Durban – Breaking a 13-year-old Comrades Marathon record was a dream come true for Gerda Steyn especially as she had not planned on it, even though she knew it was a possibility.
The 2019 female Comrades winner crossed the finish line in the "up run" in a time of 5:58:53, shaving 10 minutes off the 13-year record of 6:09:23 held by Russia’s Elena Nurgalieva.
"It was only in the last kilometres that fatigue began to start but I could smell the finish line so I gave it my all," she said at the finish line.
"I promised myself I was going to decide halfway on breaking the record and at halfway I knew I was on record," she said.
Steyn felt blessed to have bagged the R500 000 prize money and she would spend it wisely investing in improving herself and others around her.
"I thank everyone for their support and I thank God because I had strength from above today," said Steyn.
Esther Mothibi, wife of Edward Mothibi the male winner, said it was not an easy journey for her family.
"It was hard but I accepted everything. I don’t even know what to say but to thank everyone for their support, from those in Mafikeng in the North West Province to those at Impala Platinum mine where Edward works," she said.
Esther joined her husband with their three children aged three, five and 9 years at the finish line where the couple wrapped their arms around each other in tears.
She said coming to support her husband, she had positive thoughts and knew he would win.
Speaking at the finish line, Mothibi said it was not until there was 10km left of the race that he realised that it was between him and defending champion Bongmusa Mthembu.
"I knew whoever would take the lead then would win the race. When I saw him pass me I thought he would take the race. I never gave up, I came strong and I could see he was breaking down so I pushed," he said.
Mothibi finished the race in 5:31:33. He was followed by Mthembu and Nao Kazami from Japan came in third.
But it’s not just the winners who find the Comrades Marathon addictive.
First-time runner Anele Mnyamane from KwaDabeka said he would be back next year.
While he envisioned completing the race, he did not think he would do so under nine hours.
"It’s an achievement for me even though I had problems with cramps along the way. I saw how other runners stopped to help. I want to run again. I want to run over and over. I loved every minute of it," he said.
Mnyamane said the feeling of being among the thousands of runners from all over the world was one he had no words to describe.
"It’s a feeling money can’t buy. You feel human and there’s no black or white just runners, all with the goal of finishing," he said.
Video: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency
Second-time runner Sibonelo Mkhize, from Lanskop, walked over the finish line with grace and ease but said while he might have appeared graceful the race was hard.
"Cowies Hill, Bothas Hill were among some of the difficult parts of the race but I kept on pushing. I had to stay focused to finish," he said.
Mkhize had the help of other runners when his legs wanted to give way when he was suffering from cramps.
"It’s the same spirit I saw last year when I ran and it’s the same spirit I saw again today. I am coming back for my third race next year," said Mkhize.
About eight hours into the race, a group of runners from different running clubs came charging over the finish line together and sealed their experience with a group hug at the end.
Candice Hall who initiated the group hug said she had run her sixth Comrades Marathon and was not about to stop.
Hall described the race as the best.
"I rode in buses, I met new people and I ran along side them. I helped people on the way. You know, this is my tribe (the runners)," said Hall.