The Ultimate Virtual Race – Comrades Marathon

Marathon Talk has had a great influence on my life over these past years. I was humbled to be interviewed by Martin Yelling in April 2015 around the impact of running on mental health and my role as a campaigner and ambassador with Mind; to see the show’s continued focus on mental wellbeing has been quite brilliant and MT is definitely a staple for my weekend runs. This was the case on Sunday when Tom Williams interviewed Cheryl Winn, the chair of the Comrades Marathon Association.

Comrades Marathon – a great history

For those who don’t know, Comrades is one of the oldest established running events in the world and will celebrate its centenary next year in 2021. For many runners, a Comrades medal is the ultimate on the bucket list, the celebration after 90 miles of stunning and rugged landscape connecting Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The history makes fascinating reading and only during 5 years spanning the Second World War has the race not taken place. Well, only during the Second World War… until now, which really does put into context the impact of the Coronavirus.

Comrades Marathon
The start line at Comrades… a dream waiting to happen

Goosebumps by podcast

I can’t deny that Comrades is well and truly on my bucket list! Listening to Tom and Brian Williams describe their Comrades journey in 2019 stands out as some of the very best broadcasting / podcasting I’ve ever heard around running; inspirational lump in the throat stuff and perhaps an onion in the eye.

Having spent a lot of time in South Africa as a child, it is a country with which I have a great affinity, and I have long had it in my mind to enter the 2022 event. I entered the South West Coast 2 Coast Challenge this year to ensure a qualification time – 2020 was always going to be about marathons for me and the Centenary is a downhill to Durban in 2021. My preference was to wait for the ‘up’ race in 2022 from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.

#20in2020… well not quite

There is a slight irony in the statement that 2020 was always going to be about marathons… well of course it was, I was meant to be running 20 of the things! Of course, Covid-19 has other ideas and I will, as recently announced, be running 21 marathons in 2021.

Of course, the fabulous charities I’m supporting need our help now more than ever as they continue to save and transform young lives with the economy closed around us and their biggest event of the year, the London Marathon, currently postponed.

I’ve run a number of virtual events recently and the wildest is fast approaching… The Virtual Comrades Marathon, known officially as Race the Comrades Legends. I firmly put the blame for my madness at the door of Marathon Talk! I’d never even have known Comrades was going virtual until I listened to Tom interviewing Cheryl Winn while I was out for a gentle jog last Sunday morning.

So this Sunday, I will attempt to cover 90 kilometres (55.923 miles) of stunning Kwa-Zulu Natal… via Richmond and Battersea Parks!!! I am plotting my exact route and strategy and will post to my social media channels on Friday for any who wish to give me any socially distanced support.

I have covered the distance before… in 2017, I completed 100km on 4 occasions. However, this is different and I know that the biggest challenge will be mental this weekend. It’s all well and good to cover that distance when you can feed off the energy of fellow runners, volunteers and spectators but to run for what will likely be 10 hours solo will be an immense challenge even for a deep introvert like me.

As ever, I find myself asking why I’m doing this? Actually, there are a few reasons…

  • We hope that there will never be another VIRTUAL Comrades, so why not be part of history!
  • Although it will not add me to the pantheon of official Comrades finishers, there is an official Comrades medal to be earned.
  • And because I hope my madness will earn your support for Mind, Football Beyond Borders and the Running Charity who continue to do incredible work to support young people through and beyond the pandemic.

My toughest test yet

I genuinely believe that this is the toughest running challenge which I have taken on; yes, I have run 36 marathons and 5 ultra-marathons but never in the type of solitude that I will face on Sunday. I will face it with the innocence and humility with which I try to approach each run, remembering that running is a gift, it’s fun. and it happens to be a way in which I’m able to support charities as they transform lives.

It will be worth every second of it for every life you can impact with your support. I thank you so much in advance.

“Comrades is a great 5K. The problem is the two marathons you have to run to get to the starting line.

Comrades Marathon: The Ultimate Human Race, Part 4 – RUNNERS WORLD, June 2010

Rohan Kallicharan

Rohan is an award-winning mental health campaigner and speaker with lived experience of mental illness. He has been involved in a number of high-profile campaigns to raise awareness and break down the stigma around mental ill-health. He is a sub-3 hour marathon runner, HR Director and husband to Claire.