The Comrades Marathon Medals

Are you confused by the medals at Comrades? Don’t be, silly! Let me break it down for you with the times required to get these medals.

The Gold Medal

If you want a gold medal, then you need two things:

  1. Be born for this,
  2. Work your ass off.

If you want a gold and don’t have number 1, then be prepared to do two times number 2. You ask Belinda Waghorn, she has a gold medal and claims to not have much of number 1. While her fellow gold medalists were running 130km per week, she was running 230km per week leading up to that Comrades gold. To get a gold you have to be among the 10 best male or female runners on the day. That doesn’t mean you have to be in that pack from the start. The Comrades Marathon race only really starts at 60km. As a woman, you have to run the race at an average pace generally of between 4:05 and 4:20 minutes per kilometre (obviously depending on who else arrives for the gold medal on the day and depending on whether you’re running up or down). To stand a chance of having a stab at this medal, you’ll need to have run a marathon in under 2 hours and 50 minutes in the 6 months leading up to your gold medal attempt. As a man, if you want a gold medal, then you’ll need to lift that game a bit and run somewhere around 3:30 to 4:00 minutes per kilometre average. Are you vomiting yet?

This year, I helped one of the runners in the top 20 by running behind him and spraying his hamstrings. I looked at my watch while I ran next to him and I was running at 3:20. And he wasn’t in the top 10! So be prepared. To even stand a chance of being one of these men, you have to have run a marathon in under 2 hours and 30 minutes in the 6 months prior to Comrades. The numbers put it into perspective, right?

The Wally Hayward Medal

This is a cool medal. This is for men who don’t make it into the top 10, but still run under 6 hours. It’s pretty difficult to get one of these, and until just a few years ago only a handful of people had this medal. But with a more open society and more capable runners having access to the race, we’re seeing more and more men get this medal. It fills me with joy when I think of that. Yeah, so Wally Hayward. To get a Wally Hayward, you need the following:

  1. You have to be a man.
  2. You have to run 89.2km in under 6 hours.
  3. Don’t be in the top ten.

You’ll need to be able to run 89.2km at an average pace of 4:02min/km. How you liking your shot at that Wally Hayward now? It’s best to have run a sub-2:45 marathon the six months prior. You can do it!

The Isavel Roche-Kelly Medal

This medal was introduced this year in 2019 and the first recipient of that medal is my dear friend, Yolande Maclean. She adds it to her 8 gold medals. The Isavel Roche-Kelly medal is half gold, half silver for obvious reasons. To get one of these medals, you need the following:

  1. You have to be a woman.
  2. You have to run 89.3km in under 7 hours and 30 minutes.
  3. Don’t be in the top ten.

To do number 2, you have to run the whole distance at an average pace of 5:02 minutes per kilometre. The whole way. All 89.2km! Essentially, with the introduction of this medal, women can no longer get a silver medal at Comrades. To get this medal it’s probably beneficial to have run a sub-3:10 marathon the 6 months prior to Comrades.

The Silver Medal

That medal to which mere mortals could possibly aspire! Previously, all runners who came in under 7 hours and 30 minutes would be eligible for a silver medal. This has changed recently because women who achieve this feat now get the Isavel Roche-Kelly medal. But you men could possibly aspire to get this medal if you can run the full 89.2km at an average pace of 5:02 minutes per kilometre. Nice! You’ll have a better chance at it if you’ve run a marathon in under 3 hours, but at least a sub-3:10 marathon will give you a good head start at getting a silver medal at Comrades.

The Bill Rowan Medal

This medal was introduced in 2000 and is named after the winner of the first Comrades Marathon in 1921. He won the marathon in a time of 8 hours and 59 minutes and to get the medal, you’ll need to do the same. A sub-9 hour Comrades marathon will require you to run 89.2km at a minimum of 6:03m/km for every kilometre. Go get that medal! If you can run a marathon comfortably in 4:03, you’ve got a chance of getting one of these cool medals. I said “comfortably”!

The Robert Mtshali Medal

Made of titanium, this medal can be worn by those who manage to get over the finish mat between 9 and 10 hours after the starters gun goes off.

This medal was named after Robert Mtshali who was the first unofficial Black runner in the 1935 Comrades Marathon, finishing his race in a time of 9 hours and 30 minutes. His efforts were not officially recorded as government and race rules of the time stipulated that, in order to compete in the Comrades Marathon, you had to be a white male.

That really talented runners can now participate in our country’s greatest race, is really encouraging. That every young person can dream of doing the Comrades Marathon and that the dream can become a reality fills me with love and pride. We owe Robert Mtshali a debt of gratitude for that.

To have the privilege of owning one of these medals, you’ll have to run the full route at an average of 6:09min/km. That’s a marathon time of 4 hours and 13 minutes to give you a chance at earning this medal.

The Bronze Medal

I know that all of this seems easier and easier as we go on, but the Comrades Marathon is very difficult. Very difficult. I fully expected to get a bronze medal on my last one because I had an amazing 4:11 marathon time. So a Bronze medal was well within the realms of possibility for me. I snuck over the mat panicked half to death in 11:50, only just earning my copper Vic Clapham medal.

I fully expected to be able to get in between 10 and 11 hours. All I had to do was run at an average pace of 7:23min/km the whole way. I didn’t come close on that day. The only time I ran anything like that was for the last 17 kilometres. The up run is particularly difficult.

So although I will now tell you that a marathon time of 4:20 should get you home in time to get this medal, I have personal evidence to suggest that even a 4:11 marathon won’t help you achieve this. Of course, I have that head injury thing going for me where my head just gets in the way of success. So if you don’t have a head injury, then 4:20 should be fine.

The Vic Clapham Medal

I am the proud owner of two of these little copper medals. To get these medals, all I had to do was finish the Comrades Marathon before the gun went off at 5.30pm, 12 hours after I had started running. It seemed easy when I started. Neither time was it easy. The first time (a down run) I had run a sub-4:40 marathon. The second time (an up run), I had run a sub-4:20 marathon. Both times, I crept in with less than 20 minutes to spare. The Vic Clapham medal was introduced in 2003 when the time limit for completion of this great race was extended from 11 hours to 12 hours.

Vic Clapham established the race to commemorate the South African soldiers killed during the World War I. Run for the first time on 24 May 1921, it has been run more than 90 times since then and is now run by over 20,000 people annually.

To stand a chance at getting one of these medals, the qualifying criteria of a sub-4:45 marathon will not be enough to get you over the line in time. You have to run the full 89.2km at an average pace of 8:04min/km for every single kilometre. Seems like a lot, but I am living proof that this is a mammoth task even with a good marathon. Hwever, if I can, then you can.

The Back-to-Back Medal

I also have one of these medals. It is awarded to novice runners who complete an up or down run in succession. This means that your first Comrades finish and the subsequent run in the opposite direction both completed in under 12 hours will qualify you for a back-to-back medal. This medal was only introduced in 2005, but if you completed a back-to-back before then, you can apply to buy your back-to-back medal.

The Comrades medal is a tiny medal. about as big as a R5 coin and twice as thick. It was quite a surprise to me when I received my first one. All that for this, I asked? It is evidence to prove that size doesn’t matter. Those 3 medals are my most prized medals. They represent an achievement in my life that will be very difficult to match.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of the Comrade Marathon medals.

Yours in the love of humble little medals.


Procrastination and Fear

Procrastination and fear nearly ended my journey to The 2014 Comrades Marathon. It’s a funny story really, but I’m still berating myself about it. I hate putting petrol in my car. Like haaaaaaate putting in petrol. I would rather wash the dirty dinner dishes of 25 strangers than put in petrol. And I really hate washing dishes and I really don’t like strangers. So whenever the petrol light on my car comes on, I drive until I absolutely have to have to put in petrol. I totally procrastinate about this stupid, mundane task. The week before Comrades was manic. The week before that I was lecturing. So on the Thursday evening of the lecturing week, just 10 sleeps before this thing I had placed my entire life on hold for, as I pulled into my driveway I told myself, “Self, go and put in petrol.” I also told myself, “Self, don’t worry. You can put in petrol tomorrow morning. Just leave a little earlier.” Neither of those two things happened and I found myself racing to the chiropractor on the Friday morning to have my last appointment before Comrades. As I drove away from the chiropractor in peak hour traffic, I forgot about the pretrol issue and promptly drove past at least three petrol stations on my way to lectures. Just five hundred metres after the second petrol station, my car stuttered a bit and the familiar sound of my running out of petrol brought the car to a standstill. I cursed myself….both of them. But there was nothing to worry about because I am, indeed a runner. And I had takkies on (not running shoes, but walking shoes which would be fine to run in).  The petrol station was five hundred metres back (two of them, mind you) at even 8 minutes per kilometre, I would be able to make it there in 4 minutes, get petrol in a bottle or similar in five minutes, run back in 4 minutes and voila! 15 minutes would not make me late for lectures.

In the approach to Comrades, everyone has been warning me about getting sick. Stay away from malls. Stay away from coughing or sneezing people, etc. I have a cast iron immune system and so had not even for a moment considered that I would get sick. What I have been worried about is falling. I’ve got such fragile ankles and I’m not totally stable on my feet (nothing to do with vodka), that my only concern has been falling. I’ve learned more than once how your fears can manifest your reality and, as I set out on my petrol mission, my run/walk shoes were fine. My hippie teacher pants not so much and thirty steps into what was proving to be a strong athletic run,  the pants tripped me up and I went hurtling towards the tarmac. As I fell, I felt all the chiro’s work undo and I felt the whiplash in my neck. My left arm and right knee took the brunt of the fall because I kind of fell in the gutter. I had to jump up because it was peak hour traffic on a fairly busy road and I knew that the drivers in the approaching cars could see my car with its emergency indicators flashing, but they probably weren’t expecting to see a woman lying in the road one hundred and fifty metres in front of that car. I limped onto the pavement and a gardener who had seen the lying in the road part apologised to me. I just grumbled and limped. “Self! You have now screwed up your Comrades dream! You’re an idiot!”

My knee swelled. My elbow scabbed. My ankle swelled and the joint went out of alignment again. And of course, there was the whiplash. Could this all be fixed in time to get me in a suitable state to the Comrades Marathon start line? My chiro, Clifford, the magician, most alarmed to hear that I was coming back so soon and my physio, Clare-Anne, most alarmed that I had once again run out of petrol, managed to put me back together and my class were very forgiving of my being late for class and for arriving to class dirty!

My elbow (and the related tricep muscle) took the brunt of the fall

My elbow (and the related tricep muscle) took the brunt of the fall

This knee is not Comrades material

This knee is not Comrades material