New race director has all boxes ticked for the big day

2014-05-30 00:00

NEW Comrades Marathon race director Rowyn James has been in the job for 50 days, facing a baptism of fire which comes to fruition with the running of the 89th Comrades Marathon on Sunday, from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

He is no stranger to the race with 15 finishes to his name and he summed up his new position aptly when he said: “I used to run the Comrades, but now it runs me.” Having been race director of the Two Oceans for six years, he is well qualified to take charge and spoke to the media in Durban yesterday, outlining what was in place for this year’s Comrades.

“Objective number one is to make the race enjoyable for all involved, from those behind the scenes who have brought it this far, to the runners, supporters and volunteers who assist on the day,” he said. “This year’s race saw the second biggest field in the history of the event after the 25 000 in 2000. We had 21 090 entries of which 17 206 have registered to start. The big drop-off is accredited to injury, illness, failure to qualify and people’s circumstances changing.”

Of the 17 206 scheduled to start, James said about 15 000 to 16 500 would actually be outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall for the journey to the sea. “As a person who loves quoting figures, I can say that 77% of the field is men and 23% is women. The average age is 44 for the guys and 42 for the girls, which I think is a little too high,” said James. “It shows the same people are returning each year to run the race and my goal, especially for next year’s 90th edition, is to get younger folks running. I already have some ideas and programmes to present to the Comrades board in this regard.”

James confirmed that everything was in place for race day, confirming the race would start at 5.30 am outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall, the official distance being 89,28 km.

“The Msunduzi and eThekwini municipalities have worked well with us, resurfacing rough stretches of the road where the route runs, fixing potholes and cutting grass,” he said.

“Runners will be looked after with 46 seconding tables along the way, providing water, soft drink, energy bars, potatoes, chocolates, bananas … all a runner needs to complete the run.”

James said the finish at Kingsmead Cricket Stadium had been under construction for three weeks and he thanked the volunteers. “That is a unique piece of Comrades in that everyone involved on race day does not get paid. They are all volunteers, including the 75 doctors.”

On the medical front there is extensive provision with eight physio/first aid stations, an emergency helicopter and an extensive critical care medical tent at the finish which includes a mini laboratory and a three-bed fully equipped ICU resuscitation area. A new innovation this year is a waiting or hospitality area at the medical tent where family of runners under care can get up-to-date information on the person concerned.

For runners in trouble on the route, there are 40 rescue buses or taxis. “In a great Comrades initiative, these rescue vehicles have been recruited from taxi associations in the 1 000 Hills Valley, plus we are utilising marshals from various communities as well.”

On the dope testing and cheating front, James did not mince his words. “We have met with SAIDS [SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport] and have fully compliant staff and chaperones who have been briefed on how to handle matters on the day. Extensive testing will be done for the top athletes plus random runners deep in the field throughout the day,” he said.

“As for cheating, we have three timing maps set up randomly along the way, plus a fourth at an unplanned spot. We do not tolerate cheating and those caught will be harshly punished.”

Security-wise, James said he had met with the SAPS and they were comfortable with what was in place, classifying the race as low risk. “By this, they mean there is no indication of the race being disrupted in any way by protests or illegal activity,” said James.

The weather forecast indicates a maximum of 23°C in calm, clear conditions, with afternoon cloud. These are ideal conditions and the winner is expected at Kingsmead around 11 am.

IMPORTANT NUMBERS

082911 is the emergency medical number which anyone can dial, the calls being automatically routed to the medical joint operations centre.

39174 is the number to track a runner. Set up a normal SMS and key in the runner number only, not the seeding batch. During the course of the run, four SMSs will be sent to you enabling a runner’s progress to be monitored. Cost of SMS is R15.

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