Monday, October 13, 2014

Cuyamaca 100k Endurance Run - October 4, 2014

For me, 2014 has been chocked full of lofty running related goals.  Qualifying for the Western States 100 Mile Endurance run, for the third year in a row, has sat firmly atop the list.  My original plans to do so involved qualifying at the Miwok 100k in May.  The ankle sprain that ended my American River 50 Mile run and endangered my Comrades run, eliminated my opportunity to run and qualify at Miwok (if you're interested in that story, bounce around on those links ;).

Enter the Cuyamaka 100k Endurance Run, nestled in the Cuyamaca Mountains of Southern California, a challenge that has piqued my interests since it's first running in 2012.  My sister lives nearby and I have become quite familiar with running in the dry, hot desert air, on exposed, rocky and sandy terrain.  I also gained some insight on the race and course from my friend Billy's race reports (2012, 2013).  My swollen ankle encased in an immobilizing boot, I submitted my registration on April 28th, and allowed the October 4th date to loom.

After intensively nursing my ankle injury, and successfully completing the Comrades Marathon, I took some time off from running, while enjoying some wonderful opportunities to travel around Europe.  Roughly 7 weeks after Comrades, with essentially no running, October 4th was starting to feel very near.  I felt my fitness for the race was in question, it was time to do something about that.  Essentially, my training for Cuyamaca went as follows:
  • 08/03/2014: Skyline 50k - 7:13:10
  • 08/23/2014: Tamalpa Headlands 50k - 6:56:15
  • 09/06/2014: Overlook Endurance Run 50k - 6:42:17
  • 09/13/2014: Headlands Marathon - 5:06:43
Throw in a few 18-22 mile runs in the heat on the Pioneer Express Trail, some blissful and challenging runs in Northern California's Sierra Nevada (Mt. Rose, and a few trips to Castle and Basin Peaks), and the inevitable passing of time, and I found myself feeling primed and ready to line up at the Cuyamaca 100k start.  I averaged ~50 miles per week in the 8 weeks preceding the race (with some good back to back training days), lower volume than I would have liked, but sufficient.

A group of friends from my local Folsom Trail Runners group were running the race as well.  We rented a couple of small cabins and a condo near the race start and had a superb time unwinding and relaxing leading up to the race.  We wallowed in good company, great food, and a totally unbelievable Cuyamaca sunset.  Tomorrow would come and we were ready.

The calm before the storm.  Sunset at Lake Cuyamaca.

Winding down after a relaxing day and nourishing race-day-eve meal with a fantastic group of friends.
I slept like a log in the two nights before the race, notching up 9 hours and 8 hours, respectively.  I woke without an alarm at 4:00 am and dozed in bed for a half hour before getting up for breakfast.  I tossed on my Brooks Pure Grit 3's, grabbed my race pack, stepped outside to the neighbors (Edd and Jen L) cabin, and we all hopped in the car for the 5 minute drive to the start.  Upon arriving at Camp Cuyamaca I grabbed my race number, pinned it on, and found a nice place to sit until it was time to start.

Hopes are high and legs are fresh, pre-race, ~6:20 am.
I meandered towards the back of the 200 person field, didn't hear the starting signal, but noticed everyone around me moving, and headed out on the trail.  I had 16 hours to finish in order to qualify for Western States.  Not wanting to go out fast at all, I enjoyed a brief bout of trail congestion and some conversation with my friend Terry, who ran ahead after a mile or so.  Knowing it would be a long hot day, I welcomed the pleasant, cool morning air and the shadows cast by the not-yet-fully-risen-sun.

Running calmly and relaxed, before I knew it, I had arrived at the first aid station, 8.2 miles in, where I was happy to see Jen L.  I grabbed a couple chips, a quarter of a PB&J sandwich and without having stopped for any notable amount of time, headed back out on the trail.

Not surprisingly, the sun continued to rise and while the warm shine felt pleasurable to my skin, I knew that feeling wouldn't last.  Of course, no need to panic, the day would bring what it had for me.  I gained my first glimpses of Cuyamaca Peak, high above me and far in the distance, I tried not to remind myself that it's summit lie only slightly further than one third of the way through the course.

Long runs make for long shadows.

Cuyamaca Peak, far in the distance, roughly marked the 1/3 point of the course.

Plodding along happily, mile ~11

I continued running comfortably and after an hour or so, I moseyed in to the second aid station at mile 13.6.  Knowing that the third aid station was 9.0 miles away from and ~3,000 ft. above my current location, I made sure to take in some calories, drink up some beverages, and fill up a sack of ice to take with me.  In addition to doing that, I should have stuffed my running pack bladder with as much fluid as it could hold (mistake).

For the first time, during the journey to Cuyamaca Peak, I started feeling the heat.  My ice had melted within a couple of miles and I drank the last of my fluid (water + tailwind) while I was still 4 miles from the summit, with ~1,500-2,000 ft. left to climb.  Growing weary, I stayed in the moment and focused on the trail in front of me.  I only ran the flattest portions of trail at this point, aiming for a steady and purposeful hike towards the summit.  The distance was passing slowly and I was feeling weaker by the moment.  Finally, the trail gave way to a section of pavement where a volunteer directed us to veer left up a steep 1/2 mile, paved road, to the Cuyamaca Peak summit.  I had faded badly and desperately wanted water.  It took all of my effort to slowly trudge up the steep road towards the aid station.  Maybe a hundred yards from the top, I even sat down on a rock for 30 seconds or so, before getting back up and dragging myself to the top.

At this point, I felt just about as bad as I've ever felt as a result of running.  I was overheating, my heart rate was up, I felt nauseous, and most concerning of all, I just felt a deep fatigue throughout my body.  My muscles were spent, my body wanted to quit, and I think my mind did too.  I was looking for a place to lay down, but all the good spots were taken by weary runners.  A runner came up to a volunteer and proclaimed he was done for the day, without question, he dropped, removing his bib and handing it over.  For an immeasurable fraction of a second, it sounded like a wonderful idea.  I was only 22.6 miles in and had FORTY MORE MILES to run, the hottest part of the day was not yet here, and I was spent.

At that point, I turned my gaze from the runners who were lying down and dropping and made an about-face to the aid station table.  I drank 15-20 ounces of soda, topped off my running pack bladder with ice water, refilled my sack of ice, and ate some stuff.  I heard a volunteer telling a runner to use the 4.9 mile downhill stretch to the next aid station to recover and I decided I would try to do that.  I turned around and started walking back down the mountain towards the trail, bringing all of my fatigue and despair with me.

On my way down, I was happy to see Charito and Jen C.H. making their way up to the summit.  My walk began transitioning to a shuffle and shortly thereafter, again to a run.  Miraculously, 15-20 minutes after one of the lowest spots I've ever hit in a race, I was feeling fine and was running down some steep technical downhill trails with efficiency and maybe even a bit of a smile on my face.

Looking back uphill at some of the steep, technical terrain we were treated to after gaining the Cuyamaca Peak summit.

I passed my friend Mitch who, unfortunately had a tough race and a handful of miles later would end up dropping at the 31.5 mile mark.  Having descended 2,500 ft. from the summit, I imagined (and likely was realizing) the extra oxygen molecules revitalizing my body.

At mile 27.5, I heard my name being called and was overjoyed to see my friends Maggie and Kristina, who offered me support and encouragement.  I was still hot and tired, but things were feeling manageable and I was back to focusing on arriving at the next aid station as my only goal (my race strategy was "make it to the next aid station, repeat").  At Paso Picacho, I was showered with ice water, I ate some, drank some, and chatted for some moments before heading off.  I was excited for the next aid station, because I knew my sister, who was experiencing her first ultramarathon, would be there.  I was greatly looking forward to seeing her.

Arriving at Paso Picacho aid station, mile 27.5.

Feeling rejuvenated after a harrowing trip to Cuyamaca Peak. 

The 4.0 miles back to Camp Cuyamaca went by in a flash.  I had finished the first of three non-overlapping loops at the tail end of my time estimate.  It was just before 2 pm, about 7 hrs, 25 mins for the first (and most difficult) loop of 31,5 miles.  I'm pretty sure my sister thought I was done (had reached the finish line) at this point, but I quickly broke the news to her that I was only halfway through and needed to get the heck out of here so I could start on the 12 mile loop.  I spent a few minutes, drank a protein shake, topped of my tanks, and headed out for a 12 mile run.

Back at Camp Cuyamaca after 31.5 miles, love my sister!

My not-finished finish-line photo.

31.5 miles down, heading out for a 12 mile loop.

Orange loop done, blue loop beginning, yellow loop next!
The second loop started out well for me, my feelings of overwhelming fatigue, nausea, and mild (or was it severe?  I forget) hopelessness had waned.  I plodded along relatively comfortably, climbing several hundred feed up before heading back downhill towards the next aid station, 8.0 miles away.  About 4 miles out from the aid station, I met up with a friend and he and I were running strong together, so I just went with it.  We ran a few 9-11 minute miles on the flats and easily run-able downhill sections.  Eventually, he pulled away and I wasn't willing to risk increasing my pace any further.  Unfortunately, I passed him a mile or so later, as he was vomiting aside the trail.  Things seemed to be going really well for me and then my right calf began to cramp.  I would ease up my pace to try and hold off the cramping and it was working well enough, but before long, my calves, quads, hamstrings, and some muscles in my upper/inner thigh were all threatening to cramp up on me.  I would battle this for the rest of my race.
Feeling pretty good, but feeling the heat at mile 35.
As I finished the 12 mile loop, I saw my sister and friends and called out to them, begging if someone could massage my calves for a bit.  Thankfully, after tracking down some rubber gloves, Jen L. and my sister obliged (my legs were horrifically dirty).  I drank another protein shake, ate a couple of bananas, swallowed an Endurolyte or two, grabbed my headlamp, and headed out for the final loop of 18 miles.

44.1 miles down, needing to recharge and head out for the final 18.2 miles.
As the sun mercifully began it's decent back behind the mountains, I noticed that my friends Jen C.H. and her crew-turned-pacer, Maggie were a few hundred yards behind me.  I was happy to see Jen was still trucking.  The course began to climb 1,000 ft. or so towards the Sunrise aid station (6.8 miles away) and I started doing the math on how fast I needed to move in order to finish in less than 16 hours and qualify for States.  As the remaining miles slowly ticked away, 18, 17, 16, 15, and my exhausted mind continued calculating the minute-per-mile pace I needed to maintain for my goal, I slowly and grudgingly came to a realization.  It was entirely possible that the course was longer than the advertised 62.3 miles (my first 100k race turned out to be ~65 miles).  At this point, barring injury, there was no doubt I would finish within the 19 hour race cutoff time, but I was here to qualify for States.  Tired and alone in the remote darkness of the Cuyamaca Mountains, my mind was trying to convince me that it was OK if the States qualifier wasn't in my grasp today; that maybe running Western States wasn't in the cards for me.  It would have been very easy for me to succumb to these thoughts and in some ways, I desperately wanted too.

I battled within my thoughts.  I thought of myself looking back at this moment and wondering if I could have pushed harder, I wondered if I would look back at these final miles and be proud of my effort, or if I would regret submitting to the voice that didn't want to try as hard as I could.

With 12 miles left, I stumbled through the darkness over the rocky terrain with a dim headlamp and the LED flashlight from my iPhone to guide me; frequently tripping and wanting more than anything to be done.  Occasionally, a cramp would jolt my calf or quad, causing my leg to suddenly straighten and jut awkwardly into the rocky trail.

I wanted to achieve my goal and I wanted my sister to see it happen.  I decided to stop trying to calculate the slowest pace I could move at while still finishing under 16 hours and to just run.  I didn't have to run fast, I just had to run.  It was that simple and was a little enlightening.  I didn't have to run fast, I just had to run.  And that's what I did.  I ran slowly through the night.  I counted down the miles, I passed several runners, and every time I found my self walking (never remembering the moment where I made a decision to start walking), I said to myself: "I don't have to run fast, I just have to run." and I ran.

As it goes when running distances of incredible length, at some point, magically and mysteriously, almost as if the enduring race itself was a fleeting moment, out of the darkness, the finish line comes to light and after 15 hours, 46 minutes, and 47 seconds, that is what it did today.  At 10:16 pm. (13 mins, 13 secs ahead of the Western States qualifying cutoff time).

After 15 hours and 33 minutes of running, this sign looked GOOD.
Soaking up some recovery.
Afterwards, I was happy to see that I improved my position in the field at every checkpoint.

Within minutes of having crossed the finish line, Jen C.H. and Maggie came running in, also under 16 hours.  Terry had finished about 20 minutes ahead of me.  Charito and Edd finished a short time later.  Our crew had succeeded.  124 runners would finish and it has been marked that we are among them.  We stared demons in the face, conquered them all, and celebrated each other's successes and company.  We shared stories and laughed until after 3 am.

Cuyamaca 100k was a terrific event.  The course was well marked, the advertised distances (between aid stations and to the the finish) were spot on, the volunteers were great, and the trails were awesome.  I'm so glad to have run and finished the race and I'm looking forward, optimistically, to the Western States lottery on December 6th!

Shiny new smiles and medals.

Love this.

A friend at work and I were guestimating how many steps one takes in a 100k race... looks like about 119,000.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The 89th running of the Comrades Marathon... my first.

Durban, South Africa - we have arrived:

After a lifetime of dreaming, well over a year of planning, and roughly 20 hours on a plane, I found myself falling onto a runway at O.R. Tambo International Airport, Kempton Park, just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa.  I was here to run the 89th (56 mile) Comrades Marathon, with an ankle that had sustained a grade II sprain less than two months ago (a bit on recovery here).  Candace and I nervously and excitedly navigated the tarmac via shuttle, made our way through customs and to our connecting flight, headed for King Shaka International Airport in Durban.  

Wheels down at JNB

In the JNB customs line, I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Obelkevich.  With 38 consecutive NYC Marathon finishes, he owns the record for the most NYC Marathon finishes as well as the longest streak.  He was here for, I believe, his 8th consecutive Comrades.

After landing in Durban, we located a van/shuttle for hire and traveled another 30 minutes or so to the Durban Hilton, where we would stay for the next 6-7 days.  School children in uniforms, people coming home from work, and other pedestrians occasionally scampering across the freeway lanes marked one of the first and many reminders that we were in a foreign and unfamiliar place.  We were (I think rightfully so in many ways), concerned for our safety and were cautious about where to go and when we could go there.  Shortly after arriving at our hotel, being unfamiliar with our surroundings and transportation options, we felt a little trapped and feared that the first half of our trip might be spent in our room.  Thankfully, those feelings were short lived.  After a hearty dinner in the hotel restaurant and an equally hearty 11 hours of sleep, we awoke feeling refreshed and ready to explore.

We got to know the members of the hotel's front desk staff and the cab driver, who were extremely helpful in showing us the ropes of Durban.  We visited uShaka Marine World, surfed the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, strolled through the city's botanical gardens, saw our first wild monkey while exploring the restaurants of Florida Road, stood atop the arches of Moses Mabhida Stadium, took a day trip to the beautiful and terribly impoverished country of Lesotho, and on the eve of the Comrades Marathon, we even watched the Cell-C Sharks of Kwazulu-Natal at our first rugby game!

Bo and I at the Hilton.

We met wonderful people, enjoyed delicious food, and thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Durban!

-- >   Durban and Lesotho photos < --

Comrades - Race Day:

With some difficulty battling the crowds at the Sharks rugby game, we managed to find a cab and made it back to the hotel at 10:30 pm or so.  I got to bed by 11:00, slept like a baby and woke up at 2:00 am.  I took in some calories, was ready to go in 10-15 minutes, and strolled out towards the elevator, where I was pleased to see my new good friend Cathy.  Us runners shambled out of our caves and made our way to the lobby.  The last shuttles to the start, a 60+ mile drive away, left between 2:30 - 3:00 am.  Once outside and up the street a hundred yards or so, my jaw dropped as I my eyes found rest upon one of the most wonderfully decorated buses ever seen.  Airbrushed murals of Snoop Dogg,Tupac, and Eminem graced the back and sides of what I immediately knew was the bus that would drive me to Pietermaritzburg.  Cathy and I had banded up with other friends and loaded ourselves up.

I was unsure of what the day had in store for me.  Would my ankle hold up, would some other issue prevent me from finishing, would my pace prove to slow, allowing the sweep buses to catch me and force me from the course?  I was unable to imagine any of these scenarios and gave them little thought.  I had come a long way for this and was ready to endure and was not ready to stop until I reached the finish line at Kingsmead Cricket Stadium in Durban.
2:00 am, heading out for a 56 mile run through the Valley of 1000 Hills, from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.

Holla if ya hear me

We rolled through the streets of Durban, past the Early Morning Market, onto the highway, and off to Pietermaritzburg.  The ride was uneventful, we talked goals and strategy.  People reminisced about Comrades past, warned of mistakes to be avoided, hills to be climbed, and chattered in order to settle nerves.  In an hour or so we were filing off the bus onto the streets of Pietermaritzburg.  The streets were bustling, with runners, locals, and spectators alike.  We found a nice stretch of sidewalk and got off our feet for a few minutes.  Maybe a half hour before the cock crowed (Comrades tradition marks the start of the race with a rooster's crow), we made our way to our starting corrals.  Most of our group gathered in the lowest seeded corral, in order to be able to start together, but given the unknown state of my ankle, I wanted every second I could get and opted to start in my assigned C corral (Comrades has a strict 12 hour cut-off, which is measured from the rooster's crow, not when a runner crosses the start, which can take up to 25-30 minutes).

Some locals celebrating and keeping warm, pre-race.

Superstar and Comrades veteran Cathy.
With 20,000 people registered for the race, the starting corrals were jam packed, but well organized.  People calmly allowed themselves to be herded into place, with the occasional straggler climbing in via the 6 ft. chain link fencing.  Without saying a word, we wished each other well and absorbed the atmosphere.  It was such a surreal experience to be among the mob, a Comrades runner, anxiously awaiting the start of an unforgettable adventure, which really had already begun.  Countless times I had imagined hearing Shosholoza while lined up to run "The Ultimate Human Race", the largest and longest running ultra-marathon in the world.  Now it was happening and it had me and many around me on the verge of tears.

Cramming ourselves in towards the start line.

Shosholoza and Chariots of Fire.... I could use a steadi-cam.

The rooster crowed.  I crossed the start line within a couple of minutes and was on the course.  I held two 20 oz. water bottles, a few gels, two Pro Bars and a pair of running pants that I had taken off just before the start.  The sun quickly sloughed away the darkness and illuminated the rolling foothills, which climbed to the Drakensburg Mountains behind us and yielded to the Indian Ocean and Durban ahead.  I needed to average slightly above a 12 minute mile pace, including any stops, in order to finish within the 12 hour cut-off and I immediately settled in near this place.  From the start, I gently ran 11 minute miles and walked any noticeable uphill stretches.  Admiring the different people from different walks of life and cultures, I trudged onward.  The registered field consisted of 18,000 South African runners and roughly 2,000 African and non-African internationals.  The diversity was wonderful and I was easily entertained by admiring all the different runners, or groups of runners, some donning traditional African dress, some in costume, some jogging while huddled closely together and chanting or singing rhythmic, meditative songs.

For a short time, I ran with a group led by an African man in a Santa's hat, who was gently rapping a tambourine against his thigh to the rhythm of his (and the 10-15 runners in his group's) footsteps, while chanting "work... work... work-work-work".

After 5-10 miles I was well warmed up and as I climbed Polly Shorts Hill, I removed my light jacket, handing it and my running pants off to some locals, who were collecting clothes for their families and friends.  Like many other international runners, I wore my country's singlet, which was quite a hit with both runners and spectators.  Frequently chants of "Obama Obama!" or the ever popular "U-S-A! U-S-A!" would break out, to which I would respond by smiling, motioning downward with my hands, and bowing my head while thanking them.  I always tried to tell them how happy I was to feel welcomed in their country and sometimes replied by chanting "Africa! Africa" or "S-A!  S-A!".

Early morning, early miles.

Beautiful countryside homes.

Through social media and the Comrades charity website, I had the pleasure of meeting Antony Clapham, the great grandson of Vic Clapham, who founded and was the first to run the 90 km Comrades Marathon on May 24, 1921.  We met in person at the pre-race pasta feed and again at mile 10-11 of the Comrades course!

Antony, en-route to his 2nd consecutive Comrades finish.
The miles continued to go by and I was feeling fine.  From time to time I would feel some pangs or mild discomfort in my injured ankle, but nothing lasting and thankfully nothing that seemed to be consistent or progressive.  I had heard and was now observing the fact that every kilometer of the race was marked and counted down with a large, numbered red banner.  From 89 down to 1, they were all marked.  I figure this could be used as torture or a way to help pass the time and distance.  With 85 k remaining, I decided to break the race up into a bunch of 5 k's and to celebrate the passing of each one.  Each time I saw a kilometer marker that was evenly divisible by 5, I enjoyed a small accomplishment and set out on the next 5k.  I climbed to Umlaas Rd, the highest point of the course at ~2,500 ft., and ran down to Camperdown.

A typical aid station.  Small, sealed plastic bags of water and cups of Coca-Cola were available at every one.

I had traveled 20 miles or so, I was on 12-hour pace, it was hot, and I was starting to feel nauseous.  I knew that bad nausea had the potential to derail my race and prevent me from finishing.  I figured I was low on calories and/or electrolytes and tried to eat a Pro Bar, but it was tasting horrible and I wasn't able to choke it down.  I drank some Coke at an aid station and it tasted great.  I decided to give my food away to children and rely on Coke and water for the rest of the race.

I later found that at ~1 pm, it was 93 degrees with 87% humidity.  Aside from a few short stretches, there was no shade on the entire course, the black pavement was fully exposed to the African (winter) sun.

Fortunately, my stomach quickly settled and even though I typically won't drink soda until the last 1/3 of an ultra, it was working today.  At every aid station, I would toss back a cup or two of Coke, drink one bag of water, and pour 1-2 more over my head.  This was working for me.  Onward, towards Inchanga, roughly the halfway point.

As I approached the marathon-to-go mark (42k left), I patted Arthur's Seat and for the first time, I started to gain some real confidence that I would finish.  My ankle was not an issue, my legs felt great, and I had 7.5 hours to cover 26 miles.  My slowest marathon to date had been ~4:40, and I had traveled ~400 miles the day after a 50k race for that.  It felt great to truly believe this was going to happen for me, but it had not happened yet.  The remaining 26+ mile stretch was not going to run itself.  I stayed focused and ran on towards Botha's Hill.

I saw a dead puff adder in the road.

Everyone was feeling the heat here.

47km down, 42km to go!

Climbing Botha's Hill

This studly barefoot runner and I were leap frogging each other for much of the day.

Cruising through the Nedbank "Green Mile".


Admittedly, having what felt like such a large cushion with 26 miles to go, I relaxed my pace a bit, which in the long run (zing) was likely a good thing.  I continued monitoring my watch, noting how many miles and how much time remained and suddenly, with 22-23k left, it seemed my cushion had largely vanished.  I determined that I had about 2:30 to finish a half marathon.  Typically, that kind of pace would be easy for me, but today I had 43 miles on my legs and although it had been manageable, the heat had taken a toll on me.  I figured I needed to maintain faster than an 11:30 mile for the remaining 13 miles in order to avoid being pulled from the race.

I started to panic a bit.  I was pushing hard and I was passing hundreds of people, but I was not moving significantly faster than that 11:30 per mile pace.  The bibs at Comrades display the number of races a runner has previously completed and as I feared for my own failure, I felt terrible for those with 9 (special awards are given to 10 time finishers) or 19 or more finishes, I couldn't believe that all of these Comrades veterans were not going to finish (since I knew I was in danger of not finishing and I was passing them).

Wanting to shed any unnecessary weight, I tossed one of my water bottles and a small waist pack to some children, who laughed, smiled, and excitedly ran off to show off their new things to their friends.  After a handful of miles of this, my legs began cramping.  My quads would nearly cramp on the downhills and my hamstrings and calve were cramping on the uphills.  My spirit weakened and my stomach turned at the thought of not finishing.  It was agonizing.

With 12 k to go, I had ~1:10 to finish, a ~9 min/mile pace.  Knowing that with my legs cramping whenever I tried to pick my pace up, I was starting to feel devastated and was losing hope.  And suddenly, as I stared at my watch, hoping it would tell me something different... IT DID.

At some point, I had confused the 12-hour cut-off with an 11-hour time.  I actually had over 2 hours to cover the remaining 10-11 kilometers!  I could WALK the ENTIRE way if I wanted and still finish.  Tears welled up in my eyes and I put my hand on a guys shoulder and said, "we have over 2 hours to finish, don't we?  We're going to finish!".  He replied "Yes, brother, we will get there.".  I explained to him the miscalculation I had lived with over the last 10-12 kilometers and we laughed, shared a one-armed, side-by-side hug and continued running towards the skyline of Durban.

The skyline of Durban, feeling close.

Life became joyful.  I again ran gently at a 12 minute mile pace.  I congratulated my fellow runners as they did I.  I urged those who were sitting or lying down to get up and keep moving, however slowly.

I ran on an overpass, overlooking the the Early Morning Market, bustling with shoppers and traders, that I had past on the bus over 13 hours ago.  I followed an arching off ramp down to the city streets of downtown Durban.  With three miles to go, I approached the group of African runners, led by the man in the Santa hat, and settled in with them.  He was still tapping his tambourine on his thigh and was now chanting "doo ittt, doo itttt, doo ittt, doo ittt, do-it-do-it-do-it-do-it doo itt, doo itt".  People where shouting cheers to them in Zulu.  A few times some spectators would shout out some Zulu song lyrics and the group would sing back, completing the lyrics.

I ran past the Hilton, crossed the street, onto the sidewalk, and into Kingsmead Cricket Stadium.  Spectators crowded the stands and the perimeter of the the ~400 meter finishing chute, cheering on their family, friends, and fellow Comrades.

It happened.  I ran on the field.  I circled the stadium.  And on one of the most memorable days of my life, I passed beneath an arch, made a left turn and ran across the finish line of the 89th Comrades Marathon.  No shit.  It was incredible.

Victory is mine!  Note my man with the Santa hat and the tambourine on the left.

Eleven hours, eleven minutes, twenty-seven seconds

This remained around my neck or in my pocket until I got home.

My official time was 11 hrs, 11 mins, 27 secs.  The finisher's area was fantastic!  I reunited and celebrated with Candace and friends.  I refueled and relaxed and utterly enjoyed the experience.

Hari, who I met a few days earlier, ran a few miles with me during the late miles of the race.

Our course tour guide and 15 time Comrades finisher, Hideo

I was so glad to have met and pal'd around with Cathy.

Ankle swelled a bit, but nothing major.  It felt fine the rest of the trip.

Feeling accomplished, enjoying some late night coffee, fries, and drinks at the Hilton.
I picked up two newspapers the next day.

A few days later, eyeing a herd of cape buffalo.
I surfed, watched a hippo cross the road in front of our car, ran with my new friends Mike Wardian, Jo Meeks, Sandra (who got to summit Kilimanjaro a couple of weeks later!), saw lions, elephants, a cheetah hunting at night, and rhinos, all in the wild.  I pet a cheetah, had an argument with a monkey, and stick fought with two Zulu warriors.  It was an unforgettable trip and I can't imagine it having gone better.  If for some reason you've made it this far... thanks for reading! :)

Oh... also, I wound up in New Balance's "Spirit of the Comrades - 2014" video.  I'm at ~3:17!

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