Pongola Marathon (The Zululand Sugar Rush)

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[Marathon #216 / Unique Marathon #123 / 27 April 2019]

On the 27th of April 1994, 20 million South Africans exercised their right to vote in our first non-racial democratic elections. Twenty-five years later, on the 27th of April 2019, 214 runners exercised their legs and enjoyed their freedom to run marathons in the small Zululand town of Pongola.

Pongola (or uPhongolo as it’s known in Zulu) is a Kwazulu Natal town famous for its production of sugar cane and subtropical fruit which are harvested in the 50 km² of plantations that surround it. The town has a long history and hosts the grave site of the Zulu King Dingane. Continue reading “Pongola Marathon (The Zululand Sugar Rush)”

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Loskop Marathon (The one with a late start & a fast finish)

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[Marathon #214 / 11th Loskop Ultra Marathon / 6 April 2019]

It is rather perturbing to wake up at the feet of Dawn* for one of your favourite ultra marathons and find that there is a 4am text message saying, “URGENT NOTICE: Due to public violence en-route both race starts will be delayed by AT LEAST an HOUR – Police are evaluating the situation. Next update 5:00”. Continue reading “Loskop Marathon (The one with a late start & a fast finish)”

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Real Gijimas Ultra (Every village needs an idiot)

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[Marathon #213 / Unique Marathon #122 / 31 March 2019]

The Real Gijimas Ultra Marathon traverses 50 kilometres of rural Eastern Cape countryside through countless villages between Zwelitsha and Mdantsane. Every village needs an idiot and the following candidates applied for the vacant VIPs (Village Idiot Positions) on the last weekend of March: Bulela Sidloyi, Ernest de la Querro, Jacques Coetzer, Jeremy Knox, Nkul’leko Ntuli, Richard Birch, Stuart Mann and Zolani Twani.

You see, for each of the above applicants, the Real Gijimas Ultra would be their second 50k of the weekend as all of us had completed the Bruintjieshoogte Ultra Marathon the previous day. Continue reading “Real Gijimas Ultra (Every village needs an idiot)”

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Great East Marathon (The Kruger Park run)

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[Marathon #211 / Unique Marathon #121 / 23 March 2019]

It pays to have friends who are more persistent than you are. Last year the Great East Marathon was a new addition to the running calendar – but was cancelled without so much as a race flyer going out. I’ve been writing monthly articles detailing all South African marathons and try to make contact with race directors to confirm details but, after half a dozen emails and phone calls went unanswered, I assumed that the sun had already set on the Great East Marathon in 2019.

I was therefore very surprised when my friend, Julian Karp, gave me a call to ask if I wanted to join him running the Great East Marathon. Julian likes to run two marathons a weekend and, since this was the only marathon listed on Saturday 23 March, he doggedly hunted the organisers down – his tenacity paying off with confirmation that “the marathon is definitely on”. Continue reading “Great East Marathon (The Kruger Park run)”

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Knysna Heads Marathon (The Return of the Jetty)

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[Marathon #210 / Unique Marathon #120 / 17 March 2019]

In cinema there are many ‘trilogies’ but just one set of three is known as ‘The Trilogy’ – a term which is of course reserved for the original three Star Wars movies. ‘The Trilogy’ movies are universally appreciated as timeless classics. They offer an exciting visual extravaganza from the very first scene to the closing credits, are stuffed full of interesting characters and continuously stimulate your ocular nerves with scintillating special effects in spectacular settings – in fact they provide such a riveting ride that you can revisit them once a year and never get bored.

If I was forced to only run marathons in one region of South Africa but allowed to pick the place, it would be an easy choice – the Garden Route. Having run ten Knysna Forest Marathons and completing the Outeniqua Marathon last year, I was really looking forward to concluding the marathon running ‘Trilogy’ with Knysna Heads. With a spring in my step and eager anticipation in my legs, I arrived at OR Tambo airport for the flight to George. Continue reading “Knysna Heads Marathon (The Return of the Jetty)”

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John Nugent Marathon (Upington: The Final Frontier)

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[Marathon #209 / Unique Marathon #119 / 9 March 2019]

The plan to run a marathon in Upington began at the Mokopane Spur the night before the Potties Marathon. My companions that evening were the two JKs: former international rugby referee Jonathan Kaplan (120 marathons and going strong) and current Tarzan / Michael Bolton impersonator Julian Karp (770 marathons and going stronger). I was just the Mann in the middle with around 180 marathons at that stage.

Hatching a plan over a pre-marathon meal in Mokopane with the two JKs.

Continue reading “John Nugent Marathon (Upington: The Final Frontier)”

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Surrender Hill Marathon (Overdosing on Maluti Muti)

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[Marathon #208 / Unique Marathon #118 / 2 March 2019]

One of my wild running ideas is to pick the best and most beautiful small-town marathons from all around the South Africa and create a ‘Hidden Gems’ series – the objective being to add a finish at each one to your lifetime marathon running CV. It’s still very much in the formulative stage but I would ensure that there is at least one race per province.

There are so many great small-town marathons scattered all over our beautiful country that whittling the list down to a manageable size, say a dozen, is going to be a challenge. However, I expected a bigger challenge to be finding a Free State marathon that meets my stringent selection criteria. Although there are many great Free State runs, ‘beautiful’ is not adjective one readily associates with their routes.

Nevertheless, as an optimist by nature, I held out hope that a hidden gem could still be unearthed in the Free State. Many marathons ago, I got chatting to some runners from Bethlehem (if memory serves me correctly it was one wise man and two wise women) who told me of a neighbouring town called Clarens and a marathon called Surrender Hill. Continue reading “Surrender Hill Marathon (Overdosing on Maluti Muti)”

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Hippo Marathon (Getting hot & sweaty in Richards Bay)

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[Marathon #207 / Unique Marathon #117 / 23 February 2019]

When a holiday is announced in our household, the first question my daughters ask is not, “Where are we going?” but “What marathon is dad running?”. The answer this time was “The Hippo Marathon”, with a mid-term break enabling my daughters to spend four nights with their Nana in Pinetown while my wife and I were able to sneak off to Richards Bay for two of those nights.

After twelve years of marriage, two nights of peace and quiet sans kids far outweighs the attraction of a dirty weekend. However, one thing is for sure – if you want to get hot and sweaty, Richards Bay is the perfect place to do it. Continue reading “Hippo Marathon (Getting hot & sweaty in Richards Bay)”

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The Running Mann’s Guide to April/May Marathons & Ultras

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This article provides detailed information on all South Africa’s April and May marathons including race descriptions, recommendations and travel information.

April is ultra month, with seven ultras dominating the lonely three marathons on offer. There are just six road ultras in the world with over 1,000 finishers – they are all run in South Africa and four of them are held in April (my own personal favourite ultra is the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon over the Easter weekend).

May is much quieter as the South Africa marathon calendar revolves around Comrades qualification which ends on 1 May. Continue reading “The Running Mann’s Guide to April/May Marathons & Ultras”

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Tuks Marathon (Earning your undergraduate degree the hard way)

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[Marathon #206 / Unique Marathon #116 / 16 February 2019]

Father Christmas, unicorns, working indicators on BMWs and single-lap marathons in Pretoria. Before 2018 none of these existed – three still don’t.

Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city, is crammed full of bureaucrats and civil servants who like nothing more than to capture everything in duplicate – this philosophy spills out onto the streets with all their road running events being double-lappers. I am not sure whether there has ever has been a single-lap marathon in Pretoria but there has definitely never been one in Tshwane*. Call me a Doubting Thomas but when I heard that the Bestmed Tuks Marathon was a single-lap route I had to see it for myself to believe it. Continue reading “Tuks Marathon (Earning your undergraduate degree the hard way)”

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