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Comrades race numbers help spectators understand the athlete’s journey

What do the different colours on the athletes’ race numbers or bibs mean? The small pieces of paper on the runner’s chest and back hold a wealth of information.

COMRADE’S Marathon race numbers, which are worn on the front and back of the runner’s vest, can be seen as the athlete’s CV.

The race number or bib displays interesting information about the runner and their Comrades experience. Understanding the significance of the various colours used, and numbers included on the bib, makes the Comrades experience even more fascinating for spectators.

The background colour of the bib shows how many Comrades the athlete has completed and if they are an international competitor.

ALSO READ: Comrades Marathon to welcome runners from 70 nations

White numbers are for participants completing their 1st to 9th marathons.

Yellow numbers are allocated for runners who have completed nine and are currently running their 10th race.

Orange numbers indicate runners who are doing their second consecutive marathon, after completing a Comrades Marathon the year before, known as a ‘back-to-back’ run.

The Green number is for 10 or more completed Comrades Marathons or three wins or five gold medals. Once the runner has achieved their green number, the race number becomes theirs for perpetuity, and they will no longer have a different number every year. Extra wreaths are added onto the green number for the 20th, 30th and 40th run. The original introduction of the green numbers was made in 1972 and was applied retrospectively.

A striped green number is worn by the runner when competing in their 20th marathon.

Blue race numbers are reserved for foreign competitors.

ALSO READ: Comrades Marathon to welcome runners from 70 nations

The seeding number, shown as a letter prefix to the race number itself, is based on the athlete’s fastest time in the qualifying marathon and gives an indication of the time the athlete is aiming to finish the ultra-marathon in.

The seeding system allows the race organisers to stagger the start with the slower runners behind the faster runners. The seeding batches, or start corrals, are arranged according to qualifying times. The ultra-marathon has nine seeding batches, going from A to H. Due to the number of competitors in front of them, the final batch will take an average of more than eight minutes to cross the starting line after hearing Max Trimborn’s cockerel crow at the start.

Campbell Nel displaying his Green Number. PHOTO: Supplied

Campbell Nel, who has completed 13 Comrades Marathons, describes the process of receiving the green number after completing his 10th race. “These older runners who have their green number wait for you at the finish. They call you by name, and hug you, and usher you off to the side into a special area to present you with your green number. It might be a former Comrades legend, like Bruce Fordyce or Wally Hayward, who presents you with your unique number, which only becomes yours forever once you have done 10.”

Nel says that it is an emotional moment for most ultra-marathon runners.


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