Words of a Comrades Winner

Why Southern Africa Runners cant run sub 2H10

Running in Southern Africa is for one thing pretty hard especially with the weather conditions, but from a financial side it is extremely difficult to be a full time professional athlete.
For one thing races here do not pay appearance fees for the Elite Athletes, and we have to run for prize money. This in itself is not great either, as there are pretty much four races the whole year that pay anything substantial, such as Comrades (89km- ZAR250 000), Two Oceans (56km – ZAR250 000), City to City (50km – ZAR50 000), Soweto Marathon (42.2km). But this is the winners prize money, and only top 10 get paid and this drops drastically down to R10 000 for Comrades and Oceans for 10th place. Other than these races average prize money for a marathon is less than ZAR 2 000, and for the shorter distances even less. The shorter races also pretty much only pay the top 3.Running is seen as an amateur sport and does not receive the TV coverage or media coverage as Soccer, Rugby, and Cricket does. So therefore not much attraction for sponsors of the athletes.
Yes some of the Elites are lucky enough to have monthly retainers paid to them by clubs, such as Mr.Price, Nedbank, Formula 1, Bonitas. Although the clubs pay retainers these cannot be compared to salaries of other sports codes, and the elite athletes have to race for little prize money to just survive. Basically if you don’t run an Ultra, such as Comrades or Two Oceans, and come within the top 3 at these races then you seriously will struggle financially. But you can understand that without the exposure from TV for races, the clubs are pretty much paying monthly (small) salaries to the elites for 2 races a year, without much exposure or return for them.

That is why the marathon runners have to run at least 1 marathon and a 21.1km or even two marathons a month and have to do well to get some cash to survive. And we all know that you cannot run 2 marathons a month and do the training required and expect to run a sub 2H10 marathon. Because the Elites have to race so often they loose their speed and therefore the serious fast guys win races in Southern Africa in 2H20 on average. Your body needs to recover from the stresses and strains.
Its a vicious circle between athletes and potential sponsors and clubs. Because there is very little money floating around, an athlete will leave one sponsor for a mere ZAR500 per month if he / she can get this from another sponsor or club. Its not a case of an athlete not being loyal to a sponsor or club its a matter of survival for an athlete. An athlete cannot run at the highest level for many years with having to race as much as they have to, but if they didn’t have to race as much their careers would be a lot longer. So when you do badly at one of the key races there is no other race where you can make it up to your club, and therefore at the end of the year you are out, or have your contract cut drastically. This then creates additional stress and pressure for the athletes.

In know some seriously top runners that have to have a full time job, and their average day is like this – Wake up at 3am to train, then go to work for the full day, 9 hours, then train again and go home. By the time he / she arrives at home it is after 8pm, then eat, bath relax and sleep. Therefore not much sleep for the body to recover, as its up again at 3am to start the day.
So therefore if athletes in Southern Africa are to run faster than a 2H10 marathon there seriously needs to be some major restructuring and greater support from the corporate world. We have the athletes with the talent and potential, but just need the support.
As the classic saying goes, “Africa is no place for sissies.”
So I suppose I have also come to a crossroads in my running career, so after Comrades this year, I will too be considering my options to further my career abroad, as I have no alternative but to!


April 5, 2011 - Posted by | Athletics, Comrades, Comrades Marthon, Exercise, Fitness, Marathon Running, Running, Stephen Muzhingi, Two Oceans Marathon, Uncategorized | , , , , ,


  1. I’ve always thought that by focusing too much on the ultra distances South Africans were harming their potential over the shorter distances. It’s fascinating to see this from a professional runner’s perspective though.

    It would be sad to lose someone of your talent but I don’t think anyone would be able to begrudge your desicion to leave. But whatever you do, keep blogging – it’s really nice, as an ordinary runner who runs for the fun of it, to get an insight into the world of the elite athlete.

    Athletics in this country has been so poorly handled that it has also scared away corporate sponsors. Until the sport is run properly it would be hard to blame the corporates for staying away. Hopefully the new ASA board will try develop the sport and not their bank accounts like the previous bunch.

    Comment by john_a | April 5, 2011 | Reply

    • Hi John

      Thanks for the comment. I agree with the part of Ultras being a part of the “slowness” of our runners, but the two major ultras are the ones where the guys can actually be rewarded for their efforts.

      Although I may consider going to Europe or USA to run, my plans will always be around Comrades and Two Oceans as they are both the greatest races around, So if I do go abroad it will only be for short periods, and Comrades will always be my main race, cause I love running Comrades.

      Comment by muzhingi5h23 | April 5, 2011 | Reply

  2. Am not sure if the speed is diminished by the shorter ultras (i.e. less than 100km). This, to me at least, is evident by your fast last 5km in the 2010 Comrades. Ramaala has probably been able to knock out the marathon times he has because he’s more than likely had a decent financial cushion – although not consistently. Don’t know if Gert Thys had the same amount of breathing space but he was a regular sub-10 racer (albeit clouded by doping scandals). ASA does need to revamp things. The Ethiopians and Moroccans seem to have a good model with the state-subsidized camps where the young runners build their speed up on the track and progressively up the distances on the road. That there is a wealth of talent in both SA and Zim is without doubt, but the young athletes can’t hope to be able to take the same approach of hitting their best possible times at a given distance and then moving up if they’re stressing about basics like eating and sleeping – their focus is naturally going to be on getting into the cash-prize races as quickly as they can and then running as many as they can. Unfortunately, doesn’t look like there’s a quick fix to this 😦

    Comment by Matthew | April 15, 2011 | Reply

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