Cape Town Marathon

[marathon #165 / unique marathon #83 / 17 September 2017]

I was looking for an excuse to take a long weekend in the Mother City – and the Cape Town Marathon more than justified a trip down south.

Plenty to see in the heart of Cape Town including the Mount Nelson Hotel, South African National Gallery, South African Holocaust Museum, St Mary’s Cathedral, Houses of Parliament, City Gardens, City Hall and the Castle of Good Hope.

The Cape Town marathon was first run in 2007 but it has had a couple of “reboots” – this was the 4th year in its current format as a “Big City” race with IAAF affiliation. This year they achieved a first for Africa: IAAF Gold Label Status – a really impressive achievement in such a short space of time (there are only 30-odd Gold Label marathons).

IAAF races need to attract a certain amount of “Gold Label” elite runners and last year saw Ethiopian Asefa Negewo run the fastest time ever on South African soil (2:08:41). He managed to defend his title this year in 2:10:01 and picked up R265,000 for his troubles (less than the R300,000* for Comrades 2017 winners but the highest per kilometre pay check in South Africa).

* In 2018 Comrades winners earned a R425k paycheck whilst the Cape Town Marathon paycheck has remained R265k.

Asefa Negewo defends his Cape Town Marathon title.

Registration was very smooth (definitely quicker and better organised than other big local races). Race day was a leisurely and orderly 7am start (maybe a bit late for most runners but it did suit this runner – who can always do with an extra hour of beauty sleep).

The last time I was on Long Street this early in the morning would have been as a student (and I would have needed one of those pillars to lean against)

The first kilometre entices you with a very short stretch along the coast (but unfortunately you don’t see sea again). Then there is a stretch through the city streets which I quite enjoyed but after that most of the route along main road is very “blah” until you get into the Newlands area (I spent my teenage years here and enjoyed running past my old house). From there it’s into Rondebosch (which lends its name to the best boys’ school in the country – give us an R!). You do a a circuit around the Rondebosch Common crossing over the half-way mark and then head back into town.

Table Mountain provides a constant backdrop on the route.

The stretch into town is quite boring and is made worse by a detour into and around Paarden Eiland. I managed to avoid Paarden Eiland during the 21 years that I lived in Cape Town – this was my first visit and I don’t plan to be back.

Cape Town is a beautiful city. The problem I have with IAAF races is that they are absolutely fixated with fast finishing times = really flat routes (which usually) = really boring routes. IAAF likes “fast and flat” whereas I prefer a few curves. Curves provide more interesting visuals – even if you need to do a lot of heavy breathing to summit your hill!

I wouldn’t say the route was “really boring” but it was far from spectacular. I would describe the route as being akin to Cape Town having a make-up free day and wearing her sloppiest clothes for the first 30km (nothing wrong with that because Cape Town doesn’t really need to try that hard) – the problem is that she then goes to the toilet and leaves the door wide-open (which is the loop around Paarden Eiland*).

* The terrible Paarden Eiland loop was forced upon the organisers by the local Traffic Department. In 2018, the organisers have managed to cut the Paarden Eiland route out and replace it with an out and back section along the Sea Point beach front – this looks like a much more attractive route for this year’s runners.

Lion’s Head (only slightly bigger than my head).

A lot of effort was put into the marketing of the race. Former Springbok Captain Francois Pienaar and Proteas Captain Graeme Smith featured prominently in the pre-race campaign – along with a real athlete (Elana Meyer – former Olympic 10000m silver medallist). They managed to (just) fill the 25,000 combined entry cap for all the events (marathon, 10km Peace Run, two trail races and a fun run). The marathon had 10,000 entrants with around 8,000 of them starting. Many of these were novice marathon runners which is great.

Another worthy initiative is the focus on being climate neutral and they encourage runners to offset their carbon footprint getting to the race. Aligned with this is running green and a zero tolerance for litter.

#runninggreen is big at Cape Town Marathon (but I’m not sure that Mr. Norris would approve of his name being used to endorse rubbish bins).

I passed marathon novice, Graeme Smith , at around the 20km mark (he was having a strategic walk). As I sped past, I chirped him that in marathon running you can’t ask for a runner when you get tired. Unfortunately for me (but luckily for Graeme), I was going too fast (or he was going to slow) to engage in any proper sledging (which would no doubt have destroyed him mentally for the rest of the race). For the record, he hung in there and finished in 4h56 which is pretty good as I understand he did not do that much training. It’s also good to know that, despite my declining velocity, I am a faster marathon runner than Graeme Smith (and also claim to be a better spin bowler!).

Glad the marshals didn’t misdirect us over one of Cape Town’s many unfinished bridges.

This was probably the first time in history that two World Cup Rugby winning captains started the same race as John Smit was also running the marathon for charity (he finished in 5:32). Unfortunately, Francois Pienaar was not able to finish the race this year – I think he might have got red carded by former international referee Jonathan Kaplan (who finished in 4:50).

[I subsequently found out than another former Springbok Captain, Corne Krige, also ran and finished in 3:55 – thanks Mark!]

The finish is on a blue carpet in Green Point stadium with the 2010 Soccer World Cup white elephant stadium as a backdrop (one couldn’t help thinking it would be better the other way around but I assume it would cost too much to finish in the soccer stadium).

Chilling out with the dancing girls in the last few kms.

The long-term vision for Cape Town marathon is to become one of the World Marathon “Majors” (WMM) joining London, New York, Boston, Chicago, Berlin and Tokyo. A worthy aspiration and one I hope they achieve.

I’ll continue to return to Cape Town every Easter for the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon but once is probably enough for Cape Town marathon – but then again, maybe I’ll be back to assess their WMM progress in a few year’s time (especially now that the route has been improved).


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3 Replies to “Cape Town Marathon”

    1. Hi Jonathan, we ran together briefly at Loskop this year (we share the same license number WPA/CGA). I thought you looked familiar but only twigged later that evening. See you on that road again sometime!

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