Gritty show to finish Comrades Ultra Run

The writer (in a grey jumper) joins veterans of the Comrades run. PHOTO/COURTESY 

What you need to know:

26 representatives from Uganda’s Team Matooke successfully took on the iconic 97th Comrades Marathon, a testing 85.91km run going up from Durban to Pietermaritzburg on an elevation of over 1700, at the weekend. 

DURBAN. Dutchman Piet Wiersma and three-peat champion, Gerda Steyn, crossed the finish line in style, the latter breaking her own Comrades Marathon record.

After their respective times of 05:25:00 and 05:49:46 to cover 85.91km from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, which also earned them Shs164m each, their posture suggested they could still run a bonus half marathon more.

But once those and their close challengers were out of the way, the stage was open for other human testing stories from the world’s oldest marathon.

The Ultimate Human Race

A runner stumbling and literally crawling to the finish line - agony and exhaustion the spelling of his face and body, several others rushing to beat the finish cut off, and a flock more agonizingly looking on as the curtains came down on them! An extremely tough watch.

This 103-year-old race humbles you, builds you, and picks you up again. It’s The Ultimate Human Race.

Plenty of great human stories of overcoming adversity and seeing dreams fulfilled right in front of your eyes dominate it.

Keep going

Kagiso Thebe from Botswana qualified for the 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022, and 2023, but on all of them, he did not finish.

He never allowed to give up, and finally this year, the man saw his dream fulfilled by finishing just under four minutes to the closing time. He crossed the line in 11:56:02.

Incredible Ugandan spirit

Uganda was fully part of such inspiring stories, where – apart from Alex Matovu, who was injured but the braveness in him pushed him to start, anyway, before calling it a day at 30km -, everyone else successfully finished inside the official 12 hours.

Images of Ugandans, including 16 doing Comrades for the very first time, and two expatriates in Girum Fisseha and Andu Debebe - fully assimilated into the country’s running community as part of Team Matooke - pushing their limits were both moments of pride and humility.

“When I saw the finish line ahead of me,” explained Comrades novice Bonita Mulelengi, who finished in 10:10:46, “I got a bit emotional. I could not believe I had actually done it.”

Another novice, Doreen Lwanga came in 10:10:46 while Team Uganda captain and three-time Comrades Marathon medalist, Janet Nakkazi (11:42:58) completed the ladies batch.

Silver medalist Gadafi Ssali, also the star man last year, was Uganda’s best in a time of 07:09:48, with first timer Collins Cherotich also notching up a silver in 07:26:23.

Robert Kabushenga, one of the elders making his debut, just like the rest, could not contain his excitement as he grabbed the Ugandan flag to make his final strides to the finish line in 11:04:38, while yours truly - in his first year of running – crossed the line in 10:58:30.

Men’s overall winner

Piet Wiersma 05:25:00 (Netherlands)

Women’s over winner

Gerda Steyn 05:49:46 (South Africa – new record)

Old record by her: 5:58:53

Team Uganda/Matooke representatives at Comrades 2024

Gadafi Ssali 07:09:48

Collins Cherotich 07:26:23

Martin Abila 08:36:58

Mbale Siraji 08:58:46

Paul Ankwasa 09:19:08

Don Akatukunda 09:28:36

Stephen Mugabe Magunda 09:45:56

Noel Thomas Kalunda 09:45:56

Godfrey Kamya 09:46:52

Andu Debebe 09:46:52

Moses Rutahigwa 09:47:59

Albert Marvin Onyia 09:51:59

Andrew Muwanga 10:09:05

Doreen Lwanga 10:10:46

Bonita Mulelengi 10:30:34

Girum Fisseha 10:34:25

Andrew Mwanguhya 10:58:30

Luke Francis Kiwanuka 10:59:43

Robert Kabushenga 11:04:38

Charles Mugambe 11:17:46

John Stephen Ilungole 11:19:47

Nathanael Kasozi 11:24:08

Amos Nuwagaba 11:28:50

Janet Nakkazi 11:42:58

Daniel Ligyalingi 11:43:07

Alex Matovu DNF