Lowvelders from various clubs in the area will tackle the 2022 Comrades Marathon on Sunday.
The down run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban is a distance of 90.2km.
Since 1982, only seven local Lowveld athletes have finished the Comrades in under six hours.
Is it possible that in 2022, another local runner will win the coveted Wally Hayward (men) medal or Isavell-Roche Kelly (women) medal for finishing in a sub-six-hour time, or even a gold for being placed in the top 10?
The Lowveld’s Comrades legends
In 1982, Johan Jonker finished the Comrades 11th in 05:58.
Two years later, in 1984, Chris Reyneke became the first local runner to be placed in the top 10. Running in the colours of Nelspruit Marathon Club, Reyneke ran a brilliant 05:34, finishing third and receiving a gold medal.
Nine years later, in 1993, Rudi du Plessis, running in the colours of Ngodwana, finished sixth in 05:50 and won a gold medal.
Two years later, Sipho Masango from Msauli also finished sixth in 05:47 and received a gold medal.
It would take another 10 years before a local athlete managed to finish in sub-6 hours.
In 2005, Sipho Ngomane, a local athlete but running for Harmony Gold, won the Comrades in 05:27.
Two years later, Samuel Makamu, in the colours of Nelspruit Marathon Club, finished 21st in 05:59.
More than 11 years later, Professor Mthethwa from Nedbank LVCC also ran a sub-6 hours, finishing in 05:57.
Over 200 Lowvelders take on 2022 Comrades Marathon
On August 28 at 05:30, 239 local runners, representing 20 clubs from Mbombela and the surrounding areas, will line up for the start of the 2022
Comrades, the 95th edition of this iconic and world-famous race.
Running in their various club’s colours, these athletes will be aiming for one of the seven different medals on offer: gold for the top 10 finishers, Wally Haywards to all finishers from position 11 to sub-6 hours, silver medals from six hours to sub-07:30, Bill Rowans for 07:30 to sub-9 hours, Robert Mtshalis for nine hours to sub-10 hours, bronze medals for 10 hours to sub-11 hours and lastly, the Vic Clapham medal for 11 hours to sub-12 hours.
Interestingly, in the age category 40 to 49, 63 men and 15 women have entered, which is close to double the number of senior runners.
Thirty-three senior men and 21 senior women between the ages of 21 to 39 have entered, while 38 men and seven women older than 50 years have taken on the challenge.
Five men over the age of 60 will be showing their younger clubmates how things should be done.
Johannes Nyalunga of Ngodwana Marathon Club will be running his 28th Comrades Marathon at the age of 62.
With a finishing time of 06:18 in 1993 on the down run, Nyalunga will be hoping to add another silver medal to his collection of 19 silvers.
Calvin Khoza of Legogote MC will be aiming for his 27th medal. In 1991, running his second Comrades, Khoza missed his silver by a mere 25 seconds. Since then he has added two silvers to his collection.
Green and double green
Going for his double green number (20 Comrades) is 55-year-old Eddie Hall, running for Legogote Villagers, with fellow club members Danie van Rensburg and Thapelo Nhlapho aiming for their first green number (10 Comrades).
Yolanda Odendaal, running in the colours of Lowmed Running Club, will be taking on her 10th Comrades and a green number.
Local ladies and the legacy of Iain Toomey
In the 2000 up run, Lara Simms (LVCC) became the first-ever local female athlete to break the sub-07:30 barrier and earning a silver medal.
Her 07:25 put her four minutes ahead of Karen Steyn (NMC) who finished in 07:29.
Steyn followed this up with another silver in the 2001 down run.
The well-known Audrey Steyn came extremely close to a silver in 1986, when she finished in 07:30:30, missing it with only 30 seconds. No other local ladies have since managed to break the 07:30 barrier.
Amanda Gomes, one of our rising stars, was very much on her way to achieving this goal when an unfortunate injury late in 2021 put an end to her hopes. Manda then focused on completing her LLB degree and stopped running.
Her life was to change dramatically in May 2022.
Since 2021, under the guidance and coaching of the late Iain Toomey, Gomes started winning local races and soon became the number-one female athlete in the Lowveld. She was a force to reckon with as she dominated the local races.
Close to the end of 2021, while training in the dark, she tripped and fell. Her wrist was broken and her hopes of going to the 2022 Comrades were dashed. She resumed training in early 2022, but had no intention of doing the Comrades.
Then came May 2. Manda did a morning training run with fellow club members, of which her coach and mentor, Toomey, was one. At that stage he was training for the Half Ironman and spending most of his time on his time trial bike. It was the first time he had joined Gomes on one of her runs.
After the run, Toomey, who was aiming to do his 29th Comrades, convinced Gomes that she had enough running in her legs to give the Comrades a go. The problem, however, was that she had not entered and entries had already closed.
Toomey then offered to have his entry substituted for Gomes’, which she did not want to do, as at that stage she still felt she was not properly prepared.
On the same evening, close to midnight, Toomey, one of the stalwarts of LVCC running club, sadly passed away from a heart attack.
Gomes was hugely affected by this. His passing prompted her to rethink her position and a week later she decided to enter for the Comrades in honour of Toomey and at the same time, raise funds for her Sudan Support Network.
With three medals already in her bag, Manda will be hoping to run a sub-9 hours.
Comrades in wedded bliss and on the road
Testing their marriage vows will be Gilda and Steven Mavromatis. This well-known couple have been training together since April.
Without fail, they have managed to train together every day. Irrespective of work responsibilities or the weather, these two 50+ runners of Lowmed
Running Club have covered 1 659km up to August 20. Aiming for a sub-11 hours, they will be running together side by side as they have been doing since April.