December 10, 2019 by DAVE JACK
I have written this description of the Down Run route as I have seen it after having been done from many years of running the Down Run and also having trained on the course of the Down Run over many years. The only section which is new to me is the last section from Tollgate to the Moses Mabida Stadium which was run for the first time in 2018.
I have tried to keep the distances as close as possible to official race distances but with ever changing road conditions this is almost impossible but the distances I have shown are very close to the actual official distances and are certainly close enough to enable any reasonably trained runner to complete the race comfortably.
START TO TOP OF POLLY SHORTS (About 5kms)
There’s a change to the way you leave Pietermaritzburg this year and this came about in 2018 and you’ll be reverting to the route that runners in the 60’s used to leave at the start of the Down Run.
From the start at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall it’s along Chief Albert Luthuli Street towards Durban then along Alan Paton Avenue where you run past the university and then contraflow onto the N3 national freeway. From there, you will glide off right onto the Market Road on ramp and then left onto the slip road to CB Downes Road and then follow the traditional Comrades route towards Polly Shortts and onwards to Durban.
Climb fairly gently from the start out of Pietermaritzburg
In the dark although there are street lights. Everybody around you is fired up with adrenalin and the excitement of finally getting to Comrades.
The race leaders start far too fast and as a result pull the entire field with them starting too fast
TOP OF POLLY SHORTS TO THE BOTTOM OF POLLY’S (About 2kms)
Usually totally dark and huge numbers of runners. Many removing the black plastic bags they were wearing for warmth at the start (not actually allowed as these have been banned by the organisers) and discarding them in the road. Danger of tripping.
At the bottom of Polly’s there are speed bumps and the danger of tripping.
BOTTOM OF POLLYS TO UMLAAS ROAD (Highest point between Pmb & Dbn) (About 12kms)
Gentle climb of about 1km from bottom of Polly’s to Ashburton Store.
Then down “Little Polly’s” to the “Tumble Inn”. I remember in days gone by it wasn’t unusual to find locals who had dragged a doubled bed out to the edge of the road to cheer the runners from the comfort of their bed whilst sipping champagne but snuggled up in bed.
From Tumble Inn bridge steady climb all the way to Umlaas Road. The worst part the last 1km before crossing under the Highway at the Lion Park turnoff. After the bridge a gentle climb to Umlaas Road.
Still fairly dark over the entire stretch to the bridge under the Highway. This is where you USUALLY cross the first timing mat and get to the first cut off point so it’s also once you have crossed the first timing mat that family and friends can start tracking you from the Comrades app.
Once again the dark and adrenalin of the runners causes running too fast on the climb from Tumble Inn
UMLAAS ROAD TO CAMPERDOWN (About 4kms)
Fairly gentle with a nasty but short hill not long after leaving Umlaas Road as you go under the highway.
The first of the fairly big crowds of spectators at Camperdown. Usually a number of toilets available.
Nothing of any consequence other than the nasty little climb mentioned above.
CAMPERDOWN TO CATO RIDGE (About 4km)
After leaving Camperdown with a very slight and hardly noticeable climb of about 400m there is a dip and then a short but fairly steep climb to a sharp right turn across the bridge that crosses the N3
After the bridge a gentle run alongside the N3 to Cato Ridge. Through the village under the N3 again and a right turn and in this area is the second cut off point.
Potholes coming into Cato Ridge and not seeing them and stepping into one could badly twist an ankle and there are also a speed bump or two.
CATO RIDGE TO INCHANGA CARAVAN PARK (About 11km)
Climb out of Cato Ridge on a deceptively long although not too steep section. This takes you onto the start of “Harrison Flats” that really is flat until you reach a downhill that takes you to the Inchanga Caravan Park.
Nothing but Harrison Flats is pretty boring and the first time you ask yourself what you’re doing here! Reassure yourself that you are not that far from Drummond and half way!
INCHANGA CARAVAN PARK TO BOTTOM OF INCHANGA (About 3kms)
A gentle downhill from the caravan park to the bottom of Inchanga. You will recognise the start of Inchanga by a small store on the left of the road with a view of the Valley of 1000 Hills
First bit of tiredness creeping in. Pretending to stop and look at the scenery. Don’t stop to admire the Valley of 1000 Hills! If you travelled the route in the days before the race it hasn’t changed! And if you haven’t seen it already – here it is so you don’t have to stop to look at it again!
INCHANGA (About 1.5kms)
The first of the really big hills on the Down Run. Two ways to handle the hill. Either get behind a runner of your speed and watch his/her heels whilst they pull you up to the top of Inchanga.
If there is no runner at your speed around you, you can walk 200 paces and run 100 paces and continue on that basis until you reach the top.
Many of the runners around you will be walking aimlessly towards the top. Control your climb up Inchanga and anywhere else you walk and you won’t lose time. It is very easy to be hooked into the aimless walking where runners are together and talking negatively about how stupid they are. In most cases these are the same runners who were carried away in the first 20kms.
TOP OF INCHANGA TO DRUMMOND (About 1.5kms)
Down Inchanga and into Drummond and the official half way lies ahead. Not long after the start of the run down Inchanga you see Drummond. When you reach the bottom of Inchanga the road levels out for a very short while and then you climb up to the official half way.
The most dangerous part of running down Inchanga is the desire to go too fast to get to half way. Remember that you already have a full marathon in your legs and you don’t want to punish them more than is necessary.
Big crowds are usually in Drummond and as the climb to the half way starts, ignore them. Head down and find a pair of shoes in front of you to study. One of the biggest dangers here is the desire (tiring legs) to soak up the atmosphere and walk or even stop for a while.
DRUMMOND TO THE BOTTOM OF ALVERSTONE (About 3kms)
As you leave Drummond you climb a hill that has no real name although many runners have given it a name that can’t be used in polite company! It’s nasty. It’s really nasty. There is simply no other way to describe it. Be careful of it as very few people even talk about it. At the top of that climb is Arthur’s Seat and legend has it that Arthur Newton (5 times winner in the twenties) sits in that seat every year on Comrades Day. Here is your opportunity to stop for about a minute to put some flowers you have picked onto Arthur’s Seat and give him a hearty “Morning Arthur” and legend continues that if you do that Arthur will look after you to the finish.
A short “dip” brings you to the Wall of Honour where runners’ names are erected giving the names and race numbers of Comrades runners both past and present, many of whom have gone to that great ultra-marathon in the sky. Don’t stop to read the names on the Wall of Honour. That is just an excuse to waste time.
After the Wall of Honour a flat stretch takes you to the bottom of Alverston Hill.
Without doubt it’s the climb out of Drummond. As I said above – IT’S NASTY. The only other minor danger is spending too much time greeting Arthur or stopping to take in the splendour of the Valley of 1000 Hills. Now is not the time for scenery.
ALVERSTON (About 1km)
Alverston is not actually as bad as people make it out to be. As you start Alverston, there is a little climb, a slight level and then another little climb to the first corner. After that first right hand turn there’s a steady climb to the top. If it’s too tough to run the whole way do the run and walk to the top. Remember 200 paces run and then 100 paces walk and repeat to the top.
If you take care of that first 200 metres or so the hill is yours. Go at it too hard you are in trouble.
TOP OF ALVERSTON TO BOTTOM OF BOTHA’S HILL (About 5kms)
From the top of Alverston all the way through the village of Botha’s Hill it’s fairly undulating. Not far after the top of Alverston you will see “Phezulu”, a well-known tourist attraction, on your left. About 1km after that is a little climb – again with no name – that wouldn’t be too bad if you didn’t have about 50kms in your legs. After that it’s a gentle downhill to the bottom of Botha’s Hill.
Nothing except that little climb after Phezulu
BOTHA’S HILL (About 1km)
The next real climb on the Down Run. Not that long but your legs are starting to get tired and you may need to do the “walk & run”.
Nothing other than the hill itself and the pretence that you need to stop and gaze over the Valley of 1000 Hills towards Inanda Dam. You DON’T need to do that!
DURBAN SIDE OF BOTHA’S HILL (About 2kms)
Fairly steep downhill for about 2kms. Just after the top look out for the pupils from Kearsney College sitting cheering runners. They’re there every year.
Temptation to run too fast down Botha’s can cause trouble further on. In fact too fast down any hill to the finish can generally cause damage to your legs from here on.
BOTTOM OF BOTHA’S HILL TO HILLCREST (About 2kms)
When you get to the bottom of Botha’s Hill you will see some shops on your right and you are on a gentle down road – then you hit it!!!!! It has no name and has been called many not too pleasant names. Nasty nasty climb into Hillcrest. Not too long though.
That little hill with no name into Hillcrest really is very nasty so be careful of it. It’s probably a walk and run hill.
HILLCREST TO KLOOF (About 6kms)
All the way from Hillcrest to Kloof is fairly easy and gentle and almost all slightly downhill although not really noticeable. As you go through Kloof there are lots and lots of spectators who have been there all day. They cheered the leaders and they’ll cheer you. Enjoy the vibe.
KLOOF TO PINETOWN (About 2.5kms)
Kloof behind you and you have 2.5kms down Fields Hill to Pinetown. In the distance you will get your first distant view of Durban and that’s a great encouragement.
You will find runners walking down Fields Hill. Again these are the runners who started too fast. Of course your legs are sore. They are supposed to be. You have done just over 60kms. Be careful not to run too fast down Field’s Hill. If you looked after the way you started, your legs will be just fine.
THROUGH PINETOWN (About 3kms)
Bottom of Field’s Hill and you are into Pinetown and all the way to the bottom of Cowies Hill just three little “bumps” to worry about. The first as you come off Field’s Hill over a rail bridge. The second as you climb up a little rise to the “cross roads” in the centre of Pinetown and the third half way along Josiah Gumede Road (previously the Old Main Road) under a subway. Only about 100metres.
COWIES HILL (About 2kms)
At the end of Josiah Gumede Road (previously the Old Main Road) you meet Cowies Hill. Another of the big climbs. Nothing much you can do but it’s not much more than 2km long. Walk and run may be needed. At the top of Cowies, a good view over Pinetown. Don’t stop to look at it. Then it’s down the Durban side of Cowies Hill and virtually into Westville. Bottom of Cowies Hill and you have 15kms to go.
Now for the first time you can start using the distance marker boards. Count them down from 15kms to the finish.
Just Cowies but once again protect those legs by not running too fast on the downhill side of the hill.
THE M13 THROUGH WESTVILLE TO 45TH CUTTING (About 7kms)
You are now onto what used to be the main highway to Durban before the “bypass” was built. Just after the shops in Westville, there is a nasty climb (no name) of about nearly 2kms and then after that it is all virtually downhill until you get to 45th Cutting. The climb up 45th Cutting is fairly tough and may need to be “walk and run”
The climb from Westville on the M13 up 45th Cutting.
THE TOP OF 45TH CUTTING TO TOLLGATE (About 3Kms)
The climb to the top of 45th Cutting is tough because your legs are seriously tired now and it’s your head that’s doing all the work from here to get you home. After you get to the top of 45th Cutting it’s downhill until the highway. A nasty little climb of a couple of hundred metres takes you onto the highway and a gentle downhill until you climb up to go under the Tollgate Bridge. The climb to go under Tollgate Bridge is not long but your legs are tired.
TOLLGATE TO MOSES MABIDA STADIUM ( 7Kms)
You follow the N3 under the Tollgate Bridge an then take the new fly-over into David Webster Street (M13 to the M4) which becomes Bram Fischer Road. From there, you turn left into Samora Machel Road and past the old finish venue at Kingsmead Cricket Stadium then on to until that road becomes Masabalala Yengwa Avenue.
You then run contraflow in Masabalala Yengwa Avenue and cross to the north bound lane at Battery Beach Road. You then take the pathway to the left between the bollards, pass the Virgin Active Gym and turn left into the tunnel before Nino’s and onto the field to the Finish Line at the Moses Mabida Stadium and it’s all over!
One of the main reasons for the move to the Moses Mabida Stadium was to align with the requirements of the Events Act as per the Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act 2010.
Total distance of the 2020 Comrades Marathon is 90,184km. It’s almost exactly the same as the 2018 Down Run.