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The nine medals you can win at the Comrades Marathon

At South Africa’s Comrades Marathon, there’s much more than the classic gold, silver or bronze medals to be won

It’s always fun to see what finishers medals look like at different races. They come in all shapes, sizes and materials. Some are flashy, others are a little more low-key. At the Comrades Marathon, an ultra race in South Africa, there are nine different medals that runners can win. Each medal is unassuming, about an inch across, but winning a Comrades medal is a terrific achievement that thousands of people chase every year. Below are the nine medals you can win, and how you earn them.

Before we get into the medals themselves, you should know a bit about the race. The Comrades Marathon route travels between two cities, Pietermaritzburg and Durban, in South Africa. The direction changes, however, between “up” and “down” years. “Up” years see racers run 87K with about 2,000 metres of elevation gain. “Down” years are a bit further, hitting 90K, but the run is mostly downhill. It’s a down year in 2020, so the race will start inland in Pietermaritzburg and head to Durban, on the country’s east coast.

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Finisher’s medal 

The cut-off for the Comrades Marathon is 12 hours, and all runners who cross the finish line after 11 hours but ahead of the cut-off receive the Vic Clapham Medal. Clapham fought in World War I, and he started the Comrades Marathon in 1921 when he ran between Pietermaritzburg and Durban as a tribute for his fellow soldiers (or comrades) who didn’t make it home.

Pace required:

7:59/K for 90K, 8:16/K for 87K

Bronze medal

The bronze medal was originally introduced in 1972, and it was presented to a large breadth of runners with a range from 7 hours and 30 minutes to sub-11-hour finishing times. That has been changed since the 70s, and now running between 10:00:00 and 10:59:59 will earn runners a bronze medal. To go sub-11 at the Comrades, racers need to run 7:17 minutes per kilometre for the down run and 7:30 minutes per kilometre on the up run.

Pace required:

7:19/K for 90K, 7:35/K for 87K

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Robert Mtshali Medal

Robert Mtshali was the first black runner to unofficially finish the Comrades Marathon when he competed in 1935. He finished 9 hours and 30 minutes. It wasn’t until 1975, a full 40 years after Mtshali’s run, when black athletes were officially allowed to race the Comrades Marathon. The Robert Mtshali Medal was added to the awards list last year in 2019, and it is presented to runners who finish between 9:00:00 and 9:59:59.

Pace required:

6:39/K for 90K, 6:53/K for 87K

Men’s podium from 2018. Photo: Twitter/ComradesRace

Bill Rowan Medal

Bill Rowan won the first Comrades Marathon in 1921, running 8 hours and 59 minutes. The Bill Rowan Medal was introduced in 2000, and it is awarded to finishers who cross the line between 7:30:00 and 8:59:59.

Pace required:

5:59/K for 90K, 6:12/K for 87K

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Silver Medal

The silver medal is the oldest medal from the Comrades Marathon, and it was awarded to all sub-12-hour finishers in 1921. It wasn’t until 10 years later in 1931 that another medal was introduced. Today, a sub-7:30 run is required to win a silver medal at the South African race.

Pace required:

4:59/K for 90K, 5:10/K for 87K

A Comrades Marathon bronze medal. Photo: Twitter/DotCom_SA

Isavel Roche-Kelly Medal

In 1980, Isavel Roche-Kelly ran the first sub-7:30 Comrades Marathon by a woman. She ran a 7:18 to take the win. Last year, the Isavel Roche-Kelly Medal was introduced along with the Robert Mtshali Medal, and it is awarded to any women who run a sub-7:30 race but finish outside of the top 10.

Wally Hayward Medal

In his Comrades Marathon career, Wally Hayward won the race five times, and on three of those occasions, he broke the course record. He also set the record for oldest Comrades finisher when he ran the 1989 edition of the race at the age of 80. That year, he ran a 10:58:03. This medal is presented to runners who finished outside of the top 10 but ran under six hours.

Pace required:

3:59/K for 90K, 4:08/K for 87K

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Gold Medal

The gold medal was introduced in 1931 when it was awarded to the top six finishers. Today, it is given to the top 10 men and women.

Back-to-Back Medal

This medal was introduced in 2005, and as the name entails, it’s awarded to runners who complete the Comrades Marathon in back-to-back years. No specific time to beat, just run under the 12-hour cut-off two years in a row and you’ll get the medal.