Part 9 – The Courage to Start

One of the most often quoted words of John Bingham, a popular writer amidst runners is

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

More than my courage, it was indeed a miracle to see myself at start. It has been a long journey to the start line. If the visa drama to reach South Africa wasn’t enough, there was another unfolding for me and Ram at Durban. Unexpected turnaround of events saw me settle down with Ram and his family at Durban. Living close to the beach, we tried to relive our Colombo Marathon memories and decided to run on the Durban beach.  Ram found a few rocks from where he could pose again for a pix but the waves weren’t strong enough.

Further confusion reigned during the day before marathon. We had to change the house on Saturday afternoon and all our plans have to be changed. Ram was in a hurry to reach the airport to pick up his family and we had no idea of how to reach Pietermaritzburg, where the race was scheduled to start. It was then our neighbour, Gideon walked up to us and offered his help. More about his priceless help in Ram’s blog. After a dinner in an Indian restaurant, we settled down to catch up sleep for less than couple of hours. At 1:30 AM, we were scheduled to depart from our place to take a bus. This wasn’t exactly the kind of pre-race evening that either of us would have preferred. The Zulu prayer and the warmth of the fellow runners on the bus helped us to forget some of the the tough times leading to the run and look forward to the run more positively.

Elevation profile of the Route

We reached Pietermaritzburg well ahead of the start scheduled at 5:30 AM. The weather was about 6-8C which was extremely freezing for someone like me who has lived most part of my life in tropical conditions. I was well equipped for the run with 5 layers of clothing covering my upper body – the compression shirt, the actual running shirt with bib, an Auroville Marathon shirt, an old track top from my college days and the official ponchos supplied with the race kit. I had planned to wear a track pant over my running shorts but our Gideon suggested that applying vaseline would do instead.

Ram and I, before leaving the home

The start at the Comrades Marathon is segregated based on the qualifying times.

Qualifying timings for various distances. Source:

Unable to get a good qualifying timing, I ended up using my Hyderabad Marathon timing for qualification and could start only with the ‘Janata class’ or Batch H. Ram with his better timing at Hyderabad started with Batch F. Lower seeding puts you in back of the pack and hence, a delayed start. The cut-off for Comrades marathon goes by gun timing. Starting at ‘H’ meant that the 10 minutes I took to reach the start line after the start gun was fired would not be adjusted in my final time or in the cut-off times. The good thing about starting with ‘H’ batch is that you would be starting with a similar set of inexperienced, first time comrade runners with no one exactly knowing what they are heading for. In Comrades, two sets of Bibs are given and have to be pinned both front and back. It contains details of runners including the number of medals won by them.

My Comrades Bib
My Comrades Bib

There were some funny interactions with fellow runners and many of them  wondered about how I am going to run with the minimalist shoes. One of them asked if I feel cold in those for which I replied that my legs are numb already. Another one questioned where I am from. On answering that I am from India, she wondered if I am from ‘Durban India.’ True, there  were many people of Indian origin at the start and only a few of us were from ‘India India.’ Standing alongside an equally anxious first time Comrades runners were really exciting.

At 5:20 AM, the organisers start playing the three music tracks leading to the run. First, the theme music from the movie Chariots of Fire composed by Vangelis followed by the two National Anthems of South Africa. Irrespective of the meaning, the rendition of National Anthem by the packed crowd left goosebumps on me. The start happens in front of the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. With 18,000+ runners packed up on a road with buildings on either side, the acoustics left the scene simply electrifying.

Update – July 2017

You can listen to the music at the start line here:

The race start sharp at 5:30 AM and I took 10 minutes to reach the start line from my batch. Majority of the Indian runners, Amit, his wife Neepa, Roshni, Ajit and Vineetha were placed in the batch H. As we were running towards the east, I was keenly looking forward to watch the day-break. The weather threw some new challenges in heavy cross winds, something that I have not prepared or looking forward to. I had decided to run-walk the distance starting with a 4 minute walk and 1 minute run and hope to do 8K an hour for at least 7 hours. The crowd and the narrow roads gave me very little chance to choose my pace and walk breaks. I decided to just stick with the crowd and was able to navigate smoothly. I also met up with the fellow Indian runners during the run and exchanged my pleasantries. I reached the first cut-off point well ahead of the time, completing 26.77K in 3:26:51.

I am running on the extreme right with a black cap and grey Auroville Marathon shirt.


1 Comment

  1. Aravind says:

    It needs immense guts to run the comrades with Vibrams and I never knew that you could use Hyderabad for qualification. I thought that the only IAAF race in India was SCMM. My bad.

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