Fear Running Comrades? 15 Reasons To Help You Overcome That Fear

Comrades Marathon

So the 2015 Comrades Marathon has come and gone.

It was my 4th run – my third “Up” run. And my worst run, 2 hours off my best finishing time. I finished my first in 2011 in a time of 9 hours 24 minutes. This time around, I ran a 11 hours 13 minutes.

If statistics are anything to go by, I was not the only one who saw flames on the day.

In a Media Release, the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) confirmed that of the 16 993 starters, 13 006 finished the race. A whopping 23% of athletes did not finish.

Comrades Doctor, Jeremy Boulter, also confirmed the following medical statistics:

  • 614 runners were treated
  • 30 were admitted to ICU

Dr Boulter wraps up by saying, “We had a good day in the Medical Tent… The medical tent itself was never overloaded, and we coped extremely well. We treated about 3% of the field in both tents, which is about as expected, considering that it was quite a hot day. We would like to thank our doctors, physios, paramedics and all other medical staff and volunteers who assisted our runners on race day. We are very grateful to you all.”

The above statistics scream one thing and one thing only – GRUESOME.

Even those who finish, get to the finish line thoroughly beaten by the weather and the distance.

Yet, year after year, thousands of athletes flock back to run the race. In fact, such is the demand to participate that entries close 6 months before the race begins. And each year, the race welcomes thousands of novice runners.

The question has got to be asked. What brings the thousands of athletes back for such gruesome punishment? Why do thousands of novice athletes enter this event?

In this post, I will answer these questions by highlighting reasons why anyone should run at least one Comrades Marathon in their life-time.

1. Self-discipline

The months of training prior to the big day requires an incredible amount of self-discipline and commitment.

This has a positive ripple effect on other areas in your life.

2. To experience the pre-race anxiety

The week leading up to Comrades is crazy. You watch what you eat. You are picky about who you want to be around so you can avoid flu.

You guard your feet like gold to avoid any accidents.

The day and night before is just as crazy. You don’t want to lose sight of your running shoes. You watch them like a hawk.

Then you prepare your gear for the next day. You line everything up, take pics and post onto social media like a teenager.

comrades marathon

On the night before, you’ll be VERY lucky to get 2 hours of straight sleep. You wake up every hour to make sure you don’t oversleep.

The anxiety is crazy. But worth every moment.

3. To experience the goose bumps at the start

Arriving at the start an hour before the start and shuffling your way through the thousands of runners to your seeding signals a fascinating hour ahead.

In the background you hear chants of “Shosholoza” to remind you of the labour ahead of you for the day.

As you edge closer to the starting time, the singing of “Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica” followed by the “Chariots of Fire” is enough to give any man or woman of steel goose bumps.

Shortly afterwards is the cock’s crow followed by the countdown to the gunshot that signals the start of “The Ultimate Human Race”.

In all of this, you are both spectator and participant – a rare occurrence in any sporting discipline.

4. To experience the legendary crowd support

From the very first minute as you make your way through the fencing and enclosures, the crowd goes crazy.

The sun has hardly risen, and the atmosphere makes it seem like broad daylight.

The whistling, clapping, screams, ululating and flashing of cameras continues throughout the day.

Physical and mental fitness contribute 70% towards a Comrades Finish. 30% is crowd support!

5. To witness the power of team work

There is no better day to experience the power of team work than Comrades.

From the shuffling up the gruelling hills, to the sharing of water sachets at water points – the spirit is team work.

Deep into the day when the cramping starts and the weather reminds us of its presence, team work is often one’s only saving grace.

6. To marvel at pace-setters

Pace-setters or “Bus drivers” are a marvel to watch. Yes, they sometimes get it wrong and shatter many a dream.

But their selflessness, bravery and commitment throughout the day is amazing.

They lead songs, predict when the right time to walk is and keep a mental check of the pace required as we make our way through every kilometre.

When the chips are down, and the brain is dysfunctional, their contribution is invaluable – especially for the novice.

comrades marathon

7. To experience the incredible support of loved ones

I ran my first three comrades with no support from family at the race.

My 4th was special. My baby sister was there from start to finish. Although I saw her twice (halfway mark and finish line), I know she was there in spirit all the way.

comrades marathon

Back home – in the comfort of their lounge – I knew my dad and mom were glued to that tellie. My cousins were routing behind me all the way. Not to mention my girlfriend.

This support is special!

8. To experience the amazing feeling of equality

At Comrades, we are all equal. We have one common goal – to complete “The Ultimate Human Race”.

No better event to see CEOs of global companies, entrepreneurs of large and small entities mingling with ordinary folk like security guards.

To experience genuine equality, where there are no hidden agendas, is heart-warming.

9. To experience the goose bumps at the finish

With approximately 2kms to go, your mind, body and soul go through an overhaul.

The mood changes – completely.

The crowd seems to be a “rent-a-crowd” that has been given strict instructions to shout at the top of their lungs. The fencing and enclosure a km away from the finish line makes you feel like VIP. You feel like you’ve taken centre stage of a UEFA final between Barcelona and Manchester United.

Entering the stadium brings a sense of fulfilment that cannot be justified in words.

You wave. You shed tears. You say that final prayer of thanks to the Almighty.

You then cross that all-important finish line with a massive lump in your throat.

A lump of victory and sheer joy.

10. To see the “Sub-12 Bus” come in

Seeing the last bus of the day come in is something special.

The drumming, excitement and euphoria of the stadium to celebrate the thousands of runners that come in moments before the cut-off, in that massive bus, embodies everything that comrades is about.

Vlam se bus

11. To celebrate the very last person who crosses

I don’t know of a single sporting event that sees thousands of people in the stadium and millions at home cheer for the VERY LAST person like Comrades Marathon does.

That person who crosses the line at 11:59:59 is as much a hero as the one who crosses the finish line in first position.

12. To appreciate honours that have no monetary value

Apart from those who finish in the top 10, there is no monetary gain for the thousands of Comrades athletes.

However, that medal is priceless! For those who complete their first two Comrades Marathons in consecutive years – the “Back To Back Medal” is priceless. For the veterans who complete their tenth run, the “Green Number” is a special achievement.

Comrades helps you appreciate that money is indeed not everything. It reminds us to appreciate the many blessings in life that have no monetary attachment.

13. To get fulfillment as you do a post-mortem

Apart from the cramps, fatigue and nausea you feel after the race, sharing your trauma with fellow athletes just behind the finish line is special.

This is the time to laugh at yourself. This is the time to acknowledge the great work you’ve done.

The following day and possibly the following week, you relay your moments to all and sundry. You give them every reason to appreciate the guts it takes to complete the race.

14. To discover yourself

In many ways the training and the race defines you.

Just to get to the start is a mammoth task. The consistent training over many months defines you. Overcoming injuries, illnesses and all sorts of everyday life pressure defines you.

On race day, you’ll feel like quitting the race a few times. You’ll often ask yourself: “why the heck am I even running?”

Despite all this, you dig deep. You discover aspects about yourself you never thought existed.

You discover resources in you and endurance spiritually, mentally and emotionally that assist you to get over that finish line.

15. To become a member of an elite club

The 2015 Comrades Marathon was the 90th edition. It was first run in 1921. An event that saw less than 50 starters has no grown considerably and now sees approximately 18 000 starters each year.

To start is a massive achievement, considering the drop off from registration to the race date. The 2015 marathon received 23 000 registrations and 16 9993 started. That’s a massive 26% of registrants that don’t make it to the start for various reasons.

Once you’ve started, finishing is an achievement second to none. Of the 16 993 who started, 13 006 finished. That’s a further 23% drop off.

In essence, from the 23 000 entrants, 13 006 finished. That’s almost 10 000 entrants who fall through the cracks in some form or fashion. That’s almost half!

Over the 90 races, less than 150 000 athletes can proudly say: “I have completed the Comrades Marathon”.

If that doesn’t make you part of an elite club, nothing ever will.


As Comrades Marathon athletes, we are considered “crazy”, absolute nuts.

Most will ask you: “why take yourself through such pain?”

After the first Comrades, I struggled to answer that question. In fact, in all the runs I’ve completed, I go through periods where I vow never to return to this ‘horrible experience’.

Yet, when registrations open, I am one of the thousands who enthusiastically flock to the website and register.


Well, I have given you 15 good reasons why I’ll keep taking myself through the pain and emotional trauma.

I hope these reasons inspire you to run your first Comrades. If you’ve run it before, I hope they inspire you to keep coming back for more pain and madness.

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