Friday, May 27, 2011

I am ready....

Second last day before the Big C! It is unbelievable how fast this day is getting closer, the last few months dragged a bit, and now we heading towards Sunday like a freight train...I am trying to focus on positive outcomes as much as possible, it is very easy to lose focus and be negative about the whole race, thinking about cut off times, pace vs time, comfort levels ect. I am being a Zen as possible!!

This morning I went back to Gateway mall for a little walk and some coffee. As I was waiting in line at Vida I bumped into John Smith, South African rugby captain. This was a nice little surprize and I took a photo with him.We chatted about the Comrades for a while and about my autism charity. He is a true gentleman.

I got home around lunch and headed into town for some pasta and a few beers, carbo loading made easy! Later in the arvi I got home and slept for an hour or so. I finished my day with a long walk along the Umhlanga beaches and I am feeling very settled and calm. I am ready.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Building up to the Big Day!

Woke up early this morning at 4am and I am not sure if it is nerves or the 2 hour time difference between the UAE and South Africa! As you know I came with a good friend Mariana, her sister Lynette is also running the Comrades this coming Sunday. We are staying in Umhlanga and at 7h30am this morning we set off for a run in the rain and wind and it was very good on the legs. I am trying to save my legs as much as possible but still keep them moving every day.

We headed along the beach towards the town center and stopped in at the Vida Cafe for a well deserved coffee as we were freezing our bums off! After a 5 minute coffee break we headed back towards the apartment and decided to explore a trail near where we live. Running in Africa is so good for my soul and I and happy that in a couple of months we will be back for good, and I can get out there and get my running fix again!

Running in the UAE limits you a lot as it is very seasonal. When I left to come to Durban it was already 44 degrees during the day, making running very unpleasant, Night time runs are not much better as it hovers around the 30s and humidity is at its peak between 60 and 80%. So coming home and being able to run in nature in cooler tempretures is a blessing! You feel so alive when you in Africa, it is great for you soul!

This afternoon we went to the Expo to have a squizz around and pick up my race pack. My race number for Sunday is 12496 and after opening the race pack I realized this is it, I am now part of the Greatest race on earth, the Ultimate Human Race, the Comrades Marathon! I am feeling very relaxed at the moment but I am sure come Saturday evening I will be full of butterflies. I will run my own race, and the only goal on the day is to finish. Any time set will be used to measure myself when I return for my next race.

Often people ask what is next after completing a race like this, well, it is simple, I want a green Comrades race number. This means you have completed 10 Comrades Marathons, and your race number becomes yours for life, no one will ever wear that number again. So that is my next goal!!! Gooi mielies!

Day 1 in Durban

Arrived in Durban today after an 8 hour flight from the UAE. I have expected the weather to be cool but it has been much colder than what I anticipated with overcast conditions and rain. On the way to Umhlagana I turned the radio on, and the local radio station was interviewing Bruce Fordyce. According to Fordyce the forcast for Sunday will be clear skes and 21 degrees with some cloud cover in the afternoon. So I am hopeful the weather will be improving over the next couple of days! Going to the Comrades Expo tomorrow, hope to pick up some cool gear.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Amby Burfoot's Comrades Experience - The Up Run

Every run is a new adventure, and every race serves only to expose some piece of us. The greater the race distance, the deeper the unpeeling. This makes South Africa's 55-mile Comrades Marathon a long and probing quest.

The distance alone makes the Comrades intimidating. The infamous climbs make it torturous. Midway, the course snakes upward through the Valley of a Thousand Hills, an English appellation as accurate as it is terrifying.

On Comrades Marathon morning in Durban two years ago, I walked out of my hotel's back door at 4:30am and followed everyone else towards the start a mile away. As I did so I had time to consider what had brought me there.

The answer couldn't be simpler. The way I figure it, Comrades has to be the world's greatest race. It's 55 miles long – the type of distance that usually lures about, oh, 71 runners. Comrades has enough magnetism to draw 12,000. Everyone in South Africa is a Comrades aficionado, thanks to the continuous 12-hour live national TV coverage. It has the most extraordinary traditions, like the matter of race numbers and their colours. International runners get blue ones. Runners in their 10th Comrades wear yellow. You complete 10 and you get a green number for all future entries. You own this number. No one but you will wear it again – ever.

At the start all ears eagerly await the sound of a cock's crow. In 1948, local runner Max Trimborn, one of 44 entrants that year, couldn't contain his nervous energy on the starting line. So he cupped his hands, filled his lungs, and issued a lusty rooster crow. The other runners so enjoyed this act that they demanded repeat performances in subsequent years. Trimborn obliged for the next 32, sometimes adorning himself with feathers and a rooster vest. By the time of his death in 1985, Trimborn's crowing had been preserved on tape. These days, greatly amplified, it still starts the Comrades Marathon: "Cock-A-Doodle...Go!"

But perhaps the greatest of Comrades rituals is the course switch. In odd years the course drops down 2,300 feet from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. In even years it reverses itself, scrambling up into the hills. I ran Comrades once previously, in 1993, a 'down' year; the race in 2006 was like a new and completely different experience, full of unexpected challenges.

A race this long demands a plan and a goal. I've got both, but mainly the latter. The plan is to take it easy. While I haven't done any long runs, I'm in good shape, based on a recent 1:29 half-marathon. I aim to extend my endurance with walking breaks. When I feel good, I'll run. When I get tired, I'll walk. You see how easy these ultra marathons are?

My primary goal is more specific: I want to run all the way up Polly Shortts. Animal lovers can name Africa's 'Big Five' in a flash: elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion and rhinoceros. Those who run the 'up' Comrades are just as quick with its Big Five hills: Cowies, Fields, Bothas, Inchanga and Polly Shortts, the last and most treacherous. When I first heard these names back in my college days I could barely suppress a chuckle. Polly Shortts? I couldn't picture anything but a girl in a miniskirt. (Hey, it was the 1960s, okay?)

The day before the race, I have lunch with nine-time winner Bruce Fordyce, now 51, a South African who's regarded as the greatest ever Comrades runner. I tell him that I simply want to run all the way up Polly Shortts. Fordyce's face comes alive, breaking into a wicked grin. "Oh, you'll not be running up Polly," he says. "By the time you get there, you won't have much run left in you."

The first miles pass easily, almost eerily. In these early miles, there's little room for walking breaks. The roads are narrow, the pack thick. After 5K, I spot several openings and scoot to the side of the road to walk for a minute or two. I seem to be alone in this approach. Everyone else is still running. That's okay. The more strength I save now, the more I'll have later, when I really want it – when I meet my Polly. A bright sun rises in the east, bathing the verdant countryside in brilliant colours. "This is easy," I tell myself. "You can do this all day."

At about nine miles, I reach the first hill, Cowies. It's no big deal – just a long, gradual slope up and around a big shoulder. I take a few short walk breaks. All fine. Just a few more miles to the half-marathon mark.

The first killer hill, Fields, begins at about 14 miles. It's long, steep, and grinding. Since almost everyone is walking, I decide to do the same and make some new friends. That's one of the great things about an ultra. When you go this long and slow, there's time for bonding. Comrades was started in 1921 to pay tribute to South Africa's World War One vets. These days, "comrades" refers more often to your training and racing partners.

I talk to two guys running together. The stories tumble out. One is running his fifth Comrades, the other is a newbie. "I had to find something to celebrate my 50th birthday," he says. "Some men get divorced, some men buy fast cars. I decided to run the 'up' Comrades."

Miles covered: 26.2Elapsed time: 5:10Mind: With the worst hills done and gone, maybe it's time to think negative splitsBody: Thank goodness the second half is mostly flatOverall: When this thing is done, it would be nice to take a vacation.

A mile beyond the marathon mark, we run through the Flora Halfway Celebration, basically the longest balloon arch/water stop/musical revue I've ever seen. It's at least 200 metres from one end to the other. I drink a little Coke, eat half a baked potato (a Comrades speciality), and try to relax. This might be possible except for one supreme obstacle: Inchanga. It fills the view ahead, soaring ever higher like a rollercoaster on steroids. Yes, the scenery is spectacular, but an ultra crushes your appreciation for aesthetics. I walk most of Inchanga. It takes 30 minutes. All I see is black asphalt with narrow zigzag fissures. I'm still thinking: "Save yourself for Polly."

Beyond Inchanga, we pass the Ethembeni ('Place of Hope') School for blind and physically handicapped children. Its students line the roadside in their wheelchairs, with canes, on crutches. No Comrades runner, no matter how fatigued, can pass here without acknowledging their own good fortune. I jog over to the kids and give as many high fives as I can. These smiling kids are inspirational, but I'm sinking fast. I plod up four or five unnamed hills – things are starting to get fuzzy by this point. Each is followed by a punishing descent.

Miles covered: 39.3Elapsed time: Eight hours (2:50 for the last 13.1)Mind: This sucksBody: This sucksOverall: This – how should I put it? – sucks

Polly, Polly, where are you? I've been walking for three miles, from about the 45-mile mark. It's a desperate move – one that I hope will conserve what little strength I have left. Maybe, I tell myself, maybe I can still run up Polly Shortts.

A large sign announces the appearance of Polly Shortts. I lift my eyes – a mistake. Ahead is the sharpest hill of the day, rising upward until it slithers out of view. I'm guessing there's more of the same over the horizon. I see hundreds of runners. All are walking. And there is no chance, despite my resolve, that I will run Polly Shortts. My tank has passed empty. So I trudge onward, sidling over to a green-numbered runner, one of the veterans. I explain how, prior to today's ordeal, I believed the 'up' Comrades might be easier than the 'down'.

"Listen to me, mate," he says. "This is my 17th Comrades, and all those years I've heard runners talk about how the 'up' run is easier on the body. But I'm telling you, it's not. This 'up' run is just one big piece of hard work. It keeps coming at you and coming and coming, and it never gives you a break. Never."

I walk every step of Polly Shortts, and every step of the remaining six miles to the finish. As we get closer to Pietermaritzburg, the course turns blessedly, run-ably downhill, and I still can't break out of my walk. A spectator bolts from her lawn chair, and races to the sidewalk, her eyes fixed on mine. "You're a hero," she yells into my face. "Don't stop. You can do it."

Half a mile from the end of the race, I hear the first faint echoes from the finish line announcer. Here, in another 60 minutes, running's most dramatic moment will be played out. With precisely 11 hours, 59 minutes on the time clock, the director of the Comrades Marathon marches to the finish line. There, he turns his back to the oncoming stream of runners, raises a gun and waits for the seconds to tick down.

Pandemonium breaks loose. Thousands of spectators look to the frantic flow of runners struggling for the finish. Some are sprinting with joyously upraised arms, some walking, some literally crawling on their hands and knees. The crowd breaks into a rhythmic, throbbing chant: "Go...Go...Go...Go!" The atmosphere is electric, the suspense building. The national television audience skyrockets in the final minutes, as all of South Africa tunes in for the tense Comrades conclusion. Who'll make it? Who won't?

At 12:00:00 on the race clock, the gun is fired. The Comrades Marathon is over. Those who fail to break 12 hours will receive no medal for their effort. No time. They won't appear in the official results. They will become, in effect, a non-runner. You could tell your friends that you ran Comrades. You could say you finished in around 12:05. But you didn't. Because there will be no record of it.

There is some solace only for the first non-finisher. He or she becomes an instant hero, interviewed live on TV and pictured on the front page of every newspaper. To many South Africans, the Comrades runner who goes all that distance, for nothing, is more symbolic, of something, than the race winner.

I beat the 12-hour cut-off by 55 minutes, but I've also run the worst race of my life. When I finally reach the City Oval cricket grounds on the edge of Pietermaritzburg and run through the corridor of spectators thumping on tin advertising signs, I can only console myself that I didn't quit. Sometimes the best you can do is not very good at all, and those are probably the most important times to stick it out. But I've got what I wanted, what I wanted badly – a Comrades 'up' medal. Every runner should have one.

Miles covered: 55Elapsed time: 11 hours, 5 minutes.Mind: Nice to be sitting downBody: Not sure I can stand up againOverall: Thank goodness that’s done

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Up Run Profile

This is whats awaits runners on that last Sunday in May 2011. This is what will define every runner, and when you cross that finish line you will be one of the select few to have taken this personal journey to self discovery.


The Long Run.

When I did the Marathon des Sables in Morocco last year, I thought that I will never become so emotionally involved in a run again, ever. But with a just over a week to go before the run, my mind is all over the place with race thoughts and stategies I will need to follow to finish this beast.

The torn hipflexor muscle has put me back quite a bit, and if it was any other race I dont think I would have done the race. I feel a bit under cooked with regards to Km's on my legs, so I am pretty sure it will be a long tough day for me come next Sunday. I will need to draw on my MDS experience to get me through the day, and the good thing of the Comrades vs MDs is that it is only one day, 89km, done.

I am aiming to to run the race between 11 and 11:30 hrs, and would be super stoked if I get in before the 12 hours cut off.

I am leaving for Durban on the 25th May and will fly directly into Durbs. I am joined by my good friend Mariana, who's sister will also take part in the Long run this year. All that is left now is to get my thoughts in order and focus on everything positive. I will finish this race.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

11 days to go!!

Running on Empty

As a runner I am always looking for inspirational people in the running world, and since I started with ultra running I have come across some true legends. They are all unique in their own way, and inspire you in different ways, from folks like Karnazes and Engle, Caballo Blanco and Barefoot Ted, Jenn Shelton and Ryan Sandes, but one man stands out head and shoulders above the rest, Marshall Ulrich.

When you ask a young child what they want to be when they grow up, you get answers like "I want to be a fireman", or "I want to be a doctor". Well, when I grow up I would like to be Marshall Ulrich. Marshall is an old school runner and I believe he is one of the most humble human beings on earth. He has achieved so much in is life time, that it would be hard for any person to try and match what Marshall has done.

When I am running Comrades next week, I'll be thinking of Marshall when it gets tough, as he ran across America from San Fran to NYC, averaging between 70 and 50 miles per day, for more than 46 days, day in and day out. Respect!

Marshall has a book out which I am reading at the moment called Running on Empty. Please get it as soon as possible!!! It is availible on Amazon and iBooks as a download.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Last Great Race on Earth

It begins at the break of a new day,that one day each year, were a special band of people, that select few, of every gender, every race, every creed, every age, and from every walk of life, and from every corner of the earth, come together.

They are here to begin a journey, that at it's conclusion,no matter how far they have travelled, every single one will have been defined. Whether we finish the race or not,it is the fact that we stood shoulder to shoulder at the starting line, that makes us winners. True winners of this auspicious occasion.

There is not one, when the sun sets on that day, will not stand tall. In amongst the fastest, and the slowest ,can say with pride, that they took part in that day of days, the race of races..... The Comrades Marathon.

It is not just a race, its much more than a race, it is a mountain which every single participant will attempt to cross, to summit, or to conquer. Its a life changing event, one in which everyone will dig deep into their human reserves, in order to overcome some of the biggest obstacles and challenges that each and everyone will ever face in their lives. And on that day, whether they are running against the clock, or running to their own beat, each one is a giant, giants among men.

This is more than merely a seething mass of humanity, who come together on that appointed day. This is 18000 champions, 18000 winners, 18000 heroes, each and everyone there to take part, and to realize everone else's dreams, aspirations,their hopes and their goals. All to become one with one another.

There are those who will make is laugh, those who will make us cry, and some that will make us blush, and so many that will make us proud. It is here we learn the meaning of heroism, the meaning of respect for each other, and the true understanding of sacrifice. We discover that to help a fellow athlete or friend, is indeed to help ourselves. Whilst kilometers fall away behind us, it is the road that lies ahead that makes us true to ourselves, and make us true individuals.

Everyones personal best is measured not in time, but in endurance,and also in the believe of ones own abilities, no matter how small or brave that individual might be. The ones that stand tall on that day, are each and everyone. Those that ends their race, whether is be in pain or glory, will carry those traits like medals forever. And to those who venture out on this occasion for the very first time, with a fleet or heavy footing, are to discover this is not a race or a marathon, it is a journey, a journey of discovery. One in search of ones inner self. A day in your life you can proudly say, that you have taken part in one of the most gruelling challenges know to man. The Ultimate Human Race.

To the true Comrades, they will have found that all have become one and are revered by all. And that in its self, is the miracle called the Comrades Marathon. The greatest ultra marathon in the world. Come and experience it. See you on the staring line - 29/05/2011.