Blue Mining MMC Marathon (Your Mann in the Middelburg)


[MARATHON #258 / UNIQUE MARATHON #154 / 27 January 2024]

I have visited Middelburg several times to run the Loskop Ultra Marathon but have spent very little time in the town itself as the Loskop route directs you directly out of town and towards the Loskop Dam. Therefore, I was looking forward to getting better acquainted with the Mpumalanga town during the MMC Marathon (the only January marathon I did not yet have on my running CV).

Middelburg got its name as the halfway mark between Pretoria (then the capital of the Traansvaal Republic) and the gold-mining town of Lydenburg in 1872. It’s an easy 2-hour highway drive to get to Middelburg from Johannesburg which is on the cusp of a very early wake up drive on race morning distance. However, you can get some bad morning fog so I decided on the overnight option. Unfortunately, my easy Friday afternoon drive was made a little more hair-raising after getting caught in a hailstorm that left my car with more dents than a naked paintballer.

My B&B was on the southern perimeter of town whereas the race venue is the Hoërskool Kanonkop which is on the northern extremities. I was somewhat surprised that Middelburg is large enough that it took 15 minutes to drive from one end to the other.

A relaxed 6am start.

Middelburg offers distances for all levels of January fitness with marathon, 32, 21, 15, 10 and 5km options. The marathon gets the morning’s activities going first with a 6am start but you get to see most of the other runners at some point along the route as there are many out-and-back sections. Although we got off smoothly and on time, there was some minor drama before the start when a blind runner went missing on the school grounds but was found shortly thereafter.

The race was started in 2008 and was sponsored by one of the local mining companies but unfortunately the sponsorship did not survive Covid. Fortunately Blue Mining Services stepped in to resurrect the race in 2022. As for the race name, “MMC Marathon”, this stands for Middelburg Marathon Club Marathon which is quite a mouthful. Being of Scottish heritage, I thought they could have gone with the Middelburg McMarathon but perhaps they were worried that someone would try to run in a kilt.

The Three Zimigos in their traditional kit.

However, I was surprised to see the Three Zimigos in their traditional kit early on the race: Don, Bryge and Farai were doing the Three Amigos – three marathons in just over 24 hours. The traditional way to do this incredible, if slightly crazy, feat of endurance is with Akasia in Pretoria, Ottosdal Nite Marathon in the North West and then Johnson Crane in Benoni. However, the Zimingos decided to add an additional challenge (and several hundred more driving kilometres) by coming to Mpumalanga so that they could cover three different provinces* over the three marathons.

* You can watch Farai’s two part video of the experience here and here

There are a lot of out-and-backs over the route.

Although the route is officially circular, there are several out-and-back stretches and you kick off with a 8km inner lap with some repeat street and then another 8km outer lap. I kept myself entertained by looking at the road signs. In most places, once you get to a certain age, you learn about the ‘birds and the bees’ but in Middelburg they have special signs warning you about the ‘birds and the bunnies’ (which, coming to think of it, is much more appropriate).

Beware of the birds and the bunnies.

A few hundred metres down the road, I did spot some bunnies but none of them were doing anything x-rated. As a Monty Python fan, I am always wary of the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog and, since I was not carrying the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, took a photo from a respectable distance and trotted on*.

* I did contemplate trying to do a Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Trail themed race report but decided against it as the entire route was on tarmac.

Most of the initial kilometres skirt the border of Middelburg. It is literally manicured lawns and immaculately sculptured shrubbery (which is good news for any knights who say “Ni”) on one side of the road and African savannah on the other.

Graffiti seems to be a popular pastime in Middelburg. I’m not sure whether someone thought the speed limit was too slow or is just a fan of films about Spartans (but adding an additional 9 kilometers onto a 60km/h sign would have been funnier).

And there was also the mysterious large heart-shaped S2 which had nothing to do with the marathon* and the object of desire also seems to have the local residents stumped. According to race organizer Charmaine van der Merwe, “We would like to know ourselves as this is a mystery here in town.  We were approach by our local newspaper to find out whether we were responsible for it with our races.”

* When race organisers spray paint distance markers on the road is this called Grafeeti?

A mysterious declaration of love on the streets of Middelburg.

A few other signs caught my attention along the route. I was intrigued by this large advertising board (in English) for a local church whose final line noted “Afrikaans” services. I guess that this means they are Bi-blelingual?

When your sign is in English but your services are in Afrikaans does that make you Bi-blelingual?

There were also some interesting road names. With all the current interest in UFC and the revelation that despite being #1 in the world, Dricus du Plessis is only #7 in Boksburg, I am sure that there are some competent brawlers in Middelburg. I am not sure whether Hospitaal van der Merwe is a place or a person but that would be a great name for a mixed martial artist.

Dricus du Plessis versus Hospitaal van der Merwe is a fight that I’d pay to see.

After 16km in the Kanonkop suburb, we were finally directed into new territory. We crossed the Klein Olifants River and then headed past the Mhluzi township which includes a gentle climb to the halfway mark.

There is not much in the way of hills in Middelburg but one local runner did try to convince me another gentle incline up Totius Road was “tortuous” but I wasn’t convinced. However, the entire route has 464m of climbing so the gentle pulls do add up.

Some gentle pulls that add up to a total elevation of 464m over the marathon.

The end of this section includes some zigzagging to make up distance around the Middelburg Golf Course. Having teenage daughters, I am up to date on most of latest lingo. I saw someone asking on Twitter whether anyone had ever heard Oxford’s 2023 word of the year ‘rizz’ used in real life. I have heard it plenty of times (it’s short for ‘charisma’). Whilst my daughters have never used ‘rizz’ in a complimentary sense for my personality, my ‘rizz’ is to use their slang out of context as often as possible (e.g. when I am enjoying a meal I can say, ‘This supper is full of rizz.’).

Another word in the colloquial vernacular of the Gen Z teenager is ‘mid’ – which means average. For example, if someone asks me how I am enjoying my meal and it is not that tasty I can say, ‘It’s mid.’ Since Middelburg Golf Club’s website is ‘’, I wondered whether this is where average golfers go to lose their balls.

Mid Golf – where average golfers go to lose their balls.

This part of the world is coal country but the with continual load shedding the grids were quiet. According to our politicians, perpetual power outages are “not the end of the world” so I guess we’ll just have to grid and bear it.

Gridlock in Middelburg.

Whilst the grids may have been voltless, the good news for MMC marathoners was that there was plenty of opportunity to recharge one’s batteries at the support tables. They all gave enthusiastic support and every table had a good selection of food and drink.

Plenty of time to recharge at the support tables.

There are some beautiful avenues of trees in Middelburg and with the late morning sun beating down over the final few kilometres, I was glad that the organisers had decided to take us home through the shady part of town before finishing back on the high school grounds.

The shady part of town.

It has taken me a while to knock off this final January marathon and it provided a pleasant escape from the mass participation events in Gauteng held over the same weekend. I noted that there were a few other city slickers who had also chosen the road less travelled.

I enjoyed my run but my only concern with this race is that after finishing I realised that I might have some branding issues in Middelburg. Mr. Venter can have his centre but it looks like I have some competition for being your Mann in the Middelburg.

Branding issues in Middelburg.
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