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October 18, 2018 by DAVE JACK

“Sizonqoba – Together We Triumph” is the chosen campaign slogan for the 2019 Comrades Marathon. The unifying campaign theme was unveiled by the Comrades Marathon Association in Johannesburg on Thursday, the 11th of October at the launch of the 2019 race.

The 94th Comrades Marathon will be an Up Run on Sunday, 9 June 2019. The race starts at the Durban City Hall at 05h30 and ends 12 hours later at the Scottsville Race Course, over the same distance of 86.73km and the same route as the previous Up Run.

This will be the 48th Up Run in Comrades history.



There are a series of different medals on offer to those completing Comrades including two new medals.


The history of the changes to the medals is an interesting one. Until 1972, only 6 gold medals were awarded and all other finishers earned a silver medal. When the change came in 1972, organisers increased the number of gold medals to 10.



This medal, named after 5 time winner Wally Hayward is awarded to those runners who finish outside the gold medals, but under 6 hours i.e. Position 11 to sub 6 hours.  This was introduced in 2007.




With the change to the number of gold medals awarded from 1972, the organisers also decided that there should be a time based incentive to earn a silver medal so the 7 hour 30 cut off to win a silver was introduced.



Let’s remember how the Bill Rowan Medal came about. The first Comrades Marathon was won by Bill Rowan and it was the first Down Run with the 16 finishers of the 34 starters finishing at the Durban City Hall.

bill rowan (2)

As you will see from the photo of Bill Rowan above he wore race number 23, a number which was proudly owned by the late Des Martin who turned it to green many years after Rowan had worn it.  Des ran 15 Comrades.

The Comrades Marathon had started on the morning of the 24th of May 1921 outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall and there is a permanent banner across the road marking where the start of the first race took place. 

The start was scheduled for 7am but because of a few minor hitches it got going at 7:10am. The late Morris Alexander in his book “The Comrades Marathon Story, says that a “dusty 54 mile dirt road lay ahead of the runners”.

The Bill Rowan Medal for breaking 9 hours is symbolic of having run faster than Rowan’s 8:59 in 1921.

This means then that for the slower runner who can’t run a silver medal time of 7:30, there is the Bill Rowan Medal for breaking 9 hours (as before) and now the new medal for breaking the 10 hour mark.  That’s certainly something to go for!



The Bronze Medal that was introduced in 1972 and which has been unnamed kicks in between 10 and 11 hours.



When the time limit for the race was extended to 12 hours, organisers felt that a new medal should be introduced for those runners who ran and finished between 11 and 12 hours.  The copper Vic Clapham Medal was introduced in memory of the man who started it all way back in 1921. 


The race was the idea of  World War 1 veteran, Vic Clapham, to commemorate the South African soldiers killed during the war.  Clapham had managed a 2700km route march through an extremely hot German East Africa, and he wanted Comrades to be the memorial to be a unique test of the physical endurance of the runners. The constitution of the race states that one of its primary aims is to “celebrate mankind’s spirit over adversity”.



In 2005 the Back 2 Back medal was introduced and awarded to runners who had completed their second Comrades in the year after their first run. It can’t be won by anyone who doesn’t run their first two Comrades in successive years. 

This has become a very sought after medal by the novice runners who complete their first Comrades as they now have an incentive to return the following year.



The 2019 race will see the introduction of the two new medals. 


The women’s equivalent of the Wally Hayward Medal will now be a part of the race going forward.

This medal will be the Isavel Roche-Kelly Medal and will be earned by those women finishing from position 11, which is outside the gold medals and running sub 7 hours 30 minutes.

isavel roche-kelly

Isavel Roche-Kelly won both the 1980 and 1981 Comrades and was the first woman to break the 7½-hour barrier in 1980, her time in 1980 was 7 hours and 18 minutes. 

In 1981 when she had her second win, she finished in 6 hours and 44 minutes. That made her the first woman to break both 7:30 and 7 hours. Sadly she passed away in a cycling accident in her native Northern Ireland at the age of only 24, three years later.



This will be the other new Comrades Medal and to win that runners will have missed the Bill Rowan Medal for breaking 9 but now will earn the new medal if they finish between 9 and 10 hours.  That’s a great incentive where there previously was nothing that would make a runner slower than 10 hours, work towards breaking 10 hours.


Robert Mtshali was the first unofficial Black runner in Comrades and he finished the 1935 race in 9 hours 30 minutes.  Again a symbolic medal of the time Mtshali ran.  

He didn’t break 9 hours but he came home well inside 10 hours, perfect timing for the new Robert Mtshali medal.  He was not recorded as an official finisher as government and race rules of the time stipulated that, in order to compete in the Comrades Marathon, you had to be a white male. That was only changed in 1975 when Comrades was opened to all races and to women.

Friday, the 24th of May 1935 saw Mtshali running in the 15th Comrades Marathon, a Down Run, where he joined the 48 official entrants.  Despite not being recognized officially, he was awarded a special presentation by Councilor V.L. Shearer of Durban.  He was one of only 35 finishers of the 49 runners who started that morning.

The photograph shows the plaque with Mtshali’s details which is on display at Comrades House in Pietermaritzburg.  CMA Chairperson, Cheryl Winn says “We anticipate that the introduction of this new medal will have a huge impact on the race, in terms of providing both a powerful reminder, symbolic recognition and reconciliation with an unfortunate aspect of our past”

The Robert Mtshali medal will be made of titanium.



A very big cash incentive for the winner from next year.  Both the men’s and women’s winner will each get R500,000. That’s R60,000 up on the previous winning prize money.  Finish in second place and that’s worth R250,000 and R180,000 for third place, and that’s the same for both men and women.

This is an increase of 13% on the 2018 amounts.

In addition should the Winners – that’s men or women – of the 2019 Comrades break the best time previously recorded for the “Up Run”, they will receive a cash payment of R500,000 for that “record”.

The current best times are:

Men: 5:24:49 set by Leonid Shvetsov in 2008 and

Women: 6:09:24 set by Elena Nurgalieva in 2006

So it’s certainly time for those to be broken especially as the distance is the same as the previous Up Run.



The opening date for entries is Friday, 19 October 2018. The entry period closes on 10 December 2018 or as soon as the entry cap of 25,000 has been reached.  The entry cap has also been increased from the previous 20,000.

If you are a novice and still debating as to whether you should run next year’s Comrades or not, take a look at my previous blog titled “Why Run It” and get rid of any doubt.

Remember that for this year’s race, entries sold out in just three weeks.



 Entry fees for the 2019 Comrades are:

  • South African                                                          : R 600.00
  • Foreign Athletes – Africa/ SADC countries     : R1500.00
  • Foreign Athletes – International                       : R3800.00


The ‘early bird’ entry fee from previous years has been scrapped but free entry still applies to any runners who have completed Comrades 25 times or more.



 Race Director, Rowyn James confirmed that the qualifying criteria for next year’s Comrades will be to complete a standard 42.2km marathon in under 4 hours and 50 minutes, or a 56km ultra-marathon in under 6 hours and 45 minutes, a slight lowering of the qualifying times of previous years.

The race time limit of 12 hours still applies and the six “on route cut off times” will be confirmed with the final instructions setting out where they are exactly and the times by which runners need to reach those points.

My blog titled “Comrades is Only Seven Little Runs” that I did for the Down Run will be updated when the cut off times are announced but the principle is the same for the Up Run.  It’s just the places and times that I’ll change when I do the update so that it suits the Up Run.



The period for which one can qualify for next year’s race applies to all official races run between the 26th of August this year and the 2nd of May 2019. The 

Substitution Process opens on the 1st of March and closes on the 15th of April 2019. That is two weeks longer than it has been previously and the cost to make use of a substitution is R300.

Once an entry has been completed, runners have until the 2nd of May for seeding upgrades & qualifiers.  Similarly License No. & Club detail updates and changes can be made online until 2nd May 2019



So all round some great changes for 2019 and whilst the qualifying time has been reduced by 10 minutes for the marathon distance, I don’t think it will make a big difference to those who would normally scrape home in under 5 hours. I have always said that I am a very strong believer in Long Slow Distance (LSD) for training for the “ordinary” runner.

“Sizonqoba – Together We Triumph”


18 OCTOBER 2018




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