Ever since I began running ultras, I have always said that the things I truly love about running ultras is the spectrum of factors that can affect your race, the variation of emotions you can experience and the extreme highs and lows you can weather.
Never have I experienced those things so completely as I did at Comrades marathon. If you asked me how I felt.....
At 30k into the race, I would have described the race as surreal, I was leading the race, joking to the motorcycles that they should find a better way to radio back about me other than "the tall one". It was truly surreal. I was leading the biggest race of my life. I was telling my bicycle escort, this wasn't exactly where I wanted to be right about now, pushing to the front of the pack towards the first hotspot (a Bonitas money mid-race cash prize).
At 45k, I was devastated and debilitated by abdominal cramping.
At 60k, I was on the verge of quitting, tears streaming my face, being convinced by Nedbank handlers, strangers I didn't know to continue. Just to keep going.
At 75k, I refused to quit.
At the the finish, I would have described myself as relieved.
The day after, disappointed.
There came a point during Comrades where I cursed the race, wondered aloud why the HELL anyone would want to run the damn thing, let alone over and over again. But now I know; it captivates you. And now I feel like if I could only ever do one race ever again (or over & over again) it would be Comrades (preferably paired with Two Oceans) .
Comrades is everything I love about running (except for the lacking trails part), it is intensely challenging, competitive, supported by the entirety of not just the community itself but the nation and absolutely embodies why I even bother to race at all.
I did not have the race I was capable of fitness wise. But I didn't quit. I did not have the race I wanted mentally- I struggled to enjoy it. But I realized now, sometimes gritting your teeth and bearing the extreme pain surpasses the experience of simply enjoying every step.
Last night, I fell asleep on the airplane disappointed, frustrated I didn't have the race I know I am fit for and without answers for why I cramped so bad. When I woke, the whole race experience seemed to slip away, like it never happened, with each passing mile I flew away from Durban. Then, in one conversation, my entire experience truly set in.
Although I'd had many conversations about the race from the border patrol agent who recognized me from being on TV to the extra chatty seatmate on my flight from Durban to Joburg, all of those conversations did little but remind me of my own disappointment. This morning was different.
The conversation itself was not much different than the others I had had about the race. He'd run the race 4 times before, although not this year. But something triggered inside me.
I realized the true depth of my experience. I realized that I had accomplished something incredible, even if I hadn't had the result I wanted. I was a part of something special. They call it "the ultimate human race" and it truly is the ultimate human experience. After that conversation, I went from disappointed to feeling like the member of an exclusive club.
Those who know what it is like, KNOW. I feel inducted, in the club. I have NEVER been more proud to cross a finish line and that is regardless of position, time or even the struggle to get there. Comrades is truly, incredibly special. There is just no other way to describe it.
I know I usually write complete blow by blow recaps, but I feel, for maybe the first time ever in my short running career, that words can't even begin to capture my experience.
I cam to South Africa to run an epic, classic race. I left with an epic experience. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity.
I truly appreciate my sponsors, Nedbank and North Face for making it possible. 5th place in 6:39 in the biggest ultra (and one of the biggest races in the world, period). First novice, first American. It doesn't matter, what matters is entering that stadium to the deafening roar of the crowd held held high, tears on my face and crossing that finish line. It is unlike any other experience I've had before and I will return time and time again.
Check back for photos and videos soon. I am not home from my journey yet!