On 08 June 2015 In Running News

Cass receives Bill Rowan medal at Comrades Marathon

 

The Comrades Marathon is an institution. In South Africa, it is the biggest national sporting event of the year - televised for 13 hours, with over 30 pages of coverage in the Monday newspaper.

 

Worldwide, Comrades is considered a rite of passage for any serious marathon and ultra distance runner. The scale, significance, and antecedents of this race cannot be overstated.

 

Cass Chisholm had been training hard for this race for over six months, under Russ Hall's coaching, and so was on top form and raring to go. Those who know Cass will be aware that this race has been her dream for many years.

 

I had originally entered but more recently had not been expecting to run at all due to injury. However, a promising run day earlier at the Durban North Beach ParkRun suggested that I might still be able to cover the 87km despite injury.

 

Anyone familiar with the Comrades 'Up run' route ascent profile (link) will know, that the first 45km is all uphill. The latter 42km then flattens out a little, with the exception of the notorious Polly Shortts hill 8km from the end.

 

The general advice given to first-timers and would-be finishers is to walk the hills over the first half and save one's legs for the second half. But we knew that such a timid scheme would not do, if a truly good time was to be achieved.

 

Instead, our plan was to hit the hills head-on. So we decided that I would pace Cass through the uphill slog to Drummond within a sub-9hr schedule, and Cass would then increase the pace for her second half of the race from there. My main goal was therefore to get Cass uphill to Drummond on time and feeling good.

 

So at 05:29 hours on Sunday morning we stood in our starting pens with some 16,000 other runners, singing refrains of Shosholoza while waiting for the start. Then the South African National Anthem was sung, Chariots of Fire played, the fabled cockerel crowed, and the race began with a bang.

 

Only 1km in, the pre-dawn air was already a balmy 18'C and we were sweating buckets before the sun had even risen. But we didn't have time to consider what this foretold, as almost every local runner around us was asking where we were from and wishing us well. This was by far the biggest and friendliest ultra-marathon we had ever experienced.

 

We began ascending Cowies Hill just as the sunrise crested over it, before entering Pine Town as the route became even more crowded with supporters shouting constant heart-felt encouragement. Cass' Union Jack vest proved priceless, as cheers of "Well done Brit girl", and "Go on pommy lady" rang out in good humour and genuine support.

 

We continued to pass scores of walkers on the uphills, and arrived at Drummond in 4:15 - comfortably within schedule. It was now time to part company, and Cass took care of her nutrition before pulling away to pursue her faster 42k split. I was then able to take stock and consider whether my injured leg would still allow me to finish.

 

The late morning heat was bearing down in earnest on everyone now, and the business end of the race had only just begun for us. As Cass pushed up Inchanga Hill in the distance, a friend and fellow Brit cruised up alongside me and asked where Cass was going. "She has gone to get her Bill Rowan medal", I replied.

 

Cass went on to make tidy work of the next 34km, before even running all the way up Polly Shortts where many a pro runner has opted for a short walk. Her last 8km were the fastest of her whole day - finishing with gusto and heart, in true ultra-runner style.

 

Cass crossed the finish line in 8:53 to receive a Bill Rowan medal and a place in history as a Comrades finisher. I arrived home 37 minutes later in 9:30 to receive a bronze medal and the satisfaction of having simply been able to run and finish.

 

Congratulations are also due to BRATs Dan Robinson for finishing in 8:04, and Mark Ince for his 9:35 finish.

 

Comrades totally exceeded our expectations and we can now see why it is such an honoured and iconic event.

 

We have run longer races. We have run hillier and more mountainous races. But there is something about the Comrades run which is so unforgiving yet so exhilarating.

 

The event organisation is unbeatable, the race at both an amateur and elite level is competitive without parallel, and the atmosphere throughout is unforgettable.

 

We believe Comrades more than lives up to its tag-line of the 'Ultimate Human Race', and we are planning our 'Back to Back' 2016 'down run' trip already.

 

Cass' run at Comrades 2015 shows that hard work, dedication, and expert coaching, all pay off and enable dreams to become a reality.

 

 

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