By Vishwas Suryavanshi
A Journey that started exactly a year back. I had attended Team Motiv8 Comrades celebration. The experiences each athlete shared was very inspiring and I was completely sold out. I knew it that moment I was going to be a Motiv8 Comrades finisher too! Without any delay I had a discussion with my coach Atul Godbole and as soon as the registrations open in September I added my name to the Comrades participants list of almost 20,000 other athletes across globe.
Two weeks break after the SCMM my training for Comrades took off with a lot of excitement and full of energy. The month o f February was just fine and we did our longest run of 45km. I was very happy that I did my first Ultra Marathon (though unofficial). In March the intensity gradually increased and fatigue started to set in with increased millage, 4 days of running, back to back long runs on Saturday and Sunday. So I discussed with Coach and realized that Comrades is totally a different ball game and need to take lot of rest which will help in quick recovery and make me ready for next run. I changed my daily schedule and ensured that I go to bed no later than 9:30. That worked out well for me and soon I started feeling less fatigue. Then we did second long run of 55km in March. Again we did that on same route till Lavasa top with killing hills in last 8km. Meanwhile simultaneously I decided to put more focus on strengthening and developing the core and started attending Strength training sessions which are being conducted by Coach. Training was going well then in April we did the longest run of 65km in 7:12 with a strong finish again at Lavasa top and that boosted my confidence. I was very happy and looking forward for remaining part of training and D-Day. Final long run of 50k we did in May and then 3 weeks of taper before we flew to Durban.
Full of confidence along with lot of excitement we went to Durban on Thursday 1st June. Did easy 6k run around sea front at Durban and visited expo on Friday for bib collection. The biggest expo I had ever seen, spent ample amount of time there, very good arrangements for International runners. Had visited every stall at expo, clicked plenty of pictures in excitement as it was my first international marathon.
Took rest on Saturday entire day, prepared race kit, had a light dinner and went to bed around 8pm. Woke up at 2:30 had 2 bananas and protein shake in breakfast, reached to starting point at ~4:15am. It was very cold so I wore one additional t-shirt on my singlet. I and Krishna were in section C and waiting for the start. I was feeling lot of butterflies in my stomach as I could see right in front of me my distance of 87km waiting. I wondered when I saw many local runners in same section running their 10+, 20+ Comrades. It was good to have Krishna to chat and have some stress relief. SA national anthem was played followed by some local folk songs. One local runner crossed the barrier and came into our section. Volunteer saw this and immediately disqualified him before the start of the race. Rules are very strictly followed at Comrades. 10 min before the start of the race, the barriers separating the sections were opened, me and Krishna kept on moving towards start line. Comrades is timed from firing the gun and not when you cross the start line. A cock crowed, the gun was fired sharp at 5:30am and the race started.
It took us only 25 sec to cross the start line, we did not lose much time to reach the start line. I was very nervous initially, after first couple of km we took a quick loo break and continued. It was very cold in the morning initially however after first 5 km we took off our additional T-Shirt and thrown to road side which would be given to the orphanage kids later. It was very crowded and one runner fell down at pot hole on the bridge. Looking at that we started running on the middle of the road. It was dark till first 7-8km so we were running carefully. Hills were already underway and we started executing the plan given by coach for uphills. One gel per 10k right from start and salt tablet every after 10k was the formula we have been following in practice and same we followed in race as well. We decided to stay together for as far as possible and kept on controlling in first half of the race and then kept pushing each other in second half. We had seen the route profile and also told by many experienced people that elevation is only in first half and second half would be ok. So we tackled first half very well and reached to first cut-off Pinetown 18.2km in 2 hr. 2 min, second cut-off Winston park 29.7km in 3 hr. 18 min and third cut-off point Drummond 42.7km in 4 hours 50 min. Little slower than targeted average pace but we thought that we will cover that in second half which didn’t happen eventually. Meanwhile we enjoyed the beautiful scenery around the hills, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to run there. Crowd support was amazing throughout the hills, many groups of school kids along the route, singing some local songs. Comrades is a national event or must be a major festival for SA. Krishna runs barefoot and so many people were cheering him by reading his name on the bib. Around 50 people called him during the race. Meanwhile we crossed Arthur’s Seat point. Arthur’s Seat is situated just before Drummond/half way. It is literally a “hole” that has been cut out of the bank and is reputed to be a favorite “resting spot” for Arthur Newton, a 5 times winner of the Comrades. Legend has it that runners who greet Arthur and place a flower in his “seat” will have a good second half. So the challenge for runners on race day is to find a flower along route fairly close to Arthur’s Seat in order to pay the necessary respect, around the refreshment table just before Arthur’s Seat local people handed out roses to all the runners for this purpose.
All the hills we conquered comfortably till half way. It between we had some bananas and oranges. Fortunately I found some kids having salted chips and we had that to change the sweet taste due to gels. We cross 50k and still lot of killing hills were waiting for us and we realized that it’s going to be very tough than what we had imagined. We had a coke and in that break I took a pat bag which Krishna was carrying for his Luna chappals. We crossed fourth cut-off point Cato Ridge of 56.7 km in 6 hr. 35 min. We were holding our hands while crossing all cut-off point which we also did at finish line at PMB. Fortunately no cramps and no any pain so we continued but rolling route was the challenge. We realized that we are not going to achieve the target of sub 10 so we set new goal, meanwhile 11 hr. bus crossed us and we were shocked but we knew that pacers always have different strategy (many times they miss the target) and decided to concentrate on our own pacing plan. We reached fifth cut-off point Umlass Road 66.7km in 7 hr. 55 min. ¾ of race was done and then it was real test of body and mind, good part was we were still together keep chatting to each other, pushing and giving confidence to each other. Here I started feeling little discomfort so at next aid station we did some icing to thighs and calves, fortunately that did not exaggerate later. Throughout the run we kept on dousing water on head and shoulder for cooling down, as body generated lot of heat on the hills. We were feeling refreshed, that 1 min break during icing made us feel better. We kept on going and around 77-78km Polly Shortts the big ghost which we never imagined was waiting for us. It was too steep that we observed no much pace difference in walking and running hence we walked entire Polly Shortts hill and also saw that no other runner running nearby. We crossed sixth cut-off point Polly Shortts 79.7km in 9hr 33min. One good part throughout the race was weather, we practiced in very hot and humid conditions in Pune but weather in SA was excellent for running which really helped us.
Now around 7km was remaining and we decided to cross in no later than 40 min however there was one more hill around 81-82 km and our pace dropped. After that once we saw the sign board of “5km to go” we decided to increase our pace. Once we entered into the PMB crowd were cheering on both side of the road, calling us by our name and some Indians recognized us and shouted “common India” which generated a lot of energy, we did not stop, Krishna was in full swing, and his different version comes out during the race. Now the route was either flat or down hill. Last 1 k we started sprinting and giving good poses towards the camera. In last 100 mtr we again held our hands and crossed the finish line together. We completed Comrades in 10:24 with a strong finish.
After crossing the finish line we hugged each other and celebrated the achievement. I was very happy and feeling on the top of the world that I finished the Comrades strongly in my first attempt, which was a proud moment for me. Received the small finisher’s medal. All hard work of last 4-5 months paid off. We started walking towards the international tent and had to cross the bridge by climbing the staircase which was really painful. Organizers need to look into this. It was very cold and I started to shiver. Shashi gave me his jacket in addition to mine. Met all fellow runners from India. Started taking pics and celebration continues. We congratulated each other. Then we went back to hotel 90km travel by bus to Durban. It was a huge sense of satisfaction and proud moment for all of us.
Dreams can’t be fulfilled without great supporters and well wishers, I want to thank all of them from the bottom of my heart for helping me out to make it happen. Water support is very crucial during long runs and for our long runs Rahul Udhoji, Vipin Gupta, Kavitha Reddy, Manoj Thakur, Rohit Roy, Sukhdev Singh, Gowri Gopalan, Souvik Mukherjee, Mukesh Mehta and Sunil Dani came all the way to Lavasa to provide water support starting as early as 2am which means they sacrificed their entire night sleep to be with us and also rescheduled their workouts. That is absolutely amazing stuff guys.!!!!
Right from start when I registered in September 2016 till the actual event many of my friends wished via Facebook, What’sapp, over the phone and boosted my confidence to prepare for THE ULTIMATE HUMAN RACE “COMRADES”. Thanks to each one of them as well.
Thank you to the man behind the scene Coach Atul Godbole for an excellent structured training, amazing tips to conquer the hills and race day strategy which resulted in successful and strong finish. Thank you to Krishna Sirothia my Co-runner for an awesome partnership during training and race day, we kept on giving each other the strength and confidence and had a strong finish together. He is an awesome runner and his strong version comes out during the race and I witnessed that twice.
Thank you to my family, all PuneRoadRunners and Motiv8 co-runners for continuous support and encouragement in building my confidence. I was thinking about all of you during my last 15km of Comrades and that gave me lot of energy to keep going. I am fortunate to have each one of you in this journey and fortunate to be surrounded by such people with a beautiful heart.