After 21 years, Comrades fever strikes again

2009-10-31 00:00

IT’S been 21 years, and now I’ve gone and done it again. At least, I’ve signed up to do it, so it still remains to be seen if this half-century-old lump of flagging flesh is able to put in the miles to tackle the Comrades again.

For years the Comrades has been a been-there-done-that kind of a thing. And before that it was a never-in-a-million-years kind of a thing; a ritual of self-flagellation performed in the Last Outpost to prove a point nobody knew had to be made.

Even so, every year I follow the race avidly. I find the winners awesome, and even the laggards look graceful.

Last year I found myself in Cape Town on Comrades day staying with friends who didn’t have a TV. I trawled through hotels and sports bars from dawn till I found a restaurant willing to switch from whatever channel was playing re-runs for absent soccer fans.

But contemplating a down run to complement my up run was never on the cards.

I blame my wife. No, really. She’ll blame her sister-in-law, who persuaded her a year or two ago to start running. Shuffling, actually, but that’s a good way to drag old bones around.

Trouble is she likes company when she runs, and someone to run interference when muggers leap out of the bush.

So, notwithstanding fragile knees and a weak will, I dutifully plodded along in the spirit of connubial comradeship.

And look at me now. Of all sports, running has always been my first love, unrequited for all these years because I thought I’d permanently crocked my legs through youthful over-exuberance and — yes, from running the Comrades. Back in the day every run was a time-trial, and every comeback from injury, unsurprisingly, was derailed through further injury.

Age has taught me a couple of things. Three in fact: listen to your physio, listen to your wife, and it’s not a sin to take it easy on the road. The physio gave me the exercises to strengthen the muscles to hold the knees. The wife gave me the excuse to follow a programme that starts with more walking than running — in a previous life I would have thought it a poor excuse for exercise. And taking it easy is something I came to enjoy all by myself.

Where a run used to be a field of conquest, it’s now a gift to savour, a joy simply to be able to do. As a bonus, an activity whose essence was the solitary, indulgent thrill of being out alone against myself, has now led to the discovery of running with a club. Doing it in a group is just so much easier. Why did it take so long to figure out?

The result of all this is that I’m 10 kilograms lighter, I’ve run a season of cross-country, a couple of half-marathons and dizzyingly long training runs of 30 kays and more. And all with my wife, whose legs I’ve got to tell you are looking great. She’s one up on me though, having notched up a marathon this year.

So now I’ve got to go and find me a qualifier.

Entries for the first phase of the 2010 Comrades Marathon closed on Tuesday after the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) received its 15 000th entry.

Anyone who has run the race before will no longer be able to enter next year’s event, although runners who posted their entry form, and it is post-marked by the Post Office, by close of business on Tuesday, will still be accepted.

The CMA will release the official entry figure once these entries have been received and captured.

Entries opened for novices on Sunday and will either close on November 30 or when 5 000 entries have been received.

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