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Comrades: Getting to the start line!

So my last post was all about how I felt ready for Comrades and whatever it would bring me. And I was. What I wasn’t ready for were flight delays and lost luggage. Agh!
On our way to South Africa, our flight out of Denver kept getting delayed, to the point where when we got to DC, Ross and I were literally sprinting between terminals in order to catch our connecting flight to Johannesburg. It was like one of those scenes you see in the movies where the actors get there as the flight attendents were closing the doors—only the actors were us and it was for real. Coincidentally, we made it to Jo-berg (and on to Durban), but our bags did not.

Just happy to be on a South African-bound plane
When I found out that I might not get my bags in time, I let myself absorb the information, then pulled myself together and formed a Plan B. I had worn my trail shoes and a pair of compression socks on the plane, so I could run in those. I then would purchase what else I NEEDED at the expo the following day. To help things, I met another runner at the hotel (Beth, my new SA BFF) and she volunteered to help out with anything extra I might need that couldn’t find. I ended up borrowing a singlet from her in case mine didn’t arrive. Regardless, I wanted MY stuff.

Side note: I have always heard #1 rule of racing is don’t race with anything new on race day. I have learned (via Franny—Marathon Tours Guide whom Beth was traveling with) that the #1 rule is actually don’t travel without your kit. I would have to say Franny knows her stuff because it was looking like I was going to be racing in all new apparel regardless of intent.

Ross and I spent Saturday morning at the expo with Larry and had a great time. 
What do you mean this isn't the right place for me?
Larry and I trying to figure out my pace...?
Beach = excellent place to relax
 Got some new stuff and spent the afternoon relaxing. Dinner was pasta up in the Berea with Larry.

When we contacted the airlines after dinner on Saturday night, the baggage office was closed, so Ross jumped in our rental car and went up to the Durban airport to get it all sorted out—turns out our baggage was coming in on a flight from Jo-berg at 9:30 p.m. So, Ross waited to collect the luggage and then returned to the hotel around 11. I sorted out my race necessities by midnight, then… couldn’t sleep! I was so worried about only getting 3+ hours of sleep and here I was getting none. I hadn’t really felt all that nervous, so I wasn’t sure if it was anxiety, jet lag, or side effects from my malaria meds. Either way, I couldn’t get my body to rest. I watched the time tick down and thought “I am doomed”.

Ross woke at 3:15 as scheduled. We talked, I was worried. He was Mr. Pollyanna as we got ready and went for breakfast. At breakfast I thought about a conversation I had had with Nina the other weekend about how sometimes we think about what could have been “If I wasn’t sick…”, “if I didn’t get anxiety in the water…”, etc. I decided. “No excuses”, whatever the day brings me, it brings me. I am sure there were plenty of other runners out there who also didn’t sleep… after stressing out about lost luggage for the prior day. 
Me & Beth in our warm-up shirts, getting ready to leave the hotel
 The start was about ¾ mle from our hotel, so we walked on down. I had to say goodbye to Ross outside of the runners area and we both went on our journies for the day. Once inside, there was a jovial spirit and chatted it up with a few runners in the tog bag (drop bag) line.

Where I said goodbye to Ross

Comrades has a number of traditions, one of which is included on your bib numbers. The numbers are all color-coded (blue for international, green for runners who have completed 10+ Comrades, striped green for those going for their 10th, orange for those doing it for their back-to-back medal, etc) as well as information about the runner—their name, how many times they have run Comrades, which medals they have won, etc. This all made for some good conversation starters. 

Now, onto the corral. I got in there a little before 5 and people were a little more focused on the race at hand. I did end up chatting it up with Cory. She had her hair down, make-up on, and an Australian flag pinned to her waist. Crazy! This was her 4th time, so we talked about that and our expectations for the day. 
Side note: If you are going to run Comrades as an International runner, try to wear something from your country (like Cory's Aussie flag). Spectators will cheer for you like crazy. In Cory’s case, they often cheered “Go British Girl!”, but at least they were trying.

Prior to all of this, I hadn’t set any hard time goals for myself. It is hard in a race like this because it is longer than anything I have run in training plus the terrain is unknown and difficult. For those of you unfamiliar with the Comrades course it is extremely hilly and runs from Durban to Pietermarizburg (or vice versa depending on the year). This was an UP run year, so I would be running from sea level to about 2500 ft in the first 40 miles, then rolling hills till the end. I knew my climbing pace is a lot slower than my normal pace, plus I would not have the respite (downhills) I have when running normal hills to help lower the pace. 

That being said, my #1 goal was to finish enjoying the day. I had trained so hard, read so much about the race and I wanted to experience first hand all that I had heard. Second goal was to run it in sub-11 hours. 11 hours was the traditional cut-off time for the race before it was legnthened to 12 hours in 2003. Symbolically, I wanted to run the race by the standards originally set. (45% of the whole field finishes between 11 & 12 hours. It is that hard.) If I had a GREAT day, I was hoping for a 10-10:30. (Larry had talked me into getting a 9:30 and 10 hour pace bands and I thought he was crazy.) BUT, I also told myself, whatever happens, happens. I put in the training and if I end up with an 11:59:59—I would be happy! -- I would probably be pretty let down if I didn’t finish… but that would be a different story to tell.
From the front
Me on the inside
So, there I stood in the darkness, waiting to start with 54+ miles of uphill in front of me. The announcer started talking, then it was the South African national anthem. I stood there and had people all around me singing it—it was pretty awesome. Then it was the Shosholoza, a mining song/chant which 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. This is another Comrades tradition to sing it, both at the start and sometimes along the run (again, if you know the words, which I did not).
Very symbolic in nature of the Comrades itself. The city hall bell then tolled, the cock crowed (another tradition) and we were off!!!