This year’s Comrades marathon certainly has claims to be one of the best ever. The 2018 race certainly had many spectacular highlights and the race seems to be attracting rave reviews days after the race. Of course, there were disappointed runners and there were many who struggled, but the consensus was that this was a special Comrades and that those who grabbed this opportunity were rewarded.
Why was this such a special Comrades marathon?
Firstly the weather played ball. After numerous dire warnings of hot clammy race day conditions the day turned out to be almost perfect. It wasn’t very cold at the start at the Pietermaritzburg City hall which often means it will be a hot day, and yet it stayed cool for most of the day. Where I was standing at Drummond, spectators were bundled up against the chilly wind. Many were huddled over steaming cups of coffee. These were ideal running conditions and even though it warmed up later on, the temperature never reached the furnace like conditions of 2013.
This meant there could be some really exciting racing and running, with the ordinary runners able to chase their targets and the faster runners able to really race each other. There was something really thrilling about watching the men’s and women’s lead packs come steaming through Drummond with all the favourites in close contention. While the extra distance at this year’s race precluded the chance of course records it was still exciting to see the top runners running so fast, for so long.
There can be no greater thrill than to second one of the leaders, and I was fortunate to be part of Ann Ashworth’s support team. I believe Ann kept her real dream to herself, but I was hoping that she would finish among the top 10 women (gold medallists) I was beside myself with excitement at Camperdown Village when she ran past in 6th place and then even more excited at Drummond when she was lying 4th a mere 300 metres or so behind the leader. There are no words to describe my feelings when, at the little- known Huntley’s hill (15kms to go) Ann was in the lead and looking very strong. Ann Ashworth’s real dream was to win the 2018 Comrades and I was delighted to be part of that dream.
THE CROWD SUPPORT
I was out on the road this year and made several stops along the way. I can’t remember seeing and hearing such amazing crowd support along the entire route. Like all spectator sports an enthusiastic crowd of spectators lifts everyone’s spirits. This year the runners were cheered and encouraged like never before. The noise at the finish was deafening at times, and as someone who had to fire a cut-off gun I can report it was extremely emotional standing with one’s back to the desperate runners while I waited to fire the gun. As the big moment drew closer I could scarcely think above the screaming and I felt like a referee who has drawn the fans’ ire by penalising their favourite team.
THE NEW FINISH VENUE
The new finish venue at Moses Mabhida stadium was a controversial choice for a finishing venue for many Comrades fans before the race. After all we had become fond of the down run finish at Kingsmead. I ran my first down run in 1978 and had never finished anywhere else except Kingsmead. The extra distance frightened many runners and the arrangements for club gazebos also worried many. Obviously, there were teething troubles, but I think the stadium is a magnificent and fitting venue for the finish of our most famous road race. Indeed, many runners said their first view of it inspired them as it stood there like a great cathedral proudly beckoning runners to enter for a glorious last lap
MY OWN COMRADES EXPERIENCE ON COMRADES WEEKEND
From a personal point of view the entire weekend seemed to be a glorious celebration. It was a gathering of those who are courageous, humble and fun loving and most importantly who love life. From the very first function I attended, the International cocktail party, to the last, “The Bruce Fordyce After Party, “ there was just so much to celebrate. I’ve always loved the International cocktail party, held always at the Hilton Hotel in the early evening and attended by runners from around the globe and by some of the Comrades marathon ambassadors. This year There were ambassadors from the US (Mark Bloomfield) Australia (Digger Hargreaves) Canada (Cathy Hopkins), Brazil (Nato Amaral) and many runners from UK and other countries and of course there was a fun crowd of nervous novices. It was a wonderful occasion reminding us all of the true status of Comrades as an International marathon.
The Comrades Expo seemed even more packed than I remember it, and that is while considering that a number of runners decided to pick their race numbers up in Pietermaritzburg. The hall was teaming with runners and supporters, and was also another happy, excited occasion. It was particularly hectic on Friday and Saturday morning. I was kept busy signing autographs and posing for photographs with other runners. Somebody asked me if I was ever tired of the many requests for photographs or to sign Comrades caps and numbers and I replied that I am always humbled and honoured that the attention is part of my Comrades weekend. No, I don’t mind at all.
On the Friday morning I conducted my annual Comrades bus tour of the route. As usual my bus was packed with foreign runners and a sprinkling of South Africans. I love the tour as it serves as a timely reminder to me about how incredibly tough the Comrades marathon is and fills me with deep respect for every runner who attempts the challenge, no matter their ability. My “tourists “ started their tour chatting and laughing like naughty school children and ended silent and in deep introspection. Suddenly the enormity of the challenge they would be embarking on had been made starkly real for them.
Finally, “the after” party was the best party I have attended all year. After DJ Danny……. Had kicked it off with his recording of the Comrades marathon start (Shosholoza, Chariots of fire, the cockerel crow and the starting cannon) we enjoyed great food and many amusing and emotional Comrades stories from some of those who had run the day before.
Then Danny, who had himself run the day before, played the best possible music and we danced until the sun set. The waiters and kitchen staff even joined in. It was a fitting way to celebrate Comrades 2018.
Overall my impression is that all of us who were associated with this year’s Comrades, whether as runners, volunteers or spectators were all made better people because of the 2018 Comrades.
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