Comrades Cut-Off Drama: Organisers Respond

Cut-Offs designed to ensure safety and welfare of the runners


With 1 minute and 4 seconds still to go until the final 12-hour cut-off at this year’s Comrades Marathon, the finish line was empty. The expectant surge of runners, traditionally seen as the final gun is raised, was nowhere to be seen.

So what happened?

“Quite simply, everyone that made it through the cut-off point at Sherwood with 6.4km to go, made it to the finishing line on time,” said Race Director Rowyn James.

The cut-off at Sherwood happened at 4.30pm giving runners one hour to complete the 6.4km to the finish in ideal conditions, on a course of 87.7km (2.2km shorter than in 2022).

It’s about strikiing a balance between ensuring the safety and welfare of the runners and giving everyone a fair chance to reach the finish…

So, with over 98% of the field that started finishing the race, was the cut-off at Sherwood not too strict in letting enough runners through with the possibility of finishing?

“It’s about striking a balance between ensuring the safety and welfare of the runners and giving everyone a fair chance to reach the finish,” James explained. “If we push too many runners into the red zone in the final 7km we risk endangering their welfare and overwhelming the medical facilities. 

“We also don’t want to create false hope since realistically it is very hard to pick up the pace at the back of the field in the final 10km.”

James works with a technical committee in the lead-up to the event which includes the medical team, to finalise important matters like the cut-off points.

To finish the distance runners would need to average around 8:02 mins/km to complete the course in 12 hours so the final section at just over 9 mins/km made it feasible for backmarkers to make the cut-off.

James did concede that they are constantly reviewing the cut-off points along the route and are always open to comment.

“We spend a lot of time reviewing everything on the day because, for us, the runner and their experience is our number one priority. Perhaps next time we can add 5 minutes on to that cut-off having reviewed what happened this year.”

As a result of the decision, James said that over 40 beds in the medical were not even used on race day and that medical facilities were not put under pressure.

“But we must also keep in mind that the course was shorter and the weather conditions were excellent,” he said.

Comrades 2023

Pinetown Cut-Off
James also refuted claims that the cut-off point in Pinetown had been in the wrong place.

“The cut-off point is always in the subway and this year it was at 68.86km, and 18.84km to go. Unfortunately, not all the watches that runners use on race day are accurate so there will be occasions where that will not be what is shown on a runners’s GPS watch,” said James. “But we measure the routes professionally to ensure perfect accuracy.”

Pietermaritzburg Congestion
James also responded to accusations that the congestion experienced on the course early on in the race in Pietermaritzburg may have been dangerous.

“Last year we had a situation where police had not barricaded traffic on the N3 correctly so we decidedly to change the route to ensure runner safety. Yes, it was narrower, and there was some congestion, but we had discussed this change with the technical delegates from Athletics South Africa (ASA) and two safety officers who were satisfied that the route did not pose a danger.”

James was adamant that both he and organisers were always open to comment, both positive and negative, but their underlying mandate was to ensure the welfare of the runners.

“Comrades is part of the South African tapestry and we will always do what is best for the race but in a safe and secure manner,” he said.


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