A number of elite Americans (men and women) are coming to run the Comrades Marathon this year – potentially making this year an interesting race in terms of strategy, endurance and team work!
Like Alberto Salazar, the American who won Comrades in 1994, the Americans have made it clear they are coming this year for podium finishes. John Cox (one of the American team members), said on the runnersworld.com site: “Having a U.S. sweep would be the dream. And I think it's totally possible And I think with our whole group going, we have a really good shot at getting the stars and stripes on the podium. You never know what's going to happen. I would love to have both Mike (Wardian) and me up there. And it's not some pie in the sky; we definitely have a real shot. We have a proven group of Americans who are going over there to do this. I'm the least proven in the ultras, but I'm coming off a PR in December at the marathon, and I'm running as good as I have in my life. And knowing that I ran the 50-mile back when I was 22 helps my confidence a lot. “.
This is a guy with a 50km American record of 2:47 and a marathon PB of 2:13. Running a marathon in under 2:20 puts him up there with the best of ultra athletes. Except he is not highly experienced in ultra distance and he will be competing with athletes that have done the course before.
John refers to Mike Wardian, a highly experienced ultra distance athlete but who is considered a bit on the slow side given his marathon PB of 2:21. Runners World magazine describes him as running “very far, very fast and very often” after racing 44 times in 2009, completing 8 ultras and 10 marathons in the process. Tell that to any South African coach with elite athletes running the Comrades and they will not believe that - especially because Mike is full-time employed and has a family. He might have competed ultramarathon trail runs that are more punishing, but that much running puts him at a disadvantage. Comrades Marathon is a long, tough race.
In October 2009 at the International Association of Ultrarunners' 50km Trophy Final, he came third (ran bronze) after Lucas Nonyana who took the gold. They ran together for most of the race, and it so happens they will probably be together in the leading group this time around again. No doubt he will also be running with Mokgadi, who came 7th at the same race.
On the ladies side, Kami Semick has also entered the race. She took gold at the International Association of Ultrarunners' 50km Trophy Final where Lesley Train took bronze. She is a solid contender and she is in good form. Like Wardian, she also tends to run a lot, and according to Runnersworld.com, she has won all the ultra-distance trail races she competed in last year. Compare her races to the two per year that the Russian twins run, and then see their how different their approaches are in terms of running.
The Americans elites are running Comrades this year, not so much for the prize money, but mostly for the glory and for humanitarian reasons. They are all raising money for the Starfish Foundation that assists communities that are devastated by HIV/Aids, thanks to their sponsor North Face. Nikki Kimball, another elite ladies contender, completes the North Face- sponsored athletes doing the Comrades.
Are we likely to see a significant increase in elite international runners from the US and from Europe coming to run Comrades? Unfortunately the answer is No. The prize money is a huge deterrent and it is too far to travel. The most they will do is run it once for charity and as a tick in the box. They respect the race and see it as a “superbowl of ultra road running” but they cannot afford to do it more than once.