Finlime Marathon (The Time I Ran a Marathon in Middle of the Kalahari Desert)

[MARATHON #173 / UNIQUE MARATHON #90 / 20 January 2018]

Pretty much everything shuts down in South Africa over the December / January school holiday period. Unfortunately, marathon running is no different: there is a total Sub-Saharan marathon shutdown between 16 December and 20 January.

Some people spend forty days fasting in the desert – so I thought it was appropriate to break my 40-day marathon drought with a run in the desert! The location was Lime Acres – a small town of about 4,500 people in the middle of the “green” Kalahari desert.

Finlime Marathon, Lime Acres (the middle of the Kalahari Desert)

I fired a few logistical questions off over email to the race organiser, Malanie. She promptly responded with a return telephone call filling me in on all the race details and additional information like recommended guesthouses and travel routes (the personal touch is something you can expect at this race). She also issued me a stern warning that, “It will be very hot!”. The average summer temperature in Lime Acres is 40 degrees in the shade (and there is no shade).*

* Slight exaggeration, the average summer temp is in the mid-30s. The hot and arid conditions have led to some interesting town names – Hotazel (pronounced “Hot As Hell”) is in the same region.

I was undeterred – running a marathon in the desert in the middle of summer still sounded like a good idea – and even the prospect of a 7-hour drive to get there was not daunting enough to prevent breaking my marathon fast.

Where in the world is Lime Acres?

Note: It’s quite a gruelling drive so allow plenty of time. Much of the road is single lane and full of slow trucks – there are also a few bumpy dirt roads to navigate.

I arrived safely in town late on Friday evening and was greeted by name at race registration by Malanie (who deduced that I was the crazy visiting runner from Joburg). The only restaurant in town was just across the road and I ordered a steak roll with chips (which seemed the safest option). The chips were of the authentic greasy “slap” variety and the steak roll (with a surprise garnish of chilli sauce) gave my molars a good working over but did not sit particularly well with me the following morning.

Runners in the (wild) Griqualand West are obviously so volatile and aggressive that motorists are warned off with these signs (all the runners I met were actually quite pleasant).

I was somewhat disappointed to realise that my guesthouse was only 600m from the start as this meant that I would have to run to the start in the morning (600m is well below the “get in the car and drive threshold” but I did run my second Twitter poll and checked the results in the morning to be sure).

Twitter Poll: When you’re staying close to the start you have to run there.

Finlime has a marathon and half marathon that both start at 6am as well as a 10km that sets off slightly later – Malanie was hoping for a total of 100 runners in all events (and ended up getting 97). Uniquely, the marathon and half runners start off in opposite directions so we were back to back as the gun went off. I counted 22 starters in the full and about double that for the half. There were a few local runners but most of the field had travelled though from Kimberley (about 160km away).

The full and half marathons head off in opposite directions with the runners standing back to back (the cool kids are on the left).

The race has been going for at least 20 years but no one seems to be quite sure exactly how many marathons there have been  – according to the locals it started “some time in the early 90s” (I can only assume that Lime Acres still relied on oral history until the turn of the millennium).

I’d had quite a big training weak and plodded along at the back of the field enjoying a surprisingly cool morning after a big thunderstorm the night before. The first 10km winds you through the village (which is surprisingly attractive) and then up to the Finsch Diamond mine.

The Finsch Diamond Mine towers above the runners in the first 10km.

There were a couple of trigger happy photographers tracking the runners around the course. I got chatting to one of them, Jarek, at a water table. He took my number and promised to send the photos to me. In chatting to them after the race it turns out that they have started a side-line photography business to alleviate the boredom of Lime Acre weekends. They do a lot of pro bono work to “increase their exposure in the local community” (not sure whether the pun was intended or not). They took all the best photos in this report – and you can check out more on their Facebook page: SLAP Photography. Also check out their photos of Lime Acres lightning storms – give them a like or follow, and if you ever decide to get married in the Kalahari these are your guys to capture the moment!

All the best photos in this report were taken by the guys at SLAP Photography – check out their marathon album here.

Once out of town, it is an out-and-back loop of about another 20km into the desert (I think officially this region is classified as semi-desert). Along the road, one has to take care not to step on any shongololos (millipedes for the foreigners) and I also spotted a few mongooses disappearing in the bushes ahead of me at various points.

Be careful not to squash any shongololos.

There is a steep climb just before the turnaround point and you get a great view of the route as you start heading back. The race is subtitled “The Flat One” and largely lives up to the billing – according to Runnersguide the race gets its name because “at certain high points you can almost see the entire marathon route.”

Note: Those who’ve been caught out by the Florida “Flat One” (a 10km on Joburg’s West Rand) should not be worried – the Finlime “Flat One” is indeed mostly flat. They are very literal in the West Rand – many a new and naïve runner has been caught out entering the Florida “Flat One” and enduring 9km of the nastiest hills in the Highveld before being rewarded with “one flat kilometre”.

Finlime is mainly fast and flat with a couple of hills thrown in to enjoy the view.

I managed to pass a few runners on the road home but the only person I got chatting to was the bloke in the picture below who was practising his hiking along the side of the road. His attire is a good example of the lengths you need to go to protect yourself from the Kalahari sun!

This is how the locals dress in Lime Acres to protect themselves from the harsh Kalahari sun.

The last stretch of the race is back into town via the heavy vehicle entrance and past the PPC Lime mine.

They warned us to expect big trucks and big trucks there were (no traffic issues for the runners though).

The road got very hot towards the end but was not unbearable (I did a few lunch time runs in preparation so that probably helped). The support tables along the route were great with ice cold Coke and water – and each was manned by a different local family.

Support tables have ice cold coke and water and each is manned by a local family.

I managed to pass the two leading ladies on the home stretch which gave my fragile male ego a nice boost – and you will be pleased to know that I refrained from telling them that they got “dicked” (see explanation below).

SIDEBAR: Is the term “chicked” sexist? And, if not, are men allowed to use the term “dicked”?

I have just started experimenting with Twitter polls. My second poll (mentioned above) meant I had to run to the start. My first poll was to check whether or not the term “Chicked” (used to belittle an inferior male athlete who gets beaten by a superior female athlete) is sexist. 

I then did a follow-up poll to check whether a normally inferior male athlete who finally manages to beat a female nemesis can tell here that she’s been “Dicked”. 

The results are in and surprisingly, according to Twitter users who care, the  term “Dicked” is far more socially acceptable than “Chicked” – especially if your name is Richard.

Use at own risk. I am certainly not brave or stupid enough to use it in “real life”. And if it does come into common usage I would predict a rise in groin injuries amongst overconfident male runners.

According to Twitter users who care, the term “Dicked” is more socially acceptable than “Chicked” – especially if your name is Richard.

SIDEBAR: Sponsorship (or lack thereof)

The entry fee is R180 and it is a pity that it does not include a race shirt – I love getting shirts from obscure races and these are the ones I tend to wear the most. The race is unsponsored and whatever money is left after running costs (pun intended) goes into the club’s coffers and is used to support their Comrades runners.

It is a pity that one of the big local mines don’t sponsor the race (they do provide spot prizes) as this would raise the profile and help to put Lime Acres on the map (like Caltex did for Bredasdorp with Voet of Afrika). PPC have been a long time sponsor of the Riebeeck Berg Marathon in the Western Cape (one of my Top 10 South African marathons). If PPC sponsored Finlime and picked an Eastern Cape marathon, they would have all three Cape provinces covered – which would make for a great marathon trilogy!

It is also highly commendable that a small club (+/- 35 members) can pull off a well organised marathon at a reasonable price without a sponsor! Well done Finlime Harriers!

Close to the finish in front of the PPC Lime mine / factory that gives Lime Acres it’s name (but does not make the “Green Kalahari” any greener).

Lime Acres must be the smallest town to host a Comrades and Two Oceans qualifier – and is the only race where I’ve been greeted by name at the start and finish! I really enjoyed this race – although it may be some time before I’m back for a second visit because of the long-drive logistics.

However, I would highly recommend it to runners who want to run an interesting marathon with great small town hospitality. There are some stunning tourist attractions in the area and you could use a marathon in Lime Acres as a sensible stepping stone to get to the Augrabies Falls or the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Cheers from Lime Acres.

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17 Replies to “Finlime Marathon (The Time I Ran a Marathon in Middle of the Kalahari Desert)”

  1. I know that area from many years ago when I was with Anglo Alpha. I looked after the computer systems for Union Lime at Ulco (Danielskuil) and Ouplaas. I think I got the land speed record in a 1300 Corolla between the two quarries once when they had a computer crisis.

  2. An enjoyable read indeed. This report was good enough to convince me to start off my 2020 marathon race in the heat of the desert. I’m glad I found this early enough to prepare for the heat. Just found out from the race organizer that the race date is set to 18 Jan 2020. I’ll probably be flying from Durban to kimberley just to avoid the fatigue of long driving.

  3. Hi Stuart,

    Just stumbled into this report here. I am an ex-Finlime Harrier. Please send me an email, I have a story about the race, some of the characters and my own experiences of The Flat One. Its a lot to type here, but I would love to share, please.


    Ryno Mouton

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