COMRADES Marathon race director Rowyn James has given the all-clear ahead of the 90th running of the iconic event on Sunday.
Having got out the blocks last year when he took over the portfolio for the first time, James assured members of the media in Durban yesterday that everything had been covered and it remained for the starter’s gun to fire at 5.30 am in a little under two days.
This year, 22 370 entries were received, making this the second biggest field since the 2000 up run when 24 961 entries reached the organisers. “Of these, we expect about 19 000 to be at the start. That’s quite a discrepancy between entries received and actual starters but this arises from people who have failed to meet the qualification criteria and who have pulled out due to injury,” said James.
An encouraging aspect for the race is the number of international entries, with 1 490 athletes from beyond our shores in the field plus 693 from around Africa. At more than 2 000, the international contingent continues to add to the prestige of the race while spreading the Comrades gospel around the world.
“For the province in general, there is an estimated R510 million injection into KwaZulu-Natal’s economy over the race weekend and this year we have an assessment in this regard being done to determine a more accurate figure,” said James.
For the runners, the official distance of 87,72 km is one of the longer runs in recent years and this is in no small way due to the slight detour having to be made in Pinetown. Roadworks on Old Main Road have seen an extra 877 metres added, which could prove crucial to the back markers in the field. Although the halfway point is in Drummond, the first half of the race is 45 km and the second 43 km.
“In light of the detour in Pinetown, we have extended the time at two of the cut-off points along the way,” said James. “The benchmark at Drummond is usually 6:00 and has been extended to 6:15 and Cato Ridge has seen 10 minutes added, taking the cut from 1.30 pm to 1.40 pm.”
At the end of it all, there is a special commemorative 90-year medal waiting, slightly bigger than in previous years, measuring 40 mm in diameter, with the race’s 90th logo.
One area James emphasised was cheating, saying this would not be tolerated. “Our mission is to keep the race clean and fair,” he said. “As in past years, we will be working closely with Saids [SA Institute for Drug Free Sport] who will be doing tests on athletes throughout the day.”
On the route there are 46 refreshment stations and 6 000 volunteers assisting. There are 800 marshals of which 300 are from the Thousand Hills community.
“These volunteers are the backbone of the race,” said James. “They are everywhere, including doing stretcher duties at the finish, and give freely of their time to enable us to put together a world renowned event.”
On the medical side, there are eight medical stations on the course plus a fleet of 16 ambulances, a helicopter, eight physio spots, six rapid response vehicles and four motorbikes plus paramedics. Rescue vehicles will also be on alert, plus at the finish the medical tent will be manned by 50 doctors and interns, 20 nurses and includes a mini-laboratory and a three-bed fully equipped ICU resuscitation area.
“My advice to runners is to be prepared. Please do not start the race if you have not been well or are taking medication,” said Comrades chief medical officer of 36 years Jeremy Boulter.
Medical Emergency Number: 082 911
Additional parking at the finish is at Maritzburg College for R20