If you’ve ever run, watched or supported someone running the Comrades Marathon, you will have experienced the camaraderie that is so strongly associated with the race. Telling us more about this unique feeling are Upper Highway’s Brad Morgan and Steve Camp. Mariclair Smit chatted to them to find out more.
It was with this spirit of oneness, along with the history of the event, in mind that Brad and Steve captured the world’s biggest and oldest ultra-marathon in the first-ever coffee table book – despite the lockdown restrictions, the July 2021 riots and a tight six-month deadline!
And from the moment you flip through the pages, you’ll be captivated by the sheer sense of Ubuntu and human resilience that have made the Comrades unique and world-renowned.
“It’s such an iconic event and it represents the best of South Africa. There is no other event like it where everyday people can become heroes, and where the spectators play such a big role in getting the runners through. We wanted to bring the race to life by combining a rich blend of beautiful photographs with copy, which delves into everything you ever wanted to know about the Comrades.
The memorabilia, how the medals, badges and trophies are awarded, the history … how people, cars and their clothes changed over the years is all wrapped up in this wonderful book. Making the book visually appealing was a priority for the duo – Brad, a former radio sports presenter and journalist, and Steve, who is one of a handful of people who have competed in South Africa’s Big Five endurance sporting events – the Dusi Canoe Marathon, the Midmar Mile, the Cape Town Cycle Tour (formerly The Argus), and the Cape to Rio Yacht Race, and no less than 10 Comrades Marathons.
“About 90 per cent of the photos in this book have never been published before, and that is something that Brad and I were keen on – to try and have a fresh look of the Comrades. There have been a lot of books written about the Comrades, but they have all been text heavy,” explains the avid sportsman.
By scouring the Msunduzi Municipal Library (formerly The Natal Society Library), as well as the archives of the Comrades Marathon Museum (also known as the Comrades House), the two not only uncovered rare rolls of films and slides of photos, but also shirts, shoes and scrap books that had been bequeathed by some of the race’s top past runners.
“It was really great to work out of those finds, items that were very personal and not shared in books before. We have found some cool items that came from really important people in the history of the event,” adds Brad.
The research also uncovered some unique and never-shared before stories – one of which Brad shared with us as a teaser.
“This is something most people did not know about. In the very first event, Vic Clapham, the guy who started the Comrades and organised everything, realised, as they were about to start the race, that he didn’t have a starters pistol. Now, in a bit of a panic, he looked around and saw a policeman, so he ran up to the guy and said ‘Please, please this is my issue. Could I borrow your revolver?’ and the policeman duly said yes. So, the policeman’s revolver was used to start the initial race!”
To add to the historical brilliance of the story, Brad says after the race Clapham collected the bullet casing and some years later put it onto a shield and presented it to the Pietermaritzburg Collegians Club which, at the time, managed the Comrades.
It was also important for the passionate pair to include stories and pay tribute to the forgotten runners of colour and the women who ran unofficially, but played an important role in shaping the event.
Not only were they great athletes but they had great stories. They were incredibly well supported, although they were the outliers,” says Brad. Women and people of colour were only recognised as official participants in 1975.
“There are lots of amazing stories, and it was so difficult to try and condense a 100 years of these kinds of stories into a book of this size,” adds Steve.
“But we are really happy with what we’ve produced. Book writing is not a full-time job for either of us. It’s really a hobby. I think it is such an honour to document the history of the Comrades for its centenary year. We’ve both grown up on the route and followed it since we were ye high, and to be in a position where I was able to co-author the book with Brad, and put it together the way we wanted to, is something very special,” says Steve.
“I agree. And, I think the way that we have done it should appeal to everyone – whether you want to do a bit of reading or a bit of looking, from a little kid to older people, to people who have been involved or haven’t been involved – anybody with an interest in the Comrades should enjoy it,” adds Brad.
Another proud aspect of the book for the authors is the fact that the publication of the book involved only locals – from printers in Pinetown to a layout team in Howick.
This, however, was not the dynamic duo’s first project together nor their first run-in with the challenges of the pandemic. In 2020 they successfully published a book on the legendary Dusi Canoe Marathon.
“Both events are so unique. But the Dusi has its own challenges. It is quite a difficult race, because there is lots of local knowledge required as well as the portaging and the intimidating rapids,” Steve says. Which meant the event has not always attracted a lot of international interest.
The ultimate aim of the books, they say, is not only to educate and entertain, but to inspire people.
In Your Stride: 100 Years of the Comrades Marathon can be bought at the Comrades Marathon Association or online via IGo Books at R480 (including door-to-door delivery), while Adventures on an African River: 70 Years of the Dusi Canoe Marathon is available through the Natal Canoe Club at R200.
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To celebrate this year’s Comrades Marathon – which will take place on 28 August – as well as its centenary, we will be giving away signed copies of the Dusi and Comrades books to one lucky winner.