The Comrades Marathon: 41 Facts You Might Not Know

The Comrades Marathon is happening today and if you’re wondering how it started and if you’re curious to find out more about this South African Ultra Marathon, you’ve come to right place… The race has a rich and interesting history and today I’m delving into it.

Here are 41 Interesting Comrades Marathon facts you may not have not known

1. The first Comrades Marathon was run on the 24th of May 1921 (Empire Day).

2. The constitution of the race states that one of its primary aims is to “celebrate mankind’s spirit over adversity”.

3. 34 people started the 1921 marathon. Only 16 finished it.

4. Bill Rowan was the first person to win the marathon in a time of 8 hours and 59 minutes.

5. The race was the idea of World War I veteran Vic Chapman (who had endured a grueling march of 2700 km through German East Africa).

Comrades Marathon

6. The Comrades Marathon was Chapman’s memorial to commemorate the South African soldiers who died in World War I.

7. Chapman wanted the memorial to be a unique test of the physical endurance of the entrants.

8. The race is run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in the Kwazulu Natal Province.

9. The direction of the race alternates each year between the 87 km up run (starting in Durban) and the 90km down run (starting in Pietermaritzburg).

10. The Comrades Marathon is the world’s largest and oldest ultra marathon.

11. The race was run on the 31st of May (Republic Day) from 1962 to 1994.

12. In 1995 the Comrades Marathon date was changed to the 16th of June (Youth Day) but it has since been run on different dates in May and June due to political pressure from the ANC Youth League (who felt that the race diverted attention from Youth Day celebrations) and events like the Confederations Cup (in 2009) and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

13. The current cut off time for the race is 12 hours.

14. Frances Hayward was the first woman to run the Comrades (in 1923). She ran unofficially because her entry was refused. She finished in a time of 11 hours and 35 minutes and did not receive a medal.

15. The winner of the 1930 race, Wally Hayward went on to win the race another four times in the 1950s and became the oldest man to complete the race in 1989.

16. The Comrades Marathon was not hosted between 1941 and 1945 (when the Union of South Africa was involved in World War 2).

17. In 1948 a race tradition was born when race official Max Trimborn gave a loud imitation of a cock’s crow (in stead of firing a starting gun). The tradition still continues today. His recorded voice is played over loudspeakers at the starting line.

18. The race grew considerably in the sixties: From 104 starters in 1960 to 703 starters in 1969.

19. The Comrades Marathon attracted foreign entries for the first time in 1962. English Runner John Smith won the race in that year and missed the course record by 33 seconds.

20. Over 1000 runners started the Comrades in 1971 and by 1979 that number had grown to over 3000. In the 1980s the race started with a field of 4207 in 1980 and topped 5000 for the first time in 1983.

21. In 1975 Vincent Rakabele finished 20th and became the first black runner to officially win a medal. Sam Shabala was the first black runner who won the race in 1989.

22. 1975 was also the year that runners of colour and women were first allowed to enter the race. Elizabeth Cavanaugh was the first woman to officially win Comrades.

23. Bruce Fordyce won the Comrades Marathon nine times (in 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990).

24. In the 1990’s between 12000 and 14000 runners started the race.

25. Prize money was introduced in 1995 to attract more foreign runners.

26. In 1992 Charl Mattheus crossed the finish line first but was later disqualified for testing positive for a banned substance. The substance was later removed from the banned list by the IAAF. He won the race fair and square in 1997.

27. The 75th anniversary race (which was held in 2000) attracted 23961 runners, the largest number ever.

28. Nowadays the Comrades Marathon features runners from more than 60 countries.

29. Russian identical twin sisters Olesya and Elena Nurgalieva won a combined ten Comrades titles between 2003 and 2013.

30. Stephen Muzhingi became the first non-South African winner from Africa in 2009. He also won in 2010 and 2011. He became the first runner to win 3 in a row since Bruce Fordyce in the 1980s.

31. Only 3 American runners have won the Comrades Marathon. Camille Herron was the third one and the first American to do so in 20 years.

32. The average age of a female Comrades runner is 40 and the average age for males is 42.

33. You need to be 20 years or older and you need to finish a 42.2 km marathon in less than 5 hours to run the race.

34. The youngest person to ever win the race was Phil Masterson Smith in 1932. He was 19 years old.

35. The oldest person who won the Comrades was Vladamir Kotov in 2004. He was 46 years old.

36. A runner who has successfully completed nine marathons wears a yellow number, while those who have completed ten races wear a green number, permanently allocated to the runner for all future races.

37. Runners who have run 25 Comrades finishes to their name, run for free.

38. 43% of runners suffer from cramps.

39. More than 50% of runners finish the race in the last hour.

40. On average up to 20% runners do not finish the race.

41. Bruce Fordyce holds the men’s record for most wins at nine. Russia’s Elena Nurgalieva holds the women’s with eight wins.

Well, there you have it, 41 Interesting Comrades Marathon facts. I hope that you have found out something you did not know. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish all the runners good luck with this years race. Like we say in Afrikaans “Hou Bene Hou!”. If you’re looking for interesting facts about this year’s race, read this article.

Watch this space for regular updates in the Facts category on Running Wolf’s Rant.

Share This

Are you serious about Online Privacy? Sign up for NordVPN or Surfshark NOW!

Starting your own website? Get affordable web hosting @ HostGator.

Henno Kruger

Blogger, Desktop Activist, Twitter / Facebook Addict, Music Festival Addict, Avid lover of South African music, Founder and owner of Running Wolf's Rant

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Willoughby

    Here are 2 more facts…

    1. You can get dop anywhere on the route. You have but to ask
    2. Nothing helps for cramps

  2. paul derbyshire

    Vic CLAPHAM not Chapman!

    1. Henno Kruger

      Thanks 🙂

Leave a Reply