From start to finish: Race Day at the Comrades

Brandon Jackson made his Comrades debut in 1987, and went on to run 24 in a row. Here, in 1993, he looks fresh and fit at the 50km mark. The mental pain only kicks in at 70km, he says. Brandon Jackson

The Comrades Marathon, a grueling 90km run (or walk, depending) between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, is not something most people will endure even once. Former Proteas physio Brandon Jackson, who has run it 27 times, explains the events of the day.

"The morning starts early. Runners arrive at least an hour before the 05:30am start time to get into their batch positions. There's some jostling, because runners don't want to lose even a second, and there's quite a few nerves and butterflies flying around.

"Then, about 10 minutes before the start, when they play Chariots of Fire, its quiet and most runners get a lump in their throats. It's quite emotional and there's not often a dry eye around. And then the start gun goes off and we're off.

"The first 20 kilometeres are a breeze, even on the up-run, which is uphill for the first 30 kilometres, because legs are fresh and you feel good and there's energy.

"At about half-way, the body starts to get a little sore and then by 60 kilometres it's about managing pain. By then, most people are starting to hurt.

"Around the 70 kilometre mark, you start to ask yourself questions. Things like, 'Why am I here?' And you tell yourself, 'Never again.' At around that point, it can become quite quiet because everybody is almost lost in their own world of pain. There's no rub or magic stretch that will make it okay.

"You see people around you, sometimes you might give some advice and if I see someone who is obviously worse off than me, I give them two painkillers.

"By 85 kilometres, you know the finish is there. You start to feel it and you want to get through so you start pushing yourself again.

"When I finish, I just go and lie down on the field and wait for my seconders to find me and take me home. Most runners do that. At that point, you don't want anything, especially not food. After most races, a beer tastes good at the end but after Comrades, no way. You just want a warm bath."