Comrades Marathon: Timeline of South Africa's most famous race

The Comrades Marathon wall of honour overlooks the Valley of a Thousand Hills along the route. The green plaques are for those who have completed the race at least 10 times. Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

1921: The First Race (Down Run, 34 starters, 16 finishers)

After four years of petitioning local authorities to endorse a race to commemorate those who had fallen in World War I, Vic Clapham's idea materialises. He is loaned R2 by the Comrades of the Great War association to fund a tribute race of 87 kilometres.

Bill Rowan wins in a time of 08:59:00 -- to date, the slowest winning time of the race for men. His name is attached to the medal given to all sub nine-hour finishers today.

1922-1925 (and 1927): The Newton years

Rowan finishes third after traveling from Congo to defend his title. Arthur Newton wins in 08:40:00, and wins the next three editions as well. His record of four-in-a-row stands for 60 years. He wins for a final time in 1927, and disappears off the running scene.

1930: Up Run (55 starters, 29 finishers)

Wally Hayward, at 21 years old, become the youngest winner of the race finishing in 07:27:26. Phil Masterton-Smith is second, 37 seconds behind him.

1931: Down Run (65 starters, 30 finishers)

This race is significant because the main road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban has been tarred. Masterton-Smith wins in 07:16:30, with an even closer challenger to him than he was to Hayward the year before. Noel Buree is two seconds behind him. Geraldine Watson is the first woman to complete the down run, unofficially in 11 hours.

1940: Up Run (23 starters, 10 finishers)

A significantly reduced field, with the world having been at war for nine months. Allen Boyce wins in 06:39:23. Second-placed Dymock Parr comes in in 08:29:15, 110 minutes and 52 seconds behind Boyce. It remains the largest margin of victory to this day.

1941-1945: No Race.

1946: Up Run (8 starters, 8 finishers)

The war has ended and two former winners are dead. Masterton-Smith was killed in the Western Desert in 1941 and Frank Sutton drowned when his troopship was torpedoed in 1944. Bill Cochrane wins in 07:02:40.

1950: Silver Jubilee 25th Race (Up Run, 29 starters, 20 finishers)

Hayward, who has not run the race in 20 years, wins in 06:46:25. He wins the next year as well, in a record time of 06:14:08.

1953: Down Run (34 starters, 26 finishers)

Hayward, who finishes 10th at the Olympics in Helsinki the year prior, runs the first sub-six hour down run and wins in 05:52:30. He wins the next year, for his fifth title, as well.

1959 Down Run (103 starters, 70 finishers)

The field totals more than 100 runners for the first time.

1962: Up Run (156 starters, 109 finishers)

Four English road runners arrive to compete against the local field. John Smith becomes the first European runner to win in 05:57:05. Mekler is second and the rest of the English quartet make up places 3, 4 and 5.

1965: Down Run (387 starters, 284 finishers)

Bernard Gomersall from England set a new best down run time of 05:51:09.

1967: Down Run (542 starters, 417 finishers)

The first time more than 500 people start the race. Manie Kuhn beats Tommy Malone by one second in 05:54:1.

1971: Down Run (1061 starters, 931 finishers)

The first time over 1000 people start the race, and there is an additional 4km due to roadworks.

1975: Golden Jubillee 50th Race (Up Run, 1352 starters, 1237 finishers)

Participation was open to all regardless of race and gender, allowing women to officially compete. Two women start and one finishes. Elizabeth Cavanagh finishes in 10:08:00, establishing the best up time for women.

1976-1978: The van Zyl Years

Lettie van Zyl wins three in a row, breaking the women's records in either direction.

1980: Down Run (4209 starters, 3977 finishers)

Isavel Roche-Kelly sets a new best women's down run time in 07:18:00 and becomes the first woman to win a silver medal for clocking a time under 7hr 30min.

1981-1988: The Bruce Fordyce Era

Fordyce, winning his first in 1981, equals Newton's record of four-in-row, and goes on to make it eight wins on the trot.

1988: Up Run (11225 starters, 10363 finishers)

Wally Hayward returns, two days short of his 80th birthday, and finishes in 09:44:15. Frith van der Merwe, 6th the previous year, wins the women's race in a new best up time of 06:32:56.

1989: Down Run (12164 starters, 10502 finishers)

Fordyce pulls out of the race and Sam Tshabalala become the first black man to win, in 05:35:51. One minute and fifty-seven seconds before the final, 11-hour, gun, Wally Hayward crossed the finish line as the only octogenarian to complete the Comrades Marathon. Frith van der Merwe runs the first sub six-hour women's down run in a record time of 05:54:43.

1994: Up Run (12130 starters, 10269 finishers)

Alberto Salazar, who won the New York Marathon for three years in succession, wins in 05:38:39. Russia's Valentina Liakhova wins the women's in 06:41:23. The first South African women's finisher is fourth.

2001: Down Run (14125 starters, 11076 finishers)

Andrew Kelehe, the first South African winner in years, finishes in 05:25:52. Elvira Kolpakova from Russia wins the women's race in 06:13:54.

2004-2008: Russia Dominates

Sipho Ngomane win's the men's race in 2005, but it's pretty much Russia all the way during these years, especially in the women's field. The top five women in 2008, and the top four in 2009, are all Russian. Elena Nurgalieva goes on to win eight Comrades.

2009-2011: Muzhingi Hat-Trick

Zimbabwe's Stephen Muzhingi becomes the first man to complete a hat-trick since Fordyce in 1983.

2015: Up Run (16517 starters, 12799 finishers)

Caroline Worsrmann becomes the first South African women to win in 17 years, in 06:12:22. The Nurgalieva twins, Elena and Olesya, are third and fourth.

2016: Down Run (16807 starters, 14433 finishers)

David Gatebe runs the first sub 05:20:00 down run and wins in 05:18:19.

2017: Up Run (17031 starters, 13851 finishers)

Bongmusa Mthembu wins a second in 05:35: 34s. Camille Herron, from the USA, wins the women's race in 06:27:35.