Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition



Comrades regulars brace for run of their lifetime

Avatar photo



After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon returns on 28 August, when more than 20 000 runners will line up on the start line of the 2022 Comrades Marathon.

The SA Jewish Report caught up with some of the South African participants.

“The race has become a bit more of an unknown entity because, with there being no Comrades for two years, you forget the difficulty and level of training needed to successfully finish it,” says Joshua Apfel, who seeks his sixth Comrades medal on Sunday, a down run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

Vic Boston had run 43 consecutive Comrades since 1977 when the pandemic struck in 2020. However, it didn’t upset him that he couldn’t participate in the race he loves for two years because “there was nothing [he] could do about it”. He used his spare time to immerse himself in studying.

No COVID-19 measures (such as a vaccination or test requirement) are deemed necessary by the organisers of the race. In spite of this, eight-time Comrades medallist Neil Lewus has no concerns about being around so many other runners. “I believe you wouldn’t be able to get to the start line if you didn’t feel well,” he says. “If COVID-19 is around, I’ll just have to take my chances.”

One runner who will be taking a chance by starting the race is Richard Rovetti. He was training about six days a week from February this year when tragedy struck in early August. “I overdid the training and stressed my Achilles – it can happen from overtraining.”

His injury has left him “emotionally broken”. “This was my swansong. Every milestone I crossed was a point of no return, and a small section of the final chapter to go for a silver Comrades medal, close this book, and look for other challenges in the future. It was to be the pinnacle of my running life.”

After all, it was for the Comrades that Selwyn Kahlberg postponed his daughter’s Batmitzvah so his brother, Hilton, could run it.

Hilton had run the Comrades from 1988 to 1994 before emigrating to Australia in March 1995. He wouldn’t participate in the race for the next 17 years. “It was a throwaway line that my brother, Selwyn, and I would one day run the Comrades Marathon together,” he says. “In the beginning of 2012, Selwyn sent me the dates for his daughter’s Batmitzvah. It was on the same date as the Comrades. I said, ‘I’m not travelling all the way to South Africa to be here on the same day as Comrades and not be able to run it.’ So, the Batmitzvah was postponed for a week, and together with Toni Hesp, we ran the marathon.”

Having thus completed his eighth Comrades, he was determined to get his green number, for which one needs three wins, five golds, or 10 medals. “I had a small hiccup on my tenth as I was sick when I got to South Africa in 2014 and had to withdraw after about three hours of running,” says Hilton. “Thankfully, I finished in 2015, and received my permanent number.”

Having completed his eleventh Comrades in 2018, Hilton is once again running this year’s race. Asked what makes him come all the way from Australia to do the Comrades, he says, “It’s in our blood. Once you have done it once, you then have to finish one more in the opposite direction. Then you’re hooked. I said 2018 would be my last. But my good friend Toni, who lives in South Africa, is running her thirtieth Comrades on Sunday. So, I had to come back and do one more and say goodbye to my friend, Ms Comrades.”

Hilton got Selwyn into running 25 years ago. “We have started four Comrades together and finished together twice,” says Selwyn, a six-time Comrades medallist. “Running with my brother makes the special day even more memorable as he lives in Melbourne. Hilton is a marathon legend who has completed 93 official marathons.”

Avron Krasner, aiming for his eleventh Comrades medal, will be running with his wife, Zelda, making her Comrades debut.

Inspired by the credo, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” Zelda started running three years ago. “Training with Zelda has been an amazing way to spend quality time together,” says Avron. “It has enhanced our relationship.”

Seven-time Comrades medallist Rabbi Jarred Bloch’s most standout Comrades memory is the experience of “the quiet moments in the last 20km, when you feel extraordinarily exhausted. All your strength has given in, and all that’s left is the power of your mind, will, and spirit to get to the finish line. You get extra energy from the tremendous support of all the thousands of South Africans standing on the sidelines calling your name and cheering for you.”

One Comrades moment Lewus always thinks of is when he met a runner at the starting line with a prosthesis. “He had no left leg, and I said to myself, if he can do it, so can I. It really made me appreciate life, and seeing him finish was inspirational.”

Boston advises Comrades runners to eat and go to bed early the day before the race. “Don’t do anything new on a race day. Don’t use the shoes you just bought. Drink what you’re used to. Be careful the day before about what and where you eat. Don’t be overcome with excitement right at the beginning and go too hard. Simply work out your pace based on your training and prior achievements. If you feel good near the end, you can always speed up.”

Lewus advises those who want to run the Comrades for the first time to, “Just do it, put in the training, get advice from previous Comrades runners, cross train if possible, and know that you’re in for early mornings and hard work. Comrades depicts life in a day, with many ups and downs, unpredictability, and also the opportunity for great joy that changes your existence. You feel like a celebrity at the finish. The cold beer at the end never tasted so good.”

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *