To a single father of two beautiful children, nostalgia isn’t always kind. In retrospect my whole life has been a race to a series of proverbial finish lines. Fathering my son and daughter taught me perseverance and determination. So, with their confidence in me and little hope to make it, I set out to run the race of my life – the Comrades Marathon. I ended up having my life changed, forever.
People pontificate running as a hobby, but it requires more than enjoyment. It’s more than a way to invest time and effort. Running demands something more – heart.
Like most novice runners, I started at the bottom and worked my way through painfully demanding races. Each time, learning more about the sport, the meaning of humanity and myself. The body is an exquisite and powerful machine. The only real obstacle in any race, as in life, is the mind.
After my first few races, it became clear that more than my body needed exercise. But rearing children on your own teaches you about giving it all you’ve got, against all odds. Fitness, dietary changes and planning for any eventuality, with complete reliance on God found new meaning in my life. For the first time since becoming a dad, I had to learn to take care of me again.
Something amazing happens to your mind when you push your body beyond preconceived limits. Initially, you have to work through immense resistance and self-doubt. “Can I do this?” “Why am I pushing myself?” “Is this really what I want to do?”
Like a toddler wielding a machine gun, the ego will stage one coup d’état after another. The mind is often referred to as the gestapo of the human condition. Its love of comfort and quasi-control makes it a good servant, but a bad master.
After many failed attempts at qualifying locally, I fought my way through my last hope, the qualifier in Bergville. Huge gratitude goes to Mitesh Bhoola for driving with me in his combie (LOL), like a knight in shining metal armour. When my blood sugar levels and consciousness failed me, Azar Shah carried me and took care of me like a baby. A compassionate woman tried to call an ambulance, but through my pain, I managed to defiantly warn her, “I am finishing this race. Or I will die trying.” At the end of the race, I was overwhelmed. There weren’t enough medals to go around, so Yaseen Sarlie, our team manager, gave me his. These mighty men taught me that you never leave a man behind and you give your brother what you want for yourself. This qualifier humbled me more than the ultimate race.
My faith in humanity restored, immensely grateful and flooded by emotion, I did what any man would do – found a quiet corner and cried my heart out. I never cried like that before – snots and all.
Next up, the Comrades. Thousands of runners and supporters descend on one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, adding to its allure. The people of KZN are breathtaking in their unfailing support and cheers. I hope they know the difference they made to each runner. I owe a well of gratitude to Tazkiyah and Asief Suleman and family for their incredible send-off. This special group of people made more possible for me than I can put in words.
Our travel party, Feroza, Mehmood, Hashim, Zuhir, Azar and Mitesh deserve their own medals for putting up with me. Thank you.
Running this race, it felt like we were all one team, one heart. I imagine what the world would be like if we were all just a little bit more like runners. I’ve had people help me bath, massage me through races, and take care of me like never before. I remember a female runner from Jozi X, wearing a blue bandana. This angel spoke encouraging words to my heart as she ran with me for a bit. Strangers to each other, she showed me compassion when I needed it most. Another example of heart-wrenching humanity. If only more of the world were like this.
During my first half to Drummond, I felt invincible. I remember Iqbal telling me to hold back and I’m so glad I did. Reaching the half-mark in 5h36 (6 minutes more than I’d planned) charged me with super confidence. A huge thank you to Zahid who helped me through Inchanga, the never-ending stretch of hill. Seeing our supporter group and stopping for a bath brought revitalizing relief. Zuhir and Hashim were instrumental in this brief reverie before near-tragedy. Just as we left to continue the race, my shin retaliated in sharp pain. Without hesitation, Hashim stopped to massage my leg, allowing me to go on.
I pushed hard to the 60km cut-off, my bosses, Chris and Shiraz and friends were waiting. I had to get to them! Meeting them was another triumph to my story. But, I had to push on. This is where my race actually began and I met Bellissa, a total stranger, who felt like an old friend. This is what happens in a race, an exchange of energy and war stories, even with people you don’t know. I could finally dig deeper until the 45th cutting, where my body and mind refused to do this anymore. Just as hope failed, as if they knew I was trouble, my bosses rescued me by running me to the highway. I can’t imagine what I would’ve done without them.
Later, another sweet treat came in the form of Salim, who gave me an ice-cream, to the envy of every other runner.
From here on, mind, body and even heart gave in. But I remembered Farhana’s sage advice, “Stick to the 12-hour bus. Don’t let it out of your sight, and you’ll make it.”
And that’s what I did. Running with the angelic duo, Mahomed and Sunaiya Moolla, from this point was a saving grace. Meeting Ezedin on the way, we offered him the same advice we were holding onto.
Reaching the finish line before the 12-hour cut-off was one of the best experiences of my life. I earned more than a medal, I earned a dream fulfilled. I had won the race against myself. An incredible epiphany dawned on me as I recounted the sunrise, full of promise early on in the race and then stood in awe of the majestic sunset at its end.
Some of my fellow runners have said that a piece of their medals belong to the people who helped get them there. I see it differently; my medal is my own, but you all have a piece of my heart.
A race isn’t about the finish line. Life is never really about outcomes. It’s really about surrendering to the process, the meandering roads, the beautiful scenery and the people who touch you in ways you least expect. When you’re running a race that will define your life, I hope you stop to reflect on the race within and marvel at the wonder that is you. We are capable of so much more than we can imagine.
I wish to thank every single person for running with me in all the races of my life. Even when I failed to show it or express it, your presence added value to my experience.
We’re all stories. Tell yours to inspire others and make it count.