Doing Your First Adventure Race The Week Before Comrades? I Blame Phuti

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[Adventure Race #1 / 2 June 2018]

Rule #1 of Comrades is “Don’t try anything new on race day.” No one says anything about the week before Comrades but they probably should. I found myself in a dilemma. The ultra-runner’s version of Catch-22: It would be really stupid to do your first adventure race the week before Comrades; but running Comrades is really stupid in the first place.

I was all set for my 9th Comrades. I wasn’t planning to conclude my Comrades taper with my first adventure race. I was planning to be a sensible ultra marathon runner. That’s the honest truth! Life was simple until Phuti got involved.

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Gaborone Marathon (The Most Expensive Run I’ve Ever Done)

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[MARATHON #189 / UNIQUE MARATHON #103 / 13 May 2018]

With the South African marathon running scene on Comrades hiatus from 1 May until the end of July, I had to look further afield to find a marathon to keep my “marathon-a-week” training program going. Luckily one of our sub-Saharan neighbours obliged with the Diacore Gaborone Marathon on 13 May.

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Heroes Deserve Medals: The Tale of Xolani Luvuno (#15620)

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Letter of the Law vs the Spirit of the Law: An Open Letter to the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA)

There were some great performances at Comrades 2018. Bongumusa Mthembu won his third Comrades and became the first South African since Bruce Fordyce (the undisputed the King of Comrades) to claim back to back victories. Likewise, in the women’s race, Ann Ashworth had the race of her life – she started as an outsider but dominated a strong field for a convincing victory.

These were great performances. However, the one that will be remembered is that of a runner who finished way down the field amongst the last of the bronze medallists. This was the year that a one-legged cancer survivor on crutches hopped the longest Comrades in 23 years. The year that a former convict gained redemption. The year that a recovering drug addict who lived under a bridge for several years redefined what is possible. On June 10, Xolani Luvuno astonished and inspired a nation – and the 2018 edition of Comrades will be remembered as Xolani’s year. Continue reading “Heroes Deserve Medals: The Tale of Xolani Luvuno (#15620)”

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JM Busha Peace Marathon (A Tale From The Tavern)

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[MARATHON #188 / UNIQUE MARATHON #102 / 1 May 2018]

A Running Mann Walks Into A Bar & Says, “Barman, I Want To Run One Last Marathon Before Comrades”

The first of May is Workers’ Day in South Africa – somewhat ironic considering it falls smack back in the middle of our annual period of protracted wage negotiations and national strikes. For the Comrades runner, May signals the culmination of many months of hard work and training – with 1 May being the last day one can qualify or improve your seeding for the largest ultra on the planet. The local running calendar revolves around Comrades – and South African marathon organisers also down tools after Workers’ Day, shutting the local running scene down until the end of July.

I’m not one to rest on my laurels (in fact I’m a “Yanny” person and can’t even hear “Laurel”!) – although it had only been a couple of days since the Outeniqua Marathon and we’d just arrived back from our Garden Route trip, I knew I had to squeeze in one last marathon to beat the post-holiday blues and get through the barren marathonless winter months.

The sun rises over Randfontein.

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Outeniqua Marathon (The One I Almost Missed)

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[MARATHON #187 / UNIQUE Marathon #101 / 28 April 2018]

I run a lot of marathons around the country. When local runners see the Gauteng license plates pinned to one’s vest they often ask, “Did you come here especially to run the marathon?” – and are suitably impressed (and often somewhat surprised) when you confirm that is indeed the case. When you run a marathon on the Garden Route, local runners ask a similar question from a slightly different perspective, enquiring “Are you here on holiday?”

You see, when you live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, your assumptions change and you know that even the most addicted marathon runner isn’t going to just ‘hit and run’ – it’s much more likely that they are going to ‘hit, run your marathon and stay for a few days’.

Running through the Garden of Eden: About to cross the Silver River on a road that’s a national monument.

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Marathon Addict? Guilty As Charged! (My 100th Unique Marathon At Bruintjieshoogte)

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[MARATHON #186 / UNIQUE Marathon #100 / 21 April 2018]

Prudent South African runners only plan their running year BC (before Comrades). When you’re running Comrades in June, it is presumptuous to plan anything for the second half of the year. Having ended 2017 with 89 unique marathons, I realised that I could reach my goal of 100 unique marathons in 2018 BC via a combination of three factors: good health, extensive travel and a very understanding wife.

Everything went perfectly to plan: After 13 consecutive marathon running weekends all around the country (with just three repeat races: Om Die Dam, Two Oceans and Jackie Gibson), it was now time to conclude the 100 unique marathons goal. When picking a milestone marathon, many people would pick a large, flashy and prestigious marathon – but there’s a big risk of getting “Phantom Menanced” and the hype not living up to expectations.

Summiting a termite mound in preparation for summiting the Bruinjieshoogte pass.

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Jackie Gibson Marathon (Where The Hills Have No Name)

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[MARATHON #185 / 3rd Jackie Gibson / 15 April 2018]

This is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of marathons – connoisseurs of pain, horror and gore will love it whilst the weak and squeamish will hate every minute.

People are very liberal dishing out advice when you’re 21. When I was 21, I migrated upcountry from a small cliquey, seaside village called Cape Town to the metropolis of Johannesburg – and received plenty of unsolicited advice. Most of it I either completely ignored or quickly forgot. However, the one piece of advice I took to heart and still apply 20 years later (probably because of the gravity with which it was delivered) was, “Stick to the north of Johannesburg. You can’t go wrong in the north of Johannesburg. But whatever you do – stay clear of the south!”

Two decades is a long time to survive in Johannesburg – overall I have come through relatively unscathed, I’ve only had one car stolen and have avoided most of the pitfalls one associates with life on the highveld (like being hijacked, mugged or becoming a Lions supporter). I attribute much of the success of this survival strategy to heeding the above advice – and, other than for weddings and marathons, I have avoided the south of Johannesburg like KPMG avoids due diligence. Just like in Game of Thrones, people of the north need to limit the amount of time they spend in the south if they want to survive!

If you survive two-laps of the steepest hills Joburg south can throw at you, this is the great medal you’ll earn.

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Mall Of The North Marathon (The Pick of Polokwane)

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[MARATHON #184 / UNIQUE Marathon #99 / 7 April 2018]

I’ve spent three nights in Polokwane.

There are three marathons in Polokwane.

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce the reason for each visit!

Having now run all three of Polokwane’s standard marathons, I can confirm that the Mall of the North Marathon is my favourite.

Acacia Thorn trees are distinctive in the Limpopo bushveld and line the route. First National Bank (FNB) also chose this tree for their logo (I’ve been told that this is because there’s a prick in every branch – but I’ve also been told that this applies to all the banks).

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Two Oceans (A Love Letter To My Favourite Ultra)

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[MARATHON #183 / 16th Two OCeans / 31 MARCH 2018]

South Africa hosts the two biggest (and greatest) ultra marathons in the world: Two Oceans and Comrades. I’ve been asked many times about the difference between the two. My philosophical view is that if you are a teenager in love, Two Oceans is the sweet, charming, beautiful girl that you should marry. Comrades is the girl that’s way out of your league but is malevolent enough to string you along, thinking you have a chance – only to break your heart (and your body) after crushing your spirit and ripping out your soul.

It’s got to be a special race when you’re this happy at 38km (and still have 18km – and Constantia Nek – to go).

The Romance

Growing up in Cape Town, Two Oceans was my “girl next door” – and it was as a teenager that I fell in love with her. I had just started high school at Rondebosch Boys and they asked for volunteers to hold up kilometre boards over the first 15km and man (or in my case “boy”) the last support table on the route. This seemed like a really good idea since I could support my Dad (The Old Running Mann) and we were told we could drink as much Coca-Cola as we liked on the day. In future years Rustenburg Girls School were invited to partner us at the table (which made the proposition even more attractive!). Continue reading “Two Oceans (A Love Letter To My Favourite Ultra)”

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