As many as 128 runners from India are participating in this year's 'Comrades Marathon' virtual race, the world's oldest and largest ultramarathon run over a distance of nearly 90 kilometres in South Africa.
Organised by the South African Comrades Marathon Association (MCA), the virtual race, which started at midnight on Sunday, has replaced the gruelling annual 90-kilometer ultramarathon between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg this year. It will end at midnight on Monday.
The race is being run annually since 1921. The only break was during World War II. This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of the event, which attracted thousands of runners from across the globe.
The 40,000 entries received from the 86 countries for the virtual race has hugely surpassed the number of runners in the actual event. "Sunday, 14 June, is going to be a fun and festive day with participants from around the world sharing the spirit of camaraderie and unity on what would've been the 95th Comrades Marathon race day," said CMA chairperson Cheryl Winn.
India's entries have been beaten only by Brazil, the UK, the US, Australia, Zimbabwe and the host nation South Africa. Participants will challenge the times of the best athletes on the national and international ultra-running circuit, including former Comrades Marathon winners and gold medallists.
Among them will be the oldest surviving winner of the 1965 Comrades Marathon, Bernard Gomersall, who is now 87-year old, and will participate in the 5-kilometer event in Washington DC, USA.
Racers can choose any venue in their home countries to run one of the five distance options - 5-km, 10-km, 21-km, 45-km and the full 90-km of the usual marathon - and then submit their times to the CMA.
"Whether it be on your property, a treadmill or on public roads, please respect the current COVID-19 restrictions/regulations of your country and run within its constraints," the CMA said.
"You can also run with friends, but please respect social distancing and any other restrictions set by national or local governments due to the prevention of coronavirus spread," it added.
All athletes, who finish their respective distance, will receive a physical 'Race the Comrades Legends' medal and an online finisher's certificate.
Proceeds from the entry fees will be shared with organisations fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the MCA said.