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Virtually yours: Anatomy of a very weird Comrades

June 14, 2020 in Uncategorized

So, this morning I joined more than 35 000 people in running a virtual Comrades. I have run eleven real Comrades Marathons; seven up, four down. I run barefoot for the 144 kids in the Durbanville Children’s Home.

(Afrikaans friends, there are a few personal notes in Afrikaans below.)

Printing the number emailed to me

Part of this morning’s the fun was being able to run in my green number. It was official. But why run a short, virtual race?

The Comrades started as a remembrance run for fallen war comrades. It has since grown into the world’s biggest ultra-distance race. It is not the toughest by any means, but it is tough and due its size it has come become known as “The Ultimate Human Race”.

The real Comrades is tough.

The real Comrades also shows one so much about camaraderie, or comradeship. That is why I chose not to do a long run today. I chose to run 10km, and I have asked many others to join me in running 5 km.

I know I can run 90 km without shoes, my green number is proof. I so wish to have more people be aware of the spirit of Comrades. This morning was an act of Camaraderie rather than Courage.

Getting up

I got up at 05:40.

This is unusual. Race day normally means getting up between 00:30 and 01:30 – yes, just after midnight – depending on whether it is an up or down run.

For a real race one has to check everything: Time chip, bus ticket (to the start or back from the finish), race numbers, everything has to be checked with precision, then rechecked.

Getting to the start

I jumped into my little car and drove to the parking lot across the road from the Durbanville Children’s Home.

Normally it is quite a trek to get to the start. I have been fortunate to have a chauffeur (my mom) over the last few years. She lives close to Pietermaritzburg and knows the backroads well.

For a down run one has to get relatively close to the Pietermaritzburg City Hall (meaning about a kilometre.)

For an up run, one has to get to the bus in Pietermaritzburg that will transport you to the start.

The start

I asked permission to start and end my run at the Durbanville Children’s Home.

Normally, at a real start, one waits in holding pens according to your seeding. And waits. The wait before the start is cold on a down run.

My first run in the green number was cool, but it was only when I was allowed into that special holding pen for green-number athletes that the enormity of it all hit me: I was surrounded by legends.

I guess I will never be a Comrades legend, but that is why I supported and encouraged so many to run this virtual race with the legends. “Race the Comrades legends” was the idea behind the race.

And so, with a selfie I was off. All alone.

Normally there are 20 000 runners and thousands of spectators, TV crews and drones. The helicopters take off at first light.

We normally fill both carriage ways of the street. This morning I had the start to myself.

No cock crowing.

No national anthem.

No Shosholoza.

No cannon blast.

The few minutes before a real Comrades starts make for an amazing experience. If you are physically capable, do it at least once.

I am off

With a small tap on my Strava App, I got going.

Normally it takes about 5 minutes after the gun to get to the start line.

This morning I was able to run circles around the Durbanville Children’s’ Home. Nobody was in my way, nobody, but the satellites tracking my cellphone, there to be a witness.

The run

I circled the Children’s Home once and set off into the surrounding suburbs. The home owners in this area often support the Children’s Home. Many of the kids in the Home attend schools for which the upkeep is paid for by those living in this suburb.

Many decades ago the relationship was more problematic. Durbanville was where the up-and-coming Afrikaners took root, and the Home was an eyesore to some. That wonderful chef and restaurateur, Michael Olivier, once told me that he was at school with the kids from the Home and they were known as “kaalvoetkinders” (barefoot kids).

Guess why I now run barefoot?

The real Comrades is between 87 km and 90 km, depending on whether it is up or down.

On the down run you exit Pietermaritzburg via the notorious Polly Shorts. At Polly Shorts we normally get some first light.

A very different sunrise

Then we run through Camperdown and start climbing towards the highest point of the race – close to the “Lion Park” – they do have lions there!

From there we run a long way with a bunch of uphills to towards Drummond, which is halfway.

Halfway: No banners, no dancers, no spectators

My halfway this morning was close to Durbanville’s race course (horses). I chose some off-roading for fun.

I checked in on the Children’s Home again and took a picture of the local Dutch Reformed Church. The Home is massively supported by the NG Kerk community.

Another loop took me to heart of Durbanville where this beautiful set of art works has been placed.

In 1938 the centenary of the Groot Trek (Big Trek) was celebrated at this spot. The original Trek happened when a group of rebels moved away from British rule and tried to take the lands occupied by the local African peoples.

Fighting was inevitable. Many black Africans were killed, many settlers died too.

In 1938 the nationalist movement was firmly in place and fuelled by Hitler’s rise in Germany, the Groot Trek was celebrated as an exclusively white and Afrikaans thing – something it never was.

Here at this spot the Centerary Trek held an important stopover with all the Nationalist rhetoric.

This lovely group of sculptures, in the form of clay oxen – seemingly made by a black boy, but representing the rainbow of a modern-day South Africa, is wonderful. It embraces the spirit of the Trek, but not in an exclusive, acerbic way, much rather it celebrates South Africa.

I stopped and took these pictures three quarters into my race this morning.

Normally, at three quarters, I would be approaching Pinetown and my entire body would be sore. The pain associated with Comrades is hard to describe. By 60 km everything, absolutely everything, in the body is sore.

At this stage of the real Comrades stopping for a picture is dangerous as one may not be able to start running again. Exhaustion and confusion sometimes make people do odd things around this time. The spectators are amazing, though. Fellow runners too.

As the sun started rising over the last quarter of my race, I saw a few more fellow virtual-Comrades runners.

TK here was doing the 45 km. This would have been his third Comrades.

As I closed in the Durbanville Children’s Home again, I realised that I’d need to plan my last kilometre carefully to make my 10 km end at their gate.

I carefully chose a route around the local convenience and suddenly was hungry.

At 10 km I ran up to the gate.

Job done.

Virtual race run. Not quite the same as the real thing, but in the spirit I loved it.

Should you ever get the change, you should experience the end of a real Comrades. It is overwhelming. No matter how sore and tired you are – those last few hundred metres on the grass is an experience I am not capable of describing.


With one last selfie I walked to the car.

The Home needs old cellphones and tablets, as the kids are also doing virtual classes during Covid. Anyone able to help, please write to [email protected].

Post race

I had breakfast and helped my darling in the garden. Normally, especially after a down run, it is nearly impossible to walk for 24 hours.

Post mortem

I salute the Comrades Marathon Association for this initiative. I’d suggest that it should happen very year on Comrades Day. Those who can, should do the (real) 90km. Everywhere else in the world I would love to see 5, 10 or 21,’s races being run in the spirit of Comrades.

Iets persoonlik

Die wat my goed ken, sal weet dat ek in die Comrades tyd gewoonlik na my ma gaan.

My ma, wat self al ’n hele aantal kort padwedlope voltooi het, doen tans iets heeltemal anders. Sy en my twee sussies loop die virtuele Camino de Santiago. Elke dag stap sy en my sussies in drie verskillende stede op twee kontinente en registreer hulle Camino-afstande.

Dan kry hulle ’n aanduiding waar hulle op die roete is. My ma was Vrydag iewers in die Pireneë.

Toe ek Saterdagmiddag my klere regsit en alles nagaan, stuur ek vir haar ’n foto en sê dis vreemd om voor te berei vir ’n Comrades sonder haar. Haar antwoord? Wel, soveel is virtueel deesdae. Verbeel jou ek is virtueel by jou al is ek virtueel in Spanje!

Ongekaart. Ongeloof(lik). Nuwe bediening.

June 1, 2020 in Uncategorized

Ongekaart, saamgestel deur Cas Wepener en Anandie Greyling, uitgegee deur Bybel-Media se druknaam Bybelkor, is merkwaardig.

Soveel mense is al seergemaak deur die kerk, of dan deur pionne van die kerk, wat glo hulle verstaan die pad na die hemel; hier kom dié merkwaardige boek en vra: Wat van hulle nie op die hoofweë wandel nie?

Ons almal ken die formulier vir die doop, maar hoe help die kerk mense tydens ’n miskraam of aborsie? O, die wit rok voor die kansel is ’n bekende plek, maar hoe help die kerk as jy wil skei? Wat is die kerk se respons as jy ’n swerfgenoot het?

Tydens die doop word ’n naam aan jou toegeken deur jou ouers, maar wat van mense wat van gender verander en dus ook ’n nuwe naam wil opneem? Hierdie boek verskaf raad.

Die kerk het baie mense seergemaak en weggestoot in die verlede. Ek bewonder diegene wat die kaarte as muurpapier gebruik en trots nuwe, ongekarteerde waters invaar.

Hoe help die kerk ’n persoon om te erken sy/hy is gay? Hierdie boek gee raad.

Terwyl baie kerke nog gay mense wil wegstoot, bied hierdie boek hulp aan dominees wat mense wil bedien wat ’n lewensverbintenis wil maak met iemand van dieselfde geslag.

Die kerk bestaan uit mense, en is daarom feilbaar. Die NG Kerk het al baie foute gemaak, maar hierdie boek, en ander deur Bybel-Media, wys hoe ver die Kerk (sien die hoofletter) al gevorder het.

Koop dit. Koop nog. Gee dit aan mense wat nog ongekaart is.

Die boek het dalk nie al die antwoorde nie, maar dit vra reeds uitstekende vrae.

Hier is die boek te koop:

Vandag is die begin van Pride Month. Dié boek is vir almal. Dit is merkwaardig.