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Official Statement: Water Challenges on Chapman's Peak

  • Ultra Marathon

The Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon took place this past Saturday, 19 April, and one of the key issues highlighted in runner feedback, in the media and on social networks was an apparent water shortage on Chapman’s Peak.

First, we would like to apologise for the inconvenience and frustration caused.  Your safety is of utmost importance to us, and as runners, we could understand your frustration and fears and took your feedback very seriously.

Our biggest challenge was thoroughly investigating the matter in order to provide accurate feedback, as the comments and views given to us by runners were so varied, that it was difficult to accurately pinpoint the crux of the matter.   However, after speaking to a number of parties, including runners affected by this, we would like to provide the following information and feedback:

Background

  • The international standard for marathon and ultra-marathon distances is to have refreshment stations spaced at 5km intervals.   Due to local climate conditions, the South African standard is to have a refreshment station every 3km.
  • However, to protect the large number of novices attempting their first Ultra Marathon annually, the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon standard dictates a refreshment station every 2km and, on certain parts of the route, every kilometre.
  • As refreshment points are spaced 1km apart from Hout Bay, the stations are alternately fuelled with water or Coke / Powerade. 
  • We have a clear emergency procedure in place to address refreshment shortages along the route, which we have never needed to deploy until now.
  • We prepared a total of 875,000 water sachets for the various refreshment stations, and each Chapman’s Peak station was equipped with 2,000 litres of water in containers.

What happened on Chapman’s Peak?

Subsequent to receiving feedback from both refreshment station personnel and eyewitness accounts received from runners affected, we can confirm the following:

  • No refreshment station ran out of water but instead, started to run low on biodegradable cups.  However, normal Coke cups were available as a back-up.  Our refreshment station manager was in constant contact with the various stations to ascertain the need to use the back-up and/or deploy the emergency plan. At no point was this required.
  • While cups were pre-filled to accommodate the influx of runners, refreshment station personnel could not replenish the water table stock fast enough.  In addition the nature of the biodegradable cups prevented us from filling them too far in advance as they would have disintegrated.
  • We received feedback from runners that fellow athletes poured multiple cups of water over themselves to cool down, before throwing the cups away. 
  • This created a domino effect in terms of replenished cups which, in turn, resulted in queues for water.
  • The runners we spoke to also indicated that they did not want to wait for cups to be filled, and moved on to the next point, compounding the problem.

Our learnings and what we will do for 2015

Due to the constant negative feedback about water sachets polluting the environment – despite having ample rubbish bins along the route - we decided to use biodegradable cups on the most ecologically sensitive section of the route:  Chapman’s Peak.  

In hindsight, we should have tested the practicalities of serving water from cups (including the variables concerning athletes using the cups to cool themselves down and the speed at which water is replenished) at another running race first. While water cups are standard at cycling and multisport events, runners are still used to water sachets and the associated “grab-drink-discard” ritual.

While our refreshment station volunteers are trained in the art of handing out water, we could have placed a stronger emphasis on cup distribution.  This is something we will focus on for 2015.

Another important learning is that, despite our best intentions, people struggle to run with cups and have to come to a complete stop or walk in order to drink.  We are currently investigating alternative solutions around this, including small bottles and biodegradable sachets.

On the topic of biodegradable sachets:  this was our first choice for use on Chapman’s Peak, but because their lifespan is very short, we were unable to fill the number of sachets required in such a short space of time ahead of the race.  Biodegradable cups were our only practical option for 2014, but as technological advancements go, we are once again investigating biodegradable sachets for 2015.

Mutual responsibility

As race organisers, we are responsible for the comfort and safety of our runners. We make every effort to ensure that all runners are looked after and strive to address any key issues that cropped up during an event.

As runners, regardless of the race you participate in, it is your responsibility to use the water given to you sensibly while taking cognisance of the needs of our fellow runners. 

Together we are also responsible and accountable for the long-term protection of the environment in which events like the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon takes place.  The reality is, if we want to continue using the Table Mountain National Park as our race route, we must actively work towards a cleaner event.  

Looking ahead

We once again apologise for the inconvenience caused on Chapman’s Peak.

Having learnt hard lessons this year, we are already investigating more effective ways to serve water in areas like Chapman’s Peak in 2015, and we look forward to bringing you a more pleasant experience next year.

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