“GO FORWARD OVER THOSE MOUNTAINS LIKE A SOUTH AFRICAN RUNAWAY TRAIN”

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Comrades Marathon 2018, the 93rd edition of The Ultimate Human Race, a down run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

COMRADES 2018 “I AM IN”

So where does one start? I guess at the beginning. Oh, not talking about the race but referring to my experience of this iconic race.

I certainly won’t go back to the beginning of time, though I need to shed some light onto the build up to race day which takes me to the day I decided that I will indeed do the race. The truth is, when I committed to line up for this year’s marathon, I was very aware of two things; it was going to be a tough day on the road and a finish or a tough day on the road and a fail.  It was my intention to opt for the finish, but the DNF (Did Not Finish) was as real as the first year, and this year, even more than ever before.

My training for this year’s race was the worst ever.  I previously had never done so few kilometers for Comrades before, not even when I was injured in 2015, so I was painfully aware the odds were stacked up against me.  I had so many setbacks over the past few months that the probability of failing was ten to one bigger than that of finishing.  When one faces personal challenges, a relationship breaking up after 16 years, relocating to a new home a few months later followed by urgent surgery due to some serious medical issues, you are humanly derailed and led to a place in your life where you don’t want to be.  The reality was, I was in that dark place and getting back on track was my responsibility and mine alone.

I looked at the down run profile of the Comrades marathon and recognized landmarks and names; Polly Shortts, Little Pollys, Lion Park, Umlaas Road, Cato Ridge, Inchanga, Botha’s Hill, Hilcrest, Kloof, Fields Hill, Cowies Hill, Westville, 45th Cutting, Tolgate.  All these have a significant and special meaning for athletes attempting this iconic race. I cannot help but think how they also symbolise the landmarks and special places in our lives where we are challenged with the harsh and very real realities of life, and yet, with all the odds stacked up against us, we push on and find a way to manage these odds.  We find a way of dealing with it and through whatever it is, we then find our wisdom & strength.  We somehow manage to beat the odds, maybe not always, but most of the time.

AGAINST ALL ODDS

This year’s Comrades to me was one of those races where the odds were stacked so high against me that I could not even see the other race day challenges of the Comrades so called “Big Five” before me ( Polly Shortts, Inchanga, Botha’s Hill, Fields Hill and Cowies Hill ).

RACE DAY

On the 10th of June 2018, I stood at the start of Comrades and I remember not having the slightest feeling of fear for what was lying ahead. In hindsight, I think this was because I knew that it was going to be a tough day anyway and adding fear and uncertainty would just be two more odds to have to fight later that day.

I remember singing “Shosholoza” with the other twenty thousand runners and thought about the translated English words of this song, wondering how many runners actually knows it. Roughly translated it means, Go forward, go forward on those mountains, train from South Africa. Go forward go forward, you are running away, you are running away, on those mountains, train from South Africa This song is an Ndebele folk song that originated in our neighbouring country Zimbabwe that later became popular in South Africa. I knew, all I had to do was trust myself, trust my own pacing, my will to finish and then do as the song says, “Go forward over those mountains like a South African runaway train.” One step at a time, left, right, left, right, and repeat to the end. A grueling 90.184 kilometers of torture was lying ahead and the plan for the day remained, “Just finish”.

On the back of this there was also the #Comrades4Bibles charity drive which I planned to do for the third consecutive year supporting the Bible Society of South Africa. This is another leg of my own charity “Run for Bible Rands” and money raised through #Comrades4Bibles goes towards the grand total for this charity at the end of the year.  I also decided to dedicate this year’s Comrades to all those runners who were unable to run because they were sick, injured and/or because of other personal reasons and for those who were themselves were dealing with personal issues, challenges and hardships in various areas of their lives.  I wrote down all these names and placed it in an envelope that was pinned to the back of my race number, so I knew, although this was my Comrades, my 5th attempt to finish the Ultimate Human Race, it was also for Bibles and it was in solidarity with those who faced tough times.  For one day I was going to carry their names with me and symbolically carry their burdens as well on that day. Some may think this is silly and even corny, but that was fine, I knew this was what I wanted to do, and I did.

From the start, I reminded myself of how extremely important it was to break the race up into ‘bite-sized chunks’ and that is what I did.  The terrain changes during the course of the day and the various stages of the race need different approaches and should be run differently.  This is a golden rule that many athletes forget, sometimes even those who have been on this route far more times than I have.  If you have a good day it does not mean you can just go out and be reckless. Comrades coach Lindsey Parry says this, “It is vital that your Comrades Marathon pacing strategy is well thought out before you start. Too fast and the Comrades route will slow you down later.”

I ran my first half of Comrades conservatively and felt great when I met up with our support team just before the half way mark.  I have to say the severe drop into Drummond is always a personal  highlight of the down run because I know just ahead,  our amazing support team is waiting for us to give us that well deserved injection of positivity and encouragement.

NO AVOIDING THAT SO CALLED “SOLID BRICK WALL”

At around 80 km, a few steps into Cowies Hill, was the point where I hit my solid brick wall this year. I pulled off to the side of the road and leaned against a rail, just to take a break and refocus. This is where I my hand reached back to the envelope pinned to my race number with the names of people I was running for, saying, “God, I need your help, this is not just for me, this is for all these people fighting their own battles AND this is for the Bibles…” I was tired. I was sore. Field Hill already did its damage. My legs were heavy and hammered and I knew on the other side of Cowies the pain would get even more intense and real as we drop down towards Westville. I knew this was where the mental bashing would start.  This was where Comrades became real.  This is where Comrades gets real for most of us, because it is now no longer about the eighty odd kilometers we have already completed… it is about the next ten we still have to do.  Runners often say your legs will get you to around eighty kilometers, your mind will then take you to the end.  So true.

I got back on the road, struggled through the next thee kilometers and then the worst part of the race started, the last seven kilometers.  I had no idea how far we were from the finish because the distance signs counting off the final kilometers were nowhere to be found.  Apparently they were blown over by the wind earlier in the day and no one thought it was important to put them back up so we were literally running blind.  I asked a few runners around me for their distance (on their watches) and everyone gave me a different figure so I knew the distance was not accurate.  The route was in fact further, well according to our watches anyway.  The only thing I could count on at that point was the actual time of the day so I switched my watch to that setting because I knew at 17.30 I needed to be at that finish line. It is horrible to run blind like this, not knowing what’s ahead. It was also a new finish venue meaning a new route to the end, so one could not even draw knowledge from any previous memories or experiences.  Horrible.

THE FINISH IS NEAR, YET SO FAR

My first glimpse of the Moses Mabhida Stadium left me with even less hope that I was going to finish in time. It was already getting dark and that beacon seemed so far away. At that point, I just focused on slowing down my pace slightly, but keep running.  I knew from my planning that an average pace of 07:55 min/km was going to be a close call, leaving little space for error, so I decided to make 07:40 min/km my aimed average pace.  I ran at 07:39 min/km so in fact, I was according to my planning, still safe for a finish but the inaccurate distance info I got from everyone made me nip a bit. Was this going to be enough? Well, I decided to trust my own instinct, stick to my plan and hope it will be enough.  Basically, I ran the last seven kilometers with the odd brisk walks at the water points, but no stopping, every step forward towards the finish. This was where the true meaning of “Asijiki” became a reality, “No turning back”.

I was overcome with relieve when I spotted the beginning of the TOYOTA red mile. I actually remember thinking to myself that there is just about 1.6km to go and then I am home. Entering the well-lit Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban stirred up a whirlwind of emotions in me and I was filled with pure relieve when I saw the first clock.  I was safe!  My race plan paid off, my pacing was spot on and I was going to bag that medal and I did.  Again, I reminded myself of Lindsey Parry’s words, “It is vital that your Comrades Marathon pacing strategy is well thought out before you start.”

I crossed the finish line at 11:57:31. Mission accomplished. Fifth consecutive Comrades Marathon done.

THE TRUTH FOR ME ABOUT COMRADES 2018

Honestly, this was my most difficult Comrades Marathon ever. This race challenged me on so many levels, leaving me vulnerable to whatever race day was going to throw at me. Lining up at the start with a mere 534km on your legs was ten to one the silliest thing I could do, but I was determined to get to that finish in, in time, and I did it. Obviously I would not recommend such little training to anyone, ever.  Comrades Marathon is more a mental thing than anything else, I can now vouch for that. You have to be fierce, strong willed and focused otherwise you will not survive This Ultimate Human Race.

LIFE HAPPENS

Friends, in our lives we will encounter our very own Polly Shortts, Little Pollys, Lion Parks, Umlaas Roads, Cato Ridges, Inchangas, Botha’s Hills, Hilcrests, Kloosf, Fields Hills, Cowies Hills, Westvilles, 45th Cuttings and Tolgates, but know that how we approach these, how we see them as part of the bigger picture, that will determine if we will make it to the end. Sometimes life gets tough and you are faced with real life obstacles, challenges, and have to make life changing decisions that will forever change the course of your being.  Just do it and focus on that beacon that is looming in a distance.  Fight and push forward towards that goal so you can ultimately conquer and taste the victory. Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Don’t let anyone else define your destiny.

One of my all-time favourite quotes is from Nelson Mandela who said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” The seemingly impossible is something you can accomplish. Maybe you’ve tried it before, maybe not, but it’s important to remember it can be done, and that very thoughts should drive you.

RUNNING FOR A CAUSE

I also once again realized the difference it makes in your motivation levels when you run for a cause. It makes you more stubborn (yes I said it) and also more focused, because it is no longer just about you, it’s about others, in my case, those who so generously gave towards #Comrades4Bibles and those names in that envelope pinned to the back of my race number. This elevates your wanting to get at that finish and all the doubt, the pain and suffering and even moments of self-pity, and let’s be real, even the thoughts of taking the easy way out and quit, disappears into thin air as you refocus and remind yourself why you are actually doing this.

In closing, again the words of Shosholoza”, Go forward, go forward on those mountains, train from South Africa. Go forward go forward, you are running away, you are running away, on those mountains, train from South Africa

THANK YOU

I want to thank my family, friends and even strangers who have so faithfully supported me over the past few months but more so during the last few weeks, days before and on race day. It was you believing in me when I didn’t and I guess even the unuttered thoughts and moments of doubt, that made me push myself to limits that I did not even know existed. To God, all the glory, all the honour, all the praise and my deepest gratitude for allowing me to continue on this 2018 Comrades journey, for using it as a tool to not only make a difference in people’s lives through Run for Bible Rands and #Comrades4Bibes projects, but for using it also as a tool in my own life to bring healing and a better understanding of who I am as a person with God compared to who I am without Him. Today, more than ever before, as I sit here typing this document, I cannot imagine my life without Him.

Comrades foor Bibles Final Amount

Final amount raised for Bibles during 2018 #Comrades4Bibles charity drive. Thank you.

MESSAGE TO FELLOW ATHLETES

Last but not least, to every single athlete who have conquered Comrades Marathon 2018, The Ultimate Human Race, congratulations and well done. Whether it was just a finish, like me, a personal best or personal achievement like a green number or even double green, way to go, you’ve done it. To those who did not finish or maybe not achieved their planned goal, for whatever reason, it does not matter. Congrats to you for making it to the start and for pushing yourself to places you’ve never been before. If it was a tough day on the road, and it certainly was for me, then that is what Comrades brought to your day.  Please remember though, whatever it was that prevented you from not achieving your goal or not making it to that finish line does not define you. What defines you is the fact that you stayed true to yourself and you had the mere guts to line up for this iconic race. It was Colin Powel l who said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure”. Ten to one, not reaching your race day goal or not finishing, had nothing to do with you not preparing and or not putting in the hard work.  The fact is and remains, race day is always unique in every possible way. Learn from this experience and do it different in 2019.

Editorial support : Karen Clouter, Madoc, ON, Canada

– the end –

OTHER

You can still use this link https://form.myjotform.com/81141565181553 if you want so send me a personal message, or if you supported the #Comrades4Bibles cause then please tell me why you did. Get in touch, I love to hear from you guys.

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Run for Bible Rands continues and we as athletes, runners, walkers and Park Runners, will continue to make our miles and moment count for more than just a medal as we donate R1 for each kilometer we do in official races every month to the Bible Society of South Africa.  So far we have raised R 9, 076.10 though this charity and this will make available a total of 153 FREE Bibles to those who needs it most. You can join us in making a difference. Just follow the link above and sign up.

 

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Comrades4Bibles2018 – Let’s Go !

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QUICK LINKS: [ PLEDGE HERE ] [ DONATE HERE ] [ MESSAGES OF SUPPORT ]

It is official. Comrades4Bibles2018 is happening!

Even the most fortunate of us can face setbacks every now and again. I am no different than anyone else. Since July 2017, I have been dealing with major disappointments, dissolving a 16 year relationship and the pain and heartbreak that came with it.  In November, some health issues resulting in a serious operation stopped me in my tracks as far as running and training was concerned. Starting over has challenged my limits and beyond on so many levels.

Often, when struggling, we can feel overwhelmed or powerless.  I did.  It’s true, there are many things in life we can’t control, including big challenges such as redundancy, broken relationships or bereavement. Taking small, positive steps in any area of our life can have a ripple effect, increasing our sense of self-efficacy and eventually enabling us to move forward, and that is what I did. I took what I had and channeled my energy towards the one thing I still could control, my running. Bouncing back after so much time off was not easy, but I knew I had to do what I could with what I had if I wanted to make this work. Baby steps indeed, but they were all forward, towards my goal, #Comrades4Bibles2018

I stayed away from doing too much too soon because if I didn’t, the risk of injury was almost guaranteed.  I knew I’d benefit from paying more conscious attention to what was going right. It was about making an honest and balanced perspective.  I knew the best way of distracting myself from what was going on was to keep on training because any kind of exercise has a physical impact on our brain, helping us to think more clearly and to focus with intent.

So far this year, I have literally done three official races, Monster 32km, Om die Dam 50km and last weekend, Loskop 50km. Obviously, this is not all the training I’ve done.  I did what I could on the road and in the gym to get myself up to par again. This was, and still is no easy journey, but was never promised to be. Every road to Comrades is different and has its own challenges.  This one is no exception. So, I have been tested emotionally, spiritually, mentally and definitely physically as well. In the end, it’s up to me and me alone.

Friday morning, 27th of April, after my 24 km solo run, I made the decision. I’m happy with my progress and I am going to Comrades 2018. This year will definitely not be a run for a time, but a finish and making sure each step embodies the slogan for Comrades 2018 : ASIJIKI – No turning back.

Comrades4Bibles2018 is an extension of my charity drive #Run4BibleRands and that is why, as in past years, all proceeds from this years Comrades run will also go to the Bible Society of South Africa. My web page for this year’s Comrades4Bibles2018 is now live at the link below.

www.run4biblerands.co.za/comrades – Visit my page and please donate !

QUICK LINKS: [ PLEDGE HERE ] [ DONATE HERE ] [ MESSAGES OF SUPPORT ]
Progress - 21 June 2017Last year’s final amount received as donations
Final Editing : Karen Clouter ( Thank you )

Comrades 2017 for Bibles – and more…

We are less than 80 days away from the running of Comrades marathon 2017. This race over the past four years became an integrate part of my life. After I managed to shake off 53kg I found myself on the road, became a runner and in 2014 lined up with thousands of runners to take on my first “Ultimate Human Race”

Over the ninety something years Comrades became part of a South African tradition and over years became one of those items on any runner’s bucket list, one of those must try items. Comrades Marathon definitely is, without doubt, an ultimate human race, the ultimate test of one’s character, challenging the human spirit, which explains why complete strangers from local and abroad and from totally different backgrounds help each other to conquer this hilly course.

This year’s theme is ZINIKELE, It takes all of you.

It does.

My Comrades journey, the decision to do it, started with a t-shirt I bought at the 2014 expo in Durban and the words, “Don’t promise, commit” sort of snookered me. I was a supporter that year, but when I left the expo in Durban I told my friends that I will run the down run in 2015 and the rest is history. Conquering that first Comrades, I remember coming into that stadium in Durban overwhelmed with a mix of emotions and with tears in my eyes and that indescribable feeling of achievement. That year I hang on to a favourite quote by Madiba, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Since then I’ve gone back for more and this year I will run my fourth Comrades Marathon. The first one was special but really tough, so much so that I was one of those who said, “Never again” just to find myself back at the start line in 2015 to try to secure my back to back medal, and I did.

To me Comrades never comes easy. Getting to the start line takes all of you, hours of training, endless early mornings, races, places, dealing with injuries, fighting off the flu, sometimes more than one attempt to get qualified and get your seeding right. Preparing for this iconic race requires hard work and ultimate commitment, just to get to the start. On race day, before you can experience and enjoy the moment you cross that finish line before the 12 hours cut-off, the long road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg is often lined with pain, discomfort, desperation, confusion, questions without answers, uncertainty, fear, self-doubt. But it is not all doom and gloom, there are also moments of sharing, solidarity, encouragement, comrade and even humor and laughter as runners navigate their way towards the finish line. It is the encouraging words from fellow runners and total strangers that push you forward towards the end.

The fourth of June is going to be another tough day on the road. It is again an up-run and this is a real challenge for me. I prefer the down run, but this is part of the magic I guess of Comrades, to always challenge you on some level. For us, the so called “normal” and non-elite athletes, this is not a race, and if it is, it is only a race against time, a race against that clock that “seize to work” at twelve hours, when the final cut off gun with sound and determine whether you made it or not. I have learned over the years that a Comrades runner can only claim success when success is achieved.

During every run so far I met my runner’s wall between 60 and 65 kilometer. This is where I go into mental overdrive where it becomes all about mind over matter, the will to carry on and finish what you’ve started arguing against your body that wants to stop. Fact is, the battle now becomes more with your head than your body because your head refuses to believe that you can make it. This “battle” also drains you mentally, emotionally and saps your body of what is left so I try to get this battle over as quickly as possible so I can carry on with the business of the day, getting to that finish line, in time.

In 2016 I started to run for charity when I joined hands with the Bible Society of South Africa and ran my first Comrades for Bibles. I read a lot about people supporting charities through their sport and I decided to give it a go, and this was without doubt the best move I could ever make. That runner’s wall again came at around 60 kilometers, but the battle was short lived. When the going got tough, I reminded myself why I was doing this, so someone somewhere can get a free Bible and then suddenly the tough got going again and I had my best Comrades ever. I really think this is a tradition we as runners need to make part of your running journeys, running for something more than just a medal or personal achievement, but to also support a local charity and bring change to people’s lives.

This year I will again run Comrades for Bibles – run the 87 kilometers raising funds for Bibles – sowing my support for Bibles, one kilometer at a time.

However, there will be an added challenge. I have committed to run Comrades 2017 with a friend to try and ensure that his Comrades dream becomes a reality. Christo Lourens will be by my side on race day. The special challenge here is that Christo has a hearing impairment and has a cochlear implant. For fear of damaging the sensitive and expensive transmitter unit, Christo chooses to compete in his runs without it. When he runs, he is thus literally deaf and totally cut off from the outside world. The main challenge for hearing-impaired runners is always safety. Deaf runners have to be aware of their surroundings constantly. This includes not only motor vehicles but pedestrians and other runners as well. It all revolves around safety. For this very reason I have committed myself to assist Christo and be alongside him – hopefully all the way. Although Christo and I will be taking on Comrades together and hopefully navigate our way to the end together, both of us will run our own race and we as individuals we will have to get to that finish line at Scottsville Racecourse in Pietermaritzburg. [ …read more ]

People say what I do is very noble, but to me this is all about Ubunto, meaning, “I am what I am because of who we all are.” Running for a cause and this year, also for a friend, is a real blessing to me and means so much to me that it is not just about me, it is not just about my medal, my personal goal, dream or challenge, but it extends over boundaries and horizons much further than that.

My Comrades for Bibles charity drive is now open and you can show your support by donating to this cause. Every R50 donation will make available one FREE Bible to someone who really needs it most and goes to the poorest of the poor.  It was Paul who said, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.” ( 1 Corinthians 3 :16 ) Each Bible we can place in the hands of the Bible Society of South Africa and ultimately in the hands of a stranger somewhere will not only bring a single person, but potentially a whole family, one step closer to a living relationship with God.

Today I am so glad that I am not forced to support one of the official and accredited charities associated with Comrades, so I decided to dedicate my kilometers to the Bible Society of South Africa. I have a dedicated web page for my Comrades for Bibles charity drive and I invite you to visit this page to learn how you can support this cause. I tried to make the process a little easier and hopefully we can top last year’s R14,323.40 ( 311 free Bibles ).

Thank you for your support and for being part of my journey to Comrades 2017 !

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My Forever Loskop 50km Ultra Marathon

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On the 16th of April, 43 days till Comrades, a massive field of runners lined up for the 30th edition of the Forever Resorts Loskop 50km Ultra Marathon, one of the most loved inland ultra-marathons on the running calendar. This race, presented by the Middelburg Marathon Club, once again proofed to be one of the best organised events.

The first part of the race takes runners through some quiet streets of Middelburg before turning onto the main road towards Loskop Dam. This is a steady and continuous climb to about 22km where runners pass one of the well-known beacons on the route, the Post Office Tower. This is the highest point of the race but do not be fooled, the climbing is not over, yet. Although the decent to the end of this 50km ultra-marathon starts here, it sure offers some deceptive challenges to those not familiar with the route.

For approximately ten kilometres we enjoyed the forgiving run towards Bugger’s Hill waiting for us at around 46km. In this stretch of the road, at around 30km, my lower back and hip started to hurt and I knew this is for me where the challenge will start. Bugger’s Hill was tough. The climb to the top of this unforgiving uphill forced me to dig deep and push forward with determination to reach the top. I kept the bigger picture in mind, Comrades 2016.

The reward waiting at the other side of this notorious hill was worth the hard work indeed as this is where we started to decent again into The Kranspoort Pass. This to me remains one of the most beautiful parts the race and for a moment the sheer beauty of nature just outweighed the pain and discomfort I felt.

On this part of the race, because it offers quiet a great opportunity to make up for some lost time suffered earlier in the race, I have seen a lot of runners who have clearly pushed too hard and this always shows later in the race. The decent is welcome but you have to exercise control and pace properly. If you don’t, it will come back and bite you in the behind sooner or later. On this day I witnessed it again.

When Loskop Dam is finally in sight I was filled with mixed feelings, I knew the end was near but I knew what was lying ahead too, one more challenge; Varady’s Hill, better known amongst runners as “Heartbreak Hill”. This final test awaited us at 47km and offered a steep and continuous and most definitely an unforgiving two kilometre climb placed only three kilometres from the finish. The only way I was going to get to the top of this last hill was to go back to the very basics of the run walk combination. This is where many of those who motored down The Kranspoort Pass paid the price unfortunately. Many of those who flew past me earlier on in the poort area were reduced to walking here.

I must say, that last stretch from the top of Varady’s Hill towards the end of the race felt never-ending. I said to a fellow runner, “I am sure they keep on moving that entrance to the resort further and further away as we approach.” He felt so too ! I finally made it to the left turn into the resort and this is where I felt a lift and was able to finish strong at 05:20:25.

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The Medal

This finish time and the effort that went into this day just had to suffice for the day given the challenges I faced after my fall at OMTOM2016. I am happy and think I am still heading in the right direction as we mark today 42 days until Comrades 2016.

 

I just want to pause for a moment here and congratulate all my friends and fellow runners who have been part of the Loskop series, whether you did the half marathon or the ultra, “Well done!”. Your effort and hard work paid off and the medal around your neck is proof of that. If your run did not go according to plan, that is part of being a runner too. It is what we all take away from each run that really counts, lessons learned. They are an invaluable part of our learning experience. Cherish it. Save it. Use it. Share it.

As a last thought, last but definitely not the least. We made use of the private bus service offered by Willie Hall from At Your Service Trips and Tours and what a great experience. Our Loskop experience started at Faery Glen PnP where we boarded the very comfortable coach just before 3am. We left on time and the ride to Middleburg was stress-free and quiet. Our bus driver was the perfect driver. We arrived in Middleburg with ample of time to get our race numbers and to spend time with fellow runners before the start of the big race. I will definitely make use of this service again next year.

See you guys on the road, soon !

[ Some Pictures Here ]