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Comrades madness about to strike – again




In the early hours of Sunday morning some 18 000 people will be standing in the middle of a street somewhere in Pietermaritzburg preparing to shuffle their way “downhill” to Durban in the 2014 Comrades Marathon.  

While most will begin at a canter, by the time they reach the aptly named Tumble Inn around 12km from the start, the shuffle sets in. After 70km they will reach Pinetown and then begin the climb up Cowie’s Hill. By then most participants are panting for air and the shuffle converts to a walk.

By then the 10 gold medallists are safely back at Kingsmead Cricket Stadium in Durban, they’ve been interviewed and are languishing in a bath or enjoying a shower. To earn a Wally Hayward medal you have to cross the finishing line within five hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds.

That’s not going to happen.

The silver cut-off gun is fired on seven hours 30 minutes. But for those who won’t make this either, there is still a Bill Rowan medal at nine hours. Foot blisters indicate nine hours is not very likely. You’ve still got 11 hours to win a bronze but even that is cutting it close because the legs have turned to jelly.

The lights of Kingsmead are just ahead so the final 12 hour-cut off looks a possibility. A crawl to the line and it should be okay. The guy with the gun looks at his watch. Just metres to the line and as he fires the knees are on the line. A Vic Clapham medal has been won!

Why would an average Joe (or Josie), or in this case the “average Yossi”, want to put their body through all of that? Many Jewish runners will be among the 18 000 and some will do pretty well. The majority will just be hoping to finish.  

Last year 833 runners were treated at the finish; 366 were attended to at the main medical tent while 427 sought mild treatment at the St John’s Tent. The majority of the patients were treated for dehydration and exhaustion.

There were 35 runners treated at Durban’s St Augustine’s Hospital while 61 were treated at Pietermaritzburg’s St Anne’s Hospital. Of these, four patients were admitted to the ICU at St Anne’s while one patient was admitted to the Medi-Clinic.

Prior to live television filming the entire 12 hours of the race, some 200 runners entered. They were all serious runners and this event is great for the likes of Wally Hayward, Bruce Fordyce, Allan Robb and the plethora of Russian men and women who have taken to the Comrades. In the women’s event, Russia’s Elena Nurgalieva has won eight of the last 11 Comrades while her sister, Olesya, won in 2007 and 2009.

The last South African woman to win the race was Rae Bisschoff in 1998.

Black southern Africans have dominated the last five men’s races with Stephen Muzhingi of Zimbabwe winning three successive Comrades from 2009 to 2011. South African Ludwick Mamabolo won the race in 2012 with Claude Moshiywa of South Africa earning last year’s crown.

One Jewish South African who has become a legend in this race is Vic Boston. When they line up on Sunday morning Vic will be running in his 38th successive Comrades Marathon.  He was just an 18-year-old when he lined up for his first race in 1977 and has won a medal in each of his 37 runs.

He has 17 silvers, 11 bronze and nine Bill Rowans (less than nine hours). His best time of seven hours eight minutes and 21 seconds came in the down run in 1984.

Now age 54, Vic has to find the gruelling race getting tougher and tougher but he continues to compete. Many people would consider him totally committed; other might think he needs to be committed. But it remains a remarkable achievement.

Ryan Kalk, football co-ordinator for Maccabi South Africa, has sent good wishes to all the runners on behalf of the organisation. “Many of you will not only be running for yourselves, but have chosen to run for various charities and we commend you on your generosity. Run well!”


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