Pietermaritzburg Sports & Outdoors Tips by CatherineReichardt Top 5 Page for this destination

Pietermaritzburg Sports & Outdoors: 5 reviews and 2 photos

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My colleague Gladstone who finished 150th in 2011 - Pietermaritzburg

My colleague Gladstone who finished 150th in 2011

Comrades marathon: mass lunacy on a national scale

Maritzburg (along with Durban) co-hosts the world's largest - and arguably greatest - ultramarathon events - the legendary Comrades marathon.

I first witnessed Comrades a couple of days after I arrived in South Africa in 1987, and my considered (armchair) opinion at the time was that this was the greatest expression of mass national lunacy that I had ever witnessed. Over 20 years on, my opinion remains unchanged, but I am hooked, and, like most South Africans, spend most of the day watching the drama unfold! By the end of the race, I have bawled my eyes out at the human tragedy, and by the time that the official fires the gun to indicate the end of the 12 hour period (when they close the finish line), I am dehydrated! Firing the gun to signal the end of the race must surely be one of the worst jobs in the world, and so traumatic that the official actually turns his back to the desperate runners scrambling towards the line on hands and knees. This is heartrending stuff that puts ''reality TV' to shame!

Comrades was first run in 1921 by 34 runners: by contrast, the race in 2000 (the 75th race), attracted 23, 961 entrants. Competitors have 12 hours to finish the 89km course (yes, you read right!) between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, and if they're mad enough to complete repeat this act of extreme self abuse ten times, they are awarded a coveted green number. Doesn't seem much of an incentive to run 900km, but that's runners for you ...

Comrades now takes place on 16 June (the Children's Day public holiday) every year and alternates between an 'up' run (from Durban) and a 'down' run (from Maritzburg) each year. There is about a 700m height difference between start and finish, which is exacerbated by the fact that the route winds through the Valley of a Thousand Hills, which adds even more 'up and down' to the course. Counterintuitively, the 'down' run is considered by most to be harder, because of the pounding your knees get (as opposed to the rest of your body, which is presumably equally abused whatever direction you run it!)

Every January, huge numbers of ordinarily sane people abandon all semblance of common sense and start training for Comrades - clearly this is a New Year's resolution, fuelled no doubt by overindulgence over the festive season. They pound the pavements at ungodly hours of the morning, run qualifying marathons over weekends and effectively don't see their partners or families for six months (unless they too are mad enough to run, in which case they see a great deal of each other!). In literally every company, at least one person would run the race - many larger companies actually sponsor teams and mine gave one of our employees a cash bonus this year for running a mindbogglingly good time - and it adds to the nation's sense of involvement in the race to know that your colleagues are participating.

Every year, the local field is joined by some intrepid foreigners. Some of these are professional athletes in pursuit of the substantial winner's prizes (a pair of Russian twins have been taking it in turns to win the women's race for years), but most are ordinary runners looking to be part of this extraordinary phenomenon. Should you be lunatic enough to consider this, then consult the website below for details on how to enter (including the qualifying requirements).

If you are sane enough to have no intention of running Comrades, might I respectfully suggest that you avoid visiting Durban or Maritzburg at this time, as flights and accommodation are fully booked, and the law of 'supply and demand' kicks in, which results in prices going through the roof!

Otherwise, if you're in KwaZulu Natal over this period, participate in the festive atmosphere: I wouldn't recommend going to the stadium where the race finishes (which is crowded with relatives waiting to collect the mortal remains of their loved ones as they collapse across the finish line), but otherwise you have 89km of route from which to pick your vantage point! Do as the locals do, and bring a deckchair, a coolbox and some refreshments (braais and beer are almost obligatory) and cheer supportively as the masses stumble past! My only warning is that by the end of 12 hours, you'll be awfully sick of the theme tune from "Chariots of Fire"!

By the way, the photo is of my colleague, Gladstone Giba, taken at the finish of the 2011 Comrades, where he finished an astonishing 150th. If you consider that 19,590 people started the race (of which only 11, 382 finished within the 12 hour limit), that's an astonishing feat, and we are all immensely proud of his achievement!

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Website: http://www.comrades.com

Review Helpfulness: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Apr 18, 2012
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Take to the water for the Midmar Mile

It may sound like a horse race, but in fact the Midmar Mile is the largest open water swimming race in the world and, along with the Comrades marathon and the Cape Argus cycle race, is one of South Africa's Big Three ultra sports events.

The Midmar takes place in February every year at Midmar Dam, just outside Pietermaritzburg. This is the rainy season, but in years of drought, the start is characterised by an undignified muddy charge through the exposed mud on the fringe of the dam somewhat reminiscent of a scantily clad variation on a First World War battlefield assault. In order to ease the congestion, the race start is staggered on the basis of a 'seeding system' (whereby the fastest swimmers go off in the first group), but this is at best only a means to control the chaos, and by comparison to the start, the swimming part of the race is far more straightforward!

Over 13,000 people swim the Midmar every year, and there is a major push on to attract even larger numbers for the race's 40th anniversary in 2013. The winner usually finishes in just over 17 minutes.

If you are sane enough to have no intention of swimming the Midmar, might I respectfully suggest that you avoid visiting Maritzburg at this time, as flights and accommodation are fully booked, and the law of 'supply and demand' kicks in, which results in prices going through the roof!

P.S. The is the one South African ultra event that I might possibly be mad enough to consider doing once I turn 50 and have a more generous time to finish in!

Theme: Other

Website: http://www.midmarmile.co.za/

Review Helpfulness: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Mar 20, 2012
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The Dusi canoe marathon: mind those crocs!

(work in progress)
Unlikely though it might seem, sleepy Pietermaritzburg is the undisputed ultrasports capital of South Africa, hosting three of the country's major ultrasports events: the Comrades marathon, the Midmar Mile and the Dusi canoe marathon.

The Dusi is a gruelling three day kayak race which takes place in February along a 125km section of the Mzunduzi River in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands (including anything up to 20km of porterage where the competitors have to carry their canoes over land).

The race was first held in 1951, and was contested by only eight paddlers, who didn't take the luxury of overnight breaks. Only one man completed the first race: Ian Player, the celebrated conservationist (whose pioneering work at Hluhluwe/Umfolozi game reserve in the 1970s and 80s almost singlehandedly brought white rhino back from the brink of extinction) and older brother of the famous golf player Gary.

Today the Dusi is a very different affair and attracts up to 10,000 competitors. To add a little more excitement to the event, in the runup to the race almost every year there are mildly hysterical press reports of crocodile sightings along the route. To date, I can find no record of a competitor actually being attacked by one, but perhaps it provides that bit more incentive to finish as quickly as possible!

Theme: Kayaking/Canoeing

Website: http://www.dusi.co.za/

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Mar 20, 2012
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