As an athlete and Comrades runner, I have had the privilege to be part of the S4J since 2011. Many things have been said already about the purpose of the S4J, why we do what we do, etc. I just want to share my experience purely from an athlete’s perspective.
Imagine you are running in a desert. The sun is beating down, you are sweating and dehydrated. All your water is finished. Your motivation is at an all-time low. Then, on the horizon, you see the shimmering of an oasis. Cool water, shade…you get the picture. You know that, if you can only make it to the oasis, you will be able to replenish your water, quench your thirst, and be able to carry on your journey.
The support points the S4J has along the Comrades route, are like oases in an arid desert. Anybody who has ever run Comrades, knows that support along the route, whether from loved ones or your running club, is what pulls you through the race. Not everybody is lucky enough to have a loved one or a club gazebo along the race, but if you are part of the S4J family, you can be assured that they will be at two crucial places during the race. It gives you an oasis to look forward to. Their “outrageous orange” (as someone called it this year!) flags and signage is also quite easy to spot next to the road!
I will never forget my first Comrades in 2011. It was an up run, and much, much harder than I expected. Norman and the S4J team were stationed at Lion Park, at around 65/70 km. I was in tears. Everything hurt; I was tired, emotional and felt very alone. I got to the support point, got my pre-packed bag with my “stuff”, and if I remember correctly, didn’t even take something from it. I was too tired. In tears, I asked Norman to pray for me. I knew I could not carry on in my own strength. Norman immediately started walking with me and praying for me. Just around the next bend in the road, I saw my husband and best friend Reinette, who were supporting that day, as well as my father-in-law Sarel, who also ran. They were waiting for me at a place I never expected them to be, just moments after Norman prayed for me. The Lord knew exactly who I needed then. My father-in-law, a veteran of 17 Comrades, had a problem with his back, and waited for me so we could finish the last 25/30 km together. Had it not been for him, I might not have finished.
Another thing about arriving at the S4J support point, is that they make you feel as if you are a rock star or a VIP. All your needs and perceived needs are taken care of. “Look, here comes Annelize!” Norman with his camera is usually the one who spots you first. The wonderful team at the gazebo will then ply you with cold water, marmite sandwiches, look for your prepacked bag, help you with your shoes, etc. etc. You leave the support point refreshed and ready to take on the next section.
I can think of many other examples of how S4J supports their athletes, and I can imagine that every athlete who has been part of the S4J the last 9 years, will have equally wonderful stories to tell. What a wonderful privilege to be part of God’s family, and to experience God’s love, grace and favour through something as “mundane” as support among the route of an ultra race.