Comrades 2022 (Down Run)

Race Date: Sunday 28th August 2022

Race Report by Philip Kelly

Comrades. South Africa’s big race. You might know it. If not:

Training had gone well, getting my qualifying time at Brighton marathon. Six weeks out the legs decided they’d had enough of marathons as training runs or big back-to-back weekends and decided to give me what I still think is achilles tendonitis. Cue my steepest and longest taper with the furthest I’d run being 8 miles during those last six weeks. We flew out to South Africa with my head in denial as to what was ahead, not wanting to let myself get excited and full of self doubt that I’d even manage 10km never mind 90km.

Having endured a 7 hour uber trip from Jo’burg to Durban (thanks BA) next up was North Beach parkrun – an out and back along, well, North Beach. With Durban definitely experiencing peak Comrades parkrun rubbed shoulders with running clubs (many of which are established with the sole purpose of allowing runners to enter, train for and run Comrades) all running in unison and singing. It was an experience which made the hairs on my neck stand on end and brought a lump to the throat.

With a 5.30am start and a 90 minute bus trip to Pietermaritzburg we set the alarm for 1am, went to bed at 9 and surprisingly got a few hours sleep.

Nerves properly kicked pre-race. I’d lost a number magnet on the bus, I couldn’t find my plasters and went and sat on my gels in the start coral. Calm the f*** down Philip. It was with a slightly sticky bum that I found myself sat next to and talking to Alan Robb a 4 times Comrades winner and a South African running legend along with Bruce Fordyce. “Any advice apart from don’t sit on your gels Alan?”

Crowds lining the route at Comrades 2022

Start procedures involved the national anthem, shosaloza and chariots of fire. Calm the f*** down Philip. The crowing of a cockerell and then BOOM, start cannon goes and we’re off. I have 12 hours to get to Durban (did I mention 12 hour cut off televised on national TV?).

12 hours is a long time to write about so in summary it was hill after hill after hill. It never ended. This was a down run too – although the net downhill comes at mile 35 onwards, just to properly trash your quads. The scenery was stunning, following the main highway between PMB and Durban, 1000 Hills (aptly named) being especially stunning.

Spectators lined the course – from communities in clearly impoverished areas, desperate to get hold of discarded running kit as the sun, and heat, rose, to affluent suburbs lining the streets with their beers and braais.

By mile 30 I was 45min up on an 11.45 finish pace I’d plugged in to my watch and although I’d developed a slightly weird running style because of the achilles my head was in a great place. Comrades race numbers indicate how many times a runner has completed within the cut off. When you’re surrounded by people who have finished 5, 10, 20 Comrades you bow to their experience and pacing strategy. Calm the f*** down Philip. Enjoy it.

I found myself behind the 11 hour bus for a few hours, locked into their pace, unable to run round or through them but also just listening to the men singing their running songs. Another memory to lock away in the bank.

Philip enters the stadium

With about 15 miles to go and coming up to 8 hours in, a local who’s running his 12th Comrades asks how I’m doing. “This is the hardest marathon you’ll ever do. Followed by the second hardest”.

60, 70, 80k done. Into single figures. Big downs run. I WAS going to bloody well do this. With 5k to go I managed to get through the 11 hour bus and decided it was finally time for a double espresso caffeine gel I’d been carrying for hours (but had never tried before). I really wanted a coffee and what could go wrong with 3 miles to go? Gel downed, it tasted amazing and all of a sudden I’m off, legs feeling like I was doing parkrun again and experiencing that runners high I hadn’t experienced in years. The last two miles were the quickest of the whole race. I ran into the stadium, tried to soak it up and crossed the finish line. 10.52. Cue tears – an outpouring of relief, happiness and exhaustion.

Philip crosses the finish line

That was Comrades. The race I said I was only doing once. Except there’s a back to back medal to be earned which you only get one shot at. Rumour has it it’s another down run too. So I’ll have to do it in 2024 to get an Up run under my belt. And if I’ve got three runs I might as well keep going until I’ve done it 10 times and the number gets retired with me.

But first let’s get this bloody ankle sorted out.

15,996 runners entered the ultramarathon, with 11,713 finishing within the cut off. Winner of the men’s race was Tete Dijana of Nedbank Running Club GN in a time of 05:30:38. The women’s race was won by Alexandra Morozova (club entry listed as ‘International’) in a time of 06:17:48.

Striders Results

Pos Name Cat Cat Pos Time
7126 Philip Kelly MV40-49 2674 10.52.32

Full Results are available on the RaceTec website.

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