2018 Comrades: Bongmusa Mthembu repeated, Ann Ashworth pulled off upset in women’s race

(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Published June 12, 2018

DURBAN (10-Jun) — Bongmusa Mthembu was “supposed” to win the 2018 Comrades; after all, he was the favourite of many experts and enthusiasts. But Ann Ashworth, a 2:48 marathoner, winning the women’s race? She was good for a gold medal (a top-10 finish), but winning?!

Well, that was exactly what the 34 year-old advocate did, finishing her seventh Comrades in 6:10:04 to easily dispose of her more illustrious rivals in the fastest time since Elena Nurgalieva ran 6:07:12 for the 2012 “down” run (on a course more than 900 metres shorter). Ashworth beat the big favourite, Two Oceans Marathon champion Gerda Steyn, by 5½ minutes after taking the lead — too early, according to most pundits — after 3 hours 30 minutes of running.

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Despite the longer course (90.184 km compared to 89.208 km), the first four women ran faster than Charné Bosman‘s winning 6:25:55 in the 2016 down run. Alexandra Morozova (RUS) was third in 6:20:21 and debutante Tanith Maxwell (42) fourth in 6:20:33.

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Mthembu, who also won last year’s “up” run, crossed the finish line in 5:26:34 to beat Joseph Mphuthi by 8:35 — the biggest winning margin since Claude Moshiywa beat Jonas Buud by 9:12 in 2013. Mthembu has now firmly established himself as South Africa’s premier ultrarunner after becoming the first male since Stephen Muzhingi (ZIM) in 2011 to score three wins, and the first South African to do so since Bruce Fordyce in 1983. On top of this, two years ago he also broke Fordyce’s venerable 100 km national record when finishing second, in 6:24:05, in the IAU World 100 km Championships.

In his last five Comrades outings Mthembu has now finished 1st (the 2014 down run), 17th, 3rd, 1st and 1st.

Comparatively speaking, the men’s race was not as fast as the women’s, but exciting nonetheless, with the outcome being in the balance until Mthembu, who won last year’s up race by more than three minutes, put in a surge on the last big incline, Cowies Hill, at around the 70 km mark. Until then he had been running with the last downhill winner (and record holder), David Gatebe, Edward Mothibi, three-time Two Oceans winner Marko Mambo (ZIM) and Mphuthi.

The first real action in the men’s race, after the 05:30 start in front of the Pietermaritzburg City Hall and the initial over-eager pacesetters had been swallowed up, came from Richard Mavuso, the 1999 SA cross-country champion over 4 km, who took the lead after 1 hour 45 minutes of running. Mavuso, who clocked over 7 hours in last year’s race, was soon joined by a huge group that included Mthembu, Charles Tjiane, Gatebe, Ludwick Mambolo and Mike Fokoroni (ZIM), the 2016 Two Oceans champion.

On the downhill to the halfway mark Mavuso  surged away from the group, which had now been reduced to ten. He reached “halfway” in Drummond in 2:41:32, followed 23 seconds later by Fokoroni, Mambo, Mothibi, the Ethiopian Kebede Aberra Dinke, Gatebe, Mthandazo Qhina, Mthembu and Thulane Magagula in close proximity of one another. (Drummond, deep in the valley after the Inchanga hill, is the traditional halfway mark, although this year the real halfway was located about a kilometre further up the road, on the climb out of Drummond.)

Over the next few kilometres the leading group was thinned out to seven, but a new member had joined: Teboho Sello (LES), who was seventh last year. Then Mambo, now 46 years old, broke away and made a gap of 40m. He crossed the timing mat at Winston Park (57.6 km) in 3:31:57, followed 14 seconds later by Mphuthi, Mothibi, Mthembu, Gatebe, Dinke and Sello. Gordon Lesetedi had moved into eighth, with 2015 champion Gift Kelehe in ninth and Fokorni, who was fourth in the last down run, in tenth.

Mambo soon stretched his lead to 100m, but by Kloof, 540m above sea level, he had been caught and down Field’s Hill, the last major downhill on the down route, Gatebe — looking ominously comfortable — Mthembu and Mothibe surged away. They stayed together through Pinetown, sharing water sachets, and at 69 km they were 22 seconds ahead of Mambo and another 8 seconds in front of Mphuthi. Sello was now a massive 2:46 behind, and Lesetedi another 29 seconds in arrears.

Then, with the clock showing 4:15, Mthembu decided it was time to go. Using the shady, winding climb up Cowies Hill (it had become progessively warmer and more humid the closer the runners came to Durban, and he was dousing himself with water at every opportunity), Mthembu effortlessly sped away. He had started his final bid for victory a bit later than when he won in 2014, but again there was no stopping him.

Going through Mayville (81.3 km) in 4:53:32, Mthembu was already almost five minutes ahead and although he was starting to tire and the record was out of sight, he was still moving smoothly and increasing his lead all the time. Behind him Mothibi had moved into second and, launching a late charge, Briton Steven Way had moved into fifth ahead of a struggling Gatebe, who had been so majestic in the last down run. Way, ninth last year, was 8:19 behind the leader, and he was followed further down the road by Gatebe, Lesetedi, Sello, Kelehe and Nkosinathi Duma to round out the top ten.

Way, who said that he trained on a treadmill to get hill training in, since there are no hills near his home, was not done yet. Over the last 5 km he charged past Mambo and Mothibi, who was slowing dramatically, but he failed to catch Mphuthi by 18 seconds as they took the first two veteran (40+) places in 5:35:09 and 5:35:27 respectively.

Gatebe, not close to the form that took him to the record of 5:18:19 in 2016, faded to eighth in 5:42:43. Kelehe, ninth, achieved his sixth gold medal in his last eight starts. American Geoff Burns, the course record holder of the Mad City 100 km, finished his first Comrades in twelfth position (5:49:04).

There were seven South Africans in the top ten, compared to eight in the last down run and only five last year.

“I am very emotional about this win,” said Mthembu, who was a bricklayer before he started running, “because the Comrades means so much to me. The experience of my previous victory helped me a lot. I decided in Pinetown to break away from the others. The down Comrades realy only starts in Pinetown.”

The women’s race was unusual in that the top women ran closer together than they usually did in the past, when the tendency was to string out faily soon after the start. After 30 km Nina Zarina (RUS), who was 17th last year in her first attempt, was the somewhat surprising leader (in 2:07:16), but the 2016 champion, Bosman, was on her heels, followed closely by Morozova, second last year, and Steyn. Bosman had led for almost the whole first two hours, and she and Zarina stayed together for another eight minutes before the Russian, wearing a white cap with the peak turned up, broke away.

At this stage Ashworth, who did not finish last year, was 66 seconds behind, with Maxwell just three seconds further back. They were more than two minutes ahead of Carla Molinaro (GBR).

Then Bosman fought back and regained the lead — in retrospect, probably a mistake. Morozova was moving through the field and, trading surges, joined her compatriot to pass the South African.

At 2:52 Steyn caught Bosman and the two exchanged smiles and a few words. Steyn then went past and overhauled Morozova, but by halfway the Russian had again moved into second, 14 seconds behind Zarina. Steyn was 13 seconds further back — but now, suddenly, Ashworth was only eight seconds behind her and looking very relaxed, but so did Steyn, who was fourth last year.

She took the lead for the first time a kilometre further, but behind her Ashworth had also passed Zarina. A tenacious battle ensued and Morozova took the initiative again, only to be repassed by Ashworth — and then taking the lead once more. In Pinetown, at 68.9 km, Morozova was two seconds ahead, with Steyn in third, 50 seconds behind Ashworth. She was followed by Maxwell, who had passed Bosman to move into fourth. Zarina was sixth, but was fading; Sophia Sundberg (SWE) was seventh, more than 20 minutes behind the leader, Molinara eighth, Sarah Bard (USA) ninth and Devon Yanko (USA) tenth.

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Soon after this Ashworth went to the front and this time Morozova had no answer. The South African, impassive behind her dark glasses, pulled away steadily and at Mayville she was almost three minutes in front of Steyn, who led Morozova by 1:44.

Bosman, who has been second, first and third in her last three Comrades runs, was struggling, but there was little change in the positions over the last 8 km, except that Yanko, who was tenth last year, and Bard, who was fourth and sixth in the last two years, both passed Molinaro to finish seventh and eighth respectively.

Ashworth crossed the finish line with a big smile and said her race plan had worked out perfectly. She had prepared for the Comrades with a win in the Legends 68 km last year, and then a fifth place in the Two Oceans and second in the Loskop 50 km (behind Bosman) this year. She thanked everyone who had sacrificed to help her. She said her coach, John Hamlett, believed she could win. “But still, I don’t think anyone is more surprised than myself that I am sitting here [as the winner]. I did not work for two months to train for the Comrades.”

Yolande Maclean took the last gold medal to make it five South Africans in the top ten, one more than in 2017. The top twelve women dipped under seven hours as compared to only nine in 2016. Zarina faded to 22nd, more than 76 minutes behind the winner.

An outstanding performance was produced by 60 year-old Canadian Elizabeth Waywell, who ran faster than all the 50-59 year-olds to win the 60+ category by more than an hour in 8:12:36.

Two runners, Barry Holland, 66, and Louis Massyn, 67, became the coholders of the most medals when they finished their 46th consecutive Comrades, Holland in 10:53:56 and Massyn in 11:46:39 (the cut-off is 12 hours).

Editor’s note: If you want recaps like this and extensive results and prize money for all distance races across the globe, subscribe to RRW.

1. Bongmusa Mthembu             5:26:34 ZAR 440,000 + 200,000i + 45,000k (=USD 54,800)
2. Joseph Mphuthi               5:35:09     220,000
3. Steven Way, 43, GBR          5:35:27     170,000
4. Edward Mothibi               5:36:32      85,000
5. Marko Mambo, ZIM             5:37:49      68,000
6. Gordon Lesetedi              5:39:32      38,000
7. Teboho Sello, LES            5:42:21      34,000
8. David Gatebe                 5:42:43      30,000
9. Gift Kelehe                  5:46:50      25,000
10. Nkosinathi Duma              5:47:09      21,000
11. Prodigal Khumalo, ZIM        5:47:48
12. Geoff Burns, USA             5:49:04
13. Charles Tjiane               5:51:25
14. Thandokwakhe Ngcobo          5:53:06
15. Fritjof Fagerlund, SWE       5:53:39
16. Fanuel Mapamura, ZIM         5:46:46
17. Professa Mthethwa            5:57:11
18. Lovemore Chabata, ZIM        5:58:27
19. Mike Fokoroni, ZIM           5:59:14
20. Thuso Mosiea                 5:59:26
21. Vlad Shatrov, AUS            6:01:24
22. Elov Olsson, SWE             6:01:38
23. Chris Cherry                 6:03:27
24. Siyabonga Dingile            6:04:48
25. Thomas Ndlovu                6:05:05

42. Aleksandr Fetisov (RUS) 6:17:30

44. Asier Cuevas Ettcheto, ESP   6:19:15
45. Anton Samakhvalov, RUS       6:19:37

57. Peter Muthubi                6:25:00

62. Richard Mavuso               6:27:29

72. Latudi Makofane              6:31:42

84. Mthandazo Qhina              6:34:05

174. Ibon Esparza (ESP) 6:56:06
DNF: Ludwick Mamabolo, Lungile Gongqa, Hatimande Nyamande (ZIM), Kebede Aberra Dinke (ETH)

1. Mphuthi (above)              5:35:09 ZAR 20,000
2. Way (above)                  5:35:27     12,000
3. Mambo (above)                5:37:49      6,000
1. Ronald Shibiri               6:33:42 ZAR 12,000
2. Solomon Khumalo              6:39:41      6,000
3. George Mooi                  6:41:26      4,000
1. David Von Senden, AUS        7:37:40 ZAR  6,000
2. Errol Shear                  7:37:56      4,000
3. Francis Makuka, ZAM          7:57:24      3,000
i = incentive as first South African
k = incentive as first runner from Kwazulu-Natal province

1. Ann Ashworth                 6:10:04 ZAR 440,000 + 200,000i (=USD 51,200)
2. Gerda Steyn                  6:15:34     220,000
3. Alexandra Morozova, RUS      6:20:21     170,000
4. Tanith Maxwell, 43           6:20:35      85,000 + 45,000k
5. Charné Bosman, 42            6:33:08      68,000
6. Sophia Sundberg, SWE         6:45:24      38,000
7. Devon Yanko, USA             6:47:44      34,000
8. Sarah Bard, USA              6:49:05      30,000
9. Carla Molinaro, GBR          6:50:31      25,000
10. Yolande Maclean              6:52:16      21,000
11. Salome Cooper                6:53:18
12. Fikile Mbuthuma              6:54:36
13. Frida Södermark, SWE         7:03:56
14. Lisa Collett                 7:05:02
15. Deanné Horn                  7:06:54
16. Mary Khourie                 7:11:33
17. Mia Morrison                 7:16:01
18. Enie Manzini                 7:21:03
19. Cobie Smith                  7:21:29
20. Nandi Zaloumis               7:21:33

36. Julanie Basson               7:48:29

40. Lindsay van Aswegen          7:51:29

49. Anastasia Ryabtsova, RUS     7:59:59

64. Marina Popova, RUS           8:11:50

99. Marina Zaytseva, RUS         8:29:21
DNF: Stephanie Smith

1. Maxwell (above)              6:20:35 ZAR 20,000
2. Bosman (above)               6:33:08     12,000
3. Maclean (above)              6:52:16      6,000

1. Jana Trojan, CZE             8:17:49 ZAR 12,000
2. Jane Mudau                   8:19:13      6,000
3. Julie Shadwell               8:43:23      4,000

1. Elizabeth Waywell, CAN       8:12:36 ZAR 6,000
2. Val Watson                   9:14:08     4,000
3. Adri van Jaarsveld           9:40:06     3,000
i = incentive as first South African
k = incentive as first runner from Kwazulu-Natal province

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