Dusi vs Comrades vs Amashova

2011-02-10 00:00

THERE are three ways of getting from Pietermaritzburg to Durban if you have some time on your hands and are seriously fit. You can run Comrades, paddle Dusi or ride Amashova. The healthy South African way of life means the races are all very well supported, helped in no small way by the consistent weather and beautiful surroundings.

What concerns me though is the lack of any serious, heated debate on one critical point: which one of the three is the hardest? I fully understand that competitors themselves are far too exhausted from training to debate this, but one would think that by now the topic would have been punted around the braai a few times.

I thought I might start the ball rolling by dispatching with Amashova: sitting down and freewheeling through half the race hardly counts as an extreme test of endurance — and 100-odd kilometres is barely a warm-up to a serious cyclist. So the contest is really between the runners and the paddlers.

It’s important to be methodical about the evaluation process, to keep things fair, so let’s start with the total time taken. Obviously the longer you are out in the heat the harder it will be. An average Dusi takes 12 hours to cover the 120 km. For Comrades, you are looking at about 11 hours to cover only 89  km — score one for paddling on both time and distance. On the other hand, Comrades happens in a single day — score one for running.

Another factor must be technical skill. If you have to concentrate hard for the entire event, that makes it much more taxing. In Dusi you continually have to choose the right lines between rocks to make sure you don’t fall out of the boat, whereas road running … well let’s just say you can’t fall out of running shoes. Score two for paddling. Then again, Comrades is mentally draining, there is no relief for the monotony of the running — score two for running.

Since it’s two points apiece, let me propose this as a tie-breaker. Runners have light, flowing clothes on them, easy to move and breathe in, and they can stop and stretch whenever they like, but not so with paddling. You start by tying a splash cover around your diaphragm before zipping up a tight life jacket and strapping a drinking bottle to your chest. Then you sit in a narrow boat with your knees up and lean forward so you can hardly breathe. From that insanely uncomfortable position you proceed to paddle 120 km to the sea.

Game over, case closed: Dusi is harder.

That insane sitting position is why a surprise portage through a cricket field came as such a blessed relief during last Sunday’s race. Near Blue Lagoon in Durban the hyacinth has become so thick that you simply can’t paddle a boat through it — it grows 15% per day in hot conditions — so we had to run around it to a clear part of the river further down. We clawed our way up a steep bank to find ourselves on the boundary of a local cricket field where a lively game was in progress.

“Doc, I have to get some water,” I croaked through my parched lips to my ever-fresh paddling partner.

“Fine,” he said. “Put the boat in the shade and don’t take too long.”

It’s compassion like this that makes Dusi such a great race. I left Doc to watch the cricket while I hurried across to the pavilion to chat to the scorers and find a tap.

To understand the rest of this tale, you must remember that Doc was the sports director at a city school, and so it’s very hard for him to watch a cricket match without commenting. Nonetheless, I was a little taken aback upon returning to find him in the middle of the field, the game suspended while he dispensed his wisdom.

“Now, Rashid,” he said kindly. “Never play across the ball — it’s a wild shot and very risky. Yes, I know Herschelle Gibbs does it, but you aren’t Gibbs. Get your feet up to the pitch of the ball, left elbow up …”

I waited patiently for a moment before clearing my throat. Doc looked up briefly then took the ball from the bowler and started showing him where to place his fingers to deliver a seamer. It was only when Doc started to put on pads so he could demonstrate how to face a fast in-swinger that I took action and dragged him off the field and back into the race.

It was a very hot day, and I may be exaggerating slightly, but it goes to show that the only people mad enough to be out in the midday sun are cricketers and paddlers — now that makes you think. I wonder if Comrades is as hard as a Test match?

 

 

• The Dusi Marathon runs from February 17 to February 19. Chris Hornby is writing a weekly update on his training progress and a postmortem of his race.

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