Zambian runner, Chibwe Mambwe, recants his experience of his very first OMTOM Ultra Marathon, from inside a sub 7 hour pace bus.
OMTOM2016 was my first attempt at the Ultra Marathon having previously participated in the half marathon in 2015. I went into the race with one objective "to finish". And that meant that my target finish time was sub 7 hours.
I had worked out a pacing plan and I was resolved to sticking to that pace plan to the glorious end. The furthest distance I had covered before the ultra was 42.2km; so to say I was a bag of nerves is an understatement. In order to settle my nerves I came across articles on pacers and pace buses. I was enthralled by the concept and the dedication of the "bus" drivers to lead others to achieving their goals.
Saturday 26 March (also, coincidently, my birthday) 06:15am
Race Day was upon us. I was so nervous and the morning rain and chill did not help. I remember making my way to the back of the ultra-marathon crowd in search of the "bus". There were a number of buses to pick from, sub 5 (I was like, “Say what? That is the crazy lot”), sub 6, sub 6:30, and finally sub 7 hours (more my crowd). What attracted me to the sub 7 hour pace bus was the energy of the “bus driver”, the “bus conductor” (the hype man) and “the passengers”; these guys and ladies had so much energy that as soon as I joined in the dancing and the singing my nerves were a faded memory. These were people that I had never met before but we were united in running and our mission to conquer the ultra within cut off time.
The canon is fired to signal the start of a great running experience. What had started out as an individual goal was now a community goal. While I had prepared to look out for myself during the race, I was now concerned about everyone in the bus. MY bus. From the warnings to look out for the "cat eyes" on the road, to other passengers on the bus handing you sachets of water/powerade, the interactions, jokes, and assurance from the bus driver that we would overcome together, reminded me why I had fallen in love with running in the first place. Kilometer after kilometer went by without incidence until we got to Chapman's peak.
My pace started to reduce and the rest of the bus marched on with the same fan fair and vibe. I made sure to keep the bus within sight but unfortunately my legs had a mind of their own, cramping so badly that all I could do was plod on until the summit of Chapman's peak. By the time I got to the marathon mark, I was in so much pain and I had lost sight of the bus. The nerves had since returned and I was overcome with dread that I would not finish the race before cut off, but I carried on.
I was ready to give up. I was tired and I was in pain. Then suddenly in the distance I could hear the shuffle of feet and a voice rising above the shuffle of feet counting down "10,9,8,7........" unbeknown to me, there was a bus behind me led by a military looking guy that was using this brilliant walk-run strategy (hence the counting) to help the tired feet of the bus passengers to make it to the finish line. All of a sudden I was surrounded by people like me, people in pain, people with tired legs but resolute to finish the race. I was overwhelmed by how selfless this bus driver was, making sure that every passenger completes the race sub 7 hours. Using the run-walk strategy we made it onto the M63 and up Chet's Hill. All the time, the bus driver kept telling us that our legs were fresh and our body was strong. I did not for a second buy that but saying it kept my mind off the last mile effort that lay ahead.
What had seemed like an impossible undertaking at the 50km mark become more and more possible with each countdown and assurance from the bus driver. As we inched closer to the UCT grounds, the bus driver told us to give it our all and go for the finish. Tired legs and all, the whole bus broke into a sprint until we had all crossed the finish line.
Nothing could describe the scene and the wave of emotions at the finish line, there were high fives everywhere and lots of hugging and tears. I walked over to the bus driver and shook his hand, grateful and honoured to have been a part of his bus.
We had done it, total strangers running as one, helping each other along the way, not only sharing in the joy of the accomplishment but also the lessons of getting there. The experience of running in the "bus" epitomized the #RunAsOne spirit encompassing #OMTOM2016.
Maybe one day I will drive a "bus" and help other runners accomplish their goals.