The Comrades Marathon is often noted as the world's greatest long distance
ultra marathon covering a distance of ninety kilometers, alternating annually
between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The first race was the idea of world war
one veteran Vic Clapham, who wanted to immoralize the memory of his fellow South
African soldiers who died at war. Reminded by a grueling two thousand seven
hundred kilometer march through the unaccommodating deserts of German East
Africa, Clapham wanted the race to be a unique test of physical and mental
endurance. It is stated that one of the primary aims of the constitution of the
race is to "celebrate mankind's spirit over adversity". The first race took
place in 1921, and saw a total of forty eight runners entering, though the
marathon sees thousands of entrants participating these days. Of the forty eight
runners who first entered, only thirty four were brave enough to compete, and of
those only sixteen completed the physically demanding race. A time limit of
twelve hours was set, and the winner Bill Rowan completed it with a time of just
under nine hours.
Today the race sees thousands of entrants, both male and female, and is often dominated by competitive foreigners from as far afield as Russia, Kenya and Germany. There are also a wide variety of sponsors each year, which range from Supermarkets, energy drinks and car rental companies, who set up much needed refreshment stations and medical facilities along the route.
All runners are required to qualify for the marathon, by running in an officially recognized event, and must be at least twenty years old to participate. Recent years have seen the introduction of microchip technology into the race to prevent cheating. Small digital microchips are laced into the shoes of runners, each with a unique code, and these are recorded at reading mats placed at regular intervals along the route.
Sought after Gold medals are awarded to the first ten men and women who finish, as well as various other prizes for those who break records. Silver medals are given to those who finish from eleventh place, up to a time of seven and a half hours, while special silver and bronze Bill Rovan medals are awarded to entrants completing the race with a time of between seven and a half hours and nine hours. Bronze medals go to runners completing between nine and eleven hours, and the Vic Clapham copper medal is given to runners finishing between eleven and twelve hours.
The route, lined with thousands upon thousands of supporters and member of the public takes runners thorough a series of scenic and historic areas as they make their way either to or from Durban or Pietermaritzburg. The Comrades Marathon wall of honour situated near the halfway mark at Drummond commemorates the achievements of previous runners who've managed to complete the demanding race. Runners are able to purchase a block, upon which their name and race number are recorded and displayed. Other sites of interest include Arthur's Seat, which is a corner cut out of the bank, along the roadside at the halfway mark, where the legendary five time winner of the 1920's, Athur Newton would often stop to rest. Local legend has it that that if passing runners pay tribute by placing flowers, and tipping their cap and utter the greeting "Good morning Sir", they will enjoy a strong second half of the race. The highest point along the route is is situated at Umlaas Road, 870 m above sea level and roughly twenty kilometers from Pietermaritzburg. This point usually goes by unnoticed by most entrants as no noticeable hill or incline as climbed to reach it. The only landmark at this point is a water tower on the other side of the freeway which passes the route.
The Comrades Marathon is ideally situated along the famous Midlands Meander tourism route, which stretches from Kloof, just outside of Durban, all the way passed Pietermaritzbug towards the Drakensberg mountains. The route offers visitors with excellent sight seeing and tourist opportunities. Along the route visitors can look forward to a multitude of arts and crafts merchants selling a huge variety of wares ranging from handmade leather items to clothing, paintings, pottery, cottage furniture and homemade soaps. Other attractions along the Midlands Meander include a fine selection of restaurants, pubs, and even the countries most popular micro brewery situated at Nottingham Road, a short driving distance from Pietermaritzburg. A massive choice of affordable accommodation is also available between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, consisting of Bed and breakfasts, hotels, lodges and self catering establishments.
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