In terms of epic, defining runs in South Africa the list is topped by the Comrades Marathon - 90km of epic human achievement. A race that holds the Guinness World record for the most people competing in an ultramarathon. It is followed by the most beautiful marathon, the Two Oceans 56km race, which runs along two oceans before winding through the beautiful Constantia winelands area. Yet both of these are ultramarathons - what about a standard 42km/26mi marathon for South Africa? Of course there are many standard marathons, as South Africa is a country obsessed with running, driven to a large extent by the Comrades Marathon. On nearly every weekend of the year you can find a marathon if you are that keen. Some of the popular marathons are the Maritzburg Marathon, the Kynsa Forest Marathon, the Voet van Afrika Marathon, and the Soweto Marathon. All of these have aspects that make them interesting. Either they are long standing marathons or take place in interesting places. However to me none of them really epitomises South Africa like the Comrades Marathon does for the ultramarathon, tagged as the "Ultimate Human Race".
The one year old Mandela Marathon may just be the race to fill the empty iconic marathon spot like the London Marathon does for the UK and the New York Marathon does for the USA, etc. Why do I say that? Here are some of the reasons I think this is well placed to become a great race.
Firstly it is run to celebrate one of the greatest icons for human freedom and love, Nelson Mandela. A race that is run to remember his struggle - which is why it is a particularly hard uphill race, but that celebrates his overcoming, carries in it a vital message beyond simply running. It is teaching us that together, as people working towards a common goal, we can achieve so much more - no matter how hard the hills are, and how long the journey.
Secondly the race is running between two significant places. It starts at Manayi Hall where Nelson Mandela made his last speech on 25 March 1961 and ends at the Nelson Mandela capture site in Tweedie, just outside Howick, where he was arrested on 5 August 162. The capture site now has one of the most interesting pieces of art (see image above) to commemorate this event.
Thirdly the fact that the race starts at Pietermaritzburg and then heads up to Tweedie adds an interesting extra dimension for Comrades runners. Comrades is run, alternating each year, from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, and Durban to Pietermaritzburg. So this year which was the "up run" - Durban to Pietermaritzburg - runners of the Mandela Marathon can now continue their run and run the next section from Pietermaritzburg to Tweedie. No small accomplishment to have run all the way from the coast to Tweedie in just two races.
Fourthly I think the timing of this race is well placed. The Comrades marathon defines most runners' racing schedules in South Africa. This sees them training hard from December to mid May and then running Comrades in June. Typically this is followed by a drop off with most people not doing any marathons again until October/November. With the Mandela Marathon taking place at the end of August, the Comrades runners are well recovered, still have most of their fitness foundation, and hence are well placed to use this race as an entry back into running again, without significant training investment.
The Mandela Day Marathon is a young race, and this is the first year we will be running it, so we will reassess after we have done the race. However, if the organisers can run it professionally, then this event has all the components necessary to establish it as THE marathon of South Africa!
Through this marathon, we want celebrate the triumph of the human spirit, the discipline that meant spending 27 years in prison, because of an understanding of what he wanted to accomplish in the end.
The marathon should evoke the spirit of selflessness, commitment to helping fellow human beings, which are some of the qualities defining Mandela. (MandelaMarathon)