[Marathon #226 / Unique Marathon #129 / 28 September 2019]
Although South Africa is known for being “ultra mad”, in reality our runners only have sporadic bouts of insanity with a select few races. The two main delirium inducing culprits are Comrades and Two Oceans (the only two ultra marathons in the world to record over 10,000 finishers) – and there are just three other ultras (Loskop, Om Die Dam and Irene) that boasted more than 1,000 finishers in 2019.
Furthermore, the second half of the year is particularly lucid with just a handful of road ultras on the calendar – and all these races have to be content with a few hundred institutionalised patients participants. You’d have to be crazy to voluntarily check yourself into the nuthouse. Likewise, there are no rational explanations for entering ultra marathons in the desert, only justifications – here are mine.
At 80 kilometres, Laingsburg’s Karoo Ultra is the only race on the calendar between the Two Oceans and Comrades distances making it what long distance snobs call a “proper ultra”. As such, it is a race that any self-professed running connoisseur must have on his CV. I also love a bargain – and with an entry fee of just R100 ($7/€6), this is the cheapest rand per kilometre race in the country (the further you run the more you save!).
[Marathon #224 / Unique Marathon #128 / 7 September 2019]
The week leading up to this marathon had been one bad news story after another in South Africa. The perfect antidote for a bad week is a visit to Port Elizabeth, otherwise known as the Friendly City – especially if you get to run the Friendly City Marathon whilst there.
On arrival Port Elizabeth quickly reminded us of her other nickname, the Windy City, and the small amount of hair that I have left got given the full Alex Ferguson-hairdryer treatment on the short walk from the plane to the airport terminal.
This article provides detailed information on all South Africa’s November marathons including race descriptions, recommendations and travel information.
Although there are no ultras on offer, November is the busiest month on the South African distance calendar since April with 13 marathons available:
Queenstown’s longstanding Bonkolo Marathon is by far the smallest marathon on offer this weekend. This looks like a great race centred around the dam that bears the same name.
Mbombela’s flagship marathon, Kaapsehoop, starts amongst the wild horses before plummeting down to Mbombela Stadium (where those who go out too fast finish like donkeys).
Soweto was the largest marathon in the country in 2018 and will be aiming to maintain their status in 2019. With 40,000 entrants across the various events, expect the South Western Township to be buzzing even more than usual on the first Sunday of November.
Bloemfontein marathons seem to be disappearing but the Music Marathon is back on the playlist. A vibey event with plenty of colour and music-themed support tables to keep you going over the hilly course.
Bela Bela celebrates its 30th year and is an excellent reason for an away running weekend in the resort town famous for her warm baths.
Another great running weekend away is offered by the Winelands Marathon in Stellenbosch.
Life is tough with just two laps around Durban’s Bluff on offer this weekend. If you call their bluff you can expect to see plenty of hills and sea views along the way.
Die Vlakte is a point-to-point race from Heidelberg to the Witsand beachfront – a lowkey marathon that’s well worth running.
Another point-to-point option is the Josiah Gumede Marathon in rural Kwazulu Natal. I enjoyed the inaugural marathon last year and expect those running in 2019 will do as well.
A new event is the Mogoeba Plunge Marathon which, as the name suggests, is a downhill flyer from Haenertsburg to Tzaneen.
Those keen for a challenge can look into the Platinum Belt Marathon from Marikana to Phokeng (near Rustenburg). I ran the inaugural event in 2017 and it was a complete shambles. After being cancelled in 2018, they are having another go in 2019 but I would approach this one with extreme caution.
The busiest Saturday on the running calendar is rounded off with the Sani Stagger. This is my recommended run for November (see below for extended details) but you’ll have to wait until 2020 or get a substitution entry as the 2019 event is sold out.
Just one option this weekend. Another new marathon, the Riana van Niekerk Run/Walk for Bibles who are offering two laps of their well established half marathon route this year.
[Marathon #223 / Unique Marathon #127 / 1 September 2019]
“Just erotic. Nothing kinky. It’s the difference between using a feather and using a chicken.” – Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett was one of most creative writers of all time. However, I doubt that even within the zaniest recesses of his wild imagination did he ever imagine that these lines from his book “Eric” (1990) would be used to describe a marathon route. But then again Terry Pratchett never visited East London. Had he done so, the Discworld would have looked rather different!
Out-of-town point-to-point races usually require some transport logistics. Luckily, whenever I make a trip to East London for a marathon, I know that I can always rely on Jeremy “School of Hard” Knox for assistance. At the recent Tony Viljoen Masters Marathon, Jeremy (who’s a regular guest star on this blog), secured me a lift with one of his Born2Run club mates, Ryan Guest. Ryan is an inspirational runner who , as his surname suggests, deserves his own guest star role on this blog.
On the drive to the start, Jeremy mentioned something about Ryan “having a unique running style because of his different sized legs” – I wasn’t sure whether Jeremy was ‘pulling my leg’ until I caught up to Ryan late in the race and noticed his rather unique running style – which I would describe as being akin to a very fast zombie lurch* (but without as much grunting and gnashing of teeth**). Continue reading “Savouring Ryan’s Paraplegia (Ryan Guest: Inspirational Runner)”
The Tony Viljoen Masters Marathon in East London was started in the late 1970s as a way to encourage athletes to continue participating in athletics events after they’d “past their prime”. In East London, “past your prime” is considered “over 35” – and the inaugural race in 1978 had a strict “no under-35s” restriction.
Four decades later and the rules have been relaxed to allow youngsters to run the race socially. However, this is a marathon that specifically caters to the older generation and prizes are only awarded for those born before 1984. These are awarded in five-year brackets from 35-39 all the way through to the oldest finisher.
This year it stopped at 75-79 in the ladies’ section of the race with the 75-year-old Paula Richardson finishing in 5:20. In the men’s field, the incredible 84-year-old Caspar Greeff pushed the finish categories all the way to the 80-84 division with a 5:30 finish. In doing so he became the oldest ever finisher of the race and probably set the record as the oldest South African to complete a marathon*.
* I’ve checked with those in the know and no one could identify any older marathon finishers in South Africa. Riël Hauman, the demure and normally sedate statistician, added “Caspar is a freak!”
This article provides detailed information on all South Africa’s October marathons including race descriptions, recommendations and travel information.
October is a quiet month for marathon runners with just seven options spread all around the country, including two very interesting new events:
Mpumalanga offers tour of the rural villages on the western extremities of the Kruger National Park with the Shikumba Filling Marathon (named for the petrol station where the race starts and finishes).
Limpopo hosts the only ultra marathon of the month with the Run 4 Cancer 48k in Polokwane.
After a marshalling error resulted in a short course last year, De Wet de Beer and the team from Jacaranda Marathon are promising a runner-centric reboot of the event. Definitely check this one out – and the new route – if you’re in Gauteng (where marathons are scarce in the second half of the year).
My pick for the month is Boland’s best, the toughest race with the warmest heart and the southernmost marathon in Africa – Voet van Afrika Marathon (more details below).
The last Sunday on the month provides a tour of the Kwazulu Natal South Coast from Scottburgh to Amanzimtoti at the Goss & Balfe Sapphire Coast Marathon.
There are two new marathons on the calendar. As I understand it (awaiting verification) you can use them to qualify for Two Oceans but not for Comrades. However, whilst they both seem like spectacular events, it’s doubtful anyone will actually use them as a qualifier for the reasons stated below:
The Clarens Golden Gate Marathon is an out-an-back route run entirely within the national park: an absolutely beautiful but disgustingly hilly part of the world.
The Cape Wine Marathon is an off-road circular tour of all the wine farms in the Durbanville Hills region of the Western Cape. There are 13 wine tasting tables so arrive with a clean palette and a designated driver.
[Marathon #222 / Unique Marathon #126 / 24 August 2019]
For a change, I thought I’d start with the finish. The picture below was my first impression of the race (and Mossel Bay) after parking my rental car and taking my first few steps in the only town on the Garden Route I’d never visited before.
Whilst other marathons on the Garden Route conjure up images of cavorting along pristine lagoons, frolicking over unspoilt beaches and traversing through lush indigenous forests; the PetroSA Marathon invokes images of oil refineries, smog and the smell of rotten fish.
[Marathon #221 / Unique Marathon #125 / 11 August 2019]
When a horse throws you off its back, we’re told to be brave, laugh it off and get back onto the horse as quickly as possible. Using this line of reasoning, I figured that if a marathon tosses you to the tar, the appropriate response is to write a detailed blog post bemoaning poor race organisation and the toughness of the route, drink a few beers and then pick another marathon to run as quickly as possible.
Dundee’s Dorothy Nyembe Marathon tossed me off, her mountainous climbs almost broke my back and the rejrection I suffered over a meagre 42 kilometres severely dented my fragile male ego. Although marathons are scarce at this time of the year, as luck would have it, the next event on the calendar presented the opportunity to return to Dundee and an attempt to tame an even larger horse: The inaugural Prince Mangosuthu 52k Ultra Marathon. Continue reading “Prince Mangosuthu Ultra (The Dundee double)”
[Marathon #219 / Unique Marathon #124 / 21 July 2019]
The first Dorothy Nyembe Marathon was supposed to be held on 16 December 2017. The race was well advertised, took plenty of entries and was then ‘postponed’ on short notice. Runners who’d entered were told it was “against the rules” to provide refunds (not sure what the Consumer Protection Act would say about that) but that their entries would still be valid next year when the race was held.
2018 came and went without any further mention of the race and it looked like the event had been postponed indefinitely. However, the 2019 race calendar surprised us by including the race on the mid-July program. I was somewhat dubious about whether the race would actually go ahead (with the cynic in me wondering whether someone needed to raise funds to do maintenance work on their firepool) and therefore I waited until the last minute before entering.
Based on previous experiences, I approach inaugural races with extreme caution but superbly organised first time marathons like the Hippo in Richards Bay had lulled me into a false sense of security.