The Comrades Marathon is the world's oldest and largest ultramarathon run over a distance of approximately 90 km (55.9 mi) between the capital of the Kwazulu-Natal Province of South Africa, Pietermaritzburg, and the coastal city of Durban. The direction of the race alternates each year between the up run starting from Durban and the down run starting from Pietermaritzburg.
Athletes currently have 12 hours to complete the course. This was extended from 11 hours in 2003. There are a number of cut-off points along the routes which runners must reach by a prescribed time or be forced to retire from the race.
A runners who has successfully completed 9 marathons wears a yellow number, while those who have completed 10 races wear a green number, which is permanently allocated to the runner for all future races.
Medals are awarded to all runners completing the course in under 12 hours. Medals are currently awarded as follows:
Prior to 2000, only gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded. A new medal was introduced in 2000, the Bill Rowan medal, named after the winner of the first Comrades in 1921. The medal is awarded to those achieving a time from 7hrs 30min to sub 9hrs 00min (prior to 2000, these runners would have received a Bronze medal). Rowan's winning time in 1921 was 8hrs 59min, therefore anyone winning a Bill Rowan medal would have beaten Rowan's winning time.
A new copper medal, the fifth in the series, was added in 2003. The Vic Clapham medal, named after the race founder, was awarded to those finishing in a time of 11hrs 00min to sub 12hrs 00min. This coincides with the increase in the time allocation for completing the event from sub 11hrs to sub 12hrs. A new medal, the sixth in the series, was added in 2007. The Wally Hayward medal, named after five-time winner Wally Hayward, is awarded to runners finishing in under 6hrs. It is awarded to runners finishing from 11th place onwards, provided they break 6hrs.
The race was the idea of World War I veteran Vic Clapham, to commemorate the South African soldiers killed during the war. Clapham, who had endured a 2,700-kilometre route march through sweltering German East Africa, wanted the memorial to be a unique test of the physical endurance of the entrants. The constitution of the race states that one of its primary aims is to "celebrate mankind's spirit over adversity".
From 1962 to 1994 the race was run on Republic Day, 31 May. After this public holiday was scrapped in 1995 by the post-apartheid South African Government, the race date was changed to Youth Day on 16 June. However, in 2007 the race organisers (controversially) bowed to political pressure from the ANC Youth League, who felt that the race diverted attention from the significance of Youth Day, and changed the race date to Sunday 17 June for 2007 and 15 June for 2008. In 2009 and 2010 the date will, again, be changed (to 24 May and 30 May respectively) to accommodate football's Confederations Cup (2009) and World Cup (2010) in South Africa.
Arthur Newton entered and won the race for the first time in 1922. He went on to win the race five times and emerge as the dominant runner of the 1920s. When he completed the down run in 06:56 in 1923, there were only a handful of spectators on hand to witness the finish because so few thought it possible that the race could be run so quickly. The first woman to run the race was Frances Hayward in 1923, but her entry was refused, so she was an unofficial entrant. She completed the event in 11:35 and although she was not awarded a Comrades medal, the other runners and spectators presented her with a silver tea service and a rose bowl. In 1924 the Comrades had its fewest starters ever, just 24. Four years later, in 1928, the time limit for the race was reduced by an hour to 11 hours.
In 1965 the English again stole the headlines when Bernard Gomersall broke Mekler's down run record with a time of 5:51:09. In 1967, Manie Kuhn and Tommy Malone were involved in the closest finish in the history of the race. Malone appeared to be on his way to a comfortable win and was handed the traditional message from the Mayor of Pietermaritzburg to the Mayor of Durban at Tollgate, with a lead of two minutes over Kuhn. He entered the stadium in the lead with only 80 metres left to go. Suddenly Kuhn appeared only 15 metres behind and closing in on his rival quickly. Malone put in a burst for the line, but with only 15 metres left he fell to the ground with cramps. He attempted to get up again, but with the line within reach Kuhn flew past to grab victory. The mayoral message was forgotten as both runners embraced.
During the 1970s, the Comrades continued to grow, with over 1,000 starters for the first time in 1971, and over 3,000 in 1979. For the first time the race was widely broadcast on radio, and television. Maybe even more significant was that the race was opened to all athletes for the first time in 1975, thus allowing black athletes and women to take part officially for the first time. In 1975, the Golden Jubilee of the Comrades, Vincent Rakabele celebrated the opening of the event to black athletes by finishing 20th to become the first black runner to officially win a medal. Elizabeth Cavanaugh became the first women's winner in a shade over 10 hours.
1976 saw the emergence of Alan Robb, who won the first of his four Comrades titles. Robb repeated his win in 1977, 1978 and 1980, including breaking the tape in Durban in 1978 in an record 5:29:14, almost 20 minutes and four kilometres ahead of runner-up Dave Wright.
During the 1980s the Comrades continued to grow at a rapid rate. The decade began with a field of 4,207 in 1980 and topped 5,000 for the first time in 1983. In 1981, Wits University student Bruce Fordyce, runner-up to Robb in 1980, was to become the greatest Comrades runner of them all, winning the next year, 1981, although he very nearly didn't enter. An outspoken critic of apartheid, Fordyce and a number of other athletes decided to boycott the event when organisers announced that they would associate it with the 20th anniversary of the Republic of South Africa. Ultimately, though, Fordyce ran, wearing a black armband to signal his protest, and won.
Fordyce won again in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 (a record 5:24:07 down run), 1987, 1988 (a record 5:27:42 for the up run), and 1990, for a record total of nine wins. He missed only 1989, when he sat the race out, but another significant milestone was achieved that year when Sam Tshabalala became the first black winner of the Comrades.
Slightly built schoolteacher Frith van der Merwe won the woman’s race in 1988 in a time of 6:32:56. In 1989, Van der Merwe ran an incredible 5:54:43, obliterating the women's record and finishing fifteenth overall. In the same year Wally Hayward reappeared, entering the race at the age of 79 and finishing in 9:44:15. That effort put him ahead of almost half the field. He repeated the feat in the 1989 Comrades, where he completed the race with only two minutes to spare and at the age of 80 became the oldest man to complete the Comrades.
Controversy dogged the race in 1992 when Charl Mattheus crossed the finish line first but was later disqualified for using a banned substance. He claimed it was in medicine he had taken for a sore throat, but the rules were strictly adhered to and Jetman Msutu was elevated to the winner, thus becoming the second black winner of the Comrades. German runner Charley Doll claimed victory in 1993. In 1996, and for the first time the event had a Russian winner as Dmitri Grishin won the up run win in 5:29:33. Mattheus finally landed the title in 1997, with Grishin winning again in 1998 when he won the up run in a record time of 5:26:25.
The 75th anniversary of the Comrades Marathon in 2000 was the largest ever staged, with a massive field of 23,961. An extra hour was allowed for bronze medal finishers to celebrate the milestone. Vladimir Kotov of Belarus won the men's race, the first of three victories, while Maria Bak of Germany won the women's race for the second time.
In 2001, when the event reverted to the 11 hour time limit, the race entry returned to more normal participant levels of just over 14,000. A policeman from the Cape, Andrew Kelehe, second in 1999, made it memorable as he surged to the title, beating off a powerful foreign challenge to land South Africa its first win in five years. Elvira Kolpakova of Russia won the women's race.
In 2002, Belarussia's Vladimir Kotov fought off the challenge of veteran Willie Mtolo to win it again in 5:30:58. Mtolo, who struggled badly towards the end, held off Jorge Aubeso Martinez to take second, just 15 metres ahead of the Spaniard. Victory in the women's race in 2002 went to Germany's Maria Bak for the third time, despite the fact that she suffered a nasty fall in the final two kilometres. Russians Natalia Volgina and Marina Bychkova finished second and third respectively.
In 2003, the time limit for the race was once again extended to 12 hours, this time permanently. South African Fusi Nhlapo emerged victorious on the down run and took a popular victory only weeks after losing his job. His winning time was five hours, 28 minutes and 52 seconds. The women's race was dominated by the Russian sisters Oelysa and Elena Nurgalieva. The 27-year-old twins ran together until about 15 kilometres from the end, when Elena pulled away to take the win by four-and-a-half minutes.
In 2004, Vladimir Kotov became the oldest ever winner of the race, taking victory on the up run for the third time running at the age of 46. Shortly before the race, Kotov became a South African citizen, having settled in Cape Town. Elena Nurgalieva successfully defended her women's title, breaking Ann Trason's record with a time of six hours, 13 minutes and 23 seconds.
In 2005, Kotov and Nurgalieva returned to defend their titles, but neither was successful. Kotov came home in fourth spot as South Africa's Sipho Ngomane shocked the field to record victory in 5:27:10. He had run the Comrades only once previously, finishing 389th in 2003. In the women's race, former world 100 kilometres champion Tatiana Zhirkova won in the third-fastest time ever for a woman, 5:58:50, for a decisive victory over Oleysa Nurgalieva and her twin, Elena, who finished second.
In 2006, Oleg Kharintonov claimed his first Comrades Marathon title in his sixth attempt at the race - he had previously placed twelfth, fourth, second, third and second. Elena Nurgalieva claimed the women's title for the third time, recording an up-run record of 6:09:23 to better her own record by two minutes and 22 seconds.
In 2007, Bruce Fordyce's 21-year-old record for the down run finally fell. Russia's Leonid Shvetsov shattered the mark by more than three minutes with a stunning time of five hours, 20 minutes and 49 seconds. For the fourth time, a Nurgalieva took victory in the women's race, but this time it was Olesya who won, clocking six hours, 10 minutes and 11 seconds to finish 29 seconds ahead of her sister Elena.
In 2008, Shvetsov completed a back-to-back victory, breaking the up record by 47 seconds in his winning time of 5:24.48. In the women's race, Russian Elena Nurgalieva won her fourth Comrade's in a time of 6:14.36, beating her twin sister Olesya into second place.
|Year||Time (Men)||Men's Champion||Country||Time (Women)||Women's Champion||Country|
|2008||5:24:49||Leonid Shvetsov-2||6:14:38||Elena Nurgalyeva-4|
|2007||5:20:49||Leonid Shvetsov||6:10:11||Alesya Nurgalyeva|
|2006||5:35:19||Oleg Kharitonov||6:09:24||Elena Nurgalyeva-3|
|2005||5:27:10||Sipho Ngomane||5:58:50||Tatyana Zhirkova|
|2004||5:31:22||Vladimir Kotov-3||6:11:15||Elena Nurgalyeva-2|
|2003||5:28:52||Fusi Nhlapo||6:07:46||Elena Nurgalyeva|
|2002||5:30:59||Vladimir Kotov-2||6:14:21||Maria Bak-3|
|2001||5:25:51||Andrew Kelehe||6:13:53||Elvira Kolpakova|
|2000||5:25:33||Vladimir Kotov||6:15:35||Maria Bak-2|
|1999||5:30:10||Jaroslaw Janicki||6:31:03||Birgit Lennartz|
|1998||5:26:25||Dmitri Grishine-2||6:38:57||Rae Bisschoff|
|1997||5:28:37||Charl Mattheus||5:58:24||Ann Trason-2|
|1996||5:29:33||Dmitri Grishine||6:13:23||Ann Trason|
|1995||5:34:02||Shaun Meiklejohn||6:22:57||Maria Bak|
|1994||5:38:39||Alberto Salazar||6:41:23||Valentina Lyakhova|
|1993||5:39:41||Charly Doll||6:55:07||Tilda Tearle|
|1992||5:46:11||Jetman Msutu||6:51:05||Frances van Blerk|
|1991||5:40:53||Nick Bester||6:08:19||Frith van der Merwe-3|
|1990||5:40:25||Bruce Fordyce-9||7:02:00||Naidene Harrison|
|1989||5:35:51||Samuel Tshabalala||5:54:43||Frith van der Merwe-2|
|1988||5:27:42||Bruce Fordyce-8||6:32:56||Frith van der Merwe|
|1987||5:37:01||Bruce Fordyce-7||6:48:42||Helen Lucre-3|
|1986||5:24:07||Bruce Fordyce-6||6:55:01||Helen Lucre-2|
|1985||5:37:01||Bruce Fordyce-5||6:53:24||Helen Lucre|
|1984||5:27:18||Bruce Fordyce-4||6:46:35||Lindsay Weight-2|
|1983||5:30:12||Bruce Fordyce-3||7:12:56||Lindsay Weight|
|1982||5:34:22||Bruce Fordyce-2||7:04:59||Cheryl Winn|
|1981||5:37:28||Bruce Fordyce||6:44:35||Isavel Roche-Kelly-2|
|1980||5:38:25||Alan Robb-4||7:18:||Isavel Roche-Kelly|
|1979||5:45:02||Piet Vorster||8:22:41||Jan Mallen|
|1978||5:29:14||Alan Robb-3||8:25:||Lettie van Zyl-3|
|1977||5:47:00||Alan Robb-2||8:58:||Lettie van Zyl-2|
|1976||5:40:53||Alan Robb||9:05:||Lettie van Zyl|
|1975||5:53:00||Derek Preiss-2||10:08:||Elizabeth Cavanagh-2|
|1974||6:02:49||Derek Preiss||10:40:||Alet Kleynhans|
|1973||5:39:09||Dave Levick||8:40:||Maureen Holland-4|
|1972||5:48:57||Mick Orton||9:26:||Maureen Holland-3|
|1971||5:47:06||Dave Bagshaw-3||8:37:||Maureen Holland-2|
|1970||5:51:27||Dave Bagshaw-2||10:50:||Elizabeth Cavanagh|
|1966||6:14:07||Tommy Malone||9:30:00||Maureen Holland|
|1965||5:51:09||Bernard Gomersall||10:07:||Mavis Hutchinson|
|1933||6:50:37||Hardy Ballington||9:31:25||Geraldine Watson-3|
|1932||7:41:58||William Savage||11:56:00||Geraldine Watson-2|
|1931||7:16:30||Phil Masterton-Smith||11 hrs +||Geraldine Watson|
|1923||6:56:00||Arthur Newton-2||11:35:00||Frances Hayward|
*1992 race was won by Charl Mattheus who was later disqualified for testing positive for a banned stimulant.
|Up/Down Run||Record holder||Country||Year||Time|
|Women||Down||Frith van der Merwe||1989||5:54:43|
|Men's Champion||Wins||Country||Women's Champion||Wins||Country|
|Bruce Fordyce||9||Maureen Holland||4|
|Arthur Newton||5||Elena Nurgalyeva||4|
|Hardy Ballington||5||Lettie van Zyl||3|
|Wally Hayward||5||Helen Lucre||3|
|Jack Mekler||5||Frith van der Merwe||3|
|Alan Robb||4||Maria Bak||3|
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