Seshego Marathon (Signing out from Polokwane)

[MARATHON #250 / UNIQUE MARATHON #147 / 1 May 2022]

Having run all their marathons and ultras, I thought that I was done with Polokwane but then this new race popped up on the calendar and sweating out a 50k seemed like an appropriate way to spend Workers’ Day.

The Seshego Marathon is an appropriate way to spend Workers’ Day.

These days I am finding that most of the adventure in running marathons is getting to the start. Point-to-point races always pose logistical challenges and my dire need of beauty sleep (according to my daughters’ forthright opinions, I have a severe deficit in this regard) exacerbates this problem.

Instead of waking up just after yesterday to catch the 3:00am busses to the start, I decided to chance the Polokwane Uber driver network. I have successfully used Uber to get to marathon starts in Cape Town (where the drivers tell me that I am an unusual fare at that time of the day as they are normally carting drunken students home). However, I was taking a chance that Polokwane nightlife would extend into the early hours of the morning.

It did look like I’d found myself a driver but after I disappeared for the necessary ablutions, my designated driver disappeared and the Uber network went dead. I therefore resorted to my backup plan of driving to the start and would Uber back after finishing. The start was listed as the Paledi Mall and there were several other runners who had a similar idea. There was a 24-hour McDonalds at the mall, so I popped in for a quick McSlash™ and headed to what I assumed was the start – an intersection populated by a large rasher of policemen.

There was a small gathering of us mall parkers hunting for the start line. When I asked the closest policeman where the start was, he pointed down the road into the distance and said, “It’s quite far that way.” Quite far proved to be just over two kilometres away from Paledi Mall but luckily a runner from Newcastle (actually his wife and their bakkie) came to our aid as we piled into the back. I have been struggling to fit into my running pants since Covid but a fast and frosty ride in the back of a bakkie left me feeling a little looser after dropping a couple of cup sizes.

These days I am finding that most of the adventure in running marathons is getting to the start.

There were a couple of speeches before the starting gun fired and we set off back towards Paledi Mall just after 5:30am. The combination of a full road closure and good street lighting provided a stress-free start to the ultra while we waited for the sun to rise.

A stress free start to your day.

It was a cool morning but I wasn’t complaining as Polokwane is adjacent to the Tropic of Capricorn – and the sun always has plenty of power this close to the Southern Tropic. Since we were heading west, the rising sun had our backs when it eventually rose an hour after the start at 6:30am.

The sun’s got your back during the Seshego Marathon.

I can empathise with Polokwane and do not begrudge her late sunrises because, just like me, this city needs all the beauty sleep it can get. I do enjoy running in Polokwane but it’s not a city that is going to win any prizes for prettiness. With not much to focus on in the aesthetics department, I turned my attention (and camera) to the road signs which proved to be more interesting than the surrounding scenery.

It’s the smokers not the drunks you’ve got to worry about on the road to Polokwane. It also explains the thick “smog” we ran through over the next rise.

Limpopo drivers are amongst the most reckless in the world, so the “High Accident Zone” sign above was no surprise. However, one shouldn’t take everything at face value in Limpopo, there’s a good chance that this is a caution that it’s the smokers rather than the drunks that you’ve got to worry about on the R71. Adding credence to this theory was that over the next rise we went from a crisp, crystal-clear morning into thick smog.

Better not breakdown on the R71 to Polokwane. Not sure whether bio-mechanical work is also prohibited but I didn’t stop for a stretch and a quick plank to find out.

Overall the route is relatively flat with a total altitude gain of just 374m. However, there is one long slow-poison pull from 13 kilometres until just after the half marathon mark. This never-ending climb was a little soul destroying in the mist but, if the sign above is anything to go by, you’d better not breakdown along this section of road. I was not sure whether bio-mechanical work is also prohibited but I didn’t stop for a stretch and a quick planking session to find out.

You could quite literally start a garage band at a panel beaters. And if you choose this one you could call your band “Metallic Car”.

With the road closure there was no regular traffic on our side of the road, however the menacing sound of a prowling ambulance was never far away. Meat wagons often hover like vultures waiting for a weary runner to collapse but in Polokwane they’re emblazoned with pictures of lions, hunt in prides and stalk the field looking for the weakest of the herd.

Beware of prides of meat wagons hunting down the weakest of the herd.

After 22 kilometres heading dead west along the R71, I was surprised to veer left onto the N1 freeway. This was a novel experience as I don’t think I’ve ever run on the N1 before (you get to run on the N2 during the Die Vlakte Marathon and on the N3 during Comrades).

Heading back towards Gauteng along the N1 freeway.

I quite enjoyed having the wide expanse of the freeway to ourselves for 9 kilometres. Unfortunately the traffic police who were supposed to close off the last offramp abandoned their posts so the final 3 kilometres along the N1 were a little hairy with cars flying by at 120km/h.

You enjoyed a traffic free trip for 9 of the 12 kilometres along the N1.

The drive to Polokwane from Johannesburg is an easy but expensive three-hour trip with frequent toll booths steadily emptying your wallet. Freeways are expensive – and the size of the tolls increases in proportion to the size of your chassis. I wondered how far south the route would take us but fortunately we turned off before the Nyl Plaza or the sub-halala bus would have been out a few hundred bucks.

You get to enjoy the novelty of running 12km on the N1 freeway. The freeway is expensive but luckily we turned off before the Nyl Plaza or the sub-halala bus would have been out a few hundred bucks.

I had spotted the long bouncy locks of Julian Karp in the distance as we ran along the N1. It took me a long time but I finally managed to reel the Karp in as we left the freeway and returned to the urban jungle. With a fairly small field of just over 300 runners, the second half of an ultra can be lonely so I was glad to shoot the breeze with Julian over a good few kilometres. Julian is one of the most recognised sights and friendliest voices on South Africa’s roads – and if you want to improve your commuting options and conserve fuel during an ultra, I can recommend some Karpooling kilometres.

After reeling in Julian Karp I enjoyed the benefits of Karpooling for a few kilometres.

This was Julian’s second marathon of the long weekend and he ran his third in a row (at Wally Hayward) the following day to take his lifetime tally to 846! Julian is definitely certifiable and has his own medical diagnosis: the uncontrollable repetitive urge to run at least two marathons a weekend is known as “KarpWillRunAll” Syndrome.

Playing catch and release with Julian Karp.

Julian’s impressive feat (or should that be feet) puts my own more moderate total into perspective. As it was my 250th marathon / ultra, this was a milestone race for me. I thought it was appropriate that a 50k would bring up 250 finishes but there was someone else who had an even better idea: Victor Dangale who was celebrating his 50th birthday with a 50k run!

His supporters were out in force en route and he was on display for selfies at the finish. I incorrectly assumed that Victor was Zimbabwean since he was wearing the Zimbo flag on most of the pictures of his photo frame. I thought this made a good coincidental pun since the men’s victor was also Zimbabwean, Givemore Mudzinganyama.

The best way to celebrate your 50th birthday is to run a 50k ultra.

My honest mistake on social media cause some consternation and was quickly corrected when I was told that, “He is just wearing Zimbabwean T-shirt, Lots of runners have the Zimbabwe t-shirts”. This is a cultural difference that I was not aware of. Personally, I wouldn’t be caught dead in an English or Australian shirt unless I’d lost a serious bet or someone donated a ridiculous amount of money to charity – and my father actually is English and my brother lives in Australia*.

* I do actually own an Australian rugby jersey. I was given it as a gift for a work assignment I did for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. It has only been worn once – by my brother (before he emigrated) as a fancy dress outfit to a “Dress Like Trash” party.

The road to Zim: Runners close to the Zimbabwean border are non-binary when it comes to their choice of flags.

Even for those who were not celebrating milestones, there was a great atmosphere along the route with well-stocked, festive tables and energetic support. The EnergyFM table on the outskirts of Seshego was particularly vibrant and I tucked into the snacks on offer to get me through the last few kilometers. If you missed out and still had some cash left after the toll roads you could sample some of the township’s fresh produce.

Great vibe and plenty to eat at the Energy FM table. If you can only stomach something softer, run the half marathon or pick up a chicken a little further down the road for just R65 (cheep-cheep).

Although the EnergyFM table was my “support table of the race”, I appreciated the Chillers on Wheels table the most. I probably should have upsized my pre-race McDonlalds visit from a McSlash™ to a McDump™ but fortunately Chillers on Wheels (who provide portable throne rooms) meant I didn’t need to risk a R1000 fine a few kilometres down the road in Seshego.

Thank goodness for the Chillers on Wheels table – meant I didn’t need to risk a R1000 fine a few kilometres down the road in Seshego.

You exit the N1 around the 34 kilometre mark on the southern outskirts of Polokwane. Seshego is on the north-western periphery of the city so you’ve got 16 kilometres through industrial areas and suburbs to conquer before you can earn your finish.

Tarzan returns to the urban jungle.

The race does reward you with a mostly downhill second half. The highest point of the race is just after 23 kilometres and, with the exception of a handful of speedbumps, it’s a gentle drop all the way to the 44 kilometre mark on Nelson Mandela Drive where you suddenly face the steepest hill of the day. The hill is exactly one mile long and I endured a long walk to freedom before the final push to the finish line.

It was a long walk to freedom up Nelson Mandela Drive,

The finish is in the Seshego Stadium and I arrived just in time to get my medal. Inaugural marathons often have one or two teething issues but in this case it was not too few medals but that the supplier did not deliver in time. However, my sedentary pace was perfectly timed to get the first batch of medals hot off the press directly after they arrived at the finish.

Finishing at the Seshego Stadium.

The race is organised by the 015 Running Club (015 is the dialling code for Polokwane) and all proceeds go to the Sisonke Foundation to assist learners from underprivileged families who experience reading difficulties with glasses.

I had a few chats with race organiser Phateng Kgomo before and after the race – and also caught the post-race interview he did on EnergyFM. The first race went really well but he did acknowledge that there were a few improvements to be made ahead of next year’s event. He has an ambitious vision and timeline for the Seshego Marathon, “We want it to be a national landmark. Give us two years.”

Although you run past the Peter Mokaba Stadium during the race, this is the only Polokwane marathon that does not finish there.

The race does offer something different from the other Polokwane marathons and ultra that, other than the Mall of the North Marathon,  all finish at the Peter Mokabo Stadium. Seshego gives the long distance runner the chance to experience some township running and is a good option if you want a well organised undulating point-to-point 50k in Limpopo.

Signing out from the Seshego Marathon. Look out for the next report from the Tronox Marathon in Empangeni.

READ MORE: Mall Of The North Marathon (The Pick of Polokwane)

READ MORE: Run4Cancer Ultra (Sex, Politics & Religion in Limpopo)

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2 Replies to “Seshego Marathon (Signing out from Polokwane)”

  1. Great read Stu. Enjoyed your story of the Aussie T Shirt. Never knew you had one. Alistair can go to a dress like trash in just what he’s wearing 😂😂😂

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