BOOM! There was no missing the start. Anyone not awake was audibly awakened with a mini explosion followed by a display of fireworks above the runners...which while fun did lead a few moments later to a rain of hot debris and empty projectiles. But then who said this race was ever going to be traditional?
Starting on time at 7am was doubly unique. Firstly because most marathons begin at 5am or 6am and secondly because often in Africa a start time is just a guide, give or take an hour. The route made its way through a township where the roads were lined with supporters, many still dressed in nightgowns but enthusiastically giving their support. The shacks, derelict hotels and interesting signs were a visual feast of South Africa's diverse and rich culture. Everything from abandoned hotels from yesteryear to cows grazing peacefully on the side of the road painted a visual tapestry.
Soon the route flattened and we were greeted with the lush beauty of the Midlands and the beautiful homes and hotels that grace this area. Winding through leafy suburbs with views down into the valley below the route headed on.
The runs next surprise awaits the unwary runner at about 30km, as all of a sudden you are turned into a stadium, a bitter-sweet shock for the uninformed. Many a runner with a skip in their step races into the stadium looking unfathomably at their watch, and wondering how they have just smashed their PB time! Yet minutes later as they are spewed out the other side of the stadium the realisation dawns that this is not the end, but just another unique feature of this unique race. After all, who says there cant be a practice glory lap around some stadium somewhere on the route?
As the day began to slowly warm up, as it is want to do in Africa, the stream of runners still accompanied by the songs and cheers of supporters flowed past Midmar dam and headed towards the end. This time there was no doubt it was the end. Rock concert music bellowed out heralding the end from miles away as the commentator enthusiastically welcomed the runners in.
Next year...we will be back, what a great run, what a great experience, what a great opportunity.
The Mandela Marathon is only in its second year of running but it has all the elements to make it a great marathon. It is at the perfect time of year, especially for Comrades runners. It runs through some fascinating areas. It has wonderful cultural roots, and thankfully it was well organised. If this race can continue to be professionally put together, and that includes the social media, websites (which were excellent) and race admin, then it will become an iconic race for South Africa.
- Opening up the end area so it incorporates the food stands. I felt sorry for the vendors as they were isolated from the people, and the end was very cramped. A problem if the race gets bigger.
- Have more showers. We had thought there would be none, but discovered by chance four showers.
- If SABC TV is going to be there, which was a bonus, it would be nice for the middle (and even back runners) if they had not all vanished along the route so early on. This is afterall everyone's race, as together we succeed.
Finally how about a creative idea. This race has already done some unique and interesting things. How about switching the direction of the race each year. The race epitomises Mandela's struggle, but his struggle brought freedom. Maybe one year we remember the struggle - the up run, and the next year we celebrate the freedom he brought - the down run. I think that including a down run would open up the race to a whole lot more people, plus it could also become THE race to do in South Africa for those seeking that elusive marathon PB!
So, the verdict? I have only run it once, but based on that experience, and those who ran with me, this is one race we will do again, and if the organisers can keep up the professionalism, it will become THE Marathon of South Africa.