Having studied the data, consulted with the experts and trawled through the wisdom of social media, I am still unable to determine any rationality behind the Pinetown and Sherwood cutoff times at Comrades 2023. Therefore, inspired by the Sherlock Holmes quote, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”, I have come up with this comprehensive set of conspiracy theories to explain the mysteriously illogical Comrades 2023 cutoff times.
Some of these conspiracy theories will contradict each other, some possess small slivers of truth, all contain healthy doses of undiluted nonsense – put them together and you have the perfect ingredients for a quality collection of ludicrous conspiracy theories…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
A good way of explaining the Comrades cutoff controversy is using cricket as an analogy. You needed to run at an average pace of 8:13/km to finish the 2023 Comrades Marathon in 11:59:59. The average pace required could be seen as our required run rate, the 87.7 kilometres to cover as the total runs required and the 12 hours to do it in as the maximum overs available.
For simplicities sake, I am going to convert everything into round numbers and I thought the greatest one-day cricket match of all time would be a suitable metaphor. So here’s the scenario – Australia batted first and scored 434. Therefore, we need to score 435 in 50 overs. Our 8:13/km becomes a required run rate of 8.7 per over, a kilometre is about 5 runs (4.96 to be precise), and an over equates to just under 15 minutes (14:34) in race time.
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*.