In 1923, Frances Hayward was the first female participant of the Comrades marathon. Her request for an official entry was declined so she ran unofficially, finishing in 11h35 (well within the 12 hour cutoff that was changed to 11 hours in 1928). As an unofficial entrant she was denied the silver medal handed out to all finishers in those days. Therefore, the Frances Hayward Medal seems fitting to recognise, “those that should have received a medal but didn’t.”
Unfortunately, along with the highs of the new men’s and women’s best Down Run times and Johannes Mosehla (81) becoming the oldest ever Comrades finisher, 2023 also saw a long string of organisational blunders from the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) that have left a bad taste in mouth of the running community. One of these blunders was the ill-thought out and illogical cutoff times that needlessly culled hundreds of should-be Comrades medallists from the field and left them medal-less.
17:29pm, Sunday 11 June, Kingsmead Stadium, Durban: A bemused and bewildered crowd looks at an empty finish straight. The race officials brace themselves for a final finish line onslaught that never comes before shrugging their shoulders and packing up. The SuperSport commentary team, who had been building up to the emotional climax of the day, are stunned into silence. Mqondisi Ngcobo, Chairman of the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA), raises the final cutoff pistol and shoots a blank into the dusky Durban skyline. The cock failed to crow at the start of Comrades 2023 and, with most flaccid and anticlimactic finish in Comrades’ 102-year history, it would have been more appropriate had Comrades’ Chairman aimed the gun at his foot.
So much for a fairytale finish. When the clock struck 12 at the 2023 Comrades Marathon there was no Cinderella story. However, someone out there deserves the Giant Pumpkin Award for robbing hundreds of runners of their Comrades medal.
In the build-up to Comrades 2023, I did a talk entitled “Stats, Stories & Bowel Movements: An Illustrated Guide to the Comrades Marathon” at several running clubs including Midrand Striders.
I kick the presentation off with the ‘bowel movements’ part (a couple of moving bowel stories) because (a) you want to cleanse your colon before the start of Comrades and (b) my definition of a ‘real runner’ is not that you’ve run Comrades but rather that you can talk about your bowel movements without embarrassment*.
For the final article in this series, I’m going to expand on the athlete metaphor to illustrate the vital importance that leadership support plays to ensure optimal athlete and team performance over long, arduous initiatives.
There are few things tougher than the Comrades ultra marathon. The Comrades Marathon is by far the largest and most prestigious ultra marathon in the world. Every year, approximately 20,000 aspirant runners aim to complete 90 very hilly kilometres (56 miles) between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in under 12 hours. If you achieve a Top 10 finish at Comrades, you earn a coveted Gold medal.
In my opinion, the hardest part of an agile transformation is the change management – and the hardest minds to change are usually those of the leaders. However, active leadership buy-in, support, understanding and active participation is the number one critical success factor in any transformation initiative.
Below are three questions to help leaders on their journey. Each question helps to reframe the leadership role and relevance thereof in an agile organisation.
If you’re going to the Olympic Games and can pay for 100 people to go, how many athletes would you take and how many “support staff” (coaches, physios, administrators, the head of your national Olympic committee, etc.)?
There is no precise answer. However, you would definitely want to take more athletes than support staff. Extremes would be sub-optimal. Taking 100 athletes and no support staff would likely result in a much worse overall performance than if you got the balance ‘just right’? Whilst this is a question that falls into the ‘it depends’ answer category, I would expect that there is a generally accepted ‘rule of thumb’ ratio for optimal performance.