80: Comrades Marathon – 100 years old


Manage episode 294394719 series 2396657
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By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch The Comrades Marathon (about 55 miles), held in South Africa, is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race that is still held today with fields that have topped 23,000 runners. The year 2021, marked the 100th anniversary of Comrades Marathon “The Ultimate Human Race.” Because the pandemic cancelled the race for the second year, the anniversary was celebrated on May 24, 2021, with a 2.2 km “1921 Tribute Run.” The field of 34 invited runners included twenty-one former winners from South Africa dating back to 1976. Also included were some runners who had completed more than forty editions of Comrades. In total thirty-four runners participated, matching the size of the field in 1921. Comrades today is one of the most paramount ultrarunning events on the international calendar. It has a rich 100-year history packed with amazing accomplishments by more than 400,000 finishers through the years. How did it start and what kept it going for a century? This episode will cover the first two years of the race in 1921 and 1922. Please help support this podcast. I can offer a 25% discount on Ultrarunning Magazine subscriptions and renewals. Some proceeds help fund this website. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/mag Subscribe or renew today with this link. Vic Clapham Vic Clapham (1886-1962) was a train engineer from Durban, South Africa and became the founder of the Comrades Marathon. He was born in London and went to South Africa with his parents when he was 13 years old in 1899 while the Anglo-Boer War was taking place between the British Empire and two Boer states who were fighting against British rule. Diamonds and gold had been discovered in those states. As a boy during the war, Clapham enrolled as an ambulance man in the Cardock Town Guard. Thousands died on both side of the conflict, especially women and children Boers. As a youth, Clapham attended Wynberg Boy’s High School, one of the best academic schools in Cape Town, and second oldest in South Africa. He would often walk about eight kilometers to school each day from his home. Usually he was given a three-penny “tickey” each day to pay for a train ride home so he could help in his father’s grocery store. Once he spent the money on sweets and instead walked back home. That resulted in a beating from his grandmother, and he never repeated that offence. He married Nellie in 1912 and they eventually had six sons. World War I broke out in 1914 when Clapham was age 28. As South Africa entered the bloody conflict, Clapham signed up with the 8th South African Infantry and was sent to German East Africa, now Tanzania. During his service he went on a 1,700-mile march in East Africa. He came down with blackwater fever, dysentery, malaria, and was close to death because of the diseases. In 1917 when he was mostly recovered, he travelled home by wagon and on a hospital ship where he was deemed medically unfit. Once home he worked for the local government railway as a fireman. The Idea for Comrades Marathon Returning British soldiers formed the “League of Comrades of the Great War” to represent the rights of veterans of the war. Clapham was interested in establishing a memorial to the suffering and deaths of his comrades during the war. Instead of creating a statue, he wanted a living memorial that would grow and embody the spirit of fortitude, endurance and bravery that typified his fallen comrades. He produced an idea to organize an event on foot from his hometown in Pietermarizburg to the coastal city of Durban, a distance of about 56 miles. Clapham was inspired by the London to Brighton walking races that were held before World War I (see episode 58) and wanted to create a similar race in South Africa. It was reported, “He felt that if infantrymen, drafted into the armed forces from sedentary jobs, could endure forced marches over great distances,

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