Comrades. Interview

What is Comrades, why do athletes throw away their sneakers at the finish line, but return to South Africa a year later?

-It’s you, and you survived?

-Yes, as you can see, arrived alive. Despite the fact that the photo was taken with a flag covered, a medal.

– So I was already worried.

-No, there were actually a lot of people lying at the finish line with a meaningless stare into space, up. One man in front of me threw his sneakers over the fence: never again will I do that. But I want to tell you that 75% of people come back the next year. It’s probably the most popular comeback race. And so do I.

-Will you come back?

-I will definitely be back, 100%. I don’t know if it’s next year, but I’ll be back 100%.

-Dmitry Voloshin, one of the twenty thousand marathoners who ran nearly nine dozen kilometers in KwaZul province, in Disswood, Africa.

-South Africa is a country obsessed with sports. It would seem that Africa, Africa. Not Africa in the sense of our understanding, but Europe in general. And there are a lot of runners, a lot of athletes. I checked it out a lot. And there are a lot of cool events in South Africa. I will definitely go back there for other competitions.

-Dmitry Voloshin is the first Moldovan to take part in the Comrades ultramarathon. The world’s oldest very long-distance athletics race.

– The race is very emotional. There’s an orphanage for the disabled there that takes their kids out to the middle of the course every year, and there’s this tradition, you have to give something to these kids. You take candy, sweets, you can give some money. And every runner gives something. And plus the whole race, all the organizers of the contest are sponsors of this house, and they give part of the profits to support them. And the kids wait every single year, and they come out in wheelchairs, on crutches. And when you’re running, it’s already hard, 50 kilometers behind you, and you’re already starting to suffer, and when you see these kids, you realize that your suffering is nothing compared to what’s going on in these kids’ lives.

I gave them, I had Romanica, a stock of Moldovan sweets, I gave them everything. They gave me palms. And it was emotionally charged in a very powerful way. And you think, man, how lucky you are to be able to run here.

-Comrades marathon was first held on May 24, 1921 on the occasion of Empire Day. Today it’s called Union Day.

-It’s actually a race between two big South African cities. And the race takes place on the highway. The peculiarity of the race is that one city is higher, the other is lower, a 700-meter drop. And one year they run from top to bottom, another year from bottom to top. And they have a change of direction every year. Conventionally, the altitude is down and up, because the altitude set is 1200-1500 meters. So it’s very hard either way. And when you run downhill, there’s a feature that you kill your nails and your feet. Especially the quadriceps just get trashed, because it’s a lot of running downhill. And when you run downhill, if you don’t have your legs ready, they break. And the nails break. Because your nails, when you run downhill, they’re always hitting the front of your sneakers.

-And ordinary Moldovans, who love their couches, look at you and don’t understand: if he knows about these risks, this pain, why is he doing this?

– Probably any marathon runner, any athlete who overcomes serious challenges, strives to know the limits of his abilities, what he is capable of. It seems to me that this is the most important thing a person has to do in life, to find out what he is capable of. This is a very strong motivator to move forward.

And the fact that Moldovans, sitting on the couch, do not understand what I do, it’s a matter of time, I think. The more people around do such nonsense as I do, at some point he will think: why do everyone do it, why does everyone like it? Maybe I should at least try to run 3 km in the morning. That would be the first step, and then it won’t stop. So I hope that the more people do these sports, the faster our country will change.

– Tell us about the conditions in which you ran. The temperature?

– Yes, I’ll tell you now. The start, they woke us up at 2 am. We didn’t get a chance to sleep, because there was a lift at 2 a.m. We were put on big buses. They put us in big buses, take us to another town 90 km away. The start was at 5:30. Imagine standing in a crowd, African-Americans all around, all black. There’s almost no whites, about 10-15 percent white. They’re singing their national anthem of South Africa, and you’re trying to sing along with them, it’s so incendiary. And then you hear this rooster crowing, and they’re starting to call the rooster.

-Is that a real rooster?

-No, a recording. There was an interesting story there. In the beginning, when The Comrades first started, there was a guy who was very nervous, and he cried a rooster. Everybody loved it, and he screamed every year since. Then, when he died, they made this record. It’s one of the legends of the race.

And you stand there thinking, man, what the hell am I doing here at 5:30 in the morning in South Africa with these black guys singing the South African anthem to run now the biggest race of my life?

Man, it’s a fantastic feeling. And there’s this bang, and everyone starts knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock. 20,000 people are standing there. People from all over the world came, prepared, tried, in order to gather in this place and run. This is the biggest ultramarathon in the world.

– And how long does that take?

-And we ran. As for the temperature, it was okay at first, it was 10˚, and at the end of 4-5 hours it was 30˚, and we already ran at 30˚ for the last 3-4 hours. It was kind of hot, to be honest.

-And what did they give you for that feat?

-Did you see a huge medal like that? Shit, why didn’t I take the medal with me? Holy shit, I should’ve shown it to them. It’s like this, like three banutiae. It’s the smallest medal I’ve ever seen.

And you come running, your legs are shaky, and you fall down, you’re supported, and you say: where’s my medal? It should be like this.

-The suffering is like this, and the medal is like this.

-And you say, “Where’s that medal? What’s that? On a St. George’s ribbon, it’s a small medal. But it’s very expensive. The smallest gold coin is expensive, as they say. And an interesting feature is that on their license plates they write how many times a person ran The Comrades, there is a number. And you run and you see: 5, 7, 12, 27. I saw 41. There’s an old man running, he’s about 60 years old, and his license plate says 41. And you realize he’s not behind, he’s ahead, and I’m trying to catch up with him, and I can’t do it. How the hell do you do that? They have this iconic race really.

-This ultramarathon is a feast for all the locals. It’s true that not everything they put out is good for their guests. But that’s another story.

-The first 40 km was very comfortable. Very cool and not hot especially it was eating, drinking and chatting with people, getting acquainted. After 40 km serious uphill began, and I more than 50 still did not run, and problems began. That is, the quadriceps started getting clogged, I started running hard. But I made it to 60 kilometers. I was also eating, they have boiled potatoes on the track. Not like ours, but boiled potatoes with salt, very tough.

In general there are a lot of people on the track. They say more than a million people go out on this track. And this highway runs like ours between Balti and Chisinau. It’s not exactly a city-city. And people come from all over the country to help the athletes run. They set up grills, roast meat, buy Coca-Cola, bananas, apples; they bring what they can. They have a national holiday once a year and guests come from all over the world.

And when you’re doing the 60 kilometers run, a little bit stunned, they offer you a piece of grilled meat, you think: shit, we don’t eat meat, give us some water, give us some gel or something sweet. You move, you run with this steak, you tear it with your teeth, the juice splashes in all directions.

And from 60 km downhill began, and that’s when my legs told me that that was it, they had given up their lives. And at 70 km you run, and every step down it feels like a knife stabbed into your calves. I mean, it really, really hurts. Many people already start, I look, some are lying on the side of the road, some are already being taken away by ambulance, some are sitting up, they can’t walk. And after 80, no, even after 70 I could not eat anything. My body wouldn’t take food, water, nothing. And I was only running on Coca-Cola. Kids should cover their ears, don’t listen to this, but Coca-Cola was a lifesaver. I ran 20 kilometers with just Coke and nothing else. I used to run in, say, as you run into a bar, you say, “Two Coke” or a Coke-Sicola cocktail. I take two glasses, gin and jeans, take water, pour it on myself and run again to the next station.

I don’t remember the last 10 km very well, because it was already too hot. And the feeling was that the organizers, as if the mile markers were stretched three times. And the clocks are lying, and the marks are lying. Why so slow, you’ve been running 1 km for an hour? Three kilometers to go, two kilometers to go. The last kilometer is some kind of endless, you are almost walking, you’re done, and you can’t.

And at the finish line, my friend was waiting for me with the flag, he wanted me to take it from him. And my legs are all wooden, you can’t feel them anymore, like Pinocchio. And he shouts: Dima, Dima! And I turn around: where’s Vovka? And he waves his flag. And I go to him like this, and he throws me the flag. And I don’t manage to catch him, and he falls on the ground. Pick it up, run to it, it seems, right? But after 90 kilometers you can’t sit down. And you’re like: ah-ah-ah! Oh, f…, ah-ah-ah-ah! And I start swearing. And those poor Juaros who are standing next to me hear Russian swearing and think: what’s going on? What are these words? And I take him and look at Vovk with such kind eyes, turn him around and finish. That’s it, I was getting ready, because the last 300-400 meters, I wanted to finish beautifully. Then the medal and fall. You lie down and…

-If you want to participate, find out what you need to participate in the race.

-Size sneakers are a must and soft enough not to kill your knees. Socks preferably double-layered, because if they sweat a lot, and there will be friction, blisters are guaranteed if you run for 9 hours. The next thing is usually wearing knee socks. I don’t. A lot of people have problems with cramps, I, thank God, don’t have those problems, so I don’t wear them. Compression shorts.

– What do they do?

– They squeeze the muscles and don’t let them tear too much?

-Can I? Yes, I understand.

-There’s plenty of pockets to put in here, first of all, pain medication if it’s going to be a problem at all. There’s loperamide in there in case you need to pee. The chemistry is so runny. The main place is taken by bars, gels, different types of food. There’s a Run Belt for that, which holds all kinds of stuff. This is where you can store medicine, for all sorts of pills. And that’s where I keep my camera. I run with a camera, I have a little camera like this. I take a picture and put it back here.

An interesting story happened with the camera this time, when I was running. I ran with the camera, I ran, I could film myself normally, I filmed everything. And sometimes you want to be filmed running. So I pick up the camera, press “record,” give it to the man and tell him to point it at me, shoot, don’t do anything. He says, yeah, yeah, okay. I run, he films me. I run up and say, “Thank you. When I got home and watched the video, I realized I was wrong about people. People are not that stupid. They may be African-American, but they know about technology. And when they’re given a camera and told to shoot, what do they do?

-They film themselves.

-They press the Rec.

– No!

-That’s how I do it: no! And that’s how it starts, I say, “That’s it, film me, bang!” and everything turns off. Then I run up, bam! – It’s on. I said, “Oh, my God! And as many people as I’ve given it to, like, seven, they all did the same thing.

-I can’t believe it.

-I said, “Don’t push it. Okay. Chop, chop. First of all, they’re tired, their brains aren’t working. He sees the “shoot” button, click, shoot, boom, click again. And there were such chic, against the dorban, I’m still trying, it’s already hard, but I still pretend that I’m easy and cool. There’s practically nothing.

And the most masterpiece plan I had was when they gave me a medal. And I also run up, they hang up my medal, I say: wait, do not put it on. Here, take it off. All, a medal. I say: all, thank you. I run over and I have… I look: at least I took the medal off? And such a hand in the frame. I gave it to the wrong end. And I, in short, I have nothing. Only official photos of the organizers.

– Did the organizers help you in any way?

-The organizers fed us and gave us a great meal. 90 km every 2 km, 45 feeding stations. We had three at the marathon, they had 45 feeding and cooling stations. There was a lot of water. But no matter how much water you drink, you still sweat. And you sweat terribly, and you’re always pouring liters and liters of water. You put a liter in, a liter out.

By the way, are you okay with that?

– Ouch.

-I didn’t wash that shirt with The Comrades, sorry. I see you holding up, standing there kind of, but I look… Wow, that’s creepy! I left it specially for the shoot.  

– You brought that African smell.

-African scent, yeah, soaked savannah.

-Why? Are you going to keep it like that?

-No, I’ll wash it, of course, but that competitive spirit is very cool.

– It’s with us. But hopefully it will get passed on to the viewers and they’ll start running.  


-Because it’s fun.

-It’s fun, it’s very good for the brain. So you become more confident, you’re not afraid of a challenge anymore, you know what you’re capable of. That’s very, very important to understand in life.

-And the crazy thing about this morning is that Dmitry Voloshin is not going to stop there. Now he’s preparing for another challenge. He intends to find an old, slightly battered bike to take part in a swim and bike race.

-I’m going on Sept. 5 with Livio, we’re going to the Swimran World Championships. There’s a sport called swimran. It’s like a triathlon, only without the bike. Athletes run and swim, run and swim, run and swim, run and swim, run and swim, run and swim, and so on 38 times. 

-So I waited how many times.

-Too many times. 65 km they run and 10 km they swim. And people run in wetsuits, and swim in sneakers. So you put on sneakers, a wetsuit, goggles, blades, a backpack, and you run. You dive in the water, swim in your sneakers. You come ashore, shake off your feet, run.

And so for 12 hours. And that’s why these sneakers are so good, because it’s easy to climb rocks. That is, when you get out. This will take place in Sweden, and there are such cobblestones. There you swim from island to island. And there are rocks, and it’s easy to cling to the rocks and climb out. Because regular sneakers will slip.

-All right, I got it.

-I’m gonna practice now.

-Well, good luck with that.

-If you have a passion or a profession that can inspire us, invite us to the party.

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