Aspen PE City Marathon (Back2Back Marathon Weekend)

[MARATHON #170 / UNIQUE MARATHON #87 / 2 December 2017]

My current running goal is to complete 100 unique marathons. It’s a great way to stay motivated – annual double-lappers around Benoni are enough to destroy the spirit of even the most enthusiastic runner (there’s been nothing glamorous to look at in Benoni since Charlize Theron left for Hollywood)!

Running different marathons is also a great way to explore our beautiful country. With this in mind, I agreed to see off 2017 with a bang and do something I said I would never do – run back to back marathons.

The culprit/arm twister was local running legend Julian Karp who suggested I join him for a trip to the Eastern Cape to run the Aspen Port Elizabeth (PE) City and Heroes Marathons on the first weekend in December. Julian has run over 700 marathons and ultras. He’s had a fairly easy year by his standards – only 50 official marathon+ runs; in 2016 he ran 64 marathons/ultras (as well as an unofficial 100 mile route tester for a friend).

The cheapest flight option saw us land in East London – which is the mid point between the two marathons. After a Friday morning red-eye flight we collected our rental car and proceeded on the 300km drive to Port Elizabeth – the Eastern Cape’s largest city and the hub of South Africa’s automotive industry.

Arriving around lunch time, we decided to splash out and eat at the fanciest restaurant in town (the local Spur). It was a good meal (made better by a complimentary draught beer on their Friday afternoon “student special”) which kept us busy until we could check into our B&B and then hit registration.

The marathon entry is very cheap at R120 ($9/£6) but does not include any extras (it only covers your race number and 4 safety pins). The race shirt is an optional extra at R180. Aspen (the pharmaceutical company) has been a long-time sponsor of the race but I am surprised that they don’t use the opportunity to do give the runners some sample products (a race goodie bag is a great opportunity to do some drug pushing). I still have several pairs of Aspen socks from old goodie bags– pity they don’t seem to give these away any more as it is a great way to get mileage from your brand (pun intended).

My collection of Aspen socks from old goodie bags – a great way to get mileage from your brand.

The marathon has been going since the early 90s and has also featured as the official SA Marathon Championships on a few occasions. There was a decent turnout at the very early (for me) 5am start of just under 1,000 marathon and 600 10km runners. Port Elizabeth is known as both the “Friendly” and “Windy” city – and is well deserving of both nicknames. However, we were very lucky to get a still morning with cool, overcast conditions ideal for running.

In keeping with their sponsor’s industry, the race was clinical: Good water tables (with Coke and Cream Soda) every 3km, marker boards in the right place, well marshalled and well organised.

Enjoying the novelty of well stocked water tables after the previous week’s debacle in Rustenburg.

The route is an out, small loop and then back (on the same route). Although named PE City marathon you start in Lorraine (a suburb on the outskirts of the city) and stick to the country districts (for much of the race you don’t feel like you’re in a city at all).

The race starts on the outskirts of the city and you spend most of the race winding through the countryside.

Port Elizabeth is a coastal town but, although there is a long stretch down Sea View Road, you don’t get to see the sea at all during the race which is a pity.

Reading up on the race’s history, they moved the start from King’s Beach to the suburbs in 2004 due to increasing traffic volumes. They also wanted a really fast and flat course which the current route duly delivers (a few minor undulations but my driveway is harder to run up than any of the hills on this race).

A fast and flat route. Anyone who complains about the “hills” in this race is a wimp.

Knowing that the finish line was only “halfway for the weekend” did play some games with my head. I tried to fight back by Jedi-mind tricking my legs into believing that they were still fresh but, truth be told, the last 10km of any marathon are tiring.

10km to go to the finish. Jedi-mind tricking my legs into believing that they are still fresh enough to run another marathon the next day.

I managed to hook up with a novice marathon runner who was using the race to qualify for Two Oceans and the chatting got me through 9 of the last 10 kilometres without thinking too much of the next day’s marathon (she sped off into the distance for the last km so I had to get through that one on my own).

With marathon #1 completed there was time for a quick shower before we headed off on a 7-hour drive to the Transkei for the second marathon of the weekend…

[For part 2 the Heroes Marathon in Mthatha – click here]


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