Many marathon runners have an appreciation for the deep history of the marathon distance.
From the roots of the marathon distance dating back to antiquity in Ancient Greece to the establishment of the oldest modern marathon—the Boston Marathon—many marathon runners enjoy thinking about the legacy of the marathon when they train and race the iconic 26.2-mile distance.
Interestingly, though Pheidippides is the herald credited with running the first marathon to deliver the news to Athens of the Athenian victory over Sparta, he likely ran an ultramarathon.
Needless to say, the oldest modern ultramarathon race—akin to the Boston Marathon—is the Comrades Marathon.
The Comrades ultramarathon was established in 1921. The 2023 race was the 96th Comrades Marathon.
While an ultramarathon is technically any foot race longer than a regular marathon (26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers), the Comrades Marathon specifically is about 87.701 kilometers.
This annual ultramarathon is not only the oldest ultramarathon in the world, but also among the most popular ultra trail races and the largest ultramarathon in the world.
The course has runners covering the 87.701-km distance from the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa.
Some years, the race is run in the “uphill direction“ between the two cities, and on alternate years, it is run in the “downhill direction.“
The 2023 Comrades ultramarathon was one of the “downhill course“ years, taking the 17,000 ultrarunners from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
Every year, the Comrades Marathon is an exciting race for ultra runners around the world, whether you are actually participating as one of the lucky runners or you are just spectating from across the globe.
Spectators were in for a treat this year at the 2023 Comrades ultramarathon because it was a record-breaking year at the race.
Last year‘s Comrades Marathon champion, Tete Dijana, again reigned supreme, beating out the entire men’s field.
This year, Dijana finished the 2023 Comrades ultramarathon in 5:13:58, which not only bested his 2022 performance, but also broke the existing course record, held by David Gatebe.
His 2023 Comrades ultramarathon time was over 15 minutes faster than his 2022 performance (05:30:37), likely attributable to a combination of both improved fitness as well as stiffer competition.
In the 2022 Comrades Marathon, Dijana was virtually unchallenged the whole race and won by a comfortable margin of three minutes and eight seconds.
Things were quite different this year, and Dijana had company for nearly the entire race.
In fact, due to the long distance, you might expect to see a larger margin between the top competitors in an ultramarathon.
However, Tete Dijana just edged out the runner-up finisher (a fellow Nedbank Running Club member) named Piet Wiersma (5:14:01) by just 2.23 seconds.
The duo pushed each other for most of the entire race, after putting some distance between the third-place finisher about 3.5 hours into the ultra marathon.
The women’s race at the 2023 Comrades ultramarathon was equally exciting and also a stunning record-breaking performance.
The winner, Gerda Steyn finished the ultramarathon in a time of 5:44:56.
This took a whopping nine minutes and 47 seconds off of the previous Comrades ultramarathon record, which was set in 1989 by Frith van der Merwe.
Taking down a 34-year-old course record is always impressive, but the fact that Steyn bested the existing Comrades ultra course record for women by nearly 10 minutes is truly awe-inspiring.
Gerda Steyn’s Comrades Marathon performance was also stunningly decisive in her command over the field. She finished a whopping 11 minutes and 31 seconds ahead of runner-up Adele Broodryk, who finished in 5:56:26.
This is not to say that Broodryk didn’t also run a stunning race, as she was the only other woman under the six-hour mark, but it further demonstrates how amazing Comrades ultra winner Steyn did.
The 2023 Comrades Marathon was not Steyn’s first victory here. She also won and set the uphill course record at the 2019 race, where she ran 5:58:53.
The Comrades Ultra separate course records for the uphill and downhill iterations of the race.
Clearly, it was a strong year at the 2023 Comrades Marathon, which may point to the fact that ultrarunning is growing in popularity and the best ultra marathon runners in the world are continuing to push each other both in terms of when they meet head to head at ultra races as well as in their minds as they train for such events.
If you would like to train to run an ultramarathon, check out some of our free ultramarathon training plans here.
You might also consider attending the first-ever UESCA Ultrarunning Coaching Conference coming up this September in Colorado Springs, Colorado. You do not have to be a running coach to attend this event, and it may be just what you need to catapult your ultrarunning to the next level.
Learn more about the ultrarunning event here.