It is the day before… well, you know. It is the day of the packet pickup and the Comrades EXPO. It started at 9am with the tour operator driver picking up the runners at the hotels in Umhlanga, and driving them the short (15-20 min) drive to the EXPO in Durban proper. Not really the talk I wanted either. After a brief chat on the way from the airport with a fellow runner who completed the Down race last year in 2016 and had trained far less than me had cheered me up and focused my eyes on the horizon, today’s chat did the opposite, and it wasn’t even race related. The driver spent the whole way warning us of thefts of phones outside the Expo and criminal gangs operating in the area, of car jacking and knife attacks. Not very pleasant and certainly put us on edge as we arrived at the EXPO expecting thieves and brigands to be waiting for us.
What actually met us was a few sheisters selling cheap knockoff Oakleys and the end of a mahoosive queue of people that zigzagged several times across the outdoor space. THIS WAS GONNA TAKE FOREVER. Remember in one of the Harry Potter movies Hermoine had a, I wanna say, timespinner? I needed that to kill the time. I joined the end of the queue and dug in. It was then that I heard an official mention those immortal words “international runner” and I was over there faster than you can say “Through three cheese trees three free fleas flew. While these fleas flew, freezy breeze blew. Freezy breeze made these three trees freeze. Freezy trees made these trees’ cheese freeze. That’s what made these three free fleas sneeze.” And the result? “Why? An international runner, sir? Yes. Please ignore the huge queue, and go right to the front where you see a marquis and walk right in.”
And it was as simple as that. International runners are such a boost for them, I guess that you get very well looked after, like at the Two Oceans where they have a special race with a running celeb just for you. I reached the marquis and there was a sign “ELITES and INTERNATIONAL RUNNERS”. I walked in with a couple of elite looking runners, by the whole queue of thousands of onlooking South African runners, but then had to wait for about two mins whilst the ten or so officials helping an international runner each did their thing and then I got my race pack.
From there you walk into the EXPO itself and are met by security guards who tape your race bag closed before walking into the area for the official race kit as produced by New Balance. It is in this bag that I put my race envelope containing my number and everything I needed for registration.
I was coveting a black zip up hoodie with the race emblem that I had seen in Cape Town a few days ago but no, they had moved away from the tasteful and into the tasteless. The hoodie this year was baby blue and so I didn’t bother. I did get a tee, that I have since decided to race in. But after eyeing a few things I decided it would have been buying stuff for the sake of it. The famous NedBank sponsored race hat and the florescent tee in the race envelope was good enough and everyone in town is wearing them. The true find was on a side part of the EXPO, where the smaller charities had stalls. Here I gained this truism filled garment.
Being a novice and an international runner I could have gone to two seated areas where tea, coffee and biscuits were served throughout the day whilst legends of the race, including personal hero Bruce Fordyce would give pep talks. I decided on the international area but, despite it consisting of a dozen tables, stryofoam cups, tea and coffee making facilities and nothing else, where only three other runners sat going through the gubbins in their race bag I was stopped by an overly officious guard. She demanded to see something that showed I was an international runner. I spoke and asked “if my accent was a giveaway?” She said that she didn’t know me. I explained that was because we had never met before and was hardly surprising as I would hazard a guess that she came from the Durban area, a part of the world I had only just arrived in, being an international runner . She demanded to see something. Now. My race bag was taped closed on the way into NB store. And in that was the sealed race bib envelope. She wanted me to open the bag, breaking the tape, get out the envelope, open the envelope to show her a shiny wristband that was, as far as I was concerned, only to be used in the finisher area of the race. Honestly this woman was basically one step away from a full rubber gloved hand up my poop chute looking for lucky charms. For that reason I only had one cup of tea, and two biscuits before moving on. I can guess what her family are eating for dessert tonight.
I walked the EXPO, as you do, but there was precious little there. New Balance, a few shoe stalls and a few local sports shops but no big exhibitors. Even in Copenhagen you had Nike, Adidas, NB, On, Skins, 2XU, Compresssport etc. Here, well, there was Compresssport but I wasn’t impressed. The biggest line was for the medical insurance company that co-sponsored the race. A few race stalls (not even the Two Oceans or Cape Town Marathon, and nothing international), a few local charities, I did pick up a temporary tattoo for the pacing of 11 hours, but looking at it, everything is in reverse, and despite being an analyst my maths brain goes bye bye when I run. I needed to work out how far I had left against the time I had spent. Surely that was arse backwards? Or at least one cheek backwards, and one the right way round. Regardless I took one. And then I was outside in the sun.
Outside in the sun you can grab food, lite beer, coffee, and selfies with the famous (although I don’t know why) Comrades Rickshaw. And then, short and sweet, and hearing that Bruce would be talking in 10 minutes in one of the areas inside, I decide to screw it and head back to the hotel for a sizable lunch and a snooze.
Now, this whole shebang starts at 5:30am my time, that is 4:30 back home. I should be done and dusted before 4:30pm your time, I hope. Not that I can guarantee any excitement, but you can track me on the website or via the phone app, for which my number is 11429, as per the bib below.
Wish me luck… and, if you think this insanity for charity is worth a few bob please, sponsor me here I run for those that I loved and have lost, and those that I love and survived.