Road races attract elite and novice runners alike, and the Comrades Marathon is no exception.
What sets the two groups apart are their training programmes and, of course, their realistic chances of winning the race.
This contrasting tale will play out on Sunday, when a group of 30 hopefuls from Alexandra-based training group #RunAlex line up against their seasoned counterparts in the 87km Comrades up run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.
Some of the elite clubs and their athletes, such as defending champion Bong’musa Mthembu of Arthur Ford Running Club, as well as Entsika Athletics Club’s Gift Kelehe and David Gatebe, spent months away from their families preparing for the race.
Mthembu, Kelehe and Gatebe – who have won five Comrades titles between them in the past four years – have already put in significant mileage ahead of Sunday’s epic race.
In contrast, #RunAlex was formed 14 months ago and was founded on a journey that began with a 6km fun run.
The brainchild of Alex resident Siphiwe Nkosi (40), the project took off as a regular gathering on weekends at a local sporting facility.
“We are not a club as such, but we gather on Saturdays and Sundays, and our coaches offer different training programmes ranging from 6km to 25km,” explained Nkosi, a sports fanatic who is a computer programmer by trade.
“The idea was inspired by the sad state of our youngsters in the township, who party and get drunk until the early hours on weekends.
“We were in Diepkloof, Soweto, for a training run one Saturday morning when I witnessed this and immediately thought about how could I help the young people in my community by promoting a healthy and positive lifestyle.”
The result is the massive interest that #RunAlex has attracted among the locals in the sprawling township.
Six of the group’s Comrades-bound squad members are novices who will be among the 20 000-odd runners expected at Durban City Hall.
Nkosi says the next logical step will be to form a professional club because the training group already accommodates seasoned runners who assist hopefuls to accomplish their goals.
The first 10 men and women to reach Scottsville Race Course will receive gold medals, while those who finish in fewer than 12 hours will receive Vic Clapham medals.
The Vic Clapham medal was named after the race founder and was added in 2003 to coincide with the increase in the time allocation for completing the event, from sub-11 hours to sub-12 hours.
While there is no doubt that the likes of Mthembu will chase hat-trick wins and that mouth-watering R500 000 grand prize, the novices had better take it easy.
Legendary Comrades champion Bruce Fordyce once noted on his training manual for Comrades: “Novices should enjoy their first run. Savour the hours on the road, absorb the memories, treasure the friendships. There will be other years to race for medals and good times.”