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How the Comrades Marathon was born

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How the Comrades Marathon was born

With Comrades Marathon entries soon to open, we were inquisitive on the beginnings of this ultra-marathon and engaged with Historian and Curator of the Talana Museum, Pam McFadden to give us further insight into the founding years of this demanding yet extremely courageous and self-fulfilling race.

“Vic Clapham had served in the East African campaign. On his return from the war, he approached the athletic bodies in Natal with the idea of a marathon. He felt that if soldiers could endure forced marches over great distances, then trained athletes could cover the distance between Durban and Pietermaritzburg without great difficulty.

They were not interested and considered his idea mad. He then approached the League of Comrades of the Great War, requesting permission to stage a race under their auspices. They also turned him down, thinking it impossible and too strenuous an undertaking.

Vic Clapham persevered and applied in 1919 and again in 1920. Finally, in 1921 he was given permission and a loan of £1 (R2) so long as it was repaid. Thus was born the Comrades Marathon.

Many of the traditions that still control the race today were established in that very first race. 16 men out of the 48 entries finished the inaugural race. However, only 34 of these entrants actually started the race.

Interest in the race was tremendous. Radios were rare and a telephone call took hours so the newspapers chalked up the results on boards outside their premises.”


Lori Voss

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