Bongmusa Mthembu defends his Comrades Marathon title

Bongmusa Mthembu, seen here winning in 2017, recorded his third Comrades win on Sunday, and his second consecutive, becoming the first South African man to defend his title since Bruce Fordyce in 1989. RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP/Getty Images

South Africa's Bongmusa Mthembu on Sunday recorded his third Comrades Marathon victory, adding this year's title to his 2014 and 2017 triumphs, as he finished the down run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in a time of 5 hours, 26 minutes, and 35 seconds.

Mthembu became the first South African to win the Comrades back to back since Bruce Fordyce in the late 1980s, and the first back to back winner overall since 2011. Fordyce won the Comrades a record nine times, his final win in 1990.

For his efforts, Kwa-Zulu Natal's Mthembu claimed a prize of R440,000 ($33,600), which would go to the women's winner as well. Men and women have been paid the same prize money since 2001.

"To win this race three times is not easy. You have to run a lot of kilometres," said Mthembu after the race.

"But I'm lucky because I don't do this for anything else but love."

Second to fourth places changed hands more than once right till the end, with Edward Mothebi, who held second place until the last few kilometers, ending in fourth place, while Joseph Mphuthi, in third for a long time, came in second in 5:35:14.

Third place went to the United Kingdom's Steve Way, who finished just seconds behind Comrades debutant Mphuthi, as the top 10 runners flowed into the stadium in quick succession.

Down run record holder and 2016 winner David Gatebe finished in 8th place after running in the top three till the final 10km of the 90km (56 miles) race. He finished in 5 hours and 42 minutes.

Gatebe, who set the record for the down run in 2016 with a time of 5:18:19, was unable to overtake training partner Mothibi as they hit Fields Hill, and had to watch as the leading duo pulled away towards the Durban North-located stadium.

The women's race was won by South Africa's Ann Ashworth in a time of 6:10:03, with countrywoman Gerda Steyn, who won the Two Oceans Marathon this year, in second place, five minutes later.

Eventual third-place finisher Alexandra Morozova of Russia held the lead with an hour to go, but became increasingly labored with Ashworth and Steyn chasing her, with less than a minute separating the three women at one stage.

Ashworth took the lead just before the five-hour mark as the Russian continued to falter, and held on to record her first Comrades victory. Her quest was aided by the absence of 2017 champion Camille Herron, as the American was unable to compete due to injury.

"I don't think anyone is more surprised than me... but I followed the plan and did exactly what I was supposed to do," said Ashworth, who is a full-time advocate.

"I'm truly blessed and grateful for today's run."

While the top athletes took the plaudits and the gold medals, there were many a runner on the course with extraordinary stories, from Daniel de Wet who recovered from being impaled by a crowbar to run the race, to amputee Xolani Luvuno.

Luvuno took to the course on crutches as his prosthetic stump was injured and will require surgery after the race, and had been granted an extra five hours past the usual 12-hour cut off to complete the race.