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Comrades Ultra Marathon

02/06/2013

On Sunday June 2nd, two runners from DRC took part in their 3rd Comrades Marathon, a race which is held dear in the hearts of every South African...

This year there were 19,722 entrants (18,259 of which were S African - and 239 from the UK) of whom 15,383 were male and 4,339 female.

The 2013 race was an "up" run, which meant that the runners started at sea level in Durban, climbed to a highest point of 824m at Umlaas Road and ultimately finished at 650m in Pietermaritzburg. Even this is not as easy as it sounds as the route is not a steady incline......over the course of the 87km (54miles), there are 5 named hills (and many others) so in reality over 2,000m of altitude is gained and lost over the duration of the race.

There had been many pre-race warnings in the media about the unseasonably high temperatures (June 1st is officially the start of the African winter) and so everyone was encouraged to start drinking early on the day. To help with this, the 49 refreshment points on the route provided 1,900,000 sachets of water (many of which ended up being poured over runners' heads) and 935,000 sachets of energy drinks.

The 2013 Ultimate Human Race will be remembered as one of the toughest in its 88 year history, not only because of the searing heat, with the temperature into the 30s, but also because of the very strong headwinds which blew over fences and caused many runners to struggle along the way. Indeed, 4,148 starters failed to finish within the 12 hour time limit, with about another 7,000 finishing in the last 90 minutes.

Craig Malcolmson has been hooked by the Comrades bug since he ran his first "up" run in 2011. He returned last year and ran the "down" run with friends from the South African Hartbeespoort Athletic Club. This year he persuaded Pat to make the trip out again and so she was out on the course supporting on Botha's Hill, the 3rd of 'the Big 5'. Craig, as did everyone, found conditions tough, especially as the weather at home had not been "unseasonably warm", but ran a steady race passing many people over the day who had initially set off at too fast a pace. He finished in 9:50:00 and set off to celebrate the achievement with Pat and his friends from Harties.

Jo Zakrzewski enjoyed the climbs in the first half of the course more than the flatter sections later on, as the field had spread out by this point and she found herself battling into the wind alone. She also ran a steady early pace to gradually move up the ladies field as the race progressed. With just under 15k to go, her seconder told her the gap to the 4th placed runner was about 8 minutes, but that she was looking much the stronger of the two. Spurred on by this, Jo made sure she ran every step of the infamous Polly Shortts and, feeling strong at the top, started to pick up the pace for the last 7km. It seemed like a lost cause, and a very long 7km, but as she turned into the stadium with about 400m to go, she spied the 4th placed Charne Bosman (multiple time SA marathon champion) about 150m ahead. The top 10 finishers are given a red rose to carry round the last 400m but instead of jogging in Jo dug deep. With a look of pure determination, and proving the benefits of speedwork training even for Ultra races, she sprinted round to the finish, overhauling Charne with about 50m to go to take an extremely well earned 4th place behind three very experienced and talented Russian athletes.

Jo finished in a time of 6:53:28 and was very proud to earn a place in the top 100 overall!

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