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Comrades Marathon: Gerda Steyn Sets Course Record; Piet Wiersma Wins Men’s Race

At the 2024 Comrades Marathon, South African Gerda Steyn sets a course record in her third win while Dutchman Piet Wiersma gets his first victory.

At 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 9, in the raucous darkness of Durban, South Africa, more than 20,000 runners, powered by nerves, adrenaline, and the “Chariots of Fire” theme song, crossed the start line of the 2024 Comrades Marathon to take part in the oldest and largest ultramarathon in the world: nearly 86 kilometers of road running throughout the hills of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. It was the 97th running of the event, which has only missed four editions since World War I veteran Vic Clapham started it in 1921 to commemorate the lives of South African soldiers.

Two of the runners — Gerda Steyn, of South Africa but who lives in the United Arab Emirates, on the women’s side and Piet Wiersma of The Netherlands on the men’s — cemented their names in race lore by taking home wins, and sizable paydays, in their respective races. The race has a massive prize purse, with a total 4,092,000 Rand ($217,000) on the line.

Steyn, the defending champion, broke her own course record for the Up run direction by more than nine minutes for her third win at Comrades. She also holds the women’s course record for the Down run when the race is held in the opposite direction, which she set in 2023.

Wiersma, meanwhile, backed up his impressive Comrades debut last year — where he finished second only three seconds behind the winner — with his first win at the race.

The Comrades Marathon famously alternates the direction each year, and this year’s race, which was run in relatively ideal conditions with temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to low-70s Fahrenheit, was the 49th Up race, meaning runners began in the lower-altitude Durban and ended in the higher-altitude Pietermaritzburg. The race featured around 1,750 meters of elevation gain, with most of it during the first half of the race, when the course runs through three of its “Big Five” hills. The Up run, therefore, demands a smart, measured racing strategy.

For the race’s first half, Piet Wiersma (The Netherlands) seemed content to stay conservative and save his energy for the back half. A two-man pack of Jobo Khatoane (Lesotho), looking for his first Comrades finish, and Aleksei Beresnev (Russia), back for a second time after debuting inside the top 10 last year, were within a minute of each other at Drummond, around the halfway mark, with the next runner more than five minutes back and Wiersma sitting in 10th, almost nine-and-a-half minutes off the lead.

But then Wiersma dropped the hammer, increasing his pace to 3:37 per kilometer from 3:58 per kilometer to jump into the top five by the Cato Ridge checkpoint at 56.6 kilometers into the race. That seemingly set the tone for big moves for the race’s second half, where Beresnev was still holding the lead and followed by Degefa Yohannese Lafebo (Ethiopia). With this race, Lafebo was moving up in distance following two top-10 finishes at the Two Oceans Marathon, a 50k race.

 

South Africans Tete Dijana, the two-time defending champion, and Dan Moselakwe, a prior Comrades podium finisher, sat in third and fourth, respectively.

Wiersma continued to run strong and moved into the lead by Umlaas Road, 67.5k, passing Lafebo, and by Mkondeni at 79.1k, he had increased to nearly a minute. Behind him, Beresnev dropped off the pace, while Dijana couldn’t hang on, either. The pair would finish, but outside the top 10 this year.

Moselakwe took advantage of fading runners to move himself into second. Joseph Manyedi (South Africa), meanwhile, methodically moved his way up to finish in fourth, his eighth and best Comrades finish, while Andrew Davies (U.K.) jumped from 12th to fifth over the course of the second half of the race. This was Davies’ first Comrades finish.

At the finish line, Wiersma would stay clear of Moselakwe by 45 seconds and third-place finisher Lafebo by nearly three minutes.

(06/10/2024) Views: 122 ⚡AMP
by Robbie Harms
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Comrades Marathon

Comrades Marathon

Arguably the greatest ultra marathon in the world where athletes come from all over the world to combine muscle and mental strength to conquer the approx 90kilometers between the cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban, the event owes its beginnings to the vision of one man, World War I veteran Vic Clapham. A soldier, a dreamer, who had campaigned in East...

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