The Long Road To Comrades

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Whilst researching some running expeditions I was advised to get in touch with Dave Chamberlain as he was currently running around The World. Dave would be able to give me a bit of advice about long distance running. As I was chatting to Dave he asked if I was free in May and would I fancy running from Cape Town to Comrades? Without really thinking about it or asking what I was getting involved in, I said yes!

Turns out I had signed myself up to something quite ridiculous. We were going to attempt to run 90km a day for 20 days and on the final day compete in the Comrades Ultra Marathon. I was so bloody scared of what I had signed up to do but also intrigued to see how far my body could go. A few people that I told about this trip told me that there was no way that I could do it and asked why I was even bothering to try. This made me think; I know I can do 90km in one go. I have done it before and I know I can probably do it twice, but can I do it 20 times? 

On the 21 May we all assembled in Cape Town. The team consisted of;

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From Left to Right:

Two Box Dave - The initial ring leader that gathered us all together. Despite us having 3 cars for the duration of the trip Dave insisted on only having two shoe boxes tied together with a shoelace to fit his things in; a change of clothes and a toothbrush (I think). 

Alex 'Hey Cow' Tucker - Our resident American who smashed a whole cake, a big cake on his own without even thinking about sharing it with the rest of us. It was an impressive feat!

Koot that rhymes with Boot - Despite getting told how to pronounce his name about 84 times I still couldn't nail it. He made sure we were all ready to rock and roll and on the road by 5am on the first few mornings! Oh and he also had the shortest shorts known to man...even shorter than mine and that is saying something! 

Magic Mike - Mike pretty much sorted us all out and made sure we were headed in the right direction and had somewhere to sleep every night. If it wasn't for him I am sure there would have been many more tears and a few tantrums. He is a little legend!

Roger Dodger - Sheeesh! Quite possibly the coldest man on earth who can run at the speed of a jaguar when he is listening to the Foo Fighters I am not even exaggerating! 

I had never met these guys before and had not only signed up to running across a country with them in 20 days, but also to spending 24hrs a day with them. What could possibly go wrong?

Our support crew consisted of: Nat, Denise and Miriam and a camera crew consisting of Morgan and Rob. These guys were absolutely awesome and no doubt held our little team together with peanut butter sandwiches and show tunes!  They put up with our crazy ultra runner demands and antics and all rather cheerily. 

This was our route. It would see us start in Cape Town and wind our way through the wine farms over insane passes, across the desert through remote farms and finish at the seaside in Durban 20 days later!

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The first 4 days were awesome! The scenery was amazing as we left Cape Town behind us and headed up mountain passes along winding roads, through beautiful vineyards whoose leaves shone red, yellow and brown in the autumn sunshine. The weather (bar day 3) was beautiful and it really felt like we were doing something special.

The continuous pounding of our legs on the road and the long days definitely started to take their toll. Despite the soreness and tiredness I was having a great time on the project.  Highlights from the first few days include:

  1. Having a sneak peak inside Ronnie's Sex Shop. Luckily for us Ronnie also likes an early start and was just opening up as we rolled past at 8am. I don't really drink that much but the thought of doing a shot of tequila for breakfast was somewhat appealing mainly to numb the pain and perhaps add a new dimension to our run! We decided to decline the tequila but carried on with our "little" run.  
  2. Finding Morgs and Rob at the top of a monster pass outside a little cafe. We thought they were just filming us but after a chat we found out that they had ordered the best looking breakfast ever. So Mike and I stole it...it was so delicious I wasn't even a tiny bit sorry! 
  3. On day 2 we had an insane tail wind which would normally be a good thing but it was really tough to run in, that combined with trucks filled with dead chickens whizzing past every 10 minutes. Enough to make anyone go mad. But then we found an ice cream shop and all got ice lollies the trucks and wind faded for a few minutes while we savoured the sugar and E-Numbers! 
  4. Climbing Bain's Kloof Pass; despite climbing for 15km without any respite, this was definitely my favourite hill. As we started to climb, the sun started to set and the view that you got over the valley below is one of the reasons I run. 

And a couple of lowlights;

  1. Day 3 - Rain Day! The day started pretty nicely but as soon as our lunch got rained off we should have known that we were in for a treat. The rain started to drizzle, we went up passes into clouds that would never end and then the winds started to howl. I think this day was so tough because we were not wearing the right clothes and we were tired. Luckily our support team were AMAZING! They brought us dry clothes which we happily got changed into on the side of the road completely oblivious to the fact that cars could see our bums as they drove past. They also brought tea, oh god it was awesome. We all made it to the end in one piece and quickly forgot about the rain as we sat by the fire telling stories of our near death experience (we like being dramatic) and chowing on soup! 
  2. Peeing next to a bee hive. I needed the loo so nipped off to a bush as you do, (unfortunately toilets are a luxury on a project like this). I thought "oh thats a nice box to hold on to"...turns out it was a nice box for bees to make bloody honey in. I tell you what, trying to stop going to the loo, pulling your shorts up and running away from bees that want to sting your bum is quite an experience! 

We all started day 5 together at 5am. It was pitch dark as we wound our way down a farm road but it was so nice to run as a group, chat about random stuff and sing ridiculous war cries.

I could start to feel that my quad didn’t feel right but thought if I could just get to the car at the 20km pit stop then I should be able to ice it, massage it and fingers crossed it would be ok. By the time I got there my leg was in agony. I tried to massage it but this didn’t do much. We got back on the road and as the boys trotted off into the distance I knew that this was going to be a long and painful day. Shortly after starting again, Mike and Rogers friend ‘Jonesie’ who had driven for 16 hrs through the night to come and see us run, pulled along side me and asked if I was ok. This is when the crying began. I cried because he was being nice to me and offered me some paracetamol - I mean, come on Carla, get a grip! I carried on my long walk... Dave hung back to walk with me up until lunchtime and it was nice to have someone to chat to and to distract me from the fact that I couldn't run. I had planned in my head to grab a peanut butter sandwich at lunch and get on the road again, but our wonderful support crew had found a little pizza place for us to have lunch at, queue tears round 2. I wish I could have enjoyed the views of the vineyard glistening in the sunshine, overlooked by the restaurant, but I just couldn’t.  Mike joined me on the road after lunch for a chat and convinced me that my leg had started to swell and that I was probably doing more harm than good. After 59km of thinking and not wanting to make the call I asked the team to come and collect me. I was gutted. This call meant I had not managed to complete the original goal. I always knew that this challenge was going to be tough - but I thought I would make it further than 5 days before I had to admit defeat. I got taken to the accommodation and when I looked down at my quad, I saw that it was double its size. I got a bit of strapping advice from my friend Dave which turned out to be a godsend. The only good thing about having to cut my run (very slow walk) short and finish early is that I could hop into an awesome salt bath. Although as I could hardly move I wasn't too sure on how I was going to get out again...That's when my mothers wonderful advice of 'just float yourself out' came into play. Luckily I didn't have to employ this technique and managed to get out like a semi normal human.

I woke up on day 6 not being able to bend my knee but decided that it was a completely sensible idea to hit the road and attempt to put some km's in. Mike and I headed out at 5am and started to walk. This was a stupid idea because I was broken, it was bloody freezing cold and I was in shorts. Luckily after nearly dying on rain day (day 3) I had put a safety blanket in my bag. I managed to fashion a very fetching silver dress which kept me a teeny tiny bit warm. Mike and I chatted about everything under the sun as we walked for 2hrs 45 mins whilst only covering 11km. Once again the support team had to come and collect us together with warm tea, thank god!

This wouldn't be the end of our injuries. Shin-gate was about to commence. as we all pretty much got a degree of shin splints. My shin was swollen so much that as well as having a Quee (Quad come Knee), I now also had a Cankle (Calf come Ankle) and when I rubbed my finger along it, it would leave an indent in my skin. It was gross. I would also get a shooting pain randomly go up my leg. I had had enough so I went on a hunt to find a physio and to see what damage limitation we could do. Luckily we found Adri Mentz in Graaff-Reinet and she got the fact that resting wasn’t really an option and that we needed to find a way to keep moving. Adri confirmed that I had in fact torn my quad and had shin splints. After some very painful therapy, new strapping techniques, ibuprofen gel and a tens machine I was done. I was going to try everything that I could to get better. For the rest of the project I would use any breaks that I had in the day to stretch, do exercises and massage myself in what I hoped wasn’t a feeble attempt to get better.

Slowly slowly I could build the distance up but then would get knocked back again. The most annoying day was day 11 when I woke up rearing to go but then suddenly had a wave of nausea pass over me. I have no idea what it was from but spent the rest of the day with an upset stomach not being able to eat and wanting to die. Luckily that little bout of being a drama queen only lasted 24 hrs and I could hit the road again on day 12! With 8 days to go until Comrades and my body not really playing the game I decided I would begin to taper. I would start off with 60km on the Sunday and taper down to 10km on the Saturday before Comrades. This seemed completely sensible.

As the week went on and I started to get a bit more rest I decided that come race day my tactic would be to go for Gold and run as hard as I could until I died. This is a racing strategy that I have tried many many times but has yet to work!

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At he start of Comrades, I had somehow managed to get elite seeding. I found this quite hilarious as I am not too sure the rest of the elites were pandering injured, sore and tired legs. After warming up in City Hall and feeling completely intimidated by all the fit looking, super tanned, racing snake girls, we were walked out to the start line. I have done Comrades three times now and that start never disappoints. As the National Anthem and Chariots of Fire played, a wave of adrenaline went through my body and made every little hair stand on end. The gun went and we were off! For some reason I decided that I would not look at my watch and that I would just run as hard as I could. Every single step hurt but I felt strong. After the sun started to rise and spectators began to line the route, I started to get shouted at "you are number 7!'. This completely amazed me! How on earth was I in the top 10? I continued to stick in there and every time it hurt I just said to myself "This is not as painful as day 5, this is not as painful as day 5!". I continued to feel strong and was over the moon when I saw my family and friends along the course. I was also so grateful to my mom and dad for popping up every 15km or so to cheer at me, tell me I was looking good and supply me with energy bars!

80km came and I got over taken by Devon Yanko. She motored passed me and I just couldn't stick with her. It was ok I was still in 8th. I continued to hold on and was over taken by Sarah Bard with 2km to go. I dug as deep as I could to hold onto 9th position, I couldn't run any faster and I was hoping to dear god that there was no-one else closing in on me. Making my way into the stadium I saw the clock for the first time. It read 6:50...I was completely blown away. I had run 33 minutes quicker than the last down run (which was 1km shorter). I got handed a rose, which the top 10 men and women get as the enter the stadium. I crossed the line and I had done it! I have absolutely no idea how but after running 900km in 20 days with a torn quad, shin splints and god knows what else, I had somehow managed to pull this performance out of the bag!

Long road to Comrades was the best, worst, most painful, fun, exhausting and awesome experience that I have ever had. There is something special about pushing your mind and body to new limits with some amazing people and coming out the other side alive! I am happy to say that I have made some very special friends and I am so happy that I got to share the experience with these guys!

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The stats:

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