Comrades Ultra Marathon; A race that will change your life!

By Marie Howarth, Running Product Manager

Comrades Ultra Marathon is known in South Africa and amongst the running community simply as Comrades and is the world’s largest and oldest ultra marathon. Comrades is an annual race which switches in direction, but always follows the same route. The route is very hilly, hot and long (average 90km), taking place in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Comrades is so much more than a long run and one you will NEVER forget. Like having a baby, your mind forgets the pain and before you know it you are booking to come back and to earn your back to back medal! Some will keep running it, year after year, as it can become an addiction of training, camaraderie and accomplishment.

There is an Up Run and a Down Run, don’t be fooled by the names…..the Down Run is every bit as hilly and tough as the Up Run. I had planned to only run it once, after all I am not a fast runner, not young or a natural athlete, so the thought of running a marathon more than twice in one day was definitely going to be a one off deal! But they say never say never and this is my condensed story of 3 starts and 2 finishes!

2008: THE UP RUN.

After 10 months of training and weekly long runs I stood at the start, in the dark, under the street lights outside Durban City Hall. Together with the thousands of nervous and excited runners we made friends with our neighbours and sang together…..the National Anthem, Shosholoza and in the final minutes we heard the famous recorded human “cock crow” impersonation by a man called Max Trimborn and Chariots of Fire and then we were off at the sound of the gun.

This was now very real and there was no turning back. You can read a kilometre by kilometre account of the route, but for me it was a battle of mind over body to get me through to the end. The scenery became a blur as I had developed ITB and at around halfway I visited a medical tent, got strapped up and honestly didn’t think it possible to carry on. Very soon after leaving the tent and getting back onto the road I was blessed to get a tap on my shoulder from a ‘green number’ friend, he told me I can do it and with his encouragement and the ‘gees’ of the runners around me I made it to the finish…. with 12 minutes spare before cut off! As I crossed the finish line, I wobbled wearily to grab a drink, clung onto my precious medal and walked into the arms of a friend waiting for me, burst into tears and hugged everyone and anyone willing to receive a hug!


I had no intention of returning but the lure of the ‘back to back’ medal bought me back. It was a similar experience with the build up to the event although work commitments got in the way of my training, and I arrived at the start line with absolutely no sleep the night before and felt undertrained. We’ll make this one short as I didn’t make it to the finish, somewhere in the middle of the thousand hills as they are known, after vomiting nonstop for an hour and being told by a fellow runner….’Marie, you look terrible, I’m bailing, bail with me’ I did exactly that. Back to back medal forever lost!


This year was to be a Down Run, time to wipe away the memories of the previous down run failure and prove I can do the Down Run and with a better time than 2008. Starting in Pietermaritzburg, outside the City Hall……I can identify several memorable moments that will live with me for a lifetime.

  1. Reaching the top of Polly Shorts hill just as the sun was coming up…feeling strong….magic!
  2. Tears and goosebumps as the boys from a local school sang and high fived. A lot of this to be honest and throughout the entire route but those boys really got to me!
  3. A stranger giving me his last Gu gel and with still many kilometres to go.
  4. Coming into Durban and seeing the stadium in the far distance and feeling an overwhelming desire to pick up speed.
  5. Sprinting into the stadium and feeling like an absolute winner (far from it) with 45 minutes to spare before cut off! My second medal my most treasured.

Mission accomplished!

Lets not sugar coat it…. hard it is, but hard is what makes it so great!