Thursday, June 14, 2018

Human endurance race - Comrades Marathon

Every year in June, the Comrades Marathon is run in South Africa. 

The Comrades Marathon is an ultra marathon of 89 km (approximately 56miles) is run annually in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province, South Africa between the cities Pietermaritzburg and Durban. It is the world's largest and oldest ultra marathon race. The direction of the race alternates each year between the "up" run (87km) which starts in Durban and the "down" run from Pietermaritzburg, now totally a distance of 90.184km.  

The field is capped at 20,000 runners and entrants hail from more than 60 countries. You can read more about this incredible race here 

I've always followed the Comrades. But this year, I had a personal interest in it: my older son, John was running it for the first time. 

And technology being what it is today, this year the Comrades had an app which you download onto your phone. You enter the runner's number and you track his progress.

It was incredible: from the time the gun went off at 5.30 am in a dark Pietermaritzburg, on Sunday 10 June, 2018,  I tracked John from the first kilometer.

At around 8am, my younger son, Angus in Marquard sent me a screen shot tracking exactly where John was at the time. I hadn't seen this options so he phoned me and explained where I could find the "tracking and results" on the app. Which I did from then on!

At 12.30 Estelle and Steve came into the shop.  I showed Steve where John was on the app; he was fascinated. He said to Estelle imagine that you can track someone running this race by clicking on an app!  

At 1pm, I packed up the shop and on the way home, popped in to see my friend, Marelize who owns Scrumpy Jack's - a honey retail outlet along our tourist route. She immediately asked me how John was doing on the run and I showed here his progress on the app.After a cup of coffee with Marelize I left for home promising her I'd keep her informed about John.

By the time I'd done my Sunday afternoon chores at home, and I checked the Comrades app, John was within sight of Durban where the race ended. This didn't mean he was home and dry yet; no, he still had 10km to go. I sat at my desk and on YouTube. watched the last hour which has unbelievable vibe at the stadium.

In between I was checking the app which showed John getting closer and closer to his goal of finishing his first ever Comrades. And to add to the tension I had WA friends all over the Valley, in Durban, my sister in Spain all asking "has he arrived yet"? Charmaine, who manages the shop next to mine was at home and waiting on tenterhooks to hear how John was doing. Estelle, Steve and Caroline and Marelize from the Valley, kept sending me messages asking how far was John. My biker friends and a supplier for the shop - all living in Durban - kept sending messages to find out if John had finished the race yet.


The last 45 minutes of the race was the worst in my life! With 4km to go, I punched John's Comrades number into the app; you had to do this every time you logged on.  And there was no result! The worst thoughts raced through my head: John was cramping so badly, he had to be picked up by the "bailing bus"; a fanatical spectator had lunged into him knocking him to the ground. (this has happened to a contestant before); he's tripped and fallen and couldn't continue. Oh dear!

I sent Angus a Whatsapp who said he'd also "lost John" on the app. I WA'd Charmaine, who was so tense waiting for results, she apparently burst into tears! 

Then Angus sent me  a screenshot showing John was on the move and was almost at the end.  

What a relief.

As the map showed his number at "Durban", I checked his tracking time:
 And minutes later,  Debbie sent me a message saying:

John's in!

Estelle sent me a message saying that hundreds of runners where pouring into the stadium all bent on making it before the end gun was fired at 17h30.  I told her John had made it.

Then I received a photo from my sister-in-law, Shelley. It was a single frozen frame on television showing John  behind a couple of runners being interviewed. He was striding purposefully to the end ...
John, in blue peak,  a determined look on his face, finishes his first Comrades Marathon

 1h 42s 29s was highlighted in the digital clock above his head.  

Here I must admit that I was very choked up. Seeing John realize his dream of almost 40 years, made me shed a bucket of tears. I never cry; I didn't cry when I lost  Grant, my lifelong friend and husband tragically at the end of last year. But now the tears (possibly pent up from then) flowed freely . **

In between crying and feeling proud of my son, 
I managed to WA everyone who had been routing for John all day!

At 10 to 6, Debbie phoned me to say although John was in the stadium, she hadn't seen him. There were thousands of spectators and she was waiting for him to phone him so she could collect him in the car. 

And shortly after 6, she sent this photo with the caption: Champion! 
 Indeed a champion ! 

Well done John ! 

**Note: A week ago John messaged me and said how he always remembers watching the Comrades in our home while growing up. He and "Pops" as he called Grant, would watch together (I was probably making tea!) and they'd say how the two of them could do this race. Grant and John did complete a half marathon together in the late nineties. Then Grant and I worked as expats in Africa and John went to sea and the dream of doing the Comrades took a backseat. When John returned from Mozambique last year, he started training for the 2018 Comrades. After Grant died, he abandoned the idea. Then a colleague of his who'd also lost his dad,  and asked John to run the Comrades with him. Together they ran in memory of their respective dads!


  1. Hello, Congrats to your son John for finishing the marathon race! Great story and post. Have a happy day!

  2. Quite an achievement. Well done! Even when I was much younger (and I was always pretty fit) I couldn't have run that distance. My oldest son and I did once cycle from London to Brighton (60 miles) and it nearly killed me.

  3. Well done John, quite a feat I must say.
    I was following the amputee that finished, quite amazing, and they sent him off 5 hours before the start so he would arrive in time for a medal.
    Keep well Diane

  4. congratulations John.. well done, so glad he was ok and finshed, I can imagine how you all felt when he fell off the app so to speak.

  5. And on the other side of the world I have teared up a bit too.
    Congratulations John. Love you running in memory of Grant.

  6. Way to go John! What a fantastic story Jo - thanks for sharing this. I'm glad he didn't give up the idea and ran with his friend - both in memory of their deceased dads. That's very special.

  7. What a wonderful achievment Jo andyou mustbe so proud of your son.


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