A Comrades number adds value to life and shows grit

2014-05-27 00:00

THE Comrades Marathon has been part of South Africa’s sporting heritage since 1921, when a group of 35 hopefuls took on the journey from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

No one paid too much attention to them, there was no time limit, people wondered if anyone would complete the journey and it was seen as a once-off event, with no guarantee it would return the following year, let alone still be going strong nearly 100 years later.

Organiser Vic Clapham was given one pound toward the event and, in those early years, Clapham’s son Eric was up by 4.30 am, cycling around Pietermaritzburg waking the local runners, who had to sign a notebook to prove they had been wakened for what lay ahead.

Roads were gravel, there was obviously no seconding and runners would quench their thirst at any tap sighted along the way. There were water crossings along the route and of course, there were no state of the art running shoes, a pair of canvas takkies did the job.

If anything, the going in the race’s early years were the toughest they have ever been, but one thing has remained constant — the nearly 90 kilometres of unforgiving road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg has no friends, even in today’s modern era of running and the technology that goes with it. Whether an up or down run, the pain factor always comes into being.

Human nature shows that mankind enjoys a good challenge, something that pushes him to the limit. It’s a strange phenomenon too, that a bit of pain seems to add weight to the conquest and the more scars and discomfort shown, proves the severity of the undertaking.

Taking that into account, there are not many sporting events to match the Comrades Marathon to build character, prove a point and, believe it or not, add value to life.

It’s been said that people who have a number of Comrades Marathons behind their name are seen as folk of character and stability, able to deal with situations logically and with calm. They can handle adversity and disappointment, know how to deal with emotions and are seen as people of substance in their community and workplace, able to focus on something and achieve the desired outcome.

Perhaps this is what draws people back to the gruelling challenge year after year as they see the race as the opportunity to appreciate all that is good in life. On race day, there is no race or colour, no politics, no one better than anyone else. It’s a few hours of shared emotions with people you will more than likely never meet again, yet feel like they are lifelong friends for a brief moment on the road as you shared their struggle.

The people of KZN have adopted the race as their own and the spectators play a vital part in seeing runners through to their dreams and goals. Their encouragement and belief is a massive boost, with many runners feeling they had to finish because of what a spectator said or did for them along the route.

Comrades has become a way of life for thousands of people and is a keenly anticipated sporting event. At this time of the year, excitement grows when scaffolding goes up along the route, names of possible winners are thrown about, banners are erected and runners from beyond the borders of KZN stream into the province.

For the runners themselves, there is the sheer joy of accomplishment when that medal is earned and while many have said enough is enough, they invariably return year after year to start again and just feel damn good at what they have achieved.

One such runner is East Coast Radio general manager Trish Taylor, who takes on her 10th run this year, thereby joining the Green Number Club, her race number preserved for eternity.

She sums it up best saying, “It’s the challenge and experience on the day that lures me back. There are tough moments and moments which are incredible. Gearing up for the race gives me purpose and focus as I work toward a goal.”

What transpires on the road also inspires Taylor.

“There is a unity among all Comrades runners. We all help each other and those long hours of training and early morning sacrifices are made more worthwhile,” she said. “It’s a unique event and a privilege to be part of. That’s what keeps me going.”

On Sunday, Taylor will fall back on her tried and trusted gameplan for the race and that is to have a race strategy.

“That’s vital and it’s equally important to stick to that,” she said. “Breaking the race into stretches of 10 kilometres makes it mentally more manageable and the pain ... it’s going to come at you hard but talking to fellow runners and supporters does the trick.”

Taylor, along with more than 400 fellow runners, will be wearing a yellow number on race day, an indication of this being her 10th run. Before the sun sets, she will have hoped to turn her number into a cherished green, permanent number.

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