By Thalyta Swanepoel
“The ultimate human race,” is what author John Cameron-Dow calls the 56-mile Comrades ultra-marathon that takes place in South Africa every year.
The “most excruciating experience,” “the most beautiful route” and “the best race of my life,” is how Justin Knight describes his first Comrades on June 3 this year. Knight, general manager of the Shine.FM network and director of development strategies at Olivet became involved with Team World Vision last year, which prompted him to run the Comrades to raise money for clean water projects in Africa.
In preparation for his first ultra-marathon and first charity run, Knight “ran a lot.” For several weekends in a row he would get up at 3 a.m., often running marathons back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday. Knight finished in 11 hours 30 minutes – a half hour before the final cutoff.
The race challenges a runner physically and mentally, said Knight, who has been running for seven years and has twelve marathons under his belt. “I was really sick due to dehydration and had to spend a few hours in hospital,” he said, adding that it was a mistake to drink only water and not the sports drinks that were available along the route.
“The mental part came in knowing I was running for a cause.” Knight raised $8,000 for World Vision’s work.
He was part of a group of ten people, mostly pastors from the Chicagoland area, who visited Rwanda in Central East Africa in mid-May before traveling to South Africa. “Everyone you meet is carrying jugs and asking you for water. I wanted to quit at 43 miles but knowing so many people gave money kept me going.”
As the leader of Team Shine, Knight is now gearing up for the 16th Annual Chicago Half Marathon on Sept. 9. Around 75 Olivet students, almost 80 percent of them first timers, have signed up for this race, he said. Next in line is the 2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, which takes place on Oct. 7. Almost 50 students will join Knight in this race. All the money raised in the process goes toward the clean water projects.
As part of Mission in Action, Knight is also working on a “running trip” to Africa in 2013. But as for the Comrades, he plans to do it again next year. “There is a tradition of running the Comrades back-to-back at least twice. But I will train differently this time and include weight-training to strengthen my legs,” Knight said. He will also make sure he does not just stick to water.
“If you haven’t run the Comrades, you haven’t really run,” Knight said.