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Comrades Marathon is arguably the greatest Ultra Marathon in the world where athletes travel from all over the world to combine muscle and mental strength to conquer approximately 89 kilometres between the cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The event owes it’s beginnings to the vision of one man, World War I veteran Vic Clapham.
2018 is the 93rd running of Comrades and will be an “DOWN RUN” starting at the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg and finishing in Durban centre.
“The Comrades” is characterised by five major hills, the “Big Five”. Each presents a unique challenge. The first half of the course has the most dramatic variation in profile where you climb three of the Big Five before the halfway mark. By contrast the second half is flatter and easier. The halfway point and the end lie roughly at the same height above sea level, with the highest point – Umlaas Road – a mere 170 metres above Pietermaritzburg.
The main features of the Comrades route are the dramatic physical variations in the Drummond to Durban stretch. On the down run, most of the climbing comes in the second half of the race.
The road from Pietermaritzburg has some undulations leading you to the first of the five major hills, Polly Shortts. Once over this hill you drop down to Ashburton and then Tumble Inn before the long climb to Umlaas Road which is the highest point the course
There are several unnamed hills awaiting you on your way to the next major hill, Inchanga, and you will pass and once over Inchanga you drop down to Drummond via Camperdown and Cato Ridge. Drummond is where the half-way point is located
Botha’s Hill, Fields Hill and Cowies hill are all located in the second half of the race before the finish in Durban
Have you thought about extending your stay? Check out our amazing optional tours to make your holiday the trip of a lifetime.
Comrades is one of the most life changing experiences any runner will compete in, the support on the course is second to none and the amount of cold drinks, variety of food and cold coke is outstanding. When you cross that finish line you know you have achieved the ultimate challenge. Then there is so much to see after the event in South Africa. A totally awesome place and event to go to. Thank you Travelling Fit.
Now, everything has settled down and I am back at work I just wanted to let you know how happy I was with all the arrangements for Comrades Run. Mari-Mar, did a great job with the whole trip. I can highly recommend Travelling Fit to organise fellow athletes with her travelling arrangements. Special mention to you all for all your help and being patient with the thousands of questions I asked you. The rest of the holiday for Temara and I went without a hitch. I followed the itinerary you arranged for us and there were no problems. Thank you so much.
I’ve done 17 Comrades marathons before and always book accommodation, flights and buses myself. This was the first time I’ve used Travelling Fit to make additional bookings and it made such a difference. You never need to stress about getting to the start line in time. We were early at the start but was fantastic to sit down in a decent spot and just relax and reflect. It was fantastic to be part of a group in Durban rather than on your own. I am sure my success at this year’s Comrades is due to the fact that I was able to relax and leave Travelling Fit to organise my complete travel arrangements. I will recommend anyone to make use of Travelling Fit if they ever want to do the Comrades.
I did it! I cannot express the absolute joy I felt crossing the Finish line after 89km's!! It was the most gruelling run I have ever done and the most amazing mental and physical experience. In fact from the minute I arrived I have witnessed the human spirit at its best. Everyone in every way has been committed to the spirit of Comrades!! I have to thank you Di and Travelling Fit again for their superb organisation of the Marathon from start to finish.
I am still on a high from the event and after vowing I would not do it again I am seriously considering trying for 'back to back' runs. It has been a 16 month journey to get to my dream result and I recommend it to anyone who wants a challenge but it is more than just another race - it is a South African institution. Since running Two Oceans last year it became clear that in South Africa you are not considered a "real" runner unless you have run Comrades and, like the Melbourne Cup, it is truly an event that stops the nation. With 13 hours of live TV coverage and like New York everyone on the route come out to support you and the number of 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie' cheers I got was amazing. I thought New York was an experience of lifetime but this has surpassed that. Thanks for all the organisation - it was a truly memorable experience
Flights and Additional Travel
Travelling Fit is a fully accredited travel agency which offers a full range of services to our clients. This enables us to book your flights and additional touring to help us assist you in creating your perfect holiday experience.
The entry fee for the Comrades Marathon is included in the price of your package.
Please note that qualification criteria applies (see below)
All entrants must qualify by completing an officially recognised race in a qualifying time as per the table below during 27 August 2017 to 02 May 2018.
All runners will be seeded according to their qualifying times.
The Comrades Marathon starts at 5:30am at City Hall in Pietermaritzburg.
Additionally, there are cut-off points throughout the race which must be met.
This race is a run from “gun to gun”.
Cut-Off Times and Locations are:
|Lion Park||02:40 (08h10)|
|Cato Ridge||04:30 (10h00)|
|Drummond (Halfway)||06:10 (11h40)|
|Winston Park||08:10 (13h40)|
|St Johns Avenue||09:30 (15h00)|
You must retire at 17h30 (12 hour limit) wherever you are on the course.
All runners will be timed using the ChampionChip timing method which can be purchased during registration.
You must collect your race packs at the International Runners Area at the Bonitas Comrades Expo in Durban Exhibition Centre or Comrades Marathon House in Pietermaritzburg. You must indicate on your entry form which venue you will collect from. There you will receive your race numbers, courtesy bag and brochure containing your final instructions.
All runners MUST produce their ChampionChip when collecting their race number.
All runners MUST provide proof of identity in order to collect their numbers e.g. Passport or Driver’s License.
NO race numbers will be issued on race day.
There are no official “pacers” in the Comrades Marathon
There are 51 refreshment tables along the route containing Coca-Cola, Powerade electrolyte drink and water.
Certain tables will offer Marie biscuits, orange segments, bananas, cooked potatoes and energy bars.
A sponge is provided in your courtesy bag and fresh sponges will be available at 2 points on the course.
Each aid station will contain a trough to be used for sponging that will contained sterilised water.
Personal Refreshments and Clothing
Personal refreshments cannot be left at any of the aid stations.
The “stand and hand rule”, whereby a runner’s seconds may stand at any point on the route and hand refreshments to their athlete while they remain stationary, will apply.
A tog bag service is available to take personal belongings to the finish.
Your Travelling Fit Comrades Marathon package includes bus transport to the race start.
Travelling Fit packages also include transfers for supporters from Pietermaritzburg back to Durban
The Comrades Marathon Expo will be held at the:
Durban Exhibition Centre
DATES AND TIMES
Thursday 07 June 2018 – 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Friday 08 June 2018 – 09:00 am – 6:00 pm
Saturday 09 June 20178- 09:00 am – 5:00pm
Finishers T-shirts, Medals and Certificates
Special commemorative Medal and Badge will be awarded to all official finishers who complete the full distance within the 12-hour cut-off.
GOLD MEDALS – First 10 Men and Women
WALLY HAYWARD – Position 11 to sub 6hrs 00 min
SILVER MEDALS – 6hrs 00 min to sub 7hrs 30min
BILL ROWAN – 7hrs 30 min to sub 9hrs 00min
BRONZE MEDALS – 9hrs 00 min to sub 11hrs 00min
VIC CLAPHAM MEDAL – 11hrs 00 min to sub 12hrs 00min
BACK 2 BACK Medal – Awarded to novices that complete an “Up” and “Down” run on consecutive years
The average June temperature in Durban is between 10.5 degrees Celsius and 26 degrees Celsius (51 degrees Fahrenheit to 79 degrees Fahrenheit).
The average June temperature in Pietermaritzburg is between 3 degrees Celsius and 24 degrees Celsius (37 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit).
It is mid-Winter at this time of year but the days are usually clear.
No other events are held in conjunction with the Comrades Marathon.
Comrades MarathonMost Australian marathon runners have heard about Comrades due to the strong South African influence in Australia particularly in running circles. For Expat South African runners living in ...
Most Australian marathon runners have heard about Comrades due to the strong South African influence in Australia particularly in running circles. For Expat South African runners living in Australia it is more than just a very long Marathon, it’s one of their national icon’s that they have grown up watching on TV and which the whole nation follows on race day.
Comrades had been on my race wish list for many years because it embodies the essential ingredients for a worthwhile event due to its history, traditions and challenges. This year turned out to be my best opportunity to enter as I had been injury free for 12 months and there were no family illnesses in the background so 2017 would have to be the year … even though it was an “Up Year” meaning 1.5 Km of vertical climb over 87 Km of horizontal ground.
For anyone who hasn’t heard of Comrades it’s the world largest and oldest ultra-marathon invented even before the word ultra-marathon existed and the event that is often called the greatest foot race on earth. It runs through the KwaZulu-Natal area of South Africa including through the Valley of a Thousand Hills. This year the start of Comrades was in Durban on the coast and the finish at Pietermaritzburg up on an inland plateau.
Not far from the Comrades course lie many battlefields of great historical significance including “Blood River” where the Dutch (Boers) Voortrekkers fought the Zulus in 1838 and many of the famous Anglo-Zulu war battlefields including Rorkes Drift (1879) made famous in the movie “Zulu” where 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded to Red Coat soldiers in a single day and the Zulus suffered terrible loss of life.
My trip and entry into Comrades was arranged by Travelling-Fit and the very capable Craig Herbert. Entering via Travelling-Fit enabled me to enter well after the standard entry period had expired and also allowed me as a first time Comrades runner to meet up with a few Aussie runners who were also on their own. Travelling Fit also arranged flights for me as I was going on a tour of South Africa after Comrades and my flights were a bit complicated so it also gave me the backup of a Travel Agent if a problem occurred while I was away. I was also fortunate to get a pep talk from Travelling-Fit founder Mari-Mar Walton who has run the event 3 times and that was highly beneficial in calming my nerves as I found that that a lot of the articles and descriptions I had researched on Comrades were lacking in specific detail including the my major concern which was “how bad are the Big 5 of Comrades and how do you run them?”
That same question would be answered in a different way 2 days before Comrades on the bus tour of the Comrades course arranged by the Comrades “Ambassador-at- Large” Bruce “Digger” Hargreaves from Brisbane, who had managed to get the 9 time Comrades winner and the legend of Comrades, Bruce Fordyce to lead us over the course. Unfortunately, all the comforting advice given by Mari Mar were soon dispelled by Bruce but that is part of the Comrades tradition to scare people about the Up run in particular and he did a very good job of doing just that, but with some great jokes thrown in.
Bryce Fordyce is still running and told us that these days he only has 2 speeds (fast and slow) due to a knee injury. He has been behind the amazing success of parkrun in South Africa which has one of the biggest weekly parkrun in the world in Durban on Saturday. After the bus tour I realized I would just be happy to finish in the 12 hour cut-off. Well done Bruce.
The alarm goes off at 3 am and I wake up after about 5 hours sleep which was better than expected. After 5 days in South Africa I was at the point where I just wanted it to start and get the event over with. Comrades was starting to feel like an exam that you had done more than enough study for and was starting to frustrate you. All the worry, stress, money and training was coming down to the next 10 hours and that family and friends would be following me on the Comrades on-line tracker during the afternoon and evening back in Australia …. so therefore no pressure, no excuses and no DNF.
Race kit for Comrades includes compression short tights and compression calf socks due to a calf problem in my qualifying marathon in Hobart, as well as my 2010 Athens Marathon from Travelling fit which is my favourite shirt and my signed Turramurra Trotters cap, Brooks Adrenaline shoes and two bum bags, one at the front and one at the back. Then I stuff all the food I can possible fit into my two (2) bum bags which included two peanut butter and honey sandwiches and 2 bananas to eat on the start line. This food was to be supplemented by a drop bag at the 60 Km mark that I had organised through World Vision at the Comrades Expo which also had sandwiches plus chocolate donuts and a sports drink.
After an hour’s preparation and bag packing I headed downstairs to breakfast and checked my bags in with the Travelling Fit representatives over in South Africa (Penthouse Travel) who were taking our bags to the hotel near the finish line in Pietermaritzburg. This was a luxury as all the other runners would have to wait for a bus to go back to Durban in the evening.
The little shuttles bus from the hotel to the start line left around 4.30 am and the trip only took 10 mins or so before being dropped. Then to the drop bag truck to ensure warm dry clothes would be waiting at the finish line. Then a short walk to the starting corals where I was starting in group C (Marathon qualifying time of 3:20 to 3:40).
I entered the start area in front of the Durban Town Hall about 5 am and therefore had one hour to collect my thoughts and to enjoy the atmosphere. First a few strangers from the U.K. next to me started chatting and they were excited that this would be my first Comrades and then put the standard pressure on me to run next year in order to a get a back to back medal as “to run only the up or the down is only half the race” …. apparently. This line is like a broken record around Comrades but I think it works in the back on people’s minds at some point after the race. Another common phase is “you only get one chance to run back to back at Comrades”.
Ryan Brown an American journalist whom I had met on the Comrades Course bus tour 2 days before who was on the outside of the fencing and she took my photo. She was following the race all day and getting as many photos and interviews as possible to help her prepare her article for USA Runner’s World magazine. I am still trying to get the photo she took but that is another story.
After that a South African man also on the outside of the fence who was holding his young children up high to get a good view, struck up a conversation. He had run Comrades twice before but was out this year due to injury but wanted his kids to see the start. As I spoke to him there were tears running down his cheeks and it really hit me just how much this event means to South African people and how fortunately I was to be starting in about 20 mins. I tried to cheer him up by talking about next year’s event being easier anyway which he agreed to.
From then on it was a bit hard to remember the last 30 mins as everyone packed in and the excitement built up but sure enough we heard the national anthem and then the famous recorded human “cock crow” impersonation by a man called Max Trimborn which
was very quick and then we were off. I crossed the line about 3 mins after the official start which was pretty good and the benefit of being in group C start rather than group H at the back which had to wait around 12 minutes to cross the line and this means they had only 11 hours and 48 minutes to get under the 12 hour cut off and receive a Vic Clapham medal.
Due to the 6 am start and being in winter the first 90 mins of Comrades is in the dark. The first 1 km is flat in the Durban CBD but then we start the first of the famous big 5 Hills of Comrades knows as Cowies which is in the early stages is all on the freeways of Durban. Spectators are a bit thin on the ground due to limited vantage points in the first 5 km’s but the overpasses are covered with people cheering and carrying on.
Cowies actually has 4 separate hills within it and the middle hill is known as the 45th Cutting which is an important landmark on the course at 200 m above sea level on a marker point on the pacing band I was wearing from the Comrades Expo. I get to the top of Cowies at 400 m above sea level without any issues using a little bit of the “walk-run” strategy advised by experience Comrades runners and which 90 % of the runners are following at this point.
Eventually the sun comes up over our backs while slowly climbing up the second major hill known as Fields Hill which peaks at 560 m above sea level which is a 250 m climb after a downhill over the top of Cowies. The last half of Fields Hill is the longest steepest part of Comrades in my opinion and using the “walk-run” strategy here is essential as there is still such a long way to go.
Over the top of Fields Hill is more steady climbing but not as steep which was welcomed at this point. Then the final push up a steep 5 km or so up to top of Botha’s Hill which I can hardly remember as one hill after another starts to make every hill look the same. Finally at the top of Botha’s Hill we reach the 42km mark and as I had learnt from Bruce Fordyce on the course bus tour before the event, I had just completed the toughest road marathon on earth which was great and now I had another 45 km of hills to the finish line. Everything was going well for me at this point I had some tingling in my right calf muscle on the downhills but no problems on the uphills which was a great relief. I had eaten one of the sandwiches I was carrying and a couple of small bananas given out on the course on top of the 2 bananas at the start line and was drinking alternate sports drink and water at the aid stations as per standard marathon hydration strategy.
The downhill section after Botha’s Hill through to Drummond and past the famous “Arthur’s Seat” and the “Wall of Honour” was definitely the most enjoyable part of Comrades for me. I had plenty of energy to take good advantage of the downhills and flat and although still running conservatively I appeared to be making up time compared to other runners who were clearly struggling and they still had over 40 km to go.
The halfway point soon appeared and was the most impressive of the drink and aid stations with Coke putting on a huge display with water sprays ect ect. and lot of supporters and a great atmosphere and it was a great feeling to get to that point and still be feeling relatively strong. Clearly my training was paying dividends but was close to unchartered waters in terms of distance run given my longest event before Comrades was 56 km.
My drop bag with extra supplies was not far away at the World Vision aid station near the Enthembeni Disabled Children School at about the 60 km mark. This school is a charity supported by Comrades. I was really focusing on getting to this aid station but was worried that I wouldn’t see it and run straight past it. It seemed to be taking too long to get there but in the end it appeared on the left hand side. I was met by the World Vision volunteers with great enthusiasm and they were expecting me by name as they knew I was in the C group and had done their maths about my possible time to the 60 km mark. To my amazement they had opened my bag and put my drink in ice and it was so beautifully cold when they handed it to me. I was totally blown away by their kindness and to me this was the highlight of Comrades. They say you cry when you finish your first Comrades which would never happen to me but the World Vision aid station and their kindness was quite overwhelming.
The next challenge coming up on the Comrades agenda was “Inchanga”, No. 4 of the Big 5 which I think is the best name on the Comrades course and sounds very tribal and African. Inchanga is Zulu for spear I believe although there seems to be differing explanations about it. Going up Inchanga I was still feeling fine and could have run to the top if that was the end the race but with 38 k to go I took the run 75%-walk 25% strategy here although most people were walking more than running at this point. The next section down into Camperdown and up to Umlass Road was a challenge as it was starting to get quite warm and the road was never-ending and my legs were starting to get a bite sore.
At most point and not sure where it appeared from, I started running with the “9-hour bus” or pace group. This was a great experience due to the size of the group (up to 50 people at times maybe more) and the fact that most were black South Africans or other Africans who were singing songs to keep focused. No idea what the words meant as it was in either in Zulu, Xhosa or Afrikaans. After running with the “bus” as South Africans call it for around 10 km I started to get frustrated as the leader was tending to run through the drink stations too quickly and then walk on sections that were flat and were easy to run. He was timing the walks based on time only rather than course profile. For about 5 km I kept running in front of them when it was flat and let them catch up to me on the uphills and drink stations.
At some point the 9-hour bus got ahead of me and I let them go. I was starting to struggle and had about 15 k to go and just wanted to run the best I could on my own to the finish.
The fact that I was struggling with 15 km to go probably demonstrated my training was perfect for 70 km but not for the full 87 km however I was confident I could manage the pain in my legs which was the main thing slowing me down plus a bit a general fatigue. I also didn’t could not force myself to eat anything at this even though which would have helped.
My strategy at this point was to run all the downhills at a reasonable pace and then as much of the flat as possible but not to even attempt running any hills. It was fortunate that the downhills were only around 2 km long at any point as that was about as far as I could run downhill in one go without an uphill to give my legs a rest and for the pain to subside. My legs were also feeling stiff but fortunately no cramps but I had taken salt tablets a couple of times before this point. I knew that at some point in Comrades this was going to happen and felt relieved that Pietermaritzburg was not too far away.
There were more and more supporters out on the road as we reached the 10 km to go mark and at this point I felt bad doing any walking as this is not what supporters come to see but Comrades runners can only do their best after running close to 80 km. I hope they understood. Most of these supporters were in for a very long day as around 80% of the field was still to come through and most of them would be walking and not looking too flash.
Bruce Fordyce told us on the tour that we would all be walking up the famous Little Polly’s and Polly’s Shortts which was 100% correct. At the top of Polly’s you can almost look down into the finish at Pietermaritzburg but I didn’t stop to saviour the view. The online tracker said I stopped for 8 minutes at the top of Polly Shortts which must have been a power failure at the finish as I kept moving the whole time.
The elevation profile from the top of Polly Shortts to the finish looks predominately downhill but it felt either flat or uphill and I was walking even 25% of the flat bits and all the uphills again. With 3 km to go I summoned the will power to say to myself that I would not stopping again before the finish line. Certainly the last 1 km or so was a lot easier knowing the finish line was so close. It’s very strange how the human body and minds works together sometimes.
The finish into the Pietermaritzburg Racetrack involves going down under a tunnel to get under the racetrack and coming back up again inside the track to the finishing line. I expected to cramp coming back up the tunnel but I didn’t and finished in relative comfort in a time of 9:44 without any tears and the medical staff waved me on rather than into the big tent hospital they have at the finish line. I was happy enough with my time and although I had lost touch with the 9 hour pacer I was comforted by the fact that a lot of the other people on the bus finished with or after me. Possibly by trying to keep with the bus a lot of people including myself had over extended themselves a bit too hard I am not sure. There is a Bill Rowan medal for anyone who runs under 9 hours and when that slips away and lot of people are content to coast home for a bronze medal.
Not long after I crossed the finished the line and making a slow walk back to the International runners area, a huge man came out of the Rotary tent and not looking where he was going stepped on my already very sore left foot which resulting in me screaming at this man who was totally oblivious to what he had done and without apology headed off. That was certainly the low point of Comrades for me and highlights why in an event like this the general public should be kept away from runners who can hardly stand up let alone avoid elephants without eyes.
Following this morale crushing incident I made the slow and painful walk to the International Runners area which required going up and down about 30 steps on a temporary crossover of the finish line. Not sure who the genius was who came up with that idea.
The International Runners area was meant to be a VIP area from what I could work out but there were so few toilets you had to wait 20 minutes and there were not enough chairs so we had to sit on the ground and all the bean bags were taken by non – runners before any of the runners had finished. How considerate of them. There were no officials to install or keep law and order.
After a short while I met up with a couple of other runners I had meet at the International Runners night, including Robert Gatto from Washington DC who was on his 4th Comrades trip and David Gonzales from Mexico City who was a very unassuming man who reluctantly told me (after I figured out why he had had a very quick trip to the Australian Alps one year) he had done the 7 summits and had summited Everest 6 times. I later found out that in 2013 he was the first person ever to summit Everest from both sides in the same year!!!. He told he is now bored with high altitude climbing and is concentrating on other extreme sports including but not limited to ultra-marathons. Marathon de Sables was his next major event and he was also interested in solo long distance sailing. He has never run the Everest Marathon because he says he is always feeling too weak after reaching the summit although the time is normally perfect to do both.
We waited in the International Runners area and watched the big screen nearby as the countdown started for the 12 hour cut-off. This is the highlight of Comrades for the TV audience as the cut-off is strictly and brutally enforced leaving some very fortunate runners who sneak under 12 hours to get their medal and the unfortunate runners who narrowly miss out. After a few power failures that resulted in the big screen going down, it was sorted out and just as it was getting dark and right on 6 pm we saw the gun fired and human wall coming across to prevent any further finishers.
And that that was it for the Comrades 2017 Up Run except of course the many people still making their way to the finish line with dejected looks on their faces. Well as they say in football, “there is always next year” to make the 12-hour cut-off and get a Comrades medal.
The next task was walking across the race track, through the training yards and to the hotel which was not easy due to stiff bodies and seized-up minds. The hotel was part of a casino and they had guards with machine guns in the carpark which didn’t like to be stared at which was a bit unnerving. I had dinner with the other Australian Travelling-Fit runners and we were all concerned about Lin from Melbourne who had had a bad day but finished and ended up in a hospital in Pietermaritzburg. We didn’t get to see him before we had to leave on our pre-booked buses down to Durban Airport the next day but Craig Herbert from Travelling-Fit advised that he was now fully recovered.
Some of the other Australian runners were staying on to do a “Safari” and I had booked to go on a 10 day tour of South Africa starting in Cape Town to complete my South African education.
Now I have to put my thinking cap on and ponder the big question – do I attempt the back to back next year ? Everyone knows I have only done half the race and you definitely only get one chance to do back to back at Comrades right!!!!
Comrades Marathon – The Ultimate Human RaceThis time 4 years ago I had never competed in a race more than 12km never mind one 89km long, but after my friend ran the London Marathon a year shy of her 50th birthday, I decided that at the ...
This time 4 years ago I had never competed in a race more than 12km never mind one 89km long, but after my friend ran the London Marathon a year shy of her 50th birthday, I decided that at the ‘young’ of 45 I could also attempt one; and so my love of long distance running began. I only ever planned to run one marathon but having experienced the ‘high’ of crossing the line at the MCG in Melbourne, I was hooked, and within weeks of finishing this one I was already planning my next race. Melbourne was followed by New York, Gold Coast and the Solar Eclipse Marathon and then I read about ‘the World’s Most Beautiful Marathon’ – which is actually a 56km Ultra Marathon in Cape Town and needing a new challenge, and also loving South Africa, I registered for the 2013 event.
Taking part in this race was a whole new experience as South African Runners are so friendly and when they see an International runner they are interested in why you chose the race. It also became clear that in South Africa you are not really considered a ‘real’ runner until you have run Comrades – a 89km run between Pietermaritzburg (PMB) and Durban run ‘uphill’ one year (i.e. Durban to PMB) and ‘down’ the following year.
Having successfully completed Two Oceans I started to seriously consider Comrades and whilst in Cape Town bought Don Oliver’s book ‘How to make Sure of your Comrades Medal’ which I read from cover to cover on the flight home and by the time I landed in Australia I was hooked on my goal for running Comrades in 2014 especially as it was a ‘down’ year and so immediately registered on the Travelling Fit site for details as they were released.
I was lucky that I had a good base from which to start my Comrades training but it is entirely possible to run Comrades as a ‘newbie’ with a great programme in Runners World South Africa which starts in July gets runners up to speed well before the race in June the following year.
To qualify to run Comrades you have to have run a sub 5 hour marathon within the previous 12 months and the faster your time the better your starting position which is important as Comrades is a gun to gun race, i.e. The clock starts when the gun goes off, not when you cross the starting mat. As there are 18,000 runners competing it can take up to 10 minutes to cross the start if you are in H batch and given the length of the race every extra minute you can gain at the start is a bonus.
As I was running well I decided to go for a sub 4:20 Marathon to get an F start which would allow me a reasonable chance at a bronze and so entered Sydney Marathon and had absolutely perfect conditions to cross the line in 4:16 despite having surgery 2 weeks prior to the race. I could then concentrate on getting my distances up but had some leeway as I knew it would be hard to run during the hot summer months and indeed starting a 4 hour training run when the temperature was already in the 30’s was indeed challenging.
Comrades is such a iconic race in South Africa that there are numerous training programmes available but the theme of all of them was to run to time not distance and also not to overdo it with most having three rest days and four running days. All the programmes also stressed a ‘run / walk ‘ strategy as there is no way you can run all 89km unless you are a professional!
I decided to run Two Oceans again as my long training run and so headed out to Cape Town for a flying visit over Easter and unfortunately had a rather disastrous run as I started cramping at 5km and struggled to whole way but managed to finish well before cut off. It was however an important learning race as far as what I could eat / drink and would help me in the rest of my Comrades preparation.
Once back in Australia there was just over 1 1/2 months to consolidate my training and start my taper which I have always found hard. It was good to have the Travelling Fit and Comrades Australia and New Zealand Facebook pages and also the the regular emails full of useful advice from Bruce ‘Digger’ Hargreaves as I was training on my own as my usual running partner was not taking the challenge with me and this can be lonely experience, but knowing there were others also putting in the miles and reading their stories was good encouragement.
Finally the day came to fly out to South Africa and I proudly wore my Australian Comrades running top which was certainly commented on by the South African Airlines crew as everyone in RSA has heard of Comrades. After an eventful flight when I had to deal with a medical emergency ( which fortunately turned out to not be too serious) I met up with my parents in Johannesburg for the short flight to Durban and into ‘Comrades Fever’
Waking up on Thursday morning, I did a short training run in the gym which overlooked the exhibition hall where the expo was being held and I watched with interest the final preparations being made.
After breakfast I walked the short distance to the expo and was lucky enough to be there for the opening ceremony which really brought home to me the status this race has. Once the ribbon was cut there was a rush into the expo to register and I was glad I was an international runner as the queue soon built for the local registrants which was not made easier as there was hitch with the new registration system and the iPads would not read the chips. however eventually it was sorted out and it was time to look round the enormous expo which surpassed even New York. First I visited the Comrades apparel store as we had been advised that this sells out fast and indeed, when I went back on the Saturday there was literally nothing left!
The expo was really well organised with lots of places to eat and drink as well as every type of stall including a fitness assessment where you could get a cholesterol and blood pressure check and another where you could get an ECG as part of of runners study.
During the next couple of days I visited the expo a number of times and each time found something new to see. By Friday the queue for local runners was over 3 hours long but there was plenty of entertainment to keep people amused and the whole spirit of Comrades could be seen in the mixing of runners exchanging stories about their paths to Comrades.
On Thursday evening we had the Travelling Fit meet and great which was a good time to meet the other Australians and also the Americans who were joining with us. Digger gave a introduction to the event for us ‘newbies’ and an added bonus was the chance to meet 9 times winner Bruce Fordyce who had some fantastic stories of the races he had run in.
On Saturday morning I joined up with my parents to take Bruce’s course tour which he led personally and driving the route really brought home the enormity of the challenge the following day. Although classed as a ‘Down’ run, first 65km are mainly up hill and Bruce’s advice about how to run certain parts of the course proved to be invaluable the following day.
Once back in Durban, I paid once last visit to the expo then spent the rest of the day getting my kit ready as we were to get the bus to PMB at 2:45 the next morning.
After an early dinner I was in bed by 7:30 and contrary to my usual pre pace sleep problems I managed 5 hours before waking to my alarm at 1:30am. Once dressed and down in to lobby there was a lot of nervous excitement before we boarded the bus and set off to PMB ( after having to return to the hotel once to get a straggler)
The drive up the freeway in the dark allowed my to contemplate the task ahead and I can honestly say that it felt like sitting my Fellowship exam all over again as this was the culmination of 16 months of preparation.
Walking through the dark street of PMB to the corals made me glad of my last minute purchase of a headlight as a number of people were tripping over loose paving stones and the last thing I wanted was to fall and end my race before it even started!
Once in the corals there was no going back and the nervous tension was palpable. The mix of first time runners like myself for whom it was a journey into the unknown with those who had run it many times before made of a hive of excitement and tension which started to mount as the announcer kept counting down the time to the start.
At 5:20 the buildup to the start began with the singing of the traditional African song Shosolosa followed by the South African National Anthem then the playing of Chariots of Fire during which more than one tear was shed and a shiver went down my spine. This was followed by the ‘cock crow’ and the starting cannon and …. nothing happened! No doubt the front runners started running but back in the F coral it was a couple of minutes before we even started walking forward but after 4 minutes I crosse the start and my Comrades had begun.
Even at this early hour the streets of PMB were full of supporters to cheer us along the first of the many miles to Durban. We were extremely lucky as it is usually close to freezing at the start but today the temperature was a barmy 12 degrees. As we made our way along the crowed streets out of PMB in the pre- dawn light some people were already shedding tops but having been warned by Bruce Fordyce that there was a dip which was partially cold, I kept mine on even though it was getting warm.
Dawn was breaking as we ran up the first of the 5 major hills ‘Polly Shorts’ and with the early morning light came a feeling that I was taking part in more than a race, it was a total running experience.
I soon settled into a comfortable pace, but taking heed of Don Oliver’s advice I was careful to take regular walking breaks which was easy given the number of hills in the early part of the race.
Despite headphones being banned, there was plenty of entertainment along the route and wearing Australian Colours got a number of ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ chants as well as many locals welcoming me to the country and the time passed remarkably quickly during the first half of the race and it seemed no time before I was at the 21km mark and the first of the support tents which allowed me to ditch my headlight and pick up some of my race sustenance, ( I had already discarded my top as there is a tradition that Comrades runners give the unwanted tops to the locals as some of the people in the surrounding areas are very poor)
By now the sun was up but luckily there was a layer of cloud which shielded us from the true heat of the sun.
After passing though the chicken farm area where the wind was blowing in the wrong direction and the smell rather potent, we passed Ethembeni School for the disabled where the children come out in force to support the runners and in turn the race gives much needed support to the school.
Down into Drummond and the halfway mark, and I found I was well up with my timing and started to think that I might indeed be able to finish this race.
The pull out of Drummond was long and hard and by now everyone was walking but we still had seven hours to complete half the race and some of the hardest parts were behind us.
Passing through 56km I felt much better than I had a couple of months ago finishing Two Oceans and it was into the unknown, I had never run more than 56 km and from here one every step was a new record.
At 65 km we hit the Nedbank Green Mile, a mile of entertainment which really lifted the spirits and many runners even took time to stop and take ‘selfies’ using the large picture frames provided.
From here the race stared to go downhill and the relentless pounding started to take its toll. At 13 km to go I felt my first toe nail go and after trying to struggle for 1/2km I had to stop to do a quick repair job and was so glad I had decided to put some band aids in my running pouch. At this moment I thought my dreams of a bronze had gone up in smoke but I calculated that even if I walked the rest of the way I could still make the cut off time of 12 hours. However miraculously my running repair seemed to work and I gingerly started to run again and was able to do it without pain so I was soon pounding down the highway again and passing thought the 7km to go mark and taking the last real ‘up’ I suddenly realised that I could still make the magic 11 hours and at this time got my second (or third or fourth) wind and the lighting towers of Kingsmead Stadium seemed to have a magnetic attraction as I ran / walked the last few km to enter Durban and, passing 1km to go at 10:44, I realised that baring any serious accident the bronze was a reality even if I crawled the rest of the way. However remembering the advice in Don Oliver’s book, I focused on entering the stadium at a ‘dignified’ run and entering the cheer of the crowd was something I will never forget, and the feeling of true elation as I crossed the finishing line in 10:49:37 will stay with me as long as live. It is true when they say that you shed a tear, I could have wept with happiness as I was given my medal and Comrades patch and even now a week later, the medal has hardly left my sight and I am still on a high which will take a lot of getting down from.
To all those who want a challenge I say give Comrades a go it is indeed the ‘the Ultimate Human Race’
My thanks go to Di Rust and all at Travelling Fit for the organisation of the trip which made my Comrades dream a reality.
The above was written before I learnt the sad news that a 39 year old South African runner has died a week after completing his second Comrades. He apparently collapsed as he crossed the finish line and died of renal and liver failure. This is a sobering reminder of the enormity of the Challenge that is Comrades.
WELCOME TO SOUTH AFRICA
Comrades Marathon is arguably the greatest Ultra Marathon in the world where athletes travel from all over the globe to combine muscle and mental strength to conquer approximately 89 kilometers between cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The event owes its beginnings to the vision of one man, World War I veteran Vic Clapham.
2018 is the 93rd running of Comrades and will be a “Down run” starting at the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg and finishing in Scottsville Racecourse in Durban.
For 14 years Travelling Fit has been organising packages to the Comrades Marathon and we are delighted to be able to offer you a five (5) night Marathon package including one (1) night pre-race in Pietermaritzburg.
Travelling Fit is an accredited travel agency which offers a full range of services to our clients. This enables us to book your flights and additional touring to help us assist you in creating your perfect holiday experience.
Optional Day Tours
Why not enhance your stay in South Africa with some amazing value full day tours including:
- Shakaland Zulu Experience
- Hluhluwe Game Reserve Tour
- Sani Pass, the “Roof of the World” and Lesotho Tour which takes you to the highest pub in Africa!
The choice is yours! Click on the additional touring box below for additional information or contact us directly.
- Guaranteed Race Entry (Runners Only)
- Package 1:
4 Nights’ Accommodation at Southern Sun Elangeni Maharani
(Wed 06, Thu 07, Fri 08 & Sun 10 June)
1 Night Accommodation at Southern Sun Pietermaritzburg (Sat 09 Jun)
- Package 2:
5 Nights’ Accommodation at Southern Sun Elangeni Maharani
Check in: Wed 06 June. Check out: Mon 11 June
- Return Airport Transfers
exclusive to Travelling Fit clients
- Breakfast Daily
- Group warm up run (Thu)
exclusive to Travelling Fit clients
- Escort to the Expo for race bib collection (Thu)
exclusive to Travelling Fit clients
- Private Meet and Greet Function (Thu)
exclusive to Travelling Fit clients
- Durban to Pietermaritzburg transfer (Sat) - Package 1 Only
exclusive to Travelling Fit clients
- Transfer to Race Start
exclusive to Travelling Fit runners
- Pietermaritzburg to Durban transfer for supporters (Sun) - Package 1 Only
exclusive to Travelling Fit supporters
- Local representative assistance and to answer any questions
exclusive to Travelling Fit clients
- Personalised Travelling Fit Running Top
exclusive to Travelling Fit clients
- Invite to Travelling Fit VIP Facebook Group
exclusive to Travelling Fit runners
Deposit: $850 per Runner; $550 per Supporter
2nd Installment: $550 per Runner and $550 per Supporter – due no later than Friday 24 November 2017
Balance Due: Friday 16 February 2018