Posted in COMRADES 2022

COMRADES IS BACK

After having been without Comrades for the last two years because of the dreaded Covid pandemic, the thought that Comrades is going to be back this year is exciting and I am certain that I am not the only person feeling this way. It’s s just over 190 days to race day and you would be amazed at how fast those 190 days will pass.

I was at the launch of Comrades 2022 this week and it was confirmed that the distance and route for this year will be the same as it was for the 2018 race.   90,2km starting at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall and finishing at Moses Mabida Stadium in Durban with the usual 6 cut off’s on the route. The exact cut off points haven’t been announced yet but almost certain they’ll be pretty much the same as they were in 2018 so plan your race on that until we know for sure.

Entries will be capped at 15,000 in terms of National Legislation (and not Comrades rules) and the first window period of entries opens on the 23rd of March and close on the 31st of March.  The first window entry period is for those who successfully entered for the 2020 race which was cancelled.

My guess is that just as we have seen previously, there will be a mad rush of entries in that first window period and if history is anything to go by, entries will be sold out within a day or two and then the complaints will begin by those who missed the deadline.

If you enter, you need to be fully vaccinated and you need to upload your vaccination certificate by the 12th of July.  This doesn’t apply to the need for booster shots.

Comrades has made it clear. No vaccination certificate means no race. I don’t know what the situation is if the reason for not having had a vaccination is valid. Comrades hasn’t made that clear but I’m certain they’ll have to.

The race will have “batch wave starts” and for the first time ever will be timed on a mat-to-mat basis rather than a gun to gun basis as it always has been.

The entry substitution process will be during the whole month of June and the window period to withdraw is the 1st to the 14th of June and the Window period to secure a sub entry is from the 17th to the 30th of June.

Substitution open to all (Local & Foreign) runners and an Admin Fee of 15% of the entry fee will be deducted by the CMA from the withdrawing  athlete. The CMA will then refund the withdrawing athlete 85%    of their entry fee. There will be no money or voucher exchange between athletes.

The usual Substitution Admin Fee of R200 will NOT apply this year and the sub athlete will pay the 2022 entry fee price.

I hope the substitution rule is clear. If you miss the deadline for entries, don’t stop your training because there is always the possibility that you are able to get a substitution entry in June.

An exciting prospect is the special 95th commemorative medal that will go to all finishers as well as the special design T shirt. We haven’t seen either the medal or the T Shirt and we’ll have to wait a while to see those but I’m told the wait will be worthwhile.

I don’t know about anyone else at the launch but I could feel Comrades in the air and I have always been able to smell it as we get closer to the big day. Now I know that at this stage we are nowhere near close to the big day, given the change of race date to the end of August but having missed it for the last two years I can already smell Comrades in the air.

Call me strange if you wish but Comrades 2022 will be the 63rd race I will be attending – my first one in 1956 and since then I have missed only 3 deliberately and I am counting the centenary celebrations at Comrades House in May as a Comrades although there may be some who would argue that. Be that as it may, that day in May at Comrades House felt very much like Comrades but if you want me to take that off my tally, I’ll do so reluctantly.

Anyway, what I was trying to say is that after all those Comrades, where 62 or 63 doesn’t matter a lot, to “smell” Comrades even this far in advance of the race, I would suggest is normal and if you were to ask any of the “old runners” they will understand what I am talking about.

Firstly, I am delighted that I have seen nothing anywhere either as complaints or compliments that the race is now at the end of August and that from now on it will be held in August ever year and well done to Comrades for explaining the reasons so well and so thoroughly.  This does alter training schedules though and in a recent article by Bruce Fordyce, he suggested that “April should become the new January” as far as starting proper Comrades training is concerned.  That said, I am sure that many runners will get it wrong and will either over train or under train and get to the start under prepared.  Listen to what Bruce says, He’s run a couple of these races so he has a fairly good idea of what he’s talking about!!!!!!

I’ve made quite a lot of comment about training programmes and especially race day schedules and I have made the point that the person who knows your body best is you.  Certainly not some person in a magazine who has never met you and this has never been more the case than with the different training dates we face this year and remember that if you are living and training inland in South Africa, the bulk of your main training for the end of August will be in the middle of winter and if you are not able to go out and train when the temperatures warm up, you are going to be training in pretty cold temperatures.

Many of you will be looking for either a training partner (or group of runners with whom to train) or an individual coach.  I have no problem with that and in fact in my running days I did that all the time but I never changed my training partners. That’s a disaster. Find the right person or group early in the year and stick with that person or group. If you find that you need to change, you should do it early when you still have enough time and not leave it until the last minute.

Shoes, energy supplements and clothing must also be sorted out early in the training year. I have actually seen runners buying new shoes at Expo that they intend wearing in Comrades in the next day or two.  Can you believe it?

If you live in KZN and near the route you will most certainly have trained over at least parts of it.  If you live far from the course, you may only have seen the route profile and that is enough to frighten even the bravest individual. 

Simply put, I don’t believe that you can learn about 90km of tough terrain drawn on an A5 page of paper – but hey, that’s what I think. Go over the route at least once before race day – and remember if this is your first Down Run but you have run and completed Comrades on an Up Run. You are still a novice. The two races are very different.

On the question of race day schedules – my advice is do you own! Nobody knows your body better that you do. Nobody knows what your body can do better than you. How many times have I heard a runner who climbed on the 11 hour “bus” say “I could have done better but I ran slower being in the “Bus”. Sorry about that now”.

If you do your own race day schedule, be conservative and set times you know you can achieve and give yourself a 15 minute “window” to reach a certain point on your schedule.  If you don’t do that and you find yourself even 5 minutes slower, the result is instant panic when you don’t need to panic if you are still in your 15 minute “window”.

The same applies at the other end if you are running too fast. You can easily “blow” your entire race by misjudging your times and going too fast.

The bad news is that in terms of Covid regulations, the field size has had to be capped at 15,000 – down from the 25,000 the last time we had entries open for Comrades a few years ago so I expect that we will have a mad rush for entries. Entries open on the 23rd of March and close on the 31st of March for the first “window” period. This will be for those who entered towards the end of 2019 for the 2020 Comrades that was cancelled but which race organisers said they would carry entries across to 2021 – which was also cancelled so they’ve carried them across again to Comrades 2022.

The problem comes in where the demand for entries from the 2020 race exceeds the cap of 15,000 for the 2022 race. Any over and above the 15,000 simply won’t be accepted and this won’t be a rule of the Comrades organisers but will be a national rule because of Covid.

So the only answer? Get your entry in as soon as you can to avoid the disappointment of a rejected entry.

The second “window” period of entries assuming the 15,000 isn’t reached by the time the 31st of March is reached (and that’s somewhat unlikely I think) is for those who didn’t enter for the 2020 race towards the end of 2019.

The second window period if it’s necessary is from 20th April to 16th May 2022.

Entries will only be accepted via online entries and postal and hand delivered entries will not be accepted.

So those are the early notes on Comrades 2022. Keep watch for further news from Comrades House on what will be happening on the 28th of August and get those running shoes on, get your qualifying marathon done and get your entry in as soon as they open on www.comrades.com and you can make changes to your entry until the 12th of July. The important thing is to get that entry in and get it in as soon as entries open on the 23rd of March.

Remember.  Don’t post your entry or hand deliver it as it won’t be accepted.

18 FEBRUARY 2022

Posted in COMRADES 2022

COMRADES 2022

Decisions taken by the Comrades Marathon Association are primarily made with the health and safety of runners in mind. We not only endeavour to uphold the integrity of our world-class event but first and foremost aim to safeguard the wellbeing of our athletes, staff, volunteers, sponsors, stakeholders, supporters and fellow South Africans involved in staging, hosting, participating and maintaining the legacy of The Ultimate Human Race.

There has been much talk in athletic circles about a proposed race date for the 2022 Comrades Marathon. At CMA we believe this discourse could not have come at a better time for a complete revamp of our race calendar for the future, to re-imagine and design it in such a way that it benefits the build-up of endurance for the majority of distance runners in South Africa going forward.

To put the gossip to rest, CMA has submitted an application, which has been approved by KwaZulu-Natal Athletics (KZNA), for next year’s Comrades Marathon to be hosted on Sunday 28 August 2022.  

By way of explanation, there were several strong motivating factors which supported our application, but by far the most pertinent was that by doing so we will gain an additional two hours of daylight in which to stage our 12 hour event, which will undeniably serve the best interests of the safety of runners and volunteers, as well as enabling us to implement a staggered or wave start, as will inevitably be required going forward in terms of Covid regulations.

The date of the 100-year-old Comrades Marathon has over the years shifted from as early as mid-May to as late as mid-July, originally staged on a public holiday known as Empire Day on 24 May 1921, later settled for years on Republic Day 31 May, and with the dawn of the new South Africa on Youth Day 16 June, as well as on various occasions being shifted backwards and forwards to avoid clashes with the hosting of Rugby and FIFA World Cups.  Only as recently as 2018 did it eventually settle on the second Sunday in June, so, there is actually NO “traditional” date for Comrades.  

Scientifically, the problem with the second Sunday of June is its proximity to 21 June, which is the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere; thus, requiring that shortly after a Pietermaritzburg Start, thousands of tightly-bunched participants run for an hour and a quarter in the dark, on narrow, winding, pot-holed country roads, mostly devoid of streetlights, and then, at the other end of the day, after having already spent 11 hours on the road, extremely weary and wounded runners once again have to navigate their way to the finish in the dark.

And, the situation is even more precarious for our volunteers, who have the responsibility of setting up and cleaning up, even further into the hours of darkness.

When it comes to climatic conditions, according to historical weather information the average temperature in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal for the month of August is .5 degree (ie. 1/2 degree) warmer than the month of June. The average total precipitation for the entire month of August is 10mm more than for the month of June. And the average humidity for August is 71% as opposed to 70% in June.

Another factor of the rationale behind moving the Ultimate Human Race to a date later in year is to ensure the best possible chance against once again having to cancel the Comrades Marathon in these uncertain times of the Coronavirus pandemic, and in doing so, actually be able to stage the Comrades Marathon which is so loved by runners in South Africa and all over the world, as a Beacon of Hope, following the past two years of despair..

We also believe that the later date will provide a greater likelihood of the sport having resumed to some sort of normality.  It will give runners ample time to prepare, for clubs to stage their own races as opportunities for runners to qualify, and enable a smooth and logical build-up of events leading up to a race of such magnitude.

As many of you are aware, the CMA Board’s strategic focus is to sustain this beloved, 100-year-old, iconic, national institution of a race, that is part of our national heritage, and which is so symbolically and economically critical to the sport of athletics in KZN and South Africa, for the next 100 years. This can only happen if we are able to host a Comrades Marathon next year and get back on track with ensuring that our event is hosted on an annual basis going forward.

We will continue to communicate with all of our stakeholders and sincerely hope that runners will come to understand and accept the sound rationale behind our decision to move the race date. We look forward to hosting you at the next Comrades Marathon.

Let me end by expressing our most sincere condolences to those who have lost family members and friends over the past year, as well as our heartfelt sympathy to everyone who has suffered hardship or sacrifice brought on by this dreaded pandemic.

Keep safe and God bless,

Cheryl Winn

CHAIRPERSON: Comrades Marathon Association

Posted in COMRADES CENTENARY

The 1921 Comrades Marathon Tribute Run

The 24th of May 1921 saw just 34 men start from the Pietermaritzburg City Hall to run to Durban for the very first Comrades Marathon and now on the 24th of May 2021, 34 runners will make a tribute run starting from the exact spot outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall where those runners, 100 years ago, set off for Durban.

There has been a lot of speculation as to who the runners are who have been honoured with being part of the tribute run in this centenary year and who will run from the Pietermaritzburg City Hall to Comrades House just 2.2km away to where the dignitaries await them and where the day’s festivities begin.

Sadly the festivities have had to be limited to 250 people because of covid but nonetheless we will see CMA Elders, former Chairpersons, current CMA Board and Staff members, members of the Race Organising Committee, current sponsors, representatives of the Official Comrades Charities, a number of very important dignitaries and select media in attendance.

CMA Chairperson, Cheryl Winn said, “We will remember Comrades’ origins, owed primarily to the inspiration and tireless efforts of a humble railroad engine driver and soldier, Vic Clapham, who returned from war with the vision of staging a living memorial to the suffering, loss of life, spirit, fortitude and camaraderie of the soldiers with whom he had shared the devastation of World War I.” 

Winn added, “A significant aspect of the day is recalling the brave early pioneers – some of whom completed the distance unofficially when the race was restricted exclusively to white males; our winners, heroes and record-breakers who have consistently inspired us with ever-improving competitive performances; and we will celebrate the so-called ‘ordinary runners’ for whom there is nothing at all that is ‘ordinary’ and who embody the spirit of grit, determination, camaraderie, hope and humanity upon which the Comrades Marathon was founded.”

The 34 runners who will be paying tribute to those early pioneers of the Ultimate Human Race are:

Achievement Men (25)
 
Winner 1976 – 78 & 80 Alan Robb
Winner 1981 – 88 & 90Bruce Fordyce 
Winner 1991Nick Bester
Winner 1992Jetman Msuthu
Winner 1995Shaun Meiklejohn
Winner 2000/02/04Vladimir Kotov
Winner 2001Andrew Kelehe 
Winner 2003Fusi Nhlapo
Winner 2005Sipho Ngomane 
Winner 2012Ludwick Mamabolo
Winner 2013Claude Moshiywa
Winner 2015Gift Kelehe 
Winner 2016David Gatebe 
Winner 2019Edward Mothibi
  
47 Medals Barry Holland 
47 Medals Louis Massyn
42 Medals Mike Cowling 
42 Medals Wietsche van der Westhuizen 
42 Medals Zwelitsha Gono
42 Medals Dave Lowe 
41 Medals Tommy Neitski
41 Medals Dave Williams 
40 Medals Johan van Eeden 
40 Medals Boysie van Staden 
40 Medals Shaun Wood 
  
AchievementWomen (9)
 
Winner 1979Jan Mallen 
Winner 1985 – 87Helen Lucre 
Winner 1992Francis van Blerk 
Winner 1993Tilda Tearle 
Winner 1998Rae Bisschoff
Winner 2015Caroline Cherry (Wostmann)
Winner 2016Charne Bosman 
  
31 Medals Pat Fisher 
30 Medals Kim Pain 

The occasion’s activities will be live-streamed, and Comrades runners and supporters in South Africa and around the world are invited to follow the day’s proceedings from 09h00 – 15h00 on the Comrades website www.comrades.com, or on Facebook @ComradesMarathon.

20 May 2021

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

BILL PAYN ACCORDING TO BILL PAYN

It’s Wednesday the 24th of May 1922, the day of the second Comrades Marathon, this time an Up Run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.  The start is to be at Toll Gate and it will finish at the Royal Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg.

The day turned out to be a mild to warm winter’s day and there was a huge increase in the number of runners, up from the 34 who had started in 1921 to 89 in 1922 but over 100 entries!

There were a couple of interesting entries not least of which was Bill Rowan who had won the first Comrades in 1921 and who was, at that stage, living in what was then the Belgian Congo and had travelled to Durban seeking to repeat his win of 1921. There were others who attracted interest as well and two of them were Arthur Newton, a farmer from the Harding area in Southern Natal who subsequently went on to win that year and four times more and who carved a name for himself as one of the great names of ultra-distance running.

Also lining up at the start was Durban schoolmaster, Bill Payn who by that stage had played rugby at the highest level and who decided to tackle this new challenge. Payne had no intention of challenging for the win and was there to challenge himself as so many others have done since then.

A great deal has, over many years been spoken and written about the Comrades in 1922 run by Bill Payn, the schoolmaster from DHS in Durban and I have no doubt that those who have told these stories have added a little bit extra to make his run that much more entertaining and haven’t worried too much if it was totally accurate or not.

I have read many accounts of that somewhat different Comrades Marathons run by Mr Payn that day but it wasn’t until fairly recently that I came across an account of his run as told by Bill Payn himself. At first I didn’t know if it was true and if it was, how accurate it was as it was taken from a book titled “Under the Baobab Tree” the story of DHS written by Jeremy Oddy.

My first job was to try to track Mr Oddy down and to find out if the book is still available.  I searched all the usual places like Amazon but no luck and finally decided that the book is no longer available.  The next problem I had was to see if I could track down the author.  That proved to be a lot easier than I thought and after a couple of years of searching the internet I eventually discovered that Mr Oddy is alive and well and living in Durban just down the road from Durban High School that is such a passion to him. 

A couple of long and very interesting phone calls and I had the permission I needed to reproduce Bill Payn’s story as told by the big man himself (and I believe he was a big man) of how he handled the Comrades Marathon on that mild to warm winter sunshine day of the 24th of May in 1922.

Here is Bill Payn’s story and note how he describes the size of the field that day. There were 89 starters!  I wonder what he would say if he could see the start today?

“I’m not sure how many victims lined up at the starting place at Tollgate that May morning at 5 o’çlock but it was a huge field.  To give some idea of its magnitude it is sufficient to state that my number was 111.  Shall I ever forget that infernal run?  It was not very long before I realised that as I was prey to a consuming thirst I could not refuse any man who offered me any drink along the way.  Long before I got to Hillcrest I was painfully aware that rugby boots were not ideal footwear.  When I got to Hillcrest my feet were giving me so much pain I took off my boots to make an inspection in loco.  Things were pretty gloomy and I was not a little perturbed at the undulation of blisters that had formed.

Some kind person handed me a pot of brilliantine with which I anointed my feet and I then repaired to the hotel and knocked back a huge plate of bacon and eggs washed down by three cups of coffee.  

Pushing on, I arrived at the top of old Botha’s Hill cutting where I found “Zulu” Wade looking a trifle distressed and sitting by the side of the road.  He had a henchman on a motorcycle in attendance on him, and this good fellow was nourishing Wade from a hamper, the piece de resistance was a curried chicken and a huge snowdrift of rice.

We shared it equally, threw the lot down the hatch and then slugged along in happy companionship to Drummond, the half-way house of our Calvary.  Here we bent our steps to a pleasant oasis – the pub – and according to Harold Sulin, I had a dozen beers lined up on the counter. Zulu and I were determined, not so much to celebrate, but to drown our sorrows. But Harold Sulin said “Bill, what are you doing here?  There are only five runners ahead of you.”

I looked at my number 111 and wondered what had happened to the rest of the field.  Zulu’s sorrows, I noticed, had gone down for the third time so he wished me Godspeed and I set out alone for ‘Maritzburg.

Somewhere along Harrison Flats I noticed a frail little woman with pink cheeks, holding a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other. “It’s peach brandy” she volunteered, and I gulped down a full tumbler of the brew.  In a second I realised I had swallowed a near lethal dose of the rawest liquid I had ever tasted.  I am still convinced that this charming woman must be given full credit for inventing the first liquid fuel for jet engines.

Fortunately I was facing ‘Maritzburg and I was propelled along my way.  I was too far gone in my cups to ponder whether this assistance was compliant with the laws of amateur marathon running.

When I passed over the Umsindusi Bridge in ‘Maritzburg I was hailed by my wife’s family who were having tea on the verandah.  I joined them in their tea and cakes.  Whilst we were thus happily engaged, two of my “hated rivals” went past and so it was that I ended in 8th position.  In the changing room of the showgrounds, I discovered that the soles of my feet were two huge pads of blood blisters.  My brother-in-law, Wilfred Hogg, with an uncanny insight into my most immediate needs gave me a bottle of champagne for which I was most grateful”.

And so the story of Bill Payn’s Comrades Marathon as told by Bill Payn himself. 

He finished, as he says in 8th position of the 26 finishers and in a time of 10:56. The time limit in 1922 was 12 hours.

The following day when most modern day runners can be found hobbling around the Durban beachfront in varying degrees of stiffness, Bill Payn played rugby in “takkies”.  Comrades veteran, the late Vernon Jones, who knew Bill Payn well said “He was the greatest teacher ever at DHS and had a wonderful influence on countless people. There has never been another Bill Payn.  His funeral created the biggest funeral in Durban’s history. Nothing you can say about him is too much.”

Bill Payn played rugby in 52 matches for Natal and twice for the Springboks. In addition he represented Natal at cricket against the MCC, boxed for Natal against Oxford and Cambridge in 1923 and won the Natal Senior Heavyweight title, played Baseball for Natal against Transvaal in 1930 and got his Natal colours for shot put in athletics.

A report of his death in the Daily News was headlined “A WONDERFUL PILGRIMAGE ON EARTH HAS ENDED”

APRIL 2021

Posted in COMRADES CENTENARY

TIME TO CELEBRATE A CENTENARY

For the second year in a row the Comrades Marathon has been cancelled because of the global pandemic we have come to know as Covid-19 and the saddest part of it all is that 2021 is the centenary year of the race, the first one having been run on the 24th of May 1921 and here we are 100 years later when we were planning to have a big centenary celebration to mark the occasion, a virus came along and changed all that.

But has it?

We may not be able to have an actual race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban which was to have been the direction of the race in 2021 but that doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate the centenary of Comrades.  Many might be tempted to say that without an actual race, there’s nothing much to celebrate but I think they are so wrong.

I am going to be travelling to KZN to join in the celebrations and I haven’t run Comrades since 1987 having been stopped from running again because of injury and I am still looking forward to celebrating the centenary as much as anybody.

It’s my guess that there are many more former runners who are no longer able to run the race but to whom Comrades is very important and who want to celebrate the centenary of this amazing event even if they are not able to run it any longer but how do we intend doing this?

One small suggestion I can make is to have a look at the history of the race if one isn’t perhaps as familiar with it as one could be. The question that is often asked though, is why would anyone want to show any interest in the history of something that happened in South Africa’s dark past but when one sits and looks at the race in detail, there is so much that happened in those years that have shaped the race of today and had an impact on almost everyone running. The saddest part is that many are aiming to achieve something when they run and what they are aiming for is something that is the result of something that happened many years ago. Let’s have a look at a few of those.

One of the most commonly sought after things is the Bill Rowan Medal that is earned when a runner can get a time under 9 hours. The disappointment when a runner misses the medal by a few minutes or less is plain to see but who was Bill Rowan and what is significant about 9 hours.  Many runners know the answers to these questions but an equal number of runners have no idea at all that Bill Rowan was the first winner of Comrades in 1921 and he ran a time of 8 hours 59 minutes.

That remains the slowest winning time in the history of the race but the significance of the time to win a Bill Rowan Medal is that if one is earned, it means that the runner earning it could, in theory, have won the first Comrades in 1921 because of a better time than that run by the winner that year.

Just one of the things that happened many years ago that impacts the results of runners in the modern Comrades.

Go through the list of medals and all the medals are named after people who are no longer with us and who were involved with Comrades many years ago and what they did was long before South Africa became part of the “normalised” world of sport.  Think of Wally Hayward, Isavel Roche-Kelly, Robert Mtshali and Vic Clapham all of whom have Comrades medals named after them.

The fun part of this is to then go and find out what they did to have the honour of having medals named after them.

Whilst getting this information one can learn a little about Comrades and the history of Comrades.

When did Comrades have the biggest margin between 1st and 2nd place and who was the winner and in what year? 

When were the two years when we saw the two closest finishes and who were the runners involved in those finishes?

These are the sorts of things that make Comrades so interesting and makes it much more than just another road race as some people sadly think it is.

Who has the biggest collection of wins? In the men’s race most people would be able to guess fairly accurately but what was the controversy surrounding his first win?

Having figured out who the male with the most wins is, what about the female with the most wins?

Who are the men who have won the race 5 times, and four times (there’s only 2 who have done that), three times and the number who have achieved that gets smaller but who are they? In the women’s race we have a few multiple race winners and again they were a long time ago.

Who were the first man and women who ran under 6 hours in both the Up Run and the Down Run and in which years?

It’s these sorts of things that make Comrades so interesting and when you start looking at the answers to the questions I have put into here, the interest grows and you realise that there is so much more. There is, for example, only one man who has run under 5 hours 20 minutes on the Down Run and he did that in 2016. Who was he?

Nobody has managed it on the Up Run.

Only three women have run under 6 hours on the Down Run, the fastest in 1989 in 5:54

And only one woman has run under 6 hours on the Up Run.

I have deliberately left out the names of those who have achieved in Comrades because getting to know Comrades is just one way that I can think that we can celebrate the centenary of Comrades. Learn about this wonderful event – this wonderful happening because its way more than just a road race!

I am saddened when I hear people shrug and say “It’s just another road race on the calendar” because its way more than that. If it was “Just another road race on the calendar” why is it that thousands of spectators get out there on race day and spend the day at the side of the road cheering runners they don’t know in most cases!

I don’t know what the situation is going to be with the Expo this year and whether there will even be an Expo given the rules with “social gatherings” and the restrictions on the numbers attending these gatherings because of Covid but a major disappointment for me every year has been the number of people gathered around the newspaper cuttings at the history exhibition that has information going back over many years about the race.  The last time I was at Expo looking at the history section, there was only one other person there and he was even older than I am!  It turned out that he had run in 1946, the year before I was born!

When I think about how this race has grown from its humble beginnings in 1921 to what it was the last few years it took place I don’t understand how anybody can say it is “just another road race”. 

When one looks at the start line in the mid 1920’s and the number of runners who lined up to tackle the Comrades.

And one compares it with the start line of the 21st century and one looks at all that has happened in the years between those two starts!

I am saddened that there is so little interest in the history of this great race because it really is a great race. It has so much to offer and what it has to offer is so much more than simply a running race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.  I last ran in 1987 and was at my first Comrades as a spectator in 1956 and I have been to every race except three of them since that first one I attended because it gives me so much and has given me so much over the years in terms of many things. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t have gone to the race almost every year since the first one I attended in 1956 and I wouldn’t keep going back year after year.

If it doesn’t give one something very special in so many different ways, I most certainly would not have been drawn to go to the race so many times even after I had stopped running and after my radio reporting days ended when I didn’t really have any reason to attend other than the fact that Comrades continued to give me that “special something” every year that has been part of my personal growth for so many years.

My biggest problem is that I am not able to fully explain it and I gave up trying to do so many years ago and simply accepted it to be the case.

That’s the reason I will be in KZN once again this year from the 24th of May to celebrate the centenary of this amazing “happening” even though there will be no actual race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

FEBRUARY 2021

Posted in COMRADES CENTENARY

2021 A VERY IMPORTANT COMRADES YEAR

As we move ever closer to getting rid of the year many of us will remember as the year that never was, when the world was effectively turned upside down and so many things we held near and dear to us, had to disappear forever and we had to change, and we all had to learn to make adjustments to the way we live and in many cases with difficulty, we will breathe a collective sigh of relief hoping that 2020 has gone forever but I fear we haven’t seen the last of it.

Some things are slowly returning to the way they were before we heard about Covid but some never will. Some still need to be changed and a lot of thought still has to go into the way many things have to change.

One of the things that nobody has yet come up with an answer to it seems, is the question of the big city marathons around the world where thousands of people run shoulder to shoulder for most of the way and the concept of “social distancing” is virtually impossible. We saw a recent example of what happened to the London Marathon where, usually around 40,000 people or more took to the streets of London and “owned” the city for a day in April every year.  The race was moved to November and to an elite only runners’ race in a multi lap (some 19 laps) in a park in London.  It was a good race if one happened to be watching it on TV but it simply wasn’t the London Marathon.  

Let’s look closer to home however and at Comrades. When entries opened for the 2020 Comrades they were capped at 27500. We don’t yet know what the organisers have in mind for the numbers for the 2021 race or even if there will be a race in 2021. The media launch hasn’t yet happened and entries are expected to open early in the new year and both those happenings have been delayed because of uncertainty.

Every day we hear horror stories of the rise in Covid infections from around the world and who knows what is going to happen in South Africa by June 2021, the provisional date set for Comrades 2021. Remember that this time last year, none of us had even heard of Covid and now, less than a year later, it controls our lives.

Comrades 2021 is a very important one because it is exactly 100 years since those 34 tough runners lined up outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall to run the first Comrades mainly on dirt roads to Durban and just under 9 hours later Bill Rowan put his name into the record books as the first person to win the race in what remains the slowest time in the history of the race.

The interesting thing is the number of runners to strive to win for themselves a “Bill Rowan Medal” for finishing the modern Comrades in under 9 hours and many of those achieving this have no idea why the medal is so named – and sadly most of them don’t care!

Since then, Comrades has written itself a glorious history and culture, much of which is celebrated in various ways still and runners through the years use much of the events of bygone years to measure their own performances and even as recently as 2018, we saw the introduction of the Robert Mtshali medal named after the first black runner of Comrades and now awarded to all runners who finish between 9 & 10 hours. Robert Mtshali ran his Comrades in 9 & a half hours in 1935 so long before Comrades was opened to all races (that happened in 1975), a medal honouring the achievement of a man in 1935 is now awarded so it took 40 years after Mtshali ran his Comrades for the race to be opened to all races and to women.

Comrades organisers have now put up a plaque at Comrades House in Pietermaritzburg to honour Robert Mtshali.

Ask many of the runners who won a Robert Mtshali Medal since it was introduced how it came about and when Mtshali ran and they won’t have a clue.  That is so sad!

These are just two of many little bits of history that go to make Comrades what it is and hardly a year goes by that something doesn’t happen to add to the magic that makes this event so very special and now with the cancellation of the 2020 race because of the global Covid pandemic it joins the 5 races of World War two as the only times the race has had to be cancelled since it’s inception and some months ago I asked Race Director, Rowyn James whether the centenary of the race would be celebrated even if the race itself can’t be held and he assured me that it would.  

Many of us will be very disappointed if there is no actual race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban on the second Sunday of June in 2021 but there can still be reason to celebrate the centenary and it can still be done with all the glitz and glamour we would expect.  One should just look at the Comrades Race the Legends that Comrades put together in June 2020 that took place instead of the actual Comrades and what an amazing success that was to realise just what can be done if necessary.

A huge part of the centenary celebration, I would think, will take in the history of the race and if runners really want to feel part of it they would need to learn as much as they can about this incredible event. There are, sadly, many who regard Comrades as “just another race on the calendar”.

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THE START OF THE 1925 COMRADES

Let me assure you that Comrades is not just another Road Race. It’s more than that. Way more and if we end up without an actual race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, my guess is that the Comrades organisers will still give us plenty to celebrate for the centenary of this amazing event but to get the full benefit please learn as much as you can about it.  It will give you so much more if you do.

Posted in PERSONAL STORIES

WHO I AM

People might wonder what gives me the right to write about or talk about the Comrades Marathon, that amazing event that takes place in June every year, although 2020 saw it cancelled because of a global pandemic, only the second time in the history of the race that this has happened, the first time from 1941 to 1945 because of World War 2.   Allow me to briefly explain my credentials.

I was introduced to the Comrades Marathon early on the morning of the 31st of May 1956 when my dad woke me and asked me whether I wanted to go with him to watch “The Marathon”. I had absolutely no idea what that was but that’s what locals called this wonderful event that is run in alternate directions between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in the province of Kwa Zulu- Natal in South Africa at the end of May every year and has been run every year since 1921.

I was only 9 years old and a little bleary eyed when I dragged myself along to stand at the side of the road in Pinetown where I grew up and which is part of the route to wait for this race, little knowing how my life was about to change that day.

In 1956 there were a little under 100 runners on the “Up Run” that started in Durban and made its way to Pietermaritzburg some 89kms (about 55 miles) away over some very punishing terrain and as I stood and watched the runners make their way through Pinetown I was captivated and without hesitation I said to my father that when I was “big” I was going to run the race! I had to wait until 1968 before I had the opportunity to run it for the first time.

That was the 31st of May 1956 and since then I have been at every Comrades Marathon except just three of them and of course the cancelled race in 2020. Why did I miss those three Comrades? I thought after I had been at 50 of them in succession that I had probably got Comrades out of my system so I deliberately missed two of them and had dreadful withdrawal. The third year I decided to travel to the UK to avoid the withdrawal but then sat in front of a computer and watched the live streaming on the internet so whilst I wasn’t actually at the race, I was “sort of” there.

During the second half of 1999 I went in search of any runner who had been to more Comrades that I had and after a lot of searching I came across just one and that was Brian Swart, who is well known in the Comrades world of Pietermaritzburg and who has in fact put together the Comrades history in the Comrades website. He has attended 4 more than I have.  If there are any other people who have attended Comrades more times I would love to hear from them.

My credentials as far as Comrades are concerned are that I have run 14 of them. I have been a helper to friends of mine who have run when I was not running. I have served on the organising committee, I have worked for a radio station reporting “live” into sports and news bulletins for 18 years. I have worked as stadium announcer for over 10 years and in the years in between I have enjoyed simply being a spectator watching the race from the side of the road or from the VIP lounge at the finish.  I have travelled with international runners on the tour busses in the days prior to race day taking these foreign visiting runners over the route, and in 2018 I was part of the seconding team of the winning woman, Ann Ashworth, (although I played a small part given the speed she was running at!) so not much I haven’t done and I have loved every aspect of my involvement.

I have had the privilege of having met many of the winners and personalities over the years and Comrades has given me substantially more than I could ever have dreamed I could have had when I stood at the side of the road on the 31st of May 1956.

How many more Comrades do I intend attending? The answer to that question is fairly simple. As long as I am still alive and able to be there, I will do all I can to be at “the marathon”, the name given to this wonderful event by locals in days gone by.

Over the last couple of years I have tried to capture something of the magic I have felt in a series of blogs and I hope I have been able to do this and I hope that those of you who read these and who visit this website can experience even a little of the “magic” I feel for that strip of tarmac between Kwa Zulu-Natal’s two cities.

Posted in COMRADES MARATHON

COMRADES MEDAL PARADE

The history of the medals awarded in Comrades is an interesting one. Until 1972, only 6 gold medals were awarded and all other finishers earned a silver medal, not just a silver medal but a silver medal that was engraved on the back with the name and time of the winner of that medal but as the number of runners taking part in the race grew, so too did the medal requirements. When the change came in 1972, organisers increased the number of gold medals to 10 but there have been more changes since then  to keep up with changes in the race.

Here is the list of medals awarded on Comrades day.

GOLD MEDAL
This medal is awarded to the first 10 men across the finish line at the end of Comrades.  As the women taking part are regarded to be running in a separate race they too qualify to win a gold medal should they finish in the top 10 amongst the women.

WALLY HAYWARD MEDAL (half gold & half silver)
This medal, named after 5 time winner Wally Hayward is awarded to those male runners who finish outside the gold medals, but under 6 hours i.e. Position 11 to sub 6 hours. This was introduced in 2007.

ISAVEL ROCHE-KELLY MEDAL (half gold & half silver)
The women’s equivalent of the Wally Hayward Medal will be earned by those women finishing from position 11, which is outside the gold medals and running sub 7 hours 30 minutes. Introduced in 2019. This means that women will no longer earn a Comrades silver medal.

SILVER MEDAL
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.

BILL ROWAN MEDAL (half silver & half bronze)
The first Comrades Marathon in 1921 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. Rowan won in a time of 8 hours and 59 minutes so anyone breaking 9 hours in Comrades is awarded this medal being symbolic of the time taken to win the first Comrades.

THE ROBERT MTSHALI MEDAL (titanium – pewter colour)
Runners who have missed the Bill Rowan Medal for breaking 9 hours can earn the Robert Mtshali Medal if they finish between 9 and 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 and introduced in 2019.

BRONZE MEDAL
The Bronze Medal was introduced in 1972 has no specific name and is won by any runner finishing between 10 and 11 hours.

VIC CLAPHAM MEDAL (copper)
When the time limit for the race was extended to 12 hours, a new medal was introduced for runners who 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.

BACK 2 BACK MEDAL (nickel & bronze combination)
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.

Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

COMRADES IS ONLY 7 LITTLE RUNS

Many top runners believe that the way to tackle Comrades is to break it up into smaller and more reasonable pieces (or Little Runs) rather than try to tackle one enormous distance of the better part of 90km. That’s enough to destroy even the strongest of us and that’s before we have even started running!

How does one break up Comrades though? Here are the easy to follow steps:

  1. Comrades organisers have 7 cut–off points on the route (including the finish and each has the time of day by which you need to be there.

  1. Use these 7 sections of the route given by Comrades to work out each of your “7 Little Runs”

  1. Calculate the distance of each “Little Run” from cut-off point to cut off point.

  1. Calculate the time that you need to reach each cut-off point. This is not the time needed to run each Little Run but the time by which you need to be at the next cut-off point – or end of the Little Run.

  1. Study the route from the description of the route posted to this website about November every year.

  1. The organisers have put up a large board warning of the upcoming cut-off point which is usually about 1km ahead of the point.

  1. You now know the distance of each Little Run and the time by which you need to have completed it.

  1. Now you can start to prepare your own time schedule (some call it a pacing chart) of where you need to be at what time of day to reach your goal.

  1. It is imperative that you plan your day. A realistic time schedule helps to avoid wasting time (which is easy to do) if you know that you need to be at the end of the section you are on, at a certain time.
Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

10 TIPS FOR THE 9-12 HOUR RUNNER

  1. It’s not just the distance on the road that you need in training. You also need to know the route. The detailed description of the route is posted to this website around November each year

 

  1. Carefully plan how you want to run your day. One of the best ways is to draw up your time schedule of where you want to be at what time of day knowing at you must be at the finish before 17h30. What about breaking your Comrades into 7 Little Runs rather than having to face one huge challenge of almost 90 kms.

 

  1. Comrades gives you 12 hours as a maximum to get from the start to the finish so it’s up to you to manage yourself to make correct use of that or whatever other time you’re aiming for. You can’t manage time. You can only manage yourself to use that time correctly.

 

  1. There’s a knack to the walking you are probably going to have to do on Comrades day. Remember that aimless walking wastes time so when you need to walk, just walk 100 paces at a brisk pace, then run 200 paces. Walk 100 paces then run 200 paces and carry on until you have finished your need to walk.

 

  1. Whatever you do, don’t waste time at refreshment stations. Take your drink and walk briskly through the station. Remember that if you waste just 1 minute at half the refreshment stations on the road, you will have lost over 20 minutes from your day

 

  1. Don’t waste time by stopping during the day unless you absolutely have to – and most times you don’t have to. Remember that every step you take in the direction of the finish is one less step that you have to take.

 

  1. Unless there is no possible way to avoid it, don’t get into a rescue bus. The pain of doing that stays with you a lot longer than the pain of getting from the start to the finish.

 

  1. Look after yourself over the first 25km – both Up & Down Run.  If you don’t pace yourself properly there, you stand a good chance of messing up your entire race.

 

  1. Remember that Comrades is 90% from the neck up. Just when you think you can’t carry on, remember that in most cases you can.

 

  1. Enjoy your day. That’s why you’re there and here’s what awaits you.

Comrades Bronze Medal