The Comrades Marathon between Durban and Pietermaritzburg

A primary aim of the Comrades Marathon is to celebrate humankind’s triumph over adversity.

The Comrades Marathon between Durban and Pietermaritzburg started as a tribute to the South African soldiers who lost their lives during World War I. Since then, it has become a South African long-distance running race of legend and its popularity as an ultra-marathon has spread around the world.

The Comrades Marathon is run in KwaZulu-Natal between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg every year. The run alternates between an ‘up’ and ‘down’ run, from the coast inland and vice versa.

Many call it the world’s greatest ultra-marathon, and one of the reasons this fabled South African marathon has the title is because of the wealth of legends in its history.

The South African soldiers who gave their lives in World War I gave veteran Vic Clapham the idea to stage a running race in their honour. The first Comrades Marathon was run in 1921 and, with the exception of a five-year period during World War 2, has been an annual event ever since.

At first ladies were only allowed to run the Comrades Marathon unofficially. When Frances Hayward won in 1923, they gave her a silver tea service (with a very nice rose bowl) instead of a Comrades medal.

These days, female runners are very much a part of the makeup of the 90km marathon in South Africa, and they win medals too.

One of the quirkiest fireside tales about the Comrades Marathon involves a Springbok rugby player called Bill Payne, who arrived at the start wearing his rugby boots.

En route, he ate a full English breakfast, followed by a hearty chicken curry, a couple of beers at a country hotel and a lot of peach brandy before finishing an incredible 8th.

He then played a game of club rugby the next day but, because his feet were blistered from the day before, Payne chose to play in running shoes instead of boots.

Modern legends of the Comrades Marathon include nine-time winner Bruce Fordyce and a large contingent of super-runners from Russia and her former satellite states.

One of the most touching wins, however, happened in 2003 when Fusi Nhlapo, who had just lost his job, took the top honours.


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