How It All Began
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 kilometres between the cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban, the event owes its beginnings to the vision of one man, World War I veteran Vic Clapham.
Vic Clapham was born in London on 16 November 1886 and emigrated as a youth to the Cape Colony in South Africa, with his parents. At the outbreak of the South African War (Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902) he enrolled as an ambulance man into the Cradock Town Guard at the age of 13. He later moved to Natal and worked as an engine driver with the South African Railways.
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 honoured in a unique way, where an individuals 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.
The Comrades Marathon is a cherished national treasure and attracts thousands of runners, spectators and television viewers every year. We invite you to participate in this great event and experience the worlds greatest race.