November 12, 2015 by DAVE JACK
A while ago I wrote a blog on how I saw the whole question of “Izokuthoba – It Will Humble You” the banner adopted by Comrades for the 2016 race. I wrote that I thought that virtually every person who runs this amazing race is humbled at one time or another. I certainly was on more than one occasion in my running days.
I have heard debate by runners on the banner and I think it’s going to be the subject of many conversations by runners and spectators between now and the end of May 2016.
I have also had another “take” on the humbling experience of Comrades, this time by my long-time friend and one time colleague in the world of radio, Ian Laxton who is well known as being one of the people handling the Comrades commentary for television on race day. Here are Ian’s thoughts on “Izokuthoba”.
We stand on the threshold of the 2016 Comrades Marathon, the 92nd running of Vic Clapham’s classic race. It’s been 95 years since Bill Rowan and Clapham stood on the start line, wondering what would happen. On May 29, more than 20 000 runners will be in Pietermaritzburg doing exactly the same thing, wondering what will happen on the day.
Many things will be known: the distance, the route, the weather. The superb organization, the refreshment stations, the crowds, the excitement, the camaraderie, the green grass of Kingsmead.
Knowing the history and the traditions of the race will help, as will the comfort of knowing that more than 100 000 individuals have successfully followed this road to personal victories over doubt, fear and weakness.
But once the gun is fired, everyone is on their own out there. It won’t be easy, but to ease those doubts, consider the theme that the Comrades Marathon Association has created for 2016, which, this year, is ‘Izokuthoba’ which means, ‘It will humble you’.
For most people that run the Comrades, their life changes – from just a minor shift in self-awareness and sense of achievement, right up to those people who find the race a life-altering experience. Comrades runners learn things about themselves that they never knew, dig into reserves of energy and determination they never believed they had, and experience joy and a sense of achievement as never before.
People always confront their weaknesses on the road somewhere between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. They have to decide – can I finish? Should I just pack it in? Why continue? It’s a type of crossroads, a metaphor for life. The Comrades asks every runner: how strong are you? How brave are you? How confident and determined are you? And you have to answer those questions out there, sooner or later.
The Comrades is bigger than the individual, no matter how important, fit, wealthy, successful and well-trained they are. On the day, everyone has to face the distance, the hills, the weather and their own human weaknesses. They have to accept the challenge that the Comrades Marathon lays down. It’s non-negotiable.
That’s why we say, ‘It will humble you’, not because there is something weak about you, but because the race demands an attitude of respect. To succeed in Comrades means to acknowledge the stature and challenge of the race. Humility such as this is not capitulation, it is strength; humility is not failure, it’s the basis for success; in fact, being humbled by the Comrades, not as a race but as a symbol of every challenge you will ever face that is worth overcoming, is the basis for a successful race. Be proud to be humbled by the Comrades, then go on to reach your goals.
As you spend hours out there on the road training, as you crawl out of bed in the dark and cold for another hill session, as you battle the traffic to another time trial after work, comfort yourself with the idea that you are part of history. Every Comrades runner before you, from Bill Rowan back in 1921 till now, has travelled the same path. Comrades now has well over 100 000 individual finishers in its history and you are part of that. You may not be a Wally Hayward or Frith van der Merwe, but you will travel the same road.
The route, the traditions and the scenery remain the same. Max Trimborn’s cock-crow at the start, Shosholoza, the national anthem, the seeding pens going back into the distance, all the banners carried by the runners, greeting families and sending important messages to the nation, these are all part of the Comrades traditions.
Polly Shortts, the kids at Enthembeni school, the view from the top of Inchanga, the crowds at the cut-off point at Drummond, these, too, are part of the race’s fabric. Arthur Newtown will greet you from his seat as you go up the back of Botha’s Hill; chances are you will glance to your left and decide to put your name on the wall of honour. You will see the ocean, if it’s a clear day, as early as the top of Botha’s Hill.
The traditions roll on: the Gunga Din team prize, the desperate sprint for the various medal cut-offs, the guys and girls proudly getting their green numbers at the finish after their 10th run, the mayor’s message carried by the winner as he enters Kingsmead, the screaming fans greeting every single runner to finish, the roar of the hands beating signboards in the finishing straight, the soft grass of Kingsmead under your feet. Store up these thoughts in your mind as you train the long miles on the road.
You will collect your precious medal just after you finish, get a welcome drink and put your weary feet up under your club tent as you wait for your friends to finish. You will probably feel remarkably strong that night, but the next day your legs will feel like they have been squashed by a bus, thanks to the hills on the down run. You will proudly limp into work and people will ask you about your race. Your friends, neighbours and relatives will know that you ran. You will be a mini-hero amongst the parents at your kid’s school.
The Comrades has a wonderful history and heritage. It is South Africa’s most famous and most loved sporting event. Names like Fordyce, Hayward, Mekler, van der Merwe, Kelehe, Lucre, Mtolo, Wostmann, Nurgalieva and Kotov are indelibly written into our country’s sporting history.
Be proud to be humbled, for greatness is not possible without humility.