‘Comrades is the Olympics of ultramarathons’


Johan Oosthuizen is not only one of the friendliest athletes, but he is also a long-breathing legend in his own right.

In addition, this Middelburg teacher boasts a unique record behind his name: Every dear available Comrades medal adorns his display case.

From three gold medals – he won his first one exactly 20 years ago in 2004 – to the Wally Hayward, the Robert Mtshali and the Vic Clapham medals.

So he knows what he’s talking about when you ask him about the Comrades.

According to Oosthuizen, this ultramarathon between Durban and Pietermaritzburg is rightly known as the “Ultimate Human Race”.

And in contrast to other sports – where only the elite sports stars can participate in Wimbledon or an F1 race – the Comrades is within everyone’s reach.

You just have to be willing to prepare well.

“The Comrades are, as it were, the Olympic Games of ultramarathons. You can compete on the same day as some of the top athletes and all experience the same pain and challenges. It does not matter if you are among the leading participants or are a back row; your main goal on the day is to get to the finish line,” said Oosthuizen.

He says that participants’ objectives can change every year.

“You can aim higher the next one and have another medal in your sights. I read somewhere that only 85,000 runners have ever participated in this ultra; it definitely makes you part of a select group.”

Oosthuizen has participated in several international marathons. He won, among other things, the London to Brighton race, while he also left his mark in the USA.

But no other race can hold a candle to the Comrades’ supporters.

“I have participated many times overseas, but there is nothing that can compare with the Comrades. Nowhere is there support along the way like here. This is where dreams get wings – how many fans don’t dream of being part of the action the following year?”

He has attempted 20 Comrades races in his life. So what does he prefer – the up or the down race?

“Personally, the finish is more enjoyable for me in Durban than in Pietermaritzburg, but the physical challenge of the down race is worse for me. The blows your thighs take then are very fierce.

“On the other hand – if you are well prepared for the route from Durban to Pietermaritzburg – you won’t be so sore the next day. I collected my first gold medal with the up race and this route will therefore always be special to me.”

For runners taking part in the race for the first time, he has the following advice: Don’t overthink everything.

“Some competitors are so focused on the finer details that they forget to enjoy the race. And this is exactly where you get your energy from. The spectators are like a current that takes you forward and it is a good idea to be part of a bus of runners because then you don’t have to worry if you are running too fast or too slow.

“Don’t stress too much, because then you take the fun out of the race.”