It’s a long road to Durban

South Africa’s premier ultra-marathon, the Comrades, is a selfish race that rewards people who focus exclusively on it, says Bruce Fordyce, nine-times Comrades winner.

Defending champion Leonid Shvetsov of Russia stands a good chance of being rewarded on Sunday if this assertion holds true. This year’s race, which is a down run, will be from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

Shvetsov is in a class of his own.

He broke Fordyce’s record in the last down run, which stood for 21 years.

The Russian bettered the mark by more than three minutes when he romped home in five hours, 20 minutes and 49 seconds.

Fordyce believes Shvetsov is unstoppable.

‘Our local guys don’t have a chance. Shvetsov will win it again. Two years back he won the down run by 10 minutes, which is a big margin. No local runner has gone faster than me. Something might be going wrong with our local guys when they train for the Comrades. Maybe the many races they run disturb them. You should prepare fully and not allow anything to distract from your preparations for the Comrades.”

Zithulele Sinqe, Nedbank club development manager, shares the sentiments. ‘Black runners want to prepare for the Comrades and work at the same time. They don’t believe they can survive on just running. People like Shvetsov are focused, which is why he wins the Comrades. Local runners eat whatever is available at home, which also has a negative impact.

‘Preparing for the Comrades can cost anything between R50 000 and R100 000 a year, so we need black business people to come to the party and assist athletes. We have good runners such as Sipho Ngomane and Fusi Nhlapho who are capable of winning the Comrades but need support. They should also have discipline when support comes their way,” says Sinqe.

South Africans have won the marathon only five times in the past 15 races: Shaun Meiklejohn in 1995, Charl Mattheus in 1997, Andrew Kelehe in 2001, Fusi Nhlapho in 2003 and Sipho Ngomane in 2005.

Ngomane, Nhlapho, Hermans Mokgadi and Mcedisi Mkhize are strong contenders for Sunday’s race.

The direction of the race changes every year between the up run and the down run. The Russians have previously enjoyed more success in the up run with locals dominating the down races.

Runners have 12 hours to complete the 89km course. There are a number of cut-off points along the routes, which athletes must reach by a prescribed time or be forced to retire from the race.

A runner who has successfully completed nine marathons wears a yellow number, while those who have completed 10 races wear a green number, which is permanently allocated to the runner for all future races. Medals are awarded to all runners completing the course in less than 12 hours.

About 12 000 runners are expected to take part in the 84th Comrades Marathon on Sunday.

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Lucky Sindane
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