Comrades Marathon 2008 - Jenni White
Race Date: June 15th Results: 2008
The week, while heading to the Melbourne Running Festival, I found myself sitting on the Melbourne skybus with Richard Russell -who has run 24 Comrades. I re “caught” the love for Comrades and I would love to go back in 2013- however running Comrades the once seemed to bring on a cascade of injuries over the last few years.
But I would love to re-share my Comrades Report with you!
It was such an amazing time away. It started with my arrival in Nelspruit and I was so excited to see Andre after all these months knowing we were both training for Comrades in different countries! We headed straight to Kruegar National Park and had an incredible day of animal sightings.
We then spent a few days in Nelspruit which I found to be a really lovely town in such a picturesque setting. It was great to see and hear all the things Andre talks about when he refers to his old life there. We caught up with his friends most nights - all exceptional runners who have run great Comrades many times. I found it to be very inspiring and it gave me helpful perspective as June 15 dawned closer. Everyone was so incredibly kind and encouraging and enthusiastic about Comrades.
We had a long day of driving to Durban and I have decided that part of Andre’s Comrades preparation is to snack on huge quantities of biltong. We arrived in Durban and went straight to Comrades expo. It was after buying much Comrades clothing memorabilia that I realised I really had to finish Comrades if I was to feel legitimate in wearing my purchases. Andre spent time ready the history of each decade of Comrades whereas I found that section of the expo somewhat stressful -I went into denial for the time being rather than confronting the reality of other people's experiences?.
We stayed with Andre’s Uni friend, Adrian, in the days leading up to Comrades and just hung around Durban. It was a bizarre experience to have so many "empty" days in a lead up to an event and it was great to be with 2 wonderful people. One night we had dinner with Adrian’s running friend, Brian, and his family which was really nice. Plus Brian was “C” seeded as well so I was soooooooooo grateful to meet someone else in C seeding.
For those of you who are aware of the pre-race stress I can get myself into…I am pleased to say I was amazingly relaxed and slept incredibly well! I think even Andre would agree. I did want this race to happen and had done so much training towards it. In fact I slept so well I even slept-in only giving myself half an hour to get ready! I was way to nervous to eat so all my good intentions went out the window….but Andre had got me onto a carb loading drink you start 3 days out so I didn't feel too worried. John Siede endured my last minute panicky SMS and helped re-assure me re nutrition.
We got a lift to the start with Brian’s family in their combi-van which made the morning very stress-free. We were there by about 4:30am and had a hour or so to wait till the start. I shed a few tears when I had to say good-bye to Andre and Adrian but was so thankful to be with Brian who was a lovely, level-headed guy. He was a calming influence for me although I must say that at one point I thought I was going to vomit with fear -but was able to pull myself together.
They play the top ten international anthems before the SA anthem, before singing Shosholoza which was incredibly moving as people were singing and dancing, then the cock crows and the gun fires and you are off!!! I stuck with Brian to begin with and he didn't seem to mind.... he was such a gentleman and looked out for me and helped navigate us through the crowds, especially as numerous people were tripping over cat-eyes- this was in a section of the highway where none of the street lights were on!!!!. At one point there was a big pile-up in front of me and Brian warned with such gusto that I grabbed his arm for support. We heard a beep and I was so worried that I had turned his stop watch OFF amidst all the activity. I finally plucked up the courage to ask if everything was alright but it was so dark he couldn't see it - thankfully I had actually locked his watch rather than turned it off!!!!
We continued on and I made sure I wasn't running under 5:10 -20 pace but even then at one point Brian told me to slow down - I figured that since he was aiming for a silver medal he knew what he was doing….so I continued to stay close to him until he upped his pace. His advice was to pay particular respect to the first 30km and the last 30kms so I remembered that.
I must the say the first half was very enjoyable and went so fast. I was counting down time and kms before drinks and GU’s and found a really comfortable rhythm for running up the hills -I didn't find them gruelling at all. Although I did run on the left hand side of the road to avoid the sun and I wonder if this was to contribute to the right Achilles injury that kicked in early on. But it was exciting to get to half way and I was mindful so many people back home would be keen to see me make that milestone. I was slower than I had hoped but at that stage was still within Bill Rowan Medal reach.
I felt I hit a slump at half way and my count-down to “51km seemed endless. It was more memorable to me when I noted that I still had a marathon to run, rather than reaching half-way. Although I was frustrated I couldn't lift my pace more and run like it was the start of a marathon….and then Harrison Flats were pretty uninspiring and it was getting hot! But I just kept plugging away.
Adrian had told me to remember that at 30km to go everyone is hurting. And I must say that the last 30km is a blur asides from feeling abit tired, hot, at times faint and wishing that I could run faster! I was amazed at the copious amounts of salt I was washing off myself and was imaging how sunburnt I must be getting. So I decided to imagine my 60km training run when I had 30km to go and Ethan Clark was running with me. I tried to imagine that Ethan was actually running alongside me for motivation but I didn't improve much. I had a little chat to Ethan saying "You aren't helping me here Ethan!!!” So I changed tactics and I would just aim to run towards a tree or something in the distance with the view to never stop running!!! I remembered that Andre’s friend Mike had said it was important not to panic. So although I knew I was sliding off pace I just kept chugging at the pace that I felt I could sustain to the finish.
The 9 hour-bus caught me a 20km to go and sounded like a herd of elephants coming from behind -though it took me awhile to work out what was going on, I was so vague. As they went past I asked some-one if they were the 9 Hour Bus as the guy I had seen at the start with the 9 Hour flag was no-where to be seen! I tried to stay with them but I knew I was starting to fade and kept feeling faint-especially when I slowed to a walk at any stage - so I decided walking wasn't a good idea. I wasn't sure quite how to handle that so I just made sure that I took a sip of something sweet at each drink station but was scared of drinking toooooo much. I’d had most of my GU as planned but couldn’t stomach anymore after 5 or 6 hours- so was glad I had carried extra vegemite sandwiches. In the last 8km I even tried a potato!
People were friendly the whole way and would welcome me to the country. A few guys ran past me in the last 30kms and said I was still a Bill Rowan chance but I wasn't so confident by this stage. I had been conscious for awhile that my right Achilles was hurting and was making me so slow running down-hill. I was concerned I didn’t do anything that meant I didn't finish. I got abit upset every time I saw a down-hill as so many people would pass me. But I would make up ground again on the uphills. Trying to work out which was Small Pollys Shorts and then BIG Polly Shorts was harder than anticipated. I kept asking people but they either didn't speak English or didn't know!!! Finally, BIG Polly Shorts became obvious - I was the only one running it at the time it seemed and some-one said “That just isn't fair Jennifer!” I made sure I had short, regular walks so as not to totally blow-up. As I got closer to the top I saw a spectator running down hill with a beer-in-hand. I asked how much longer it was to the top of the hill was and he looked at me with such compassion I wont ever forget it...he turned and ran with me for a few metres and said “Sweetheart, I could say it was around the corner but I would by lying!” As I ran past the photographers before the top of Polly Shorts a runner was handed a beer and the all the photographers started saying he was so close to the end and not to start drinking yet. Actually, I remember the photographers giving encouragement and advice to lots of people along the way.
It was great to get to the timing mat at the top of Polly Shorts...I was telling you all in my head that I knew I was slowing down but I had made it to the top of Pollys and that I was determined to finish! But those last 8km just seemed endless. I found it the hardest part of the run. At one point a group of women called out “You are doing great baby-doll” and I just burst into tears. Then they got upset because they had upset me and ran after me saying “We made you cry, please don’t cry!” Actually I shed lots of brief tears, due to fatigue, in those last 8kms -especially if people were nice to me and called my Sweetheart and the like!
I quickly learned that when people said you have 2km to go or 3km to go they were a good 1/2km WRONG!!!! I had calculated the "5km to go" drink station wrongly as it WASN'T "4km to go" as I had thought it would be...that was devastating. But I finally arrived at the Flora Mile thought that seemed endless in itself as I couldn’t work out how long a mile was- since I lose my mathematics skills when tired or stressed. I kept focussed on looking for the stadium and finally I was there. There weren't many people running around me so I felt I had the stadium to myself. I remembered that Andre had said that a lot of people cramp when they hit the grass on the stadium so I concentrated really hard to maintain my form. By this stage I knew I wouldn't run sub 9 hours, let alone my adjusted goal of under 9:15 so I was just aiming for under 9:30! I remembered Craig Cassidy saying to enjoy the finish so by now this was my main goal! I then heard Adrian’s running group cheer loudly for me on my right and then I saw Andre on the left along the fence looking so happy and screaming and cheering for me which made me so excited I decided to make the finish my personal Olympic glory!!!!...and smiled all the way home!! I felt all the cameras where on me which was kind of fun!!!
It was such a relief to finish and see Andre and hear he had got his sliver medal and green number. He was so happy and I was so relieved for him after gaining such an understanding of how tough Comrades is!!! I had passes to the international tent for food and drink which was good timing as I nearly fainted at that point. After we ate and I revived…we headed off to find Adrian. By then my right leg had seized up and I could hardly bend it so I limped slowly behind Andre to meet up with Adrian.
It was an amazing day….the last half is somewhat of a blur but there were some memorable moments along the way -especially everyone welcoming me to SA and encouraging me. Near the Boys College I came across a guy dressed in drag. When he saw I was a fellow red-head he exclaimed “well heeeeeeeeeeelloooooooooooo there!” He proceeded to ran with me for awhile and it gave me a real giggle. At one point I was asked if was Jennifer Anniston which I decided was an immense compliment. At another point I heard some guys along the side of the road notice me and start talking about my chest amongst themselves saying "Silicone, yep those are silicone for sure!!!” That made me laugh as that was the last thing on my mind!!!! I thought to myself "You will never know?" At another point a huge, fat black women ran out infront of me to block my path. It totally threw me and I had know idea what she was doing. She jumped out of the way at the last minute but clung to my side and ran with me. She seemed totally drunk to me and it totally freaked me out but also made me realise how slow I was running as she stayed with me for longer than I would have hoped!!!! The media station at the top of Poly was pretty amazing!
It was perfect to have the drive back to Durban with just Andre and Adrian in order to hear them debrief about theirs runs. Back at home and after a long bath I thoroughly enjoyed the champagne which Andre had waiting for me all week. Plus no sun-burn, no chaffing, no toilet crisis before or during the race (some of you know my fear of toilet crisis) and only one small blister!
It was so great to get SMS messages from everyone and hear that everyone had got such joy from following us. I have gained such a heightened respect for Andre. While I always knew he was a talented runner, the experience of completing Comrades for myself made me appreciate how amazing his running times are! I wondered how he was going at various times along the way but I was nervous to think for too long as it seemed incredible that he would have to be so far ahead of me to run what was required for a sliver medal.
It found it really sad to leave Andre and Adrian and fly to Livingstone on Tues after such an amazing experience together….but there was more adventures to be had. I don't think my body had recovered from Comrades so white water rafting turned out to be very dramatic. Early into the trip it was too unsafe to raft one section so we had to get out and climb a section…more like scale cliffs! This was painful and tricky on my sore Achilles. We then had to swim part of the river and from them on I started to feel unbelievably cold. My body couldn’t warm itself and I shook uncontrollably and my teeth hammered in my head, not just chattered. I was so uncomfortable and got more and more distressed with fear I might fall out into the cold water with each rapid. Our guide finally noticed and asked if I was Ok and I just said “I am sooooooo cold.” There was a Dr on our boat who was worried about me as the conditions weren’t that cold for the symptoms of was showing…our guide forced all the boats to a stop and they striped me of my wet clothes and all the guides donated their rash shirts for me to wear. They were local guys and maybe not the most hygienic as those shirts absolutely stank. I didn't know what was worse - the cold or the smell. But I warmed up a little.
The next day I joined the camping safari. We started with more great animal viewing in Chobe before heading into the Okavango Delta. By this stage I had chest infection but it was when I took one mouthful of meal in the Delta, that I knew I was in trouble - and wasn't surprised to develop bad gastro! That first night at the Delta we arrived back from a walk to find a herd of elephants in our camp. That was exciting until a mother came in with her baby and made herself know by charging us….that was absolutely terrifying! I will never forget the image of her backing up and flapping her ears before charging towards us!!! We had been advised to stay completely still but I was so spooked that I quietly aligned myself next to a guy who was the size of a Grid-Iron player. That night I hardly slept a wink what with all the elephant and hippo activity. I was so sure we’d be trampled to death in our tents. I woke up to hear from our local guide that the noises were also lions hunting buffalos around our camp! Needless to say my fear of needing to go to the toilet at night was only intensified! Then the next afternoon we were taken into a hippo-pond only to have the hippos block our exit. It was getting dark which means that hippos come out to eat…so we needed to get out of there ASAP. At one point the hippos went under water and that was when we high-tailed I it out of there in our canoes. I also found that terrifying - give my snakes any day!
I can only encourage you all to run the Comrades – maybe in 2013!