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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Small World! – A Comrades Marathon Story


Every Comrades runner has an interesting story to tell – some tales more bizarre than others, but for a 90km race with more than 20 000 runners and thousands of nervous and tense supporters on the route, it is not difficult to understand why.

I have many stories but the one I like relating is about my lost cellular phone. It was a 2010 double down – an odd run because 2009 was also a down run. I was not particularly battling, I took the first half of the race really easy but as expected, the last 20 kilometers are always testing. At about 15km to go, just after passing a very busy water point, I looked up and suddenly this hill came into my view – literally out of nowhere. I do not know why it took me by surprise – it was Cowies after all – but at that point I immediately decided to find a bush and take a pit stop – use the break to regain my composure, I guess. I tackled the hill and after a few minutes, as I started descending the other side, I realised my pouch was open and my phone was missing. I was not in the habit of carrying a phone during runs, but for Comrades I used to because it made seconding easier.

It is widely understood that under extreme physical exertion such as in ultra-distance running, when resources get scarce, the body tends to give lower priority to the brain function. I tend to believe that. Under normal circumstances I would have just kept going, forgot about the phone and tested my luck. But on this day, I decided to turn back all the way down to the base of the hill where I took a pit stop to find the phone. In my limited thinking capacity I thought no one was ever going to find the phone and I could not imagine my seconds worried sick, trying to reach me. That I was left with only 15km to run was obviously not a factor that immediately came to mind. As I was running down, everyone was shouting at me, trying to get me to face the right direction because stories of runners found going the wrong direction by mistake are plenty.

I got to the pit stop and did not find the phone. My heart sank as I started climbing Cowies again. At the other side of the hill I started asking runners for a phone so I could call my sister who was manning the “nerve centre” from home, as I called it. I made a call and that calmed me down completely.  To cut the long story short – the phone was picked up by a fellow runner half way through Cowies hill, he put it in his pouch, ignored it as it rang many times, and only picked it up after he had completed the race. At the finish another fellow runner kindly allowed me to use his phone, I called my sister who then directed me to where the runner was waiting for me. I could not thank him enough!

I boarded my return flight to Johannesburg the next day and this particular cabin was unusually lively and happy – I suspect it was because it had quite a few foreign runners. Stories were related and I remember I was still standing up and facing everyone when someone else started relating a familiar story: “Did you hear about this one lady who ran Cowies twice. Apparently she lost a cell phone, ran down Cowies looking for it and we are told she still made it to the finish, can you imagine!”
I could not believe my ears! I got the phone out of my bag quickly and flashed it around: ”Oh that was me!” I exclaimed, smiling broadly, embarrassed and in complete shock!
Small world!!

That year I finished 11h26 and I still remember these events like they took place yesterday! The runners that assisted me in getting reunited with my phone demonstrate the real spirit of the race. What is your story, Comrade?

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