Life Lessons Learned from watching the Comrades Marathon


Comrades Marathon 2019

Comrades marathon is one of the most grueling, inspirational races which is a true test of human capabilities.  On this day I warn the kids, a week in advance, to make sure their tablets are charged as mom will be watching the Comrades. There is running and then there is the Comrades, I am hoping one day that I will be mentally and physically capable of competing one day.

The Comrades marathon has been around since 1921, starting with a few brave souls that decided it would be a good idea to tackle the 89 km run between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The up run which is run from Durban ending in Pietermaritzburg, with the down going the opposite way.  In the early years with apartheid in South Africa only whites were able to compete, where today there is thousands of people from all over the world competing.

In 1935 the first black man completed the Comrades was Robert Mtshali, and his effort was recognized this year with an introduction of the Robert Mtshali medal. In 1975 the race opened to everyone including woman with only a handful of women competing with finishing times of about 11 hours. If I look at winner of the ladies run this year Gerda Steyn, who not only completed the run but also broke the record to be the first lady to finish under 6 hours, I am amazed at how far the race has come.

As a spectator on the side lines watching these athletes push their bodies, there are some life lessons we can learn from them.


Route description for Comrades Marathon

  1. Metal strength is key

As I stood at the end of Polly shorts and I see those runners pass me knowing they are on the last 10km stretch before the end of their nearly 90km run, the only thing I could think of was how did you prepare your mind. How do you process the distance, the pain, the boredom, what goes through your mind? What pep talks do you give yourself to make it and not give up? Is there like a training boot camp for you mind? Looking at the athletes pass some have looks of determination, some have the look of not thinking at all, others have anguish and others have hope and gratefulness.

We will be faced with a lot of challenges in our life time. If we can get our minds to be willing and able to run this far, we can train our minds to deal with many of life’s setbacks.  Job security, family and social responsibilities all attacks the mind first. Imagine how we can conquer anything if we all have this kind of mental strength. What obstacles we can face with our minds on our team, either pushing your forward or leaving you in anguish.


  1. It takes Preparation

90% with all people who watch the Comrades feel inspired to one day run the marathon. People who compete range from pro athletes to your every day runner that still has a full time job. One thing they all have in common is they prepared for this race. They all have to qualify, they all have to get the miles on their legs, they all do extra training to make sure they are prepared for this mammoth task they have before them.  They make sacrifices to wake up early, make sure they either follow a training plan or get advice from their coach.

Being prepared sometimes feels like it’s a lot of work, but at the end of the day one can see who is prepared and who is not. If we have a project or a goal, prepare. Know you need to have a game plan to get you ready to tackle the distance. Early mornings learning a skill, speaking to people that have accomplished the goal, covering all the possibilities but be prepared.


  1. You are never alone on the road

We all like to think that running is a solo sport, but I have never seen such team spirit in my life like when running. If you have ever watched an athlete buckle at the end and see a fellow runner stop and help, you will know what I am talking about. In the Comrades on national television it is the most beautiful sight in the world seeing the humanity displayed, when you see the spirit of the bus drivers taking their athletes across the line with their projected times, the sense of joy and accomplishment shared with all. The supporters that get so excited on the side lines trying to push the athletes with their joyous infection, we all cry when see the cut offs and feel the pain and disappointment, we all rejoice when we see the winners cross the line.

In business I see that most people want to tackle it as a solo sport, and like running it not. People have strengths and weaknesses and working around those to support and uplift can change not only how you work but also the company ethos. We all rejoice with the wins and sometimes we need to drag each other, other times we deal with the disappointments. We might work as individuals but we are not alone and we have the support of your fellow runners or should I say colleagues.

  1. It has an impact on your body

Most runners have a war story about injuries ranging from cramping to black toe nails, and running the Comrades is no different. People that didn’t plan their nutrient intake and hydration will have impact on their bodies. The impact on your feet and legs carrying your body from one city to another city will have some damage and will need some recovery. On the average marathon a person burns 2500 calories, you can double that for the Comrades depleting your energy resources.

Stress in the business place has the same impact on our bodies. Afflictions and injury due to stress is so common, especially with people that have high pressure jobs. If you listen carefully to corporate they have their own war stories about lack of sleep, living off caffeine to meet deadlines, not having time to breathe. It is not healthy and it can be managed. If the winners of Comrades can look fresh and relatively damage free it tells me it is manageable and these injuries come due to some part of our preparation lacking.


There is so much we can learn from observing these athletes even if we don’t run. Anything is possible if you want it bad enough and work hard. Even the people that fail to complete the Comrades keep coming back to try and end up running 20.  If these athletes can accomplish this, what is holding us back?  What mental exercises should we be doing? What preparations should we start getting into place? How are we going to manage the impact of injury on our bodies?

Categories: Productivity, Road RunsTags: , ,

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