Comrades Marathon runner hits the road for school shoes
When Melmoth-born Welile Mdunge, 45, took up road running in a bid to lose weight, she never would have thought that 13 years later she would have amassed eight Comrades Marathon medals.
The world’s largest marathon returns on Sunday after a two-year hiatus brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mdunge will be on a mission to collect school shoes for Mawanda Primary School pupils, who trudge rugged roads for two hours to get to school every day. She hopes to collect more than 30 pairs of shoes to bring a ray of hope to the pupils who reside in the rural outpost.
“I know first-hand the difficulties of having to lack and that’s the reason I have taken it upon myself to do this. Another reason for doing this is my belief in education,” she said.
Although eyeing the Bill Rowan medal, the mother of two believes being given another shot at running the ultra marathon is a blessing. Mdunge is fresh from tackling the Washie 100-Miler in the Eastern Cape last July.
“Covid had stolen all the excitement from us and that is why I will be relishing the opportunity. We have missed the festive and thrilling vibes associated with this race,” she said.
Comrades Marathon Association board chairperson Mqondisi Ngcobo expressed delight at the return of the race, having missed an opportunity of hosting the event during its centenary year in 2021.
The organisers had resorted to hosting virtual runs in 2020 and 2021. The 2021 virtual race attracted more than 43,000 virtual participants. However, by then some fatigue had set in, he said, and people were desperate for the real thing. “We were happy with the participation under the circumstances. Moreover, we used 2021 to raise hope amid the adversities of the pandemic,” said Ngcobo.
He said the pandemic had hammered most companies so he was grateful that some sponsors had come on board, including Mr Price Sport, Toyota SA, FNB, Hollywoodbets, Thirsti, Bavaria Malt, Tsogo Sun, Coca-Cola, Netcare 911 and Interflora.
Ngcobo expressed optimism that the race would bring hope and confidence to the people of KwaZulu-Natal, hit hard by recent floods as well as the July 2021 unrest. It played a pivotal role in forging social cohesion and nation building, he said.
“This race will contribute immensely towards the tourism of the economy of the province.”
Comrades race director Rowyn James said in the two-year break they have had to refine of some of their plans. This year’s race is the 95th and to mark the milestone the organisation has introduced a commemorative medal and a trophy which will be presented to the winner.
Roadworks on roads between Pietermaritzburg and Durban have also forced organisers to shorten the down route to 89.885km, 299m shorter than in 2018.
“There is a substantial amount of roadworks for the first 30km of the stretch between Pietermaritzburg and Cato Ridge,” said James. This has prompted the organisers to urge runners staying in Durban to leave earlier to get to the start on Sunday on time.
Entries for Sunday’s edition had reached 16,002, with 14,586 qualifying to run the gruelling race. At least 1,366 are international runners, from 72 countries. There are 4,078 novice runners, accounting for 28% of the field. “This is very similar to previous years and it’s good to see there is a healthy conduit of first-timers into the event going forward,” said James.
The gender split is 79% male and 21% female.
James conceded that the numbers had dipped from previous years, saying there were a multitude of reasons for this trend. He said the pattern mirrored that of other road races across the country.
“We definitely know that in the industry everyone has been cautious to return to play. I certainly see and forecast that we will be back to normal next year,” he said.
The Comrades Expo has been moved to the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre, which would be welcomed by many runners. The venue was last used for registration in 2000. There are 42 companies exhibiting at the venue.
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