Concerned Response to Comrades’ “Response to concerns” press release

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Great accomplishments can be achieved in seven weeks or less. Examples include the construction of the main structure of the Empire State Building, the complete filming schedule of ‘Gone with the Wind’ (one of the most iconic films of all time) and the entire recording and production of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ (the best-selling album of all time).

Likewise many great books are written in a short period of time like Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’ (3 weeks), Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ (6 weeks – to meet the publishing deadline for the Christmas rush), John Boyne’s ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ (first draft written in 2.5 days) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ (3 days). Even Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-fuelled gonzo journalism classic ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ was written over a short period (although the author is not sure of the exact time frame).

Seven weeks after Comrades 2023, the below press release was finally published. It is unlikely to be named in any future classic compositions lists although it is up there with the last season of Game of Thrones in terms of disappointing let-downs – one or two good moments but the audience was expecting a lot more after waiting all that time. The only thing slower than the wheels of justice in South Africa is the pedestrian pace with which the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) operates.

“Response to Comrades Marathon runners’ concerns” media release from the Comrades Marathon Association.
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15 Major Concerns & Problems after Comrades 2023

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Below are the contents of a letter sent to the Comrades Chairperson Mqondisi Ngcobo on 9 July ahead of the Comrades debriefing sessions (which were held from 10 – 12 July). It outlines major issues from the 2023 event reported by runners. I have also taken the liberty of providing some suggestions to address the issues.

It has now been one-and-a-half months since Comrades was held and there has been no publicly shared plans, actions or accountability from the CMA. The biggest fear is that the the problems will be swept under the carpet and with no root causes being addressed.

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The Nightmare on Epworth Street (Safety negligence at Comrades breaks bones and shatters dreams)

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Channelle Makhele started Comrades 2023 with the dream of earning a Bill Rowan medal. That dream was shattered before the 5-kilometre mark. Channelle’s aspirations and eight months of hard training were smashed before dawn over the nightmare on Epworth Street. She was looking to break her best Comrades time but all she broke was her leg.

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The Empire Strikes Back (but not very hard)

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On Friday the 30th June, an article appeared on the South African Runner’s World page written by long-time editor Mike Finch entitled “Comrades Cut-Off Drama: Organisers Respond”. According to various credible sources, Finch is a paid contractor to the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) – which is undisclosed in the article. It appears that Finch has become a stool pigeon for the CMA.

The response to the article on Facebook has been overwhelmingly negative towards Runner’s World. Runners are not stupid and can see through the façade.

Based on recent events, and because Comrades was originally run on Empire Day, I have decided to use what is arguably the best of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back, as a simile to respond to the Runner’s World puff piece (and of course try to bring some balance back to the force).

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Winn blocked by CMA losers

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On Friday, Comrades Race Director, Rowyn James was quoted as being “adamant that both he and organisers were always open to comment, both positive and negative.” He failed rhis test on Monday morning.

Just how does James respond to criticism from Cheryl Winn, the matriarch of Comrades? Shortly after posting the image below on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, Winn was blocked from accessing her Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) account.

Cheryl Winn’s personal Facebook comment on last night’s Carte Blanche expose on the Comrades cutoff controversy. Her access to her CMA account was blocked immediately thereafter.
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The Frances Hayward Medal (Recourse for those that Comrades culled)

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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.”

Frances Hayward, the first woman to complete the Comrades Marathon in 1923. She had to run unofficially so she never received a finishers medal. The Frances Hayward Medal seems fitting to recognise, “those that should have received a medal but didn’t.” (photo credit Comrades Marathon Association)

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.

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

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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.

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Money or the Goody Bag? The Great Comrades Refund Debate

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[This article was originally published on Sport24.co.za]

At lunch time on 14 May, I was taking advantage of a gap between video calls by doing another lockdown run up and down my driveway.

As you can imagine, driveway laps are not particularly interesting and I welcome any distraction from the monotony. Therefore, every vibration on my phone results in an excited glance at the screen to see whatever notification has been delivered.

I was about 30 minutes into my regular 10km jog when the latest buzz presented the email notification, “Media Release: 2020 Comrades Marathon has been cancelled.

I didn’t even break stride. Continue reading “Money or the Goody Bag? The Great Comrades Refund Debate”

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Comrades Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Run

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Comrades 2018: My Penultimate Run at the Ultimate Human Race

[MARATHON #190 / Comrades #9 / 10 June 2018]

The human brain is a complex network of neural circuits. The two most intense emotions humans can experience are ‘love’ and ‘hate’. Many people think that ‘love’ is the opposite of ‘hate’ but recent neurological studies have shown that the two are so closely related that they even run on the same neural circuits. A better opposite for both ‘love’ and ‘hate’ is apathy. Apathy is not a word one associates with running Comrades – but wild bouts of love and hate are likely to flow through the neurological pathways of one’s brain over the course of a very long day.

The scientific studies did determine one key difference: The cerebral cortex – this is the part of the brain associated with logic, judgement and reasoning – becomes largely deactivated during bouts of love but remains fully functional during hate. I am a rational, lucid and objective human being which explains why I seem to hate Comrades so much more than I love it.

In 1971 The Persuaders harmonised that, “It’s a thin line between love and hate”. At Comrades there is 90 kilometres between hate and love.

Continue reading “Comrades Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Run”

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