The Gold Standard
The male Gold pace per split graph is quite different from the female side of the field (see previous article). Over the first few splits, the frontrunning is done by a few TV runners (who fade fast and don’t feature in this graph) but the serious contenders stick together until the halfway mark at Drummond. Seven of the ten Golds are still together at Winston Park after which the fastest split of the race into Pinetown separates the good from the great.
From Pinetown, the only podium position in question is third with Dan Moselakwe eventually claiming it. Tete Dijana runs the fastest split in the field to Sherwood and further extends his lead to the finish line in Moses Mabhida – although he’s only the second fastest over the final split. The fastest final split belongs to 11th placed finished Gordon Lesetedi who just can’t reel in Lutendo Mapoto for the final Gold.
I’ve included the same graph from the last down run in 2018 for reference. Plenty of similarities and Pinetown is once again where the race is won. However, in 2018 Bongmusa Mthembu is peerless from Pinetown (and almost all of Mthembu’s 2018 splits are faster than Dijana’s win this year). Overall this year’s race appears to be fairly slow – Dijana’s time is the only the 25th fastest in down run history (more analysis on where the Golds fit into historic speed is covered later in this article).
Also of interest are Edward Mothibi’s splits when he finished fourth in 2018 when he was largely unknown before his 2019 win.
The Difference between Good & Great
The ‘great’ start to differentiate themselves from the ‘good’ at Cato Ridge and the gap widens rapidly from halfway. Male Gold medallists stamp their authority over the Top 100 runners over the two splits between Winston Park and Sherwood (pace deviation 15%).
Interestingly, the average Top 100 split pace is faster than the Gold medallists over the first five kilometres (but about 20 of these runners don’t finish the race).
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.
Battle of the Sexes
If you missed the “Run Like a Girl (A Guide to Optimal Pacing at the Comrades Marathon)” article highlighting how much better women are at men when it comes to Comrades pace and performance, here’s one more graph highlighting the point.
This is a comparison of the split pace of Top 100 male and female finishers. Whilst there is a big difference between the average pace (around 22% from the start to Winston Park), it decreases dramatically over the last three split. Over the last split to the finish line it drops to below 15%.
Doing the Splits
The two large tables provide a detailed perspective of the men’s Top 100 finishers.
There is a stark contrast between the men’s and women’s tables. Over the first four splits to halfway at Drummond, there are only four Top 10 split rankings amongst the eventual Gold winners (from 40 possibilities) – and only one Top 5 (from 10th placed Lutendo Mapoto on the Lynnfield Park split).
However, like in the women’s race, the splits that really count in the men’s race are the 11 kilometres into Pinetown and the subsequent 12 kilometres to Sherwood. The Pinetown split separates the good from the great and Sherwood determines the eventual winner, Tete Dijana, from second placed Edward Mothibi (who narrowly misses out on adding the down title to his 2019 up run win).
Debutant Dan Moselakwe earns the final podium position – his split rankings make interesting reading and indicate a well-paced race. Three-time winner, Bongmusa Mthembu, takes fourth with his slowest down run time since 2009.
After the heartbreak of 2019, when he dropped from 9th to 11th over the last few hundred metres, Nkosikhona Mhlakwana earns his first Gold medal with a 6th placed finish. 11th place tends to provide some drama at Comrades and this year was no different. Gordon Lesetedi runs the fastest final split (only he and winner Dijana were able to run the last nine kilometres faster than 4min/km in the entire field) but Lesetedi’s final time is just 10 seconds too slow for a Gold medal.
Amongst the elite clubs, Nedbank dominate claiming half the Gold medals on offer. Interestingly all five are from the Gauteng North branch of the Nedbank club. South African runners claim nine Golds (with Malawian Solly Manduwa – the only other debutant in the Top 10 – crashing the party 8th).
The “Split Speed Summary” section has a heatmap which also contrasts radically to the ladies’ field and indicates that there is far more depth amongst the male elite entrants. However, only six runners manage a split under 3:30 and they all win Gold whilst running four sub-3:45 splits and finishing all but guarantees you a Wally Hayward medal.
The “Split Ranking Summary” section gives a visual of how each athlete performs relative to his peers. This highlights that consistency is key, all the Gold medal winners are in the Top 100 per split with the exception of Joseph Manyedi who fades badly and can only manage 5:01 over the last split.
There was only one athlete in the Top 50 who progressively improved his split ranking over all eight splits – David Ashworth (husband of 2018 winner Ann Ashworth).
The average time over the first four splits to Drummond are far faster than the four in the second half but these numbers are distorted by close to a 20% DNF rate. It is also notable that running a sub 3:30 split anywhere in the race (there were 14 this year) either meant you earn a Gold medal of a DNF, there was nothing in-between.
The table also highlights how important the Pinetown split is in sorting out the placings. 20 runners complete the split in 3:45 or better but only two (first placed Dijana and second placed Mothibi) are able to maintain this pace over the next split into Sherwood.
Medals Earned by Top 100 within Split
If you want to earn a Gold or Wally Hayward, you need to feature in the Top 100 for each split (the exceptions are all from the first and last split). There is far more attrition in the men’s race compared to the ladies – with most of the DNFs earned by Top 100 split rankings in the first half. No surprises that starting too fast leads to a bad (or no) result.
Top 100 Age Group within Split
As expected, the youngsters initially dominate the table but their numbers gradually decline on the road to Durban. The veteran numbers stay fairly constant whilst the wise old heads of a few masters make the Top 100 cut over the second half. The only man over 50 to achieve an overall Top 100 finish is the 2006 winner, Oleg Kharitonov (54) – 91st in 6:42:09.
The 60-year-old running Top 100 splits in the second half appears to be very dubious (read: cleary cheated) is a likely DQ and featured in my Comrades Cheats article.
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 only ten other countries represented (and only UK, Australia, Brazil and Russia from outside Africa). Uncertainty around Covid during the entry period is presumably 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 winner?
The first table shows the Top 50 ranked men using qualifying time to seed them. Eight of the Gold medallists are in the Top 22 seedings and only one, 8th placed Solly Manduwa, is outside the Top 50 seedings (he was ranked 66th). Nine of the 11 Wally Haywards also come from the Top 50 seedings. This gives an indication that qualifying time provides an excellent prediction of the male runners that will claim the top positions at Comrades.
Also of interest is that for the Top 50 seeds that finished (11 bailed), only four beat the “marathon time * 2 + one hour” elite finish time prediction equation – and all four earned Gold medals. The Gold medallists were also all very close to par (zero predicted time difference) suggesting that the “*2 +1” equation is an excellent predictor of optimal race day performance.
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 provides a view of the Top 50 finishers and how they fared compared to their predicted time. Most of the Top 50 are able to beat the “*2.5” recreational athlete predictor but only a handful go under par on the “*2 +1” elite athlete equation. Those that go substantially under, like David Gatebe, are most likely to have run an easy qualifier (in his case a 3:59 Two Oceans) to save their legs for Comrades.
The Class of 2022 vs. the Rest
How competitive was this year’s men’s field? The data says “Not Very.”
Tete Dejana’s winning time of 5:30:38 was only the 25th fastest all-time down run and Edward Mothibi just cracks the Top 50 in 46th place.
They are slightly higher on the all-time pace per kilometre down run table at 20th and 38th.
The next tables show the Top 10 fastest ever times for each Gold medal by finish time and race pace. This is even more telling with only Lutendo Mapoto cracking the finish time table as the 10th placed 10th place finisher.
Mapoto also makes it onto the all-time down run pace table (in 8th position for 10th placed finishers) and Edward Mothibi sneaks in with the 10th fastest 2nd place finish.
The right of each table shows how many Top 10, 5, 3 and fastest times there are per year – some vintages are clearly better than others.
There are some great names from the 80s and 90s on these tables and amazingly Alan Robb’s 1978 win is still the 10th fastest down run pace. They don’t make ‘em like they used to!
Class of 2018 vs Class of 2022
This graph further 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 men’s 2018 vs 2022 paints a similar picture with 2018 Golds being faster (especially the start) but the Top 100 is fairly similar in terms of split pace speed.
The table 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 year was the first time since 1992 that nine South African men earned a Gold medal. However, I think this is more to do with the lack of quality amongst the international field post-Covid rather than an increase performance by local runners (and the relatively slow times compared to previous years supports this view).
Having all the Gold medals stay in Africa is also relatively rare (only 2010 and 2015 have this trend).
Democracy in South Africa opened the doors to international competitors. Interesting how few white South African men have won a Gold medal in recent times – the last was Johan Oosthuizen in 2008. All eight this millennium have been won by just three runners Albe Geldenhuys, Sarel Ackermann and Oosthuizen.
The three tables provide a detailed view of Gold medal and podium finishes by decade, continent and country. There are very few countries who can claim a Comrades Gold and just 15 can boast a podium finish.Follow Running Mann: