ID #1209

Comrades Marathon, Valley of 1000 Hills, Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Arguably the oldest (almost 80 years) and greatest ultra-marathon in the world takes place annually on June 16 (Youth Day in South Africa, which commemorates the June 16, 1976 uprising by schoolchildren against Apartheid) between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The 87-km route follows the old main road (R103) through the Valley of 1000 Hills and passes through Westville, Pinetown, Kloof, Gillits, Hillcrest, Botha’s Hill, Assagay, Drummond, Nchanga, Cato Ridge, Camperdown, Umlaas Road and Ashburthon. Some 15000 athletes, whose average age is 40 years, compete for gold (first 10 over the line), silver (less than 7 hours) and bronze (less than 9 hours) medals. Most consider it an achievement to finish the race within 12 hours.

Several athletes over 80 years of age (most notably Wally Hayward) have successfully completed this arduous race. The most famous winner is Bruce Fordyce, who participated 23 times and won 8 times. More recently both the men’s and women’s races have been dominated by Russian athletes. Winning times are typically 5 hours 30 minutes for men and 6 hours 20 minutes for women. The race takes place in alternate directions each year. The up-run takes place in even-numbered years while the down race takes place in odd-numbered years.

More than a million spectators line the route to encourage competitors over the finish line. As one might imagine, accommodation is at a premium in the area at this time.

While winning is important, the drama that takes place at the finish line prior to the cut-off time has to be seen to be believed. Events, including medical tents filled with stricken athletes, some of whom crawl the last few meters over the finish line, are televised nationally. Many are carried the last few kilometers by fellow “comrades”. This is an event that should not be missed. Alan McIver NFComrades

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Last update: 2010-08-14 22:21
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.3

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