(Important note: This is where you’ll find the Comrades Marathon Route info for the UP RUN)
The Comrades Marathon route is hard to describe. Brutal and Punishing are words that spring to mind, but they probably don’t do the Comrades route justice.
Even though it’s the same stretch of road, The Comrades Down Run route is vastly different to the up Comrades Up route.
In this post we’re going to tell you all we know about the Comrades Marathon down run route. We’ll also share the Comrades down route profile, as well an interactive map of the Comrades route. We will also share a video of the Comrades route that you can use in your planning and preparation for the Comrades down run.
As most South Africans know, the Comrades Marathon is run between Pietermaritzburg and Durban on an annual basis. The direction alternates between the cities annually, resulting in the ‘Up Run’ and ‘Down Run’
The Comrades route meanders through what is called the Valley of a Thousand Hills in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
Comrades Marathon Down Run- The First 30 Kilometers
The first 30 kilometers are almost the most important 30 kilometers in the entire Comrades Marathon because they are so hard.
If you had to look at an accurate GPS map of the Comrades marathon route and profile, you’ll notice that in the first 30 kilometers, there’s very little downhill running.
So you’ll start outside the Pietermaritzburg Hall, and you drop down for roughly a kilometer.
From there, you are pretty much climbing to around about the 7.⅝ kilometer mark, until you get to the top of Polly Shortts.
There are some short breaks, but overall there is a lot of uphill climbing.
So often by the time you get to 5 or 6 kilometers, you feel hot and tempted to get rid of your warm kit like your gloves… Don’t do it.
Keep yourself warm because you will then drop down Polly Shortts into the valley where it is freezing.
This is where you get greeted by Little Polly that will get you down to the river where it’s ice cold!
From that point, which is about 11 or 12 kilometers into Comrades… up until 20 kilometers, it’s non-stop gradual climbing.
Only when you get to around 23 to 24.5 kilometers that we get to Umlaas road which is the highest point on the Comrades Marathon course.
Effectively, most of the work in the first third is done here.
From that point, the course flattens out and turns into rolling hills.
In the first third, you need to be cautious as to how you approach those 30 kilometers.
The Comrades Marathon down run route has a bit of a unique start. It’s quite a difficult start as it takes you a long time to get over the start line.
But even more important than that, Pietermaritzburg is quite a small town. It’s nickname is ‘Sleepy Hollow’. Not much happens in Maritzburg. Essentially what that means is it only has a couple of access points to get you in and out of the town…
…and on Comrades race day, one of those are closed (because that is the road you’re going to be running to Durban on).
You’ve effectively got two ways into Pietermaritzburg on race morning. Add to that the thousands of runners, plus their families, that are trying to get to the Comrades Marathon start line.
Pro Comrades Route Tip: Listen to this podcast for an audio description of the start of Comrades Marathon Down Run Route
So, the first bit of important advice around the Comrades Marathon down run start, is to make sure you get there really early.
The second thing you need to understand is that people think that you’re coming to Durban, so it’s warm all year round.
Even though Maritzburg isn’t that far from Durban (If you’re driving) it can get pretty chilly in the morning.
It’s not freezing cold but the average minimum temperature that time of the year is around 4°C or 39°F. One extra layer of clothing should do it but again you want to get into the start area nice and early.
You also want to make sure you can get your stuff to the tog bag area and then get into your seeding pens.
Don’t squander a Comrades route advantage by arriving late
That then takes me back to the first point that it takes a while to get over the start line. If you have earned a D seeding, make sure you get there early enough to get into your D seeding pen and you don’t get forced to go and start right at the back.
About 15 to 20 minutes before the race starts, they will drop the barriers between the starting pens and the whole field jams up.
If you arrive at the Comrades start late you will be forced to start at the back of the field because there will be no way to get into your seeding pen.
So to recap, get to the Comrades start early, dress warm and make sure you’re nice and relaxed and in your seeding pens in good time.
The Comrades Marathon Start is something special
The Comrades Marathon ‘Launch Sequence’ is a sight to behold.
…Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika Look out for my cameo appearance 90 seconds in 😉
It’s pretty dark at the start and the streets are fairly narrow so you are going to move quite slowly through Pietermaritzburg.
You’ll go downhill for a bit initially but once you get through the first kilometre of the Comrades down run you’ll notice a theme for the next forty-plus kilometres.
There is not that much downhill running during the first half of the Comrades Marathon down run route.
You’ll climb up to about the seven kilometre mark where you will drop down the back of Polly Shortts (The infamous Polly Shortts from the up run)
At this point you will be quite warm because you will have done a lot of climbing and it is really important that you don’t discard your warm clothes just yet.
Hopefully you’re still running with gloves and a long sleeve shirt because when you get to the bottom of Polly Shortts, it gets really cold again.
It will stay cold for quite a long time even though from this point at the bottom of little Polly’s you are going to climb consistently until you get to the highest point on the route which is known as Umlaas Road. This comes at about the 27/28 kilometre mark.
This is the Comrades Marathon Down run…We’re not lying!
Once you get down the other side of Umlaas Road again you’ll be forgiven for thinking that we’re all liars when we describe it as the Comrades Marathon down run.
From that point to just short of the 40km mark, there is a lot of climbing to do on the Comrades Marathon route.
These are not major climbs. We’re talking about one or two percent gradients, but these are long pulls with a few shortish downs.
There is really not a lot of down up to that point on the Comrades Marathon route.
Be Warned: Tough section of the Comrades Route ahead
The next part of the Comrades down run route is very dangerous. It stretches from about 40km all the way into Drummond. This is your first real downhill section of the down run Comrades route. It is 4km long and it snakes it’s way all the way down into Drummond and halfway.
By this stage a lot of people are panicking because of all the up hills they’ve been running they’re behind their goal times. What happens is they really do smash it down that stretch into Drummond way too quickly.
Comrades Coach Tip: Listen to this podcast about the first half of the Comrades down run route
You just need to be calm and accept that gravity will make you go faster anyway. Also be safe in the knowledge that the halfway cut off is 6 hours and 10 minutes, so if you have fallen behind schedule don’t panic at this point.
Take it easy going into halfway.
It’s also important to note that the halfway mark is not exactly at Drummond. The half-way mark at Drummond is a traditional point.
The exact, physical halfway mark is literally just before you start the climb up the back of Botha’s Hill.
It’s time to have a serious heart-to-heart before we head into the second half of the Comrades Marathon route.
This is where a lot of Comrades runners make mistakes that impact their finish time, and effectively scupper their chances of getting the medal they’re chasing…
The Second Third Of The Comrades Marathon
The second third of the Comrades Marathon is where you can do a lot of damage that you’ll pay for towards the end of the race.
This part of the race starts to tend downhill. But there are still quite a lot of rolling hills. So you’re going to go through Camperdown, then you’re going to go through Cato Ridge, then you’re going to get into the Harrison… which is not so flat.
The Harrison flats are just flatter than most of the Comrades course, but they are rolling hills as you then slowly roll towards the second of the Big Five, which is Inchangaga.
Inchanga comes just before the 40-kilometer mark… This is a really tough climb before you drop a long way to halfway at 44.3 kilometers.
So Comrades Marathon has never been about math… it’s a traditional halfway point at Drummond at 44.3 kilometers.
From Drummond, you have got the hardest climb of the day, it will take you up to just past the 50-kilometer mark. It’s about 6 kilometers of climbing that’s broken up into 3 sections that takes you to the top of Bothas Hill.
The first section, roughly a kilometer and a half, just short of two kilometers, is the steepest. It’s also the part where you will, you’ll come up to Arthur’s Seat, and you will know it’s Arthur’s Seat because you’ll see all the flowers laid around from the runners who have come before you.
Even if you don’t actually go to the seat and acknowledge Arthur, please doff your cap. Otherwise, the rest of your Comrades journey will be horrendous and you will be cursed with bad luck.
So Doff your cap, tip your head, and acknowledge that Arthur is there, and his spirit is watching us and guiding us through the second half of the Comrades marathon.
Once you get off that steepest part of the climb, you will then drop down slightly to get a little bit of respite before we’ll tackle quite a long but gradual, part of the climb.
This is actually mentally quite tough because you can see runners snaking away up into the distance.
This is where you’ll want to be doing a lot of running/walking until you get to Alveston mast, there’s another little dip that you will experience and a little bit of respite before the final little kicker, which is not quite as steep as the start but certainly steeper than what you’ve just run up to get you to the top of Botha’s hill.
Here, the Kernsey boys will be waiting there for you to cheer you on and get you ready for that final third of the race once you hit Hillcrest.
From that point on, most of the route is downhill. You still have a few little humps that you need to watch out for. When you get into Hillcrest at the bottom of Botha’s Hill and everyone’s been shouting: “It’s downhill from here.” You’re going to feel a little boost of motivation and energy.
You’ll have about 35 kilometers to go.
The good news is that from that point on, there are a lot of very gentle long down pools that are only interrupted by a very few short little climbs as you make your way through Hillcrest and then into Kloof and it is 30 kilometers to go… you head to the top of the mighty Fields Hill and that will then conclude the middle part of the Comrades Marathon route.
The final third of the Comrades Marathon is where Comrades really starts because it’s either here where you get rewarded, or the wheels can fall off horribly.
The 39km to go board is actually the halfway mark
I always tell people that the 50km point, which is where you see the signboard that says 39kms to go, is what you need to treat as halfway.
You want to hold yourself back up until this point. This is the time to try and shovel time back into the bag but keep it within reason.
There is no need to charge down the hills, you’ve got almost 10km of uninterrupted downhill running from that 39km point all the way into Pinetown.
Comrades Coach Tip: It’s here where the strength training you do as part of your Comrades training will pay dividends. If you’re not doing strength training, it’s time to start. You can download our free Comrades Marathon strength training plan by clicking here.
If you go racing down these hills on this part of the Comrades Marathon route, you will find yourself in Pinetown at 23/24kms to go with broken legs, unable to run properly and unable to complete your goal.
Pinetown is quite hot but it is also a reasonably festive area.
From there you know you’ve only got two significant climbs left. One is about to come and that is Cowies Hill.
I would just walk over that. From the top of Cowies Hill you’ve probably got the nicest running on the Comrades route.
The BEST part of the Comrades Marathon route to run (If you’ve saved your legs)
The gradient is really awesome! It hovers between 2 to 3 percent, it winds all the way down to 14kms to go with a short little climb through Westville.
Then again you bomb all the way down on a really nice gradient to about 9kms to go where you’ll hit the final of the recognised climbs, which is 45th Cutting.
You’ll do a lot of walking over there too and then again you’ll do a fair amount of downhill running till about 7kms to go.
Comrades Coach Tip: Listen to this podcast about the second half of the Comrades down run route
Fields Hill is still noted as one of the big five, even though it’s on the down run… this is because you can do an extraordinary amount of damage going down Fields Hill by pushing yourself too hard to either catch up time or get ahead of time.
As you enter the final third, if you’ve managed yourself well, you should be able to run most of the downs.
That is the key to a successful Comrades Marathon.
It’s really about getting to this point in the race and being able to use the downs just by virtue of being able to run.
So you head a little over two and a half kilometers where you plunge into Pinetown and it also gets really warm at this point for most of the runners because the bulk of them arrive here at around lunchtime.
You make your way through Pinetown and reach Cowies Hill, which traditionally is the fifth of the big five on the down.
When you get to the top of Cowies Hill, you have between 17.5/18 kilometers to go until you got to the finish line.
And what’s significant about that is that you really are close enough to the finish that you could probably walk most of Cowies Hill to really stop causing any more damage.
From this point onwards you have the best running you’ll have out of the entire Comrades Marathon.
The gradients are not too steep. But they are steep enough that they really lend a helping hand as long as you are able to run.
With about 12 kilometers to go, you will go over a little hump much the same as in Hillcrest similar length, similar steepness, it can feel a little bit like Comrades just keeps throwing the hills at you. But really it’s short enough to just walk over it and then get on to those last raking-down hills that will take you to 45th Cutting.
45th Cutting used to start with 10 kilometers to go… So this year, when you get to the 45th Cutting, you’re already going to be inside the last 10 kilometers.
So you can soldier you’re way over the top of 45th Cutting down towards the highway with less than six kilometers to go from that point.
You will then get to your very last obstacle in your journey to Kingsmead and that will be Toll Gate Bridge, a very short very gentle climb.
All you need to do now is carry yourself on your two very weary legs to the stadium and then you can see all the way that you are going down into Durban.
That is the route profile… It is frightening to look at. but it’s a great run.
It’s all good and well, knowing what the profile is and what hills to expect, and when to expect them.
But the question is, how do you pace them? And how do you do that to run the perfect comrades?
Well, if you read this article, we’ll show you exactly how to pace the perfect Comrades Marathon
The video clip below will show you exactly what you’re in for on the Comrades Marathon route between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.
I hope you found this post about the Down Run Route helpful. If you would like help with your Comrades Marathon training then make sure you have a look at our Comrades Marathon Training Plans.