Most local athletes are left with little but shattered dreams after long discussions between the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) Board, KwaZulu-Natal Athletics (KZNA) and Athletics South Africa (ASA) resulted in the recent decision to cancel the 2020 Comrades Marathon, which was scheduled for 14 June.
The decision had far-reaching consequences and even some local athletes who have been preparing for two years for the Comrade have not been spared.
Local athletic clubs have expressed disappointment, the decision has left mixed feelings among management and runners who were keen to cross the finishing line in the world’s largest and oldest ultra marathon.
Chairperson of Polokwane Athletic Club, Pieter Pretorius said the cancellation was a hard blow for them.
“The event is an inspiration to many athletes. It is a great disappointment because many of the athletes were looking forward to the race. Some prepared for two years and some were looking forward to their first race.”
Pretorius said besides the setback all their runners were given training programmes which will help them to keep fit and improve their level of fitness during the nation-wide lockdown. “We have coaches and they are in correspondence with the athletes. I must mention that it is not easy because our athletes are not allowed to run in groups and they prefer to run together but we will continue motivating them.”
He further stated that they are planning to host a race in October in Polokwane to afford athletes an opportunity to make up for events missed.
Bilisi Rambiyana, Chairperson of Mzansi Athletics Club said before the cancellation of the Comrades Marathon other local races had already been cancelled which actually forced runners to reduce their activity despite training in their backyards as per the regulations.
Rambiyana stressed that the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions and subsequent cancellation of races, including the Comrades Marathon, has affected the club training programmes in a number of ways.
“The athletes, both recreational and Comrades participants, were robbed of an opportunity to train freely and participate in preparatory races. The group training restrictions have also affected the club spirit but the club’s online communication channel has kept the club members together as they encourage each other to continue training in line with the regulations.”
He also added that the biggest inconvenience for Comrades runners is that most had already paid for their transport and accommodation as well as other related arrangements.
“But, some managed to receive refunds and credit vouchers. Some of the athletes managed to cancel accommodation bookings in time for a full refund.”
Rambiyana stated that there were no major club financial implications related to the cancellation of the Comrades except a lot of logistical preparations which were already underway.
“Some payments were made to book venues and facilities for events, annual licences because all ASA races were cancelled,” concluded Rambiyana,
Johan van der Merwe from Pietersburg Road Runners said the cancellation was a huge disappointment. “Running is part of our lives but we are tough people and we will overcome this. I feel sorry for those who were going to participate in the event for the first time because most of them were actually looking forward to the race.”
Our message to athletes is they must continue training. It is not anyone’s fault and there will be another Comrades Marathon next year,” Van der Merwe concluded.
Story: Herbert Rachuene