THE COURAGEOUS, TEAR JERKING, INSPIRATIONAL JOURNEY OF TONYA BELL’S FIRST COMRADES MARATHON
My Comrades journey began two years ago when we moved to Winston Park. I found it to be the perfect place to run. I had always been an active person, and was a regular at the gym, but the gym was pretty far away and had regimented times, that didn’t always fit into my family life Travelling there and back was also time consuming and costly, and so were the gym fees, so I thought I would give running a go and see if I enjoyed it. I always knew I could run, but never did it with any real commitment. I joined a group of moms who ran after school drop off in the morning, just to keep fit and enjoy the fellowship together. Little did I know what close friends we would all become. We ran three or four times a week , and formed a whattsapp group, so that we could organize our runs. Running with someone is a very special thing. You have lots of time together to get know each other and after just a few runs you have spent precious quality time with someone that life generally In other circumstances Ill affords. We became great mates! We started looking for other longer organized runs that we could challenge ourselves with and soon became passionate committed runners.
I entered my first marathon in October last year, and swore that I would never do it again! The conditions were tough and I had not yet learned how to really overcome! But the bug had bitten and now I could honestly say I was a runner. I had completed a marathon and lost a toe nail… That qualified me! We entered a few more organized races and did them together and loved every minute of them. The fellowship was amazing. I was getting fitter and fitter and my running really started to improve. Where before I would struggle getting up the hills, they had begun to get easier and less daunting. I decided to enter the Two Oceans race. It was a great excuse to visit friends in Cape Town and the wine farms with my family, and enjoy the most beautiful race in the world. I knew it was now or never, as you never know what tomorrow brings and I felt ready for it. It was a great run for me. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had to run it on my own, it would have been my best run ever. With that under my belt I looked for a greater challenge…. Something life changing. I found it in the distance of Comrades! I knew that I would never be able to do the 90 kilometers on the mileage I had been doing up till then…. And so my training began. The wonderful thing about running is that you can fit it into family life. Most long runs are done long before the rooster crows to get up in the morning, which worked perfectly for me. I wasn’t taking time away from my precious family. It takes commitment, determination and perseverance to get through the long hours that you need on your feet to be ready for the challenge of 90 kilometers in 12 hours. I thought I was ready!
The unbelievable support and love that I recieved in the days preceding the race were overwhelming. I knew that with all these people behind and believing in me anything was possible! I did not know what awaited me and that other than the death of my father this would be one of the toughest days of my life. Only now do I understand the phase “ordinary people doing extra ordinary things.”
So my journey began at 2 am. Waking with the excitement and anticipation of unchartered territory for me to conquer. It was fantastic going with my friend Mandi and having her next to me, and feeling the warm and security of her friendship. The bus trip went so quickly with laughter and jokes and we found a spot right at the beginning of F batch where would could just see the start in the distance. The spirit of Comradeship in the stalls were brilliant, and we made two friends that sat next to us, which I saw continually throughout the race. Please understand who I am. I had LOVED running for the past two years, but hate to run even one kilometer on my own. Having a mate next to me means I love or hate the run! I did the 57 kilometer route tester with my fellow villagers which I thoroughly enjoyed and felt strong throughout the run. I ran it with friends and it was so special.
After singing the anthem and shosholoza, the cock crowed and the journey began. For the first ten kilometers, even though I had had a headcold for the last three days, and my nose was pouring, I still loved the cold and the fresh air and the excitement of what lay ahead, and just being with my friend on a great adventure. But it was clear even then that Mandi was so incredibly focused and strong and running to perfect plan with a mind of steel and I was more listening to my body which was struggling with the headcold. I was constantly blowing my nose and feeling the mucous pouring down my throat and making it difficult to breath easily. I saw her head off at about 15 Kms and knew I was on my own….but it could not be helped. My heart sank. I knew that I was never going to keep up with her. My body was feeling all the overdosing of medication I had taken in the two days previous to try and rid myself super fast of the cold, which also gave me a lack of appetite… Not good when you should be eating heartily.
But even though my body struggled, my mind was still determined to get through at my own pace, which was a blessing in itself because there was no pressure. In the next five kilometers I started feeling unusual waves of nausea coming in unregulated intervals. I tried to ignore them, but knew they were there. Then God sent me a friend. An old neighbour of ours when we lived in our little postbox at Clifton Hill. Johan, who normally does a Bill Rowan, had not run in 6 weeks due to a bad injury. I was so grateful to find company. It seemed like we were both on the same page. He was fantastic company and knowing my nausea he walked with me when I needed to and shared war stories of past marathons and injuries. After about 25 kilometers of easy company he met his wife and family along the road and even though I tried to wait a little bit for him, it looked like this stop was going to be more than I could afford with my slow pace (due to the now regular bouts of nausea.) I pressed on alone, hoping that he would catch me so that I could once again have companionship. As I came thru the top of Kearsney I was alone and struggling. My friend Peta saw me, and ran with me for 500 meters encouraging me all the way.
Another friend, Danielle was an absolute breath of fresh air, positivity and life and also ran with me for about 500 meters. I almost felt better after that!! I will always remember our run together!!! By the bottom I was feeling weak again and low. Louise Fitsimons saw me like this and decided to run with me for another 500 meters. And gave me good advise. When I think of all my friends who ran with me to encourage me it makes me want to cry. You pulled me through when I needed you. I saw my mom and aunty at the FNB and asked them to pray for me. Even my aunty Dee ran with me for about 50 meters…amazing! I knew my friends and family were ahead and I so longed to see them I had to keep moving forward. Paula, another friend, popped a sandwich into my mouth when I arrived at her road, which I tried tremendously hard to get down, despite the nausea. At this stage I was bursting for the loo. She squatted down next to me covering the entrance to the bush so that I could pull down my pants and wee. I can’t tell u how kind this was of her! Then I saw my family and other friends Oli, my son held out the warmest water sachet that I had ever felt, that he had been holding all morning for me and it touched my heart. Skyla, my daughter had her hands full with every conceivable energy drink and food for the trip ahead. Brendan, Mandis husband gave me my 32 Gi. My husband was holding a fresh facecloth for me which I took with open hands. He gave me a pep talk and ran with me and spoke to me,encouraging me with love and confidence…and then they were gone. And I felt low. I didn’t know how I could face the next 30 kilometers with the extent of my nausea. It seemed impossible. But my friend Cath tapped me on the shoulder and ran with me lifting my spirits. Then again alone! Putting one foot in front of the other I started to contemplate turning around and going back to my family when I felt an arm around my shoulder. It was my angelic friends Julie and Tam. Tam, like me suffers with nausea when her blood pressure is low and I knew right then that God had sent them to me. I had done 42 Kms of the route tester with them and they were the most awesome company and special girls. So gererous in laughter and friendship. I knew I could do this with them by my side…… Next I saw my boetie and family who I knew were waiting for me at Kloof and they showered me with love and affection and once again spoke confidence into me. However at Cowies Hill I had a horrific nausea attack. I didnt tell Jules and Tam because I actually didn’t want their encouragement. I needed to vomit and now. So I just let them slowly disappear out of sight. I eventually completely stopped and sat on the side of the road where there was no one and put my head between my legs. Swimming in black spots and nausea. After about two minutes some stranger came over to me and and asked how he could help me. He told me I was nearly at the top of the hill and that everything was going to be easier after that. I found myself getting up and pressing on…incredibly slowly. On the next down for whatever reason, the nausea subsided and I was able to catch up to Jules and Tam. Tam was also struggling pretty badly at this stage Her husband kept meeting us every 12 kilometers or so and giving us ice. There was also ice at a lot of the stations and this became my life source. It was the only thing I could get down my throat other than the odd orange piece. I was struggling badly and asked a friend to call Stu and meet me at Westville where I knew I had friends waiting for me. I had to pitch up, so i decided I would go home with Stu (Mr Darling Husband) from there.
When I got there my friend Warren was waiting for me with every word of inspiration and encouragement that I needed to continue moving forward, he ran with me for a few hundred meters till I reached my long time friends and bridesmaids and family who hugged me and loved me and showered me with balloons, love and inspiration. I knew I couldn’t let them down. At this stage too Moose, Tams husband had bought us Ice lollies. Which we walked with and ate like we were on a stroll In the park. From then on it was just 3 girls determined to get to the end before 12 hours were up. We worked out that if we walked a certain speed we could still make it in with a few minutes to spare. I will never forget our run together Jules and Tam. You guys were my rock. Your friendship and selflessness at various times were so touching. But we were all struggling and this time with incredible fatigue and hitting bottoms at different times. We adjusted our course to each other’s battle, but continued to press on with one goal in sight. With them by my side we made it home. I didnt even care what time it was, It wasn’t important.., we made it home! Now I know what Comrades is really about. COMRADESHIP! It’s not just the runners that are your Comrades. It’s the supporters as well. And I had them with me every step of the way. What a life changing experience this has been for me!! Just when I thought that I was too old for any new adventures!
People have congratulated me for my inner strength on persevering but all I can tell them is that it wasn’t my strength I ran on… It was theirs. There belief in me got me through. Their support. Their companionship. Their love. It’s them I have to thank for giving me a journey that taught me what true Comradeship is all about. I love you all my dear family, friends, club members and road supporters. You got me through! I also thank God for teaching me so much in one day, more than what alot of people learn in a lifetime. It’s never too late to start an extra ordinary journey. I am so very greatful that I DID IT!