Elias Resort Marathon (Don’t they know it’s Christmas time at all?)


[MARATHON #256 / UNIQUE MARATHON #153 / 27 December 2023]

One would have to be a complete sadist to organise a marathon in Limpopo at the end of December – on the other hand, one would have to be a complete idiot to run it. It just takes one sadist to organise a marathon in Limpopo’s northern extremities in December but there were 76 idiots who ran it. Naturally I was one of them.

I had ventured north of the Tropic of Capricorn in October for the Shikhumba Marathon (which is slightly less north than the Elias Resort) and ended up finishing rather worse for wear in 38°C heat. Therefore, I diligently prepared with several lunchtime runs in the Joburg heat. To be honest, some of the midday runs were unintended consequences of my chronic procrastination but I was confident that I would survive whatever the harsh African sun could throw down.

The Elias Resort is about 40 minutes’ drive from Louis Trichardt which, in turn, is about an hours’ drive from Polokwane. My mother was staying with us over the holiday period so I took advantage of having a qualified and affordable babysitter and I treated my wife to the finest three-star accommodation that money can buy in Louis Trichardt (they work on the Michelin system there and stop at three stars).

Our boutique hotel was just a few months old and the room was spacious and luxurious. However, they take job specialisation seriously here and, despite there being more staff than guests, we were informed that they were unable to service our room because the cleaner ‘got stuck in the rain’. Breakfast was also interesting. After finishing the marathon, it sounded like my peanut butter sandwiches and banana were more appetising than what my wife was served. I got to experience breakfast on day two. I think everything is made the night before and if you want warm eggs you need to heat them up in the microwave. I was also bemused that the response as to whether there was a toaster for the bread was a flat “No” and if you want a cup of tea or coffee with your breakfast you need to make it in your room and bring it through. Basil Fawlty would be proud.

Safe to say that I didn’t get my eggs sunny side up. In fact we didn’t see any sunshine during our entire visit. Having diligently prepared for extreme heat and sweltering conditions at South Africa’s northernmost marathon, it was rain, rain and more rain for two solid days. At least we got the best of the weather during the marathon with a light pestering rain rather than the stinging buckets that fell overnight.

Julian Karp and Nic Shelver: A couple of cool customers at the unexpectedly chilly conditions.

We met up for dinner with Julian Karp and Nic Shelver the night before the marathon and I hitched a ride with them to the start. Julian had tried to find accommodation at the Elias Resort (which serves as the race venue) but they were full. When it comes to accommodation, Julian is not a man of fancy tastes, but remarked that he’d ‘dodged a bullet’. The resort is a recyclers dream with empty beer bottles strewn everywhere. There would not have been much sleep to be had with that much revelry. I also suspect that this was one case where the race porterloos were the preferable option to the resort’s built-in facilities.

A quick route briefing before we headed off.

After a quick route briefing, we set off from just outside the resort and were quickly into our first uphill culminating at the highest point on the route at the 2km mark. However, after that it’s 8km of steady downhill.

An early uphill (the highest point of the route is just ahead at the 2km mark).

By this stage you are running in some beautiful (but rather hilly) countryside with the odd village popping out of the green mountains every now and again. I thought the below photo montage would provide the best description for this section (which is undoubtably the highlight of the race).

When you’re between a Rockies runner and a hard place: The Elias Resort Nzhelele Valley Marathon had some tough hills – about 600m of climbing over the route.
I’m not sure why the pig crossed the road but she was probably just happy to have avoided being integrally involved in someone’s Christmas lunch plans.
The route hugs the Nzhelele River (which was well fed with all the rain during the marathon).
Some post halfway happiness heading back home – plenty of smiles along the route.
I always spot some interesting town names during out-of-town marathons – anyone know of a tertiary institution that should consider relocating to Tshituni?
Look out for the ancient baobab trees that are endemic to the area.
Not sure what happened to all the vendors in Venda.

Although the field was quite small (I was actually expecting even fewer people at this time of the year), there were quite a few runners who had travelled especially for the marathon. When I asked race organiser Rudzani Mandiwana about the late December timing of the race, he told me it was specifically designed to provide a long distance run for Limpopo expats from other provinces who return home for the Christmas holidays. In addition, Rudzani had been approached by some local running groups who asked if he could organise a race between Christmas and new year to help them with their training.

The water tables were stocked with water but the organisers obviously rationalised that everyone had overindulged on sugary treats over Christmas and there was nothing sweet to be found on route until a healthy stock of watermelon at the turnaround point.

The cold and wet conditions were too much for this runner who decided to ‘throw on the towel’.

I tucked in whilst observing the forlorn figure of a runner for whom another 21km in the rain was just too much to ask. On the run home I ruefully remarked that in most sports you ‘throw in the towel’ to quit but in road running you throw on the towel when the route defeats you.

By the time we reached the turnaround point, I was convinced we’d done more climbing and it would be mostly downhill coming home. Shows you how much I know! Looking at the route profile after the race, the lowest point is just before the turnaround point.

The organisers were ardent in their sugar deprivation. There was just one table with Coke on the road home but it was the ‘No Sugar’ variety. Later that afternoon, I realised that it may be a municipal-wide ban. We visited the local mall in the quest for coffee and cheesecake but came up short and ended up having to go to a Seattle at one of the petrol stations just outside town.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and Nic managed to flag down a motorist and asked him to buy a Coke. Nic also managed to run a negative split. I am pretty sure that there a strong correlation between the two events.

Refined sugar is hard to come by in this part of Limpopo.

The downside of the route is that 5 of the last 6 kilometres are on a busy road without much of a shoulder to run on. Apparently, some of the marshals did not arrive on race day which meant you had to keep your wits about you to get home safely. This is further confounded by local drivers who hoot loudly to show support. However, Joburg runners, only accustomed to the violent road rage hooting within the metropolis, are not familiar with this method of encouragement and interpreted the good natured support as aggressive.

I always joke that the only correct way to wash your running shoes is to go for a run in the rain. My shoes had had a great wash before the final rinse cycle at the 41km mark which is a final slog up a long muddy hill back into the resort.

A muddy last kilometre to the finish line.

The finish area was still quite festive despite the small field and poor weather. Directly after you cross the finish line you are bombarded with burial service offerings – now that’s what I call ambush marketing. I asked if they provided exclusive cover for “dead legs” but was told that they only offer a full body service. However, I was pleased to see that my physical finishing state was healthy enough that they gave me the ‘just browsing’ sales pitch but Nic got the full spiel (and he grabbed brochures for both him and Julian).

Directly after you cross the finish line you are bombarded with burial service offerings – now that’s what I call ambush marketing.

Whilst waiting for Julian, I noticed that the race medal was completely blank with no engraving or design of any kind. I amused myself by observing other bewildered runners turning the medal over several times like a USB device before realising that the medal was indeed void. The race shirt was really good quality, so I wondered if they’d spent all the race budget on the shirts and had no money left over for the medal. However, according to the organiser, the medals were “provided that way by the sponsor.” No confirmation that the sponsor was a grocery store promoting their “no name brand” items.

When you’ve spent all your race budget on a high quality shirt and have no money left over to get a design on your medal…

I’ve run a couple of marathon December marathons before but this was the first post-Christmas / before new year twilight zone marathon I’ve done.  I have to say that it was a great was to pay off Christmas lunch and put a hefty downpayment on the forthcoming New Year’s celebrations.

I go into inaugural marathons expecting a few teething problems and was not disappointed. However, the organisers have shown strong commitment to learn and improve for future events. The second Elias Resort Nzhelele Valley Marathon is scheduled for the 28th of December in 2024 so, if you do need to get one more marathon fix before the year is out, then Elias will quite literally be your last Resort.


I try to give an honest review of the good, the bad and the beautiful of every marathon I run. Although, there were a few issues (other than what I’ve covered in the report (like there were no official results which one would expect as a basic standard), there was also plenty of ‘good’ in the race. In my communications with race organiser Rudzani Mandiwana, I was impressed by his commitment to take feedback from his runners, learn and improve.

Rudzani is actively trying to grow the sport of running within the local community, provide decent prize money for talented athletes and provide races to local runners who cannot afford to travel to Polokwane or other cities to run. He is planning to hold six different events in 2024 and I am that they will be worth your support. For those that want to experience the vibe of rural Limpopo, look out for the Nzhelele Valley Tyron Tshitaudzi Memorial Marathon on 18 May which has a slightly different start venue but follows almost the same route as the Elias Resort Nzhelele Valley Marathon.

Signing out from the Elias Resort Nzhelele Valley Marathon, look out for the next race report from the MMC Marathon.
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5 Replies to “Elias Resort Marathon (Don’t they know it’s Christmas time at all?)”

  1. I had a little chuckle over your freshly cooked egg story.
    Once when staying in a hotel, I mentioned to the waitress that the toast had a rather leathery texture, and wasn’t fresh. Oh but that toast IS fresh she exclaimed. We made it last night. At that point, I lost the will to live.
    Lovely story Stuart, and the world needs more people like Rudzani. I wish him every success in promoting running within his local community.

  2. Another enjoyable blog-report, Stuart. Your rural adventures on the run always make for an interesting and educational read, and I love that you managed to work Basil Fawlty into this one.

  3. Your photo of the pig, reminds me of a rhyme that goes
    ‘You can tell a man that boozes by the company he chooses
    and the pig got up and slowly walked away’

    Courtesy your grandmother.

  4. We appreciate your honest blog; we are pleased to learn that there are few positives out of the race. we also acknowledge all the positive findings as opposed to criticism. It is not easy to host a race in a community that is new to road running, but we strive beyond frontiers to ensure the community buy in and support. There are few things that we have already addressed for the forth coming race. 1. we will bus in marshals from Faranani AC and Zwakala AC to ensure smooth running of water points and general marshaling. They will assist in transferring marshaling skills to the local team. 2. We have signed with Finish Time to do online entries and automatic timing. Licenses will have chips and there would be chip reading machine from start, along the route and U turn points. 3. we will have engraved medals and branded ribbon. 4. we will improve on sugar and salt drinks cum food.

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