We have earned it!
by Anli Grobler
It is 5.24am and still pitch-dark. I have gooseflesh and tears are streaming down my cheeks. More than 20 000 voices are singing Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika and the excitement in the air is electrifying. The noise levels rise when Shosholoza starts playing, and the crowd naturally starts swaying to the rhythm of this captivating song.
I am standing among 19 103 athletes on the starting line of the Comrades Marathon 2019 - The Ultimate Human Race. All of us have been dreaming about this day since we’ve entered at the end of 2018, and a lot of training, time and commitment has gone into our bodies and minds to have brought us to this day, to this spot. I look around me and I am filled with joy. The people around me are from all walks of life, and we are all here together, to fulfil the dream of finishing this gruelling race of 86,83km in under 12 hours.
A hush settles over the crowd when Chariots of Fire starts to play. This is the Comrades song, and everyone knows, as a Comrades runner you will never be able to listen to this song again without feeling a lump in your throat. This is it – we have worked so hard to get here, and the race is about to start. We wait to hear Max Trimborn’s famous ‘cockrow’ and seconds later the gun goes off – the race has officially started!
My connection with the Comrades Marathon goes way back. I grew up in a house of runners, and as a little girl mom used to wake us early to watch the start of this world-famous sports event. During my high school years mom and dad decided to participate and they finished 5 races together. Mom continued running and achieved the great accomplishment of finishing 11 Comrades Marathons, which earned her a green number.
Being a runner myself, the Comrades Marathon has always been a dream. I was living in England at the time mom did her 10th Comrades, and I phoned to congratulate her. Knowing that I was on my way back home to South Africa, it did not take much to convince her to run at least one more race in her permanent number and my first race with me. And so it happened that I ran my first Comrades Marathon in 2007 with my mom all the way, and we had such a special day on the road, finishing the race in 9h20. I went back the next year to run my back-to-back, which is a special medal to celebrate the fact that you have finished an ‘up’ and ‘down’ run in consecutive years and managed to run this race in 8h53. This earning me the Bill Rowan medal for running the Comrades Marathon in under 9 hours.
Any serious runner will tell you that there are many advantages to running. Not only is it good for your health, but you also get the opportunity to experience so much more of life. The people you meet, the places you see, the feeling you get when you run over the hill and see a breath-taking view…like the old Mastercard advert says ‘priceless’. Which brings me to my work. I cannot help but to find parallels between my running and my work. I have been part of the Vega family for more than 8 years, but my memory of Vega also goes way back.
I was a final year student at the University of the Free State when Gordon Cook and Carla Enslin visited our class and told us about this new institution called Vega. I was immediately intrigued and loved the clever postcards with the trademarked ‘Cindy Crawford’ beauty spot and ‘Keith Flint’ spiky hair. Although keen to become part of this magical brand, I first wanted to finish my master’s degree and travel a bit, which I did. It however came as no surprise to anyone when I finally enrolled for a short course at Vega in 2008 while working in the advertising industry. I have always had a passion for education and the creative communications industry, and who better to broaden my view and knowledge on these topics than Vega. Not long thereafter I started lecturing in the evenings at Vega Bordeaux and became a permanent member of the lecturing staff in 2012.
The success of your studies and career, like in running, depends a lot on what you put in. Those early morning runs, waking up before dawn while everyone else around you are still sleeping, reminds me a lot of those early mornings and late nights studying. I especially have a lot of respect for my postgraduate and part time students, having been there myself. These students have decided and have committed in going the extra mile, knowing that they will be sacrificing a lot of time and energy to ensure success in their studies, just like you do when you commit to training for an ultra marathon. Planning your days, ensuring you stay healthy and take in the necessary nutrition, staying focused and keeping your eye on the goal – this is what is needed to finish the race, be it an ultra marathon or graduating. It all takes commitment. And with it comes tremendous growth and satisfaction.
So this year, returning to the Comrades Marathon after 11 years, I was reminded again of what it takes to taste success. I’ve put in a lot of training and it paid off – I ran a great race and could not have asked for a better day on the road. No cramps, no pain and no hassles. I came in at 8h27, which gave me my personal best and again the Bill Rowan medal. But better yet, I was under the top 100 women – 96th to be exact – which I never expected.
Running over the finish line I was met by the cheers and cheerful African ‘lalalalala’ cry of the crowds, which reminded me of our recent graduation. A Vega graduation is such a special occasion, filled with joy and pride. Nothing can beat that feeling of achievement after you have put in those long, lonely hours, and I believe we should all – runners and graduates – rejoice in those moments. We have earned it!