Durban 30052012 Elena Nurgalieva. Picture: JACQUES NAUDE

It is not for first place or for fortune that Elena Nurgalieva is especially eager to conquer the Comrades Marathon this year. It is because when the Russian athlete crosses the finish line on Sunday, she can board a plane home to dote on the nephew she hasn’t yet met.

“Sasha will have two mothers,” she laughs.

With twin sister Olesya becoming a mother a month ago, Elena will be running the 89km race solo for the first time since 2006. Olesya went into labour the day that Elena was due at a training camp in Kislovodsk, four hours away from their residence in Perm, near the Ural Mountains in Russia.

“She said, ‘Go… don’t worry.’ ”

Although Olesya had been able to run five months into her pregnancy, after two days in labour she swore that running the ultra marathon was far easier.

Elena waxes lyrical about her nephew, and cannot stop the tears as she describes his dark hair, brown eyes, and skin “which is not pink like mine”.

She will miss her sister’s support along the route, encouraging her to “hurry little bit, endure, please be okay”, but Olesya will be monitoring her progress on the internet, as she did when Elena ran the Two Oceans Marathon alone.

Between them they have won the brutal race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban eight times.

The sisters speak every day, up to four times a day. “I think she worries about me. But it’s my job.”

Physically, Elena feels in better form than she did last year, when she had the flu – which Olesya subsequently caught.

While Elena is not ruling out the possibility of giving Sasha a cousin one day, she’s not ready to hang up her running shoes just yet.

Nor is Olesya, who may begin competing again later this year.

Eventually Elena would like to run purely for fun, but for now, it’s to provide for her family. If she runs well, she says, they’ll “live nice”. - The Mercury