UK runners clear marathon hurdles to get to Comrades

2010-05-28 00:00

AS if it isn’t a challenge enough to train through an ice and snow-filled northern hemisphere winter in order to take on the gruelling Comrades Marathon, a number of the international runners have had to face additional hurdles in their attempts to make it to Durban for Sunday’s 85th running of the Ultimate Human Race.

An erupting volcano and random airline strikes in particular have impacted on those coming from the United Kingdom.

“There was a stage when we thought it was going to get the better of us,” said John Sneddon from Edinburgh. “We always book our flights early, but got a huge surprise with the massive price increase this year, which presumably was due to Comrades’ close proximity to the World Cup.”

Having extended the budget, the next hurdle came in April with the closure of European airspace due to the ash clouds from an erupting volcano in Iceland.

“The whole of European airspace was disrupted, and there was no clear pattern to it as the ash cloud moved around,” said Sneddon, who will be running his 18th Comrades. “The uncertainty of flights continued to be a problem until last week, when the volcanic activity started to die down.

“Then to cap the situation, British Airways [BA] announced strike action with one of the specified days the May 24, which is when we were due to fly to Heathrow and then Cape Town.”

Sneddon is one of two international runners who have come to every Comrades since the country returned to international competition on May 29, 1992, and he plans to earn his double green in 2012.

Despite early inquiries, when the strike days were announced, BA staff could not confirm which flights would be affected and offered little assistance.

“We had the opportunity of flying KLM through Amsterdam, but BA would neither confirm flights nor refund flight costs, so initially we just had to hang in.

“It was only on Friday that we knew our Cape Town flight would be okay, but we had to change to fly into Gatwick from Edinburgh and not Heathrow, which is where the strike is centred,” Sneddon said.

A similar account applies to Dave Richards from London, who was also booked on BA and last night flew out with SAA.

“I just could not rely on BA and their strike action so bought another ticket with South African Airways to be sure that I would make the trip,” said the 47-year-old, who aims to complete his sixth Comrades.

“Even when they can’t tell you if their flights will fly or not, they will only extend the ticket for 355 days so I can’t even use it for next year’s race.”

On a positive note, Richards has now moved his BA ticket to April 2011 in order to run the Old Mutual Two Oceans marathon.

“I’ve been told that this is one of the most beautiful routes, so perhaps there is a silver lining to all of this.”

Sneddon eventually landed at Durban’s new King Shaka airport on Wednesday somewhat relieved that his next medal is still in the offing.

“It’s been quite a testing situation,” said his partner, Isobel. “We have been watching the news for both strike and volcano reports and really only felt that our troubles were over when we landed in Cape Town on Tuesday.”

The pair will be staying on in South Africa until 24 June and have tickets for the Portugal against North Korea match in Cape Town.

“I won’t exactly be crying in my beer if the strike prevents us from making it back to Scotland on June 24,” continued Sneddon.

“That would make up for some of the anxiety of the last few weeks.”

Not to mention the fact that it would give them a chance to watch the end of the World Cup!

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