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Calum Neff finishes Comrades Marathon strong, stroller-free

Stroller record-holder finishes 31st despite injury last fall

Calum Neff, who holds the Guinness World Record for fastest marathon (2:31:21) and fastest half-marathon while pushing a stroller, finished his first Comrades Marathon on Sunday, in 31st position, with a time of 6:08:06.

It’s a major accomplishment considering that last November Canadian-born Neff sustained a broken fibula (calf bone) after being hit by a pickup truck while running in Texas, where he lives with his family. Neff did not push a stroller today. We spoke to Neff the day after his race.

“To have done the Comrades is the thing in South Africa,” he said. “I went down to the beach today, and there are all these people wearing the same shirt, the same hat, and walking the same way. They call it the walk of pride.”

RELATED: Calum Neff hit by a pickup truck on early-morning run

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It was the 93rd running of the Comrades, which is actually the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon road race that spans 90K between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, South Africa. There are five major hills on the course, which switches direction each year. The Pietermaritzburg-to-Durban version (this year’s direction) is the “down” race. “There are literally no flats on the course,” says Neff, who adds that even in a down year, about a third of the course is uphill. “And the ups bring you to an absolute crawl.”

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Topped out at 15mph (4min/mi pace) on today’s 2 hour long run in the heat. I was terrified but Holland just spread her wings! . She was everything but palm-leaf-fan-pampered, totally comfortable, while the engine burned hot behind her. The last time I had a run this hard we broke a world record a few weeks later, I hope this is enough to get me thru Comrades in less than two weeks. Feeling much more confident after hitting goal race pace with a stroller, in extreme heat and humidity, and some solid hills. Stay tuned for some EPIC footage of today’s run and a big giveaway coming this week too… . Really enjoyed today’s adventure though, Holland is a different girl when one-on-one with daddy (much easier!). Her convertible tour included hawks, lizards, a coral snake, rabbit, deer, a gorgeous sunset, a full moon, and finished amongst glow bug fireflies everywhere! . The Buescher/Bastrop State Parks and the connector road continue to be one of my favorite road runs in the world and training grounds. The area, with the heat, is so tough one of 26 mile runs inspired the idea of #HabeneroHundred trail race – test yourself on the trails this August with @trailracingovertexas! . @thule #BringYourKids @comradesmarathon #ComradesTraining #Asijiki @nathansportsinc #RunLonger #RunStronger #Wings #Sponsored #TeamTROT #BuescherStatePark #Adventure #DaddyTime #DaddyDaughterTime #StrollerRunning

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Regarding his accident last fall, Neff said he was extremely lucky it was a closed fracture of the fibula, a low weight-bearing bone, and it was well enough healed after two months that he was able to resume training. He also trained on a Zero Runner (like an elliptical trainer) and cycled to maintain fitness. In March he won the Woodlands marathon (near Houston, Texas), sharing a podium with Camille Herron, last year’s Comrades winner.

Neff set the stroller marathon record at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2016 while pushing his daughter Alessandra, who was four at the time. He also set the half-marathon record the same year with his younger daughter, Holland. He and his wife have since had a third daughter.

This year’s Comrades winner was defending champion Bongumusa Mthembu of South Africa, with a time of 5:26:35. It was Mthembu’s third win, his first being in 2014, and it’s a rare distinction to win the race two years in a row, i.e. in both directions.

Second-place finisher was Joseph Mphuthi with a time of 05:35:14, and third place went to Steven Way of Great Britain (5:35:27).

Ann Ashworth of South Africa won the women’s race, with a time of 6:10:04. In second place was Gerda Steyn in 6:15:34, and Alexandra Morozova of Russia was third (6:20:21).

The Comrades course is notoriously strict about the 12-hour cutoff, and is capped at 20,000 entrants. Hundreds have their hearts broken every year, struggling towards the finish line after hours of running, only to be denied the chance to say they finished the Comrades.

There are actually several other cutoffs before “the final blow,” as Neff refers to it. Those (like Neff) who finish between 6:00:00 and 7:30:00 receive a silver medal. “It’s like bouncers stopping you from getting into a bar,” says Neff. “People will dive in front of you to prevent you from making the cutoff.”

Last year, the winner of the women’s race, Camille Herron of the US, stopped prematurely, thinking she was finished. Race officials urged her to keep going, which she did.

In spite of that, Neff says the Comrades definitely lived up to his expectations. “I’ve never seen such quality depth. For the first two hours, it was a pack of 50 Africans, me, and Steve Way,” he says (referring to the third-place winner).

One of Neff’s Grade 6 teachers had run the Comrades, and he’s been dreaming about it ever since. “It’s been a bucket list item for me for many years,” he says. “Now I want to do it again and again.”