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Comrades Marathon South Africa

Some call it an amazing test of the human body, others consider it an expression of camaraderie, still others call it insanity. No matter what their view, South Africa's Comrades Marathon attracts thousands of runners, spectators and television viewers annually. A world renowned ultra-marathon, the Comrades Marathoncovers some 90 km between Pietermartizburg and Durban in Kwazulu-Natal. The South African Comrades Marathon route will challenge will power as well as every muscle and sinew in the body, but crossing the finish line is the most rewarding experience for a runner.

Situated in South Africa's “Garden Province”, the Comrades Marathon was the brainchild of Vic Clapham, a World War One veteran. Following the death of many of his comrades in the Great War, Clapham came up with the idea to honor these fallen soldiers by running a marathon from Pietermartizburg to Durban. On 24 May 1921, 34 runners departed on foot from Pietermaritzburg's city hall. Since that first run, the Comrades Marathon has been held annually excepting the years of World War Two and today attracts some 13 000 runners.

The direction of the Comrades Marathon alternates each year. The race from Durban is referred to as the “up run” and from Pietermartizburg as the “down run”. Running from Durban proves an immense challenge especially with the 5 major hills or the “Big Five” which the runners meet. Cowies Hill rises up to 137m in a 1,5 km distance and continues from there at a moderate incline for 14 km. The next obstacle is Fields Hill inclines up another 213 m in 3km. This is not the most challenging slope though. Botha's Hill follows later, rising about 150 m over a distance of 2,4 km. On the hilltop is the landmark Kearsney College and its many students who cheer on tiring runners. Another landmark the runners pass is the Wall of Honour dedicated to all the runners who have conquered the route. After running for a while runners hit Inchanga, an extreme climb for those who have already run many kilometers. Rising some 150m in 2,5 km it is a relief to reach the crest. The relatively flat run after that can do little to prepare runners for the formidable Polly Shortts. Runners travel 1,8km up this climb which rises around 100m. Polly Shortts is considered by many as the make-or-break point of the Comrades Marathon. From there, it is just a few kilometers to victory.

For some completing this strenuous journey once is reward enough. Others however strive to better their personal time of completion each year. Top athletes who complete the race in certain times can look forward to receiving medals. The Gold medal is awarded to the individuals who take the top ten positions. Silver is given to those who come in from position 11 to completing the race in less than 7 ½ hours. Bill Rowan medals are handed out to runners who finish the race between 7 ½ hours and 9 hours. Bronze medals go to those who complete the marathon between 9 hours and 11 hours. The Vic Clapham medals are awarded to runners who make the finish line in 11 hours to 12 hours.

People from around the world are invited to compete in and watch the South Africa's Comrades Marathon held annually on Youth Day, the 16th of June. It is certainly a challenge marathon runners worldwide find difficult to resist. Even if you are not able to run the race, why not join in the camaraderie of the Comrades Marathon by encouraging the runners along the route.


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