My Comrades Story by Dale-Lyn Russell

Starts with a Monday evening run with NSRG on 28th July 2014 when I met Cara.   Cara was training for the City2Surf marathon on 31 August 2014 and running to raise funds for Cancer.   We chatted, ran well together.   We met at the same run the next week where I learned more that Cara was pretty much training on her own & running on her own for the marathon.   I was amazed.  Cara was planning her “long run” in the next couple of days.
The next morning, 5th Aug 2014, I phoned Cara and said I would support her efforts by running the MARATHON with her. Barefoot. I signed up 3 weeks before C2S.  The longest run I had done previously was the Joondalup  half marathon in May.
So I had one week of training with Cara & 2 weeks taper.  The day before the marathon I was volunteering at my first park run.  Excited I explained I could not do the run due to taper for the marathon.  Interested parties asked how long I had been training for.  I breezily advised them 3 whole weeks including taper.   Coffee cups were dropped and I was quizzed on my training & zero running history.
I ran my marathon barefoot.  I learnt plenty.  Many souls were keen to run & chat with me (barefeet seemed to be a strange thing for everyone) and it was slowly dawning on me the scale of my run & lack of training. I finished in 4h 16 min.
I have no idea exactly who how or where Comrades entered into it, but my barefeet had brought me to the attention of the Perth running scene.  I had qualified for Comrades and the pressure was on to sign up.  In hind sight I now know what runners high means.  DANGER.  2 weeks after my first marathon I signed up for Comrades.   On the same day I also signed up for my first ultra, a hilly 48km 6 Inch trail race.   So my journey to Comrades began in earnest.
Along the way I met many unexpected challenges. ;
The importance of support from family/spouse..my immediate family were not impressed with my running. Trying to train, work full time, and keep everyone happy and not allow my training to impact on ANY family time.
The importance of injury management and learning the full biology- skeletol, mechanical, muscular, nutritional nature of my body.
Trying to train with a severely injured and non performing ankle which lead into a gammy knee.
The true COST of Comrades, from entry fees, training, travelling, entry fees to “training” events, doctors, physios, scans, MRI’s, cortisone injections, vit & min supplements, taping, electrolytes, gels, bras, training gear, physio recovery accessories, gym fees, flights, accommodation etc.
21 May 2015
The time to pack was now upon me.  Getting my suitcase out & gathering my running gear and reality hit me.  Comrades was no longer a timer on my calendar.  No longer the subject matter of every discussion I was involved with, no longer something that filled my emails back home, no longer something that interfered with my social life, Comrades was not just what had brought me a new world of friends, Comrades was no longer the reason for going from an E cup to a B cup, not just a reason for having lost 10kgs.   Comrades was now very real.  Tangible.  Here I am packing for a very real event I was flying half way around the world for. Comrades was an event that I had family travelling to actually watch me run.  Now was the time to panic in a flat spin, this 87.72km race was very very real!!
We had been advised to travel in our team gear.  I felt foolish travelling on my own all geared up.  I was wrong.  The Comrades name and badge being instantly recognizabile, at the air port, whispers of “Mom, look she is a Comrades runner”.  At Dubai airport I had time to kill. 4 hours.  I never did get my book or puzzle out.  I collected a gathering of travelling South Africans who stopped to chat with me, bought me coffee, and kept me company.  One gent had done 13 Comrades with 7 silvers.  Another had run 6 times to cut off.  Another had only ever done one and always dreamed of another. And so the stories flowed.  One consistent line:  Nou ja, this is the UP run.  You must run it with respect.  You must run that first half very slowly girl.  Very slowly. You must value the walk.  Comrades demands you walk.
On the flight to Durban, even more acknowledgement and then to discover a couple sitting behind me knows my parents in Pietermaritzburg very well!  small world.  Their son is running his second.  I must watch for their banner.
We arrive in Durban, I am in the middle of the passenger load.  In the passport queue and I am called out. A station opens and waves me through & closes again.   I collect my luggage and join the throng through security.  I am called out and waved straight through.  I am the first person from the plane that bursts through the arrivals door to the throng of eager friends and family that gather.  I get nods, winks and thumbs up from complete strangers, as I walk past I get pats on my back, “Good luck kleintjie (little one) “Run well my Comrade”.    All this and the race is still only a week away!!
30 May 2015
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The eve of the Big Race.  Expo tours done, fed myself like a king all week.  Drop bags delivered.  Tog bag sent to the finish.  Expo visited. Electrolytes drunk.  Swung between massive excitement, apprehension and confidence. Facebooked until I was sick of it.  Skipped the obligatory  pasta party.  I do not eat gluten so a rare steak for me.  Gear laid out, tried on for perfect arrangement of goodies, gear laid out again.  Checked the rules for the tenth time.  Curled up in bed now but I have cold feet.  I literally have cold feet.
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31 May, Race Day
Well I beat the alarm, up at 2am.  Got to the start line by 4am, lovely weather and joined fellow team mate John.
The first 50km had to be taken slowly & with respect.  Cowies Hill  (approx 15k) was completed to plan.   Fields Hill (approx 25km) the longest, was power walked up, head down.  That hill seemed to go on forever.  As we came through Kloof through the Green Tunnel I was searching for our Aid Marquee.  I could not find them. 28km in and I needed supplies.  My Salt tablets were finished and I needed to collect my food to make sure I did not cramp or hit the wall.  No aid station to be found, I got angry and sulky and weepy and frustrated.  Before Bothas Hill I was starting to stumble and the first of the cramps began to set in.  Determined I pushed on and Bothas Hill (approx 35km) was met on target.   Starting to feel hard going “slowly”.  The running crowd was packed, thousands of us.  The spectators out early wrapped in their blankets cheering us on.
 At the 44km mark we finally hit our first downhill going through Drummond for the half way mark.  Half way 5 hours.  Technically only 10 minutes ahead of target but knew that time was slipping badley.  Quite surprised how much that little downhill hurt and how many times I stumbled with sudden onset cramps.
Inchanga (approx 45km) approaches, a steep hard uphill.  Onwards we march.  So much for race plans and strategies.  This has been reduced to walking every hill, and there are a lot of them, and trying to run the downs & flats, blessedly few. Cramps strike again, again I fall, screaming in agony.  Runners pull me to my feet, I curl my toes up to try & release, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.   We crest.   Blessed relief as I see my aid marquee, after 48km with no food or supplies.  I am NOT embarrassed to say that I was ropable and extremely angry when I got to the marquee.  My 47kg run weight cannot go that far on its own fat supplies.  With every major cramp that much more energy was burned.
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I learned a valuable trick.  We were supplied constantly with ice cold water sachets.  I kept refreshing them and keeping them inside my sports bra..brilliant!
Going down Inchanga hurt, badley.  Quads & calfs on fire from constant cramping and my knees screaming in agony with every step.  Then the misnamed Harrison Flats.  This is a stretch of approx 10km of unnamed hills.  Short & sharp.  The course was demanding its own pace, almost to the beat of a drum, runners jogged the downs & flats & walked the ups.
At some point on this section a bemused horned cow was trying to cross the road of runners in front of us.  Normally a cow trying to push across in front of a crowd of people would cause a mild consternation with humans scattering.  The weariness of the runners was such that they barely budged and the cow found herself dodging around the runners, I was so close she flicked me with her tail.
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With the course still so crowded the only race plan was what every one else was doing.  Crowd support for every step of the way was incredible.  Shouts of Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie resonated the whole way.  I think I responded Oi Oi Oi over a thousand times till I was truely sick of it.
Water stations absolutely rocked, Nedbank Green Mile had us running through fantasy land of cool misting sprinklers, a rolled out green mat to run on, massive walking Giants along the green mile dancing up & down.  Everything Green. Singing & chanting.  I was desperate to get my phone out & record, but was using my energy to work through the constant cramping and to semi jog through this amazing festival.
Coming through Cato Ridge at the 60km mark was the Coca Cola water point.  Your spirits were lifted high with the singing, chanting & cheering.  A sea of red, pounding music & yet another wonderland.
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At about 70km we finally peak Umlass 810m elevation.  Again I cramp severely falling over in agony, screaming as my legs try to murder me.  That ambulance has been stalking me & is right there.  The medics rush over to grab me.  I yell at them to back off between my screams.  Ambulances/medics equal race over.  Once again other runners pull me to my feet, one of them kicking my legs forward from behind and my legs finally fall into rhythm.
Little Pollys Hill greets me. I smile with relief.  Another hill means another walk.  I settle into my power walk mode, marching up Polly’s, we crest the timing mat.  The announcer advises us that if we carry on at our pace we will make it in 11 hours 5 mins, missing a bronze medal by 5 minutes.  He says we are about 8000 in placing and there are still 12000 runners behind us.  I am gobsmacked.
The Pink Drive have Pollys water station manned.  The dancing, cheer leader girls, music and crowd support pull us through and of course true to form I cramp terribly again falling yet again as I go down hill, my knees screaming in agony my quads & calfs exhausted from cramps.  My whole run has become a marathon of cramping.   I am through Pollys, the steepest sets of hills and later learn this was my best splits of the day!  Pietermaritzburg and we are 7km to the finish.  I decide that as I will miss the bronze by 5 mins, I will walk the remaining 6.5km so I can hopefully run through the stadium without cramping.
As I approach the last stretch into the stadium the crowds are roaring, and then I hear a tiny little voice.  A cute blonde 4year old calls out to me “Come on my girl, you can do it”. The highlight of my entire run.  I want to cry, I want to run back and kiss her.
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I enter the stadium. The cheering and support is insane.  Go Australia!!!  I run through, I hear & see my family screaming for me down the final chute.  The crowd is cheering and yelling like mad.
I have finished in 11 h 13 mins.   My detailed race plan drafted four days earlier had me finishing in 11h 6 mins.  I did it!
Our names were printed on our bibs front & back.  Thousands of people made the effort to read our names and cheer us on personally.  Hundreds of South African runners who ran alongside me, welcomed me to South Africa, thanked me for coming to their Comrades.  I was humbled and embarrassed and proud.  (I am a South African who migrated to Australia).
The Aftermath
I had to be carried home.  Day 2 had me crawling to the loo.  Day three, full muscle recovery, but seriously unstable knees.  End of Day 3 – I am coming back for the Down Run.  (The Comrades is run in alternate directions each year). 5 days before I can walk reasonably stable without too much knee pain. Having run in Luna Sandals, my feet are fine, one small blister under my toe from wet water stations, and one chipped toenail from either tripping on cats eyes or falling over cramping.
There is a lot of advise on the mental element of such long distances.  The distance did not phase me.  I break it up mentally in my mind,  into various sized chunks.  We have no music, and I trained without.  We did not need it, the crowd cheering, singing, dancing, the support stations, the fellow runners chatting, the stories told along the way..there would never have been time to plug in the earphones!  My other overriding distraction, particularly in the second half, was my cramps.  I also found myself calculating the course for the return  Down Run and mentally adjusting my training plan to suit!!  There were also two other amazing RMA ladies running.  Lyndsay Shaw and Grace Bailey, who both ran amazing times, and I had the privilege to meet up with Grace and her family.

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