Leading Comrades Marathon personalities Edward Mothibi and Nick Bester believe the race is far too precious to the running community and South Africans at large for the organisers to keep a possible cancellation of it on their agenda.
Both men, one the current title holder and the other a former champion turned successful team manager, said they were most disappointed to hear that the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) will shelve the coronavirus-affected ultra if they fail to find a suitable replacement date for the current scheduled race on 14 June.
Cheryl Winn, the chairperson of the CMA, said in a letter to runners that the race was likely to be postponed due to Covid-19 and that if it’s not possible for them to hold it before 4 October, it would be cancelled for “climatic” reasons.
In other words, it would be too warm to stage this usual winter event that features a gruelling 90km challenge between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.
However, Mothibi and Bester, both from the powerful Nedbank Running Club, told The Witness they would appeal to Winn’s organisation to only focus on a postponement and not an outright cancellation because they were entirely convinced most runners would still be willing to tackle the punishing race in warmer-than-usual conditions in late September or early October.
That’s just how important the Comrades is to not only them and their colleagues but in fact the whole country, they said.
“Even if the government were to extend the current lockdown by a few weeks, I think we would still have enough time to train for a Comrades taking place at the end of September or on 4 October,” said Rustenburg-based Mothibi.
“We would still be able to go to Dullstroom or Lesotho, or somewhere else, for altitude training for a week or so in August.
“It is a frustrating situation that we find ourselves in at the moment, but they must please not even think of cancelling Comrades.
“I understand that there would be a bigger danger of dehydration and things for slower runners in warmer weather, but I can assure you that the top athletes would make sure they’re at the finish before lunch.”
Bester, who has nine Comrades gold medals and six silvers to his name, said from Plettenberg Bay that he remembers running the formidable race with fellow legend Bruce Fordyce several times in very warm weather in their heydays.
“In my opinion, the organisers must not worry too much about the weather.
“This race is too iconic for people to shy away from it.
“The runners will accept a postponement because of what’s happening at the moment, but nobody will want to see the race cancelled.
“They will all be willing to run in slightly warmer conditions in what will be spring, I am sure,” he said.
The mild-mannered veteran said he was prepared to take Mothibi and his other elite runners to Ethiopia for altitude training for the race if necessary.
“If we do have Comrades at the end of September - what is wrong with the public holiday on September 24? - it might be too cold in Lesotho or Dullstroom to hold camps in those usual spots, but we do have a connection in Ethiopia that we could use.
“The guys generally need two-and-a-half months to peak for Comrades, so if the organisers announce a new race date on 17 April as planned, we will still have enough time to get ready for a race at the end of September or on 4 October at the latest, as they say.”
The ball is currently in the CMA’s court, with Athletics South Africa (ASA) also seeming to hold some strings, but Bester, Mothibi and thousands of others have their fingers crossed that they won’t get smashed away in terms of the outside chance of the mighty race being cancelled.