The Greatest Footrace

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"Comrades Marathon 2006" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Chris Bloom

Liz Waid and Adam Navis tell about a 56-mile race in South Africa. It honors soldiers and tests the courage of the people who run it.

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Adam Navis. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3 

“As I walk toward the mountain, I try to understand what has gone wrong. This does not help. I am in good shape. I have not run too fast. I ate and drank liquids. Normally, I am great at knowing what my body can do. But today I have lost all desire. I do not have foot blisters, legs cramps, painful knees, or any usual running problems. But my brain has gone away. It will not tell my legs to get going. I cannot explain this. I am only reporting.”

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Voice 1 

This was written by Amby Burfoot for Runner’s World Magazine. He was writing about the Comrades Marathon. Many people consider this race to be the greatest running race in the world. But the Comrades Marathon is not only about professional runners. The Comrades Marathon celebrates normal people doing something amazing. Today’s Spotlight is on the Comrades Marathon.

Voice 2 

The Comrades Marathon began with Vic Clapham. During World War I, Clapham saw pain, death, and struggle. From 1914 to 1918 he served in the South African Army. Many people think World War I happened only in Europe. But there was fighting in places like South Africa as well.

Voice 1 

Clapham saw a lot of suffering. But he also saw men come together and support each other. He was amazed by how the soldiers dealt with such difficult conditions. When the war ended, Clapham wanted to honor all the men who died. But he did not want to just build a statue. He wanted to test people’s strength and courage.

Voice 2 

He decided to hold a running race. It would be a 56-mile run from the city of Pietermaritzburg to the city of Durban. He would be honouring the men he fought with — his comrades. So, he called it the Comrades Marathon.

Voice 1 

At first, he had trouble. Many people thought it would be too long and too difficult. Clapham disagreed. His comrades had been normal people. They had carried heavy equipment and marched all over Africa. And he believed that trained athletes could run 56 miles. So, the first Comrades Marathon was held on May 24, 1921. There were only 34 runners.

Voice 2 

The Comrades has been run every year since then, except during World War II. It has become more and more popular. Today, the Comrades must limit the number of runners. In 2019, only 25,000 could run in the race.

People run the Comrades Marathon in 2000
19.06.2000 Comrades Marathon Strecke” (CC BY 2.0) by Running.Queen
Voice 1 

The Comrades is not just any race. There are many traditions that set Comrades above other races. First there is the distance. Fifty-six miles is longer than two marathons! Running a marathon is amazing. Running two together? That’s something special.

Voice 2 

Most races run the same direction every year, but not Comrades. One year it goes from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. Then the next year it goes the other way, from Durban back to Pietermaritzburg. You can run Comrades twice and have a different experience each time.

Voice 1 

Also, there are different coloured race numbers, or bibs. Runners wear these bibs on their shirts. If you finish nine Comrades you get a special yellow bib. If you finish more than ten, then you get a green bib. The number on this bib becomes yours forever. No one else will ever get that number. You have earned it.

Voice 2 

Finally, the race ends at 12 hours. When the clock gets close to 12 hours, the race director walks to the finish line. He stands with his back to the runners and watches the clock. As the time gets closer, the crowd goes wild. They cheer people to run faster. Runners must push themselves to finish. There are no excuses. Twelve hours after the race began, the race director stops the race. The Comrades is over. Those who finish in 12 hours and one second will get nothing. No medal. No recognition. No record of their effort. However, Burfoot writes:

Voice 3 

“There is something for the first non-finisher. He or she becomes an immediate hero. She is on television and on the front of every newspaper. To many South Africans, the Comrades runner who goes all that distance, for nothing, is more of a symbol than the winner. That is another great tradition. It is one I think we all can accept, even if we are not sure what it means.”

The Finish line of the Comrades Marathon in 2010
The Finish Line
Finish line, Comrades Marathon 2010” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Kleinz1
Voice 1 

The Comrades shares this spirit in other ways too. South Africa used to be governed by the laws of Apartheid. Apartheid laws segregated, or separated, the people with dark skin from people with light skin. It was illegal for a person to marry someone with another skin color. Apartheid laws favored the white race. Life for non-white South Africans was very difficult under Apartheid.

Voice 2 

In these conditions, the Director of the Comrades Marathon wanted to make the race an international event. So, in 1975, the Comrades Marathon changed its rules. They said women could run with men, black people could run with white people, and young people could run with old people. In a few years, many more black and female runners were running the Comrades Marathon. This was 20 years before the end of the Apartheid laws.

Voice 1 

Is the Comrades Marathon the greatest footrace in the world? There are strong reasons to think so. The strongest reason is that Comrades is about something more than running – especially for South Africans. Writer Jacob Dlamini explains:

Voice 4 

“The Comrades is a way to tell the history of modern South Africa. Comrades tells us a lot about who we are and what we are able to do. It is a race started as a celebration of human ability. But it limited that celebration to only a few until the 1970s. Now it is a race that shows the best of what South Africa has to offer. By doing that, it permits South Africans to compete against the very best in the world. More importantly, the Comrades puts such mental and physical demands on its runners that differences of race, ethnicity, gender and class are meaningless. The hills of Comrades do not care how much money you have, what kind of hair you have, or what language you speak.”

Voice 2 

Do you think Comrades is a good test of courage? What is the biggest challenge you have faced? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at contact@spotlightenglish.com. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio. Subscribe to our YouTube channel at youtube.com/spotlightenglish1.

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Adam Navis. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.spotlightenglish.com. This program is called, ‘The Greatest Footrace’.

Voice 2           

Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Would you run 56 miles? What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced?

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