I must be mad in my head – that was the only thought I had. I stood outside The Civic Centre in Johannesburg on a crispy mid-April morning barely a year after the accident. “Calm down Tom, I’m sure its going to be ok. You’ll do it, I know you will.” Kay, my wife, my rock was going to run this one with me. Oh how the tables had turned. Still, I was happy for her company, I was happy for her strength. My first marathon. I wasn’t scared of the distance, I’d done plenty of races before – it was running into the blind wall of pain and staying there for so long. That was my fear. Just over 40 kilometres away, in Benoni was my objective. This was the Lucozade Gold marathon and it was there on the finish line that I would defiantly tell God where He could get off. Can’t run again? Pah!
My running had changed, my ambitions were different. Before the accident I had my sights on a sub-three hour marathon. Now if I finished, just finished I thought it would be a great achievement. The challenge was just as great. In the end, the 1992 results will show both Cottrell’s tied with a time of 4hrs 57mins. The race itself was a blur of pain and joy. On the back seat of the car going home afterwards was fool in agony, smiling vacantly. My ankle was going to be a constant challenge, but what was a little suffering if every weekend you could also have a little glory?
That year, idiotically, I also ran the Two Oceans Ultra. Yup, 56 kilometres in 5 hours and 54 minutes. It was so painful afterwards that I went to bed for two days. Still, I clung to my medal and closed my eyes. I had an overwhelming emotion. My ankle was swollen and I wanted to scream the pain was so intense, but hey! I had a feeling of…well, redemption. If I could do this, could I run another Comrades Marathon? Was 90 kilometres on the cards? Would my ankle stand up?
“Handle the pain and I think you could do it” a friend of mine told me. He was a Comrades silver medallist and an orthopaedic surgeon. “But shit Tom, I wouldn’t run with that ankle if I were you.” He said as he peered into the mystic blue and black gloom of my x-rays.
“Yeah well you aren’t me Anton, so I’ll take my chances.” It would take me 10 years and a lot of dedicated training. And so on the relatively balmy morning in Durban on 16th June 2000 I stood at the start of the world’s greatest ultra-marathon for one last time, I was back.