Preparations for the world’s oldest and largest ultra marathon are underway as members of the Cape Town community are ready to take on the race this coming weekend. The Comrades marathon has been held every year with the exception of a break during World War II. The official race distance for this year is 87,72 km and it will start at the City Hall in Durban and finish at the Oval Cricket stadium in Pietermaritzburg.
For Cape Town’s growing running fraternity, the Comrades Marathon is the ultimate test of stamina, strength, perseverance, and faith. Over the past few years, an increasing number of amateur runners from community running clubs have made the trek to Durban to participate in the race. Many runners use the event to highlight a particular cause, and others simply do it as a means of personal development.
One of the clubs present this year will be an organisation known as the Runners for the Freedom of Palestine. This group raises awareness for the plight of Palestinians living under the current occupation.
“Our aim is to see a free Palestine. That is what drives us …to create awareness and educate our community. We run various races throughout the calendar, be it walks, road races or cycling events, what ever means possible to create that awareness,” says activist Warda Gertse.
“This weekend is important to me beyond just merely running. I’m part of a movement that seeks to raise awareness around this human rights issue,” added Lebohang Motasi, also a member of Runners for the Freedom of Palestine.
Runners for the Freedom for Palestine participate in various projects to create further awareness. They can be seen on Roodebloem bridge incoming to Nelson Mandela Boulevard on Fridays or outside Parliament holding up the Palestinian flag.
“We have trained with running with the Palestinian flag, so come race day we will be ready for it,” Motasi added.
VOC’s very own Irafaan Abrahams will be taking part in the Comrades for the fourth time – this year as part of Islamic Relief South Africa’s Ultimate Five Challenge. The charity project involved Irafaan, known better as ‘Fanie’, participating in five major sporting events, to challenge himself physically and mentally.
Through the Ultimate Five Challenge, he hopes to raise R1 million for IRSA’s education and orphans project. On Monday, IRSA hosted a Comrades Marathon pledge and R45 000 had been pledged in less than 24hrs.
“Just pledge an amount on my Facebook page, if you would like to donate in supporting me completing the ultra marathon. You can pledge an amount per km or a once off amount! Every little bit counts! As we have gone global with the pledge, I’m excited to have my international friends taking up the challenge. Let’s light up my page and keep the pledges rolling,” Abrahams urged.
Asked about his fitness programme, Abrahams said: “I’ve been running 10km everyday for the past month, to ready myself for the race. Last month’s Boston Marathon was tough, and the fact that I had multiple injuries in the run up to the race didn’t make it any easier. But I pray for the best, InshaAllah.”
Sheikh Mohammed Kashief Damon of Belhar will be doing the Comrades marathon for the fourth time this year and is hoping to improve on his previous best of 10 hours 47 minutes.
“I was planning on finishing in less time than that, but myself and the other runners were hampered due to weather conditions,” Sheik Damon explained.
Sheikh Damon, who is a member of the Gugulethu Running Club, has participated in other races as well, including the Two Oceans Marathon held earlier this year.
“Preparing for the Comrades Marathon is not an easy task, it is basically like a full time job,” Sheik Damon said jokingly.
“You need to at least run a minimum of 80kms and a maximum of 120kms per week.”
Sheikh Damon explained that he was inspired by friends in the community and now the race has become a fixture in his life.
“I run because of my health…a healthy body houses a healthy mind,” the alim added.
In the few days before the race, Sheikh Damon suggests that athletes relax and focus on things other than the race.
“The race allows you to connect spiritually with your creator, for all those hours you are alone and you know that God is with you,” Sheikh Damon went further.
“But don’t just wait for the race to connect with your Creator you should constantly be God-conscious.”
The race starts at 5:30am on Sunday and finishes at 17:30 the evening. This gives the racers 12 hours to complete the course.
“Family support is essential,” Sheik Damon said finally, adding that his wife will be accompanying him to the race, ready to hand him a cup of water as he passes her by. VOC (Umarah Hartley)