A new record and a brave race — and the many thousands

2016-05-30 12:31
Comrades winner David Gatebe crosses the finish line in a record time of 5:18:19 in Durban.

Comrades winner David Gatebe crosses the finish line in a record time of 5:18:19 in Durban. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg  - Comrades 2016 had all the drama that will be etched in the memory of those who witnessed it for years to come.

It was real, it had feeling, it had sympathy, it had heartbreak, it had tears but above all, it was real.

As darkness descended over Kingsmead and the mass of humanity came flowing into the finish area, another chapter in the greatest ultra-marathon of them all had been written. For some, it was glory, others a time for reflection on what could have been but either way, it was beautiful.

David Gatebe astounded the race’s best critics when he took the lead with about 35 km to go and tore away from the field. At one stage he was managing three strides a second and while everyone held their breath waiting for him to hit the dreaded wall, it never happened and a new record time was posted.

Caroline Wostmann, now named Thandeka — “The Loved One” — ran one of the bravest races ever seen, cramping from 60 km into the race, being hit by a motorbike, falling after 45th Cutting and holding the lead until two kilometres to go when Charné Bosman roared past. She still held on for second and said it was the support of the people that had lifted her through to the end, let alone a second place finish.

But, the day belongs to the average runner, the runner who wants to carve the Comrades onto his or her CV at least once, for others, multiple times, such is the sense of purpose and achievement that travels through the veins every year. As the clock ticked, the stories unfolded, banners gave meaning to that cherished medal and lives were changed. There was the runner whose grandmother had died and after attending the funeral on Saturday, he flew from North West Province to ensure he was at the start yesterday.

Another had run to raise money for dogs in the townships. He and his mates had taken 10 days to run from Johannesburg to Pietermaritzburg and then added the Comrades to their accomplishment. He wasn’t asked, but it was presumed he was not running back to Johannesburg.

On the medical side, the weather had been favourable and Jeremy Boulter, the chief medical officer of the race, reflected on one of his better years. “As the afternoon wears on, there are more cases coming through to the medical tent but there was nothing major that I was made aware of,” he said. “There were some chest pains out on course and these were taken to hospital for precautionary measures, but generally, all went well, cramp and dehydration the common problems. Runners battled in the heat around Kloof later in the day but once they dropped down into Pinetown and beyond, a nice breeze kept them cool.”

As the final gun was fired, there were the traditional pile of bodies at the finish line, but it was more from that final effort to get across the line that knocked them over.

On the whole, the stretcher-bearers were not seen as much as in years past and that alone, is another positive to remember the 2016 edition of the race for.

Johan Wagenaar from Pretoria was the last man to finish, completing his first run. “My watch was not in synch with the Comrades time and I thought I had at least three minutes to make it. Suddenly, just outside the stadium, people alerted me to the fact that I had better move and it’s thanks to them I have a medal,” he said.

While the race is tough, it takes no prisoners. George Raaleka was the first non-finisher and the heartbreak was he missed his Green Number on what would have been his 10th finish. “I feel bad. I worked hard but I think I under-estimated the last few kilometres. Everything went well otherwise.”

Then there were those who were on the grass but could not beat the gun. Those whose legs couldn’t carry them the final few yards and more importantly, those who sacrificed a medal in their endeavours to help those who did not have the strength to stand any longer. The spirit of Comrades shone through once more.

Leaving the finish, Boysie van Staden was seen making his way out. A multiple gold medallist in his prime, he had completed his 39th run in 9:23. “I am tired and sore,” he said. It goes to show, that Comrades road has no friends, regardless of how many medals you may have or how good you may have been.

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