Drug Running at Comrades (and discrediting American ignorance)

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The Comrades Marathon is a lot like a nasty big brother that sadistically bullies, torments and tortures his weaker siblings. As one of those weaker siblings, I’ve received more than my fair share of merciless moers, violent lammies and vicious donkey klaps at the annual family reunion between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. I feel this entitles me to have an opinion and say what I like about Comrades – and occasionally I repay my serial brutalisation with a playful retort or gentle jab of my own (before running away, slowly). That is the God-given right of a ‘family’ member*.

* For example, one of the article ideas on my backlog is ’10 Things I Hate about Comrades’ but the list of things has grown so long it may in fact form the content of my first full-length book.

However, when someone outside the ‘family’ callously condescends your brutal big brother, all past grievances are forgotten, all past sins are forgiven, and all the scars and bruises from past battles become prized signs of affection. When someone outside the circle of trust insults a member of one’s household, the correct response is to immediately – and without hesitation – take up arms (or in the case of Comrades, legs) to defend the family honour. That is exactly what happened recently when the insolent, ill-informed and ignorant American ultra runner Jim Walmsley condescended Comrades with a reckless remark.

The offensive insinuation was quickly highlighted by the eagle-eyed Cuan Walker who, unlike foreign marathon commentators, does not need athletes to wear different coloured running vests for identification but is able to recognise runners by their faces. He is also able to spot nefarious slander on the internet at a glance.

Jim Walmsley was responding to the question, “Are there any records out there, world records, even some of these 24 hour runs or any records that you want, (before you retire)?” when he answered, “(As for) course records. I think Comrades has a little bit of skepticism from my viewpoint about clean competing.

Jim Walmsley may be well-known in America but few South Africans would have heard his name – and for those who are thinking, “I’m sure I’ve heard his name somewhere recently”, it was most probably because he broke Bruce Fordyce’s long-standing 50 mile world best time by 14 seconds at the beginning of May during a 100k race (before he faded over the last 20km and ended up finishing fourth, about 45 minutes behind the winner*).

* One of the things that puzzles me is that social media went all hooey over the 50 mile world best but no one said, ‘Hey, but this guy blew so hard he could have got a job in the oval office during the Clinton administration.’ Fordyce set the previous best in 1983 on the 54-mile London to Brighton course – which he went on to win comfortably. Had Fordyce finished fourth after setting a world best, he would have been right up there with the Proteas in the queue of South African sportsmen in urgent need of the Heimlich Manoeuvre**.

** Okay, so I did check this one out a bit more thoroughly and it seems that the event was more of a poorly organised marketing event by a shoe company than a real race. It seems that whilst American Blues musicians will sell their souls to the devil at the crossroads, their ultra runners prefer selling their soles to shoe pedlars along the banks of the American River in Sacramento.

To be fair, Jim Walmsley is a very accomplished athlete – he’s won the JFK 50 mile race three times, set the course record at the 2018 Western States 100 miler and qualified for the USA 2020 Olympic marathon trials with a 1h04 half marathon earlier this year. However, despite this impressive list of accomplishments, Jim Walmsley is still not a “real runner”.

As all South Africans know, you only become a “real runner” once you have run Comrades* and, as such, Jim Walmsley does not have the required credentials to be making disparaging insinuations about the oldest, largest and most competitive ultra marathon on the planet.

* The only dispute is whether ‘real runner’ credentials are earned on your first Comrades finish or whether you need to have completed at least one “Up’ and one “Down’ run.

Whether you earn a gold medal (like 6th placed lady Jenna Challenor) or finish 12,349th (like Caroline Pule for a Vic Clapham medal), there is universal agreement that you only become a ‘Real Runner’ once you’ve finished Comrades.

My first response to Walmsley’s distasteful defamation of the greatest race he’s never run was fairly emotive – as was that of several other journalists and media personalities (whose seriousness and credibility far outweigh mine). I was fortunate enough attend a recent media function ahead of the launch of the Entsika Elite Comrades team where doping and Walmsley’s cold-hearted crack provided one of the cornerstones of our dinnertime conversation.

However, by this stage I had moved on from knee-jerk emotion to a more calm, collected and considered approach. Having re-read the quote, I wondered whether Walmsley was referring purely to the Leonid Shvetsov 2008 Up record? The general consensus is that Shvetsov’s 2008 record is highly suspect (especially since Shvetsov* was subsequently discredited in 2010 after the Belgian long-distance runner, Eddy Hellebuyck, tested positive for EPO and named Dr. Leonid as his supplier).

* Shvetsov’s credibility is right down there with Alberto Salazar, the only American man to have won the Comrades (1994).

However, Comrades has two records – the Up and the Down. The current Down record was set in 2016 by David Gatebe and, as far as I am aware, has never had its legitimacy questioned. Unfortunately, Walmsley does not name any specific athletes in his all-encompassing Comrades slur – so it’s unclear whether he was referring to both Shvetsov’s and Gatebe’s times. However, Jim Walmsley has stated his intention to run the 2020 Comrades Marathon which is a Down run – so it will be Gatebe’s record that he’ll be gunning for*.

* That is of course assuming he’s not planning to do a Caitlyn Jenner on us and, post-op, go for Frith van der Merwe’s 1989 Down record instead.

The other possibility is that Walmsley is one of those Americans who is unaware that the fairly significant land mass known as Africa is in fact a continent, rather than a country – and that the 54-odd countries within Africa are distinct entities with completely different cultures, customs, conventions, [enter you own exhaustive list here], etc.*

* Just to reassure anyone who is reading this in the northern hemisphere and is still wondering whether South Africa is a geographic region or a country, I can confirm that we have our own flag, national anthem and all the other stuff required to be a ‘real’ country. South Africa even meets the strict Zappa ‘real country’ definition of the term (although both the airline and football team criteria are slightly tenuous these days).

Athletes from certain East African countries, well known for their popularity as holiday destinations for British athletes, have recently been the subject of several high-profile doping scandals. This has created a justified questioning on the credibility of performances of certain athletes (actually just athletes under the management of specific agents) from those countries.

Unfortunately, this has led some narrow-minded first world athletes to brand the whole of Africa as a drug fuelled den of iniquity. Surely Walmsley could not be that stupid? Let’s hope not but there is plenty of ignorance and blinkered bigotry when it comes to Africa – an Italian half marathon recently tried to ban all ‘African’ runners from participating in their race ostensibly “to make the point that measures must be taken to regulate what is currently a trade in high-value African athletes”.

However, just because one small section of a very large continent has a major problem with performance enhancing drugs does not mean that the other 50-odd countries should be tarred with the same brush – just as it would be unfair of me to label all Americans as ignorant (and to be clear, I am not!). Similarly, it would be unfair to question the performances of athletes from the other 42 countries in Europe just because of two countries on the eastern and western extremities.

If I put on Jim Walmsley’s sunglasses for a minute to view the world thorough his myopic eyes, I might cast a disdainful glance over current affairs in the States and make a ridiculous statement like, “(As for) uterus envy. I think white American males have a little bit of skepticism from my viewpoint after going all Saudi Arabia on their females.” I have no idea where Jim Walmsley fits on the scale between sexist misogyny and proud bastion of female empowerment but, just because some old white guys in Alabama (over 2,500km away from Walmsley’s home state of Arizona) are trying to implement Sharia* law does not mean that all, or even most men, are currently trying to do so.

* I plead a Walmsley level of ignorance here. I am not entirely sure if it is Sharia law that is being implemented in Alabama but, from what I understand, the plan is to severely restrict women’s rights. As far as I know women are still allowed to drive a car in Alabama and do not yet need to be chaperoned by a male family member when they leave the house. I’m happy to be educated on this one.

The fact that South African marathon runners’ performances at World Marathon Majors has been so dismal over the last decade* should be conclusive proof that our athletes are not doping. Last year we went batshit crazy over one of our female athletes getting a Top 20 finish. If South African marathon runners are doping and this is the best we can do, we need to ask for a refund and switch chemists.

* The only Top 20 South African performances in marathon majors over the last decade that I’m aware of are Hendrik Ramaala 10th Berlin 2011, Lusapho 3rd New York 2013, Irvette van Zyl 9th London 2013, Rene Kalmer 9th Berlin 2014 and Gerda Steyn 13th New York 2018 (thanks to Manfred Seidler for help on this one).

Walmsley gives me the cold shoulder

In a case like this is helps to clarify directly from the source. Therefore, I did everything within my power to elicit a clarification from Jim Walmsley himself, sending a friendly message to his active social media profiles as well as contacting the editors of LetsRun.com where the quote appeared.

Unfortunately, Walmsley gave me the cold shoulder. I did however manage to have an interesting discourse with the editors of LetsRun.com (who were blissfully unaware as to “what’s controversial about the quote at all”). Although we are still in the dark as to whether Walmsley’s intentions were pure, misguided or deliberately spiteful, we’re nice people down here at the bottom of Africa so let’s give Jim the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant just Shvetsov.

Aside: Is the Up Record Impossible?

The LetsRun.com team pointed me a quote from another prominent American ultra runner who has run Comrades before. He referred to Shvetsov’s record as being “impossible”. Interestingly the top 4 Up run times are all Eastern European (three Russians plus Kotov from Belarus). I can’t comment on whether they were all juiced (although ‘off the record comments’ from people who’ve watched the race from the back of press truck would indicate questionable practices from certain athletes over the years – let’s just say that those running barefoot should be careful not to step on discarded hypodermic needles at the side of the road). The fifth fastest Up run is 1988 Fordyce but it is just 3 minutes behind Shvetsov’s record. Fordyce’s records have durability but I would question whether the up record is impossible or just waiting for the right day and the right runner.

The fastest 20 men on the Comrades Up run.

Rant Over, Time for Some Serious Anti-Doping Facts

As someone who likes to cover all the bases, I thought I’d leave the emotions and conjecture aside for the time being and get some hard evidence on the actual anti-doping procedures and protocols in place within South Africa.

How exactly does in- and out-of-competition drug testing work for South Africa’s top ultra runners? I fired off some questions to Fahmy Galant (General Manager of SAIDS – South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport) and, faster than Mo Farah can open his front door for a scheduled visit from UK Anti-Doping officals, I received a reply back.

Fahmy explained that there is Registered Testing Pool (RTP) of athletes that is updated on an annual basis, further elaborating, “The RTP is a group of athletes that are required to supply updated whereabouts information to us via the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) online system ADAMS (Anti-Doping Administration and Management System). This they have to do for each day of the year (e.g. provide physical address details, training details, etc.) and provide a dedicated 1 hour time slot per day where they will definitely be for testing so as not to incur a missed test should an attempt be tested within this 1 hour slot.”

In most countries (like the USA), national doping agencies ignore ultra runners but SAIDS have comprehensively tested a significant number of male and female ultra runners since 2012, “The inclusion of the top elite Comrades athletes in our RTP has been a regular feature since 2012 and we have consistently had between 10 and 20 Comrades runners in this RTP. These RTP athletes have been regularly subjected to urine and blood testing so that we are able to build up a profile of the athlete – called an athlete biological profile. (https://www.wada-ama.org/en/athlete-biological-passport).”

There are currently 13 ultra marathon athletes on the RTP list: Anne Ashworth, Charne Bosman, Jenna Challenor, David Gatebe, Cornelia Joubert, Gift Kelehe, Ludwick Mamabolo, Tanith Maxwell, Claude Moshiywa, Bongmusa Mthembu, Gerda Steyn, Irvette van Zyl and Caroline Wostmann.

David Gatebe is one of the few top marathoners who has managed to master the art of ultra running – and he’s the only athlete to have won the South African Marathon Champs (in 2h13), Two Oceans and Comrades. Gatebe is a long-term member of the RTP club so everything indicates that his 2016 Comrades Down record of 5:18:19 is indeed beyond reproach.

To put this in perspective – and throw some fuel on the fire of common international conceptions – David Gatabe has a better chance of being eaten by a lion on the streets of Sandton or having his leg munched off by a crocodile in a Dullstroom trout dam than he does of being able to run Comrades juiced and get away with it.

There have been a few drug DQs at Comrades over the years (which I believe shows that testing is working and that there are repercussions for cheats). Of the 2019 batch of top Comrades male and female contenders, the only athlete I’m aware of who has previously tested positive for banned substances is Joseph Mphuthi (he was the 2018 Comrades men’s runner-up and finished 22nd in 2019). Mphuthi received and served a two-year ban after testing positive for nandrolone, an anabolic steroid, after the Loskop 50k Ultra Marathon in 2014.

I was curious as to why he was not on the RTP list. Fahmy explained that a large number of factors like performance, risk of sport, sport priority and financial incentives are used to determine who is on the RTP list – which is then reviewed on a quarterly basis. However, just because someone is not on the RTP list does not mean that they will not be subjected to out-of-competition (OOC) testing, “We do, and have also targeted athletes OOC that do not fall into this RTP, thus it does not mean that athletes who are not in this RTP cannot be tested.”

I was also curious as to whether there was a loophole as many of the top Comrades athletes are from neighbouring countries and could potentially cheat the system with less rigorous anti-doping agencies, “We have worked with our partners in Southern Africa, the RADO (Regional Anti-Doping organisation) Zone VI that includes Lesotho and Zimbabwe where some of the top Comrades contenders originate to test athletes. Furthermore, in-competition testing has been conducted at the Comrades for the past 20 years.”

The profile of ultra endurance events in South Africa means that local elite athletes are subjected to extremely robust and comprehensive testing procedures. Cuan Walker, currently involved with team management for the Nedbank Elite Team (who have several international athletes on their books and produced both the male and female winner at Comrades 2019) highlights the rigour of drug testing at Comrades, “Drug testing at Comrades is proper, and even more so for South African athletes compared to the international athletes. Many of the South African athletes are tested out of competition in training. I witnessed this myself in Dullstroom – athletes were tested 3 times in a space of 10 days. Some internationals get tested when they arrive in SA and then again after the race if they are in top 10.”

I also chatted to John Hamlett, coach of the Entsika Elite Team, at his Dullstroom training camp. He commented that, whilst he is fully-supportive of anti-doping measures, the athletes are “over-tested to the point of absurdity.” He added that the SAIDS team will usually make several visits during his three-month long Comrades training camp and will take up to seven hours at a time to test every single person at the camp.

That should clear up any misconceptions about the current state of doping controls at Comrades – it’s very comprehensive! Although it’s always possible that someone is cheating the system, it’s unlikely that they will get it away with it indefinitely and can be caught retroactively – one of the benefits of the RTP list and building up long-term biological profiles* of the athletes.

* This also means that any athletes who later have the integrity of their records questioned can easily clear their name by releasing their blood data (but strangely most seem reluctant to do so).

Right back at you Jim

Now that we’ve established the South African anti-doping protocols, lets flip this discussion around and look at what kind of doping controls an American elite ultra runner would be subjected to. According to this interview with Camille Herron* pretty much nothing. No OOC testing and only a couple of the high-profile ultras would take samples from winners.

* For intentional ultra runners wanting to know how to ingratiate themselves with the South African public, there is no better teacher of etiquette than Camille Herron. She has been a fantastic ambassador for the sport and Comrades (before, during and after her 2017 Comrades win). She receives a huge amount of South African support during Comrades – many even favouring her over local favourites. Some runners are even happy to help to show her the way to the finish line.

A comical finish to Comrades 2017. Race winner Camille Herron thinks she crossed the finish line and Fanuel Mapamura of Hollywoodbets Athletics Club helps show her the way to the real finish line. Video clip can be watched here.

As for the likelihood of someone getting caught with this ‘in competition only’ approach – highly unlikely. As Camille explains, “Where there is testing is the races like Comrades, UTMB, and 2 Oceans where I did my first ultra – there is in-competition drug testing, but you’d have to be stupid* to get caught [doping in a race]. Everybody knows these races do drug testing so they would be knocking off whatever they’re doing in order to not test positive.”

* Joseph Mphuthi (and the handful of other athletes who’ve been caught doping at South African ultras), I think Camille just called you “Stupid!”

Ironically, considering Walmsley’s septic scepticism, it appears that drug testing of South African ultra runners is lot more frequent and comprehensive than that in the USA. When Leonid Shvetsov’s Comrades Up record is eventually broken, the likelihood of that record being ‘tainted’ is far higher should it be broken by an international athlete.

Aside: No fault of Jim’s – the USA drug testing dilemma

In an effort to avoid being an ignorant hypocrite myself, I referred my views and opinions to some American friends who are part of a very competitive virtual “Squadrunner” running team that I am a member of (I am the token southern hemispherean).  One of them (who prefers to remain anonymous since he competes with the likes of Walmsley and is hoping to go professional soon) provided these excellent perspectives on the lack of doping controls in the USA:

“A) we basically don’t have a governing body for the sport (usatf [USA Track & Field] is broke and doesn’t want to touch the sport).
B) The US has size restrictions on races that prevent them from being large enough to offer prize money of more than a few hundred bucks.
C) there’s so little money in the sport at any level that to test athletes would likely require forcing athletes to pay for testing themselves.

As athletes, elites in the US generally want to see testing, but unfortunately there’s a huge financial barrier to that occurring. It’s the couple of races with enough prestige to have sponsors that have the budget to test athletes and do (like the Western States 100).”

The Comrades Marathon Association announced that both 2020 and 2021 would be Down runs so we’ll have to wait three years until the next batch of athletes attack the Up record. Of course, the best and easiest way to settle this argument would be for someone to break the Up record – hopefully a South African on the RTP list. This would help prospective parochial visitors from biting the hand (or should that be ‘stubbing the toe’?) that feeds. We’d love our foreign guests to enjoy the unique experience that is the Comrades Marathon without having to trouble themselves over the integrity of our records.

And as for you Jim Walmsley, we’re happy to take the piss out of you before you run Comrades but, if you do manage a top ten finish, the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport will be delighted to take the piss out of you afterwards.

Afterword

[This section intentionally left blank in case Jim Walmsley provides a future clarification as to whether his comment was directed at Leonid Shvethov, David Gatebe, both – or the integrity of Comrades/South African/African ultra running as a whole.]

Full Disclosure

The author has never taken drugs whilst running except one time when he ran the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon with a broken big toe. On this occasion he accepted a Myprodol in Hout Bay from an old school friend shortly after being overtaken by his wife (the two events may or may not be connected). The remainder of his 217 marathons and ultras have been run clean. He has run seven marathons in the USA and one in Canada and has never made disparaging remarks about any of them.

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17 Replies to “Drug Running at Comrades (and discrediting American ignorance)”

  1. Important information to share. Grateful that you’ve taken up defending the family name. I have been tested 7 times this year, in and out of competition. Assuming other athletes are tested as regularly (which may or may not be true), I’d say that the race is mostly clean and cheats will be discovered. Also, myprodol isn’t on the banned list… you’re good 🙂

  2. Well done. Thought provoking and humurous at the same time. ‘Captain, there is life out there (in South Africa)…. but not as we (I) know it!” coined especially for Jim Walmsley (thanks to Star Trek)

  3. Great article Running Man , very informative and a thoroughly researches piece of writing I’ve read in a very long time.

  4. Just to clarify something… He didn’t blow in that race. His primary objective was to best the 50 mile record. Go look at his splits and you will see her literally stopped at 50 miles… Took a breather and then plowed on at a slightly slower pace for come in fourth

    1. Hi Andrew, well I guess it depends on the definition of blowing. Sticking with the same metaphors used in the article, it’s a bit like Bill Clinton saying “I never had sex with that women” (before he stained his record). I read that JM told onlookers he was “F@#$ed”. I must admit I have had this event ‘explained’ to me by an American friend (he called it “a ridiculously designed event”) and was still a bit WTF confused. The 50m is considered a World Best but the glory would come from the 100k which is an officially recognised World Record. But kudos to him for hanging there as I’ve subsequently been told that he has a history of bailing. I guess the point about Fordyce’s record still stands – JM broke it by 14 seconds and then stopped. Fordyce had another 4 miles to go and carried on at the same or faster pace.

      1. Because Stuart…. Bruce’s primary objective was to win the race… Not to break the 50 mi record. He definitely didn’t “hang in there” he achieved his goal and ran comfortably home. What he didn’t achieve was the sub 6 he was aiming for but the conditions on the day didn’t allow for this. As for his doping comments…I guess that’s was a little bit misguided… And more likely the result of ignorance of the event more than anything else

  5. Wow! Great article! Professional but easy to read. After reading this article Mr Jim should rather keep quiet and stay away from Comrades! Or even Africa! Keep up the good work Mr Mann.

  6. Excellently balanced article running Mann. And a really enjoyable read. I hope JM reads it, and gives you a response.

  7. Brilliantly put and written. I have followed Jim’s running, he’s definitely accomplished but he still seems a little wet behind the ears and this comment about Comrades, whether an intentional slight or not, kinda adds to that. He should just come and run the race and stop talking…but he better be sure of himself because Comrades is to be respected as well as the South Africans who run it. He should remember what happened when he went all out at Western States only for South African Ryan Sanders to reel him in and go on to win. In any event, it would be good to have more international elites, even the cocky ones. Thanks for the piece Running Mann.

  8. I’ve followed Jim for a few years and certainly at times he can come across as a brash, over-confident and even disrespectful guy.. However, I find this article a bit too biased for me.

    We can all agree that the Up-run record is almost certainly doped, which makes Jim at least 50% correct. The Comrades is doing itself no favors by still recognizing it and invites skepticism by keeping it, especially when there are financial incentives tied to breaking it. In the same way that many call for the suspicious 20+ year old ladies track records to be scrapped, maybe the same should be considered for this Up-run record? With each passing year it becomes more and more painful to see such a record associated with our beloved race.

    That record is not the only blemish on the Comrades name… for example, the case you raise with Joseph Mphuthi. He was sanctioned following the Loskop infringement, yet was allowed to compete (and win a gold medal and prize money)… WHILE sanctioned… Jim is skeptical and I am too.. In my mind there should be ZERO room for such nonsense, but Comrades allowed it?

    It’s great that you highlight how well our local athletes are being tested, but what about the international competitors? Are they subject to the same level of scrutiny? Who is testing Alexandra Morozova out of competition for example? (I’m not saying she doping) She’s effectively an amateur without any federation to test her.. does that not complicate things?

    I think some comment from Comrades could balance this article out… a couple that I would like to know for example:
    -What is their opinion on the validity of the record?
    -What are they doing to ensure international athletes are subject to the same level of testing as our local athletes?

    I think we can all agree that we would love to see a clean sport and a fair playing field for all.

    1. Matt, yeh – as stated in article Up record is suspect (no disagreement) but JM statement was all encompassing and did not clarify. He’s also planning to run the Down run. The main point of the article is that there are far more doping controls at Comrades than at any international ultras (esp. for SA athletes). As you’ve stated, there is bigger prize money at Comrades than any other ultra which unfortunately also provides more incentive for cheats. Testing of elite ultra internationals is up to local orgs. and much less rigorous (mostly non existent).

      Agree Mphuthi is a blemish. That he was allowed to run and keep medal defies logic. I’ve not investigated this properly but think CMA wanted him DQed (and he was not registered as an elite last year – when I asked about this last year I got a ’roundabout’ answer). A lot of stuff is also out of CMA hands and with ASA (and testing OOC of international athletes is completely out of both their hands). If I asked CMA for opinion I will either get a very PC response or be referred elsewhere (I might still try but I am not planning on writing any more on this topic).

      100% we’d all like to know the sport is clean and celebrate the champions without wondering what’s in their bloodstream. South Africa is probably the leader in this respect for ultra athletes (as we should be considering the prominence of the sport).

  9. A really enjoyable read and well written – keep coming with articles like these.

    That said I’m with Matt here and I think we are painting Jim with bit a heavy brush (like a dark bloody red with a bit a few blue-ish dots). Having followed Jim closely for the last couple of years, I rate him as class human being and encourage runners to check out Jim’s story on Youtube – he is very open about his past challenges with depression and how running has in essence healed him.

    I can’t undo what he was quoted as saying about Comrades and you appropriately addressed the concerns expressed around doping and records.

    In my view there is a bigger issue here where ultra trial runners are unduly pressurised by the media and bloody (that red colour again) shoe sponsors into the road running scene. Why – because that is where the money is! A few have pulled it off including “our” beloved Camille (but do note that her winning time in 2017 is +/- 30mins slower than Gerda’s time this year and she most definitely felt the pace this year before pulling out).

    Jim is an “unreal” ultra trial athlete and again showed his class with a 14:09 at Western States a couple of weekends back (beating Ryan Sandes by 2 hours to put that into context). We should not confuse trial and road running as each requires its own unique sets of running skills and abilities.

    A lot is being made about Jim at Comrades AND it would definitely make for interesting TV time if he is to come and run Comrades attempting a record (as many wanted to see how the World Champ from Japan was going to do this year – I like many wanted him to “fail” if you can call it like that just to justify Comrades as the “superior” ultra road race) BUT we should not forget that Jim is first and foremost is an accomplished ultra trial runner. If people are calling for him to come and run Comrades at record pace, then Gatebe and Mtembu should both go and give the Western States Record a go.

    To put things into context – Ryan Sandes ran Two Oceans this year in 3:51 coming home in 85th position overall (don’t know if he ran it purely as a training run but it was almost 40mins behind David Gatebe). That said, I challenge David to take Ryan Sandes on at UTCT 100km to see how he goes. (And I know Prodigal Khumalo and his Comrades history – he is an super talented athlete!)

    Lets appreciate the likes of Jim, Killian and Sandes for the trial legends they are and feats achieved while at the same time acknowledging the likes of Gatebe, Mtembu and Kelehe for their amazing feats at Comrades over the last couple of years. (Kipchoge and the likes is another discussion!)

    Let Jim be Jim (see they even pushing for him now to run Olympics marathon – like in WTF??!!!!)

    PS – lets take the “piss” out of more Aussies and Poms please.
    Love your work

    Disclosure
    I ran the Comrades 2018 Down run (scarred for life and ranted the most offensively language imaginable from 30kms out till the end and then kissed my wife with that mouth) and doing my second Otter this year (used similar language going through the last 10kms). Two Oceans stretched up and down Chappies remains unmatched!

    1. Hardus, I try to be an equal opportunity offender and share the satire – but yes, it is probably time for pick on the Aussies and Poms! I never quite know how a story will turn out until I sit down and write it. Had Jim replied/clarified no doubt it would have had a different flavour (and I did my best to contact him directly as well as through Letsrun.com).

      Trail and tar are very different beasts. The problem for guys like Gatebe, Mthembu, etc. is that they generally come from poor backgrounds and running is a major part of their income and upliftment (Gatebe was a petrol attendant and Mthembu a migrant bricklayer from what I understand). Most of the trail runners come from middle-class backgrounds (my opinion is that there is much more ‘elitism’ in trail than there is on the road, it is far more difficult for someone from a very poor background to break into trail running than in road running and in SA there is less money in trail ultras). On face value there appears to be very few who have achieved success at both – even for a guy like Prodigal with a couple of Golds (but nowhere near the podium). Having said that, I think it would be more likely for a great trail runner to win Comrades than the other way around.

      Camille’s 2017 win was fairly tardy but she also did not have much competition that year (i.e. had she been challenged more along the way she would probably have run a faster time). Gerda’s time this year was amazing – the analysis I did on the female elite shows just how good her run was as well as how good the other top 10 placings were relative to previous years. Slowish winning time can sometimes happen in the ladies race (Charne’s Comrades win was also on the slow side) as there is less depth in the field (something that is gradually changing).

      Sandes was definitely using Oceans as a training run this year.

      And yes, running long distances is a good way to test the limits of one’s vocabulary!

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