Cream of SA’s ultra-marathon crop set for Sani Stagger

Photo - Jetline Action Photo / Gameplan Media

One of South Africa’s most unique marathons, the Sani Stagger, promises to be a showdown of the best-of-the-best when it comes to potential winners for the 42km race that takes runners up and down the iconic Sani Pass on Saturday, 25 November.

With the famous Comrades Marathon just six months after the Sani Stagger, a number of the top contenders will use the race as an important part of their build up to the iconic ultra-marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in 2018.

Amongst the Comrades hopefuls entered for the Sani Stagger is defending Comrades Marathon champion Bongmusa Mthembu. The man from Bulwer, who ran commandingly to a second Comrades title in 2017, sees the Stagger as an important early season event.

“I love the Sani Stagger and I try and run it every year,” the current South African 100 Mile record holder said.

“It is a race that is early in my preparations but it is important because it is the start of my consistent training for Comrades.

“To have a race at that sort of altitude is another massive benefit and to have some of the top runners in the country there is also a positive.”

The Sani Stagger fills more than one role when it comes to Comrades Marathon preparation; it is also a race qualifier.

For Mthembu and the rest of the hopefuls, the Stagger is going to provide them with a good idea of who is in strong early-season form.

“It is great that we are going to have some of the top runners there this year.

“With the likes of Skhumbuzo (Dlamini), Ludwick (Mambolo) and Lovemore (Chabata) running, it is going to make the race really interesting. Such strong runners add to the excitement of the race,” he added.

Having spent his life close to the Southern Drakensberg, Mthembu understands the importance of using the altitude to prepare and running up and down Sani Pass is the ideal way to get his Comrades preparations underway.

“It is hugely important for me to use the altitude when I train and training and competing at altitude has become more and more important for runners.

“The altitude is a real factor when you run the Sani Stagger but it is one of the many challenges that we face during this race,” Mthembu commented.

With a tough gravel road to deal with as well as fatigue during the descent down the pass, Mthembu believes that these challenges make the race unique and exciting.

“Because we are conscious about where we are running and where we have to make our next step when we are coming down the pass it makes you more confident the closer you get to the finish.

“We have to stay completely alert during the descent to avoid injuries on the uneven surface, but I will be well prepared for the race so the route does not concern me too much,” Mthembu explained.

When asked about how he would approach the Sani Stagger he had a very clear plan in mind.

“To be honest I use the Comrades as a guideline,” he said. “Comrades 2018 will be a down run so I will focus my energy on getting down the pass as quickly as I can.

“This means that I will try and conserve energy going up the pass and then race hard down the hill.

“I want to try and get down the pass in just over an hour,” added Mthembu.