Monday, May 25, 2009

Let me tell you about a winner...

Every year an ultra marathon called The Comrades' takes place between the South African cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg, a distance of 88kms (55 miles). The race alternates in direction - in odd numbered years it is run downhill to finish in Durban. It has a rich and fascinating history, which I highly recommend (just google it - there are far too many links for me to choose just one). Since I was born in Durban, the event is part of the landscape of my life. I've never actually run it, but I have seconded it, which was an experience in itself.

Every year, there are stories to be told. Stories that would break or fill your heart. This year was no exception. This year the race was won for the first time by a Zimbabwean.

But those who know the Comrades' know that it isn't really about the front runners. It's about the cameraderie between the runners who run it just to finish. They will tell you that they are the real winners.

Runners are given 12 hours to finish the distance (extended from 11 hours in 2003). As the time runs out, an official steps out to finish line and stands with his/her back to the runners and counts down the closing moments. Then, at exactly the appointed time, the official fires a starting pistol, signifying the end of the allotted time. I have watched as that final gun has been fired while exhausted runners make a desperate bid to run the last 100m in a time that would tax them even had they not just run 55 miles. Can you imagine being within sight of the finish line, having run for 11 hours (as it was then) only to be robbed of a finish by a matter of metres? It is heartbreaking to witness.

The last finisher this year was a man from Cape Town called Jerry Mboweni. He is a recovering drug addict who now volunteers at a counselling centre. He made it across the finish line by a hair's breadth.

Now you tell me that he isn't just as much of a winner as the guy who crossed the line first.

Draw your own parallels to learning and development. I know you don't need my help for that.

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