Durban - The tag line for last year’s Comrades Marathon was Izokuthoba, which is isiZulu for it will humble you. Few people understood that slogan better than former winner Caroline Wöstmann during the race.
Having admittedly set off too fast in the down run, Wöstmann had a collision with one of the race motorbikes. A cramp later delivered the final insult – she could have won the race by 10 minutes with 10km to go, but finished an agonising second.
The biggest beneficiary of Wöstmann’s bad luck was 41-year-old Nedbank athlete Charné Bosman, who, in starting cautiously, had seen Wöstmann’s lead balloon to 17 minutes at one stage, before strategy met opportunity to give her a first Comrades win.
Race was over
She reflected: “I’ve done a lot of motivational talks since my first Comrades win and the one thing I say is ‘never give up, because you never know what’s going to happen’. Even when I was 17 minutes behind, I said I was going to run my own race”.
A little-known fact about Bosman’s race last year was that she went into it injured.
“Seven weeks before the Comrades, I broke my pinkie toe and I thought my race was over. My doctor said it was only the pinkie and I just had to manage the pain.
“We strapped it and I thought, ‘pain is temporary’.”
Going into this year’s up run, Bosman has trained as hard as she has trained smart, but her philosophy for tackling the 89km between Durban and Maritzburg remains the same.
When asked to single out who her main competitors are now that Wöstmann has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, Bosman nominated American Sarah Bard – who finished fourth last year – and 2015 world 50km and 100km champion Camille Herron. The latter has been denied a clear run at Comrades because of a combination of illness and injury.
“I still have to make sure I focus on my own race and not the others,” said Bosman. “The race is between me and the 89km I’ve got to run. I have to run negative splits in the second half of the race, because my competitive advantage is finishing strongly”.
With the up run in mind, Bosman has focused on strength training and has extended her training camp in Graskop, Mpumalanga, by a week from 21 days last year. Her preparation for the hills is a long run between Sabie and her base – a 400m altitude climb similar to the race itself.
A new innovation is an ice bath – apparently used by world number one tennis player Andy Murray for recovery.
“It’s almost like a sauna that is set at 4°C, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I sit there for about 10 minutes and it takes almost an hour for my bum to get warm again...”
And her goal for this year’s race?
“It doesn’t matter where I finish; I need to know I’ve given it my all”.
She might be pleasantly surprised to learn that the slogan for this year’s race is Zinikele, which means sacrifice yourself.
As ever, it is difficult to tell who the winner might be in the men’s race, but SABC commentator and former Mr Price team manager Cuan Walker can’t see too much beyond last year’s winner David Gatebe as well as Gift Kelehe, who are coached by John Hamlett.
Walker is torn between up run defending champ Kelehe and the frighteningly quick Gatebe, who set the down run record of 5:18.19 at an average of 3.35 minutes per kilometre last year.
“I’d say Gift is the favourite as he’s the defending champion, but when David broke the down run record – he said he prefers the up run...”
Walker said what set former petrol attendant Gatebe apart was his incredible speed, which has seen him win the SA Marathon and the Two Oceans. Having joined them for their training camp, Walker said he had not “met two more professional and dedicated athletes” in everything they did.
Looking elsewhere, Walker said Prodigal Khumalo was looking good and “you can’t count out [former winners] Ludwick Mamabolo and Claude Moshiywa. Plus, the guys from Lesotho [led by Teboho Sello, who finished 11th] will be dangerous”.
The race begins in Durban at 05:30.