DURBAN - Runners, young and old will celebrate the camaraderie and joy of 100 years of The Ultimate Human Race through their participation in the Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge this Sunday.
Traditional Comrades Marathon runners, their spouses, parents, children and even their pets will take to the streets and bring the magic of the world’s biggest, oldest and most famous ultramarathon to life in their neighbourhoods, towns, cities and countries across the world.
The oldest surviving Comrades Marathon Winner has also confirmed his participation in this year’s second virtual event to be hosted by the Comrades Marathon Association since the onset of Covid-19 and the subsequent cancellation of mass participation events worldwide.
Bernard Gomersall, a UK national who now resides in the USA, will be joined by his family and friends on Sunday, 13 June, and will together chart their own route on the Crescent Trail along the Potomac River in Washington DC, in the USA.
Gomersall became one of the few international runners to win The Ultimate Human Race, after breaking the tape in the 1965 Comrades Marathon in a time of 5:51:09.
"My reaction to the 1965 Comrades Marathon win was two-fold - surprise and delight. Surprise that I had been lucky enough to win the greatest race in the world! Especially when you consider that only 18 months before that, I had won my first ever race over any distance. So I did not have a lot of experience at winning. I must also admit that the unexpected rain and cool conditions were on my side," Gomersall said.
"The delight was that I had not let anybody down. All the many people in the UK who had supported me were not disappointed. Additionally, my family had delightedly received the reward for all their sacrifices," he added.
The CMA was honoured with a visit to the 2015 Comrades Marathon by Gomersall, 50 years after his win. On his visit, he says, “What an amazing trip I had back to South Africa, half a century after winning The Ultimate Human Race. I must admit that the visit was emotionally charged with surprise, delight but also tinged with a feeling of sorrow. My surprise was that, after all those years, as to who had heard of me and who still remembered me. I thought my visit would have been very quiet but I found out that old winners of the Comrades were and still are in demand as I received a number of invitations to supporting events that year.”
The delight was that I was returning to the country and event that brought me my greatest success and introduced me to many new friends. It also allowed me to renew old friendships and touch base with so many dear people," he said.
"Last but not least, the sorrow was that my dear wife, Ruth, of 55 years was not at my side as she had passed away in 2011. But she was there in spirit," he said.
"Life has since changed for me. After living in England for 81 years, I decided with the help of my daughter to emigrate and I now live in the USA near Washington DC. I have been wearing the Stars and Stripes on my shirt but I have the Union Jack on my heart. It was a new experience to attend the Comrades as an Elder but it’s something that I will cherish forever," Gomersall he said.
He said being part of the Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge is one way of keeping my bond with the Comrades Marathon alive.
"I look forward to running with hope on Sunday, 13 June," he said.
Comrades Marathon Ambassador at Large, Mark Bloomfield said he had the honour and privilege of running the Race the Comrades Legends virtual event along the same route on the Crescent Trail with Bernard last year.
"What an experience it was!” he said.
"The path runs along the Potomac River and I have since renamed a portion of the trail ‘The Bernard Gomersall Trail’. We had a fun time last year, when I jumped ahead of him at the end of our 5km run and Bernard yelled, “God dammit! I’ve never been beaten by a bloody American!” to which I responded, “I’ve never beaten a Comrades Winner!” he said.
Dubbed the #ComradesCentenaryHopeChallenge, this year’s virtual event carries the campaign slogan of ‘Ithemba – Hope Is’, which aims to contextualise each runner’s hopes, what the feeling means to them and to further inspire other athletes to dig deep and discover their own hopes and dreams for a better future and the new normal in a world ravaged by Covid-19.
The Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge will comprise 5 distances, being a 5km, 10km, 21.1km, 45km and 90km which will all be run virtually on Sunday, 13 June 2021. For more information on the Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge and to enter, please click through to www.comrades.com