SA. Ultimate human race, Sizonqoba
October 22, 2019

The untold story of my comrades journey to back -to – back medals


The Comrades Marathon has a rich history dating back all the way to 1921 when the first Comrades was held with 34 Runners. To date, the ultimate human race attracts close 25,000 runners across the globe. It has a unique record of the world’s oldest, biggest and most famous ultra-marathon with a collection of past winners prizes from the early 1920s & the 1930s. Photos of Vic Clapham the founder and other Comrades can be viewed. It brings together athletes from 80 countries. It is a symbol of passion, pride & perseverance. The comrades take all of you. It tests you, it defines you, and it can break you. However, ultimately it strengthens you. It brings the runner close to being great and enduring, as greatness would allow. THERE IS NOTHING LIKE THE COMRADES!


Training


I started training this year in January, for Mt Kilimanjaro marathon together with Kitengela Mbuni Runners and Run fit Club members under our mentorship of D.Thuo, J. Ndegwa and D. Munene who have been guiding and coaching the upcoming recreational runners. They have been role models to everyone. Mt Kilimanjaro is one of the races many runners use to qualify for marathon races and it’s organized by Wild frontiers who are the organizers of the Comrades Marathon.


I had missed out registration for the race when it opened in October 2018 due to financial constraints  that I was going through. I did not foresee my participation for the race come June. The registration for comrades sells out quickly within a month immediately after it opens up. So my chances were so slim even though I still continued with my training in January and February. I then ran the Mt Kilimanjaro marathon beginning of March with the hope that I will still register for the comrades. Having run it last year (2018) from Pietermaritzburg to Durban (down run 90kms) as a novice, (this is a term popularly referred for the first time runners), it therefore meant I had to run the up run which is Durban—Pietermaritzburg, 87kms.  Having run it two years consecutive years means I earned the back-to-back medal.


Earlier on during one the Runfit club training sessions D. Thuo had planned with Karen Hospital to have runners undertake some medical examinations. After being examined, I was one among the runners who were referred back for further investigation by the cardiologist. He told me I should not run the Comrades before undertaking further examinations. All these involved monies which I was not able to raise. I confided these findings to my friend who quickly went online and read extensively about the conditions of Athletes. She came down with a consolation answer that it was a normal condition with some Runners. I then felt some relieve and ran even though later I would visit the Karen Hospital for further tests. By this time all my comrades’ colleagues who were doing the Comrades had extensively trained and had already done with their long runs of +60kms.I could only do runs in Ngong 26kms, 35kms and 42kms.


During the month of April, the comrades usually have a window period of 2 weeks for those who do not qualify by then to be replaced, with people on the waiting list. I had decided that I wanted to register and go for my back-to-back medal. Therefore, when the registration opened in April I registered through Sports Tours and Travel. Unfortunately, after having run Mt Kilimanjaro full marathon and Beyond Zero half Marathon, I sustained a back injury, which put me down for the next 7 weeks and had to attend two physiotherapy sessions each week by the Nairobi Sports Injuries and Wellness clinic. By the time I satisfied them I could resume training, it was 5 weeks to the race. Everybody was worried including me about the short time to race, deep down myself, I would feel my inner spirit whispering that I will run the Comrades and finish unless something drastic happened.

Pre & race day


I travelled to SA on 6th June 2019, and the following day I went to the Comrades marathon Expo and picked my running kit. I then went to the Cola-Cola booth where I met a representative of Cola-Cola SA, by the name Asanda who took me around the Cola-Cola Expo booth. The Coca-Cola team at the expo was happy to see me at their booth because they were aware that I was sponsored by a water brand (Keringet) from the Kenya office.

Cola-Cola is one of the biggest sponsors of the Comrades marathon. By virtue of being a sponsor they are entitled to man one of the hydration checkpoints.

 

Marathon expo


During the Expo there is so much fanfare, different running clubs come singing SA National Anthem.  Ecstatic mood is all over the place making Comrades running look much easier. One booth selling Maurten  which is the Energy drink that E. Kipchoge and other Kenyan elite runners use. The booth was branded with Kenyan athletes Kipchoge, D. Wanjiru E. Kiplangat. B. Koskei images. Everyone was excited to buy the drinks being taken by Celebrity Kenyan runners who predominantly dominate world marathon running.


After collecting my running kits I retired to the hotel waiting to do the 5kms warm run on Saturday 8th, where I met my Kenyan Comrades team led by Sandor, S. Muteti, P. Momanyi, Stella Hamisi, Giba, James. The other Kenyans who opted to take a rest included R. Kameadju, V. Kamau, Lebo, H. Muturi, Andu Adebe & E.Oonge. After the warm-up race I went back to the hotel to go through the drill of going through the checklist, timing chip, gels, road ID, warm clothes, etc. I always say this drill is like going to war, everything has to be ready and of the alarm clock crossed checked.

Race day


I woke up at 3am and went for breakfast. After breakfast, we were driven to the start line at 4 am. The place is lively, and I got to my seed F. This seed F is where you find slow runners and anyone who is running Comrades for the first time. It is a seed you have push and get enough space for running otherwise it is too congested. I fell twice before 25kms & 30kms because I had to jostle for space to run. After 35kms the crowds fizzle out then one can now run at his/her own pace or join the bus.


In 2018 I was in a better pool because I was seeded in seed D because of my sub 4hrs marathon qualification time.  However in 2019 I was seeded in pool F primarily because of a technical hitch that occurred during the 2018 Nairobi Standard Chartered Marathon where we were made to run 43.3kms instead of the IAAF marathon distance 42.195kms therefore I ended up running 4.06hrs instead of sub 4hrs.


The halfway mark (Drummond) is very significant to all the runners. It is called Arthurs seat. In 2019 I paid attention because in 2018 I did not know what was happening. I just saw runners going to touch the grounds, but I paid no attention. The spot is refuted to have been a favourite resting spot for the Legendary Arthur Newton, a five (5) times winner of the Comrades marathon in the 1920’s. It is said that runners who pay tribute to Arthur as they pass by will enjoy the strong second half of the race. Drummond is a place of joy and tears as the halfway cut off time of 11:40 am approached more runners had made their way past halfway, but exactly 11:40 am (6.10hrs) the barriers went up and about 19,000 runners had gone past the halfway line leaving behind 4,000 who did not make it to the second half of the COMRADES.


I had earlier joined the bus (running group) of runners expected to finish within 10.30hrs but as the race progressed I developed muscle cramps after 60kms mark, making me slow down. I tried to put a brave face even though I was in pain. Along the roadside, I would see runners trying to seek medical attention while others were throwing up in the bush. At 65 km mark, I finally came to the Cola-Cola checkpoint where I met Asanda and Cola-Cola SA crew who cheered me and ran with me for about 100 meters. I was energized to see them and started jogging and walking. However, I had to stop at the medical station due to painful cramps. I was sprayed and after a few minutes I got a relief and continued still on the bus for 10.30hrs.


Comrades route is full of fanfare. Along all the way, there are musical bands playing for the runners while other supporters are roasting meat and drinking. There were students, relatives, and spectators all along the route and there is no kilometre covered where you would not get someone to shout your name and encourage you with the Comrades marathon theme, Sizonqoba—together we shall triumph. All the way was pomp, hype and color.


At the 75kms mark I got severe muscle cramps again. This time I stopped running and walked until I approached a medical station where they gave me some salt to lick. After licking the salt, I got better and continued running until the finish line. I crossed the finish line at 10hrs 57mins 27 secs.  Upon crossing the finish line one is awarded a medal for finishing the race referred to as the finisher’s medal. Having run the Comrades for two consecutive years, I was entitled to a Back to Back medal. As I walked to receive it I developed serious cramps again, my body shut down, and I could not walk. I sat down and the next thing I was carried on a stretcher to the finishers’ medical tent. It was my first time since I started running 15 years ago, I ended up in medical rescue tent for further check-up. While I was on the stretcher, they helped me collect my Back-to-Back medal.


This finish line is so well organized that they will check on every runner whether they have gotten their respective medals. You will not go looking for your medal.  At the medical tent, I was so exhausted that I could not even take water, an energy drink or a soda. They checked my BP, heart rate, pulse and everything was okay even though I had not passed urine for 15hrs. I could see runners passing urine with blood. At this point, I remembered my earlier health scare at the Karen Hospital when the cardiologist had warned me not to take part until he cleared me. I wanted to be examined properly and not to leave anything to chance. After a while, I recovered and felt much better.  I walked to go get my warm clothes where I met my Kenyan Comrades and we sat for a hot cup of coffee while we celebrated and took photos.

The 12-hour cut-off time


Then came the finish time which is 12 hours cut-off, this is one of the epicentre of the Comrades marathon where families, runners and spectators gather to witness the last moments of the race and everyone trying to encourage runners to go past the finish line. People watch from big TV screens which are mounted around the finish line.


The stadium is tense and emotional moments going through many people waiting for the gun to go off. This is the part of Comrades everyone waits around to watch, so I had gone near a TV screen to watch.  After 12 hours when the gun went off, Indian National K. Vartak 31 years old was disappointed after narrowly missing the cut-off by a few seconds. It was his second time unlucky as he did not finish last year’s marathon just 5kms from the finish when he fractured his ankle. In 2019, K. Vartak stated that cramps set in 30kms prior to halfway, which affected his race even though he said he would make a comeback in 2020.


Another runner by the name of A. Mabena, 70years old missed the cut-off at halfway when he announced his retirement from Comrade’s marathon after taking part for 15 years in a row. This was the first time he missed the cut-off. Least but not last was Siyanda Majeke’s face as he was the last person to cross the finish line in 2019 Comrades marathon cut-off. There was relief etched all over his face as the last runner to cross the finish line at 12.00.00 hrs. Many runners cried as they crossed the finish line. It was a bittersweet moment for many runners like N. Mongohhoane as she missed the cut-off by seconds. She tried to jump, but it did not work. She ran with a hip injury and after two years break. She was happy and promised to come back in the future.

Winners


Steyn Gerda was this year, the woman who smashed the up run Comrades marathon record by 10 minutes by running 5.58.83hrs from the previous record of 6.09.23hrs that was set in 2006 by Russian Elena’s. She also won the Two Oceans Old Mutual Marathon.  34-year-old Mothibi was 2019 male winner running 5.31.33hrs. He spoilt Bongomusa’s attempt to win the fourth consecutive Comrades marathon title by only 25seconds. There were emotional scenes of camaraderie encompassing the spirit of comrades as the sunset over Pietermaritzburg signalling the 12hr cut-off.


The Robert Mtshali Medal:  For the first time athletes who completed this year’s Comrades marathon in 9hrs to sub 10hrs were awarded with this medal. It joins the other Comrades medal collection namely: Gold for top 10 men & women, Wally Hayward men position 11 to sub 6hrs, Isavel Roche Kelly women position 11 sub 7.30hrs, Silver 6hrs—7.30hrs, Bill Rowan 7.30hrs—sub 9hrs, Bronze 10hrs—sub 11hrs, Vic Clapham Copper 11hrs, sub 12hrs, Back to Back; Novice runners who have completed 2 consecutive runs, up and down.

Sponsorship


This year in April during one of our training runs which was a send-off run for Team London Marathon; one of my running mates just overheard a conversation that I was having with another runner in regards to her, assisting me seek corporate sponsorship for this race. Upon hearing this conversation, she asked me to submit a write up about the charity I was fundraising for. She then took up the conversation further with Keringet team from Cola-Cola.

The team receiving Keringets Contribution

Keringet, the premium water brand from Coca-Cola was sold onto this sponsorship concept and agreed to support my running endeavours by supporting my travel, accommodation, training needs, hydration and more importantly agreeing to support my charity cause.  From this sponsorship, I was expected to champion hydration, fitness and advocate for the importance of staying hydrated during training and runs. Keringet has continuously hydrated me during this contractual period and as their brand ambassador I therefore been running in Keringet branded kit locally and during the Comrades marathon. Keringet water brand has continued supporting recreational runners and sponsored three training runs, two before the Comrades marathon and one after.


Besides sponsoring my participation in Comrades marathon, Keringet has extended a warm gesture by sponsoring my air ticket, hydration and kit for the New York Marathon.

Shoe4africa /new york marathon


After running the Comrades Marathon I had registered for the New York Marathon on November 3rd which is one of the 6th World Marathon Majors.  Shoe4africa is one of the Charities accredited by the New York Marathon to fundraise for the children’s hospital. I applied to run, and got a marathon slot from the CEO and Founder of Shoe4Africa, Toby Tanser. My target was to raise Ksh. 2 million for the construction of the only Public Children’s Cancer Hospital Sub-Saharan Africa, which requires $2 million for the construction and $500,000 for equipment. In 2018 I raised Ksh. 600,000. In 2019 so far, I have fundraised Ksh.409, 000. This is money fundraised from recreational runners, friends, Corporate and Hill Crest School students whose students who have been sparing their pocket money for this initiative.


I have managed to raise Ksh. 1 Million in total. To all those who have donated their monies I say Asante Sana.

Shoe4Africa Childrens Hospital

I am still appealing for more sponsorship. I believe every child in Kenya deserves quality health care and cancer is disease many children cannot access treatment due to its high cost of implication. Therefore, by giving your shilling, a dollar or a pound it will go towards the construction of the only Public Children’s Hospital Sub-Saharan Africa.

Shocker (cybercrime)


In April when the Comrades opened a window for registration replacement, I had to struggle to get cash for registration and eventually I registered through sports tours and travel. I was so excited even though the physiotherapist had grounded me during this period. After several visits to Nairobi Sports Injuries and Wellness Clinic, the pain persisted, and they referred me to take an x-ray. After going to the hospital they requested me to make payment of the X-ray. I checked my bank balance, which I had reserved to buy a ticket to SA. I realized my bank balance was not correct. I got a rude shock because my bank balance was not correct.


I proceeded to my bank, and I requested them to print a statement. When I perused through it I straight away realized someone had hacked my account while I was making payment for registration and accommodation and it was being used in SA. Someone was eating at the Mcdonalds, riding on Taxify, withdrawing money daily. In 12 days, he had withdrawn 100k. At that point, the Bank asked me to get a police abstract, which they would forward, to the Bank’s fraud and claims. I could not believe this, but after confiding with my friend, she assured me if I did not compromise my credit card I will get a refund but the refund would take one month.


I did not have any other money to buy the ticket. I called another friend who bailed me as I waited for the claim to go through.  I kept it a secret and prayed about it, asking God how can my money can be stolen while I was fundraising for children whom I do not know. Why is this possible? I had many unanswered questions. After one month, I called the Bank, and they told me they have already returned my money in my account. This was a miracle for me. After one week Keringet Brand, Cola-Cola came on board for sponsorship. God answered my prayers and reminded me silver and gold belongs to him if he provides birds of the air food, why am I worried.

Acknowledgment


Special thanks to Recreational Runners & my friends, families, Keringet Brand, Cola-Cola, Icon Sports, CEO & founder of Shoe4africa Toby Tanser, Hon. A. KIAI,  L.Kiplangat, P.Makau, D.Wakiihuri, Hill Crest School, Bomas of Kenya, Nikita Resort, Sports City Resort, Fitness Rev Gym, Staff of Nairobi Sports Injuries and Wellness clinic, J. Kariakim, D. Thuo, J.Ndegwa, D. Munene, Pacers Kiplimo & Englishman, Mburu Taxi & Crew, Bachelor Kimani, Training Partners, Melita & Jane Olgivy, Nyanguthi, Mona, Girls and all those who continues to play a part by checking on me and ensuring I am doing my training, welfare, etc.

I still appeal for more funds,

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