My road to Comrades… A very short road to a big decision! By Karen Bartmann

For many years now on Comrades Sunday morning I would wake up at 5am to watch people starting Comrades. Each time, my eyes would be filled with tears, being overwhelmed with appreciation of these athletes.  I’ve always loved watching Comrades since I was a young girl, even when I wasn’t interested in running. People running that far amazed me how could they run that far, not knowing the intricacies of how to get through a Comrades Marathon.

I started my journey of being an Athlete in Triathlon in 2014. It started out with just getting back into cycling, I mean cycling 50kms for me by myself was very far. I only ever did spinning classes and races and didn’t know the Cradle existed. Off I’d go on a weekend by myself and go ride, always so chuffed for managing to ride that far. I dabbled in a bit of running, more trail running, and on the odd morning of the weekend I would run, getting up to 10kms. We all start from somewhere and I wouldn’t even run around the block with my Dad, as a youngster, he loved to run. Then someone said to me why don’t you try run a 21km run race. I first did the Colgate 15km in 2012 (my first “long” run) and carried on with 10k races until March 2013 I ran my first 21km. It was so hard at the time, but what an achievement. I also continued with trail running, the Spur Trail Series mainly. My children’s father said then, I suppose next you will be running Comrades and I laughed very loud and said there is no ways I would run that race ever 21Km is my max. So I continued to cycle and run and eventually turned to Triathlon, that is another story which has been told in my previous blog.


In 2017 I was invited by a friend who lives in Ireland to run a Marathon. What? A Marathon, I can’t run a Marathon!  At the time, and still do suffer with Piriformis Syndrome (literally a pain in the Butt) as well as a Heel Spur, he entered me to run the Connemara Marathon in Ireland, outside Galway in April 2018.  Well, that was the toughest run I’ve done in my life. So my training to the marathon wasn’t all that great, but enough to complete it. I called this Marathon my extreme Marathon, as I had every season on that day, freezing temperatures, sleet, rain, wind, you name it. But I finished, it was so cold all the way to the end and as I crossed the finish line I went straight to the coffee van to get a cup of hot chocolate.  My time was 5h05 after that race I thought to myself, imagine running a Marathon in normal South African temperatures, no problem I can do that after what I’ve just been through.


I came back from Ireland and another friend convinced me to enter Kaapsehoop Marathon, which I did and used as a qualifier to Two Oceans Ultra. That’s where it was meant to stop, my first Ultra Marathon. Two of my girlfriends were going for their back to back Comrades so this was their seeding race too. It was awesome to go into a race away from home with friends and confident enough that I could it after my Marathon in Ireland.


Comrades 2018 arrived, I had a few friends running, loaded them all onto my app, got up at 5am and watched the start, tears streaming down my face. I was ready to watch Comrades for the day and quickly nipped out at 7am to go for my run so I could be back in time to watch the leaders come in and see if I can spot my friends on the TV. I am always in awe of watching this race and never in my wildest dreams or bucket list was Comrades on my events to do.  While I was watching them run this race, I still had no plan on running Comrades. There was half an hour left at the end of the day and Bernie wasn’t in yet, she was looking to come in after the 12-hour cutoff at this point. I was on the edge of my couch panicking, looking at the app, sharing my thoughts with my Tri Team’s WhatsApp Group, no girl you have to get in (tears swelling up in my eyes while I’m typing now, the memory of this moment)  I jumped up so high off the couch, there she is coming in under the bridge, as I screamed at the TV, Run B Run! Boy she ran, gosh to see her was such a relief, she made the cut off by 5 minutes! Watching my girlfriends achieve this Ultimate Human Race made me realize that you can do whatever you set your mind to do but you also got to want to do it.

When Comrades entries opened in the October, I secretly entered not telling anyone. I told only my son I had entered. He said Mom, I’m really impressed you’re going for Comrades, so proud of you. I actually wanted to see how I would feel after the Two Oceans Ultra, but his message was the second motivation for me to go for it.  If I can run Two Oceans, what is another 30kms. So there it began I announced my decision on the 20thof October 2018, I’m going to run the Comrades Marathon but still dependent on how I feel after the Two Oceans Ultra.  Mental preparation started and I got my F seeding at Kaapsehoop (November 2018), 4h11 and D seeding for Two Oceans Ultra.


After Kaapsehoop I kept up the training, keeping my base fitness and still Triathlon Training as I enjoy all three disciplines but running to be my favorite. Johnsons Crane (January 2019) came and went a nice training run, then Deloittes in Pretoria (note to self, I won’t do that race again – flippen tough, thinking about it now, Comrades was easier J).  I ran Run Zones AC “flattish” routes and at this stage I developed Achilles Tendonitis. Not a fun injury to have and running with Piriformis I was just sore every time I ran. My Physio said to avoid hill training at all cost, after the Run Zone hilly 32km race was the last straw. My training now avoided hilly routes four weeks away from Two Oceans. It was my last “long” run, I was still averaging a 65km a week until taper week. Two Oceans came being a training run for Comrades (7 weeks out), and that race was awesome until my last 8kms, I was making great time banking on a 6h25. My pain in my butt and my achilles hurt, I was struggling. I mainly walked the last 8kms and finished in a time 6H41. My moral at this point was low, I thought how am I going to run another 31kms to complete Comrades and started to doubt if I would make the Comrades start line.


After Two Oceans, I had planned to do a 32Km race at the Cradle of Mankind, being optimistic but my recovery from Two Oceans took a little longer than expected I could only manage a slow 9km on the following Saturday morning. But I did go onto to run 30K the following weekend, that same route to see how I would go (being hilly), much to Coach Sam’s dismay as I was meant to still avoid hills. But for my confidence after Two Oceans I just needed to do it. So my long runs consisted of running at the Cradle of Mankind, but the route leading out to the Caves which is very flat. I continued to average 65-70km, (very slow runs) until the last two weeks before Comrades. During these weeks I also went to see a Chiro who performed Bio Laser Therapy on my achilles as it was painful to run. The Butt Pain was worsening too, I would do anything to stop the pain, backing out of Comrades was not an option now. I had come so far finally the pain was subsiding in my achilles. Bioflex Laser Therapy was helping except in the last week, when the Chiro decided to do some vigorous “scraping”. I felt like I had gone back to square one and decided not to go back for my last appointment in case of more damage. The last two weeks before Comrades Day I ran 53km that week. The work had been done, I wasn’t too worried and it was Taper Time.


Comrades weekend was finally here. I was excited and panicked at the same time, a fear of the unknown. Saturday morning we ran (jogged) the 5km Park Run with Run Zoners and everyone else that was doing Comrades that weekend, it was so much fun. After the run, it was chill time and off my feet.

It was Comrades morning and not a great night’s sleep, nerves, excitement but we were up by 3:30am. We met Lolly and Kurt in Reception at 4am and made our way to the start, I felt so excited when we met some other team members inside Gate F. We chatted until it was time to start the festivities and singing to the anthem. The tears just flowed down my cheeks, I couldn’t believe I was finally here. The atmosphere was electric. Then, the gun went off no more nerves, it was now time to get the show on the road. I felt like I was running just another marathon. Kept my pace slow, being very cautious, I had the whole day ahead of me to get to the finish line. My plan was to finish in 10h45,  got to about 42km where I saw Kurt and the Kids. At this point my hip flexors were feeling very tight but I was still in good spirits and happy to see my people. I past the Run Zone AC special needs point at 44km, I wasn’t there very long, had my bottle filled, extra nutrition and off I went.  Just keep moving forward, I got to about 56km, and was feeling good, “Only another 31km” – felt better than I did at the Two Oceans finish line… I think this is where the Sub 11 Run Zone bus caught me, I tried to stay with them but my hip flexors were not allowing me to keep to their pace.  I saw Kurt and the Kids again, (awesome to have support crew on route) I was still heading towards Sub 11, but at the back of my mind I knew I may go over it as my pace was slowing down to more walks than runs.  I went through Run Zone Special Needs again and saw Pedro, B’s Husband, I asked him where B was at, he told me just after 12 hours, I said “oi vey not again Bern”. (She went onto finish a 6 Minute PB J). I continued to about 72km and was at about 9 hours, on Umlaas road I think, heading towards Polly Shorts. I asked the spectators on the side of the road, what time of day it was, they answered it was 14h15. Great, I have 3h15 to go to complete 15km. My knees were sore, a stabbing pain in both my knees, (new pains, not even the piriformis or achilles worried me) I’m guessing it had something to do with tight hip flexors, I just had no more run left in me. I’ve got this, so I walked 14km chatting to people along the way, I got to the last 1km and could hear the cheering from the stadium. At this point decided to run into the stadium, can’t walk into that stadium. I was feeling overwhelmed, full of joy, so I started to run again, walked a little under the bridge that had a slight hill, then ran onto the green carpet (which was difficult to run on I have to add).  There it was, I crossed the finished line in 11h39.

Wow look at me, Karen Bartmann, who would of thought finishing a Comrades Marathon.  It is the most amazing experience that I’ve ever felt. I decided this was a one hit wonder. Box ticked, bt wait… I’ve changed my mind, I’m going for a Back to Back, Comrades Down Run 2020. See you there! Now to focus on Ironman Cascais 70.3.

  • Diana Griffiths
    July 23, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    Incredible! Congratulations on such a phenomenal achievement. What a brave woman you are

  • Gemma
    July 23, 2019 at 4:30 pm

    You are one incredible lady and a formidable athlete, very proud of you friend!

  • Kerry Ellis-Williams
    July 23, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    An inspiration as always Karen! Congratulations on your incredible achievement 😘

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