n Journal for Contemporary History - The Comrades Marathon and politics - a long and winding road

Volume 34, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0258-2422
  • E-ISSN: 2415-0509



The Comrades Marathon is for many the pinnacle of their careers as road runners. Annually, for the past few decades, more than 15 000 runners have entered the gruelling 88 kilometre ultramarathon event between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

Ironically only a small percentage of the 15 000 runners actually compete to win. A glance at the results over the years shows that a mere handful of the runners enjoyed the honour of winning the Comrades Marathon while a further small group actually were recipients of silver medals. The reality is that almost 90 percent of the field competes with the sole aim of completing the race within the designated cutoff times. In the words of Mick Winn, former chairman of the Comrades Marathon Association, the majority of these runners compete for the pride and satisfaction that lie in finishing the race and not to win (Alexander 1985:9).
The Comrades Marathon is without doubt the premier road race in South Africa. The subsequent question is what are the underlying reasons that make the Comrades Marathon different from other road races in South Africa? Is there something inherent to the Comrades Marathon that gives it something special and elevates it above other local sports events or road races?

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