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TThe Comrades Marathon between Durban and Pietermaritzburg started as a tribute to the South African soldiers who lost their lives during World War I. Since then, it has become a South African long-distance running race of legend and its popularity as an ultra-marathon has spread around the world.
The Comrades Marathon is run in KwaZulu-Natal between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg every year. The run alternates between an 'up' and 'down' run, from the coast inland and vice versa.
Many call it the world's greatest ultra-marathon, and one of the reasons this fabled South African marathon has the title is because of the wealth of legends in its history.
The South African soldiers who gave their lives in World War I gave veteran Vic Clapham the idea to stage a running race in their honour. The first Comrades Marathon was run in 1921 and, with the exception of a five-year period during World War 2, has been an annual event ever since.
At first ladies were only allowed to run the Comrades Marathon unofficially. When Frances Hayward won in 1923, they gave her a silver tea service (with a very nice rose bowl) instead of a Comrades medal.
These days, female runners are very much a part of South Africa’s famed 90km marathon, and they win medals too.
One of the quirkiest fireside tales about the Comrades Marathon involves a Springbok rugby player called Bill Payne, who arrived at the start wearing his rugby boots.
En route, he ate a full English breakfast, followed by a hearty chicken curry, a couple of beers at a country hotel and a lot of peach brandy – before finishing an incredible 8th.
He then played a game of club rugby the next day but, because his feet were blistered from the day before, Payne chose to play in running shoes instead of boots.
Modern legends of the Comrades Marathon include nine-time winner Bruce Fordyce and a large contingent of super-runners from Russia and her former satellite states.
One of the most touching wins, however, happened in 2003 when Fusi Nhlapo, who had just lost his job, took the top honours.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Comrades Marathon Association
Tel: +27 (0)33 897 8650
How to get here
Fly to Durban and make your way to Pietermaritzburg, an hour's drive away, if this is a 'down run'. Every second year the Comrades starts from Durban – the 'up run'.
Best time to visit
The Comrades is run annually in May or June; check the website below for the exact date each year.
Roads along the route are either marked by detours or closed off, so make sure you can get near the action early if you intend watching along the route.
Length of stay
Once you've run this epic race (which will take you most of a day), relax in Kwazulu-Natal. Durban has a fabulous beachfront, and the Midlands Meander starts near Pietermaritzburg. There are also wonderful bush and mountain reserves to visit.
Where to stay
There are plenty of options for all budgets and tastes in both cities; check out the listed accommodation options on this website.