On Sunday 10 June, the 93rd Comrades Marathon will again once see thousands of runners take on the Ultimate Human Race, with all those runners hoping to make it all the way from Piermaritzburg to Durban to claim that coveted little medal. And once again, many will be relying on the Modern Athlete Comrades Marathon Pacesetters to get them home on time. – BY SEAN FALCONER
If you’ve ever seen one of the Modern Athlete Comrades Marathon Pacesetters bring a bus into the finish of the race, you’ll know that singing, dancing, crying, high-fiving, fist-pumping, hugging and kissing are the order of the day. It remains one of the highlights of the race to see these large groups finishing, and many a spectator has been seen to wipe away a little tear of emotion at the sight of all those happy runners.
These are the only official pacing ‘buses’ at Comrades, run with the permission of the Comrades Marathon Association, and the volunteer ‘bus drivers’ carry flags with their target time so that runners can easily spot them, hop on the bus of their choice and rely on the Pacesetter to guide them home on time. The buses have become a huge part of the race, and while some runners complain about the huge groups blocking the road and making overtaking difficult, many more love the vibe created in these buses.
For many years Modern Athlete organised the standard sub-9:00 (Bill Rowan cut-off), sub-11:00 (Bronze cut-off) and sub-12:00 (Vic Clapham cut-off) buses, and in 2016 we added a sub-10:00 bus, which proved just as popular as the more established buses. Then in 2017 we brought Gauteng Pacesetters co-ordinator Buks van Heerden on board and went still bigger, adding sub-8:30, sub-9:30, sub-11:30 and sub-11:45 buses, but this did unfortunately lead to some confusion out on the road, as various pacers were running on different race-day strategies, with different fade differentials, and thus some of the buses were a bit mixed up in the early stages of the race. To solve that problem, the 2018 buses, co-ordinated by Buks and Mindlo Mdhluli of KZN Pacesetters, will run with similar strategies, all sticking as close as possible to pacing charts created by Western Province Pacesetter Rassie Pretorius.
Tried and Trusted Pacers
The 2018 Comrades Pacesetters will be captained by Madoko Ndlovu, driver of the hugely popular Madoko’s Bus for many years and one of the most experienced Pacers in SA, and the list of bus drivers once again features many well-known and highly experienced stalwarts of previous Comrades, such as Johan van Tonder, Linda Hlophe, Jeff Ramokoka and Derrick Rondganger. For the first time ever, we will offer a sub-7:30 silver medal bus, and it is also brilliant to see that the Pacesetters hail from all over the country. Most have been running as Pacesetters regularly this year in build-up races to Comrades, so many runners around the country already know and trust their pacing. These, then, are the men and women who will be carrying the flags in this year’s Comrades:
Sub-7:30 (Silver medal)
Tshililo Ngwana (Gauteng, 11 medals)
Sub-9:00 (Bill Rowan medal)
Johan van Tonder (Gauteng, 16 medals)
Joe Faber (KwaZulu-Natal (21 medals)
Sub-10:00 (Safe Bronze medal)
Linda Hlophe (Gauteng, 14 medals)
James Nkosi (KwaZulu-Natal, 12 medals)
George Mojela (Limpopo, 9 medals)
Sub-10:30 (Safe Bronze medal)
Sibusiso Mlangeni (Gauteng, 2 medals)
Sub-11:00 (Bronze medal)
Madoko Ndlovu (Gauteng, 13 medals)
Jeff Ramokoka (Gauteng, 19 medals)
Arnold Nkosi (Gauteng, 10 medals)
Sub-11:30 (Safe Vic Clapham medal)
Gerald Pavel (KwaZulu-Natal, 6 medals)
Charl Whitaker (Gauteng, 11 medals)
Gary Dixon (UK Guest Pacer, 2 medals)
Sub-11:45 (Vic Clapham medal)
Claus Kempen (Free State, 13 medals)
Sub-12:00 (Vic Clapham medal)
Derrick Rondganger (Western Province, 11 medals)
Lucas Seleka (Limpopo, 11 medals)
Shahieda Thungo (Gauteng, 2 medals)
There will also be a few ‘back-up drivers’ on race day, who will be running with the buses to gain experience of pacing at Comrades, and who will be on hand to take over should one of the official Pacers run into trouble:
Sub-10:00 Siyabonga Khumalo (Gauteng, 3 medals)
Sub-11:00 Mkhokheli Malghas (Eastern Cape, 2 medals)
Sub-11:45 Pieter Schoeman (Gauteng, 6 medals)
Sub-12:00 Andrew Mashiane (Gauteng, 3 medals)
Sub-12:00 Virgulle Steenkamp (Gauteng, 1 medal)
Please note that specific buses or drivers may still change between the time of writing and race day, and Modern Athlete will post updated info on social media where applicable. Also, one of the 'rules' of Pacesetting is that should a Pacer be unable to keep the pace for their target time, they must discard their flag, or hand over the flag to somebody that can keep the bus going. In a race as tough and long as Comrades, even the most experienced runner could exprience a bad day in the office, and thus having more than one Pacer for most target times makes sense, as well as back-up drivers, should something go wrong. Thankfully, over the years most of our Modern Athlete Comrades Pacesetters have done a sterling job of bringing their buses home on time!
Modern Athlete would like to thank our Comrades Pacesetters for their incredible spirit and camaraderie, and being willing to volunteer and take on the responsibility of helping fellow runners. We look forward to welcoming all the buses home on Comrades race day.