In its 96th year and 92nd event, the Comrades Marathon is undoubtedly the jewel in South Africa’s ultra-marathon crown.
For elite and amateur runners, Comrades is a box that needs to be ticked, often more than once. It’s a special event that has shown incredible endurance over the years, much like the runners who participate.
When it comes to distance running, there is no denying that the South African Marathon is the race that goes the distance. That’s why men like Dave Rogers have been able to tick off 45 finishes, and why there will be five runners this year chasing their 40th finish for a quadruple green number. It’s why runners from over 60 countries from around the world will be participating, and why 80-year-old entrant Calie Beneke will line up at the start on 4 June. The Comrades Marathon has an enduring appeal that encourages runners to push themselves to new limits.
Charné Bosman, the 2016 women’s winner, and nine-time winner Bruce Fordyce, both believe the Comrades Marathon is a unique race that remains as timeless as its history; and that’s where the appeal lies.
“I think Comrades is something that is great for South Africans to host, and to be able to aspire to,” says Bosman.
“In my younger years I would run shorter distances and tell people I was a runner. They used to reply, ‘You’re not a runner if you haven’t run Comrades.’ Then when I first ran it, I really did feel like a proper runner.”
Bosman says the special energy and popularity of Comrades is thanks to its heritage and the loyal team that works on the event.
“It’s so proudly South African with such an amazing history, and I wish more people realised that. I think it’s also special because of how great the Comrades family is. There are thousands of people behind the scenes working hard to make the event a success.”
Comrades is appropriately named too, adds Bosman. “So many people come to race not just for themselves. They race for the people around them. I remember, there was a doctor who travelled from India to run Comrades, but he willingly gave up his race to help a runner in distress. That is the spirit of Comrades.
It can be easy to forget about others as an elite racer, but there are actually so many very special people behind you with amazing camaraderie.”
For sponsor Old Mutual, which also sponsors the Spirit of Comrades awards, the race is a showcase of the very best of South Africa.
“When you wake up on Comrades morning, whether you are running or watching on TV, you can’t help but feel a burst of pride and warmth towards South Africa,” says Karen Thomas, Old Mutual Head of Brand. “Comrades is testimony to the hard work, dedication, planning and commitment of so many South Africans, the runners, supporters, and volunteers alike. As a sponsor, we are proud to be associated with such an historic and happy event.”
Over time, marathons and races come and go. But the Comrades is nearly a century old, and Fordyce says this illustrious race is here to stay.
“It’s ingrained into South African culture. It’s like biltong, or rugby and soccer, it’s just part of the DNA of South Africa and it’s one of our “special” sports.
Fordyce feels Comrades is an institution. “Comrades has incredible longevity, and with that comes its wonderful traditions and a wonderful history associated with it, from the green numbers to the different medals. It now also has 12 hours of television coverage, no other ultra marathon in the world has that.”