Comrades Marathon Route: The Up Run Profile, Map & Description
Comrades Marathon Route: The Up Run Profile, Map & Description
The Comrades Marathon route for the Up run is a beast. The first half of the Comrades up route is probably one of the toughest marathons you will ever run.
The Comrades Marathon Up Run route is very different to the down Comrades route, even though it's the same stretch of tarmac. Just in reverse.
We are going to share with you in this post all that we know about the Comrades Marathon up run route. We also have a Comrades up route profile to share and an interactive map of the Comrades route.
In this post, we'll also help you plan your Comrades Marathon up run onslaught with a video of the Comrades route for the up run.
Most South Africans have heard of the Valley of a Thousand Hills in KwaZulu-Natal and it is that part of South Africa that makes the Comrades Up Run Route so ominous.
The start of the Up Comrades Marathon route
From the word go it’s different to the Comrades Marathon start of the down run.
It’s much easier to get into the city of Durban which means there are many more options for you to get to the start.
There’s also a lot more accommodation available in Durban and also accommodation that is close enough to the start that you can actually walk there.
When you are moving towards the Comrades Marathon start in Durban, you go through some areas that aren’t the safest to walk through in the dark.
If you do walk to the start from your hotel, try and walk with a group of other Comrades runners.
The atmosphere at the start of Comrades in Durban is quite festive.
The Up Run Start is not as dark...
There are lots of runners and it is not as dark as Pietermaritzburg. That’s because there are many more shops, car dealerships and hotels lining the streets for the walk to the Comrades Marathon start.
Comrades Route Tip from the Coach: This is an audio description of the start of Comrades Marathon Up Run
Once you actually get to the actual Comrades Marathon start the similarities start to creep up.
At the start of the Comrades Marathon down run, you still have the tog bag trucks and the long queues for the toilets.
The very bright lights, music playing and people dancing. You get that whole rock concert’y feel going on.
It is equally important on the Comrades Marathon up run to get yourself to the start outside the Durban City hall early. You’ll want to give yourself enough time to be able to use the bathroom and get your tog bag onto the truck.
You’ll also want to get yourself into your starting pen so that you don’t lose your hard-earned seeding by having to start right at the back.
The Up Run Comrades route is much more comfortable to start with
The streets are much wider in Durban than in Pietermaritzburg and this is quite important.
It means you don’t have to be nearly as anxious about how long it is going to take you to cross the Comrades start line as it does in Pietermaritzburg.
That is because you start on a main road, which is really nice and wide and then you spill straight onto the highway.
From that point of view, if you’re right at the back, you’re probably only looking at about a 6 minute period to cross the start line as opposed to an 8 – 10 minute delay you experience in Pietermaritzburg.
Even though the Comrades Up run race day is also an early 5:30am start, Durban is a lot more temperate than Pietermaritzburg.
Although you still need warm stuff it is not nearly as cold as at the Comrades Marathon start of the down run.
Your average starting temperature on the Comrades down run is 4°C or 39°F while your average Comrades Marathon start temperature on the up run is probably closer to 11 or 12°C (51/52°F)
It is much warmer which means you only need one layer of extra clothing as opposed to a full-blown tracksuit.
Different Comrades Marathon Route: Same Traditions
The Comrades traditions are still there. You have VIP hospitality suite with all the famous people watching everybody at the start.
You will get the sense of playing a rugby test match for your country at a packed Newlands or Kings Park. This is your test match. It is a great atmosphere at the start.
Then there's the famous cock crow...
...and then the gun goes off and as I’ve mentioned the anxiety level is much lower.
The downside of crossing the start line and spilling onto the highway so quickly is that the first few refreshment tables are absolute chaos.
There are just so many people trying to get across to something to drink.
We’ll talk about the route profile in the next podcast but you literally start running up hill straight away.
That means the field starts to spread out immediately and it makes it a lot more comfortable to run from the 5 to 7km mark.
As mentioned at the start of this post, the first half of the Comrades Marathon route for the up run is probably one of the scariest races that you could do.
There are not many runs in the world that require as much effort as the first half of the Comrades Marathon up run.
Just in case you’re under any false illusions about the task you’re in for you literally cross the line and start running up hill.
It is really short but it is symbolic of what is to come.
You do your first what I would consider your first significant climb, although some would argue that it is nothing compared to the others to come.
That is the climb that takes you up to Tollgate which is about at the 4 or 5km mark.
The reason I say it is significant is this. It’ll be the first time in the first half when you realise it’s going to be really hard to maintain the paces you worked out for yourself when you are running uphill.
Patience is the key on the Comrades Marathon route
The Comrades Marathon route on the up run almost forces you to be patient and take the race as it comes.
That might be part of the reason that it is not nearly as painful as the down Comrades Marathon.
You then move on to 45th Cutting which starts roughly at the 6 or 7km mark.
45th Cutting is also a decent hill although it is not particularly long. It is still quite dark here so it is quite weird running through there and sometimes the street lamps aren’t working either which makes it even darker.
A lot of people are still sort of waking up so there is an eerie silence when you run through 45th Cutting.
You then head into Westville, down the other side of 45th Cutting.
In our Comrades Marathon Route Down Run Profile I went on and on about how that is such a nice stretch to run because it is a really nice downhill gradient.
Climbing in the Comrades Up Run starts early
On the Comrades up run, what that essentially means is that from about 10 or 11km the climbing starts.
There is a lot of climbing from that point on and most of the climbs you do are not even going to have names.
You start climbing through Westville but there is a little dip as you hit Westville itself, which is at about the 12km mark.
You’ll go down a little dip and then you’re immediately climbing again onto the back of Cowies Hill.
Tip from the Comrades Coach: This podcast will talk you through the first half of the Comrades Marathon Up run route
Cowies is the second of the so-called Big 5 of the Comrades Marathon Up Run.
Even though you’ve already been climbing for about four or five kilometres, to now tell people “Ok, now this is a hill” really gets their attention.
You run up and over Cowies Hill, which is at around the 17km mark. By this time the sun is fully up and pretty light for most of the runners.
The leaders will go through there in the dark but for everyone else, it is pretty light.
You'll then head down into Pinetown which is a lot cooler than when you get here on the down run.
Taking a break in Pinetown
You get a little bit of a break as you run through Pinetown. It is a little bit lumpy but there is nothing more than about 40m of up and a similar amount of down.
At the end of Pinetown, which on the up run is at about the 22km mark, is where the proper brutal damage is done. It’s here where your legs start taking a pounding on the Comrades up run.
You’ll go under a bridge and immediately turn right onto Fields Hill. You will then continue to climb all the way to the top of Botha’s Hill which is at around the 37km mark.
Over the next 15 off kilometres, you’re going to be climbing on various gradients.
The first two kilometres of Fields Hill is pretty nasty as well as the last 2.7km of Botha’s Hill.
In between those two monsters, you’ll climb your way through Hillcrest.
After that, you start getting some respite from the top of Botha’s Hill.
Eventually some reprieve on the Comrades Marathon route
To get to this stage on the Comrades up run route is a mean physical challenge. From this point on it does become a lot easier.
You have a really nice long downhill section into halfway. Most of it isn’t too steep, so it doesn’t do too much damage to your quads because by now you’re running on tired legs.
As you can imagine any hard running on steep downhills now would really punish you.
This is where you need to behave yourself and run a sensible speed down into halfway.
The aim, as always, is to try and get yourself to halfway in some sort of condition that you can still run.
There is one way to ensure you get to this point on the Comrades route and are still able to run...
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...In order to do that on the Comrades up run means lots of walking.
You need to take lots of walk breaks. The hills are going to make you tired. You can run them as slowly as you want to but they are still going to take their toll on you.
The way to control this is with loads and loads of walking.
The Downs of the Comrades Up Run
The second half of the Comrades up run gets a lot easier but unfortunately easier is relative because the first half of the Comrades up run was so tough.
There are still some tough points in the second half of the Comrades up run route, but there are a lot more easier stretches. Some of the downhill running in the second half is on a very gradual gradient.
Once you leave Drummond there is a long climb up Inchanga out of halfway.
It's in the region of 3 and a half to 4 kilometres and it's fairly steep in places. You'll also do quite a bit of walking here and that is ok.
When you come off of Inchanga you are at about the 50km mark and then we go along to Harrison Flats and Cato Ridge. This is quite a nice part of the Comrades up run route.
The overall Comrades route profile trends down here, but there are a few little lumps on this section. These are very gentle climbs and none of them are more than a 100m or so long.
This is a really nice part of the Comrades route to run
Just like on the down run, we want to get ourselves to 50kms in a position to be able to run. We want to be able to capitalise on those long, raking, and gradual downhills that you will get.
The theme is pretty much downhill until you get to Umlaas Road.
Umlaas Road on the Comrade Marathon up run is at about the 23 to 25km to go mark. This is is the highest point on the course.
From there, again, you’ve got really nice downhill running with a few little lumps thrown in between.
The downhill trend continues until you get to about 13km to go, where you will hit Little Polly’s.
It is not a significant climb but because you have done so much climbing in the race already it is easy to make the mistake to think that you are on Polly’s Shortts proper.
Little Polly’s is much shorter and it is not nearly as steep.
It’s just a teaser that Polly’s is on the way.
As you get over Little Polly’s you’ll drop down to the river. When you cross the white bridge, then you will know that you are on the famed Polly Shortts.
It is not a massive hill, but it is steep.
The infamous Polly Shortts on the Comrades up run
On a normal day, you wouldn’t have an issue with Polly Shortts. it’s not one of the long climbs (about 1.7km) but it is quite steep.
Add to that where it is so late in the race, it takes its toll.
Most of the field will walk up Polly Shortts. To be honest, the only people who run up Polly’s are those who are struggling to finish within the 12 hours or close to a cut off for a specific medal like a Bill Rowan.
Those people will force themselves to run it because they have to.
Pro Tip from the Comrades Coach: This podcast will walk you through the second half of the Comrades up run route
Everyone else walks up Polly Shortts.
Even 2013 Comrades Marathon up run winner Claude Moshiywa took a little bit of a walk on Polly Shortts on the way to victory.
The nice thing about the Comrades Marathon up run is that once you get over Polly Shortts you then have 7kms of almost all of it being downhill.
There's one more sneaky little climb left to the new finish at Scottsville.
Once over Polly's, you’ll take a right turn into Gladys Manzi road with just over six kays to go.
It’s a fairly nasty climb but it's not too long. Again, a little run walk strategy will get you over the top.
Then it's a left turn and a little over 5km of downhill all the way to the finish in Scottsville.
The video clip below will show you exactly what you're in for on the up Comrades Marathon route between Durban and Pietermaritzburg
I hope you found this post about the Comrades Marathon Up 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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