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THE UP RUN
THE BIG FIVE AND OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
The start for the up run is at sea level in the centre of the harbour city of Durban, and finishes in Pietermaritzburg at an altitude of 650 m. On the way runners encounter 5 major hills, popularly known as the “Big Five” which are briefly described in the following narrative, interspersed with other landmarks and points of interest.
Almost directly from the start outside the Durban Post Office, the ascent to Pietermaritzburg begins with a steady climb up Berea Road to the summit at Tollgate, where today there is neither toll nor gate. After a brief descent another climb takes the runners to 45th Cutting, so named after the British 45th Regiment of Foot ( Sherwood Foresters ) who constructed the cutting while stationed in Natal from 1843 to 1859. The first of the “Big Five” Cowies Hill is the next landmark of note.
Coming up from Durban, Cowies is encountered approximately 14 km from the start and is a moderately difficult climb rising about 137 m in the space of 1,5 km. Although this does not sound too difficult an obstacle so early in the race, the preceding 14 km is a relentless ascent, to an altitude of nearly 300 m at Westville, which warrants its inclusion in the “Big Five”
After the descent from Cowies Hill and the easy flat section of Pinetown's Old Main Road, this hill (namely after an early pioneer) is approximately 22km from Durban and rises some 213m over a distance of 3km. It offers a foretaste of things to come.
After breasting the crest of Field’s Hill some respite is offered by an undulating but reasonably flat section to the village of Hillcrest. After a short descent from Hillcrest, Botha’s Hill offers another challenge with a somewhat lesser altitude rise of some ± 150 m, and covering a distance of 2,4 km, but is nevertheless taxing. At the top of this hill lies a landmark well known to all veteran Comrades runners in the form of the boys of Kearsney College who have gathered in numbers outside the famous school’s gates since the beginning of Comrade’s long history, providing much appreciated support to the weary runners. Their vociferous and enthusiastic support together with refreshments and any other assistance needed has helped lift the flagging spirit of many a runner and encapsulates the school motto Carpe Diem.
In the 7 km stretch from the top of Botha’s to the halfway mark, there is a fairly steep but short descent known as Alverstone, which is recognisable by the radio and TV transmitting mast clearly visible on the left.
At the end of the flat section after the sharp descent, runners encounter the Wall of Honour on the right hand side of the road, overlooking the Valley of 1000 Hills. This wall was created as a permanent landmark to honour the achievements of runners who have completed the epic journey between the two cities.
Just round the corner, through the cutting is Arthur’s Seat a niche cut into the cutting wall, which legend tells us was the spot where the famous Arthur Newton, 5 times winner of the 1920’s, used to sit for a breather while out running. Today runners are urged to pay homage to Mr. Newton with a greeting and a flower, which legend has it, ensures a great second half of the race.
A couple of 100 metres beyond this lies Drummond which marks halfway, and is immediately followed by the fourth “Big Five” hill, Inchanga
Immediately after reaching the welcome milestone of the halfway mark, runners are confronted with this monster. It winds relentlessly for 2,5 km and also rises some 150 m in altitude, but at this stage of the race seems far more difficult than the preceding hills.
The descent of some 2 km is more gentle and is a welcome relief. The bottom of the Inchanga descent is marked by Mayats Store on the right.
The route now follows a generally flat and slightly undulating landscape through the tiny villages of Cato Ridge and Camperdown and passing the Ethembeni School for Handicapped Children who line the route with enthusiastic support for the runners. Harrison Flats lies just before Cato Ridge and is an uninspiring flat section of approx 2,5 km, which to the leg-weary runner seems endless.
Approximately 19 km from Pietermaritzburg is the highest point on the route ( 870 m) at a point known as Umlaas Road. This point is unremarkable as is not reached by any noticeable hill, and is largely unnoticed by most runners. A landmark is a concrete water tower which is visible on the other side of the freeway which passes near the route on the right at that point.
This is the ultimate in heartbreak hills. It lies in wait 80 km away from Durban and is often the make or break point for even the top contenders. The climb is 1,8 km in length with the summit at an altitude of 737 m, (a rise of nearly 100 m) and while this is 133 m less than the highest point on the course, it is a formidable obstacle to any runner with two back-to-back standard marathons behind him.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST ON THE ROUTE
This is named after the British 45th Regiment of Foot ( Sherwood Foresters) stationed in Natal between 1843 and 1859 and who constructed a cutting through the hill near the present Mayville and is situated approx. 8 km from Durban. On the up run this offers a moderately taxing ascent from the bottom of Mayville to the summit at 45th Cutting.
WALL OF HONOUR
This wall is situated near Drummond, the halfway point, overlooking the Valley of 1000 Hills and was created to serve as a permanent landmark to commemorate the achievement of Comrades runners who have completed the epic journey between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Runners may purchase a block upon which is mounted a plaque recording their name, and number.
This is a niche cut into the bank of the cutting at the site of the Wall of Honour and is reputed to have been a favourite resting spot of the legendary Arthur Newton, 5 times winner of the Comrades Marathon in the 1920’s. Legend has it that runners who pay tribute to Arthur as they pass by placing flowers in the niche and doffing their peak with the greeting “Good morning Sir”, will enjoy a strong second half of the race.
On the up run, shortly before the notorious Polly Shorts, there lies a climb of far gentler proportions of about 1,5 km. This is reached after a welcome stretch of about 7 km of downhill running from the highest point at Umlaas Road. This little climb sometimes confuses unknowing runners into believing that this is the Polly Shorts. Local runners refer to this as “Little Pollys”
The highest point on the course (870 m) is situated at Umlaas Road, about 19 km from Pietermaritzburg, and is unremarkable as it is not reached by any noticeable hill and probably goes unnoticed by most runners. A landmark is a concrete water tower on the other side of the freeway which passes near the route at that point.
This radio and TV transmitting mast is visible on the down run from just past Cato Ridge and remains in view for hours, finally being reached after passing halfway. It marks a short but very steep climb which brings one to the top of Botha’s Hill.
CAMPERDOWN AND CATO RIDGE
These two villages through which the route passes usually have large crowds of spectators lining both sides of the road, who offer lots of encouragement and support to runners.
ETHEMBENI SCHOOL FOR HANDICAPPED CHILDREN
This school is situated near Inchanga and the children traditionally line the road cheering the runners on and shouting encouragement, and inspire many runners with their exuberance.
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