Caroline Wöstmann Uses Walk Breaks To Become First South African Winner of Comrades Marathon Since 1998; Compatriot Gift Kelehe Wins Men’s Race As South Africa Claims Both Titles For 1st Time Since 1992

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Gift Kelehe’s Brother Won Comrades in 2001

By Riël Hauman
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

Can you win the Comrades Marathon by walking at regular intervals AND going to a roadside toilet? And can you win the Comrades –against all accepted wisdom– by taking the lead early?

Yes, you can, if your name is Caroline Wöstmann.

The 32 year-old lecturer in acccountancy, the newest star in the South African distance running firmament, did everything against accepted wisdom –but, as one TV commentator put it, “entertained the crowd”– yet still won by more than 21 minutes in 6:12:22, the biggest margin of victory since Frith van der Merwe won by 45:58 in 1991.

With this win and her victory in the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon over Easter, Wöstmann cemented her position as the best South African ultrarunner since Van der Merwe. She became only the fourth athlete after Derek Preiss, Elena Nurgalieva (RUS) and Van der Merwe to win both Two Oceans and Comrades in the same year.

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Wöstmann’s crushing win over her rivals overshadowed another piece of history: the men’s race went to Rustenburg policeman Gift Kelehe, who thus followed in his brother Andrew‘s footsteps to make them the first set of brothers to win the Comrades. Andrew won the “down” run in 2001; Gift took the title ahead of Ethiopia’s Mohammed Temam Hussein in 5:38:34. He is coached by John Hamlett, who also was his brother’s mentor.

There was more history: Wöstmann was followed across the line by Charné Bosman to complete the first SA one-two in the women’s race since 1993 (when Tilda Tearle and Rae Bisschoff achieved the feat). Wöstmann is the first SA winner since Bisschoff in 1998 and it was the first time since 1992 (when Jetman Msutu and Frances van Blerk won) that South Africans took both the men’s and women’s races. All this, of course, happened before the Comrades became an international event.

Both Wöstmann and Bosman dedicated their runs to team-mate Riana van Niekerk, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last week and withdrew from the race, and ran with pink ribbons attached to their vests.

There were six South African men and four women in the top ten. Only the top ten men ran under 6 hours, so there were no Wally Hayward medals (awarded from 11th position to sub-6 hours). One has to go back to the 1985 “up” run – which was even longer at 88.6 km – to find the last time this happened.

The Women’s Race

Wöstmann took the lead quite early after the runners left Durban, catching the Nurgalieva twins, Elena and Olesya, after one hour and 55 minutes of running. Smiling broadly, she looked at them and then moved past – never to be headed again, except for one brief interval.

She gradually stretched her lead to about 50 metres, but on the third of the five major climbs, Botha’s Hill, she took her first short walk. With the whole of South Africa holding its collective breath, as one TV commentator put it, she smiled, took a drink and watched the twins going past.

But it was not a walk out of necessity; it was part of her strategy. Quite a few brief walks would follow throughout the race and she quickly resumed running. Within less than a hundred metres she had regained the lead and this time it was for good. Looking very comfortable, smiling all the time as she did in the Two Oceans, she often could be seen chatting to the male runners around her.

Watching, one was almost inclined to think, does she not know what she is up against? Not only the two most formidable Comrades competitors of recent years, but more than 60 km still to run.

In fact, Wöstmann was running according to plan. “I followed a plan my coach and I had worked out,” she said afterwards. “It just so happened that I took the lead early; I was just sticking to my plan.” The man who worked out the plan is Lindsey Parry at the University of Pretoria High Performance Centre, who achieved a remarkable double: he also coaches Bosman, whose race plan was just the opposite of Wöstmann’s.

Wöstmann reached Drummond, which used to be the halfway mark but this time was somewhat beyond that because of the deviation in Pinetown near the start of the race, in 3:10:04, with the Nurgalievas 1:36 behind. They were followed by former Two Oceans winner Nina Podnebesnova (RUS), who was a further six minutes in arrears, defending champion Ellie Greenwood (GBR) and Bosman, running together in 3:18:54, and Emmerentia Rautenbach.
Wöstmann stretched her lead all the way up the next major obstacle, the hill called Inchanga, running comfortably. She walked once again, but smiled reassuringly at the TV camera. She looked for all the world as if she was out on a Sunday morning jog, not leading the world’s most difficult ultramarathon against one of the best fields ever assembled.

It is no wonder that she had said before the race: “I want to go out comfortably and just enjoy myself. I have always seen myself as more of an uphill runner.” In her previous up Comrades, in 2011, she ran 8:33:29 – she would surpass this by almost 2½ hours today.

She stormed over the top of Inchanga and with a half marathon to run, she was an almost unbelievable 8½ minutes ahead of Olesya Nurgalieva, who was slightly in front of her sister; they were followed by Bosman, Podnebesnova, Greenwood, Rautenbach and former Two Oceans winner Simona Staicu (HUN).

With just over four hours on the clock Wöstmann walked again, and 20 minutes later she did so once more at a refreshment point. The clock showed 4:58:47 when she reached 18 km to go and half a minute later she abruptly swerved off the course to use one of the mobile toilets at the side of the road. Despite this, she covered that kilometre to 17 km to go in 5:03.

And that was, as they say, that.

With the twins struggling behind her, losing their rhythm, she went up “Little Polly’s” with barely a decrease in pace and then tackled the dreaded Polly Shorts –the most fearsome hill on the up run which crests at 737 metres above sea level, 7 km from the finish– with the knowledge that no runner in the 90-year history of the Comrades had ever lost after getting to the summit first.

And indeed there was no need to worry, because her lead had grown to more than 12 minutes and the twins were looking like mere shadows of their former glory. But Wöstmann was not prepared to rest on her laurels.  In fact, she would run the last 8 km faster than male winner Kelehe.

At one stage during the second half there was a thought that Wöstmann may yet break Elena Nurgalieva’s 2006 course record of 6:09:24 despite the course being the longest since 1985, but it was not to be. Her average pace for the race was 4:15/km, compared to Nurgalieva’s 4:13/km.

Over the last few kilometres the strain was showing and, unlike the Two Oceans, there was no sign of the contented smile this time. But there was no slowing in pace either and she kept her rhythm across the thick grass of the stadium grounds until the very end. There she sagged back to lie on the grass, dark glasses protecting her eyes from the sun, and then the smile broke across her face.

Caroline Wöstmann had arrived on the ultrarunning scene, and her life will never be the same again. “I’ve had just such an incredible year,” she said. “It is a wonderful day for South Africa. I have pushed myself to the limit, and everything is sore now.”

That was understandable, for she had smashed even her previous best for the down run, 6:51:43 last year when she had finished sixth, by more than 39 minutes.

It was a long wait until Bosman arrived, but she, too, was elated. Gone were the memory of last year’s disastrous run when thyroid problems forced her to quit the race. She ran 20 minutes faster than when she finished fifth in the last up run and beat the Nurgalieva twins by more than seven minutes.

Elena finished third, followed by her sister less than a minute later, with Podnebesnova, who was beaten by Wöstmann in the Two Oceans, fifth. Greenwood was sixth, but her smile showed she was not disappointed. Next was Rautenbach (6:45:22), whose steady performances in the preceding months had shown that she was a force to be reckoned with. Her previous best for the up run was more than two hours slower: 8:49:55 for 112th position in 2004.

Yolande Maclean, who was leading at the first “hot spot” at Cowie’s Hill after 16.8 km and was eighth at Drummond, got the last gold medal in her first Comrades since 2007; she now has six golds.

The Men’s Race

In the men’s race Kelehe, the only top contender who beforehand was confident enough to predict that he would win, was only 54th after an hour of running. But by Drummond, with all the rabbits who had gone out too fast in the hope of winning some of the hot spot prizes gone from the scene, he had moved up to twelfth, 2:23 behind the leader.

Joseph Manyedi reached this point in 2:47:46 with Charles Tjiane second, one minute behind, and Vasiliy Larkin (RUS) third. Then came a huge group that included Hussein, three-time winner Stephen Muzhingi (ZIM), Sage Canaday (USA), world 100 km champion Max King (USA), Prodigal Khumalo (ZIM), David Gatebe, Rufus Photo, Joseph Mphuthi and Mike Fokoroni (ZIM).

Just behind this group came Kelehe and then former winners Claude Moshiywa, Bongmusa Mthembu, last year’s champion, and Ludwick Mamabolo, but they would play no further role in the proceedings.

Inchanga took its toll and just after 3 hours a smoothly striding Tjiane went into the lead, followed by Lebohang Monyele (LES). Larkin looked probably the best up the hill, but ten minutes later a group of eight, led by Muzhingi and Kelehe, swallowed him. Surprisingly, it was Hussein, in his first Comrades, who moved ahead and took the lead with 34 km to go.

Behind him and Monyele the trio of Kelehe, Hatiwande Nyamande and Mphuthi were running together, but at first they were making no impression on the two front runners. Then Kelehe decided it was time to make his move for the win.

The little man accelerated, cut into Monyele’s lead and caught him at 3:50:40. Ten minutes later Hussein’s fluid style had vanished and in less than another ten minutes Kelehe, running strongly and working hard on an incline, caught him. He ran the 66th kilometre in 3:33 and it was over.

Two minutes later he had stretched his lead to more than a minute and continued to enlarge the gap to the finish. Hussein walked a few times and Nyamande also passed him, but he rallied again on Polly Shortts, although both he and Nyamande looked much the worse for wear.

Just after Polly’s,Hussein repassed his rival and their positions did not change again. Behind them, however, there were many changes, with a surprising Teboho Sello (LES) moving into fifth at the finish and Moshiywa into seventh, with Muzhingi and Larkin falling back. Sandile Ngunuza and Thuso Mosiea claimed the last two gold medals.

A jubilant Kelehe, arms waving, ran across the finish line, where he was greeted by his wife and brother Andrew. He said he was not worried when he was so far back in the beginning. “I was confident I could destroy these people on the hills. I prefer the up run; you need more strength. I am scared of no one. I will come back next year and try to win again.”

King was among the big chasing pack in the first half, but faded to 50th in 6:33:48, almost exactly half an hour behind compatriot Sage Canaday (15th). Halfway leader Manyedi did not make the top 200, while Mthembu finished 17th.

Four-time winner Alan Robb finished in 10:36:54 to claim his 42nd medal. While Marina Zhalybina (14th) failed in her bid to win her thirteenth gold medal and Elena Nurgalieva in her’s to get her ninth win and equal the great Bruce Fordyce, Nurgalieva did achieve her thirteenth gold, passing Robb to own the most golds in the history of the race.

1. Gift Kelehe 5:38:36 R375,000 + 175,000i + 20,000h (=USD 45,600)
2. Mohammed Temam Hussein (ETH) 5:46:14 190,000
3. Hatiwande Nyamande 5:48:19 140,000
4. Lebohang Monyele (LES) 5:52:32 70,000
5. Teboho Sello (LES) 5:54:03 55,000
6. Joseph Mphuthi 5:54:29 35,000
7. Claude Moshiywa 5:55:17 30,000
8. Stephen Muzhingi (ZIM) 5:56:36 25,000
9. Sandile Ngunuza 5:57:08 20,000
10. Thuso Mosiea 5:59:08 17,000 + R35,000ii
11. Vasily Larkin (RUS) 6:00:56
12. Ben Matiso 6:01:24
13. Prodigal Khumalo (ZIM) 6:01:43
14. Rufus Photo 6:02:52
15. Sage Canaday (USA) 6:03:47
16. Thabo Nkuna 6:04:18
17. Bongmusa Mthembu 6:05:01
18. Siphiwe Ndlela 6:06:08
19. Renier Grobler 6:06:33
20. Harmans Mokgadi 6:06:59
21. David Gatebe 6:07:18
22. Thulane Magagula 6:10:30
23. Lympson Maifo (ZIM) 6:12:00
24. Mthokozisi Mbokombela 6:12:15
25. Skhumbuzo Dlamini 6:12:54
26. Latudi Makofane 6:13:00
27. Temo Rampuku (LES) 6:16:17
28. Siyabonga Dingile 6:19:07
29. Gaolatlhe Lesetedi 6:21:05
30. Siya Mqambeli 6:21:30
31. Bongani Mthembu 6:22:04
32. Themba Mthembu 6:22:24
33. Johannes Kekana 6:24:04
34. Sam Munyai 6:24:12
35. Peter Muthubi 6:24:12
36. Craig Cynkin 6:25:29
37. Lucas Raseruthe (LES) 6:25:37
38. Phillip Shezi 6:26:35
39. Judas Ntuli 6:28:53
40. Patrik Verme (SWE) 6:29:14
41. Ruben Setumu 6:30:11
42. Mosongo Mokoatsi 6:30:58
43. Lee Muir (GBR) 6:31:28
44. Reuben Maapola 6:31:49
45. Fusi Nhlapo 6:32:24
46. Bongani Msimango 6:32:24
47. Johnny Young 6:32:52
48. Justice Nkosi 6:33:10
49. Richard Dlamini 6:33:40
50. Max King (USA) 6:33:48

58. Mike Fokoroni (ZIM) 6:37:16
59. Lucas Nonyana 6:37:16 [correct]

63. Shaun Meiklejohn 6:39:56

102. Odwa Tunyiswa 6:50:32

119. Zwelithini Vaphi 6:55:06

124. Petros Sosibo 6:55:56

133. Charles Tjiane 6:59:42

137. Oliver Kandiero (ZIM) 7:00:17

221. Joseph Manyedi 7:14:40 R15,000h

296. Collin Parura (ZIM) 7:22:08

577. Vladimir Kotov (BLR) 7:51:43

4882. Alan Robb 10:36:54

DNF: Gert Thys, Marko Mambo (ZIM), Butiki Jantjies, Thobani Chagwe, Gilbert Mutandiro (ZIM), Mncedisi Mkhize, Ludwick Mamabolo

1. Moshiywa (above) 5:55:17 R15,000
2. Kekana (above) 6:24:04 10,000
3. Ntuli (above) 6:28:53 5000
1. Shaun Meiklejohn 6:39:56 R10,000
2. Stuart McColl 6:45:19 5000
3. Phadima Lazarus Seroka 6:48:28 4000

20. Kotov (above) 7:51:43
1. Francis Mukuka (ZAM) 7:49:14 5000
2. Nicholas Dlamini 8:14:23 4000
3. Almon Zibuse 8:18:45 3000

i = incentive as first South African
ii = incentive as first runner from Kwazulu-Natal province
h = hot spot prize awarded at three points along the route (Gilbert Mutandiro [ZIM] won the first, but did not finish the race as required.)

1. Caroline Wostmann 6:12:22 R375,000 + R175,000i + 35,000h (USD 46,800)
2. Charné Bosman 6:33:24 190,000
3. Elena Nurgalieva (RUS) 6:40:36 140,000
4. Olesya Nurgalieva (RUS) 6:41:18 70,000
5. Nina Podnebesnova (RUS) 6:41:48 55,000
6. Eleanor Greenwood (GBR) 6:44:03 35,000
7. Emmerentia Rautenbach 6:45:22 30,000
8. Joasia Zakrzewski (GBR) 7:00:45 25,000
9. Simona Staicu (HUN) 7:01:14 20,000
10. Yolande Maclean 7:01:49 17,000 R10,000h
11. Irina Antropova (RUS) 7:02:36
12. Lesley Train Austin 7:09:08
13. Stephanie Smith 7:11:26
14. Marina Zhalybina (RUS) 7:18:33
15. Fikile Mbuthuma 7:18:41 R35,000ii
16. Eve Bugler (GBR) 7:21:38
17. Salome Cooper 7:22:49
18. Kerry-Ann Marshall 7:23:07
19. Sophia Sundberg (SWE) 7:26:46
20. Sarah Wilson 7:27:41
21. Alemtsehay Hailu Kakissa (ETH) 7:28:52
22. Adele Waldron 7:37:19
23. Karen Sobrino 7:44:26
24. Ursula Turck 7:46:06
25. Mitsie van der Westhuizen 7:47:57
26. Jadi Clark 7:51:56
27. Mary Khourie 7:53:00
28. Janie Grundling 7:53:10
29. Zelda Breytenbach 7:56:06
30. Simone Verster 7:56:14
31. Danka Erasmus 7:56:59
32. Vanessa Bowman 7:58:05
33. Marcelle Coetzee 7:59:09
34. Lisa Brignull (NZL) 7:59:19
35. Carien Visser 7:59:40
36. Cheryl-Lynn Ceronie 8:01:20
37. Melanie Melville 8:02:01
38. Lindy Benson 8:02:14
39. Heather Walden 8:04:53
40. Maria Vilakazi 8:05:44
41. Elmarie Bezuidenhout 8:06:06
42. Maphuti Phaka 8:06:28
43. Martine Baker 8:06:48
44. Helen Buley 8:07:37
45. Megan Winderley 8:07:44
46. Anel Labuschagne 8:09:24
47. Tracy Forbes 8:10:27
48. Nonsikelelo Mbambo 8:10:36
49. Lisa Collett 8:12:26
50. Tracy Leigh Zunckel 8:13:06

78. Lindy-Lee Fölscher 8:34:08

109. Julanie Basson 8:50:21

1. Staicu (above) 7:01:14 R15,000
2. Train Austin (above) 7:09:08 10,000
3. Waldron (above) 7:37:19 5000
1. Lelanie van Zyl 8:19:18 R10,000
2. Jane Mudau 8:33:19 5000
3. Val Watson 8:35:57 4000
1. Nancy Will 8:53:31 R5000
2. Linda Icely 10:33:19 4000
3. Irmgard Uhlig (GER) 10:33:35 3000

i = incentive as first South African
ii = incentive as first runner from Kwazulu-Natal province
h = hot spot prize awarded at three points along the route (Wöstmann won both the last two.)

The 1:59:40 GOAT shirts are here