DURBAN – The 2018 Mandela Marathon was always going to be a special one, given that this year marked the centenary of the former President’s life. That piece of history saw to it that a record 24 000 entrants committed to the trek up to the Capture site, just outside Howick.
In the men’s race, over the 42km full marathon distance, there was an expectation for the record to be threatened. Given the cooler conditions in late August, and a field full of pace and intent, there was an air of expectation at 6am, outside Manaye Hall in iMbali.
Renowned Comrades Marathon pace-setter Thobani Chagwe holds the record for the Mandela Marathon from his win in 2014, and he had spoken up the possibility of another sub-two hours, 28 minute time this year. The Bulwer resident was hoping to again set a cracking pace, even with the daunting climb up to Hilton in mind.
The biggest hurdle facing the full marathon field is always the aptly named Struggle Hill, which is a 10km hike up from Edendale towards the halfway point of the race in Hilton.
Though it comes early in the race, it is sapping and relentless, and separates the sincere from the silly.
Ultimately, however, the winning time was just outside that mark, as Ethiopia’s respected prowess in distance running again came to the fore.
Sintayehu Legese Yinesu of Ethiopia was the first man home, timing his kick past Midmar Dam expertly, to come home in 2:28:05 ahead of Lesotho’s Mabuthile Lebopo, who was very comfortable on the hilly course.
Kenya’s Mark Oyugu and Justin Chesire worked together for much of the race, and they came home together, in third and fourth, respectively.
The first South African home was Siyabonga Nkonde in fifth place.
There was a similarly continental flavour in the women’s race, with Loice Jebet of Kenya digging deep to pull away from Ethiopia’s Selam Abere Alebachew. Both of them dipped below the three-hour mark, with third-placed Tsega Galani Reta missing out by three and a half minutes.
Makhosi Mhlongo was the first South African woman home, in fourth place. Kenya’s Jenniffer Koech completed the top five.
There was a rash of South African females wrapping up the top 10, led by Ntokozo Mkhize in seventh place. Nandi Zaloumis-Mitchell, Berly Makokha and Puleng Khumalo completed the top 10 behind her, and they were all greeted by an enthusiastic crowd at the finish.
The full marathon is used as a qualifier for the Comrades, but it is not one that is always taken up by athletes from around the country.
It is no easy route, with an immense amount of struggle and strife, and an unhealthy bias towards climbs rather than descents.
Much like the life led by the hero it is named after, the Mandela Marathon is a lesson in endurance and perseverance.
1. Sintayehu Legese Yinesu (Ethiopia) 2hr:28min:5sec
2. Mabuthile Lebopo (Lesotho) 2hr:29min:11sec
3. Mark Oyugu (Kenya) 2hr:31min:3sec
4. Justin Chesire (Kenya) 2hr:31min:7sec
5. Siyabnga Nkonde (South Africa) 2hr:32min:28sec
1. Loice Jebet (Kenya) 2hr:50min
2. Selam Abere Alebachew (Ethiopia) 2hr:53min:21sec
3. Tsega Galani Reta (Ethiopia) 3hr:3min:24sec
4. Makhosi Mhlongo (South Africa) 3hr:4min:7sec
5. Jenniffer Koech (Kenya) 3hr:5min:58sec