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South Africa's unlikely ultramarathoner helps others cross the finish line
by Ryan Lenora Brown, Staff writer
The Christian Science Monitor Translate This Article
6 July 2018
On 6 July 2018 The Christian Science Monitor reported:
It was half past five on a winter morning, the sky above still an inky black, when the starting gun popped. All at once, 19,058 people surged forward toward the starting line of the world's largest ultramarathon. ... But as the minutes ticked by, the people pouring across the start line of the Comrades Marathon looked less and less like stereotypical ultramarathoners.
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'We were literally being chased from the word go by the buses that pick up the people who can't go on anymore,' says Mrs. Thungo, who ran that morning with a pacers flag sticking out of her backpack, which announced her projected finishing time: 12:00. 'I told the runners with me, it's going to be a long day in the office.'
But that is exactly how Thungo likes it. On the road, she's known as Makhi, or 'neighbor,' and for the past three years, she has had a singular job here -- to pace some of the race's slowest runners so they make it across the finish ...
... Of the 19,058 people who started this year, nearly 6,000 finished in the race's final, creaking hour, as the winter sunlight drained from the sky above the coastal city of Durban. They completed the Comrades, but they could just as easily have not.
At the back of the pack, pacing groups like Thungo's -- which in South African races are called 'buses' -- don't just carry a few runners to the finish. They surge across the field like tidal waves, dragging anyone who needs them along in a flurry of song and dance. Back there, the crazy woman running alongside you chanting, 'Durban! Hey! We're coming! Hey!' and shoving cold baked potatoes into your hands can be the only thing that keeps you on the road.
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