THE LEGENDARY COMRADES MARATHON
- 21/6/2005 <--Prev : Next-->
Most of Durban's hotels have long gently sloping ramps outside their
foyers leading down to the famous Esplanade. Now I used to think they
were built for folk in wheelchairs or for the porters to push luggage
down to one's car, but now I know they have not been built for either
of these reasons.
Those ramps were built with but one thing in mind ..... so that the
fourteen thousand Comrades Runners can annually propel themselves
gingerly and extremely painfully down the ramps after the Big Race !!
The worlds greatest ultra-marathon, 90 kilometres long, the
Comrades is a South African institution, internationally recognised
for the body-sapping challenge it poses and the camaraderie it
fosters among its thousands of participants.
Run between the capital of the Kwazulu-Natal province,
Pietermaritzburg, and the coastal city of Durban, the race alternates
annually between the up run from Durban and the down run from
The constitution of the race states that one of its primary aims is
to 'celebrate mankinds spirit over adversity'.
It is traditionally run on Youth Day in South Africa, but the city's
community looks anything except youthful on the day after the race. !!
Sandals are the order of the day on the day after Youth day, sandals
and band aids !! And every second person you see is hobbling sideways
down the stairs or heading slowly and excruciatingly for those life
Our Little She Who Must Run ran again this year (most successfully I
might add ) and she has been asked once more to write a little story
on the race for an Australian Sports magazine.
This year she has decided to entitle it "Issues needing Tissues" and
she threatens to answer a lot of the questions that one always wants
to ask but never dares... . questions like "Where and how exactly
does a marathon runner go to the loo"
Fortunately for the tourists and the residents the Sunshine City is
miraculously cleaned up very quickly after race day!
Can you just picture 14 thousand runners each consuming at least
their body weight in liquid which is offered at the 50 water points,
and a lot of the liquid is supplied in those little plastic super-
cool sachets which have become the bane of Africa!
One would think the city would have been buried under tons of those
ghastly little sachets, thousands of banana peels, hundreds of orange
skins and countless energade bottles, as well as the clothing that
the runners discard along the way .... and .... ahem ... there must
be a spot of toilet tissue here and there one would assume !! .....
but no, the Durban City fathers have that city sparkling clean within
24 hours !!
Little She Who Must Run , bronze medal hung nonchalantly round her
neck to show she was one of the sub eleven hour runners, was one of
thousands who made sure she found every available ramp last Friday
after race day.
They tell me that their muscles are actually bleeding subcutaneously
which is why they are so painful !! Now, being a couch potato and
armchair sportsman, I just cannot come to grips with this strange
desire to inflict intense pain on oneself.
The consumption of analgesics applied both internally and externally
in Durban on race day, rises tenfold and analgesic poisoning is
common as some of these intrepid athletes pop pills every few hours
to dull the excruciating pain in their overworked limbs !!
I quote Fred Kockott of the Sunday Tribune
"It could be a war zone, but there's no blood. Stretcher bearers
swarm the place. Drips hang from coarse sisal string. Below them lie
a growing number of the "wounded". Some appear comatose. Others'
faces are contorted in agony. Some try to vomit, but nothing comes out.
Forty-five doctors are on duty, assisted by 25 nurses, 100 stretcher
bearers and assistants and several laboratory technicians. Adjacent
to this makeshift hospital is a hi-tech operations centre.
Here, incident commander Charlton Campbell is co-ordinating emergency
rescue services. Through the Global Positioning System (GPS), the
movement of more than 20 ambulances, life support units and
paramedics on motorbikes, is monitored.
The data captured is translated on to a large map spread across four
tables. Red, blue and green plastic chips are the vehicles out in the
Besides assisting in natural disasters these medical and emergency
rescue operations represent the biggest temporary, peacetime medical
effort in the world.
But unlike disasters, where victims are people caught in the wrong
place at the wrong time - or armed conflicts, where people are
purposefully attacked - these operations cater for people whose
medical complaints and injuries are self-inflicted.
The victims are participants in what is billed the ultimate human
race - South Africa's Comrades Marathon.
Among the 14 000 participants are hundreds who collapse at the end
of, or during the marathon.
What precisely causes some people to collapse, and others not to, is
under investigation in a research laboratory attached to the
Extreme exertion would be the layman's simple answer - bodies are not
meant to sustain damage caused by running 89km non-stop." unquote
But as crazy as they may seem to us of lesser self discipline, you
have to give all these crazy runners the most generous salutations.
To see such amazing zeal, such incredible determination, such
unbelievable tenacity in so many people who pound the pavements on
Race Day for up to 12 hours, after an horrifying training regime of
thousands and thousands of training hours, our hearts go out to them
in the desire to "be the best."
The pain, the passion the profound perfection, they desire to
achieve, watching their agony mile after mile after mile, is a lesson
to us all that excellence can be achieved if you really want it badly
Well done indeed to all Comrades Runners, you were all incredible,
especially My Josie.