JOHANNESBURG – Meshack Monareng is excitedly anticipating it. Stuart Mann has dreamt about it since 2003. It is the ultimate goal for many a Comrades Marathon runner - the Green Number.
That you earn it only after completing the world famous KwaZulu Natal ultra-marathon 10 times has never dissuaded runners to put themselves through the torture of arguably one of the toughest road races in the world.
“It is something you aspire to as a runner,” said Mann, of Fourways Road Runners. “My dad did about 20 Two Oceans races and I knew that after some time you get to have a permanent number. He only ran Comrades once and when I ran my first, I knew I wanted to go all the way to getting the green number.”
It has taken him 16 years to get close to his goal, Mann having skipped the race for five years after making his debut.
He remembers how his friends used to make fun of him because he had only ran the Down Run route.
“After 2003, my next run was in 2009 because I had taken a break to try and do a sub-three-hour marathon. Because both 2009 and 2010 races were down runs, in 2011, even after tons of marathons and three Comrades, my friends referred to me as a Comrades novice.”
Monareng, a top runner at Fat Cats Athletic Club, ran his first Comrades in 2008 and would have long ago earned his green number.
“I could not do a back-to-back (complete successive races in both directions) because I had an injury the year I was supposed to run my second. I also had a DNF (did not finish) and a DNS (did not start).”
Unlike Mann, Monareng was at first not set on the green number.
“When I first went to Comrades it was just to go and experience it, but I did well and after my fifth one I set myself a challenge. I had run silver (under 7h30) in all the races and I decided to go for 10 silvers.”
That dream was shattered last year when injuries spoilt his season and he did not finish Om Die Dam or Two Oceans. But he went to Comrades confident he could achieve his goal and was good for silver until about 10km to go when he lost his big toenail.
“After losing the nail there was no ways I could run because of the pain, so I decided to walk all the way. But I persevered and decided to finish because I knew that I would then be just one race away from the green number.
“I am fit this year and am happy that I am finally going for my 10th. I am going for that green number and I want to do it by running a good sub-seven,” says the man who boasts a 6:48 PB on the Up Run.
Hard as the Comrades Marathon is, many runners keep going back for different reasons. But the lure of a permanent green number supersedes most reasons.
After all, members of the green number club are Comrades royalty.@Tshiliboy