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Comrades: The Finish

Before I get to the end, I found a video from the beginning. This is the shosholooza (mining song) that was sung at the beginning to start off the day- the lyrics expressed the hardships of working in the diamond mines. Currently, it is also used in pop culture to convey messages of hope and solidarity for athletes during competitions or in other times of hardship and distress. It was sung in the corral as we lined up and it was the coolest thing to hear first hand.

Now to the end:
I crossed the line and received my medal, a patch and a time-stamped card—they told me in case anyone “disputed” that I finished(?). Ok. They directed me to move along and I told them I wanted to wait for a friend. Happily, I saw Larry come across the finish line a few minutes later. I congratulated him and then we went our separate ways to recoup for a little bit. I made my way to the International tent where I expected to find Ross… but he wasn’t there. I stretched and waited for a bit, but no Ross, so I went to collect my tog bag. I grabbed my bag, took a quick shower, changed and headed back to the International tent where I found Larry. We ate and chatted and talked about where Ross could be. Ross had an old cell of Larry’s on him, but he couldn’t remember the number…
Larry and I happy to be done!
Cory had come through with a 9:13. We chatted and she told me how there had been two 9-hour buses. One official, one not. She had first ran with the un-official pace group until the pacer realized he wasn’t going to make it in time and took off on the group. She then hooked up with the official 9-hour bus and the pacer too, was going too slow to make 9-hours. At one point, the pacer tried to rally everyone to run the last 10 miles (after run-walking the first 44 at a much slower pace). Needless to say, no one could do it, and from there on out everyone was on their own. Cory wasn’t too fussed about it for herself (she had finished last year with an 8:59:59), but I thought it was sad for the people that had depended on the pace group. Another reason I haven’t ever stuck with a pace group…

After a little bit, Ross came streaming into the tent. I saw him right away and let him know where I was. I was so happy to see him and asked him what he thought I did it in. He said 10 hours and you could tell he was trying to be optimistic for me. He was shocked when I told him under 9! We talked and figured out where we had missed each other on the course and then he told me about the incredible traffic getting into Pietermarizburg and into the stadium. It didn’t surprise me, the stadium was busting with people— it was such a lively atmosphere—and there were only getting more people as the time went on.
The International Tent itself had a sweet set-up. It was half shaded, so you could be in the shade or sun. One whole long edge of the tent was facing the cricket oval, so you could see the finishers running their last lap. And there was ample room for everyone, with the best part, some BEAN BAGS. I was in heaven as I sat on one and ate my chicken pita, rice and drinking my Castle Lite. 
Me recouping in a bean bag.
As the time got closer to 12 hour cut-off there was such an air of relief and nervousness in the air, all at the same time. I kept seeing people coming into the tents with the largest grins ever—they had finished! And then other spectators glued to the track, just waiting to see their loved ones on the track- to know they are gonna finish. From where we were, we couldn’t see the finish line, but we had a clear view of a jumbotron televising the finish.

With about 10 minutes until the finish, the 12-hour bus arrived. PURE ELATION by everyone. I get all teary just watching it. These people have stuck together for 12 hours with one common goal, all supporting each-other and all finishing together. It is a beautiful thing. It takes over 2-minutes for all of the finishers to cross with their comrades.
Side note: South Africa televises all 12-hours of Comrades live EVERY year. 12-hours!!! On every station. I can’t even get highlights of the Boston Marathon here. Not to mention, they have record numbers of people tuning in every year in the 12th hour. (My dad watched some of it online and said it was really well done.)

As the time ticked down, everyone was glued to watching the finish line. They have a cut-off outside of the cricket oval that I think is about 2 minutes before the finish. Basically, I think they let everyone they think could POSSIBLY make it to the finish in. After that, runners cannot even try to get there.

As I watched people stream in the stadium, I was cheering “GO! GO! GO!” I had no idea who I was cheering for, but I just wanted them to get to that finish line. There were people sprinting, stumbling, hobbling and some even assisting one-another. It was an intense time of anxiety and joy at the same time-- and I didn't even know these people!

With about a minute to go, the race director comes out in a suit. Stands on the finish line with his back to the crowd, gun in hand.
A number of security guards line up behind him, making just enough room to let the runners come through. As the time ticks down, the race director raises his hand with the gun in it. 
Keep in mind, people are still streaming into the stadium. We are not talking about a few people, we are talking about a few hundred people in the last few minutes. At precisely 12:00:00, he fires a shot and the security guards make a human wall—literally blocking people from finishing. They were SECONDS away. And not allowed to finish.

I think the last one through as gun goes off
She got through the human wall. See the guys in yellow block everyone behind her.
I tried to find a video of the finish, but couldn’t. Here is one who didn’t make it

The end of the race was the most heart-breaking thing, but also why a number of runners race it. I was shocked to see all of the runners still streaming in, I thought there would be 1 maybe 2, not the masses that were here. I was saddened to see the numbers that were just seconds away from their goal, but imagined they’d be back next year and would make it—making the victory all the much sweeter.

As the race wrapped up, they played the shosholooza again over the loud speaker as we made our way out of the stadium and it was the perfect ending to the day for me.


Jan said...

I told Cassidy I think I have a little girl crush on you! I'm so impressed!!! And seriously teared up at that poor guy who couldn't stand up to finish. Heartbreaking!