It’s National Women’s Day and the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) has conveyed its sincere wishes to all the wise and wonderful women in our lives. This auspicious day is a reminder of just how far women have come since 9 August 1956 when strong South African women from all walks of life marched to the Union Buildings to protest apartheid. Now we celebrate these very women and honour the integral role that they have played in present day South Africa.
The contribution of women to life as we know it cannot be understated. They are the backbone and the heart and soul of society. On the Comrades Marathon race-track, women have come a long way too.
Despite not being allowed to run officially, many women have displayed the courage and fortitude to tackle the race regardless; the first woman being Frances Hayward, who ran in 1923. Then there was Elizabeth Cavanaugh – the first officially recognised Comrades woman winner and after whom the Cavanaugh Marathon is named. And off course, there’s Lettie Van Zyl – the first recipient of the Comrades Bowl which was presented for the very first time in 1976.
While women were only officially allowed to compete in the Comrades Marathon in 1975, they now make up a significant portion of the field. 2012 saw a total of 4348 female entrants in the race, 22% of the overall field. Competing in the world’s most gruelling ultra-marathon is a great testament to the strength of women, no more so than Frith Van Der Merwe’s amazing feat of winning the women’s 1989 race in a record 05:54:43 which was good enough for 15th overall. To this day, this record remains the best overall finish by a woman.
Another legendary female Comrades runner is Elena Nurgalieva who earned her 7th Comrades Marathon win – a feat eclipsed only by the 9 wins of the Comrades King, Bruce Fordyce. Elena usually competes with her twin sister Olesya, herself a two-time winner of the world’s premier ultra-marathon. Between them, the Nurgalieva twins have claimed 9 wins in the past 10 races dating back to 2003.
CMA Chairman, Peter Proctor says, “Since the official introduction of women into the Comrades Marathon, that element of grace and style beams at the heart of the event and has added immensely to the very human face of the Ultimate Human Race.”
Proctor adds, “This Women’s Day, the CMA would like to pay tribute to all female competitors past and present, for their accomplishments and to all women for their indomitable role in society. To the men, the CMA reminds you to always cherish the women in your lives for all they do for you. To the women, have a happy and blessed Women’s Day.”