Thursday, 30 May 2013

My take on the Comrades Marathon

The cold air gives way to the sounds of Shosholoza and Chariots of fire, thousands of runners are packed together in anticipation of the grueling hours ahead of them, the recorded cockerel crow is part of the traditions at the start after Max Trimborn let out the first cockerel cry in 1948 and continued to do so at the start for 32 years before his death, the cockerel crow remains and signals the start of the race, and what a race it is!

It's not the distance that makes it special (although 87 km, is most definitely not something to take lightly) it's not the numbers of participants (this year they have 19 722 entries), not the thousands of rands raised for charities, nor is it the throngs of spectators lining the route cheering every runner on, it's a combination of all these things including the history of the event itself.

After the Great War of 1914-18, Vic Clapham wanted an event to remember the fallen and the hardships, agonies and death soldiers endured during this time, so in 1921, 34 runners left Pietermaritzburg for Durban to commemorate their fallen Comrades, it then became an annual tradition except during the World War II years.

This history is celebrated in many ways in the Comrades marathon, but today it has changed dramatically and has become a mass participation event, so much so that it holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest Ultra Marathon in the world, and you'd be hard pressed to find any South African that doesn't know about it.
It has been broadcast live on TV for years and I remember being a small boy, every year sitting with my breakfast in our living room on Comrades day watching and saying over and over again to anyone that would listen that I was going to run the Comrades "One day!".

Being a Journalist I have been on the finish line of the Comrades many times, and watched people of all shapes and sizes come through to finish, which once had me thinking, "What makes these people special is not only the fact that they ran the 87 km on that day. It's the hundreds of hours on the road before the race day, the sacrifices made. It"s them forcing themselves to have that early morning run when it's the last thing they feel like doing and carrying on even when they hit the rough patches".

That's what makes every finisher of the Comrades a hero in my eyes, and I can't wait to join that exclusive club because this Sunday coming is my "One day!"