Sunday will see the world’s most competitive ultramarathon. It won’t be held in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains nor Europe’s Alps. Nope. It’s the 86th Comrades Marathon and will be run in the 52 miles that stretch between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa. Not only is it the world’s most competitive ultra, it’s also the world’s largest with more than 10,000 finishers in recent years and an incredible 19,617 entries this year! Almost as shocking is the fact that only 4,882 of those runners will be “novices” as Comrades first-timers are known.
While the race has received scant attention in the US, that might be changing. This year 179 Americans signed up for the race, the third most of any nationality. The vast majority of racers are, not surprisingly, South African, but there are also 253 UK residents, 152 Australians, and 115 Brazilians signed up for the race. As suggested, these ranks include a number of the world’s best ultrarunners. We’ll highlight a few familiar runners who’ll take part in this year’s race.
Leading the American men is Michael Wardian. In case you’ve not been paying attention, Wardian was the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) 2010 Ultraraunner of the Year, has placed third at the past two IAU 50k World Cups, and was also third at the 2010 IAU 100k World Championship. He’s also got no fewer than five USATF ultra-distance national championships. Last year at in his Comrades debut, Wardian placed 26th in 6:02 coming through 50 miles with a PR split of 5:21. He’ll be looking to move into the top 10 for a “gold medal” this year. (We interviewed Wardian before last year’s Comrades.)
Wardian, a runner with The North Face, will be joined by teammate Ian Sharman. Sharman, a British national living in the States, bested Wardian by mere seconds at last year’s race, where he placed 24th in 6:01:13… just 73 seconds off his sub-6 hour goal. (Read his in-depth 2010 race report.) Since then, he’s run the fastest trail 100 mile time on American soil with a 12:44 at Rocky Raccoon this past February. (iRF post-Rocky Raccoon interview) This will be Sharman’s fifth Comrades.
Wardian and Sharman will be challenged by a bunch of studs … that we know nothing about such runners as the defending champ, Stephen Muzhingi, along with Jaroslaw Janicki, Ludwick Mamabolo, Lucas Nonyana, Oleg Kharitonov; Bongmusa Mthembu, Peter Molapo, Fusi Nhlapo, and Peter Muthubi.
Wardian and Sharman are damn good ultrarunners, but the household names among this year’s women’s competitors may be even more impressive. We think that’s fair when talking about the likes of Lizzy Hawker, Ellie Greenwood, and Kami Semick!
Hawker’s won the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc more times than anyone else with three victories (iRF post-2010 UTMB interview), but her skills aren’t reserved to the mountains. She’s also a speed demon on the roads. For example, in 2006 she won the 100k road world championship in 7:28:46. Last year, Hawker returned to the 100k world championships and battled for the lead all day before finishing third in 7:33:26.
It was Greenwood who locked with Hawker in epic battle at last year’s 100k World Champs (the race is worth a read) and ended the victor in 7:29:05. That victory should come as no surprise as Greenwood has won at least eights ultras in the past year with no losses that we can think of offhand. Those wins includes a second overall finish and women’s course record at last August’s Canadian Death Race and seventh overall at the American River 50 mile in 6:25:43 in April.
Another past world 100k champion (2009 in 7:37:24), Kami Semick was fourth woman at last year’s Comrades Marathon. She just published her race recap. Last August, Semick won the Vermont 100 in 16:42 and this spring finished second to Greenwood at the American River 50 with a time of 6:34:37.
While Amy Sproston might not have a 100k world championship to her credit, she’s quickly gaining the recognition she deserves in the ultrarunning world. For example, she joined the Montrail Trail Running Team this year and backed that up with a fourth place finish at the Miwok 100k in 10:02:41 earlier this month on the heals of a five week injury hiatus. Last November, she won the JFK 50 mile in 6:57:16, the eighth fastest women’s time in the race’s long history.
All that said, the twins Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva will be hard to beat. Joining them up front among the women will be Marina Myshlyanova, Farwa Mentoor, Tatyana Zhirkova, Lindsay van Aswegen, and Adinda Kurger.
Call for Comments
Who will you be rooting for this weekend? Who else of note is running?
Do you have any interest in running Comrades? Why or why not?