Cheering crowds put a smile on toiling Comrades Marathon runners

Runners take part in yesterday's Comrades Marathon between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. /RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP
Runners take part in yesterday's Comrades Marathon between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. /RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP

It is known as the Ultimate Human Race and whoever coined this name for the Comrades Marathon was spot-on.

There is no sterner test than that of the world famous KwaZulu-Natal ultra-marathon. It is an unforgiving race.

"We go there in a car and we come back running," one athlete was overheard saying as the runners were making their way to their transport from Durban to the start at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall.

"It's tough out there," responded his teammate as they vanished into the dark around a short street in the city centre at around 2am.

Never mind that it was in the wee hours of the morning, the CBD was teeming with runners. They had to be at the start for the 5.30am take-off.

The mercury in Maritzburg was around four degrees Celsius when about 18500 athletes lined up at the start.

The entries reflect 20000-odd heading to the race but there are withdrawals on race day and others, not surprisingly, simply get cold feet.

Reporting on the marathon from the media truck placed one in a position to put oneself in the shoes of the runners and capture all the drama and camaraderie along the way. Point to point.

Cramping athletes, music blasting from the speakers along the route, sizzling boerewors smell and cheering crowds stood out along most parts of the 90km route.

It was the festivities that kept the runners going. Some responded but others gave up the fight.

The route was not made easy by the taxing five hills within the six cut-off points, with Cowies Hill the defining factor with 18km to the finish at Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Much as the day started at freezing point, the weather played ball later on.

Durban was overcast, providing the ideal running conditions that any long-distance athlete would ask for.

The human spirit triumphed over the struggles, thanks to the cheering bunch.

Yes, it's true that the Comrades Marathon is not just any race... it is indeed the ultimate human race.