Anthony Holmes - 2004

In a sports crazy country like our own, everyone seems to have aspirations to participate in at least one major sporting event. We are blessed with numerous premier sporting events such as the Argus Cycle race, the Duzi and Berg canoe marathons, the Midmar Mile and of course the Two Oceans and Comrades marathons. All these events have become truly international fixtures and offer a wonderful opportunity for ordinary sportspersons to be part of world class sports events with all the hype, drama and television coverage. This all adds to the sense of accomplishment when you earn that coveted medal. I have instant respect for anyone who has successfully completed any one of these major events because, as a runner, I can appreciate that irrespective of the individual's personal ability, he or she has made enormous personal sacrifices (be it work, family or simply leisure time) to prepare for the event and on the day, must overcome serious fatigue, self-doubt and shrinking pain thresholds to achieve their goals. I can't explain what draws people to extreme physical challenges but I do know that if you can meet the challenge of one these amazing experiences, you can overcome many of life's pressures.

For as long as I can remember, I had felt an urge to run the Comrades. I recall that it appealed to me to be able to say that I had done it. How naive. There is a big difference between saying you are going to do something and actually doing it and I did not have the foggiest idea of what doing the Comrades entailed. I was to find this out in years to come. My first exposure to the Comrades was a breakfast on the side of the road on Fields Hill on an up run back in my Varsity days. I was inspired by the mass of runners and I got a sense of the physical demands of the race. A few years later I followed the progress of a mate of mine, Peter Rohrs along the route from Durban to PMB and when I watched him and six of his Varsity mates running into Jan Smuts Stadium side by side with arms locked together, I was hooked! But it was only two years later in 1994 when I got a chance to do something about it. I had moved up to Empangeni from Durban and found myself boarding with the Badenhorst family. Things have never been the same since. At the time Jan Badenhorst had already earned his Comrades green number and had run numerous 100 milers, marathons and ultras. Jan's wife, Janice, also had a few Comrades under her belt. Living in their house it was impossible to escape the indoctrination. I was brainwashed with stories and plans and dazzled by photos and medals in Jan's pub and in no time I was training at his side at ridiculous hours of the morning. The first years' training is the hardest. The uninitiated will struggle to comprehend the time it takes to prepare yourself for a Comrades when compared with effort that is typically put into team sports but it is a process that one has to go through and I will never forget the little milestones along the way - my first half marathon, my first marathon (I remember being boggled by the distance) and, the mind-numbing ultras.

It was a special time when I lined up with Jan and Janice for the 1995 Comrades Marathon in PMB and I have very fond memories of the day. There was the emotion of seeing my wife on the side of the road at Hillcrest and the panic when I could'nt keep up with Jan and Janice and had to go it alone for the last 30 km. I remember the enthusiastic surges, the strategic walks, the lazy strolls and the bone-jarring hobbles. I remember the highs, the lows and, towards the end, the feelings of utter desperation and despair. I also remember the sheer relief when I managed to squeak into Kingsmead Stadium with three minutes to spare before the cut-off gun. I was nearly broken that day. The distance had been almost overwhelming but the training had paid off and the crowd pulled me home. The experience of my first Comrades was and always will be very special and personal. That feeling when you run onto the stadium grass at the finish is indescribable and it is this feeling that keeps me returning to the Comrades. I cannot believe that I now have nine Comrades medals.

Other Comrades runs which stand out for me are the ones that I ran with Jan Badenhorst and the runs with my old training partners, Richard Wiggill and Cathy Brown - with the most memorable run the 2000 Comrades (where there was a field of over 20 000 runners) and we really had to scramble to make it under 11 hours. We did manage to do so at a ridiculously fast gallop over the last 7 kms which I never want to have to repeat again! It was also Cathy and Richard's first Comrades that year and it was great to experience the occasion with them and of course, share in their sense of achievement. Cathy and I have now completed three runs together.

In between running the Comrades there have been numerous other races and memorable runs in interesting locations. I can recall happy weekends away with the Badenhorsts to run the Jock of the Bushveld ultra in Barberton and a holiday with my wife in Cape Town for the Two Oceans. I also have a soft spot for the Bergville to Ladysmith ultra where I received my permanent number two years ago (see photo). In 1998 I also participated in a crazy event, a 100 miler which, I hasten to add, I have no desire to do again. Memories from that event include running for long periods totally alone, in the pitch dark, in the early hours of the morning and in the middle of know where between Bergville and Escourt. I ran for over 25 hours that weekend and eventually felt like a zombie and event experienced hallucinations (probably from excessive caffeine & painkillers). My three seconds (including Jan) faded when it really mattered and over the last 30 km, Jakes Liebenberg (who was seconding another club member) stepped in to help me into the finish at Midmar Dam.

The last ten years have been a lot of fun and as long as I still enjoy the training and can run with my mates, I see no reason to throw in the towel. As I approach my tenth Comrades I will be shifting my focus to other races and novelty races (such as adventure races) but I can honestly say that I am at a point where I am simply running for the pure enjoyment of it and of course, all the health and wellbeing benefits that go along with it. As they say, the pleasure is in the journey and not simply arriving at the destination.

I have been blessed with health, only minor injuries, a superb training network, some truly awesome running route options and probably most importantly, a supportive wife. It takes a special woman to accommodate a marathon on honeymoon and to drive herself to the hospital while in labour (while I was off running somewhere). Thanks Charms!
To any aspiring Comrades runner - don't procrastinate. Get involved with a running club. It will take the schlep out of training and in no time you will be fitter and grow in confidence. It will be hard to start off with and you will get despondent but persevere. Remember, as in life, there can be no progress without some discomfort and discontent.