Riana van Niekerk Marathon (Showing off in Snor City)

[MARATHON #234 / Unique Marathon #134 / 30 November 2019]

A true test of a man’s virility can be found north of the Jukskei. Pretoria, aka Snor City, is the original Home of the Moustache. Fortunately fast facial hair growth is my superpower and, despite only putting my razor blades away halfway through Movember, I arrived at the start of the Riana van Niekerk Run & Walk For Bibles Marathon sporting a moustache of impressive elegance, grace and girth.

This was the seventh year that the event was being held but was the first time a marathon was on offer. Although God rested on the seventh day, after six successful years the Run & Walk 4 Bibles and Alpha Centurion Running Club teams decided that there’s no rest for the wicked and added a marathon to their very popular event (which includes a half marathon, 10k and 5k).

The temperature was already pushing the high 20s at the 5:30am start.

Although the marathon set off at 5:30am, the powerful sun was already beating down and the temperature was pushing into the high 20s. About 1,000 runners set off through the shady suburbs but it wasn’t long before our protective cover disappeared and were fully exposed to the sizzling sun as we migrated to the countryside.

Making the most of the shady suburbs at the start but it wasn’t long before we were fully exposed to the sizzling sun.

We faced a double-lap route that is reasonably flat by Gauteng North standards with a total elevation gain of 503m. The big challenge on the day was the heat – running in South Africa is generally pretty hot but as you can see from the comments below we got an absolute scorcher (which resulted in a significant portion of the field calling it a day after the first lap).

The route was relatively flat by Gauteng North standards but the real challenge was the heat.

It wasn’t long before we were passing the Waterkloof Military Air Base. Waterkloof is best known for the Gupta wedding party landing – it was all still fun and games on the first lap but by the time you pass it on the second lap, questions were being asked and the honeymoon was definitely over.

By the time you reach the Waterkloof Military Air Base on the second lap the honeymoon is definitely over.

The military presence is high along this section of the route. As a regular guy, I was pleased to see that every support table had an accompanying porterloo. You wouldn’t want the military police all over your a$$ while discretely trying to lay a couple of landmines in the shrubbery.

‘No Dumping’ – Be careful the military police don’t catch you laying landmines in the veld.

With perfect timing you could hit 15km and the 657AM Radio Pulpit / Radio Kansel table at exactly 6:57am. However, I can tell you that the sweltering Centurion heat certainly modulated my amplitude and a lot more time passed before I saw them again on the second lap at 36km!

With perfect timing you could hit 15km and the 657AM Radio Pulpit / Radiokansel table at exactly 6:57am.

An elephant in the room – or rather, on the roads, is how few races honour female athletes. This is the actually the only South African race named after a female athlete as well as the only competitive marathon in the world named after female runner.

An elephant on the roads is how few races honour female athletes.

Aside: What’s in a Race Name

The Riana van Niekerk Run & Walk For Bibles is the only competitive marathon in the world and the only running event in South Africa named after a female athlete.

Riana was a well-known road runner who earned four Comrades and three Two Oceans gold medals. She won many races over her career (ironically the list includes record wins at several races named after male athletes like Wally Hayward, Jackie Mekler and George Claassen) but is best remembered for her domination of the Om Die Dam 50k Ultra Marathon which she won six times (more than any other runner). Less than a month after winning her final Om Die Dam in 2015, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died 12 months later.

Riana van Niekerk as she’ll be remembered. Left: On her way to winning the Wings For Life World Run. Right: On her way to claiming a record 6th Om Die Dam title. She would be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly after this victory.

Riana graduated from Hoërskool Zwartkop, who hosted the first six editions of the Run & Walk For Bibles race. Shortly after Riana’s passing the school principal, Mr. Dewald Strydom, approached the race committee about renaming the race in honour of Riana. The idea was quickly and unanimously approved.

This event has raised more than R500,000 for Bibles over the last seven years and also supports several poverty relief projects. This year they collected food for 15 school feeding schemes and 60 other community-based projects, with the aim that both parents and children will have enough food over the Christmas season.

I wrote an article on “Unconscious Sexism in Road Running” a year ago bemoaning the lack of races, medals and trophies named after female athletes. Several races have subsequently (deservedly) honoured additional male athletes* but the cupboard is still bare for the ladies. On the medal side, Comrades added the Isavel Roche-Kelly medal but that is for women only (and replaced silver for female runners). There is definitely a gap in the market.

* Ironically one of the comments on this article is from the late Tommy Malone, a former Comrades winner and closest second place finish of all time, who (deservedly) now has a race named after him.

Globally, the trend is similar. There are just a handful or female athletes honoured with naming rights. As far as I know, the only annual race named after a living female athlete is Sonia O’Sullivan Cobh 10 mile race held in her home town of Cork, Ireland.

In terms of field size, Riana’s event has about 2,500 finishers across the marathon, half and 10k – making this the second largest race in the world named after a female athlete behind Norway’s ‘10k for Grete Waitz’ which has 4,000 finishers.

My moustache got many admiring looks and compliments during the marathon. I was also impressed to see that even the road signs celebrate Movember in Centurion and Pretoria (although it looks like they sensibly restrict the times for the public display of moustaches around school zones).

Even the road signs celebrate Movember Pretoria (although it looks like they sensibly restrict the times for the public display of moustaches around school zones).

My magnificent moustache meant that I was able to run the race in complete shade from the lips down. However, the hot tar was now baking us from the ankles up. As things were reaching boiling point on the second lap, an angelic voice called out my name and the compassionate face of Jack Ntlhamu appeared through the simmering tarmac mirage.

Although Jack, who featured in my Om Die Dam report, is both nimble and quick, he is a somewhat reluctant runner on occasion and decided to sit this one out. However, having also cultivated a fine piece of facial art he reasoned that it was his civic duty to support the race and show off his distinguished Movember.

Having cultivated such a fine piece of facial art, Jack reasoned that it was his civic duty to support the race and show off his distinguished Movember.

Jack offered me a beer which turned out to be cider – and I was thirsty enough to drink it. Although, when running the only competitive marathon in the world honouring a female athlete, perhaps it is appropriate to have a girly drink along the way.

This is the look you give when you’re dying for a beer & your mate only has cider!

The smell of alcohol lured another friend, Don Rukanda, to join the party. A couple of weeks beforehand, The Don (in the distinctive pink tutu above) ran his 100th marathon at Soweto. I told him he missed a trick – if he’d waited a tiny bit longer, he could have become a marathon running centurion in Centurion!

This was Don Rukanda’s 101st marathon. With better timing he could have become a marathon running centurion in Centurion.

The last section of the race is back in the Centurion suburbs. Centurion, originally named Verwoedburg, doesn’t have a lot going for it in terms of natural beauty so they use creative means to attract inhabitants. An example is the Italian riviera themed quarter where they do their best to try and emulate Venice, even going so far as to have their own canals.

The Italian themed section of Centurion where go so far as to try and emulate Venice with their own ‘route’ canals.

Root canals at the dentist are very unpleasant. Centurion “route” canals are even worse. Centurion’s canal system comprises raw sewerage floating down the street and percolating on the sizzling tar – making for an odious (and odorous) final few kilometres.

All that remained was to survive the oppressive heat and make it back to the Lewende Woord Church to be welcomed home by the friendly voice of Pete van der Merwe on MC duties. With the end in sight, I bounded home thoroughly enjoying this new addition to the Gauteng marathon running calendar – great organisation, a good venue with ample parking and no issues with traffic or marshalling (as the organisers enlisted the expertise of the Outsurance pointsmen – and pointswomen).

The expertise of the Outsurance pointsmen ensured there we no traffic or marshalling issues.

Although the Riana van Niekerk Run and Walk For Bibles Marathon definitely made us pay for our sins with extremely hot temperatures, there was a festive and relaxed atmosphere at the finish. For many runners this would be their last long run of the year.

I looked forward to getting home and washing the taste of cider out of my mouth with a beer. My wife however, looked forward to the following morning, the 1st of December. The start of a new month forcing my face to return to its former clean-shaven, streamlined glory.

Signing out from the Riana van Niekerk Run 4 Bibles Marathon. Look out for the next report from the Sedibeng Marathon in the Vaal Triangle.

The Running Mann runs his marathons in shoes supplied by the Sweat Shop Broadacres and Asics South Africa

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