Platinum Belt Marathon: Rustenburg to Marikana (sans water)

[MARATHON #169 / UNIQUE MARATHON #86 / 26 November 2017]

My wife has a good friend in Rustenburg that we don’t see often enough. During a WhatsApp chat bemoaning this fact, said friend wished that there was a marathon in Rustenburg so that we would visit. Like the plot of a Disney movie, her wish came true shortly thereafter when the inaugural Platinum Belt Marathon was announced . Every Disney movie needs a Prince Charming – so naturally I assumed this role by immediately registering for the marathon.

Does my bum look fat in these pants? Fashion modelling on the Marikana high street.

The race is run point-to-point from Rustenburg to the Wonderkop Stadium in Marikana. It was billed as a conciliatory marathon to promote healing in the local community after the horrific Marikana Massacre (16 August 2012) where 34 miners were killed and 78 injured during strike clashes with the South African Police Service.

Rustenburg is 1,170m above sea-level, lies at the foot of the Magaliesburg mountain range in the North-West province and is an easy 2-hour drive from Johannesburg. It is home to the two largest platinum mines in the world and 70% of the world’s platinum is mined here. The “Big 5” Pilanesburg National Park and Sun City are also close by if you want to make a long weekend of a visit.

Cows and goats provide the majority of support along the route.

Having collected the race number on the way through and enjoyed a hearty lunch with our hosts, I set out on a solo “start line” recce. The race flyer listed the start as the “Caltex Garage near Phokeng”. Finding it proved to be a bit of a treasure hunt…

Caltex is clearly a popular brand in the North-West province – I found at least half a dozen Caltex garages. By combining clues from the race flyer, snippets from the race’s different social media profiles, my car’s GPS system, advanced Google Maps analytics and the tracking skills I had learned as a cub scout, I eventually arrived at what I was sure was the correct Caltex. Applying tactics I learned on a recent servant leadership course, I decided to validate this belief with verbal affirmations…

I went straight to the top and approached the store manager – but he knew nothing of a marathon starting in front of his petrol station the next morning. Undeterred by his ignorance, I decided to interrogate the petrol attendants: The third petrol attendant finally cracked and admitted that this Caltex would be tomorrow’s start point. A long and arduous quest finally fulfilled, I returned to homebase arriving just in time for supper.

There are shuttle busses to transport runners from the finish to the start line but this would require a 3am wake-up to get there in time. As someone who cannot afford to skip any beauty sleep, I enlisted the help of my wife to drop me off at the start.

A few hundred runners gathered at the start. A Klerksdorp runner points to the elusive Caltex garage.

Arriving at the start there were a few hundred runners but no other visible signs that a race was about to take place. At about 5:25am us runners reached consensus that we should probably line up in the road. Just after 5:30am someone walked in front of the runners brandishing a starting pistol but it was only 15 minutes later when the gun was finally fired to set us on our way.

Further alarm bells sounded when the first kilometre board appeared after 1.5km. I was worried that someone had confused the metric and imperial measurement systems and we’d be in for a 42 miler. Luckily that was not the case but, with the previous day being Black Friday, the race organisers got into the spirit of things and decided to give us 44km for the price of 42.

A group of thirsty runners search for the elusive first water table on the road to Marikana.

Earlier in the week most of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs were without water for three days as the biggest maintenance project in the city’s history was undertaken to fix some major leaks. Most people go to the office to work but I was going into the office just to shower! In hindsight, three days without water was great preparation for the marathon – as there was no water until the 18km mark!

Our saviours – some supporters made a plan and organised water for thirsty runners.

We were lucky that a couple of supporters made a plan to get some water for the parched runners – thanks guys you were lifesavers! On finally getting some of the clear stuff, one poor runner from Wonderpark remarked, “It’s too late now, this race has already broken my spirit!”.

Desperate runners double checking that the water table at the 18km mark is not a mirage. The bloke in the middle has already had his spirit broken.

I was chatting to one of the officials after the race about the water situation and it turns out a lot of water was left behind in the stadium. He was pretty irritated because he’d been trying to get it resolved since 5am that morning but only started getting contact from the “organisers” around 8am. When I pushed him as to who the organisers were, he got a bit evasive and said something about the “local chiefs”.

Where’s Water? Left behind in the stadium (photo taken after the race).

There were also no traffic police on the route to monitor and calm traffic, the race was billed as a Championchip race (and you had to register on their site) but there were no timing mats and this was the first race I’ve done in South Africa that did not provide Coke during the race.

To make matters worse, those that did manage to overcome dehydration and cross the finish line under 5-hours in the hope of using the race as their Comrades qualifier found out on Monday that their efforts had been in vain as it was “not recognised”. The race was advertised as a Comrades qualifier so this must have pushed a few runners over the edge – I don’t know the full story but it’s really unfortunate that runners pay the price!

The route was fairly easy – a few small undulations but no major hills. You run past plenty of mines (and their dumps). Free range cows and goats provide most of the support (their dumps are smaller and can easily be avoided if you stick to the road). Although most of the race is on back roads there is quite a lot of truck and taxi activity so you must keep your wits about you. The last section sees you run through Marikana town main street and then a very bumpy dirt road that was quite difficult to navigate on tired legs.

Lonmin Platinum Mine Factory

The organisers did send out an apology to the runners the day after the race and have promised to sort things out in 2018 but I fear that the damage has already been done and they will struggle to regain the trust of the running community.

Reflecting on this race, I feel a bit like Allister Coetzeelooking for positives” after yet another Springbok defeat but here they are…

  • The handouts were decent, a nice medal, food pack, t-shirt and cap.
  • The route is fairly interesting and Marikana is a place of significance (for unfortunate reasons) that I would not otherwise have visited.
  • This race makes one appreciate how seamless and well organised most races are.
  • Based on recent performances, I would still rather run this marathon again without water than watch a Springbok rugby game!

Removed from the list of positives: “This was the first ever marathon in Rustenburg.” Thanks to Mark Dowdeswell who, like an astute journalist at a Springbok post-match obituary, pointed out “Rustenburg Marathon Club used to organise a marathon in Rustenburg (one of the last Comrades qualifiers each year).” – It’s nice to have marathon running back in Rustenburg then!


Feeling “exhausted” towards the end of the run – This is an open air car parts shop in Marikana.


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11 Replies to “Platinum Belt Marathon: Rustenburg to Marikana (sans water)”

  1. Small historical fact (apologies if it impacts your list of “positives”!): Rustenburg Marathon Club used to organise a marathon in Rustenburg (one of the last Comrades qualifiers each year), so this was not the “first ever marathon in Rustenburg” – although it remains your first ever marathon in Rustenburg!

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