Expecting a staggering 23,000 entries, the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon will hold its 90th edition on Sunday, 31 May 2015. Originally launched with a mere 34 runners on Empire Day, 24 May 1921, the Comrades Marathon has been ongoing annually ever since, except during WWII from 1941 to 1945.
The ultra-run’s direction alternates every year between Pietermaritzburg and the coastal city of Durban, giving rise to the alleged ‘up and down runs’. This year, the prestigious 90km race will be an ‘up-run’. Embarking at dawn, runners will hit the road from the remarkable Durban City Hall, situated in the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. The finishing line will be at the Oval Cricket Stadium in Pietermaritzburg, the province’s capital and the second most important manufacturing hub in South Africa.
To enter the famous ultramarathon, all entrants must qualify by completing an officially recognised race, technically approved by the local athletics federation, according to strict qualifying times. Here’s why:
The Comrades course has five major hills called the “Big Five”: Cowies Hill, Fields Hill, Botha’s Hill, Inchanga and Polly Shortts. From the base of Cowies Hill to the peak of Botha’s Hill, runners have to ascent 502m in the space of only 22km—that’s a lot of arduous steep climbing! On the up-run, athletes will observe a concrete water tower on the opposite side of the freeway, signalling that they have reached the highest point on the route at 870m.
Despite the long gruelling route, runners may find it hard to lose heart as they pass the students at Ethembeni School of Handicapped Children who traditionally line the road to cheer runners on. Crowds of enthusiastic spectators are also expected to gather in Camperdown and Cato Ridge villages through which the ultra-marathon courses through.
At the halfway point, runners will be spurred by the sight of the Wall of Honour located near Drummond, overlooking the stunning Valley of 1,000 Hills. Dotting this permanent landmark are several mounted plaques commemorating the feat of Comrades runners who have completed the epic journey between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.
While the official entry period is now closed, you could still have an opportunity to participate in the world’s leading ultra-marathon. Look out for the Substitution Period running from 1 to 21 April 2015—as an international runner, you could substitute another international entrant who has withdrawn or plans to withdraw.
For more news and updates, check out the Comrades Marathon website.