[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)”
It is the middle of October 2018 and entries have just opened for next year’s Comrades Marathon. The entries are disappearing at an unprecedented rate. Runners, particularly those from lower income groups, raise concerns that all 25,000 entries will be sold before they get paid at the end of the month and have the funds to enter.
After seeing several social media posts from anxious athletes, I decided to do a small good deed aligned with the spirit of Comrades: Offer an interest free, trust-based loan to five Comrades runners. I’d pay for their entry and they can pay me back when they have the money to do so. This is the story of what happened…
There is no human alive who loves the Comrades Marathon more than Dave Jack. He’s had had a six-decade long love affair with the race – and his unbridled passion shows no sign of abating anytime soon. Dave’s run it 14 times, done live reports on the event for Radio 702 for 18 years driving alongside the race leaders, stadium announcing and prize-giving MCing for over a decade. He’s served on the Comrade Organising Committee (the forerunner to the Comrades Marathon Association) and is one of the very few people to have earned a ‘running’ Green Number (for 10 finishes) and well as a ‘serving’ Green Name (for 10 years or more in service of the race).
Dave told me, “I’ve done everything there is to do at Comrades except win the race!” Well, actually that’s not quite true – and that is why I am writing this article. But the story of how Dave Jack won the 2018 ladies race takes some explaining and requires a detailed backstory – so here goes…
On a cool spring morning in September 2016, Dani Smith pulled into the Engen Service Station in Woodmead. He was looking forward to filling up quickly and getting back home after visiting his local garden nursery. Dani Smith is a Comrades runner – and was easy to identify as such because, like most of his ilk, he proudly wore his Comrades race shirt as standard weekend attire. Continue reading “Fuelling the Comrades Gold Rush (The story of Charles Mkhonto)”
At the age of nine, Jackie Mekler was placed in an orphanage. This marked the end of his happy childhood – and the orphanage was where he remained until getting expelled at the age of 16. Jackie Mekler was a caged bird who hated the rules, regulations and discipline within the institution. On the 26th of December 1945, a diminutive 13-year-old boy bunked out of the orphanage to go for his first run. As his mop of bright ginger hair bobbed up and down Valley Street in Johannesburg, Jackie Mekler had finally found the means to escape the constrictions, constraints and controls that had been thrust upon him. “My frustration led me to explore ways of loosening the shackles of confinement. The best and easiest way was to start running.”
[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.
[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 writingmonthlyarticlesdetailing 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)”
[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)”
When running is in your blood, you can hide – and hike, cycle and swim – but you’ll eventually have to run.
Karen Brough has hiked all over the world. She’s completed the Annapurna Trail in the Himalayas, walked the El Camino from France, trekked across the Pyrenean Mountains to Santiago in Spain (900kms in 20 days) and climbed Kilimanjaro just for the views.
Karen has also cycled thousands of kilometres on her bike – her greatest achievement in this space was raising over a million rand for charity by doing a series of long distance peddles from Johannesburg to Maputo, Johannesburg to Cape Town and Johannesburg to East London.
She’s “always been a very active person” but none of her regular endurance exploits ever broke out into a run – until recently. At the age of 56 Karen set her sights on completing the IronMan – and accidentally fell into running, “I have always wanted to do a full IronMan. I could swim and cycle with ease, but soon realised my dream would never come true if I couldn’t run a marathon.”