I started the year – off a poor fitness base – thinking of an outstanding Personal Best run. 06h45 to be precise. By April, in time for Ironman 2003, I was in top nick and already dreaming of the [hoped for] incremental benefit that would come from dropping the cycling and swimming and focusing on running before Comrades. I even flirted with the thought that my target was modest!

Aha! Error #1 – cross-training is exactly what I needed to continue until probably only 3-4 weeks before Comrades.

I also took the opportunity to run a number of ultras, which I have always enjoyed, disregarding what the cumulative effect might be on my goal.

So, I ran Long Tom (56km), Two Oceans (56km), Jock (54km), Suikerbosrand (42km), Slow Mag (42km), Wally Hayward (42km), to name a few. I must confess that I thoroughly enjoyed each one – and would not hesitate to do it all again. I believe that this is Error #2.

Error #3: In the last few weeks [3-4] before June 16, my other commitments made it hard to complete the speed work, hill training and general rounding-up for a super run. So what? I still thought I had it “in me”!

The week before Comrades I ran 8km and felt 1) tired and 2) a niggle in my pelvic floor. I knew then that it would be a challenge on the big day. So what? I could always tag onto and count on FAT BOY (my running mate) to drag us to a respectable finish [whatever that is?]!

Comrades morning 04h00: one of my running partner insists on his morning coffee. The other one bags her breakfast cereal and I plunder a banana and brown toast. Runners with the same goals but such different ways of approaching them. What fun indeed.

In our seeding pen, we have the rare pleasure of seeing Maria Bak [needless to say, the only time we see her that day!]. She is looking lean, lean, lean and mean. I recognise how I had hoped I would look on this day. No Sir. I am still carrying a great deal more weight – no, let’s call that “muscle” – but I make a mental note of how I need to look one day. Just raw tendons and sinew – muscle just clinging on. That being the case, I take it the clock can’t possibly beat me.

The gun goes off. We head out and immediately are passed by runners seeded behind us! I envy them for their fearlessness. I guess it has to be said that what makes front seeded runners just that, is their ability to pace themselves – not much else. But it also makes them perhaps more conservative – and boring too.

At the 5km mark I tell my partner it will be a long day for me. I can already feel the niggle in my pelvis. Fortunately, when the gun went off, I left my goals behind at the start line.

And that my friend is just how I ran Comrades 2003: Set goals, trained hard, committed physically and mentally to the race, did all the right things [to the extent possible] and then let it all rest at the start line. Honestly, just the joy of being able to 1) run and 2) run Comrades is absolutely overwhelming!

So, one step at a time we edged our way towards Durban. And then that magical moment arrived. We reached the school for handicapped children.

Now which runner cannot but selfishly think of just how blessed and fortunate they are just to be able to – physically, emotionally, financially or whatever way, run Comrades? For a moment, I witnessed my dear friend FAT BOY lost in the warmth of those children – handing away his beads, gloves, shirt and anything else he could give away. And just in case you haven’t noticed, and as was pointed out, those children wait out there to cheer us on and revel in our exploit and all they ask for is a “high-5” – a touch of their hand as we run by. Theirs, unlike the palms of many others you meet on route there and afterwards, are not faced upwards asking for handouts, but rather, sideways for a passing handshake. If nothing else, it is these children that will always bring me back to Comrades.

The rest is history. We rolled along the valley and dropped into Durbs. A little behind schedule but well and truly supported by the fantastic crowds. A little while later, freshly showered, medal tossed into the sports bag, I tucked into chicken burgers. Now this is the other reason that I run – and no chicken is safe near me after a long run.

So, what of my 2003 experience did I learn?

1) Set realistic goals, believe in them and work towards them. Be flexible – there will be “detours”
2) Comrades may not be your best day so enjoy the training. Comrades is only 90km and there are so many more miles of absolute enjoyment to be had on route there! Cross-train too if you can.
3) You can leave the stress of your goals behind at the start line. If you are well prepared you mind and body will carry you through the motions, which lead to the achievement of your goals. You don’t need to drag along any extra burdens – relax, enjoy the day.
4) Stop to greet those wonderful children at the handicapped school. Each palm you touch lightens the weight on your legs and saves you another minute on your finish time. Those are special kids.
5) Its all about the finish. Feeling strong enough to finish comfortably is such a bonus – even if you are behind your goal. So, keep a little in store for the last 2-5km. It is all you and many, many others will remember. And if you’re lucky, you may appear on telly looking like you were finishing a 10km run!