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.

SlowCoach

A Box Full of Knives

I got what I deserved this weekend. 4.16 is my personal best time for a marathon. I like to think that’s a pretty decent time for a marathon. Of course, when you’re friends with women who run marathons in 2.47 or thereabouts, you just always feel like a loser! “You’re not supposed to be comparing yourself to Comrades gold medallists,” snapped EP. Anyway, personal best 4.16. So when I crossed over the finish line at Kaapsehoop Marathon on Saturday in 4.58, one would think I’d be a bit disappointed. But I did a little air punch, smiled, bowed my head in gratitude and, of course, started crying.

When EP entered me into the Kaapsehoop Marathon on 3 June this year, we knew I needed a totally unachievable goal to get me off my couch and back out onto the road to recovery. The majority of my injury was over. I was still experiencing pain going up and down stairs, but I could run when the moment inspired me. I had put on almost 10kgs and I was breathlessly unfit. Getting onto the road was demoralizing and frustrating. But now I had something ridiculous that I had to train for and it had an end date to it. Amazing how student syndrome can be inspiring. How was I going to go from barely managing a 35 minute 5km time trail to a marathon in just 5 months? You just have to start somewhere. So I started. In a poetic twist, I started the day before Comrades in Durban. I was going to run Umhlanga Parkrun and maybe a little short warm up beforehand. I told EP and Lehlohonolo I’d do the warm up with them on their easy run. I won’t do that again. The little warm up was over 9km, run at pancreatic-failure speed. I wanted my 300 Parkrun points so I went from 5km time trial to PB 15km as a start to my marathon training. I really do try to be normal most of the time. It doesn’t come easily to me.

I had started my road to Kaapsehoop and it wasn’t as bad as one might have imagined. My broken knee and foot were a little sore after that run, but I rested it until I got back from helping at Comrades and started again….A little more circumspect this time. For the most part, I did my running return on my own except for a few lovely runs hanging on by my fingernails to EP and meeting some beautiful, almost long lost friends along the way. It was good to come back, slowly but surely.

EP fell early in August and tore ankle ligaments which had me having to get myself out of my bed and onto the road while EP snoozed away. It was tough on some of the colder days, but as Kaapsehoop’s date drew nearer, it became easier to haul my ass around the various neighbourhoods on runs.

Illuminati Michelle has turned coach and set up coaching sessions at RAC on Mondays and Randburg Harriers on Wednesdays. (You can join us on either evening from 5.30pm) I joined her for track when my foot was ready and started slowly. Work was crazy, so I only really got to track once every second week and both weekend long runs. I was getting stronger from the focussed programme my new bio had given me and things were looking positive for Kaapsehoop. I foam rolled. Every. Single. Day. I became very disciplined and focussed as October rolled around and I started planning for my date with my nemesis.

On the day, I was really terrified. I felt under-prepared. I had a plan which would see me finish in just under 5 hours, but really I would have been happy to get to the stadium in under 5.30 or even just get to the stadium. But I knew the treachery that was about to unfold on my still fragile legs. As I emerged from the forest near Kaapsehoop, just 9km into the marathon, I had my first cry and it was a cry of fear. I saw the downhill roll itself out like a red carpet in front of me and I couldn’t imagine how I was going to manage this. And then this calm enveloped me. A little voice said, you have nothing to prove. You have nothing to qualify for. You have nothing but yourself and your best and that’s what you will be today. You won’t be this race’s best. You won’t be your friends circle’s best. You won’t be any best except your best and you won’t even be your best ever best. You will be your best today. And that’s exactly what I did. I ran the race I planned. I forgave myself when I was behind and high fived myself when I was ahead. I was being the best me I could be on that day and I had a really wonderful run.

You know, running is like a gift of a box of knives. It’s a gift, but it has really sharp and painful edges to it. It teaches lessons that are usually quite unwelcome when the teacher arrives, but the lessons are gifts in every sense of the word. I received a huge gift from my favourite little knife this week. Thank you Kaapsehoop for the sharp stabbing pains in my calf today, but thank you for reminding me how to be my best, not by forcing myself forward, but rather just by being myself.

I ran most of the race in my own little bubble. I ran a few kilometres chatting to a lady who runs marathons for fun and I spent a poignant few minutes with Ingrid who I know is an amazing trail runner and was struggling at the end of her first road marathon. I was so inspired by her finish on Saturday. Truly inspired. I was also inspired by my own race. I managed a sub-5, just as I had planned….to the minute! I am less broken now than in previous post Kaapsemoer years.

Buddha says that when the student is ready, the master teacher will arrive. We sometimes like that master teacher. We more often dislike that teacher intensely. I now know why I’ve kept going back to my little box of knives in Nelspruit. Make no mistake, this marathon is almost beyond compare in it’s beauty. It is also almost beyond compare in it’s physical brutality and it’s mental torture in the last 8km. I have loved and hated this marathon and now I know why. I am the student and I was not ready.

Thank You for my box of knives. Thank you, Kaapsehoop Marathon, my favourite knife in the box.

Yours in the love of the gift that is running

SlowCoach

P.S. On our annual detour home from Kaapsehoop this year we met this amazing family who I know are just another little gift I get from running. Nice to meet you, Buxy and Mohammed!

The Tortoise and The Hare is an Actual Thing

Yes it is! Check it out here.

The Tortoise and the Hare in Real Life

I found that funny and somewhat comforting. Anyway!

Hey! Today I ran further than I have run in 5 months. How far is that? 7km. Remember when I joked about going from Comrades back to the couch? My Journey From the Couch to The Comrades Marathon…and Back to the Couch Well truth may be stranger than my non-fiction. Last time I really ran a race was in May (that’s when I hopped the last 2km of RAC 10km race). I also ran the Take 5 relay in June, but I really shouldn’t have because I couldn’t walk at that point and it was just a few weeks later that I became imprisoned in a moon boot, with the horrifying news that I would not be running SOX, my goal race for which I had paid an obscene amount of money. I could still go to SOX with EP, but I couldn’t run. I couldn’t even take a leisurely stroll in the forests. I hobbled a bit into forests in my moon boot, but that was about it. So I was very diligent while I was in the moon boot and I went swimming. While others were running, I was swimming. But swimming is so fucking boring, I was starting to hate my life. And so I turned to that ultimate comforter, food, snacks, coke, chips, biscuits, CUPCAKES. If it’s on a dietician’s list of things to avoid, I ate ’em! And lots of them! It made me feel better about things, okay! I was still going to Satan’s Sister for gym, but what with me confined to my boot, there were only some things that I could do. And so I ballooned. I now weigh the same as what I did before I started training for Comrades 6 years ago.

So the moon boot came off and, even though I had been swimming, I was totally unfit. and , what’s even worse, I was still in pain! I could hardly walk, never mind run. So I decided to do something different. I had heard good things about a physio in Fourways. (I know it’s hard to believe any good can come from Fourways) But if he was good enough for an 8 times Comrades gold medallist, then I was sure he’d be good enough for me.

I’m quite open-minded, having studied iridology and always been interested in homoeopathy and other quantum sciences, but I was still amused at what greeted me at my first ‘physio’ appointment with Adrian Stevens. He drew me a picture of my body. Well it wasn’t my body, but a decent fascimile of my body showing it all curvy. It was not curvy in the picture because of all the cupcakes, although in real life it was curvy because of all the cupcakes. It was curvy because, well basically, my alignment was FUBAR! So Adrian sat down in front of me with his legs crossed like a 6 year old listening to the teacher read a story. He did all these tests on alignment by pressing and pulling and pushing and going “Aaah” and “okay, strange”, and “aha”. Then he pulled out a telephone directory and a pair of scissors and some sticky tape and proceeded to fashion a wedge for my shoes. It was literally like watching a 6 year old. Then he told me to lie on the plinth and he proceeded to shake and pull and push and flick various parts of me, but not my actual foot that was sore, strangely enough. I will say that it was an unusual experience, as have been the 3 or 4 subsequent appointments, all complete with telephone directory and sticky tape and scissors.

But today I ran 7 kilometres which is 7 more than I was running 2 months ago and 5 more than I was running 3 weeks ago. This week I ran 17 kilometres in total which is a lot more than I have run in the past 4 months. Yesterday I ran the very difficult Albertsfarm Parkrun in just 33 minutes. I realised, as I volunteered after my run and as many people came rushing over the finish line in 50 minutes and more, how very fortunate I am at this very time in my life. I can’t run far and running is very hard because I’m carrying my extra bag of dog food (which looked like cupcakes when I picked it up) and I’m just basically unfit. But all the gym I’ve been doing and the disciplined return to running and my kindergarten physio has clearly been beneficial and I can look forward to even longer distances and faster times.

Another thing I realised while I’ve been getting fatter recovering: We have a ridiculous benchmark in South Africa. I’ve had so many people say that they recently ran a race “But it was only 5km/10km/21km.” I get very sad when they say that. 5km, 10km or 21km are incredible achievements. They are all distances which most people will never run. People say “only 21km”! People actually say that! I challenge you to get in your car and drive 21km and then imagine running that far. That’s very far! Especially to run. The Comrades Marathon has given our country such an unfair benchmark by which we judge ourselves as runners. It’s a stupid distance run by stupid people and although every South African should run the Comrades Marathon, no-one should run the Comrades Marathon. I want to say to you today, if you are reading this and you’ve run a Parkrun or any 5km (but really run it, not strolled around like a loser looking for your Vitality points), you’re an amazing athlete and you can be proud of your achievement. If you’ve run a 10km, keep at it. Keep trying to get your 10km time faster. Many people in other less crazy places in the world will train their entire lives to achieve a 10km race. If you’ve run a 10km, Well done! That’s a remarkable achievement. If you’ve run a 21km, I am humbled by you. Half a marathon is a ridiculous distance which most athletes will never attempt because it’s really far to run and it makes a person dig into human reserves which go way beyond the physical.

I truly appreciate these thoughts now as I can only just manage 5km or 6km without pain. And I really respect people who go out to strive for a goal that isn’t the Comrades Marathon because I realise how hard it can be to run 5km or 10km or 21km. By the way, 21km seems totally inaccessible to me at the moment, but I have one or two more sessions with my kindergarten physio, so I’ll keep it in the back of my mind. Right now, I hope to one day be able to run 10km. That seems like a reasonable stretch goal for me.

Yours in achievable milestones.

SlowCoach

Oh by the way, on a somewhat related note, today I saw a baby goat riding on a tortoise’s back. Yes I did!