Friday, 29 May 2009

Comrades marathon, June 2008

Comrades Marathon – 15th June, 2008
54.0 miles (86.9km) - Up run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg

Comrades has such a distinguished history that even seasoned marathon runners find it reignites their passion for the sport. The first Comrades Marathon took place on 24th May 1921, Empire Day, starting outside the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg with 34 runners. It has continued since then every year with the exception of the war years 1941-1945. Therefore the 2008 race is the 83rd.

After WWI, a man called Vic Clapham wanted to remember those who had fallen and the camaraderie shown between men to overcome the atrocities and hardships of war. Remembering the searing heat and thirst of the parched veld through which he had campaigned, he settled on the idea of a marathon and he approached the athletic authorities of the day to see what they thought. Clapham asked for permission to stage a 56 mile race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban to be called the Comrades Marathon and wanted it to become a living memorial to the spirit of the soldiers of the Great War. Unfortunately, this was strenuously resisted by the authorities. His requests in 1919 and 1920 were refused but in 1921 he was finally given permission and the race was born.

If this moving story was not enough, the enthusiasm with which I’d heard the race described was enough to ensure it was a must-run race for me. And I certainly get caught up in the atmosphere of the race since everything about it makes it special. It alternates direction each year with even years being an up run from the harbour city of Durban to Pietermaritzburg at an altitude of 650m. On the way runners encounter 5 major hills, popularly known as the “Big Five,” interspersed with other landmarks and points of interest. The up run varies slightly each year in distance but is now around 87km (54 miles), while the down run is about 2km (just over a mile) longer. The difference is due to the races needing to start along wide roads and finish in a stadium, so the start/finish areas are different for each race and not just reversed.

With relatively few international runners and a lower international (but not domestic) profile than many races of a similar size, most of my friends in the UK haven't heard of the race, except through me. But from the first time someone mentioned it and told me that well over 10,000 people attempt the ultra marathon every year, I knew it had to be experienced. Back home we usually get 100-200 people for races of that length, so I wanted to know what the appeal could be to make this many people think that it’s a good idea to run over 2 conventional marathons. Having run the down run in 2007 I already had an idea of just how incredible a race it is, but 2008 proved to be even more memorable for me.

From speaking to locals in Durban, where this event is so popular it is equivalent to the FA Cup final in the UK, but with mass participation, I’ve gained some insights. Firstly, although the race has been going many years, it became much larger during the apartheid era of isolation. South Africa was unable to participate in international competitions in any sport so isolation created an inward focus which made national events much more prominent. In addition, the media-friendly multiple successes of domestic runners made the race even more prominent. This includes legends who every South African has heard of but who foreigners have not, such as Alan Robb who dominated the race in the 1970s and Bruce Fordyce who won 9 times in the 1980s. During Bruce’s domination, a lady called Helen Lucre also came to prominence, winning 3 years straight.

I mention Helen in particular since she is one of the best friends of Dave Pearse, who I was staying with during the race. I met Dave at the Thames Meander and the MdS earlier in the year and he’d insisted that I stay with him while in Durban. His hospitality was without limit and made the entire trip even more enjoyable. I also got to meet many of his friends (and Dave seems to know EVERYONE in Durban, a city of a mere 3.5 million people). So over the days before the race I spent a lot of time with Helen and another of Dave’s friends, Ruth Gray. As well as being some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, all 3 of them are Comrades vets. Oh, plus Dave’s brother, Mark, who has run several good times within his 10 Comrades finishes. But none of them were running it this year, so were effectively running the race via me.

This brings me to 3 of the key factors about Comrades which make it stand out. Firstly, almost every South African I’ve ever met has either run it, their parents ran it, or they want to run it. How many people do you know who’ve run the biggest national race for you? I know plenty of runners who’ve done the London marathon, but these are mainly people who run anyway and not many people I know have done it. In South Africa it’s almost a rite of passage to complete this race, usually more than once (well, the down and up runs are so different so that makes at least 2 attempts).

And this brings me to the second unique point about the race. Runners get different coloured bibs depending on how many times they’ve run. First timers, foreigners and locals have different coloured bibs to make them easily distinguishable to the massive crowds, then comes the concept of the green number club. Green numbers are for those who’ve completed 10 or more Comrades and being a member of the club is highly esteemed and means that that race number is forever yours and nobody else will run Comrades under that number. Runners on their 10th run wear a yellow bib to signify that they will earn their green number on the finish line so they get extra encouragement along the way. Both Dave and his brother, Mark, are green number holders.

It may sound like a simple distinction to make between runners, but these bibs are just one extra aspect of the race that makes it stand head and shoulders above anything else I’ve seen. The other factors should become apparent as I describe my 2008 experience below.

Then the third, and arguably most incentivising, point is that different finish times get different medals. There are 6 in total, varying from a gold medal for the top 10 to a Vic Clapham medal for finishing between 11 hours and the cut-off of 12 hours. No medals are given to those who are even a second after the finishing gun.

The medal I was aiming for was the same as I’d achieved in 2007 – a silver for going sub 7h30m. Getting these earns a fair amount of respect and only about 300 people would earn one this year. The next step up was unrealistically difficult being sub 6 hours for a Wally Hayward medal. Maybe one day…

Knowing only a little of all this, I entered the 2007 race, a down run, with the hope that it would be easier to run it if there's more downhill than uphill running. I enjoyed it so much and it instantly became my favourite race (out of around 100 which I've run, mainly marathons). I started planning for the 2008 race almost immediately afterwards and wasn't disappointed. The build-up, including press and TV coverage, gives a sense of anticipation greater than even the biggest city marathons like New York or London. It makes it very hard to sleep on the night before the race, especially when the 5:30am start means a very early alarm call.

In the days leading to the race I’d done a few last runs with Dave and others to acclimatise and get any jet-lag out my system. This included something I’d never do back home – a 5:30am easy jog on the day before the race with a group of South Africans including Helen ‘The Legend’ Lucre. The nickname is what her friends refer to her as when taking the piss, although there are certainly worse nicknames out there. I’d also been driven along the course by Dave and Ruth to show where they would stand to second me (support and provide food and drinks) along the way. It also gave me a good idea of just how much climbing I’d be doing and it was humbling to realise just how far 54 miles is.

On the Friday before the race I visited the expo to collect my number and have a look around. I had my proof of entry and passport, but had left my ChampionChip timing device. So I had to return later with Dave, but in the meantime I viewed the exhibition showing the history of the race. In particular I wanted to read about the 1980s when Bruce Fordyce had made the race his own. I also read news reports about Helen’s victories and was impressed and determined to make my own race as memorable as possible, if only for myself.

I’d normally run the day before a race, but 5:30am is obscenely early for me, yet it was worth it to be in the right time zone for the race the next day. Anyway, Helen had given me a few tips over the previous days and it’d been interesting to hear about experiences of the race from a winner’s viewpoint. I was also aware that her PB was in the 6h40ms so had a vague target in my head of trying to best it, but I mainly wanted to go sub 7 hours.

On race morning I was up at 4am and Dave and Ruth dropped me off at the start soon after then drove off to the first meeting point. I’d provided estimates of when I’d get to each of their viewing spots, assuming an even race and an optimistic target of 6h50m with an evenly paced race. I was showing them a best case scenario and personally thought that even 7 hours would be extremely tough given the course I’d seen the day before. It all seemed much flatter on the down run, but that was probably just tired legs not appreciating gentle downhill sections.

When I arrived at the start area it was still dark and was just before 5am. It was winter in South Africa so sunrise wouldn’t be until almost 7am and the sun would set soon after the finish time of the entire race, 12 hours later at 5:30pm. I found the start area packed with very excited people of all abilities. Most are aiming to just finish before the cut-off, but around the 'A' seeding pen (sub 3h marathon to qualify) are mainly highly trained athletes, all aiming for the revered silver medal. The announcer added to the atmosphere by playing the national anthems of the 10 countries with the most entrants, after South Africa. Since the UK had the most runners (140), my anthem was played last, just before the deadline for entering the seeding pens at 5:15am. So my adrenalin was already pumping when the local guys around me started singing a local song in chorus, only to be joined over the speakers by a local singer. I couldn't stop smiling and felt the raw emotion of the moment. After the singing died down the theme from 'Chariots of Fire' was played which almost brought a tear to my eye. It focused everyone's attention on the huge task ahead throughout the early morning and then throughout most of the day for many people.

I had a friend on the start with me (also a Dave – Dave Ross) and he had tried several times to get a silver but failed, so was hoping this would be his year. Since I'd got one last year (in 7h09m), my target was sub-7 hours. This thought went through my head constantly, but I also repeated to myself to not go off too fast. I'd seen it the previous year and knew that the race had a reputation for lots of runners going off much too quick because the necessary pace for an ultra is relatively slow and comfortable. So when the traditional cock crow started the race, I deliberately took it easy. The field charged off, many people zooming past me at completely unsustainable speeds. It felt like some kind of street riot with thousands of people sprinting down the dark streets. This sensation was increased by short stretches where the street lights were off. How could anyone not enjoy the thrill of being part of such an event?

For the first couple of hours I ran with 2 other Brits who I spotted because one had a Union Jack flag on his running vest. I’d met him before, at the Thames Path Ultra race in January and his name was Matt Ray. We talked and I consciously aimed to keep at a pace where I could comfortably chat, even on the hills. This was my method of making sure I didn't go out too fast. I also chatted to other runners around me who heard the English accent, including a Portuguese guy on his first run and a South African in a tartan hat. The spirit of everyone I spoke to was uplifting since we all felt like we were on a great adventure and had the challenge of a silver medal to motivate us. I was offered advice and words of encouragement and felt that I was truly part of the running community, much more so than at almost any other race I'd been to and certainly more than any other mass participation event.

For a long time we continued to talk and I found out that Matt had run well in this year’s London marathon, getting 2h37m, so I decided that since he was faster than me, he’d be a good person to stick with as long as it felt comfortable. Given that the race is a real step into the unknown due to the length and climbs, my only feasible tactic was to keep the pace as fast as was very comfortable. Even the down run from the year before felt completely different because the hard climbs had now become easy downhills and there’d be a lot more up. Plus the section which I’d found hardest was the end, which is now the beginning.

So as we ran along, the uphill seemed endless even though we hadn’t even reached a named hill yet and it was still dark. The “Big 5” hills are the only ones with names but much of the up run to Pietermaritzburg is a gradual upwards slope.

Dave and Ruth had agreed about 7 places along the course where they would drive to to support and offer drinks/gels etc and the first was about 7 miles (11km) into the race, before the first named hill, Cowies. Cowies is a moderately difficult climb rising about 137m in the space of 1.5km. Although this does not sound too difficult an obstacle so early in the race, the preceding 14km is a relentless ascent, to an altitude of nearly 300m at Westville.

Seeing my crew was a real help because the course is so tough and long that having friendly faces to look out for gives a big morale boost. In addition, the general support from the huge crowds along the way is equally inspiring and the atmosphere they create is unlike any other race I've seen. Every runner is made to feel like a genuine hero and the crowd back us all 100%. They somehow manage to read the names off the bibs, even though the writing is small, so I received plenty of support using my own name. That helps keep the runners going, as do the calls in support of whichever club you run for.

All locals have to be a member of a club and run in their club kit, both vest and shorts. International runners can wear what they like, but I’d opted for my club vest and so got many (often perplexed) shouts of ‘Go, Serpentine!’ Some even knew the club and one guy shouted out that he used to be a member.

After sunrise at about 6:50am the temperature stayed cool because I was several hundred metres higher than where I'd started. But the temperatures gradually rose throughout the day. Luckily the race is so well organised that there are tables with water, energy drinks and various food every 1-2km. I took on the sachets of water and Energade at every opportunity but knew I'd still end the race dehydrated.

The early morning went well and I felt very comfortable when I saw Dave and Ruth at 13 miles (20km) at the bottom of the biggest hill – Fields. After the descent from Cowies Hill and the easy flat section of Pinetown's Old Main Road, this hill (named after an early pioneer) rises some 213m over a distance of 3km. I remembered enjoying this long slope downwards in 2007, but at least it was early on so my legs were still fresh enough to take it in my stride. Matt and I were enjoying the experience and were both very comfortable while we climbed it at a slightly reduced pace. It’s a wide road, but we were jammed in by an elite woman runner and her ‘bus’ of men who were using her for pacing. We managed to find a way through with our own bus of runners who were joining in our chatting. And once Fields was out the way it was good to know that we’d risen to about 500m above sea level so that the undulation of the remainder of the race was roughly evened out.

The next few miles went by easily but with more gradual uphill running. Around 20 miles (32km) was Hillcrest where I saw my crew again. Just before I’d accidentally broken away from Matt and both of us were running at whatever felt comfortable. We’d also overtaken Maria Bak, a 3-times winner who’d last won in 2002. She looked strong but must have lost a little of her pace even though she was still in a gold medal position. She had a huge group of men latched on to her so it was difficult to pass through. I asked Ruth to take a photo of Matt behind me in his Union Jack vest, both for himself and to remind me of the 30km we did together.
Hill number 3 was Botha’s Hill, soon after Hillcrest। This took me to a point higher than the finish line, giving me the welcome thought that there was more down than up left to come. It involves a climb then descent of 150m, over 1.5 miles (2.4km) but is nevertheless tough. At the top of this hill lies a well-known landmark of Kearsney College (Dave’s old school) with the boys outside in school uniform who have traditionally gathered outside the gates since the first Comrades. They are particularly noisy supporters and, on spotting I was a Pom, a couple shouted out comments about the South African defeat of England at the previous year’s Rugby World Cup final. They weren’t the only ones that day to ‘apologise’ for beating us, but they were the youngest.

Incidentally, I may be running as a local next year as a Kearsney Running Club member in a very fetching brown kit. It saves on the International runner’s entry fee, which is about 7 times higher than the local entry fee. Dave can sort all things and this is just one of them. He’d also be running in his club colours if he decides to run 2009. I think his experience of seconding in 2008 has helped to make his mind up about doing so.

Another very well organised aspect of the race is the km markers. Instead of counting up, these count down to the finish line so the first one shows a daunting '86km to go'. And they are very accurately placed, unlike some large marathons I've raced in. I used these to measure my pace and was happy to go through half way at Drummond a few minutes under my target pace for 7 hours by going through a large Flora arch. Even though the half way mark is the same place for both directions of the run, it tends to be a few hundred metres short in both directions since it has to be on an accessible and flat section and is only really approximate, unlike the km markers.

I still felt comfortable at that point and was running next to another Brit, Mark Shepherd. He’d just missed out on a silver in 2007 but had clocked some fast marathon times and had gone through the actual half way with me at about 3h24m, comfortably within the required pace.

Although I was running well, I knew the hardest part of the race was still to come. The traditional advice is that runners need to feel comfortable at the top of Inchanga for the race to go well, something echoed by my friend, ‘The Legend’. This is the hill straight after the half-way line and I was able to jog up it and wasn't struggling yet. Some bastard half way up was telling runners that they’d virtually reached the top. He lied – there was at least a mile to go from where he was, but I was doing ok so I just felt sorry for people he’d say that too who were already knackered. The route up winds for about 1.5 miles (2.5km) and rises by 150m. Then the other side is a more gradual descent. Mark went slightly ahead on the way up but I caught him on the way down then left him to keep my own pace downhill.

I’d gone through the ‘42km to go’ marker near the top of Inchanga so it felt comforting to have less than a marathon left. That distance seemed quite short and I had about 3h28m to complete the final marathon in order to break 7 hours. I knew I could do it, but it would take some will power when the going got tougher.

Soon afterwards, at Inchanga caravan park, I saw my crew for the 5th time. They ran by my side and both commented that I was looking strong and that I was ahead of time for the pacing I’d told them. I used a gel and Dave gave me another to use before I’d see them again in about 7 miles. They seemed more excited than I was (and I was in a good mood) since the experience of being so closely involved with the race is infectious and fun. And it helped that I’d been almost spot on with the times I’d told them for each view-point and looked on for a good race.

Over the latter stages of the race I continued taking my energy gels to replace all the fuel I'd burned. There was only one more named hill to go, the dreaded Polly Shortts, which has ruined many a runner’s race. But it was at 5 miles (8km) to go and I still had almost 24 miles (39km) left. Then at the ‘35km to go’ marker I started to feel very tired and every small incline became much more of an effort. I still hadn't reached the highest point on the course at Umlaas Road, which was around 12 miles (19km) to go but the undulating sections were still gradually heading upwards and leaving me fatigued. It meant that I had to walk a couple of times on the uphills, but only for around 100m each time. I also had needed the toilet for the entire race so used one of the hills as a rest break, in both senses. This is something I regretted later, as I will explain. I wasn’t aware at the time, but 2 runners had their shoes stolen when they got mugged on a toilet break. They must have chosen a secluded area around one of the dodgier areas, and there are a few such places on the route. But there are usually way too many people around for this to be a danger. I wonder if they finished…

I went through the next few areas feeling the strain of the race. It had also got hotter and the overhead sun was dehydrating me since it was 26 degrees Celsius. Whenever I was struggling I thought about my girlfriend, Amy, and wanted to have a good performance so that she’d know the time I’d spent away hadn’t been wasted. The thought of her encouraged me to dig into my mental reserves to push on. I’ve learnt many times that the body can almost always keep going but it’s usually the mind that makes us give up. So positive thoughts of Amy counteracted the nagging voice in my head telling me that I was tired, that it was too far to go or that I could slow down and still finish just under the 7h30m time for a silver, rather than under 7 hours.

These types of race require a person to run using the head and the heart. The head gives the suitable pacing and stops you going to fast early on. But it’s the heart which gives the drive to keep going through adversity. You need the passion to want to finish and want to make all that training pay off. I know many runners who’ve broken into tears during an ultra because of the mental and physical hardships, but when these are overcome, it makes the races immensely rewarding.

Dave and Ruth were around Cato Ridge, a flattish area, although my memories are slightly more blurred because I was feeling tired…as if I’d run a marathon or similar. I was given more encouragement, turned down all food except a gel, and then they sent me on my way to go up to the highest point of the race. I actually missed the sign which said I was at that point, but I kept checking off the km markers until I reached Lion Park, exhausted, but still 9.5 miles (15km) from the stadium.

This was second last time my team saw me before the end and Ruth told me there was a section ahead of downhill running lasting until Little Pollys followed by the intimidating Polly Shortts hill. Little Pollys is the local name for the minor, unnamed hill before the real Pollys, but I wasn’t worried and just focused on getting a good pace down the slope to Ashburton. A local runner had told me a few km earlier to push hard down to Ashburton then rest by walking part of Polly Shortts. Sounded like a good plan to me so I did some of my fastest running of the race. It really boosted me since I was flagging and needed a downhill section to rest and recover. It also helped my target time since I was able to raise my pace from around 4:50/km to around 4:15/km and get more time in the bag, which I could afford to lose on Pollys.

I had to push through for the last couple of hours and avoid the temptation to walk every time there was a slight incline. But the crowds were magnificent and the km markers kept ticking down gradually. Most people around me had slowed so I was gaining positions all the time, which was great for my morale and gave me target after target to focus on and keep my brain occupied so it wouldn't tell me negative thoughts about tiredness.

I saw my seconds for the last time on the route at about the ‘11km to go’ marker at the top of Little Pollys. I’d just walked a small section of that hill but was running again by the time they saw me. So they thought I was flying and in great shape and told me so. Dave advised me to take Polly Shortts easy since I had time to spare and I agreed, saying I’d use an alternating walk/run strategy.

Just before 9km to go I reached the foot of Polly Shortts after overtaking several people on the downhill approach to the climb. The field was strung out by now but the slowing on the hill had a concertina effect. I knew it'd be less than 2km from the foot to the peak so planned to run as much as I could, but with 200m walk breaks 2 or 3 times. Once I reached the top I knew the race would be relatively easy for the last 7.5km and with plenty of downhill running so this spurred me on to get to the top. The runners around me seemed to be using the same tactic as me and we leap-frogged each other in our walking/running sections. The couple of people who jogged the whole thing weren’t any faster.

Pollys is the ultimate in heartbreak hills due to everyone having tired legs. Bruce Fordyce said it was his ally since he could usually break ahead of the challengers for his crown up the hill. The climb is just over a mile (1.8km) with the summit at an altitude of 737m, a rise of nearly 100m but it seems much more.

Reaching the top almost felt like the end of the race and it signalled the last mental challenge on the course, but the photographers managed to catch me walking before I broke into a stride again. I kept going at a good pace downhill on the other side and tried to enjoy the excellent crowd support cheering me on. By about 5km to go I was able to start enjoying the prospect of finishing. The last few km went quicker, partly due to me speeding up and riding the wave of support. The cheering was so enthusiastic that none of the runners looked as tired as they had half an hour earlier.

Once down the other side of Pollys, I was close to Pietermaritzburg. When I saw the sign to show the edge of town I felt relieved, but also noticed that Maria Bak had caught me up from when I’d gone past her on Fields Hill. I stayed just ahead of her and used her to push me on and keep the pace going.

The roads had barriers to keep the crowds back as I ran through the streets, gradually accelerating. As I thought about the stadium at the end I forgot about any tiredness and knew I'd have my target time quite comfortably. As I went along Jesmond Road and saw the beautiful (to me) ‘3km to go’ sign, Dave’s brother, Mark shouted encouragement. He’d mentioned he’d be along that street to support everyone all day long and he gave me a final boost to take me home.

The last km was gently downhill and through a tighter barricaded funnel with Flora banners covering it. I accelerated into the stadium to the sound of the roaring crowd and felt the huge relief and satisfaction at completing such an unbelievably emotional race. The count down of 300m to go, then 200m and finally 100m made me smile a huge grin and I saw Ruth and Dave just before the finish, then crossed the line with my fists pumping in the air.

It had been hard, but I’d stuck to my plan and put in the effort when it got tough. That thought alone was enough to make me extremely satisfied with how it had gone. I felt tired and a little sore but it had been worth every second of effort. Before I could go through to the finish area an official came and asked if I was ok. I said I was fine, so he then told me I’d been randomly selected for a drugs’ test. I was surprised to say the least, but I couldn’t say no otherwise I’d get an automatic ban.

After some faffing around, the guy gave me my silver medal and I asked for the back-to-back medal for completing 2 consecutive years. He told me flatly that there was no such thing, so I got him to check it, then he came back and gave me the 2nd medal too. I was a bit worried that an official at the finish and only metres away from the medals wasn’t aware of this 2nd medal, but he was some kind of drug-related official. Small as these medals are, they represent countless hours of training over many months and are worth more to me than all my standard marathon medals put together. My final time was 6h52m11s, coming in at 116th overall.

So, with my cherished silver medal round my neck, plus the back-to-back medal I was led to the side of the stadium and taken into a room where all the elites were sat. I recognised the faces and names of the (mainly) Russian athletes. Leonid Shvetsov had won and added the up record to his record for the down run the previous year. He’d only beaten me by a mere 88 minutes (pah – nothing), so I was very happy with my time.

I was told that I had to give a urine sample and couldn’t eat anything until I did. I tried once, but was far too dehydrated. I wished that my earlier piss stop had not happened, although it had been very necessary at the time. So all I could do was drink and drink and drink. Water bottles, Energade and cans of fizzy drinks. But I still didn’t need to go.

The last women gold medallists came through while I waited and I talked to a couple of them. Maria Bak had finished about 90 seconds behind me, and 3 more women came in for golds after her. I didn’t speak to the Russians since they looked a bit more serious. The female winner, Elena Nurgalieva, didn’t return my smile so I didn’t try to congratulate her. Her twin sister, Olesya, had come second and was sat next to her – these 2 had dominated the last few years with 5 wins between them, 4 for Elena.

Eventually, after almost 2 hours and 4.5L of drinks, I was able to give the sample. It was an interesting experience and made me feel like one of the elites. I have a fair way to go to get there but the combination of the spirit of the race and seeing the elites at the end made me want to earn my place amongst them and get a gold one day. In 2008, I’d have needed to cut 59 minutes off my time and beat an ex-winner of the New York marathon. So, pretty easy then…

It was an incredible day, organised perfectly. The combination of the crowds, other runners and the physical limits I'd had to break made for a spectacular race. And my support crew were magnificent, before, during and after the race (sorry for the delay in getting out after finishing). It's firmly cemented its position as my favourite race and I'll be back again next year to improve my time. I can't recommend it highly enough because it feels like the entire country is behind you as you run. The medal cut-off times add to the incentives since every runner has one of these in his or her sights and achieving that goal is extremely rewarding. The day after the race you see plenty of people wearing their Comrades T-shirt and medal reflecting the pride we all feel to have completed, and even just competed in, the world's greatest ultra marathon.

The 2 other Brits I ran next to, Matt and Mark, both got their silver medals. But my friend Dave Ross had a bad last half marathon and ended up needing 3 IV drips after finishing in 8h49m, having been on track at half way. He txted me to say never again, but he changed his mind a day later so will be back to have another crack at this legendary race.

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