[MARATHON #255 / UNIQUE MARATHON #152 / 2 December 2023]
Irene van Eeden from Eastern Province Athletics heard that Julian and I would be coming through for the 1City marathon and asked what marathon number we’d be running, promising to give us the corresponding numbers. There was a slight hitch though because the printed race number sequence issued for the race did not include either of our marathon counts (927 for Julian and 255 for me). However, Irene made a plan with some handy “cut and paste” decoupage skills to ensure that we both ran with a memorable personal touch.
The race venue is the Fairview Horse Racing Track which is about a 30-minute drive from the city centre and involved an early wakeup to get there for the 5:30am start. However, traffic is light this far out of town and there was plenty of parking at the track.
I set about finding a place to toilet and followed a group of runners who were walking uncomfortably figuring that they were on the same mission. However, the toilets were well hidden and proved hard to find. After doing a long trot around the track, I eventually spotted the ‘Toilet’ direction sign which was not to be confused with the ‘Tote’ sign – it is important to decide where you deposit and flush away your excess funds (for the record I went left for the safer bet). This was the first hazard of running a marathon at a horse racing track.
The second would become evident shortly thereafter as I headed to the start to take some pre-race start line photos. One needs to tread carefully to avoid the lumpsum deposits left behind by the horses who had strayed from the track.
The third and final hazard is making sure that you don’t break your leg on the finish straight. Spoiler alert – I eventually made it across the finish line unscathed.
The congested, nervous tension at the front of the field was contrasted by the relaxed and breezy atmosphere at the back of the pack. The inaugural 1City Marathon was run in July 2016 from Uitenhage to the Port Elizabeth City Hall but roadworks in subsequent years necessitated a change of route and the race relocated to Fairview. Post-Covid, the PE City Marathon* which was always run on the first Saturday of December did not return and the 1City grabbed this festive slot on the calendar.
* Gqeberha / Port Elizabeth has a long traditional of including the word ‘City’ in their marathon titles. Another marathon I’ve run (which sadly seems to have disappeared) is the Friendly City Marathon.
According to Irene, the change has been a popular one, “The time of the year is great to bag an early qualifier before everyone generally shuts down for the holidays, overindulges, and it also ends the year on a running high.” This seems to resonate with the running community as I spotted many out of town license plates from Gauteng, KZN and Kimberley. For most of the 1,200+ strong field (there were 609 marathon and 596 eventual half marathon finishers) this would be their last long run of the year.
Whilst on the topic of name changes, I have run several marathons in Port Elizabeth but the 1City Marathon was my first in Gqeberha. I did a little bit of practice on the new name by practicing my tongue clicks and consuming lots of dairy so that a could clog my sinuses and do justice to the fricative ‘ha’ at the end.
The official name change was made in February 2021 but I needn’t have bothered with pronunciation practice on the new name since most people seem to use ‘PE’ and ‘GQ’ interchangeably. All the road signs still refer to “Port Elizabeth” and as Wikipedia notes, “the new name remains poorly used locally as of 2023.”
Change takes time and name changes are controversial. I just think it’s a pity that the powers that be did not wait a bit longer. Then they could have renamed the town “Port Elizabedi” which would have been a lot more popular and easier to pronounce.
After exiting the racecourse, we turned right onto Draaifontein Road and covered 8km of a loop before being interrupted with a 4x2km out-and-back section along Lakeside Road. After this you complete the loop and rejoin Draaifontein at the 18km mark which is where the full and half marathoners part ways.
The first half is scenic without being beautiful. You run past farms (with the associated sights and smells), the Greenbushes fire station and St. Albans Prison.
The entire second half of the 1City Marathon is out-and-back along Old Cape Road. Algoa FM presenter, Carly Fields, warned me about the second half, “The route is quite boring (from the split where the 21km athletes head home, right until you finish) … I’ve downgraded to the 21 thanks to the flu this week, but safe to say no fomo for the marathon! East Rand/Benoni marathon vibes loading.”
Unless you are adopted by Chalise Theron, using the phrase “Your momma” and “Benoni” in the same sentence has a high probability of leading to violence. As such, I thought that Carly’s comparing of a marathon route to Benoni was pretty harsh. However, it was not long into the second half of the race when I realised that Carly had not oversold her description.
What’s a man to do when there are several kilometres of tedium ahead? For me this is usually fertile ground to think up some terrible dad jokes and my idle mind duly obliged. The most interesting sight along this section was a large sign advertising the Rietkruil Quarry. Their tag line is “Suppliers of Crushed Stone – We Deliver” but I would have gone with “Cash and Quarry”.
I also wondered how many marathon runners threw in the towel along this section – which got me contemplating whether gardeners quit by throwing in the trowel, scrabble players by throwing in the vowel and gastroenterologists by throwing in the bowel.
This Old Cape out-and-back segment combines a lack of aesthetic appeal with the closest resemblance to a hill one that gets in the race in the form of a very slow pull of 45 metres elevation over 5 kilometres. At least the weather was good, the wind never escalated above the stiff breeze level and we had cloud cover for most of the way.
I kept myself entertained by asking all the marshals and support tables, “Which way to the beach?”. I did not get any satisfactory race day answer so included this in my set of questions to Irene. I had noted previously that Gqebertha marathons either hug the coastline for the vast majority of the route or avoid it completely. Irene explained that EPA has a responsibility to take athletics events to different wards within the Metro. I think this policy of ensuring that GQ races aren’t just concentrated along the coastline is called ‘redistribution of the health’.
Another big factor in diversifying GQ routes is traffic, “Traffic is always an issue along the beachfront and unfortunately road closure is not always an option, so this inland route provided a safe and fast alternative.” So I guess that while you can’t have your cake and eat it, you can have your Old Cape Road and repeat it.
Whilst the route is not that exciting, the overall organisation was impeccable and the tables were also excellent. The event is also a great example of an effective partnership between sport and local government. The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality started partnering with Eastern Province Athletics in 2013 with a 10km event and this has now been expanded to a series of seven road races, cross country and track & field events.
Those chasing a fast time had one stumbling block over the last four kilometres after turning back into Draaifontein Road. Gqeberha is only narrowly beaten by baked-beans when it comes to notoriety for its ability to produce violent bursts of wind. It might just have been my state of lethargy after 38km but the breeze suddenly upped its game to that of a ferocious headwind.
At the turning I noted that even concrete street signs aren’t safe. It is also worth noting the magnificent Dad Bod in the background of the photo above. It is unclear whether this is an intentional look (anything is possible in GQ) or if the wind quite literally blew the shirt off this poor bloke’s back. I understand that the latter is colloquially known as ‘being scared shirtless’ (but this scariness usually applies to the viewer rather than the possessor of the Dad Bod).
By this stage the of the day the roads were still quiet but the sun was out and the incredibly gradual climb (I feel embarrassed even mentioning a 10m elevation gain over two kilometres) added a minor challenge before returning to the racetrack.
This year 1City introduced official bus drivers to help pace those qualifying for Two Oceans and Comrades. There were two 4h30 bus drivers, I finished in 4:42 just behind the faster of them. I think the other 4h30 driver finished after the 4h50 bus (which was on time) and the 5h bus strolled across the line in 5h01. Well-known local runner, Mkhululi Jack, successfully delivered his 4h passengers in 3:59 so maybe he needs to provide driving lessons to his fellow bus drivers before next year’s event. Failing that you do run past the Traffic College earlier on the route so perhaps some remedial lessons are needed before handing out K-42 licenses.
Whilst I would not classify 1City as a destination marathon, it is a good way to close out the year and get a fast and flat marathon done before the December excesses take effect. And for the Gauteng running contingent, you could always close off your running year by running 1City and then open next year’s account with Johnson Crane to see whether the Benoni comparison is fair.
Thanks to RaceSpace who covered my travel costs for this marathon
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