The ‘phenomenon’ that is the Comrades Marathon apparently has a mood and it is the state the race is in that will determine what transpires on Sunday.
According to KwaZulu-Natal Athletics president Sello Mokoena the world famous KZN ultra is not the kind of race you can easily predict. Responding to a question about whether the incredibly fast 5.18.19 record set by David Gatebe for the Down Run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban two years ago will fall, Mokoena was non-committal but said an amazing run should not be ruled out.
“Comrades Marathon is not just an ordinary marathon, it is a phenomenon. On the day the Comrades Marathon decides (if the record falls or not). It is not us with our little calculators who decide,” he said yesterday during the race director’s media briefing here.
“So the record has nothing or very little to do with the distance (as some of you seem to think this year’s new finish at Moses Mabhida will impact on it). But a lot to do with what mood the Comrades Marathon itself is in on that particular day.”
He then shared a story told by that Comrades king himself, record nine-time winner Bruce Fordyce, to illustrate his point.
“We’ve learnt from the people who have been there. Bruce Fordyce always says, ‘when I ran the event, in the morning I don’t think of the record. But there are people along the road, especially at halfway around Drummond, who sit there with their calculators and they shout at me - they say ‘well today the pace is slow, the record is not on the cards’. Everytime I’ve heard that, that is when I broke the record. The race depends on how I feel.’”
Mokoena concluded: “So, don’t be surprised if in 2018 the record is on the cards...”
Logic would suggest that it will take very long before Gatebe is usurped as a Down Run record-holder (it had taken nine years for the mark set by Russian Leonid Shvetsov to finally fall). But stranger things have happened in this race over the more than 90 years it has been around.
And with the R440 000 carrot dangling for the record to fall, there’s every reason the elite runners will strive to get to the new finish at the magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium that hosted 2010 World Cup matches in a lightning-fast time. The weather forecast for Sunday is perfect for running, but without those famous hotspots from the past races, it remains to be seen if the contenders will go out fast.
There used to be prize money for the first runners reaching certain landmarks and this made for pretty fast races. The few contenders that Independent Media spoke to in the build-up steered clear of the "R" word, the majority of them estimating the winning time at just under the 5:30 mark. In the women's race Frith van der Merwe’s record of 5.54.43 set in 1989 is not thought to be under threat due to a depleted field..