June 9, 2017 by DAVE JACK
As always my sincere thanks to the Comrades Marathon Assoc for the information provided and for the use of photographs my thanks to Wesley Botton and for the photo of Camille Herron my thanks to David Katz.
For the first time in all my 59 Comrades I was invited to ride on the media truck following the leading women and my job was to give those journalists on that truck any information they might have wanted and which I could supply in terms of where we were, who the runners were and any interesting facts about the history of the race going back to when it all started in 1921. There is certainly more than enough that I could tell them.
But before I get to the actual race itself, let’s have a look at a few of the statistics for the race. We had a total of 17031 runners who eventually lined up outside the Durban City Hall to make their way over the 86,73Km to the finish in Pietermaritzburg and by 5:30pm a total of 13852 had made it by the official 12 hour time limit.
I have had people say to me that they would never suggest to runners that they tell novices to do the Up Run and I still ask myself why? I honestly see nothing wrong with the Up Run. Train for it properly and prepare for it mentally and it’s not an issue. My first run was an Up Run and my best run was an Up Run and I ran more Up Runs than I did Down Runs.
Runners fear Comrades and I have said over and over that no runner should fear Comrades if they have trained properly both physically and mentally. Respect it certainly but don’t fear it. If you don’t respect it, you’re looking for trouble of that I have no doubt.
Comrades day turned out to be a little warmer than we thought it was going to be but this didn’t have too much impact and the medical tent at the finish wasn’t any busier than usual. Around 400 runners were treated and about 40 were admitted to hospital in Pietermaritzburg and another 10 to hospital in Durban. Most were discharged fairly soon after admission. The major problem was dehydration and obviously the slightly warmer day played a role in that and runners not looking after themselves during that slightly increased heat.
So let’s look at the race itself. We set off from Durban a little before the race started at 5:30 and stopped and waited for the lead runners to get to 45th Cutting and the idea was that both the men’s truck and the women’s truck would travel together to the top of Inchanga about 4km after half way at which point the truck following the women would stop and wait for the women and the men’s truck would go on and follow the leading men to the finish and our truck would do the same with the leading women.
As usual we had a couple of what we refer to as “TV Runners” come through with a healthy lead at 45th Cutting. I have never been able to figure this out as most people know they are not going to be there for very long. Whether they believe they are is anybody’s guess.
Through Westville and our TV runners hung onto their lead and onto Cowies Hill, the first of the “Big Five” hills and down into Pinetown with the gap closing as the main pack started to hunt them down.
By the time we reached Field’s Hill (the second of the “Big Five hills”) our TV Runners were still out in front although starting to look a little ragged and that’s not quite 25km into the race and not far behind them and closing them down was a huge pack with all the favourites just as we expected.
So the race started to develop as we went further towards Drummond and the halfway and it was fascinating to see and I was trying to imagine how it must have felt being the runners who had led from Durban knowing what was coming at me in the pack behind me. It must have been very unpleasant because they must certainly have known and must certainly have been informed by their seconds. What a dreadful feeling!
I had an interesting “bet” with a young student journalist when we reached the top of Alverstone who said that the leader at that stage would finish in the gold medals after I said he would be lucky to finish at all. She was adamant he would get gold so I asked her if she was prepared to bet her novice Comrades experience against my 59 years experience. She was a little hesitant but eventually said she wasn’t.
The particular runner we were talking about didn’t finish in the top 200 and I don’t know where he finished – if in fact he finished at all. Fun on the media truck and hopefully a young novice journalist learnt a little about “The Ultimate Human Race” from some “old guy” who had been around Comrades about 30 years and perhaps longer, before she was born!
On we went through the half way at Drummond where there was the most amazingly festive atmosphere with hundreds of spectators and by the time the men’s truck left us at the top of Inchanga, the race was well and truly developing and I was sorry that I was not going to see the rest of it.
Eventual winner Bongmusa Mthembu ran a brilliant race and whilst his winning time was about 10 minutes slower than I thought the winning time would be, his tactical approach couldn’t be faulted and at the end he was virtually unchallenged and he came home as the second South African in 27 years to win Comrades more than once.
Meanwhile further back the women’s race had just one person in it. American Camille Herron was way out in front and all alone virtually from start to finish. Last year’s winner Charne Bosman was having “one of those days” that none of us is able to explain yet that so many of us have experienced. She told me afterwards that she just felt awful after having felt great the day before.
Caroline Worstmann had withdrawn a few weeks earlier with an injury and the quiet favourite, Ann Ashworth, who told me the day before the race that she was feeling very good, had a hamstring go just 1Km into the race so Camille, who on a few occasions didn’t look happy at all must have been thanking the injury gods who had taken care of the other women and had left her alone
Her winning time too, like the men, was about 10 minutes slower than I thought it should have been and I had predicted the winning women’s time would be.
Looking back at the race, can one say that the 92nd Comrades was a success with its new finish venue and from an organisational point of view? I don’t have the slightest hesitation in saying that it was. From where I was, I saw no problems at all. Everything appeared to work like clockwork. There may have been the odd small problem here and there but if there were any, we didn’t see them.
Do I think that the thousands of spectators who lined the road from Durban to Pietermaritzburg enjoyed themselves? Again I have no hesitation in saying that I think they did.
I think what Camille Herron said after the race best sums it up when she said
“Thank you for your support. It was the most amazing experience of my life. Well done South Africa” and this from an athlete who has run in events all over the world.
Was Comrades 2017 an incredible indicator of what South Africa is actually like with all its people coming together as one? Absolutely it was and all those who are all doom and gloom should have been there to see it because if we can do it on Comrades day we can do it every day.
From my own point of view? Did I enjoy my 59th Comrades Marathon? The build-up and excitement via Expo and the excitement of the day itself? You bet I did and now I look forward to my 60th Comrades next year.
I can’t wait. How many more sleeps until the 10th of June 2018?