By Riel Hauman
PIETERMARITZBURG (02-Jun) -- If there is such a thing as an undramatic Comrades Marathon, this one was it. Claude Moshiywa was at the front of the 88th Comrades since he took the lead on one of the five big hills, Inchanga, soon after the halfway mark and for the last 90 minutes he ran unchallenged to the finish in Pietermaritzburg.
The hot and very windy conditions slowed him over the last 10 km and he had an especially tough time up the last hill, Polly Shorts, which crests just less than 8 km from the end, but he won comfortably in 5:32:08 to become the first South African winner of the "up" run since Jetman Msutu took the title in 1992.
Moshiywa's winning margin over the Swede Jonas Buud, who sliced through the field in the second half, was nine minutes and 12 seconds. The reigning "down" run champion, Ludwick Mamabolo, finished fourth, while defending "up" run champion Stephen Muzinghi finished tenth. Five South African men finished in the top ten.
In the women's race it was business as usual, with the Nurgalieva twins filling the first two positions. Elena got her eighth victory, just one short of the record nine of Bruce Fordyce, in 6:27:08. Only five other women, with three wins each --Maria Bak, Frith van der Merwe, Helen Lucre, Lettie van Zyl and Maureen Holland-- have won more than two.
Irina Antropova (RUS), formerly Vishnevskaya, was third on her 31st birthday. She has now finished sixth, sixth, seventh and third in consecutive years.
Another Russian, Marina Zhalybina, finished sixth to add the twelfth gold medal to her collection and equal the record total of four-time winner Alan Robb, an achievement neither the twins nor Fordyce can match. She has been second twice and third four times.
Charné Bosman, in her first Comrades and only third ultramarathon, was the first South African in fifth.
Hot and Windy
Conditions were hot from the start and to make matters worse, the wind picked up during the course of the morning and blew very strongly during the second half of the race.
The early leader was Justin Chitake (ZIM), but after about 20 km, with the sun not yet risen, only five minutes covered the first ten. All the main contenders were, as usual, biding their time further back.
William Chinyanga and Charles Soza caught their compatriot Chitake after 90 minutes of running, but only drew away six minutes later. Soza took the sole lead after a further 20 minutes, but behind him a group led by Two Oceans winner David Gatebe, Teboho Sello (LES) and Moses Njodzi (ZIM), a former Two Oceans champion, was moving up and at 2:08:00 on the clock this trio took over the lead.
They immediately started testing one another with surges and soon Gatebe could not stay in touch. Ten minutes later Njodzi was alone, running strongly but continuously glancing behind him. He reached halfway at Drummond in 2:39:20. Following him were Gatebe, Lebohang Monyele (LES), Joseph Mphuthi and Mike Fokoroni (ZIM), who was 30th in his first Comrades last year. Muzhingi was almost two minutes behind the leader, while Moshiywa went through in 2:41:37 and Buud in 2:47:28.
The Comrades has many hills, but there are two most runners dread on the up run. The first one, Inchanga, towers above the valley of Drummond and has been the undoing of many a front runner who had sped down the slope towards the halfway mark. And so it proved again.
Njodzi soon slowed and with Mphuthi, Rufus Photo, Moshiywa, Mamabolo, Fokoroni, Gatebe and veteran Gert Thys bearing down on him the writing was on the wall. The surprise in this group was Photo (33), whose only Comrades experience was a 19th placing last year.
Moshiywa, who represented South Africa in the World Trophy 50 km in 2011 and was third in that year's up run, soon took command and with the clock showing 2:52:00 --still on the strength-sapping Inchanga (which means "blade of a knife")-- he assumed the lead, never to lose it again.
By 40 km to run Fokoroni, Photo and Johannes Kekana, who had been moving up steadily, joined him, but it did not last long before Photo had to drop back.
Then, after the top of Inchanga along the aptly named Harrison Flats, the real racing started. Moshiywa and Kekana made a small gap, but it was not before another kilometre had passed that they could make a clean break from Fokoroni. Both Moshiywa (38) and Kekana (40), who finished 14th and an outstanding eighth respectively in the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon over Easter, were running strongly and shoulder to shoulder.
Meanwhile, behind them Fokoroni was still in third and he was followed by Photo, Mamabolo, Henry Moyo (MAW), Elias Mabane and Buud, who wasn't in the top thirty at halfway.
With 26 km to go, Moshiywa and Kekana apparently decided that it was time to throw down the gauntlet. They took turns surging, trying to break away, and this went on for ten minutes before Moshiywa pulled away from the man who beat Thys for the SA half-marathon crown for veterans (masters) last year. (Thys, in the meantime, had dropped out, as he did last year.)
Moshiywa, who before the race said, "You have to believe in yourself," ran the 9 km between 22 km to go and 13 km to go in 33:47 (3:45/km). By this time he found himself at the beginning of Polly Shorts, the 1.8 km long hill that is the last big obstacle to overcome. Whether he knew that in the history of the Comrades the leader at the top of "Polly's" had never lost the race one does not know, but even he was slowed to a walk on a few occasions.
It was only for a few yards every time and it would make no difference to his lead, which was 7 minutes by now, because behind him his rivals were moving even slower. At the top of the hill he immediately picked up the pace and reached 4 km to go in 5:15:44.
Behind him Kekana had an even tougher time up Polly Shorts, walking often. Photo was third and Buud had shot up into fourth, the position he finished in two years ago. Not far behind him was Mpesela Ntlotsoeu (LES), looking quite a different runner from the one who finished 107th in the Two Oceans.
Moshiywa, who has a full-time job and during his Comrades training gets up at 3 a.m. to run and who said in an interview, "I see my family [he has two sons] at eight o'clock at night -- it is a big sacrifice," maintained his rhythm to the end. He fell to his knees just beyond the finish line, but was soon walking around again with a big grin on his face.
"I am so happy," he said. "I have been training very hard since December."
This was his ninth Comrades and he has twice been in the top ten before this year. Despite the tough conditions he ran almost exactly ten minutes faster than in 2011.
Buud, who has three times been second in the IAU World 100 km Championships, ran as he planned (conservatively), and came into the stadium with a smile. He was 1:25 faster than in 2011.
Ntlotsoeu, who was 23rd in his only previous Comrades two years ago, made a huge improvement to 5:43:37. Mamabolo, who was recently cleared on technical grounds after having tested positive for a banned substance following his win in 2012, finished fourth. Photo faded to ninth.
Robb, whose wife passed away a week before last year's race, finished his 40th consecutive Comrades, walking into the stadium and wiping away tears, in 10:43:18. A number of family members, including his mother, welcomed him at the finish line.
One of the best runs of the day came from another former winner, Shaun Meiklejohn (champion in 1995), who celebrated his 25th medal with a win in the masters (50-59) category.
Nurgielva Twins Were Never Challenged
In the women's race Elena and Olesya (who did not run last year when she had a baby) took the lead from the start and was never in any danger. They passed halfway in 3:04:11, already almost 9 minutes ahead of Bosman, who was looking comfortable and running smoothly.
Tshifhiwa Mundalamo was fourth, followed by Joasia Zakrzewski (GBR), Zhalybina, Paulinah Njeya, Antropova and Julanie Basson. But they were widely spread out, with Basson 18 minutes behind the leaders.
Shortly before Polly Shorts, Elena pulled away from her sister, but the gap between them and Bosman remained constant until Polly Shorts, where the Russians' strength started to tell and Bosman slowed dramatically. At this point Antropova had passed all those ahead of her and was fourth, with Zakrzewski, who was second in the World 100 km in 2011 and then fourth in the Comrades last year, fifth. Melanie van Rooyen had moved into seventh and Holly Rush (GBR) into eighth. Basson was still ninth.
Bosman was suffering, but hung on determinedly and on the last 8 km only the strongly built Antropova could pass her. Or so she thought – because on the grass of the cricket field, less than 100m from the finish, Zakrzewski sped past and Bosman, who had seemed to be a little too relaxed after entering the stadium, could only watch helplessly.
Elena finished in 6:27:09, by far the slowest of all her victories, with Olesya crossing the line in 6:28:07. Their performance record in the Comrades is simply astounding: Counting all the races they have run, they have won eighteen of the twenty first and second places available to them.
Rush came in seventh and was followed by three South Africans who filled almost the same positions as last year: Van Rooyen (9th last year), Kerry Koen (6th) and Basson (10th). Koen was also ninth in the last up run.
Neither Zola Pieterse (flu) nor Fordyce (injured) started, while Thabita Tsatsa (ZIM), who was second in the Two Oceans, and former triple champion and record holder Vladimir Kotov (BLR) did not finish.