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The Comrades Marathon is no stranger to Colleen De Reuck. The U.S. distance star grew up in a “Comrades house” – father Frank Lindeque ran it 15 times and brother Colin earned a top-10 spot in 1995—and she spent most years along the route to support them. She grew up close to the Comrades route in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province.
On Sunday she will be on the route again, but this time she will not be watching. The 52-year old from Boulder, Colo., will be running.
The 91st Comrades Marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, a “down” run this year over 89.208 km (about 55.4 miles), will be De Reuck’s second ultramarathon after she had finished fifth in the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon over the Easter weekend.
De Reuck is one of the best female distance runners ever produced in South Africa and still holds the national marathon record with the 2:26:35 run in Berlin in 1996. She won 10 South African titles on the road—among these the half-marathon crown four years in a row, 1986-89, with a national record of 1:08:38 in 1989—as well as two in the 10,000m on the track and one in cross-country.
Her rivalry with Elana Meyer was one of the greatest in the history of the sport. On the South African all-time lists they own the top 35 times in the 10K (and 45 of the top 50), the top 21 times in the half-marathon (and 37 of the top 50) and the top nine times in the marathon (and 20 of the top 30). De Reuck represented South Africa in all three disciplines of athletics: in the Olympic Games Marathon (1992 & 2000), World Half-Marathon (1992 & 1995), World XC Championships (1993 & 1996), Olympic 10,000m (1996) and World Championships 10,000m (1997). She became a U.S. citizen in December 2000 and, at the age of 40, represented her new country in the 2004 Olympic Marathon. She was South Africa’s Female Athlete of the Year in 1997.
She also holds the SA record for 20K (1:05:11, a world best at the time) and has the fastest time for 25K (1:27:26 on an aided course). Among her other PBs are 31:16(a) for 10K, 48:19 for 15K and 31:56.00 for 10,000m on the track.
None of these will count for much on Sunday, and she knows it.
De Reuck, also a top triathlete, has tremendous respect for the Comrades distance, she said last week, but she is going to run hard. “I am very excited,” De Reuck told Media24. “The Comrades is a dream come true. For the Two Oceans I got by with a normal marathon training program, but that is not possible for the Comrades. I knew that I had to include four-hour sessions in my program.”
Her legs were sore after the Two Oceans, her first ultra, and then she also fell ill and could not train for two weeks—but she now believes this was a blessing in disguise, because it allowed her body to recover fully before she started her Comrades training.
In the Two Oceans, 19 days before her 52nd birthday, she set a new world age best of 3:27:38 at 50 km (more than 14 minutes better than the previous mark) and demolished the course record in the 50-59 age category with her 3:53:07. The average age of the four runners ahead of her was 35.
In the Comrades she will face two of that quartet again: winner Caroline Wöstmann, who will defend her Comrades title, and Charné Bosman, who was fourth (and second in last year’s “up” Comrades).
“I have been extending my training distances steadily,” De Reuck continued, “and I am satisfied that I have done enough.”
She acknowledged that the Comrades is different from everything else she has done so far in her career. “You have to have respect for the race and the distance. I don’t really know what to expect. I would like to run at a pace of about 4½ minutes a kilometer so that I have something left in the legs for the last 20K if I have to push.”
Ellie Greenwood, the British winner of the last down run, has withdrawn because of an injury. However, apart from Wöstmann and Bosman, quite a few formidable rivals remain for De Reuck, who earlier this year finished 67th in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in 2:49:57—among them Julanie Basson, Salome Cooper, Yolande Maclean, Kerry-Ann Marshall and Simona Staicu. But it will certainly be no surprise if the former South African duplicates her top-five Two Oceans finish.