Comrades 2014 – a day of winning and losing, and seeing angels

June 3, 2014

Dear Max

I thought I’d be writing this after-Comrades post, feeling elated, sore and on that runner’s high, with lots of good stories to share among the tales of battle and difficulty.


But my story this year is a little different, and I’m struggling through it. I *know* there will be other years to run, I *know* that I’ve completed 11, I *know* that I’m strong in some ways, and I’ve heard that somehow, I’ve inspired people with my running journey. I also *know* I will get over this, that I made it to the start, and that I tried, but for now, I’m just sad not to have finished the race.

I bailed at 26km to go, after having fainted. But even from 30km in, I knew I wouldn’t finish in time, and that I was too tired. I could analyse my race and the last six months for the next year, and it wouldn’t solve anything. I don’t think I did anything “wrong” – it wasn’t too much tweeting, or too little training, or too weak a mind, or too little carbs. It just was. Maybe I was tired too – this year has been full-on, more so than other years, but even this isn’t a reasonable explanation.

Was there a greater meaning or message behind this? That maybe I should sit out a year, after running Comrades almost consecutively for 13 years (aside from the year I was pregnant with you)? I don’t think that’s it either. It just was.

Someone asked me if I wanted to finish badly enough? Er, of course. There is not one runner who starts who doesn’t want to finish badly enough. Which is why we go through the anguish and the pain and the physical and emotional struggle. No, that wasn’t it either.

And that’s perhaps the worst part – that I just don’t know, and there was nothing I could have done to resolve it on the day. There wasn’t a pill, there wasn’t a drip, there wasn’t an energy drink, there wasn’t a pep talk, and there wasn’t even hundred of voices of support in my phone or on the road who could fix it. And that frustrates me. I feel like a failure that I couldn’t get through it, even though there was nothing I could have done.

I don’t pray a lot or ask the universe for things often, but on Comrades day, I asked for angels to help me and get me through (this sounds even weird to me as I type it, I know). And I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t feeling better, or getting stronger. And then I realised that my angels were to be found on Twitter, and running alongside me, and handing me water with a smile, and urging me to continue from their beers and braais on the side of the road.

I don’t think there has been a day in my life where I have been so elevated by the kindness and selflessness of other people, and I don’t think I have ever seen people’s light shine as brightly as it did on the day. I say it every year, but you really see the best of people on Comrades, and on Sunday I saw the best of the best of the best, and I’m grateful to have experienced it.

I felt kindness and people’s good intentions and I’m not sure what I ever did to deserve it. “Strangers” and friends on Twitter gave me encouragement and support as they tried to see me in. One man supporting on the side of the road put his arm around me and walked with me for about 200m, advising me, consoling me, and telling me he’d bailed Comrades twice. He even wiped the tears off my sweaty face, and for that gesture I simply have no words.

Runners who were struggling at the back with me tried to lift up my spirits and urge me along, and this touched me in a profound way. Here were people with their own battles and pain, trying to elevate me. It’s something I will never forget.

As I was about to get onto the bailer’s bus, after having run about 63km, and having delayed this inevitable moment for so long,  I burst into another set of tears as I handed the official my race number. It was one of the most difficult yet necessary things I’ve ever had to do, and as I got into the combi, I felt only grief. Another runner gave me his packet of tissues, and patted my shoulder, consoling me. The others in the combi appeared too lost in their own pain to look up, let alone speak.

I *know* this is *just* a race, but it represents a lot to me (and obviously to many others). It represents my path from unfit to fit, from having no goals to having many, and from being limited to limitless.

Not finishing hurts, but I know that I’ll be patched up soon. I just need to cry a little more, to hug you much more, and remember that my medal on the day was in fact the people who inspired me, carried me, and comforted me.



Waiting at the start…

IMG_1051 IMG_1045



Your mom and dad down Polly Shortts – a moving selfie


I still had my sense of humour at this point…



The heartache in my tweets (read bottom up)

Tanya Kovarsky  TanyaKovarsky  on Twitter twitter2 Twitter3


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  • VeronicaClare

    Such a wonderful, honest, heartfelt and emotional post. Am bawling as I read this. Your strength and courage and that of those that were running alongside you inspire me. Thank you for sharing this with us. Sending you oodles of love xx

    June 3, 2014 at 8:52 am Reply
    • Tanya Kovarsky

      Thank you again for the beautiful comments – I really appreciate it!

      June 5, 2014 at 3:56 pm Reply
  • tana_jacobs

    When you can’t find your voice of optimism, you can rely on others. Heal quickly! x

    June 3, 2014 at 9:00 am Reply
  • heatherss

    Tanya – good for you for running the race and knowing your limitations and knowing when to stop.

    June 3, 2014 at 10:07 pm Reply
    • Tanya Kovarsky

      I don’t think I had a choice – I couldn’t! If I had more time in the bag I would have plodded on chatting to Twitter 🙂 Tnx for the comment!

      June 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm Reply
  • Karen du Toit

    I am in awe of everybody who runs, no matter how far! I know you don’t want to hear it, but I think you have done fantastic! In my books you get the highest score! 
    Thanks for sharing!

    June 4, 2014 at 12:43 pm Reply
    • Tanya Kovarsky

      Thanks Karen – really appreciate it.

      June 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm Reply
  • CharliesBird

    Yes, I know it’s hard to hear now, but you are an inspiration. If it wasn’t for you, I would not be putting my running shoes on more days than not and preparing for the Paris Marathon (my first!).
    As a doctor, I have never felt comfortable with the physiological demands that an ultra like Comrades places on one’s body – which is why I don’t think I will ever want to do it (my running friends say I shouldn’t say things like that), but I admire anyone who has the tenacity of spirit to attempt it, and find those resources to stand at the start, attempting 89kms.
    Indulge the heartache, shed the tears, but know that you are not defined by this.

    June 5, 2014 at 9:28 am Reply
    • Tanya Kovarsky

      Thanks hun, and congrats for making the move to enter the marathon – it’s life changing! xx

      June 5, 2014 at 3:54 pm Reply
  • cat at jugglingact

    I am, as always, in awe of you. Brave strong woman

    June 5, 2014 at 2:47 pm Reply
    • Tanya Kovarsky

      Thank you – I don’t feel it, but thanks 🙂

      June 5, 2014 at 3:54 pm Reply
  • Samantha

    I’m a terrible friend 🙁 Didn’t know til now. 🙁

    You’re my hero, no matter what happened on Comrades day. Just being brave enough to post this is something. Being a single mom is a heroic act, every day. Doing everything you do is another. You’re an inspiration, and I know you’ll be back next year. x

    June 9, 2014 at 4:40 pm Reply
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