THE seventh edition of the Mandela Day Marathon takes place this weekend with great prizes up for grabs for the best runners in many categories.
And, 2018 Comrades Marathon champion Bongmusa Mthembu, who is an ambassador for the event, is confident that the first man and woman to cross the finish line in Howick on Sunday will be from South Africa.
Two days of activities start on Saturday with mountain biking, a triathlon and trail running at 5.30 am, while the 42,2 km race, half marathon and 10 km race start at 6 am the next day at different points along the route.
The marathon will start at Manaye hall in Edendale where Nelson Mandela made his last public speech before being detained, at the All-In-Africa conference on March 25, 1961.
The race will end at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site in Howick, where Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962.
The, three-time Comrades winner said the event is much more than just a race.
“The Nelson Mandela race is one of the toughest races in the province and I think its growth over the years speaks volumes about the legacy that the former president left us.
“It’s about bringing people together, from all walks of life, to honour and celebrate Tata Mandela through what was dear to him, sport.”
This year’s race will serve as the culmination of Madiba’s centenary celebrations in South Africa and there are a lot of financial incentives on offer to the runners, aside from the political importance of the event.
The first man and woman to cross the finish line in the 42,2 km will get R100 000, with the runners-up getting R50 000 and third place comes with R25 000.
The male and female winners of the 21,1 km get a healthy R20 000, while the 10 km winners pocket R10 000 each.
Prize money will be awarded up to 10th position in all three race categories, totalling a hefty R374 000.
And the prizes won’t not stop there, as there will also be bonus awarded for records, hot-spot times, age category winners and the first South African and KwaZulu-Natal finishers (male and female).
With last year’s winners both coming from outside the country, the Bulwer-born Pietermaritzburg resident Mthembu said it would be good for local athletes to take advantage of the prizes on offer.
“I do believe that local athletes will do well, and people must come out in their numbers to support this initiative.
“It is for everyone. If you cannot take part as a runner, then come and show support.
“We have more than capable runners in South Africa and the province and I think it would be really great to see the first prize remain here.
“I’ve been chatting to some of them, including Thobani Chagwe and Fikile Mbuthuma, and they are confident of doing well,’’ said the ultra-distance star.
Tekletsion Kassahun Tefera from Ethiopia won the men’s event in 2:28,31 last year, while Mamorallo Tjoka from Lesotho clocked 02:49,00 to claim first place in the women’s race.
The first South Africans were Sikhumbuzo Seme who finished seventh in 2:29,32, with Charné Bosman crossing the finish line in fifth place in the women’s race in a time of 3:09,02.
The inaugural race took place in 2012 and attracted about 1 500 participants, with some 17 000 athletes taking part in 2017.
It has grown considerably with a staggering 24 000 runners registered for this year’s event.
Mthembu won’t be racing on Sunday as he is preparing for the 100 km World Championships to be held in Croatia next month.
Last year, the “Bulwer Bomber” broke one of the longest standing national records, held by nine-time Comrades winner Bruce Fordyce, by taking second place in the 100 km in Spain. The theme for this year’s Mandela Day Marathon is “Keep running the legacy”.