As far as road running goes, there are races, and then there are RACES.

Marathon wise, there are the BIG 5 races: London, New York, Berlin, Chicago and Boston, which all attract tens of thousands of competitors yearly (with the numbers continuing to rise on a yearly basis).

But after you have completed a marathon (or 5), you might be looking for a little something to work towards that pushes your endurance to the limits.

Enter the Comrades marathon.

An Ultra marathon run in South Africa every year in the month of June, this 87km event, is run in one (as in 1) day.

The interesting thing about this race is that every year the direction of the event changes. You have the choice of running it from Durban to Pietemaritzburg (called the Up Run), and the following year from Pietermaritzburg to Durban (called the Down Run).

As far as most Ultra marathon go, the field size is generally fairly small and comprised of mostly highly experienced runners. Not Comrades.

11 000 runners line up every year to tackle the Up or the Down run. And don't think that just because the ultimate Human race, as it has been called, has 11 000 participants, that it is an easy course.

There is so much history attached to the event, and many things that make this event

  1. My Dad ran the race twice. He got me into Road running (and ultimately endurance sports).
  2. It has an Up and Down run.
  3. If you run the event 10 times, you get to own the number of your 10th event forever.
  4. There are 6 medal categories, with the cut off being at 12 hours.
  5. The current records, for both the Up and Down runs, in both the Male and Female categories are held by Russians - note the times for around 90km of running)
  6. The race has been around since 1921, and since that date, has been run every year since then, with the exception of the years 1941-1945.
  7. The course records for the Up and Down runs are as follows:

  8. 2008


    Leonid Shvetsov Russia 6:14:38
    Elena Nurgalyeva Russia


    Leonid Shvetsov Russia 6:10:11
    Alesya Nurgalyeva Russi
But one of the biggest draw cards for the event is the route. It has legendary hills, legendary scenery and of of course, the legendary distance.

Check out the comparison of the Comrades marathons Up runs grueling hills in comparison to the legendary Boston Marathons Newton Hills:

At roughly the half way point of the Boston race, you are faced with one of the most famous, and grueling hills, in road running - Heartbreak hill.

The name says it all - an 800m long climb, that gets a 30m gain in elevation has left many a runner beaten down. The saying goes that:

"If you are having trouble in the Newton Hills, you will die on Heartbreak. If you are not having trouble in the Newton Hills, you will die on Heartbreak."

Enter Comrades Up run hills:

  • Cowies hill - at 14km - 9.1% gradient (137m elevation gain) - 1.5km long.
  • Fields hill - at 22km - 7.1% gradient (213m elevation gain) - 3km long.
  • Bothas hill - at about 32km - 6.3% gradient (150m elevation gain) - 2.4km long
  • Inchanga - at 44km - 6% gradient (150m elevation gain) 2.5km long
  • Polly Shorts - at 80km - about 2km - Run it if you can!
Keep in mind that if you are doing the Down run, these uphills will all become Quad killer, Eccentric, thigh numbing downhills.

Amby Burfoot, writer and runner of note, wrote a great article (for Runners World) about his
experience in the Comrades Up run in 2007. It is a great read.

I will definitely take part in this race before my time is up - how about you?

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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