Spearheading a mass field of 25 000 runners, elite athletes from around South Africa and across the globe will turn out in KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday, as they battle for titles at the 94th edition of the Comrades Marathon.With a number of contenders lining up in the men’s and women’s races, we take a closer look at some of the favourites ahead of the 87km ‘up’ run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.MEN:Bongmusa Mthembu (South Africa)Age: 35Comrades wins: 3Gold medals: 7The most accomplished ultra-distance runner South Africa has produced in the last few decades, defending champion Mthembu lines up with the favourite’s tag sewn firmly to his vest. A medallist at the last two editions of the 100km World Championships, he is a rare winner of the ‘up’ and ‘down’ runs, and he displayed superb form to win the 56km Two Oceans race in Cape Town in April. Cautious, smart and experienced, he will be difficult to beat once again.Nao Kazami (Japan)Nao Kazami. Photo: Twitter.Age: 36Comrades wins: 0Gold medals: 0A dark horse, Kazami brings an impressive pedigree over the 100km distance after setting a world record of 6:09:14 at the Lake Saroma Ultra-Marathon in Japan last year. He will be more accustomed to flat, looped courses than the undulating point-to-point route which awaits this weekend. Should he take a steady approach over the monstrous climbs in the first half, however, the debutant could be dangerous in the latter stages.David Gatebe (South Africa)David Gatebe finishes 8th during the 2018 Comrades Marathon on June 10, 2018 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images)Age: 37Comrades wins: 1Gold medals: 2In three previous attempts at the ‘up’ run, Gatebe has been unable to break into the top 20, but he has the potential to put up a helluva fight. A former winner of the Two Oceans, he did well to return to the podium by finishing second behind Mthembu at this year’s 56km race in Cape Town. While he has not been as consistent as some of his opponents in recent years, Gatebe has the ability to beat anyone on his day, as he proved in 2016 when he set the Comrades ‘down’ run record of 5:18:19.Other contendersAs always, the men’s race is wide open, and multiple potential winners will be on the start line. Among them will be former Comrades champions Gift Kelehe and Ludwick Mamabolo, who will join the local favourites alongside the likes of Joseph Mphuthi and Edward Mothibi. The international contingent features former 50km world champion Steve Way of Great Britain, veteran athlete Hatiwande Nyamande of Zimbabwe and Teboho Sello of Lesotho.WOMEN:Gerda Steyn (South Africa)Second lady Gerda Steyn during the 2018 Comrades Marathon on June 10, 2018 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images)Age: 29Comrades wins: 0Gold medals: 2One of the nation’s most exciting road running prospects, Steyn has showcased her tremendous ability in recent years, producing impressive results over a wide range of distances. After clocking 3:31:29 to successfully defend her Two Oceans title in April, finishing less than a minute outside Frith van der Merwe’s long-standing record, Steyn has been tipped to crack the 13-year-old Comrades ‘up’ run mark of 6:09:23 held by Russian athlete Elena Nurgalieva, which seems within her reach if she is at her best.Camille Herron (United States)Camille Herron during the Comrades Marathon 2017 on June 04, 2017 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images)Age: 37Comrades wins: 1Gold medals: 1Carried by a lanky frame and a deceptively awkward gait, the defending ‘up’ run champion doesn’t possess the rhythmic style of some of her elite peers, but what she lacks in aesthetic quality she makes up for with a steely determination which drives her unbreakable stride. A former 50km and 100km world champion, Herron holds multiple ultra-distance world records, and having earned a reputation as one of the toughest athletes on the international circuit, she is expected to lead the foreign charge.Ann Ashworth (South Africa)Ladies Winner Ann Ashworth breaks the tape in 6:10:04 during the 2018 Comrades Marathon on June 10, 2018 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images)Age: 35Comrades wins: 1Gold medals: 1After stunning a strong field to secure her maiden title last year, Ashworth will be targeting rare back-to-back victories. Determined and calculated in her approach, some of her opponents are likely to key off her in the early stages, and Ashworth could play a key role in the battle up front. She showed good form to win the 50km Loskop ultra-marathon in April, clocking 3:24:37 and cementing her place among the favourites for the Comrades crown.Charne Bosman (South Africa)Charne Bosman during the 2018 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon 56km Ultra marathon starting at SA Breweries and finishing at UCT Rugby Fields on March 31, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)Age: 43Comrades wins: 1Gold medals: 5While it would be naïve to suggest there are no other athletes capable of claiming the title, with a number of women displaying the potential to cause an upset, it would be remiss to rope Bosman in with a list of ‘other contenders’. She never seems to be the firm favourite, but the veteran athlete is always in with a real chance. Experienced and consistent, she won the 50km Om die Dam ultra-marathon in March, and Bosman will be confident of challenging for her second Comrades title.For more sport your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.