The beautiful pain of my Comrades Marathon

Buntu Gotywa

Yep, it finally happened, a week ago on a chilly Sunday morning in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, I found myself standing at the starting line of my long-awaited attempt at the Comrades Marathon.

I am one of the more than 16 000 runners who took on the challenge of the ultimate human race, among the hundreds, if not thousands of newcomers, just like me.

Oh, what a journey it had been!

Flashback to 2020, when I had initially set out to conquer the world, or at least an epic close to a 90-kilometre stretch of the world’s largest and oldest ultra-marathon in the KZN terrain.

But alas, Covid-19 burst onto the scene like an uninvited party crasher, postponing the dream faster than you can say “social distancing”.

Fate does have a twisted sense of humour.

It’s now 2023, and there I was, nervously toeing the line, shaky knees like a leaf on a windy day. But I will tell you now if you didn’t know, as I have heard and witnessed, Igwijo really does heal a bruised nervous system, and I sang at the top of my lungs, as terrible of a singer as I am.

I was excited and yes I was also nervous.

It didn’t help that I had this niggling knee injury for weeks leading up to the race. But, what’s a little knee discomfort when you’re about to tackle the ultimate test of human endurance, right?

We sang the National Anthem, moved on to Shosholoza, then came the Chariots of Fire theme, the rooster crowed and the starting gun fired, and off I went, now with a stride as confident as a horse in the dressage competition of the Olympics games. Some may say more like a baby giraffe learning to walk, but you get the idea.

I pushed through the mental and physical challenges, reminding myself that pain is temporary, but the glory of crossing the finish line lasts forever.

But let me tell you, that knee injury did little to trouble my race. I dashed past the cheering crowds, fueled by their energy and a promise to myself of a cold beer at the finish line.

No lies though, the Comrades Marathon is mentally challenging.

And there it was, my glorious moment of triumph, crossing the finish line, arms raised like a victorious gladiator. At that moment I was Spartacus during his victory against the Thracians as I let out a big roar.

I was handed my Bill Rowan medal, a shiny token of my accomplishment at the very first attempt.

I am willing to bet the feeling is no different from that of winning an Olympic gold medal, except this one comes with blisters and absolutely no endorsement deals.

As I basked in the glory, my mind was already looking on the road ahead. The road to the coveted green number, signifying 10 finishes. Which is a little crazy when the count is still only at one. But hey, the hardest part, which is to start, is behind me now. I’m still bruised a little but I knew very well it wouldn’t be easy, but as they say, “No pain, no gain” and definitely no toenails in my case.

But check it, here I am, a gutsy warrior who conquered the Comrades Marathon, fueled by determination, resilience, and as many would say, a questionable taste in sporting challenges.

I should also add there was never any doubt in me as to whether I could actually tackle the Comrades when I bought my first pair of running shoes and did my first 10km about four years ago. But over the years, by my own standards, I did not qualify to call myself a runner until I made it to the finish of this particular race.

No way, I had a much grander conquest in mind from day one.

My audacious plan was always that of conquering the Comrades Marathon, the ultimate human race that would test both my physical endurance and my sanity.

I joked a lot about it but, behind that dry sense of humour and the modest jokes, lay a fire that burned brighter than a thousand suns.

You got that right, I was on a mission to transform from a mere mortal into a running giant… lol. You would too if you were fueled by such stubbornness and a resolute desire to prove to yourself how capable you are.

With a cold one in my hand, I raise a toast to the road ahead—a road filled with blisters, calluses, triumphs, and a companionship that only fellow Comrades can understand.

Remember, life’s apparently too short. Embrace the madness, and push through the pain, and let the dark humour of the universe guide your footsteps. Until next time, onward, Comrades!