Hiking, Trails and Routes

ID #3063

Comrades Marathon, South Africa.

The Comrades Marathon has come to be regarded as something of a national treasure. This annual event attracts thousands from across the globe, who combine muscle, sinew and mental strength to conquer the 90-km between Pietermaritzburg and Durban each year. It owes its beginnings to the vision of one man, WW1 veteran Vic Clapham.

Vic Clapham was born in London in 1886 but his family emigrated to the Cape Colony when he was still a youth. At the Outbreak of the South African War (Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902) the teenager enrolled as an ambulance man in the Cradock Town Guard. He later moved to Natal and worked as an engine driver with the South African Railways. At the outbreak of the Great War (WW1) in 1914 he signed up with the 8th South African Infantry and fought and marched 2736-km across the eastern savannahs of Africa I pursuit of General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck's askari battalions. The pain, agonies and hardships that he and comrades witnessed that awful time left a lasting impression on the battle-hardened soldier. However what remained with him was the camaraderie engendered among the men in the face of such privations. When peace was declared in 1918 Clapham felt that all those who had fallen in the catastrophic war should be remembered and honoured in a unique way – where an individual's physical frailties could be put to the test and overcome. Remembering the searing heat and thirst of the parched veld though which he has campaigned, he settled on the idea of a marathon and approached the athletic authorities of the day to sound their views. His enquiry led him to the doors of the “League of Comrades of the Great War”, a corps of ex-soldiers who had formed an association to foster the interests of their companions who had survived the war.

Clapham asked for permission to stage a 90-km race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban under the name “The Comrades Marathon” and wanted it to become a “living memorial to the spirit of the soldiers of the Great War”. The League resisted this but Clapham persisted, maintaining that if a sedentary living person could be taken off the street, given a rifle and a 30-kg pack and marched all over Africa, then surely a fit and able athlete could complete the distance. Applications in 1919 and 1920 were refused but in 1921 the League relented and gave their permission.

The first marathon took place on May 24th 1921 (Empire Day), starting outside the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg with 34 runners – 156 of whom finished. Since then it has continued every year, with the exception of the war years 1939-1945 with the direction alternating between Pietermaritzburg and Durban each year – the so-called “up” and “down” runs.

The race has grown from these humble beginnings to become a major feature on local and international running calendars. On race day the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA), a non-profit organization has in excess of 5000 working on the race. The planning of a race of this magnitude takes 11 months as the race takes place over such a long distance and is hosted by two cities. On race day the CMA is responsible for an average of about 16000 people’s lives. 2010 sees the 85th anniversary of the marathon. The average number of runners over the past few years has been about 13000 runners. The millennium saw 24000 runners take to the road

Contct:       www.comrades.com

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Last update: 2014-03-16 16:05
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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