No MP3 Players At Comrades Marathon

Print page

Comrades Marathon Technical Manager, Celi Makhoba, has confirmed that runners are not allowed to run with music in this year’s event.

Makhoba stresses that this is not a Comrades rule, but rather is in accordance with IAAF Competition Rules:

144: Assistance To Athletes

2. Any athlete giving or receiving assistance from within the competition area during an event shall be warned by the Referee and advised that, if there is any repetition, he will be disqualified from that event.

For the purpose of this Rule, the following shall be considered assistance, and are therefore not allowed:

b) Possession or use of video or cassette recorders, radios, CD, radio transmitters, mobile phone or similar devices in the arena.

Download the IAAF Competition Rules here

According to Makhoba, the referee may warn the runner first, but immediate disqualification is possible. The rule is detailed in both the entry form, as well as the final race instruction.

Comrades King Bruce Fordyce has aligned himself with the CMA’s decision:

I agree wholeheartedly with the CMA. Headphones have only one place in my opinion and thats on the treadmill in the gym. On South African roads you need all your senses working for you – and besides which, this is the Comrades. Where’s the camaraderie in cutting yourself off from everyone around you.

What are your thoughts? Will you risk running the race with music? 


Avatar of Runners World

About Runners World

Online Editor for Runner's World magazine

56 Responses to No MP3 Players At Comrades Marathon

  1. David Fox May 24, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Funnily enough, when it comes to safety, wearing headphones during an organised race is probably the ONLY time it is safe to do so, as the roads are free from motorised traffic.

    For the sake of being able to hear instructions from a marshal, and to be fully aware of the runners around you, I think it is probably safer not to be wearing headphones.

    Isn’t the real issue here that listening to music while running can improve your performance (I am sure I have read a study on this)?

  2. Miemie May 24, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    I am a stay at home mom who runs to keep fit. I am a back of the pack runner and I will definitely not be winning any prize money ever. Running with music is what makes it fun for me and what keeps me motivated when I feel I want to give up. I want to run the comrades one day, just for myself, I am a slow runner and will not be taking away a position from anyone. But it is really disheartening to know that I have to run it without the music that keeps me going in the difficult times.

    In my opinion there should be 2 categories for runners in SA. The professional category for people who intend to get somewhere and win prizes, and an amateur category for those of us who will always be runner number 10 000 that crosses the finish line, we do it only to keep fit and have fun and i think we should be allowed to run with music and the professionals who aim to win races can stick to these strict rules.

    • ELNA May 24, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

      I agree with Miemie. I am also a slow backrunner. I am running with earphones but I can still hear everything.

      I can hear voices of people a few meters away from me. I can hear cars behind me. I can hear everthing because my music is not to load in my ears.

      Make the rule for the seeded runners who stand a chance to win the race. They can receive coaching via the earphones and mobile phones.

      Please the back runners want to run with music in their ears.

    • debbie May 24, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

      i agree. most back runners only have earphone in one ear and not full blast either. we are adults and not teenagers trying to show off. plse treat us like responsible adults. for 80% of the field running comrades is a dream come true and if we need a little music to encourage and help us through the tough times, is it such a big deal? disappointed with the ungracious attitude that has been adopted by those who want to treat us like naughty school children! we have trained long and hard, just like Bruce and co. cut us some slack please

      • Cheryl June 1, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

        I couldn’t agree more

    • Cheryl June 1, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

      I completely agree. Music can give you that lift when you need it. All anyone needs to do is be sensible and probably only run with one earphone in, then everything can be hard. No harm, at lest they are running and it is far with nothing

  3. Jen May 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    I’ll be taking my iPod anyway. While I agree that it’s poor form to wear it at the start when things are a bit crushed, but there are long stretches of this race where nothing is going on and you have lots of space around you. Running it without music would be unbearable (for me..!)

    I wouldn’t worry too much, they are just covering themselves. I seriously doubt that they will be enforcing it – particularly when it comes to the back runners

    • Shelagh Smith May 24, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      I wouldn’t bank on that one, if I was you. I’m also a back runner – 11h45, etc. and I’ve seen referees warning runners on Comrades for having IPods, so, please, after all this effort that you have put in and all the time, is it really worth it taking the chance??? I don’t think so. Just leave them at home.

    • Marius July 18, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

      It all comes down to discipline. Eventually they will catch up on you

  4. ondina May 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Hi all, I agree that you should apply a level of reponsibility and consideration, but there are times during the race where i need upliftment and i get this through my power songs.
    sorry guys a great idea but there are times where some inspiration is needed that cannot be provided by only screaming fans.
    Also what is the difference with someone singing and banging instruments compared to earphones, surely this is the same?

    thanks :)

  5. Craig May 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    How will you hear the call of “blind runner coming through” if all you can hear is Bon Jovi? I’ve already witnessed a near-miss between two such runners. I’ve also seen a young lady almost taken out by a car because all she was hearing was van Halen. She did jump though.

  6. Shelagh Smith May 24, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    Also have to say – what is it about us? There is a rule in place – it is an IAAF rule, which, whether you like it or not, is WORLDWIDE. it states no IPods, MP3 players, etc. Why not just abide by the rule??? Why do we always have to say I don’t like that rule, I’m not abiding by it??

    • Brett February 25, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

      Actually the rule does not state that at all, it refers to devices that are able to receive transmission and hence instructions. The rule has been misinterpreted to mean iPod when this is not the case….

  7. George May 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    I remember seeing the restriction in last year’s rules. I used headphones in the back of the pack for last half of the race without any problem. I would not use for the whole race as there are times when you want to be connected to the comraderie, but it’s a long day and some mental diversion is a good thing.

  8. Taylormade May 24, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    I agree with this new ruling. As a spectator at school events, and at times an athlete, I found the cheering to be stimulating. I like to feed off other people’s energy, and so if you’re wearing headgear, you miss out really. If the spectators see you have earphones on… they’ll tend to ignore you and cheer for those who are making eye contact, smiling and thankful for the support. It’s a good thing! let’s make the best of it!

  9. Mark May 24, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    There is a difference between following a rule and believing that it is unnecessary. Comrades is run on a route (“arena” in the IAAF rule) that is closed to traffic. If the argument against MP3s/iPods/music is vehicle safety, that is a non-starter. To hear blind runners coming through? Come on! Are we going to ban deaf runners too then?

    I really don’t see any issue with someone listening to music at Comrades – it is really long and there is no-one along Harrison Flats anyway. At a local 10km race on roads shared with traffic – that could be an issue, sure.

  10. Cliffo May 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Again – the back=packers are there for fun not money – to each his own – whatever gets you over the line!

    IAAF or not – what security risk are we posing to who?
    Let them spare their resources for the damn cheats on the day!

  11. sue May 24, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    Please, please, please change this rule – for the sake of the back runners.

    I cannot run without music – especially the second half of comrades.

    Allow us to use music – since it helps us get to the finish line – pleeeeaaaasssee!!!!!!

  12. Cath May 24, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    There are so many people around, runners and spectators to carry you through. No need for music. Either you run or you listen to music. Surely when you enter a race it is to run. Sure, run for fun with your music, but enter a race to run.

  13. Michelle May 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    I must say with all my ultra’s I always carry my music with me, if I have to use it then my spirits and energy levels need lifting and it always works…they say do not change anything on the day of comrades, to not run with my iPod would be changing something!!! I will be running with my iPod charged and loaded, especially to help me along Harrison flats and up poly shortts!

  14. green number May 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Ran my first Comrades in 1981!! Yes 1981 (the year of black armbands) – and the rule has been in place since before that. Why anyone wants to listen to music I just don’t know. It is bad enough having to be subjected to it at every watering point. I disagree that there should be two types of rules. It appears to be a national past time that we have 2 sets of rules. Whether you fly an aeroplane of partygoers or as in the past segregate park benches. Thank you Comrades for having one set of rules for everyone. Now all we need to do is sort out the mess with an Honorary life member who was thrown out of ASA.

  15. David Nasir May 24, 2013 at 3:48 pm #


    • Cliffo May 28, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

      Eisch -n the dreadlocks?

  16. David Nasir May 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    this is not a comrade rule- so i am going there with my cellphone and my ipod… i dont run to make money… i run for fun..

    • Cliffo May 28, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

      Amed to that !

  17. Heather May 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    I agree with Miemie. I don’t do Comrades, but mainly 21k races and the odd 32k race. I am also a slow back of the pack runner, and have been running with music for more than 25 years! If I had kept all my Walkman’s over the years (Walkmen?!?) I would have a museum full of them. I have never had a safety incident in those 25 years. I am certainly NOT being ‘assisted’ in the sense that I will be likely to win anything! I can easily hold a conversation while I run with the music in the background, as my friends who have run with me can verify. I think it is a dumb rule for social runners, and will continue to run with my music.

  18. Heather May 24, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    Am also a back of the pack runner, doing 21k and 32k races (not Comrades). Have been running with music for over 25 years. If I had kept all my Walkmans (Walkmen?!?) I would have a museum of them.
    I can hold a conversation while I run with music – my friends who have run with me can vouch for that.
    Races are the safest place to wear them. and as for them providing assistance….!! well, I am hardly going to win any prizes, but the music helps to pass the time! I won’t be giving up my music any time soon.

  19. CASSIM May 24, 2013 at 6:43 pm #


  20. shane May 24, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    does this mean that i can’t carry my trusted ghettoblaster……. oh schucks!

  21. Alistair May 25, 2013 at 4:57 am #

    Music gives some runners a distinct advantage – ban it. So do cheering supporters – ban them as well. In fact ear plugs should be mandatory for all runners. Runners suspected of singing in their head should be pulled immediately, that’s blatant cheating. Anything that gives runners a performance boost is obviously wrong. Fair is fair.

  22. Margaret May 25, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Hi, I am a back of the pack runner and have ran Comrades before without music and yes there are some of the route, that we questions “why am I running this race”…maybe if I had my music then, there would have been something to take my mind off the hard parts of the race BUT there is always someone you can off load your problems with and you can be sure they will whine to you also. I ran Two Oceans without my music this year because the committee strongly advised against using music and I had a great run.

  23. Francois May 26, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Here is a point to ponder. Everyone one who is pro running with music has said that it assists them during the race. Is this concept then not the same as somebody who is using a banned substance as the substance is also deemed to assist the runner? Give this some thought.

  24. Tania May 26, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    This rule should apply to the pro’s. I can’t understand why take away someone’s comfort and “company” while zoning out and just enjoying the scenery taking in all around. Music brings memories. Nothing like remembering doing Polly Shorts to a particular track. You take that music memory and mental memory with you forever. My running partner is not running with me this year and my husband has been injured, so I will need some company. Even if it is from an I-pod.
    Please Marshall just look the other way.

    • Cliffo May 28, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

      Ja and they will then have to stop playing Chariots since according to argument – music does nothing to runners, right !

  25. Keletso May 27, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    IPod is much more than just music! i run with my iPod – synced to my nike + shoe and my heart rate monitor- giving me feedback on my perfomance every step of the way! my playlist is synchronised to distance – i know which song should play at 20km and what should play at 42km! running has evolved and we cant deny that technology has become part of our everyday life!
    im running with my iPod!

  26. Melissa May 28, 2013 at 7:40 am #

    Rules are rules! it doesnt matter if you are at the front or back, at Comrades or a club run. It still applies, the danger of blasting music in your ears, so that you dont hear the approching vechile or bike. Warnings you could have heard. And when its to late, and something does happen. then who gets the brunt?

    • Shelagh Smith May 29, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      By the sound of it Melissa, we’re in the minority here but I agree – rules are rules. It’s not a CMA rule. It’s an IAAF rule, which is worldwide.

      • Mark May 29, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

        The problem, Shelagh, is that it isn’t actually an explicit IAAF rule (it also isn’t an ASA rule or a CGA rule). Rather, it has been interpreted to mean such. The scope of “similar devices” is very broad and quite ambiguous when read in the context of the rest of IAAF Rule 144.

        If the reason for banning iPods/MP3 players etc is for safety or for insurance or some other ostensibly legitimate reason, then say so but don’t attribute it to an interpretation of an IAAF rule.

  27. Saied May 28, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    I feel that it is unfortunate that this rule is being enforced and yes, it is a well known rule which has been relaxed often. I too am a back of the pack runner and was intending to use it in this my second run, but I can understand the reasoning behind it. For those of us who are back of the pack runners, there are vehicles on the route…the darn ‘Runners Rescue’ vehicles and I witnessed first hand how someone with earphones nearly ran in front of one of these taxis last year and nearly got run over. Due to this, which I am sure wasnt an isolated incident, I think the CMA is just covering themselves. Sucks though, but I wont be wearing earphones during the race for fear of disqualification :(

  28. Christine May 29, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    I don’t know why Runner’s World is making such a big thing about this. Comrades doesn’t. Their rules page mentions ocmplying with IAAF rules. To me, this feels like a group of “purist” runners persecuting the more modern runners among us.

    I normally run with 1 earohone in / 1 earphone out and I can hear other people or things around me perfectly. I am also not going to win any races and this makes it a more enjoyable event for me as I’m sure it does for other runners.

    This all or nothing approach does nothing to help the sport or advance its cause.

    • Avatar of Runners World
      Runners World May 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

      Hi Christine,
      Runner’s World was inundated with queries from readers surrounding this topic. We posted this article to provide clarity on the issue for our readers, as per the CMA/IAAF rules. We’re neither advocating nor condoning the rule, simply stating the facts to inform readers.
      Happy running!

  29. David May 29, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    What next? If you are going to run with music because it helps you and makes the experience more pleasant, why not use a skateboard!

  30. Mark May 29, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    The rules should be read properly and in context.

    The IAAF rule 144.2(b)is: “possession or use of video or cassette recorders, radios, CD,
    radio transmitters, mobile phone or similar devices in the arena”.

    This says nothing explicitly about earphones (or headphones) or iPods or MP3 players. The “similar devices” inclusion, read *in context*, seems to allude to any device that could be used to *communicate* with any other person. In particular, read the rest of Rule 144, in particular IAAF rule 144.2(g), which permits the use of “heart rate or speed distance monitors or stride sensors, provided that such device cannot be used to communicate with any other person”.

    The context of the rule is communication (primarily between an athlete an their coach). There is no allusion to any safety issues or performance enhancement effect due to iPod/MP3 players (which aren’t even explicitly mentioned).

    So long as your iPod/MP3 player can’t “communicate with any other person” I can’t see a legitimate case for disqualification in terms of the IAAF rule. If a referee attempted to disqualify me or someone else in terms of this rule, they are going to have a problem pointing to the specific exclusion.

    If the Comrades race rules (or specific rules for some other event) specifically ban iPod/MP3/music players, that is another story – but the imposition of that ban isn’t clearly sourced in IAAF rule 144.

    • Timothy May 30, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

      Good point. And what about running with a cellphone – last time I ran Comrades I had a cellphone to let my supporters know where I was – technically you could be disqualified for that too!

  31. Eric May 29, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    I can’t see how this rule would apply to the social runner in any long distance event. “Any athlete giving or receiving assistance”. Technically that is what Comrades is about, giving and getting support, assistance, advice, motivation, etc.

    Also this goes further than MP3′s, it includes mobile phones and cameras. I have taken these items along with me on a number of events. Not for the assistance as being the concern of IAAF, but to capture the moment and for contact with my family.

    Clearly it is not realistic to apply all rules to competitors and social participants alike, this rule as an example.

  32. mike webb May 29, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    i havre only recently got an ipod and can definetly agree that it is beneficial to run with it ! however i would neva dream of using it on comrades as i lov3e the atmosphere and the people . i love chatting to and listening tothe crowds ! i can see the point of all the pro ipod people as it is a great thing to have BUT i also can see Comrades perspective . a tricky and thorny issue, dont think referees need to get overzealous with this and pull runners , but at the same time if you are requested to stop using it dont make a scene – a rule is a rule …………….. i love music and am well known locally for singing and NEVA shutting up when running ,

  33. Thamsanqa Ngwenya February 1, 2014 at 6:01 am #

    This is an uncalled for rule.

  34. Yolanda April 15, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    I agree with Miemie and many others above. I need and love the beat to keep me going when I feel like giving up! I don’t want to talk to other people however I am still able to have a full on conversation with other people. Safety is always priority but you should be careful of cars and others at all times, regardless of wearing earphones or not. Anyway, the way that some people take off from the start chute is more dangerous and stupid than even wearing earphones.

  35. Tania April 17, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    So, just checking: Will I get disqualified for running Comrades (for the first time this year!) with my I-pod??? I stay in a small town, my running partner for long runs is deaf, so it is quite lonely without music… I train with music, so I would love to run Comrades with my i-pod, but do not want to get disqualified as this is going to my first and last Comrades! No argument please, just want to check if there is a possibility to run with music without getting disqualified!


  36. Paul dB May 23, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    Extremely stupid rule even for the elite runners, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never run with earphones in my ears and constant music on me, but I’ve really liked the idea of my phone with me and it is handy to let your loved ones know where you are on the route. To say it is a rule and we should abide by it is stupid to say the least. Saying we should expect all rules simply because some jerk made them does not make sense at all. Not all rules are good. Apartheid was a rule as well, by the way! So this rule is crazy and should be scrapped!

  37. Paul dB May 23, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

    Rule 144 2 b) Is clearly for application inside arenas and not applicable for road races not held in arenas. This rule does not apply to comrades or any other event taking place in the open.

  38. Hamish June 3, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

    I am also a runner who loves to run with music as it gives me the inner will to carry on especially after having done 20km or more.

    I do not listen to my music loud and I am very aware of what is happening around me even more so since the incident involving Sonja Laxton earlier this year.

    I am busy training for Comrades 2015 as it will be my first ever Comrades and my aim is to achieve a bronze medal, however I know that I will battel mentally should I not be allowed to run with my music. That being said, I am not going to put my dream at risk and chance being disqualified just to listen to music – If that is the rule, I will then abide by it!

  39. Brett February 25, 2015 at 10:40 am #

    I am with you Hamish the rule is ridiculous, I always run with music on and off road and it is the only way that I run. I will be running comrades with my headphones…

  40. Guy February 25, 2015 at 10:45 pm #

    I started running Comrades with music in the form of a backpack, Sanyo cassette player, 8 tapes, rechargeable batteries and a car loudspeaker in the late 80′s.
    The Sanyo also had a dreaded “RECEIVER” so that we could listen in to who was winning the race while we plodded towards Drummond.

    There was a period during which I ran with headphones, not the little ear canal plugins which don’t do your eardrums a whole lot of good.

    I would suggest that there is a danger in blocking external sounds such as approaching cars and sirens and shoes slapping the ground and heavy breathing.

    A danger because you almost anaethetise your brain against any pain that might be keeping you alert and aware of your surroundings.

    In this trance like state, it is possible to cross a road without looking and cause an accident – I had a close call about 15 years ago and that was enough to last me for the rest of my life (so far!)


    It ought to be mandatory for a rule-making body such as the IAAF to include the motivation and intentions for a particular rule together with the rule itself.

    This would prevent such ridiculous interpretations of the word “arena” to mean 90km of “road-closured” open road .

    At the peak of my roadrunning idiocy, I not only had the mini hifi on my back but also another electronic device capable of receiving and transmitting signals viz an Ericcson GH198 brick. Prove to me that I was advantaged by carrying this lot for just under eleven hours.

    More specifically, two other runners were advantaged by this technology because in two separate incidents, I called paramedics to collapsed runners on the route.

    Sometimes , the spirit and intention of a rule is completely overshadowed by the nitpicking application and secondguessing of its meaning.

    We should be able to get clarity on the interpretation of a rule from the horses mouth but we live in an athletically democratic world so it’s unlikely that anybody will ever be called to answer specific technical questions.

  41. text dating March 12, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

    With only 24 hours in a day, all focus is required to pull through each
    day successfully.In fact, this is one of thee
    mot common reasons why relationship fail. That’s the very reason why you have to stop for a moment, and clearly think about
    what you’re doing before you send another test his way.

Leave a Reply to Shelagh Smith Click here to cancel reply.