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Running the Comrades Marathon, which ranks as the world’s biggest ultramarathon, is laden with health risks. Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) has made medical teams permanent feature from the start of the race, all the way to the finish line, to attend to any medical emergencies. The 2018 Comrades Marathon, which was a down run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium, was no different, as it also boasted well-resourced medical facilities operated by capable medical teams, of which SMU’s 42 final year physiotherapy students, were a valuable part.

Along with physiotherapy students from participating universities, they worked tirelessly to heal the aching limbs of supreme athletes who ran the gruelling 90 km down.  Our students were accompanied by two lecturers, Ms Karabo Raphokwane and Ms Ntombenkosi Sobantu, who ably supervised them to honour their physiotherapy curricular commitments. This once in a lifetime experience, the students gained a wealth of service learning experience from exposure to sports injuries that the critical mass of athletes who were running the race, sustained.

“It is very hard to give exact figures of how many runners are using the physio services at expo, and on the day, it is huge. At the expo there were 17 beds and the runners got approximately 15 minutes massage each. The SMU students covered 2 shifts 18 in one and 19 in the other, the other 5 did a shift on the massage stand and did not massage at Kingsmead Stadium Expo. The shifts were 3hrs15mins and 2hrs45mins respectively, so 6 hours in total and there would be some doubling up on the beds with 2 students massaging at the same time because there were too many students to have a bed each”, said Ms Rowena Bower, the Comrades Marathon Physio services coordinator.

“On race day there were 40 beds and the massage and strapping students massaged solidly from 12pm to 3.30pm at 15 mins per massage. Their strapping shift on the stand was on Thursday evening and was for the 3hrs15mins. Generally the massages at expo were just to loosen up uninjured muscles. On race day there were multitudes of injuries such as ITB (Pain and inflammation on the outside of the knee) muscle strains, and general sore and aching bodies from running 90kms”, Ms Bower added.

“I did my 8th Comrades Marathon. I always look forward, after the race to the massage by the physiotherapists. The massage is great, feels good, compared to what we get after the race in Switzerland. The physios are great, they have knowledge and their human touch helps to feel great. Thanks very much”, enthused Mr Robben from Switzerland, who ran his 8th comrades marathon.

“I was able to work under pressure and also met final year students from other universities to learn new techniques from them. SMU students were stationed at the finish line, which must tell you, how good SMU physiotherapy students are because we get to share the same space with the winner of the comrades marathon and other top runners”, said Ms Khumo Leeto, SMU’s physiotherapy student.