Spirit of Comrades embraced in virtual race

Buntu Gotywa

Unfortunately,the race had to be cancelled, like most major sporting events around the world, including the Olympic Games, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The last time the race was cancelled was during World War II, which started in 1939.

This saw only 10 runners completing the 1940 race and the event cancelled until the war ended in 1945.

To say I was disappointed when I leant I had to wait another year for my first Comrades Marathon would be an understatement.

As much as I, like the rest of the world, expected the race to be cancelled amid the spread of Covid-19, it was still a bitter pill to swallow when it was finally announced.

I couldn’t care less about the registration fee I had already paid or the booked airline tickets, which I wasn’t refunded for, earning the finish medal was the main goal, which I had been working towards since the start of 2019.

I, however, accepted that I would have to wait for at least another year before realising my dream of taking part in what is billed as “The Ultimate Human Race”.

This past weekend was, however, something beautiful to witness. It was a Comrades Marathon like no other.

I would go as far as saying that what happened over the weekend has opened the doors for many other marathons in the future – to host their events in a virtual format.

The race organisers felt compelled to find creative ways to give participants the experience they would have had, had it not been for the global pandemic.

Many, like myself, would have been at the starting line for the first time.

Though not quite the journey from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, the way runners responded to the virtual race more than made up for the cancelled Comrades Marathon.

The event offered 5km, 10km, 21.1 (half marathon), 45km and 90km races.

Having taken my foot off the accelerator during the lockdown period, I did not think I had trained enough to do the full race.

I am not making any excuses, but 45km also seemed like I would be biting off more than I could chew so I settled for a half marathon.

My race started just before 7am in Observatory Main Road, going towards Claremont. I then took a left turn into Imam Haron Road, following the same route I always jog. From Imam Haron, I turned into Rosmead Avenue which becomes Belvedere Road then Milner Road and soon I was at the Rondebosch Common, where I did the majority of my run until I finished my half marathon in 1hr34min.

I could not have been more happier with my time as it turns out I actually managed to run my fourth fastest half marathon.

The best part about this run was seeing so many others with their Comrades Marathon race numbers on the road.

As I made my rounds at Rondebosch Common, it became evident that this was an actual race as more and more people started showing up as the day went by.

There were families and friends out to support their loved ones.

Those doing the full distance had the pleasure of having club mates and supporters along the route cheering them on.

About 3km before the end of my race, I started asking myself if I should just join in and do the full race.

In the end, I settled for what I had set out to do, as I did not want to compromise my chances of receiving the half marathon medal.

It turned out to be a memorable race. The most rewarding part was seeing others embracing the spirit of Comrades.

To see so many runners turning out to run alone while running together in spirit was truly a remarkable experience.

Not forgetting that where I was running there was also a lot of compliance to government’s regulations relating to social distancing and running with masks.

In the end more than 35 000 runners took part in the historic virtual race. I have no doubt we will be seeing more of virtual races in the future.

Buntu Gotywa is a sports reporter on Sentinel News and a member of Khayelitsha Athletics Club.