Monday, May 24, 2010

Article by Bruce Clark

I haven't plagerised this - got permission from the man himself. Oh Captain my Captain - he is an awesome athlete with a wicked sense of humour and a way with words.

Each year, on Comrades, I run with dead people. As if keeping an annual appointment, they will arrive. In the last few minutes before the start - when the tears come - they’re all there with me. While Shosholoza is being sung, while Chariots Of Fire is being played, while thousands of sounds and emotions seep from thousands of runners, while Indian Mynas are chirping in the artificial dawn, my ghosts are quite clear:

“When you get lonely later, we will be right next to you. Don’t worry - you’ll be Ok.” I feel my scalp prickle in their presence and I bend down to unnecessarily retie my shoes - slightly embarrassed of my tears. A weeping middle-aged man lost in the crowds.

As many old timers have mentioned before, Comrades is not a race. It’s a journey - an odyssey - and its Homeric proportions go way beyond the physical - or mere numbers. Yes, there are some basic truths that cannot be ignored; X amount of training, with Y talent at your disposal, will yield Z time; if you do not refill your tank you will suffer like a dog and then suffer some more.

But these are insignificant things. An average person, with an average amount of training, can finish Comrades. But to merely put one foot in front of the other, oblivious to everything outside - and to everything within - is to miss the point. Also missed, is a priceless opportunity to get to know your self.

The Comrades route is completely without guile; it is a beast and there are no secrets to this journey. From the very first step, the route will systematically attempt to dismantle you and, as Tim Noakes implied in his seminal article, it will usually succeed. Piece by piece, and despite your best efforts remain whole, somewhere between 55 and 65 kilometers, locked into a deafening silence, you will be stripped down to fundamental components.

For the remainder of the journey, you will attempt to reassemble yourself and I promise you this: you will be a better version. Even if it is for a fleeting few days, you will be more at peace, you will be more tolerant, and that random act of kindness will come a little easier.

It’s between 55 and 65 kilometers that my scalp prickles again and I know they’ve rejoined me. My mother; the ravages of her cancer are not evident; she’s young and animated and supportive. My grandmother; my savior; the woman who sacrificed everything to raise me. My father; a man I hardly knew; he looks at me curiously to see what became of the distant boy.

And we talk. We talk about grief, love, kindness and hope. We poke around all those open wounds; we accept our accountability and culpability; we examine our value system. We tell the truth. My ghosts know when to arrive and how long to stay and when they see the resolve with which I run past the runner’s rescue van, they drift off again to allow the crowd back in.

The crowd - the magnificent crowd. Were it possible, I would force every single politician to run this race. I would force him or her to stop at every single man, woman and child, and personally apologize for creating false divisions that we - in the ultimate human race - have no interest in. Hundreds of thousands of people standing all day, in all conditions, screaming themselves hoarse and carrying you forward on a deafening wave of goodwill. Looking YOU in the eye, saying YOUR name, and urging YOU on. Saying to those who would divide us, in one glorious day, with one glorious voice, “We are better than this!”

I find it astonishing that I have completed this journey 16 times. It seems like yesterday that I was young and terrified and sitting on an un-barricaded pavement waiting for my first start. I find it astonishing that novices actually want to hear my advice, for I consider my advice worthless. They want to hear about the merits of painkillers - or not, buses - or not, bananas vs. potatoes, coke vs. PowerAde, pacing and pain.

I look at them and have no meaningful words to give. I just say, “Enjoy the day - you’ll be fine.” I want to tell them that where they’re going is a place of solitude. That - if they’re brave enough - they’re going to unlock doors to which only they have keys. Perhaps I will say, “Remember to give a flower to Arthur,” but usually I keep quiet. Who needs another boring old fart trying to be wise?

With my own doors unlocked and my own self-reassembled, I eventually enter the stadium. Left and right I see faces. Some are looking at me, some looking at a point behind me. Happy and relieved faces searching for that special person. The bends on the grass seem to take forever, but eventually I round the last turn to see one final straight. I feel my scalp prickle and I know my ghosts have come to say goodbye. I mouth the words “Thank you” and the tears begin to come. I look up at the clock and under the digits I read in my mind (and maybe the Comrades organizers should put them there) the immortal words from Ulysses: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Thank you, thank you

You know an undertaking like this is not for the faint-hearted or the self-less person. The amount of time needed for this training, sleeping, wingeing, eating, chiropractic work, physio takes away from time that could be shared somewhere else.
Thank you to my wonderful hubby Doug and my special angel Kayla. Kayla has stood at the front door on quite a few occassions announcing I am going running and when I get back there is much excitement. She has met me on the road sometimes and run a few hundred metres with me. She has joined me on the stretching and stretched her body in ways mine can't even think of going!
Doug - well words would never really be sufficient - you have supported unstintingly. You have celebrated each new distance with words of encouragement and BIG Sunday morning breakfasts, you have cajoled me out of bed, you have listened to my woes, worries, distances, times, injury concerns. You encouraged me to have the courage and guts to attempt this really big fat hairy audacious goal - that at times completely over-whelmed me. You never lost faith in me.
My fantastic, fun, flippin-talented-athlete friend - Fiona. I LOVE your friendship and value it enormously. You are always so generous with your advice and time. I safely say that after every training run with you I came away an improved athlete. And after every breakfast a fuller fatter one too!
To my Mom and Dad - always thank you. I suspect it is really difficult for you to understand this madness that afflicts your eldest daughter at times and I do believe that I came from the cabbage patch (the sporty one) but you always listen and ask questions and be interested in something very foreign to you. Mom thank you for picking up the slack with Kayla when I go running - it is simple if you didn't do it at Easter when I was with you I would not have been able to go. Dad - my gorgeous Dad who loves his sleep - thank you thank you for getting up way before the birds were farting to get me through to Hillcrest and then to fetch me again 4 hours later.
Ali - for still listening to me even though you had to give up on your Comrades dream. And always for your dry humourous medical advice. There is another dream for you out there - perhaps not with the Comrades name - but it is there.
Michael Barber - I really value your chiropratic knowledge. I know I was very challenging for you - thanks for taking up the challenge.
To my mates on Facebook who respond to my statuses with words of encouragement and at times disbelief - thank you.
And to that doctor who shall remain un-named - your simple words of "I don't believe you will finish" have actually done just the spurring on I needed at this time. Without you knowing, you kicked into something really powerful in me. Thank you.
We are at C minus 5 days. I can't sleep again because I had cortisone in my back - 4 injections and I didn't even cry (only little squeeks). I am ready. I have a fighting chance at finishing. I am looking forward to crossing a boundry of physical and mental toughness to see what is on the other side. This is not just a physical journey (although I may have to remind myself this at various breaking points - Fields Hill comes to mind) but I suspect possibly a bigger spiritual journey. I am looking forward to engaging with my angels on this journey that is culminating in 89.28 kms.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I am running, I am not running, I can do it, I won't make it, the pain is fine, pain ain't so fine - whoa get me offa this rollercoaster. Last Friday my dreams of comrades were slipping fast and furiously from my finger tips. The cortisone injection did not work - my run on Friday was as painful as before. I was devastated. I had a milo and muffin with Bruce and he pepped talk me up a storm. I spoke with Ali Camp on Sat (my mate in KZN who is an OT and who had a bursitis). She suggested a strapping procedure with kinetic tape.
I ran on Monday - with pain and with determination to check my fitness. Coz of course in all of this there are these concerns from various sides that I am losing cardiovascular fitness and what all else. I then went for another cortisone injection. This time it was done under ultra sound and the area better identified. In fact I would go as so far as to say it was put in the wrong place last time! I then went to see Sam Newton - a physio specialising in this taping and sports injuries. Tape on and excitement back up again. I couldn't sleep again on Tuesday night - 5 hours and the water tasted funny again. It's that cortisone stuff. Luckily it doesn't seem to affect the taste of wine!
The run on Wed with the tape was great in that there was no pain in the bursa area at all - YAY! But I had quite a bit of pain above the hip bone. I was not limping or anything tho. It just felt very bruised and tender. I went back to Sam today and she was pleased. She said the different pain was due to the muscles being used better because of the positioning of the tape. Oh the relief....
So we have left the tape off to give it a rest, I will do a couple more little runs - 5 or 6 kms.
I get a cortisone jab in my back on Monday morning - into the facia joint and then restrapped on Tuesday.
Gosh what a journey. I had a little chat with my soul - actually I have quite a few of those. The sense I got was NOT to give up. Keep with the faith, keep with the belief this is the right thing to do.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Watch this space

Ok so the reality is this will be my one and only Comrades. I visited an orthopaedic surgeon to have a look at the current painful affliction called Bursitis. He also did an MRI scan and Xrays. Effectively the L4 and L5 disks on my spine are compressed. There is no liquid in between the disks and there is a level of both of the disks bulging out. One is irritating the nerve but both still allow nerve movement. This at least explains why I ALWAYS have a sore back. This is not caused by running but is made worse by running big distances. In time surgery is required but I should be able to manage it for some years - building core strength, cross training etc. He did say to me he did not think I would finish Comrades. I just took a deep breath and said I won't get into a conversation about that but my head was a lot stronger than my body. There is something to be said for someone who challenges some things about me. It has really spurred me on mentally to ensure I finish - one to prove him wrong and the other because this is a once in a life time adventure for me. Cool - bring it on!!
I did get a cortisone injection in my hip. He made me go collected the script from the pharamacy before I saw him. There is a level of cruelty in doing that. The one needle I picked up was f...!@#ing enormous and at that stage I thought it was going into my back. Anyway he did endear himself to me by saying I was so skinny so he could use a small needle and then he said I looked Irish - in a complimentary way.
The next step will be a run tomorrow morning - yay - am getting withdrawal symptoms.
Then the Monday before Comrades I go back in for a cortizone injection into the fascia joint to minimise inflamation for the run.
I had an interesting night last night. I was very hyped, not hungry and couldn't sleep at all. All very unusual behaviour for me.
Had our last Comrades talk at Randburg Harriers. I am so excited at the moment and really looking forward to this big adventure - physically , spiritually, emotionally - everything.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Oh boy....

Well my tapering has come to a stand-still - literally. I appear to have bursitis in my left hip - big einaar! I did 15km last week - big glup - programme says to do 54 km. I have been resting - which quite frankly I have loved. I do a test run tomorrow morning and will probably have a cortozone injection on Tuesday. Comrades feels very surreal now. 20 days left - feel the need to do more running.....