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.