to waste time, I got my breath back and immediately gave chase to Dave on the downhill. I caught him after approximately 2 or 3 km’s, and after telling him in no uncertain soldier language what I thought of INCHANGA, we carried on towards Harrison Flats.
After a km or two Dave turned to me and said “we’re not going to make 11 hours, let’s be realistic, relax and let us enjoy the race”. From that moment my whole race changed. I was so caught up in trying to get some extra speed and energy to average 7min 30sec for the race that I forgot to enjoy the race, the atmosphere and beautiful scenery.
We carried on through Harrison flat and Cato Ridge, still trying to keep the speed up, but the pressure was less. We could enjoy the “Ultimate Human Race” fully. It was not a matter of survival and life or death to stick to a certain speed, it was about Dave walking his 7th Comrades and about me obtaining my “back-to-back” medal. At 60km we again got my daughter and son-in-law and we also informed them of our decision not to push for 11 hours anymore.
The rest of the Comrades was incident free as we passed Camperdown and reached the highest point of Comrades, Umlaas Road. Both of us was so well prepared that Little Pollys and Polly Shorts was not as expected. Everybody was chirpy and a lot of the athletes was worried if they would make the cut off at the end. The atmosphere intensified and everyone wanted to cross the finish line successfully.
Just after Polly Shorts (the route changed) there was a steep downhill and directly after that another unexpected significant uphill. This caused some serious complaints and chirps from the athletes, and us two walkers was quite bemused by their reactions. Then Dave decided to pick up the pace. We walked the last 5 km’s at around 7min per km, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Entering the finish area was a blast. The crowds was cheering and we knew we had the race in the pocket. We knew we were in time and we just relished and savoured the atmosphere that awaited us. We crossed the line in 11 hours and 48 minutes; we completed our Comrades 2017 successfully.
I must admit. I felt and looked much better this year than last year. Besides a severe blister on the right foot I was fine the next day. My muscles in my legs were tender, but not sore at all.
For any walker that would like to WALK the Comrades, I strongly recommend talking to Dave Ingram. His got the experience and know how to get you through those gruelling 88 km’s, the biggest Challenge is surely NOT the Comrades itself, it’s the qualifying that’s extremely difficult as a walker and the 1000 odd km’s of walking preparation for the race itself.
Till next year, maybe there will be more crazy walkers on the Comrades.