Leslie: How many comrades have you run?
Niandi: This year was my 14th Comrades.
Leslie: Which do you prefer, the up or down run?
Niandi: I have a preference for the down run – I tend to be a better down-hill runner. Put it down to long legs maybe and the fact that I’m not mad about doing hill repeats in training. The other nice thing about the down-hill run is that the finish is in Durban so the last 20km is about running down mostly towards the sea. From a logistics point of view it’s more practical to finish in Durban which is a popular South African seaside resort with a lot of accommodation. And last but not least it’s easier to pace yourself and do a negative split on the downhill.
Leslie: Which comrades run was most memorable for you?
Niandi: Definitely the first 20 years ago in 1994 and my last in 2014 . The first because I’d only done a marathon in training prior to the race and it was the unknown – I really didn’t know what to expect. I was absolutely overjoyed when I finished in 10.40 – my first ultra and my first Comrades. The last because my race was dedicated to my sister Manya who lost the battle to cancer just a week before the race and I decided to dedicate my run to her in memory of the Comrades we had done together in 2010 when she was in remission with breast cancer.
Leslie: Is there any other ultra-race that you can compare comrades to or is it effect unique due to its history and tradition?
Niandi: It’s true that Comrades is steeped in history and that the first Comrades was run by Vic Clapham a soldier in memory of his fallen comrades during the Great War. He felt that if infantrymen, drafted into the armed forces from sedentary jobs, could endure forced marches over great distances, trained athletes could cover the distance between the two cities without great difficulty. Next year 2015 will mark the 90th anniversary of Comrades! There are a lot of traditions associated with the race too – the Arthur’s seat tradition, the Wall of Honour, the Green Number club, the prize for the last runner to cross the finish line, the rooster crow to mark the start, the anthems before the start, the different medals. I really don’t know of any other race so rich in tradition and history. It is broadcast nationwide in South Africa from the start to the finish – it makes it unique and very special.
Leslie: As a South African have you seen the face of Comrades change as democracy becomes more embedded in this society?
Niandi: Personally I haven’t seen the face of Comrades change as I’ve been running Comrades since 1994 and the big democratic changes came about in 1975 when the race was opened to black runners and women. Bruce Fordyce and a number of other athletes initially decided to boycott the 1981 event when organisers announced that they would associate it with the 20th anniversary of the Republic of South Africa. Fordyce ultimately competed wearing a black armband to signal his protest.
Today I can honestly say Comrades is very representative of post-Apartheid democratic South Africa – and it’s a good job it is – isn’t that what attracts us to ultra too? The democratic element of the sport ……