Putting Comrades together is an all-year-round task

2013-05-21 00:00

THIS year’s Comrades Marathon is less than two weeks away and the folks at Comrades House in Pietermaritzburg have been working hammer and tongs to ensure another well-organised, trouble-free event come June 2.

It’s a mighty achievement behind the scenes. Come race day, the event belongs to the athletes and everyone forgets the work that has gone into making it happen. This is a worldwide phenomenon, proudly South African and a treasure of KwaZulu-Natal.

Organising Comrades each year is a full-time occupation and it’s worth taking a look behind the scenes to recognise the unsung heroes who help thousands achieve their dreams and ambitions every year.

Work at Comrades House is like any other business. It’s all year round, with a short break over Christmas. Although this year’s race has still to happen, work has already begun on next year’s race and the 2015 edition. This is one organisation that leaves nothing to chance, working two to three years ahead in their planning. As soon as one race is finished, the reins for the following year are picked up and the process swings into motion once more.

For a race of such magnitude, there is only a permanent staff of 12 at Comrades House. However, a race organising committee (ROC) of about 60 people plus many volunteers ensures the engine keeps running, an engine that is well maintained and firing on all cylinders.

Comrades House and the office is the heart of the race. It is here that all the planning, discussions, meetings, proposals, problems, finance, security and any issue associated with the race are tackled and dealt with. Data capture — entries, athlete and club details — is a huge undertaking and the IT side of things is vitally important.

Working hand in hand with technology are the media and marketing departments.

A constructive and beneficial relationship with all forms of media is crucial to the race’s success and appeal, while the marketing people take the gospel of the unique event to all parts of the world; the reward seen in the increasing number of foreign athletes entering every year.

Once the key is turned, the engine roars into life. Most of the year is spent planning and ensuring everything is in place. March is the key month, three months before the race, where the plans are put into action by the ROC.

These people are a dedicated bunch, working long hours, relying on each other to get things done and, as social networking liaison officer Sian Theron says, “There is no such thing as working hours with Comrades. It’s a case of knowing what has to be done and staying until the job is finished. Our volunteers are fantastic and give of their own time, putting in long hours year after year, making the race work through sheer love of what they do.”

Sleep becomes a word rather than an activity. Said Theron: “In the two months before the race, we get little sleep. It’s noticeable that immediately after the race, staff can actually take lunch breaks, many using the opportunity to catch up on lost sleep in their cars outside.”

As time ticks by to race day, Comrades House is a hive of activity. Trucks are frequently seen dropping off T-shirts, race bags, race numbers — anything needed for the day.

Even students studying event management get a chance to experience what goes into the event, working with the organisers for a few months as part of their studies.

For the runner, when the going gets tou-gh, instead of worrying about aching legs and blisters, spare a thought for those behind the sce-

nes who allow you to be part of what is considered the world’s greatest ultra-marathon.

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