Runners warned to plan for congestion delays

2012-05-25 00:00

THE 87th edition of the Comrades Marathon is 10 days away and 15 896 of the 19 524 entrants have met the qualifying standards to place their toes over the start line of the famous ultra-marathon event that was initiated in 1921.

It is highly unlikely that founder Vic Clapham could have envisaged a day when over 1 300 international runners would be attracted to take on the gruelling challenge of running and walking their way from the Pietermaritzburg City Hall to Durban in less than 12 hours.

The intention was to commemorate the camaraderie that helped to overcome the challenges soldiers faced during the WW1, albeit in a less threatening manner.

The race has certainly met that goal with many runners surviving the 89 km distance on the emotion and encouragement of their friends.

Since its beginning in 1921 each year has been characterised by one or more changes, improvements or controversies with the success of the 2012 race having more reliance on the planning of the runners and road authorities than the race organisation.

“One of my biggest concerns is that there will be a mass of runners still [driving] on the freeway when the gun goes,” said race director Johan van Staden.

“The road works near Ashburton on the N3 look as though they will be completed, but those on the N3 and New England Road will still be in operation come race day, and we are asking runners to travel an hour earlier to cope for this.”

New England Road tends to be the primary entrance route for the multitude of runners and supporters who travel from the coast to the start.

With Pietermaritzburg already fully booked for the Royal Show and Comrades, overnight accommodation for June 2 is as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Even without road problems there have been years where runners have had to jump out of their cars over two kilometres from the start in order to get to the city hall in time for the traditional cock-crow and the firing of the gun.

The recent introduction of the championship timing mats at the start allows officials to check and disqualify any runner who does not commence at the start line, and the concern is that runners who have trained for months may find themselves in trouble if they fail to plan for the potential delays.

Comrades 2012 is one of the most open events of recent years due to late withdrawals by some favoured gold medal contenders. Olesya Nurgalieva, Kami Semick and Lizzy Hawker have officially notified Comrades that they will not be lining up, ostensibly opening up three golden spots in the women’s race.

The “professional” teams still have a number of top runners under wraps, including Sergei Lukin, who has a 2:10 marathon to his name and is one of the fastest in the field.

The fastest is South African great Gert Thys, who, despite competing in the 40-plus category, still holds the national 42 km marathon record of two hours six minutes and is capable of turning the field on its head.

The current best down run was set in 2007 by Leonid Shvetsov in five hours 20 minutes. He went on to set the best up run time in 2008.

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