The Comrades: Ultimate Human Race
The Ultimate Human Race: breaking my virginity
By Percy Mbatha
It was Sunday 3rd June 2012, the day of the Comrades marathon and it started with drama, MX and I slept at a friend’s house (PMB) about 600m from the Comrades Marathon starting point. We woke up in time but we found ourselves running late with a bag full of our clothes trying to get to the Tog bag truck. In my mind I was thinking if the truck is gone then we have to run with the bag. As we approached the starting point, you could see and smell the great atmosphere. I was really overwhelmed to see so many people singing and doing their last warm ups, all with one goal in mind “Durban here we come”.
Different race groups all in jubilant mood, embracing each other, laughing and some just listening to their thoughts and thinking about the job ahead. With all that, I was still looking for the Bag area, running to the front only to be told it’s at the back. Finally I found the bag area, and we were right at the back of the runners. Then there was a short prayer and then the Comrades music. That song just tells you now it is the time, all your preparation, your hard work will be tested now and there is no turning back. 5:30 was the start of the race, but I could only reach the starting mat at 5:36 just to show the number of runners at the start. My spirit was high, shouting screaming and whistling, and the support from the community along the route was overwhelming. I was just looking forward to the Drummond (Halfway mark). After 38km gone from 89km, I felt this nagging pain on my left foot, I ignored it hoping it would go away but it didn’t. I was 2km away from the halfway and I walked for the first time as the pain was unbearable. I passed halfway at 4:55 went to our support team for treatment and back on the road. Needless to say the spray didn’t work.
I was frustrated and angry at my foot which seems to be giving up on me. I pushed myself, run, walk but it got worse. By now I couldn’t even put my foot down flat, so I was limping (nice) with 30km to go. I was so upset with myself because I felt like I was wasting time and there was actually nothing I could do. So I started cramping on my right leg because it was taking too much strain. The will was there to take the pain all the way to the finish line. “I am not a quitter” was ringing in my mind all the time. Thinking of all the time and effort I had spent preparing for this day and the sacrifices my family had to endure, waking up early on weekends for the races and training, money spent on travelling expenses. The number of people I had asked to watch the race on TV and to send through short messages as sms if they wanted to check my progress. NO, I couldn’t quit. I had my cell phone with me the whole race and I got enough support and inspiration from my wife and daughter at home (JHB). She just said “don’t worry about the time baby, just finish the race, you are almost there”.
The good thing was that I had accumulated enough time during the first leg of the race that I could afford to walk (limp) a kilometre or more without running. The longest distance on the race would be the last 10km. It felt like the kilometres were longer and exagarated, but I had to take km by km. I had 1hr 45min with 8km to go, so I could afford to walk all that 8km and I did! Normally I could have done that 8 in 45min the least, but it took me about 1hr 15min, even walking was a mission. Then funny thing happened when I was less than 1km, I saw my long lost cousin that I hadn’t seen in 16 years, but was planning to go see him the following day. As we were speaking, he was outside (spectator), this other guy from outside the fence screams at me saying I was about 4min from cut off (no watch). So I started to limp and run as fast I could, I ignored the pain and the cramps; I was just saying “they cannot cut me off after so much suffering”. Finally I was inside the stadium, still running and the crowd I believe they were calling my name, I was just asking myself, where is the finish line? As I saw the clock, I was filled with excitement and the time was 11:31, which means I still had 29min on my time. I had made it; I had broken my Comrades Marathon virginity! I was still standing; I wanted neither massage nor medical help, I couldn’t even drink one glass of beer, amazing I say.
There are many lessons I learned along the route and also discovered many things about myself. If I put my mind on something, I can achieve it. Yes, sometimes it might be hard, filled with obstacles, but I just need to persevere. Test your strength, courage and leave emotions out. Work hard on your goals and dreams and push for success. Leave a space for disappointment because in life we may not achieve all we want to achieve. Appreciate the support of your family and community and be able to take criticism.
Lesson number 1: Invest in good running shoes; train hard and your mind must be in the right place. Comrades 2013, I’m there!
Written by Percy Mbatha
Submitted by Nomfundo Setshedi