After six months of training, my friend Tshire ran the Comrades Marathon in an incredible time of nine hours. First held in 1921, the Comrades Marathon, coined The Ultimate Human Race, is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon road race, run annually in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The direction of the race alternates each year between the “up” run (87 km) starting from Durban and the “down” run (now 90.184 km) starting from Pietermaritzburg. In Part 1 of our interview, Tshire shared when she started running and how she trained for Comrades, including all the sacrifices she made. In today’s blog, she continues where she left off, and takes us on a remarkable 90km journey.
If I was at the Start Line, what would I see? Sunday 28th August 2022 will go down as one of the most beautiful days of my life. I’m sobbing just thinking about it. The weather was good, the runner here felt and looked good! There was no pressure in her at all. The idea in her mind is just to have fun. It feels good to be this runner! I was ecstatic to take part in this race. There were many people from different parts of the world gathered outside Pietermaritzburg City Hall. Different ages, male and female. Everyone looked friendly, happy, ready and really good. We were all dressed in colourful clothes. It was such a vibe. The music was soothing, we sang the National Anthem. A perfect reality that almost felt like a dream. Soon enough we did the count down and the race began. I said good luck to the two Brazilian friends I had just made. I took a selfie and a very short video clip too, just to let the crowd open space a bit. I said a little prayer, followed by a cross sign. The Catholicism of my childhood. I stepped over the start line.
I’m out of breath just thinking abut you crossing that first line! Take us through your race. A slow pace to warm up. I had expected congestion at the beginning, but it was okay. At 5am, spectators were already out in their robes to cheer for us. There was satisfaction in every single step I took. My shoes were good. I felt like they were designed for the race. I felt there was absolutely NO excuse not to complete the race. I felt so determined. My mind and soul yearned to follow the route right to its end making sure I was safe at cut off points.
The race was well prepared. Alongside the road were energetic spectators well placed and cheering. Amongst them were elders, children, and youth, able and disabled. There were school kids in their uniforms, associates and sponsors competing with colourful umbrellas and banners for advertisement. They offered water, drinks, fruits, painkillers, massages, heat and cold sprays, gels and more – we were taken care of and spoilt. Whether one was stopping for refreshments, a massage, greetings or the loo (by the way, toilets were all clean with toilet paper!), I believe we all felt important! Paramedics and police were everywhere too. Along the way, I met and ran with many friendly runners and would lose them whenever it suited.
The terrain went up and down. It was beautiful to look ahead and meet a view of the runners lined up like waves. The landscape was spectacular. Beautiful hills, green vegetation, grazing livestock, and small water sources filled with birds… Depending where you were, there were different fragrances in the air. I could smell food, smoke, livestock, sweat – you name it. The road was clear, kept clean from our littering. Here and there you would read KM already covered. Cut off points were visible from far. Each time I crossed one, I felt a sense of joy before moving onto the next. For me, everything was demanding yet adaptable. I felt like I had chosen the right running wear and shoes. The cheering from the crowds was motivating. Even though I had trained up hills, I realized they were the most challenging and demanding. Every now and then, I would walk up the hill when it got hard and run my way down. It became a manageable pattern.
When I came across a cheer group of disabled spectators, some bound to wheelchairs, I was overcome by the scene. I was so touched and moved and really had to battle my emotions. But what a heavenly sent opportunity! Right there, I needed cuddles for strength, and I had plenty to give as well. It’s true that love can only be found through the act of loving. I hugged and hugged, I shook hands, I caressed the pretty faces of the limbless, and I blew kisses to those I couldn’t reach by hand. I loved this special moment. I’m a believer that everything is part of God’s design. The break I took here was the longest. When I returned to running again, I was so fuelled! I knew from this little break that I was running for a cause. For all those in wheelchairs and those constrained by health-related issues, I ran for them all.
After a while the road narrowed. For the first time since I started the race, I realized I was running. There was no audience, no refreshments, just runners – the 86km board appeared. I almost panicked. I longed to see spectators, water or energy drinks but they were nowhere to be found. Though I was not thirsty, the absence of refreshments and an audience didn’t make me feel better. I continued. In less than 2km, all was back to normal. I stopped and fuelled up for the remaining kilometres. I was happy with myself, I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream! I wanted to make a call home. At that moment, I was already satisfied – I just had to reach the finish line.
I carried on with my race with a huge celebration within. I saw a big board with time and distance. My time read 8:58:48. Instantly I developed a desire to push harder. I increased my pace; I crossed the bridge into Moses Mabhida Stadium. It looked beautiful and half empty. I looked at the finish line. For the first time in a race, I could picture myself. I saw my strong legs. I noticed that indeed they are long. I saw my light framed body. I saw the spark of sweat on my face. I saw the gaps in-between my teeth that show when I smile. I saw a proud runner, genetically suited to the task of running. Two steps before the finish line I knew it wasn’t the end, I knew it was only the beginning of more Comrades to come.
I crossed the finish line majestically with so much pride. I had conquered Comrades! I ululated inside my heart. I patted my shoulder many times remembering everyone that has been there to make this happen. I climbed, with great effort, to the international lounge, carrying 90km run effects mostly on my legs and wearing my medal around my neck, a badge for hard work, determination and sacrifices that defines the person I am – a runner!
What did Comrades teach you about yourself? I have run so many miles to discover things I already knew, things that most of us know but find hard to accept and be proud of. Looking at it with my purest heart, I have learnt that I am a dreamer. I am a self-believer. I can accept a challenge. I can commit. I can endure. I can persevere, and I am capable. To my amazement, I’m my own greatest surprise. That’s the light I saw in me during comrades training and the race itself. I must say it’s seriously daunting to think about running a race that’s 90km. Let me tell you this as well, Shathi, this part of life, RUNNING has its own charms too! It’s fulfilling to earn a Comrades medal. For a girl like me, it means everything to have that medal in my collection.
I am a girl who said YES to her destiny! – Tshireletso Motta
Wow! What are some of the ways you tried to recover after Comrades? I realized that recovering after Comrades is as important as training for the race. This refers to all races as well. After scooping my 90km medal and taking selfies, I got my tog bag and changed from wet clothes to my dry warm tracksuit to avoid cooling down too quickly which could be a shock to my body and pave the way for colds and illness (which has happened to me before). I then had water frequently. I got so thirsty at the end of the race, and I lost lots of water during my run that needed to be replaced. Tired and sore as I was, I stretched and massaged my hamstrings and ankles – they felt so stiff. I also tried squats. I looked like an amateur as I could hardly move my body, but every little movement helped. I walked up and down the staircase before a long hot and cold shower and rubbing my entire body with warming cream. Then I retired to bed where I rested for three solid hours before my carbo-loaded dinner. That night I slept so deep.
For the next two days I did recovery 7km walks and dedicated the entire time to resting, fuelling with water and eating clean. I was sore but I almost walked just fine. I tried resuming running a few days later – my mind felt ready, but my body felt exhausted. I then decided to rest as much as possible and refrain from running. I would stretch and do very short walks twice a week and swimming. I treated myself to massage and yoga whenever I wanted. In about 6 weeks, everything felt like it should, so I resumed running – taking it easy, short and relaxed.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to run Comrades? I would encourage them to go for it; to prepare and to believe in themselves! Comrades is a long race and yet so beautiful. It’s insane but relatively rewarding. The hardest part is training but the good thing is it’s all truly attainable. It’s exhausting mentally and physically and that’s normal. The experiences of both training and race day are deeply personal and priceless. Go run that race!
Looking ahead, what are some of your running goals? Since 2019, I had not called Stanley (the veteran I met at Om Die Dam who inspired me to run Comrades) or heard from him. I thought about him often in the weeks after running Comrades. Today, before answering this question, I finally called Stanley and asked him if he would like to run with me. He said YES! Because of his answer, I’m the happiest runner! Next year in winter we will be taking it back to that race where we met and run together. Yippy! Running with Stanley at 83 years will be an honour I will forever cherish! I would also like to run for charity, Comrades again and other races.
Running with Stanley will be incredible! Finally, is there anyone else you want to give a shout out to? I would like to thank my family so many times for their support and encouragement. I love you so much! A huge scream to my girls – Shathiso, Tebogo, Elisa, Sammy and Tapiwa. Your support was amazing! Running together in my last long training run made me a believer, that my support system is real. Then YOU together with your partners running again on my race day made me realize indeed you got my back. You are kind, you are beautiful, don’t ever change, I love you. Lastly, I would like to thank all my other well-wishers.
Thank you Tshire for sharing your incredible story – I always knew you would complete Comrades; but I am still in awe at your dedication to training and the way you ran this race – with power, passion and perseverance – long may you continue to chase your dreams and inspire us all.
I’m joining the link-up, Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Running on Happy! Hop on over to their blogs and others and be inspired!