Foreigners have the Comrades green number bug

2011-05-17 00:00

ON May 29, Nato Amaral will earn his green number and become the first South American and Brazilian to have completed 10 Comrades Marathons. This has been a tour of passion for the 39-year-old who first ran the race in 2001, recording his best time of eight hours 33 minutes and 28 seconds.

There have been four more Bill Rowan medals added to the tally since that first encounter and importantly for the race he has inspired and motivated many other Brazilian runners into the Comrades family.

In 2001 he was one of only two runners from South America and there were only a handful from North America.

This year, that number explodes to over 230 from North America and 115 from Brazil — up massively from last year’s 78. Over the past decade much of the increase in South American participation can be attributed to Amaral’s role as a Comrades ambassador.

Amaral knew nothing about Comrades until his coach spoke of his experiences in the 1999 Comrades and the challenges of completing the 90-kilometre course. It was enough to send Amaral onto the road. Eleven years later he will be lining up for his 10th run in yellow number 48 418.

“My running coach and friend Vanderlei Branca enlightened me about the race. He had run the Comrades in 1999 and told me that I should prepare to take on the challenge,” said Nato, who knew that 90 kilometres was not going to be easy. He started his rigorous training regime during which he would envision completing the race. This only motivated him to train even harder.

After completing his first race, he fell in love with the ultra-marathon.

“I always train hard and hope that I can help more and more people in my country to set a goal of running in South Africa and feeling the unique emotion of finishing one Comrades Marathon,” he concluded.

With South Africa having only returned to international competition from the 1993 race, the number of foreign runners going for green is impressive and includes Andre Bartels (Australia), Kurt Brennert (Germany), Shinichi Takahashi (Japan), Thomas Homeyer and Dave Obelkevich (U.S.), and Zimbabwe’s Mayellen Barnes and Brian Stewart.

Barnes ran her first Comrades in 1991. “I ran my first Comrades at the age of 27 and fell in love with the race. It has been a part of my life ever since and although I have had a couple of DNFs [did not finish], I have managed to retain my same race number for 21 years.

“I’m determined to get race number 10 689 even though the last few years have been very hard due to chronic feet problems,” said Barnes.

Dave Obelkevich from the U.S. said he is very excited for his green number run. “I met Willie Mtolo around 1995 at the Expo for the New York City (NYC) Marathon, and became more seriously interested in running Comrades. In 1999 my teammate Joe Puglisi ran it, and strongly encouraged me to run. In 2001 I did run, and was overwhelmed by the race and the spectators.

“I’m amazed at the camaraderie of everybody — even stars like Bruce Fordyce and Marina Bychkova had such awesome Comrades spirit. My best time of nine hours 48 minutes is certainly not memorable, but becoming the first American with a green number will be. Certainly it means more to me than having the longest streak of 35 finishes in the NYC Marathon. Comrades is simply the best race in the world, absolutely no competition. I tell all of my marathon friends about it, and several have already followed my lead,” he said.

Only one foreign runner, John Sneddon from Edinburgh Scotland, has completed every race since the first officially opened to international competitors in 1993. All things being equal, Sneddon will earn his double green number on the 2012 down run. Klaus Neumann, an air traffic controller from Germany, is only one lower having missed the 2009 race.

Of course, some of the better-known foreign green numbers include the Russians Oleysa and Elena Nurgalieva, Oleg Kharitonov and Vladimir Kotov, for their wins and gold medals.

No matter which way you look at it, one bite at Comrades can change your life.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

HSE Manager

Cape Town
Tumaini Consulting
R550 000.00 - R650 000.00 Per Year

Reporting Accountant

Cape Town
Network Finance Professional / Prudential
R310 000.00 - R360 000.00 Per Year

Cluster Financial Manager

Cape Town
Network Finance
R950 000.00 - R1 000 000.00 Per Year

Property [change area]

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.