Meerkat Marathon (The One With A Presidential Sendoff)

[Marathon #204 / Unique Marathon #114 / 2 February 2019]

Once a year, I take out the one wood for the long drive to Kimberley – five to six gruelling hours along the N12. I am slowly working through all the Kimberley and Northern Cape marathons in my quest to run every marathon in the country. When scheduling my races, the annual trip to Kimberley is one of the first to go into the plan – but I can only face doing the drive there once per year.

Took out the 1-wood for the long drive to Kimberley to run the Meerkat Marathon.

This year I picked the Vodacom Meerkat Marathon and received a SMS the day beforehand from “The Mascot Runner” – his car had broken down and he had been given my details as a fellow Joburg runner driving through to the race. Turns out the Mascot Runner is Supersport rugby commentator, Ockert van Schalkwyk, which made the long drive to Kimberley a lot more entertaining.

Ockert is offering his services to run races around the country in sponsor outfits and is hoping to get a related Mascot Runner charity going. The main challenge when running in costume is the additional heat that builds up inside the suit – after a few hundred metres you are running in a mini-sauna with puddles of sweat pooling around your feet. I also imagine diet is very important since the suits have the propensity to trap air: Commentators produce vast amounts of hot air, rudimentary scientific principles tell us that hot air rises – thereby filling the mask with exhaust fumes (and making for a rather unpleasant experience).

Ockert van Schalkwyk is the ‘Mascot Runner’ you can follow him on Facebook and book him for your event on 0618767714.

Ockert told me that the ‘sauna effect’ is actually a plus since he is actively working on getting himself back into Comrades shape by reducing the effects of the ‘commentators curse’. The curse is one of the side (technically front-middle) effects of sports commentary – this sedentary vocation, combined with in-depth post-game analysis whilst soothing the vocal cords with copious amounts of medicinal fluid, leads to a rapid swelling around the middle.

Cecil John Rhodes made his fortune on Kimberley’s diamonds. This wasn’t enough though and his efforts to diversify into gold instigated one of the main pre-cursors of the Anglo-Boer War, the disastrous Jameson Raid. This should not be confused with the rugby commentators version of the Jameson Raid that occurs immediately after the final whistle is blown. Hugh Bladen has led thousands of successful Jameson Raids direct from the commentary box to the closest whisky bar at rugby stadiums around the country.

We arrived late on Friday afternoon at the Bishops* Old Boys Club to register.

* ‘Bishops’ is the nickname for the Kimberley Boys High School**

* In Cape Town, Diocesan College is better known as ‘Bishops’ because their students struggle to spell the word ‘Diocesan’. Kimberley is a long word and it is confusing to know where to put the last ‘e’ – so they may have settled on ‘Bishops’ for the same reason.

Having pre-entered, I quickly collected my entry tag and goodie bag before taking time to look around the hall. It looked like your typical school examination chamber and I noted that late entrants had to write an entrance exam to prove they were worthy of running the race.

Sitting the entrance exam. Guy on the left has roving eyes, guy in the middle is googling for answers and guy at the back seems to be having a tough time.

I still had a bit of time to kill while Ockert collected his meerkat outfit so continued exploring and found the poster below.

Enjoy up to six hours of peace and quiet while you run a marathon.

This looks like a good option for harassed running parents – and a great incentive not to run too fast, with up to six hours of peace and quiet while enjoying a marathon*.

* Top parenting tip: Whenever your kids complain that they are bored, just simulate bedtime or say, “It’s time to get in the car for school”, and they will immediately find at least 17 things to do.

In the lead up to the race, it was communicated that President Cyril Ramaphosa would be firing the starting gun. I was sceptical whether this would happen – and when we were told at 5:20am that “The President would be arriving soon”, I was certain that we would be starting late.

Politicians (regardless of ideology) are notorious for being late. However, I am pleased to report that our President was on time (in fact I understand he arrived just after 4am and was waiting behind the scenes for the runners to get ready) and no blue lights were needed to make it to the start on time. He had a big gala dinner the evening before but was still bright and breezy when he gave us a short inspirational ‘nation-building’ speech before joining the runners over the first few hundred metres of the course.

President Cyril Ramaphosa gets the Meerkat Marathon going (photo from Vodacom Kimberley Road Runners Facebook page).

We started before dawn in light rain under the streetlights. What Tesla giveth, Eskom taketh away – but people in Kimberley appreciate basic necessities like streetlights even more than those in other parts of the country: Kimberley was the first city in the southern hemisphere (and second in the world after Philadelphia) to get electric street lights.

Kimberley was the first city in the southern hemisphere (and second in the world) to get electric streets lights.

Normally researching and writing about marathons is a completely separate (and much more time consuming) activity than actually running them but I managed to kill two birds with one stone over the first few kilometres when I bumped into Louis Massyn. I had been writing up the Mielie Marathon article but still had a few gaps in the narrative. Louis was one of the founders of the Mielie Marathon and has run it 38 times, so I plied him with questions until I had exhausted the topic (but not Louis – although he was probably pleased to get a bit of peace and quiet once we parted ways).

Louis Massyn makes a breakaway while I take a quick photo.

The route is one big loop that provides a nice tour of the southern and central sections of the city. The scenery over the route varies a great deal and provides a cosmopolitan perspective of suburbia, township, industrial and country life in and around the city.

Route map.

The small running community of Kimberley are always very friendly which gives the marathon a ‘club run’ feel to it. Some of the early route highlights include a section through the Galeshewe township (named after the anti-colonial revolutionary and chief of the Batlhaping tribe, Kgosi Galeshewe) and the Northern Cape Houses of Parliament (Kimberley is the capital of the Northern Province).

Running passed the Northern Cape Houses of Parliament.

In space, black holes are stellar masses with such immense gravitational force that not even electromagnetic particles of light can escape their pull. In Kimberley, all road signs lure you into their own immense orifice – a hole that is visible from space and one they are very proud of – The Big Hole.

In Kimberley everything is centred around the Big Hole.

Kimberley se Gat is a hand-dug cavity that produced 2,722kg of Diamonds between 1871 and 1914. It has been transformed into a world class museum by the De Beers company (and one that is well worth a visit). The goodie bag included in your R170 ($12/£9) race entry fee features sponsors products as well as vouchers – one of which is a 50% discount to the Big Hole Visitors Centre and Museum. For those running Meerkat in future years I would strongly recommend making a weekend of it of exploring the museums and historical sites around town.

My groot gat in front of the Big Hole.

You breach the Big Hole just before halfway and a stone’s throw* away is the oldest pub in South Africa – The Star of the West. I managed to resist popping in for a quick beer but have made a mental note never to get drunk in Kimberley since the teenager in me wanted to do a ‘moonshot’ in front of the Big Hole (but the more responsible 40-year old settled for a double thumbs-up photo above).

* People in Kimberley shouldn’t throw stones – because it might just be a diamond. This is exactly what happened to Erasmus Jacobs in 1866 when he picked up a ‘small brilliant pebble’ that turned out to be the 21.25-carat (4.3g) diamond subsequently named Eureka – and thereby started the diamond rush.

Although, I bypassed the Star of the West, my exit from the centre of town of town was delayed when I spotted the sign below.

If you’ve got an uncut gem, this is the number to call (‘Ding Dong’ looks like they decorate doorbells as well).

Kimberley diamonds adorn many a set of crown jewels and the sign seems to advertise a service that mitigates the risk of dropping a carat size – I understand that meticulous skill is required for a precision incision of your most valued assets️. Ironically there was a carpet cleaning company next door.

The route is very flat with the only sharp spikes being brief bridge crossings over a railway line or highway.

Route profile.

Some of the rises do provide good views over the city. The photo below shows the De Beers Oval cricket ground (whose floodlights poke out of the flat landscape). Whilst cricket matches at Newlands are played to the stunning backdrop of Table Mountain, Griqualand West fans have to settle for the slightly less impressive backdrop of a table-top mine dump.

A table-top mine dump provides the backdrop for cricket matches played at the De Beers Oval.

Although Kimberley is usually hot, dry and dusty, she has branded herself as the ‘City that Sparkles’. This might be construed as false advertising but a massive overnight thunderstorm gave her a good wash and polish, so she was shining nicely for our run – and the remaining cloud cover provided a spectacular canopy that sheltered us from the harsh Griqualand sun.

The clouds that remained from an overnight thunderstorm provided a spectacular canopy for much of the race.

The rain meant that we didn’t need to contend with the dust as the mid-morning wind got up. However, the dust had congealed into clumps of grit – and if you were not getting enough fibre in your diet, opening your mouth as a truck passed, provided enough roughage to permanently sort out your digestive system.

Through Vodacom’s sponsorship, Kimberley Road Runners and the Meerkat Marathon have grown to be the largest in the Northern Cape. They also had one of the best tables along the route.

The support tables were small, friendly and efficient with some putting in extra effort: The Pick n Pay table created special meerkat masks and added to the reasons why there is an 20-and-older age limit on marathon running. These meerkats were anything but cute – if Slipknot had gone for a meerkat theme they would have look something like this.

Left: Actual Slipknot band members; Right: Pick n Pay staff with scary Slipknot-style meerkat masks.

The powerful Griqualand sun eventually burnt off the cloud cover and we worked up a good sweat over the last few kilometres. Fortunately, the increase in temperature coincided with a visit passed the Namibia Breweries table who were sampling their new Tafel Lite beer.

I was feeling thirsty towards the end of the Meerkat Marathon when the Namibia Breweries table magically appeared.

When you’ve got heavy legs, a lite beer is exactly what you need. The Tafel Lite beer went down faster than Neymar in the penalty box. As for running in Kimberley, you should know I’m only here for De Beers!

The final few kilometres are back through the suburbs and one slowly navigates (rather appropriately at the end of a marathon) towards the Honoured Dead Memorial. The memorial commemorates those who died during the Siege of Kimberley (14 October 1899 – 15 February 1900) during the Second Anglo-Boer War. The monument was financed by Cecil John Rhodes, designed by Sir Herbert Baker and features a Rudyard Kipling inscription that was commissioned especially for the memorial. The monument also features the ‘Long Cecil’ canon used during the siege (which no doubt provides rich food for euphemisms directly across the road at the Kimberley Boys’ High School).

Left: The last stretch towards the Honoured Dead Memorial. Right: The memorial and Long Cecil canon (photo from Wikipedia).

The race boasts a lovely finish venue on the cricket fields of the Old Boys’ Club and every marathon runner was greeted (and ‘high fived’) by an enthusiastic meerkat who had stuck around at the finish line after completing the half marathon.

The race has an great finish area – and all marathon runners got a ‘high five’ from an enthusiastic meerkat (right photo from Vodacom Kimberley Road Runners Facebook page).

A brilliant final touch is that all participants get a John Dory’s hamburger – which was superb!

Don Rukanda tucks into his complimentary burger courtesy of John Dory’s.

Many races struggle with getting people to stick around for prize giving but the Meerkat Marathon solves this problem by offering a lucky draw for a R20,000 diamond (sponsored by Petra Diamonds). Unfortunately, I was rushing back home but this may be a good incentive to stick around the next time I run the Meerkat Marathon – and a good bargaining chip to use the next time I sit down and negotiate away marathon running weekends with my wife!

One of these lucky people is going to walk away with the R20,000 diamond.

Besides which, I need to go back to Kimberley to pitch a brilliant idea I have for a new line of clothing; One I can’t believe hasn’t been thought of before; Marketed right, this could be as a big as Polly Shortts were in the 80s (and only slightly less socially acceptable to wear in public) – an exclusive range of ‘Groot Gat’ underpants.

Signing out from Kimberley’s Meerkat Marathon – look out for the next race report from the Klerksdorp Marathon.


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