Comrades runners set for sparrows start

Anxiety, fear and excitement are building up as runners prepare for this year’s 85th anniversary of the Comrades Marathon, which gets underway on Sunday morning at 5.30am from the Pietermaritzburg City Hall.

As is usual for any down run, the finishing time is at 5.30pm at Sahara Kingsmead Stadium in Durban.

According to the race’s general manager, Gary Boshoff, the field is the second biggest in the history of race. The total number of runners who will be pounding the tarmac of the 89km-long punishing course is 23 530, with 6 873 novices.

Boshoff said that, although every­thing was on track, preparing for such a big field had presented his team with a logistical and organisational nightmare.

The magnitude of the race had necessitated some changes to the route. One related to the exit route from Pietermaritzburg to “allow for an easier flow for the runners and result in a quicker exit from the Pieter­maritzburg city centre”.

It is anticipated that the distance will be changed by about 300m from last year’s route, but “in all likelihood it will not alter the final distance by any substantial manner”, Boshoff said.

The high number of entries is attributed in part to the Soccer World Cup, which has attracted a large number of foreign runners and generated a great deal of excitement among local participants.

Boshoff said, at the last count, the tally of the international runners, who come from 60 countries, was at 1 160. Of these foreign athletes, all eyes would be on Josh Cox, a 33-year old American who runs in Nedbank colours. Cox is a three-times Olympic trials qualifier and a 50km American record holder.

As the race continues to grow in stature, competition among the runners also becomes stiffer, making it more difficult for bookmakers to predict the winner.

Last year when most thought Leonid Shvetsov would go on to defend his title, Stephen Muzhingi from Zimbabwe sprang a surprise and won the gold medal after he clocked 5hrs:23mins, relegating the veteran Russian to a distant second.

But Boshoff, like most South African race experts, said that South Africans could cause some upsets this year.

“Last year eight finishers in the top 10 were South Africans and we are holding thumbs that this year one of them will take the top spot,” said Boshoff.

South Africans would be looking to the likes of Fusi Nhlapo, Andrew Kelehe, Sipho Ngomane, Bongmusa Mthembu, Lucas Nonyana and Bethuel Netshifhefhe.

On the female front, the country’s hopes would be carried by Riana van Niekerk, Farwa Mentoor, Lesley Train, Belinda Waghorn and Adinda Kruger.

The race continues to attract celebrities, who use the event as a platform to raise funds for charities. Among them will be Helman Mkhelele, Doug Watson and Brad Brown.

Francois Jacobs, a blind runner from Centurion, will raise money for the Fred Hallow Foundation, an international development organisation that works on preventing blindness.

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book. Read more from Thabo Mohlala

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