The Ultimate Human Race:
“Arguably the greatest ultra marathon in the world where athletes come from all over the world to combine muscle and sinew and mental strength to conquer the approx 90 kilometers between the cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban, the event owes its beginnings to the vision of one man, World War I veteran Vic Clapham.
With the outbreak of the Great War 1914-1918, Vic Clapham signed up with the 8th South African Infantry, and fought and marched 1700 miles of the eastern savannahs of Africa in pursuit of Glen Paul Von Lettow-Vorbecks askari battalions.
The pain, agonies, death and hardships of his comrades which he witnessed during those awful days left a lasting impression on the battle-hardened soldier, especially the camaraderie engendered among the men in overcoming these privations. Thus when peace was declared in 1918, Clapham felt that all those who had fallen in this catastrophic war should be remembered and honored in a unique way, where individual’s physical frailties could be put to the test and overcome. Remembering the searing heat and thirst of the parched veld through which he had campaigned, he settled on the idea of a marathon and he approached the athletic authorities of the day to sound their views. His enquiry led him to the doors of the League of Comrades of the Great War a corpus of ex-soldiers who had formed an association to foster the interests of their living companions who had survived the War.
Clapham asked for permission to stage a 56 mile race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban under the name of the Comrades Marathon and for it to become a living memorial to the spirit of the soldiers of the Great War This was strenuously resisted by the League, but Clapham persisted maintaining that if a sedentary living person could be taken off the street given a rifle and 60lb pack and marched all over Africa then surely a fit and able athlete could complete the distance. Applications in 1919 and 1920 were refused but in 1921 the League relented and gave permission and 1 for expenses, which was refundable.
The first Comrades Marathon took place on 24th May 1921, Empire Day, starting outside the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg with 34 runners. It has continued since then every year with the exception of the war years 1941-1945, with the direction alternating each year between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, the so called up & down runs.”
3 June 2012 will mark the 87th running of the Ultimate Human race. At 5H30, 18 thousand runners will line up outside the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg and start the 89 kilometers “down” to Durban , and I will be one of them. This will be my second Comrades, I have completed an “Up” run in 2000 in a time of 10h02, and I’m hoping to better my time this year. In case anything goes “wrong” I will have till 17H30 to complete the race.
I experienced the true spirit of Comrades, the pain, the hardship, the friendship and the glory – it was one of the most thrilling and fulfilling races I ever got to run!