Messages of well wishes and congratulations have been streaming in from all corners of the globe as the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) marked 100 years since the first Comrades Marathon was hosted on 24 May 1921.

The local road running spectacle which started out with 34 participants taking off on their maiden Comrades Marathon voyage from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in the 1921 race, has evolved into the world’s oldest, biggest and most famous ultramarathon, attracting over 27-thousand entrants and winning awards on the national and international stage over the years.

The Comrades Marathon also remains a Guinness World Record event for hosting the highest number of finishes in an ultramarathon, besides being Africa’s oldest footrace and the world’s oldest ultramarathon.

The celebratory gala event commemorating the Comrades Centenary saw some 200 guests descend on Comrades Marathon House in Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg, which included the Mayors of both Msunduzi and eThekwini Municipalities, newly elected ASA President James Moloi and other dignitaries, 22 former Comrades winners living in South Africa, male Comrades Quadruple Green Number holders who have completed 40 or more Comrades and female Triple Green Number runners who have completed 30 or more editions of The Ultimate Human Race, CMA Elders, former Chairpersons, current CMA Board and Staff members, members of the Race Organising Committee, current sponsors, representatives of the Official Comrades Charities and select media representing the country’s top media houses.

CMA Chairperson, Cheryl Winn, who did the welcome address, said, “The Comrades Marathon remains a living memorial to the suffering, loss of life, spirit, fortitude and camaraderie of the soldiers with whom its founder, Vic Clapham had shared the devastation of World War I. A significant aspect of the day is recalling the brave early pioneers – some of whom completed the distance unofficially when the race was restricted exclusively to white males; our winners, heroes and record-breakers who have consistently inspired us with ever-improving competitive performances. Today we also celebrate the so-called ‘ordinary runners’ for whom there is nothing at all that is ‘ordinary’ and who embody the spirit of grit, determination, camaraderie, hope and humanity upon which the Comrades Marathon was founded.”

The day’s festivities started off with the 1921 Comrades Marathon Tribute Run, a symbolic 2.2km re-enactment of the 1921 Comrades Marathon which saw 34 starters take off from the Pietermaritzburg City Hall and finish at Comrades House, with the likes of reigning Comrades Champ, Edward Mothibi, Shaun Mieklejohn, Nick Bester, Frances van Blerk, Tilda Tearle and other former winners participating.

Guest speakers included Blanche Moila, Kabelo Mabalane and 9-time winner Bruce Fordyce who wowed and entertained the guests with their own Comrades Marathon experiences and stories.

Msunduzi Mayor, Cllr Mzimkhulu Thebolla said, “It is notable that Pietermaritzburg has remained the home of the Comrades Marathon for 100 years. Additionally, our shared history takes us back to 1921 when the very first Comrades Marathon started outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall and has maintained that tradition as the host city of either the Comrades Start or the Comrades Finish for the past century. To mark this remarkable milestone, in my capacity as the Mayor of the City of Pietermaritzburg, I wish to announce here today that as the Msunduzi Municipality, we have commenced to initiate the statutory process to rename the street upon which we are currently standing, which is the permanent home of Comrades Marathon House and Museum, from Connaught Road to forthwith be known as Comrades Marathon Road.”

eThekwini Mayor, Cllr Mxolisi Kaunda said in his address, “For 100 years, our country has had the pride of place to call The Ultimate Human Race our very own. The City of Durban has also had more to celebrate, by serving as either the Finish or the Start Host City for this greatest of road races since 1921. The Comrades Marathon is also revered for having an economic impact of over R600-million on the province of KwaZulu-Natal on an annual basis, exposing the City of Durban and the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal to international visitors in a huge way.”

Messages from other road running dignitaries included one from the President of the International Association of Ultrarunners, Nadeem Khan, which said, “

Historical milestones are rare in the world of sports. I can attest that your event is one of the most paramount ultrarunning events on the international calendar. You have tactfully balanced a mass participation event while still maintaining a very elite field to the competition. We, at the IAU, are delighted to have you as a Gold Labelled event. This is a great opportunity to celebrate and cherish those 100 years that have passed but also to look forward to another 100 years, as you continue to grow the event moving into the future. Congratulations!”

President of the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS), Paco Borao said, “Congratulations to the Comrades Marathon Association and all its human force, congratulations to all entities involved and congratulations to all people involved in making this happen. Actions and initiatives like this are the best example showing worldwide that our running family is moving ahead despite the difficulties that we are all facing. Especially for us at AIMS, the bonds we have with the Comrades Marathon – the world’s oldest, largest and most famous ultramarathon are strong, since in May 2014 when the CMA hosted the 20th World Congress of AIMS in Durban which was a very big success and of which we all still have the best of memories of the organisation and the wonderful hospitality.”

The Comrades Centenary gala event included the unveiling of a Centenary monument reflecting both the soldiers associated with the origins of the race and the heroic health care workers depicting the battle being waged against the pandemic which precluded the staging of the 2020 and 2021 Comrades Marathons, entertainment by Kearsney College Choir (who are also celebrating their centenary) and Zulu dance group Iziphiyano, formal addresses from dignitaries, less-formal speeches by special guests, popping of Graham Beck Cap Classique and the cutting of a giant birthday cake.

Winn has thanked all sponsors, partners and the world at large for supporting the Comrades Marathon, including its international brand ambassadors, influencers, runners and supporters, saying, “So many people and organisations have had a hand in the success that The Ultimate Human Race is today. We thank you all for making the Comrades Marathon one of the world’s greatest events.”