The Gold Standard
The graph below shows the average pace between each timing mat for the top ten. Adele Broodryk makes an early move between Lynnfield Park and Cato Ridge (one of only two splits where a female runner dips below 4min/km) but she can’t hold the pace through halfway.
The big (and definitive) move usually happens between Winston Park and Pinetown in the down run this year is no different. Morozova smashes the fastest pace of the race (3:52) and, although she slows on the Sherwood split (which includes Cowies Hill), she extends her lead with no one else coming close to matching her.
The final split sees fast finishes from Broodryk (who does well to hang onto third), Mekgoe and Grundling whilst Yolande Maclean repeats her performance at the last down run in 2018 to claim the final Gold medal. After running out of juice, Jenna Challenor challenges the upper limits of my graph, highlighting that crawling the last few metres is an inefficient method to arrive in Durban.
For comparison, the same information from the 2018 down run where Morozova finished third is available below.
The 2018 race also highlights the perfect pacing of Ann Ashworth – she is the only winner (or Gold medallist – male or female) who has ever managed an even pace over the last two splits (on the up or down run) since I’ve been doing these graphs.
Below is a comparison between Morozova’s 2022 win and 2018 third place splits from Cato Ridge to the finish. Most of the splits are almost identical, the big difference between being the bride or the bridesmaid is the post-Pinetown split: 4:21 in 2018 versus 4:07 in 2022.
The Difference between Good & Great
The women’s graph highlights the difference in depth of serious female contenders. For women there is an initial split gap between Gold and overall Top 100 finishers of 13.7% compared to only 3.1% for men. However, the female variance remains much more constant than that of the men over the course of the race indicating better, more realistic pacing by female runners. In the men’s equivalent graph the Split Top 100 tracks exactly with the Gold Medallists until Cato Ridge before quickly diverging to a variance of over 15%.
The table below provides split pace rankings for the male and female elites. Lynnfield Park to Cato Ridge is quickest for everyone but Gold men, where Winston Park to Pinetown separates the good from the great. Of note is that the last two splits are the slowest for everyone.
Note: “Split Top 100” is the top 100 times recorded within the split for the entire field and “Overall Top 100” are the eventual Top 100 finishers.
Doing the Splits
The two large tables below provide a detailed perspective of the women’s Top 100 finishers.
The split ranking data highlights that Comrades is won over the second half with Morozova ‘winning’ three out of four second half splits (the fastest female over the last split is 8th placed Janie Grundling). Only two other runners manage to ‘win’ a split, Dominika Stelmach and Adele Broodryk, who end the race second and third respectively.
Broodryk is the only runner to complete a sub-4 minute split over the first half (the Lynnfield Park to Cato Ridge split). In the second half, Morozova’s 3:52 split place from Winston Park to Pinetown is the only sub-4 minute split and is significantly faster than any of her rivals.
There are three debutants in the top ten, Broodryk, Galaletsang Mekgoe (5th) and Annerie Wooding (9th). Mekgoe is one of the very few black South African ladies to have ever won a Comrades Gold (more on this later) and looks to have paced her race extremely well.
Camille Herron also ran a very consistent race from a split ranking point of view – she ranges from 4th to 8th fastest over the eight splits – but lacked the speed to challenge for a podium in 2022. Herron does an incredible amount of competitive ultra running (she’d recently run the Western States 100 miler and was probably just warming up by the time she got into Durban). Herron was the only runner to use a 100km race as her qualifier (which in fact was her 100km split the way to breaking the 100 mile world record). When Herron won the 2017 Comrades, Jack Black beer featured as part of her in-race nutrition plan but, as per the Tweet below, she has tweaked her hydration strategy.
The “Split Speed Summary” section has a heatmap which highlights the void between the podium finishers and everyone else at this year’s race. The red blocks provide a visual of how the pace drops further down the field and how few athletes are able to maintain a pace of 4:30 or better.
Likewise the “Split Ranking Summary” section gives a visual of how each athlete performs relative to her peers. The women’s race is a lot more predictable than the men’s with all of the Gold medal winners achieving a Top 50 ranking in every split and nearly all the Top 50 achieving a Top 100 split ranking for all splits.
One of the most interesting stats from the Gold table on the benefits of steady pacing: Annerie Wooding finishes 9th without getting a single Top 10 split ranking and Yolande Maclean finishes 10th with just one Top 10 split ranking.
Perhaps the most interesting appearances on the Top Ten table are 46-year-old Helena Joubert (7th) and 42-year-old Janie Grundling (8th). Both have steadily progressed their Comrades careers from Bronze to Bill Rowan to Isavel Roche-Kelly to earning their first Golds in 2022. They are definitely an inspiration to those of us on the wrong side of 40 who usually finish further down the field!
Although the average time for the fastest 100 runners per split is quickest over the first three splits, it is the fastest split of the second half from Winston Park to Pinetown that separates the champions from the challengers. It is also notable how far ahead of the rest of the field Alexandra Morozova’s performance was – she was the only runner to run faster than 4:15 or 4:30 over the penultimate split to Sherwood.
Medals Earned by Top 100 within Split
There are very few runners who feature in a Top 100 split that finish slower than 9-hour for a Bill Rowan – and even fewer who don’t make it to the Moses Mabhida Stadium. This is in stark contrast to the men’s field where there is far greater attrition.
Top 100 Age Group within Split
The veteran ladies dominate until halfway, after which their numbers decline slightly being replaced by the younger ladies and a few masters. No grand master manages a Top 100 split and the only lady over 50 in the achieve an overall Top 100 finish is the evergreen Lindsay Van Aswegen (53) – 47th in 7:49:44.
Countries Represented within Split
The table shows the number of runners per country achieving a Top 100 pace within each split. This list is a lot less diverse than in previous years with uncertainty around Covid during the entry period presumably being the primary cause. This will be something to watch in 2023 because the failure to attract a strong international field does not bode well for the future of the race.
How good is qualifying time at predicting the women’s winner?
Here’s the ladies table showing the Top 50 rankings using qualifying time to seed them. This table is even more accurate than the men’s equivalent in predicting finish position. All the Gold medallists are within the Top 25 seedings. In addition, 21 of the 25 Isavel Roche-Kellys (Silvers) are within the Top 50 seedings. Unfortunately, this also highlights the lack of depth in the women’s field (there are less than 40 females in the entire field with a marathon time or distance adjusted marathon time under three hours).
At the top of the table is Camille Herron who used her 100k split (on the way to breaking the 12 hour and 100 mile world record) at the Jackpot Ultra as her qualifier!
Only three of the women in the Top 50 seedings manage to break the elite predictor (marathon time * 2 + one hour) but there is some fine print that would leave 5th placed debutant Galaletsang Mekgoe as the only female on the list to achieve this distinction. Race winner Alexandra Morozova ran a 02:32:44 in Stockholm on 9 October 2021 which would put her as the fastest female in the field (and would have predicted a 6:05:28 Comrades finish time which is over 12 minutes quicker than what she achieved). Likewise, Jenna Challenor has a marathon PB of 2:36:50 achieved in 2020. This would predict a 6:13:40 Comrades finish time (compared to the 6:42:13 she achieved).
Note: Ultra marathon qualifying times were adjusted using the ratio in the table below. The equation was derived by using the Two Oceans / Marathon adjustment scale within Jan Louw’s Comrades predictor and then applying a similar scale to all ultra qualifying distances. If anyone has a better method, let me know!
The next table shows the Top 50 female finishers compared to their predicted times. 11th placed Lizzy Babili and Jenni Kruse are the only other Top 50 females to beat the “*2 +1” predictor. Most of the female Top 50 are able to beat the “*2.5” predictor used for recreational runners. Also of note is that there was no one outside the Top 100 seedings who achieved a Top 50 finish (44th placed Merle Rautenbach was the 99th fastest female qualifier).
The Class of 2022 vs. the Rest
The female class did better than the men without setting the record books on fire. The ladies managed to get all their podium finishers onto the Top 50 all-time finish time and pace list. Alexandra Morozova (22nd), Dominika Stelmach (41st) and Adele Broodryk (46th) add their names to fastest female down runs.
The same trio get slightly higher positions on the Top 50 all-time down run pace chart but no one breaks into the Top 20. Morozova (21st) increases the Russian dominance on this list whilst Stelmach is 35th and Adele Broodryk 39th on the fastest pace list.
The class of 2022 sees just five Tops 10s (compared to a full house of 10 in 2018), just one Top 5 result (Yolande Maclean secures the fifth fastest 10th placed Gold) and no Top 3s. As a comparison, the ladies field in the last down run (2018) made a much bigger dent on the “finish times by position” record books.
Check out the table on the righthand side of the above tables for annual vintage performance. How good was Frith van der Merwe? Her 1989 record still stands and her 1991 win also features on the list but no other runner those dates (or 1993 or 1995) is still on the list.
Class of 2018 vs Class of 2022
This graph highlights that 2022 was much slower race for the Gold ladies than in 2018 but the Top 100 is quite comparable in terms of split pace.
The table below provides a detailed comparison of 2018-2022 Golds and Top 100s. Nearly all Gold splits were faster in 2018 whilst honours are split for the Top 100s. Winston Park to Pinetown is business time for Gold medallists (all Golds except 2022 ladies have this as their fastest split).
A History of Golds by Region / Ethnicity
This is perhaps the most remarkable (and depressing) graph: the rarity that South African women of colour that win Gold medals.
Whilst black South African men quickly dominated the medal table after democracy, Galaletseng Mekoe became just the third black South African lady to win Gold.
The table highlights just how rare it is for a women of colour to win Gold – made even harder since Gold was only available to the top ten women from 1998 (before then, Gold was awarded to the winner from 1983, top three from 1988, top five from 1995). It’s also remarkable that no female from another African country has ever won Gold.
My hypothesis is that it takes a lot more than talent and hard work to be a successful ultra marathon runner – and sadly the additional support that is required for a talented female athlete to realise her potential is not available to most South African women.
I remember Farwa Mentoor (the only athlete in this list with a Top 50 all-time finish time) having to sell one of her Gold medals so that she could pay the transport and accommodation costs to run another Comrades. When I chatted to Fikile Mbuthuma a few years ago (when she was trying to achieve a second Gold), she was working 50-hour weeks as a receptionist with no dispensation for additional training time and ran Comrades in shoes she paid for herself.
I’d be interested to hear the view of elite female athletes about this graph (and the striking contrast to the men’s results and South Africa’s demographics). Feel free to DM me on social media with your opinions.
Can you win a Gold medal from B batch?
The short answer is, “Yes, almost.”
One of the most interesting and, to date, overlooked statistics of Comrades 2022 is that Lizzy Babili started from B batch and finished 11th in the ladies race with a time of 7:02:41. As far as I know, this is the all-time highest placed finish for anyone not starting in the A or Elite batches.
Had Babili managed to overhaul Yolande MacLean in the closing stages of the race, it would have been the first time in the history of Comrades that two black female runners won a Gold medal. Babili would also have joined Sarah Mahlangu as the only black female runner to win Comrades and Two Oceans Golds (Lizzy finished 10th at the 2019 Two Oceans Ultra Marathon).
Babili picked up an Achilles injury during the year which negatively impacted her preparation and she was not even sure she would make it to the start. On her run this year, Babili said, “Comrades is tough but if you have a plan and you make sure you stick to it everything will go well. I am really happy with my performance because now I know I am capable and have the confidence in my abilities to make it to Gold.”
This was Babili’s best Comrades performance to date, knocking off an amazing 1h40 from her debut down run in 2018 (8:44:32) and adding another Isavel Roche-Kelly medal to her collection after finishing 23rd (7:20:21) at the 2019 up run.Follow Running Mann: