Green is the colour – Comrades is the name

2009-05-22 00:00

COMRADES runners have long been used to going green – since 1971 runners in the 89 km race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban have ambitiously embraced the idea of completing 10 races in order to earn their green number. This sees them presented with a green cloth version of their race number with a laurel wreath around it, and that number is then recorded against their name in perpetuity.k

Each additional 10 runs adds another wreath to the number, with Dave Rogers currently heading the list with an impressive four wreaths encircling his race number 183. On Sunday, Rogers embarks on his 44th journey between the cities.

The two short cuts to a green number are to win the race three times or to win five gold medals: quicker perhaps, but certainly not easier.

Using these three criteria, race number 1 704 has amassed six wreaths for his 12 gold, four wins and 35 runs and once more sees Alan Robb in contention, albeit on a different level, with Bruce Fordyce who has 11 gold, nine wins and 26 runs effectively earning his green number seven times over.

Subtle but important changes in the printing and style of the Comrades race number allow spectators and fellow runners to get a condensed history of the runner’s pedigree for the current race.

A yellow number signifies a runner about to earn his or her first green number, whereas a striped green number has completed over 20 runs and foreign athlete numbers have blue backgrounds. (see side box)

Without question, going green is a long-standing tradition in Comrades history, and one that this year has been extended to a completely new level, but with an impact that will not only affect each runner, but also the local communities and the country.

Wildlands Conservation Trust, one of the four official Comrades charities, has been partnered by Bonitas Medical Fund for a Releaf Project, the first component of which allows every runner to be green.

Farwa Mentoor, who will be running in the colours of Bonita’s on Sunday, planted the very first of 13 000 trees to be planted at the Buffelsdraai Landfill Site near Verulam in the next three days. “One runner one tree” said Andrew Venter from Wildlands and that roughly balances over a 20-year period the amount of carbon each runner will generate when covering Sunday’s 89 km route. “Although that will balance the run, each person would need a total of around eight to 10 trees to make allowances for the travel and other carbon impacts of getting to the race.”

The Buffelsdraai project is the first carbon sink to be initiated anywhere in South Africa, and is part of a larger programme by eThekwini’s Municipality to offset the carbon emission generated by hosting the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup. Ultimately the aim is to restore 580 hectares of the 750-hectare buffer zone to indigenous forest. This tree investment will sequester thousands of tons of carbon dioxide over a period of 20 years in mitigation of the effects of climate change.

“We’re also challenging all Comrades runners and their families to come and plant their own seed at the Releaf stand at Comrades Expo so they can also leave a personal legacy for 2010,” said Wildland’s Heidi Mocke in explaining the second of the multi-component project. “Additionally, we have a Releaf pasta party in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday afternoon and evening, and runners can also run for Releaf to raise additional funds for the project.”

“The long-term objective is to convert the site into a nature reserve area,” added John Parkin of Durban Solid Waste. “It may take time, but how many people would have thought that what began as a landfill could be turned around into an animal and fauna conservation area?”

There are additional short and long-term benefits of the holistic project. Children in local underprivileged communities have been enlisted as “tree-preneurs” to grow the indigenous trees from seed, until they reach the required height and then trade them back to Wildlands for food, clothes, bicycles, agricultural goods and even school and university fees. There are now more than 3 000 tree-preneurs in 15 communities around KZN, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.

Further jobs are created when the trees are planted in the project areas. The immediate target of planting the 13 000 trees over the three days of Comrades gives employment to 70 locals.

Skotana Msweli made history with his tree-planting activities. “As a result of this work over just three years I have now funded Angela (his daughter) to the University of Zululand” said Msweli. “It wouldn’t have been possible without this”

If you felt that was enough green for one Comrades, you’re mistaken.

Comrades Marathon has also partnered Enviroserv to look at maximising the recycling of the waste generated by the runners and organisation in the build-up and race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. Each of the 48 refreshment stations will collect as much of the recyclable waste left by athletes and spectators as possible. Plastic bottles and bags, tins, glass containers, cardboard boxes and paper cups will be collected in specially supplied green refuse bags sponsored by Garbie. “Our objective is to limit the event’s impact on its immediate environment, and to educate athletes and public about the need to recycle,” said Ely Devellennes, regional recycling manager for Enviroserv in the KZN area.

This year running Comrades could well be the best thing you can do with 12 hours of your life. Not only can you run for and plant trees to offset your carbon footprint, but at the same time you can notch up another finish towards your green number.

Know your numbers


• Plain white background — runner with zero to eight finishes;

• Yellow background — runner with nine finishes, going for 10;

or two wins going for three, or four gold medals going for five;

• Yellow stripes — runner with 19 finishes going for 20;

or runners with 29 finishes going for 30;

• Green stripes — runner with 20 to 28 finishes;

• Three laurels — runner with 30 or more finishes;

• Blue background — international runner; and

• Orange stripes — runner going for a back-to-back finish (novice in 2008).

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