Where did all the runners go? The Comrades cutoff debacle.


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.

The most flaccid and anticlimactic finish in Comrades’ 102-year history (perhaps the gun would have been better aimed at the 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.

When responding to the perplexed question, “Why were there no runners in the last few minutes?”, Rowyn James (Comrades Race Director) responded that this was the result of, “A meticulously worked out final cutoff point time by the organisers where the time was reduced from 11h10 as in past years to 11h00 hours, mainly due to the reduced distance and taking into account a runner’s pace at that stage compared to their overall expected finish time.”

Lots of words, little basis in reality. This article aims to re-educate James on the meaning of the word ‘meticulous’ and provide some solace to the hundreds of aspirant Comrades runners robbed of a medal.

Entrepreneur Jim Barksdale once said, “If we have data, let’s look at the data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” Fortunately, I have lots of data so this is one case where we don’t need to rely on opinions of the CMA.

Let’s start with the graph below showing the number of minute-by-minute finishers just before the final 12-hour cutoff. The green columns are 2022 data. Alongside are my purple projections based on the 21.6% increase in starter numbers from 2022 to 2023. The yellow columns on the right are the actual minute-by-minute finishers – these quickly go from skyscrapers to condos to vacant land.

A comparison of actual 2022 last ten minute finishers to 2023 field-size adjusted projections and actuals.

Based on these calculations, 884* Comrades were missing in action over the last 10 minutes. A further 214 lost the chance to cross the finish line as The Last Post played.

* This number is probably too high based on the officially stated number of DNFs but I have been denied access to the full data set so cannot verify.

Where did all the runners go? The answer is that there was literally no one left on the road because almost every single runner* who made the final cut-off at Sherwood (6.39km in 60 minutes at a strollable 9:23/km) was able to make it safely to Kingsmead. Everyone else got a dishonourable discharge at the Pinetown and Sherwood cutoffs.

* One notable exception was Henri Zermatten, from whom we’ll hear later.

Below is some excellent analysis by Wits statistician, Mark Dowdeswell, showing the success rate of 2023 Comrades runners based on their split times at cutoff points.

Drummond was a fair split. Most people make the cutoff with more than ten minutes to spare and very few people who cross Drummond within ten minutes of cutoff earn a medal (courtesy Mark Dowdeswell).

The first graph shows Drummond (the halfway point) which is a ‘fair split’. Most runners go through Drummond with 10 or more minutes to spare and there are very few runners who go through in the last 10 minutes before cutoff and are able to finish.

Almost everyone that made the Sherwood cutoff earns a medal. A clear indication that the cutoff time was incorrect and illogical (courtesy Mark Dowdeswell).

The second graph, showing the final split at Sherwood, is in stark contrast. There is virtually no one that went though Sherwood that did not make the finish under 12 hours (as a comparison, in 2022, 532 runners made Sherwood and did not finish). A total of 1016 runners go through Sherwood in the final 10 minutes before cutoff and, of these, all but six finish. That’s an incredible 99.4% success rate (and a 100% certainty that the cutoff timing was absurd). It’s clear that the CMA took the popcorn bag out of the microwave before the kernels had finished popping.

How did the CMA get things so wrong? The table below provides a comparison of the 2022 and 2023 cutoffs. In 2022, the Sherwood cutoff was at 80.9km at a gun time of 11h10. This meant you had 50 minutes to run 9km which is 5:33/km – unlikely for someone at the back of the field but two people managed to go through the final cutoff with minutes to spare and earned a medal in 2022. The 2023 event saw runners subjected to double taxation, the cutoff was 10 minutes stricter (11h00) but the distance to go was 2.6km shorter (6.4km to go).

An overall average pace of 8:13/km was needed to finish the 2023 Comrades in 11:59:59. If life was fair and the math was done, this means that 21 minutes should be added to the final cutoff rather than 10 removed. I initially suspected that that the root cause of this problem lay in the poor quality of STEM education in our schools: With 10 minutes added (rather than subtracted), this would give runners 40 minutes at 6:15/km to complete the final 6.4km, still too strict in my opinion, but a much more reasonable equation. Sadly, I was wrong – this blunder was not a math problem, it was ‘no math was done, my opinion is good enough’ problem.

The other contentious change was the Pinetown split, once again at least 10 minutes should have been added rather than removed. If you went through Winston Park one second before the cutoff you’d need to run at 6:16/km or faster to make it to Pinetown before they shut the gates – that’s about two minutes per kilometre faster than the average pace needed for an 11:59:59 finish. This defies all logic.

Armed with this analysis, I sent off the graph and a set of questions to Rowyn James and Delaine Cools (Comrades Communications Manager). It takes a lot to astound me but I was genuinely stunned with the response from James. So much so, that I sent a reply asking that James reconsider his answers. I would prefer to play the balls-up rather than the man but it appears he’s happy to let his answers stand*.

* For the record, This is a portion of my subsequent reply to his answers:

“I respect the job that you do and have always enjoyed our interactions. I would like to give you another opportunity to reconsider your position and answers on this issue. I really don’t think your current answers will go down well in the running community. The lack of empathy towards Comrades runners with a genuine complaint really concerns me.

We can both agree that Comrades is the greatest ultra marathon in the world. There is a perception, which I agree with, that the CMA is not open to any feedback or constructive criticism (“Arrogant” is the word most commonly used). There are many people out there, myself included, that would like to see Comrades not only remain the greatest but continue to evolve and improve.”

We’ll tackle the questions and CMA’s answers one by one. Everything starts off rather civilly but it quickly degenerates…

10 Minutes Grace for Months of Training and Thousands of Rands Spent?

How many minutes grace should we give aspirant Vic Clapham medallists? Remember these are people, paying Comrades customers, from all walks of life who’ve spent thousands of rands just to make it to the start line, have persevered for over 11 hours on the road to get to the final cutoff and have endured many months of personal sacrifice to be within sniffing distance of a glorious finish at Kingsmead?

The Comrades Marathon brings R544 million per year into the KwaZulu Natal economy. Surely keeping the 12.45km stretch of road from Pinetown to Sherwood and the 6.39km from Sherwood to Kingsmead open would not make much difference to the Sunday evening traffic flow for an event that starts before dawn? Surely giving these athletes, whom Bruce Fordyce refers to as, “the true heroes of the race”, an extra 10 minutes is not too much to ask?

Never Mind the Faulty Starting Pistol here comes the Bollocks

The confidence (or arrogance) in this response is in stark contrast to the facts. We’ll get to the data shortly but let’s deal with the emotions first. Aside from getting “bollocks”-ed in the reply, James pulls out the ‘J-word’. Personally, I don’t get offended by the being called a ‘jogger’ but many people do. As with any word, it’s not the word itself but the way in which it’s used. In this case the context is clearly intended to condescend and insult a large proportion of Comrades’ customer base (close to 50% of the field finishes in the last hour). This is like the CEO of a bank that makes most of its profits from those in lower socio-economic rungs walking around in a “F#$% the Poor” t-shirt.

However, I took James’ advice to “go and pull the stats”. I wished he’d done the same before 11 June as it would have saved Comrades from this embarrassing debacle. The data is damning.

In 2022 there were 4080 Vic Clapham medallists, more than enough to provide a statistically significant sample size. The graph below shows the average pace of these 4080 runners in 30 second tranches. There are 1549 Comrades who run at a pace of 8:00/km or better and a total of 2263 athletes were faster than the average pace of 8:13/km required to finish the 2023 Comrades Marathon. Interestingly, the average pace required for a 11:59:59 finish in 2023 was 8:13/km which was the exact average pace of 2022 Clapham medallists over the last split (the median pace was actually faster – 8:08/km).

Average pace of all 4080 Comrades 2022 Vic Clapham medallists over the final 9km split.

Bear in mind that the 2022 distance was significantly longer than the 6.4km final 2023 split and that many of these runners are not under 12-hour cutoff time pressure (i.e. I will walk a lot more for a casual 11:30 finish, whereas I will find the energy and speed to run if the 12-hour cutoff is tight). A good example of this is one of the ‘true heroes’ of the 2022 event, Gideon Smuts, who ran an average pace of 5:39/km over the last 9km for a 11:59:15 finish time.

I also thought I’d take a snapshot of the athletes who finished in the last 10 minutes in 2022. Once again, data trumps opinions, there are several hundred (403 to be precise) runners that are able to maintain an average pace of 8:00/km or better over the final split. The average pace for this cohort is 8:07.9/km (which is faster than the full Vic Clapham sample). Once again, my opinion is that those on the slower, right-hand side of the curve are likely runners that went through Sherwood well under the cutoff time and therefore did more walking than those under time pressure.

Average pace of the 403 Comrades 2022 Vic Clapham medallists who finished in last ten minutes.

However, we’ve established that opinions can fall apart once subjected to analytical scrutiny – so let’s see whether my hypothesis that runners will get faster under time pressure holds true. The graph below shows the average pace of the 215 runners that crossed the 2022 Sherwood timing mat at a running time of 10h45 or slower (25 minutes to spare) and finished. You can easily see that the graph is heavily skewed to the left – athletes under time pressure run significantly faster (in this case at an average of 7:34/km over the final split compared to the overall Vic Clapham average of 8:13/km).

Athletes under time pressure run much faster than those with time to spare.

QED. It’s clear that, contrary to James’ untested assertion that his “joggers” are “actually getting slower and slower the further they go”, the opposite is in fact true.

Even without rudimentary data analysis skills, the CMA could also have simply referred to the last two Down Runs that finished at Kingsmead for a like-for-like comparison. In 2016, 294 runners went through Sherwood between 11h00 and 11h10 and managed to cover the final 6.46km to earn their medal and, in 2014, a further 334 covered the final 7km after crossing the final split between 11h00 and 11h10. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

[Note: I have not done full analysis on the Pinetown split but would expect to find similar results.]

Route Cause Analysis

I’d estimate somewhere around 100 Comrades runners, directly impacted by these ridiculous cutoff times, have got into contact with me via social media, direct message and email. I’d call that a lot.

Unfortunately Komalan Moodley relied on the official Comrades app which still displayed the 2022 cutoff times and was cutoff at Sherwood during his 37th run.

Who were these runners? In terms of experience, they ranged from novices to Green Numbers (the most experienced runner who contacted me had 36 finishes). There were runners going for their Green Number and those just hoping for a back-to-back medal to end their Comrades career. There were locals and overseas visitors who’d paid the R4500 ‘business class’ entry fee plus thousands of tourist dollars for a once in a lifetime experience. There were also the heart-wrenching stories of despair like that of Vanessa Briglal, who was running to commemorate the memory of her late husband as their anniversary was also 11 June. However, there was one thing that united them all – they were robbed of the chance to get a 2023 Comrades finisher’s medal.

For some of the comments from impacted runners see these links*:



* I would have invited Comrades to check out the comments from their customers but they unfollowed me on social media after I published this article: Money or the Goody Bag? The Great Comrades Refund Debate

Almost everyone that was cutoff at Pinetown complained that their GPS device showed that they’d run at least 1km longer than the advertised distance at the cutoff. The same comment has come from runners that completed the event and the Strava accounts of elite athletes (who would have followed the ‘racing line’ and would not have had additional metres at the start). Whilst the cutoff point is in exactly (no need for caps Rowyn) the same place as in previous years, there are various other changes to the route especially in the early section this year. GPS data will never be as accurate as an official measurement from a qualified professional but runners also reported that they were tracking in sync with the official board markers until around the Winston Park mark.

Official route measurements always trump runner’s GPS readings and I’d like to think that Comrades is indeed above reproach for something as fundamental as correct route measurement but, with other organisational basics having gone awry at the 2023 event, I am no longer taking anything for granted.

Basic 2023 miscalculations include not having the correct shirt sizes (despite having 30 years of precedent and runners selecting the size on their entries seven months beforehand), running out of silver medals (once again basic maths – adjusting the 2022 figures to allow for the shorter route and uplifting for the larger field – would have solved this) as well as back-to-back medals (not sure how this went wrong as it’s a simple case of comparing back-to-back entrants with back-to-back medal stock), and trying to squeeze 17000 runners through a 5m-wide stretch of road with three 90 degree turns in the first five kilometres (aside from causing standstill congestion, this is a major safety risk that was repeatedly raised to the CMA and ignored before the event)*.

* It should be pointed out that both appointed Technical Delegates, the internationally recognised and vastly experienced Anand Naicker and Norrie Williamson, resigned before the race because they felt that their safety concerns were being ignored by the CMA.

Whilst on the topic of getting basic calculations right, take a look at the video below of the Sherwood cutoff (supplied by Brendan de Villiers). If you pause at the 13-14 second mark you can see that the official clock still shows 5 seconds remaining when the gun fires. I also found it rather disturbing observing the enthusiasm, zeal and outright glee with which the cutoff constables executed the orders of their Race Dictator in sending these Comrades for an early shower.

Note: I have confirmed that the runners in the video were indeed below 11h00 on the official timing data and were therefore incorrectly cutoff. Below is an eyewitness report from another cutoff point in Pinetown .

Before moving onto the next question, I’d like to deal with what is perhaps the one valid defensible argument in CMA’s misfiring cannon, “We published the cutoff times beforehand”. For the prosecution, I present these items of evidence:

  • Many individual runners and the official Comrades pacers pointed out the later cutoffs did not make sense. They were all brushed aside or completely ignored.
  • The official pacing charts never made it to the expo. The cynic in me wonders whether they were ‘deliberately held up at customs’ (the stated reason for their absence) because they’d include mathematically impossible splits for Vic Clapham medallists over the last two splits.
  • Had a table view (like the one I’ve included in this article) showing the average pace and pace between splits been provided, there would have been a lot more people flagging the ridiculous Pinetown and Sherwood cutoff times.
  • The official Comrades app still had (and still has) the 2022 cutoff times allowing for the extra 10 minutes. Several people have told me that they used this for their race day pacing calculations.
  • If you do a Google image search of “Comrades 2023 cutoffs”, the 2022 data displays. Yes, the distances are different but there is no date displayed on the image so it’s easy for people use the incorrect year’s chart.
  • You cannot rely on nervous Comrades runners, who’ve been bombarded with streams of pre-race emails and information, to take-in and remember every minor race day detail*. Nervous Comrades runners should however be able to trust and rely on the CMA to make sensible, logical decisions and have their best interests at heart.

* Take a look at this blog article I’ve written on this topic: Written Documentation is a Terrible Way to Communicate

Even Comrades own app predicted that those cutoff would have made the finish under 12 hours.

Move Over Donald Trump, There’s a New Sheriff in Town

Although I am not sure of the need for the Trumpian tone of the response, I’m happy to confirm that there was no closing of the gates outside the stadium. There was however a barricade of bailer busses that the survivors of the Sherwood massacre needed to navigate through.

Like the Generals in the Crimean War, it appears that the bulging-bellied blazers of the CMA prefer to hang out well behind the possible reach of enemy fire on the lush Kingsmead grass for some TV time, rather than on the battlefield with their soldiers. Perhaps we should excuse the ignorance of our commanders-in-chief, such is their detachment from the charge of the Comrades brigade and the challenges experienced by the 17000 foot soldiers undertaking their mission to the finish line.

The best person to comment on the last few minutes of Comrades 2023 is 62-year-old novice, Henri Zermatten. Suffering from a severe case of ‘runners lean’ (caused by a tilting pelvis from an Achilles tendon injury that resurfaced during the race), he’s the only person who made it into Kingsmead after the final cutoff. His tenacity and bloody-mindedness should be applauded.

A picture of perseverance. Suffering from a severe case of ‘runner’s lean’, Henri Zermatten was the sole survivor of Comrades’ crazy cutoffs who crossed the finish line after 12 hours.

Zermatten told me he was harassed constantly during what runners are now calling “the sprint to Sherwood”. He elaborates, “The guys manning the bailer buses actually stopped me on three occasions to try to get me into the bus. They made it sound like you had to get in. I argued that I had enough time but they wouldn’t listen. Many runners got in under pressure, the time spent arguing was lost though.”

Many runners have complained of inference, irritation and harassment from the bailer vehicles. Zermatten’s response seems appropriate as a mantra for the running community should the myopia at Comrades House continue, “I told them to get stuffed and kept running.*”

* “Gcwalisa futhi uqhubeke nokugijima”, isiZulu for “Get stuffed and keep running”, should be a frontrunner for the 2024 Comrades slogan.

When he arrived at the entrance to Kingsmead, Zermatten found his way blocked by rows and rows of bailer busses and struggled to get into the stadium. Whilst the trumpet played the Last Post (and the CMA blew their own trumpets), CMA’s blazered brigade would have been better served lifting their heads from the buffet table to address what was going on around them. Henri says he was welcomed with open arms once over the finish line but, “For me to be the only one to cross the line after the gun is embarrassing for everyone.”

Perhaps a bigger question is, why were there bailer busses and taxis on the route interfering and endangering the runners? Enquiring on this issue, James’ responded, “We have not had our de-briefing sessions yet with either the bailer bus portfolio or traffic management authorities so am unable to answer.”

Fair enough – so I thought I’d help him out. According to a volunteer managing one of the bailer busses (who’d prefer to remain anonymous), “We usually try to get off the route as early as possible to avoid inconveniencing the runners. This year we had a pre-arranged route which took us off the [running] route. However, on the day, Metro Police refused to allow us to use our route, forcing us to make another route on the fly, Metro Police also didn’t allow us to come in [to the agreed cutoff points] as arranged, forcing us to stay on the route.”

I’ve received video footage of bailer busses interfering with runners from as early as the 30 kilometre mark in Cato Ridge. The clip below is courtesy of Comrades supporter, Taction Mafatle, taken just before the Pinetown cutoff.

Comrades pays the various traffic and police departments about R1million* for race day services. The fact that they deviate from the agreed race day plans would be something that would concern me as a race director. I would be all over this one race day, rather than nonchalantly waiting the post-race debrief.

* I also have it on good authority that the change of route in the early kilometres of this year’s race through the narrow roads that caused major congestion and potential safety issues was a ‘sticky tape solution’ as a result of the traffic police not erecting the barricades in time on agreed Pietermaritzburg access roads in 2022.

What Me Apologise?

A nice simple response on this one. You can lead a race director to the data but you can’t make him think. This is not just a middle finger to the runners but complete detachment from race-day reality and the responsibility to one’s client base.

The CMA, the well-paid custodians of the oldest, largest and greatest ultra marathon on the planet don’t see any problem here. Sadly, that is the real problem.

Getting Running Mann-splained

Although my questions were “tiresome and irritating”, and James is a busy man, he did find the time to denigrate himself and dish out some unsolicited advice.

I have thick skin and therefore ignored the flattering insult of the first paragraph. However, I do agree with James that you have to take the good and the bad with social media. There is a lot of false information and reality distortions from the “ill-informed and clueless loudmouths” out there. For example, James’ own Twitter profile states that he’s a “statistics geek” which is clearly untrue.

I focussed on the final sentence, taking James’ advice to heart, hence this article. Despite being denied access to the 2023 data set to perform the suggested “informed calculated statistical analysis”, here’s hoping that you found this lengthy and detailed article both educational and enlightening.

The Sound of Silence

The only thing quieter than the last 60 seconds of Comrades 2023 is the silence of the Comrades Marathon Association.  A minute of silence is the customary sign of respect for people who have died. Perhaps the silent 60 seconds at the end of Comrades 2023 was appropriate way to honour the hundreds of should-be Vic Clapham medallists who were shot down on the road to Durban by their commander-in-chief.

The data does not lie. The data does not deny. The data does not ignore the facts. What will the Comrades Marathon Association do with the data? The data does not have the ability to apologise. Will the Comrades Marathon Association?

Deleted Scene

I was originally going to start the article with this segment but decided to removed it because (a) Piet Wiersma subsequently clarified the entire non-issue with the drinks and (b) I wanted to get into the meat of the article faster. However, I like the writing so thought I’d pop it in here…

10:43am, Sunday 11 June, Kingsmead Stadium, Durban: Spectators at Kingsmead were treated to a thrilling commencement to finish line proceedings as Tete Dijana held off a last-minute surge from the Dutch runner, Piet Wiersma, to win the 96th edition of the Comrades Marathon. With a chip on his shoulder (and short one energy drink in his belly), Wiersma almost overhauled the nervous Tijana, who has probably spent more time at the chiropractor than the physio after Linda Blairing* the last five kilometres as the Dutchman tried in vain to hunt him down.

* that’s an Exorcist reference for those wondering

A lot can change in seven hours…


Whilst the Comrades 2023 cutoff debacle is a lightbulb that cannot be unscrewed, I do have an idea for some form of consolation for the impacted runners that I will cover in a future article.

If you’d like to like to make a difference, you join the Comrades Marathon Association by filling out this form which gives you voting rights at the AGM in October. The cost is R50 (email on form for bank account account details). I am told that form and deposit would need to be submitted before the end of June to have a say at the next AGM.

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43 Replies to “Where did all the runners go? The Comrades cutoff debacle.”

  1. Excellent effort on this article Mr Mann.
    We appreciate your passion for the Sport and we wish Comrades could look at the positive side of your article in an effort to improve the race for the runners benefit. Without this defensive and “middle finger attitude” that they have ….

    Keep fighting for us.
    Thank you

  2. This article is filled with facts, footage and exposure. Outstanding! As a race organizer, a nine times comrades runner and as the diplomat that I am I can see through the vail here. I was there myself and although I’m a medal holder despite all this, things could have been so different for me and thats where reality is sinking in. I’m holding thumbs that CMA will respond appropriately to restore our faith.

  3. I was one of those who ensured I made the Sherwood cut-off and then had a leisurely stroll to the finish. Could have run, but didn’t want to. So that supports your one speculation.

    But, dude. Buses. Not busses.

  4. Magnificent article. I’m not clever, and failed Stats 101 miserably, but even before the final gun fired I remember thinking “ah crap, don’t tell me someone buggered up the final cut off”.
    I actually get how this could happen, as I see worse on a daily basis on an individual level. But organisations usually have checks and processes that pick this up. That nobody at CMA over a period of months thought to investigate the many implications of the route changes is the scary bit. Another sad outcome of all this is that a spiteful CMA will now probably not share the full data set with anyone, so we can’t indulge in our favourite pastime of catch-a-cheater. In the meantime, I will be nominating you for a Spirit of Comrades award. You probably have a beter chance of winning Miss SA.

  5. Thank you Mr Runningmann for the an insightful article, it give us slow runners (joggers) an opportunity to reflect and understand what transpired on the day, your efforts are highly appreciated.

    In the spirit of running stay blessed

  6. Thank you Mr runningmann for an insightful article, it gives an opportunity to reflect and understand what transpired on the day, your efforts are truly appreciated.

    Stay healthy and blessed

  7. Lots of lessons to be learned from this…

    My worry here is that the arrogance of CMA suggests that there is no commitment to reflect , learn & do better going forward.

  8. Thank you for brilliant, easy to follow, great insights.. I got through Sherwood with 8 mins to spare, and had a good walk to the finish in 11:49, and last year was at Kingsmead with 4mins to go sadly.

    Great suggestion on having a say at the AGM.. I think it’s probably the best R50 bucks I will ever spend lol…

    Take care..

  9. They missing up our beautiful sport. I think this is the time runners have to come together as one and boycott this race. Calculating the money we spend for this race it’s lot . Registration, accommodation, food and most of all time spent preparing for this race. Some runners even lose family time.
    It is really heart breaking. I’m thinking twice of running and supporting this race anymore.

    1. I don’t think a boycott is the right action (we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot). I think there are plenty of other avenues – joining the CMA and making our voices known at the AGM is one way.

  10. There is a lot to be done to ensure that Comrades marathon remains relevant and serve the people that makes it to be what it is. I trust CMA will start listening to suggestions and see how to implement them. On race day the time keeping car responsible for cut offs was having a notice with all the times listed and I was surprised that Sherwood time has additional 10min which was not communicated anywhere even after questions were raised after they released the cut offs times. I hope communication will improve and answers will be provided asap when questions are raised.

  11. Outstanding Article , CMA certainly failed on most aspects of the race and like the way you describe them as bulging bellied blazers.
    Very Sad for the runner going for his 37th Finish

  12. What is Rowan James actual running history/ pedigree?? As he clearly has no apathy for ultra distance runners ,, or should that be joggers ?

  13. Thank you for this article so well written.
    If anything I do hope it gets Mr big shot to account. And for CMA to respects people and do a thorough job next year on all aspects.

    God bless you!

  14. Wow I cannot believe the arrogance of Rowan James!
    I was literally stunt into silence as was the Kingmead stadium at the final minute of the greatest foot race on Earth. What a debacle!
    As a green number holder, running Comrades is one of my proudest moments, so being a armchair runner this year, the finish felt like a pap snoek

  15. Excellent article, Stuart. Well researched and presented.
    It certainly highlights the arrogance of Rowyn James and the CMA.
    I’m still waiting for answers from them, but then I’m a nobody – I’ve only finished 37.
    No need to say more.

  16. Does not seem that Mr James is adhering to some of the Comrades values (dignity, respect, humility, patience). I sincerely hope that the CMA acknowledges the blunders of the 2023 event and rectifies these going forward to keep this awesome race as the greatest ultra in the world.
    Thank you Stuart for all your behind-the-scenes work and analysis.

  17. An amazing, revealing article. Like thousands of others, I sat watching the gun being fired, wondering where the usual scramble to cross the line was.
    This explains it.
    After the resignation of the two technical officials, I think a certain Rowan James should follow.

  18. As a green number “jogger” – female with a best time of 8h42, I salute you on exposing the CMA arrogance. Like the rest of the crowd i was stunned at the finish – in ally my 13 years of running Comrades, what an anti-climax.
    Thank goodness I discovered trail and kissed this circus and its fat cats goodbye – where it is all about money and egos.
    The cleary don’t understand/nor appreciate that no Comrades runner will ever give up, until the last second. I feel for those that have been “robbed”/cheated – will take a while for the feeling to go away – but don’t give up on your dream, just because of some *^&$^^ in a nice Comrades blazer, who thinks he knows it all – news flash buddy – you don’t
    Keep up the good work and thank you – will be sharing with fellow runners

  19. I was one of the unfortunate runners that had to take a T-shirt that would never fit me and ended up buying a green number t-shirt to have something for Monday morning… You can add me to “the number of runners” that complained (doubt they will respond to my email as Mr Benson has done 3 times what I’ve done).

    The Sherwood cut-off was amended to 11h00 in the final race instructions and they’ll stick to that. If they only highlighted the change there and included the distance covered and the distance to go there RUNNERS may have picked it up, while the website still shows an 11h10 cut-off with 9km to go, 81,1km done…

  20. The responses from CMA are very telling. When you’ve presented facts and statistics and the immediate response is one of defensiveness, name calling and a lack of diplomacy, it screams “we know we were wrong but are too arrogant to admit it”. Very sad – but very well written article! Hopefully something good can come from this.

  21. Great article RunningMan and great service to the running community for which I am one.
    I can’t remember where during the race (I think after 70 kms or so) where there were two ambulances / bailer busses that we had to make way for as they were on the route… I tried to overtake them but they accelerated and I decided to make way for them. Thinking back to that now, I’m realising that I may have endangered myself by trying to outrun them but then during the race, the stress and anxiety of trying to reach the finish line is enormous, especially for a novice runner like me.

    And then for the officials at the finish line to tell one runner who wanted both water and juice to be told he could only get one, not both… that was disgusting!

  22. Regarding the lack of B2B medals. I know that some runners got a B2B medal even though they did their first one prior to 2022. I’m not sure if there was the usual different number colours to differentiate those runners that did their first in 2022 vs runners (not joggers) that did their only other run another year. If there was no number colour differentiation then cannot blame the volunteers at end who were handing out B2B medals as they could only go by runs = 1 on the athletes race number. If this is the case, then another oversight by CMA.

  23. Comrades deserve better, but Comrades will survive.
    This guy can’t see the wood for the trees, if this is what he is saying knowing it will go public just imagine what is said behind closed doors.

    get to the AGM and force him out (I assume it is an appointed positions not voted for, but that’s still the platform)

  24. Excellent article. Breathtaking arrogance, and dare I even say, contempt from Rowyn James. Mr. James and the CMA – you have made a huge, awful mistake. I suggest you admit this, apologize, and fix it next year. Alternatively, you should resign. Stuart – I am going to get all my mates to sign up as members of the CMA and we will try make a stink at the next CMA AGM! (Ps. Great idea!)

  25. As a non-runner but avid Comrades fan, it was really and truly shocking to see only that one last man stumbling into the final straight, but nobody else…
    I, and I believe many other couch-Comrades, always make it a point to see and “fight” with those real heros in the end. And this year there was nothing. And I felt sorry for the guys who never got to see the stadion, because of the organisers who organised too well…

  26. A very disappointing response from Rowyn James who clearly believes he is beyond reproach. After so many complaints from so many angles he should be encouraged to step down. Thank you for your contribution to exposing such arrogance. It has certainly tarnished my image of what the race stands for.

  27. What a sad reflection of what should be one of our proudest institutions. The contemptuous response from James is an insult to the wonderful volunteers who give their time, energy and commitment to making our race the best foot race in the world. If your goal is not to serve the institution and community, “In the name of God, go!”

  28. Was very surprised that there were no runners trying to beat the gun at the finnish. Your article solves that question? I wold be very upset if I was one of those poor runners who missed the cutt off and proably would have made the finish. Even if you just miss the gun at the end, it would still have been great to finish at least.

    4 x Commerades runner

  29. As a 11:40 runner, all I know is that it could have happened to me!

    Incredible arrogance from the CMA to not own up to its mistakes. This lack of camaraderie with its Comrades Joggers is completely add odds with what the Comrades Marathon stands for. The entire board of the CMA together with Rowyn James should stand down.

  30. I’m one jogger as James said who was robbed of my 6th medal by the incompetent volunteers at Sherwood . I was also given a wrong size shirt. Arrogance will bring James down. I was the second person to be cut off

  31. Great piece ! However – an important feature of the event has always been the arrogance of the power elite at the CMA , particularly toward cattle class runners. Make no mistake, they are all politicians in a political process and there is lots of money involved ! This has been increasingly the case since the ’70’s when running started exploding as a mass sport thus requiring corporate organisation. In 1973 I finished 946th in a time of 10:53 – compare that stat in your data ! 🙂
    The Comrades ethos has however remained steadfast and James’ responses to your enquiries indicate that he is no longer worthy of any accreditation and has brought the CMA into disrepute. For God’s sake – can’t they afford a PR person ?

  32. There’s only one thing that I “hate” and that’s to be called a “langasem” but being called a “jogger”, tops that. Great article but you left the best for last. Whould we have a different winner if Tete didn’t refuse to share his energy drink with Piet? In running you have different tactics, if you run close to your team mate so that your elbows touch every other stride, you can push him to tun faster. If you want to have a LSD you can start talking about Politics or Basic education and your team mate will unconsciously run slower. If you want to block someone from passing you, you will do what Tete and his team mate did. They boxed him in and should be disqualified for Interference and obstruction of another athlete.

  33. Thanks Running Mann, this article shocked me even more than the dead finish, but now i feel like crying for hundreds of running that were robbed of a lifetime achievement, and to hear the arrogance the James shows towards the people that make this race what it is, is absolutely disgusting, so much so that i would like to smash his face in with rotten tomatoes. The sad part is that everyone just comes back to support them dispite the terrible management and extremely high entry fee, which increased from R450 to R600 to R1200, and thats just for SA runners. Everybody knows that they just host parties and abuse the funds, but because of conquering the race and becoming an Ultimate Human we look past it and still continue and as you can see everyone still has the ambition to go again, Myself included, just because I need to do my tenth and get that Green number. But now after seeing the responses from James, it is clear that it is just a money making scheme and he really does not care about the runners. He needs to be sacked for his statements.

  34. First of all I would like to start by apologising to those who where done unjust by CMA I am very dissatisfaction with how the issue was resolved by the race director. I for one last year finished with few seconds to spare as my finish time was 11:59:38 seconds that means if last year I was cut early I wouldn’t have finished and I was motivated to start my race faster and decided to slowdown in the flat run the last 17km which is the only reason I manage to not see the cut off’s as I had more time to spare and eventually finished at 11:09:48 to me every second counts the cut offs deviations where very wrong

    Kind Regards,
    Billy Sigudla
    Executive Editor of Christian Posts Blog

  35. Am not a Comrades runner and acknowledge the scale is different, but thought it would be interesting to relate my experience at a trail run I did yesterday.

    The event had four distances, including a 21km and a 15km. On finishing though, some 21km entrants reported doing only 17-ish km and some 15km entrants said they’d done a little over 12km.

    Obviously the usual suspects were to blame: poorly marked trails, runners not paying attention, cows dragging the bunting tape around making everything very confusing. Regardless, the issue of positions and prizes needed to be resolved.

    The organisers responded in real-time, creating two extra events on the fly and then recategorising all the finishers into 12, 15, 17 and 21 races. Original prizes still went to the top 3 in the 15 and the 21 (after verifying they had done the full course), but new podiums were created for the 12 and the 17, with the top 3 in each of those getting recognition, a round of applause and the odd prize (some socks and a cap here and there).

    Very well handled, with displays of understanding and good humour from all. Initial confusion aside, everyone seemed pretty happy with the outcome. Not just saying that because I missed a turn and still got a pair of socks.

    We’ll done BoutTime.co.za

  36. Thanks for a very insightful article. I am a veteran of eleven comrades finishes . At our running club we were worried for our so called “joggers “ as the cut off times particularly the last two were just onerous. We worried that our particular running members stood to be cut off. Indeed that happened despite their gallant efforts. Shame on CMA

  37. My heart goes out to all of those runners who had their medaIs stolen. Even more so after reading the detailed analysis. Apologies are clearly needed for the mistakes made, and for the poor official response, and a personal apology for the incredibly rude way they responded to your questions.
    I had a terrible run at my second (and last) Comrades. I was in pain for 11 hours, and for 80% of the race I didn’t think I would make it. In the end I ran 11:57, averaging 7:40/km for the last 7km. That’s 20s/km faster than my average for the run. All things equal, I would have likely been one of the runners who had their medals stolen if this had happened when I ran. That experience still ranks as one of the most meaningful of my life, and I hope that the organizers are able to realise how much they took away from so many people with those ridiculous decisions, so that this doesn’t happen again.
    Shocking errors were made on the day – the kind of errors people resign for. The arrogant, uncaring and rude response to being questioned about the errors – this is the kind of behavior that people should be fired for.

  38. Steam and eager to participate to complete the race was lost, cost of preparation time and effort, costs of travel and stay wasted, because of the wrong last minute changes, Bus drivers compulsory pressurising runner’s not understandable, sad story of such a prestigious Marathon organisers.
    I was going according to Cutoff times. Without informing Cutoff was moved from 68.5km to 69.7km. I was well ahead of the time. I reached there in 9 hrs 21 min. 49 sec., that’s about 2 min slower from official time.

    Many Local and International runners faced disqualification including me. I could have easily completed within 12 hrs. Till 69.8km I was going very strong without any fatigue or tiredness. But still I enjoyed the awesome root support. For me at the age of 64, I could run easily was bigger achievement than a medal.

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