The ultimate race

The Comrades Marathon was an emotional up-and-down experience for Katlego Setwaba. Here she beams into the camera.

Katlego is responsible for the Sub-Saharan Africa Region in the role of Regional Sales Manager within the Process Automation Division at Pepperl+Fuchs. In her free time, she worked toward an ambitious athletic goal in the past year: participating in the formidable Comrades Marathon.

The Comrades Marathon has been held in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province every year since 1921. It is the world’s oldest ultramarathon, and the one with the largest number of participants. The road race is also a major national sporting event in South Africa, where it is broadcast live and in full length on TV. After a two-year pause due to the pandemic, the run made its comeback on August 28, 2022. The huge throng of about 15,000 participants set out from Pietermaritzburg for the nearly 90-kilometer run to Durban. “The Comrades Marathon has been called ‘the ultimate human race.’ That’s why this was a chance for me to push my limits,” Katlego says, explaining her decision to enter. “Some of my friends had run it before, and they told me this long-distance race was a life-changing experience – I really understand that now.”

Running fever

Katlego started running in 2019, aiming simply to improve her fitness. She managed to run a half-marathon that same year. “But then I ran my first marathon, in January 2020, and it was too big a challenge for me, too soon – and I paid for it in injuries,” she recalls. “So then, with support from a running circle, I started working to gradually improve my performance. Still, participating in the formidable Comrades Marathon was out of the question for me at the time. But it wasn’t until my second marathon, in March 2020, that I really caught the running bug. I reached the finish line in four hours and 24 minutes, and I definitely wanted to continue to improve my marathon time after that.”

Katlego’s plans suffered a setback when South Africa went into nationwide lockdown to fight the pandemic. It was then that she decided to run the challenging Comrades Marathon as soon as the chance returned. After a two-year pause due to the pandemic, the ultramarathon returned in August 2022. Katlego seized the opportunity and signed up for the ultimate race.

The training

She started training in February, but the main training phase came during June and July, which put it in the dead of the South African winter. Katlego started running at 4:45 every morning before work, in spite of icy temperatures. She ran anywhere from 90 to 150 kilometers a week in the two months before the marathon. “It was an incredibly tough time. I’d even say the training was more strenuous than the marathon itself ended up being. Luckily, I had my running group and wonderful supervisors and colleagues who supported me along my journey,” Katlego says. “Pepperl+Fuchs even provided me with all of the nutritional supplements you need during a run like this.”

Pepperl+Fuchs provided all the nutritional supplements which are necessary during a run like the Comrades Marathon. You can see all the supplements on a table
Pepperl+Fuchs provided all the nutritional supplements which are necessary during a run like this.

An up-and-down

The race itself was an up-and-down experience, both emotionally and literally, as the first 60 kilometers were hilly. “But the support I got from friends and colleagues and from the spectators on the side of the road was indescribable and unparalleled, from the first kilometer to the last. And with a time of ten hours and 45 minutes, I even reached my own goal of finishing in under eleven hours and received the bronze medal I had hoped for – thanks to hard work, and despite all the obstacles that stood in the way. I’m really happy with my results, and I still can’t believe I did it!”

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