Comrades Marathon Route: The Down Run Profile, Map & Description

Comrades Marathon Route: The Down Run Profile, Map & Description

The Comrades Marathon route is hard to describe. Brutal and Punishing are words that spring to mind, but they probably don’t do the Comrades route justice.

Even though it’s the same stretch of road, The Comrades Down Run route is vastly different to the up Comrades route.

In this post we're going to tell you all we know about the Comrades Marathon down run route. We'll also share the Comrades down route profile, as well an interactive map of the Comrades route. We will also share a video of the Comrades route that you can use in you planning and preparation for the Comrades down run.

As most South Africans know, the Comrades Marathon is run between Pietermaritzburg and Durban on an annual basis. The direction alternates between the cities annually, resulting in the ‘Up Run’ and ‘Down Run’

The Comrades route meanders through what is called the Valley of a Thousand Hills in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

The start of the Comrades Marathon route

The Comrades Marathon down run route has a bit of a unique start. It’s quite a difficult start as it takes you a long time to get over the start line.

But even more important than that, Pietermaritzburg is quite a small town. It’s nickname is ‘Sleepy Hollow’. Not much happens in Maritzburg. Essentially what that means is it only has a couple of access points to get you in and out of the town...

...and on Comrades race day, one of those are closed (because that is the road you’re going to be running to Durban on).

You’ve effectively got two ways into Pietermaritzburg on race morning. Add to that the thousands of runners, plus their families, that are trying to get to the Comrades Marathon start line.

Pro Comrades Route Tip: Listen to this podcast for an audio description of the start of Comrades Marathon Down Run Route

So, the first bit of important advice around the Comrades Marathon down run start, is to make sure you get there really early.

The second thing you need to understand is that people think that you’re coming to Durban, so it’s warm all year round.

Even though Maritzburg isn’t that far from Durban (If you’re driving) it can get pretty chilly in the morning.

It’s not freezing cold but the average minimum temperature that time of the year is around 4°C or 39°F. One extra layer of clothing should do it but again you want to get into the start area nice and early.

You also want to make sure you can get your stuff to the tog bag area and then get into your seeding pens.

Don't squander a Comrades route advantage by arriving late

That then takes me back to the first point that it takes a while to get over the start line. If you have earned a D seeding, make sure you get there early enough to get into your D seeding pen and you don’t get forced to go and start right at the back.

About 15 to 20 minutes before the race starts, they will drop the barriers between the starting pens and the whole field jams up.

If you arrive at the Comrades start late you will be forced to start at the back of the field because there will be no way to get into your seeding pen.

So to recap, get to the Comrades start early, dress warm and make sure you’re nice and relaxed and in your seeding pens in good time.

 

The Comrades Marathon Start is something special

The Comrades Marathon 'Launch Sequence' is a sight to behold.

...Chariots of Fire

...Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika Look out for my cameo appearance 90 seconds in 😉

...Shosholoza

...Max Trimborn's famous cock-crow

Once all the startline traditions and festivities are out of the way it’s time to get down to business and slay the demons the Comrades Marathon route has in store for you.

It’s pretty dark at the start and the streets are fairly narrow so you are going to move quite slowly through Pietermaritzburg.

You’ll go downhill for a bit initially but once you get through the first kilometre of the Comrades down run you’ll notice a theme for the next forty plus kilometers.

There is not that much downhill running the first half of the Comrades Marathon down run route.

You’ll climb up to about the seven kilometre mark where you will drop down the back of Polly Shortts (The infamous Polly Shortts from the up run) 

At this point you will be quite warm because you will have done a lot of climbing and it is really important that you don’t discard your warm clothes just yet.

Hopefully you’re still running with gloves and a long sleeve shirt because when you get to the bottom of Polly Shortts, it gets really cold again.

It will stay cold for quite a long time even though from this point at the bottom of little Polly’s you are going to climb consistently until you get to the highest point on the route which is known as Umlaas Road. That comes at the about the 27/28 kilometre mark.

This is the Comrades Marathon Down run...We're not lying!

Once you get down the other side of Umlaas Road again you’ll be forgiven thinking that we’re all liars when we describe it as the Comrades Marathon down run.

From that point to just short of the 40km mark, there is a lot of climbing to do on the Comrades Marathon route.

These are not major climbs. We’re talking about one or two percent gradients, but these are long pulls with a few shortish downs.

There is really not a lot of down up to that point on the Comrades Marathon route.

Be Warned: Tough section of the Comrades Route ahead

The next part of the Comrades down run route is very dangerous. It stretches from about 40km all the way into Drummond. This is your first real downhill section of the down run Comrades route. It is 4km long and it snakes it’s way all the way down into Drummond and halfway.

By this stage a lot of people are panicking because of all the up hills they’ve been running they’re behind their goal times. What happens is they really do smash it down that stretch into Drummond way too quickly.

Comrades Coach Tip: Listen to this podcast about the first half of the Comrades down run route

You just need to be calm and accept that gravity will make you go faster anyway. Also be safe in the knowledge that the halfway cut off is 6 hours and 10 minutes, so if you have fallen behind schedule don’t panic at this point.

Take it easy going into halfway.

It’s also important to note that the halfway mark is not exactly at Drummond. The half-way mark at Drummond is a traditional point. The exact, physical halfway mark is literally just before you start the climb up the back of Botha’s Hill.

It’s time to have a serious heart to heart before we head into the second half of the Comrades Marathon route.

This is where a lot of Comrades runners make mistakes that impact their finish time, and effectively scupper their chances of getting the medal they're chasing...

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This is a VERY hard part of the Comrades Route

When you leave Drummond you are going to go up the hardest climb of the Comrades route.

It’s basically six kilometres, give or take some and parts of it are quite steep while other parts of it are long drags.

Mentally it’s quite tough because you’ve run a marathon to get here and the going is hard.

I would recommend that you walk as much of it as time will allow because you want to save your legs for what is coming.

It is when you get to the top of the climb, which is Botha’s hill, the this bocomes the Comrades Marathon down run.

You will then see the Kearsney boys, which will really give you a huge mental lift and will psych you up a bit for what is to come on the Comrades route.

The 39km to go board is actually the halfway mark

I always tell people that the 50km point, which is where you see the signboard that says 39kms to go, is what you need to treat as halfway.

You want to hold yourself back up until this point. This is the time to try and shovel time back into the bag but keep it within reason.

There is no need to charge down the hills, you’ve got almost 10km of uninterrupted downhill running from that 39km point all the way into Pinetown. (Comrades Coach Tip: It's here where the strength training you do as part of your Comrades training will pay dividends)

If you go racing down these hills on this part of the Comrades Marathon route, you will find yourself in Pinetown at 23/24kms to go with broken legs, unable to run properly and unable to complete your goal.

Pinetown is quite hot but it is also a reasonably festive area.

From there you know you’ve only got two significant climbs left. One is about to come and that is Cowies Hill. 

I would just walk over that. From the top of Cowies Hill you’ve probably got the nicest running on the Comrades route.

The BEST part of the Comrades Marathon route to run (If you've saved your legs)

The gradient is really awesome! It hovers between 2 to 3 percent, it winds all the way down to 14kms to go with a short little climb through Westville.

Then again you bomb all the way down on a really nice gradient to about 9kms to go where you’ll hit the final of the recognised climbs, which is 45th Cutting.

You’ll do a lot of walking over there too and then again you’ll do a fair amount of downhill running till about 7kms to go.

Comrades Coach Tip: Listen to this podcast about the second half of the Comrades down run route

You’ve then got a short nasty climb which comes as a bit of a surprise, it is the Mayville onramp onto the highway.

It’s insignificant but it is important that you know about it otherwise it catches you totally by surprise.

You still have a bit of rolling climbing up until a bridge on the highway called Tollgate bridge which is exactly 5kms from the finish line and from there it is a nice gentle downhill and then 3kms of flat and really good support that will carry you into the stadium.

The video clip below will show you exactly what you're in for on the Comrades Marathon route between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

I hope you found this post about the Down Run Route helpful. If you would like help with your Comrades Marathon training then make sure you have a look at our Comrades Marathon Training Plans.

 

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