There was one inevitable outcome – I would finish the Comrades and I would get a medal. That was a given. While negotiating a tough down hill stretch that led to the base of Polly Shortts, this was not all that clear to me. I was in immense pain, my entire world was reduced to a metre square patch of road just ten metres ahead of me. The Myprodol had worked some kind of trick, but this pain was beyond the buzz that any painkiller could give. Here I was in despair, and the wish to quit overwhelming.
It was at this low point that there was no sound for me, no crowds, nothing. I began to be in a silent vacuum and my mind became clear, and I was calm. It was almost like a glass of muddy water stirred up, confusion at first. Then little by little, the water clears, and soon all the sediment is at the bottom. My mind was clear, and I was calm, and the pain was in perspective.
I recalled my visit to an orthopedic surgeon before the race; he told me much to my relief that I won’t be doing any permanent damage to my ankle. This doctor is one I like and trust: he told me what I wanted to hear, the photo on the wall behind him finishing Comrades and his silver medal told me he knew what he was talking about.
As I plod along in almost meditative reflection, there is a noise, my running partner is pumping my hand, “Hey Tom, we are on top of the sucker!!!” The announcer calls out, “If you run from here at eight minutes a kay, you’ll make it, welcome to the top of Polly Shortts, its all downhill from here”.
And down hill it was, each one of the last seven kilometers became an epic. Each a story on its own, each etched in pain and exhaustion. It was the last kilometer that was the most memorable however. I had not run the race for 10 years and one forgets the end of Comrades. It is like nothing ever experienced, and there was now a certain regret that I was unable to savor this moment for over decade. I was always there as someone’s bag carrier but never as a participant. I was an on-looker. My wife was in the screaming crowd, she holds her newly earned Green Number aloft and proudly holds her Bill Rowan medal high, I smile, give a thumbs-up and stop for a moment.
The clock still had four minutes to go, my mate in the announcer’s tower, Dave McLeod confirms this.” Four minutes to go! C’mon lets give them a big welcome here” I pause and reflect for one small moment, I think of the long journey traveled. I reflect on a ten-year path, and think just how lucky I am to be alive.
At that moment I remember by brother-in-law, Risto, killed in the motor accident that broke my ankle. I think of his wife, now too taken into the fold of a Greater Universe. I remember the races Risto and I had run, even our Comrades. I remember his voice, the small snatches of conversation we had on the same road, oh so many years ago. I held that moment with me in time and space.
At that moment I gave thanks for all the love and support I got from my family. I give thanks that I can give it back. I think of my work as a writer and a publisher, I think of all of life and I think that I do exist for one moment in time, and that moment is now. I am victorious; I hold my arms aloft and scream.
“Two minutes, just two minutes” I look ahead at this mad throng and head off to the finish line. I do the obligatory hand held high, but I already know I’m a winner. “Sorry mate, we ran out of medals, we’ll post you one”
“Oh, do you get a medal for finishing this race?” the guy thinks I’m a bit crazy; I stumble into the dark looking for my wife.