Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 159 June 2023 | Page 42

Ask Yourself Why … by NORRIE WILLIAMSON

There have been road running races in South Africa since the early 1900 ’ s , with one of the oldest being the Johannesburg Stock Exchange 50km , which later became the City to City 50km . There were also running clubs in those days , but the enthusiasm for mass participation road running truly gathered interest in the 1960s . At that time , there were far , far fewer clubs than today , so each club hosted several events each year .

For example , my own club in KZN , Savages Athletics Club , was founded by a small group of runners that included the legendary Kenny Craig , one of the first two runners to achieve 40 Comrades finishes , in 1998 . This group of runners , along with a few others from the Pietermaritzburg Savages Soccer Club , decided to run the Richmond Marathon , and from that initial outing grew Savages AC . The club used to host around six races a year , ranging from a 10-miler ( 16km ) to a couple of marathons . Each of these events developed its own unique character , and each had a different purpose . ( Sidenote : The Two Oceans Marathon was founded in 1970 by Dave Venter , an ex-Savages member who had been transferred to Cape Town , and it was originally intended as a training run for those building up to the Comrades Marathon .)
Meanwhile , other Natal clubs did their share as well , and out of that grew an annual fixture list . The same was true in other cities , with the focus on service to and


Ask Yourself Why … by NORRIE WILLIAMSON

Why Do We Have So Many Marathons ?

“ Why ?” is debatably the most powerful word in the English language , and there are a myriad of why ’ s that can be asked in athletics . Some are easy to answer , some are more complex , and a few are virtually impossible , but all are important to those who are passionate about the sport and want to ensure progress . This column could run for years on all the why ’ s , but today , let ’ s start with a simple one : Why do South African running clubs organise so many marathons , and why are they often tightly packed in the race calendar ?
‘ putting back ’ into the sport . The lists of fixtures were totally varied , but with an underlying logical progression of distance ( like a gradual build-up to the Comrades Marathon ), and variation of venues , with a few well-spaced marathons in between shorter events . However , the growth of the sport then resulted in some changes .
Accommodating the Masses
By the 1970s , there were sufficient clubs and races that the annual fixture list was full , and clubs were able to cut back on their number of races and ‘ share ’ some of their spots on the calendar with newer clubs . The 1970 ’ s also saw the parallel evolution of the South African Road Running Association ( SARRA ), with subsidiary provincial athletics bodies , and road running began to attract sponsors , as track and field – up till then the dominant part of the sport – tended to have the same small group of stars who were unfortunately restricted to repeatedly competing against each other , thus delivering similar outcomes each week of the season .
Along with the world-wide Running Boom , this contributed to races growing in size , and by 1974 , the Comrades had grown to 1200 entries , with each runner having at least one vehicle seconding them , which created massive traffic congestion on
Historically , the Comrades Marathon has dictated much of the race calendar in South Africa
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