Johnson’s Comrades Conquest An Up And Down AffairIf you thought taking on a marathon was a pretty solid challenge, how would you feel about running two back to back, with a few extra kilometers tacked on the end just for good measure?
That is exactly what former Bondi resident and Beast financial advisor Stevie Johnson did when he completed this year’s 87km Comrades ultra-marathon in South Africa at the end of May.
More impressive still is the fact that Johnson, clearly a glutton for punishment, also competed in and completed the event in 2010.
So what was it that drove him to jump on a plane to South Africa again in 2011 to endure more pain? Well, Comrades is an ultra-marathon with a twist.
The first Comrades Marathon took place on May 24, 1921, Empire Day, starting outside the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, with 34 runners, and finishing in Durban. It has continued since then every year with the exception of the war years between 1941 and 1945, with the direction of the race alternating each year between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, creating the so-called ‘up’ and ‘down’ runs. And, as a fellow competitor of Johnson’s bluntly put it, “you haven’t done Comrades until you’ve done a down and an up year”.
This mantra was one that Johnson just couldn’t shake, despite vivid memories of the pain he endured in his first run in 2010, a ‘down’ year.
“For 24 hours after I finished the 2010 Comrades ultra-marathon, I said I’d never do it again. For the first week, I said I’d probably never do it again. Ever since, I couldn’t get that guy’s voice out of my head: ‘you haven’t done Comrades until you’ve done a down and an up year’,” Johnson told The Beast.
With that in mind, Johnson got back into training, booked his flights and set a goal of running the tougher ‘up’ leg faster than he had completed the ‘down’ in 2010, and raising $10,000 for Camfed, an African charity dedicated to providing African girls with an education.
Despite feeling “lighter, leaner, faster, stronger” than in 2010, not everything went to plan for Johnson on the day of the race.
“I knew very early on that it was going to be a tough day – 30km in my legs were feeling heavy and I was somewhat light-headed. I was at halfway 15 minutes earlier than planned, which is not a good thing in an ultra marathon, and threw up on the side of the road shortly after. From there I knew the back half of the race was going to be a struggle.
“Plagued by cramps I walked and shuffled my way home and finished in 9 hours and 20 minutes, 20 minutes quicker than last year but still not under the 9 hour cut-off I was aiming for.”
Thus far, Johnson has raised just over $8000, enough to give some 25 girls access to an education. You can still donate by visiting http://us.camfed.org/goto/SJ_Comrades_2011.
To find out more about the Comrades ultra marathon visit www.comrades.com.