Ann Ashworth after her win at the Comrades last year in Durban. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix
Ann Ashworth after her win at the Comrades last year in Durban. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

Jitters start as #ComradesMarathon2019 looms

By Matshelane Mamabolo Time of article published Jun 8, 2019

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Yolanda Maclean feels like “sh*t” at the start line.

Edward Mothibi knows the seniors are “nervous”. Ann Ashworth, pictured, is “terrified”.

Welcome to the eve of “the greatest ultra marathon in the world”  the Comrades Marathon.

Ahead of the 94th running of the Ultimate Human Race, the elite athletes  the select few super humans who line up with the chance of winning  revealed yesterday the race scares them too.

The multitudes of social runners, who are essentially bridesmaids and bridegrooms to the stars of the show that is the popular KwaZulu-Natal ultra, would have taken comfort in hearing that their heroes also revere the race.

Speaking at the official pre-race conference, Murray & Roberts’ Maclean dropped the ‘S’ bomb when asked how she feels when standing at the start line.

“There’s no other way to explain it,” she said when her response drew gasps and chuckles.

While ready, such is Maclean’s respect for the race that just being on the start line gives her the jitters.

And that, according to last year’s winner Ashworth, is the way the race should make everyone feel.

While the majority of the athletes displayed a calm demeanour and talked up their chances, young Mothibi  an up run novice who had a stunning down run debut last year - said it was all a façade.

“I don’t think they are relaxed. They are all nervous,” said the Nedbank Running Club athlete who finished fourth in his maiden run.

Incredibly, he described himself as being delighted ahead of the race.

“I am excited to be here as a contender. I am a young guy among these Comrades experts. For me it is a new race, so I can’t wait for the experience,” he explained.

Three-time champion Bongmusa Mthembu understands where Mothibi is at, the man who is going for a hat-trick of wins expressing pleasure at seeing youngsters coming through.

“It is good that there are new guys in the race because it means there is a future for it. He will gain the experience because to conquer Comrades you must be prepared. (Actually) to run Comrades is easy, but to prepare for it is hard.”

A Comrades newbie, Jenna Challenor is going in untainted by the experience of the race.

“I don’t really know much about Comrades and maybe that is an advantage,” said the Durban debutant who has been chatting with 2017 champion Camille Herron on social media and was meeting the American for the first time yesterday.

“It’s an honour to be among these great athletes.”

Having had the honour of winning Comrades as an underdog last year, Ashworth advised her fellow elites to treat the race with respect.

“The best way to line up for Comrades is humble and terrified. Not arrogant and expectant. Some lady who is not even sitting here can come and win it.

“I watch a lot of Comrades repeats to prepare and I learnt from Bruce Fordyce that ‘you win a title but you borrow a record’. So let’s be humble and terrified.”

If she is terrified, Herron was hardly showing it yesterday  the American giggling throughout the event, even when she told a story of how she had a pitbull encounter that threatened to mess with her run.

“I am just here for the after party,” she laughed.


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