June 4, 2012

Intensity

I've run tough races.  I've given it all I've had.  I've vomited.  I've bawled.  But I've never run with such intensity.  Until yesterday.  Comrades Marathon.  The Ultimate Human Race.  89kms from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.  100% proudly South African.

2012 was a downhill run, approximately 2, 000m of tarmac pounding down to the Indian ocean of coastal Durban.  But don't let the net downhill profile map fool you.  Yesterday I climbed about 1, 400m too - most of that in the first half.  It's quad frying, it's calf cramping, and then it's seeing what you have left for the final 20km or so which go down, down, down... til you beg for an uphill only to regret it as soon as you are crawling up in the heat of the day off a highway exit ramp, with crowds cheering you not to slow, not to walk, not to give up.

But this was not the intensity.  The intensity was giving it all I had to race the most competitive race I've ever run.  To take the lead in the women's race with about 46km to go.  To then hear the heavy and determined breathing of Elena Nurgalieva (Russia) on my shoulder at about 44km to go.  A previous 6 time winner, I knew she had course knowledge far in excess in my own, she had the talent and she was not going to give up without a fight.  This was not a surprise to me, but the fact that I was the one in this battle with her in someway was.  The Nedbank crew shouted at me to watch out that I didn't pound down Botha's hill too hard, to save something of my already tired quads for the later downhills.  But I knew that if I let Elena go I might never catch her again.  So I took a risk, a calculated risk, and for the next 20km we ran neck and neck.  Mostly I was marginally in front, but we would knock elbows, we caught each others feet on occasion, there was hardly a metre between us.  The race was on and I knew it was not so much about the physical but more about the mental focus to push, push, push and just focus like never before.

Elena was faster on the all too frequent short uphills but I maintained my ground and tried to run relaxed on the flats and the downs.  There were cheers for both of us, and whether the crowds shouted 'Elena' or 'Eleanor' I was never quite sure, but I just hoped the cheers were for me and I would smile or grimace at the supporters that lined the sides of the route - any cheers or encouragement could only help to pull me along in this battle to Durban.  But about 25km or so to go Elena cracked me.  She inched ahead.  My quads were smashed, my ITs tight and painful, my calves were crampy and I began to pop more salt tablets and grab sachets of liquid from the stations - energy drink to give me an ounce more zip than I had, water to douse me as the heat was building (in more way than one).  I no longer cared what I looked like on national South African tv, with a motorbike camera following our each and every move, I pulled gels out of my sports bra, I power hiked the hills.  This wasn't about looks, this was about fighting til the end. The tv commentator later told me he thought I was dead when he saw me start to walk up Cowie's Hill.  But if one thing kept me going it was pride.  I had led at the half way mark of Comrades and there was no way, absolutely no way in the world, that I was going to finish any further back than 2nd.  I wasn't going to look stupid and so with stubborn determination I hiked the hills like a trail runner to save my quads for the flats and downs.  The crowds began to shout my splits back of Elena, I was gaining ground on her again.  I was passing men, and doing everything I could to pass them as we had been warned to not run with men for fear we would get disqualified if they were seen to be pacing us.  I would see Nedbank male runners (my South African running club), I'd use them as targets to catch, say a brief hello as I then focused on trying to spot the timing clock car just ahead of Elena - that was my goal, that was my target, that was what I needed to catch before we got the the cricket stadium in downtown Durban.  I didn't dare let up, apart from the glimmer of hope that I still might, just might, be able to win, I also refused to get caught.  I had no idea how far back 3rd place was but as I feared I was slowing I was concerned that I might get caught by the talented field of ladies behind me.

5km to go and I finally knew I could make it.  20mins, maybe less, and this pain, this agony, this intensity would be over.  4km to go yet 3km to go seemed a million miles away.  2km to go and I was on the flat roads of central Durban, the crowds cheering behind the barriers lining both sides of the street.  I was likely still hitting about 4mins per km but each second seemed to take an age to pass and the markers seemed to be further and further and further apart.  But soon, the final km, the twisty turns into the cricket pavilion.  I was handed a rose as I entered (as all in the top 10 are), I tried to hold it high, I didn't have the energy in my arm to do so.  It dropped to my side and the stem bent in half, it looked battered and bruised, just like I was.  Round three sides of the stadium, my eyes desperately searching for the bright yellow finish banner.  And then it was there. I was there.  I was done.  It was over.  The intensity could stop.


And the celebrations and the recovery could begin....

Thank you South Africa.  Thank you Comrades. Thank you Nedbank.  Your hospitality and spirit made this a race to remember.  I've never been happier to be 'first loser' ;)

(photos to follow, I'm writing this in J'burg airport with some great South African music playing!)


45 comments:

  1. What an awesome report, what a fight!

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  2. Congrats on an amazing finish Ellie. Very inspiring.

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  3. Awesome performance. An ideal warm up for western states! Go GB!

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  4. What a run Ellie! Stoked! Congrats!

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  5. Such an amazing run, Ellie!!! By the way, the rose was the only thing that looked bruised, battered and broken when you crossed that line!!! So proud of you! Can't wait to see you at WS!!

    All Day!
    ~Ken

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  6. Simply Amazing, just as everything else you have been doing. In a race where probably half of the field is battling for a finish, a humble and modest (Canadian) Battling with 6 time champion and course record holder is as far from the first loser as South Africa is from Canada. Keep up the Amazing Work!

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  7. Fantastic report of a fantastic race, Ellie, well done, from one Scot to another...

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  8. Very inspiring post Ellie! Way to go!!

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  9. Incredible Ellie. You are an inspiration to all!

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  10. Lovely story we so wanted you to win...

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  11. I actually teared up as I read this! Very inspiring Ellie! I wish I had an ounce of your mental focus!

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  12. Awesome. Well done! Amazing running and an inspirational post.

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  13. As always, a pleasure to read your reports.

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  14. Congrats on a gutsy performance. It was inspiring to watch you run!

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  15. Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

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  16. Awesome race. I loved reading your blog!

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  17. My heart is racing from reading this report! Well done in conveying some of that intensity in your writing. Recover well and I look forward to the WS installment.

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  18. Well done Ellie. I thoroughly enjoyed watching you run yesterday. The tv commentary went crazy, questioning whether you were blown, when you were power walking up Cowies and I was shouting back, "She's a trail runner - that's what we do!". Another 5km and I'm sure you would have caught Elena - you made up good time and you really looked great coming into the finish. She may have the experience from past wins but she isn't unbeatable. As a novice on the course - wow! you really ran an amazing race.

    I do hope that we'll see you back here again. And if you've got any time in Jo'burg on your return, before Comrades, I've got a lovely trail to take you on (complete with wildlife) for a nice gentle jaunt. Very best wishes for a super WS100.

    Lisa
    www.ar.co.za / adventure racer and trail runner

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  19. You ran an amazing race. Well done Ellie - I'm so happy for you. Have a good recovery.

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  21. Ellie G, this was like reading an excerpt from the New York Times Best-selling Born to Run: enthralling; spellbinding; don't-put-any-toast-in-the-toaster-before-you-start-reading-as-you'll-cause-a-housefire...ing. An electrifying account of a pulsating performance and as enjoyable as watching you Duel in the South African Sun with Elena live. Congratulations! And look me up if you need an editor when the first book deal comes in (not that it'll need much editing)... :o)

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  22. Congrats - that is still one heck of a race - esp if you are racing against someone so experienced with the course!!

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  23. Wow, what a race! You are an inspiration to us.
    Great to meet you on Monday.
    Riana and Allie

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  24. Thanks for all the comments folks! Riana and Allie - just emailed you, it was lovely to chat and I hope to see you both in 2013 ;)

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  25. Too proud!!!
    Hope you survived the travel Ellie and can't wait to have you return as part of the Nedbank & Comrades family in 2013!
    Have an awesome year
    Patrick

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  26. Well run Ellie, great to see someone racing Elena neck and neck.
    Come back gain and win it.
    We'll cheer even louder for you when you come back again. (I was on the sidelines this year thanks to injury)
    If you think your quads are fried on the down run, wait till you have to run from Durban to the top of Botha's hill.
    See you next year
    Comrades no 28756

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  27. Patrick - thank you so much to Nedbank, the organisation was wonderful once again and such great people to share the experience with. I certainly hope to be back in 2013 and looking forward to it already. Thanks again!

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  28. Great effort in the race and great race report!

    I was watching the streaming coverage at 2AM (race-obsessed ever since my Comrades experience in 2010) and pulling like crazy for you. Elena has had her time and your win would have been great for the race. The announcers cracked me up because they referred to you as 'Eleanor' every time.

    They did say you broke when you were walking up that hill, but I still thought you had a chance. You trail runners power walk those hills! Next year you've got them!

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  29. Congratulations on a great race, Ellie. An absolutely overwhelming report as well; I will try to remember it when do a next trail race. Besides, now I am totally justified to power hike (a.k.a. “walk up”) the hills in races :o) Good luck at the Western States!

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  30. Congrats, Ellie! I read your blog before watching the video. Your blog post itself was just so riveting!!
    Excellent writing!
    And then I watched the video. Intensity with such grace! Brilliant job! Such an inspiration!

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  31. Sorry I didn't recognise you as we chatted quickly when entering the plane at Durban airport on Monday...."Did you win a lottery entry for the western states this year", lol, your answer back left me wondering "top ten finishers get invited back", very humble given you bloody won it...Hope you smash this years WS100 as well.

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  32. Way to go Ellie!! Congrats on great race. I love reading your blog. I will never run Comrades but it was so inspirational to read your race report. You did a brilliant job of hanging in there for second place.

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  33. So cool! What a fight. Great job!!!!

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  34. what an incredibly beautiful post; i was hanging on every word. Wonderful performance Ellie!! Keep running strong...keep believing- truly you were born to do great things!

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  35. Why, Ms. Ellie!! I do believe you got your Grrrrr On. Best Second Place Ever!!

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  36. Ellie, you are the best and an inspiration to us all! You smile says it all. After WS100 you can come down and run WR50 just as a cool- down. There are only two hills, so how hard can it be?
    Doug

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  37. Congratulations on a brilliant performance and thank you for a fantastic post. It gives plodders at the back (like me) a flavour of what it takes to be at the sharp end of the race - how hard you had to work physically and mentally really comes through (although it's still beyond my comprehension!). You obviously pushed Elena beyond her limit too as she had to run a PB to nip in front of you. Roll on 2 June 2013!

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  38. Fantastic run, I know about the km markers but that was from running at back perspective !
    Men wearing sports bras to carry gel now that's something to think about
    See next year no 59855

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  39. What a brilliant race report. I managed to catch some on the internet. Was a thrilling race an inspirational performance. Well done

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  40. Hope to see more from you on your next post. I really enjoyed reading your posts. Thanks a lot!

    Greenwood Heating

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  41. Do you ran such a trail often?
    Harlin | http://www.glendaleheating.com/services/

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