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.