Mates cross the line in gruelling Comrades challenge

Cameron NewboldAlbany Advertiser
Email Cameron Newbold
Close mates Mark Hills and Gavin Hard have completed the gruelling Comrades Marathon in South Africa.
Camera IconClose mates Mark Hills and Gavin Hard have completed the gruelling Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Credit: Cameron Newbold

Two close friends started running together last year and the result was quite remarkable, as Albany pair Mark Hills and Gavin Hard were drawn to the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon.

The Comrades Marathon in South Africa attracts thousands of runners,who tackle the gruelling course between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

A historic race that began in 1921, the direction alternating between up and down each year and a total distance of 87km were not enough to scare off the two novices.

Hills and Hard began running together last year, which led them to the Busselton Marathon and, from there, talk of a trip to South Africa ramped up.

Mark Hills and Gavin Hard during the ultramarathon.
Camera IconMark Hills and Gavin Hard during the ultramarathon.

On January 1, the duo started a training program specifically for the Comrades event and they pounded just over 1300km in preparation for the most gruelling event of their lives.

Both local men achieved their goals of finishing the ultramarathon, and crossing the line in under 10 hours.

There were 33 WA competitors, most of whom train together in Perth, with Hard coming in seventh of his home State runners and Hills eighth. The pair spent virtually the entire race together, with Hills cramping in the second half of the course.

In a field of more than 19,000 competitors, Hard recorded a time of 9hr. 56min. 32sec. to finish inside the top 2000 for his men aged 40-49 category and was 5584th overall.

Hills stopped the clock in 9:57.35 and was inside the top 2500 for his men’s open category and 5650th overall.

Both men said the achievement was something they would remember for a long time.

“I’ve always wanted to do it, since my old man ran it in 1992,” Hills said.

Mark Hills and Gavin Hard have ticked off their goal.
Camera IconMark Hills and Gavin Hard have ticked off their goal. Credit: Cameron Newbold

“Gav and I started running last year and we started talking about it, and from January 1 it was all guns blazing. We trained four days a week, with a long run Saturday, Sunday.”

Hard said it was a wonderful challenge to compete in such a big race.

“We knew it would be a challenge and it would be tough,” he said.

“There is a 12-hour cut-off so the primary goal is always to finish and then get under 10 hours if we could.

“Definitely one of the most challenging things we’ve ever done.”

Hills said the race awarded a medal to any novices who completed the race in back-to-back years, with next year’s event switching to a down direction, starting in Pietermaritzburg, where this year’s race finished.

He encouraged anyone interested in joining them next year to get in touch as they contemplate going through all the pain once again.

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