EVERYONE knows what the Comrades Marathon is really about — guts, determination, mental toughness, pain, racing against the clock — things that separate the extraordinary from the ordinary, but there are many facets to the great race.
Sitting overlooking the finish at Kingsmead and watching the ground fill with runners and supporters by the minute, it’s striking to see what colour there is in the race. Of course, the weather provides magnificent sunlight at this time of year — although two weeks ago there were mini floods in and around Durban as the rain came down — which brings forth the different hues in all their glory.
Out on the road, the coloured vests and running shoes light up the harshness of the hard, unforgiving black tar that tests the men from the boys on the day, plus various spots have the colours of key sponsors to give hope and determination to the runners.
But, looking around the finish from the advantage of the press box, there is colour all around. Besides the green, blue and turquoise seats that adorn the stands of Kingsmead, looking over the hallowed cricket turf one cannot help but notice the kaleidoscope of colour out in the middle.
Dominating the scene are the bright red balloons fluttering in the breeze over the finish line. Sponsors of the finish fortunately have bright colours in their logo the red and pink signs in the final few metres of the race add some festivity and some positive feelings as runners complete their run, their challenge, their dream, their winning bet. For those who do care to notice the sudden burst of colour, it must surely take away the pain and grind and transfer some gas to the adrenaline levels as the joy of finishing the race hits home.
The huge white marquees are also prominent, one to welcome the runners after crossing the line and where they receive their cherished medals, another an area for the international runners to reflect on whether their sacrifice to run this mad race in Africa was really worthwhile. Another offers medical assistance to those who have under-estimated the harshness of the long road that always seems so much easier to drive and with so many fewer hills.
There are the bright yellow shirts of the Comrades Marathon staff and helpers and the black-and-yellow Comrades logo littered at strategic spots around the ground. But perhaps the best and most appreciated colour of them all is green. Neither the green seats to relax in afterwards, nor the green flags and gazebos of some sponsors, but, as the legendary Tom Jones sang, “The green, green grass of home”.
Of all the colours on display at Comrades day, green must be the most comforting. That is the colour of the grass at Kingsmead, the first bit of grass the runners set foot upon all day. Since leaving Pietermaritzburg, they have seen plenty of dry grass along the roadside, but the green grass of Kingsmead must be similar to entering heaven. After nearly 90 km on hard, hot tar, the running shoe suddenly hits something soft and comforting, something not so bone-jarring.
It’s like running on air. It means you are home. You have made it and conquered Comrades. A medal awaits, the most prized of all. Much is spoken of the green hills of KwaZulu-Natal that shine like beacons in the winter months, but nothing matches that strip of green at the end of Comrades.
For every runner, that grass is worth every sacrifice, every early morning alarm, every step on the road. It’s like gold to all of them and that is why every Comrades runner is a winner. They all reach gold at the end of their run which, for many, is their greatest achievement in their lives.