The Comrades Qualifier: What is the Deal?
By: Russell Mackintosh
So the current hot topic in distance running circles is the decision by the Comrades Marathon
Association (CMA) to tighten up the qualifying times for the 2019 edition of the race. To qualify for
next year’s race, the hopeful participant must hotfoot around an official 42.195km course in under 4
hours 50 minutes (10 minutes faster than was required last year). Similarly, if you were relying on
your Two Oceans time as a qualifier then you need to run sub 6:45 (as opposed to sub 7:00 last
I have to admit that my first response to the news was one of ambivalence – I am not running next
year’s Comrades, so why should I really care. Hey, distance running is a selfish sport . . . don’t judge
me! But then, as the level of debate around this issue rose, I became more engaged in following the
various arguments around the issue. (Let’s also be honest, I knew Shannon needed an article from
me and this seemed like a good subject).
When I ran my first Comrades you had to get it done in 11 hours, so to qualify you had to run a
marathon in sub 4:30 (or Two Oceans in sub 6:00). Then in 2000 CMA introduced the extra hour, and
qualifying was extended to the 5 hours we have become used to. The rationale behind this move
was to increase participation by making the Comrades Marathon more achievable for your back-of-
So it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that for 2019 CMA have increased the total field to 25000 entrants,
yet at the same time made it more difficult to qualify. The cynics amongst us will point to the fact
that it’s all about the bottom line. The theory goes that the crowds will still enter, ever hopeful of
sneaking a qualifier, and the CMA will gleefully accept their hard-earned currency, knowing full well
that a fair proportion won’t be an expense to them on the day of Comrades. Ka-ching!!
So what was the reasoning behind this decision by CMA? I missed the initial announcement when it
was made, so thought I would go back and read the press release for clues. Looked on the Comrades
Marathon official website . . . nothing! Googled the news sites and sports news sites . . . equally
devoid of information. So I asked Bruce Swanson on a morning run why the CMA had made the
change, and he told me it was because their research showed that most cases that end up in the
medical tent at the Comrades finish are from those runners that have qualifiers just under 5 hours.
Now I have to believe Bruce (because he has an honest face), but why then did the CMA not clearly
communicate to their customers’ – the running community – the results of this research that
underpinned their decision.
I know how the late Dr. Lindsay Weight would have approached it: She would have drawn all the
available data on medical cases treated for a set period, linked them to seeding groups and
qualifying times, crunched all the numbers, and presented hard scientific data that either proved or
disproved the theory. And it would have been there for all to see.
Did the CMA do this in this case? Well if they did then Google (and I) are still trying to locate it. Or is
their decision rather based on nothing more than a premonition, flavoured with a lashing of media
It will be interesting to see if there are fewer admissions to the medical tent at Scottsville next year
and if there will be fewer DNF’s limping mournfully through the dusk in the streets of
Pietermaritzburg. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.