The Comrades Marathon 2013 – Original post 4/6/13
This blog has been running on my website http://www.couchpotatotocomrades.com for a couple of months. I am going to bring the posts up to date over the next fortnight and hopefully should be in sync soon. This post was originally published on 4 June 2013 but the pictures are new.
My running week begins in a very secular way on a Monday so I am reflecting on the week which ended on 2 June. Overall a very good week of training with a total workload of 30 miles, a good long run of 15.5km and solid starts on both speed and hill sessions. Main trouble is keep going week after week at the moment. Until mid July a combination of retirement events and holiday will make this difficult. As I look forward to this week, I have a great trip planned to play golf at Portmarnock which involves 36 holes on Friday and then a further 36 holes at Woking for the Alba Cup on Saturday. Good fun but the miles will be walked not run.
Malahide beach and harbour near Portmarnock. Golf pics in next post!
I digress. The real running story of this week is of course Comrades. It would be very easy to miss from the UK media and its obsession with football but the 2013 race took place yesterday 2 June 2013. The men’s winner was Claude Moshiywa, incredibly the first South African native for 21 years to win the country’s greatest race. His time of 5hrs 32′ 08″ was no record but still very strong for an up run. In the women’s race, Russian Olesya Nurgalieva won for an eight time from her twin sister Elena finishing in 6hrs 27′ 08″. The first non Russian home in the women’s section was Scottish Joasia Zakrewski finishing in fourth to make us proud – didn’t hear anything about from Alex Salmond though. More details can be found on www.comrades.com.
Congratulations to everyone who took on the challenge this year.
The lack of media coverage is no surprise, like many things in South Africa this unique event seems remarkably little known outside the country. The race has been run since 1921 and is around 89km between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in Natal. The direction alternates between up runs (Durban to Pietermaritzburg) and down runs (Pietermaritzburg to Durban). The difference is huge with a total ascent of 3,845 feet. I have driven the road and it is genuinely steep the whole way hence obviously my decision to target as down run in 2014. Given this challenge, the most amazing thing about Comrades is that it is a mass participation race with 18,000 entrants this year. This is not quite in the London/ New York class but is way up there considering it is more than twice the distance.
There is a very healthy a growing ultra marathon circuit which includes many races which are longer and tougher than Comrades but these are extreme and niche events with at best a few hundred entrants. Even the legendary Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc has only 2,500 places. To my knowledge there is nothing else which combines mass participation and a tough ultra distance.
The race also has fairly demanding standards. Entrants need to have completed a recognised marathon or longer in a reasonable time. The time varies but tends to be easier than a Boston qualifying time but by no means a joke. Similarly, in order to finish Comrades you must complete the course within the time limit of 12 hours, not exacting but far from trivial. Very few global events operate a strict cut off like this. Within the time there is a strict hierarchy of medals depending on finishing times.
Lastly, it would be wrong not to touch on the history. Having started in 1921, Comrades is much older than most of the popular marathons that have proliferated around the world since the eighties. The original idea came from Vic Clapham a Great War veteran who wanted to commemorate the South Africans who fell in that global conflict. The race was originally run on Empire day, 24 May and the founder’s name is still remembered in the medals awarded to those who finish between 11 and 12 hours. The first legend of the race was Arthur Newton who won five times in the twenties. He was also the pioneer of scientific training for long distance running and his influence on training methods is still felt today. He was followed by Hardy Ballington in the thirties and Wally Hayward in the fifties who were both five time winners, Hayward’s name is also given to one of the race medals. Various other runners won multiple times as the number of entries started to increase topping 1,000 in 1971 and 5,000 in 1983. The eighties were also dominated by Bruce Fordyce who won the race an eventual 9 times while also taking a strong stand against apartheid. In the wake of the fall of apartheid, the elite end of the race has become much more international starting with Alberto Salazar’s win in 1994 and with strong influence from Russia and the rest of the African continent. It would also be remiss not to mentionFrith van der Merwe who has the unique position of being the only woman to complete the race in less than 6 hours and as meninges above, Olesya Nurgalieva is now approaching Fordyce’s record of 9 wins.
Why I love the Comrades Marathon
All of this of course covers only the tiny elite portion of the competitors. There are hundreds of thousands of other stories and it is truly an amazing achievement to finish Comrades. A brief review of the annual Spirit of Comrades awards will give a flavour of these amazing tales. You can find this on the official website,www.comrades.com but to be frank it is not that great. Comrades Marathon – The Ultimate Human Race by John Cameron-Dow from 2012 is also an inspiring read on the subject.
Very long post but I did promise some more on Comrades and it is truly a long story. For now at least I feel inspired!