The Two Oceans Marathon is one of the unique and popular marathons in the world. To begin with, it is more than a marathon – 56 Km in distance; and the attraction of the event is not on the difficulty of accomplishing the distance but on the beautiful scenic route. As is the norm in South Africa with most running events, they are stringent about the cut-off time for finishers – 7 hours from the gun shot and not a second more, which makes the event a challenging one too. Started in 1970 as a training run for the Comrades Marathon, it soon entered the marathon calendar of South Africa and became one of the most popular events in the world, with over 11,000 participants registering within the first two days of opening the registrations for this year’s edition. Organised every year during the Easter Weekend, the event was later expanded to include a half-marathon race, an international friendship run, trail runs, kids run and so on – there’s an event for everyone in the family – attracting over 35,000 runners from all over the world. This year, the event was held on March 31st and I happened to be one of the participants.
I arrived at Cape Town on March 28th in the backdrop of the acute water shortage that the city currently faces. Few minutes after my arrival, dark clouds gathered from nowhere and I was welcomed with thunderstorms and heavy rains that the city most wanted. Needless to say that the runners can claim some credit for that and the rains during the next two days. Considering the situation, the organisers had taken steps to ensure that the event does utilise any water from the city’s water resources and sought the assistance of runners to be mindful about the wastage of water. Runners were even asked to carry their own hydration packs that can be refilled in specified points.
My running weekend started with a visit to the Marathon Expo on March 29th. The routine affair of collecting the running bibs for both the marathon and the international friendship run, followed by window surfing of some of the irresistible products designed for runners that different brands have showcased in the expo – from alternatives to safety pins to clothing to shoes and what not! It was also an opportunity to meet runners from different parts of the world. The expo also featured talks by eminent runners including those with ‘Blue numbers’ – an honour for those completing 10 Two Oceans marathon. There were legendary runners who have done it even forty times!
The international friendship run on March 30th was certainly an unique feature for this event. Attended by people from different countries all over the world, with Germany, United Kingdom and Brazil having the highest number of participants. The organisers had thoughtfully arranged flags of all the countries and I had the fortune to carry the Tricolour. It was a 6 Km run through the beautiful promenade of Cape Town. Every country was cheered and welcomed by the spectators, including Australia, whose cricketers had an uneventful time a week earlier at Cape Town. At times, it looked like the best way to test one’s knowledge about flags of different countries. Somewhere, I felt that events like these bring people of different countries together more easily than the high powered summits attended by heads of state which invariably causes discomfort to the public of hosting cities.
On March 31st, the two major events of the weekend were flagged off. The first of them was the Half-marathon participated by 16,000 runners at 5:50 AM followed by the main event, the Ultra Marathon at 6:30 AM. It looked like the organisers wanted the runners enjoy the route in the best possible way during broad daylight. To run in the main event, every runner must have run at least one marathon within 5 hours to be eligible for participation. This ensured that runners are aware of running etiquettes and respect each other, which is critical for smooth start of the run as well as running through narrow roads at many sections. There was not a minute during the seven hours when I could feel lonely in the course and yet not feel my way blocked by another runner.
The initial 30 Kms were fairly flat terrain where the only challenge was to conserve the energy for the second half of the run. The route takes us all the way towards East where one gets a chance to run alongside the Indian Ocean glistened by the morning sun. The routes goes through the suburbs of Cape Town, where the residents come out in big numbers to cheer the participants. It was from the 29th Km that the gradual ascend begins towards the Chapman’s Peak, where the English explorer John Chapman landed in South Africa. Situated at the coast of Atlantic Ocean, the road leading to the peak provides us with breathtaking views of the Ocean. Ideally, one would wish that the run ended here. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and one can even say that the real run began there!
After reaching the top of the peak, a downhill run followed by a relatively flat terrain takes us close to the marathon distance. It was difficult to observe the contours as the focus was on the time and the distance to be covered. At about 46 Km, the next challenge was in store – a steep climb for couple of Kms followed by a steep downhill. This is the place where the race is won or lost for the lead pack and for the rest, it was a matter of hit or miss. At this stage, I feared that I might miss out the cut-off mark as I had started facing muscle cramps in my legs. The route took us through some of the green cover of Cape Town offering the much wanted cool shade when the Sun was rising over our heads.
The theme for the event was “Run as One” and it was certainly implanted in the spirit of each runner. Seeing me struggle with cramps, one of the runners stopped to offer salt tablets; another experienced runner comforted me that I can still make it to the finish as long as I keep going. I was joined by an Aussie runner in what I would call as the mission impossible and we kept encouraging each other with undying hopes. The uncertainty persisted until the last Km when I was finally convinced that I can really make it to the finish line. The crowd around us makes sure that they celebrate in each one of our finishes. With 64 seconds to spare, I finished the race filled with thanks to my fellow runners and the wonderful Capetonians for what I am convinced as the “World’s Most Beautiful Race.”
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(And edited version of the Article appeared in The Hindu, Metro Plus, April 11, 2018 – http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/running-in-the-two-oceans-marathon/article23492438.ece)