Participating in a race is a lot easier than organising one.
As a runner competing in a marathon, you enter the event, collect your race number and pitch up at the start. You run, you laugh, you cry, you finish.
Yes, there’s also a whole lot of training that goes in beforehand, but race organisers have to deal with so much more, and they are rarely given the credit they deserve.
Anything can go wrong, and it does, even at the biggest events.
Somebody ordered the wrong volume of water; tables haven’t arrived for the refreshment stations; route marshalls are stuck in traffic; the clock on the lead car isn’t working. These sorts of things happen all the time.
To make sure they don’t, a race organiser must be on their toes for months building up to the event and maintain their vigilance until the cut-off gun is fired. It’s tough, it’s stressful, and it takes someone with thick skin who can operate efficiently with minimal sleep.
As challenging as putting any race together can be, however, the hardest race to organise in South Africa is also the country’s most popular and prestigious. The Comrades Marathon.
Contested over nearly 90km on a point-to-point course between two cities, road closures alone must be a logistical nightmare, let alone everything else that needs to be in place for tens of thousands of runners to reach the finish safely.
So when it was announced this week that Ann Ashworth would be the new race director of Comrades, it came as a bit of a surprise.
Smart and tough
Ashworth is a retired elite athlete and we know one thing: she’s tough. She won the Comrades ‘down’ run in 2018, and her impressive career record also includes victories at the 50km Loskop ultra-marathon and the Ultra-Trail Drakensberg which is contested over 100km.
We also know she’s no palooka. An admitted advocate, Ashworth holds a Master of Laws degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science. And she’s an accomplished coach.
All this said, however, she faces a massive challenge, and it will be interesting to see if an athlete can make such an extreme transition to organising the nation’s biggest race.
Ashworth will inherit a blueprint from her predecessors, so she’s not starting from scratch, but it will be very impressive if she can pull it off.
Though it won’t be easy, she does seem to have the skills set required to shine in her new role, and she seems up for it. All the best to her and her team.