HOWICK — A big group of top runners from Ethiopia is looking to dominate the action up front in the Mandela Day Marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Howick on Sunday.
Heading the field of 13 700 runners is a big contingent of Nedbank Running Club Ethiopia athletes and the South Africans are going to have their work cut out keeping the Mandela Day Marathon title at home in both the men’s and women’s races.
Heading the women’s field is former winner Selam Abera Alebachew. She is the only athlete to have won the event more than once with victories in both 2015 and 2016. The Ethiopian, who has a marathon best of 2:36:08, further added to her status with runner-up finishes in 2017 and 2018 and her experience and knowledge of the route make her the runner to beat this year.
Abera Alebachew’s strongest challenge looks likely to come from compatriot and Nedbank teammate Yenealem Ayano Buli, who boasts a marathon personal best of 2:34:11, although there is a question mark over her recent form.
Another Ethiopian who is something of an unknown danger is Sofiya Shemsu Chegen. She has posted some very quick times over shorter distances and was third at the Cape Town 12km Onerun earlier this year in 38 minutes, and also has a half marathon best of 1:11. There is no doubt Chegen has the speed but it remains to be seen how she handles the distance on a course that boasts some tough undulations.
Locally the women to watch are Makhosi Mhlongo who was fifth last year; and Loveness Madziva, who was seventh last year and has been showing some good form in recent shorter races in KZN this season.
In the men’s race, although there is a question mark over the participation of both record holder Thobani Chagwe and last year’s race winner Sintayehu Legese Yinesu, the field is packed with top-ten runners from 2018.
The runner to beat could well be Kenyan Mark Oyugu who ended third last year and looked strong over the closing kilometres. Other top finishers from a year ago include Durban’s Siyabonga Konde, Lesotho’s Teboho Noosi, Zimbabwe’s Lyno Muchena, Ethiopian Kebede Aberra Dinke and local Ndumiso Sokhela who all filled positions five to nine a year ago.
As in the women’s race, Nedbank have entered a powerful crew of athletes from Ethiopia and these include Daba Iifa Debele, Dinke, Negasi Korme and Wondwosen Ketema Mamo, with Zimbabwean Munyaradzi Jari and Kenyan Walter Kororia also running in the green running vests.
Closer to home there is a strong contingent of Lesotho athletes with Tsepo Mathibelle, Bereng Mogeti and Lebenya Nkoka all hoping their upbringing at altitude can pay dividends.
The 42km marathon starts on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg at the Manaye Hall in iMbali — where Nelson Mandela made his last public speech on 25 March 1961 at the All-in-Africa conference — and finishes just outside Howick at the famous Nelson Mandela Capture Site where he was arrested a year later.
The marathon takes place in conjunction with a 21,1km half marathon which starts at Hillary Road in Hilton and a 10km event, which starts at the Howick Sports Fields. All three events finish at the Capture Site and all start at 6am.
The Mandela Day Marathon was started in 2012 to honour the life and times of President Nelson Mandela. This year the three road runs are part of a weekend of events that include a trail run, a youth run, mountain biking and a triathlon. This jamboree of participation sports is centred around the world-famous Nelson Mandela Capture Site and has established itself as one of the top sporting events in KZN.