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 Pietermaritzburg.

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 saving ramps.

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 field.

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 makeshift hospital.

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 enough.

Well done indeed to all Comrades Runners, you were all incredible, especially My Josie.