Comrades 2013 Preview

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Love them or hate them, road ultra marathons come no bigger or better than the ‘Ultimate Human Race’, Comrades. This year is an ‘up’ run. Starting on the coast in Durban, the course stretches 86.96km to Pietermaritzburg at 670m above sea level. Over 19,000 runners will test themselves over the ‘Big Five’; Cowies Hill, Fields Hill, Botha’s Hill, Inchanga and Polly Shorts. From the base of the first hill, Cowies, to the top of Botha’s Hill you climb 502 meters in the space of only 22 kilometers. Any seasoned ‘Comrade’ will tell you this translates into a lot of climbing. The first half of the ‘up’ is challenging, it needs to be respected and paced, any early exuberance will be paid for dearly later on in the day.

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But before the release of the gun, the atmosphere at the start is to be savored. It will burn and impression onto your heart that you will never forget. As darkness encompasses every runner the sounds of ‘Shosholoza’ a Ndebele folk song that originated in Zimbabwe fills the air. Although not the national anthem, the song is so popular in South African culture that it is often referred to as South Africa’s second national anthem. As the final words are sung (translated):

Go forward


Go forward


You are running away

You are running away on those mountains

train from South Africa

‘Chariots of Fire’ theme starts and with it the nerves and goose bumps increase. It is an incredible moment. The recorded ‘cockcrow’ of Max Trimborn adds to the sense of occasion and history and then with the sound of a horn you re released. Magical.

A Podcast Logo

Episode 8 – Comrades Special – A show decicated to the Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa. We have interviews with Bruce FordyceEllie GreenwoodSteve WilliamsCaspar GreeffNicolaas Claassen and Zola Budd. In addition we bring you news and results from around the world, our current favourite blogs, Talk Training with the Ten Commandments of Ultra Running a Meltzer Moment with Speedgoat Karl and of course up and coming races.

The 2013 race

Men

Ludwick Mamabolo won the 87th Comrades Marathon and as such is the favorite for this years race… however, the defending champion is not without controversy, he tested positive for a banned substance at last year’s race, after almost a year of legal wrangling, was recently found not guilty because of ‘technical irregularities’ in the testing procedure and has therefore been awarded his prize money and his title.

Ludwick Mamabolo copyright supersport.com

Ludwick Mamabolo copyright supersport.com

Eight of last year’s ten male gold medalists will toe the starting line again. However, Leonid Shvetsov, who won in 07 and 08 setting course record times is injured, and Lephetesang Adoro tested positive for a banned substance, so they will not join the 2013 race. Triple champion Stephen Muzhingi raced in the last ‘up’ run and without doubt will be one-to-watch this year.

Mamabolo won the race last year in 5:31:03 but his participation this year is clouded in controversy. In 2010 Mambolo participated in his first Comrades and then finished second behind Stephen Muzhingi. Will this be the result for the 2013 edition?

Jonas Buud copyright blog.svd.de

Jonas Buud copyright blog.svd.de

My hot tip for the race and a relative dark horse is Jonas Buud from Sweden. Jonas is a fast man over the 100km distance and as he proved at the 2012 TNFUTMB he can run hills too. Jonas ran 6:28:57 at the IAU World 100km Championships in Seregano last year and previously he has finished second on three occasions; 2009, 2010 and 2012. He is not new to Comrades; in 2011 he had an excellent run and finished fourth in an incredible time of 5:42. He has openly said that Comrades in 2013 is his primary focus. Watch this space!

Of course Bongmusa Mthembu and Leboko Noto are also toeing the line, they placed second and third respectively in 2012 and of course they bring speed and experience to the race. In addition, Mambo, Kelehe, Moshiywa and Sosibo also obtained ‘Gold’ in last years race… it is a stacked and experienced field.

David Gatebe, won the Two Oceans at his first attempt in 3:08:54 and without doubt will come to Comrades with high hopes and aspirations. Mthandazo Qhina, second at Two Oceans in 3:10:02 also joins Gatebe to add some spice to the Comrades mix.

As per usual, Comrades will be a highly competitive  race and a surprise may very well come at any time. The depth of the field goes way back. However, Comrades is not just about the front of the race… it is the ‘Ultimate Human Race’ for a reason and as such, the vast majority of the 19000+ participants are just ‘ordinary joes’ like you and I. It is what makes this race so special. The support, the roadside parties, the crowds and the everyday runners testing themselves.

One of those ‘joes’ is nine-time winner Bruce Fordyce, who will not be running his 31st Comrades. He posted on backabuddy last year that his 30th, would be his last.

Four-time champion Alan Robb will return. Robb is one of three men who will attempt their 40th completion of this iconic race.

Ladies

It is impossible to talk about Comrades and the ladies race without mentioning Elena and Oleysa Nurgalieva. Affectionately known as the ‘The Twins’ or ‘The Russian Twins’ they have dominated the race in the last 10 years. Elena has won the race seven times and her sister, Oleysa two times. The only break in this tradition came in 2005 when Tatyana Zhirkova won the race. Comrades is the home of the twins but Two Oceans did not go well for them and one has to question if they are arriving for the ‘up’ run in the best form.

Elena and Oleysa Nurgalieva copyright sportsummary.com

Elena and Oleysa Nurgalieva copyright sportsummary.com

Unfortunately, the anticipated battle and potential ‘break’ of the Russian stranglehold on the race coming from Ellie Greenwood is not going to happen. Ellie is out of the race with injury. Certainly from a British perspective I was really hoping that Ellie would return this year and move up from second to top the podium.

Another notable ‘Brit’ not at the race is Lizzy Hawker. Lizzy had injury over the Christmas period and has recently done a personal adventure in Nepal; she then followed this with a multistage race in the same area but just a couple of weekends ago she pulled out of a 24h race. She is now focusing on the 100m Ronda del Cims in Andorra, late June.

Americans Devon Yanko (previously Crosby-Helms) who has placed fifth in 2012 and Kami Semick, who was third in 2011 are not running. This in my opinion leaves the door open for Brit, Joasia Zakrzewski.

Joasia Zakrzewski copyright dumfriesrunningclub.org.uk

Joasia Zakrzewski copyright dumfriesrunningclub.org.uk

Jo had an incredible 2011 race. I remember it well, I was stood next to her on the start line. By the time we both reached the finish, she was showered, changed, fed and relaxing. Not only did she surprise herself but the whole of the female field at Comrades. She followed this incredible performance in 2012 with fourth place overall in a time of 6:33:41. My hot tip for the podium and without doubt a potential winner of the race. C’mon Jo! (Excuse the British bias)

Marina Zhalybina has a remarkable record at Comrades. She was third in her first attempt in 1999. She has finished the race twelve times and has always placed in the top ten.

Charne Bosman had a great run at Two Oceans. She is new to ultra but she has won the South African marathon and I guess she is the SA hope!

Without doubt, the ladies race this year is less stacked. Melanie Van Rooyen, Kerry Koen and Julanie Basson all return from 2012 and all three obtained gold medals.

Ultimately I see the ladies race as a battle between ‘The Twins’, Zhalybina and Zakrzewski with Bosman as an outsider.

Last but not least, we had all hoped to see Zola Budd (Pieterse) toe the line. She ran her first Comrades in 2012 and finished in 8:06. This year she was returning with a year of knowledge and without doubt she was going for ‘Silver’ and a sub 7:30 run, however, just yesterday she withdrew from the race on doctors orders. Unfortunately she has the flu.

First to last, the Comrades Ultra Marathon is an incredible race. It stirs the emotions and it mobilises a population. Come Sunday morning as Chariots of Fire fade and the sound of the cockerel crows I will be glued to my laptop screen with a tear in my eye… I have only run this iconic race once. It left a lasting impression and one that I would love to repeat.

I will be back one day.

TNF 50 Miler San Francisco

Just when you thought it was the end of the season and then low and behold a 50 miler rears its head on the calendar with a stacked field, yes, The North Face Endurance 50 mile Challenge presented by Gore-Tex. The race takes place in the Marin Headlands, north of San Francisco.

*update 27/11/12 Looks like the weather is going to play a major factor this weekend with a weather front coming in. This always shakes things up and you can expect this to influence the overall results considerably.

The Men

Mike Foote – UTMB 2012

Talk Ultra interviewee Mike Wolfe is returning to the race he won last year. Mike has had a mixed 2012 so he is going to be looking for a good performance here. He told me that training had gone well and that he is in good shape. Great to hear.

Good friend of Wolfepaw is Mike Foote. Footey placed 9th last year but after a great performance at UTMB (3rd), Bighorn 100 and the recent TNF EC in Chile I am sure he will be fired up for this race.

The last time I spoke to Tony Krupicka he told me he was running the race and that he was running to win. This was on the back of his 2nd place at Cavalls del Vent. I am well aware that Tony has been training well but I am not sure if he will be present on the start? I will update as soon as I know. *update 27/11/12 Tony has stated on his blog that he will not be racing.

Sage Canaday is without doubt a potential winner for the race and I originally missed him as he was not on my start list, He set a course record at White River 50 (incredible run) and ran very strong at UROC to finish behind Max King. We also can’t rule out Dave Mackey. Dave performs consistently well at 100k and was 4th at Western States. He races a little less than others so you can be sure if he toes the line it is to run hard.

Timothy Olson would have been mentioned here but has decided not to race and run with his wife. He is keeping his powder dry for 2013. Jez Bragg is off to New Zealand and Dakota Jones is resting, so that therfeore leaves the door open…

Fast man Ian Sharman will enjoy tho terrain but just the other weekend raced well at JFK so this may spoil his chances of a top 3, however, Adam Campbell will becoming into this race relatively fresh after injury issues mid year.

Dylan Bowman has raced super hard all year with some great results. His 2nd place at Run Rabbit Run behind Speedgoat Karl and 7th at Western States should mean he will be contending at the front but will he have that turn of speed to contend with Wolfe, Foote, Sharman and Campbell?

Hal Koerner has had a stacked 2012 and performed consistently well. I see him being in the top 10 here but not at the front of the race contending for the podium.

Rickey Gates comes to this race after some super strong performances in 2012 and may very well be a dark horse. Equally Chris Kollar (he had a disappointing Western States) comes to San Fran after some really solid results at Grand Teton 50k, Ice Age 50 and the The Bear.

Francois d’Haene is coming from Europe along with his Salomon team mate, Miguel Heras and Team Manager, Greg Vollet. Francois has had a great year and just recently won the ‘Trailwalker’ with his Salomon France team mates. He has the ability but I can’t help but think it is late in the year for him… Miguel Heras is finishing off his year well after early disappointments and he will be running hard here. Greg Vollet may very well be another dark horse to move up the field and take a few runners by surprise.

The mens field is stacked and by no means have I covered everybody here but I think we will see the podium come from the above names. One other mention, Martin Cox from the UK. Look out for him.

The Ladies

Emelie Forsberg – Trofeo Kima 2012

Firstly, Frosty and Ellie Greenwood are not on the start line. Frosty needs to recover and Ellie need to rest. So that does open things up a little… if we thought the mens race was stacked, the ladies is super stacked.

Emelie Forsberg is coming over from Europe after an incredible 2012 season. Emelie would have been my top tip but I wonder if this is either one race too many or a race too late in the year? She has all the potential to win this race but I see her top 3 and not on top of the podium.

*update 27/11/12 I just had confirmation that Silvia Serafini from Salomon Carnifast will be racing. This will add some additional spice to the race. Like Emelie, Silvia is moving up distances this year and 50 miles may just be a little of her radar at the moment. But she is a fast runner and really dedicated. A star for the future for sure. She has won Skyrunnning races, won the Royal Parks Ultra in the UK and recently placed just behind Forsberg, Hawker and Picas at Templiers. She has just come back from trekking in Nepal so it will be interesting to see how she performs in this top quality field.

Lizzy Hawker will be arriving from Nepal and has arguably had a golden few months with a 5th win at UTMB, a win at Run Rabbit Run and then a win, 3rd place overall and a new CR at the iconic Spartathlon. I witnessed her run first hand at Templiers when she finished a disappointed 3rd behind Nuria Picas and loosing the sprint for 2nd to Forsberg. She will be fired up for this race and is my hot tip!

Ashley Arnold may pull something out of the bag. She has a great ultra resume with 3rd at Leadville 100 this year but has raced shorter and faster too. She may well have the  speed and endurance required that will carry her to a win.

Megan Kimmel has raced the best in Europe and will come to the race keen to perform but this is a longer race than she is used too… this also apples for Brandy Erholtz. They both have potential to shake things up.

Joelle Vaught was 2nd in 2009, 3rd last year and 4th in 2010. This year she has won Waldo 100k and Lake Sanoma 50. She knows how to run in San Fran and will be keeping a close eye of Forsberg and Hawker.

Kami Semick hasn’t raced in the US in 2012. She pulled out of Comrades and Western States but recently race Trailwalker in Hong Kong. It’s difficult to say what her form is like but I know from previous conversations with her that she only races when she can win!

Finally, Meghan Arbogast. She has the endurance and the pace!
Like the men’s race, I could go on and to be fair I could list another 10 men and women and still be completely unsure of how the race will unfold.
The San Fran 50 is a great way to start December and finish a really competitive and inspiring 2012. Roll on 2013.
Race website HERE