Kloppers Marathon (and overcoming my Afrikaans angst)

[MARATHON #260 / UNIQUE MARATHON #156 / 10 February 2024]

Afrikaans was never my strongpoint. Afrikaans teachers and I regarded each other with mutual contempt throughout my school career. One of them even banged her head on the desk in exasperation when she realised that my younger brother was in her class during his first roll call in standard 6. Let’s just say that my free-spirited schoolboy antics did not blend well with the strict (and sometimes sadistic) ethos of the average Afrikaans onderwyser.

Perhaps it is the psychological scarring I endured on the top floor of Rondebosch Boys High (I think they put the Afrikaans bloc there so that the other classes would not be disturbed by the screams) that has resulted in a subliminal avoidance of Bloemfontein marathons. To date I have just one credit, the OFM Music Marathon (which has not taken place since Covid) in the City of Roses. Therefore, I decided to face my fears and take my running shoes into the domain where Englishmen fear to tread by entering the Kloppers Marathon.

I only realised after the marathon (thanks to Google translate) that Klop means “knock”. By deduction, this would mean that Kloppers translates to ‘knockers’. Had I known that before running, I would have focussed on an entirely different aspect of the race but we’ll have to make do with the pictures I took.

Incidentally, just in case anyone thinks that Kloppers is Bloemfontein’s answer to Hooters, the race is titled after a local family-owned department store who were founded in 1967 and have sponsored the race since its inception 33 editions ago.

However, shortly after starting I did notice that brand names in Bloem are different to those in the rest of the country. A striking example is that in Sandton we have “Turn and Tender”, whereas in Bloemfontein they have the “Carcass and Cleaver”. I guess you need to know your target market.

In Sandton we have “Turn and Tender”, in Bloemfontein they have “Carcass and Cleaver”. It pays to know your target market!

Misty conditions greeted the 350 marathon runners on race morning and would last for most of the first half of the race which provided excellent conditions for running. The route is also very flat with just 299m total elevation gain over the single lap route making it an ideal PB course.

All set for a 5:30am start.

The only downside with the mist was that we missed full visual impact of the historic buildings over the first 3km loop around the CBD which include the First Raadsaal Museum, National Afrikaans Literary Museum, the Supreme Court of Appeal (Bloemfontein being the judicial capital of South Africa) and the Bloemfontein City Hall.

The misty conditions meant that we missed the visual impact of the historic buildings during the first 3km loop around the CBD.

I did however manage to play a bit of “red light, green light” after spotting a random tank at the turn-off to the Tempe army base. Sandor Lajos Varga did a bit of research and reported back that this is a Russian built T-34/85 that was captured by the South African Defence Force during the Angolan border war in the early 1980s. With the way the war in Ukraine is going and our cozy relationship with Russian dictators, Putin may well be asking for it back soon.

After spotting a random tank at the side of the road, I waited for the traffic lights to change in case the organisers were playing “Red Light, Green Light”.

Speaking of getting cozy, the couple below were making the most of the cool conditions under the blanket of mist and I envied their comfort, coffee and confectionary. I have now redefined my life goals to include buying a retirement home on a marathon route so that my wife and I can watch the runners go by whilst sipping coffee (and perhaps beer if it’s towards the end of an ultra).

Life goals: Buy a retirement home on a marathon route so that we can watch the runners go by whilst sipping coffee.

I was just glad there wasn’t a third chair or I would probably still be there! However, it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t sit down since Gareth Hinrichsen mentioned after the race that the comfortable couple were in fact his former school teachers. I took the opportunity to ask him, “Were they strict (or is that a rhetorical question for Afrikaans school teachers)?”. The wife was his sub B teacher and he only has fond memories of her class whilst the husband was “a very passionate rugby coach and only time I remember him as being strict was next to the field or drilling us in practice.” However, Gareth was probably a lot better behaved than I was at school so it’s probably not a fair comparison to my experience of Afrikaans teachers.

The cool, misty morning conditions and flat route make the Kloppers Marathon an ideal route for a PB.

All the race distances (there are also half marathon, 10km and 5km options) start in the appropriately named Zola Budd Way just outside the Bloemfontein Achilles club house. There is a staggered start with the marathon runners setting off at 5:30am and the half marathoners starting their chase 15 minutes later. This meant that it wasn’t long before the speedsters started blasting past us “value for money” runners.

I was taking care not to get violently rear ended in the mist when there was a sudden screech of braking takkies. It turned out to be Paralympian Louzanne Coetzee and her guide Claus Kempen who’d slammed on their brakes for a quick chat. It’s always nice to meet people on the road that you’ve only read about (check out these Modern Athlete articles here and here).

It’s always nice to meet people on the road that you’ve only read about. Paralympian Louzanne Coetzee and her guide Claus Kempen slammed on their brakes for a quick chat during their half marathon.

Born blind, Louzanne competes in the T11 class and has represented South Africa at the last two Paralympics. She has several world records to her credit. They’ll both be heading to Paris later this year and hopefully Louzanne will be adding a gold medal to the silver and bronze she’s previously collected.

When I travel to run marathons, I try to immerse myself in the local culture. I am pleased to say that after 17 hours in Bloem, I returned home at least 15% more Afrikaans than when I left (but admittedly I am coming off a low base). Ironically, the sign below was the only English I saw during my stay – and it inspired my first ever “pa grap”…

After 17 hours in Bloem, I returned home at least 15% more Afrikaans than when I left. This sign inspired my first ever “pa grap”.

Even several weeks after the lactic acid from Kloppers had left my legs, I still have an elevated level of Afrikaans skill. I was going to ask the internet for a good “klop klop” (knock knock) joke as this seemed obligatory for the “Kloppers” marathon but then managed to come up with my own (it’s is a bit rude, very dated and not everyone finds it in good taste)…

Whilst English in Bloemfontein is as rare as the steaks in “Carcass & Cleaver”, I did also manage to spot a veritable needle in a haystack (or should that be contact lens in a bathtub) with a Greek road name towards the end of the race (at which point I was looking hard for reasons to stop running and take a quick photo break).

Eureka! I found a Greek sign which warranted a quick photo break.

When the sun comes out in Bloemfontein, it doesn’t mess around and the second half was a lot hotter than the first. Of course, along with the first ray of sunshine, out come the braais. I told the gentleman in the photo below that I was concerned that the braai was way too small for a big guy like him. He assured me that “’n boer maak n plan” (and already had a first batch of boerewors ready for consumption in the tray alongside).

Once the mist lifts, it’s all sunny skies and braaivleis on the streets of Bloemfontein.

With an entry fee of just R250, marathon running is good value for money in the Free State but you can really score if you combine your run with a haircut. Even with my rapidly diminishing thread count, I was tempted to try a ‘was and blaas’ for R90 before driving home.

Just R90 for a “was en blaas”.

With a fourth marathon in four weekends, my body felt like it was getting back into decent shape and I managed to overtake the 4h35 bus over the last few kilometres which are a pleasant saunter through the suburbs.

The 4h35 bus was in good spirits as they approached the finish.

However, whilst the race organisers did not sneak in any last hills, they did manage to torment me by running us past several famous Afrikaans schools in the last kilometre. For fear of getting shouted at by an Afrikaans teacher, I decided not to stop outside Grey College (which has produced 46 Springbok rugby players, second only to Paul Roos in Stellenbosch with 54), and ended the race with what was probably my fastest kilometre split of the race.

Ná my tweede marathon in Bloemfontein is ek selfversekerd genoeg om ’n hele paragraaf in Afrikaans te skryf (waar was ‘Google translate’ waneer ek by die skool was?). As ek a bietjie meer marathons in Bloem hardloop, sal ek dalk selfs sielkundig sterk genoeg wees om met Meneer Bester of Mejuffrou Shaw (sy is die een wat het die lessenaar gekopstamp) in aanraking te kom maar ek dink ek sal hartkloppings hê as ek sien hulle ondersteen langs die pad tydens ‘n marathon.

However, in the unlikely event that this did happen, I would impress my former teachers with another ‘klop klop grap’:

I still think that running a marathon is a much more attractive and less painful proposition than sitting through a double Afrikaans lesson but in celebration of my newfound embracement of Afrikaans culture, I might follow tonight’s beer with a ‘kloppers and coke’. In fact, I might even make it a double.

Ek teken uit van die Kloppers Marathon. Kyk uit vir die volgende verslag vanaf die Capital City Marathon in Pietermatitzburg.
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One Reply to “Kloppers Marathon (and overcoming my Afrikaans angst)”

  1. Lovely and interesting read Stuart, your Africaans is far better than I ever thought, and I could not translate your one paragraph.
    Did you have a eureka moment when you passed archemedes street?

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